Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, October 20, 2015

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

From My Shelf

An Appreciation of Bats

October is, no surprise, official Bat Appreciation Month. There are more than 1,300 species of bats worldwide; they range from cute to strange to scary; they aid farming by eating insects, thus reducing the need for pesticides; they pollinate plants; and, according to Merlin Tuttle, founder of Bat Conservation International, they are gentle, cuddly creatures with off-the-charts intelligence and sophistication. Tuttle has just written The Secret Lives of Bats: My Adventures with the World's Most Misunderstood Mammals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26), which begins with his first bat cave exploration as a teenager, when dozens of gray bats landed on him, seeking places to hide. Many people would have run screaming from the cave, but Tuttle was captivated, as readers of this book will be as he explains his fascination.

Tomi Ungerer's unusual picture book, Rufus: The Bat Who Loved Colors (just reissued by Phaidon), has been flapping around winning hearts since it was first published in 1961. Rufus the bat loves colors so much he paints his feet violet and his ears pink. Unfortunately, when he flies out into the sunlight, he is shot down from the sky by frightened onlookers. Fortunately, he lands in the tulip garden of Dr. Tarturo, a collector of rare butterflies, who becomes the unconventional bat's friend for life.

In Night Animals (Viking/Penguin), a clever charmer by Gianna Marino, the skunk, possum, wolf and bear are all terrified of night animals, until the bat points out, "But you ARE night animals."

A little vampire girl and wannabe ballerina tries to resist her impulse to turn into a bat in Vampirina Ballerina, a girly-goth picture book by Anne Marie Pace, illustrated by LeUyen Pham(Disney-Hyperion). To succeed in ballet she'll need a night class, for starters... and, as a vampire, she won't be able to see herself in the mirror. But she perseveres! --Marilyn Dahl and Karin Snelson, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Halloween Countdown

The ghostly countdown begins. Flavorwire highlighted "20 of the creepiest haunted houses, castles and mansions in literature." Quirk Books revealed "the most awesomely bookish Halloween costumes (according to us)," while Bustle unveiled "11 Halloween costumes inspired by children's books."


Grammarly told "20 wordplay jokes for grammar nerds."


"It was the day my grandmother exploded." The Telegraph highlighted "30 great opening lines in literature."

Calling the project a "pretty, impractical way to organize your bookshelf," the Huffington Post showcased the work of textile artist Gali Cnaani, who removed the books from her shelves and "then stacked her library in different patterns resembling textile designs, like Herringbone."


Buzzfeed shared "24 hilarious tweets every book lover will appreciate."

Home Is Burning

by Dan Marshall

Dan Marshall's life was pretty heavy on privilege. A self-described spoiled white kid with money, he grew up in Salt Lake City and then graduated from UC Berkeley, and was busy enjoying his first real job in Los Angeles and his first real girlfriend, Abby. His family--mom, dad and four siblings--wasn't perfect, but they were happy, loving and shared a strong if quirky sense of humor, based on fart jokes and four-letter words. His mother had had "terminal" cancer well managed for nearly 15 years. Then came the phone call, while Dan was on vacation with Abby, announcing that his capable, marathon-running father had been diagnosed with something called ALS.

ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. It's a terminal neurodegenerative disease that kills off motor neurons, eventually depriving the person affected of the ability to move his own limbs, eat, speak, and breathe. Dan was slow to accept the gravity of the diagnosis, but under pressure from the family, after several months, he takes a leave of absence from his job to move home at age 25 to help out around the house. Home Is Burning is his memoir of caring for two terminally ill parents at once while dealing with a houseful of rowdy siblings with problems of their own. His story is unavoidably terribly sad, but peppered with sex, drugs both prescribed and recreational, copious foul language, lots of alcohol, and deep and abiding love, the Marshall family saga is surprisingly sweet and funny as well.

Although Dan describes them as spoiled and rich, the Marshalls have had their fair share of misfortunes, from mother Debi's cancer diagnosis and years of chemotherapy treatments to cerebral palsy and Asperger's syndrome among the children. The eldest sibling, Tiffany, who took over some parenting duties as a teenager when Debi was sick, had become an overachiever apparently teetering at the edge of a nervous breakdown. Greg was a successful college student in Chicago, enjoying his freedom after finally coming out of the closet. Still in high school were Chelsea, a socially awkward ballerina and serious student, and Michelle, a budding alcoholic in a disturbing relationship with her soccer coach. Dan was the second child, and the last to move back to Salt Lake City for their father Bob's remaining time, which would more likely be measured in months than years.

Dan lingered in the denial stage of the grief process. With the whole family, he'd watched Bob run his last marathon in Boston, in a time nearly twice that which he'd run to qualify. But when Dan moves home, he is dismayed to see how much his father has already deteriorated. With Tiffany living nearby but on her own, "the little girls" still in high school, and Debi inconveniently faced with her toughest round of chemo treatments yet, the bulk of Bob's caregiving duties falls to Dan and Greg. Together they help him bathe and use the bathroom as he loses the use of his arms. They feed him through his gastrointestinal tube, and take him for walks in a wheelchair as his legs lose their strength. They hook him up periodically to his BiPAP (bilevel positive airway pressure) machine, which helps push air through his lungs. Bob chooses to delay his tracheotomy surgery--which would attach him to a respirator for the rest of his days, and quite possibly end his ability to speak--to attend his own mother's funeral; but the ill-advised delay ends with a rush to the hospital when his breathing fails, and the procedure takes place under emergency conditions. Happily, Bob retains his speech.

For all Dan and Greg's love and good intentions, their caregiving is sometimes alarmingly poor: Bob is dropped on the floor, his respirator tubes cracked and broken. He might be considered lucky to survive his family's care. The household begins to fall apart: Michelle passes out in her own vomit with increasing frequency as the cats pee all over their three-story home, which has been pulled apart by construction to install an elevator and widen doorways. Dan begins drinking more heavily; Abby breaks up with him; Greg takes a full-time job, putting more pressure on Dan; Debi's behavior grows ever more erratic, with the mental effects of her chemotherapy, her distress at losing her husband, and a new addiction to pain pills. Dan's outlook and storytelling throughout these mounting stressors is singular. He is remarkably candid about his frustrations and resentments: he loves his father enormously, calling him his buddy, his pal, his road map through life, and describing the effortless quality time shared and advice given--but he is angry to have his own social freedoms curtailed.

The tone of Dan's writing in this painful period, however, is astonishingly funny, loving, even lighthearted. As he moves back and forth between agony, grief and anger, he displays a fun-loving, off-color, morbid sense of humor and an almost apologetically sweet expression of love for his entire imperfect family and especially their hero, their rock, Bob. Dan interjects his narrative with fantasies in which Debi's hair grows back, Chelsea doesn't giggle inappropriately at looming death, Michelle doesn't marry her soccer coach, Bob stands up and takes himself to the toilet and goes for a good long run in the mountains.

Many stories have been written about terminal illnesses, degrading deaths, and families in grief; but the loving portraits painted here of outrageous and colorful characters joking in the face of ugliness may be unique. As Bob approaches his final chapter, readers will certainly cry, but they will laugh as well. Home Is Burning is a strangely packaged gift: love and pain, death and life, sex jokes, fart jokes and plenty of booze make up an extraordinarily heartwarming love letter from "a sad dude with a big heart who really loves his dad." In its sad ending there is unlikely joy. --Julia Jenkins

Flatiron Books, $27.99, hardcover, 9781250068828

Dan Marshall: Self-Deprecation and Happiness

photo: Sharon Suh

Dan Marshall grew up in a nice home with nice parents in Salt Lake City, Utah, before attending UC Berkeley. After college, Marshall went to work at a strategic communications public relations firm in Los Angeles. At 25, he left work and returned to Salt Lake City to take care of his sick parents. While caring for them, he started writing detailed accounts about many of their weird, sad, funny adventures. Home is Burning is his first book. He is currently working on adapting it into a screenplay.

Your Facebook notes and blog posts fed into what became the book. What is the writing process like when you have all that material to start with?

It was a fairly unique process. The blog was mainly shorter posts: funny conversations, short stories and a lot of lists. When I decided to write the book, I aggregated all the blog posts, and then read through them. The blog was a lot cruder than the book (if you can believe it), and was focused more on trying to make people laugh than on the sentimental moments from the story. So a lot had to change.

The blog also didn't really have a theme other than, "S**t is bad." So in reviewing all the material (about 900 pages worth), I had to figure out first what I was trying to say with all this writing--what theme or message I was trying to get across. I started to realize that it's really a story about a selfish, spoiled kid finally facing something real, and thus being forced to sort of grow up. Once I realized that, it was a little easier to know what should stay from the blog and what should go. So I started trimming it down, cutting parts that didn't push the story forward or relate to the theme, and adding a few parts that helped to fill in some of the gaps that I didn't cover in the blog.

Overall, it was a tedious process.

Was writing this book terribly painful or cathartic?

Certain things--like when my dad announced his desire to die, the Abby break-up, my dad's eventual death--are always painful to relive and write about. I usually had to take a lot of walks while working on those sections to calm myself down.

Also, the voice I write in is rather dark and sad. So, getting into that morbid headspace is always painful. Whenever I was jumping into a rewrite or going through the book again, I would tell myself, "Okay, you're going to be sad and feel like shit for a couple of months," then start writing.

However, writing the book was also really cathartic, especially when I discovered the themes of the book. It was like, "Wow, that was horrible, but I learned a lot." You learn more from pain than pleasure, so I think writing the book made me wiser. I'm a lot smarter than my friends with living parents.

This is going to sound sappy, but the book was also an opportunity to hang out with my dad again. I could bring him back to life and relive some happy memories. So, that aspect of it brought me a lot of joy. Then, each time I'd finish writing, I'd miss my dad even more. So, I'd fall into a bit of a depression for a few weeks. Nothing that a few burritos can't cure, though.

Are you this amazingly self-deprecating in real life?

I start everyday by looking in the mirror and booing. Just kidding. I don't do that.

But I do have a genuine hatred for myself that runs deep. I feel like a little self-hatred is healthy, but I probably overdo it. I'm pretty hard on myself, which is funny on the page, but sort of a drag to live with. I feel really worn down by myself all the time. Sometimes I want to yell, "Leave me alone!" at myself.

I think self-deprecating humor is a defense mechanism because I figure if I think the worst about myself, then I can't be shocked by anything bad anyone says about me. I do need to work on being nicer to myself. Whenever I'm going on a self-deprecating tangent, my mom always says, "Stop saying so many mean and hurtful things about someone I love." I should follow her advice.

You share an awful lot of painful personal detail here, both your own and others'. How do you decide where to draw the line? Do you draw a line? Was your family involved in those decisions?

In writing this, I made a commitment to revealing everything and being as open and honest about the experience and my life as possible. I don't think it'd be that entertaining to read if I were holding back.

Also, I wanted people to know what it was actually like to care for a person with Lou Gehrig's disease. It's such a horrible disease, and I think if people were aware of what actually goes into caring for someone with the illness, then more people would donate money toward trying to solve the ALS puzzle. You wouldn't think it, but like 60% of the care you do for someone who is bedridden is bathroom stuff. So I figured I needed to address all that to give readers the full experience.

When it comes to stuff about me, nothing is off-limits. When it comes to stuff about others, I try to be a little more selective. It's so hard to have some a**hole write about you, so if someone asks me to take something out of the book, I usually do. But I do try to push it. I often ask, "How much can I reveal about this person and still have them love me?" It varies from person to person. My brother Greg is a writer, so he's basically okay with anything about him.

My sisters and mom, however, were a little taken aback when they first read the book. My mom's initial reaction was, "F**k you Danny and f**k your book." She's since forgiven me and has been incredibly supportive of the book.

Generally, though, my family has been really good sports about this. They realize that this is a story about our dad more than anything. And they realize that I'm as hard on myself as I am them.

You relate some shocked reactions to your off-color and morbid sense of humor generally. What reactions do you anticipate to the book?

I think the book will get a mixed reaction. Some people will probably really enjoy it. And some people will absolutely hate it. I find that people over 80 tend to not get my sense of humor, so I doubt I'll be asked to do readings at retirement communities or in Florida.

I'm prepared for all of my Mormon friends to hate me when the book comes out. In fact, I probably won't be allowed in the state of Utah anymore. I always get a little nervous when a Mormon friend tells me they've pre-ordered the book. I try to be especially nice to them so we can hopefully remain friends. I actually really love Mormons now. I didn't for a long time, but I realized through this that they're also just trying to get through life. 

But I hope people see what I was going for. I know it's crass, and crude, and contains South Park humor, but I hope they see past all the language and realize that at the core of it, this is a story about a guy learning to love his family and learning how to grow up. 

As a screenwriter, can you tell us what rating this book will receive onscreen?

It will receive an R-rating for sure.

What's next?

I try to keep busy because I'm not good at having hobbies so I get really anxious and bored when I'm not working. I'm working on the Home Is Burning adaptation for New Line Cinema now. Miles Teller is attached to play me, and Jonathan Levine is directing.

I have a few other film projects I'm working on. One is a script called F**k Me, I'm Paralyzed (inspired by a true story) about a friend helping his paralyzed friend try to get laid for the first time since his accident. We're hoping to film in early 2016.

I'm also planning on writing another book that focuses on what life has been like after my dad passed, sort of an exploration about how to deal with moving on from loss and rebuilding yourself--trying to find happiness without the people who made you happy. --Julia Jenkins

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


City on Fire

by Garth Risk Hallberg

New York City in the mid-1970s was on the skids. Its municipal bonds were under water, graffiti was splashed over subway cars and stations, Times Square was a porno sleaze-pot. Those times, that city and its citizens are the stars of Garth Risk Hallberg's galactic first novel.

With more than 900 pages, City on Fire is an ambitious, omnivorous story of dozens of characters whose lives increasingly intersect despite their economic, social and ethnic differences. At its center is the Central Park shooting of Samantha "Sam" Cicciaro, a young fanzine publisher and groupie of the storied punk band Ex Post Facto. Everybody seems to love Sam, and nobody knows who tried to kill her. On this New Year's Eve shooting, Hallberg builds a complicated story, as much a crime thriller as a social commentary on a time when New York wasn't the expensive playground of the hip and rich that it seems today.

Hallberg thinks big and writes small. Whether describing a steamy summer with its "dog-slaying, hydrant-bursting, power-sucking July days" or the poverty of a Vietnamese gallerist trying to sustain "another few months of loosies and ramen and rent," Hallberg takes on the whole city. If there is a little of Richard Price, Lawrence Block and Tom Wolfe hovering behind City on Fire, the novel is nonetheless all Hallberg all the time. He culminates his powerful saga in the July 13, 1977, blackout, when the strings of his story tie satisfyingly together. Despite its somewhat seedy ambience, New York City in the '70s may also have been the city at its most lively. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Hallberg's ambitious first novel overflows with the creative, financial and destructive energy of New York City in the mid-1970s.

Knopf, $30, hardcover, 9780385353779

In Short Measures: Three Novellas

by Michael Ruhlman

In Short Measures marks food and nonfiction writer Michael Ruhlman's first foray into fiction, and it is a spectacular debut with crisply written prose, packing an intense emotional punch and immediately drawing readers into its bittersweet love stories. Ruhlman (The Book of Schmaltz) creates flawed characters who wrestle with moral quandaries in order to fulfill their artistic and romantic destinies. The thread connecting the three pieces is the subject of writing fiction, particularly what it means as an artistic endeavor.

Ruhlman's first and longest novella, "In Short Measures," is a masterpiece about love, loss and regret in the pursuit of art, its title nodding to Ben Jonson's poem "To the Immortal Memory and Friendship of That Noble Pair, Sir Lucius Cary and Sir Henry Morison." Narrated in first person by Grimsley Feller, Duke University's archivist and curator of rare collections, the story unfolds in flirty reminiscences as Grimsley reconnects with former flame and Hollywood script doctor Emerson Randall at a professor's memorial. Despite the 25-year separation and different career paths, their shared history becomes too strong a temptation for Grimsley to resist, and both are left to wrestle with the repercussions of Emerson's infidelity. The second and third novellas are shorter variations of the first; each depicts regret over missed chances, which continue to haunt Ruhlman's protagonists beyond the safety of their carefully orchestrated suburban lives.

Ruhlman has a keen gift for dialogue, and his protagonists' imperfect quests to recapture fleeting memories of youthful bliss become compelling commentaries on middle age. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Food writer Michael Ruhlman crafts three novellas that reflect on writing, love, loss and regret.

Skyhorse Publishing, $24.99, hardcover, 9781634502252

Ghostly: A Collection of Ghost Stories

by Audrey Niffenegger, editor

"Houses, lovers, children, cats"--Audrey Niffenegger (Raven Girl) has collected 16 stories that feature hauntings of familiar domestic relationships and objects. She has chosen them because she likes them, "and what I like about them is their intimacy, their off-kilter matter-of-factness and their vivid evocations of order disrupted, sudden awful knowledge, the human condition as cosmic joke."

Ghostly's stories span 170 years, most of them first published before 1950. Not all will be to everyone's taste, but there is something here for anyone by a selection of brilliant writers. Several stories, such as Neil Gaiman's "Click-Clack the Rattlebag" and Edgar Allan Poe's "The Black Cat," are true horror stories. Others, including P.G. Wodehouse's "Honeysuckle Cottage" and Saki's "Laura" and "The Open Window," are pure comedy. There are stories by Edith Wharton, M.R. James, Kelly Link, Ray Bradbury, one by Niffenegger ("Secret Life, with Cats") and a new one by Amy Giacalone.

Niffenegger introduces the book and each story with a full-page original black-and-white illustration and a short preface. The ghosts of the title don't always appear to the expected person, and sometimes they appear through a letter on a table, or the sound of a comb through invisible hair. They attract the living away from life, though not always intentionally. The living sometimes respond with terror, sometimes with longing and love, and in a few cases with healthy practicality, though more often they do what perhaps they shouldn't: open that door, walk toward that sound, say hello to the intriguing stranger. --Sara Catterall

Discover: Writer and artist Audrey Niffenegger introduces and illustrates 16 classic and modern ghost stories.

Scribner, $28, hardcover, 9781501111198

Mystery & Thriller

The Ville Rat

by Martin Limón

Martin Limón's The Ville Rat opens in 1974, with the body of a strangled Korean woman wearing a traditional chima-jeogori found on the shore of the Sonyu River in South Korea. Sergeants George Sueño and Ernie Bascom from the U.S. 8th Army Criminal Investigation Division in Seoul are called to the scene. They discover that the case is under the jurisdiction of the army's 2nd Infantry Division military police, which controls the area.

But the 8th Army's provost marshal assigns Sueño and Bascom another case--involving a black soldier shooting a white officer--that gives them a legitimate reason to be in the area. While investigating the soldier's motivation, the duo continues following clues in the Korean woman's murder, leading them to a blind calligrapher and an American civilian, who is possibly a former member of the army and known as the Ville Rat. The investigators soon realize they've uncovered decades-old corruption, and powerful people will pay to have them stopped--permanently.

Sueño and Bascom, in their 10th series outing, are a good team, with Sueño's calm, bookish demeanor balancing out Bascom's hotheaded tendencies. Sometimes Sueño has to guide his partner toward a logical conclusion, while Bascom is usually the first to take decisive action when the two are in trouble. The villain would be more arresting if the motivation for his cruelty had been explored further, but The Ville Rat, set 40 years ago, provides insight into tensions and conflicts--racial and otherwise--in the military and society as a whole that are still relevant today. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: This military police procedural features two dogged army investigators searching for a killer in South Korea.

Soho Crime, $26.95, hardcover, 9781616956080

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Rising Tide

by Rajan Khanna

Benjamin Gold is a steampunk airship captain, now without a dirigible--sacrificed in an attempt to keep pirates from attacking a hidden city. Worse, his longtime enemy Malik has captured him and his scientist girlfriend, Miranda. In exchange for Miranda's safety, Ben must find lost technology needed to keep Malik's ocean vessel from sinking.

To make any headway, however, Ben and a team of adventurers from the secret island of Tamoanchan have to avoid Ferals, vicious zombie-like humans who've been infected with a virus that turns them into single-minded killing machines who stop at nothing to kill and devour non-feral humans.

In their search for the pumps Malik needs, Ben and company discover that a rival government has captured Miranda's scientific comrades. The team had been researching the virus that turns humans into Ferals, and now their progress will come to a grinding halt, at the very time Miranda is on the verge of a breakthrough.

While it's fairly formulaic for a new viral outbreak to occur, similar to the old one but producing different deadly symptoms, Rajan Khanna (Falling Sky) keeps suspense high with the disclosure of Tamoanchan's location and its subsequent siege. The island natives blame Ben. Can he ever catch a break?

The plot alternates between Ben's narrative and Miranda's journal, letting readers in on various facts that either character may not be aware of, while also offering insight into the emotional strain created by their separation. Rising Tide is an enjoyable, worthy read, a welcome voyage for fans of zombie, post-apocalyptic and steampunk fiction. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Rajan Khanna delivers a thrilling sci-fi adventure, in a world full of Feral humans and steampunk airships, with characters readers can truly root for.

Pyr, $17, paperback, 9781633881006

Biography & Memoir

My History: A Memoir of Growing Up

by Antonia Fraser

Antonia Fraser (Must You Go?) has always adored History with a capital H. From childhood, she reveled in biographies of historical figures and accounts of the British monarchy, with a particular affection for Mary, Queen of Scots (the subject, many years later, of her first full-length biography). In My History, her second memoir, Fraser details her growing-up years and her burgeoning love of the discipline that would become her own.

The eldest child of two politically and intellectually active aristocrats, Fraser grew up in Oxford, its rarefied academic air serving as the backdrop for long bicycle rides and other escapades with her siblings. Immersed in the close-knit world of Britain's upper classes, Fraser moved with ease in her parents' social circle (even while dealing with the typically awkward feelings of adolescence). While her anecdotes of the post-World War II London social whirl may be confusing to American readers (Fraser assumes her audience is familiar with the tangled relationships of the English aristocracy), her warm, confidential tone provides a cozy glimpse into a vanished milieu.

Her friendship with novelist Anthony Powell, her uncle by marriage, helped Fraser to begin "equating writing, discipline and a good life." Eventually, she realized that "writing History was an art in itself," which could produce "entertainment as well as enlightenment."

A charming portrait of the world in which Fraser grew up and an affectionate chronicle of a young woman finding her calling, My History will delight historians and Anglophiles alike. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Biographer Antonia Fraser chronicles her early years and her path to becoming an historian in a witty, beautifully told memoir.

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $28.95, hardcover, 9780385540100

Rescue Road: One Man, Thirty Thousand Dogs, and a Million Miles on the Last Hope Highway

by Peter Zheutlin

Rescue Road Trips founder Greg Mahle says, "Every job in rescue is essential to the process. Some risk life and limb, some their financial security, but all risk losing and regaining pieces of their hearts over and over again." Journalist Peter Zheutlin embeds himself in the emotional world of dog rescue to tell the stories of its dedicated and unsung heroes, all the while stealing pieces of his readers' hearts.

Due to a culture that views dogs as property and denounces spaying and neutering, states such as Louisiana and Texas are overrun with unwanted canines. These animals roam the streets and overwhelm the kennels. If they don't die from disease, thousands of adoptable pets are euthanized because there isn't enough space or money to care for them. Volunteers like Kathy Wetmore of Houston Shaggy Dog Rescue and Keri Toth of the Humane Society of Central Louisiana work tirelessly, often spending their own money to provide care and find homes--primarily in northeastern states--for these forsaken creatures, while also attempting to advocate for change in attitudes and policies.

Mahle bridges the miles between rescuing angels and adopting families, driving the adoptees twice a month in his truck, fitted out especially for canine transport. Zheutlin travels with Mahle on his route to experience first-hand the ups and downs, the struggles and the rewards, as well as the links in the rescue chain most people never see.

At turns both agonizing and uplifting, Rescue Road is eye opening and hopeful. It's highly recommended for any and all dog lovers. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: The road to some dogs' homes is paved with many compassionate, dedicated humans.

Sourcebooks, $14.99, paperback, 9781492614074


Drinking in America: Our Secret History

by Susan Cheever

Historian and biographer Susan Cheever (E.E. Cummings) believes alcohol and drinking have been an underlying force shaping the American story from the 17th century to the present. She launches her engrossing, insightful narrative with the Mayflower, which transported 200 barrels of alcohol to the New World. The voyage was beset with difficulties, and adults and children consumed beer for sustenance and to maintain health, as water stockpiled in barrels onboard grew fetid. Running out of beer was a major reason the Pilgrims landed at Cape Cod and not further south. Ten years later, the Puritans jump-started the American brewing industry and their efforts paved the way for the production of distilled liquor: whiskey, cider, rum.

The well-researched and well-developed timeline Cheever presents winds through the Whiskey Rebellion; Johnny Appleseed planting apple orchards on the frontier that led to healthy apple cider production and, later, 66 proof applejack; Meriwether Lewis's reliance on whiskey to help build the Erie Canal; alcohol profiteering, including how the rum trade was connected to slavery; and the Civil War, where liquor helped turn the tide of battle--for better or worse.

Cheever cites many examples of how alcohol and drinking have been divisive and destructive forces that have brought "pain... and incompetence" to the history of our national landscape. But she makes an equally effective and compelling historical case for how "drinking is a cherished American custom--a way to celebrate and a way to grieve and a way to take the edge off. It brings people together." --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An engrossing, in-depth examination of the profound ways alcohol and drinking have shaped and contributed to American history.

Twelve, $28, hardcover, 9781455513871


The Nones Are Alright

by Kaya Oakes

As a writing teacher at University of California, Berkeley, Kaya Oakes (Radical Reinvention) is surrounded by an inclusive community full of young minds searching for meaning and learning to live with doubt. She was raised Irish Catholic: "my love for the church is innate. My family is buried in Catholic graveyards, we went to Catholic schools, and like every other Irish Catholic family in America, we had a dusty photograph of our martyrs RFK and JFK in silhouette hanging in the kitchen." But what most appealed to her about faith was "the social justice lean of my parish community, the courage of the women religious, the relentless messages of a loving God who waits patiently for us."

In February 2014, Oakes identified herself as "an agnostic-leaning believer" and sought responses from people who have discovered a spiritual community beyond the walls of a church and spiritual fulfillment beyond the bounds of traditional orthodoxy. Those responses became The Nones Are Alright (referencing those who check "None" as their religious affiliation--up to one-third of people in their 20s, 30s and 40s according to a 2012 Pew Research study). Respondents have identified as Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Muslim, atheist or agnostic at some point in their lives, but now "engage in a kind of spiritual mix and match, blending many traditions and adhering strictly to none." The many perspectives that Oakes candidly presents weigh how religion can be a bastion of judgment, condemnation and political tension, but also a great source of community, solace and structure. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: People of many backgrounds find their way outside established religion.

Orbis Books, $22, paperback, 9781626981577

Performing Arts

Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway

by Michael Riedel

Broadway theater lovers and fans of scandal, intrigue and back-stabbing will delight in Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway, an acerbic, juicy and well-researched history of the Great White Way by Michael Riedel, bi-weekly columnist for the New York Post and co-host of the PBS series Theatre Talk.

Epic in scope, this history of the rough and tumble business side of Broadway begins in the 1960s--when the financial ledgers were kept in pencil and, thanks to black market ticket sales, kickbacks, price gouging and illegal money handling, everyone was making a lot of undocumented money, except the show investors. (Rudy Vallee, then starring in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, personally scalped his free house seat tickets every night in Times Square.) Riedel traces ticket corruption back to 1850, and when the New York State attorney general begins to unravel this scam in 1963, it implicates everyone from ticket sellers to theater owners.

Although the bulk of Razzle Dazzle covers the theater world from the 1960s through 1990s, Riedel backtracks to the origins of the family-run theaters, where disputes were sometimes settled with murder. There are no dull decades in this Broadway history, at least not with Riedel at the helm to detail feuds, jealousies and bad behavior on and off the stage. He brings energy and insight to his portraits of the legendary and volatile show people who continually reshaped Broadway musicals including Oklahoma!, Hello, Dolly!, Pippin, A Chorus Line, Cats, The Phantom of the Opera, Dreamgirls and Les Misérables. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: New York Post theater gossip columnist Michael Riedel tells all about the scandalous and sensational history of the Great White Way.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 9781451672169

Children's & Young Adult


by Jay Kristoff, Amie Kaufman

An intergalactic space war, a teenage breakup, a mysterious epidemic and a possibly homicidal rogue Artificial Intelligence (AI) system collide in the wildly adventurous Illuminae--first in a planned trilogy by Amie Kaufman (the Starbound Trilogy) and Jay Kristoff (the Lotus War trilogy).

The same morning that 17-year-old Kady Grant breaks up with her boyfriend, Ezra Mason, their illegal mining colony on planet Kerenza IV is attacked by BeiTech Industries. Thousands are killed, and the survivors forced to evacuate. Suddenly adrift in space, separately, on the battle carrier Alexander and research vessel Hypatia, Ezra and Kady find themselves in the middle of a war with BeiTech's ship, the Lincoln, in swift pursuit. With crews dwindling, all qualified civilians are conscripted into service, including Ezra. Defiant and "anti-establishment" Kady, deemed unsuitable for conscript, further develops her hacking skills aboard Hypatia. She quickly finds that not everything is as it seems with the AI defense network, leaving her to question the fates of everyone aboard the ships. Amid rumors of a violent mystery illness plaguing some passengers, will the corrupted AI even matter? Kady isn't sure of anything other than that she has to try to save them all.

Told through a massive dossier of interviews, surveillance footage, e-mails, web chats and more, Illuminae is a heart-pounding adventure that's well-rounded and wonderfully developed. Without the limits of traditional narrative, Kaufman and Kristoff manage multiple points of view and styles of writing with grace and ease. Alternately humorous, charming, horrifying and electrifying, this dizzying rush of space, cybernetics and romance is an unforgettable series debut and a game-changer for its genre. --Kyla Paterno, reviewer

Discover: In Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman's epic series debut, teens reeling from heartbreak find themselves fighting for survival amid an intergalactic war.

Knopf, $18.99, hardcover, 608p., ages 14-up, 9780553499117

Double Trouble for Anna Hibiscus!

by Atinuke, Lauren Tobia

Youngsters may have encountered Nigerian-born storyteller Atinuke's Anna Hibiscus in both picture books and chapter books, and if they have, they know she's an exuberant, biracial girl who "lives in Africa. Amazing Africa." This warm, appealing picture book opens with Anna, leaning her head against her redheaded Mama's big, pregnant belly. This, it turns out, is the calm before the storm, because the "double trouble" in the book's title means twins.

" 'It is brothers,' Anna Hibiscus tells her cousins. 'That big bump was brothers.' " The trouble begins right away. The very first day, Mama is too tired for her morning cuddle with Anna, and Uncle Bizi, who always makes her ogi (a pudding-like cereal) for Sunday breakfast with Grandmother, is busy cooking for Mama. Grandmother is sleeping, because she was up all night helping with the birth of the baby boys. Anna thinks "More trouble!" in what becomes a refrain of sorts. Anna Hibiscus is getting mad. When she finally bursts into tears--"Everybody is busy with Double Trouble!"--her dad laughs, kindly, explains that she'll have to share the family with her new brothers and lovingly embraces the wriggling, protesting girl. Soon enough, her ogi is ready, her Grandmother's awake, and Mama even has time to cuddle. In fact, when her baby brothers start crying, Anna rallies around to kiss and comfort them: "Don't cry, little Trouble" and "Don't cry, little Double."

Lauren Tobia's joyful, thoroughly charming illustrations, with their soft, textured lines and rich, festive colors--often with lively African prints on clothes and blankets--reflect the warmth of a close-knit extended family in the face of "double trouble." --Karin Snelson, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Anna Hibiscus worries that her new baby brothers will be double trouble in this effervescent picture book from Nigerian-born storyteller Atinuke and Lauren Tobia.

Kane Miller, $14.99, hardcover, ages 3-7, 9781610673679


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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