Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 22, 2016

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

From My Shelf

Literature & Libations

Once again, I find myself with a cocktail in one hand and a book in the other.

Since I live in Seattle, I'm partial to things that set my city's history apart. Sunil Yapa has written such a book with Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist (Lee Boudreaux, $26; reviewed below). Set during one day of the 1999 WTO protests in downtown Seattle, the novel focuses on the tumultuous histories of several (fictional) people involved.

And much like Yapa, the very real bartender Murray Stenson of Seattle's Zig Zag Café is credited with keeping history alive with the nearly forgotten Last Word. It's a tasty gin cocktail with equal parts lime, green chartreuse and maraschino liqueur.

the Jack Rose

Winter's a time, though, when I really like to dig into something chilling and eerie. In Travelers Rest (Little, Brown, $27; reviewed below), Keith Lee Morris puts a snowbound family up in a spooky old hotel, where waking life starts to slowly sink into an alluring but dangerous dream state. It's a classic predicament that deserves a classic cocktail, so I'd recommend the Jack Rose. Favored by Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises protagonist as he too waits in a hotel, the drink features a sweet-tart complement of applejack, grenadine and lime juice.

Psychological thrills don't end there, though. In Ann Morgan's debut novel, Beside Myself (Bloomsbury, $26; reviewed below), identical twins make a game of switching places, only to wind up stuck in the wrong identity. In order to keep tabs on which is which, I suggest keeping the right hand on the book, and the Left Hand Cocktail firmly in place. With bourbon, sweet vermouth, Campari, Angostura bitters and chocolate bitters, it's not something you'd want to lose track of.

Shake, stir and pour, then sit a spell with any of these.

--Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.: Where Hope Resides

photo: Sameer A. Khan

Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. is chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University and the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies. He is the author of Exodus! Religion, Race and Nation in Early 19th Century Black America and In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America. His newest book, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul (see our review below), presents provocative arguments about the state of black America and what must be done to achieve true equality.

Democracy in Black is being published at a time of striking racial ferment in the United States. Do you ever fear that the pace of events will overtake your book? Did you have any desire to incorporate--for example--the ongoing wave of campus protests into Democracy in Black?

While I was writing the book, I worried that the events of the day would overwhelm the argument. Things were happening so fast that my examples felt dated almost as soon as I wrote about them. But I decided to write a book that would help frame the pace of events--help us see them as critical interventions in a broader effort to reimagine American democracy. The protests, however varied and fluid, represent a key dimension of my call for "a revolution of value"--that we need a fundamental change in how we view government, how we view black people, and how we view what matters. So I didn't try to revise the book with news of every new death at the hands of the police or with every new protest. I needed to write something to help people see and interpret what was happening right in front of them at breathtaking speed.

One of the most dramatic campus protest movements has been taking place at Princeton University, where you teach. What would you say to students, faculty or members of the general public who oppose the Black Justice League's attempts to remove Woodrow Wilson's name and likeness from Princeton's campus?

I am so proud of our students. They have taken the energy of Black Lives Matter and brought it to our campus, forcing the administration and the broader Princeton community to grapple with the story we tell ourselves about Woodrow Wilson and face the disturbing fact that, for many of our students, Princeton isn't the most welcoming space. Without their protests, it would be business as usual here. And black students would simply have to endure in silence. Now not only is Princeton struggling with Wilson's racism, but the nation is as well. And that is a good thing.

Whether you agree with the demands or not, the students have opened up space for a reimagining of Princeton University. I like to say that President Wilson has defined what Princeton has been; we now have a chance to define what Princeton will be. This mirrors what is happening all around the country. The protests have opened up space for us to reimagine American democracy--to glimpse what this country could be apart from those who say that our only choices are what is currently right in front of us. And that use of the imagination, to my mind, is a revolutionary act.

In Democracy in Black, you point repeatedly to the "collapse of black institutional life" as a key factor in the "current crisis in black America." How do you answer critics who insist that the decline of black churches, traditionally black colleges, and other "safe and creative spaces to combat racism" is a result of successful integration?

Well, I would challenge the assumption--that is, I don't believe we have experienced successful integration in too many domains of American life. We can think about all of the black teachers, principals and superintendents who lost their jobs after the so-called integration of schools. And we know that American education is as segregated today as it was in the 1960s. My point is not so much about a nostalgic longing for black institutions. It is really to understand the importance of these institutions in a society fundamentally shaped by the value gap (the belief that white people are valued more than others). What happens when those institutions collapse and we still live in a society in which black people are valued less? They (we) are even more vulnerable. So I would challenge the assumption. We haven't achieved genuine integration in this country. If anyone tells you otherwise, I have a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you.

One of the main theses of Democracy in Black seems to be that black liberalism has become intellectually bankrupt while simultaneously maintaining, as you say, a stranglehold on the black community's political imagination. You also decry black leaders, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, who play the "racial advocacy game." Do you fear alienating older black liberals who see themselves as having fought tooth and nail for gains that you now describe as, at best, limited?

They have fought tooth and nail. I don't want to deny that. And I don't want to seem disrespectful, because I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for their sacrifice and struggle. But we have to be honest in our current assessment. A particular approach to black politics, one indebted to a certain understanding of Dr. King, has reigned supreme for the last 30 years. And over those 30 years we, especially the black middle class, have experienced some advances. But today, by every statistical measure, Black America is suffering. And it has been on their watch. We can't deny that.

I believe we have to change the way we do black politics. One strand of argument in the book is that black democratic participation is distorted and disfigured. We have a model of black leadership that often asks black folk to outsource the work of democracy to purported leaders who represent them to the powers that be. Sort of like an emphasis on preachers in the pulpit instead of the folks in the pews. The protests in the street represent not only a challenge to the state, but a direct challenge to this model of leadership--especially in its emphasis on the most marginal within black communities (e.g., LGBT, transgender, etc.) that often go unaddressed in traditional circles.

You dedicated Democracy in Black in part to Cornel West, who posted a takedown of National Book Award-winner Ta-Nehisi Coates on Facebook. Do you have any thoughts about Coates or the remarkable success of his book, Between the World and Me?

I find the success of the book interesting and, in some ways, an occasion for analysis.

What's fascinating is the argument, right? That some believe he has offered a definitive account of our current malaise. White supremacy comes off as something fixed and unchangeable, something like oxygen, and his answer to that--even when his son is crying after the non-verdict of Darren Wilson--is simply to commend constant interrogation and struggle. To my mind, struggling and questioning alone are not enough. Two-year-olds do that. We have to ask why we struggle and why we question. What is required is a broader vision of democracy, a view of the world in which we stand in right relation to one another. That involves, as the historian Robin D.G. Kelley noted, "freedom dreams."

But, in Coates's hands, our political imaginations are confined to the realities and constraints of white supremacy. He refuses to imagine seeing beyond it. Anything else amounts to facile utopianism or a failure of nerve to look the facts of our experience squarely in the face. This is not only wrong in its details; it is profoundly dangerous.

I don't think you can hide behind a claim that the book is art (literature) to avoid the political implications of your argument. The book has politics, and we need to be clear what they are. So, I actually think the book is wildly popular because the argument resigns us to the current state of things. That might not be a generous read, but that is how I feel.

Now, don't get me wrong. Democracy in Black begins in a similar place: we have to look the ugliness of the value gap and our racial habits squarely in the face, and we must, without hesitation, free ourselves from the illusion that this country is God's gift to the earth. That belief blinds us to the suffering in our midst. In this, I am in complete agreement with Coates.

But I stand in the tradition of James Baldwin. Baldwin's spirit animates the entire argument of Democracy in Black. For him, white supremacy distorts and disfigures us. And we, black folk, have to work hard to keep it from permanently damaging our souls. But that is not all. He doesn't commend that we stay in a holding pattern in light of the permanency of white supremacy--that we just "make do" as we say back home in Mississippi. Instead, Baldwin urged us, and by extension the nation, to reimagine who we take ourselves to be--to step outside of the cage of stereotypes and our various idols that bind us and create a new world. No matter the circumstances, we had to do this work, he insisted, because in the end it was our responsibility to raise our babies to be bolder and daring, not to resign themselves to a "world of plunder" and live in fear.

When you look to the future of black America, do you feel more hope or dread?

There is a powerful line in W.E.B. DuBois's classic book, The Souls of Black Folk, in the chapter about the death of his son. DuBois writes of "a hope not hopeless but unhopeful." It is a blues-soaked sensibility that orients one to a world in which folks, as Toni Morrison wrote in Beloved, can "dirty you so bad on the inside that you couldn't like yourself anymore." I feel hope, but it is drenched in loss and brokenness. So I am not naïve. My hope is in us. Together, the few of us willing to turn our backs on the order of things can change the world--or we can watch it go to hell. It's in our hands. I have to believe that. Otherwise it would be too easy to just take the bribe and live a comfortable life amid the ruins--to become a monster of a sort.

I see people in the streets making folk uncomfortable, demanding that we reject the status quo and reimagine ourselves. They are saying no to the way this country is organized; they are doing democracy in black. That is, they are fighting for democracy shorn of the value gap. It is a tall order. Forces of bigotry and greed are powerful, and defeat more than likely awaits. We fight nevertheless for a better world for our children and our children's children. We step outside of the script written for us, and that act has revolutionary potential. That's where my hope resides. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Book Candy

Workouts for the New Year--From Fictional Characters

To start your new year off right, Quirk Books suggested "workouts inspired by fictional characters."


Bustle shared "15 struggles all fiction lovers understand."


Describing it as "some decor for grammar nerds," Mental Floss showcased Between the Words, a project by artist and web developer Nicholas Rougeux, who visualizes Moby Dick, Peter Pan, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and other classic texts through their punctuation.


In How to Make a Book from Scratch, an episode of the YouTube series How to Make Everything, Andy George "explores 5,000 years of writing history, employing a wide range of methods in order to create a book from scratch."


Don't worry, kids. Be afraid. The Guardian asked Georgia Pritchett to pick the "top 10 worriers in children's literature" and Sophie Cleverly to choose her "top 10 terrifying teachers in children's books."

Great Reads

Rediscover: Silent Spring

Rarely has a single book caused as much social and political change as Rachel Carson's Silent Spring. Published by Houghton Mifflin in 1962 after a serialized run in the New Yorker, the book documented how reckless pesticide use was damaging the environment and decimating bird populations. Chemical companies unleashed a barrage of disinformation against Carson and the other scientists who supported her claims, but the public was already decisively swayed. Silent Spring is credited with inspiring the modern environmentalism movement and President Nixon's creation of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970. Pesticide use is now highly regulated in the United States and DDT spraying is restricted by global treaties.

Silent Spring was reprinted by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for its 40th anniversary in 2002 with an introduction by Linda Lear and an afterword by Edward O. Wilson ($14.95, 9780618249060). Rachel Carson was also the author of The Sea Around Us (1951), a marine biology book that won the 1952 National Book Award for Nonfiction. Carson died of cancer in 1964 at age 56. With disastrous man-made climate change occurring--2015 was the hottest year on record--the environmental and regulatory movements spawned by Silent Spring are more important than ever. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist

by Sunil Yapa

Before Occupy Wall Street swept through New York City, the World Trade Organization riots of 1999 took control of downtown Seattle. A throng of activists swarmed the streets to protest the WTO convention, opposing free trade policies, motivated by anti-capitalist agendas, pressed by environmental concerns. Within this storm, Sunil Yapa composes a riveting fictional drama that walks the line between the radical will of the demonstrating people and the law enforcement designated to keep them in check.

This tension is most poignant between Victor, a young black man selling weed on the street, and Chief Bishop, the white policeman charged by the mayor to clear the road for the conference delegates--and Victor's estranged stepfather. The two haven't seen each other in three years, since Victor ran away from home.

When Officer Timothy Park, a loose cannon with a nasty scar on his face, swoops in to bust Victor for possession, he gets more than he bargained for when Kingfisher, a seasoned activist who isn't about to let the police take advantage of the situation, comes to the dealer's aid.

Yapa builds Your Heart Is a Muscle the Size of a Fist upon a chorus of characters to craft a song that's just as much Nina Simone as it is Woody Guthrie. Beneath sharp political overtones, he reveals the beating heart of love as it is pushed and pulled to extremes by forces beyond its control. With ferocity on one side and regret on the flip, this excellent debut novel punches upward in the hope of a better tomorrow. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The chaos of a major protest dredges up past regrets for people on both sides of the barricades.

Lee Boudreaux/Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316386531

What Was Mine

by Helen Klein Ross

Helen Klein Ross's intimate debut novel about a kidnapping, What Was Mine, makes determining right and wrong--justice and crime--a fuzzy shade of gray, nearly impossible to pinpoint and full of ambiguity.

The law has no doubt that Lucy Wakefield committed a felony when she carried Marilyn and Tom Featherstone's four-month-old daughter, Natalie, out of a New Jersey IKEA store and drove away with her. But 21 years later, when the truth is finally exposed and Natalie--aka Mia Wakefield--is a college senior preparing for law school, the ramifications aren't so cut and dried. They are overshadowed by the emotion of humanity, the intensity of memories and other forces that don't have much legal weight.

Ross explores those forces by telling the story from many characters' points of view, primarily those of Lucy, Marilyn and Natalie/Mia. The novel offers insights from several others, including Lucy's sister, Marilyn's second husband and their children, and Mia's Chinese nanny. As one character's rage sweeps the reader into its twisting storm, the next character chimes in to snatch empathy for herself. This emotional tornado illustrates how powerful and far-reaching the eye of the storm can be. It also highlights the psychological repercussions for which legal penalties can never compensate.

A powerful plot told with exactly the right approach, What Was Mine is capable of sparking plenty of discussion, whether it is over a water cooler, in a book club or simply in the reader's mind. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: When a kidnapped baby is discovered two decades after the crime, matters of justice are more tumultuous than one would expect.

Gallery Books, $16, paperback, 9781476732350

Travelers Rest

by Keith Lee Morris

In Travelers Rest, Keith Lee Morris (Call It What You Want) strikes the perfect balance between the real and the fantastical, resulting in a novel whose mystery is as disquieting as it is mind-bending.

As the Addison family drives across Idaho, a fierce snowstorm forces them off the highway in search of a place to stay. They wind up at Travelers Rest, a beautiful but decrepit old hotel in the town of Good Night, with unfinished lobby renovations, a strange hotel manager and a remarkable absence of other guests. While Julia and her husband, Tonio, settle into their room with their precocious 10-year-old son, Dewey, Tonio's brother, Robbie, leaves the hotel to find a stiff drink at the bar across the street--his first since his most recent stint in rehab.

When Robbie fails to return, Tonio goes looking for him and finds himself lost in an endless alley of snow and cold. Julia wanders into Room 306, for which she is startled to find she has the key, and discovers a restful, lulling kind of peace there.

As each of the adults at once remember and forget that they should be looking after Dewey--who is left to his own devices in the crumbling old hotel in an eternal snow--the world of past and present, dream and waking merge into one. Morris excellently builds the slow-burning mystery of the hotel's past in a way that will leave readers lulled into the strangeness of Travelers Rest just as they are discomfited by the eeriness of it all. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: This quietly unsettling novel combines past and present, dreams and reality, into one strange hotel mystery.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 9780316335829

The Longest Night

by Andria Williams

In January 1961, an early army nuclear reactor west of Idaho Falls exploded, killing three operators in what is the only United States nuclear accident with immediate fatalities. Using this little-known piece of history for her first novel, Andria Williams builds a nuanced story of marriage, military life, fledgling nuclear technology and small-town habits. The Longest Night captures the details of an era when Soviet missiles were the country's greatest fear, and the stay-at-home mom/breadwinner dad family was society's norm.

Paul Collier joined the army at 16 and married the rambunctious San Diego beauty Nat at age 20. With two young daughters, they move to a nondescript ranch house in Idaho Falls where Paul begins a tour in the army's nuclear energy program. His assignment is to monitor and maintain an aging prototype reactor.

Balancing the stress of Paul's growing safety concerns and conflict with his commanding officer, Mitch, Williams describes the strains on Nat and the military wives left at home to shuffle preschoolers to playgrounds, keep house and gossip among themselves about the unpredictability of military life. They reluctantly accept their roles, knowing that "men were the providers and the doers and the protectors of everything."

Just as Nat becomes pregnant again, Paul's frustration boils over. He confronts Mitch about safety at the reactor, and in retaliation, Mitch redeploys him for six months to a defense reactor base in Greenland. With confident ease, Williams addresses the tensions of work and family, and brings The Longest Night to an uneasy conclusion. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Andria Williams's first novel, set in a military community during the birth of nuclear power, evocatively captures the social and marital tensions of the early 1960s.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 9780812997743

The Expatriates

by Janice Y.K. Lee

Janice Y.K. Lee's second novel, The Expatriates, takes place in Hong Kong. It is the 2010s--a time that might be considered the American occupation of Hong Kong, when global U.S. companies post their future hotshots (almost exclusively men) to temporary assignments in this regional financial and trading hub. Expatriate professionals drag their families along and cluster together in tony Repulse Bay high-rises. In this fishbowl community, Lee focuses on three expat women who share citizenship and language but struggle individually with their secrets and insecurities.

Hilary comes to Hong Kong with her inherited California money and busy international lawyer husband, David. With her wealth, powerful spouse, attractive friends and servants, she has everything--except the child she desperately wants but can't conceive.

Bringing her three young children for the global exposure, Margaret follows her multinational business executive husband, Clarke. Because of his constant travel, Margaret is lonely and conflicted about raising children in such an insular world.

Mercy is the odd woman out--an expat living on the wrong side of Victoria Peak. She is a second-generation Korean American immigrant of the "Queens Koreans... struggling families, dry cleaners and deli owners and ministers," who impulsively heads to Hong Kong to start over.

These three women share similar but idiosyncratic concerns about motherhood, lovers, money and self-fulfillment. The men in Lee's expat Hong Kong are aloof breadwinners at best, cruel and indifferent cads at worst. At its core, The Expatriates is a novel about modern women--unflinching but empathetic in its observation of weakness and triumphant in its portrayal of quiet strength. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Within the pampered opulence of Hong Kong's expat community, three complex women discover their own vulnerabilities and resilience.

Viking, $27, hardcover, 9780525429470

Mystery & Thriller

Orphan X

by Gregg Hurwitz

At the start of Gregg Hurwitz's Orphan X, first of a new series, 12-year-old Evan Smoak (not his real name) is recruited for a deep-black U.S. government program that trains orphans to be assassins. Cut to the present, in which an adult Evan is a lone operator in Los Angeles. He's called the Nowhere Man, someone with incredible resources and a specific set of skills to help people in desperate situations. After he erases someone's problem, his payment takes the form of the client finding another candidate for Evan to help, but only one.

Evan's Spidey sense screams when he receives two calls, each caller claiming to have been referred by his last client. Which one can Evan trust? The stakes are literally life or death, and not just for the callers. If Evan makes the wrong decision, the fake client could lead to his demise, for he's learned that someone knows about his past as Orphan X and wants to terminate him.

Once the exposition is out of the way, the story takes off, with enough action to grab the attention of actor Bradley Cooper and Warner Bros.; movie rights have been snapped up for Cooper to produce and possibly star. Hurwitz (Don't Look Back) balances the deadly goings-on with scenes that take place at the building where Evan lives, showing ordinary citizens nagging Evan about HOA meetings and asking him to babysit. The dichotomy reveals a man who knows how to survive, but perhaps has never been given the chance truly to live. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A man with a deadly past discovers it might be catching up to him.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250067845

Beside Myself

by Ann Morgan

Helen and Ellie are identical twins, "two peas in a pod." Helen is the older twin, the smart one, the one favored with special toys, clothes and shoes. Ellie is the more difficult child, whose hair never stays in place, whose clothes are often splattered with food, and who throws fits in school. One day, Helen invents a game where the two switch identities--and life is never the same for either of them. Despite Helen's protests and actions, suddenly her friends, toys and clothes are Ellie's and she is stuck being Ellie.

When Helen attempts to return to herself, her mother says, "'Oh Ellie... What have you done to your hair? And wearing Helen's clothes too. How many times do we have to go through with this? Yours is the left drawer and Helen's is on the right...."

Even though their own mother can't tell them apart, Helen never stops struggling to prove her true identity, making Ellie smirk and Helen cringe. She descends into a world of mental illness, behavioral issues, and eventually drugs and sex, while Ellie continues to be the golden child, favored by Mother, her friends and teachers. As the years pass, Helen even wonders if the switch really took place.

Morgan's debut psychological thriller is a stunning portrayal of what might happen when one's identity is stolen. The writing is succinct, spot on and moves at a rapid pace. Fans of Gillian Flynn's Sharp Objects will want to add Beside Myself to their reading list. Set aside time to read though, since you won't want to put this book down. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: When identical twins swap identities, their lives are inexorably changed.

Bloomsbury USA, $26, hardcover, 9781632864338


The Three Battles of Wanat: And Other True Stories

by Mark Bowden

Mark Bowden is best known for books like Black Hawk Down, inspiration for the 2001 Ridley Scott film about the deaths of 18 American soldiers in Mogadishu, and Killing Pablo, about the hunt for Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar. But Bowden is also a prolific writer of shorter nonfiction pieces for magazines, including Vanity Fair and the Atlantic. In The Three Battles of Wanat: And Other True Stories, Atlantic Monthly Press collects the best of Bowden's articles about war, sports, politics, journalism and more.

The titular Three Battles of Wanat, originally published as "Echoes from a Distant Battlefield" in Vanity Fair, chronicles a 2008 battle in Afghanistan where 200 Taliban fighters attacked a precariously remote U.S. Army base. Nine U.S. soldiers died fending off the assault. This was the first, literal battle of Wanat. Two others followed: the father of a dead platoon leader's fight for justice against what he saw as negligence further up the chain of command, and a colonel's fight to clear his name after a damning reprimand.

In a series of personal profiles, Bowden paints fascinating portraits of figures as diverse as Kim Jong-un, hereditary leader of North Korea, and Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., hereditary leader of the New York Times. Of his enthralling sports pieces, "The Hardest Job in Football" stands out for Bowden's ability to capture the controlled chaos behind the scenes of live football broadcasts. Bowden brings engaging clarity and an eye for a good story to every subject. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A collection of short nonfiction pieces from the author of Black Hawk Down.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $27, hardcover, 9780802124111

Biography & Memoir

Poor Your Soul

by Mira Ptacin

Mira Ptacin's Poor Your Soul is an unblinking and moving literary memoir of grief and love by a talented young writer coming to terms with the multiple losses in her life.

At 28, Mira has just moved to New York to begin an MFA program in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. With her first semester behind her, she goes on a blind date with Andrew; three months later, she discovers she is pregnant. Five months later, as the couple's wedding approaches, she and Andrew learn that the baby has severe abnormalities and has no chance of survival outside the womb.

Poor Your Soul is not only the story of the loss of a pregnancy and of motherhood; it's intertwined with that of Mira's mother, Maria, who left Communist Poland as a young woman, and her younger brother Jules, who was killed in a drunk-driving accident at age 14. It's above all Mira's story of being the daughter of immigrants, trying to find her own way, suffering through a wayward adolescence, and carrying the burdens of family heartache and her own pervasive feelings of guilt.

Ptacin's narrative is episodic, weaving back and forth between her present and her remembered past. There are many lovely moments, like the evening of Mira and Andrew's first date, yet Mira is not interested in an idealized self-presentation. Raw pain is not likable, and Ptacin brings her grief to life.

In the end, Mira's very personal journey through grief is also a universal one. Poor Your Soul is a beautifully written celebration of the love of family and the healing that comes after loss. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This moving memoir about a young woman who must make a tragic choice is ultimately a celebration of the power of family and enduring love.

Soho Press, $26, hardcover, 9781616956349


Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles

by John Mack Faragher

Historian John Mack Faragher (A Great and Noble Scheme) has spent his career writing about frontiers in general and the American West specifically. In Eternity Street: Violence and Justice in Frontier Los Angeles, he considers the structure and culture of violence in frontier society, how violence reproduces and polices itself in an "honor culture," and the slow development of an official justice system in Los Angeles in the mid-19th century. The result is a fascinating look at how official justice competed with vigilantism as southern California moved from Mexican to U.S. control.

Drawing on a combination of official records, contemporary newspaper accounts, personal papers, memoirs and autobiographies, Faragher tells stories of murder, retaliation, domestic violence, racism and greed. At the same time, he never loses sight of the larger history of the region. He offers detailed accounts of individual conflicts, and then sets them within greater contexts of southern Californian conquest--first by Mexico and then the United States--the Texas rebellion, the American Civil War and the gold rush of 1848.

Faragher's Los Angeles is a frontier outpost with no white-hatted heroes and plenty of ethnic conflict. Native Americans newly freed from control of the missions, native angeleños, African American slaves and freedmen, North American adventurers, and the United States Army and Navy compete for resources, political control and women, with blades, guns and lances. (At one point, the Army and Navy came close to armed conflict with each other.) Eternity Street is an ugly story, beautifully told. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: How a culture of violence shaped Los Angeles.

W.W. Norton, $35, hardcover, 9780393051360

Current Events & Issues

Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul

by Eddie S. Glaude Jr.

Eddie S. Glaude Jr., a professor at Princeton University and author of multiple academic-leaning books about the African-American experience, aims for a more mainstream audience with Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. This very of-the-moment book is spurred on by the recent spate of police killings of young black men and women, and by the Black Lives Matter movement that developed in response to the killings.

However, Democracy in Black is not a mere commentary on current events. Instead, it provides context for the recent violence and surging activism by examining what Glaude sees as the decay of African-American institutions, the steady erosion of black political power and the failure of black leaders, the persistence of the "Great Black Depression" and the insidious influence of the "value gap." The value gap is perhaps the most important concept in Glaude's book, and forms the basis of his argument that "no matter our stated principles or how much progress we think we've made, the belief that white people are valued more than others continues to hold the center of moral gravity in this country."

Glaude is unafraid to name names and criticize prominent figures within the black community, including but not limited to frequent attacks on President Obama. He also, refreshingly, has some ambitious, specific proposals for how to combat the problems he outlines. Glaude is simultaneously realistic about the state of Black America and idealistic about its future. It's a persuasive, exciting combination. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Democracy in Black is the rare book on race in America that not only outlines the problem but boldly proposes next steps on the path to true equality.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780804137416

Children's & Young Adult

The Door by the Staircase

by Katherine Marsh, illus. by Kelly Murphy

Mary Hayes, a scrawny, bookish 12-year-old orphan from New York, is elated when someone finally chooses to adopt her. Anyone, anywhere, would be better than the grim Mrs. Boot at the Buffalo Asylum for Young Ladies. So when Mary sees the long-nosed, hunched old woman who wants to take her home, she is excited and not at all wary.

She should have been wary. The old woman--Madame Zolotaya--is a witch, and those familiar with Baba Yaga of Russian folklore will quickly recognize the similarities, the most frightening of which is that Madame Z eats children, simply because she finds them delicious. Mary is delighted to behold Madame Z's small, captivating home in the forest, and is shocked to discover that not only does she have her own sweet room, it's clear she's just meant to "Eat and play." At her luxurious leisure, Mary begins to explore the quirky nearby town of Iris that specializes in occult-based storefronts--"A town of con artists, fakes, and charlatans"--and even makes a charming, freckled magician friend named Jacob Kagan.

Edgar Award-winning Katherine Marsh (Jepp, Who Defied the Stars) builds the suspense like a pro--will Mary be eaten or will she win the powerful witch's heart? And, of course, what is that little door by the staircase? Along the way, readers will revel in brilliantly described fantastical elements, a house with giant chicken legs, a talking cat, a steady parade of mouthwatering Russian delicacies, and an interesting thread contrasting the "huckster magic" of Iris with "real magic," and a whole other kind of magic, which turns out to be love. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this mesmerizing spin on the Baba Yaga story, 12-year-old Mary Ware is thrilled to be adopted by Madame Z, until she suspects the old woman might eat her.

Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 8-12, 9781423134992

ABC Dream

by Kim Krans

Learning the ABCs is especially appealing when an argyle-patterned "A" stands for apples, one of which has been pierced by a pair of arrows, and the other is a core being devoured by ants; and when "B" is made of brick, with a butterfly perched on its tiptop, a branch tapping its edges and a braid with blue ribbon swinging off the page. The magic of Kim Krans's wordless ABC Dream, aside from its exquisite illustrations, is in the stories untold. A reader might wonder, Is the hedgehog happy? What is that robin going to do with the ring it's inspecting in a rainstorm? Why do those beautiful tigers look so tired? By the time they get to the upside-down unicorn, readers have been inspired to create a thousand stories based on the spare pen-and-watercolor illustrations that accompany the letters of the alphabet.

Kids who enjoy Graeme Base's Animalia or Jean Marzollo's I Spy books will love the sly way Krans incorporates more objects and even actions into the scene than first appears--the lamb is leaning! The "Q" is quilted!--although this elegant picture book has none of the intentional clutter of either of those others. An answer key in the back will almost certainly reveal things readers didn't see on first viewing. With its intricate details, ample white space and bursting-out-of-the-page creatures, ABC Dream is a work of frameable art. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A spectacularly understated ABC book with cunning details that will set loose the imagination of readers of all ages.

Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 3-7, 9780553539295


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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