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Exciting Poetry for Spring: 13 Highly Recommended Titles That Will Shock You Awake

Wed, 04/26/2017 - 14:37

Bashir, Samiya. Field Theories. Nightboat. Mar. 2017. 72p. ISBN 9781937658632. pap. $15.95. POETRY
At first, it may seem surprising that this energetically in-your-face collection references physics. But when Bashir (Gospel) notes of thermodynamics, “When Albert Murray said/ the second law adds up to/ the blues…/ he meant it//… more how my grandmother/ warned that men like women// with soft hands,” you see where she’s going. “Planck’s constant” denotes holding to others as we climb to get ahead; “Ground state,” a surge toward intimacy; and “We call it dark matter because it doesn’t interact with light,” America’s increasing xenophobia. Thus does Bashir sort out life’s demands, periodically grounding her exploration with references to African American legend John Henry and his wife, Polly Ann. ­VERDICT Interesting work; anyone who can combine woolly mammoths and the lyric “I’m gonna be your number one” in one poem knows her stuff.

Brown, Molly McCully. The Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded. Persea. Mar. 2017. 80p. ISBN 9780892554782. pap. $15.95. POETRY

Born with cerebral palsy, Brown grew up near the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feebleminded, a singular set of circumstances that led to this striking first collection. The American eugenics movement originated at the colony, and Brown allowed herself to imagine the horror of being an inmate there by working through several fictional personae. That’s a potent enough set-up, but she doesn’t let it do her work for her, using effectively pinpointed language to tell her story. “You come back bone-tired and bruised,/ burned dead out and ready to be shut away,” she says of those sent out for day labor. And elsewhere: “Imagine you are/ an animal/ in your own throat.” VERDICT Brown accomplishes her task admirably, and her work will appeal not just to ­poetry readers.

Carr, Julie. Objects from a Borrowed Confession. Ahsahta. Jun. 2017. 160p. ISBN 9781934103685. pap. $18. POETRY

The gifted author of fluid yet edgy prose poems, Carr frequently treats sociopolitical issues (e.g., 100 Notes on Violence) but is here more personal and reflective. The volume opens with letters to an ex-lover’s ex-lover, whom the speaker claims to want to know better. She’s not chasing the past, which is “less than the light that falls toward my face. The future, however, is a red fox, running right past me.” Instead of accumulated stories, she sees us each as a “perpetual vanishing,” with the child’s death that opens the book’s second section shuddering her into the crucial, oft-skimmed present. Is confession a search for forgiveness or recognition? Actually, it seems more about attachment (you’re “made something rather than remaining (alone and) nothing.” VERDICT A rich meditation on self and others; for all smart readers.

Chen Chen. When I Grow Up I Want To Be a List of Further Possibilities. BOA. Apr. 2017. 96p. ISBN 9781942683339. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781942683346. POETRY

Visually vivid, erotic and intimate, at times bitingly funny, and refreshingly world-observant, Chen’s poems are steeped in the pain of being other as both Asian American and gay. He’s excellent at relating the confusion of childhood, recalling “Mom & Dad’s/ idiot faces, yelling at me” as they confront his sexuality and grappling with the consequences of his heritage. The standout poem “First Light” enumerates many different, often outré ways Chen envisions having come to this country, embodying the kind of imagination it takes to adapt to a new culture. Throughout, there’s ratcheted-up emotion yet an amazing command of language: “I carried in my snake mouth a boxful/ of carnal autobiographies” says the world. VERDICT An A. Poulin Jr. Poetry Prize winner; expansive work for expansive audiences.

Dunham, Rebecca. Cold Pastoral. Milkweed. Mar. 2017. 80p. ISBN 9781571314789. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781571319395. POETRY

T.S. Eliot Prize winner Dunham (The Miniature Room) frames her latest work in terms of three recent environmental disasters: the Deepwater Horizon explosion, Hurricane Katrina, and the lead-poisoned water of Flint, MI. Her images are relentless and indelible: “The rig boils black/ and then curls back upon itself”; “the lead—no/ imminent threat to public health—seeps and floats like a ghost.” But Dunham probes deeper, asking “What is, what reason, what is/ the good of man?” From chickens with clipped mouths and bound feet (“I thought/ I knew cages, knew boxes”) to a doll caught in a branch (“She could be dead. Easily// she could be your daughter”), Dunham shows us a natural world damaged by humans, who also damage themselves. VERDICT Engaged and ­engaging poetry.

Fagan, Kathy . Sycamore. Milkweed. Mar. 2017. 88p. ISBN 9781571314734. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781571319296. POETRY

Whether she is detailing an abandoned sledding hill (“the days like an unused billboard”), a sycamore tree (“I barely creak/ in wind that raised and hung me/ out to dry”), or a missed meteor (“a gold star shook/ lose from blue firmament”), National Poetry Series winner Fagan (The Raft) is a tremendous scene setter. And the scenes she sets often effectively disclose tamped-down sorrow at the end of a relationship. Not surprisingly, then, hers is a landscape of snow and ice (“a detonation—/ then white everywhere”), yet we frequently meet, as if striding, her noble sycamores, attentively and variably rendered and even given speech: “When I was dead, one of the whiter/ sycamores who live on the river said,/ Kathy, why didn’t you live in your body more?” VERDICT A quiet, beautifully articulated work whose mood does not wear.

ford, t’ai freedom. how to get over. Red Hen. May 2017. 110p. ISBN 9781597090384. pap. $17.95. POETRY

Winner of the Feminist Wire’s inaugural poetry contest, ford debuts with a fiery collection that uses language both evocatively rich and colloquially sharp and sly to capture the African American experience. Poems titled “past life portrait” range from the Negroes Burying Ground in Lower Manhattan, circa 1787, to the imagined thoughts of Rodney King, while the ambitious and deftly handled “black, brown, and beige (a movement in three parts)” echoes Duke Ellington’s symphony of the same name. (“Movement Three: Beige” says “this/ skin a shade/ and a half past alright”). Another poem series, “how to get over,” offers tough-love advice: “unload the artillery/ of switch, shrapnel their eyes with/ bitch and fierce, drop dead// gorgeous.” VERDICT Drop-dead gorgeous indeed.

Hood, Charles. Partially Excited States. Univ. of Wisconsin. Mar. 2017. 72p. ISBN 9780299311643. pap. $14.95. POETRY

“The Wand Chooses the Wizard” proclaims the title of Hood’s opening poem, which goes on inventively to observe how “the patsy chooses the mark/ and the floozy chooses the lug” all the way down to the reader’s challenge: “this poem has chosen you.” Clearly, Hood knows his pop culture, but the depth of historical and scientific knowledge throughout makes for lush if sometimes off-kilter reading. Topics range from Jasper Johns’s thieving assistant to the street trees of San Francisco to an Upper Paleolithic cave. VERDICT “Sunrise on Mercury” opens, “A woman in a bar once told me I looked like matches waiting for an arsonist. A man said, “If you could lick my heart,/ it would poison you,” which sums up exactly Hood’s darkly offbeat and witty verse. A Felix Pollak Poetry Prize winner.

Long Soldier, Layli. Whereas. Graywolf. Mar. 2017. 114p. ISBN 9781555977672. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781555979614. POETRY

Whiting Award winner Long Soldier, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, uses urgent, muscular, fiercely vibrant language to explore the very concept of language: how tightly it is bound up with culture, how it shifts and defines the speaker. The early poems set the scene: a man is dragged through the dirt, “His skull, glisten of star/ to bone; a square poem signals the speaker’s entrapment; “Wings that do not close” bespeak aspiration. Soon the speaker is exploring the relation of thought to language, which must be used well (“Here, the sentence will be respected”), even as she comments reflexively on historical and ongoing abuses. The tour-de-force title section confronts the U.S. government’s meager apology for such abuses in 2009. VERDICT Challenging and worth it.

McCrae, Shane. In the Language of My Captor. Wesleyan Univ. Feb. 2017. 108p. ISBN 9780819577115. $22.75; ebk. ISBN 9780819577139. POETRY

In his award-winning The Animal Too Big To Kill, McCrae explored the conundrum of being a half-black man raised by white supremacists, and his new work again confronts the crosscurrents of race and history. Whether he’s presenting a black man exhibited behind bars who’s wiser than the desperate white zookeeper, a mulatto boy adopted by Jefferson Davis, or acclaimed performer Banjo Yes, who reflects angrily on how white culture shaped his life and career, McCrae delivers sharp scenarios and cool, forthright language. The core concern is freedom: says Banjo, “you think it’s/ making decisions other folks won’t like/ Listen I do a thing to piss a white man off// I’m bound to that man’s will.” VERDICT Unsettling and approachable for a wide audience.

Pico, Tommy. Nature Poem. Tin House. May 2017. 128p. ISBN 9781941040638. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941040645. POETRY

The title of this cheeky, daring, joyously caustic work is ironic, for as the opening poem states, “I can’t write a nature poem/ bc it’s fodder for the noble savage/ narrative.” Young, queer, and Native American, Pico’s alter ego, Teebs, refuses to follow the expected path, declares “I only fuck with the city,” and worries about getting a nose ring at 30. He’s also frankly angry about the white settlers’ abuses (“Thank god for colonialist plundering, right? At least some of these/ artifacts remain intact behind glass”) and humanity’s larger crimes and presumptions (“Dragonflies experience a kind of quantum time,// …and I’m supposed to believe we’re such miracles?”). VERDICT A 2013 Lambda ­Literary fellow, Pico concludes, “It’s hard to be anything// but a pessimist,” but we can be deeply optimistic about his work.

Sanabria, Ruth Irupé. Beasts Behave in Foreign Lands. Red Hen. Apr. 2017. 84p. ISBN 9781597097635. $16.95. POETRY

Winner of the 2014 Letras Latinas/Red Hen Press Poetry Prize, this second collection was inspired by the author’s testifying in trials nearly four decades after her parents were imprisoned and tortured during Argentina’s military dictatorship. What’s surprising, then, is that the language is not brutally realistic, with the beginning lines nearly surreal in their portrayal of an Admitting Chair scolding a “limp-winged” snitch working through the Throat of Silence and stalked by the Beast of Memory. But then such heightened imagery may be the best way to deal with unbelievable horror. This evocative collection unfolds as both cultural celebration and chronicle of survival: “Draw sun, draw star,/ still bones are cast as dust,” says Sanabria, and “out of our inevitable estrangement/ I’d make us up again and again.” VERDICT Startling and successful; for most readers.

Tuffaha, Lena Khalaf. Water & Salt. Red Hen. Apr. 2017. 96p. ISBN 9781597090292. pap. $17.95. POETRY

Of Palestinian, Jordanian, and Syrian heritage, Tuffaha offers a beautifully crafted debut that uses clear, observant language to explore the immigrant experience and the burdens of ongoing war. As she explains, “We travel back not to// because even now/ after we’ve lived longer// here than anywhere else// we still think of this place// as new.” Writing crucially helps her negotiate that newness—“The hollows of write/ are lined with bookshelves/ and speak spirals off my tongue into stories”—as it helps her negotiate reentry into a brutalized homeland. Even as she notes the fragrance of almond blossoms, she observes: “Today again. Smoke-charred throats/ suffocating.” VERDICT Taking her from Beirut, Baghdad, Afghanistan, and a once-imprisoned Palestinian friend “whose eyes are like two pools of olive/ oil about to ignite,” Tuffaha’s journey is both immediately relevant and timelessly poetic.

Early Scares: Halfway to Halloween | The Reader’s Shelf

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 19:10

Short stories are alive and kicking when it comes to tales of terror. Here are some recent anthologies that will deliver just the right amount of chills and thrills. From household names to fresh voices, from psychologically terrifying to blood and guts, there is something here for every future Halloween library display.

In the critically acclaimed A Natural History of Hell: Stories (Small Beer. 2016. ISBN 9781618731180. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781618731197), Jeffrey Ford gathers 13 previously published stories into one collection that mixes fantasy and horror and shows his talent for distinctive sagas in which evil lurks just under the surface. Each installment relies on a dark and anxious mood with varying levels of speculative influence, outcast characters, and shocking conclusions. It opens with public exorcisms in the compelling and disquieting “The Blameless.” From there it ventures into vignettes as diverse as the “true” ghost story behind an Emily Dickinson poem and the sinister “Blood Drive,” in which every high school senior is required to carry a gun.

Richard Chizmar is the founder of Cemetery Dance Publications, working with the likes of Gillian Flynn, Justin Cronin, and Stephen King. The 35 stories in A Long ­December (Short, Scary Tales. 2016. ISBN 9781909640887. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781596067943) offer a stand-alone volume of his own. Ranging from crime to dark fantasy to pure horror, the stories here all speak to a normal life turned upside down by terrible circumstances. The way Chizmar combines the dread and fear induced by his plots with a poignancy and kindness of tone makes them memorable. This is best showcased in the eponymous novella, where the protagonist is awoken one morning with the news that his best friend is a serial killer.

Laird Barron’s Swift to Chase (JournalStone. 2016. ISBN 9781945373053. pap. $18.95) perfectly encapsulates today’s literary genre-blend landscape. While terror is always at the center, cosmic horror, adventure, and even noir find their way into his writing. What sets Barron apart from the pack is how he crafts a wonderful sense of place—in this case, the beauty and menace of Alaska—and fills his settings with an oppressive atmosphere, great characters, original plots, and beautiful language. This anthology will play with readers’ minds in enjoyable ways, dragging them along for a satisfyingly scary ride and leaving them ­begging for more.

Editor Robert Silverberg gathers 21 works by a wide range of well-known authors, both living and dead, in This Way to the End Times: Classic Tales of the Apocalypse (Three Rooms. 2016. ISBN 9781941110478. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941110485). He further enhances the volume with a preface to each story, providing context on the time period in which it was written and how it may resonate with audiences today. See how writers such as Jules Verne and Connie Willis have embraced the apocalypse and used it to tell chillingly prescient narratives that reach across time and space. Silverberg reminds us that while the end of the world seems to be a hot trend today, it is actually only a blip in a long tradition of dystopian storytelling.

What the #@&% Is That? The Saga Anthology of the Monstrous and the Macabre (Saga: S. & S. 2016. ISBN 9781481434935. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481435000), edited by John Joseph Adams and Douglas Cohen, is among the best titles to focus on H.P. Lovecraft (1890–1937). Contributors were asked to write about a monster of their choosing, with only one rule: something must happen to make a character cry, “What the #@&% is that?” Accepting the challenge are 20 wordsmiths ranging from best-selling authors to up-and-comers, providing reading experiences from the utterly fearsome to the ­macabrely humorous. Playing along to see how the exclamation is employed gets more enjoyable the deeper one plunges into this ­Lovecraftian-inspired world.

The reigning sovereign of horror editing is Ellen Datlow, who is an acknowledged master of identifying and amassing the very best frights. Case in point is Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror (Tachyon. 2016. ISBN 9781616962326. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616962333). Beginning where her ­essential Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror ends and spanning up to 2015, Datlow has compiled 24 of the finest stories written over the last ten years. By arranging them in chronological order, she illustrates the evolution and breadth of the genre, while spotlighting its brilliant new voices. Read this to see what you have been missing and to identify important titles to add to your collection before ­Halloween hits.

This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisor in Illinois. She is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror (2d ed. ALA Editions, 2012) and a proud member of the Horror Writers Association. Learn more about her at

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

What’s Old Is New Again, plus RWA Update | Romance Reviews

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 18:44

Intriguing Historical Expansion; or, The Historical Creep Not that historical romance is creepy, unless, of course, you’re talking about a particularly sinister gothic. Yet the subgenre is expanding its reach, creeping into decades previously considered off-limits or at least marginal (e.g., not old enough or romantic enough) or viewing traditional time frames from a variety of perspectives. For example, the first half of the 20th century is now considered fair game by most authors (see Amanda Quick’s The Girl Who Knew Too Much), and the Civil War has a very different look when seen through the eyes of a freedwoman-turned-spy (Alyssa Cole’s An Extraordinary Union). Despite these changes in direction, current favorite eras remain the British Regency and the Victorian periods, with many authors incorporating modern-day values and concerns into their stories. The relevance and popularity of those older settings are likely to continue even as the entire subgenre grows.


Bennett, Anna. I Dared the Duke. St. Martin’s Paperbacks. (Wayward Wallflowers, Bk. 2). Apr. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781250100924. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250100931. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Alexander Savage, the notoriously difficult Duke of Blackshire, wants to send his grandmother out of London and off to his country estate. Elizabeth Lacey is her new companion and believes the older woman is being treated poorly. When Alex asks for Beth’s assistance, she proposes a bargain: she’ll urge the duchess to relocate if he grants his grandmother three wishes—wishes that involve his time and attention. Alex agrees, but after a series of unfortunate incidents, it’s becoming clear that his life is in danger, and until he can find out who wants him dead, he needs everyone he cares about to be as far away from him as possible, including the fearless, determined Miss Lacey. VERDICT Sharply drawn characters, clever dialog, simmering sensuality, and a dash of mystery make this well-crafted Regency thoroughly delightful. Bennett (My Brown-Eyed Earl) lives in Maryland.

Cole, Alyssa. An Extraordinary Union. Kensington. (Loyal League, Bk. 1). Apr. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781496707444. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781496707451. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

With her eidetic memory and quick wit, Elle Burns, a Northern freedwoman and part of the Loyal League, is the perfect spy for the Union Army. Now a mute “slave” in the home of an influential Southern senator, Elle is shocked when her latest contact turns out to be the handsome Confederate soldier pretending to pay court to the senator’s spoiled daughter. But Malcolm McCall is no Johnny Reb; he’s a Scot by birth and a Pinkerton detective on a mission for the Union. When he and Elle learn of plans to break the Union blockade, they join forces in a perilous race against time to see the plot foiled. Based in part on historical characters and events, this carefully composed tale envisages aspects of the Civil War often overlooked. ­VERDICT Courageous, passionate protagonists fight for justice, freedom, and the right to love in an exceptional story that both educates and entertains and beautifully launches a unique series. Cole (Mixed Signals) lives in the Caribbean.

Gracie, Anne. Marry in Haste. Jove. (Marriage of Convenience, Bk. 1). May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780425283813. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780698411630. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

As the second son of an earl, Maj. Calbourne Rutherford never imagined he’d ascend to the title. When his older brother dies with no heir, Cal, now Lord Ashendon, inherits an estate in disarray and the guardianship of three happily undisciplined young women. He needs help, and his sisters’ former teacher, tall, cool-voiced Emmaline Westwood, is perfect for the job. Unfortunately, Emm can’t afford to take a temporary position, and Cal is desperate to get back to tracking down a sharp-shooting assassin. As Emm refuses, Cal does the only thing he can—he proposes marriage. ­VERDICT With deep character insight, subtle humor matched with rapier wit, and brilliant repartee, Gracie puts a refreshing spin on a classic romance trope and delivers another knockout Regency that will keep fans enthralled. Gracie (The Summer Bride) lives in Melbourne, Australia.

Guhrke, Laura Lee. The Truth About Love and Dukes. Avon. (Dear Lady Truelove, Bk. 1). Apr. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062469854. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062469861. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Henry Cavanaugh, Duke of Torquil, is furious when he discovers that his widowed mother plans to take the advice of scandal sheet columnist “Lady Truelove” to follow her heart and marry a ne’er-do-well Italian artist. He confronts Irene Deverill, the Society Snippets’ outspoken publisher, and gets something of a tongue-lashing for his trouble. Taking matters into his own hands, Henry makes a deal with Irene’s father to buy the paper in return for introducing Irene and her younger sister into society and paving the way for a reconciliation with the girls’ estranged, titled grandparents. Now the boss, Henry proffers a choice: while living in Henry’s family’s mansion, Irene must persuade his mother not to marry the artist or he will shut the paper down. Verbal and emotional sparks fly as Henry and Irene try to resist their inexplicable attraction—with very poor results. A fiercely independent heroine determined to control her own life and a hero whose rigid upbringing wars with his innately sensitive side are caught off-guard by their feelings and forced to rethink their ideas about love, marriage, and women’s rights. VERDICT This engaging Victorian romance is sure to enchant. Guhrke (No Mistress of Mine) lives in the ­Pacific Northwest.

Quick, Amanda. The Girl Who Knew Too Much. Berkley. May 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780399174476. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780698193628. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

The bloody word run, written on the wallpaper, was all it took for Anna Harris to flee the scene of her boss’s brutal murder. Even though she’s reinvented herself as aspiring reporter Irene Glasson and is living on the other side of the country in tiny Burning Cove, CA, she senses she’s in harm’s way and all because of a cryptic notebook in her care. She hopes not to call attention to herself, but then the actress she was in town to interview ends up at the bottom of the pool at the exclusive Burning Cove Hotel. Now Irene and compelling magician–turned–hotel owner Oliver Ward are swept up in a game of mystery and suspense that becomes more complex by the page. Suspicion battles with attraction as our protagonists work to overcome their trust issues and put the puzzle pieces together. VERDICT This swiftly moving romance brims with surprising plot twists, delicious sensuality, and a delightfully classy 1930s California setting. An adventurous romp that will have readers hungry for more. Quick (’Til Death Do Us Part) lives in Seattle.

Ranney, Karen. The English Duke. Avon. (Dukes, Bk. 2). Apr. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062466891. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062466921. HISTORICAL ROMANCE

Martha York is incensed when science-oriented Jordan Hamilton, the Duke of Roth, refuses to come for the papers her late inventor father wanted him to have. With her beautiful, self-centered younger sister and canny grandmother in tow, Martha sets out for the duke’s estate to deliver the research herself. A quick trip is planned until Gran becomes indisposed. Jordan and Martha end up collaborating and bonding, but a conniving miss manipulates the truth, with a near disastrous outcome. VERDICT Exceptional characters, a self-serving villainess, and fascinating detail about under­water vessels combine in this rewarding, sweetly sensual Victorian romance; the perfect addition to Ranney’s latest series. Ranney (The Scottish Duke) lives in San Antonio.

the here and now

Carr, Robyn. Any Day Now. Mira: Harlequin. (Sullivan’s Crossing, Bk. 2). Apr. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780778319917. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781460396612. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Nine months sober and looking for a fresh start, Sierra Jones leaves Iowa and heads for the Rocky Mountains to reconnect with her brother, Cal, and consider her options. It doesn’t take her long to fall in love with the community and a mistreated golden retriever, but with her past history of picking the wrong men, that’s all she plans to fall in love with. Hunky firefighter Conrad “Connie” Boyle decides he’s the “right” one for her, but Sierra is hiding a frightening secret that could turn deadly if she doesn’t admit she needs help. Abuse, mental illness, addiction, and a host of other issues add a realistic touch to this immersive, upbeat romance. VERDICT Captivating protagonists, colorful supporting characters, and a multithreaded story line make this a welcome addition to what is promising to be a fully involving series, with appeal for both women’s fiction and romance fans. Carr (The Life She Wants) lives in Henderson, NV.

Denault, Victoria. Score. Forever: Grand Central. (San Francisco Thunder, Bk. 1). May 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781455597666. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455597673. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

The last time real estate agent Zoey Quinlin saw her summer crush Jude Braddock was when they were teenagers in Maine—their relationship ended with one unfortunate date. It’s now 11 years later, and hockey super­star and team Romeo Jude is no longer the awkward adolescent he once was. When he and Zoey unexpectedly reconnect, the chemistry begins to bubble up, and Jude makes plans to finish what he started years ago. Unfortunately for him, Zoey is in the middle of a messy, vindictive divorce, and until she’s free, she has no intention of having a fling. She could use a friend, though, but being “just friends” with Jude is not going to be easy. The first-person, present-tense narrative and alternating hero/heroine POVs keep readers in the moment, while a surfeit of sparkling secondary characters points to some great stories to come. ­VERDICT Sexy, sassy, and a perfect new adult read for fans who love hockey and romance, not necessarily in that order. An excellent new sports series launch. Denault (On the Line) lives in Los Angeles.

Diamond, Tess. Dangerous Games. Avon. Apr. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062655806. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062655813. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

Struggling with the aftereffects of a kidnapping gone bad, former crack FBI negotiator Maggie Kincaid leaves the bureau and is not about to go back. Then a senator’s insulin-dependent teenage daughter is snatched, and Maggie’s shrewd former boss and mentor talks her into returning—temporarily, of course. Yet Maggie is determined to save the girl and without interference from arrogant Army Ranger Jake O’Connor. Jake is a covert missions expert on special assignment as the senator’s security adviser, and his ideas are already conflicting with hers. Heat builds and awareness smolders from the start, but they soon learn that they need to keep their growing passions at bay in order to unmask a villain and save a girl whose time is running out. VERDICT Insightful character development, a smart and complicated plot, and sizzling sexual tension make this stunning debut a heart-stopping, stay-up-all-night read. ­Diamond lives in Colorado Springs.

James, Julie. The Thing About Love. Berkley. Apr. 2017. 365p. ISBN 9780425273777. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780425273784. ROMANTIC SUSPENSE

Six years ago, supersmart attorney Jessica Harlow and brash, self-assured U.S. Army Ranger John Shepherd met during FBI training at Quantico; clashed all the way to graduation; and hoped never to see each other again. And they don’t—until they end up in the same office and are sent off on an undercover assignment to Florida to expose the corrupt Jacksonville mayor. Despite their best professional intentions, the sniping starts, and the fireworks begin—and then an unplanned kiss lights a fire of a different kind, one they will be hard-pressed to tamp down. Rapid-fire banter, humor, and an action-filled plot move the story along at a steady pace, and the “he said/she said” chapters add background about their enmity. VERDICT A pair of independent, relentlessly competitive operatives finally sort things out in this sexy romance that fans of upbeat, cosmopolitan suspense are sure to enjoy. James (Suddenly One Summer) lives in Chicago.

Miller, Linda Lael. Forever a Hero. HQN: Harlequin. (Carsons of Mustang Creek, Bk. 3). Apr. 2017. 395p. ISBN 9780373789702. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781460394144. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Being rescued twice by the same man—once from a rapist, once from a car teetering on a Wyoming cliff edge—makes that man a certified hero in Kelly Wright’s book. But being dragged from a car on a stormy night is not how Kelly wanted to see winemaker Mace Carson for the first time in ten years, especially now that she’s come all the way from Los Angeles to coax him into making a deal with the wine distribution company for which she works. Mace wants no part of it, but he’s more than willing to let Kelly try. Lively banter and characters both new and familiar keep the story moving and the romance humming along nicely. VERDICT Laughter-laced yet brushed with danger, this family-filled heartwarmer is rich with the flavor of the modern-day West and is the perfect ending to Miller’s latest trilogy. Miller (Always a Cowboy) lives in the ­Spokane area.

Moore, Laura. Making Waves. Ballantine. (Beach Lane, Bk. 1). May 2017. 400p. ISBN . pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780425284834. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Dakota Hale, expert surfer, bastard daughter of one of the Hamptons’ oldest families, and owner of an up-and-coming concierge business, is dead set on making her business a success. When financial guru Max Carr buys her family’s ancestral home and then hires her to provide concierge service, all bets are off as she wars with her family, her career goals, and her unwanted attraction to the sexy Max. Scintillating description, conflicted characters, brilliant if crazy family dynamics, and a superb sense of place will leave fans anticipating the next book in the series. VERDICT Spicy, tender, and vivid with posh Hamptons ambience, this compelling story hooks readers from the start and never lets go; thoroughly charming. Moore (Once Touched) lives in Rhode ­Island.

Novak, Brenda. Finding Our Forever. Harlequin Special Edition. (Silver Springs, Bk. 1). Apr. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780373623389. pap. $5.75; ebk. ISBN 9781488014116. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Cora Kelly adores her adoptive parents, but for the past six years she has been secretly searching for her birth mother and now has finally located her—Aiyana Turner, the owner of the New Horizons Boys Ranch, a private boarding school for troubled teens. Keeping the relationship a secret, Cora accepts a job as the school’s new art teacher, but when she falls for Elijah Turner, the ranch manager and eldest of Aiyana’s eight adopted sons, she realizes she’s going to have to tell him—and Aiyana—the truth. Child abuse and long-kept secrets are at the core of this intense, heartfelt story that makes real the fictional Silver Springs. ­VERDICT This brief romance nicely kicks off Novak’s “Silver Springs” series. (No One but You and Until You Loved Me will be published by Mira: Harlequin in June and August, respectively.) Novak (The Secrets She Kept) lives in the Sacramento, CA, area.

Pope, Jamie. Hope Blooms. Dafina: Kensington. Apr. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781496708687. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781496708694. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Kindergarten teacher Cassandra Miller’s life was shattered when an abusive father’s bullet killed her husband and her unborn child. Now almost a year later, she is wasting away, still grieving, not caring whether she lives or dies. At her wit’s end, Cass’s mother calls on the one person who might help—former marine Wylie James Everett, once Cass’s dearest friend and lover as well as foster brother to her husband—and the man who walked out on them both ten years ago. One look at Cass, and Wylie James knows he has to do something, so he takes her home with him to Martha’s Vineyard, determined to help her learn to live again. A cast of entertaining characters you hope to meet again add gentle humor, warmth, and authenticity. VERDICT This tender, exquisitely written romance runs the emotional gamut and touches the heart; a poignant, uplifting story. Pope (Mine at Midnight) lives in New York.

Sands, Lynsay. Immortal Unchained. Avon. (Argeneau, Bk. 25). Apr. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780062468840. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062468857. PARANORMAL ROMANCE

Nothing, not even her job as a cop, could have prepared Sarita Reyes for the gruesome scene in the deranged Dr. Dressler’s island laboratory or his off-the-wall talk of nanobots, vampires, and life-mates. When Sarita awakens after being drugged, she realizes that she and gorgeous vampire Domitian Argenis are not only prisoners—and the subjects of the mad scientist’s latest experiment—but, indeed, those life-mates. They know they must get off the island if they’re going to save themselves and the others Dressler holds captive. VERDICT Heart-pounding sex, stirring banter, high-risk adventure, and intelligent characters make this 25th series installment another winner; sure to please both dedicated fans and new readers. Sands (Falling for the ­Highlander) lives in London, Ont.

Summers, Michele. Sweet Southern Trouble. Sourcebooks Casablanca. May 2017. 416p. ISBN 9781402293641. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402293658. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

Charged with the responsibility of inducing NFL coach Nick Frasier, the uncle of one of her kindergartners, to help out with the school’s fundraiser, teaching assistant (and high school tennis coach) Marabelle Fairchild is shocked when her facetious idea of holding a bachelor auction is embraced. Now she has to prevail upon Nick to talk his friends and teammates into participating. Nick resists, but Marabelle intrigues him, and when they end up in a fake engagement, thanks to an impulsive remark, their relationship takes a predictable but not always comfortable turn. Likable protagonists keep the plot on track, while a diverse cast of supporting characters add complications of their own. VERDICT Laugh-out-loud humor and stellar sensuality add up to a lively Southern treasure. Summers (Sweet Southern Bad Boy) lives in North ­Carolina.

Second Time Around

Delinsky, Barbara. The Outsider. Severn House. May 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780727886903. $28.99. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE

When her sailboat capsizes during a storm, a reclusive, island-bred healer is rescued by a stranger who turns out to be far more than the ordinary research scientist he claims to be, in this early classic romance. First published in 1992 as part of Harlequin Temptation’s “Rebels & Rogues” series, this all-consuming, character-driven story has kept its appeal, while the paranormal aspect adds a twist.

RWA 2017

RWA 2017 Library Grant Winner

The Philipsburgh Public Library, MT, is the winner of this year’s Romance Writers of America (RWA) Library Grant. In keeping with the requirements, the library will use the $4,500 award to expand its large-print romance holdings and purchase eight ereaders and preload them with romance novels.

RWA 2017 Cathie Linz Librarian of the Year

Danielle King, Alafaya Branch, Orange County Library System, Orlando, FL

RWA 2017 Vivian Stephens Industry Award

Tina Dick, Editor in Chief, Walking in the Clouds

RWA 2017 Academic Research Grants

Dr. Ria Cheyne (Liverpool Hope Univ., England), “The Disability and Romance Project”; Dr. Kate Brown (Huntington Univ., IN), “Dukes, Dowers, Devises, and Demesnes: The Paradoxical Place of English Law in the Historical Romance”

Librarians’ Day!

Plans are well under way for Librarians’ Day at the annual RWA conference in July. Set for the final day of the get-together, Saturday, July 29, the event presents a mix of librarians, authors, and industry professionals on a series of panels addressing topics such as “Top Romance Trends and How To Use Them in Your Library” and “The Language of Love: How To Talk Romance When Doing Readers’ Advisory,” as well as YA Romance and a preview of romances releasing this fall. The luncheon speaker will be Brenda Jackson, a best-selling author of more than 100 romance novels and a member of RWA’s Hall of Fame. The cost of the entire day is $25. For more information and to register, go to

Note: Scholarships for the day’s registration fee are available. For application details, go to The day ends with an open Literacy Signing, with hundreds of authors available for chat and photo ops.

Harlequin Dare

Using the London Book Fair as a backdrop, Harlequin announced the launch of Harlequin Dare, a new line of “riveting, irresistible romance stories featuring highly explicit sexual encounters, making it the publisher’s sexiest series ever.” Strong, empowered heroines who “dare” are paired with hot, successful, alpha-male heroes in intense, character-driven stories made all the more glamorous by the international settings. (Idyllic American small towns are probably not on the menu here.) The books will be about 50,000 words in length, with the first titles scheduled for release in January 2018. Four titles will be issued each month in ebook format in North America and in both print and ebook formats in Australia and the UK. Do we dare not pay attention?

A Cuban Book Trip: Reading Flourishes at the Havana Book Fair

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 16:39

The captivating country of Cuba has welcomed readers, authors, publishers, and librarians to the Havana International Book Fair since 1982. Organized by the Ministry of Culture and the Cuban Book Institute, this standout cultural extravaganza, which originated as part of a government campaign to boost literacy on the island, celebrated its 26th anniversary this past February with a family-oriented festival dedicated to the pleasures of reading under the motto, “To read is to grow.”

In 2016, after the decades-old U.S. embargo of Cuba was partially lifted, the American Library Association (ALA) sponsored a tour of about 30 people whose goal was to attend the fair as well as to visit major Cuban libraries and other cultural and social institutions. Traveling from New York, Virginia, Illinois, New Jersey, California, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Texas, New Hampshire, Arizona, and the Virgin Islands, tour group members included professionals from an array of libraries, three library schools, two professional associations, and a consulting firm.

The main venue for the ten-day fair was the massive 18th-century Fortaleza de San Carlos de La Cabaña (Fort of St. Charles), with 12 additional locations around Havana for readings by authors and other fair events. Taking advantage of the Fortaleza’s stunning architecture and its generous outdoor spaces, many of the attending publishers (58 Cuban, 86 foreign) were housed in separate cubicles that ranged along cobblestone alleys while others were placed in shady tents and fresh-air stalls.

A hit with the locals

Especially noticeable for this first-time visitor was the popularity of the fair with Cubans of all ages; some 600,000 Habeneros attended (in a city of two million people!). As there are only about a dozen state-owned bookstores in Havana with unreliable operating hours and limited inventories owing to severe paper shortages, the event offered locals the only reliable opportunity to buy new books from government presses and other publishers. Children’s materials of all kinds, including laminated posters, attracted plenty of attention, and many Latin American and Spanish publishers hosted large and colorful displays. [On a personal note, the ALA guide confessed to being an avid reader who gets his books from his half brother in Miami.]

Among the local authors promoting their wares was a turbaned culinary star of Cuban television, who had collected her own recipes for favorite Cuban specialties and packaged them into a colorful and attractive paperback. And not to be missed was the booth of Ediciones Vigía, which specializes in handcrafted books limited to print runs of 200 copies. Headquartered in Matanzas in central Cuba, this three-decades-old press, made up of a collective of volunteer artisans, demonstrates Cuban creativity and resourcefulness by making its own papers out of donated, repurposed materials, commissioning its own art, and creating exquisite 3–D works on paper that are a book collector’s delight. Ediciones Vigía takes its name from the hurricane oil lamp used by Cubans during power outages.

Unfortunately, the prices of these collectors’ items are prohibitive for most Cubans. The country’s unusual dual currency system also makes imported books unaffordable for natives. At the book fair, Havana residents could use their Cuban pesos (CUPs) to buy government and local publications at a central bookstore for a typical cover price of less than one U.S. dollar. But foreign publishers could only sell their books at their kiosks for Convertible Currency (CUCs) pesos. As this tourist currency is pegged to the U.S. dollar, the average price of an imported book jumped to about six dollars.

Not for sale were the 400 titles from 21 American publishers on display in the USA Pavillon as part of the U.S. Publishing Mission to Cuba, organized by Publishers Weekly and the Combined Book Exhibit. However, these books were donated to the Cuban Book Institute after the fair ended. Cuban and American publishers both urged the end of the U.S. economic blockade.

Other notable features of the fair included a tribute to Fidel Castro, Comandante en Jefe, who died in November 2016; this was marked by a special presentation of the 90th Anniversary Collection of Castro’s 30 books along with a two-day colloquium devoted to his political thought. With Canada as this year’s guest of honor, the Canadian embassy invited more than 30 Canadian authors to attend the book fair, chief among them Margaret Atwood, Madeleine Thien, Luc Chartrand, and Jocelyne Saucier. Eighteen Canadian publishers also filled out the guest list.

The ALA tour found Havana’s National Library José Martí to be a marble showpiece with handsome reading rooms, but the two municipal libraries and a province-level library visited by the group were housed in decaying mansions, and the materials they offered were mostly old and often in tatters. While Cuban library leaders who talked to the ALA group recognized that improving library technology is a major challenge, they insisted that the acquisition and use of physical books remain a higher priority for Cuba. Having achieved an almost 100 percent literacy rate, a point of national pride, the country has also made the hunger for books and reading as Cuban as the rhumba.

Barbara Conaty, a retired federal librarian, has reviewed for LJ since 1976

SELF-e Circs: Top Ten Most Read Fantasy Titles in SELF-e Select

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 16:38
Fantasy 1

Brannigan, Grace. Find Me. Questor. (Faeries Lost, Bk. 1). 2013. 226p. ebk. ISBN 9781939061355.


Young, Nancy. Strum. First. 2013. 380p. ebk. ISBN N/A.


Ingle, Adam. Necessary Evil and the Greater Good. CreateSpace: Amazon. 2014. 288p. ebk. ISBN N/A.


Ardito, Gina. Eternally Yours. CreateSpace: Amazon. (Afterlife, Bk. 1). 2012. 276p. ebk. ISBN 9781478132448.


Madore, Nancy. The Hidden Ones. CreateSpace: Amazon. (Legacy of the Watchers, Bk. 1). 2013. 434p. ebk. IBSN N/A.


St. Clair, Anthony. Forever the Road. Rucksack. (Rucksack Universe, Bk. 3). 2014. 458p. ebk. ISBN 9781940119083.


McPhail, Melissa. Cephrael’s Hand. Five Strands. (Pattern of Shadow & Light, Bk. 1). 2014. 780p. ebk. ISBN N/A.


Luria, Alia. Compendium. Willowslip. (Artifacts of Lumin, Bk. 1). 2015. 490p. ebk. ISBN N/A.


Fehmel, Cindy. The Knight Errant Courts Disaster. ebk. ISBN N/A.


Beguesse, Nicole. Angelboy. 2013. 212p. ebk IBSN N/A.


A 2015 Honorable Mention in LJ’s annual Indie Ebook Awards, Anthony St. Clair’s Forever the Road is a quirky offering filled with fantasy, travel, and beer. Here, he discusses his influences, his “Rucksack Universe” series, and being a self-published author.

What fantasy authors have influenced you, and what do you enjoy about the genre?
I’ve been a “Discworld” series fan since college, and Terry Pratchett [the author of that series] has been a big influence on my work. These books remind me not to take fantasy too seriously, yet ­Pratchett does an unparalleled job of taking aim at events in our world.

I love how Neil Gaiman intertwines the fantastical and the realistic in his novel American Gods; TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer shaped my sense of dialog and mythology; and Louise Penny’s “Chief Inspector Gamache” [mystery] series wows me with every read.

I endeavor to hold true to a sense of the amazing underlying the ordinary. Fantasy is a far more encompassing genre than people give it credit for. It helps us gain perspective and understanding.

The concept of destiny is a running theme in Forever the Road. What drew you to exploring those complexities?
Growing up, I was surrounded by people who talked about life being just a matter of circumstance. What happened to you was what happened to you, and there was nothing you could do about it. I became determined to set my own course. I’ve come to understand that life is a mixture of choice, circumstance, and what we choose to do with the circumstances we have.

What inspired your worldbuilding?
I started [writing the stories] in 2004. I’d just come back from traveling India, Thailand, and Cambodia and had an idea about a traveler who faces an impossible decision. I fiddled with it, but it wasn’t until around 2011 that I got more serious.

I began worldbuilding in earnest and have never stopped. Pratchett kept evolving Discworld, and that helped me find my confidence that my world wasn’t static but would broaden with effort. Drawing on my travels, I researched Celtic and Buddhist mythology and geography. I dedicated writing sessions to worldbuilding: 1,000 words on a character, a setting, an event. I still turn to those exercises so I can keep expanding the universe and my understanding of it.

Why did you decide to self-publish? Were there any specific resources you used to learn about the process?
Back in 2010, I was planning to leave my job and set up shop as a self-employed professional writer. I spent months researching the publishing industry and where things might go. I drew on all sorts of resources, such as Joanna Penn’s [website] the Creative Penn and Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual. I also joined the Alliance of Independent Authors.

I chose self-publishing because I wanted to maintain control of my rights and set the course of my work. I’m also an admin nerd. I like spreadsheets and keeping the books. I even get a kick out of setting up ISBNs. That doesn’t mean I’ll never work with a publisher, but if I did, it would be in a situation where I was confident that it would be a win for everyone.

What do you wish you knew about self-publishing when you were first getting started?
I wish I had understood more about categorizing a book and writing descriptions. Copywriting and commercial writing are part of my business, but just as the cobbler’s children have no shoes, I have found it devil hard to write descriptions for my own stories.

Categorizing is also tough. My books are fantastical, but not in the mainstream genre sense. I have no vampires, werewolves, or witches. I take some comfort from Gaiman though. He’s said he doesn’t necessarily consider his books fantasy, but he concedes that you’ve got to put them somewhere.—Kate DiGirolomo

These titles are currently the top fantasy novels being read through SELF-e Select, a subscription-based digital discovery platform that culls the best self-published submissions. To bring SELF-e to your library, visit the SELF-e website.

Learning To Love Romance | Readers’ Advisory

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 13:33

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Passionate historicals, fast-paced suspense, werewolves, Vikings, modern-day bikers, Navy SEALs, Amish families. The romance genre can give you all these things and a happy ending.

Romance novels share two defining characteristics—a love story and the satisfying resolution of that story. There can be any kind of setting or theme, but the main characters must fall in love and have their happily ever after, or at least the promise of one. While the happy ending is guaranteed, romance readers still demand a strong story and a connection with the characters and the emotions that come from investing in that journey.

relishing the range of romance

Romantic suspense is the most widely read subgenre, containing plots full of mystery and thriller elements. Classic authors such as Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt spin stories with hints of danger, while modern authors Suzanne Brockmann, Sandra Brown, and Catherine Coulter create tales with explicit danger and sex.

Historical romances take place in any time period prior to 1950 (though that is loosening up a bit as we proceed down the time line), with settings and eras that vary widely. Authors to know are Mary Balogh, Jo Beverley, Grace Burrowes, Loretta Chase, Tessa Dare, Beverly Jenkins, Lisa Kleypas, Sarah MacLean, Courtney Milan, and Julia Quinn.

Paranormal romances contain supernatural elements such as vampires, ghosts, werewolves, psychics, and angels. There are also sf tropes such as time travel and steam­punk. A few authors in this subgenre include Gail Carriger, Christine Feehan, Jeaniene Frost, Sherrilyn Kenyon, and Nalini Singh.

• Spiritual beliefs of the characters play a defining part in the relationships in Christian and inspirational romances. Take a look at the works of Tamera Alexander, Piper Huguley, Julie Klassen, Beverly Lewis, and Lauraine Snelling.

• In erotic romance, explicit sex is a large part of the storytelling. The stories can be set in any time period and contain elements from some of the other subgenres. For some steamy reading, check out Emma Chase, Sylvia Day, Zane, Vi Keeland, Alisha Rai, Leah Raeder, and Damon Suede.

Contemporary romances take place from 1950 to the present and can be set in a variety of locations. You’ll find sports, bikers, the military, and just about any other pro-fession in this subgenre. Jennifer Crusie, Christina Lauren, Jamie McGuire, Brenda Jackson, Debbie Macomber, Susan Elizabeth Phillips, and Jill Shalvis are some favorites.

• Readers looking for romantic fiction with LGBTQ leads should seek out K.J. Charles (historical, m/m), Radclyffe (contemporary, f/f), Heidi Cullinan (contemporary, m/m), Melissa Brayden (contemporary, f/f), and Anna Cowan’s Untamed (Regency, bisexual). Dream­spinner, Carina, and Riptide are all publishers to know.

Connecting to the reader

In a training course I teach about romance RA, I stress that you have about five seconds to connect with a reader, and your attitude is everything. Romance readers are used to being judged—by friends, family, strangers, booksellers, and librarians. They’ve been told their reading tastes are not good enough, and their favorite books are often dismissed. If you personally dislike romance works, just keep in mind that RA isn’t about you or what you like but about assisting readers and helping them find their next great read.

Levels of sexuality vary widely across the romance genre, and it’s important to match the level to the reader as part of the RA interview. Find and practice your preferred terminology to assist in that discussion. You may want to use terms such as sweet, tame, mild, hot, spicy, or PG-, R-, or X-rated.

A great resource is the Romance Writers of America (RWA) website ( An entire section, “About the Romance Genre,” explains the genre and subgenres and offers statistics. Kristin Ramsdell’s Romance Fiction: A Guide to the Genre (2d ed. Libraries Unlimited, 2012) and Joyce G. Saricks’s The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Fiction (ALA Editions, 2009) have excellent suggested authors and titles. (Ramsdell has written LJ’s romance column since 1994.) In addition to the traditional review sources, the website Smart Bitches Trashy Books ( is bracingly honest and calls out the horrible as needed. The website founders, Sarah Wendell and Candy Tan, also wrote Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches’ Guide to Romance Novels (Touchstone, 2009). Many romance authors are savvy marketers and have strong presences on social media. Women of Color in Romance (@WOCInRomance) is an excellent Twitter presence to follow.

Romance readers generate a billion dollars in sales each year and check out millions of books in libraries nationwide. Let’s give them recognition and serve them well.

Kim Storbeck is the Electronic Resources Collection Development Specialist at Timberland Regional Library, Olympia, WA. While a reader of everything, she holds a particular love for romance novels

Making Horror Less Scary | Readers’ Advisory

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 13:32

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Welcome to the world of horror fiction, where monsters roam the streets, vampires attack at night, ghosts haunt every home, and mayhem is the norm. For many library workers, just the idea of helping a horror reader, let alone reading a horror novel, is a frightening proposition. Yet you can’t hide under the covers every time someone asks for a tale of terror. Readers of all persuasions are picking up scary books in mass quantities, enough to have multiple authors other than Stephen King regularly hit the best sellers lists.

It’s time to brush up your skills and step over to the dark side. But where to begin? The hardest thing for non-horror-loving library folk to understand is that horror readers want to be scared. More than any other type of literature, the horror novel’s ultimate objective is to scare by manipulating the reader’s emotions. It gives a voice to our fears, delivering feelings of panic, chaos, destruction, aversion, and disgust that we horror readers find uncompromisingly intriguing.

Your next step is to educate yourself as to how today’s horror novels elicit these bleak sentiments, moving from the page into the minds of readers. The best horror novels create an uneasy atmosphere that follows the reader off the page. This intense sense of dread starts immediately—something is slightly anxious or gloomy as these novels open. The story might pull back after the first few pages and try to mollify the reader for a few minutes, lure them back from the edge, but that sinister edge is still there, lurking in the background. This also directly affects pacing. While there is no standard pacing to a horror novel, the one constant is that as the anxiety and terror steadily build throughout so, too, does the pace. By the end, it becomes relentless, and readers can’t stop turning the pages to see what will happen.

Horror readers also want characters about which they can care. If we don’t like the protagonist, we will not care that he or she is being chased or stalked by an evil force. The main characters need to be relatable and sympathetic. That being said, we also can’t have only relentlessly building dread and constant horrific things happening to our main characters. That is why horror generally features flashbacks—both to serve as a break in the hopelessness of the current story line and to help underscore the grim tone by going back to a time when things were happier.

Beyond the best sellers

That’s a quick primer on how the best horror novels ply their trade, but who are the authors you should be reading and or handing out to patrons? I assume you already know about King, Dean Koontz, F. Paul Wilson, and Peter Straub. In fact, I hope you have those authors on your automatic buy lists, but if you want to help more horror readers, here are authors whom you should also be adding to your collections and actively suggesting to patrons who want to feel the fear: Joe Hill, Jonathan Maberry, Christopher Golden, and Brian Keene. You’d be wise as well to recommend ­Stephen ­Graham Jones, Nick Cutter, Mary SanGiovanni, Ania ­Ahlborn, Kaaron Warren, Tananarive Due, and Victor LaValle, all of whom provide well-crafted tales of terror.

Here are five newer “sure bet” single titles that have proven appeal to a wide range of horror fans, from hard-core genre readers to patrons just looking for a good fright: Josh Malerman’s Bird Box, Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s HEX, Jonathan Janz’s Children of the Dark, and Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock.

Further reading

Now that you have some key authors and titles in your arsenal, check out some additional resources to help you stay current and find even more great suggestions. My own book, The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2d edition, and its online home, RA for All: Horror ( are filled with hundreds of lists, reviews, resources, and more. Twice a year (in the October 1 and April 15 issues), I take over Neal Wyatt’s long-running Reader’s Shelf column here in LJ, providing comprehensive, library-specific horror information for adult readers.

Any story collection edited by Ellen Datlow, who is universally considered the best horror editor, is worth your time. I use her collections to identify new authors of note.

The Horror Writers Association has an entire page of resources for libraries (, which includes a member-created reading list and easy access to current and past lists of Bram Stoker Award winners and nominees.

For more regular horror and dark fiction reviews of titles that are a good fit for collections, try LitReactor ( and This Is Horror (

Now get out there, and use this road map to chart your own path down the not-so-scary road of assisting horror readers. Maybe you will even be brave enough to try one for yourself.

Becky Spratford is a Readers’ Advisory Specialist in Illinois. She is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror (2d ed. ALA Editions, 2012) and a proud member of the Horror Writers Association. Learn more about her at

RA Ready: A Beginner’s Guide to Genre Fiction | Readers’ Advisory

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 13:32

There are few things more satisfying for a librarian than uniting a reader with a great book (or two or ten). But many library staffers experience anxiety when asked to recommend titles in genres they don’t read themselves and with which they are unfamiliar. In these terrifying moments, some may cast a glance around, hoping to spot the resident sf aficionado or dedicated romance buff. In the absence of a knowledgeable colleague, eyes may turn desperately to the New Releases or Staff Picks shelves. Resources such as NoveList can be a lifesaver—provided the library has a subscription and if the patron has the patience to wait for a search to be performed. Other resources that cross genres include Goodreads and of course LJ and the other professional review publications, plus general interest publications targeted to book lovers.

In a 2014 survey developed by LJ with NoveList and the RUSA/CODES Readers’ Advisory Research and Trends Committee, the first most commonly cited cause of RA anxiety is keeping up with books and genres, a problem cited by 21 percent of the librarians. Second, at 17 percent, was discomfort with unfamiliar genres. Combine that with the 23 percent whose library provides no training or support for RA, the 42 percent who had no RA class in library school, and the 14 percent who cite “time to train in RA/read.”

For all those people, the following toolkit was designed specifically with genre-newbies in mind. Not a horror fan? Never read a Regency love story? Don’t know the difference between an Orc and a Dementor? Fear not. RA experts with deep knowledge of some of the most popular genre fiction categories (sf/fantasy, romance, horror, thrillers, mystery, and young adult) here offer a crash course in the top titles, series, and authors librarians need to know. For more advice and recommendations, be sure to check out Neal Wyatt’s “RA Crossroads” and “Wyatt’s World,” two long-running RA columns on—Kiera Parrott

Illustration by Boris Séméniako/Purple Rain Illustrators 


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Living on the Edge with Thrillers | Readers’ Advisory

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 13:31

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Thriller literature tends to have a bad reputation, and it’s unclear why that stigma exists. The majority of best-selling books today fall into this genre, and the writing, layout, characters, and plot can be at least as complex as in other genre fiction. Some might consider it escapism, but with insights into secretive worlds and key facts blended into the settings, thrillers can serve as much more than mere distraction.

If genres were cars, thrillers would not only have to run well, they would have to accelerate from the outset and move at blindingly fast speed. Some stories are character studies, while others inspire particular emotions or moods. A thriller has to have strong characters, but the plot must introduce high stakes and conflict mixed with an emotional resonance.

An abundance of big-name authors such as James Patterson and Lee Child dominate the genre, and how you feel about those names might color your judgment of the field as a whole. Although the big names represent a mere fraction of thrillers, they can offer a useful bridge to less-well-known authors. For example, readers loved or loathed Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, but many sought similar story lines and discovered Fiona Barton and David Bell. The following subgenres represent some of the most common types of thrillers, and both big-name and emerging authors are suggested.

Covert Action

Some of the best thrillers written today take readers into the clandestine worlds of the CIA and Special Ops. The big names in this subgenre are Brad Thor, John le Carré, and the late Vince Flynn, whose “Mitch Rapp” series is so popular that author Kyle Mills has written the past couple of entries, with more to follow. For patrons looking for espionage and military thrillers, recommend Ben Coes’s “Dewey Andreas” series, Brad Taylor’s “Taskforce,” Gregg Hurwitz’s “Orphan X,” and novels by ­Patrick Lee, Matthew Betley, Gary Hardwick, and John ­Gilstrap.

Behind the Picket Fence

Another subgenre is the X-ray into the underbelly of ­suburbia, brought to prominence by Harlan Coben. What goes on behind the scenes and lives of the neighbors we all think we know so well? Authors to seek out include Daniel Palmer, Lisa Unger, and Linwood Barclay. Stephen L. Carter writes thrillers across numerous subgenres, but his fiction ­debut, The Emperor of Ocean Park, is a great starting point.

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Some readers love watching law enforcement find the bad guy and bring them to justice. Michael Connelly is the master when it comes to gripping crime stories. Thrillers differ from mysteries here in that mysteries tend to have an unknown perp and the whodunit element, while thrillers have a known villain and the story line targets more the whydunit. Some of the best works drop readers into the hidden world of law enforcement (FBI, police, Texas Rangers) and include Alan Jacobson’s “Karen Vail” books, Stefanie Pintoff’s tales about Eve Rossi, Robert Dugoni’s “Tracy Crosswhite” series, and Paula L. Woods’s “Charlotte Justice” novels. Fans should also check out series offerings by J.T. Ellison, Steven James, and Jon Land.

For those who enjoy the legal shenanigans of John Grisham or Scott Turow, there are some excellent alternatives: Anthony Franze, Steve Martini, Christopher Darden, and Paul Levine.

Secret Societies & Conspiracy Theories

With the popularity of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, the mix of history and science tinged with conspiracy has grown in the world of thriller literature. In addition to recommending Brown and the late Michael Crichton, librarians should suggest James Rollins’s “Sigma Force” titles, Steve Berry’s “Cotton Malone” books, Matthew Reilly’s “Jack West, Jr.” series, and the novels of Andy McDermott.

Mind Games

Many readers enjoy the twists and turns of a good psychological thriller, which often feature elements from mystery and horror novels. Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, and the spine-tingling novels of Ruth Ware and Tana French all fall into this category.

Claudia Piñeiro’s A Crack in the Wall explores the dark side of Buenos Aires, Tess Gerritsen’s medical thrillers will raise heart rates, and Thomas Harris’s now-classic series about erudite serial killer Hannibal the Cannibal is goosebump-inducing. (See Jordan Foster’s “Psychological Suspense” sidebar in “Novel Crime Scenes,” LJ 4/15/17, p. 30.)

The Motley Crew

Finally, some thrillers skillfully blend multiple genres. Here are a few to recommended to any thriller reader: Brad Parks’s Say Nothing (suburban/legal), K.J. Howe’s The Freedom Broker (Special Ops/family drama/international intrigue), James Rollins’s The Seventh Plague (science/history/Special Ops), Joseph Finder’s Guilty Minds (spies/corporations/legal), and David Lynn Golemon’s The Traveler (sf/history/Special Ops).

With this deep field of well-written and diverse books, don’t hesitate to guide your readers to the wonderful world of thrillers. Once they get started, they won’t be able to stop.

Jeff Ayers works for the Seattle Public Library and is a freelance reviewer of suspense/thrillers for LJ, Booklist, and the Associated Press. He cohosts a podcast for Suspense Magazine and has written several books in the worlds of both nonfiction and fiction

Taking the Mystery Out of Mystery | Readers’ Advisory

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 13:31

Other Articles in this Series:

Mysteries appeal to the intellect. They offer a puzzle, clues to solve it, and red herrings meant to be misleading. Some readers derive satisfaction from solving the mystery before the detective does. Others prefer the surprise of a twist ending. The same book can offer either of these experiences, depending on the reader.

The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Mystery, 2d ed., by John Charles, Candace Clark, et al., is a superb resource. Stop, You’re Killing Me! ( is ideal for finding read-alikes as well as links to mystery awards—a sure bet for recommendations. Try following the “Crime Lady,” Sarah Weinman, on Twitter at @sarahw, the Mystery Writers of America at @EdgarAwards, and Mystery Scene magazine at @­MysteryScene. (See also LJ’s annual mystery preview, “Novel Crime Scenes,” LJ 4/15/17, and a roundup of diverse mysteries, “Diversity Is No Mystery,” LJ 11/1/16, p. 42.)

Getting cozy

Cozy mysteries tend to center on a crime that has taken place off-stage—there is no overt violence, just the results. The person solving the crime is usually an amateur and can be in just about any profession. The popular TV show Murder, She Wrote spawned the trope affectionately known as “Cabot Cove syndrome,” which refers to the large number of dead bodies that tend to appear in rural towns and remote locations in these types of stories. Donald Bain writes the series of books spun off from the show.

Cozy mysteries can be set in various locations, time periods, and industries. Joanne Fluke dishes up a delicious series with small-town baker Hannah Swenson. Lilian Jackson Braun gave us talking cats in her “Cat Who…” series, while dogs have their voice in the “Chet and Bernie” mysteries from Spencer Quinn. M.C. Beaton sent advertising executive Agatha Raisin into retirement, only to find murders overflow in her Cotswold village (it’s also a DVD series). Naomi Hirahara’s Mas Arai is a retired gardener-turned-sleuth. Rhys Bowen and Laurie R. King write wonderful historical cozies. Humor pops up in cozies, too; look at the works of authors Mary Kay Andrews, Elaine Viets, Janet Evanovich, and Lawrence Block. Check the Agatha Awards at (named for Agatha Christie, the Grande Dame of cozies) to find uniformly excellent titles.

On the case

Another popular subgenre is police procedurals, in which the police detective is the protagonist and the reader gets to follow along as the different aspects of police work inform the clues. These tend to be series and can be set almost anywhere. Dozens based in the United States feature a variety of law enforcement personnel. Michael Connelly’s homicide detective Harry Bosch works out of Los Angeles; James Lee Burke’s Deputy Dave Robicheaux wanders Louisiana; Eleanor Taylor Bland’s Marti MacAlister hails from Illinois; Lisa Gardner features Boston detective D.D. Warren; and then there’s Ed McBain’s “87th Precinct” (New York City), to name a few. Readers who enjoy reading about cops (and criminals) with an edge should try George Pelecanos’s gritty tales.

Canada boasts of one of the most popular police procedurals from Louise Penny, featuring Quebec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. There are many from Great Britain, and in fact many European mysteries focus on police work. Ian Rankin is a Scottish crime writer, best known for his “Inspector Rebus” series. Peter Robinson sets his “Inspector Banks” series in Yorkshire, England, and Stephen Booth writes about young Derbyshire detectives Ben Cooper and Diane Fry. The “Inspector Montalbano Mysteries” by ­Andrea Camilleri are set in Sicily, and Donna Leon’s novels are based in Venice, starring Commissario Guido Brunetti. Scandinavian police procedurals can be on the dark side. Among the most popular are Henning Mankell’s “Inspector Kurt Wallander” series, Jo Nesbø’s “Oslo Inspector Harry Hole” titles, and Kristina Ohlsson’s “Fredrika Bergman” books.

Private eyes

Private detective stories allow the protagonists more leeway than police officers—they can walk in that gray area just outside the law. Private detectives abound in crime fiction, from Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe to Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins; Sue Grafton’s alphabetical series with PI Kinsey Millhone; Laura Lippman’s reporter-turned-PI Tess Monaghan; and Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. The “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” is a cozy series from Alexander McCall Smith, set in South Africa, while Jacqueline Winspear writes about psychologist sleuth Maisie Dobbs, in early 20th-century England.

The numerous mystery subgenres can feel intimidating to librarians trying to wade through it all. Appeal factors can be all over the place, so first determine what elements the reader wants and proceed from there.

Stacy Alesi was a Borders bookseller/manager before moving to the Palm Beach County Library System, FL, and is a professional reviewer. She contributed to Nonfiction Readers’ Advisory (Libraries Unlimited, 2004), gives webinars, and speaks at various conferences. Alesi is one of the original book bloggers, creating Stacy Alesi’s in 1998. She is also a cat aficionado and a foodie

The Young, the Psycho, the War-torn, the Aging, & the Beachy | What We’re Reading & Watching

Tue, 04/25/2017 - 13:03

LJ and School Library Journal staffers contemplate mortality, parse a prequel, witness war and its effects on “normal” people, and escape to Nantucket this week in “What We’re Reading & Watching.”

Mahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
“Sometimes we all go a little mad. Haven’t you?” No, that’s not me going off the deep end as the latest magazine deadline looms—it’s a quote from one of my favorite films, Psycho. And speaking of Psycho, I’ve been watching the fifth and final season of Bates Motel, an A&E TV series that imagines the years before Norman Bates truly went mad and ended up slashing up poor Marion Crane in the shower.

Set during the present, Bates Motel is less a prequel in the classic sense and more a reimagining—almost fan fiction. Whereas with his remake, director Gus Van Sant faithfully re-created every scene of Hitchcock’s original, the creators of Bates Motel have taken various elements of the movie and shaken them up for a distorted but ultimately compelling take on now iconic characters. This version begins with a 17-year-old Norman moving to White Pine Bay, OR, with his mother, Norma, after the death of his father. Norman and his mother are certainly a little closer than most mothers and sons, but the oddest elements of the show come not from their intense bond but from the town itself—White Pine Bay has a bit of a Twin Peaks vibe to it. There’s gang warfare, a sex trafficking ring, and murder, murder, murder (at least two per season!).

What holds my interest, even when the TV show goes off the deep end at times, is the strong relationship between Norma and Norman, played, respectively by the lovely Vera Farmiga (who’s no stranger to bringing up bizarre kids—she played the mother of Bad Seed characters in Joshua and the Orphan) and Freddie Highmore (yup, the sweet little boy from Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Over the years, the show has delved into these two characters’ psychology, attempting to explain some of the family dysfunction. We eventually learn that Norman’s older half brother, Dylan, is the product of a nonconsensual incestuous relationship between Norma and her older brother, Caleb, and that Norman developed an especially close rapport with his mother as a result of the abuse Norma endured at the hands of Norman’s late father. Both Highmore and Farmiga excel at humanizing their characters without glossing over their flaws. Highmore is especially intriguing as he goes from gawky and downright endearing to brooding, with just a hint of menace—he’s mastered the unnerving stare that Anthony Perkins perfected in Psycho.

There are plenty of nods to the original film, such as Norma doing everything she can to stop the town from erecting the bypass that would drive business away from the Bates Motel in Psycho, and Norman developing his love of taxidermy, but the writers have had free rein to make the series their own—and boy have they. This latest season hews very closely to the film: we finally meet Marion Crane (in this iteration, she’s played by Rihanna), who’s having an affair with a married Sam Loomis. Sam’s wife, who works in the hardware store, has been flirting with Norman (no, this isn’t Peyton Place meets Psycho!). In the most recent episode that I’ve seen, Marion has just pulled up to the Bates Motel with $400,000 in cash, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Kate DiGirolomo, SELF-e Community Coordinator
It was 2001 when I first saw Stand by Me and only learned that River Phoenix was dead after eagerly running to the computer to see what he’d grown up to look like. I suppose it’s strange to mourn an actor so many years after their death, but it felt all too real to my 14-year-old self, and I spent the rest of that summer burning through his filmography in devastated tribute. Fast way forward to a week ago, when I caught a glimpse of his face on a book a fellow commuter was reading. After a bit of subtle investigation, I ordered Gavin Edwards’s Last Night at the Viper Room: River Phoenix and the Hollywood He Left Behind (Dey St: HarperCollins) when I got home. Edwards has pulled research from every available source to piece together who River was, why he was, and how he ended up dying on the street outside a nightclub. His haunting introduction dropped my stomach in the same way being unexpectedly met with River’s date-of-death as a teenager did, and I’ve been ruminating on something his then-girlfriend, actress Samantha Mathis, said: “It was completely shattering. It was hard to conceive of your mortality at that age. It’s really strange now, to think that I’m not 23, and he’ll always be 23.”


Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
Usually I’m all over suspense, thriller, and mystery titles, but my most recent reads have left me cold—or just indifferent. I pegged the murderers pretty quickly in two of them and grew exasperated at the attempts to make a small-town-with-secrets murder story more literary in a third. Time for a palate cleanser, but what? I haven’t figured that out yet, but I did enjoy watching the final episode of Ryan Murphy’s creative miniseries Feud: Bette and Joan. If Jessica Lange does not get an Emmy Award for her performance as Joan Crawford, I might have to picket the organization’s offices, wherever they are. And same for Jackie Hoffman, scene-stealer extraordinaire, who played Crawford’s inscrutable German maid, Mamacita. The amount of talent in this small-screen extravaganza was vast, and while some of the plot points were a little duh-worthy, overall it was good TV. Now to find a new reading jag, or miniseries jag. Anybody seen Bosch?

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
I recently finished Han Kang’s Human Acts (Hogarth: Crown), which was beautiful and harrowing. Both the writing and translation (by Deborah Smith) are lovely, which serves to hammer home the way violence—maybe especially when it’s political in origin—has implications for years and generations afterward. The book is a series of narratives of ordinary people caught up in the student uprising and military massacre in Guangju, South Korea, in May 1980, beginning with one 15-year-old boy and spiraling outward, including an arresting author epilog. It’s not an easy or comfortable read—a lot of it is very violent, encompassing human acts ranging from torture to the tender washing and dressing of anonymous dead bodies—but it’s a strong and I think necessary one.

Not only does this novel provide a window into an event that happened nearly 40 years ago, which was given pretty short shrift in American news, as well as make a horrific historical event more real, it also reminds us that this is what can happen to ordinary people living ordinary lives in an unstable and militaristic regime… and shouldn’t that sound at least a little familiar to all of us in 2017? In one of the later chapters, “The Factory Girl,” as events in Guangju ramp up—the rise of a militaristic leader to fill the power void left by an assassinated president, the institutionalization of media censorship and misinformation, and the violent arrests of protesters—the young narrator says:

Through the newspapers, you witnessed the seemingly inexorable rise of Chun Doo-hwan, the young general who had been the former president’s favorite. You could practically see him in your mind’s eye, riding into Seoul on a tank as in a Roman triumph, swiftly appropriating the highest position in the central government. Goose bumps rose on your arms and neck. Frightening things are going to happen. The middle-aged tailor used to tease you: “You’re cozying up with that newspaper like it’s your new beau, Miss Lim. What a thing it is to be  young, and be able to read such fine print without glasses.”

And man, that gave me a full-body shiver. A flicker of a reminder to all of us who have thought the same thing in the past three months, which I imagine is most of us. Pay attention.

Henrietta Verma, WWR/WWW emerita
I just read Nancy Thayer’s Secrets in Summer (Ballantine). You can’t go wrong with Thayer for a bit of escapism, which I am more than in the market for lately. She doesn’t write anything unexpected—family and romance drama on Nantucket is her bread and butter—and sometimes that’s perfect. This book features a professionally realistic (hallelujah!) children’s librarian who lives happily alone in her inherited island home, which is a peaceful idyll until her obnoxious ex-husband happens to rent the house next door. There’s boyfriend and kid drama, too, all adding up to an easy, enjoyable read. Thayer fans will eat this up; it’s also a fine read-alike for those who relish Maeve Binchy’s novels.


Sharing the Struggle | Memoir

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 13:58

This month’s memoirs tell the stories of several people whose safety and security are particularly jeopardized: people experiencing severe poverty, women, African Americans, and refugees. In Ants Among Elephants, Sujatha Gidla tells the story of her family in India, untouchables whose social status creates challenges and tragedy. In Beautiful Bodies, Kimberly Rae Miller writes intimately of the damage done when women’s bodies and appearance are discussed in degrading terms. Jessica Harris’s My Soul Looks Back reflects upon the energy and creativity emanating from black literary and cultural icons in the late 1960s through the 1980s. With Among the Living and the Dead, Inara Verzemnieks works through her family history to create a near-whole account from the shattered narratives of her refugee and exiled relatives. These personal histories amplify the voices of individuals who are threatened and vulnerable in the hope that through reading about those with a different lived experience, we find commonalities and strength to share in the struggle toward a more equitable world for all.

Gidla, Sujatha. Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India. Farrar. Jul. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780865478114. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374711382. MEMOIR
In Gidla’s memoir of her family’s experience as members of an untouchable caste in India, she traces the lives of her mother and uncles. Interspersed throughout is both national and regional history that informs major events. The caste system imposes poverty and social ostracism, but Gidla’s family works through the system by pursuing education. Each time a new challenge is thrown in their path, they seem to overcome it, only to encounter new obstacles. Gidla uses descriptive and personal details to enliven her family’s story. Indeed, the book focuses primarily on her uncle, Satyam, and her mother, Manjula, and only in the introduction and afterword does the author bring her own biography into the picture (at the point in her mother’s story when Gidla is born, she refers to herself only in the third person). VERDICT Insightful and personal examination of the ways in which the caste system sanctions discrimination. Recommended for readers interested in social justice and eradicating systemic inequality. [See Prepub Alert, 2/6/17.]

Harris, Jessica B. My Soul Looks Back. Scribner. May 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781501125904. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501127007. MEMOIR
Culinary writer Harris’s reminiscence of her initial entry into the literary circle of James Baldwin begins on the fringes of the group, but as a French professor at Queens College, she makes professional connections, as well as personal ones. Her colleague Sam Lloyd becomes her longtime romantic companion and introduces her to Baldwin, as well as other prominent black writers and artists of the 1970s, such as Nina Simone, Rosa Guy, and Maya Angelou. This memoir is as much about Harris’s life as it is about a specific time and place—New York City in the 1970s and early 1980s—as those around her gained recognition for their efforts and successes in the arts. Harris intersperses her chapters with recipes that for her, epitomize that moment in her life, pairing her culinary evolution alongside the development of her cultural consciousness. VERDICT Harris moved in rarefied circles, and her work provides a glimpse of what it’s like to observe different artistic processes, vulnerabilities, and eccentricities.

Miller, Kimberly Rae. Beautiful Bodies. Little A. Jul. 2017. 209p. ISBN 9781503935174. $24.95; ISBN 9781477829578. pap. $14.95 MEMOIR
Author (Coming Clean), editor, and blogger Miller traces her approach to beauty and health back to her childhood days of trying to break into modeling, acting, and the pageant world. She dieted for the first time in elementary school, always feeling that her body wasn’t the right size. Her approach to eating and exercise caused her to swing from overweight to underweight, with no stability. Miller’s body image and self-esteem issues reach a critical point when she accidentally reads her boyfriend’s email, in which he muses about whether he should end the relationship because of her size. She consults with a nutrition counselor and an endocrinologist to restructure her eating habits; with medication and an appropriate diet, things even out. Some additional commentary on the difficulties of accepting yourself at any size would have been welcome; even though Miller ultimately reaches a healthy weight, it doesn’t always seem like she fully accepts herself. VERDICT This account offers telling insight on the immense negativity surrounding body image, as well as acknowledging that love and acceptance of oneself is a constant exercise in reinforcement.

Verzemnieks, Inara. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe. Norton. Jul. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780393245110. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393245127. MEMOIR
Verzemnieks’s impressive work examines the refugee history of her grandmother’s family with sensitivity and compassion. During World War II, her grandmother Livija is married, her husband fighting as a Latvian conscript, with one young daughter and a son born just days before violence consumes the capital city of Riga. Livija flees with both children and becomes one of the many war refugees seeking safety in the European countryside. Ultimately reunited with her husband, Livija and their now three children spend years in a refugee camp before finally receiving a sponsorship in Tacoma and emigrating to the United States. Through her visits to Latvia, the author develops and strengthens bonds with an entire extended family that she clearly relishes. The trips don’t erase the suffering and anguish of the past, but they do offer hope of reconciliation and forgiveness. VERDICT For readers looking for parallels between historic and current events. Though Syria isn’t mentioned, this book could have been written about what’s happening today, rather than over 70 years ago. [See Prepub Alert, 1/23/17.]

Other Memoir

Shopsin, Tamara. Arbitrary Stupid Goal. Farrar. Jul. 2017. 336p. illus. ISBN 9780374105860. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374715809. MEMOIR
Shopsin, a graphic designer and illustrator, writes with affection and humor about her 1970s-era childhood in New York’s Greenwich Village and her parent’s small grocery-turned-restaurant, Shopsin’s, which her family always referred to simply as “The Store.” The book, scattered with photographs, illustrations, and ephemera, is an ode to a New York that no longer exists, one in which gentrification has not yet taken hold and eccentrics, artists, and free spirits can find reasonably priced, rent-controlled apartments. Although designed to be more like a collage than a cohesive narrative, this memoir transitions from the author’s childhood to the present, feeling abrupt at times. Despite her efforts, characters such as Willy, a store regular and family favorite, never fully come to life on the page, nor does Shopsin’s father, whose bouts of anger she frequently alludes to but never explicates. Shopsin is at her best when she chronicles the ins and outs of growing up in this unique environment, navigating the parade of zany customers, working in the kitchen with her siblings, and relaying any number of comic incidents that take place at The Store. VERDICT A charming glimpse into one family’s singular archive; readers who enjoy kaleidoscopic memoirs will find it appealing.— Barrie Olmstead, Sacramento P.L.


Miniseries, Movie Stars, Short Stories, Coulrophobia, & Mama Cass | What We’re Reading/Watching

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 11:42

This edition of “What We’re Reading (and Watching)” has two new fresh voices: LJ Art Director Irving Cumberbatch shares his nighttime obsessions, and SLJ Assistant Editor Della Farrell escapes to Greece and ponders a Goodnight Moon appearance in a sf thriller. The rest of us get comfy with aging movie stars, scary clowns, 1960s rock and rollers, a 1950s wild child, rag-ripping minidramas, and prize-winning story collections.

Ellen Abrams, WWR/WWW emerita
Breakfast at Tiffany’s
is not one of my favorite movies. Lots of film fans love it, but I find it shallow and not exactly credible. Of course, when you cast the lovely and classy Audrey Hepburn as a call girl, you’re just asking for trouble in the believability department. Critiques aside, it’s almost always fun to read about the making of even a so-so movie, which brings us to Sam Wasson’s Fifth Avenue, 5 A.M.: Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and the Dawn of the Modern Woman (HarperCollins). Wasson’s book tells readers everything they never knew they wanted to know about the film adapted from Truman Capote’s much more daring novella of the same name. While I might disagree with the premise that Holly Golightly ushered in the feminist revolution, Wasson’s behind-the-camera tales about casting, actor upsets, choosing a director and screenwriter, the rag-ripping minidrama that signaled the beginning of the end of famed movie costume designer Edith Head, and, of course, Henry Mancini’s poignant theme song, “Moon River,” are as fun and entertaining as any good movie backstory.

Irving Cumberbatch, Art Director, LJ
As a nighttime soap aficionado, I have seen many a drama come and go through the television landscape, from the 1980s excess of Dynasty through to the current urban fabulousness of Empire. HBO’s latest offering is Big Little Lies, based on the 2014 novel by Liane Moriarty, or as I affectionately call it, Really Desperate Housewives. This limited series has all the hallmarks of a good nighttime soap: love, sex, betrayal, catfights, and more sex. The show takes place in a wealthy community in the scenic city of Monterey, CA, and centers on the lives of four women: Madeline (Reese Witherspoon), wife, mother, and town busybody; Celeste (Nicole Kidman), a woman trapped in an abusive marriage; Jane (Shailene Woodley), a single mom running from her mysterious past; and Renata (Laura Dern), a type-A superbitch who wrestles with the guilt of being a working mom. All four women have children entering the first grade. On the first day of school, Jane’s son is accused of bullying Renata’s daughter. It is left to the viewer to decide whether Ziggy is guilty of terrorizing Amabella. While this story line plays out in the series, we see the unraveling of each of these women’s lies. Madeline has to deal with infidelity in her marriage, Celeste is covering up signs of her husband’s abuse, Jane is succumbing to her paranoia, and Renata is hell-bent on punishing anyone who endangers her perfect life. Oh, and did I mention the murder mystery thrown into the mix? We’ve seen this well-worn story before, beautiful people doing bad things. The subtext of income inequality is also woven in but never fully explored. How is Jane able to afford living in a modest home with no discernable income?  Despite the uneven writing and at times gaping plot holes, this series provides engaging performances that have me wanting to discover more about each of these characters.

Mahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, SLJ
As a big fan of pop and rock and roll from the 1960s and 1970s, I have quite a few beloved musical icons: Ronnie Spector, John Lennon, Keith Richards, and Janis Joplin, among others. To this lineup, I’ve recently added Cass Elliot, of the Mamas and the Papas. Though I’ve always enjoyed the group’s signature hit, “California Dreamin’,” along with “Monday Monday” and “I Saw Her Again,” after reading Penelope Bagieu’s California Dreamin': Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas (First Second), a stunning graphic biography, all loose, doodlelike lines, evoking perfectly the creative yet often haphazard feeling of the 1960s counterculture, I was inspired to seek out more videos of the quartet’s performances. While Denny Doherty was crush-worthy, and Michelle Phillips one gorgeous tall drink of water, it was Cass who utterly charmed me—her funny quips, her infectious energy, her bold moves, and her voice: by turns soaring and achingly tender.

Still eager for more about my newest idol, I’m making my way through Eddi Fiegel’s Dream a Little Dream of Me: The Life of Cass Elliot (Chicago Review, 2017). I’m enjoying just about everything in Fiegel’s affectionate tribute to Cass. I particularly appreciated that, like me, Cass was an enthusiastic fan of John Lennon; in fact, in the Mamas and the Papas’ cover of the Beatles tune “I Call Your Name,” Cass can be heard whispering John’s name during the instrumental bridge. A great singer with amazing music taste—what more do you need?

Della Farrell, Assistant Editor, SLJ Reviews
I read Katie Kitamura’s A Separation (Riverhead) more than a week ago and I’m still thinking about it. Kitamura takes a relatively simple premise—a woman goes in search of her estranged husband—and coolly sets the stage for a twist, but doesn’t end there. It’s the narrator’s thoughtful musings on marriage, knowability, the strangeness of violence, and the things we do and do not say that propel the work forward. Set in Gerolimenas, Greece, this is also perfect for anyone who’s tired of winter weather.

I also recently saw the movie Life, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, in which Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon makes a startling and quite perplexing cameo.

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
LJ’s Fiction Editor Wilda Williams played Santa Claus in springtime, giving me ARCs of three suspense/thriller books to devour. First I dove into Agnete Friis’s solo debut, What My Body Remembers (Soho). Friis coauthored with Lene Kaaberbøl the “Nina Borg” series, which I really enjoyed. Book 3, set partially in Ukraine, was my favorite, though the opening title, The Boy in the Suitcase, was a twisty, white-knuckle ride as well. I definitely caught some Borgisms in Friis’s book, but I didn’t love it like I did the Ninas. The plot was very thin in some parts and contained a few implausibilities, and I figured out the villain pretty quickly. But the setting and the main characters—a broken, angry mother and her plucky son—rang true. And I was struck by a side character’s soliloquy about family, when trying to convince the quasiorphaned Ella to visit her estranged grandmother:

 “You’ve never had a family, so you don’t know what you’re missing. Family isn’t love. That’s nothing but sentimental blubber. Family is an extension of your own body. Many youngsters believe they can live without the bonds they are born with, but for most of us, these bonds are the only ties we have in the universe. This you will realize when you’re older, but right now, I am here as your grandmother’s friend. Not yours. She has lost everyone who has meant anything to her, and now she would like to see you. And your son.

On the “What We’re Watching” front, I’m now deeply embedded in FX’s Feud, to the point of obsessive googling: Was Joan Crawford’s maid/factotum “Mamacita” real? Did Crawford really steal the 1963 Oscars ceremony from Bette Davis? Did Bette and Joan really detest each other? Online searching led me to some prime footage of Davis on the Tonight show near the end of her life, splendidly arrayed in a leopard ensemble, croaking wise with host Johnny Carson about sex, acting, and her face. Definitely one to watch, that Bette Davis.

Daryl Grabarek, Senior Editor, SLJ Reviews
I just started The Men in My Life: A Memoir of Love and Art in 1950s Manhattan (Harper) by biographer Patricia Bosworth. Bosworth’s father, Bartley Crum, was a San Francisco lawyer, who, after defending the Hollywood Ten (think Sen. Joe McCarthy and the witch hunts of the 1950s) saw his career spiral downward (aided by alcohol and pills). Her mother, Gertrude, was known as an entertainer and a best-selling novelist. With her beloved—and gifted—brother, Bart Jr., Bosworth was able to weather the often tumultuous family life, but as the two emerged from adolescence, Bart became more distant. It’s a family story peopled with Hollywood and literary friends but also a coming-of-age tale of a privileged and talented young woman who struggled to carve a path for herself after a disastrous first marriage at 18 and family tragedy. I’m only a quarter of the way in (she’s still in her early 20s), and Bosworth has joined the Actor’s Studio, played across Helen Hayes in The Glass Menagerie, and befriended Gore Vidal. (So a little gossipy). I found the title a bit off-putting at first, but I get it now.

Tyler Hixson, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
Apologies to those with coulrophobia, but the teaser trailer for Andrés Muschietti’s rehaul of Stephen King’s It was released yesterday and I almost needed new shorts after watching it. Not only is It my hands-down favorite King story, I loved Tim Curry’s turn as Pennywise the Clown in the 1990 miniseries. So in celebration of the remake (hitting theaters in September), I’ve been rereading the 1986 novel and rewatching the miniseries.

There isn’t one book in the world that has consistently scared me more than It. I first picked the story up when I was in sixth grade, and only understood that clowns were terrifying. As I’ve gotten older, more nuances come crawling out of the shadows; it’s like reading it for the first time every time. Some people complain about how long It is and how King sometimes meanders through his narrative, but for me, that adds so much flavor to the story.

For those unfamiliar with the book, six tween misfits band together to defeat It, a shapeshifting monster that can take the form of whatever It thinks will scare you the most (kind of like a boggart, Harry Potter fans!). They only manage to wound It as kids, and when It awakens 27 years after the events of their childhood, the Losers Club, now all over the country, travel back to Derry, ME, to finish It off once and for all. The Losers Club are some of my favorite characters in literature. As kids, you can identify with parts of all six of them, though they’re not as interesting as adults. While the story’s ending is admittedly kind of cheesy, there are strong messages, such as the redemptive and healing powers of friendship. Adults will look back on the Losers Club with a sense of nostalgia, back to the days of building forts and shooting slingshots—hopefully while not being chased by a murder-clown.

Let’s be honest about the TV miniseries though: Tim Curry is the only good thing about it. Produced on a limited budget at the beginning of the 1990s, the series had to be toned down. It is a testament to Curry’s performance that Pennywise is often cited as the reason why people are afraid of clowns. He made It scary through sheer force of will. And this is what makes me excited for the remake: Curry was awesome, but the rest was awful. Now, we have Bill Skarsgard as Pennywise (who looks horrifying in the trailer) and an R rating, which means King’s Constant Readers (should) finally get the It movie we deserve. Can you tell I’m excited?

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
The month of March often finds me reading the finalists for the Story Prize event, which I like—in part—because there are only three each year, which is doable even for a slowish reader like me. This year’s finalists covered an interesting range of ground, which made for a good reading triad. Goodnight, Beautiful Women (Grove) is Anna Noyes’s debut. The stories of girls and women in this collection all have in common a sense of menace, mostly—but not always—sexual, countered by an almost pathological innocence on the part of her characters, even the tough ones. This yin and yang made for some strong stories, with lovely language throughout, and a few hit the sense of internal struggle pitch perfectly.

They Were Like Family to Me: Stories (Scribner), Helen Maryles Shankman’s second work of fiction, is a bit harder to evaluate objectively—linked short stories mainly set in the Polish town of Wlodowa during the Nazi occupation in the first half of World War II. As you’d expect, there’s examination of cruelty, guilt, culpability, the banality of evil, and some of it is, obviously, painful. As it should be—I found myself having an internal dialog: “Don’t we get a story with a glimmer of humanity or an upbeat ending?” “Lisa, this book is about the Holocaust.” (And there are a few positive moments, but…it’s a book about the Holocaust.) So it’s hard to pull back and just meditate on the writing, yet overall, it is well written and probably most successful when Shankman moves away from the magical realism elements of Jewish folktales. Between a few of the stories, I reached for something a bit lighter (like, you know, the Washington Post).

The Story Prize winner this year was Rick Bass’s For a Little While (Little, Brown), a really muscular collection, covering some 30 years of his career as well as new work. It was interesting to watch Bass’s style grow and breathe as the book progressed. I felt at first that his style leaned toward the atmospheric, nothing-really-happens framework. Atmospheric definitely, in a big way, but the arc of each story is there, you just have to be quiet and watch for it. Bass gets more adept at building the bones of the story as he keeps working—I found the pieces became increasingly more satisfying as I read more of them. To pick out a standout mid-book, “The Hermit’s Story” is just crazy out-there and not to be missed. I read this one slowly (even for me), and I’m glad I did.


Bingeing, Rewriting, Feuding, Playing, Crying | What We’re Reading & Watching

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 10:39

The LJ/School Library Journal members of the “What We’re Reading” team are still adjusting to playing for a new team, that upstart “What We’re Watching” franchise. Some are playing both sides. We have a Better Call Saul fan reading Japanese mystery, a Downton Abbey latecomer learning to ride a bicycle, and a horror film geek dissecting Neil Gaiman. Meanwhile, us one-at-a-timers look into the famous Bette Davis/Joan Crawford Feud, brush up on one-act plays, celebrate the tennis prowess of Roger Federer, cry over postapocalyptic Africa, read Regency romances with a twist, and seek out all the Roxane Gay we can find.

Ellen Abrams, WWR/WWW emerita
I’m in the midst of writing a one-act play and borrowed a copy of An Introduction to Modern One-Act Plays (National Textbook), edited by Marshall Cassady, from my beloved Bloomingdale (NYC) branch library. It has a hilarious offering by Anton Chekov about a marriage proposal that almost goes riotously wrong, a cringe-worthy selection by Dorothy Parker about a couple on their honeymoon that portends nothing but future unhappiness, and a heart-wrenching portrayal of an African American family on a small farm in the 1920s with a terrible decision to make. In addition to these works, there are many more by renowned international playwrights.


Mahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
After a slew of morose antiheroes and antiheroines (Don Draper, Jessica Jones, the entire cast of Transparent), the immensely charismatic protagonist of Better Call Saul (a spin-off from the immensely popular Breaking Bad) comes as something of a relief. I recently rewatched the first two seasons of Saul in anticipation of the third season, which begins April 10 on AMC. Saul centers on Saul Goodman (known here as Jimmy McGill), the sleazy lawyer who played Tom Hagen to Walter White’s Vito Corleone. Here, Jimmy’s a lawyer who plays by his own rules but hasn’t quite “broken bad” just yet. While lead actor Bob Odenkirk was much-needed comic relief on Breaking Bad, in this series he adds a sense of vulnerability to the character, resulting in truly can’t-miss TV. I’ll be counting down the days until Saul starts up again.

As for the reading! Japanese author Keigo Higashino is one of my favorite writers, but because not all of his novels have been translated into English, I have to take what I can get. His latest to be translated (by Alexander O. Smith and Joseph Reeder) is Under the Midnight Sun (Little, Brown), which starts with the discovery of a corpse. But this is no mere whodunit. Starting in 1973, the book winds its way forward over the next 19 years, juggling a dizzying array of characters, including the son of the dead man and the daughter of the prime suspect. A hard-core mystery fan, I’m always on the lookout for thrillers and works of suspense that manage to do something a little different; Under the Midnight Sun does not disappoint on that front.

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
Since I’m all about Old Hollywood, I have been watching FX’s Feud, the over-the-top, generally annoying, well-dressed, and well-acted retelling of the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, the 1962 horrorfest starring dueling divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. This is a miniseries I was so stoked for and it’s only mildly satisfying, unfortunately. As noted by film critic Farran Smith Nehme in an interview for MTV, the miniseries concentrates so much (too much) on the actresses’ catfighting and the powerlessness of women in Hollywood. I started to find it all too depressing and dispiriting, but so far I’m staying for the sets and costumes and Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men’s Sally Draper). And here’s one thing I do not understand at all: a lot of tweeps are saying Susan Sarandon looks bad. WHAT. She is a fine, fine-looking woman, and she’s in her 70s! You should look so good when and if you get there. Sarandon resembles Davis a lot more than Lange resembles Crawford, but for my money, Lange is on it in her performance. And then there’s the inestimable Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper; I’m in heaven whenever she appears onscreen.

Tyler Hixson, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
Entering my last semester as a grad student, I am faced with the seemingly monstrous task of writing my thesis. Without boring anyone with all the details, it’s essentially about horror in middle grade literature, and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (HarperCollins) immediately popped into my head as a title that needed to be dissected. What a deliciously creepy story! There are moments of real terror in this book, even for an adult reader, which I wasn’t expecting. I wish I had picked this up as a kid, because I would have devoured it, and then not slept for a few nights. The Other Mother is one of the best villains I’ve ever read, and Gaiman writes her so well.

I also read Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, John Bellairs’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls and The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Skull, and Stephen King’s Carrie, Christine, and It over the past few weeks…horror-bingeing, if you will.

Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor, LJ Reviews
This week I’m rereading tennis journalist Mark Hodgkinson’s Fedegraphica: A Graphic Biography of the Genius of Roger Federer (Aurum: Quarto), which is exactly what the subtitle says—a graphic biography of Roger Federer, who is a genius (tbt to that 2009 U.S. Open tweener, for just one example of his mind-boggling skills). He’s also my favorite tennis player, so it’s no surprise that this book is one I’d want to read. I first read it late last year, which was a rough one for Federer—an injury following the Australian Open required surgery on his knee, and the need for rest and rehab meant he missed most of the 2016 season, including the French Open, Olympics, and U.S. Open. At the time, I found the book to be engaging and enjoyable, albeit slightly bittersweet given the year he had, and I included it on our 2016 Best Books Honorable Mentions list. As I wrote then, it’s full of graphs and photos that nicely complement the biographical text, which is informed and thoughtful. It’s also a joy for the stats fans among us (myself included) who want a bar graph of Federer’s winning percentage in five-set matches against rivals such as Rafael Nadal. In January, Federer won his 18th Grand Slam by beating Nadal in an epic five-setter at the Australian Open. (I’m still so happy he got it; he’s still celebrating.) In my Honorable Mentions blurb, I wrote that while Fedegraphica is current to the end of 2015 “some stats have since changed,” alluding to those such as his record 65 consecutive appearances at majors, which ended when he missed the 2016 French Open. It’s understandable that such changes can occur after a book goes to print, but I am very pleased to write here that the number of slams he’s won has since increased as well. If you like Federer (and who doesn’t?), chances are you’ll like this book.

Kiera Parrott, LJS Reviews Director
I recently picked up a copy of Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women (Grove) on a flight and just inhaled it. It’s a sharp, often dark, collection of short stories about an array of women characters. Gay’s writing is outstanding, and her protagonists get under your skin. I was already a huge fan of Bad Feminist, but I’m now seeking out all of Gay’s fiction as well.

Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
I’m devouring same-sex Regency romances by K.J. Charles at the moment; I’ve read two in two days and am now looking for other authors while impatiently waiting for the rest of my holds to come in.

Henrietta Verma, WWR/WWW emerita
I know I’m late to the drawing room, but I just binge-watched PBS’s Downton Abbey and loved it. Other TV will now pale in comparison. If anyone can recommend something equally binge-worthy, I’m all ears. I haven’t skipped books entirely lately, though—as well as titles for review, I recently read “The Wheel, the Woman, and the Human Body,” a chapter in Margaret Guroff’s The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life (Univ. of Texas). I was fascinated to learn how bikes changed women’s fashions—you can’t cycle in a long, voluminous skirt, after all—giving us a greater freedom, of which I’d never thought to credit bikes.

Ashleigh Williams, WWR/WWW emerita
I’m currently splitting my time between Hair Story (it’s so deliciously interesting that I’m trying to savor each line), and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death (DAW), a gripping sf tale set in postapocalyptic Africa. I’m about 50 pages in, and have already cried twice at the author’s frank, vivid depiction of very real trauma that manifests itself in supernatural ways. I can’t wait to work through the rest of her award-winning bibliography.






A Contemporary Haunting and a Roving Monster-Bear | Books for Dudes

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 16:15

Reading Lawrence Block’s The Girl with the Long Green Heart, about two dudes working a “long con,” gave me some solid tips for the main grift I’m working right now. It’s a good one. A few years back, I stumbled upon my mark, a beautiful woman. I figured I could score really big on this one, especially because she was sweet and nice in addition to being generous, delightful, and a good cook. Like me, she likes to run, bike, and swim. The basic hustle was that I would get her to marry me. In return I would love, protect, and provide. I started slow, letting her think up her dreamy dreams and big ideas. Then I started following through on them. She wants a house? Fine, we got a house. Needs a car? Bang—there’s your new car. And it’s going great—I don’t even think she’s aware she’s being conned. I have it made, dude! In about 40 years, I’m thinking it will pay off and that my goal will become a reality. That goal is to grow old and die happy with this woman. Sucka!

Block, Lawrence. The Girl with the Long Green Heart. Hard Case Crime: Titan. 2011. 224p. ISBN 9780857683656. pap. $6.99. F
“I got out of prison a little less than a year ago, Evie,” explains main character John Hayden to Block’s femme fatale. “It was the first really hard time I’d ever served. And I decided I wasn’t going back. Not ever. I took a square job and stuck with it.” But then what happened? Well, “…Doug Rance turned up with a proposition.” Soon John and Doug are smoothly working a long con on an unsuspecting businessman myopically hellbent on real estate profit. Written in 1965, this is one of the most rollicking and captivating noir tales that I’ve read, mostly on the merit of the propulsive, steady plot. It has everything, including the classic “one more job” trope, and a dame that will set your imagination absolutely wild. A master at allowing readers to paint the picture on their own, like Ed McBain and Elmore Leonard, Block doesn’t spell out every teensy detail. Some Block stories come in series, like the “Keller” novels about a lonely, likable hit man, and the “Matthew Scudder” books about an ex-alcoholic PI in the Big City (e.g., Time To Murder and Create, etc.). While the con here doesn’t go according to plan, it’s not exactly unhappy. “I thought about the dream. And I thought about the girl. And about all dreams and all girls. No dreams come true I guess. And no girls are as perfect as the heart would have them.” VERDICT Dudes will be nodding along with the road-tested wisdom that John Hayden exudes.

Friel, Joe. The Triathlete’s Training Bible: The World’s Most Comprehensive Training Guide. VeloPress. 4th ed. 2016. 352p. illus. ISBN 9781937715441. pap. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781937716844. SPORTS
Just as Walt Whitman kept writing and rewriting Leaves of Grass year after year, so does Friel continuously ponder, tinker, and rethink each bit and piece of his advice. Sure, Transcendentalism may have helped a few dudes intuit their way through the world, but triathlon helps them swim, bike, and run their way through it. This new fourth edition contains all the building blocks of the previous three with some added twists; six sections deal with the various aspects of the sport and are labeled broadly (e.g., “Mind and Body,” “Training Fundamentals,” etc.). Throughout each section, Friel drills into specifics about the “how-to” amid the “why.” “Purposeful Training” will, for example, change “going for a run” into teaching your body to run faster. Similarly, “Stress, Rest, and Recovery” clearly explains the difference between “overreaching,” a careful balance of training stress and focused rest, and “overtraining,” a serious condition with symptoms that mirror Lyme disease or mono. New material is incorporated seamlessly and is focused on individualization of training. In the “Muscular Force” chapter, for example, readers learn that the sport isn’t all heart and lungs but muscle, too; it provides exercises, explanations, and illustrations of particularly helpful ones. The end of the book contains several appendixes to help athletes of all levels create workable training plans with periodization (cycles of increasingly intense drills broken up with rest) and various kinds of workouts to develop all-around skill and fitness in each of the sports’ three disciplines. Thus, you’re not just “going swimming,” you’re swimming in any of six various modes in order to get your body to swim faster overall. VERDICT Essential. In fact, it was Whitman who wrote, “Every man has to believe in something. I believe I will go swimming.”

Hayes, Chris. A Colony in a Nation. Norton. Mar. 2017. 256p. ISBN 9780393254228. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393254235. SOC sci
This’ll pop yer eyes open a lot wider. This admirable gut-check on race relations and sociopolitics will be deservedly cataloged near Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness. As a document that speaks to normal, open-minded dudes like you and me, however, this is on fire. A naturally persuasive writer, Hayes is editor at large of the Nation and host of MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes. Though he does his best to downplay “liberal vs. conservative” polemic, there is a clear topical relationship to President Donald Trump’s “law and order” campaign plank. And therein, as Frank Zappa would say, lies the crux of the biscuit: Hayes’s central argument shows how those two words are not synonyms. Whereas the law is a code, “order” is subjective. Say you’re upset about something you see, and you call the cops even though you’re not sure “…what law was being broken, what crime was being committed.” Hayes’s argument is that this exemplifies people trying “not to enforce the law but to restore order.” And since the culture at large (e.g., white people) defines what “order” a.k.a. “normal” looks like, guess who usually gets screwed on stuff like this? ? Not-white people. The upshot, Hayes quite convincingly posits, is that there is no universal “American” experience, that black and white people live in different countries, that sometimes this amounts to a colony of some (black people) living under the thumb of others (white people). Repellent? Unbelievable? Hayes’s facts illustrate why race is central to issues of law and order, politics, sentencing, almost everything. Improbably, Hayes points to muse Richard Nixon as an early manipulator of the law-and-order stratagem (though he skillfully worked both sides). VERDICT This is gonna make ya indignant, so please: read responsibly.

Jemc, Jac. The Grip of It. Farrar. Aug. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780374536916. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780374716073. F
This contemporary haunting is unsettlingly plausible. Seeking a break from the city rat race, youngish couple James and Julie break for rural Wisconsin by purchasing a large house gone to seed. The townies keep them at arm’s length, and their sole neighbor is a creepy, uncommunicative old man. It doesn’t take long before the two are finding weird written scribbles inside the home, rife as it is with secret chambers and odd spaces. One inexplicable event after another cause the couple to lose will power and slide into fearful exhaustion that essentially traps and isolates them from each other. The house interior is covered in fur, dust, and sticky liquids, and while Julie’s unhinging is deeper, it is James who is weaker. Short chapters alternate narrative viewpoints and contribute to the feel of a ritual being played out. In a larger sense, James and Julie represent an ordinary couple going through a rough patch. Maybe they’re depressed, not taking care of themselves, maybe they had too much to drink last night. Disoriented, sleep-deprived, preoccupied—is this you most days? And without any support close by, they are left to rely on each other—and each other’s ever-growing instability. Jemc makes readers ask: What happens when walls go up—in a house, in a relationship? What’s the difference between being trapped and being free? Just as Julie cries about the gap that has formed between the couple, the two find physical holes in the house similarly impossible to bridge. VERDICT This must be what mental illness, infirmity, or major depression can be like. The loss of dignity, of control. “What is worse?” Julie wonders, “[t]o be confronted with an obvious horror, or to be haunted by a never-ending premonition of what’s ahead?”

Khong, Rachel. Goodbye, Vitamin. Holt. Jul. 2017. 208p. ISBN 9781250109163. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781250109156. F
One of the many curses of being a dude is a voracious appetite for almost any “good” book. It doesn’t have to have fights, car crashes, and boobs—though those things are certainly welcome, bro. GV is pretty far from “dude” reading, but super quiet and ponderous as it is, it’s great. Khong crafts a narrative from bare bones of a plot in which Ruth, 30, keenly observes the gradual disintegration of her father, Howard, a history professor retired to a faceless Los Angeles burb, from Alzheimer’s. There’s not a lot for Ruth to do, really. “What do I do all day? I don’t even know. I dig hair out of the bathroom drain with a chopstick.” She reads messages in online forums about Alzheimer’s support—and also about finding your life’s passion. Artsy, with little snippets like “…it comes as a relief to me that my best friend is in a not-dissimilar boat – the unmarried and careerless boat. Which is more like a canoe,” Khong makes moments out of vignettes, often hilarious. Still, the sadness is palpable, as when Ruth’s snooping unearths distressing details about her parent’s marriage. When graduate assistant Theo devises a scheme to cheer and stimulate Howard by faking a seminar—plenty of students, no credit—the action picks up. Theo is a peaceful type who buys doughnut holes with doughnuts because, he explains, they “have their holes punched out of them. Not buying them feels like being part of the problem.” Romance? Well, maybe as Ruth is also processing and healing from a breakup. VERDICT Q: Can sadness be sweet? A: Yes, in the hands of Khong, who turns a swirl of lemons into lemondrops.

Kope, Spencer. Collecting the Dead. Minotaur: St Martin’s. 2016. 320p. $25.99. ISBN 9781250072870; ebk. ISBN 9781466884830. F
This is one propulsive mothereffer of a novel. Magnus “Steps” Craig is a star bad-guy tracker for the FBI. After particularly heinous crimes, or when the Authorities suspect a serial killer, they fly in Steps in from wherever and set him a-go because he’s just as good as Horace the bloodhound from Carl Hiaasen’s Scat. What he sees is like a substance—he calls it “shine”—on whatever the killer has touched. Sort of like glow-in-the-dark paint that only he can see. Could be green, could be blue, but there are a lot of particulars to each one that makes it unique to the person Steps is searching out. He has a minder, Jimmy, who serves as a footman of sorts and who injects healthy doses of humor into everything. Of Jimmy, Steps says, “He’s like all the PE teachers I’ve ever had rolled up into one and sprinkled with Nazi dust.” But Steps is pretty torn up by the times he has failed, with “too many nightmares competing for my sleeping hours. The bodies are stacked like cordwood outside the door to my dreams….” Steps has become preoccupied with one killer who has, so far, eluded him for ten years. At the same time the team is frantically on the trail of the “Sad Face” killer, a nasty dude who has offed a lot of women in Northern California and has a young girl under lock and key. Do you like action? Kope skips details in favor of movement, unless it’s CSI-type procedures. VERDICT It’s like Cheetos. You want more.

Rekulak, Jason. The Impossible Fortress. S. & S. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781501144417. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781501144431. F
Three 14-year-old boys in northern New Jersey cook up increasingly, needlessly elaborate schemes to obtain the May 1987 issue of Playboy featuring Vanna White. These go from “lemonade stand” to “I’ll create a distraction while you light a fire and stuff them in your pockets” to “we’ll steal it.” Why not, “I’ll create a thermonuclear reaction and in the ensuing wrinkle in the space time continuum”? Just stop. Alf is the team’s alleged mastermind, Clark is a handsome boy with a malformed arm, and Billy is our hero, the kid who gets hooked on programming out of sheer boredom. So far Billy has programmed a poker game that features a nude Christie Brinkley depicted in ASCII-characters. He meets Mary Zelinsky, a big girl, by accident; her dad owns the store that the Playboy is in. Mary and Billy share some sparks and an interest in coding. Soon Billy is trying mightily to code an adventure game to win a big geek contest. Turns out, though, that Billy is a classic, distractible ADHD scholastic fucktard with a GPA of 0.83 (he’s *failing* “Rocks and Streams” class). Though mom confiscates his C64 brick, he sneaks it out to keep coding. It’s one shitty choice after another. After another. He eventually decides to break into Zelinsky’s for the magazine by romancing the alarm code out of Mary. VERDICT The boys’ slim charms soon vanish as they fail to possess any believable innocence, stupidity, or wisdom. Dull and sentimental.

VanderMeer, Jeff. Borne. MCD: Farrar. Apr. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780374115241. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374714925. SF
Sf so undeniably imaginative it has reinvigorated my cold, dead heart, this book tells of humans remaining alive in a world decimated by The Company, who scavenge for scraps in a dystopian cityscape contaminated with sick rains of salamanders and a Godzilla-sized roving monster-bear named Mord, who carries a trove of biological life forms on his fur like a whale’s barnacles. It is a place where “[n]ames of people, of places, meant so little, and so we had stopped burdening others by seeking them.” Rachel’s compatriot/mate is the suspicious, cautious Wick and the two have carved out some hard-won safety in an urban cave-cum-safe room amid a landscape of “atrocity,” where human life is cheap. One “sunny gunmetal day” Rachel salvages Borne, a creature neither fish nor fowl—and the catalyst for a conflict of trust between the couple. He grows quickly, and is soon protecting Rachel and talking to her. This is a cleverly told tale that hooks readers early, told from deep within the personality of a permanently damaged woman. But it is the imaginative details that make this notable, like Rachel and Wick getting drunk on “alcohol minnows.” And it’s full of massively cool sf. The level of detail is at once both marvelous and tantalizing. For example, Borne “developed a startling collection of eyes that encircled his body. Each eye was small and completely different than the others around it. Some were human—blue, brown, black, green pupils—and some were animal eyes, but he could see through all of them.” VERDICT Magnificently realized, this story is painted with both a tiny detail brush but also in fat, broad strokes that allow the reader to add more colors and shapes. A great amalgamation of detail and its lack.

Great First Acts | Debut Novels

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 16:06

After the big-name holiday rush, spring ­typically brings a host of fresh debut novels, and this year is no exception. From astute coming-of-age titles to high-profile pop fiction to books heard ’round the world, these will be the most talked-about debuts of the spring season.

Books are selected for this list based on strong reviews, media buzz, overall industry interest, and personal reading. Though a few date back to February, most are publishing from March onward, with some key July titles featured.

The next edition of “Debut Novels,” slated for the July 2017 issue, will cover many more of the best debuts appearing in the summer. For now, enjoy these spring ­firsts.

at home

Akkad, Omar El. American War. Knopf. Apr. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780451493583. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780451493590.

In a searingly relevant work, Egyptian-born, Canadian-based journalist El Akkad imagines a second American Civil War, in which six-year-old Sarat Chestnut is herded into a displaced persons camp with her family and eventually trained as a weapon of war. “Gripping and frightening.” (LJ 3/15/17)

Chancellor, Bryn. Sycamore. Harper. May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780062661098. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062661111.

When old bones are discovered in a nearby ravine, folks in Sycamore, AZ, assume they belong to troubled teenage newcomer Jess Winters, who disappeared 18 years ago. Edged with suspense yet really a fine meditation on small-town life; Chancellor won the 2014 Prairie Schooner Book Prize for her story collection, When Are You Coming Home?

Cottrell, Patty Yunni. Sorry To Disrupt the Peace. McSweeney. Mar. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781944211301. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781944211318.

Estranged from her white parents, Helen is shattered by the suicide of her adoptive brother, Korean-born like herself, and flies home to find out what happened. Instead, she compellingly finds herself. A Discover Great New Writers pick; Helen’s is “a sharp, fresh voice that draws readers in.” (Xpress Reviews 3/10/17)

Fuller, Alexandra. Quiet Until the Thaw. Penguin Pr. Jun. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780735223349. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780735223356.

Beloved for the string of gorgeous memoirs begun with Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Fuller here depicts the Lakota people of South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, particularly two cousins in conflict. Fluidly written, with no sanctimony and plenty of dark humor; bound to provoke.

Hartnett, Annie. Rabbit Cake. Tin House. Mar. 2017. 344p. ISBN 9781941040560. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781941040577.

After her mother drowns while sleep-swimming, Elvis Babbitt gamely pulls herself through while shoring up her clueless father and troubled, sleep-eating sister Lizzie. “Elvis is a charmer, and the novel is as delicious as the rabbit cakes Lizzie bakes in abundance.” (Xpress ­Reviews 3/10/17)

Heiny, Katherine. Standard Deviation. Knopf. May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780385353816. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385353823.

In this debut novel, after the celebrated collection Single, Carefree, Mellow, ­Graham Cavanaugh and his highly energized second wife need his reserved first wife’s help with their middle schooler, who has Asperger’s. “Humor in the vein of Nora Ephron or Nick Hornby.” (LJ 3/15/17)

Ludwig, Benjamin. The Original Ginny Moon. Park Row: Harlequin. May 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780778330165. $26.99.

The big launch title from Harlequin’s Park Row imprint, this affecting work features a gifted 14-year-old with autism who’s found love and safety in a new home with her Forever Parents but desperately wants to return to her abusive mother. “Ludwig’s stunning debut grabs his readers by the heart and refuses to let go.” (LJ 3/15/17)

Ko, Lisa. The Leavers. Algonquin. May 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781616206888. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616207137.

When Deming Guo is 11 years old, his Chinese immigrant mother vanishes, and he spends a rebellious adolescence wondering what happened. Winner of the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Fiction; “highly skillful…an emerging writer to watch.” (LJ 3/1/17)

Minick, Jim. Fire Is Your Water. Swallow: Ohio Univ. Mar. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9780804011846. $26.95.

After fire claims the family barn in rural 1950s Pennsylvania, Ada loses faith in God and hence her astonishing ability to heal. But a young man brings her love and, finally, renewal. “Appealing characters and an inventive plot…this belongs at the top of every spring reading list.” (LJ 3/15/17)

Stansel, Ian. The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo. Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2017. 208p. ISBN 9780544963399. $23; ebk. ISBN 9780544963412.

In contemporary Northern California, a man kills his brother and rides away on horseback, avidly pursed by the victim’s wife. There’s suspense, of course, but this is mainly a fierce and luminous study of sibling rivalry and complicated love, intensified by the rush of hooves. From a PEN/Bingham finalist.

Watts, Stephanie Powell. No One Is Coming To Save Us. Ecco: HarperCollins. Apr. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780062472984. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062473004.

Billed as an African American Great Gatsby, this work quietly but powerfully unfolds a story of dreams and disappointments in a modest North Carolina community that’s seen better days, as magnified by the reappearance of a now-rich J.J. Ferguson. “Believable and gratifying without being pat.” (LJ 2/1/17)


Cocozza, Paula. How To Be Human. Metropolitan: Holt. May 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781250129253. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781250129260.

Out of love and on leave from work, Mary finds comfort in the presence of a gorgeous red fox that has taken to visiting the back garden of her home in the London suburbs. But the neighbors are disturbed. “A compelling, unsettling, and wholly original debut.” (LJ 3/1/17)

Lally, Caitriona. Eggshells. Melville House. Mar. 2017. 264p. ISBN 9781612195971. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612195988.

Whimsically charming Vivian lives in a house inherited from her aunt and walks Dublin’s streets in search of portals to the fairy realm, as she believes that she’s a changeling. An Irish Book of the Year finalist and LibraryReads pick; “[a] sensational first novel.” (LJ 1/17)

Rooney, Sally. Conversations with Friends. Hogarth: Crown. Jul. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780451499059. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780451499073.

When Frances and Bobbi perform ­spoken-word poetry together in Dublin, they capture the attention of journalist Melissa, but Frances’s increasingly out-of-control flirtation with Melissa’s louche actor husband threatens to upend everything. Smart, persuasive, and never self-indulgent; a London Book Fair buzz book from a rising Irish star.

Spufford, Francis. Golden Hill. Scribner. Jun. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781501163876. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501163890.

A Somerset Maugham award winner in nonfiction, Spufford triumphantly tries out fiction with a tale set in 1740s New York, where a stranger arrives at the counting house with an order for a whopping £1,000. Winner of the Costa First Novel Award and a UK Sunday Times Novel of the Year.


Alyan, Hala. Salt Houses. Houghton Harcourt. May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780544912588. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780544912380.

Palestinian American poet Alyan clarifies Middle East displacement by chronicling a family repeatedly uprooted after the Six-Day War of 1967. “By placing readers inside the hearts and minds of one Arab family scattered from Paris to Boston to Lebanon, [Alyan] beautifully illustrates the resilience of the human spirit.” (LJ 2/15/17)

Atogun, Odafe. Taduno’s Song. Pantheon. Mar. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781101871454. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101871461.

Nigerian musician Taduno returns to an unrecognizable homeland and learns that his girlfriend has been abducted by government agents. Should he save her or support his people by challenging the powers that be? “Atogun’s simple, direct prose is the perfect vehicle for the complex questions he poses…. Thoughtful readers will be enthralled.” (LJ 2/15/17)

Bassingthwaighte, Ian. Live from Cairo. Scribner. Jul. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781501146879. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501146893.

A Fulbright grantee who worked in Egypt with refugees from Iraq, ­Sudan, and the horn of Africa, Bassing­thwaighte crafts the story of four people caught in Cairo as President Mubarak’s regime falls. Forthright, deeply relevant, and ­revelatory.

Hamilton, Omar Robert. The City Always Wins. Sean McDonald: Farrar. Jun. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780374123970. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374716332.

Cofounder of the Palestine Festival of Literature, Hamilton takes us to Cairo as his idealistic protagonist joins the battle in Tahrir Square, then lands in disillusioned exile in New York. Forceful, astonishing writing and a piercing insider’s look at Egypt’s failed revolution.

Himes, Julie Lekstrom. Mikhail and Margarita. Europa. Mar. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9781609453756. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781609453749.

In 1933, Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov bangs up against intensifying censorship and is pursued by the secret police even as he falls for brashly beautiful Margarita, who inspires his celebrated The Master and Margarita. “A whirlwind tale of romance and intrigue that approximates, if not exceeds, the talents of one of Russia’s most heralded authors.” (LJ 2/1/17)

Kalfar, Jaroslav. Spaceman of Bohemia. Little, Brown. Mar. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780316273435. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316273404.

In this wackily original story, Czech astronaut Jakub Procházka grabs the chance to become a hero while atoning for his father’s Communist past by undertaking a dangerous solo mission to Venus, during which he encounters a large and possibly imaginary spider. “A heady concoction of history, social commentary and irony; highly recommended.” (LJ 2/1/17)

Statovci, Pajtim. My Cat Yugoslavia. Pantheon. Apr. 2017. 272p. tr. from Finnish by David Hackston. ISBN 9781101871829. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101871836.

A pet boa constrictor and a talking cat? Clearly, this is a fabulist take on some very real issues, as the son of Muslims who fled Yugoslavia when it imploded faces life as an immigrant and a gay man in straitlaced Finland. “Statovci is a ­tremendous talent. This debut novel…has an intensity and power that demands a second reading.” (LJ 2/1/17)

Trasi, Amita. The Color of Our Sky. Morrow. Apr. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9780062474070. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062474087.

Originally self-published, this novel deals intimately with the lives of women in India as it alternates between Tara’s memory of the kidnapping of Mukta, a girl her father took in, and Mukta herself, daughter of a temple prostitute. “A skillful tapestry of story­telling with contemporary appeal.” (LJ 2/1/17)

Coming of Age

Assadi, Hannah Lillith. Sonora. Soho. Mar. 2017. 208p. ISBN 9781616957926. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781616957933.

In this raw yet dreamily written coming-of-age story, teenage Ahlam—of Palestinian and Israeli descent like the author—grows up alienated in Phoenix and with like-minded friend Laura ­finally runs off to New York. Universal prepublication praise.

Buntin, Julie. Marlena. Holt. Apr. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9781627797641. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781627797634.

Relating the story of 15-year-old Cat, new in town and drawn to daring, desperate Marlena, Buntin captures a destructive yet essential relationship with ongoing consequences. A Discover Great New Writers pick; “an exceptional portrait, disturbing and precisely observed.” (Xpress Reviews 3/10/17)

Firmani, B.G. Time’s a Thief. Doubleday. May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780385541862. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385541879.

In Firmani’s immediately absorbing story, working-class Barnard student Francesca “Chess” Varani is entranced by supremely self-confident and self-involved classmate Kendra Marr-­Löwenstein, but involvement with ­Kendra’s family has its costs. “A compelling story of youthful infatuation, love, and disillusionment.” (LJ 2/1/17)

Magariel, Daniel. One of the Boys. Scribner. Mar. 2017. 176p. ISBN 9781501156168. $22; ebk. ISBN 9781501156182.

Slim and sharp as an ice pick, Magariel’s debut features teenage brothers whose father has triumphantly won them in a vicious custody battle. Readers soon ­realize that this might not be such a good thing. “The nerve-jarring narrative develops unexpectedly and insightfully; a satisfying if disturbing read.” (Xpress Reviews 3/10/17)

Ruby, Ryan. The Zero and the One. Twelve: Hachette. Mar. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781455565184. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455565191.

At Oxford, charismatic and vainglorious New Yorker Zach charms shy, bookish Owen, an English lad who’s the first in his family to attend university. But Zach is on a collision course with death. “Astute psychological insight and a suspenseful unfolding to a shocking end.” (Xpress Reviews 3/10/17)

Wang, Weike. Chemistry. Knopf. May 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781524731748. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781524731755.

A graduate student in chemistry at a rigorous Boston-area university, the sharp, self-aware narrator of this engaging work is having doubts about her career aspirations and her boyfriend. Named a “Most Anticipated Novel of 2017” by Entertainment Weekly, the Millions, and Bustle, and they were right.


Kies, Thomas. Random Road: A Geneva Chase Mystery. Poisoned Pen. May 2017. 318p. ISBN 9781464208003. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464208027. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781464208034.

Brought low by alcoholism, reporter Geneva Chase is back at her hometown newspaper, ready to redeem herself by covering the worst crime scene she’s ever seen—the savage killing of six people in a gated community. “A suspenseful story…a compelling voice.” (LJ 3/1/17)

Love, Melissa Scrivner. Lola. Crown. Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780451496102. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780451496126.

Ostensibly the dutiful girlfriend of gang leader Garcia, Lola is actually the knife-sharp, tough-as-bullets brains behind the operation. And now she’s got to save her own skin. “This adrenaline-charged debut will thrill readers as they discover one of crime fiction’s most captivating protagonists yet.” (LJ 2/1/17)

Obregón, Nicolás. Blue Light Yokohama. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 416p. ISBN 9781250110480. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250110497.

Newly reinstated Tokyo police inspector Iwata inherits a troublesome case: an entire family has been slaughtered and the symbol of a large black sun left behind. “This gritty story…establish[es] ­Obregón as a fresh, up-and-coming voice in crime fiction.” (LJ 2/1/17)

Welsh, Kaite. The Wages of Sin. Pegasus Crime. Mar. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781681773322. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681773865.

A former debutante victimized by sexual assault and now one of the few brave women at a Victorian-era medical school, Sarah Gilchrist recognizes an anatomy class corpse as a working girl she met at a clinic and immediately investigates. “Sarah is a spunky but historically accurate heroine; one hopes [for] a long-­running series.” (LJ 2/1/17)


Donnelly, Lara Elena. Amberlough. Tor. Feb. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9780765383815. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466893412.

In a wildly reimagined world where social conservatives are rising, a gay double agent working for resistant Amberlough City (think the Weimar Republic) gets himself and his burlesque-performing lover in trouble. “Donnelly’s striking debut brings a complex world of politics, espionage, and cabaret life to full vision.” (LJ 2/15/17)

Honeywell, Antonia. The Ship. Orbit: Hachette. Apr. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780316469852. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316469890.

The world is in ruins, and as refugees pour into Britain, the government ­determines to toss out those who aren’t registered. Lalla’s father has been building a ship for their escape, but it can only take so many. “A stunning debut.” (LJ 3/15/17)

James, Vic. Gilded Cage. Del Rey: Ballantine. (Dark Gifts, Bk. 1). Feb. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780425284155. $20; ebk. ISBN 9780425284131.

In a darkly fantastical world where the lower classes must serve the magically gifted upper-class rulers for ten years, a teenage boy dreams of rebellion, his sister of a better life, and a nasty young aristocrat of using his dark gifts for his own ends. A LibraryReads pick; “—excellent.” (LJ 12/16)

Ward, Catriona. The Girl from Rawblood. Sourcebooks Landmark. Mar. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781492637424. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492637431.

At a gloomy early 1900s English estate, young Iris is enjoined not to form any relationship lest she set into motion a terrible family curse. Naturally, she rebels. Best Horror Novel at the British Fantasy Awards; “Ward’s layered and skillfully crafted novel pulls elements of classic gothic and horror and weaves them together in a remarkable story.” (LJ 2/1/17)


Eberlen, Kate. Miss You. Harper. Apr. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9780062460226. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062460240.

When two young people repeatedly cross paths after meeting in Florence, their love looks meant to be. Publication is slated in 24 countries, the book buzzed big at the American Library Association’s (ALA) Midwinter Meeting, and LJ’s reviewer calls it “a must read for all romantics.” (forthcoming LJ review)

Emmich, Val. The Reminders. Little, Brown. May 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780316316996. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316317016; lib. ebk. ISBN 9780316500951.

Mourning the death of his beloved Sydney, Gavin asks Joan, a friend’s ten-year-old daughter, blessed with a remarkable memory, to relate everything she recalls about Sydney in photo-finish detail. “Emmich captures the voices of Joan and Gavin…brilliantly; quirky, touching, and addictive.” (LJ 2/15/17)

Honeyman, Gail. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine. Pamela Dorman: Viking. May 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780735220683. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735220706.

Socially maladroit Eleanor Oliphant bonds with her office’s bighearted IT guy, and together they heal. Short-listed for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize and a buzzing book at ALA’s Midwinter; “exquisite, heartbreaking, funny, and ­irresistible.” (LJ 2/15/17)

Nicorvo, Jay Baron. The Standard Grand. St. Martin’s. Apr. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781250108944. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250108951.

In this refreshing work, an army trucker gone AWOL before her third deployment joins a Vietnam vet at his family’s seen-better-days Borscht Belt resort, now a halfway house for homeless veterans. But a nasty multinational corporation wants the land. “Nicorvo carves out something truly original.” (LJ 2/1/17)

Strawser, Jessica. Almost Missed You. St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250107602. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250107626.

If Violet and Finn have the perfect marriage, why does he abandon her on holiday and take their son to her best friend, demanding that she hide them? “Fans of smart women’s fiction mixed with a fast-paced plot should not miss this startling first novel.” (LJ 1/17)

Taylor, Ann Kidd. The Shark Club. Viking. Jun. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780735221475. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735221499.

Coauthor with her mother of the best-selling memoir Traveling with Pomegranates, Taylor offers a first novel featuring Maeve Donnelly, who’s attacked by a shark at age 12 yet grows up to be a ­marine biologist. The writing is fluid, the surface beautifully calm, and Maeve’s depths thoughtfully revealed.

Winawer, Melodie . The Scribe of Siena. Touchstone. May 2017. 464p. ISBN 9781501152252. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501152276.

Studying research on the Black Death, neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato time travels to medieval Siena and falls in love with a city under disastrous threat. “Lovers of meticulously researched historical fiction and time-travel narratives will be swept away.” (LJ 2/15/17)


Camerota, Alisyn. Amanda Wakes Up. Viking. Jul. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780399563997. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780399564017. women’s

The coanchor of CNN’s New Day chronicles the career ups and downs of a starry-eyed reporter in a job like hers.

Clemmons, Zinzi. What We Lose. Viking. Jul. 2017. 192p. ISBN 9780735221710. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780735221727. literary

A young woman of mixed South African and American heritage faces her mother’s illness; from a Literary Hub contributor.

Fallon, Siobhan. The Confusion of Languages. Putnam. Jun. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9780399158926. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780735215566. literary

After the sparkly collection You Know When the Men Are Gone, a much-anticipated debut novel about army wives in the Middle East.

Habash, Gabe. Stephen Florida. Coffee House. Jun. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781566894647. $25. literary

PW fiction reviews editor Habash relates the crazy coming of age of an offbeat, ambitious young wrestler.

Sager, Riley. Final Girls. Dutton. Jul. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781101985366. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781101985373. thriller

A heatedly buzzing book about three girls who all survived horrific acts of violence, with slasher movie echoes.

Family Ties and a Rock and Roll Guy | Memoir

Wed, 03/15/2017 - 15:09

As I continue to struggle in my relationship with my father and to be a good father to my son, I seek out memoirs that relate stories about families, particularly fathers and sons. Four of this month’s memoirs do just that; two of them—Benjamin Taylor’s The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered and Michael Frank’s The Mighty Franks—exceedingly well. The one exception, Jim Dickinson’s quirky collection of memoirs about his adventures in early rock and roll, is just for fun, just for a breather. Happy reading!

Dickinson, Jim. I’m Just Dead, I’m Not Gone. Univ. Pr. of Mississippi. (American Made Music). Apr. 2017. 248p. ed. by Ernest Suarez. photos. index. ISBN 9781496810540. $25. MEMOIR
Music producer and performer Dickinson (1941–2009) played on records by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, and many other giants of rock and roll. The focus of this collection of short memoirs, edited by Suarez (David M. O’Connell Professor of English, Catholic Univ. of America, Washington, DC), is on Dickinson’s life in the 1950s and 1960s, when he was cutting his teeth in the Memphis music scene. Dickinson relates early encounters with Elvis, Johnny Cash, and legendary producer Sam Phillips. One of his early bands even opened for Bo Diddley. Dickinson’s writing style is charming and untutored and reminiscent of the writings of John Fahey, the maverick acoustic guitarist, in his books How Bluegrass Music Destroyed My Life and Vampire Vultures. VERDICT Accessible and quirky, this is essential reading for fans of Dickinson and early rock and roll and blues.

Feinstein, Sascha. Wreckage: My Father’s Legacy of Art and Junk. Bucknell Univ. Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9781611487855. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781611487862. MEMOIR
Painter Sam Feinstein (1915–2003) was a compulsive hoarder whose obsessive need to collect led to the ruin of three of his properties. His son, a professor of English (Lycoming Coll.), here examines his father’s life mostly through the lens of his art, giving detailed discussions of Sam’s paintings and using poetry and jazz (the author’s twin passions) to get to an understanding of who his father was. In the end, Sam remains largely mysterious in the sense that all great works of art are mysterious. They can never be reduced to a single meaning, or even a set of meanings, and so continually draw people in, in attempts to decipher their message. VERDICT Because Feinstein’s approach is largely academic, he rarely gets at the emotional core of his relationship with his father. Reproductions of his father’s art—even just a few—would have been welcomed.

Frank, Michael. The Mighty Franks. Farrar. May 2017. 320p. illus. ISBN 9780374210120. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780374715960. MEMOIR
The character at the center of Frank’s extraordinary tale is his aunt, Harriet Frank Jr., a screenwriter perhaps best known for her work with director Martin Ritt. Late in the book, the author comments that he first tried writing about Harriet in fictional form but was consistently told that people like her just don’t exist. Well, they do, and here she is: an insecure and egocentric tyrant who always got her way. She identifies her nephew early on as the perfect victim and begins stroking his ego by telling him how smart and different he is, and demands he read the best books, look at the best art, take in the best of everything. Yet she seems to care little for Michael the person, and as he comes to realize this and begins to rebel, his aunt’s outbursts become more extreme and frequent, and their relationship begins to break down irrevocably. Truth is not just stranger than fiction, it’s more interesting, too. VERDICT More than a memoir, this is really a study of human pathology, a book that should be widely read for its insights into families and the process of growing up. [See Prepub Alert, 11/27/16.]

Friedman, Daniel. The King of Chicago: Memories of My Father. Carrel: Skyhorse. May 2017. 178p. photos. ISBN 9781631440687. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781631440694. memoir
Friedman’s father (the king of the title) grew up in an Orthodox Jewish orphanage in Chicago, along with his four siblings. His mother, though alive and well, considered herself unable to care for the children after her husband’s death. This abandonment, and the pain it caused, are at the heart of Friedman’s tribute to his father, Daniel. In spite of his great success in the scrap paper business, Daniel never moved on beyond his childhood, and in fact, wouldn’t ever speak about it. In the last few chapters, Friedman begins to delve more fully into his own life, particularly his failed marriage and move back to Chicago, closing the circle of the Friedman saga. VERDICT This is a so-so memoir in the fathers-and-sons genre, with not much to recommend it. Friedman rarely moves beyond father worship and into true insight about their relationship.

Taylor, Benjamin. The Hue and Cry at Our House: A Year Remembered. Penguin Originals. May 2017. 208p. photos. ISBN 9780143131649. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781524705299. MEMOIR
This wonderfully tangential memoir from author (Proust: The Search), novelist (The Book of Getting Even), and writing prof (New School’s Graduate Sch. of Writing; Columbia Univ.) Taylor covers much more than a year in his life. We learn about his parents and grandparents, growing up in Forth Worth, TX, his undiagnosed Asperger’s, his experiences at a sleep-away camp, his passion for literature, and that he shook President John F. Kennedy’s hand on the day he was assassinated. Taylor seems congenitally incapable of sticking to one subject for long, and therefore, we reap the benefits. Looking back on this slim memoir, it boggles the mind of this reviewer that so much life was covered in so few words, teaching us so much about our own lives in the process. VERDICT This is a marvelous memoir that will appeal to anyone who loves good stories and interesting lives.

More Memoir

Carroll, Leah. Down City: A Daughter’s Story of Love, Memory, and Murder. Grand Central. Mar. 2017. 240p. photos. ISBN 9781455563319. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781455563302. MEMOIR
Tough and dreamy, searching and sad, this debut memoir by a collateral victim of murder delves deep. When she was four years old, the author’s mother, Joan Goldman Carroll, was killed by drug dealers in Providence, RI. Her father’s self-murder took longer: 14 years later, Kevin Carroll, a charismatic, mercurial alcoholic, was found dead in a seedy rooming house. In urgent, present tense, Carroll tells the story of her parents. herself, and a little bit about the decline of industrial New England. Joan and Kevin were young, rebellious working-class kids with ambitions, but drug abuse, alcoholism, and the precariousness of middle class existence overwhelmed them. Sent to live with her mother’s parents after the murder, Carroll slowly becomes aware of the details and implications of Joan’s death. She moves in with her father and his new wife and family, and witnesses Kevin’s descent, especially after he loses his job distributing the Providence Journal. The author also interviews friends and family and pores over police records to get a clearer picture of both parents. VERDICT This book ends on a hopeful note, but Carroll’s journey to sympathy and understanding is a rough ride. Recommended for true crime aficionados and readers of survivor memoirs.—Liz French, Library Journal


What Joan Juliet Buck Is Reading & Writing | French on Fridays

Fri, 03/10/2017 - 15:46

Stylish survivor/novelist/editor/critic/essayist Joan Juliet Buck spoke on Wednesday, March 8, at the French Institute: Alliance Française (FIAF) in midtown Manhattan. Her new memoir, The Price of Illusion (Atria; reviewed in LJ 2/1/17), recounts her golden fairy-princess life as an American ex-pat in France, growing up with glamorous parents (father Jules was a film producer who worked with John Huston and launched Peter O’Toole’s career; mother Joyce was an actress and, later, an interior decorator), and a life in fashion, first as features editor of British Vogue and then as the only  American woman to be editor in chief of Paris Vogue.

FIAF speaker series curator Melissa Ceria, herself a former fashion journalist, conducted a lively Q&A with Buck, whose answers were liberally peppered with French phrases. LJ’s humble correspondent (moi) squeezed into FIAF’s intimate penthouse space amid a cloud of L’heure Bleue and Mitsouko parfum and had a listen.

Buck discussed her relationship with her parents—dad was warm, mom was cold—and how she “adopted” John Huston’s wife Enrica “Ricki” Soma, to her mother’s dismay. Ceria asked about her high-profile romantic entanglements and Buck mentioned her enormous, youthful crush on writer Tom Wolfe (“Ricki said you should find yourself a ‘cub,’ not a wolf”) and her 1974 on-set romance with Donald Sutherland (“after the movie wraps, the intensity dies away”).

The author also talked about her life as a fashion editor during heady, creative times and how Paris Vogue “forced” her to take a two-month sabbatical and enter rehab in Tucson, AZ. Since she was not an addict, she rebelled at first but came to a startling realization during a Narcotics Anonymous meeting: she was addicted to Paris Vogue!

After the Q&A, the audience got to ask a few questions. Your correspondent wanted to ask what the author was wearing but instead inquired whether Buck, who has written novels, plays, screenplays, and essays, read any memoirs to prepare for writing her own. She named several titles: Elia Kazan: A Life, which she found “remarkable” despite her father’s antipathy toward the director who “named names” during the McCarthy hearings; J.R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar; The Confessions of Jean Jacques Rousseau, a multivolume French classic; The Confessions of St. Augustine, another oldie but goodie; and Full Service: My Adventures in Hollywood and the Secret Sex Lives of the Stars, by Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg, about which Vanity Fair exclaimed, “Quel scandale!”

Luckily, another audience member asked Buck what she was wearing: her well-cut, silver-gray jacket was designed by Zac Posen, who is a personal friend. “He’s a really good cook,” she added, then urged the next questioner to “buy the book” to find out more juicy details about her remarkable life.

Current & Recurrent Events | Classic Returns

Tue, 03/07/2017 - 16:34

Many of the books in this edition of “Classic Returns” are all too timely, dealing with Russian spycraft, religious and political intolerance, incarceration, black power movements, and perceptions of deaf people. It’s not all superserious though; nonagenarian Diana Athill’s travelog larks through 1940s Italy; Stacey Bishop “kills” his critics; fairy-tale scholar Maria Tatar presents international riffs on Beauty and the Beast; and Hollywood photographer Douglas Kirkland looks back on a dazzling star-filled career. All this and Alan Watts’s East-West musings, a British band bio, and a banker’s French escape await readers of reissues, reprints, and anniversary editions.

Athill, Diana. A Florence Diary. House of Anansi. Apr. 2017. 80p. photos. notes. ISBN 9781487002206. $16.95. TRAV
Seventy years ago, acclaimed UK author, memoirist (Instead of a Letter; After a Funeral; Alive, Alive Oh!) and editor Athill (b. 1917) traveled to post–World War II Florence, Italy, with her cousin Pen. This recently discovered diary tells of their adventures during a two-week vacation, charmingly capturing a long-lost time. Archival photos of the places she visited (not taken by the author) accompany the slim volume’s text.

Bishop, Stacey. Death in the Dark. Locked Room International. Mar. 2017. 190p. ISBN 9781537598024. pap. $24.99. Mys
This “locked-room” whodunit, written by avant-garde composer George Antheil (1900–59) under the pseudonym of Bishop, is what crime novelist Martin Edwards calls a “revenge novel” in his introduction. The author-composer, who also coinvented (with actress Hedy Lamarr) a precursor to wireless technology, used a jet propeller and police siren in his musical pieces. A performance of his Ballet méchanique at New York’s Carnegie Hall in 1927 went horribly wrong (the propeller blew audience members’ hats and programs away; the siren went off at the wrong moment) and was ravaged by critics. The enraged and dejected Antheil returned to Europe with revenge on his mind. In 1930, British publisher Faber & Faber released Death in the Dark, which kills off all the (thinly disguised) persons whom Antheil/Bishop blamed for the failed concert. An afterword by avant-garde music scholar Mauro Piccinini connects the dots for readers.

Beauty and the Beast: Classic Tales About Animal Brides and Grooms from Around the World. Penguin Classics. Mar. 2017. 196p. ed. by Maria Tatar. ISBN 9780143111696. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101992951. LIT
This book is for those who can’t get enough “beast and beauty” stories, and for moviegoers looking forward to the new 3–D movie musical starring Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as the Beast. Fairy-tale scholar Tatar (John L. Loeb Professor of Folklore and Mythology and Germanic Languages and Literatures, Harvard Univ.) collects tales from ancient times to the present and from diverse cultures, all on the theme of human/beast love. There are cranes, turtles, monkeys, warthogs, goats, dogs, lizards, even bears in this volume, and Tatar provides academic commentary and suggestions for further reading.

Berkman, Alexander. Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist. AK Pr. Jan. 2017. 522p. ed. by Jessica Moran & Barry Pateman. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781849352529. $24. POLI SCI/MEMOIR
This new edition of a “classic of prison literature” written by Berkman (1870–1936), who attempted to assassinate businessman Henry Clay Frick for his role in suppressing the 1892 Homestead Steel Strike in Pittsburgh, chronicles the author’s 14 years at Pennsylvania’s notorious Western State Penitentiary. This memoir was originally released by Emma Goldman’s Mother Earth Publishing Association, in 1912, six years after Berkman was freed. This version contains Berkman’s previously unpublished diary, which he kept while he wrote his memoir. Wikipedia notes that this account is one of the first to depict homosexuality in prison. Lovingly, painstakingly annotated and introduced by the editors of Emma Goldman: A Documentary History and Kate Sharpley Library collective members Pateman (Chomsky on Anarchism) and Moran, who is also an LJ reviewer.

Kirkland, Douglas. Freeze Frame: Second Cut. Glitterati. Apr. 2017. 368p. photos. filmog. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781943876433. $125. PHOTOG
The tenth anniversary edition of Hollywood-based art and celebrity photographer Kirkland’s collection expands on the original with 190 new photographs, a larger format (10″ x 13″), and plenty of behind-the-scenes stories from the shoots and movie sets. Kirkland worked for Life and Look magazines during the “golden age of photojournalism” in the 1960s–70s, photographing such superstars as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, and both Audrey and Katharine Hepburn. With an introduction by Italian film director Cristina Comencini and commentary by his wife and business partner, Françoise Kirkland, the anthology is organized by decade, from the 1960s through “2000+.” The backstories are lively and serve to humanize his many larger-than-life subjects. This book is a treasure trove for classic movie fans and photography buffs.

Neill, Andy. Had Me a Real Good Time: Faces Before, During, and After. Overlook Omnibus. Feb. 2017. 528p. photos. discog. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781468314427. pap. $29.95. MUSIC
Music writer, researcher, and historian Neill (Anyway Anyhow Anywhere: The Complete Chronicle of the Who; Across the Universe: The Beatles on Tour and on Stage) updates his 2011 band biography of the Faces, one of Britain’s best-loved bands. Band members came from the Small Faces and the Jeff Beck Band and provided an “antidote” to the slick disco and glam rock of the 1970s. This title follows the formation of the group in London and its wild times, then goes beyond that to cover individual careers, most notably that of lead singer Rod Stewart, who went on to become one of the best-selling musical artists of all time. This new edition includes a original chapter on the solo career and legacy of keyboardist Ian “Mac” MacLagan, who died in 2014.

Rhodes, Jane. Framing the Black Panthers: The Spectacular Rise of a Black Power Icon. Univ. of Illinois. Feb. 2017. 404p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252082641. pap. $22.95; ebk. ISBN 9780252099649. SOC SCI
Rhodes (African American studies, Univ. of Illinois; Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century) contributes a new preface to her 2007 treatise on the Black Panther movement, with photos of former U.S. president Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama and musical artist Beyoncé. She also includes much discussion of the Black Lives Matter movement and various films (documentary and otherwise) about the group. Rhodes’s work probes the Black Panthers’ longtime relationship to the media and their skillful manipulation of imagery, as well as their lasting effect on African American protest movements.

Shakespeare, William. The Merchant of Venice. Pelican Shakespeare. Mar. 2017. 160p. ed. by A.R. Braunmuller. notes. ISBN 9780143130222. pap. $9. LIT
Pelican Shakespeare editor and UCLA professor (comparative lit & English) Braunmuller provides an informative introduction (which addresses the anti-Semitism of the playwright’s portrayal of Shylock, among other things) and copious notes on every page of the play. Also included are two essays: “The Theatrical World” and “The Texts of Shakespeare,” both of which have further reading recommendations on the subject. The cover design by Manuja Waldia riffs on perhaps the most famous line in Merchant: “And where thou now exacts the penalty/ Which is a pound of this poor merchant’s flesh.”

Swett, William B. Adventures of a Deaf-Mute and Other Short Pieces. Gallaudet Univ. (Classics in Deaf Studies, Vol. 10). Feb. 2017. 128p. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781563686832. pap. $24.95. MEMOIR
Swett (1824–84), who is the “deaf-mute” of the title, worked as a handyman for several seasons at Profile House, a hotel located in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. He wrote of his adventures in the surrounding area and also of his reception by hearing people at the hotel. His observations and exploits were originally published serially in Deaf-Mutes’ Friend, a monthly journal, in the 1860s. This volume also features an annotated introduction by “Gallaudet Classics in Deaf Studies” series editor Kristen C. Harmon. Part 2 of this book contains “Mr. Swett and His Diorama,” an article from 1869 in which the author describes his miniature re-creation of the Battle of Lexington and “Manual Alphabets and Their History, with Sketches, Illustrations, and Varieties,” a pamphlet published in 1875.

Voltaire. Treatise on Toleration. Penguin Classics. Feb. 2017. 208p. tr. from French by Desmond M. Clarke. notes. ISBN 9780241236628. pap.$14. PHIL
After Toulouse merchant Jean Calas was falsely accused of murdering his son and executed on the wheel in 1762, Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire (b.1694 as François-Marie Arouet) began a campaign to vindicate Calas and his family. The resulting treatise is a cry against fanaticism (Calas had been persecuted by “an irrational mob” because he was a Protestant) and a plea for understanding. Translator Clarke provides an introduction and annotations to this work, which the Guardian reported began to climb the French best seller lists after the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Also included is a chronology of Voltaire’s life and a further-reading list.

Watts, Alan. Psychotherapy East and West. New World Library. Feb. 2017. 208p. ISBN 9781608684564. pap. $14.95. PHIL
Counterculture hero, philosopher, writer, and speaker Watts (1915–73) is best known as an interpreter of Asian philosophies for a Western audience. The British-born author wrote more than 25 books and numerous articles weaving scientific knowledge into the teachings of Eastern and Western religion and philosophy. He also lectured widely at universities and on radio programs. This title, originally published in 1961, explores the relationship between Western psychotherapy and Eastern philosophies of Buddhism, Vedanta, yoga, and Taoism.

Short Takes

Cameron, Lou. Angel’s Flight. Black Gat: Stark House. Feb. 2017. 240p. ISBN 9781944520182. pap. $9.99. Mys
Prodigious author Cameron (1924–2010) wrote over 300 novels in his lifetime, some under his own name and others under pseudonyms. This hard-boiled mystery about a louse in the music biz was his first, written in 1960, and according to the publisher, it’s “like nothing else he wrote…a noir masterpiece crying out for a modern audience.”

Davidson, Lionel. Kolymsky Heights. Faber & Faber. Mar. 2017. 496p. ISBN 9780571333875. pap. $15.95. Mys
This reissue of British writer Davidson’s (The Night of Wenceslas; The Rose of Tibet) 1994 novel is called “the best thriller I’ve ever read” by His Dark Materials author Philip Pullman in the new intro. Set in a Siberian locale “so secret it doesn’t officially exist,” the book is right on time for Russian conspiracy theorists to savor during Black Sea summer vacations.

Mcdonald, Gregory. Snatch. Hard Case Crime: Titan. Feb. 2017. 448p. ISBN 9781785651823. pap. $12.95; ebk. ISBN 9781785651830. Mys
From the author of the “Fletch” and “Flynn” books, here are two kidnapping novels, unavailable for decades and reissued together for the first time. Both feature eight-year-old boys: Snatched is set during the 1970s oil crisis; Safekeeping is set during the London Blitz of World War II.

More Classic Returns

Morland, Miles. The Man Who Broke Out of the Bank: And Went for a Walk Across France. Bloomsbury USA. Jan. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781408872987. pap. $17; ebk. ISBN 9781408863640. trav
It’s nice to have this walking travelog, first published in 1992, back in print. After giving up his career as an investment banker (or, as he styles it, “shouting down a phone”), Morland (who is English) and his wife, Guislaine (who is French), decided to walk across France through the foothills of the Pyrenees. This mostly charming, occasionally funny, recounting of this journey is interspersed with reminiscences about Morland’s previous life. There is the requisite local color, replete with (somewhat stereotypical) descriptions of rich and wine-laden French meals and the rudeness of the French themselves. Near the middle, Morland seems to get bogged down by the monotony of his adventures and the subsequent chapters become largely interchangeable—one town, one meal, all people—seemingly no different from the previous towns, meals, and people he encounters. VERDICT Though not very informative about the French or how to prepare for a walking tour, this book does a good job of capturing Morland’s experiences across France.—Derek Sanderson, Mount Saint Mary Coll. Lib., Newburgh, NY


Best Free Reference Websites & Apps

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 12:40

AAPB: American Archive of Public Broadcasting

A collaboration between the Library of Congress and WGBH in Boston “to preserve for posterity the most significant public television and radio programs of the past 60 years.” Both audio and video from around the country are archived and searchable, with more than 17,000 clips. Curated collections on special topics include the First Amendment, Freedom of Speech, and the right to protest.

A free service from Pop-Up Archive, ­ is a full-­text search “and intelligence engine” for podcasts. Participating podcasts are loaded into the searchable database, allowing rich and deep keyword searching. Users can filter content by show, network, category, people, or topic and share clips on social media. The organization recently partnered with the Digital Public Library of America.

BASE: Bielefeld Academic Search Engine

Operated by the Bielefeld University Library in Germany, this voluminous search engine allows users to search over 100 million documents from more than 4,000 sources. Users can access the full texts of about 60 percent of the indexed documents (open access). See also: Microsoft Academic and Semantic Scholar.

Camel Camel Camel

A price tracker tool that provides price drop alerts and price history charts for any products sold via Amazon. Users can set up a simple alert to receive notifications anytime an item price falls. There is also visual and textual price history information for every item in the Amazon database. Great for business research.

C-SPAN Video Library

More than 228,000 hours of video (just about everything that has ever aired on C-SPAN), updated on a daily basis. Historical content includes debates, speeches, rallies, and more. Users can create custom video clips to save and share. Essential.


A catalog of primary source documents and a tool for annotating, organizing, and publishing them on the web. Documents are contributed by journalists, researchers, and archivists worldwide. Users can analyze occurrence of particular words in a document and view dates on a time line. Researchers can even see the journalist’s notes. Powered by investigative reporters and editors.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), a division of the Library of Congress, is Congress’s think tank, researching and compiling nonpartisan reports on a governmental issues. This site, with bi­partisan support, make these reports available to the public. Updated regularly.

Global Stat

From the European University Institute, this database compiles publicly available data from over 100 sources, offering statistical information on globalization, sustainability, and human development. Users can search on a range of topics including income distribution, energy consumption, water resources, dwellings, migration, land use, food production, nutrition, school enrollment, and life expectancy and create data visualizations. See the list of underlying sources by clicking the sources/entities link at the bottom left of the main page.


Allows users to search for and track legislation being debated in the U.S. Congress. They can an set up alerts for particular bills and pieces of legislation as well as follow individual Congress members’ work on bills and resolutions, voting records, and committee work.


From Indiana University’s Observatory of Social Media, this tool lets users search for and visualize the spread of claims (“fake news”) and related fact-checking via social media.

IFTTT (If This Than That)

A nifty and highly customizable tool that can be employed without having any computer coding skills to mesh two online or digital services. For example, users can set up an RSS feed to deliver in-box alerts, automatically backup all tweets to a Google doc, or program your phone’s GPS to open your garage door. The possibilities are nearly endless.


From the UK, this independent news aggregation service displays breaking headlines linked to global news websites. Stories are categorized by topic, with links updated constantly in real time. Source and country of origin for every piece is indicated. With a useful browsing feature and the ability to set up alerts.


An app for iOs and Android, it instantly solves any arithmetic or algebra problem at which the phone’s camera is pointed, showing the steps to achieve that result.

Wayback Machine Archive Feature

Though most librarians are likely familiar with the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, there is a feature that’s worth highlighting: Save Page Now, which lets users archive most web pages and PDFs instantly on demand. A simple copy and paste guarantees that the web page you saw today will be available even if it’s changed or deleted later.

A digital preservation tool developed by an arts group based in New York. By using the Webrecorder interface, individuals can browse the web while recording their searches. They can then save and view “collections” via the Webrecorder platform or download saved sessions.

Gary Price is a librarian, writer, consultant, and conference speaker based in the Washington, DC, area and editor of LJ’s INFOdocket