Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 7, 2022


Vintage: Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

From My Shelf

Echo Brown: A Bridge to Possibility

Echo Brown

I grew up in extreme poverty, which meant any kind of normalcy was out of reach. It also meant mental illness would plague me for most of my life. Depression took root in me at six years old, in the wake of abuse. Suddenly the world looked bleak, grim. People were dangerous and not to be trusted. 

Even after I left that environment, I carried those beliefs and the depression with me. Despair and shame blossomed all over my life, destroying everything they touched. The Chosen One chronicles the journey to the other side of internal darkness that I took while I was attempting the biggest challenge of my life: to escape the place from which I came in order to become a first-generation college student.

Through triumph and struggle, the protagonist, 18-year-old Echo (inspired by my experiences), learns to overcome her limitations, accept her vulnerability, reach out for support and meet challenges directly. In the process, she discovers her own power and magic, soaring to places beyond what she imagined was possible for herself. 

I hope this book shows readers, especially first-generation students that may be struggling with isolation and mental illness, that some of our greatest assets and strengths can be found in the parts of ourselves that we hide, and that breaking generational chains requires more than the fortitude to stay standing. Self-compassion, gentleness and--most importantly--vulnerability are necessary tools for crossing the bridge to possibility. --Echo Brown

Echo Brown's YA novel The Chosen One is out now from Christy Ottaviano Books.


Sleeping Bear Press: Too Many Pigs in the Pool by Wendy Hinote Lanier, illustrated by Iris Amaya


Book Candy

2021's Most Mispronounced Words

Mental Floss looked up the "13 most mispronounced words of 2021."

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The Onion's headline of the day: "Cozy reading nook to generate $23k in chiropractor bills over next 5 years."

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Harper Lee "gives advice to young writers in one of her only interviews captured on audio (1964)." (via Open Culture)

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Researchers have discovered that Mary, Queen of Scots 'locked' a final letter using paper-folding, the Guardian reported.

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Russia Beyond recommended the "10 best Russian books published in English in 2021."


Anthem

by Noah Hawley

High-octane anxiety is the prevailing emotion in Noah Hawley's much-anticipated sixth novel, Anthem. Large-scale catastrophe, both human and environmental, is the backdrop against which its ingenious, action-packed plot lines tangle and merge. With a promise early on that "There is drama. There is catharsis" and characters that brilliantly depict the full moral spectrum of humanity, Anthem is laced with the wickedly dark humor for which Hawley (Before the Fall), the creator, director and producer of the television series Fargo, is celebrated.

Anthem is set in the post-pandemic near future, an apocalyptic American summer in which the forests of Alaska are on fire, a ring of smoke surrounds the Pacific Northwest and ghost sightings are on the increase across the country. A new virus rooted in the United States is raging across the world. Organized into five "Books," Anthem starts "Book 1," Slow Violence, with what is sure to join the canon of iconic opening lines: "The summer our children began to kill themselves was the hottest in history." A suicide epidemic among adolescents has led to frantic parents searching for answers and the president's declaration of a national state of emergency. It's far worse than a pandemic because there's no inoculation against "an act of collective surrender" by youngsters who have lost faith in their parents' moral authority and given up on the future.

Liberals blame the suicide epidemic on environmental toxins, while conservative talking heads deny there is a suicide epidemic at all. Civic discourse in Hawley's vividly wrought America has reached a boiling point; dark money and fringe ideologies steadily gain mainstream political influence and revolutionary fervor, fanned by gun-toting vigilantes dressed as clowns hissing across the land. America is having a nervous breakdown.

Meanwhile the stock market still rises; Starbucks introduces a countdown clock not to the end of world but to the return of Pumpkin Spice Latte; and a conservative New York judge, Margot Burr-Nadir, is nominated to the Supreme Court by a liberal, compromise-driven president eager to build coalitions and mend democratic institutions damaged by the destabilizing, rage-fueled actions of the president's predecessor, the God King, who was "banished to Florida to glower and boil."

At the heart of the novel is Simon, a teenager utterly consumed by existential anxiety. His father is CEO of the largest manufacturer of highly addictive prescription opiates. Simon's sister took her own life by overdosing on the pills, a rebuke to her father's greed and moral bankruptcy. The drug hums throughout the background of Anthem, a reminder of its insidious presence in American life.

Simon is on his own drug regime as a patient at the Float Anxiety Abatement Center outside Chicago: "These days when he thinks about happiness and contentment he thinks in terms of milligrams." Simon befriends another patient, Louise, for whom obsessive cleaning helps keep at bay the horrors she experienced at the hands of an evil Jeffrey Epstein-like figure known as the Wizard. The Wizard, a personification of our culture's worst excesses, is kept well supplied with his drug of choice--young girls--by a man known as the Troll.

A third patient, the Prophet, persuades Simon and Louise to escape from the anxiety center and set off on a quest to vanquish the Wizard and build a new city, Utopia, based on a collective system of sharing resources and valuing all life. Adults, power hungry and ignoring the impending destruction of the earth, have lost their way, he preaches. Children must start over and break the cycle of planetary collapse. Simon, the Prophet says, is the one chosen by God to lead the mission, inspiring in the anxious young man an uncertain but hopeful sense of purpose.

Meanwhile in Austin, Tex., Judge Burr-Nadir's estranged daughter, Story, and her boyfriend, Felix, embark on a road trip to rescue Felix's sister, Bathsheba, from the Wizard's compound in West Texas--an expertly crafted parallel plot that will bring readers to the edge of their seats. Story and Felix eventually join forces with Simon, Louise and the Prophet, who have escaped the anxiety center and picked up a curious, but not to be underestimated, cavalry of armed adolescents to help execute the compound attack.

Hawley, a confident and polished writer, has crafted an explosive, multi-genre American novel, offering entertaining cultural commentary as well as intellectually courageous observations on empathy, politics and corruption. At the same time, Anthem is, at its core, a good vs. evil morality tale shedding light on uncomfortable truths about mankind's role in its own erasure. Like the fires raging uncontrolled across the country, Hawley's plot swallows unsavory characters and shifts gears after a thrilling climax, forcefully recalibrating the landscape upon which Simon, Louise, the Prophet and others will have to build their vision of Utopia. The author leaves readers with hope that humankind will, in fact, be rescued from itself. --Shahina Piyarali

Grand Central Publishing, $29, hardcover, 448p., 9781538711514

Legacy Lit: Black Boy Smile: A Memoir in Moments by D. Watkins


Noah Hawley: Making Sense of the World We Live In

(photo: Carolyn Fong)

Noah Hawley is an Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody Award-winning television writer, producer, director, screenwriter, singer and author of five novels. Hawley (Before the Fall) created and is the executive producer, writer and showrunner on FX's award-winning television series Fargo as well as the creator and showrunner on the FX series Legion. Celebrated for his literary thrillers, dynamic plot lines and memorable characters, Hawley's sixth novel, Anthem, is out now from Grand Central Publishing.

How was the idea for Anthem born, and how did it evolve?

The evolution of this novel from where it started to where it ended was pretty profound. It started with an idea from an article I read about parents who show up at their daughter's apartment and it's like the Mary Celeste. The table is set, the food is out, bags are packed but no one is there. The parents try texting and get weird messages back. The idea that an adult child had mysteriously disappeared evolved into the quest in Anthem to find the Wizard.

Anthem is a fantasy novel about the real world we live in. There was a moment when it became clear to me that there was going to be this quest and an almost Middle-earth structure to the story, but it is our world and includes language that is part of our world.

Why did you include a teenage suicide epidemic in Anthem?

The suicide epidemic adds urgency to the quest and also a sense of consequence to the behavior of the past decade or two--the idea that what we reap is what we sow. The book talks about how, when a problem gets too big for us to focus on, we shift our attention to what is easy, the soap opera of human drama. That's why when half the world might be flooding and the other half might be on fire, we focus on the latest tweets of the day.

If my job as a novelist is to reflect the world we live in and to make sense of it, what do I do when the world we live in doesn't make sense anymore? It was a journey and I was along for the ride with this book.

As a parent, which aspects of the story most resonate with you?

Anthem, on some level, mirrors my own fears. The more I do this, the more I realize that what I've been writing about, in this latest season of Fargo and in the Legion television show, is about parenting. If you want to know if a character is moral or not, look at their relationship with a child. In the latest season of Fargo, there's one man, Rabbi Milligan, played by Ben Whishaw, for whom children are a priority. That's heroic. He's not concerned with his own enrichment.

One of the things that occurred to me in figuring out how to talk about this book--and it's something I was able to include in the story--was this question of what skills we need to teach our children in order [for them] to prosper in a world where reality is up for debate.

In discussing political parties in Anthem, you refrain from specifically referencing Republicans and Democrats. Why is that?

I removed language that is burned into our brains in order to see something for what it truly is, and tried as hard as I could to write something nonpartisan because, as I say in the book, I am not interested in taking sides. I just want words to mean what they are supposed to mean. However I am under no illusion that a certain percentage of Americans won't be able to read the book without feeling that I am attacking their ideologies.

After releasing Anthem and your characters into the world, do you think about Louise, Simon and others and their prospects for survival?

I do think about them. I think about how they are going to do and I wonder if I did them justice. As the author of a novel, you have no one else to blame for what happens to your characters.

Much of what I went through in the last season of Fargo was about the experience of Black Americans, immigrants and people who have been traumatized through their outsider stories. I didn't want to create new injuries, to craft scenes where I was asking Black actors to be subjected to racism just because it was good for the plot. So it became this dance. I really wanted to protect the dignity of all the characters, but I also wanted to tell the story, and I think that's true here, too.

People carry past trauma with them, so I'm under no illusion that even if Simon, Louise and others manage to miraculously escape, they will be okay immediately. But I also know that if they can get to a place in which they can make the world simple again, that will go a long way. I'm up here in Wyoming and it's amazingly easy to lower one's blood pressure when the world is bigger than your worries and you can walk outside and experience a sense of perspective.

Your writing has been favorably compared with that of Kurt Vonnegut. Can you share this author's influence on your writing of Anthem?

As I was trying to wrap my head around this book, I thought about Kurt Vonnegut and a book like Slaughterhouse-Five and what he did in that book, which was to re-create the true story of his own war experience and a novel about a guy who's unstuck in time and ends up on the planet Tralfamadore. There is so much genre mixed into the book, yet at its heart it is a simple morality [tale] and it's this element that influenced me.

We act like the issues of our world are so complex but it's like what Greta Thunberg said, you're either fixing the problem or you're not. It's not complicated.

Which other writers have influenced you?

The first novel I read that made me realize a story could be so much more than a series of events was White Noise by Don DeLillo. DeLillo in a very profound way had a huge influence on me. I was a New York kid and his is such a New York voice. His writing is poetic, funny and tough all at the same time.

For this book I went back and reread One Hundred Years of Solitude. Gabriel García Márquez's magical realism really factored in my writing. I also reread Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. There's just something about that book.

Haruki Murakami and Milan Kundera have profoundly influenced my writing. Kundera's books are essays as well as novels and made me realize that you could both be telling a story and exploring an idea at the same time.

Ayn Rand wrote a dystopian novel set in the future called Anthem. Is there a connection between these two books with the same title?

I wasn't aware until you said it that she had written a novel called Anthem, so there is no connection. But that doesn't mean the Internet won't connect them and that it won't become true! --Shahina Piyarali


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Great Reads

Rediscover: Babbitt

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the novel Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1885-1951), who received the 1930 Nobel Prize in Literature--the first American to win the award. The Swedish Academy made special mention of Babbitt, a satire about conformity and the American middle class. Lewis's other critically and commercially successful works include Main Street (1920), Arrowsmith (1925) and Elmer Gantry (1927). Like Babbitt, each of these novels satirizes some aspect of American society: small-town life in Main Street, science education and culture in Arrowsmith, and religious fundamentalism in Elmer Gantry. In 1935, Lewis published It Can't Happen Here, which imagines a fascistic takeover of the United States via a presidential election; it shot to the top of bestseller lists in 2016.

Babbitt takes place over two years in the life of George F. Babbitt, a real-estate agent who lives with his family in the fictional Midwestern city of Zenith. Middle-aged and middle class, Babbitt devotes himself to climbing the social ladder via booster clubs and utter conformity. After a camping trip with an old classmate, Babbitt grows dissatisfied with his pursuit of the American Dream and makes self-destructive attempts to go against cultural norms. The term Babbit has since come to describe a materialistic businessman overly concerned with social conformity. --Tobias Mutter


New Harbinger Publications: Living Untethered: Beyond the Human Predicament by Michael A. Singer


Book Review

Fiction

30 Things I Love About Myself

by Radhika Sanghani


An exuberant family drama packed with humor and set in the English city of Leicester, 30 Things I Love About Myself opens with a scene inside a jail cell where, by virtue of a comedy of errors that started with a craving for falafel, the protagonist finds herself on the eve of her 30th birthday.

Nina Mistry is a free-spirited, chocolate-loving journalist who is stuck both professionally and in her personal life. A sensual, earthy Taurus, Nina just broke up with her fiancé. Her perfectionist mother doesn't understand Nina, her brother is struggling with debilitating depression and there is a gaping hole in her British Indian family left by a father who took his own life when Nina was a child.

Just when she feels like giving up, a book serendipitously falls into Nina's lap that promises to transform her life. The book, How to Love Yourself (and Fix Your Shitty Life in the Process), sets her on a rollicking journey of self-discovery that involves yoga, astrology, a solo romantic dinner date and mind-blowing tantric sex, all in the service of falling in love with herself, body and soul.

Radhika Sanghani (Virgin; Not That Easy) deploys both comedy and compassion to draw readers into Nina's narrative, an uplifting, entertaining story inspired by the author's own transformative self-love journey. Readers will enjoy rooting for Sanghani's authentic and memorably portrayed protagonist, a young woman whose family struggles represent real-life issues that are often considered taboo in immigrant communities where the pressure to succeed can be overwhelming. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer

Discover: This comedy-drama is unafraid to tackle difficult subjects amid the often hilarious saga of a British Indian journalist and her journey toward self-love and acceptance.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 352p., 9780593335048

Faber & Faber: Hello, Mom by Polly Dunbar


You Never Get It Back

by Cara Blue Adams


Cara Blue Adams's debut story collection, You Never Get It Back, is a modern look at one woman's coming-of-age experience, notably tinged with the gradual loss of youthful optimism and expectations.

Beginning at the turn of the millennium, narrator Kate stumbles through new adulthood. She is often observing her life from above, not present or engaged but distant, judgmental. This occasional disconnect is reflected in the author's choice to present the stories from various points of view, usually in third person, but sometimes second person.

While the baker's dozen individual stories are markedly different, they are all characterized by a growing patina of disillusionment, grief or ennui. Kate writes to the much older professor with whom she had an affair; recounts a night out with a friend's ex that ends in sexual assault, which she refuses to name as such; and meets an elderly painter losing his sight while she attempts to write at an artists' residency. The stories are linear, following Kate from her early 20s to her mid-30s, but Adams leaves gaps of months or years between them, letting readers wonder about these stretches of time.

Kate's love and professional lives are gray, muddy in the way real life tends to be. Readers will sense that she wants nothing so much as for someone to tell her what to do, what will--finally--make her happy. Readers will easily connect to Kate's confusion, yearning as she does for answers and finding few. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer

Discover: This sharply observed collection of 13 connected stories is a nuanced reflection on loss, confusion and new adulthood.

University of Iowa Press, $16, paperback, 186p., 9781609388133

Mystery & Thriller

The Maid

by Nita Prose


Molly Gray likes things "simple and neat." She sees "dirt where others don't." This unusual 25-year-old, perfection-seeking hotel maid stumbles upon a murder in The Maid, an inventive and uplifting first mystery by Nita Prose.

Molly, who lives "largely invisible," is socially inept and limited in her fundamental understanding of people. This doesn't hinder the great pride and satisfaction she derives in working as a maid at the Regency Grand, an elegant five-star boutique hotel in an unnamed city. Molly's life and her meticulous, dedicated work ethic were shaped by her grandmother, who raised Molly under a strict moral code. Now that "Gran," her wise touchstone, has died, single Molly struggles to navigate life alone and pay the bills and rent without Gran's help and support.

Molly's tidy world is thrown topsy-turvy when she cleans the room of the Blacks, a rich and famous power couple, good tippers who frequent the hotel. When Molly finds Mr. Black dead, she becomes entangled in a murder investigation where those in her orbit at the hotel suddenly reveal secret, disingenuous motives. Will Molly root out the killer?

The story, set over five days in Molly's life, delivers a delightfully crafted, suspenseful plot and a colorful supporting cast comprised of both the caring and nefarious. However, it's the pure, learning-as-she-goes charm and naiveté of Molly and her inimitable narrative voice--the truth of her lovably eccentric old soul--that readers will not soon forget. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A wholly original debut mystery novel about a lovably eccentric--albeit naïve--hotel maid swept up in the murder of a rich and powerful guest.

Ballantine Books, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9780593356159

Romance

Love at First Spite

by Anna E. Collins


Love is sweet, but revenge on a cheating ex is even sweeter in Love at First Spite, a fun and flirty first novel by Anna E. Collins.

A month before their wedding, Dani Porter--a 30-something interior designer living in Seattle, Wash.--catches her fiancé, Sam, in flagrante delicto with the real estate agent in charge of finalizing contracts on a water-view dream home for the soon-to-be newlyweds. Adding insult to injury, Dani then learns that Sam bought the property on his own--only his name appears on the title. This fuels Dani's determination to make Sam pay for double-crossing her. She buys the vacant lot next door and decides to build an obtrusive rental property with the intent to spoil Sam's water view and make his life a living hell.

Dani's revenge plot is supported by her best-friend cousin and a fun-loving, widowed landlady who both encourage Dani to enlist the help of her standoffish, quirky coworker, Wyatt Montego--a handsome, fastidious architect who eats sandwiches with a knife and fork. As Wyatt draws up blueprints, he questions Dani's decisions to diminish privacy for the house next door. Will he learn of Dani's real agenda? And if so, will it change the burgeoning romantic feelings he has for her--and vice versa?

Plotting revenge proves therapeutic for Dani and a cast of memorable supporting characters--but at what cost? Collins's connivingly plotted rom-com will entice readers to root for the pay-out of an enlightened happy ending. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: In this smart, flirty rom-com, a jilted bride with an axe to grind spitefully plots to build an obtrusive house next to her cheating ex.

Graydon House, $15.99, paperback, 320p., 9781525899799

Food & Wine

One: Pot, Pan, Planet: A Greener Way to Cook for You and Your Family

by Anna Jones


In her fourth book, One: Pot, Pan, Planet, English cook Anna Jones (The Modern Cook's Year) continues her mission of "putting plants at the center of your tables" through vegetarian recipes that prioritize local, seasonal ingredients.

Aiming for simplicity, Jones introduces dishes that are mostly simmered in one pot, fried in one pan or baked in one tray. Soups and stews reveal Asian influences like curry and congee. Chickpeas and tofu provide protein; chilies and spices add zing. Jones also highlights favorite vegetables, with 10 brief meal ideas for each. Easy substitutions make any of the recipes vegan.

Ingredients lists appear in a sidebar in a different font from the detailed instructions, which are in bold. The steps are reassuringly straightforward. The clean page layouts include one of Issy Croker's crisp photographs per spread. These generally depict a finished bowl from above, set against a bare kitchen counter or muslin cloth. From zucchini and halloumi fritters to a chocolate, olive oil and rosemary cake, the flavor combinations are enticing.

While some ingredients seem challenging to source (such as curry leaves or rice vinegar), the recipes focus on fresh vegetables. Jones believes people's eating choices are a major way they can respond to the climate crisis, so she offers tips on sustainability--which high-impact ingredients to use sparingly and buy Fairtrade--and ideas for using up leftovers in frittatas and sauces to avoid food waste.

The green approach makes this a perfect resource for eco-conscious eaters who want to choose more plant-based meals. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck

Discover: Anna Jones presents peppy vegetarian fare in a visually attractive and sustainability-oriented cookbook.

Knopf, $35, hardcover, 336p., 9780593320327

Biography & Memoir

George V: Never a Dull Moment

by Jane Ridley


Britain's King George V reigned during the most eventful decades of the early 20th century but was often ridiculed by posterity as a "dull and limited" man--a vision historian Jane Ridley (The Heir Apparent) corrects in her exhaustively researched biography George V: Never a Dull Moment.

Piercing the myth of "King George the Dull," Ridley successfully gets under the sovereign's "humdrum exterior" to reveal a simple man who nevertheless successfully navigated the British monarchy through the turbulence of World War I, the Russian Revolution and rise of Bolshevism, the collapse of dynastic Europe, Irish Home Rule and political crises too numerous to count. Indeed, his 25-year reign (1910-1936) "never had a dull moment." Ridley's engaging study also spotlights Queen Mary and the marriage that helped George V so much. Mary provided the calm and secure domestic life George V ached for, which stood in stark contrast to the lifestyle of his philandering and unserious father, King Edward VII ("I'm not interested in any wife except my own," George once declared). A lifelong conservative, George V was always "fighting a one-man war against the twentieth century," at the same time laying the foundations of the modern British monarchy (his adoption of the House of Windsor as the official name of the British Royal Family in 1917 still holds 100 years later).

Ridley's brilliant biography is a benchmark for future historians, revealing a man of deep character who ultimately saved a sclerotic monarchy. --Peggy Kurkowski, book reviewer and copywriter in Denver

Discover: This benchmark biography gives the life and tumultuous times of King George V a muscular reexamination that corrects the many myths surrounding one of Britain's most successful monarchs.

Harper, $35, hardcover, 560p., 9780062567499

Psychology & Self-Help

The Ballerina Mindset: How to Protect Your Mental Health While Striving for Excellence

by Megan Fairchild


Ballet as an art form epitomizes perfection, striving, competition and devotion, and to those outside of its world, its dancers seem to achieve the superhuman on a daily basis. In The Ballerina Mindset, Megan Fairchild, principal ballerina with New York City Ballet, takes readers behind the scenes, not just into the world of dance, but into what it takes to succeed in a mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting career.

Fairchild shares lessons learned over two decades that feel relevant even to non-dancers. She writes about her journey toward managing perfectionism, criticism, self-doubt and anxiety, and how she learned to turn weaknesses into strengths while also embracing that she was enough as a person, flaws and all. She notes the importance of allowing space for failure and of looking beyond career goals.

Fairchild candidly shares her setbacks and the ways in which she reached out for help when needed. She discusses meditation as a tool, and offers reflections on her growth over a two-decade career. Most surprisingly, perhaps, are her ruminations on how stepping away from ballet, either to try new things or to move forward in different stages in her life, eventually strengthened her career.

While focused on the world of ballet, the advice she imparts is universal, conveyed in the tone of a slightly older, slightly wiser friend who wants readers to find a bit of a shortcut through the lessons she learned the long way around. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: New York City Ballet principal Megan Fairchild outlines strategies for thriving in intense and competitive environments, in ways that will resonate even with non-dancers.

Penguin Life, $17, paperback, 176p., 9780143136040

Health & Medicine

Let's Get Physical: How Women Discovered Exercise and Reshaped the World

by Danielle Friedman


The recreational fitness industry today might be predominantly marketed to and dominated by women, but how did it come to be that way? That is the question multimedia journalist Danielle Friedman explores in Let's Get Physical, an engaging and entertaining examination of the fitness industry from its birth in the postwar era to contemporary times. She astutely covers the cultural challenges associated with the idea of women exercising, like unfounded concerns that strenuous exertion could cause one's uterus to fall out. Friedman addresses gender-based prejudices such as those faced by Kathrine Switzer, the first woman to try to officially enter the Boston Marathon, who was chased down and assaulted by race manager Jock Semple. She also outlines race and class barriers that persist to this day, such as the cost of fitness classes, gyms and studios, and the pervasive whiteness of the fitness industry.

Each chapter takes readers through a particular fitness movement and the women who were its pioneers. Friedman also explores the invention of the sports bra and the rise of women's fitness fashion, and includes an update at the end of the book about where each of these pioneers ended up. She writes, reflecting on this history as a paradigm shift: "when women first began exercising en masse, they were participating in something subversive: the cultivation of physical strength and autonomy." Let's Get Physical details this shift from all angles, celebrating the women who reshaped the modern world along with women's bodies. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: Journalist Danielle Friedman entertainingly outlines the history of women in the fitness industry and how these pioneers reshaped modern life.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780593188422

Now in Paperback

Shiver

by Allie Reynolds


It seems nothing good can happen in an abandoned ski resort during a snowstorm. In Shiver, the gripping debut thriller by British writer Allie Reynolds, five former competitive snowboarders gather for a reunion weekend at Le Rocher, a secluded spot in the French Alps. They haven't seen each other in more than a decade, but old wounds remain fresh: last time they were at Le Rocher to train for an elite competition, fellow snowboarder Saskia Sparks mysteriously vanished. Each member of the group had a complicated relationship with the hyper-aggressive and possibly sociopathic Saskia--particularly Milla, who serves as the story's no-nonsense narrator and whose drive to win sometimes overrides her basic morality. As the off-season weather turns increasingly hostile, it doesn't take long for the group to realize they've been lured to the resort by someone who knows their secrets--and isn't afraid to seek revenge. Trust among the group withers, and Milla longs for the intimacy she experienced with her former friends as she tries to uncover who could have murdered Saskia, all while concealing her own role in the crime.

An ex-freestyle snowboarder who spent several years traveling internationally, Reynolds writes with the fast-paced intensity of an energy drink-fueled trip down the slopes. Alongside its central mystery, Shiver offers an intimate look at the convoluted relationships of athletes who excel at a sport most people are too cautious even to attempt--including what happens when the truth becomes inescapable, both because of the blizzard and other equally unpredictable forces. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this fast-paced thriller, five former competitive snowboarders find themselves in an elaborate trap concocted by someone who knows their deadly secrets.

Putnam, $17, paperback, 416p., 9780593187845

Prodigal Son: An Orphan X Novel

by Gregg Hurwitz


Extreme action melded with in-depth character studies punctuate Prodigal Son, Gregg Hurwitz's absorbing sixth Orphan X thriller featuring Evan Smoak, who was abandoned as a baby, then, as a child, recruited into the secret Orphan Program, where he was trained to be an assassin. Leaving the Orphans, Evan reinvented himself as the Nowhere Man, a crime-fighting vigilante for ordinary people in need.

Now retired, Evan wants to lead "an ordinary life, whatever that was." In Prodigal Son, Evan meets a dose of the ordinary with the arrival of Veronica LeGrande, who claims to be his long-lost mother. The skeptical Evan comes to believe Veronica as she recounts details about the circumstances of his birth. Veronica wants a favor: help Andrew Duran, a down-on-his-luck, minimum-wage guard at an impound lot who witnessed a murder. Evan is soon embroiled in a conspiracy involving innovative military technology--and targeted by brother and sister killers.

Prodigal Son spins on sharp, over-the-top action with a sense of believability, including Evan's high-tech weapons, surveillance toys and his state-of-the-art condo. Evan's mad martial-arts skills give him the edge in any fight, no matter how many opponents he faces, but he is no superhero, often getting hurt.

A highlight is how Hurwitz (Don't Look Back) forcefully illustrates the fearless Evan's continued emotional growth. He begins to care about Veronica and Andrew while keeping an eye on Joey, a 16-year-old hacker he rescued from the Orphan Program. Evan also desperately wants to give into his feelings for Mia Hall and her nine-year-old son, Peter, who live in his building.

Prodigal Son is an impressive addition to the outstanding Orphan series. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer

Discover: This absorbing thriller revolves around a trained assassin whose plan to retire is derailed when a woman claiming to be his long-lost mother draws him into a military technology conspiracy.

St. Martin's Press, $9.99, mass market paperbound, 544p., 9781250253231

Children's & Young Adult

On the Move: Home Is Where You Find It

by Michael Rosen, illus. by Quentin Blake


Poet Michael Rosen delves into his affecting family history in his contemplative and compelling collection about migration and refugees, On the Move. Forty-nine of Rosen's poems, evocatively illustrated by Quentin Blake, are arranged in four sections--Family and Friends, The War, The Migrants in Me and On the Move Again--through which Rosen prompts readers to consider the connectedness of one family's experience of the Holocaust to the broader movement of people in crisis worldwide.

Rosen (We're Going on a Bear Hunt) captures his youthful moments in London with a stream of consciousness, memories pouring forth poem by poem, family stories and mundane encounters evoking nostalgia while inviting reader reflection. The former U.K. Children's Laureate juxtaposes the universality of the human experience of migration with an admonishment of xenophobia and persecution: "We say, 'Never again.'/ But/ .../ it can happen again. It does happen again. It has happened again." Rosen arranged previously published works for this collection, which he bookends with a helpful introduction entitled "Migrant Poetry" and backmatter that includes a link to some of his spoken poems.

Blake (The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots) punctuates the anthology with evocative watercolor illustrations. His distinctive, jagged line art conveys a camaraderie and hopefulness among the displaced figures as they move across land and water on double-page spreads with increasingly saturated violet hues. There is a kinetic urgency to Blake's work here, and the atmospheric art complements Rosen's message extremely well. In these honest and pensive poems, Rosen probes his own past to prompt readers to contemplate their own feelings around global displacement. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf

Discover: An anthology of 49 deeply personal poems for young readers artfully explores the human experience of displacement.

Candlewick Press, $17.99, hardcover, 144p., ages 10-14, 9781536218107

The Ivory Key

by Akshaya Raman


Royal siblings hunt for a key to hidden magic in this exhilarating YA fantasy adventure of secrets and betrayals.

Magic is running dry in Ashoka, and what is left won't protect the country against invaders. Thus Vira, now maharani (queen) after her mother's assassination, seeks an item that is fabled to unlock hidden quarries of magic, the Ivory Key. Meanwhile, Vira's sister Riya, who ran away from royal life years ago, wants the Ivory Key to help those on whom Vira has imposed heavy taxes. Ronak is determined to free Kaleb, whom Vira wrongly imprisoned for plotting their mother's murder. The brothers could start a new life and Ronak could avoid being married off by Vira, but in exchange for new identities, Ronak must deliver the Ivory Key to a criminal empire. When the estranged siblings realize their shared goal (though not how each undermines the other), they embark on an impossible journey to recover the key--one during which they must trust each other with their lives.

The Ivory Key, Akshaya Raman's debut, is a dramatic familial saga and action-packed treasure hunt and the first entry in a planned duology. The idea that "the good of the country matter[s] more than family" is pitted against the right to make one's own destiny while a "temple full of magical obstacles," a city buried in a mountain and perplexing puzzles fuel the excitement. Extravagant fashion, exquisite foods and ancient forts inspired by the author's Indian heritage create a deeply detailed world. The Ivory Key hits every much-loved aspect of fantasy. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: Estranged royal siblings with conflicting motives search for a legendary key to hidden magic in this epic YA fantasy debut inspired by ancient India.

Clarion Books, $18.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780358468332

Operation Sisterhood

by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich


Operation Sisterhood by Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich is a charming story about sisterhood and family.

Eleven-year-old Nigerian American Bo Marshall, short for Tokunbo, lives with her Mum, Lola. Life is great, even in a tiny one-bedroom New York City apartment. Mother and daughter do everything together, and Bo particularly enjoys baking, cooking and taking trips to the West African market. But everything changes when Mum gets engaged to her boyfriend, Bill, and she and Bo move from their apartment in the Bronx to his large Harlem brownstone inhabited by a rather eclectic collection of family members. There's Bill's daughter, Sunday; Mama Hope and Papa Charles and their twin girls, Lil and Lee; and an ever-growing number of pets (two cats, a dog, a bearded dragon, a turtle and a coop full of hens). In the blink of an eye, Bo's family quadruples and she wonders how to adjust. The perfect opportunity to collaborate with her new sisters arises with "Operation Wedding Reception Party," a proposed block party, potluck and talent show to celebrate Lola and Bill. To help make the party a success, Bo will have to learn how to be a sister and team player while bringing her own special abilities to the task.

Broken up into short chapters, this middle-grade novel touches topics such as sisterhood, individuality, loyalty and family, both the ones you're born into and the ones that you create. Rhuday-Perkovich (Two Naomis) tells the story through the eyes of an endearing tween trying to find her place in a new and chaotic blended family. --Natasha Harris, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this sweet and comforting middle-grade novel, a tween girl deals with the changes that come along with being a part of a new blended family.

Crown Books for Young Readers, $16.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9780593379899

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Author Buzz

The Murders at Fleat House

by Lucinda Riley

Dear Reader,

A fresh and compelling crime novel written by Lucinda Riley who sadly died in 2021. This note is from her son, Harry Whittaker. Together, they created the Guardian Angels series for children.

The Murders at Fleat House, although it has never seen the light of day, was written in 2006. Mum was hugely proud of this project. It is the only crime novel she ever wrote, but loyal readers will instantly recognize her unrivaled ability to capture a sense of place. I'm sure it will interest you to know that at the time of writing, my family lived in the vast, mysterious landscape in which the story is set. What's more, the Norfolk school featured in the book was heavily inspired by the one which we, her own children, attended. Thankfully, I can confirm that nothing so dramatic actually took place in the corridors of the boarding houses.

As you might expect, hidden secrets from the past strongly influence present day events, and we are treated to some typically superb characterization in the form of DI Jazz Hunter, who I'm sure you'll agree has the potential to anchor a series of her own.

Perhaps she would have, in another life.

Harry Whittaker

Available on Kobo



Publisher: 
Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
May 26, 2022

ISBN:
9781952457807

List Price: 
$9.99 e-book

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