Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

A Return to the Land

Natalie Baszile

As Earth Day approaches and the soil begins to bring forth its riches, Natalie Baszile's We Are Each Other's Harvest: Celebrating African American Farmers, Land, and Legacy (Amistad, $29.99) calls to mind the complex relationship humans--especially African Americans--have with the land.

Baszile's collection of essays, poems and family histories pay homage to the Black farmers who tilled North American earth, first under enslavement and then as free people. The testimonials in these pages describe the many challenges they have faced and continue to face--many posed by the USDA and other government practices--but also the community they've formed, guiding each other, lifting each other up. Kamal Bell founded Sankofa Farms in Cedar Grove, N.C., to "give back to my people"--squash, cowpeas and watermelon as well as beekeeping. Marvin Frink views raising his Black Angus cattle in Red Springs, N.C., as a way of healing from and helping others to heal from PTSD. Brenae Royal gains satisfaction from harvesting grapes in the Monte Rosso vineyards of California. Leah Penniman sees working Soul Fire Farm, in New York State, as activism: teaching others to grow food, feeding the community and honoring the ancestors who brought seeds braided into their hair across the Middle Passage.

Marvin Frank, a retired special forces vet-turned-farmer. (photo: Alison Gootee)

Braszile brings a personal passion for her theme. She explains how she chose sugar farming for her novel Queen Sugar (now a series on OWN) and the years she spent not only researching but also participating in its farming and harvest. Her stories describe generations of farming practices, and Alison Gootee's full-color photographs depict the majesty of the land and the people who tend it. The healing words of Native American poet Joy Harjo's "Remember" (included in the book) remind us that humans, made of the earth, return to the earth: "Remember the earth whose skin you are: red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth/ brown earth, we are earth." --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Book Candy

Earth Day Fare

"Feed your mind & nourish your soul on Earth Day," the New York Public Library suggested, while also recommending "eco fiction for kids and teens."


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit recently issued a notice [PDF] scolding legal professionals for filing paperwork using the Garamond font, Mental Floss noted.


"A word game player's guide to 'q' without 'u' words," courtesy of Merriam-Webster.


Author Jonas Jonasson shared his picks for top 10 books about revenge with the Guardian.


Open Culture highlighted the "exquisite watercolors of demons, magic & signs" in the Compendium of Demonology and Magic from 1775.

An Introduction from Publisher Denene Millner

Denene Millner

The thing is, I was just a kid who loved books—A Little Princess, the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary, that "I must, I must, I must increase my bust" exercise Margaret practiced in Judy Blume's Are You There God, It's Me, Margaret—were all refuges for this studious, story-loving Black girl from Long Island, New York. But there weren't any characters who looked like me, who had regular Black girl experiences, in my favorite tomes. It wouldn't be until I got to college and was assigned Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon that I could put my finger on what I'd been missing all my reading life: I needed—deserved—to see myself reflected in the pages of the books I read.

I promised that when I had daughters of my own that this wouldn't be their reality—that they would have bookshelves full of tales about loving Black families having distinctly Black experiences within universal stories. Alas, pre-Internet, they were hard to come by. Frankly, they still are. The latest statistics on the diversity of characters in children's books, as chronicled annually by the Cooperative Children's Book Center, found that of more than 3,700 books published in 2019, only about 12% featured Black characters. Basically, children are more likely to see a book about a talking animal than they are Black children.

Denene Millner Books' mission is to change that—to not only give Black children the chance to see their lives reflected in the stories on their bookshelves, but to also deliver to Black children universal childhood experiences that celebrate the everyday beauty of being little humans of color. Be clear: this imprint is a clarion call for those who care deeply about Black children to embrace Black joy as resistance to the narrative that our babies are anything but good. Wanted. Beautiful. Love.

To that end, I choose to use this platform to dream of a world where children can see themselves using their imaginations, like in Markette Sheppard's My Rainy Day Rocket Ship, and spending a glorious, love-filled day with their mothers, like in Cozbi A. Cabrera's Me & Mama and Alice Faye Duncan's Just Like a Mama—where they can imagine themselves as kick-butt warriors with gods in their bloodlines, as conjured by J. Elle in her YA fantasy, Wings of Ebony, and understanding, too, that Blackness is as wide and expansive as it is beautiful, as Sili Recio celebrates in her book, If Dominican Were a Color.

I've also committed to using Denene Millner Books to kick down some doors—to up the abysmally low number of Black creators telling and illustrating stories about Black children and families. It is my personal effort to increase the numbers of Black creators telling Black stories within the Big five publishing houses.

With this passion and commitment, Denene Millner Books aims to add to that small but important canon of books that paves the way for children to see themselves—their whole selves—on the page. Think of Denene Millner Books's offerings as love letters to children of color who deserve to see their beauty and humanity in the most remarkable form of entertainment on the planet: books. Little Denene would have loved them. Today's little humans deserve them. Denene Millner Books is so very happy to do its part. —Denene Millner

Denene Millner is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning journalist and vice-president and publisher of the Denene Millner Books imprint. She has written 30 books for adults, teens and children, among them Around the Way Girl, a memoir with actress Taraji P. Henson, and Early Sunday Morning, a children's picture book. She is also the founder of, a critically acclaimed blog that examines the intersection of parenting and race, and the host of Speakeasy with Denene, a podcast produced by Georgia Public Broadcasting. Denene lives in Atlanta with her two daughters and their adorable Goldendoodle, Teddy.

Cozbi A. Cabrera: Authenticity in Creation

Cozbi A. Cabrera received a BFA from Parsons School of Design. She is the illustrator of several acclaimed children's picture books, she designs clothes and she makes cloth dolls that have garnered the attention of collectors around the world. Here she is interviewed by Denene Millner, publisher of Cabrera's book, Me & Mama, a Caldecott and Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Book.

Denene Millner: You are a fine artist in every sense of the word, having made everything from your gorgeous muñecas and clothing to textiles and paintings. What led you to children's book illustration?

Cozbi Cabrera: I've always been drawn to children's books—collecting the ones that spoke to my heart, even prior to my daughter's arrival. I collected them for me. There's a simplicity in the format, storytelling and image capture that can stir a heart—even an adult heart. It's a powerful medium. My best friend gave me The Talking Eggs, illustrated by Jerry Pinkney and written by Robert D. San Souci, as a birthday gift in my early 20s with an inscription: "I hope the story and the illustrations will be an inspiration and incentive to helping you realize your dreams as a storyteller and illustrator, love always."

As fortune would have it, a college friend, Laura Pegram (now of Kweli Journal), approached me to illustrate two of her board books for an independent publisher while I was designing for music. I put together full book dummies for a couple more of her delightful stories that didn't make it to release. Fast forward: while exhibiting my dolls, an editor approached me with an invitation to illustrate a manuscript thinking I'd deliver it as textile art and not aware I'd done other books. Other invitations followed.

Millner: You have such a distinctive illustration style. How would you describe it and how have you honed it over the years?

Cozbi Cabrera

Cabrera: I think I've refrained from describing it. I love to paint, and I love paint. That sounds like a simple statement, but there's something about allowing your materials to be what they are that helps. If I want to reupholster a leather chair for example, I wouldn't select a vinyl and try to imitate the leather. No, if leather's not available (I can hear our vegans wincing—it's only to illustrate a point), I'd go for a hand-woven fabric, or say, a mohair velvet. In other words, I'd choose a material that was "itself." Materials selection and handling is the beginning of authenticity in creating and goes hand in hand with having your say. The Gee's Bend quilters demonstrate this beautifully with quilts made from work-clothes, real material. We see evidence of hard labor in every stain, faded and patched knee reworked into a thing of utility and beauty. Every artist (whether fine or commercial) lends their voice, discernment, taste and point of view to every project. I do my best to find the heart in every project—its emotional undertone.

Keen observation, being clear about what I like, lots of life study and a drawing practice is how I've honed my illustration style over the years. I see a limitless runway ahead with so much potential for exploration and growth!

Millner: Me & Mama is such an extraordinary book about an ordinary day. What inspired the story, and what lessons do you hope readers take away from it?

Cabrera: Me & Mama was inspired by a broken cup. My then three-year-old was trying to get me a cup of water in my favorite cup. Children are so new to this world, and I understood that she knew nothing about distinguishing between what's breakable, even while knowing the word "breakable." She didn't know about gravity, about calculating the width of the water cooler ledge relative to the bottom of the now filled cup, the unforgiving nature of ceramic tile. So, CRASH, KABOOM! And there are many moments like that in the rearing of a child, this precious contract we engage in while all the learning, shaping and celebrating what is occurring in these tender souls. I wanted to record this string of moments, the beauty and richness of time spent together. Children value this more than material preferences. My hope? To touch the hearts of the little ones in our laps and the bigger ones reading aloud.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Our Towns

In 2013, journalist James Fallows and his wife, Deborah, began an audacious odyssey: to travel, via single-prop airplane, to American small towns and cities often overlooked in the national conversation, places normally reported on in the context of visiting politicians or disasters. What the Fallowses discovered was a small-town America more vital than they expected, where local problems were being solved with creative thinking and people were less divided than national politics would suggest. But many of these places, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to Dodge City, Kansas, also faced the acute crisis of the opiate epidemic and the chronic problem of racial injustice. After five years of traveling, the Fallowses wrote Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America, published in 2018.

On April 13, HBO aired a documentary based on Our Towns created by Academy Award-nominated filmmakers Steven Ascher and Jeanne Jordan. In it, Ascher and Jordan fly to eight small towns and cities across the U.S., where they find resilient people tackling seemingly intractable social and economic issues. The film is streaming on HBO, and the Fallowses' book is available in paperback from Vintage ($16.95). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Eat the Mouth that Feeds You

by Carribean Fragoza

Nothing is as it seems in Carribean Fragoza's debut collection, Eat the Mouth that Feeds You. Writing in the traditions of magic realism and gothic literature, Fragoza has a gift for introducing a symbol at the beginning of a short story and allowing readers to linger on its distortion by the end. "Tortillas Burning" is about a young mother experiencing poverty and abuse, whose homemade tortillas stand in as evidence of her reclamation as she leaves Mexico for the United States. 

Though these 10 stories home in on different characters, the experience of being a woman--especially a poor or working-class woman--in a world rife with discrimination and gender violence emerges as a through line in the transnational collection. Fragoza endows characters with specific sights, smells and histories that place readers inside an unfolding scene--even unnamed characters like the girl trying to help support her family by working at an upscale cosmetics store in "Crystal Palace," or the woman in "The Vicious Ladies," who, upon returning to her hometown from college, falls in with the same crowd from middle school, despite always feeling out of place among them. 

One of the most surreal in the collection is the title story, which features a woman grappling with her daughter's devouring of her body, a commentary on the transfer of matriarchal and immigrant knowledge from one generation to the next. With winding plots and searing metaphors like this, Eat the Mouth that Feeds You expands and solidifies the Latinx literature canon. --Gwen Aviles, freelance writer

Discover: This transnational story collection full of magical realism and gothic elements centers on women who are trying to reclaim their lives and step into their power.

City Lights Books, $16.95, paperback, 144p., 9780872868335

The Souvenir Museum: Stories

by Elizabeth McCracken

The 12 stories collected in Elizabeth McCracken's The Souvenir Museum are skillfully crafted miniatures that feature unfailingly ordinary characters whose lives she uses to illuminate truths about love, longing and the elusive search for connection.

Beginning with the collection's opener, "The Irish Wedding," five of these stories feature a character named Jack, originally Lenny (the reason for his name change is revealed in the story "A Splinter"). Jack is born to an English family living in the United States, the only family member born outside England, something that makes him "a sort of Englishman, sort of American," and a fact that seems to influence his identity fundamentally. Several of Jack's stories include his partner, Sadie, who "wanted love so badly the longing felt like organ failure," and says her name is short for "Sadness." Jack thinks of himself as someone who has a "cactus soul," one that "need[s] water, too, but it could wait."

But McCracken (BowlawayThunderstruck) isn't content to remain in one spot, and her stories feature exotic locales like an uninhabited island off the Scottish coast in "Proof," where a father and son embark on a puffin-watching expedition two months after the death of their wife and mother that's as much about father-son dynamics as it is about the hunt for rare birds.

The personal discoveries unearthed by characters like these may seem inconsequential, but they are anything but that. They're the stories of choices, turning points and epiphanies that are the stuff of life itself, and of indelible moments Elizabeth McCracken preserves in these unpretentious tales. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: In a dozen stories, Elizabeth McCracken excels at capturing the kinds of moments that often escape our notice.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 256p., 9780062971289


by Amélie Nothomb, trans. by Alison Anderson

Prolific writer Amélie Nothomb (Tokyo FiancéePétronille), who's published a book annually since her 1992 debut, chooses Jesus as her 2019 protagonist in Thirst, her sixth title translated by Alison Anderson. At just 96 pages, Thirst is an easy single-sitting book, but its sly irreverence encourages repeat readings.

Nothomb sticks vaguely to the known script: Pontius Pilate sentences Jesus, he bears his cross, he's crucified with two thieves, he dies, he rises. But here, Nothomb grants Jesus first-person intimacy as "the most incarnate of human beings." Diverging dramatically from the recognizable, Jesus reveals his deepest thoughts with humor, fear, misgiving, but mostly aching honesty. He also proves himself a Proust fan.

During his imprisoned final night--even as the Gospels insist "this night I am writing from does not exist"--Jesus asserts new truths: he misses Joseph; Mary is a "far better person" than he; he loves Mary Magdalene (he called her Madeleine because he didn't like double names and "it's never a good idea to confuse your sweetheart with your mother"). He dares to dream of a future in which he lives, and he refuses water so he might arm himself with thirst as preparation for the tortures ahead, because thirst "can become so great that all other suffering will be deadened."

Nothomb, a baroness who has rewritten her own provenance story (she alleges Japanese birth despite Belgian records), seems rather practiced in embellishing history. With Thirst, she entices lucky readers with a dissenting, potentially heretical, refreshingly fascinating interpretation of an all-too-familiar life. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: A refreshing and irreverent glimpse at Jesus's most unguarded human thoughts, from his condemnation by crucifixion to his everlasting resurrection.

Europa Editions, $15, paperback, 96p., 9781609456603

The Passenger

by Ulrich Alexander Boschwitz, trans. by Philip Boehm

In this restored version of his novel, nearly lost in the late 1930s, Ulrich Alexander Boschowitz delivers a vivid and disquieting account of German society's deterioration in the aftermath of the Kristallnacht pogroms. At the novel's outset, Otto Silbermann has fared better than many other Jews in Berlin, as an affluent businessman and a veteran of the Great War. Otto's middle-class respectability has shielded him from the worst of the Nazi party's encroachments. But in November 1938, as widespread acts of antisemitic violence erupt across Germany, Otto's illusions of security are shattered: "I no longer have any rights," he reflects, "and it's only out of propriety or habit that so many act as though I did."

Otto narrowly evades the storm troopers who arrive at his home to arrest him, and boards one train after another in search of respite from his persecution. Turned away by trusted friends and associates, he finds that constant movement is his only chance at safety: "I am no longer in Germany. I am in trains that run through Germany. That's a big difference." As fear and exhaustion threaten to sabotage him, Otto tries to hold together a sense of himself that seems constantly on the verge of unraveling. Boschowitz relates this fight for self-preservation--not just of life, but of identity--in harrowing psychological detail.

Boschowitz's novel, originally drafted in the weeks immediately following Kristallnacht, was thought lost after the author's death in 1942. Recovered and revised in 2018 and appearing here in a translation from the original German by Philip Boehm, The Passenger is an arresting glimpse at a pivotal and disturbing moment in history. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A propulsive account of a German Jew's flight from persecution, this rediscovered novel thrums with moral urgency that sounds across decades.

Metropolitan Books, $24.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250317148

Mystery & Thriller

One Got Away

by S.A. Lelchuk

Nikki Griffin, defender of abuse victims from S.A. Lelchuk's explosive Save Me from Dangerous Men, returns in the unpredictable One Got Away with a case involving a family that's not exactly helpless--the billionaire Johannessens of San Francisco.

Martin Johannessen hires Nikki to intervene in the relationship between his 80-something mother and a much younger man, Geoffrey Coombs, who seems to be separating the family matriarch from her money at a rapid clip. Not long after Nikki starts following him, Coombs takes flight, with Nikki giving chase. Then she discovers Martin hasn't told her everything. Coombs isn't the only problem; the Johannessens have much more dangerous and deadly adversaries. And one of the bad guys could be part of the family.

Nikki is still a badass but this time operates more like a traditional private investigator, which she's licensed to do. She has a boyfriend who wants to move in with her but the idea gives her serious pause. There is a triangle of sorts between her and two men, but neither feels like the right fit for her. She is most riveting when not pondering about the men in her life but protecting people who need help, like the hyper-literate and lonely boy she encounters while hunting Coombs. Nikki also owns a bookstore, and fans will appreciate how she sees the world in a literary way, such as observing that a building "looked like some German pillbox in an Alistair MacLean novel." A woman of action who's also a book nerd? Don't let this one get away. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: PI and part-time vigilante Nikki Griffin tracks down dangerous men causing trouble for a wealthy family in this well-paced thriller.

Flatiron, $27.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250170279

The Last Thing to Burn

by Will Dean

Nighttime on a dusty road in the English countryside finds a young woman scurrying from a rundown farmhouse. Her progress is impeded by her hobbled right foot, frequent checks over her shoulder for a pursuer and a desperate search for help. Suddenly, a pair of Land Rover headlights light her up. Her captor has caught her again, in the hard-to-put-down thriller The Last Thing to Burn.

Official-looking men approach the parents of Thanh and her sister, Kim-Ly, to offer the teenagers well-paying jobs in England. They'd work during the day and study at night for professional careers. But when the sisters arrive from Vietnam, Thanh is sold to a farmer named Lenn. In his house, she must always leave the bathroom door open, she must cook the way his mother did and she must submit herself sexually to him. Any pushback and Lenn burns a personal object of Thanh's. Cameras in the farmhouse monitor her while Lenn works in the fields and the footage is reviewed nightly. Thanh has been patiently planning an escape for years, but now she's pregnant, which makes any escape even more treacherous, perhaps fatal.

Authors are expected to be creative, but Will Dean (Dark Pines) exceeds all reader expectations in channeling the mind of a young, sex-trafficked Vietnamese woman desperately trying to hold on to her sanity. Thanh's horrific treatment and the countless plot twists threatening her plans make her eventual escape tear-inducing and universally satisfying. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: Hobbled, raped and gaslighted, a young woman struggles to escape her captor in this vicious but mesmerizing thriller.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9781982156466

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Night Library of Sternendach: A Vampire Opera in Verse

by Jessica Lévai

Billed as a "vampire opera in verse," Jessica Lévai's debut novella is a deliciously swoony melodrama of star-crossed lovers told in five acts of Onegin sonnets.

In 1960s Germany, 19-year-old Kunigunde Heller yearns after books, magic and the Graf, a 400-year-old vampire lord with "a graceful, noble bearing." However, "the Heller clan, for generations/ Had hunted such abominations," and Kunigunde will one day succeed her grandmother Luzia as family head. Despite a fragile treaty in which the vampires swore not to kill humans if the vampire hunters would not hunt vampires, a relationship between the maiden and the monster is unthinkable. Nevertheless, with Luzia out of town, Kunigunde uses a request to visit the Graf's library as a pretext to see him, and maiden and monster strike up a passionate romance.

As dramatic and pathos-inducing as any plot Puccini or Verdi could have conjured, The Night Library of Sternendach has its own brand of enchantment. Its distinctive format raises the beauty-and-the-beast trope to deliriously romantic new heights. Despite the Hellers' family business, readers should expect the vibe to echo Romeo and Juliet more than Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Lévai mentions training, but all vampire hunting takes place offstage, and the narrative focuses primarily on relationships and emotional awakenings.

Occasional sly or self-aware asides contrast with the romantic angst and add to the impression of an authorial voice in total control and having a wonderful time. Paranormal romance fans longing for new blood will thrill to see fresh life breathed into the vampire/mortal pairing subgenre in such imaginative packaging. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: This audacious, romantic "vampire opera in verse" tells the star-crossed love story of a vampire and a vampire hunter entirely in Onegin sonnets.

Lanternfish Press, $16, paperback, 152p., 9781941360514

Biography & Memoir

Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I've Played

by Tovah Feldshuh

In the delightful Lilyville: Mother, Daughter, and Other Roles I've Played, Broadway powerhouse Tovah Feldshuh writes about the best part she ever had: that of the daughter of Lillian Kaplan Feldshuh, "my Olympian of common sense, my wise stone mountain." But that appreciation took a while to dawn.

Growing up in Scarsdale, N.Y., in the 1950s and '60s, Feldshuh fell in love with performing. Her lawyer father, Sidney, was supportive, but Lily, an educated, depressed housewife who was born in 1911 and was never encouraged to have a career, was aghast that her daughter wanted to pursue work as impractical as acting ("Why don't you just go into the kitchen, get my challah knife, stick it into my heart, and twist it!"). It wasn't Feldshuh's success that eventually led to Lily's mellowing; it was the death of her beloved Sidney, in 1996. Writes Feldshuh: "Before Dad's death, what I had witnessed were decades of Lily's silent courage and unexpressed feelings. When he died, and it pains me to say this, she bloomed." Lily bloomed to age 103.

A mother-daughter love story, a paean to Jewish identity and a lamentation over the limited horizons for women of Lily's generation, Lilyville is presented as a theater piece in three acts, with 16 highly entertaining scenes and two droll intermissions. The production is sprinkled with cameos (Barbra Streisand, Patti LuPone) and spiked with repartee worthy of the stage (Lily: "You are not going to a trade school"; Feldshuh: "But, Ma, it's Juilliard!"). --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This unremittingly charming memoir by Broadway powerhouse Tovah Feldshuh highlights the grandest role of her life: that of her mother's daughter.

Hachette Books, $29, hardcover, 320p., 9780306924026

Cousins: Connected Through Slavery, a Black Woman and a White Woman Discover Their Past--and Each Other

by Betty Kilby Baldwin, Phoebe Kilby

In Cousins: Connected Through Slavery, a Black Woman and a White Woman Discover Their Past--and Each Other, Betty Kilby Baldwin (Wit, Will & Walls) and Phoebe Kilby, descendants of a family that included both enslaved people and their enslavers, powerfully delve into their painful, intertwined ancestry.

The result is a stirring, potent reflection on recent American history. Kilby Baldwin, who is Black, grew up in rural Virginia in the 1940s-'60s--and was lead plaintiff in a case against her local board of education following the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision. Her school integration journey is fascinating, infuriating, inspiring and impossible to forget. Phoebe Kilby, who is white, grew up in Baltimore, Md., attending private, all-white schools. Eventually, her discovery of her family's history as enslavers--of Kilby Baldwin's ancestors, among others--leads her to Kilby Baldwin, and to a poignant reckoning with their painful shared past. Told in chapters from their alternating perspectives as well as via candid conversations between the women, Cousins also lays out the meaningful reconciliation and racial justice work to which they've devoted their lives.

In times of ongoing battles against racial injustice, readers may be searching for models for conceiving a more comprehensive, inclusive framing of U.S. history and enacting change--and they'll find it here. A bonus: the book's proceeds fund the Kilby Family Endowed Scholarship Fund, providing scholarships to descendants of persons enslaved "in recognition of their strength and resilience, and to contribute to making amends for their mistreatment." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: In this moving book of healing the past, two women, descendants of enslaved people and their enslavers, share their journeys toward reconciliation and transformation.

Walnut Street Books, $14.99, paperback, 225p., 9781947597426

Psychology & Self-Help

Spite: The Upside to Your Dark Side

by Simon McCarthy-Jones

A "strong" definition of the word spite, an act "where you harm another person and harm yourself in the process," does not leave much room for positivity. Yet the subtitle of Simon McCarthy-Jones's fascinating new work, Spite: The Upside of Your Dark Side, more than hints at how spite can be a constructive force. An associate professor of psychology and neuropsychology at Dublin's Trinity College, McCarthy-Jones has multiple degrees, papers and books to support his ideas about spite. That doesn't mean he declines the use of cinema's Terminator or Batman for occasional help explaining them.

Spite "runs deep," found in ancient myth and folklore, and most of us are familiar with its negative connotations. Yet if spite has no purpose since everyone loses, why was it not weeded out by natural selection long ago? McCarthy-Jones uses plain language, movies, humor and several economic "games" to "shine a light" on what he convincingly puts forth as an important tool for preventing injustice.

In the Ultimatum Game, player one is told player two in the room next door has $10 to share as they see fit. Player one can accept or reject player two's offer, but a rejection means both players get nothing. This seemingly simple game and its variations (the Dictator Game, the Joy of Destruction Game, etc.) are used ingeniously by McCarthy-Jones to explain both valid and improbable human behaviors, including voting against one's own best interests. Entertaining and illuminating, Spite explains how a society that depends on cooperation requires spite to thrive. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A well-reasoned and captivating look at how one of our darkest interactions may help society keep its cooperative ballast and hold unfairness in check.

Basic Books, $28, hardcover, 272p., 9781541646995

Children's & Young Adult

Victories Greater than Death

by Charlie Jane Anders

The teenage clone of an alien war hero navigates love and her birthright as she joins the fight against a murderous enemy in Victories Greater than Death, the captivating interstellar adventure YA debut from award-winning author Charlie Jane Anders (All the Birds in the Sky).

Tina is no ordinary teenager: disguised as a human and hidden on Earth, she is the clone of alien intergalactic war hero Captain Thaoh Argentian. She is also the last real hope for the Royal Fleet in their war against the Compassion, a genocidal terrorist group bent on eliminating all non-humanoid alien civilizations. Tina is eager to begin "claiming my legacy... the person I was meant to be," but when she finally joins the Fleet, she finds Argentian's accomplishments beyond daunting. To make her transition all the more difficult, she is, for some unknown reason, failing to regain Argentian's memories. Still, she is determined to help, and alongside her military peers and five of the most brilliant human teens from Earth, she embraces the fight against the deadly Compassion.

Victories Greater than Death is full of imagination, empathy and a diverse cast of characters. The coexisting alien civilizations vary in physical appearance and base philosophies, and their communities include different species. The self-titled "Earthlings"--Tina and her five human companions--fit perfectly into this intergalactic melting pot with contrasting cultures, ethnicities, sexual orientations and identities. United in their differences, the teens also seek love, self-efficacy and belonging in their intergalactic mission. Anders's multi-faceted and sparklingly distinct worldbuilding make this book a smashing read. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this electrifying YA debut from a Nebula Award winner, an alien war hero's teen clone embarks on an intergalactic mission to save several civilizations, all while finding romance and herself.

Tor Teen, $18.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 13-up, 9781250317315

Grandad's Camper

by Harry Woodgate

There are some fine picture books revolving around a child's experience of loss, but there aren't many designed to help kids understand someone else's grief. With the affecting Grandad's Camper, Harry Woodgate takes a step toward reducing that deficit. To do so, they enlist a groovy camper as a symbol of both the past and moving on.

"Every summer, I go to stay at my grandad's house by the sea," reports a girl who appears to be about eight. "My favorite thing to do," she explains, "is snuggle up on the sofa and listen as Grandad tells me about all of the amazing places he and Gramps would explore. One of the high points of Grandad and Gramps's life together was a road trip: 'We saw lots of different kinds of homes.... But we were happy with our little home on wheels.' " When the girl asks Grandad why he's no longer out there having adventures, he says, "Since Gramps died, I just don't feel like it." This gives her an idea.

The girl's narration doesn't sound like that of a child, and at times the dialogue seems mechanical. Nevertheless, the book has the potential to be an effective tool for teaching empathy, and the intergenerational bond at the story's center is a heartstrings puller. The art throughout Grandad's Camper is dashing, the layouts somehow chockablock but never too busy. Geometric elements create an orderliness that allows for the book's boundless palette. When Grandad reflects on his life with Gramps, his memories take the visual form of vignettes showing the younger versions of the men--Grandad white, Gramps with the same brown skin tone as the girl--on the road, at home or enjoying the great outdoors, always delighted to be together. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: This picture book, in which a girl helps her grandfather embrace life again following the death of Gramps, may well aid young readers in understanding others' grief.

little bee books, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-6, 9781499811933

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