Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

An American Lyric

A book that astonishes is a book to share, to cherish, to revere. A book that astonishes again must never be taken lightly. I first took notice of Claudia Rankine's Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press) when booksellers and book lovers alike buzzed over it up and down my Twitter feed. "This book!" they cried in adulation. "This book!" Their experience became my own when I finally opened my copy.

Interjecting cultural criticism with poetry--or rather, injecting poetry with criticism--Rankine carefully and methodically begins to unravel the tightly wound spool of anti-black racism in the United States. "Certain moments send adrenaline to the heart," she writes in her thoughtful, simmering style, "dry out the tongue and clog the lungs." Of the numerous such moments depicted in Citizen, what adrenalized me first were those charting the career of tennis champion Serena Williams, the prejudice she has faced every moment she steps onto the court. I couldn't turn pages fast enough; I hardly dared take a breath.

Citizen astonished the book world when it landed on the shortlist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in not one but two categories--criticism and poetry--the first time a book has done so in the history of the award. Defying both categorization and convention, Rankine's writing reports newsworthy events like the violent deaths of Trayvon Martin, James Craig Anderson, Mark Duggan and the beating of Rodney King, as well as the many smaller aggressions Rankine has faced in her own career and daily life. She writes forthrightly of "the anger built up through experience and the quotidian struggles against dehumanization every brown or black person lives simply because of skin color." But it is not this anger, nor its sources, that astonished me again--indeed, both are quotidian--it's where she takes us from there. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Authors and Illustrators: 'Why We Can't Live Without Books'

"Why we can't live without books in pictures and words." The Guardian asked several children's authors and illustrators to "tell us why they can't live without books."


Buzzfeed told "19 jokes all grammar nerds will appreciate."


Noting that "books can change the way we feel about ourselves," the Huffington Post featured "21 quotes on womanhood by female authors that totally nailed it."


Mental Floss revealed "9 authors who regretted the success of their work."


Your Simpsons' literary moment, brought to you by Bustle: "11 books you'd find on Lisa Simpson's shelf, because your favorite cartoon feminist has great literary taste."

Epitaph: A Novel of the O.K. Corral

by Mary Doria Russell

The motto of the Tombstone newspaper the Epitaph read "Every Tombstone needs an Epitaph," and Mary Doria Russell (The Sparrow, Children of God) has set out to provide one. Having written about the life of Dr. John Henry "Doc" Holliday (in Doc), Russell takes the logical next step with a sweeping yet personal recounting of the human egos and social clashes that swirled into an infamous storm of gunfire in 1881 Arizona. Before the romance of the Old West entered our national consciousness, before the world at large ever heard the name O.K. Corral, Wyatt Earp was just one of a passel of Earp brothers who came to the silver strike town of Tombstone in hopes of capitalizing on its quick economic growth. Russell takes readers through the turbulent months leading up to a 30-second shootout that would divide a nation, as seen through the eyes of the men--not yet heroes or villains--and women who shaped the events.

Readers' natural reactions may be to assume that Russell cannot give them a better or different story than the films Tombstone and Wyatt Earp, in which the honorable Earp brothers and Doc Holliday defeat the cattle-rustling Cowboys gang in a showdown that symbolizes the civilized farmer-landowner conquering the lawlessness of the Wild West. However, Russell's unique treatment of the material provides a more detailed and human look at some of the most lionized and reviled personalities in U.S. history without regard for their legendary status. Since the O.K. Corral shootout stands as one of the formative mythologies of American culture, Russell fittingly frames the story in terms of a Homeric poem. Every Iliad begins with its Helen, and this one is no exception. Josephine Sarah Marcus, a runaway teenage girl from San Francisco, may seem more deserving of a supporting role in a story traditionally told from a male perspective, but Russell returns frequently to the wide-eyed ingénue who would later have an enormous influence on the public understanding of Wyatt Earp. Josie's early days in Tombstone as the live-in lover of Sheriff Johnny Behan give readers a newcomer's view of Tombstone and its citizens, allowing Russell a jumping-off point into the lives of Behan, Holliday and the Earps, who in turn provide entry into the lives of other characters, emphasizing the small-town interconnectedness of their orbits.

Readers will find no good guys in white hats here. While the side of the Earps and Holliday is more sympathetically drawn, Russell spends plenty of time sketching the opposition as well, particularly Ike Clanton, whose brain is slightly addled from the many times he has taken a beating his father meant for one of his younger siblings. Easiest to like is Tom McLaury, who believes he has found the love of his life in Morgan Earp's faithful common-law wife, Louisa, and tries to court her with plants that will bloom in the desert. Figures who affected or were affected by the situation but are generally given little exploration in retellings have center stage moments, from newspaper editors to stagecoach drivers, and especially the Earps' domestic partners. Giving consideration to the backstories of people traditionally cast as villains or ignored completely allows Russell to set up a panoramic view of "a time of fakery and exuberant corruption, of patronage and cronyism and every species of shameless self-seeking." Her triumph lies not only in a gripping reimagining of the events leading up to the famous gunfight, but in her dissection of how Wyatt's name became the focus of political and ideological pressures that hardened his legend from coal to diamond.

"It wasn't lying. It was letting a lucrative legend replace an old man's life." The arguing starts as soon as the smoke of the shots clears from the air. In a deeply divided partisan climate, the Earps and Holliday become symbols of law and order for a Democratic party that supports fencing the range and the rights of landowners, while the Cowboys became symbols of persecution to a Republican party that "resists regulation in the name of personal liberty." Even today, historians cannot say what happened during the gunfight with any certainty--who shot first, who was or was not armed--in part because so many conflicting eyewitness accounts muddy the waters. Russell's point, however, is not who fired at whom, but the ways in which a single violent moment defined a man's life forever.

Western genre fans may seem like the obvious audience for anything Earp-related, and certainly Russell packs in enough action and gun-slinging to satisfy them. However, her broad portrait of a time combined with her detailed depictions of its people will enthrall anyone who likes their thrills with a side of thoughtfulness or wants to pull back the veil on whitewashed versions of actual events. While filled with romance and danger, this account also embraces the bittersweet nature of real life and celebrates the humanity of some of our most lauded heroes, their heads made only heavier by the laurels. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Ecco Press, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062198761

Mary Doria Russell: Laying the Ghosts to Rest

photo: Don Russell

Mary Doria Russell is the author of five previous bestsellers including The Sparrow, Children of God and Doc. Russell holds a Ph.D. in biological anthropology and lives in Lyndhurst, Ohio. We recently caught up with her to get her fascinating perspective on the Old West and the power of the modern myth.

Why do you think the story of the O.K. Corral is so often retold?

The Greeks call it catharsis. What happened in Tombstone fits the model of a classic revenge drama. Brothers killed; justice denied; revenge exacted. Revenge dramas have been popular since Shakespeare's time.

A century of mythologizing has turned Wyatt Earp into a good man who did bad things for good reasons. That makes it okay to identify with Wyatt and think, "Yes. If my brother were gunned down, I'd want a reckoning, too." But even in 1881, the gunfight was international news and immediately moved to the center of what people believed about frontier justice in the Old West, just as the era was ending. Newspaper publishers found the story irresistible.

Opinions about the gunfight divided along political lines. The Earps were badge-wearing thugs and murderers who killed innocent civilians because of a personal feud; Doc Holliday was worse than any of them, a quarrelsome drunk and a killer. Or, the Earps were valiant lawmen defending their city from violent criminals; Doc Holliday was their loyal friend, a gentleman and a scholar.

There was a lucrative market for either version. Probably the best modern analogy is the Fox News vs. MSNBC coverage of the Trayvon Martin killing, but there have been plenty of officer-involved shootings since that one. Epitaph is tragically topical.

You say, "Who tells the story, and why... that makes all the difference." What makes your take on it fresh?

For 133 years, the gunfight at the O.K. Corral has been a story about men, written by men, told to men, most of whom work indoors and chafe at the modern world's restrictions, and sometimes think yearningly about just plain shooting some sonofabitch who richly deserves it.

I bring a whole different perspective to the subject, and not just because I have two X chromosomes. I'm a cop's daughter. I grew up with guns. Police work was dinner-table conversation in our house. I'm also a liberal Democrat who finds the militarization of the American police forces disturbing and dangerous. So I bring some nuance to the story.

And I wasn't willing to accept clichés about good guys and bad guys. I do a ton of research for my novels. This one drew on very recent biographies documenting the real lives of those who had a part in Tombstone story, but as an anthropologist, I'm interested in how myths develop. Why did an inoffensive alfalfa farmer like Tom McLaury become a bad guy who deserved to die? How did Wyatt Earp become a hero after carrying out the brutal extra-judicial executions of at least five men?

Those questions led me to the influence of Josie Marcus Earp, who saw to it that Wyatt's life was scrubbed, sanded, smoothed and polished until it was shiny enough for people to name their sons after her husband. That required other men to take all the blame for what happened.

I wanted to do better for the dead. I wanted to lay ghosts to rest. That's partly why the novel is named Epitaph.

Doc Holliday

We hear that you went to Tombstone for research purposes.

Yep. It's one thing to absorb a library of books about the gunfight. It's a whole other thing to spend five days on horseback in the mountains and deserts that surround Tombstone. Fifty-eight miles over dangerous, difficult terrain taught me a lot about the physical realities of the hunt for Morgan Earp's killers. I was 60 and healthy; John Henry Holliday was 30 and dying of tuberculosis. I know in my muscles, my bones and my skin what that ordeal must have been like for him.

I think Doc's insistence on seeing it through is a testament to his affection for Morgan Earp, and his grief over Morgan's death, and his determination to bear witness to what Wyatt did.

Do you think you could live in the Wild West?

Oh, dear God, no! Well, I suppose I'd have adapted to it, but the reason I started with Doc Holliday's story is that his experience of the frontier was what we'd feel, if dropped into Texas in 1873. John Henry Holliday was beautifully educated and just starting a fine career as an Atlanta dentist when he was diagnosed with advanced tuberculosis. At just 22, he had to choose between dying young in the lethal, steamy heat of Atlanta, or going west in the hope that the dry air and sunshine could cure a disease that was eating him alive.

Scared, lonely and sick, that quiet, bookish boy found himself on the rawest edge of the American frontier, cut off from everything he loved: music, books, family. He must have felt like he was on the far side of the moon. I suspect we'd feel the same way.

Wyatt Earp

What interests you about the time period?

It's the beginning of the modern world! Cattle drives, pioneers and isolated boom towns make up most of western lore, but look at what was happening around the world in the 1870s!

The phonograph, telephone, the internal combustion engine and incandescent lighting were being developed. Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Monet, Pisarro and Renoir were changing the art world.The ballet Coppelia was staged. Bizet's Carmen premiered. It was the era of Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Strauss, Berlioz and Brahms. The popular writers were Dostoevsky, Victor Hugo, Henry James, Anthony Trollope, Jules Verne, George Elliot, Lewis Carroll, Dickens and Tolstoy.

That was the culture John Henry Holliday was born to and educated for, and I wanted to spend time in it.

What made you draw the parallel between this story and Homeric epics?

The Iliad of Homer is rooted in the intimacy of a love story but places the siege of Troy in its national and international context. Homer insists that neither the Greeks nor the Trojans had a monopoly on either honor or brutality. He demands that you recognize the heroism of Hector, the weakness Paris, the pigheadedness of Achilles. He makes you understand the allure of Helen, the faithfulness of Andromache, the fear of the women of Troy. And when the story explodes into battle, rage and pitiless violence, you mourn the dead on both sides of the conflict.

The gunfight at the O.K. Corral and the vendetta that followed it are a Homeric epic for Americans. This story is our Iliad. I wanted to tell both sides of that story, with all its ambition and stupidity, all its bravery and honor, all its love and grief. If you read Epitaph and mourn Tom McLaury as much as Morgan Earp, then I've done my job. I've laid the ghosts to rest. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


Lucky Alan: And Other Stories

by Jonathan Lethem

Conventional writing wisdom says, "Learn the rules before you break them." That education takes some writers a lifetime. In Lucky Alan, New Yorker contributor Jonathan Lethem's third collection of stories, realistic worlds are touched by absurdity, comic-strip characters get stranded on an island, and rules are broken, artfully, like a painter running his brush over the canvas and onto the wall. These stories prove that it's possible to marvel at structure and lose oneself in a story, all at the same time.

Lucky Alan depicts a multitude of universes, real and invented. There's a cabin in the woods, surrounded by wolves and strange girls. There's a blog, peppered with all caps. There's New York City, neighborhood by neighborhood. In one instance, the reader follows a directionless Manhattanite as he perches outside a coffee shop, only to be implicated in an industry that involves prisoners dumped in holes and monitored by men in vans. Lethem doesn't bother to suss out the abstraction, opting instead to demonstrate the character's growing resolve, how he's galvanized by his newfound purpose. Still, under Lethem's capable pen, nothing seems farfetched. The traditional exposition, climax and denouement are absent, yet none of these stories lack a sense of direction. Characters undergo transformations; the reader must merely keep pace.

These stories read easily and embrace the absurd, but their outward simplicity belies a labyrinthine vision of the world, one in which lives and philosophies get inextricably scrambled. Come to Lucky Alan for the sharp prose, with words like "orangely"; stay for its ideas, its structural inventiveness and the rules broken like shackles. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer

Discover: An inventive, razor-sharp story collection by modern literary star Jonathan Lethem.

Doubleday, $24.95, hardcover, 9780385539814

Above Us Only Sky

by Michele Young-Stone

With Above Us Only Sky, Michele Young-Stone (The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors) delivers a gorgeous sophomore effort rich with themes of family and rebirth.

In 1973, Prudence Vilkas is born with formations on her back that the doctor calls "bifurcated protrusions" but that her father, Freddie, more succinctly identifies as wings. Because of Freddie's estrangement from his parents, he doesn't know that Prudence's abnormality runs in the family. Despite her father's enchantment with his "little bird" of a daughter, her mother, Veronica, initially refuses to hold Prudence and agrees to have the wings surgically removed. After her parents' divorce, Prudence lives with her mother and rarely sees Freddie. Growing up, she takes solace in her friendship with Wheaton, a creative boy her age who can see the ghosts of her wings.

In 1989, Frederick Vilkas, most commonly called the Old Man, begins having dreams about his parents and sisters who were murdered in his native Lithuania during World War II. His yearning for family inspires him to contact his granddaughter, the child of his prodigal son, Freddie, for the first time.

Young-Stone disregards chronological time, instead alternating chapters set in World War II or Cold War Lithuania with chapters set during Prudence's 1970s girlhood or her 1980s adolescence, as well as snippets from a present day in which Prudence is an ornithologist and mourning the imminent death of the Old Man and several years' separation from Wheaton, who left her life without an explanation. Young-Stone's bittersweet and complex look at the ties that bind reminds us that "hope is the thing with feathers." --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: An American teenager born with wings learns about her Lithuanian family's wartime tragedies and enduring strength.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781451657678

Dorothy Parker Drank Here

by Ellen Meister

Ellen Meister introduced readers to the ghost of Dorothy Parker in Farewell Dorothy Parker, imagining a spirit who refuses to cross over into the afterlife and is quite happy about it, thank you very much. By the opening of Dorothy Parker Drank Here, however, Parker is lonely in her decision, trapped in the halls of the Algonquin Hotel with a staff alternately annoyed by and terrified of her. So she sets out to find some company, some earthly soul who will agree to choose the Algonquin, when the time comes, over the bright light that has called to all the others she might have passed the time with.

Parker believes she has found the perfect candidate in Ted Shriver, a reclusive author whose career ended in a plagiarism scandal decades earlier. Though she thinks Shriver will be an easy sell, she is surprised to find him stubbornly opposed to her proposal. The traditionally independent Parker finds herself uncharacteristically looking for help convincing him, and finds it in Nora, the young producer of a dying television show--though Nora, as it turns out, has her own reasons for wanting to speak to the aging writer.

Dorothy Parker Drank Here is a wild ride, pairing the well-researched wit of Dorothy Parker with a contemporary story of success and failure, romance and family. Meister's brilliant interpretation of Parker's ghost in the modern world keeps the novel from ever veering into the land of cliché as she brings to life--or rather, brings to ghostliness--the spirit of one of the most famous writers of the Algonquin Round Table. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The stubborn ghost of Dorothy Parker refuses to cross into the afterlife and seeks company in her haunting of the Algonquin Hotel.

Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399166877

Mystery & Thriller

The Life I Left Behind

by Colette McBeth

Colette McBeth follows up her debut, Precious Thing, with a suspense-filled novel told from three women's perspectives: Detective Inspector Victoria Rutter; crime survivor Melody Pieterson; and the spirit of murder victim Eve Elliot.

The paths of these women cross when Eve is found dead, clutching a chain with a small birdcage pendant. Six years earlier, Melody narrowly escaped the same fate--grasping a similar necklace--saved purely by luck thanks to a casual passerby. David Alden, the man convicted of Melody's attack, is out of prison and the prime suspect in Eve's murder. However, unbeknownst to Melody, who remembers nothing of her assault, Eve had been investigating her case in an effort to clear David of the heinous crime.

Now trapped between earthly life and whatever comes after, Eve observes as DI Rutter and Melody pour through the investigation files she left behind. A tangled web of deceit unravels through the pages of Eve's documents, and David's innocence becomes clear, meaning DI Rutter has to race to identify the true killer before he can finish what he started with Melody.

The Life I Left Behind is a spellbinding thriller with several strong plot twists that will likely have seasoned mystery readers second-guessing their early whodunit predictions. The novel is also a compelling look at the devastating psychological effects violent crime wreaks on everyone connected.

The role DI Rutter plays is ultimately inconsequential to the story, and focusing solely on Melody and Eve could have tightened the plot. Still, McBeth's sophomore novel is captivating, capable of stealing hours before readers ever notice they're gone. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A suspenseful novel of three women connected by a murder.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250041210


by Duane Swierczynski

Sarie Holland, the protagonist in Duane Swierczynski's Canary, is a 17-year-old college student who's busted after unwittingly helping another student on a drug run. But Philadelphia narcotics cop Ben Wildey doesn't want to arrest her. He promises not to ruin her future if she gives up the name of her drug-dealing friend, mostly referred to only as D., hoping the guy would lead Wildey to the supplier at the top of the drug chain. Sarie refuses to rat out D., so she reluctantly agrees to be a CI--confidential informant--and is plunged into increasingly harrowing situations as she tries to give Wildey the info and dealers he wants without betraying D. Along the way, Sarie gets a brutal crash course in the drug underworld, one she might not pass.

For an honors student, Sarie repeatedly makes foolish choices that strain credulity for any sane person with a basic survival instinct. And she does it all to protect a guy she barely knows, who got her into trouble in the first place and doesn't deserve her loyalty.

But, as in Swierczynski's Charlie Hardie series, the action just doesn't stop, with Sarie bumping into big and bigger trouble around every corner. Even as readers internally scream at her to smarten up and do the right thing, they'll keep reading to see just how she extricates herself from these bad situations--and how resourceful she is. The author's skillful handling of suspense and multiple points of view, as well as a sardonic wit, keeps Canary in flight. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A thriller set in the seedy Philly drug underworld, with a frustrating lead character but nonstop action.

Mulholland Books, $26, hardcover, 9780316403207

Science Fiction & Fantasy

A Darker Shade of Magic

by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic is based on a simple premise that is in fact unendingly complex: a world in which there are parallel Londons. In Grey London, ruled by a mad King George, magic is rare, almost unheard of; in Red London, magic is respected and idealized; and in White London, magic is something to be tightly controlled. Then there is Black London, sealed off from the rest of the world because of the dangerous magic it contains.

Only the Travelers can move between these Londons, and Kell is one of two remaining Travelers in the world. Though strictly forbidden by the laws of all Londons, Kell uses his ability to smuggle items among the cities--a trinket, a locket, a letter. Eventually, this practice catches up to him, leaving him on the run with Delilah (Lila) Bard, a cross-dressing thief who is determined to do whatever she must to escape the Grey London she's always known.

V.E. Schwab (Vicious) has combined just the right elements of fantasy in A Darker Shade of Magic to craft a novel that is as smart as it is adventurous. Her world-building is complete and thorough, with the magic of Kell's world subject to enough rules that it never feels like a plot crutch, and her characters are complex and multi-layered, making them as interesting to discover as the world they live in. With a story that ties up loose ends but leaves enough questions to tease a sequel, perhaps there will be a chance to know Kell and Lila even better in the future. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A smart, adventurous fantasy novel based on the idea of parallel Londons, with only two people who are capable of traveling between them.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765376459


A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War I That Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare

by Diana Preston

In the century that has passed since the start of the First World War, warfare has changed significantly, embracing the deadliest weapons conceivable by modern science. In A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War I That Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare, Diana Preston places the advent of this approach within the events of several weeks in 1915, and the deployment of three new terrifying German weapons: poison gas, the use of Zeppelins to firebomb London and torpedoes fired from submarines.

Additionally, Preston (Lusitania: An Epic Tragedy) outlines the development of peace movements and the explication of Just War Theory within the context of how the world reacted to "frightful" tactics employed by Germany. She notes that once Germany began using gas, both the British and United States governments felt compelled to develop their own stockpiles and delivery methods. And though Germany initiated the bombing of open cities, Great Britain soon returned the favor, advancing the idea that using deadly weapons such as gas or bombs against civilians will end a war more quickly and reduce bloodshed--an argument that persists to this day.

The author's excellent use of war diaries and newspapers in the sections on Zeppelin warfare are particularly gripping, juxtaposing the terror and awe felt by Londoners and the heroism required of Zeppelin crews.

Preston writes, "Albert Einstein was pessimistic, later commenting 'it has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.' We can only hope that he was wrong." However, this strongly sourced argument suggests Einstein was not. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa

Discover: A well-documented and argued analysis of the emergence of modern warfare.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 9781620402122

Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years

by John McHugo

The Syrian civil war that began in 2011 has driven millions from their homes and killed hundreds of thousands, with destabilizing effects for the region and world powers. In Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years, author, Arabist and international lawyer John McHugo (A Concise History of the Arabs) provides an energetic and lucid crash course on this complex nation.

McHugo summarizes the earlier history of diverse and geographically vulnerable Greater Syria, before zeroing in on modern Syria, created by foreign powers after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1920. After the arbitrary designation of borders, which divided extended families, ethnic and religious groupings and trade routes, and after 20 years of self-interested French misrule, it seems there was never much hope for a unified, prosperous and free nation. McHugo describes the rise of intertwined nationalist and Islamic sentiment under the French, as well as the extreme fragility and churning military governments of independent Syria through the 1960s. He also traces the devolution of Ba'athism from a movement dedicated to social justice and unity into the brutal and corrupt dictatorships of the Assads. In his final chapter, he analyzes the civil war in light of all that has come before, and considers various options for the future.

This is a remarkably fair-minded telling, with careful examinations of every player's strengths and weaknesses, their positive and negative actions. Those who crave more depth after the final page can turn to McHugo's extensive bibliography. --Sara Catterall

Discover: A perceptive overview of Syria's complex history and implications for the future.

New Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9781620970454

Current Events & Issues

Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships and Identity

by Carter Sickels, editor

Untangling the Knot: Queer Voices on Marriage, Relationships and Identity assembles pieces from diverse contributors, college professors and blue-collar workers, some established writers and some never before published. Edited by Carter Sickels (The Evening Hour), these extremely sharp essays offer a startling array of perspectives on the fight for same-sex marriage in the United States, rendering a deceptively simple concept--that the needs of the LGBTQ community range far beyond marriage--fully and feelingly. Published as the Supreme Court agrees to hear arguments about same-sex marriage on a nationwide level, Untangling the Knot is profoundly eye opening, even for readers well informed on the subject.
Essays cover the reasons why marriage is important to some members of LGBTQ communities, addressing questions of medical decision-making, finances and insurance, child rearing, equality. Others protest what Ben Anderson-Nathe calls a "rhetoric of sameness": the argument for marriage rights based on the idea that queer families are just like straight ones. Jeanne Cordova illustrates why choosing a single issue is damning for a movement. Joseph Nicholas DeFilippis writes that the continuing assumption that marriage is the highest form of family does a disservice bigger than the queer community, affecting straight people as well. Several contributors argue against legal rights, benefits and protections being tied to marriage at all. Some suggest better uses for organizational resources: homelessness, health care, anti-discrimination, and aid to trans people, the poor and queer people of color.

With Sickels's synthesizing introduction, these sympathetic, well-informed essays show that the fight for same-sex marriage is deeply complex and only one issue in the fight for inclusiveness and equality. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An incisive and enlightening examination of same-sex marriage within the wider context of LGBTQ needs.

Ooligan Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781932010756

Travel Literature

Journeys Home: Inspiring Stories, Plus Tips & Strategies to Find Your Family History

by Andrew McCarthy, the National Geographic Travel Team

Home. It's a layered, complex idea for many people: the homes we grew up in; the homelands of our families (immediate, extended, ancestral); the homes we build for ourselves as adults, both physical and metaphorical. In Journeys Home: Inspiring Stories, Plus Tips & Strategies to Find Your Family, the travel editors of National Geographic and 26 outstanding writers explore the idea of finding home--and provide helpful advice for those who want to begin their own quests.

Andrew McCarthy (The Longest Way Home) opens the book with his account of meeting the extended family he never knew he had in County Kerry, Ireland. Joyce Maynard (After Her) retraces her father's painting trips through British Columbia, later immortalized in his art, and Nawuth Keat (Alive in the Killing Fields) tells of his reluctant return to Cambodia 30 years after fleeing the Khmer Rouge. These journeys are sometimes difficult, often painful, but they plumb the depths of that complicated word, home, with insight and grace.

"Get to Know..." sidebars in each essay provide information about various countries for readers seeking to explore a new place or learn more about an ancestral culture. The book concludes with "Genealogy 101," a clear, practical guide for readers who want to delve into their family histories. Stunning full-color photographs illustrate each essay.

"Something shifts inside of us when we see where we come from," Jennifer Wilson (Running Away to Home) writes in her account of a year spent tracing her mother's roots in Croatia. Journeys Home chronicles that shift in rich detail, and may inspire readers to start planning their own trips home. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A kaleidoscopic collection of essays on searching for and finding home, with stunning color photos and a wealth of practical information.

National Geographic, $26, hardcover, 9781426213816

Children's & Young Adult

Princess Pistachio

by Marie-Louise Gay, illus. by Marie-Louise Gay

As she did with her Stella and Sam series, Marie-Louise Gay proves once again her thorough understanding of sibling dynamics and a child's healthy fantasy life in this transitional reader.

Pistachio Shoelace always knew she was born for greater things. When she discovers a note under her bed that says, "Happy birthday, my little princess!" along with a golden crown, her instincts are confirmed. "I knew it," Pistachio whispers. "I have always known it! I am a princess. A real princess!" Princess Pistachio of Papua. Children will savor the details of the daily life she imagines, filled with chocolates, fine silks and silver skates. The joy drains out of the fantasy, however, when Pistachio's toddler sister, Penny, wants to horn in on the fun. The royal costume backfires at school, too ("What has got into you?... Have toads asked you to kiss them?" wonders Pistachio's "former best friend"). With its whiff of mystery and a satisfying and credible reconciliation between Pistachio and Penny, this emotionally authentic story makes a strong family read-aloud.

Five brief, self-contained chapters, simple vocabulary and plenty of full-color illustrations make this ideal for children ready to move out of beginning readers and not quite ready for full chapter books. Gay's watercolors, sometimes stretching across the bottom two-thirds of a full spread, sometimes appearing as spot illustrations, capture the range of Pistachio's moods, from exhilaration to anger to contentment with things just as they are. Here's hoping for more about these two very real and likable sisters. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A funny, realistic transitional reader about a girl bound for greatness and the toddler sister who impedes her progress.

Pajama Press, $12.95, hardcover, 48p., ages 5-8, 9781927485699

Mark of the Thief

by Jennifer A. Nielsen

In Mark of the Thief, Jennifer A. Nielsen creates a hero to rival Sage, the star of her riveting Ascendance Trilogy. The protagonist of this first title in a planned Praetor War series shares with Sage a rebellious nature and a birthright that seems to dictate his path.

Nicolas Calva and his sister, Livia, were sold into slavery five years earlier and forced to work in the mines. After Nic and others discover a tunnel rumored to contain Julius Caesar's treasures, Nic is sent down to recover Caesar's bulla, a pendant purportedly containing magic and power--but not before overhearing General Radulf, head of Emperor Tacitus's army, speak of his plans to "crush this empire in my fist." Nic finds the bulla guarded by a griffin. Once Nic puts on the bulla, he seems bonded to the creature, which he names Caela. Caela helps Nic escape the tunnel, only to be sold to a Roman responsible for the venatio, the pre-gladiator entertainment. Nic worries he'll be killed whether he gives the bulla to the Emperor or to General Radulf. Can he save Livia and Caela first?

Nielsen's mix of realism and magic hits a few bumps. The author relies on some secondary characters to explain to Nic how things work (the significance of the bulla and the mark the griffin leaves). Still, few writers explore social strata and the struggle between fate and free will as well as Nielsen does. With this book she sets in motion another fast-paced adventure set during a fascinating time in the Roman Empire. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: For fans of The False Prince, Jennifer Nielsen's new hero fights against his fate as a slave in the Roman Empire.

Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 10-14, 9780545561549


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

Famous screenwriter Charlie Yates wrote a romantic comedy screenplay--and it’s terrible. Aspiring writer Emma Wheeler just got hired to fix it. But Charlie doesn't want anyone rewriting his work--least of all a "failed nobody," and Emma can't support a guy who doesn't even like rom-coms, adding another bad one to the pantheon. So what choice does Emma have but to stand up for herself, and rom-coms, and love in general--and, in the process, to show her nemesis-slash-writing-hero exactly how to fall stupidly, crazily, perfectly in love?

Email with the subject line "The Rom-Commers sweepstakes" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

When I started writing Ringmaster Emerson Durand in the Smoke and Mirrors series, I knew he would get his own story. Insouciant. Charming. And he's actually the villain of that book. So can he be redeemed? It's the question I'm always working to answer in my books.

If he's going to deserve his own happily ever after, it's going to be a journey. A scorching hot journey!

That's what BLUE MOON illuminates. A dangerous ringmaster claims his rebellious acrobat for a sensual show you cannot miss.

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Blue Moon (A Smoke and Mirrors Novella) by Skye Warren

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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