Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, May 28, 2021


Harper: The Hidden Palace: A Novel of the Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

From My Shelf

Flatiron Books: Palace of the Drowned by Christine Mangan

Jimmy Patterson: Daughter of Sparta by Claire Andrews

Meditating Through the Pandemic

When the lockdown began 14 months ago, my customary approach to meditation just wasn't doing the trick. My mind was scattered and feeling the full effects of, as one friend put it, "Nothing to do and no time to do it in."

During one of my weekly calls with my teenage nephew, he mentioned that he was reading The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Harper One, $20.99). Thinking we could be a book club of two, I bought a copy. Sogyal Rinpoche describes the long lineage of Tibetan teachers and their spiritual beliefs, yes, but also the physical postures that ground them. As my body moved through different positions (hands over the knees, lightly placed, rather than palms up, for instance), my mind followed. Roughly 20 minutes a day was enough for the sense of calm to linger, and Rinpoche's tools allowed me to return to a peaceful state, as needed.

Total Meditation by Deepak Chopra (Harmony, $24) discusses ways to bring mindfulness to all of the day's activities, with practical steps to take--whether new to meditation or lifelong practitioners--to deepen awareness and conscious choice. Natalie Goldberg, who has always used writing to achieve maximum benefits from her meditation practice, braids together the riches of reading, writing and sitting in Three Simple Lines (New World Library, $22.95). On her journey to the birthplace of the haiku masters, Goldberg allows readers to be present with her at the very landscapes they memorialized.

Nearly a year into the pandemic, my father became very ill. The work I'd been doing through The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying took on a sense of urgency, and I immersed myself in the practice of Tonglen (the compassionate act of changing places with another). By the time I arrived at my father's bedside, I could be fully present with him. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness


Grand Central Publishing: Sizzling Summer Reads On Sale Now!


Book Candy

Unusual Words for Everyday Things

Betweenity, for example. Mental Floss looked up "56 delightfully unusual words for everyday things."

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For fans of the classic sitcom Friends, the New York Public Library recommended "the one with all the recommendations."

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"Unseen lockets reveal grief that haunted Charles Dickens's writing," the Guardian reported.

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Atlas Obscura explored "how researchers are able to discern the folds and read the contents of sealed 17th-century letterpackets."

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Lit Hub featured "Blood Meridian's 10 most McCarthian sentences."


Tachyon Publications: The Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie Liu


Great Reads

Rediscover: Eric Carle

Eric Carle, artist, illustrator and writer, died on May 23 at age 91. Carle was born in 1929 to German parents in the United States. At age six, Carle's homesick mother moved the family back to Germany, where his father was drafted into the German army at the outbreak of World War II. Near the end of the war, at age 15, Carle was forced to dig trenches on the Siegfried Line. In 1952, he returned to New York, was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Germany. Carle's big break was as illustrator to Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? (1967) by Bill Martin, Jr. His own first title, 1,2,3 to the Zoo, was published that year by Philomel Books. His most popular work is The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which focuses on a ravenous week in a caterpillar's life followed by its metamorphosis into a beautiful butterfly. First published in 1969, it has been translated into more than 70 languages and sold more than 55 million copies.

Carle's other titles, which altogether have sold more than 170 million copies, include Do You Want to Be My Friend? (1971), The Grouchy Ladybug (1977), Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me (1986), "Slowly, Slowly, Slowly," Said the Sloth (2002) and The Very Clumsy Cricket (2017). In 2018, Penguin Young Readers created The World of Eric Carle imprint, dedicated to his work. He is also published by Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins Children's Books and Macmillan. The Very Hungry Caterpillar: 50th Anniversary Golden Edition (Philomel, $22.99) includes a new afterword by Dolly Parton and an essay on the book's history with original sketches and historic photos.


New Harbinger Publications: Raising Feminist Boys: How to Talk with Your Child about Gender, Consent, and Empathy by Bobbi Wegner


The Writer's Life

Reading with... Lauren Hough

photo: Karl Poss IV

Lauren Hough was born in Germany and raised in seven countries and West Texas. She's been an airman in the U.S. Air Force, a green-aproned barista, a bartender, a livery driver and, for a time, a cable guy. Her work has appeared in Granta, the Wrath-Bearing Tree, the Guardian and HuffPost. She lives in Austin, Tex. Leaving Isn't the Hardest Thing: Essays (Vintage) is her first book.

On your nightstand now:

I've been slowly reading Icebound by Andrea Pitzer. There's something comforting in reading about people having a worse year than we are. At least we're not being stalked by polar bears. I've been reading back through Agatha Christie's novels trying to find the one I left behind, half-finished, in Munich. I'm on The Secret of Chimneys. It's not the one. But I remember nothing about the one I was reading. I'll know when I get to it. And I'm reading Taylor Stevens's The Vessel. I like being lost in several books at once, and I always have one thriller in the mix. If I read other books in between chapters, I can make them last longer.

Favorite book when you were a child:

My first love was Ramona Quimby, Age 8, the hero of misunderstood girls everywhere. My stepdad used to blame my naughtiness on that book, and I thought, well, it figures she'd get blamed for that, too. My grandma gave me a volume of Sherlock Holmes, and that was my favorite for as long as it lasted. I was obsessed with White Fang because I was convinced I, too, could tame a wolf, if I could only meet a wolf. Later on, it was On the Road, and I thought that was the greatest book ever written, probably because it was filthy and full of drugs.

Your top five authors:

I think Mary Karr was the first memoirist I ever read. She turned the truth into an artform. Zadie Smith blows me away every time. We're all down here just hacking away, and she's on another plane. I love Toni Morrison more than I have words to express. There was a time when Toni Morrison inspirational quotes were all the rage on Instagram, and I wondered if I was reading a different Toni Morrison. Kurt Vonnegut made me understand narrative and humor in an entirely new way. Considering I have a passage from "De Profundis" tattooed on my arm, I'd have to include Oscar Wilde.

Book you've faked reading:

Infinite Jest. I tried to read it. I tried so hard. Then I realized I don't have to. It's a lot easier to fake having read it than deal with an evangelist who needs you to read it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman. The book haunts me. Not only as a reader, but as a writer. It's poetic and strange and beautiful, and completely indescribable. It's everything a novel should be.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes. That cover's wild. You see something new every time you look at it. I remember passing it on the shelf and going back to pick it up. It needs to be picked up.

Book you hid from your parents:

I definitely hid Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. My mom always encouraged reading, but somehow I knew I wasn't supposed to be reading that one (because it was gay).

Book that changed your life:

I read Kitchen Confidential when I was a bartender, kept it stashed under the bar and would read it before customers showed up. Felt like the first time I'd read something by a real person who talked like me, working a job I could relate to.

Favorite line from a book:

Man, that's a tough one. Right now, "We're each of us alone to be sure. What can you do but hold your hand out in the dark?" Ursula Le Guin, from The Wind's Twelve Quarters. I'm asked often these days, why I write. I think that's why anyone writes, we're holding our hands out in the dark.

Five books you'll never part with:

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis: I find something new each time I pick it up.

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing: It's medicinal.

Changeling by Sandra Newman: It's out of print, but I found one on eBay and I'm never letting it go.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: My grandmother gave me this copy, and I think I love it more every time I read it.

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. My English teacher loaned me her copy, and I never gave it back. Still got an A. But I'll never part with it except to return it.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. I want to feel that again, the moment you meet the real Amy, the "how the f**k did she do that?"


Book Review

Fiction

Heaven

by Mieko Kawakami, trans. by Sam Bett, David Boyd


"Brutal" doesn't convey enough of the utter horror of Mieko Kawakami's sophomore import, Heaven. Translated from the Japanese by Sam Bett and David Boyd, who enabled the stupendous success of Kawakami's English debut novel, Breasts and Eggs, Heaven further confirms Kawakami's superb literary ability to expose and disturb.

A folded note tucked into a pencil case inaugurates an unlikely friendship between two middle-graders who have little in common beyond the relentless bullying both endure at school: "We should be friends," Kojima writes to her classmate, dismissively labeled "Eyes" by his tormentors for wearing glasses due to his amblyopia. The girls target Kojima for her unkempt presentation, but their attacks on her are comparatively milder than the outright assaults the 14-year-old narrator survives--the bullies' initial caution not to leave visible marks devolves into covering him with a split-open volleyball and viciously using his head for soccer. The abused pair maintain an in-school silence, but outside--via handwritten notes, occasional meetings, a summer museum daytrip--their relationship provides lifesaving respite. Their innocent, desperate bond delivers "happamine... it's, like, dopamine that comes out when you're really happy." But the threat of "unhappamine" is inevitable.

Kawakami is unblinking in her graphic depictions of what the children suffer--the punishments made more abhorrent with the understanding that the perpetrators, too, are children. The absence of adult oversight is also profoundly jarring. Even more remarkable is Kawakami's ability to move from such abject terror to the private, separate heaven to which the bullied pair occasionally escape. Despite the suffocatingly looming violence, the duo's intense, forced-to-be-mature inner lives will keep readers mesmerized to the final page. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Mieko Kawakami's powerhouse sophomore import is a graphic, intense revelation exposing the paralyzing terror of middle-school bullying.

Europa Editions, $23, hardcover, 192p., 9781609456214

Burn It All Down

by Nicolas DiDomizio


In the side-splitting, soul-searching debut novel Burn It All Down, Nicolas DiDomizio shares the coming-of-age story of a teen boy hiding out from the law with his partner-in-crime: his mom.

When 18-year-old Joey Rossi's first serious boyfriend cheats on him, he's heartbroken but not surprised. Gia, his 34-year-old mother and best friend, is furious on his behalf, because "emotions aren't something Mom and I are capable of experiencing separately." Gia herself has a history of getting cheated on by toxic men. When Gia's boyfriend jilts her for his wife, Joey drunkenly suggests a mother-son revenge binge. Sadly, their plan for garden-variety tire-slashing and dish-smashing goes horribly wrong when they accidentally burn down an entire house. Panicked, the duo makes a run for it, ending up at the remote home of Marco, Gia's ex and the only man ever to treat her right. While waiting for the other shoe to drop, Joey strikes up a clumsy romance with a cute, privileged neighbor boy and learns a truth about his mother that calls the dynamics of their entire relationship into question.  

Told in Joey's smart-mouthed, aspiring standup comic voice, this surprising, touching story of a dysfunctional, codependent and ironically lovable parent-child team has heart, laughs and YA-crossover potential. A steady stream of one-liners grounds Joey and Gia's over-the-top actions in levity and wry honesty. Out-of-control but utterly human, these "felons without a plan" face their demons in their own inimitable style. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this hilarious, moving debut, a teen and his mom go on the run after accidentally burning down her ex's house.

Little, Brown, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780316496957

Cheat Day

by Liv Stratman


In the plucky Cheat Day, Liv Stratman's debut novel, fad dieter Kit Altmann is determined to stick with her strict new 75-day eating regimen. But while she's trying to resist alluring foods, she's faced with an even more tantalizing temptation that won't fit on a plate.

On Valentine's Day and at Kit's insistence, she and her workaholic husband begin the Radiant Regimen: "It's an intensive wellness program," Kit informs her sister, Melissa, who believes that " 'program' is just a culty word for 'diet.' " A further test of Kit's willpower: she has just returned to her job as floor manager at Sweet Cheeks, the Brooklyn bakeshop that Melissa co-owns. But when Sweet Cheeks hires a tall, tattooed carpenter to build new shelves, Kit finds him more seductive than food: "I was married to a man I really loved. But for some reason, in the company of Matt Larsson, I felt my unhappiness--and my constant hunger--subside."

A chief satisfaction of the novel is the way it allows readers to peek around Kit's unreliable narration at what's really going on in her life. While Stratman overuses eye-rolling and other gestures to signal characters' attitudes, Cheat Day's mitigating pleasures include its ready humor and its fully fleshed portrait of Brooklyn's Bay Ridge neighborhood as it tries to maintain its identity while the hipsters move in. Despite its urban setting, Cheat Day has a leisurely pace, with Stratman taking her time to assemble her mise en place but finally delivering a fully baked, flavorful treat. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In this boisterous debut novel, a married fad dieter employed at a Brooklyn bakeshop finds that her greatest temptation isn't food.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781982140540

Mystery & Thriller

You Will Remember Me

by Hannah Mary McKinnon


Identity questions and layers of lies propel Hannah Mary McKinnon's third psychological thriller, which may begin slowly but soon heats up as it leads to a satisfyingly surprise finale. The quietly measured pace at the start of You Will Remember Me unfolds into complex character studies.

Jack Smith is "The Man from the Beach" because he wakes up on the beach in Brookmount, Md., with no memory, his identification and cell phone missing. With a dim memory of Maine, Jack travels to the small town of Newdale, where he learns his stepsister, Maya, has been frantically searching for him for two years. His real name is Asher Bennett, and he was involved in the deaths of two women. His worried girlfriend Lily also heads for Maine after discovering just how little she knew about "Jack" following her search of his home. Despite feeling betrayed, Lily acknowledges that she also has been lying about her past.

Each character navigates a sea of obsession and deception, with past crimes threatening to overwhelm the present. Asher's relationships with Maya and Lily appear to be strong but begin to fray as gossip and backbiting take their toll. A seemingly normal domestic situation disintegrates as each learns the other's secrets and Asher regains his memory. McKinnon (Dear Sister) slyly injects a strong sense of suspense as You Will Remember Me leads to an unexpected ending. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Discover: A man suffering from amnesia reconnects with his past in this gripping suspense story of obsession and deception.

Mira, $16.99, paperback, 352p., 9780778331810

The Prodigal Daughter

by Mette Ivie Harrison


Mettie Ivie Harrison is no stranger to highlighting the complicated intricacies of the Utah Mormon communities in which she lives. Her bestselling Linda Wallheim mystery series unmasked domestic abuse in The Bishop's Wife; anti-LGBTQIA doctrines in His Right Hand; polygamous patriarchy in For Time and All Eternities; immigration injustice and race-based inequity in Not of This Fold. In the fifth of a plotted 11 volumes, The Prodigal Daughter, Linda returns to champion the silenced.

Linda remains very much the titular bishop's wife, but her marriage is struggling--her five sons are grown, her feminism unwelcome and she's become "the villain in everything and Kurt [is] the poor, long-suffering hero who had to put up with a wayward, unrepentant wife." When their eldest son calls for her assistance in locating his daughter's beloved babysitter--15-year-old Sabrina, whose parents seem strangely unconcerned about her disappearance--Linda won't refuse. She quickly sleuths why Sabrina left home; locating her proves surprisingly easy. Keeping Sabrina safe will be a different challenge.

Throughout the series, "Mormonism [becomes] a dividing line." Harrison, who has distanced herself from formal church affiliation but considers herself " 'Mormon' in a broader, cultural sense of the term," has followed a seemingly untraditional path: she finished her Princeton Ph.D. at 23, she's a former professor and Huffington Post blogger, and a nationally ranked triathlete. She imbues her tenacious protagonist with her independence, and her own conflicts with religious dogma give her fiction indelible nuance. Readers won't find easy answers or even satisfying resolution here: that reality check continues to enhance her series with enduring authenticity. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: The fifth installment of Mette Ivie Harrison's perceptive Mormon mystery series continues to challenge religious dogma and doctrine with substantial authenticity. 

Soho Crime, $27.95, hardcover, 264p., 9781641292450

Romance

Playing the Palace

by Paul Rudnick


In this feel-good meet-cute, Carter Ogden is just scraping by: almost 30, recently heartbroken by a cheating ex-boyfriend, making ends meet (barely) as an "Associate Event Architect." He likens himself to St. Patrick's Cathedral, "silly and theatrical," and wants nothing more than to find a sense of purpose and meaning in his life that could live up to the spirit of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whom he idolizes.

Prince Edgar, also known as the Crown Prince of England, is one of the few "out dreamboats on such an international level." Unlike Carter, he is put together, polished and just about perfect in every way--or so it appears to those outside his inner circle.

The cross-Atlantic relationship between the two--condemned by everyone from Carter's Broadway-loving best friends to the actual Queen of England--forms the center of Paul Rudnick's Playing the Palace, as sparks fly, hearts grow and an international media storm kicks up around them. It's a "guy next door falls for royalty" story that's been done in other ways, but in Rudnick's capable hands, the story feels fresh and exciting. A playwright, screenwriter and essayist in addition to a novelist, Rudnick (Gorgeous; I Shudder) imbues every page of Playing the Palace with a sense of humor and quick-witted snark. It combines the best laugh-track pacing of a sitcom with the big-hearted story arc of a romantic comedy. The over-the-top storylines and characters are guaranteed to leave even the most cynical readers rooting for an improbable happily-ever-after. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A romantic comedy features a bumbling event planner in New York who falls for the prince of England in a novel full of wit, humor and big-hearted love.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 272p., 9780593099414

Graphic Books

Little Victories: Autism Through a Father's Eyes

by Yvon Roy


Yvon Roy's autobiographical Little Victories opens with what must be one of the most charming visual depictions of conception. Mark (Roy's alter-ego) and Chloe's union proves "magnificent": their relationship is joyous, their newborn son the wished-for "mini-me." But 18 months later, Oliver "still hasn't said a single word," leading the trio to visit an evaluation clinic that burdens them with an ominous diagnosis: autism. Mark dismisses "these meetings where the officials talk hot air like they're Nobel Prize winners," while he mourns a future that Oliver may never have and everything else he had hoped to share as father and son. His rage sends Chloe and Oliver packing--literally--until he's able to "stop feeling sorry for [himself]" and embrace what is possible. Working closely with Chloe despite a permanent split--"we're a family," they both promise--Mark advocates and encourages Oliver through the years with a rich, full life.

As affecting as the shaded black-and-white drawings are, Roy's occasional graceless moments are hard to overlook: an insensitive use of Chinese characters (some even made up) to denote what he can't understand; casual, careless misogyny ("I exchanged [the ballerina] for a journalist"). Disappointments aside, Roy's artistry is irresistible, as he agilely reveals Mark's raw, intimate, soul-baring journey. Mark's frustrations, especially with an expert system that doesn't fit his family's needs, lead him away from conventional methods as he relies on his own intuition to communicate and bond with Oliver. Roy makes no claims about how to parent an autistic child; instead, he documents how one father and one autistic son dealt with difficult challenges toward greater understanding. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Yvon Roy's intimate graphic memoir adroitly balances the joys and challenges of learning to parent an autistic son.

Titan Comics, $19.99, paperback, 152p., 9781787732308

Food & Wine

Sea Salt and Honey: Celebrating the Food of Kardamili in 100 Sun-Drenched Recipes: A New Greek Cookbook

by Chloe, Olivia and Nicholas Tsakiris


Readers will savor a feast for the eyes and the palate in Sea Salt and Honey: Celebrating the Food of Kardamili in 100 Sun-Drenched Recipes: A New Greek Cookbook. With an abundance of full-page color photos of their tiny Greek village, the surrounding Taygetos mountains and the bright blue sea, it seems like a bonus that author Nicholas Tsakiris and his daughters, Chloe and Olivia, fit 100 recipes (plus sumptuous food photos!) in their book.

A native of Crete, Nicholas lived for decades in the United States, where his daughters were born. On a trip back to Greece he discovered Kardamili, where he feels "simultaneously on an endless vacation and also at home." Olivia eventually joined him, and Chloe visits from New York. "Rooted in the seasons," their food is "healthful, fresh, and uncomplicated," and doesn't hew to a "typical" Greek menu. For example, a favorite is their version of Buffalo chicken wings: roasted cauliflower florets with a sea salt and honey hot sauce that includes extra-virgin olive oil (a staple in their kitchen) and three types of chilis.

"Or substitute" thoughtfully appears in recipes when ingredients are regional or intimidating, but the inviting dishes really are uncomplicated, as promised. From snacks through teas and desserts, these 100 recipes are steeped in a deep affection for Kardamili's lifestyle and bounty. Even if sea salt gathered from the local beach, or honey "from the wildflowers blanketing the mountains," are out of reach, cooks around the world will eagerly re-create the tastes of this exceptional corner of Greece. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: This inviting cookbook captures the beauty and relaxed lifestyle of a small Greek village, along with the fresh and healthful flavors of the local bounty.

Harper Design, $35, hardcover, 272p., 9780062917355

Devour NYC: A Cookbook

by Greg Remmey, Rebecca West-Remmey


Whether someone craves a perfect burger, the most moreish wings or the sweet stuff, there is nothing like comfort food. In Devour NYC: A Cookbook, Greg Remmey and Rebecca West-Remmey, the team behind the riveting @DevourPower social media outlets and blog, prove that New York City does comfort food right. This book features 50 of the city's most decadent, most drool-worthy combinations, broken down and simplified so that a taste of the Big Apple can be assembled and enjoyed at home.

The seven chapters cover sandwiches, burgers and hot dogs, pizza, Mexican food, wings, appetizers and desserts from well-known favorites such as East Village Pizza, Dos Toros Taqueria, Harlem Public and Macchina, with beautiful photography sure to provoke a healthy appetite. For those who'd rather not tackle these in their own kitchens, Devour NYC serves as a guidebook for a food tour around New York City. No combination is off limits: for those who cannot choose between seafood and a burger, the Shrimp Big Mac 'n' Cheese Burger from Flip 'N Toss deserves a second look. Can't decide between cookies or cake for dessert? Schmackary's Funfetti Cookie Cakes are sure to be a crowd pleaser. Mac & cheese gets the pepperoni pizza treatment, and there is culinary fusion in spades, across cuisines and meals, including bulgogi cheesesteak tacos, a scrapple and egg burger, and Dominican pizza. There are even instructions to make your own burrata. Devour NYC is a foodie's dream come true. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: Greg Remmey and Rebecca West-Remmey provide a mouthwatering tour of the most decadent comfort food New York City has to offer--from the comfort of your own kitchen, no MetroCard required.

Page Street Publishing, $21.99, paperback, 152p., 9781645671978

Social Science

The Day the World Stops Shopping: How Ending Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves

by J.B. MacKinnon


An eloquently crafted and timely read, The Day the World Stops Shopping: How Ending Consumerism Saves the Environment and Ourselves by J.B. MacKinnon is structured around the existential dilemma at the heart of 21st-century consumerism: we must stop shopping and over-consuming resources to save the planet, but to do so would destroy the world economy. MacKinnon points to evidence of unusually clear skies across cities during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown to illustrate the speed and scale at which a reduction in consumerism can positively affect the climate.

Against the backdrop of unsustainable economic growth--the U.S. uses the planet's resources at a rate 1.7. times faster than it can regenerate--MacKinnon makes a credible case for drastically reducing consumption. He visits communities where social and economic life are not centered on consumerism--the Kalahari Desert in Namibia, Ecuador and Japan's Sado Island--and shares inspirational stories of people who have a deeper, more meaningful relationship to their limited material possessions and a more balanced attitude toward leisure and work than do earn-and-spend cultures in wealthier countries. The hunters of the Kalahari, for example, intentionally live "below capacity," taking from the land only what they need and leading enviable, contented lives of "affluence without abundance."

A Canadian journalist and author, MacKinnon's (Dead Man in Paradise; The Once and Future World) persuasive reporting, and the encouraging story of his personal quest to stop shopping, will motivate readers critically to review their own consumer habits. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Discover: A journalist crafts an eloquent call to scale back shopping and consumption in wealthy countries, thereby allowing our exhausted planet a chance to heal and regenerate.

Ecco, $28.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062856029

Children's & Young Adult

Pumpkin

by Julie Murphy


An aspiring drag queen grows to embrace his body and individuality in this winning YA contemporary novel.

Waylon Brewster, who is fat and "the kind of gay that announces itself and asks for a wide berth," has always stood out in his small West Texas hometown. Waylon is counting down the days until he can transform into "Waylon Stage Three": graduate, move to Austin with his twin sister, Clementine, and live his truth. For now, Waylon wants to keep a low profile, but a video of him auditioning for the drag competition Fiercest of Them All goes viral. When, as a "joke," Waylon is nominated for prom queen and Hannah, Clementine's Afro-Dominican girlfriend, is nominated for prom king, the two decide they'll show the haters by running for the crown and winning. Finally, Waylon steps into the spotlight and learns to live for the present after spending years "waiting for my moment."

Julie Murphy (Dumplin'; Puddin') populates Pumpkin with a captivating cast of supporting characters, including Clementine and Waylon's eccentric grandmother; the annoyingly handsome prom king nominee Tucker Watson; and Waylon's "self-proclaimed frenemy," Kyle Meeks. Waylon's relationships with these characters form the emotional core of Pumpkin; moments of humor and warmth work together with commentary on body positivity and gay rights. Waylon often feels like "I have to offer something... that absolves me of being fat and gay," but, happily, finds self-acceptance through his drag alter ego, Miss Pumpkin Patch. Murphy celebrates Waylon and drag as "more than makeup and gowns and bodysuits and tucking and sequins and wigs. [It's] about what you exude." --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer

Discover: A fat, gay teen makes waves in his rural Texas hometown when he runs for prom queen in this humorous and joyful YA contemporary novel.

Balzer + Bray, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9780062880451

We All Play

by Julie Flett


In a note at the back of We All Play, the Cree-Métis author/illustrator Julie Flett writes that when she was growing up, "my dad shared a lot about our relationship to animals and to each other, including the land, plants, beetles, the earth, wind, water, and sky." We All Play is a picture book showcase of that reciprocity. It stars cavorting kids and animals keen to illustrate the idea that, as Flett puts it, "we are all connected, living in relationship and in care to one another, in kinship"--or, to use the Cree word the author provides, wâhkôhtowin.

"Animals hide and hop/ and sniff and sneak/ and peek and peep." So begins a trio of animal-centered riffs that conclude with the refrain "We play too!/ kimêtawânaw mîna." The illustrations corresponding to the refrain show kids carrying out the human version of the animal actions demonstrated on previous pages. After all that rollicking, who wouldn't be tuckered out? Quite understandably, the book's concluding action verb-packed riff ends with a sober pronouncement: "And slowly, side by side, animals fall asleep./ We do too. nîstanân mîna.../ zzzz."

Flett (Birdsong; Johnny's Pheasant) delivers her customary clutter-free layouts, ensuring that the reader's focus will be squarely on the gamboling or otherwise occupied children and critters. All creatures are set against off-white backdrops harboring a contextualizing detail or motif. At the back of the book is a list of the featured animals' names in both English and, in singular and plural form, Cree, as well as a basic pronunciation guide for the Cree words. The animal-names list also includes the "younger, smaller, cuter" form of every creature's name in Cree. But let's be clear: as far as "cuter" goes, all of Flett's critters would qualify. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: This jubilant picture book uses gamboling animals and kids to illustrate the Cree concept of wâhkôhtowin, or the kinship among living things.

Greystone Kids, $17.95, hardcover, 48p., ages 3-7, 9781771646079

That Thing About Bollywood

by Supriya Kelkar


Family and friend struggles lead to a dramatically (and magically) altered universe for Sonali, an Indian American sixth-grader, in this poignant, entertaining middle-grade novel by Supriya Kelkar (American as Paneer Pie; Ahimsa).

Sonali has stuck to her decision never to share her feelings, ever since a disastrous family party five years ago when she presented a poster board display titled "Why Parents Shouldn't Fight." "All it led to was uncomfortable stares, being made fun of, upset parents, and nothing changing anyway." As the years go by and her parents' fighting escalates, Sonali knows for sure that the one thing she doesn't want to do is get as emotional as her little brother does--so emotive that she believes he "would be a perfect fit in a Bollywood movie." Although Sonali loves her family's weekly Bollywood movie nights at home, the "loud, exaggerated, and colorful" displays make her uncomfortable. So Sonali is horrified when she wakes up the morning after her parents announce they are separating to find that her life has become a Bollywood movie. Suddenly, she can't stop herself from performing flamboyant dance routines and bursting into song any time her emotions start to get out of control.

Supriya Kelkar uses the distinct lens of Bollywood films to explore the adolescent challenge of balancing one's emotional life--Sonali is a literary every-tween, watching in horror as her body and voice betray her. Take the inherent awkwardness of middle school, add in a family crisis and a girl's dogged commitment not to lose emotional control, frame the entire drama in Freaky Friday-like magic, and you have a script for a middle-grade novel that will have readers cringing in empathy one minute and laughing the next. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: An Indian American girl falls under a spell that makes her sing and dance like a Bollywood movie star every time she suppresses her emotions, in this hilarious and harrowing middle-grade novel.

Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 8-12, 9781534466739

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