Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

From My Shelf

Our National Sport

It's the season: football is dominating the news. The ongoing concussion discussion has been eclipsed by suspensions and non-suspensions for domestic abuse, while Josh Gordon is suspended an entire year for smoking weed. Nate Jackson, former pro player and author of Slow Getting Up: A Story of N.F.L. Survival from the Bottom of the Pile (Harper Perennial), has a good take on the latter. In addition to Jackson's hilarious, candid memoir, we'd like to suggest a few books that fans will want to read (if only during halftime).

The Library of America has gathered 43 gems in Football: Great Writing About the National Sport. Sportswriting can be incisive and poetic--in "Legends of the Fall," Charles P. Pierce weaves the blues and Parchman Farm into a profile of Archie Manning, "juke-mad, a pocket-busting dervish in a time that celebrated the reckless and the improvised."

Steve Almond's Against Football: One Fan's Reluctant Manifesto (Melville House) contrasts the sport's attraction ("in its exalted moments, [it] is not just a sport, but a lovely and intricate work of art") with its brutality and violence, "its tolerance, if not outright cultivation, of homophobia, racism, greed and other undesirable attitudes." A welcome addition to the conversation.

In The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football (Anchor), Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian give a hard-hitting account of the college game with "depth, insight and graceful prose." The scandals we know too well, but the glory--coaches who want their players to graduate and thrive; players for whom football may be their saving grace--is fortunately also part of the story.

Nicholas Dawidoff's Collision Low Crossers: A Year Inside the Turbulent World of NFL Football (Back Bay Books) is a classic sports narrative about the New York Jets' 2011 season, with incisive and indelible portraits, from charismatic head coach Rex Ryan to canny safeties, quirky and excitable cornerbacks, eager rookies and players who don't make the team. Dawidoff's prose soars like a perfect pass. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Book Candy

Awesome Facts About Numbers; H.G. Wells's Birthday

"From one to a billion: 10 awesome but totally random facts about numbers" were shared by author Adam Frost (The Awesome Book on Awesomeness) in the Guardian.


To celebrate H.G. Wells's birthday (September 21, 1866), Flavorwire collected "25 vintage, international book covers for The War of the Worlds."


Book Nerd Problems video: "Cats Are Book Hogs."


"The world can be a dark and scary place. Until you ask a 5-year-old why books are great," Buzzfeed noted.  


Electric Literature featured Lucy Knisley's comic version  of "the entirety of Harry Potter in one illustration."

Fire Shut Up in My Bones

by Charles Blow

Readers of the New York Times will no doubt be familiar with Charles M. Blow, the newspaper's visual op-ed columnist. In his twice-weekly columns, Blow starts with cold, impersonal data and statistics and uses his insight to turn numbers into impassioned commentary on political and human issues. Now, in a memoir that juxtaposes Blow's usual elegant and eloquent prose with the brutal truths of his early years, he gives issues of race, poverty, sexuality and belonging a human face: his own.

Blow opens with the night he decided to kill his older cousin Chester for abusing him as a young boy. Twenty years old, a college student with a promising career ahead of him, Blow still considered Chester responsible for the confusion and feelings of disconnection from his peers that had plagued him through his entire youth. Finally, Chester's indifference to his crime had to be rectified. Blow then leaves his younger self, armed and weeping with rage, hurtling through the night with murder in his heart. This agonized young man hovers at the edge of the reader's consciousness as Blow backs up to his first memory and walks us along the path that led to that desperate night.

Born in Louisiana in 1970, Blow was the youngest of five brothers, and "by the time I came along, my mother was a dutiful wife growing dead-a** tired of working on a dead-end marriage and a dead-end job. My father was a construction worker by trade, a pool shark by habit, and a serial philanderer by compulsion." Before his parents split up, the family lived in a small rent-to-own house without steps to its tall porch, necessitating entry through the back door. His father could easily have built steps, and the "not-doing spoke volumes," one more example of how he couldn't commit to his family. When the marriage ended, Blow found himself in a new neighborhood and stepping onto a trail of loneliness he'd follow into adulthood. However, his loneliness was not aloneness, and Blow gives us warm character sketches of the family surrounding him at home and supporting him from afar: his grandmother's husband, Jed, who became his much-loved father figure for a time; stubborn Aunt Odessa, who refused modernization in her home; charismatic World War II veteran Grandpa Bill. However, the family's closest companion in Blow's early years was poverty, and he gives a detailed account of growing their own produce by necessity and using every last bit of it, eating clay from a ditch as a treat, scavenging wounded cattle after a stock truck overturned on the highway, and the back-breaking labor the adults around him suffered through to provide for their families. "These were people whose bodies melted every night in a hot bath, then stiffened by sunrise, so much that it took pills to get them out of bed without pain."

Theirs was a community divided by race as well as socioeconomic status, and Blow recalls side-by-side cemeteries, one for blacks and one for whites, separated by a fence lest anyone try to cross an invisible boundary. While racial tension usually played out tacitly, everyone kept to their roles through a rigid social structure, Blow also recounts the first time a white person tossed a racial slur at him, "a perfect little weapon" that suddenly left him questioning the world around him and the injustices his family faced at the hands of whites, and feeling for a time that white people gave him only "jack-o'-lantern smiles--frozen and hollow with a dim light behind the eyes."

While Blow managed to escape falling into the trap of racial hatred himself, his narrative does concern itself in part with the self-hatred that overtook him for many years. After Blow was molested by his cousin, Chester bullied him into silence by repeatedly accusing him of homosexuality in a cultural setting where same-sex relationships were strictly taboo. When Blow reached adolescence and found himself attracted primarily to women but with a curiosity about men as well, it became a secret shame he couldn't eradicate. To hide it, and to conceal the wounds he still carried from Chester's attacks, Blow found himself creating a public face, one that made him a "popular boy" from elementary school through his selection in college to an elite fraternity and its world of privilege and brutality. Even in the darkest moments of his quest to fit in by going along with the crowd, readers will relate to Blow's motivations, to the so-human need to belong, to be wanted, to be singled out as special. They will come to understand that moment when Blow felt Chester must die at his hands, just as they will glory in the freedom and healing he found after struggling through that critical and impassioned moment. That Blow will survive his struggles and accept his own identity is a foregone conclusion. The amazement lies in watching a young man--and Blow makes readers see him in every detail--use his inner compass, his gift for language and the lessons of a past that dogs his heels to release the talented and strong adult he was always capable of becoming. Blow's story reminds us that each child carries the potential to achieve great things, regardless of adversity, but a child without strong advocates--in Blow's case, family members and teachers--is one who may easily become lost and never find the way again.

Amid the ongoing conversations about race relations, sexuality and poverty, Blow casts a new light on the issues simply by telling his own story, using the details of his life to give shape and reality to what many of us understand only in the abstract. If the adage that you can only understand another person by walking a mile in their shoes is true, then Blow not only hands over his shoes, he ties the laces and nudges us in the right direction. As he recounts his memories, explaining with grace and clarity how each instance impacted his psyche, the written word seems to fade from view until only Blow's voice remains, speaking to the human heart in each of us. Although the emotional impact of this memoir cannot be overstated, the tougher moments are tempered by insight and even laughter. Whether readers recognize their own lives in Blow's or simply have their eyes and hearts opened a little wider, no one will come away unaffected. Blow's book-length debut is a drop of hope in an ocean of sorrows. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 9780544228047

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley

Charles M. Blow: Difference Is Not Deviance

Charles M. Blow has been a columnist at the New York Times since 2008, is a CNN commentator, and has appeared on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, Al Jazeera and HBO. Blow lives in Brooklyn with his three children. We recently talked with him about poverty and race in America, life as a single parent, and the experiences that led him to write his upcoming memoir.

How did you decide to write something so intensely personal?

I'm not sure if I decided to write a memoir as much as the form chose me. I began writing this book before I knew I was writing it. I had an extraordinarily long commute, so I began writing short autobiographical essays that I thought I might be able to submit to a magazine for publication. In 2009, that all changed. That year, two 11-year-old boys, Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover and Jaheem Herrera, both hanged themselves--just 10 days apart--after experiencing unrelenting homophobic bullying.

I thought: Not on my watch. I knew then that I didn't just need to write scenes from my life, but the whole narrative arc of it, so that I could speak to the pain that Carl and Jaheem must have felt and to help other children--and adults--like them.

What do you hope readers will take away from your book?

I have so many hopes. One is the old cliché that even in the darkness you can see the light, and you can find a way to survive. One thing about children committing suicide is that they don't have the forethought to even write a note. There's nothing to say, no explanation, no examination of that pain. They don't have that language. I have that language, and I know that experience. I thought, I need to write what it feels like to walk up to the precipice that these boys walked up to, and also what happens to your life when you walk back from it. It won't be easy, but it can be done, and you can live, and you can love, and you can be whole as a human being.

Secondarily, I was thrilled that I would get a chance to write about the incredible diversity of the black male experience, all of the heroes and villains and all sorts of ways of being. I feel like in popular culture we're reduced to a perilously narrow definition of being; all men are, African American men even more so. This idea that we can be complicated and sensitive and nurturing and, conversely, cruel just as any other human being can be thrilled me to no end. I wanted to make sure that I painted all of the men as full human characters, and I'm hoping that people will see that.

And I'm hoping people will understand what poverty looks like in America. I think that we often think only of inner-city poverty, but there is also rural poverty, and it is oppressive, and it has none of the advantages of being surrounded by a city where people are philanthropic. None of that exists for the rural poor or the suburban poor, and in that is a darkness that is persistent. I think if you haven't experienced that level of poverty, you cannot even see that people can draw any joy in their lives with it because it is so startling and it is so unreal.

As a single dad raised by a single mom, how do think your mother's parenting style influenced your own?

It's a blueprint. I completely leaned on what I remember seeing of her being a single parent. For the longest time, I didn't think she slept. Because when I went to sleep she would be awake, and when I got up she would be awake and have the kids up, and I just didn't think she went to sleep!

Not only was she a single parent taking care of all of us boys and her uncle--my great-uncle--she was doing so while continuously going back to school. I don't think you can overestimate how powerful it is to see a parent getting an education while you're getting an education. I think there's an abstraction when you're a kid and the teacher's telling you, "This is going to pay off later on," but you can't see how that works. But I'm seeing it in real time with my mother, her going to night classes and getting a better job, and getting a promotion, and I'm seeing the material effects of how education changes a life, how reading changes a life, and it has a tremendous effect on me. Education was an actual ladder out of your circumstances.

Also, her perseverance in all sorts of adversity, the most extreme of which, I think, was poverty. As a teacher, I think she was making $24,000 a year. There were six of us in the house. If we didn't farm and raise vegetables and a cow or a hog or two every year, we would have starved. My mom was absolutely insistent that we would never take government assistance. I don't know if she would articulate this, but this was completely coming through the silence: that she could do it, and there was nothing that was going to keep her from being able to provide for us on her own. She used to say this thing: "You could stay in hell for one day if you knew you were going to get out." That always stuck with me when I was going through a bad time or having a hard time with the kids or whatever. You could deal with this because you knew eventually it would be over, and I live by that motto, and it is hers.

Do you think see any changes for the better in race relations now compared to when you were a child and a young adult? What do you think could help heal persistent racial divides and stereotypes in America?

There are advances, undeniably. No honest observer would deny that. But we are seeing a dangerous trend toward re-segregation, in residential communities and schools.  

I was born in 1970, the year that the parish that I was in finally integrated its schools. What I saw was the experiment of people trying to integrate, and sometimes that's very difficult. What we see now is rising levels of re-segregation, particularly in schools. One study included this fact: schools in the U.S. are now more segregated than when they passed Brown v. Board of Education. That should frighten everyone. Even in the North--a recent study said that New York City schools were the most segregated of any schools in the country. That means that we don't have our children growing up having a communal experience of being with people who are unlike them, whether that's race, different incomes, whatever. I don't know how that gets rectified because it's not legislated, it is self-sorting.

From your struggles, what advice would you give a young person trying to accept him/herself?

I would say, "Difference is not deviance, and you have a moral obligation to yourself to love yourself, just as you are." --Jaclyn Fulwood

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


Wolf in White Van

by John Darnielle

Wolf in White Van tracks backward in time through the life of Sean Phillips, a mid-30s survivor of a horribly disfiguring "accident" who now lives an introspective, hermetic life managing the players in an elaborate mail-order fantasy game he created during his hospital rehabilitation. Advertised in small sci-fi magazines, his post-nuclear-disaster quest is an old-school postal version of the arcade video games Sean played as a kid. Subscribers mail him their moves and he replies with the next level of options. As a recluse whose closest human contacts are therapists and nurses, Sean savors the friendship of his players--until a young couple take the game too literally and suffer permanent catastrophe in a frozen Kansas ditch with "their minds gone past the point of panic to that self-drugged state where everything looks cool."

For his first novel, musician John Darnielle (front man, lyricist and often the sole member of the Mountain Goats; author of a fictional riff on the iconic Black Sabbath album Master of Reality for the 33 1/3 series) has made a story that's labyrinthine but compulsively readable--a Tom Cruise movie with brains. Sean's refreshingly unpretentious and unembittered voice tells of his many tedious months of medical treatment, but gradually he reveals his childhood isolation and fascination with the imaginary world. When Sean finally tells of the night of the "accident" that permanently scarred his face, Darnielle has already neatly pulled readers into his own game and provided a lasting glimpse inside the head of a young man trying to cope. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A labyrinthine look inside the mind of a disfigured man's life as a gamer and fantasy freak, from the founder of the Mountain Goats.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $24, hardcover, 9780374292089

The Bone Clocks

by David Mitchell

If the "death of reading" is really on its way, David Mitchell's ambitious novels may offer a stay of execution. His writing spans genres, centuries, philosophies and continents--often all within the same story. Readers who treasure his Cloud Atlas will find themselves on familiar (which is to say, challenging) ground with The Bone Clocks.

Starting in 1984, Mitchell introduces Holly Sykes, a precocious teenager, common save for her unfortunate tendency to attract psychic phenomena, and a younger brother who brings new meaning to the phrase "old soul." When Holly runs away from home after butting heads with her mother, she manages to draw the attention of two powerful groups, both dangerous in their own ways. They're hoping to tap into her psychic abilities, and their reasons break down the boundaries between good and evil, right and wrong.

The story weaves in and out of different lives, spanning at least six decades, as everyone who knows Holly is pulled into a war of minds that addresses the problems of world geopolitics as much as the challenges of keeping family together across the years. Much of Mitchell's writing is characterized by links among his stories, and readers of his previous books will recognize a few familiar faces here. Improbably, delightfully, Mitchell creates new surprises and performs startling feats of literary derring-do that will leave readers once again shaking their heads, wondering how he does it and hoping he'll soon set to work on their next favorite book. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

Discover: Another big, rollicking, exciting novel that breaks through the walls between genres, from the author of Cloud Atlas.

Random House, $30, hardcover, 9781400065677

The Way Inn

by Will Wiles

Will Wiles used architectural space as a witty metaphor for personal and emotional control in his first book, The Care of Wooden Floors. Space--personal, contractual, digital, and designed--also plays a key role in The Way Inn, where "commercial navel-gazing and solipsism" becomes a philosophical rumination about the individual "black boxes" that corporate culture and consumerism create.

Neil Double is a conference surrogate, a guy who revels in the mundane details and generalities of convention life, serving as a stand-in for clients who'd rather not attend. At a conference about conferences, he meets Tom Laing, a potential client who turns out to be the event's organizer. Tom exposes Neil's secret and Neil becomes a marked man, losing access to his livelihood and his controlled life of "persuasive anonymity and the license that comes with that"--until he encounters the mysterious red-headed Dee. Her connections to the Way Inn and its own sort of controlled uniformity launch Neil on a slow-moving, Kafkaesque ride through hotel and corporate life, challenging his perceptions and disrupting "the cosmos of tiny details that make up everyplace mundanity," forcing Neil to confront the bitter truth about humanity's artificial spaces.

Wiles's keen observations about the anonymity of conference life provide a clever vehicle for Neil's work as a surrogate and the personality struggles that ensue. The Way Inn also serves as a cautionary tale in this age of information gathering, where the contents of one's life are just an Internet search away. One thing seems likely: readers won't look at chain hotels in quite the same way again. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: An Inception-like adventure that will forever alter the way we think about chain hotels and the corporate life.

Harper Perennial, $14.99, paperback, 9780062336101


by Eliza Robertson

Eliza Robertson's first story collection gathers a host of outsiders, oddballs and everyday people for an array of startlingly intimate perspectives. The contents include "L'Étranger," shortlisted for the CBC Short Story Prize, and the Commonwealth Short Story Prize winner "We Walked on Water," both beautiful examples of Robertson's ability to use the quiet places inside a narrator's thoughts as an echo chamber for the moments that become turning points in our lives.

Although the premise seems absurd, Robertson found inspiration for "Missing Tiger, Camels Found Alive" in a news story about the theft of a trailer containing a tiger and two camels from a motel parking lot. The parade of inner lives continues: a young girl dreams of becoming an astronaut, her scientific curiosity at odds with her family's slum housing and her one friend, a pyromaniac shoplifter. Another young girl whose mother and brother died in a boat accident discovers a tribal burial site: a small corpse in a canoe suspended in a tree according to custom.

Robertson's imagery alludes to the delicacy of nature and humanity, often focusing on birds (tame wrens, captured hummingbirds, crows that "take wing en masse and sweep through the air like a hand-held fan"). With characters from so many walks of life, she conveys the message that we are all wallflowers, all observing life as we experience it. The pleasure taken from living the characters' secrets with them is part voyeurism, part kinship. Taken as a whole, the collection invites readers to meditate on both the remarkable and unremarkable moments that have most affected their own lives. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A delicate and graceful debut story collection that delves into the lives of overlooked, commonplace people.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620408155

Our Lady of the Nile

by Scholastique Mukasonga, trans. by Melanie Mauthner

Scholastique Mukasonga's entertaining first novel about a girls' school in Rwanda in the early '90s is far more than just a prelude to the coming bloodbath. Our Lady of the Nile is written with plenty of humor, depicting the dire Rwandan conflict through some very likable teenagers. The titular Our Lady of the Nile is a four-story lycée located close to the source of the Nile River. The isolated, high-altitude school was built in 1953, about a decade before Rwanda gained independence from Belgium. There, the students remain virgins--or, at least, avoid getting pregnant.

The novel is a series of interrelated stories featuring a different girl in each chapter, with the same recurring ensemble of students throughout. Sometimes the school itself is the source of conflict. Girls at the lycée are not allowed to speak Swahili, the language of Muhammad. They are forced to eat white people's food, which usually comes in cans. The treacherous chaplain who heads the Catholic Relief Services reserves the loveliest donated dresses for his favorite students; to receive the "gifts," the girls must undress in front of him.

Despite the serious setting, Mukasonga proves to be a playful author, and a chuckling good humor pervades the book. Our Lady of the Nile offers a total immersion in a way of life--with its own customs and morality--through a handful of comical and compelling schoolgirls swept up in the divisive politics of a nation. This is a skillfully orchestrated vision, both loving and fearful, of Mukasonga's beloved homeland ripped apart by vicious racial hatred. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A frequently funny tale of teenage girls, set just before the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

Archipelago Books, $18, paperback, 9780914671039

The Means

by Douglas Brunt

Douglas Brunt (Ghosts of Manhattan) brings readers deep into the competitive world of multimedia journalism as it intersects with the hard-boiled grit of politics. Spanning four years and various U.S. locales, The Means braids together three distinct points of view to form a compelling, complex plot that unspools gradually, deepening the mystery at the center of the book.

Samantha Davis, a former child actress, is smart, beautiful and ambitious. Now a lawyer, she's hired as a national TV news reporter. As she learns the ropes, often the hard way, she pursues an evolving news story concerning the upcoming presidential election that raises her profile and tests her integrity.

Tom Pauley is a handsome, North Carolina defense attorney. After he wins a controversial trial, the well-liked, middle-class fiscal conservative is tapped by the GOP to make a run for governor. Might his popularity and appealing poll numbers encourage him to set his sights on the White House?

Mitchell Mason is a study in personal and professional contradiction: ruthless one minute, caring and sensitive the next. He's the brash, headstrong Democrat serving as president in a post-Obama America. A scandal from his past, however, suddenly threatens to put his re-election bid in peril.

Brunt is meticulous and detailed-oriented. He crafts cinematic scenes, rich in dialogue, that authentically reveal the trappings and snares of power, ambition and human nature. The corrosion of the U.S. political system--on both sides of the aisle--is at the heart of this engrossing, seductive political thriller served with a twist. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A finely tuned novel about a broadcast journalist who stays on the trail of an explosive story that could upset the presidential election.

Touchstone, $26, hardcover, 9781476772578

Mystery & Thriller


by Grady Hendrix

The premise is something out of a wacky dream, one that jolts the sleeper awake with a racing heart and sweaty palms: you're trapped in a mammoth furniture store after closing when all the lights go out, and you're unable to find your way in the maze of home furnishings and storage solutions. And then creepy things start happening....

In Horrorstör, Grady Hendrix's debut novel, the nightmare happens in the Cleveland, Ohio, Orsk furniture super-store. The retail giant was built on the ruins of the old Cuyahoga Panopticon, a grisly prison where the warden believed nonstop surveillance would rehabilitate criminals.

Each morning, the Orsk employees arrive to find bizarre damage: the employee entrance is broken, the escalator is running in reverse, merchandise is smashed. Workers receive text messages from an unknown caller, simply reading "help." Basil, the deputy store manager, is determined to solve the mystery of the nightly vandalism. He recruits Amy and Ruth Anne to work an overnight shift with him during which they'll make regular rounds of the store in hopes of nabbing the culprit before he or she can strike again.

Hendrix's thriller parody offers social commentary on retail structure in a satirically humorous tone. Horrorstör is bound like an IKEA catalogue, each chapter is titled after a piece of creatively named furniture and accompanied by an image of the flat-pack item, and a store map provides directions on how to visit Orsk's labyrinthine showroom. In the vein of a classic Scooby-Doo ghost story but set inside a modern retail environment, Hendrix's nightmare is wildly fun and outrageously inventive. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: The creepy crawlies slither out of the particleboard when three furniture-store employees work overnight to catch a vandal.

Quirk Books, $14.95, paperback, 9781594745263

Rose Gold

by Walter Mosley

In 25 years, Walter Mosley has published some 40 books, but perhaps his most endearing recurring character is the Los Angeles private detective Easy Rawlins (Devil in a Blue Dress). Mosley personifies the sometimes-violent, sometimes-corrupt, always racially tinted history of Los Angeles through the life of this self-employed black man with both street and book smarts and an expansive network of helpful contacts. Rose Gold brings the resourceful Easy into the turbulent 1960s.

Easy is offered a confidential assignment by the chief of police, who needs help finding a wealthy, white arms manufacturer's missing daughter, Rosemary, believed to be kidnapped by a black former boxer and murder suspect named Battling Bob Mantle. The case gets complicated by the Patty Hearst-like political leanings of the missing girl, and Easy finds her trail littered with murders, robberies and megalomaniacal commune leaders. Mantle appears to be the fall guy, used to cover up police corruption and illegal government arms sales. To untangle the web, Easy calls on his old friend Raymond "Mouse" Abernathy and teams up with Rosemary's mother's bodyguard, Teh-ha Redbird.

Mosley's best writing not only tells a good story, but also quietly draws attention to the many ways that race impacts life in the United States. He reminds us that people aren't colored in black or white, but rather in unusual shades in between with the physiological characteristics of our many origins. We are lucky to have Mosley working on behalf of racial understanding, and Rose Gold is one of the best of his not-always-so-easy Easy Rawlins novels. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Mosley's 13th, and perhaps best, Easy Rawlins novel untangles a missing-persons case amid the political uneasiness of 1960s Los Angeles.

Doubleday, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385535977

Biography & Memoir

Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh

by John Lahr

Fans of the theater and Tennessee Williams will adore this masterful biography by John Lahr. Drama critic for the New Yorker and author of many works--including a biography of his father, Bert Lahr, called Notes on a Cowardly Lion--Lahr aims to "construct a new map of the man and his work." He sees Williams's plays as an "emotional autobiography," so he seamlessly weaves biographical material into his analyses of each play to show how each has Williams writ large in them.

Thomas Lanier Williams III was born in Mississippi in 1911, adopting his professional name, Tennessee, in 1938. As a young writer, he struggled for success and acceptance. Finally, in 1945, The Glass Menagerie opened on Broadway to rave reviews, winning the New York Drama Critics' Circle Award. To Arthur Miller, it augured a "revolution" in theater. Around this time Williams was confronting his homosexuality, always "his defining struggle," the "mad pilgrimage of the flesh."

After the success of A Streetcar Named Desire, which won a Pulitzer Prize, he was on a first-name basis with the world. Lahr's expansive biography is filled with fascinating profiles and anecdotes about key figures in Williams's life: Elia Kazan, Marlon Brando (his acting was the "performing equivalent of jazz"), literary and theatrical agent Audrey Wood, Carson McCullers, Jane Bowles and Gore Vidal. Lahr believes Williams created his memorable characters out of a "sad little desire to be loved." Between success and the flesh, he swung high and low, leaving a "trail of beauty" so we could try to find him. Outstanding. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A superb biography that's poised to become the definitive work on the great American playwright.

W.W. Norton, $39.95, hardcover, 9780393021240


Planet of the Bugs: Evolution and the Rise of Insects

by Scott Richard Shaw

Scott Richard Shaw has been collecting bugs since he was four. Now a professor of entomology at the University of Wyoming, he shares his passion for these creatures and their cosmological significance in Planet of the Bugs.

The scope of this work is immense. Shaw begins with the Cambrian period, more than half a billion years ago, by examining the sea-dwelling arthropods that first developed body armor and mobility, and then follows them through prehistory and into the modern day. He argues for the predominance of insects, as they are Earth's most diverse and adaptive animals and thus the best survivors over time. The dinosaurs were impressive, and we like to emphasize the importance of our own human species in earth's history--he criticizes this human-centrism throughout--but Shaw makes an excellent case that insects "literally rule the planet."

Planet of the Bugs is packed with intriguing trivia. Parasitic flies feed in turn on the blood of vampire bats; caddisflies are "nature's most adept architect," building portable, protective cases for themselves using the natural materials around them; the griffinflies of the Carboniferous period (which looked something like huge versions of the modern dragonfly) had wingspans of two to three feet; female sawflies and wasps choose the sex of their offspring.

Shaw boggles the reader with his enthusiasm and expertise, and reveals a playful side. Among his many encyclopedic turns, he waxes philosophical and indulges in metaphor and even humor, resulting in a surprisingly accessible and entertaining read. A love of bugs is not required. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An impassioned view of insect evolution and the awesome implications of bugs for all life on earth.

University of Chicago Press, $27.50, hardcover, 9780226163611

Children's & Young Adult


by Raúl Colón

In this marvelous wordless adventure, Raúl Colón (Abuelo) takes us on safari through a boy artist's imagination. Colón, who suffered from asthma as a child, calls to mind in pictures here what Robert Louis Stevenson's words do in "The Land of Counterpane." Colón uses his pencils to summon a safari's worth of animals. The boy artist, pictured in bed in pen-and-inks and watercolor, looks at a book about Africa, a safari hat, sketchbook and stash of pencils nearby. A sequence of full-color images in Colón's signature compositions leads us into the creations of the artist in his imagination. The two styles clearly delineate the bedbound child and his imagined self as artist on safari. The young artist appears with canteen and easel slung over his shoulders, waving to an elephant. The elephant stops to model for a portrait. You could teach an art class from observing the young artist's lines. The elephant, pleased with the results, offers the boy a ride. Zebras pause by an acacia tree for a portrait; the boy contorts himself to sketch a herd of swift-moving giraffes. He gazes at a pride of lions from a safe distance, and a gorilla grabs the boy's hat and lunch as the price for posing. The climax involves a charging rhino in a heart-stopping four-part sequence.

The book closes as it opens, with a sequence that charts a poignant parting from his pachyderm friend, and a return to the boy's bedroom. One last image takes the boy from his solitary work to an appreciative audience. Bravo! --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A marvelous wordless adventure in which a bedbound artist takes readers on safari via his imagination.

Paula Wiseman/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781442494923

Viva Frida

by Yuyi Morales, Tim O'Meara, photographer

In this bilingual love letter to a fellow artist, Yuyi Morales pays tribute to Frida Kahlo in a breathtaking mix of puppets, fabrics and paintings.

"Soy/I am," says a puppet in the exact likeness of Frida Kahlo, a ring of roses in her coal-black hair, rose-colored beads and a rainbow-striped scarf around her neck. A parrot in flight leads readers into the next three-dimensional scene: Frida gazes at a monkey in a tree holding a key, with Diego Rivera behind her, paintbrush in hand, and her small black dog alert beside her. The monkey hands her the key to the small yellow chest Frida holds in her hands. Morales plays with perspective next: readers see only the faces of Frida and the monkey, as if viewed from within the chest ("¡Aja!/Ah-ha!"). A Day of the Dead marionette comes out, and Frida's shoes come off: "Juego/I play." For a dream sequence, Morales shifts to paintings of Frida airborne in a full-skirted pink dress with arrows aloft around her. She discovers a fawn, pierced by an arrow--a nod to her El Venado Herido/The Wounded Deer (1946). Kahlo (who discovered painting while recovering from a bus accident) carries the deer to safety on her back--symbolic of the healing that art brought to her life.

"Y entiendo.../ And I understand... que amo/ that I love" says Frida, now reunited with Diego, the monkey, her dog and the fawn. Visually, this beautiful book will pull in young readers, while Frida Kahlo's fans will gain the most from Morales's magnetic compositions. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A bilingual love letter to artist Frida Kahlo.

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-up, 9781596436039


Author Buzz

Every Time We Say Goodbye

by Natalie Jenner

Dear Reader,

EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE was the hardest book I will ever write, and the most rewarding. I packed everything I could into this book: love and conflict, faith and religion, censorship and resistance, art and moviemaking, fashion and food, cameos by favorite actresses and characters from my earlier books, and above all Rome, my favorite city in the world. I hope that my novel gives you the entertainment and inspiration that nourished me throughout its writing.

Email with the subject line "Every Time Was Say Goodbye Sweeps" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Gratefully yours,
Natalie Jenner

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
May 14, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Happily Ever Maybe
(A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella)

by Carrie Ann Ryan

Dear Reader,

What happens in a bodyguard romance when both characters are a bodyguard?

All the heat and action!

I love writing workplace romances because things get tricky. And when a one night stand ends up burning up the pages, things get... explosive.

Gus and Jennifer are fiery, kick-butt characters that made me so happy to write.

I hope you love them!

Carrie Ann Ryan

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Happily Ever Maybe (A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella) by Carrie Ann Ryan

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
February 13, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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