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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

Best Databases of 2016

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 12:40

Many databases and digital reference products were reviewed in 2016. The following are the cream of the crop.

ACI Scholarly Blog Index (ASBI)

ACI Information

ACI Scholarly Blog Index is a distinctive database that connects users to social media and blog postings created by experts in a variety of academic and research fields. This resource boasts over 10,000 scholarly blogs, with more than one million posts. Specialists in each topic or field selectively curate the collection of sources, ensuring that visitors can find blogs with active content in their field of study. Users will enjoy the options available for collecting and viewing relevant results. When selecting an article to view, a resulting page gives the option of either a summary or full text, as well as a list of features, including publication metadata and author details (education, position, societies, and awards). This provides a thorough introduction to the author’s area of expertise. With the plethora of social media and blog posts published daily, ASBI will appeal to those seeking quality, relevant content that meets their academic needs. The extensive topics and curated articles create a worthwhile resource to support the academic journal indexes already available. (LJ 9/1/16)—Katie McGaha

Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790–1920

Gale Cengage Learning;

Crime, Punishment, and Popular Culture, 1790–1920, offers rich resources for scholars of history, sociology, criminology, political science, and law by making available more than two million pages of items such as detective agency records, police gazettes, chapbooks, and trial transcripts. This content is not for the squeamish, but it educates users about the acts (and punishments) of 19th-century transgressions. The FBI file on Italian-born U.S. anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti contains the previously classified reports providing the bureau with new developments including meetings of supporters of the duo and clippings from local newspapers showing the nature of public sentiment toward them. Also included are monographs on Eastern State Penitentiary, articles on serial killers H.H. Holmes and Thomas Neill Cream, and manuscripts relating to the unsolved Lizzie Borden and Charles Bravo cases. Not only is the content extraordinary, but the navigation is fast and easy. This enthralling and straightforward file will be well worth its purchase price to libraries supporting serious legal, historical, and criminal justice researchers. (LJ 4/1/16)—Cheryl LaGuardia

Environment Complete (EC)

GreenFILE EBSCO Industries

EC provides indexing and full text to a wide range of topic areas such as agriculture and farming, climate change, ecosystem ecology, environmental law, environmental management and protection, environmental technology, forests and forestry, marine and freshwater science, pollution and waste management, renewable energy sources, and more. With over 3.5 million records spanning 2,200 national and international titles going back to 1888 and more than 190 monographs, the database also includes the full text of more than 1,300 journals. A go-to resource for coverage of all areas of environmental studies programs, including environmental ethics, environment and the human condition, and energy and ­sustainability. (LJ 4/15/16)—Bruce Connolly & Gail ­Golderman

Public Library Video Online: Premium

Alexander Street

Designed for the academic and entertainment interests of patrons of all ages, Public Library Video Online: Premium contains videos from 500 providers such as CBS and PBS. Users have access to a plethora of footage, from documentaries and raw footage to commercials and features. Film history buffs will especially appreciate the ability to view footage from as early as 1890, beginning with an Edison camera test. The database includes material from several disciplines: science, education, news, theater, and fashion. The platform provides a user-friendly interface for streaming media and viewing documents, with the content loaded on the left and detailed metadata on the right. With the media player on the left, users are presented with several options for manipulating videos such as play, next/previous track, 30-second rewind, shuffle tracks, and visual table of contents. Whether browsing the collection or searching for a specific topic, users will find this database intriguing. While Alexander Street promotes the entertainment value of the product, it will hold strong appeal to academics owing to the emphasis on providing and sharing citations. (LJ 5/1/16)— Katie McGaha

Twentieth Century Religious Thought. Vol. 1: Christianity
Twentieth Century Religious Thought. Vol. 2: Islam

Alexander Street

Alexander Street’s Twentieth Century Religious Thought collection is a multivolume resource that highlights the teachings and writings of religious thinkers from the early 1900s to the turn of the 21st century. It aims to support interfaith dialog by shining light on the “increasingly global and pluralistic character of religious scholarship.” Included in Volume 1 are biblical commentaries, exegetical writings, canon and church law, catechisms, religious instruction, confessional writings, devotionals, philosophical pieces, sermons, lectures, and more. As of this writing, the database offers more than 100,000 pages worth of content, with 382 books and 3,382 items from the Reinhold Niebuhr Papers alone. Volume 2 centers on Islamic theology and tradition and features the work of more than 100 authors from Egypt, Gambia, India, Iraq, Morocco, Pakistan, Switzerland, Syria, Tanzania, Turkey, and the United States. Muslim voices make up an estimated 95 percent of the collection. These products comprise an expansive library of works that illustrate modern Christian thought and contemporary Islamic thought. The content is thorough and thoughtfully selected; advanced researchers will appreciate the depth of materials available. (LJ 8/16)—­Gricel Dominguez

Best Reference Titles of 2016

Thu, 03/02/2017 - 12:37

This year’s list, compiled by a group of LJ’s top reference reviewers and editors, spans a wide range of subject areas, from a dictionary of Shakespearean vocabulary and a journey through classic sf films to an encyclopedia of cheese and a collection of the year’s best infographics. Several prescient titles published in 2016 will continue to see strong usage in 2017, such as a guide to fact-checking, an in-depth look at the history of surveillance in America, an encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim world, and a work on the history and evolution of protest movements. While some selections are more relevant for scholars working in colleges and universities, several works also bring great appeal for more casual browsers and public library users. Included is a roundup of the best databases reviewed in LJ this past year as well as a listing of excellent—and free—online resources that should be bookmarked and at the fingertips of every reference librarian.

Arts & Literature

Berger, Sidney E. The Dictionary of the Book: A Glossary for Book Collectors, Booksellers, Librarians, and Others. Rowman & Littlefield. 334p. illus. index. ISBN 9781442263390. $125; ebk. ISBN 9781442263406.

Setting out to amend John Carter’s classic ABC for Book Collectors, Berger (director emeritus, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, MA) has created a dictionary for “anyone who wants to speak intelligently about books.” With more than 1,300 entries and 100 illustrations, this insightful work drills down to the specifics of everything from typefaces to legal issues to design and more. Whether readers are curious about the concertina fold or wondering about wood pulp, they’ll find answers to questions they never even thought of in this bibliophile’s bible.

The Cambridge Guide to the Worlds of Shakespeare. 2 vols. Cambridge Univ. 2248p. ed. by Bruce R. Smith. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781107057258. $650.

A transhistorical, international, and interdisciplinary work that offers an in-depth exploration of Shakespeare’s own world (1500–1660), including language, science and technology, religion, medicine, contemporary popular culture, and his own critical reception. The second volume brings readers and researchers up through the present, focusing on Shakespeare as a cultural icon and his impact on everything from the visual arts to media history. This richly illustrated set offers a wide breadth of subjects with impressive depth. An excellent resource for scholars interested in the history and legacy of the Bard.

Hischak, Thomas S. Musicals in Film: A Guide to the Genre. Greenwood. 480p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440844225. $89; ebk. ISBN 9781440844232.

Exploring a varied genre that includes The Jazz Singer and Les Misérables (with The Wizard of Oz, Bye Bye Birdie, and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast in between), Hischak (theater, SUNY at Cortland) pulls back the curtain on movie musicals. Decade by decade, the book offers an overview of each era, then focuses on noteworthy films, with each entry presenting both a summary and reasons why the movie remains part of the cultural consciousness. With further reading and watch-alikes for each production, this is ready-reference and viewers’ advisory all in one package. (LJ 2/15/17)

Literary Wonderlands: A Journey Through the Greatest Fictional Worlds Ever Created. Black Dog & Leventhal. 320p. ed. by Laura Miller. illus. ISBN 9780316316385. $29.99.

Who doesn’t want to escape sometimes, to (or from) Oz, Gormenghast, IQ84, or other imagined worlds? Not an anthology, this tantalizing guide to popular and literary landmark texts offers thoughtful description, context, and analysis of almost 100 titles (most are Western, inviting debate about choices and omissions). Engagingly written, the volume is beautifully produced, with striking artwork, including original illustrations. Readers will revisit favorite—and discover new—realms in these attractive pages.

Vogelsang-Eastwood, Gillian. Encyclopedia of Embroidery from the Arab World. Bloomsbury Academic. 704p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780857853974. $240.

Winner of the 2017 Dartmouth Medal for “most outstanding reference work,” presented by the Reference and User Services Association, a division of the American Library Association, this unique and visually sumptuous work details the history of embroidery from Ancient Egypt to the present day. Over 750 gorgeous full-color images offer enjoyment for both serious researchers and casual browsers. Smartly organized indexes and chapters allow readers to search for topics by country, religion, cultural event, or ceremony.

Warren, Bill. Keep Watching the Skies! American Science Fiction Movies of the Fifties; The 21st Century Edition. 2 vols. McFarland. 1040p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786442300. $99; pap. ISBN 9781476666181. $45.

Film critic and historian Warren has assembled a seminal anthology of sf movies released in the United States from 1950 to 1962. This two-volume work, initially published in 1982 and 1986, respectively, is a one-man survey written from the perspective of a science fiction movie aficionado rather than a scholar. Updates include added content, entry revisions, and new film details. (LJ 5/1/16)

Business & Economics

Forbes Book of Quotations: 10,000 Thoughts on the Business of Life. Black Dog & Leventhal. 768p. ed. by Ted Goodman. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780316310048. $24.99.

“Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.” Such is one nugget of managerial wisdom (from General George S. Patton, under “Action”) to be found in this revised and updated edition. At turns witty and inspirational, the words of Confucius and Cicero get equal billing with Oprah Winfrey and Steve Jobs, organized under topic headings such as “Adversity” and “Salesmanship.” An eminently handy compilation that will find use on any ready reference shelf.

Lind, Nancy S. & others. Today’s Economic Issues: Democrats and Republicans. Greenwood. 387p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440839368. $97; ebk. ISBN 9781440839375.

Lind (political science), Erik T. Rankin (politics & government), and Gardenia Harris (Sch. of Social Work; all, Illinois State Univ.) explore the major political parties’ viewpoints on economic issues such as unemployment, corruption, job creation, and more. With a contentious election behind us and the rise of fake news and alternative facts, this evenhanded and accessible guide is necessary reading for those seeking to make sense of what may be confusing or arcane topics. (SLJ 3/17)

The SAGE Encyclopedia of Economics and Society. 4 vols. SAGE. 1984p. ed. by Frederick F. Wherry & Juliet Schor. index. ISBN 9781452226439. $650; ebk. ISBN 9781506346175.

Wherry (sociology, Yale Univ.) and Schor (sociology, Boston Coll.) examine social science topics through an economic lens, focusing not on analytical theories but on broader concepts, making this four-volume set particularly relevant and accessible. An excellent addition to reference collections, especially those serving high school and undergraduate students interested in the sociological implications of economics and vice versa. (LJ 10/15/16)


Lakshmi, Padma. The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World. Ecco: HarperCollins. 352p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780062375230. $39.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062375247.

From the award-winning host of Top Chef, this work covers numerous herbs and spices in alphabetical order and includes detailed descriptions, place of origin, and recipes. Readers will find what to expect for taste and how products should look, feel, and smell for maximum flavor, whether fresh or dried. Besides entries for more familiar fare such as cinnamon, ginger, and parsley are those for epazote, pandan leaves, and zedoary. Full-color photos enhance the visual experience. (LJ 9/15/16)

The Oxford Companion to Cheese. Oxford Univ. 888p. ed. by Catherine Donnelly. photos. index. ISBN 9780199330881. $65.

Examining the topic through a variety of lenses—culinary, scientific, historical, cultural, and even literary and artistic—Donnelly (nutrition & food science, Univ. of Vermont) has left no stone unturned in her pursuit of all things cheese (yes, that includes Cheez Whiz). Boasting 855 signed entries from cheese makers, cheese mongers, food historians, anthropologists, and more; a thorough index; in-depth cross-referencing; and more than 100 illustrations, this extensive offering is a rich and robust smorgasbord. (LJ 2/15/17)

General Reference

The Best American Infographics 2016. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. 176p. ed. by Gareth Cook & Robert Krulwich. illus. ISBN 9780544556386. pap. $20.

The fourth and final edition to this series, annually thrilling all design and info maniacs, exhibits no slowdown in its riveting ride. Imagination and clarity in depicting information are equal criteria for this fascinating selection of lively graphics on topics such as politics, sports, religion, health, history, and even personal relationships. Artful and often colorful data presentations offer unexpected insights from such disparate fields as cartography, industry, science, marketing, and human behavior.

Borel, Brooke. The Chicago Guide to Fact-Checking. Univ. of Chicago. 192p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780226290768. $55; pap. ISBN 9780226290935. $17; ebk. ISBN 9780226291093.

An indispensable resource in the age of “fake news,” this slim but informative title offers writers, researchers, and journalists best practices for fact-checking in a wide variety of media. Taking into account the reality of shrinking newsroom staffs and the difficulties in sourcing content, Borel presents practical advice, tapping experts from the New Yorker, Popular Science, and This American Life, among others. An essential guide for working writers and editors as well as students interested in information literacy.

Foer, Joshua & others. Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders. Workman. 480p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9780761169086. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780761189671.

In 2009, Foer cofounded the site Atlas Obscura with Dylan Thuras, with the aim of crowdsourcing descriptions of intriguing, off-the-beaten-path places all over the world (coauthor Ella Morton is the site’s associate editor). This volume lists more than 700 of the best entries, which are arranged by region and accompanied by color photographs and maps. A guide for the most adventurous of tourists, or a wonderful browse to be relished by armchair travelers. (LJ 6/1/16)

Health & Medicine

Medicine: The Definitive Illustrated History. DK. 320p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781465453419. $40.

Boasting the dazzling graphics that the publisher is known for, this informative volume provides a sprawling yet accessible look at the evolution of medical history. Profiling relevant individuals (Galen, Margaret Sanger) and spotlighting such medical breakthroughs as the first vaccination, this title will entice casual and more serious readers alike. Well-chosen photographs and reproductions are a sumptuous feast for the eyes and a valuable visual aid. (LJ 1/17)

The Pregnancy Encyclopedia. DK. 352p. illus. index. ISBN 9781465443786. $40.

Everything you always wanted to know about pregnancy and birth. The Q&A format covers all stages of pregnancy, including prepartum and postpartum periods, shopping for mother and baby, and labor and delivery, along with gorgeous photography and excellent illustrations. Medical yet highly readable, suitable for ages 14 through adult. (LJ 11/15/16)

Salem Health: Cancer. 4 vols. Salem. 1500p. ed. by Michael A. Buratovich & Laurie Jackson-Grusby. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781619259508. $493.75.

Part of the “Salem Health” series, this set provides an encyclopedic overview of a wide variety of cancer issues, for instance, the various diseases, symptoms and conditions; biology; the oncology team and its specialties; carcinogens; lifestyle; prevention; treatments; chemotherapy and alternatives; and social and personal concerns.


Dictionary of Caribbean and Afro-Latin American Biography. Oxford Univ. 3192p. ed. by Franklin W. Knight & Henry Louis Gates Jr. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199935796. $1,195; ebk. ISBN 9780199935802.

Noted scholar Gates lends his talents to this comprehensive tome about people of African descent (e.g., Haitian leader Toussaint L’Ouverture, Cuban singer Celia Cruz, and Peruvian saint Martin de Porres) who impacted the Latin American and Caribbean world—and beyond. Owing to a collaboration with the Oxford African American Studies Center, this first volume features 2,000-plus bibliographic records, filling in the need for detailed information about prominent people of the largest African diaspora.

Lynch, Jack. You Could Look It Up: The Reference Shelf from Ancient Babylon to Wikipedia. Bloomsbury. 464p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780802777522. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780802777942.

Lynch (English, Rutgers Univ.; The Lexicographer’s Dilemma) relates the stories of 50 major reference works spanning 1754 BCE to the present, defining “reference” sources as titles that are designed to be used piecemeal to answer a query rather than read cover to cover. Categories of reference texts explored include law codes, dictionaries, atlases, encyclopedias, quotation treasuries, and trivia compilations. Specific titles range from the familiar (Code of Hammurabi, Wikipedia, Gray’s Anatomy) to the lesser known (Historia Plantarum, Bald’s Leechbook). An absorbing and illuminating journey into the wide world of reference. (LJ 2/15/16)

Language & Linguistics

Crystal, David. The Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation. Oxford Univ. 780p. ISBN 9780199668427. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9780191835087.

Crystal (Think on My Words: Exploring Shakespeare’s Languages) offers the first comprehensive guide to original pronunciation of Shakespeare’s words, taken from more than 20,000 words appearing in the First Folio. Each entry includes the phonetic transcription, variant spellings, and rhymes. Most useful is the companion website, which features sound files. A superb resource for thespians, directors, and Shakespeare scholars.

Jourist, Igor. Firefly 5 Language Visual Dictionary. Firefly. 832p. illus. index. ISBN 9781770857681. $35.

Five Indo-European languages—English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish—are covered in this highly usable visual dictionary. Organized into browser-friendly topic areas such as “Animal Kingdom,” “The Human Being,” and “Transportation,” each entry features clear illustrations and diagrams, with simple labels identifying the word in each language. Language learners as well as world travelers will find this an economical and practical title.

Law & Politics

The Central Intelligence Agency: An Encyclopedia of Covert Ops, Intelligence Gathering, and Spies. 2 vols. ABC-CLIO. 911p. ed. by Jan Goldman. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610690911. $189; ebk. ISBN 9781610690928.

The CIA serves America by gathering data to assist in making decisions with the central mission to protect its citizens. This two-volume work provides content that objectively examines the agency’s impact on world events, including the Cold War and up through present-day threats of terrorism. The successes and failures of this covert organization are presented, providing a reflection of its 75-year history.

Crimes of the Centuries: Notorious Crimes, Criminals, and Criminal Trials in American History. 3 vols. ABC-CLIO. 1080p. ed. Steven Chermak & Frankie Y. Bailey. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610695930. $310; ebk. ISBN 9781610695947.

Offers a fascinating view of American society, culture, and history in one- to two-page articles that provide a succinct look at American crime between 1637 and 2015. Includes reprints of some primary documents including a Salem Witch Trial arrest warrant. Will be popular with trivia buffs. (LJ 5/15/16)

Latinos and Criminal Justice: An Encyclopedia. Greenwood. 506p. ed. by José Luis Morín. bibliog. ISBN 9780313356605. $100; ebk. ISBN 9780313356612.

An authoritative, compelling, and informative encyclopedia that dispels many inconsistences, misperceptions, and myths about Latinas/Latinos (Latinx) and American criminal justice. Part 1 consists of nine lengthy essays that explore the historical and social contexts of the Latinx experience. Part 2 is an alphabetical listing of short entries from legal specialists and criminal justice scholars whose focus is on issues that most directly affect that population. Timely, comprehensive, and important. (LJ 6/1/16)

The SAGE Handbook of Resistance. SAGE. 530p. ed. by David Courpasson & Steven Vallas. index. ISBN 9781473906433. $165.

Courpasson (EMLYON Business Sch., France) and Vallas (sociology, Northeastern Univ.) present a timely and erudite look at the history and evolution of protests and resistance movements, from Occupy Wall Street to the Tea Party to the Arab Spring. Essays are divided into six major areas—foundations, sites of resistance, technologies of resistance, languages of resistance, geographies of resistance, and consequences of resistance—offering a unique and accessible entry point for researchers working in a wide variety of social science disciplines.

Surveillance in America: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, and the Law. 2 vols. ABC-CLIO. 743p. ed. by Pam Dixon. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440840548. $189.

The 21st century has provided the American public with controversy in relation to governmental surveillance programs. In an effort to provide heightened security measures, the privacy rights of our citizens have arguably become more ambiguous. This two-volume set impartially explores many of the key issues swirling around government surveillance in this country. This ranges from the Fourth Amendment to the high-tech methods currently being employed. (LJ 5/1/16)

Religion & Philosophy

Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World. 2d ed. 2 vols. Macmillan. 823p. ed. by Richard Martin. illus. bibliog. maps. index. ISBN 9780028656045. $481.25.

Up-to-date and accessible, this authoritative overview is also timely. Superb editing of almost 350 scholars’ works guarantees clarity despite information density. Cultural, historical, economic, and political coverage is wide-ranging, e.g. capitalism, comics, reform, gender, Islamophobia, graffiti, clothing, and Muslim-interacting regional religions (Baha’i, Druze, Zoroastrian, Alawite, Judaism, and Buddhism). Overlapping articles by a variety of experts assure depth and sometimes reflect disagreement. This ambitious work will appeal to intellectually inquisitive readers. (LJ 5/1/16)

Miracles: An Encyclopedia of People, Places, and Supernatural Events from Antiquity to the Present. ABC-CLIO. 478p. ed. by Patrick J. Hayes. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610695985. $89; ebk. ISBN 9781610695992.

Miracles have cultural significance in history and religion, having affected society over the course of human experience. This multidisciplinary encyclopedia draws on entries from the humanities, social and behavioral sciences, and the hard sciences. The highlighted entries explore the provenance, cultural dynamics, and psychology behind them. This single volume provides content that emphasizes a potentially controversial subject in an accessibly organized format. (LJ 6/1/16)

Religion and Politics in America: An Encyclopedia of Church and State in American Life. 2 vols. ABC-CLIO. 899p. ed. by Frank J. Smith. ISBN 9781598844351. $189; ebk. ISBN 9781598844368.

More than 100 writers from a wide range of professions, including college professors, theologians, and independent scholars, cover the relationship between church and state in America from the Mayflower Compact in the early Colonial era to the culture wars of modern times. This wide-reaching set helps make sense of the political and cultural conflicts in the United States today. Includes 20 primary sources. (LJ 9/15/16)


The Bee Book. DK. 224p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781465443830. $25.

This book will enthrall middle school researchers, as well as science-minded older readers. From bee evolution through the “waggle dance” and information on Colony Collapse Disorder, the book moves smoothly on to bee-friendly gardens and beekeeping. Project instructions (beeswax candles; honey lemon cough drops) complete the package. Intelligent text interacts with eye-catching photographs, charts, colored pages, illustrations, boxed text, and other visuals to captivate readers. (SLJ 4/16)

Pell, Susan K. & Bobbi Angell. A Botanist’s Vocabulary: 1300 Terms Explained and Illustrated. Timber. 228p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781604695632. $24.95.

This handy and elegant illustrated glossary features over 1,300 terms used by botanists and home gardeners. Beautiful and finely detailed black-and-white drawings illuminate the minute differences among everything from aggregate fruits to zygo­morphic flowers. A splendid ready-reference title that will be eagerly embraced by the green-thumbed.

Shunk, Stephen A. Peterson Reference Guide to Woodpeckers of North America. Houghton Mifflin. 320p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780618739950. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780547840246.

This guide thoroughly covers all 23 species of woodpeckers in North America. Each entry provides detailed information on anatomy, behavior, size, and habitat for each species. A comprehensive resource for both amateur birders and experts alike. (LJ 3/1/16)

The Stars: The Definitive Visual Guide to the Cosmos. DK. 256p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9781465453402. $30.

This eye-popping comprehensive guide to the cosmos is supplemented with historical information, sky charts, and beautiful photos from the Hubble telescope. An ideal resource for stargazers young and old.

Water Planet: The Culture, Politics, Economics, and Sustainability of Water on Earth. ABC-CLIO. 469p. ed. by Camille Gaskin-Reyes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440838163. $89; ebk. ISBN 9781440838170.

Aiming to provide “an integrated picture of the role of water in everyday existence,” Gaskin-Reyes (Latin American studies, Georgetown Univ.) takes a deep dive, exploring a variety of topics: climate change; water governance; the role of gender in water distribution, access, and ownership; weather phenomena such as storms and hurricanes; and more. Distinguishing the work from similar titles is the inclusion of varying perspectives. Case studies and annotated documents round out this comprehensive, no-nonsense examination. (LJ 1/17)

Social Science

Encyclopedia of Modern Ethnic Conflicts. 2d ed. 2 vols. ABC-CLIO. 847p. ed. by Joseph R. Rudolph Jr. bibliog. ISBN 9781610695527. $189.

Ethnic conflicts have inspired violence inside individual states since the mid-20th century. This updated two-volume work explores many of these skirmishes, including recent ones. The coverage includes a wide geographical range with nearly every continent represented. Time lines for each conflict are provided, with the evolution and historical significance explored. This content has had an impact on policies that have shaped the world.

People of Color in the United States: Contemporary Issues in Education, Work, Communities, Health, and Immigration. 4 vols. Greenwood. 1986p. ed. by Kofi Lomotey & others. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610698542. $399; ebk. ISBN 9781610698559.

Representing a wide range of perspectives, the articles in this set are provocative and stimulating. They provide an outstanding overview of the current cultural, economic, political, and social forces that impact the life experiences of people of color in America. In particular, student researchers will find the breadth and depth of the work immensely helpful for projects and reports. A distinguished work of succinct writing, balanced viewpoints, and effective supporting materials. (LJ 2/1/17)

The SAGE Encyclopedia of LGBTQ Studies. 3 vols. SAGE. 1480p. ed. Abbie E. Goldberg. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781483371306. $595; ebk. ISBN 9781483371320.

An exceptional and exhaustive work that addresses LGBTQ experiences, key concepts, systems that impact LGBTQ lives, and theories and methods of research used in LGBTQ research. Its 440 entries cover not only the most compelling and well-developed topics in the field but also new issues of emerging significance, e.g., transgender rights. Distinctive features, knowledgeable writing, and sweeping content establish this work as an essential resource and reference standard. (LJ 2/1/17)

“White” Washing American Education: The New Culture Wars in Ethnic Studies. 2 vols. ABC-CLIO. 613p. ed. by Denise M. Sandoval & others. bibliog. notes. index. ISBN 9781440832550. $131; ebk. ISBN 9781440832567.

Noting that the rise of ethnic studies has been met with “reluctance, hostility, and opposition,” the editors of this thought-provoking work (which also include Anthony J. Ratcliff, Tracy Lachica Buenavista, and James R. Marín) seek to shed light on relevant research and the issues that this field has faced. Scholarly essays tackle cerebral subjects—Africana studies and the carceral state, cultural pedagogy—with a passion that will excite readers and, ultimately, energize a much-needed conversation about the study of race and ethnicity. (LJ 12/16)

Williams, Victoria. Celebrating Life Customs Around the World: From Baby Showers to Funerals. 3 vols. ABC-CLIO. 1295p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781440836589. $294; ebk. ISBN 9781440836596.

From lullabies to shrunken heads, London-based author Williams provides commentary on rituals, customs, and traditions, with a focus on those likely to be less familiar to American readers. The writing is academic enough for research but accessible to most audiences. Inset color photographs and the wide variety of topics will draw in browsers. Williams writes intelligently on controversial topics (circumcision, female genital cutting) as well as walkabouts and the tooth fairy.

Mahnaz Dar is Assistant Managing Editor, School Library Journal (SLJ); Maggie Knapp is a Librarian,Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX; Patricia Lothrop is a retired school librarian, formerly with St. George’s School, Newport, RI; Gary Medina is a Librarian, El Camino College, Torrance, CA; Kiera Parrott is Reviews Director, LJ & SLJ; Dave Pugl is a Librarian, Ela Area Public Library, Lake Zurich, IL; Laurie Selwyn formerly worked at Grayson County Law Library, Sherman, TX; Stephanie Sendaula is Associate Editor, LJ; and Rob Tench is a Librarian, Old Dominion Univ. Library, Norfolk, VA

World War II Stories | Wyatt’s World

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 16:09

With the trailers arriving for Their Finest and The Zookeeper’s Wife, two new films based on novels of war, and the news that the British TV drama series Home Fires is returning to PBS, it’s a good time to build a World War II display. There are plenty of new books to add to the wealth of backlist titles.

  • In Farleigh Field: A Novel of World War II by Rhys
    Bowen (Lake Union: Amazon).
    In what could easily become a PBS show of its own, Bowen’s novel winningly details a World War II spy game. It features an English aristocrat’s daughter who works at London’s top-secret home of code breakers, Bletchley Park, and a number of others with high-stakes plots and plans.
  • We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (Viking).
    This involving and buzzy debut revolves around the fate of the Kurc family, three generations of Jews living in Poland, as they suffer, fight, and survive through the long years of the war. Illuminating the scope of the global conflict, their experiences are shaped by geography, bravery, determination, perseverance, and luck.
  • The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff (Mira: Harlequin).
    In Jenoff’s latest (after The Kommandant’s Girl), a German circus becomes the refuge of an abandoned teenage Dutch girl named Noa and the Jewish baby she saves from the Nazis. There, Noa meets the cast-off Jewish wife of a German officer, and the story spins out through descriptions of circus life and the ever-present threat facing its members.
  • The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan (Crown).
    This debut novel transports readers to a small English village where a group of women keep themselves going during the war by singing in the local choir. Via diary entries, letters, and other literary forms, the life of Chilbury unfolds in focused and affectionate prose.
  • The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck (Morrow).
    Three women, all too familiar with the costs and repercussions of battle, shelter together in a dilapidated castle in this multilayered novel. The widows of men who took part in the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler, each of the women have suffered and survived in different ways.

Oscar Doc Nominees 2017 | LJ Media Reviews

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 13:35

With only days left until the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony, LJ shares its reviews of the five nominees for Best Documentary Feature. Two were already chosen as LJ’s Best DVDs of 2016 (, but we are including all five films here, with race and race relations in this country featured prominently. Any way you look at it, we’ve got the winner. See if you agree.

Fire at Sea. 113 min. Gianfranco Rosi, dist. by Kino Lorber. Mar. 2017. DVD UPC 738329213688. $29.95; Blu-ray UPC 738329213695. $34.95. INT AFFAIRS
Director Rosi provides a unique perspective on the tragic journey of migrants from Africa to Italy through the Straits of Sicily. Eschewing experts, film clips, and an amassing of statistics, Rosi (Sacro GRA) wisely draws the story down to a human level by contrasting the plight of the refugees with the daily life of a little boy on the isle of Lampedusa. Bright, articulate Samuele spends time hunting and preparing to become a fisherman. His simple life stands in sharp contrast to the terrible conditions of the immigrants. Rosi documents efforts of the Italian navy to rescue and assist these desperate people; many make it ashore, many do not. The numerous close-ups of the refugees impose a stark face on this ongoing tragedy. This is not a mass movement; it is the story of individuals. VERDICT Winner of the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival, this moving film should receive a wide audience.—Stephen L. Hupp, West Virginia Univ. Parkersburg Lib.

I Am Not Your Negro. 93 min. Raoul Peck, dist. by Magnolia Pictures. May 2017. DVD UPC 876964011891. $26.98; Blu-ray UPC 876964015493. $29.98. Rated: PG-13. HIST/SOC SCI
In 1979, author James Baldwin (1924–87) sent 30 pages of notes titled “Remember This House” to his editor with the hope they would be expanded into a manuscript delving into the issue of race in America. That never happened. I Am Not Your Negro combines those pages with interviews with Baldwin, photographs, and archival film clips of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. to tell a powerful and thought-provoking story. Narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, the documentary makes a blunt acknowledgment that the issues that Baldwin ruminates upon are the same issues causing a new generation to take to the streets, protesting the same institutions. This film, incorporating the words of Baldwin, suggests that no matter how many years have passed, America’s long simmering twin albatrosses of race and racism remain. VERDICT I Am Not Your Negro is erudite, contemplative, and searingly direct. Baldwin’s ideas and opinions are as alive and relevant today as when he wrote of them nearly four decades ago. Highly recommended.—Joshua Peck, Palos Verdes Lib. Dist., Rolling Hills Estates, CA

Life, Animated. Roger Ross Williams, dist. by Sony. DVD UPC 043396481572. Rated: PG. BIOG
Diagnosed with autism at age three, Owen Suskind learns to communicate from watching animated Disney films—an inspirational story told through home movies, film clips, and animation of 25-year-old Owen’s amazing journey.—Jeff T. Dick, Davenport, IA

O.J: Made in America. 5 discs. b/w & color. Ezra Edelman, dist. by ESPN Films. DVD/Blu-ray UPC 825452521817. BIOG/LAW
The rise and fall of football superstar–cum–accused murderer Orenthal James Simpson gets the epic treatment its place in American culture deserves in this revealing look at L.A. race relations, celebrity, and the criminal justice system.—Jeff T. Dick, Davenport, IA

13th. color & b/w. 100 min. Ava DuVernay, Netflix streaming; DVD Jul. 2017. CRIMINOLOGY
Referring to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution—“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States”—DuVernay’s (Selma) eye-opening documentary examines the history of mass incarceration in America. Kicking off with a startling statistic—the United States holds five percent of the world’s population but 25 percent of its (disproportionately black) prisoners—her film tracks the development of the “prison-industrial complex” and its reliance on forced labor. The 1970s-era “war on drugs” jump-started the arrest of drug offenders, especially for users of crack cocaine, while mandatory minimum sentencing and no-parole laws boosted the prison population. Archival footage, facts and figures, and interviews with politicians (including a contrite Newt Gingrich), ex-cons, historians, and others offer a powerful indictment of our criminal justice system. A plea for prison reform is the upshot of this persuasive advocacy. VERDICT On a subject that increasingly unites social liberals and fiscal conservatives, this lauded Netflix Original doc delivers.—Jeff T. Dick, Davenport, IA

What We’re Watching and… | What We’re Reading

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 11:36

In the week before the Academy Awards, and not too long after a cold spell and blizzard nearly did us in here in New York, I asked my “What We’re Reading” colleagues at LJ/School Library Journal two things. First, prompted by a very lively #askalibrarian chat on Twitter, I asked if they liked to read seasonally, or against the prevailing weather conditions; secondly, in honor of the Oscars and SLJ editorial assistant Tyler Hixson’s new movie blog (and by popular request), I invited them to discuss “What We’re Watching” (WWW).

In the future, we’ll probably break the WWR and WWW columns into two sections or alternate, or something; we haven’t figured that out yet. This week, we’re all together: there are some readers, some watchers, some who do both; those who read chilly tales in winter and those who do not; and some who read (or watch) a thing and then cross formats in a quest to learn all they can about a new favorite subject. Come join us as we gobble up all the media we can!

Ellen Abrams, Guest Editor, LJ Reviews
“I’d hate to take a bite out of you, you’re like a cookie full of arsenic”; “Cat’s in the bag, bag’s in the river”;  “You’ve got the scruples of a guinea pig and the morals of a gangster”; “In brief, from now on, the best of everything is good enough for me.” If snappy patter like this makes you swoon with appreciation of the scripted word, then The Sweet Smell of Success is a movie you will want to view again and again. Released in 1957, starring the always amazing Burt Lancaster (who coproduced), and featuring a surprising performance by Tony Curtis (who also coproduced), this story of a too-famous New York gossip columnist and the publicist whose ego and livelihood he is crushing beneath his leaden thumb, is not to be missed. Cowritten by screenwriter Ernest Lehman (SabrinaNorth by Northwest, among many others) and playwright Clifford Odets (Waiting for LeftyThe Country Girl, among many others), the screenplay is a rhetorical dream come true. Filmed in glorious, grainy, gritty black and white, the backdrop is New York City at night, always at night—except for the final scene—and the characters are straight out of a hyperrealistic Manhattan hipster-drome, where you would need a klieg light to find an honest man, but where you scarcely care. Here is early indie filmmaking at its finest. Directed by Alexander Mackendrick (The Man in the White SuitThe Ladykillers), the film didn’t find an audience upon its first release, but over time, it has come to be recognized as a throbbing, thrilling theater full of characters who speak a jazzy kind of urban patois that rings true, even if it couldn’t possibly be so. You might not want to meet most of these folks in a dark alley, but you sure would enjoy hanging around and listening to them.

Kate DiGirolomo, Community Coordinator, SELF-e
It’s happening, people! I am finally reading the last in V.E. Schwab’s “Darker Shade of Magic” series! A Conjuring of Light (Tor) has easily been my most anticipated book release for a while now—if my write-up for it in last fall’s editors’ picks and various posts to WWR about the first two books weren’t enough indication. Now I’m trying to savor this final installment rather than making a mad dash to the end (hopefully the glorious 600-plus page count will help with that). The news of a miniseries is a definite comfort. When I’m forced to say goodbye to these characters on the page, I can still look forward to their small-screen counterparts. And if any casting directors are listening, tap Dev Patel for Rhy immediately.

Bette-Lee Fox, Managing Editor, LJ
We all seem drawn to books about books, and Paul Cavanagh’s After Helen (Not That London) has a number of things going for it. It’s his first novel, having won him the inaugural Lit Idol crown at the London International Book Fair. A key ingredient is a bookstore in London (Ontario, that is), where our hero meets and pursues his future wife. As the book opens, history teacher Irving is already a widower, but readers will become glued to his tale of how he won the fair Helen and how her death caused a rift between him and his 16-year-old daughter. So, ultimately, it’s a love story but one that shows how love can be elusive and abrasive and even corrosive if not tended well. Did I mention the Arctic expedition? There’s a lot to discover here.

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
In the weeks before Valentine’s Day, I fell in love with a building I spotted in a lost Orson Welles silent film. The film is an unfinished extended chase scene along the lines of Mack Sennett’s funny flicks, or the inspired slapstick of silent comedians Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton. Too Much Johnson (1938), a loose adaptation of the 1898 William Gillette play, stars members of Welles’s acting troupe, the Mercury Theatre; a young Joseph Cotten is the main player, and he’s chased around the markets and rooftops of lower Manhattan by Edgar Barrier.

The plan in 1938 was to incorporate the silent film footage with a live performance—yes, multimedia was a thing 80 years ago! Anyway, I watched the film recently with avant-garde guitarist Gary Lucas accompanying the action. His “soundtrack” enhanced a very loose-limbed presentation. I was enjoying the antic footage immensely and not minding the retakes when all of a sudden Cotten clambered onto a gabled roof (the West Market). Behind Cotten-eyed Jo was the most gorgeous New York City skyscraper I’d ever seen—and I’m a big fan of many of them. After that first sighting of the Singer Building, erected in 1908, demolished in 1968 (shakes fist), I couldn’t get enough. When the film’s action moved from downtown New York to “Cuba”—actually a quarry upstate—I lost some interest. No more glimpses of my new obsession! I did find some antique postcards with the beautiful Singer building aglow at night and shining red and blue in daytime, but they didn’t have the same allure as the fuzzy black-and-white tower looming behind two actors scampering across the rooftops of New York.

Laura Girmscheid, Research Manager, LJS
My favorite snowy read is Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod (Houghton Harcourt). This autobiographical book by renowned YA author Gary Paulsen tells the story of how he trained his dogs and competed in the Iditarod dogsled race. Twice. That’s 1,100-plus miles across Alaskan wilderness in March. Yes, the man doesn’t just talk the talk, he walks the walk. If you like man vs. nature stories, if you like dogs, if you like to laugh out loud, this book is for you. Now that I mention it, I think I’ll read it again.




Kiera Parrott, Reviews Director, LJS
In light of the recent popularity of George Orwell’s 1984 (it recently hit the No. 1 spot on both Amazon and iBooks), I started putting together a list of similar books—both fiction and nonfiction—as well as movies and TV shows. In particular, I was looking for materials that speak to the same themes Orwell explores in his 1949 classic, which are chillingly relevant today. I started rereading Orwell’s original, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Hannah Arendt’s On the Origins of Totalitarianism, and I even dug up some of the Noam Chomsky I read in college. Prophetic stuff. I’ve also discovered several books I hadn’t heard of, like Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here and Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea, recommended by LJ Prepub Editor Barbara Hoffert. One of my favorite parts was doing film research and revisiting some sf favorites, including John Carpenter’s They Live and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. LJ Reviews Assistant Editor Amanda Mastrull also contributed several excellent nonfiction titles on everything from government surveillance to media criticism.

Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
A couple of genre classics most evoke winter to me: C.S. Lewis’s “Narnia” books and Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness. But I usually prefer to read counter-seasonally. I don’t want to read about snow in the snow, I want to read about warmth—at least snug domestic comfort, if not summery climes. For that, I’ve been turning to British cozy mysteries, or at least, a meta-version thereof. I’m about a third of the way through Anthony Horowitz’s Magpie Murders (Harper), a June 2017 release that I picked up at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in January. So far I’m enjoying the classic village story line, but since I’m aware from the blurb that this is a plot device—the story we start with is presented as a manuscript, and a “real life” mystery set in publishing will soon make an appearance—so I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Stephanie Sendaula, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews
I’ve been on a period drama binge as of late, and I breezed my way through the first three seasons of TURN: Washington’s Spies. Now I understand why some of our reviewers are solely interested in colonial history—so much drama. The suspenseful scenes relating to the formation and near disintegration of the Culper Spy Ring made it a great show to craft to; I worked on needlepoint during the first two seasons. Of course, the show also made me more interested in Abraham Woodhull/Samuel Culper so I’m planning to read Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger’s George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the American Revolution (Sentinel) soon-ish. I’m anxiously awaiting season four of TURN, although sad that season will be its last. Keeping in touch with the Revolutionary theme, I’m starting Poldark next.

Ashleigh Williams, WWR Emerita
I have a bad habit of letting my favorite nonfiction titles fall to the wayside (though I think V.E. Schwab’s “Shades of Magic” series is a valid excuse to set aside just about anything), but I am back on track with Hair Story: Untangling the Roots of Black Hair in America (Griffin: St. Martin’s). Professors Ayana D. Byrd and Lori L. Tharps have a knack for blending academese with the anecdotal and providing high-quality analysis of hair, something so commonplace that folks may initially balk at examining its cultural significance. So far, we’ve explored the broad range of hairstyles sported among African societies in the 15th century, leading up to the explosive emergence of the black hair-care industry in the 1900s. Did you know that a black woman, Madam C.J. Walker (née Sarah Breedlove), was declared by Guinness World Records to be the first self-made female American millionaire? Not to mention, she was inspired by an earlier entrepreneurial spirit, successful black businesswoman Annie Malone. I’m definitely launching a Google search for biographies of these ladies ASAP.



In or Out? | Memoir

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 10:46

This month’s memoirs feature individuals who are pushing at the boundaries of conventional societal expectations. As outsiders working within and against the strictures of society, these memoirists illustrate how personal freedoms are essential to creating meaningful lives. We have an account of one woman’s garden apprenticeship in the private and temple gardens of Kyoto, one of Japan’s cultural and religious centers. Leslie Buck leaves behind everything that is familiar—her romantic partner, her business, and the conventional path to success—in order to pursue a long-held desire. We have a memoir/parenting manual from Sarah Turner, whose refreshing honesty about parenting upends the Instagram-perfect picture of motherhood. Ariel Levy writes expertly of the conundrums facing women in our society regarding career aspirations, marriage, monogamy, motherhood, and childlessness. Richard Ford portrays his parents’ unorthodox existence; in a time when one was expected to be rooted in one place, they enjoy the demands of life on the road. As with all memoirs, this month’s batch takes us outside ourselves to give us perspective. This month, that perspective focuses on what it feels like to be an outsider, looking in and trying to decide to join “in” or to stay “out,” but having the freedom to choose.

Buck, Leslie. Cutting Back: My Apprenticeship in the Gardens of Kyoto. Timber. May 2017. 280p. ISBN 9781604697933. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781604698046. MEMOIR
As a professional gardener in Berkeley, CA, Buck works with plants large and small but feels that her career would be advanced by studying with Japanese master gardeners. She secures an apprenticeship at a large company in Kyoto, which gives her a wide range of work to do, from the very skilled labor of pruning and styling trees and shrubs to raking, weeding, and even cleaning garden gravel. Alongside her all-male crew, Buck navigates both cultural and professional differences. She’s an expert in her own right in California, and beginning at the bottom of the company hierarchy is a humbling and sometimes demoralizing experience. Japanese culture is rife with unspoken rules and silent understandings, and Buck struggles at times to find her place. Her experience teaches her essential skills that she carries back to the United States as well as a broader cultural appreciation for other professional perspectives. VERDICT The descriptions of the gardens the author tends while in Japan will transport readers; it is an armchair tourist’s treat to wander the temple gardens as she describes them.

Ford, Richard. Between Them: Remembering My Parents. Ecco: HarperCollins. May 2017. 192p. ISBN 9780062661883. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062661906. MEMOIR
Prize-winning novelist Ford (Canada; The Sportswriter; Independence Day) writes his first nonfiction work that actually puts two memoirs together: the first (written recently) relates details from his father’s life; the second (written in 1981 after his mother’s death) shares details from his mother’s childhood. Both sides converge as the couple’s life begins. The overlap between these two is a sweet repetition; the love and happiness that his parents, Parker and Edna, found with each other is focused and intense. As a traveling salesman, Parker sold laundry starch in bulk and Edna traveled with him for the first 15 years of their marriage. They reveled in this time together. When Richard was born, Edna and her infant son settled into a more sedentary lifestyle, while Parker continued his sales route during the week, coming home on the weekends until a fatal heart attack felled him when Richard was 16. VERDICT In simple prose, Ford reflects on his parents’ lives in observable ways. He does not extrapolate, saying only that parents will always remain mysterious to their children; we never really know the true depth and breadth of their thoughts and feelings. This memoir shares little in tone with his fictional works, but Ford’s meditations on family life are worth reading alongside the rest of his oeuvre. [See Prepub Alert, 11/14/16.]

Levy, Ariel. The Rules Do Not Apply. Random. Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780812996937. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812996944. mEMOIR
To some readers, this stellar work will evoke memories; author (Female Chauvinist Pigs) and New Yorker staff writer Levy first wrote of the book’s catalyzing event in a piece for The New Yorker, “Thanksgiving in Mongolia.” However, this title ranges further afield. With intensity and grace, Levy unpacks her courtship, marriage, affair, pregnancy, the premature birth and death of her child, her wife’s alcoholism, their separation, and divorce in the space of a scant 200 pages, but her writing feels expansive. Readers will find a compelling meditation on what it means to be female, to be married, and to explore the boundaries and contexts that surround personhood, marriage, desire, and aspiration. This title serves to remind readers, as well as the author, that while rules exist, they need not ultimately define us. VERDICT Levy uses her considerable talents to bring readers into deeply personal experiences with prose that feels raw, genuine, and incredibly true. It resonates on a visceral level.

Turner, Sarah. The Unmumsy Mum: The Hilarious Highs and Emotional Lows of Motherhood. TarcherPerigee. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780143130048. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101993552. MEMOIR
Author and self-proclaimed “Unmumsy Mum” Turner expands on her blog of the same name, exploring themes about the many aspects of parenting that don’t make it into those blissful social media photos. She tells it like she sees it and calls out our collective tendency to broadcast only the most positive moments. In reality, parenthood is a mix of challenges, obstacles, love, baby vomit, greasy hair, and undying affection. This memoir relates her own experiences of parenting, and it is through this lens that she demonstrates that not loving every moment doesn’t make you a bad parent—it makes you a real parent. VERDICT Turner provides a breath of fresh air with her true and unfiltered account of raising her favorite people—her kids. Like many parents, Turner finds child rearing to be both incredibly rewarding and unimaginably challenging and is brave enough to say so.



Books America Needs To Read | In the Bookroom

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 15:29


(l.-r.) Pamela Paul, Lauren Oliver, Jodi Picoult, Colson Whitehead,
Andrea Chambers (director of NYUSPS), and Jeffrey Toobin
©NYU Photo Bureau/Olivo

“Read, read, read. Write, write, write. Test yourself,” urged Colson Whitehead, the National Book Award winner for 2016’s masterly novel The Underground Railroad (an LJ Top Ten Best Book). Addressing a large audience of mostly students from New York University’s School of Professional Studies (NYUSPS) Center for Publishing program, the author’s advice might have been a challenge to the world at large, suggesting that deepened knowledge and increased self-awareness are what we all need to stay sane in such unsettling and unpredictable times.

The February 15 panel, discussion “Challenging Topics, Challenging Times: Four Best-Selling Authors Reflect upon Culture, Creativity, and Changing the Conversation,” was held at the school’s Kimmel Center for University Life in lower Manhattan as part of the NYU “Media Talk” series. Joining Whitehead was nonfiction author/TV journalist Jeffrey Toobin (American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes and Trial of Patty Hearst; a 2016 LJ Top Ten Best Book) and novelists Lauren Oliver (Replica; Before I Fall) and Jodi Picoult (Small Great Things; The Storyteller).

Moderator Pamela Paul, editor of The New York Times Book Review and author of multiple titles, including Parenting, Inc., opened the conversation by asking each panelist to recall a host of “firsts.” First jobs (Toobin babysat, Whitehead scooped ice cream); first story (at age five, Picoult wrote “The Lobster That Was Misunderstood”; a nine-year-old Oliver penned her first novel about frontiersmen; Whitehead dreamed of writing a black version of Stephen King’s The Shining); and the moment they first realized they wanted to become a writer. “I always wrote,” said Oliver, a statement that had everyone on the panel nodding in agreement.

Topics then veered into creating literature in today’s political climate, who has the right to tell who’s story, factual accuracy, and the role of reading in our lives. Discussing her latest novel, Small Great Things, about racism in America told mainly from the viewpoint of a black labor and delivery nurse who loses her job when she disobeys orders not to touch the baby of white supremacists, Picoult, who is white, says she was determined to convey an authentic voice. She had the story heavily vetted by people who lived the experiences she was writing about. “I was writing [this story] to white people and felt qualified to write to this audience,” said the author. Based on real-life events, the novel will soon be made into a movie starring Julia Roberts and Viola Davis.

On the heels of Picoult’s reflections, Whitehead commented that “you can write across gender and race if you write with intelligence and empathy. If you get it wrong, try again.” Crafting The Underground Railroad, which takes readers on a soul-wrenching and revelatory journey of a young slave’s quest for freedom in the antebellum South, required the author to study rigorously the history of slavery. “Getting it right,” he said, was very important and meant pretty much “rebooting every chapter.” Toobin, whose American Heiress recounts the 1974 kidnapping of newspaper heiress Patty Hearst yet involved no collaboration with Hearst herself, felt “no moral quandary” about re-creating Hearst’s story, minus a few facts. Both Picoult and Toobin include complete “Author Notes” in their works that describe their research process and intention.

Not surprisingly, author ideas for new projects have shifted dramatically since the November  presidential election. Toobin, who is a legal analyst for CNN and was reporting to the newsroom following the panel, isn’t keen on writing a book anytime soon. “I can’t even think of what’s going to be news in the next two weeks. It’s going to take a while to understand larger themes,” he said. According to Oliver, who writes a whopping 1,500 words per day and often works on several books simultaneously, “Now is a time to be excited about reading—fiction gives us a place to crawl into.” Whitehead, who prior to the election was excited about that crime novel he’s always wanted to write, now plans to turn to a project on institutional racism. Picoult, who was on tour with Small Great Things in Sydney, Australia, during the election, revealed that she quickly “became the spokesperson for America,” telling everyone she could find, “this is the book America needs to read now.”

One idea solidified by this fascinating conversation is that all Americans need to keep reading.





34 Must-Have Spring Books | Editors’ Picks 2017

Thu, 02/16/2017 - 19:10
The 34 new books that are tickling our imagination this season

From the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 to the future of American journalism after Edward Snowden, from psychological thrillers featuring unreliable narrators to a beloved romance author’s final novel, the titles chosen by my review colleagues reflect both our professional “beats” and personal passions. A new biography about L.M. Montgomery reveals SELF-e community coordinator Kate DiGirolomo’s fangirl crush on the Anne of Green Gables author. Senior editor Liz French, who handles art books, is psyched about a forthcoming volume of photographs that celebrates the American library. Associate editor Stephanie Sendaula, who edits the cookery column, shares her favorite baking book of the spring, while managing editor Bette-Lee Fox finds a personal connection to poet Allen Ginsberg. Wishing you a season of happy reading!—Wilda Williams

Longtime Loves

The first thing people usually learn about me is my eternal adoration of Anne of Green Gables, so I was thrilled to find a new biography about its author. In L.M. Montgomery and War (McGill-Queen’s Univ., May), editors Andrea McKenzie and Jane Ledwell investigate the connections between Montgomery’s experiences and efforts during wartime and her writing—World War I was brought to Anne’s door in the last book in the series, Rilla of Ingleside. The editors offer a unique take on a Canadian literary icon typically known for her whimsical and dreamy heroine.

Like many, I have always had an appreciation for all things Jane Austen, whether it be her original novels, their many retellings, or watching Colin Firth as Darcy famously emerge from a lake in a billowy white shirt. Now I’m awaiting Lucy Worsley’s At Home with Jane Austen (St. Martin’s, Jul.), which sees the author on an enviable research trip through Austen’s many residences, including childhood and holiday houses, schools, and the abodes of relatives. ­Worsley connects these spaces back to the fictional dwellings of Austen’s characters, emphasizing the thematic importance of home.

Still as obsessed with the musical Hamilton as ever, on occasion I like delving into some of its historical influences. Mike Rapport’s The Unruly City: Paris, London, and New York in the Age of Revolution (Basic: Perseus, May) caught my eye as both being Hamilton-adjacent and expanding out to the related political unrest also felt in England and France at the end of the 18th century. History is never far from my mind, so I’ve also added The Woman Who Smashed Codes: A True Story of Love, Spies, and the Unlikely Heroine Who Outwitted America’s Enemies by Jason Fagone (Dey Street: HarperCollins, Jun.) to my ever-growing reading list. Here, Fagone tells the story of Elizebeth Smith, whose genius helped to form modern cryptology and expose Nazi spies during World War II, and gives another amazing lady her due.

For fiction, it appears I will be doing some traveling. First to a small—and secretive—Irish village where orphan Mahony hopes to find the truth behind his mother’s disappearance in Himself (Atria, Mar.) from debut author Jess Kidd. Then The Wanderers (Putnam, Mar.; see review, p. 79) will have me looking to space as Meg Howrey has her characters prepare for life on Mars in this excellent read-alike to The Martian. Finally, it’s back to the only zombie apocalypse I’ve ever enjoyed with The Burning World (Emily Bestler: Atria, Feb.; LJ 12/16), Isaac Marion’s sequel to the brilliant Warm Bodies. Having recently recovered from zombiehood, R is trying his hand at being alive, and I am delighted to be cheering him on once again as he navigates those choppy waters in Marion’s usual poetic prose.—Kate DiGirolomo

Following My Heart

I discovered Anita Shreve’s Sea Glass (LJ 3/15/02) years ago and then devoured what
I could of her other titles (I reviewed three of them for the magazine). When I read in Barbara Hoffert’s December 2016 Prepub Alert column that a new Shreve title was on the way, The Stars Are Fire (Knopf, May), I immediately requested a copy. Subsequently, I was invited to the United for Libraries Author Luncheon to be held in Atlanta at the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting. And who should be among the highlighted speakers? Shreve. Unfortunately, I didn’t go to Atlanta, though meeting her and chatting about the book would have been a bonus. The story deals with the largest fires in Maine history, back in the late 1940s, and the repercussions for families engulfed by the tragedy. It focuses on Grace Holland, a young wife and mother who loses so much yet gains a new sense of who she can be.

On a decidedly different note, Allen Ginsberg (1926–97) took his show on the road in the late Seventies, and the result is The Best Minds of My Generation: A Literary History of the Beats (Grove, Apr.). Launched at Colorado’s Naropa Institute, Ginsberg’s first foray into teaching was intended to create “a Beat Literary canon while most of his compatriots were still alive,” according to co-teacher Anne Waldman in her foreword. The tour also encompassed Brooklyn College, my alma mater. By the time his course was in full swing, I was already well ensconced at Library Journal, but I’m sure the folks who took that class will never forget it. Aside from its literary genius, it was also most likely a “howl.”

As you might expect, LJ staff find themselves with an abundance of books to read, and at one time I kept a Word document of the titles I finished. Though I gave up the list years ago, per my sortie into “book-keeping,” I had read ten works (including ultimately the entire “Company of Rogues” series) by Jo ­Beverley (1946–2016), the lovely and highly praised ­British romance author who died last year. We met at my first Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference in 2004, and for years to follow I sat in on her various workshops, for example, on the writing process and English naming conventions in historical romances. We also hit the dance floor at the annual over-the-top Harlequin party. (She and I were of a similar sensibility when it came to our moves.) As well, she always invited me to the reception held by her Word Wenches writing buddies following the RITA Awards event. Her final book (Merely a Marriage, Jove) is being released this June, and her editor Claire Zion calls it one of Beverley’s best. “As England mourns the death of Princess Charlotte [in 1817], Lady Ariana Boxstall has another succession in mind.” Jo Beverley will indeed be missed.—Bette-Lee Fox

Past Secrets

I’ve long been interested in the U.S. government surveillance revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden (and reviewed a few books on the topic for LJ), but the upcoming essay collection Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State (Columbia Univ., Feb.), edited by Emily Bell and Taylor Owen with Smitha Khorana and Jennifer R. Henrichsen, has me particularly excited. The book comes from the Journalism After Snowden project at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism. It’s organized into four parts—The Story and the Source; Journalists and Sources; Governing Surveillance; and Communications Networks and New Media—and features a bevy of noteworthy contributors, including Glenn Greenwald (whose No Place To Hide is the definitive story of the Snowden leaks), ­ProPublica’s Julia Angwin, Freedom of the Press Foundation cofounder Trevor Timm, and former Guardian editor in chief Alan Rusbridger, as well as an excerpt of a conversation between Bell and Snowden.

Another book that has me thinking about aftermaths, though in this case fictional and personal, is Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay (Dutton, Feb.; SLJ 12/16). LaCour is one of my favorite authors, and her latest YA novel is quiet and contemplative, beautiful in its dark and light moments. Marin was raised by her maternal grandfather, who died the summer after her senior year of high school. She learns a secret about him and flees to New York for college. The story alternates between winter break and the summer before. Marin is both emotionally and physically isolated from her old life, until her best friend Mabel comes to visit and she is forced to reconcile her grief, her anger, and the past. From the bright California summer when Marin’s late mother’s friends give her pink shells she keeps in mason jars to the bleak New York winter as Marin sits in an empty dorm, LaCour’s writing powerfully sets the scene with realistic emotion.

The mentions of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in We Are Okay—“The ghost told Jane Eyre she was alone,” Marin thinks, echoing her own loneliness—have made me want to reread that book, but I also picked up a copy of John ­Pfordresher’s The Secret History of Jane Eyre: How Charlotte Brontë Wrote Her Masterpiece (Norton, Jun.). Last year was the bicentenary of Brontë’s birth, and while I’ve seen other books on the author, this one pinpoints her life in relation to her best-known novel. Pfordresher draws on Brontë bios and letters to create parallels between the author and her character, and I’m thoroughly looking forward to reading it.—Amanda Mastrull

Timeless Thrillers

Mining the past and present and glimpsing the future, my picks move across America, from the Deep South to the Pacific Northwest, and over to London, where a Russian operative may hold the key to preventing a major terrorist attack on British soil. All of these works, whose authors I discovered while reading for this article, hooked me from page one and didn’t let go until the very end.

The final volume in Greg Iles’s sprawling “Natchez Burning” trilogy (after Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree), Mississippi Blood (Morrow, Mar.; starred review, LJ 12/16), might for many readers reveal what’s long been hidden, what Iles prefaces in an opening letter to readers as “the ways that white and black have always interacted beneath the surface, with both tenderness and violence, and how fraught with hidden meaning those interactions have always been.” Providing a kind of road to reconciliation, Iles’s trilogy took eight years to write and will soon be adapted to a TV series from Sony Pictures. Set in modern-day Natchez, MS, the author’s hometown, Blood hinges on the murder trial of Dr. Tom Cage, who is accused of killing Viola Turner, his former nurse and the love of his life. As the investigation unfolds in nearly 800 pages of swiftly moving prose, Iles reaches back into history and unpacks the Jim Crow era, zeroing in on the actions of white supremacy groups still active today, specifically the splinter cell of the Ku Klux Klan known as the Double Eagles. Based on true events, this highly ambitious work raises the call for accountability, forgiveness, and healing.

Another title I couldn’t put down was Ania Ahlborn’s The Devil Crept In (S. & S., Feb.; starred review, LJ 1/17). Ahlborn is the author of several horror thrillers (Brother; Within These Walls; The Shudder), and with this book, she’s made a lasting first impression on me. Also evoking an ­atmospheric small town—Deer Valley, OR—this supercreepy yet sophisticated and straightforward tale presents a layered investigation of truth and right and wrong. It chronicles cousins and best friends Stevie Clark and Jude Brighton. When Jude disappears into the nearby woods, Stevie believes he’s sighted the monster-human responsible, resolving to capture and destroy the elusive creature himself. What starts out as a noble pursuit ends up going terribly wrong. The magic of this book is Ahlborn’s elegant narrative and very real and relatable characters, who want to do the right thing but seem to be trapped in a dangerous reality unlike our own—except that it’s just like our own, which is the most terrifying part of all. Taking horror to a higher level, ­Ahlborn weaves a slow-building nightmare made even more believable by its unexpected and truly inventive ­denouement.

Speaking of dangerous realities, British writer Charles Cumming takes us inside a life I can only begin to imagine in A Divided Spy (St. Martin’s, Feb.). Such an existence, built on deception and distrust and involving extended periods of isolation and waiting in soulless hotel rooms, was experienced firsthand by intelligence officer–turned–­author ­Cumming. This third book featuring former M16 spy Thomas Kell sees the intuitive and trustworthy, if a bit insubordinate, patriot giving up the game after two decades and a botched operation that took the life of girlfriend Rachel Wallinger. Yet, given the opportunity to exact revenge on Russian SVR officer Alexander Minasian, whom Thomas holds personally responsible for Rachel’s death, means a change of heart for the spy, who’s soon back in the field, no questions asked. In the world of espionage, however, nothing is what it seems, and in this shadowy game of cat and mouse, following one’s heart too often means losing the things we love. And like Thomas, who in the end promises to call it quits for good, “I just want to live.”—Annalisa Pesek

Elusive Theme

My picks never have a theme, and this season is no exception. I’ve been breezing through Holly Tucker’s City of Light, City of Poison: Murder, Magic, and the First Police Chief of Paris (Norton, Mar.; see review, p. 102), which is part true crime, part history, and all scandal. Spotlighting the reign of Louis XIV (the Sun King), the narrative follows police chief Nicolas de la Reynie as he sought to transform Paris from a city of mud, dirt, and grime to a city of light. Besides installing streetlights, through his travels de la Reyniebecame the keeper of people’s secrets, including affairs, abortions, and abandoned children. What happens to these secrets when de la Reynie dies? We’re about to find out.

Another page-turner I’ve been enjoying is The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple (S. & S., Apr.; see review p. 99). Jeff Guinn traces the preacher’s troubled path from aspiring civil rights star to fabled cult leader, from Indianapolis to California to Guyana. Combining history, biography, and true crime, this personal narrative explores the people and places in Jones’s life and the series of events that led him to the remote commune of Jonestown. We’re left with more questions than answers, and that’s a good thing.

Hope Nicholson says The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History (Quirk, May) contains some of the “weirdest, coolest, most of-their-time female characters in comics.” I like the mix of history, pop culture, and a little bit of reference. This is more akin to a heavily illustrated coffee-table book, allowing for browsing short entries about superheroes such as Wonder Woman and Jessica Jones and cult favorites such as Emily the Strange. The book ends with the 2013 appearance of Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan); let’s hope we have even more women superheroines soon.

The cookbook I keep returning to is A New Way To Bake: Classic Recipes Updated with Better-for-You Ingredients from the Modern Pantry (Clarkson Potter: Crown, Mar.; see review, p. 108), compiled by the editors of Martha Stewart Living magazine and featuring several recipes that use natural sweeteners such as fruits, dried or fresh. While there are multiple desserts, too, I’ve been savoring the variety of muffins and granola-like bars, which have become great on-the-go breakfasts. I’m looking forward to making (and sampling) the breads and desserts as well.

My fiction pick is Nickolas Butler’s The Hearts of Men (Ecco: HarperCollins, Mar.; LJ 12/16), about 13-year-old Nelson Doughty, who “Has no friends. Not just here, at Camp Chippewa, but also back home in Eau Claire, in his neighborhood, or at school.” Butler narrates Nelson’s life as he tries to befriend fellow campers, serves in Vietnam, and returns home a changed man to a changed country, becoming a scoutmaster at his former childhood sanctuary. There isn’t much else to say other than Butler writes a great novel.—Stephanie Sendaula

Character Matters

I’m usually a sucker for a strong narrative voice when I’m deciding what book to read. But this year for my spring/summer fiction picks, two out-of-the-box female protagonists called out to me. Meet Aliki, the elderly narrator of James William Brown’s My Last Lament (Berkley, Apr.), who introduces herself as “the last professional lamenter in this village of ours in the northeast of Greece.” As a mirologia, she honors the dead of mourning families by composing dirge poems. “It’s not exactly grieving they want,” explains Aliki, “but the marking of a life.” When an American ethnographer asks her to record examples of this fading tradition, Aliki sings her own story instead. And what an epic tale of heartbreak, loss, and survival she chants, taking us from the brutality of the Nazi occupation of Greece through the postwar chaos that threw the country into civil war to the economically troubled present, which holds no room for the old ways.

After her abusive husband dies, a much relieved and newly independent Cora Seaborne, the unconventional heroine of Sarah Perry’s UK best seller The Essex Serpent (Custom House: Morrow, Jun.), leaves 1890s London with Francis, her very odd son, and Martha, the boy’s nanny, and moves to coastal Essex, where rumors of a rampaging sea-dragon are terrorizing the villagers, much to their vicar’s frustration. The inquisitive Cora, who is more interested in fossils than the latest fashions, sets out to investigate with the minister, Will Ransome, discovering in the process a mutual attraction. Short-listed for the 2016 Costa Book Award, this highly original novel is both a glorious salute to such gothic classics as Bram Stoker’s The Lair of the White Worm and a gimlet-eyed contemporary take on Victorian manners in the style of Sarah Waters and John Fowles.

The primal bond between a mother and her child is at the heart of Gin Phillips’s painfully intense thriller Fierce Kingdom (Viking, Jul.). A pleasurable afternoon at the zoo turns into terror for Joan and her four-year-old son, Lincoln, when they are forced to hide from a pair of active shooters who roam the exhibits, hunting both human and animal prey. Joan’s fierce love for Lincoln will remind readers of Ma and Jack’s relationship in Emma Donoghue’s Room. This terrifying read (I had to put it down many times) is bound to be one of this summer’s most suspenseful reads.

It’s all about the story, or rather the story within a story, in Magpie Murders (Harper, Jun.), a crafty salute by Anthony Horowitz to the golden age of whodunits. Editor Susan Ryeland has worked on all eight of Alan Conway’s best-selling mysteries featuring private detective Atticus Pünd (think Hercule Poirot), but when she finishes reading his latest manuscript (which comprises this novel’s first 200 pages), she discovers the final chapter is missing. Worse, she learns that Alan is dead. As Susan searches for the lost pages, she begins to suspect that Alan’s death might not have been accidental and that clues may lie in the unfinished book. With allusions to contemporary publishing, this fun, twisty puzzle mystery is Harper’s Lead Read for the ­summer.—Wilda Williams

Turning Inward

Girls, Broad City, Frances Ha: with the slew of films, TV shows, and books capturing the experience of twentysomething college graduates, we’ve come a long way since Mr. McGuire gave graduate Ben Braddock one word of advice—plastics. The latest title on the subject is Princeton alum Caroline Kitchener’s Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year out of College (HarperCollins, Apr.). Part memoir, with a bit of sociology thrown in, it tracks the experiences of Kitchener and several others from her graduating class. With candor, the author discusses how she and her high-achieving, competitive cohorts adapted to life after the Ivy League, from navigating changing familial bonds to forging new romantic relationships to considering—and reconsidering—career options. As a Millennial who still wonders if she really has any accomplishments worth submitting to her alumnae magazine, I found it engrossing and (at times a bit too) relatable.

While I was born in the 1980s, when it comes to music, my heart belongs to the baby boomer generation. I’m a huge fan of Beatles biographies in any form. However, the newest selection to draw my attention isn’t chock-full of information on the group; rather, it’s a look at the emotional effect that the Beatles have had on us. By turns contemplative, amusing, and nostalgia-inducing, In Their Lives: Great Writers on Great Beatles Songs (Blue Rider, May) is an anthology of essays by writers exploring influential Beatles offerings. The pieces range from fond remembrances of early songs such as “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to more incisive examinations, including journalist Chuck Klosterman’s provocative analysis of “Helter Skelter,” a cacophonous composition perhaps best known for its association with the Manson murders.

Sticking with the theme of exploring our inner lives, there’s Robert M. Sapolsky’s Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (Penguin Pr., May). This sprawling yet incredibly accessible work examines human behavior through multiple lenses—neurobiological, cultural, genetic, and evolutionary—for an absorbing response to that age-old question: Why do we do what we do?

Finally, there’s B.A. Paris’s The Breakdown (St. Martin’s, Jun.). Last year, I devoured the author’s best-selling Behind Closed Doors, a truly unnerving thriller that, with hints of the folktale Bluebeard, depicts the darkness lurking behind a seemingly perfect marriage. Paris’s latest introduces a woman who, believing she was witness to a crime, obsesses over whether she could have prevented a death. An unreliable protagonist, guaranteed suspense, and a tried-and-true author: What’s not to love?—Mahnaz Dar


Bibliophiles will eagerly immerse themselves in the fabulous libraries in photographer Thomas R. Schiff’s The Library Book (Aperture, Apr.). The photos are huge, 360° panoramas of 100 American libraries, from the earliest to the most futuristic. Here are glorious cathedrals and tiny specialized collections; libraries that were transported across oceans; Freemason libraries, bedecked in symbols and opulence; the National Archives in Washington, DC, proudly displaying the Constitution and other U.S. treasures; architects’ collections; science centers; and a lot of beckoning, beguiling bookshelves. With brief descriptions accompanying the photos and an appreciative introductory essay by author Alberto Manguel, this coffee-table volume could even be the basis for a library lover’s road trip.

Speaking of road trips and centennials, 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Russian Revolution. Among the many Russia-themed titles coming out this year, two caught my eye: nonfiction and award-winning “weird fiction” author China Miéville’s October: The Story of the Russian Revolution (Verso, May) and University of Texas prof Julia L. Mickenberg’s American Girls in Red Russia: Chasing the Soviet Dream (Univ. of Chicago, Apr.).

Miéville’s novels are smarty-smart yet kickass excursions to the outer limits; I haven’t read his (left-learning) nonfiction, but October seems like an excellent place to start. (The press materials call this “a breathtaking story” as well as “a book for those new to the events” of 1917 that instated the “first socialist state in world history.” Miéville starts with the first revolution in February 1917, also known as the February Bourgeois Democratic Revolution, which led to the downfall of the Romanovs and the rise of a provisional government. He then tells of the months between the February Revolution and the October Revolution (aka Red October), which ousted the provisional government. I read on the Internet that the actual Soviet Union didn’t coalesce until 1922, but who wants to wait until 2022 to “celebrate”?

American Girls covers a later period in Russia’s history, the 1920s and 1930s, when free-thinking, adventurous American women moved or traveled to Russia to witness and experience the “Soviet experiment” for themselves. The women—some famous, most not—dreamed of building a new society, one that was more just and equitable than that of their homeland. Spoiler alert: most of these women were disappointed, some terribly so. Mickenberg’s collective biography tells the forgotten stories of these “girls.”

Finally, The Girl on the Train author Paula Hawkins takes readers Into the Water (Riverhead, May) with her next novel. Can’t wait to see what she does with this new suspense title, and I’m certainly not the only one. In an interview in Australian paper the Herald Sun, Hawkins described Into the Water as a thriller about two sisters and the trickiness of memory, noting how siblings’ recollections of the same event can differ hugely. It sounds like more unreliable narrators are headed our way!—Liz French

Mahnaz Dar is Assistant Managing Editor, School Library Journal (SLJ). Kate DiGirolomo is SELF-e Community Coordinator, Bette-Lee Fox is Managing Editor, and Barbara Hoffert is Prepub Alert Editor, LJ. Liz French is Senior Editor, Amanda Mastrull is Assistant Editor, Annalisa Pesek is Assistant Managing Editor, Stephanie Sendaula is Associate Editor, and Wilda Williams is Fiction Editor, LJ Reviews

In Conversation: Vaddey Ratner

In her incandescent first novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan, Vaddey Ratner helped readers imagine the unimaginable: what it was like to suffer Cambodia’s Killing Fields. Yet she knew more work lay ahead, for she had to address survival—both hers and her country’s—after the killing was done.

For that, readers can now turn to Music of the Ghosts (Touchstone, Apr.; LJ 2/1/17), which tells the story of Cambodian American Suteera, who returns to her homeland after the Old Musician sends her a letter claiming that he knew her father in prison. Suteera’s confrontation with the Old Musician, whose life was deeply entwined with her family, and with a contemporary Cambodia still bound by poverty and corruption reveal what the country must face today.

As Ratner carefully weighed crime and punishment, justice and forgiveness, in a narrative both heartbreaking and vibrant, she determined that she would do something personal. With Cambodia’s postwar leaders having failed to bring to account those responsible for slaughtering more than a quarter of the population in the late 1970s, Ratner insists, “I had to find my own sense of justice, and writing this book is a form of that. As an individual, I am powerless against government but not in my own search.”

Before punishment, which she believes is overemphasized, before even the beauty of justice finally delivered, Ratner wants to talk about forgiveness. “What is forgiveness? What is possible to forgive?” she muses. “It means you must face the person who has done you wrong with your soul open, looking at that person’s humanity.” She’s not arguing for absolution, however, instead insisting that people must be held accountable for their wrongs and indeed must hold themselves accountable. Of Duch, the Khmer Rouge leader convicted of crimes against humanity as director of the Tuol Sleng prison camp, she says fiercely, “He said he was forced to do this, but choice is always there.”

In Ratner’s story, characters may act without fully understanding the implications or do wrong for what they see as the right reasons, but they are never without choice. The Old Musician acknowledges his crimes and wants not forgiveness but the chance finally to speak, and it’s his embrace of responsibility that makes him so compelling in the intensifying buildup to his full confession. “His willingness to reach out to Suteera and her willingness to come back—that’s the initial step, the path we can all take,” Ratner says of her fellow Cambodians (and all of us).

As Ratner points out, the Cambodian genocide was not a spontaneous outburst but resulted from long-standing grievances about social injustice that date back to feudal times and were carried through the colonial era, then exploited by the Khmer Rouge. “Had we been better as a society at addressing these miseries, the atrocity would not have come about,” she asserts. In Cambodia today, killers and survivors live side by side, barely acknowledging the anguish that lies between them; young Cambodians have little means of understanding what happened, as the educated classes were virtually eliminated by the Khmer Rouge and literature as a whole is scarce.

For Ratner, then, a driving force behind writing her book was to discover “how we can create a safe place for victims and possible perpetrators to come together and talk so that we can move forward.” She herself had hard questions to confront as she wrote. “The Old Musician was not just plucked out of the air,” she explains. “He came out of my desire to find out what happened to my father.” Ratner, a descendant of King Sisowath, who ruled Cambodia in the early 1900s, escaped the country with only her mother, and, however painful, imagining the Old Musician’s story proved fruitful. As she says, “To truly understand the past is to put yourself in a place you don’t want to go.”

Why a musician as protagonist? “So much Cambodian culture is expressed through music and poetry, as if somehow this were the language most native to our people,” says Ratner. Chantlike smoats, songs of loss that Ratner references, and the performing arts generally are not as easily censored as straightforward writing and have always flourished in Cambodia. With literature, Ratner has taken the harder path; her first book has yet to be translated into Khmer. But there are benefits. “Literature doesn’t answer the difficult questions but looks at problems closely,” she confides. “It’s a kind of mirror we hold up to society and to ourselves.”—Barbara Hoffert

What To Read (and Watch) After “1984”

Fri, 02/10/2017 - 11:22

George Orwell’s 1984 recently shot up to number one on Amazon and iBooks. With its themes on governmental lying (the ironically named Ministry of Truth), the manipulation of language and media (“doublespeak”), the oppressive use of technology in service of totalitarianism (“telescreens”), and the ever-present threat of state-sanctioned violence against citizens (“Big Brother Is Watching”), many readers are turning to this classic dystopia, first published in 1949, to gain perspective or reflect upon the current social and political climate.

The following list features books—including other classic (and chilling) visions of a dystopic future, contemporary fiction, nonfiction works on political philosophy, history, and media criticism, and titles for kids and teens—as well as films and TV shows ideal for the readers who have finished Orwell’s work and are looking for more on similar themes.

This list was compiled by several of the LJ editors, with additional suggestions crowdsourced from librarians via social media. Have your own favorite Orwellian read-alike? Please share it below in the comments section.

Dystopia & Alt-History

Atwood, Margaret. The Handmaid’s Tale. 1985.

A totalitarian, extreme Christian theocracy overthrows the U.S. government, and women’s rights are obliterated.

Atwood, Margaret. Oryx and Crake. 2003.

In a postapocalyptic wasteland, Snowman tends the Crakers, an odd group of humanlike creatures, while looking back on the years that led up to the devastating event that killed off the rest of humanity and reflecting on his own unwitting role in the destruction.

Bradbury, Ray. Fahrenheit 451.1953.

Conceiving of a world where possessing books is a crime and where firemen burn the belongings of those who read, Bradbury follows a fireman who defies the rules when he picks up a book one day.

Brooks, Max. World War Z. 2006.

Through a series of interviews, characters describe the zombie apocalypse, offering a glimpse into the governmental corruption and ineptitude that stymied efforts at control and containment.

Brown, Pierce. Red Rising. 2014.

In a distant future, humankind has colonized other planets and enforced a strict hierarchy based on color. A lowly Red disguises himself as a Gold in order to infiltrate the ruling class and bring it down.

Brunner, John. The Shockwave Rider. 1975.

A high-tech future in which economic turmoil and natural disasters fragment society along ethnic, religious, and class lines. Data is king, and those with access wield the most power.

Bulgakov, Mikhail. The Master and Margarita. 1967.

Satan goes to Moscow.

Burgess, Anthony. A Clockwork Orange. 1962

In a world where criminals gleefully run wild, a juvenile delinquent is subjected to psychological conditioning to eradicate his antisocial impulses. Burgess poses thought-provoking questions on the nature of humanity.

Butler, Octavia E. The Parable of the Sower. 1993.

Economic and environmental ruin lead to governmental and social collapse. A new president promises to “Make America Great Again.”

Crace, Jim. The Pesthouse. 2008.

In a crumbling and chaotic United States, the only hope for the remaining survivors is to book passage aboard a ship bound for Europe.

DeLillo, Don. Underworld. 1997.

Starting with both baseball and the atomic bomb, DeLillo presents a rich, sprawling narrative on America’s history and future.

Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. 1954.

When a group of English schoolboys are stranded on an island, they initially work together to be rescued, but eventually destructive impulses tear them apart.

Heller, Joseph. Catch-22. 1961.

This satirical look at U.S Army soldiers during World War II exposes the absurdity of bureaucracy, using humor to examine the utter horror that results when power is placed into the hands of the ignorant.

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. 1932.

Huxley draws back the curtain on what initially appears to be a utopia, revealing a society soothed into a state of ignorant bliss.

Ishiguro, Kazuo. Never Let Me Go. 2005.

As Kathy looks back on her time at Hailsham, readers eventually learn the purpose of this strange boarding school and, with dawning horror, begin to ponder the implications of a society that could conceive of such an institution.

Jackson, Shirley. The Lottery. 1948

Inspiring one of the most famous scenes of The Hunger Games, Jackson’s now legendary short story uses spare prose to present a haunting look at the role of ritual in society.

James, P.D. The Children of Men. 1992.

Mystery writer James creates a world plagued by mass infertility, where the declining population has led to an authoritarian government, with the rights of immigrants, convicts, and the elderly severely curtailed.

Kafka, Franz. The Trial. 1925.

Kafka’s critique of totalitarianism centers on a man arrested for a crime (whose nature is never revealed to readers) whose attempts to vindicate himself clash with a bizarre, even paradoxical, legal system.

King, Stephen. The Long Walk. 1979.

Set in a dystopian world ruled by a totalitarian government, this spare novella centers on a game in which 100 teenage boys take part in a brutal race, with only one survivor.

King, Stephen. The Running Man. 1982.

In a terrifyingly bleak future, the poor and desperate are lured into participating in violent reality TV programs.

Lee, Chang-Rae. On Such a Full Sea. 2014.

In a decayed American landscape, tightly controlled cities are walled off and organized into labor colonies. A young woman goes in search of her lost love.

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Lathe of Heaven. 1971.

A man in Portland, OR, has the ability to change reality with his dreams. But each attempt to better the world results in unintended consequences and may rip apart reality itself.

Lewis, Sinclair. It Can’t Happen Here. 1935.

Written during the Great Depression and before Americans became conscious of Hitler’s rise to power, this is a chilling vision of how fascism could envelop U.S. democracy.

McCarthy, Cormac. The Road. 2006.

A father and son journey across a perilous postapocalyptic America.

Mandel, Emily St. John. Station Eleven. 2014.

After a flu pandemic devastates the world population, a band of actors continue to tour the Midwest, finding their humanity in performance.


Miéville, China. The City & the City. 2009.

In this surreal police procedural, a shared geographical space is divided into two separate cities and residents are trained to “unsee” and ignore reality under threat of a secret governmental power known as The Breach.

Orwell, George. Animal Farm. 1945.

This allegory featuring barnyard animals satirizes Stalin’s rise to power and the brutal realities of dictatorship.

Rich, Frederic C. Christian Nation. 2013.

Sarah Palin is president, and the Christian right takes control of the government as constitutional boundaries are eroded.

Roth, Philip. The Plot Against America. 2004.

In an alternate reality where Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh is elected president in 1940, a Jewish American family looks ahead to a frightening future.

Shakespeare, William. The Tempest. 1623.

One of the Bard’s most famous tragicomic plays, from which Aldous Huxley derived the title for his American dystopia and, scholars contend, borrowed themes on authoritarianism.

Swift, Jonathan. Gulliver’s Travels. 1726.

Master satirist Swift details the journeys of Lemuel Gulliver, in the process delivering sharp and scathing parody of government and the nature of man.

Takami, Koushun. Battle Royale. 1999.

In order to keep the population in an obedient state of fear, every year, the authoritarian Japanese government randomly selects high school students to take part in a battle against their fellow classmates to the death, with only one survivor.

Thompson, Rupert. Divided Kingdom. 2005.

The UK is divided into four distinct regions based on personality type, and citizens are “rearranged” into their corresponding type.

Vonnegut, Kurt. Slaughterhouse-Five. 1969.

Through the experiences of the time-traveling Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut presents one of the greatest, most original antiwar novels.

Zamyatin, Yevgeny. We. 1924.

In a future dystopian city run by “the Benefactor” and surrounded by a giant Green Wall, citizens are referred to by numerals, emotion is outlawed, and privacy is nonexistent.


Power & Politics

Arendt, Hannah. The Origins of Totalitarianism. 1951.

An erudite analysis of the rise of Nazism and Stalinism.

Chomsky, Noam. Who Rules the World? 2016.

Chomsky casts a shrewd eye on the arena of international politics, asserting that the United States is wreaking havoc on the rest of the world.

Daley, David. Ratf**ked : The True Story Behind the Secret Plan To Steal America’s Democracy. 2016.

Following Barack Obama’s 2008 win, many assumed that the Republican party would never recover from the loss. Daley details how several Republicans used underhanded tricks to regain power.

Hayes, Chris. Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy. 2012.

MSNBC’s Hayes explores the competing forces wreaking havoc on America’s economy, media, and environment.

Jones, Owen. The Establishment: And How They Get Away with It. 2014.

A glimpse into the powerful elites who threaten democracy in the UK.

Kasparov, Garry. Winter Is Coming: Why Vladimir Putin and the Enemies of the Free World Must Be Stopped. 2015.

An outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, Kasparov examines how Russia has become a dictatorship and how the West has been complicit.

The Politics Book: Big Ideas Simply Explained. 2013.

Covering the philosophies of great thinkers, from Confucius to Mary Wollstonecraft to Nelson Mandela, DK presents a zippy, visually enticing look at political thought throughout the ages.

Prins, Nomi. All the Presidents’ Bankers: The Hidden Alliances That Drive American Power. 2014.

Prins exposes the link between Wall Street and the White House—and the economic and political ramifications.

Stephens, Bret. America in Retreat: The New Isolationism and the Coming Global Disorder. 2014.

As America withdraws from foreign diplomacy, enemies see opportunities.



Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. 1963.

Arendt, a Jew who escaped Nazi Germany, details the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the SS-Obersturmbannführer and one of the main architects of the Holocaust who claimed he was just “following orders.” See also: Raul Hilberg’s The Destruction of the European Jews (1961).

Larson, Erik. In the Garden of Beasts. 2011.

The author of Devil in the White City tells the true tale of William E. Dodd, the U.S. ambassador to Germany who watched and recorded the development of the Third Reich.

Mayer, Jane. Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. 2016.

Mayer painstakingly explores the goals and inner workings of organizations such as Americans for Prosperity, the rise of the Tea Party, and the Citizens United court decision.

Shirer, William L. The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany. 1960.

A detailed analysis of how the Nazi Party came to power in Germany; important, unforgettable reading.

Zinn, Howard. A People’s History of the United States. 1980.

Zinn argues that the history that most children are taught in school is mere propaganda, instead asserting that America’s rise as a nation was predicated on the exploitation and oppression of Native Americans, African Americans, women, immigrants, and the lower classes.


Media Criticism

Chomsky, Noam. Media Control: The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda. 1997.

“Propaganda is to democracy as the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state,” argues Chomsky in this examination of how mass media and PR have been used to manipulate public support.

Hedges, Chris. Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle. 2009.

An analysis of the “two societies” into which American culture has splintered: one that can separate truth from lies and one that cannot.

Herman, Edward S. & Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. 1988.

Using what they call the “Propaganda Model,” Herman and Chomsky assert that what we see in the media is distorted by both government and corporations.

Postman, Neil. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. 1985.

Arguing that our society resembles more the world of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World than that of George Orwell’s 1984—a society dulled into submission through entertainment rather than through force—Postman examines how everything, from politics to religion to journalism, is presented through the lens of entertainment.


Government Surveillance

Greenwald, Glenn. No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. 2014.

Greenwald chronicles his 2013 meetings with Edward Snowden, the NSA contractor with evidence of government spying.

Reeves, Joshua. Citizen Spies: The Long Rise of America’s Surveillance Society. Mar. 2017.

“If You See Something, Say Something” may have deeper—and more sinister—roots than previously imagined.

Scheer, Robert. They Know Everything About You: How Data-Collecting Corporations and Snooping Government Agencies Are Destroying Democracy. 2015.

“Welcome to the brave new world—a wired panopticon that even Huxley couldn’t have imagined,” Scheer bleakly intones, revealing how the government has eroded our personal freedom in the name of security.

Soldatov, Andrei & Irina Borogan. The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries. 2015.

Two Russian journalists document the “monumental battle for the future of the Internet.”


Facts & Language

Gorman, Sara E. & Jack M. Gorman. Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us. 2016.

Though science-based evidence for many issues is overwhelming, many refuse to see the facts; the Gormans explain the psychology of just why some people make seemingly irrational decisions such as deciding against vaccination.

Thompson, Mark. Enough Said: What’s Gone Wrong with the Language of Politics? 2016.

The President and CEO of The New York Times Company argues that the rising tide of distrust in traditional politicians—and the glorification of political outsiders—is a result of the erosion of language and its meaning.


Uprisings & Resistance

Coleman, Gabriella. Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous. 2015.

Coleman, who has been close to the key players within the worldwide and shadowy movement known as Anonymous, gives readers an intimate peek at the digital activists who participated in Wikileaks, the Arab Spring, and Occupy Wall Street.

Jaffe, Sarah. Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt. 2016.

Asserting that the 2008 financial crisis was responsible for a variety of political movements, Jaffe covers everything from the Tea Party to Black Lives Matter to Occupy Wall Street.



Animal Farm (John Halas & Joy Batchelor, 1954)

An animated version of Orwell’s 1945 allegory. It ain’t no Charlotte’s Web.

Arrival (Denis Villeneuve, 2016)

A linguist is called in to communicate with an extraterrestrial being, but human greed and fear may jeopardize the mission and bring the world to the brink of war. It has a 94 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Brazil (Terry Gilliam, 1985)

Though it didn’t make box office waves in the United States when it debuted, Gilliam’s darkly humorous satire about a highly bureaucratic and technology-obsessed society has since become a cult classic. Starring Jonathan Pryce and Robert De Niro. It has a 98 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Children of Men (Alfonso Cuarón, 2006)

In a future where women have mysteriously become infertile, the discovery of a lone pregnant woman rekindles hope for humanity. Starring Clive Owen, Michael Caine, and Julianne Moore.

A Clockwork Orange (Stanley Kubrick, 1971)

One of the most controversial films of all time. An “ultraviolent” thug, after getting arrested, agrees to an experimental aversion therapy developed by the government—it doesn’t go as planned.

Equilibrium (Kurt Wimmer, 2002)

In a bleak future in which the government outlaws emotion and forces its citizenry to ingest a soul-deadening pharmaceutical, Christian Bale’s John Preston misses his dose and opens his mind. More style than substance, this is still an entertaining sf thriller.

Fahrenheit 451 (François Truffaut, 1966)

Different from Ray Bradbury’s novel of the same name in some key areas, including the ending, this film got mixed reviews when it came out but has seen more positive critical reception as it has aged. Starring Julie Christie.

Gattica (Andrew Niccol, 1997)

In a world where parents genetically modify their kids to be perfect, Vincent Freeman, who was born outside of the eugenics program, struggles against genetic discrimination in order to achieve his dream of traveling into space.

The Handmaid’s Tale (Volker Schlondorff, 1990)

Despite the impressive cast (Natasha Richardson, Robert Duvall, Faye Dunaway, Aidan Quinn), this 1990s HBO production saw dismal reviews. Still, a new TV adaptation coming to Hulu this April, starring Elisabeth Moss, Joseph Fiennes, and Alexis Bledel, looks promising.

The Hunger Games (Gary Ross, 2012)

An adaptation of the wildly popular YA book by Suzanne Collins, starring Jennifer Lawrence.

Idiocracy (Mike Judge, 2006)

A scathing satirical film in which two people who take part in a hibernation experiment wake up 500 years later to find America is run by an anti-intellectual, commercialized society with no notions of common decency or morality.

I, Robot (Alex Proyas, 2004)

Loosely based on the short story by Isaac Asimov. Robots threaten to make humanity extinct by attempting to strip individual humans of their free will. Those pesky robots.

Image from The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Prime).

The Man in the High Castle (Amazon Original Series, 2015)

Based on a short story by Philip K. Dick. America has lost World War II, Germany and Japan have split the country down the middle, and a small band of resistance fighters attempt to rewrite history after finding a series of propaganda tapes that show a vastly different time line of the war.

Minority Report (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

Three psychics can predict murders in 2057 Washington’s “PreCrime” unit, virtually eliminating violent crime. When the PreCrime “precogs” predict that Captain John Anderton (Tom Cruise) is going to kill a man he doesn’t know, he becomes a fugitive on the run.

Never Let Me Go (Mark Romanek, 2010)

Adapted from Kazuo Ishiguro’s best-selling novel, this is an atypical sf film, with leisurely pacing and a focus on characterization over action.

1984 (Michael Radford, 1984)

This adaptation of George Orwell’s book features John Hurt and Richard Burton. Though the film is not nearly as chilling as its source material, the moody lighting and drab set pieces give it an appropriately oppressive visual atmosphere. It has an 81 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Okkupert (English title: Occupied). (TV2, 2015)

A Norwegian television series created by Jo Nesbø, set in a near future in which the United States withdraws from NATO, Russia occupies Norway, and Europe experiences an energy crisis. Available on Netflix.    

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Gareth Edwards, 2016)

A young woman joins the resistance to help destroy the Death Star plans.

Soylent Green (Richard Fleischer, 1973)

In a future world devastated by environmental collapse, those who are left survive on Soylent Green rations.

Star Wars, Episodes IV–VI (George Lucas, 1977–83)

A small band—the Rebel Alliance—goes toe-to-toe with the evil Empire in order to prevent the takeover of the galaxy. One of the greatest stories of good vs. evil of all time, but you knew that already, right?

Image from They Live (Universal Studios)

They Live (John Carpenter, 1988)

“Rowdy” Roddy Piper plays a tough-talking construction worker who finds a pair of sunglasses that reveal the true—and deeply unsettling—faces beneath the facade of the ruling elites who control the populace through subliminal messages to “OBEY,” “CONSUME,” “CONFORM,” and “BUY.”

THX 1138 (George Lucas, 1971)

This is George Lucas’s directorial debut, starring Robert Duvall and Donald Pleasence. In a world where sexual desire is illegal, robotic police enforce the mandatory human consumption of a drug that suppresses emotion.

The Truman Show (Peter Weir, 1998)

Jim Carrey is the fool in a reality TV paradise. Prophetic in its depiction of the artifice of media and the ease with which humans participate in their own deception.

V for Vendetta (James McTeigue, 2006)

The mysterious V, an anarchist trying to overthrow the fascist government of the United Kingdom, completes a series of terrorist attacks in order to start a revolution. Based on the graphic novels by Alan Moore, and starring Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman.


For Kids & Teens

Anderson, M.T. Feed. 2002.

In the near future, everyone has a feed implanted directly in their brain that enables access to the Internet, instantaneous chat function with others, and a nonstop barrage of targeted advertising. A biting satire and commentary on the erosion of privacy and individual choice in the face of technology.

Barnhill, Kelly. The Girl Who Drank the Moon. 2016.

This Newbery Medal–winning middle grade fantasy follows the coming-of-age of a young girl with incredible powers, raised by a benevolent witch and a swamp monster, who must save those she loves from the formidable rulers who seek to mollify the villagers through deception and fear.

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. 2008.

The YA dystopian novel that launched the genre, this story is set in a bleak world where teenagers are forced to fight to the death before a live televised audience.  

Deedy, Carmen Agra. The Rooster Who Would Not Be Quiet. 2017.

A despotic mayor outlaws singing in his town, but despite the decrees, one loud rooster persists. This cheerfully illustrated picture book folds in a subtle yet subversive message about standing up in the face of injustice.

Doctorow, Cory. Little Brother. 2008.

When a major terrorist attack hits San Francisco, a group of teens, including skilled hacker Marcus, battle against the Department of Homeland Security’s totalitarian actions and assault on constitutional rights.

Dr Seuss. Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories. 1950.

Three tales from Seuss (including one on his famous power-hungry turtle) that take sly aim at the greedy, corrupt, and vain.

Floreen, Tim. Willful Machines. 2015.

Lee, son of the ultraconservative U.S. president, keeps his gay identity a secret until a nefarious artificial intelligence called Charlotte begins terrorizing the citizenry.

Gidwitz, Adam. The Inquisitor’s Tale. 2016.

In 1242 France, the paths of a Muslim-born oblate, a Jewish boy, and a gifted peasant girl collide as they run for their lives and fight to save precious holy texts from the fires of the Inquisition.

King, A.S. Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future. 2014.

In this work of magical realism, Glory O’Brien gains the ability to see the past and future of those around her and soon fears that a truly disturbing era, in which the rights of women and girls are severely curtailed, lies ahead.

Lowry, Lois. The Giver. 1993.

In this classic work of children’s literature, 12-year-old Jonas comes to realize that the harmony and bliss of his so-called perfect society has come at a horrifying cost.

O’Neill, Louise. Only Ever Yours. 2014.

Reminiscent of The Handmaid’s Tale, this YA novel takes place in a future society in which baby girls are bred, not born, and trained to become “companions” whose main purpose is to breed sons.

Shusterman, Neal. Scythe. 2016.

In a very distant future, a benevolent artificial intelligence runs all human and governmental affairs, eliminating war, poverty, and even death. The only problem is overpopulation. Enter the Scythes.

Shusterman, Neal. Unwind. 2007.

After the United States experiences a second Civil War and abortion is outlawed, parents reserve the right to “unwind” children between the ages of 13 and 18 (their body parts are harvested for transplants).

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

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 08:57
Romance 1

Scott, Jessica. Before I Fall. Jessica Scott. (Falling, Bk. 1). 2015. 228p. ebk. ISBN N/A. Contemporary Romance


Whitman, Charlene. Colorado Promise. Ubiquitous. (Front Range, Bk. 1). 2013. 416p. ebk. ISBN N/A. Historical Romance


Ardito, Gina. Duet in September. CreateSpace: Amazon. (Calendar Girls, Bk. 1). 2013. 290p. ebk. ISBN N/A . Contemporary Romance


Ridley, Erica. The Captain’s Bluestocking Mistress. CreateSpace: Amazon. (Dukes of War, Bk. 2). 2015. 164p. ebk. ISBN N/A. Historical Romance


Rizzo, Cindy. Exception to the Rule. CreateSpace: Amazon. 2013. 250p. ebk. ISBN N/A. LGBTQ Romance


Hutchison, Sandra. The Awful Mess. Sheer Hubris. 2013. 408p. ebk. ISBN N/A. Contemporary Romance


Jeane, Sheridan. Gambling on a Scoundrel. Flowers and Fullerton. 2014. 344p. ebk. ISBN N/A. Historical Romance


Quarles, Angela. Must Love Breeches. Unsealed Room. (Must Love, Bk. 1). 2014. 308p. ebk. ISBN N/A. Historical Romance


Appel, Jacob. The Biology of Luck. Elephant Rock. 2013. 220p. ebk. ISBN 9780975374696. Contemporary Romance


DeWees, Amanda. With This Curse. CreateSpace: Amazon. 2014. 296p. ebk. ISBN N/A. Historical Romance

These titles are currently the top Romance 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 here.

Q&A: Jessica Scott

An Iraq War veteran, Jessica Scott (“Homefront” and “Coming Home” series) found inspiration in her military background and a hole in contemporary romance. Before I Fall, the first installment in her “Falling” series, tackles the effects of war on those who serve as well as the people who love them. Here, Scott discusses the therapeutic process of writing and her journey in self-publishing.

What drew you to the romance genre?
I’ve always read romance. I got hooked on my grandmother’s Danielle Steele books when I was in seventh grade and never looked back. When I was in officer candidate school and in Iraq, I desperately needed an escape, and romance was definitely a big part of it. What I felt was missing, though, was a contemporary look at soldiers’ lives, which is what prompted me to start writing.

Were you looking to reflect your military experiences in the character of Noah, who is struggling with life after battle? What was it like to write his story?
This story is deeply personal to me. It came at the end of my first year in graduate school, which was a significant emotional event on many different levels. I wrote it in about ten days, which has never happened before and will probably never happen again. It was hugely cathartic for me—I was dealing with my husband’s injuries, our frustration with not being able to be seen at the VA [Veterans Affairs], and grad school, among other things. It just flowed, and I’m still amazingly proud of how well this novel turned out. It’s my best-selling book by far.

Describe your path to self-publishing.
I dabbled with self-publishing while I was still traditionally published. I wanted to see if I could do it, and as much as I loved my editor at Grand Central, I couldn’t justify the cost. I took my next two series and self-published them and I’m so glad I did. The biggest challenge we had was trying to brand the series—what says contemporary [romance] but also military? I loved coming up with the covers for my “Homefront” series, and the “Falling” series was also really fun to design. It’s a ton of work, but I enjoy having [say] over marketing and redesign and pricing.

What has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned when self-publishing? Is there any advice you’d give to authors trying it for the first time?
You have to balance writing with the business side of things. You can’t give up on the writing to tend to the business, but you can’t just put your book up on retailers’ websites and wish it well. It’s all on you, and if the idea of doing everything yourself makes you break out in hives, then stay with a publisher. The stress can be a lot, but overall, for someone like me, the control is critical.

For anyone attempting it for the first time, I’d say have a plan and be realistic about your goals. This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. Know what you want before you start throwing money at a problem. I paid [a lot] for covers that I never used because I didn’t know what I wanted. They were great covers, but they didn’t really have the zing that I needed. Definitely don’t spend any money until you’re sure it will have a solid return.

What are you working on now?
Right now I’m finishing up the third book in the “Falling” series, and then am working on the fourth book. After that, I’m playing with a couple of new ideas, and we’ll just have to see if they pan out or not.—Kate DiGirolomo, Library Journal


LJ’s Reviews of RUSA’s Top Genre Fiction | ALA Midwinter 2017

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 10:13

At the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Atlanta, the Reference & User Services Association’s (RUSA) Reading List Council, made up of 11 expert readers’ advisory and collection development librarians, celebrated its tenth anniversary by announcing the 2017 selections of the annual best-of Reading List, comprised of eight different fiction genres for adult readers. A short list of honor titles was also announced. This year marks the awards’ tenth anniversary. Check out below LJ’s full reviews of the winners and look for the complete reviews of the short list titles in BookVerdict.


The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz. Minotaur: St. Martin’s
Former black ops agent Evan Smoak is determined to help the helpless, but he never expected to be included in that group. In the follow-up to Orphan X, Evan is staying off the grid; his only contacts are from people who need help from the Nowhere Man. But a seemingly simple operation has him knocked out; he awakens to find himself being held in a luxurious prison, his captor a twisted megalomaniac. Now Evan has just a few days to save himself against impossible odds—all while he’s being hunted by his former colleagues who are set upon taking him out of the game permanently. Verdict Though the loner-on-a-quest story line isn’t new to thrillers, Hurwitz excels at writing smart characters and plots. His latest continues his track record. Fans of Jack Reacher will love Evan Smoak, a man who will do anything to aid the innocent (something he never was). (Xpress Reviews, 12/8/16).—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

Short List
Daisy in Chains by Sharon Bolton. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (LJ 8/16)
Livia Lone by Barry Eisler. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon.
The One Man by Andrew Gross. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (starred Xpress Review, 7/21/16.)
Security by Gina Wohlsdorf. Algonquin.


Stiletto by Daniel O’Malley. Little, Brown
Once enemies, two secret organizations with extraordinary powers are set to join forces. The Checquy, based in Britain, fills its ranks with agents of supernatural power. The Grafters, who call Belgium home, use science to modify their bodies to unnatural degrees. Together they will become a nearly indestructible entity—that is, if they can put aside past grievances. Felicity is a pawn in the Checquy organization. Odette is a direct descendent of the head Grafter. The women have different agendas—one is trying to conceal the existence of a splinter cell that could threaten the alliance, while the other is secretly spying on her counterpart. VERDICT In this sequel to his debut novel, Rook, O’Malley strikes a skillful balance between irreverent humor and adventure. His narratives move back and forth, providing detail but without becoming cumbersome. This X-Men meets X-Files–style adventure will appeal to fans of superhero comics and adventure novels such as Brandon Sanderson’s “The Reckoner” series. (LJ 3/1/16)—Vicki Briner, Westminster, CO

Short List
Borderline by Mishell Baker. Saga: S. & S. (starred review, LJ 2/1/16)
A Green and Ancient Light by Frederic S. Durbin. Saga: S. & S. (starred review, LJ 5/15/16)
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay. NAL. (starred review, LJ 4/15/16)
Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal. Tor. (LJ 7/16)

Historical Fiction

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore. Random 
Thomas Edison’s billion-dollar patent infringement lawsuit against George Westinghouse is merely one salvo in the late 19th-century “current wars.” In a surprising move, Westinghouse hires novice lawyer Paul Cravath to handle his defense, and Cravath quickly discovers that Edison will go to any lengths to ensure that his direct current (DC) system becomes the standard over the alternating current (AC) promoted by Westinghouse. Caught between the two rivals is eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla, driven by visionary ideas, not money. Assisted by Agnes Huntington, a celebrated actress with a shadowy past, Cravath manages to protect Tesla from external pressures and internal demons. Burglary, arson, corporate espionage, and other unscrupulous political and business deals raise questions about who can be trusted and fuel Cravath’s desire to defeat Edison. But will the personal price be too high? Although technical information about electricity sometimes slows the pace, vivid descriptions and plot twists abound. Moore provides extensive notes about real events and where his plot diverges. The cinematic quality of writing is unsurprising, as the author of The Sherlockian is also the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game.Verdict With Moore’s novel and a 2017 film adaptation starring Eddie Redmayne, Cravath may become as famous as Edison, Tesla, or Westinghouse. Expect heavy demand. (Xpress Reviews, 8/18/16.)—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato

Short List

The Risen: A Novel of Spartacus by David Anthony Durham. Doubleday.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi. Knopf. (starred review, LJ 6/1/16)
To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey. Little, Brown. (starred review, Xpress Reviews, 7/21/16; a 2016 LJ Top Ten Best Book)
News of the World by Paulette Jiles. Morrow. (LJ 12/15)


Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt. Tor
The Hudson Valley town of Black Spring, NY, has been cursed for hundreds of years. Katherine, burned as a witch in the 17th century, wanders the village with eyes and mouth sewn shut to keep her power controlled. The townspeople have found modern ways to deal with Katherine, using high-tech surveillance and smartphone apps to track her appearances. And if you move to Black Spring, you can’t leave, nor can you talk to outsiders. The teenagers are growing restless with the limits placed on them by the spell, and that frustration leads to actions that could doom the entire community. VERDICT This Dutch horror novel was a huge hit in Europe and does clever things with the intersection of ancient evil and technology. The prose is rough in places, especially as the story gets up to speed, which could be owing to the translation. Yet once the teens start their experiments, the tension levels spike and remain high until the terrifying finish. (LJ 3/15/16)—Megan McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Short List

The Suicide Motor Club by Christopher Buehlman. Berkley. (LJ 6/15/16)
My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix. Quirk. (LJ 3/15/16)
The Fireman by Joe Hill. Morrow. (starred review, LJ 2/1/16)
The Family Plot by Cherie Priest. Tor. (starred review, LJ 9/15/16)


Darktown by Thomas Mullen. 37Ink/Atria: S. & S.
Mullen’s latest (following The Revisionists) travels back to pre–civil rights Atlanta in 1948, when the police department is forced to integrate despite violent resistance. The first black cops are not permitted to drive a squad car or make arrests, face overt contempt from their white colleagues, and limit their territory to the area known derisively as Darktown. On patrol one summer night, new officers Lucius Boggs and Tommy Smith discover a young black girl fatally shot and discarded like garbage. They had previously seen her in the car of a white man who assaulted her, but Lionel Dunlow, the ranking white officer who responded to their call, released him. Risking their precarious careers, Boggs and Smith try to find justice despite lacking any investigative power. The case soon expands to implicate fellow officers and even a congressman, but the duo may have a tentative ally in rookie white policeman Dennis Rakestraw, who despises his partner Dunlow’s brutal racism but has yet to stand up to it. VERDICT As his previous historical novels have proven, Mullen is skilled at bringing the past to life, both socially and visually (a TV adaptation produced by actor Jamie Foxx is already planned). Some readers may brace against the routine use of epithets, but fans of well-written literary thrillers will want this expert example. (LJ 5/15/16)—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ

Short List

IQ by Joe Ide. Mulholland: Little, Brown. (LJ 9/1/16)
Splinter the Silence by Val McDermid. Atlantic Monthly. (Xpress Reviews,12/4/15)
Angels Burning by Tawni O’Dell. Gallery: S.&S. (starred review, LJ 10/1/15)
Revolver by Duane Swierczynski. Mulholland: Little, Brown.


Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins. Avon
Rescued by handsome businessman Rhine Fontaine after being cruelly stranded in the Nevada desert on her way west, Eddy Carmichael soon finds a position as a boarding house cook among the welcoming colored community in Virginia City. As one of the few black women in the rough mining town, Eddy attracts her share of admirers. Still, when the chemistry sparks between her and Rhine, she tries to resist, believing that nothing can come of it. VERDICT Empathetic characters, a compelling romance, and gripping Old West history, including the rampant racial prejudice and injustice following the Civil War, combine in this first in a riveting new series from award-winning writer Jenkins (Destiny’s Captive). Issues of interracial romance, “passing,” and life-changing choices feature well in this captivating story. Jenkins lives in Michigan. (LJ 2/15/16)—Kristin Ramsdell, Librarian Emerita, California State Univ., East Bay

Short List

A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet. Sourcebooks Casablanca.
Hold Me by Courtney Milan. Courtney Milan.
Out of Nowhere by Roan Parrish. Dreamspinner.
The Soldier’s Scoundrel by Cat Sebastian. Avon Impulse. (Xpress Reviews, 9/30/16)

Science Fiction

Arkwright by Allen Steele. Tor
At the funeral of famous sf author Nathan Arkwright, his estranged granddaughter Kate meets three of the novelist’s closest friends. They ask her to serve on the board of a foundation that Nathan had established in an effort to get humanity to live among the stars. As the story jumps forward generations, readers follow the efforts of the Arkwright foundation to build and launch the starship Galactique toward a distant planet deemed the best hope for a habitable new world. VERDICT While the plot of Steele’s (“Coyote Chronicles” series; Angel of Europa) latest is not new to the genre, the author adds lovely touches of his own, including an homage to sf’s golden age and a compelling take on what the human race might look like if it had to adapt to a completely new environment. One important message is the capacity for sf to inspire scientific advancement. (LJ 2/15/16)—Megan McArdle, Lib. of Congress, National Lib. Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped

Short List

The Medusa Chronicles by Stephen Baxter & Alastair Reynolds. Saga: S.&S.
Time and Time Again by Ben Elton. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. (LJ 12/15)
Behind the Throne by K.B. Wagers. Orbit: Hachette. (starred review, LJ 8/16)
Crosstalk by Connie Willis. Del Rey. (starred review, LJ 8/16)

Women’s Fiction

I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan. Crown
Fiftyish Georgia Louise Young lives alone in San Francisco, has two ex-husbands who fathered Georgia’s two now adult daughters, and wonders if anyone would care if she didn’t shave her legs. Depressed and lonely, she watches television, pining away for sexy actors. “I hate to admit it, but if I had the energy, I’d kill to have sex with the first one who walked into my bedroom tonight.” Recalling the five men she had once loved, Georgia finds her former lovers with the help of Facebook but ends up disappointed in their 30-years-later versions. Discouraged, she reigns in her sexuality and comes across as more of a friend with whom you could chat about men, love, caring for elderly parents, worrying about grown children (and their mistakes) while wondering if she’s still sexy. VERDICT Making her Crown debut, McMillan (Waiting To Exhale; How Stella Got Her Groove Back; Getting to Happy) has written an engaging novel with an appealing cast of women who dish about guys while pushing Georgia to end her self-imposed celibacy. Georgia’s angst about entering the middle-aged dating scene will have readers nodding and muttering “Uh huh, I know that’s right.” This near-perfect choice for women’s book club discussions will prompt arguments of what makes a guy too good to be true. Stock up with multiple copies. (African American Fiction (and More), 3/17/16.)—Rollie Welch, Lee Cty. P.L., Lehigh Acres, FL

Short List

The Mothers by Brit Bennett. Riverhead. (starred review, LJ 9/1/16)
The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson. Morrow.  (starred review, LJ 1/16)
The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller. Viking. (LJ 8/16)
The Assistants by Camille Perri. Putnam. (LJ 4/1/16)


































































Welsh’s Debut of the Month, Cain, Khan, Mackay, Obregón, Hillerman, New Series Lineup | Mystery Reviews, February 1, 2017

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 12:17

The new year brings a variety of (fictional) crimes from across the various seas, as well as offering up a bounty of American mysteries. In her debut novel, The Wages of Sin, Scottish journalist Kaite Welsh introduces a feisty Victorian-era female sleuth who goes toe-to-toe with the men around her. Fresh series installments from Kelley Armstrong (A Darkness Absolute) and Deborah Crombie (Garden of Lamentations) find their respective detectives faced with harrowing cases that hit uncomfortably close to home, while Malcolm Mackay (Every Night I Dream of Hell) returns to the gritty Glasgow world of organized crime. For readers looking to discover where one of their favorites took flight, Ann Cleeves delivers The Crow Trap, the initial entry in her acclaimed “Vera Stanhope” series, published this month for the first time in the United States. On the lighter side, ­Auralee Wallace returns to the picturesque—but dangerous—Otter Lake, NH, in Snowed in with Murder, in which her sleuth must contend with not only a snowstorm but a reality TV show. And Mandy Morton debuts an original cozy series featuring British feline protagonists in The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency.

Debut of the Month

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

Medical school is hard enough, but when you’re one of only a handful of women at an elite Edinburgh institute in Victorian-era Scotland, “hard” doesn’t begin to describe the experience. Such is life for the steadfast Sarah Gilchrist, who’s braving the (unnamed) male-dominated school that may have accepted her on paper but certainly doesn’t welcome her. A former London debutante who was raped by the son of a lord and then thrown in a sanatorium to be treated for her alleged “promiscuity,” Sarah discovers that her past makes her even more of a pariah at school, though she does eventually find a friend. When she recognizes one of the anatomy class corpses as a working girl she met while volunteering at a clinic, Sarah is determined to uncover whether the girl committed suicide or was murdered. Her investigation takes her from Edinburgh’s less-than-savory opium dens and seedy gathering places to its more high-society watering holes. Sarah is a spunky but historically accurate heroine, bucking the most restrictive traditions in order to comment on them. VERDICT The first book in what will, one hopes, be a long-running series, featuring a new kind of historical leading lady, Welsh’s debut is an inspiring feminist tale perfect for the modern age.

Check These Out

Armstrong, Kelley. A Darkness Absolute. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Casey Duncan, Bk. 2). Feb. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781250092175. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250092205. M

Living off the grid in the isolated Canadian town of Rockton appealed to former homicide cop Casey Duncan; like so many of the other residents, she’s trying to shake unpleasant memories from the past (City of the Lost). She’s even struck up the beginnings of a relationship with prickly Sheriff Eric Dalton. While he is off on a supply run—Rockton isn’t the sort of place with a supermarket—Casey and Deputy Will ­Anderson pursue a Rockton local hell-bent on running deep into the woods and straight into a blizzard. Casey and Will take shelter from the storm in a cave, only to make a gruesome discovery: a woman presumed dead for nearly a year has been kept prisoner there by a mystery man, who could be out hunting more girls if Casey and Will can’t catch him before he goes to ground. VERDICT Armstrong gives her cop-with-baggage backstory a twist, making Casey a singularly skilled but humanely flawed protagonist, adrift in a quirky utopia that’s as dangerous as any big city. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]

Brody, Frances. A Death in the Dales: A Kate Shackleton Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9781250098825. $23; ebk. ISBN 9781250098849. M

Problems come in sets of three, and it’s no different in 1926 Yorkshire, the setting for Brody’s seventh series installment featuring private investigator Kate Shackleton (after Death of an Avid Reader). This time she has her teenage niece, Harriet, in tow, and the pair stay in a cottage owned by Dr. Lucian Simonson. As befitting a small English village in a mystery novel, there’s plenty of tension bubbling just beneath the surface in Langcliffe. Lucian’s recently deceased aunt was positive the wrong man was executed for a crime­­—except that crime took place in 1916. Kate decides this is a perfect old case to investigate, but that’s not the only thing to occupy her time—and detective skills. Harriet becomes fast friends with a girl whose brother has gone missing, and one of the village’s biggest landowners wants Kate’s assistance in secreting away some letters, though he’s far from the only villager in this picturesque hotbed of intrigue with something to hide. VERDICT The mysteries themselves may not be complex, but given the fascinating cast of supporting characters, a pleasant Yorkshire setting, and an endearing heroine, this is a solid British traditional mystery that should please series regulars and newcomers alike.

Cain, Sarah. One by One: A Danny Ryan Thriller. Crooked Lane. Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781683310877. $25.99. M

Philadelphia newspaper reporter Danny Ryan, from Cain’s debut, The 8th Circle, is just getting his life back on track after losing his family in a car wreck several years earlier. Then Greg Moss, an old high school buddy, shows up and tells Danny that he’s been receiving threatening text messages. Sure, Greg is involved in some shady real estate shenanigans, but the threats are unnerving nonetheless. Then Greg turns up dead and Danny discovers other classmates have also been harassed. The last thing Danny, who’s even getting friendly with fellow reporter Alex Burton, wants is to look back at yet another painful part of his life, but he wonders if an incident that’s haunted him for years—one that involves Greg and several other fellow students—is at the root of the intimidations and murders. VERDICT Solidly plotted with satisfying twists and turns, this is an enjoyable continuation of a promising series.

Cleeves, Ann. The Crow Trap: A Vera Stanhope Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Feb. 2017. 544p. ISBN 9781250122735. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250122759. M

Published in the UK in 1998 and just now released in the United States, this first book in Cleeves’s “Vera Stanhope” series (which also inspired a popular television show) demonstrates exactly why the curmudgeonly Northumberland police detective gets results. Three local women—botanist Anne, zoologist Grace, and team leader Rachael—have banded together to study the environmental impacts of a proposed quarry on a national park. It isn’t even the suicide of Rachael’s friend that gets Vera on the case: it’s the more obvious murder of someone closely linked to the project that raises the detective’s investigative hackles. Like so many large-scale environmental programs that have the potential to disrupt small villages, the quarry project stirs up bad blood, causing Vera to question whether or not the deaths—she’s convinced the two are connected—are related to the new development or to darker secrets buried much deeper. VERDICT It would be foolish to discount Vera because she doesn’t dress smartly—she can outfox even the wiliest of criminals, while wearing whatever she pleases, and readers will delight in getting the chance to see how such a quirky character evolved.

Crombie, Deborah. Garden of Lamentations. Morrow. (Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James, Bk. 17). Feb. 2017. 432p. ISBN 9780062271631. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062271655. M

Two (married) cops, two murder investigations. Such are the personal and professional stakes in Crombie’s intricate latest installment featuring London’s DI Gemma James and DS Duncan Kincaid (after To Dwell in Darkness). Duncan, still stung over a recent demotion, is deeply disturbed by the grenade attack at the busy St. Pancras rail station, especially coupled with the odd ramblings of his former boss Denis Childs. When Childs is attacked and left comatose, Duncan makes the connection to the recent suicide of a police officer and starts an investigation that turns nasty quickly. Gemma has her own homicide to probe, the case of a nanny found murdered in a Notting Hill garden. Nannies are so often the glue that joins disparate families and this one is no different, linking one of Gemma’s friends with her son’s ballet classmate. While the nanny seems perfectly angelic, Gemma suspects that something in her past got her killed and she’s determined to unearth the secret. VERDICT An enthralling blend of suspense on the home front and possible scandal in the professional arena, with characters who are made as much for investigating as they are for each other, makes for a particularly strong series outing from an author who rarely disappoints. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]

Hinger, Charlotte. Fractured Families: A Lottie Albright Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Mar. 2017. 294p. ISBN 9781464205613. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464205637. $15.95. M

A gruesome discovery confronts historian-turned-undersheriff Lottie Albright in Hinger’s chilling fourth Kansas-set outing (after Hidden Heritage). Making the transition from scholar to crime fighter, as the Northwestern Kansas regional police center takes shape, was meant to be a gradual process. Instead, Lottie, along with her husband’s aunt Dorothy, a visiting Manhattan mystery writer, are immediately plunged into a murder inquiry. The pair find the body of a young man in a Civil War–era mausoleum, and that’s not even the most disturbing part: perched on a nearby statue is a baby’s corpse. Lottie calls in the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, although it’s clear that she’s going to be in charge of the case. As experts assemble, clinical psychologist Josie Albright, who has helped her twin sister in previous books, arrives, and it’s a good thing, since another baby’s lifeless body is found. As Lottie and Dorothy probe, they uncover an older case with parallels to the current investigation. VERDICT Featuring a crime spree and a murderer, both as cold as the Midwestern winter setting, this whodunit will burn like frostbite.

Hunsicker, Harry. The Devil’s Country. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9781503941908. pap. $15.95. M

Tiny Piedra Springs is former Texas Ranger Arlo Baines’s destination for the sole reason that it seems like a place to lie low and heal. His family is dead, and the last thing Arlo wants is to solve crimes. But trouble finds him when a woman he only recently met is killed and her children vanish. Worse yet, the murder and abduction eerily mirror what happened to his own wife and children. Not only does Arlo become the prime suspect, but the local police question whether the missing offspring even exist. Small towns are known to hold secrets, and Arlo, despite his insistence that he’s retired from the lawman’s life, knows it’s up to him to investigate, to clear both the case and his conscience. ­VERDICT Despite a somewhat predictable setup, ­Hunsicker’s latest (The Grid) introduces a sympathetic hero who struggles with his own demons as much as he strives to solve the crime at hand.

Khan, Ausma Zehanat. Among the Ruins. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. (Rachel Getty & Esa Khattak, Bk. 3). Feb. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9781250096739. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250096753. M

In her provocative third mystery featuring Canadian policeman Esa Khattak (after The Language of Secrets), Khan sends her hero to Iran to investigate the murder of a female filmmaker. Esa, on leave from Toronto’s Community Policing Section after a fatal force incident, is in the Iranian city of Esfahan, first as a tourist and then as an official investigator, after he’s contacted by a group of dissidents who are upset over the death of Canadian Iranian documentary filmmaker Zahra Sobhani. Her film about the country’s 2009 election and its aftermath caused a media firestorm in Iran and led to ­Sobhani’s arrest, after which she was tortured and killed. As he becomes more immersed in investigating Sobhani’s murder, Esa’s partner in Toronto, Sgt. Rachel Getty, does her part to poke into the victim’s life in Canada. Esa, who originally traveled to Iran to soak up the ancient culture (he’s conveniently fluent in Farsi), is torn between stepping into the obvious hotbed of Iranian politics and enjoying the nation’s storied history. VERDICT Deeply political without becoming pedantic, Khan’s crime novel offers a fictionalized yet very real look at a region that is steeped in both beauty and misery. [See Prepub Alert, 8/15/16.]

Mackay, Malcolm. Every Night I Dream of Hell. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780316271776. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316271790. M

Though this Glasgow is as dark and dirty as the city he chronicled in his “Glasgow Trilogy” (The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter; The Sudden Arrival of Violence; How a Gunman Says Goodbye), Mackay takes a slightly different route with this latest stand-alone, though one that shares DNA with The Night the Rich Men Burned. For the first time, readers experience Glaswegian criminal life in the first person, namely Nate Colgan; him some Mackay fans may remember in the previous books as a “security consultant” for Peter Jamieson’s criminal organization. Except now Jamieson, and his right-hand man, John Young, are locked up, and ­Colgan, along with Jamieson’s trusted lieutenants, must keep the organization going and fend off unwanted advances from new guys looking to make a name for themselves. There’s trouble at home, too, when Zara Cope, the mother of Nate’s child, reappears and brings with her a whirlwind of drama. On the other side of the law—though the beauty of Mackay’s world is that nothing is ever so cut and dried—DI Michael Fisher is keen to bring down even more of the organization, although he’s got a bit of a thing for a certain Ms. Cope. VERDICT Mackay continues to ascend the ranks of hard-boiled British crime fiction authors. His latest novel, although unrelentingly dark, is streaked with black humor and a fast-paced plot that never sacrifices the truly fleshed-out characters,

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

A detective with a troubled past plus a serial killer are often ingredients for a been-there-done-that thriller. Not so with Obregón’s tense, atmospheric Tokyo-set debut, which pulses with a dark energy all its own. Newly reinstated homicide cop Iwata is partnered with another inspector who makes it clear that she wants nothing to do with him (and neither does the Tokyo brass). Luckily, or not, the pair soon catch a gruesome case that requires their full attention: the murder of an entire family with ritualistic overtones, the particularly strange symbol of a black sun left at the crime scene. The victims had held a plethora of secrets, none of them good. A stalker had the teenage daughter in (presumably) his sights. The father was being harassed at work. And the killer isn’t done. Iwata suffers from his own private torment—from nightmares that plague the little sleep he gets—to the near-constant repetition of the titular song in his head. VERDICT This gritty story, in what will hopefully become a new series, has roots in American noir yet fully embraces its Japanese setting, establishing Obregón as a fresh, up-and-coming voice in crime fiction.

Ould, Chris. The Killing Bay: A Faroes Novel. Titan. Feb. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781783297061. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781783297078. M

In Ould’s follow-up to 2016’s The Blood Strand, English detective Jan Reyná, born on the Danish-controlled Faroes Islands but raised in England, is back to solve crime in his native land. Working with Det. Hjalti Hentze, he investigates the murder of a newly arrived member of the Atlantic Wildlife Conservation Alliance. This group of outspoken activists was recently protesting the traditional Faroese whale hunt until the woman turned up dead. As in the first book, Reyná assists with the local investigation, especially since Hentze has family ties that place him unprofessionally close to the case. Reyná also continues to learn about the private ways of the Faroese people and the secrets they keep, many of which they do not share with outsiders. Although the activist victim’s actions were perhaps environmentally sound, they did not necessarily make her friends among the locals, leading to a plethora of suspects. VERDICT Ould’s strange, remote setting and the even stranger people make for an intriguing read, especially combined with a hero who is almost as prickly as his forefathers and yet manages to solve even the most complex crimes.

QUOTABLE “It was my turn to make that sad little life a little sadder. I threw him at the table. He hit it side-on and smacked into the magazines, sending them skidding off the table. He reached out and held on to the table because he thought that would help him. His legs had gotten drunk without him; he was wobbling. It was exactly what I wanted him to do, hold a position while I picked up a chair and smashed it against him. It was a dramatic move, smashing a chair against a guy, watching the legs fly off, but it didn’t do a whole lot of damage. An effective scare tactic. It also had the benefit of not having to throw a punch. No need to cut my own knuckles to make him hurt.”—Malcolm Mackay, Every Night I Dream of Hell

cozy corner

Morton, Mandy. The No. 2 Feline Detective Agency: A Hettie Bagshot Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 272p. ISBN 9781250097835. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250097842. M

Enter a new breed of crime fighter: the four-legged variety, in this case, felines on the front lines of British crime fighting. Hettie Bagshot, founder and lead detective of the No. 2 Feline Detective Agency, ponders if chasing criminals is really for her, until she gets her first case. Furcross, a home for older cats, has been the victim of cat snatching, of the corpse variety. Hettie and her trusted right paw Tilly set out to Furcross to unveil the nefarious goings-on. Their first suspect is the taciturn Nurse Mogadon, who seems intent on involving the residents in a dangerous game. Hettie and Tilly make a point to investigate the hat department at Malkin & Sprinkle after a tipster informs them that deceased Furcross residents ended up there. As the kitty duo navigate the dastardly deeds at Furcross, Hettie considers just how many of her nine lives she’ll have to use on this case. VERDICT For fans of the British cozy, this series launch could be a welcome detour, as long as one suspends disbelief long enough to allow for feline crime solvers and the like.

Wallace, Auralee. Snowed in with Murder: An Otter Lake Mystery. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781250077790. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466889958. M

In Wallace’s third Otter Lake installment (after Pumpkin Picking with Murder), family and romance come first—even in a snowstorm. Erica Bloom returns to New Hampshire to try things again with Sheriff Grady Forrester at her hippie mom’s island retreat. Despite an approaching blizzard, Erica discovers her mother has rented out the retreat to the odious Boatright brood, who are there to take part in what surely will not be one of America’s great television shows: Rich Bitches. An approaching Nor’easter and quality television are ingredients for murder, of course, and soon Mr. Boatright is no more, after perhaps prophetically announcing that one of his family members would kill him to get their hands on inheritance money sooner rather than later. Erica, with Sheriff Grady in tow, races to find the killer before he—or she—strikes again. VERDICT Despite its always pleasant lakeside setting, this work unfortunately fails to come together, with disparate story elements and side characters who seem to blow in and out of the narrative as quickly as the winter’s biting wind.

Series lineup

Arlen, Tessa. A Death by Any Other Name. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781250101426. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250101433. M
On the eve of World War I in England, roses are the name of the game, rather than the rising tension in Prussia, in Arlen’s third Lady Montfort outing (after Death Sits Down to Dinner). Along with her stalwart cook sidekick, Mrs. Jackson, Lady Montfort once again puts her detecting skills to use to solve the poisoning death of a member of the local amateur rose breeders society.

Chisholm, P.F. A Clash of Spheres: A Sir Robert Carey Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Apr. 2017. 300p. ISBN 9781464208287. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464208300. $15.95. M

In Chisholm’s eighth series entry (after A Chorus of Innocents), tensions run high in 1592 Britain. Still pining for his (married) love, Sir Robert Carey has finally secured his place as deputy warden at the Borders at Carlisle, though not without incurring some enemies. There are rumblings of Spanish plans for action in Scotland, and as the Elizabethan political machine grinds into high gear, with various royal members caught in the wheels, Sir Robert must stay out of the way.

Dobyns, Stephen. Saratoga Payback: A Charlie Bradshaw Mystery. Blue Rider. Mar. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780399576577. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399576584. M

Now that Charlie Bradshaw is a regular Saratoga civilian—the cops revoked his PI license—life is a little boring. But trouble won’t leave this senior citizen (not seen since 1998’s Saratoga Strongbox) alone, and in Dobyns’s 11th series installment, it literally turns up on ­Bradshaw’s front lawn in the form of a dead man, who is none other than Saratoga’s most annoying resident. ­Charlie’s crime-solving instincts run deep and even without the proper license, he starts poking around in the murder ­investigation.

Pattison, Eliot. Skeleton God: An Inspector Shan Tao Yun Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9781250067623. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466876095. M

The past and the present collide in Pattison’s ninth Tibet-set Shan Tao Yun adventure (after Soul of the Fire). Now the constable of an isolated Tibetan town, Shan isn’t sure what surprises him most: the report of a nun being assaulted by ghosts or what he discovers at the scene. He soon realizes this politically charged case has tentacles reaching to the highest echelons of the Chinese government in Beijing and may be related to a Tibetan refugee program.

Tesh, Jane. Baby, Take a Bow. Poisoned Pen. (Grace St., Bk. 5). Apr. 2017. 294p. ISBN 9781464207969. $26.95; pap. ISBN 9781464207983. $15.95. M

North Carolina PI David Randall and his psychic sidekick Camden contend with a missing baby and surly ghosts in Tesh’s fifth book in the series (after Just You Wait). What seems like an open-and-shut case of a purloined newborn mushrooms into a run of investigations for Randall and Camden, whose talent for seeing the undead leads to a string of misadventures.

Additional Mystery

Haseldine, Jane. Duplicity: A Julia Gooden Mystery. Kensington. Apr. 2017. 352p. ISBN 9781496704078. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781496704085. M

Detroit crime reporter Julia Gooden returns in this sophomore novel from Haseldine (The Last Time She Saw Him). Still haunted by her brother’s long-ago disappearance and recovering from a series of agonizing ordeals that shook her family, Julia’s now covering the criminal trial of Nick Rossi. Her husband, David, an assistant district attorney, is at the helm of the case in which Rossi is charged with bribery and drug trafficking. At home, the couple struggle to save their marriage in the wake of an affair; their relationship is dicey at best. Meanwhile, Julia—independent, driven, and stubborn—doggedly pursues the Rossi case with the help of her ex, the affable Det. Raymond Navarro. When a bomb explodes at the courthouse, injuring her husband and literally killing the case against Rossi, Julia is thrown into another whirlwind of red herrings, political ambition, revenge, and danger. VERDICT Haseldine has a gift for atmosphere, setting, and suspense, and the many twists and turns will keep readers guessing. This will appeal to fans of the author’s first work, and those who appreciate crime-driven thrillers.— Erin Entrada Kelly, Haverford, PA

Hillerman, Anne. Song of the Lion: A Leaphorn, Chee & Manuelito Novel. Harper. Apr. 2017. 304p. ISBN 9780062391902. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062391896. M

Last seen in Rock with Wings, Bernadette Manuelito, a Navajo police officer and Shiprock High School alum, is on the scene when a car bomb explodes in the school parking lot during a basketball game. A young man is killed, but was the intended victim really the car’s owner—a Navajo lawyer working as a mediator for a ­multimillion-dollar development planned at the Grand Canyon? As Officer Manuelito studies the evidence, her husband, Sgt. Jim Chee, has his hands full guarding mediator Palmer, who appears to be hiding information. Bernie discusses the case with retired lieutenant Joe Leaphorn, who is reminded of one of his cold cases that involved two small children on the reservation. As the facts present themselves, the case unwinds to reveal what appears to be a complicated paradigm of revenge against Palmer and his family. VERDICT Fans of Leaphorn, Chee, and Manuelito, characters created by the author’s father, Tony Hillerman, will savor this multilayered story of suspense, with its background of contemporary environmental vs. development issues. [See Prepub Alert, 10/17/16.]—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Colls., Mt. Carmel

Jordan Foster is a freelance writer living in Portland, OR. She received her MFA in fiction from Columbia University and has profiled authors such as Patricia Cornwell, Alafair Burke, Megan Abbott, and Chris Holm for LJ

Fiction, Nonfiction, & Alt-Facts | What We’re Reading

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 12:01

Members of LJ/School Library Journal‘s “What We’re Reading” gang are back for more book talk this week, and we’re discussing rule-breaking queens and foodies, outlined protagonists, scary strangers, brother correspondents, and pink roaches, to name a few subjects.

Ellen Abrams, Guest Editor, LJS
The tragic story of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife, is well known to Anglophiles and Tudorologists alike—one would think. However, redoubtable historian Alison Weir has scoured the historical archives with The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (Ballantine), an entire volume dedicated to the true tale of the one called the Concubine and, more prosaically, “the whore,” even by some of her high-born ladies-in-waiting. Weir unearths backstories and backstabbing, the likes of which readers would be forgiven for not having imagined. The real kicker here is to learn that King Henry had no real intention of offing Anne despite her inability to bear him a son and heir, as he was still attempting to win religious legitimacy of his marriage to her from the pope in the days immediately leading up to her arrest on trumped-up charges of treason and “lechery.”  Without giving away too much, the real culprit, the schemer behind the scheme, was a gentleman of Henry’s court who has been lauded in more than one recent historical novel. This is top-drawer history, which reads like historical fiction—where a flirtatious and charming woman is brought low by jealousies, fear, and the willing ear of a frustrated, egomaniacal spouse who leans toward alternative facts.

Mahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
After LJ selected Eowyn Ivey’s To the Bright Edge of the World (Little, Brown) as a Best Book, I was inspired—at long last—to pick up some Joseph Conrad. Another editor had mentioned that Bright Edge was evocative of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, so I was sold. I haven’t yet begun Heart, but I did spend one very intense night devouring Conrad’s short story “The Secret Sharer,” the tale of a captain who invites a most odd stranger on board his ship in the middle of the night. It was unnerving and creepy in all the best ways, so I have high hopes for Heart of Darkness.


Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
As a huge M.F.K. Fisher (1908–92) fan, I am leery of fictionalized accounts of her life—though many would say that’s exactly what the pioneering food writer did with her memoirs and essays. She basically paved the way for all the foodies who crowd onto the airwaves and social media sites and publish their memoirs-cum-cookbooks now. Of course, there were others—Julia Child, James Beard, plenty of French gastronomes—but she was special. I admire her fearlessness, her bohemian spirit, her dry sense of humor. She was a sensualist and free spirit, a lover and fighter, what my mom would call “a good eater,” and experimenter, a figurehead, a provocateur.

But I do go on. All this is to say that I really enjoyed Ashley Warlick’s 1930s-set The Arrangement (Viking), which reimagines a time in Fisher’s life before she became M.F.K. and was still Mary Frances Kennedy when she was coming into her own: beginning to write; beginning to chafe at the limitations of her marriage to Al Fisher, a reluctant professor and blocked poet/writer; beginning to fall in love with Al’s friend, the painter Dillwyn “Tim” Parrish, who was himself married to a young Hollywood starlet. When Mary Frances seduces Tim, she sets in motion several triangular events. The most interesting is when she and Al, who’s unaware of her affair with Tim, move to Switzerland to be nearer to their friend. War is coming, passions are brewing, Fisher is cooking and writing…it’s all delicious and nearly operatic. Warlick obviously has read and reread Fisher’s books, but this is no simple pastiche. The author captures the mood and tempo of the chef’s writing yet goes beyond to craft a very good novel about taking chances and learning to live as one wants to, despite the risks and potential heartbreak.

Daryl Grabarek, Senior Editor, SLJ Reviews
Spying two books about Vincent van Gogh on Liz’s desk earlier this week, I wasn’t able to honor that unspoken rule around the LJ/SLJ office…if it’s on my desk, I’m working on it (subtext: hands off, please). I’m not sure the Dutchman would be on my list of favorite artists, but after finishing Deborah Heiligman’s Vincent and Theo: The van Gogh Brothers (Holt), about his relationship with his younger sibling, Theo, I trotted off to the library to pick up a collection of the brothers’ letters (nearly 700 survived), which I first read years ago and loved. The missives (you can find them online as well) chronicle an enduring emotional and intellectual bond that was often fraught but always supportive and caring. Vincent’s letters are wonderful—offering lots of insight into his life and late 19th-century bohemian Paris. They are full of self-doubt, passion, angst, determination, and often desperate need. His contemporaries (Gauguin, Lautrec, and others) are also featured, so there’s that, too. Heiligman’s book, due out in April, was written for middle-grade and teen readers. I’m currently working on my review for SLJ, but just between us—it’s superb.

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
I don’t often set myself up to read series; if a book has a number in the title, chances are I’ll pass. (Dorothy Dunnett excepted). But I’ve heard so much interesting buzz about Rachel Cusk’s new novel, Transit (Farrar), and recommendations of her previous work from discerning readers of my acquaintance, that my interest was piqued and I picked up her previous book, Outline (Picador). Together with an as-yet-unpublished third, they will form a trilogy about…well, that remains to be seen. The nominal subject of Outline is the narrator, Faye, a recently divorced mother of two teaching in Athens for a summer.  “Nominally” because the book is really a study of how a writer shows and doesn’t tell—how she can fashion an entire protagonist out of the negative space created by other characters. Outline is darkly funny and fairly plotless, making its point about self-definition by refusing to define the narrator until she just becomes, like salt crystals that grow overnight or the brown shapes of leaves you find on the sidewalk after the physical versions have blown away. And the supporting characters are annoyingly shallow until you close the book and realize they’ve somehow carved out an existence by virtue of their juxtaposition to Faye. There’s some intriguing authorial sleight-of-hand happening. Plus it triggered these weird little episodes of déjà vu the way a certain pulsing frequency will give people epileptic seizures.

After which, I started Zadie Smith’s Swing Time (Penguin) and encountered this quote a few pages in: “A truth was being revealed to me: that I had always tried to attach myself to the light of other people, that I had never had any light of my own. I experienced myself as a kind of shadow.”  Other than that, the two books have nothing in common—but that’s a pretty cool cross-novel overflow anyway.

Ashleigh Williams, WWR Emerita
I recently blazed through Daniel José Older’s Bone Street Rumba; now I’m following the new rhythm of Midnight Taxi Tango (Roc: NAL). In this sequel to Rumba, half-dead ghostbuster Carlos Delacruz is trying to get back on the beat after near-death and serious heartbreak. He’s assisted by no-nonsense teenager Kia Summers, protegée at Baba Eddie’s botanica and reluctant spirit bait. Currently, the crew is battling ghouls made of ghastly pink roaches, mysterious gruesome deaths, and vengeful child ghosts. But the abundance of creepy situations and grisly murder is well tempered by some fantastic banter!