Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Harper: Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver

From My Shelf

A Winter of Rest

Amidst short cold days and longer, colder nights, I've been thinking about what winter can teach us--what Katherine May calls on us to notice in her contemplative and powerful book Wintering: The Power of Rest and Retreat in Difficult Times (Riverhead, $24). "We have seasons when we flourish," she writes, "and seasons when the leaves fall from us, revealing our bare bones." May's use of "wintering" is somewhat metaphorical, but winters, be they emotional or seasonal, call on us to slow down, redefine our concept of time (and what we do with it), get more sleep and rest.

While the ways of the modern world don't allow for full hibernation--my kid still needs to eat, even when it's cold out, and my inbox still pings with new messages, even when I'm tired--I've been heeding May's call to be slow in this season, to rethink how I use my time, and what that means. I'm re-reading the six contemplative essays in Zadie Smith's deceptively slim collection, Intimations (Penguin, $10.95), and thinking of what nature can teach us via Aimee Nezhukumatathil's World of Wonders (Milkweed, $25). I keep coming back to "Last Days" in Mary Oliver's Devotions (Penguin, $20): "Things are/ changing; things are starting to/ spin, snap, fly off into."

In the much-lauded Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (Milkweed, $35), I was again reminded of what it might mean to winter differently: "In winter when the green earth lies resting beneath a blanket of snow, this is the time for storytelling." What stories are we telling ourselves about this moment? And what stories might we hear if we slow down long enough to listen? --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

Thomas Nelson: A Very Dinosaur Birthday by Adam Wallace, illustrated by Christopher Nielsen

Book Candy

10 Self-Improvement Titles for the New Year

In time for new year resolutions, author Anna Katharina Schaffner picked her top 10 books about self-improvement for the Guardian.


New York City libraries released their top checkouts of 2021.


Mental Floss attempted to dissect "George R.R. Martin's original plan for A Song of Ice and Fire."


"Browse a huge collection of prison newspapers: 1800-2020," courtesy of Open Culture.


Wikipedia's first edit, made by its founder 20 years ago, sold as an NFT for $750,000, Design Taxi noted.

I Am Golden

by Eva Chen, illus. by Sophie Diao

An Instagram executive and Google Doodler might not seem to be a literary match, but author Eva Chen (Juno Valentine series) and illustrator Sophie Diao (I Am the Wind) prove to be an ideal pairing in their fabulous first picture book collaboration, I Am Golden. "We named you Mei," adoring parents explain to the infant in their arms, "Not May like the month. Měi, which means beautiful. Like the country we live in now--Měi Guó, America." A narrative immediately emerges through perfectly matched text and illustration: immigrant parents whose native language is not English but Chinese, whose hopes for a new life in a new country are embodied in the very name of their U.S.-born child. Every gorgeous spread in Chen and Diao's co-creation maintains this exceptional and precise text and art symbiosis.

To her parents, growing Mei is wondrous, with "eyes that point toward the sun... hair as inky black and smooth as a peaceful night sky... skin brushed with gold." While she might sound almost like a fairy-tale apparition, Diao's illustrations make sure the youngest readers immediately recognize Mei as simply another little girl in her blue bib overalls, sitting patiently (enough) while her floral-aproned mother prepares to cut her hair. To showcase "the hopes and dreams of [her] ancestors" that Mei's parents imbue in their maturing child, Diao presents a tabletop of family photographs. The pictures feature multiple generations and time periods, some are black and white, some have faded with age, some suggest new beginnings. The brightest photo is a visit to the iconic White House during summer vacation, the corner digitally stamped "08 21." (Diao nimbly reveals most of the actual sourced photos in the backmatter.)

Mei becomes "teacher and translator" for her parents, as an English-speaking, culturally adapted conduit who can bridge the daunting "unknown." Diao places the family in the middle of an explosive city scene, not unlike Manhattan's Times Square. Mei buzzes with energy, an arm raised, a foot about to launch her upward, but she's a sharp contrast to her parents who appear worried. Diao cleverly turns the family tableau upside down--literally--by adding a reflective scene that at first glance might seem like a mirror image caught in a puddle. Look closer, though, because Diao shows that beneath the appearance of troubled concern are two parents proud of their daughter's ease and confidence. Outside of the protection of family looms loneliness, ostracism and racism. But "there is power in being different," Mei's parents remind her, "You are made of dragons, of phoenixes, of jade rabbits, and of monkey kings," the many symbols of her ancestral heritage. In Diao's interpretation, a delighted Mei flies through a golden sky on the back of a dragon, a phoenix soaring alongside.

Chen astutely points out the ironic perils of being othered: "It's a strange world we live in--people will call you different with one breath and then say that we all look the same with the next angry breath." And yet, Mei lays claim to a collective Asian American history filled with Chinese American pioneers who have paved their own golden paths. Diao illustrates images of Michelle Kwan, Maya Lin, Jeremy Lin, David Henry Hwang (as a nod to his subversive play, M. Butterfly) across a double-page spread, even including a meta-wink adaptation of her own Google Doodle (January 22, 2020) honoring the 97th anniversary of Anna May Wong's first leading role.

Of course, no celebration would be complete without food, as family near and far "gather to hope, to dream, and to sing your praises, Mei." Eager hands reach for "plate upon plate of delectable deliciousness" to nourish their bellies as "all our stories" nourish their hearts. Amid Mei's memorable milestones, Chen gently reminds readers of the necessity "to pay tribute to those we've loved and lost along the way as oceans and worlds and cultures separated us."

In her author's note, Chen describes how I Am Golden came from a declaration of joyful empowerment: "as a love letter to my parents, to their dedication, strength, and commitment to their family." Yet the initial impetus began in frustration and fear, during the Covid-19 pandemic and a "meteoric rise in anti-Asian sentiment." Chen actively, anxiously warned her own parents, "telling them to wear sunglasses (and hats... and scarves) so that people wouldn't see that they were Asian." But even in her alarmed caution, what Chen recognized was her parents' courage, their sacrifice. "Countless other immigrants" have made the same sacrifice for their children, which is "the seed" of the idea for this book. Her text is both homage and celebration, her sentences crisp and accessible, populated with validating verbs--"we see," "we know," "you are"--and affirming actions--"unfurling," "unapologetic."

Author and artist fervently hope their readers will take to heart the titular affirmation. In cultures around the world, gold is the ultimate standard--valuable jewelry, winning medals. But for immigrants specifically, the United States was where the streets were paved with gold, where opportunities waited on Gold Mountain, a sobriquet especially used by peripatetic Asian Americans. Chen and Diao weave the inherent value of the child throughout, aiming to encourage Asian American children to claim, "I am golden." --Terry Hong

Feiwel & Friends, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., 9781250842053

Eva Chen and Sophie Diao: A Collaboration of Joy and Empowerment

Eva Chen
(photo: Leo Faria)
Sophie Diao
(photo: Jake Hubert)

Eva Chen and Sophie Diao have yet to meet in real life, but they already share important commonalities: both are American daughters of Chinese immigrants, both have multiple book credits, and both are multi-tasking multi-talents. Chen is a children's author (Juno Valentine and the Magical Shoes) and is head of fashion partnerships at Instagram, and Diao (I Am the Wind) is an illustrator and creator of Google Doodles. Their picture book I Am Golden was just published by Feiwel & Friends. Here they get together virtually to talk about parallels in their lives and in their art.

I Am Golden is your first collaboration--how did that come about? You've both published picture books with other creators; what was this working process like?

Eva Chen: This book came together super quickly from a tiny seed of an idea. It came about during a time of incredible conflict for the AAPI community--Covid, the Atlanta shootings--and I wanted to write a book to celebrate the experience of being Chinese American, the strength of the immigrant story and the joy to be found in being yourself.

I wanted a more poetic style and, as usual, I turned to Instagram to be inspired. I had stumbled upon Sophie's Instagram, and I sent her page to my team at Macmillan and said, "she [is] the one!" We collaborated using Instagram, Zoom and text, and it felt really effortless. 

Sophie Diao: This was my third picture book, and the first time I worked with the author directly from the beginning! Right after I got the manuscript, Eva and I hopped on a video call. I learned about her inspiration for writing the book and her experience growing up as a daughter of Chinese immigrants in America, which was very similar to my own experience. I saw a lot of myself in Mei. Right after our call, I got to work sketching character designs for Mei, including options for her haircut (styled and sheared by her mom at home, of course) and her outfit (based on the denim overalls that were a standard in my, and I think also Eva's, elementary school wardrobe). The book came together very swiftly, so being able to communicate quickly with Eva and the team was crucial. In the end, I'm super happy with how our collaboration turned out!

You have such interesting day jobs: Eva, you're director of fashion partnerships at Instagram (and creator of the "Baby Giraffe" pose!); Sophie, you're an illustrator and create Google Doodles. What inspired you to add bookmaking to your many accomplishments?

Chen: I grew up experiencing the world through books. If you asked me when I was seven what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would've said an author and illustrator. The latter, for sure, will not happen. When I had my daughter, I spent a LOT of time reading children's books. There were several wonderful books focused on empowerment and feminism, but I thought there was a way to marry fashion into it as well--and Juno Valentine was born. Since Juno, I've written eight books total. Writing children's books sparks so much joy for me.

Diao: I was a very shy, introverted kid who moved around a LOT--I went to six different elementary schools. I didn't have the same friends or environment to ground me in my childhood, so I turned to books and drawing, which I could bring with me no matter where I went. I think this is why I've always been so fascinated with picture books and why I was so keen to illustrate and maybe even write my own. Another great thing about picture books is how tactile they are--the feel and smell of the pages, the excitement of cracking open the cover and seeing what's inside. Each page turn is a moment of suspense, and it's something you don't always get anymore in a world where everything (including Google Doodles) is digital!

You've both talked about the power of books growing up. What do you hope your young audiences will take away from reading this book?

Chen: Like Sophie, I found comfort in books as a young child because I felt like a stranger who lived in between worlds. My parents are immigrants and we spoke only Chinese at home, I spent my weekends in Flushing, Queens, and spent time with cousins and family instead of on playdates with friends. And like many kids in the '80s and '90s, when there was less awareness, less diversity, fewer hard conversations... ignorant kids bullied me. That stuck with me all the way until now! In writing this book, I wanted to create something that will celebrate children, help them feel the joy of being uniquely themselves as well as make them beautiful and strong.

Diao: Something I really love about the book is the voice in which it's narrated: from a proud, hopeful parent to their beloved child. My parents learned English when they arrived in America, and my Chinese is not amazing (despite my parents' best efforts), so the language barrier was always a big obstacle when I was growing up. I would watch American TV shows and see these beautiful, tight-knit families where Mom and Dad would sit down with their kids and say, "I love you," and everyone would talk deeply about their feelings. As a result, I felt like that was something I was missing--but I think for many parent/child relationships with a language barrier, the way in which love is shown is much more action and service-oriented. Reading this book and hearing the strong and clear hopes the parents have for their child, I can really put myself in my parents' shoes and start to understand what they might have been thinking and feeling when they were raising me and my brother. I hope that this book provides that same moment of clarity and understanding for other kids--maybe there's a language barrier at home, or maybe it's just hard to talk about feelings--and helps them to really know that they are special and loved.

Eva writes in her author's note about the terrifying rise of anti-Asian violence during this pandemic. How are you both coping as Asian Americans out in the world?

Chen: Yes, it was a tough year, to be totally frank. On top of being in lockdown with two young children and struggling with the travails of homeschooling (I have so much empathy for teachers who had to teach online, the Herculean efforts!), I was worried immediately when I heard that people were calling it the "China Virus." I thought there could be a rise in hate crimes related to Covid and I asked my parents--who are elderly and Chinese and therefore the group most easily victimized--to disguise their "Asian-ness." Which is so sad. I remember being in a store buying bread. Someone saw me and said something derogatory... the rage I felt. Writing this book has helped with turning the narrative of fear or confusion to empowerment.

Diao: It has been very eye-opening to see how quickly the veneer of politeness can drop and fear can step in. My extended family is still in China, so we would frequently get worried messages from them in WeChat telling us to be careful, to stay inside, to protect ourselves. Like Eva mentioned earlier, this book was written in the aftermath of a horrific rise in anti-Asian violence; we've had to face the uncomfortable truth that in some people's minds, we're other, less than. We can't fold, though--we need to be strong, stand up for ourselves and not accept anything less than we deserve. As a child, I spent many years living in communities where I was the only Asian kid and I tried to erase my identity to blend in. Eventually I moved to the Bay Area and was surrounded by other children of Asian immigrants, and I was blown away; over the years since, I've learned not only to be okay with my Chineseness, but to be proud of it, to talk about it openly and find joy in it. That feeling really peaked when I was illustrating this book. --Terry Hong

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Jonathan Spence

Jonathan Spence, an English-born American scholar and author specializing in Chinese history whose most popular book, The Search for Modern China, was based on a course he taught at Yale University, died December 25 at age 85. He wrote reviews, essays and more than a dozen books on China, particularly in his areas of expertise: the Qing dynasty, modern China and relations between China and the West. Spence often used biographies to examine wider cultural trends and explored the ways many Western attempts to change China have been frustrated. He taught at Yale for nearly 40 years, including as Sterling Professor of History from 1993 until his retirement in 2008. He was president of the American Historical Association between 2004 and 2005, received numerous honorary degrees from institutions in the U.S. and China, was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1988, and in 2010 delivered the annual Jefferson Lecture at the Library of Congress, which, according to the National Endowment for the Humanities, is "the highest honor the federal government confers for distinguished intellectual achievement in the humanities."

In addition to The Search for Modern China (1989), Spence's books include To Change China: Western Advisers in China, 1620-1960 (1969), The Gate of Heavenly Peace: The Chinese and Their Revolution 1895-1980 (1982), Mao Zedong (1999) and Treason by the Book (2001). His final work was Return to Dragon Mountain: Memories of a Late Ming Man (2007). --Tobias Mutter

Chronicle Books: Oh No, the Aunts Are Here by Adam Rex, illustrated by Lian Cho

Book Review


The Fortune Men

by Nadifa Mohamed

One of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British history is the subject of The Fortune Men by Nadifa Mohamed (The Orchard of Lost Souls), a finalist for the 2021 Booker Prize. In 1952, Somali immigrant Mahmood Mattan was executed in Wales for the murder of a Jewish shopkeeper. The Mahmood in this riveting fictionalized account is "a quiet man, always appearing and disappearing silently," a trait that earns him the nickname the Ghost. Married to a white woman, Mahmood has worked as a sailor and still hangs around the Cardiff docks, but his recent employment has been confined to "foundry work and poky little boilers in prisons and hospitals." When Violet Volacki, a Jewish spinster and "modest Cardiff shopkeeper," is murdered at the door of her store, Mahmood is taken into custody.

What follows is a combination murder mystery, courtroom drama and trenchant commentary on racism. The Fortune Men is a sweeping indictment of British jurisprudence and the many forms prejudice can take: the detective determined to bring Violet's killer to justice even though Violet was "obviously not a Christian"; white people who hated it when a Black person "took one of their women" for his wife. Most poignant of all is the portrait of Mahmood, a proud Muslim who retains his hope and humanity even in the face of the most brutal of injustices. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer

Discover: A Somali immigrant in 1950s Wales is arrested for the murder of a Jewish shopkeeper in a memorable portrait of race and resentment.

Knopf, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780593534366

Running Press Kids: Nerdcrush by Alisha Emrich

Brown Girls

by Daphne Andreades

Daphne Palasi Andreades's titular Brown Girls live in "the dregs of Queens." They are Jamaican, Dominican, Pakistani, Filipino, Chinese. They are ambitious and bold and sometimes afraid of what the world might hold for them. They tell their story in Andreades's debut novel with a blazingly original collective voice.

Brown Girls begins when the girls are navigating the hallways of elementary and middle school, walking the neighborhood together. In brief chapters with titles like "Family Parties" and "Your Own Kind," she takes readers through the girls' shared journey to young adulthood. Some of them leave Queens for prestigious high schools in Manhattan, making the trek on the train to a different life, a different world, every weekday for years.

Andreades follows her characters through college, graduate school, additional training for their careers as nurses, teachers, bookkeepers, PR executives, professors. She sensitively explores the rifts that arise between the girls who build lives in the neighborhood--out of choice or necessity--and the girls who manage to get out. In some ways, Andreades's characters are of course particular: brown girls from immigrant families who hail from all over the globe, living at the back end of Queens in the early years of the 21st century. In some ways their stories are absolutely their own: Nadira, Kim, Zainab, Trish, fighting for their individuality in a society that tries to meld them together.

Told with crackling prose and vivid detail, with humor so sharp it cuts, Brown Girls is a tribute to a neighborhood most people forget, and a group of young women determined to make their mark on an indifferent world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: This fiercely original debut novel tells the stories of young women from an immigrant Queens neighborhood.

Random House, $24, hardcover, 224p., 9780593243428


by Xavier Navarro Aquino

Velorio is an ambitious, movingly lyrical debut novel from Xavier Navarro Aquino that looks at the real-life tragedy of Hurricane Maria's impact on Puerto Rico through a grief-soaked, phantasmagorical lens. The novel alternates between bitter despair and glimmers of hopefulness and community, reflecting on the extent to which Puerto Ricans feel abandoned and abused, both by their own government and by the rest of the world. Velorio begins soon after the hurricane subsides, when Camila finds that her sister, Marisol, has been killed by a mudslide. Camila sets off to find "the people that would return things back to how they were," taking the corpse of her sister, who Camila cannot believe is dead even as Marisol begins to decompose.

Marisol's fate is only a hint of the tragic strangeness to come, which draws multiple characters into the makeshift cult leader Urayoán's attempt to form a utopian community in the mountainous center of Puerto Rico. The effort is ominous from the start, with Urayoán employing bands of teenagers and children dressed in red, wearing black surgical masks, as his muscle. To Puerto Ricans feeling abandoned in the wake of the hurricane, all-too-accustomed to the island's metaphorical and physical decay, even Urayoán's twisted vision can seem like a viable alternative.

While Urayoán's paradise follows a familiar course, becoming increasingly violent and Hobbesian as the novel progresses, the prose is distinctive and dreamlike. Velorio has apocalyptic fires and savage violence, but its most powerful moments are the quiet, searching ones, where Navarro Aquino reflects on the island's history of being "taken and given like the final play in a losing game of dominoes." --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: Velorio is a phantasmagorical journey into Puerto Rico in the tragic aftermath of Hurricane Maria, drawing its damaged characters into a bizarre utopian cult.

HarperVia, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9780063071377

Mystery & Thriller

The Replacement Wife

by Darby Kane

In her second psychological thriller, The Replacement Wife, Darby Kane (Pretty Little Wife) doubles up the action with two unreliable characters caught up in gaslighting, family secrets and betrayal.

Until recently, Elisa Wright had a close relationship with her charming brother-in-law, Josh Wright. But she begins to wonder if he could be a killer: seven months ago his fiancée, Abby Greene, disappeared without a trace, just a few days before their wedding. Now he's involved with another woman, Rachel Dunne, with seemingly no regard for the whereabouts of Abby, whom Elisa considered a friend. Josh's and Elisa's mental states ramp up the suspense in each scene. Elisa's discussions with Josh erupt into loud arguments, with Josh and her husband, Harris, insisting she get therapy. They maintain Elisa continues to be emotionally fragile because of a violent act at her former job. As Elisa investigates Josh, he pushes back, trying to make her think she is losing her mind. Secrets emerge about Josh's past, including circumstances around the death of his first wife.

Kane skillfully explores the dual natures of her characters in the absorbing The Replacement Wife. Josh seems both believable and deceitful, while Elisa appears stable, then occasionally in the throes of a mental breakdown. Elisa's devotion to her seven-year-old son, Nathan, keeps her grounded, but she is constantly on tenterhooks about her marriage, believing that Harris would choose Josh over her. Kane further elevates the twists, making motives cloudy as Elisa becomes friends with Rachel. Trust becomes a chilling commodity. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Discover: In this engrossing psychological thriller, a woman begins to suspect her brother-in-law may be a killer.

Morrow, $16.99, paperback, 416p., 9780063117808

Reckless Girls

by Rachel Hawkins

Rachel Hawkins follows up The Wife Upstairs with another twisty suspense novel. Set on an infamous but beautiful atoll just a few days sail from Maui, Reckless Girls contrasts the idyll of beach vacation life with a gothic sense of foreboding and plenty of dark secrets.

Lux has just been fired from her hotel housekeeping job when her privileged boyfriend, Nico, is hired to transport two college-age women to Meroe Island, known as a World War II refueling stop--and the site of a shipwreck that devolved into murder and cannibalism. When Lux and Nico arrive at Meroe with their passengers, Brittany and Amma, they're surprised to find another boat already there. Eliza and Jake are wealthy and glamorous, quick to share their seemingly endless supply of wine and food. At first, their two-week stay is the ultimate vacation, but then a menacing stranger arrives, setting off a chain of events that strains relationships and forces secrets into the open.

As tensions rise and murderous intentions are revealed, readers will frantically urge Lux to take her broken boat and flee, helpless to watch as the plot builds to an explosive conclusion. Hawkins uses the tensions among her young, beautiful characters to take a look at the intersections of class and gender, but there are no innocent people in this treacherous paradise. Fans of the film The Beach and television's Lost will be enthralled. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Discover: Six beautiful young people meet in a tropical paradise, only to discover that beauty is deceptive--and often deadly.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250274250


The Love Con

by Seressia Glass

Fans of cosplay and the friends-to-lovers and fake-dating tropes will adore Seressia Glass's captivating rom-com The Love Con. When Kenya Davenport is announced as a finalist in Cosplay or No Way, a reality show cosplay competition, she's pressured to name a significant other as her teammate for the last challenge. Back home in Atlanta, Ga., her best friend and business partner, Cameron Lassiter, is surprised but thrilled to hear her drop his name. Thus begins a fake-dating plot filled with secret pining, physical chemistry and big-hearted friendship.

While The Love Con is a romantic comedy with wide appeal, readers on the geekier side of the spectrum will be delighted by some of Glass's (Shadow Blade) gaming and comics references. " 'I'm going to cosplay so well as your boyfriend that even you will think it's the real deal!' [Cam promised.] Butterflies took flight in [Kenya's] belly but she ignored them, forcing herself to focus on the main objective, instead of indulging in a side quest."

Glass deftly balances the technical cosplay design and build elements with the romantic and character arcs. The Love Con brings the laughs and banter, and Glass shows off her character development, with Cam and Kenya dealing with complicated family dynamics, prejudice and their fear of ruining their friendship. Readers will be cheering for Kenya and Cam as they build a relationship every bit as epic as their couples cosplay. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Discover: Best friends fake-date for the cameras in this charming romantic comedy that balances cosplay and geek culture with classic romance tropes.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 320p., 9780593199053

Biography & Memoir

41-Love: A Memoir

by Scarlett Thomas

British writer Scarlett Thomas was accomplished and successful. A professor of creative writing and contemporary fiction at the University of Kent, she had published several popular novels (OligarchyOur Tragic Universe) and even a book on the craft of writing (Monkeys with Typewriters). However, by 2013--41 years old--she felt something was missing. She re-evaluated her life and choices made as a headstrong, rebellious youth who attended boarding school. She also mined the influences of a demeaning, paternal grandmother and a "devoted lefty," multi-married mother who provided Thomas with three fathers. In gazing back at the past, Thomas revived her competitive athletic spirit and a yearning to strive toward an unfulfilled dream. With the support of her encouraging partner, Rod, she set off on a quest to reclaim a hidden desire abandoned when she was 14 years old: to compete professionally in tennis and become a world-ranked player.

Intensity marks Thomas's beautiful memoir, which is a meticulously detailed, often darkly funny account of her hot pursuit of a dream deferred. Her mental toughness grows as she rails against emotional doubts, phobias and confidence problems. Along the journey, she faces opposition in the form of quirky hitting partners and coaches, naysayers and court competitors who psych her out.

Thomas's body of writing consistently features sharp, likable and captivating heroines who often riff incisively on the perils and glories of contemporary living and modernity with sarcastic wit and self-deprecation. With Thomas serving as narrator for the multi-layered, no-holds-barred odyssey of her ascent into middle age, she emerges as a top seed and the very best of them all. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A middle-aged writer serves an intense memoir about rekindling her passion for professional tennis and growing up in the process.

Counterpoint, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9781640094765

Art & Photography

An Answer for Everything: 200 Infographics to Explain the World

by Delayed Gratification

An Answer for Everything is a fascinating volume that encompasses questions, data and design. Rob Orchard, Christian Tate and Marcus Webb launched the slow journalism magazine Delayed Gratification in 2011, and since then, the magazine has become known in part for its eye-catching infographics, which portray narratives about some of the world's biggest news stories in visually digestible ways. The authors write, "The world is a delightful, baffling, wondrous and worrisome place and for over a decade we've been using data to try to make sense of it," noting that the book collects updated infographics from the magazine along with new visualizations "to answer questions ranging from the serious to the silly."

While dominated by full-page illustrations with interwoven text, the book also includes a handy "how to navigate this book" section at the beginning, as well as a comprehensive index, so that the information inside can be parsed according to readers' interests. Whether that's who the greatest athlete is, how much it would cost to purchase everything in Vogue magazine, or deeper questions about climate change, global conflict and life as a human being, there is something to capture everyone's and anyone's attention here.

Orchard, Tate and Webb provide perhaps one of the most comprehensive overviews of what preoccupies the mind in this contemporary moment in a deeply attractive yet still data-driven way. Those who enjoyed David Macaulay and Neil Ardley's The Way Things Work series are sure to be enthralled by this volume. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: This enticing visual guide will delight anyone who needs to know, well, everything.

Bloomsbury, $25, hardcover, 320p., 9781526633644

Now in Paperback

Of Women and Salt

by Gabriela Garcia

Strong women and the nuanced complexities of mother-daughter relationships that reverberate through generations are at the heart of Gabriela Garcia's debut novel. A Washington Post Notable Book of 2021, Good Morning America Book Club Pick and winner of the Isabel Allende Most Inspirational Fiction Award, Of Women and Salt spans 19th- and 20th-century Cuba into present-day Miami, Texas and Mexico. It captures five women's often fraught emotional connections to each other, their deepest secrets and their unresolved traumas.

Cuba, 1866: María Isabel is the only female employee at a cigar workshop in Camagüey. To break up the tedium of rolling cigars, Antonio reads from Victor Hugo's newest work, Les Misérables. One day, a letter arrives from Hugo himself, pledging to "speak up for Cuba as I spoke up for Crete," as conditions in Cuba begin to reflect the country's conflicts. With Antonio's help, María Isabel begins to understand the power of words and stories, and how books can provide comfort and strength during times of struggle. She accepts Antonio's offer to teach her to read and write, along with his marriage proposal.

Miami, 2014: Jeanette, the great-great-granddaughter of María Isabel, battles drug addiction, struggling to break free of the destructive influences of her past mistakes and her mother Carmen's stoic, controlling nature. The disappearance of Jeanette's El Salvadoran neighbor and her young daughter awakens her desire to visit Camagüey, and the 80-year-old grandmother she's never met. "I want to know who I am," Jeanette tells Carmen, "so I need to know who you've been."

Garcia, the daughter of Cuban and Mexican immigrants, portrays each of her characters' interconnected stories with a deeply personal understanding of the immigration experience as something that shapes a person's self-identity and sense of survival--if not for oneself, for one's children. --Melissa Firman

Discover: Of Women and Salt marks the debut of a powerful literary voice that authentically amplifies and honors the stories and struggles of immigrants throughout generations.

Flatiron, $16.99, paperback, 224p., 9781250776709

Children's & Young Adult

We Shall Overcome

by Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier's We Shall Overcome uses the evocative lyrics of the famous gospel anthem of the civil rights movement to encourage readers to investigate the present-day racial injustices endured by Black people in the United States. Collier's striking artwork draws in young readers and invites them to engage with the text, the art, the music and the history.

Four-time Caldecott Honor recipient Collier (Trombone Shorty; The 5 O'Clock Band) uses powerful illustrations perfectly to blend the past and the present. His signature mix of collage, watercolors and double-page spreads creates a story that follows a Black girl in a yellow dress from home to school to a protest. The illustrations of the girl and her contemporary world are in color but, as she moves through her city, Collier places her within and alongside black-and-white images of people, places and events from the civil rights movement. Collier continues the motif used in All Because You Matter (written by Tami Charles) of a single flower petal shape to build "a blossoming effect." A single flower petal is a sign of peace on the cover, the girl's footprints are lines of flower petals and, eventually, she has wings made of dozens of flower petals--every one of them displaying the face of an ancestor.

The empowering lyrics of "We Shall Overcome" (derived from Rev. Charles Albert Tindley's song "I'll Overcome Someday" [1900]) and Collier's stirring illustrations are the perfect way to bridge the past and present. The book, like the song, acts as a rallying cry for people "to stand up and speak out against injustices so that there may finally be a day when we are all equal." --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this electrifying picture book, a famous gospel anthem connects the past and the present as it is reimagined with beautiful contemporary artwork.

Orchard Books, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781338540376

If This Gets Out

by Sophie Gonzales, Cale Dietrich

In Sophie Gonzales's and Cale Dietrich's captivating and surprisingly raw novel, If This Gets Out, 18-year-olds Ruben Montez and Zach Knight are two of four members in the famous pop group Saturday.

Gay and Hispanic Ruben and bisexual and white Zach fall deeply in love while on tour promoting their new album. When they reveal their relationship to their record label, the executives tell them to keep their sexual identities and relationship under wraps for the time being. As the tour continues, the band manager keeps Ruben and Zach apart during on-stage choreography and prohibits interview questions that hint at their increasingly flirtatious behavior. All four members of the band are accustomed to their actions and appearances being tightly controlled by the label--not only is their squeaky-clean image part of their popularity, but also band mate Angel's alcohol and drug addiction results in dangerous, erratic behavior. When the teens realize that their label doesn't intend to support them after all, they are forced to decide whether they will lie to maintain the band's façade or come out publicly and face social and professional risks.

Gonzales (Perfect on Paper) and Dietrich (The Love Interest) encapsulate the all-consuming nature of young queer love. The chapters alternate between Ruben's and Zach's narration, poignantly highlighting their contrasting queer journeys: Ruben has known he's gay for years while Zach newly accepted his bisexuality and is hesitant to come out. Ruben notes, "Part of me wants to protect him from the realities of what it means to be queer, and how it changes things in a million subtle ways." The authors' story resonates with intensity as the celebrity teens gain agency and find their own voices. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms

Discover: Two queer boy band members in love must choose between upholding their band's curated image or fully being their true selves in this engrossing, at times painful, YA novel.

Wednesday Books, $18.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 13-up, 9781250805805

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