Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 16, 2016


Other Press (NY): Nvk by Temple Drake

From My Shelf

Avid Reader Press: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

Magination Press: Red Yellow Blue by Lysa Mullady, illustrated by Laurent Simon

The Attraction of Unreliable Narrators

Novels with unreliable narrators--those who distort circumstances and deviate from the truth to suit themselves--continue to draw readers and become book club favorites. This has been shown by the astounding success of The Girl on the Train. Author Paula Hawkins creates in her protagonist, Rachel, a depressed, jilted lover and forgetful alcoholic who obsesses over an old flame. When she gets mixed up in a murder investigation, should readers feel sorry for--or condemn--her?

Here are some other books featuring dubious, female narrators that would be good for book club discussions:

Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll centers on Ani FaNelli, a woman who believes she's escaped a scandalous, humiliating past and successfully reinvented herself. But has she? A glamorous job and a handsome fiancé can take Ani only so far. If the secret truth of her past comes out, will it lead to her demise or set her free?

Dr. Jennifer White, a retired orthopedic surgeon battling dementia, becomes the prime suspect in the investigation of the murder of her best friend in Turn of Mind, a gripping literary thriller by Alice LaPlante. Is Dr. White's deteriorating memory and debatable grasp on reality a blessing or a curse?

A power-play of friendship and jealousy anchor What Was She Thinking: Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller, in which a lonely schoolteacher named Barbara Covett befriends Sheba Hart, an art instructor. When Barbara learns that Sheba is having an illicit affair with a 15-year-old pupil, are her efforts to "save" Sheba from the consequences of her actions intended to destroy the young teacher's life?

Is there really such a thing as a reliable narrator in fiction? Every person who tells a story could be deemed as "unreliable" because storytellers, by nature, are limited by the view of events as they are perceived and experiences as they unfold. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines


Rp Minis: Cats on Catnip: A Grow-Your-Own Catnip Kit by Andrew Marttila


Book Candy

Beatrix Potter Revealed

"She wrote much more than you (probably)." Mental Floss revealed "15 things you might not know about Beatrix Potter" to celebrate the author's 150th birthday this year.

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Bustle's pop quiz: "Guess that quote--Is it from Harry Potter, the Hunger Games or Divergent?"

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"Ornery, distant, yet surprisingly needy--just a few of the qualities our feline friends share with the lovers of E.L. James' bestselling novel Fifty Shades of Grey," CBC Books observed in showcasing "50 shades of grey... cats."

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"From Katniss Everdeen's gentle lullaby 'Deep in the Meadow' to the Mock Turtle's 'Lobster Quadrille,' " Marianne Levy picked her "top 10 songs in children's literature" for the Guardian.

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Giotto is a "round bookcase made of lacquered white MDF and teak wood or zebrawood" that is crafted "with the same technique that is employed in the creation of wooden drum shells for percussion instruments that are made of wooden horizontal layers," the Bookshelf blog noted.


Ingram: Books Make Great Gifts - Take a Look!


Great Reads

Rediscover: The Brethren

With the death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia during a presidential election year, the Supreme Court has, once again, taken center stage in American political theater. This notoriously secretive group (their deliberations are still strictly off-camera) was first infiltrated by Bob Woodward (of Watergate fame) and Scott Armstrong in their 1979 book The Brethren: Inside the Supreme Court, which gave a behind-the-scenes view of the court under Chief Justice Warren Burger as it decided controversial cases of the 1970s. In 1985, Woodword confirmed his insider source was Associate Justice Potter Stewart, who died that same year.

The Brethren begot a generation of investigations into life inside the Supreme Court. Journalist Jeffrey Toobin chronicled the modern Court first in 2007 with The Nine: Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court (Doubleday) and in 2012 with The Oath: The Obama White House and the Supreme Court (Doubleday). Toobin, like Woodward, used insider sources, including more than one sitting Justice. Together, these books pierce a half-century veil of secrecy surrounding a body whose choices so impact our everyday lives. The Brethren was last reprinted in 2005 (Simon & Schuster, $18.99, 9780743274029). --Tobias Mutter


Justice Studios: Ultrasquad Novels by Julia Devillers and Ronald Raymond Wells Jr, illustrated by Rafael Rosado


The Writer's Life

Mark Greaney: Going Where the Action Is

photo: Carrie Echols

Mark Greaney had a great start in the action thriller scene with his Gray Man series--the first two books were nominated for Barry Awards. He has also co-authored with Tom Clancy several New York Times #1 bestselling novels, and was chosen to continue the Jack Ryan series after Clancy's death in 2013. Greaney's latest release is the fifth Gray Man novel, Back Blast (reviewed below), which continues the adventures of Courtland Gentry, legendary CIA black ops officer turned assassin for hire.

Greaney does extensive research for his books and has traveled to dozens of countries to nail down the sense of verisimilitude that shows up in his work. Here he talks about why he does it, even when it's terrifying.

You've done lots of hands-on research, including in battlefield medicine. Have you ever had to use your training in real life?

The [battlefield] training I've received deals mostly with sucking chest wounds, blocked airways, arterial hemorrhaging, that sort of thing. Fortunately I haven't had to use any of this yet, but unfortunately I know little more than the average guy about basic first aid, which is usually what I need!

Gentry gets into situations that seem impossible to escape. Do you come up with a situation first and then figure out how to get Gentry out of it, or come up with a cool means of escape first and work backward to give Gentry a reason to use it?

It's a combination of both, really. Sometimes I get these big set pieces in my head and then work them into a book, changing them to fit the story as needed. More often I get my hero stuck in a corner while writing, and find that he's up against impossible odds. When that happens, I just have to do research or draw on my knowledge to engineer a way out for him. I am always trying to learn new tactics and tradecraft to keep the stories fresh. If the Gray Man just shot his way through each book it would get a little boring, both for the reader and me.

The Gray Man is notorious for having many, many skills. Is there something he'd be absolutely rubbish at? Karaoke singing? Synchronized swimming? 

He'd be lousy at writing novels, as he's a man of few words, and no typing skills. Once on Facebook, I lamented that I was days away from the deadline of my latest novel, a thousand miles from an Apple Store, and my laptop had just broken. Dozens of people lectured me that the Gray Man wouldn't let that happen to him. Maybe I was just grumpy because of my situation, but I retorted that the Gray Man wouldn't be in that situation because he didn't even have a book deal.

What's the most surprising thing you've discovered in research?

Every time I do location research I realize I have to do it. It makes the story so much more visceral and real. I've been to more than 25 countries researching novels, and every place I go, I realize I had some preconceived notion--about the place, the people, or even just the feel of the location--that was dead wrong.

Can you give an example of such a preconceived notion?

In western Mexico researching Ballistic, I expected the rural areas to be safe havens for crime and drug cartel activity. In fact, everywhere I traveled, I saw Mexican Marines in armored vehicles or pickup trucks with heavy machine guns. Only by going there did I really get the sense there was a full-on civil war being waged in the area.

On a visit to Lithuania to research Commander in Chief, I wanted to understand the thoughts of the locals about what would happen if Russia made good on recent threats to retake the territory. I fully expected the average man on the street to be confident their NATO member status would provide them protection, but everyone I met seemed resigned to the fact Russian tanks could roll into their cities at will and NATO would do nothing to help them. That really informed the way I portrayed Central European nations in the novel.

And when I was in Beijing researching Threat Vector, my hired car and hotel room were bugged. In the Forbidden City, I saw plain-clothed government thugs watching over tourists and locals alike. That pervasive police state feel made it into the novel in ways I couldn't have pulled off if I wrote the book sitting at home.

What's been your scariest moment during research? 

Nighttime live fire small unit operations training--i.e., running and gunning with rifles along with 18 guys in the dark, with only weapon lights flashing on and off when engaging the targets. Something about running through the dark and seeing the flash of gunshots on both sides of me, feeling the overpressure of bullets snap by--I feel very alive, but it is terrifying.

More terrifying than meeting one of your idols, Tom Clancy, for the first time? What was that like?

I flew up to Baltimore for a meet-and-greet straight after coming home from a research trip to Europe. My editor said I would just sit with Tom for 45 minutes but, still, I was nervous. There was a lot on the line, obviously, so when Tom started our meeting with "What are we going to talk about?" I was worried, to say the least.

But within a couple of minutes, we were talking about French fighter jet engines, Chinese tanks, Michael Crichton and Frederick Forsyth novels, Russian spies--all the stuff anyone with a chance to meet Tom Clancy would love to talk about. It wasn't lost on me at all how lucky I was. I started coming up with all these questions about his books. I'm sure he was surprised that his new co-author was basically just a starstruck fan who could write. The 45-minute meeting turned into lunch and then a full afternoon together, 'til I finally had to leave to catch my flight.

Tell us about your writing process for the Clancy books compared to your Gray Man series. 

The process isn't much different, really. It helps greatly that I have the same editor for both series, and I always have a good time talking plots and ideas with him. A Gray Man novel is more street level, over the shoulder of the hero as he confronts his challenges. A Clancy book is wider in scope, so there are some different types of research necessary, but the planning and plotting, as well the actual writing, feel similar to me. I always wish I had more time to do each book, no matter which series, but without a deadline I'd never finish anything, so it's good I know the release date before I even start! --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd


Book Review

Fiction

The Man Who Snapped His Fingers

by Fariba Hachtroudi, trans. by Alison Anderson


Europa Editions continues to bring high-quality world literature to the United States, now with The Man Who Snapped His Fingers by Fariba Hachtroudi, a French-Iranian author who left Iran after the 1979 revolution. Hachtroudi's book, winner of the 2001 French Human Rights Prize, is timeless in its meditations on totalitarianism and the toll it takes on even those who physically escape its clutches.

Hachtroudi's novel never names the country that serves as its characters' oppressor, in a successful attempt to emphasize the universality of totalitarian systems. The Man Who Snapped His Fingers features dual first-person narrators who trade off chapters and, later, single passages as the narrative draws them closer together. Both remain nameless for the majority of the book: one is called The Colonel, for his rank in the regime before fleeing, and the other is sometimes referred to as "455," the number assigned her in the bowels of one of the Theological Republic's horrific prisons. In this way, Hachtroudi is able to examine both the victim and the culprit of government-mandated crimes.

Hachtroudi's writing is faultless. Here, she explains dictators: "They create a void around them, as if they had some control over death. They exterminate masses of people, and cause the imbeciles to believe that they are buying favors from the Grim Reaper: I'll give you all the corpses you like if you'll give me lifelong credit. Nyet." Outside of masters like Solzhenitsyn, better descriptions of the vile phenomena of tyranny cannot be found. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: The Man Who Snapped His Fingers is a gruelingly beautiful meditation on totalitarianism, with dual portraits of a government functionary and a former prisoner.

Europa Editions, $15, paperback, 9781609453060

The Flood Girls

by Richard Fifield


The hardscrabble town of Quinn, Mont. (population 956), serves as the backdrop for The Flood Girls, the first novel by Richard Fifield. He sets his story in 1991, and his grasp of the intricacies--and often oppressive nature--of small-town life shine through the perspective of Jake Bailey, a precocious 12-year-old fixated on polyester leisure suits, motorcycle leathers, Madonna, Jackie Collins and the soap opera drama of Erica Kane. Jake's eccentricities make him a misfit, but also a perceptive observer.

When Jake's neighbor Frank dies, Frank's estranged daughter, Rachel Flood, a once-notorious boozer and floozy, returns to Quinn nine years after her high school graduation. She wants to claim her inheritance, which consists of Frank's dilapidated house trailer plagued with black mold and his 1978 Ford Granada. Against the advice of her Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, sober Rachel sets out to make restitution for her past. It's a tall order, especially when she tries to make amends with her mother, Laverne, the crude, unforgiving owner of the Dirty Shame, one of two local watering holes. When Laverne is injured in a gunfight, Rachel gets roped into taking over the Dirty Shame, and reluctantly enlisted to play for the Flood Girls, who are in search of a winning season. When Rachel befriends Jake--the record-keeper for the softball team--he helps Rachel claw her way back into the fold of the backwoods little town she thought she had escaped.

Caustic wit, absurd plot turns and an ensemble cast of riotous characters infuse this outlandish yet moving novel about the hard-bitten bonds of community. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A Montana town is turned upside-down when a reformed outcast returns to claim an inheritance and make amends for her sordid past.

Gallery Books, $25, hardcover, 9781476797380

The High Mountains of Portugal

by Yann Martel


In The High Mountains of Portugal, Booker Prize winner Yann Martel (Life of Pi, Beatrice and Virgil) uses myth and fantastical elements to meditate on the relationships among death, faith and belonging in three interconnected stories. The first piece, titled "Homeless," takes place in 1904 and tells the story of Tomás, a young man shattered by the simultaneous loss of his lover, five-year-old son and father. He walks backwards, "his back to God," to protest his losses, and becomes obsessed with a mysterious crucifix described in a stolen 17th-century diary before undertaking a comical but emotionally charged journey to the mountains of Portugal to seek it.

In "Homeward," an old woman in 1938, bearing the body of her recently deceased husband in a suitcase, seeks closure by asking pathologist Eusebio Lozora to conduct an autopsy and assess how her husband lived. Reminiscent of the human-animal tale from Life of Pi, "Home" describes the 1981 journey of Canadian Senator Peter Tovy, who, after his wife's death, adopts a chimpanzee named Odo. His search for a new life in the mountains of Portugal reveals an unexpected thread that connects him to the historical past of "Homeless" and "Homeward."

With ingenious twists and turns, Martel's storytelling achieves his noble intentions: "It is together, in an act of imaginary consummation, that the story is born. This act wholly involves us, as any marriage would, and just as no marriage is exactly the same as another, so each of us interprets a story differently, feels for it differently." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Three fantastical stories by Yann Martel explore matters of faith and belonging in the aftermath of death.

Spiegel & Grau, $27, hardcover, 9780812997170

The Yid

by Paul Goldberg


Paul Goldberg's debut novel, The Yid, is a wildly imaginative account of Josef Stalin's death that combines elements of drama, thriller and farce into an energetic alternate history of the dictator's demise.

In the depths of a Moscow winter in February 1953, all but a few of the Soviet Union's some two million Jews are unaware that a plan for mass deportations and executions will soon be set into motion. But retired Yiddish theater actor Solomon Levinson, physician Aleksandr Kogan and Yiddish-speaking African American engineer Friederich Lewis, who's fled the racism of his native Omaha for the Soviet Promised Land, are about to improvise a desperate scheme to thwart Stalin's plan to launch "a Kristallnacht times ten, or times a hundred!" 

These unlikely co-conspirators prove remarkably adept at the swift, savage, but balletic, violence necessary to work their way methodically (if, on occasion, accidentally) toward Stalin's dacha. But for all their single-minded determination to assassinate the Soviet leader, Levinson, Kogan and Lewis can't help but reflect on their shared disillusionment with life under the Communist regime.

Goldberg, who immigrated to the United States from the Soviet Union at age 14 in 1973, draws on his own family members and their stories to give the novel an air of verisimilitude, despite its fantastical elements. The death of Josef Stalin on March 5, 1953, four days after he suffered an apparent stroke, was much more prosaic than the account Paul Goldberg has created in this vivid novel. The Yid offers an opportunity to contemplate what one tyrant's end might have been like if justice ever truly were poetic. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Paul Goldberg's debut novel is a wildly imaginative account of a plot to assassinate Josef Stalin.

Picador, $26, hardcover, 9781250079039

This Was Not the Plan

by Cristina Alger


Charlie Goldwyn, a widowed litigation attorney, narrates Christina Alger's novel This Was Not the Plan. Unable to cope since the death of his wife, Charlie buries himself in work. He leaves the raising of his five-year-old son, Caleb, to his "laid-back hippie of a sister," Zadie, who is a steadying force for her brother and quirky Caleb, who likes to dress in girls' clothing.

"There are things in life that are more important than work," one of the bosses tells Charlie, who is up for partner at his high-powered Manhattan law firm. Overworked and overtired, Charlie is roped into attending an office cocktail party, where he drinks too much and goes off on a loose-tongued tirade about his job and the back-breaking sacrifices he's made for the firm--only to have the incident captured on video by a competitive coworker. The video goes viral, and Charlie is fired. Suddenly he's forced to navigate the world as a stay-at-home-dad and try to reconnect with his son, while fighting to get his job back. But is returning to the firm what's best for Charlie--and for Caleb?

As Charlie plots his next move, he struggles with grief and the new realities of his life, including his own parental and social inadequacies and the strained relationship he's endured with his own father. Alger (The Darlings) piles problems on her sympathetic protagonist in a lively, entertaining way, while presenting a cast of appealing characters faced with the stresses and challenges of contemporary parenting. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: When a widowed, workaholic litigator is fired, he's forced to reassess his life and reconnect with his five-year-old son.

Touchstone, $26, hardcover, 9781501103759

The Forgetting Time

by Sharon Guskin


Although reincarnation is a central tenet of several Asian religions, the idea remains the stuff of myth in mainstream Western culture. In The Forgetting Time, first-time novelist Sharon Guskin looks at choices, regret and second chances in the powerful story of a little boy who remembers life as someone else and the adults who struggle to help him find peace.

After a brief fling while on vacation, Janie turns up pregnant. She keeps the baby and considers little Noah a precious gift. However, Noah grows into a difficult, baffling child. He tells stories about a grandfather he doesn't have, a lake house where they've never been. He cries and begs to go home when they're already there. Janie takes Noah to therapist after therapist, with results ranging from no answers to a diagnosis of early-onset schizophrenia. Desperate for an explanation, Janie turns to the Internet. Her research takes a surprising direction, leading her to an authority on the topic of past-life memories.

Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, a mother has spent years grieving her missing child while a killer walks free.

Whether or not the reader believes in life after death, Guskin offers an intimate and suspenseful portrait of a family in crisis. Intercut with excerpted case studies from actual past-life researcher Dr. Jim Tucker's Life Before Life, Guskin's drama is honest, even comforting, but never gimmicky. She challenges readers to consider that human consciousness may be more complicated and far-reaching than science or Western religion believe. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: An intimate and suspenseful portrait of a family in crisis and the unexplained wonders of human consciousness.

Flatiron Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250076427

Arcadian Nights: The Greek Myths Reimagined

by John Spurling


From his home in a hillside Peloponnesian village, John Spurling (The Ten Thousand Things) charmingly retells some of Western literature's best-known stories. He balances careful attention to the originals with his own humorous voice, honoring well-loved classics with a fresh eye.

Each section focuses on a hero: Perseus, Herakles, Apollo, Theseus and the ill-fated Agamemnon. Chapters begin and end with Spurling's own Arcadian vista, on the Gulf of Argos, which inspires his imagination. Through these lenses, Arcadian Nights (re)familiarizes readers with the curse on the House of Atreus, the Twelve Labors and the complexly intertwining genealogies of mortals and immortals in a storied era somewhere between history and myth. Spurling notes commonalities with other cultures' and religions' fables, and infuses the established legends with added detail: imagined dialogue lends well-known characters extra personality, and Herakles gets a perfectly apt new piece of apparel. The occasional modernization enlivens the tales, as when the newly dead line up to cross the River Styx into Hades--it "was a little like going through security in an airport today"--but this is no clumsy 21st-century resetting of Aeschylus. Rather, Spurling's gentle, clever wit complements the originals' themes of heroism and romance, and their reminders of the importance of hospitality, humility and memory.

Spurling's passion and enthusiasm and the best of Greek myth shine through this new version, equally appropriate to introduce new readers or reinvigorate the appetite of those who already honor such names as Zeus, Achilles, Athena, Poseidon and more. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Classic Greek myths starring Herakles, Theseus and more are reborn in vivid, funny, fresh forms.

Overlook Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9781468311792

Mystery & Thriller

Back Blast

by Mark Greaney


Courtland Gentry, aka the Gray Man, returns in Mark Greaney's Back Blast, the fifth book in the thriller series featuring the notorious CIA paramilitary officer turned freelance assassin. For five years, Gentry has evaded the Agency's shoot-on-sight order against him, while having no idea what he did to deserve it. Certain that he performed his missions perfectly, he returns from Europe to the U.S. to confront his opponents--the very people who made him who he is.

On the streets of Washington, D.C., a battle ensues between the lone Gray Man and his former colleagues--including his team leader and the best-trained operatives in Gentry's former division. As if that isn't enough trouble, a band of rogue foreign agents is also gunning for Gentry. He doesn't expect to survive the fight; he just wants the truth. But the truth could destroy the CIA, and very powerful people are making sure it doesn't come out.

Greaney knows how to hit the ground running and keep the pace flying. Gentry is engaged in one action set piece after another, employing his various fighting skills against very bad guys. Much of the fun comes in wondering how the Gray Man will extricate himself from impossible situations and then seeing his ingenious solutions. Just call him MacGrayver. The banter between Gentry and his macho former team members is entertaining, too. Yes, Back Blast is over the top and involves top CIA suits who are disturbingly fluid in their morality, but who knows? Maybe it's more realistic than most readers might think. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A CIA assassin goes on the offensive against the Agency to put an end to its order to kill him.

Berkley, $27, hardcover, 9780425282793

Biography & Memoir

The Iceberg: A Memoir

by Marion Coutts


Tom Lubbock was an art critic for the Independent and the father of an 18-month-old boy when he was diagnosed with brain cancer in 2008. In The Iceberg, his wife, Marion Coutts, a versatile and prolific artist and writer, recalls his final years. The resulting memoir is musing, lyrical, ambling and sometimes digressive. The range of emotions she expresses is startling and real.

Coutts begins with "a diagnosis that has the status of an event" as she introduces her husband and their son, Ev. Tom works with words and concepts, meticulously and thoughtfully constructing the writings that are his livelihood and passion. When he has a seizure, a tumor is discovered in the speech and language part of his brain: Tom and Marion must reinvent communication. They practice and make lists: of names of friends, of ideas for outings, of opposing word pairs (big/small, light/heavy). They play a game of yes/no questions when Tom has something to discuss.

The Iceberg neatly captures the events of diagnosis and death, with a stark attention to what comes in between, and little reference to the rest of life. Tom's medical conditions are described with varying levels of detail, as Coutts often has only a vague understanding of them. Her encounters with the British National Health Service are frequently frustrating. Her prose is layered, textured, dense with meaning and interjected with brief e-mails to loved ones about Tom's status along the way. As a consideration of art, life, death and love, the full impact of The Iceberg is deeply moving and intelligent, a worthy elegy. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An artist reflects in a variety of ways on the end of her writer husband's life.

Black Cat/Grove Press, $16, paperback, 9780802124609

Political Science

The Black Presidency: Barack Obama and the Politics of Race in America

by Michael Eric Dyson


In The Black Presidency, Michael Eric Dyson offers a nuanced analysis of the politics of race in the U.S., particularly how they have shaped and been shaped by the two terms of Barack Obama. As Dyson writes in the introduction, the book is intended to explore "our racial limits and possibilities, our tortured past and our complicated present, our moral conflicts and aspirations, our cherished national myths, and our contradictory political behavior."

Using Obama's own words--from campaign speeches, press conferences and an interview granted specifically for this book--as well as many writings, comments and records from politicians, journalists and civil rights leaders, Dyson places Obama's presidency squarely in the context of history. He sheds light not only on what it takes to become the first black president of the United States, but also what it takes to be a black president in the United States, touching on everything from Obama's rhetoric to his "scolding" of black America to his relationship to the generations of black leaders that came before him.

Dyson, author of Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster and a political analyst for MSNBC, endorsed Obama in 2007, but The Black Presidency is by no means a one-sided look at the president's two terms in office. Instead, the book doles out support as readily as it doles out criticisms, resulting in an insightful and interesting study of race and politics, and the very public convergence of the two during Barack Obama's stay in the White House. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The Black Presidency offers a nuanced analysis of the politics of race in the U.S. in the context of Barack Obama's presidency.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 9780544387669

Children's & Young Adult

Before I Leave

by Jessixa Bagley


Mama and Papa hedgehog are packing boxes and taking down pictures, revealing lighter shapes on the wall where the frames were mounted. It can mean only one thing: the hedgehog family is moving.

How will Zelda, the little bow-wearing hedgehog, survive in a new place without Aaron, her large anteater best friend? She's not sure she can, so she tries packing him in her green suitcase, but he doesn't fit. She doesn't want to go. "Before I leave..." she says, "let's play!" They swing on swings, row around in a boat, and talk via tin can and string from treehouse to fort. When Aaron shoots his crazy-long anteater tongue across the meadow to swipe Zelda's ice cream scoop, the text says, "I'll miss you and the fun we'll have together." As Zelda flies off her end of the seesaw, the text says, "I'm scared to go" and "But you say it will be okay." It is okay, especially when Zelda unpacks her green suitcase in her new home and finds Aaron's crayon drawings of the two of them and his note: "I'll miss you."

A child facing a move or any other sad goodbye would be comforted by Before I Leave, which shows there are ways for people who love each other to feel connected even when separated by distance. Jessixa Bagley (Boats for Papa) has a knack for getting to the heart of things with very few words, and her winsome watercolor illustrations, with the finest of lines (those intricate hedgehog spines!), speak volumes. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: When a hedgehog family has to move, Zelda is crushed to leave behind Aaron, her beloved anteater friend.

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-7, 9781626720404

The Girl from Everywhere

by Heidi Heilig


No location is out of reach for a good Navigator with the right map. In Heidi Heilig's debut fantasy, The Girl from Everywhere, 16-year-old Nix Song, the half-Chinese daughter of Captain Slate, has only known life aboard their time-traveling pirate ship, the Temptation. Brought on board as a baby after her mother's death in 1868 Honolulu, Nix has seen plenty of adventure, traveling via a secret sort of "Navigation" with her erratic, opium-addled father and a ragtag, bare-bones crew to places and times both real and fantastic. Their ultimate quest has always been the same: to find the right historical map to bring Slate back to 1868 Hawaii and save Nix's mother. The trouble is, no one is sure what will become of Nix if Slate is successful. Will she simply vanish from the Earth? And would her father care if she did? As Nix quietly plans to make her escape, the crew of the Temptation gets caught up in the political turmoil of the last days of imperial Hawaii, an intriguing time and place lushly described in vivid detail that will have readers feeling the tropical breezes.

This thrilling swashbuckler--steeped in history, myth and legend--finds a solid anchor in its colorful characters, from the charming Persian street thief Kashmir who is constantly flirting with Nix, to Captain Slate, the modern New Yorker. While the rules of time travel can be confusing at times, the story itself settles into a comfortable rhythm. Fascinating, thought-provoking and wonderfully imagined, The Girl from Everywhere will spark the adventurer inside every reader. --Kyla Paterno, former children's & YA book buyer

Discover: In this suspenseful YA debut, a teenage girl aboard a time-traveling ship fights for her life as her father tries to alter history.

Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 13-up, 9780062380753

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