Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 18, 2017

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

From My Shelf

Getting Beyond Wild

In 1995, following the death of her mother and the collapse of her first marriage, Cheryl Strayed set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). Some 1,100 miles later, readers were given Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, detailing Strayed's adventures in getting lost and thereby finding herself. "It had to do with how it felt to be wild. With what it was like to walk for miles with no reason other than to bear witness.... The experience was powerful and fundamental."

That yearning for the powerful and fundamental, the escapism and seclusion and a connection with the natural world, is not particular to Strayed. Following her rape by a fellow college student, Aspen Matis sought healing and solitude on the PCT. Girl in the Woods documents her five-month, 2,600-mile solo trek from Mexico to Canada along the trail, finding strength in her own self-reliance. In Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail, Suzanne Roberts writes less about escaping a trauma of her past than facing the uncertainty of her future. Lacking a post-college plan, Roberts agreed to hike the trail with two other women; her book explores the relationships among those women, as well as with the male-dominated world of hiking and nature writing.

Robert Moor's On Trails: An Exploration offers a history of the concept of trails as a whole: how they came to be, how they are both shaped by and shape the landscapes in which they fall, and how they connect us to each other and to the greater world.

Any one of these stories will leave readers wondering what a hike, large or small, may yet reveal about themselves. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

The Writer's Life

Michel Stone: The Human Stories Behind the Politics of Immigration

photo: Paige Phillips

Michel Stone is a graduate of Clemson University and a native South Carolinian who has published more than a dozen short stories and essays in various journals and magazines. She was the recipient of the 2011 South Carolina Fiction Award, and her 2012 debut novel, The Iguana Tree (Hub City Press), received an IPPY Award and was named an Okra Pick by the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. Her new novel, Border Child (just published by Nan A. Talese, and reviewed below), continues the heartwrenching journey of a young Mexican couple who are desperately seeking answers to the disappearance of their child during a border crossing.

How did you become interested in the subject of Mexican immigrants crossing into el Norte for better opportunities?

I grew up on Johns Island, a farming community in rural Charleston County, S.C. Throughout my childhood I'd see migrant Latino children in the tomato fields with their parents, and I suspected those children had traveled and seen far more than I ever would. They came from faraway lands and spoke a language I could not understand, but they'd vanish when the farming season ended. Until I was 13, the furthest I'd traveled was to visit my cousin in Alabama. The children in the fields intrigued me and I yearned to know their stories. How were we alike? How were our lives different? Did they go to school? What did they eat? What magnificent, mysterious, exotic stories they must have had!

What about your personal experiences with Mexican immigrants--was there a specific person or persons that inspired you to write these stories?

When I was a young mother, I had an encounter with a Mexican couple on a South Carolina farm. They confided in me that they'd crossed the border into the U.S. from Mexico without proper papers and that they'd handed over their infant to a paid smuggler who specialized in crossing with babies. They reunited with their baby son in Texas. Their story haunted me and was the catalyst for my ever-growing intrigue with the topic of border crossings, particularly from the humanities perspective. The hows and the whys gripped me. I have much less interest in the politics of the border. I've always been interested in the human story.

Writer Tayari Jones wrote a blurb for Border Child: "It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to tell the heartbreaking story of a little girl lost." What are your thoughts on this?

Tayari is a master at writing heartbreak and hope and at illuminating the complexities of family dynamics. I often talk about empathy, and I think that's what Tayari is talking about here. I recently read Desmond Tutu's "No Future Without Forgiveness," in which he expounds on the South African concept of Ubuntu, which means essentially that my humanity is inextricably bound to yours and that what dehumanizes me, dehumanizes you. That's what I try to convey in my fiction, and I think Tayari gets that.

Did you intend to write a standalone novel with The Iguana Tree?

I had no clue how the ending of The Iguana Tree would unsettle people and how often readers would ask if I intended to write a sequel. For the first year after the novel's publication, I would emphatically say no when asked that question and, indeed, I'd begun writing a novel with a completely new set of characters. Then I visited Hermiston, Ore., when that town read The Iguana Tree for their Community Read. Hermiston is a large agricultural community near the Columbia River, with a population that's about 35% Latino. At a panel discussion, I was deeply touched by that community's warm reception to my book. During the q&a, a woman asked if I planned to write a follow-up novel to tell the rest of the story. I said yes and the room erupted in applause. The next morning the local paper had a story about my visit and announced that I'd be writing a follow-up novel. Well, I had to do it after that! I began making notes on my flight home. I don't call Border Child a sequel; it’s a stand-alone novel. But readers of my first novel will recognize characters.

The Iguana Tree had an almost frenetic desperation to it, whereas Border Child is more reflective. If you were to write a third novel focused on the lives of Hector and Lilia Santos, how would you envision it?

A misconception of youth and inexperience is that we're invincible. Life's fickle journey eventually proves otherwise. Hector and Lilia had the inexperience and impetuousness of youth in The Iguana Tree. In Border Child, these characters have now weathered life-altering events. People become more reflective, more cautious and thoughtful after surviving trauma. A friend said to me, "Hector becomes a man in Border Child because he thinks increasingly about others before self." I suppose that's true. I have no plans to write a third book about these characters but if I did, I envision their lives mellowing, sweetening into a gentler existence. I owe them that!

What are your thoughts on international adoption, which Border Child touches upon, and on the difficulties and pain these families face? 

My primary interest in writing my novels is to examine the power of familial love and family dynamics, and how those dynamics change under hardship. Love, struggle, commitment, sacrifice, pain, joy, parenthood and childhood are universal concepts. A character's nationality, her skin tone, her story's setting won't change the definition of any of these words. Adopted children are children, and adoptive parents are parents. But the reality of international adoptions is fertile ground for fiction and a wonderful opportunity for a novelist to examine ways families of all stripes are alike, despite differences.

How would you approach the topic of immigration, given the current political climate?

Politicians are quick to throw out all or nothing answers, but life isn't like that. I read a great quote by Mother Teresa not long ago. She said, "If I look at the mass I will never act. If I look at the one, I will." I like to illuminate the one.

I'm writing my third novel now and it does involve this topic. It's set in Honduras with more of the frenetic urgency and desperation you referenced. I'm interested in the motivation of parents who allow their unaccompanied children to cross into the U.S. from Central America, particularly from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. The gang violence in those countries is a tremendous influence in these families' decisions. Can you imagine being a parent there, barely able to afford beans for your pot, yet you have five or six children and you know when those children reach eight or nine years old, the gangs will begin to conscript them? This is the type of scenario that gets my creative juices flowing. I love exploring the human condition in my fiction. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Book Candy

Fictional Characters with Overdue Library Books

Quirk Books highlighted "repeat offenders: characters with overdue library books," as well as the "most dangerous fictional libraries in pop culture."


Buzzfeed invited wannabe authors to "pretend to write a book and find out what city suits you best."


Sleeping with the book beside you. Bustle considered "15 weird things you do while reading that are actually totally normal."


Road trip: "Norway for bookworms: A short travel guide for literature lovers" was presented by the Local.


From Shakespeare to Seamus Heaney, author Sam Miller chose his "top 10 books about fathers" for the Guardian.


Charles Dickens's reading desk was "specially crafted to fit his needs on stage," Bookshelf noted.

Great Reads

Now in Paperback: April

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders (Tor, $15.99)
All the Birds in the Sky weaves magic and science fiction into an emotionally complex story about growing up and finding love. Patricia discovers that she has the ability to talk to animals, and Laurence takes refuge from social torment in gadgetry. Both evolve from bullied, misunderstood children into socially accepted, internally conflicted adults.

Listen to the Lambs by Daniel Black (St. Martin's Griffin, $16.99)
In Daniel Black's allegorical tale of a successful African American man who gives up all of his material possessions--and his family--in order to live fully, readers will find the striking beauty of an exceptionally talented writer. Listen to the Lambs is a literary ballet of sweeping proportions.

Jane Two by Sean Patrick Flanery (Center Street, 14.99)
Actor Sean Patrick Flanery captures the essence and angst of a teenaged boy's life in his first novel, Jane Two. This authentic coming-of-age story is told by Mickey, who looks back at his formative years in Houston, Tex., when he was tucked inside the cocoon of small-town family life, tumultuous schoolyard bullies and friends, and also captivated by first love.

The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan (Harper Paperbacks, $15.99)
What would two people do for a million dollars? A mysterious, anonymous benefactor hires a lawyer to bring together two strangers, promising that they can split $1 million if they agree to spend at least two continuous hours with each other--engaging in substantial conversation--every week, for one year.

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer (St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99)
A former navy officer focuses on the actions of two crew members of a nearby ship whose decisions may have cost the lives of more than 1,500 souls who perished on the Titanic. With Dyer's skillful writing and nautical understanding, the famously tragic story resurfaces a century later, bringing a lesser-known aspect to light.

The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota (Vintage, $16.95)
Three Indian immigrants struggle to shape their lives as they look for work in Northern England. Tochi is from the untouchable caste and is fleeing a violent past; Avtar is from a lower-middle-class family and wants to be able to provide for his parents and wife-to-be; Randeep is from an upper-middle-class household whose livelihood is threatened when Randeep's ailing father loses his job.

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer (Simon & Schuster, $16)
When warring militant groups take control of Timbuktu, Mali, a band of librarians stages a daring mission to rescue thousands of ancient Islamic texts. The salvage operation--as precarious and fraught with obstacles as any Hollywood heist--involved moving more than 350,000 manuscripts hundreds of miles downriver.

Why Save the Bankers by Thomas Piketty (Mariner, $15.99)
Thomas Piketty may be the most important economist of the era. Why Save the Bankers? distills his convincing arguments about inequality into easily digestible essays on modern social and political issues. It is not a work of ideology, but a series of short, sometimes very funny, calls to common sense.

Trespassing Across America by Ken Ilgunas (Blue Rider, $16)
While working as a dishwasher at a camp 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle, Ken Ilgunas realized that he needed to take a new direction with his life. He decided to walk the length of the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, a route of nearly 2,000 miles. During his hike, he gets to know the area and the people the plan would affect.

Lust & Wonder by Augusten Burroughs (St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99)
After chronicling his wildly dysfunctional childhood (Running with Scissors) and his addiction and recovery (Dry), Augusten Burroughs tackles his largely unlucky search for romance and the man of his dreams in Lust & Wonder. Burroughs's wit and pen are razor-sharp, and his observations are acerbically funny. He avoids becoming unlikable by saving his best jabs for himself.

Spain in Our Hearts by Adam Hochschild (Mariner, $15.99)
Adam Hochschild uses the experiences of less famous American volunteers to bring the Spanish Civil War to life, but does not reduce it to a simple story of idealism and heroism. Spain in Our Hearts is gripping, illuminating and ultimately heartbreaking.

Lost Book of Moses by Chanan Tigay (Ecco, 15.99)
The Lost Book of Moses tells the story of Tigay's attempt to locate an ancient copy of Deuteronomy. The quest is a four-continent, 15-year trail of red herrings, unexpected leads and repeated dead ends and leads him to academic archives, antiquarian booksellers, museum storerooms, a hotel attic and a surprising number of Anglican church services.


Book Review


The River of Kings

by Taylor Brown

In a rich, atmospheric novel, brothers Hunter and Lawton Loggins paddle down Georgia's Altamaha River in kayaks, carrying their father's ashes to his final resting place. Taylor Brown (Fallen Land) also transports his audience to the 16th century to discover a French expedition on the same river that included Jacques le Moyne, the first European artist to travel to North America. As the mystery and mystique of the ancient waterway washes up on the shores of both time periods, the long-hidden secrets of a father and those of an early explorer weave together to create a beautifully layered story of love and regret, fidelity and honor, courage and cowardice. Brown tests the limits of humanity along the River of Kings, and the result is a gripping novel.

The Altamaha demands to be treated as a character. Brown willingly complies with exquisite imagery and a deference befitting royalty, writing: "Bald cypress rise round and gray from the banks on roots splayed like the feet of elephants, their gnarled toes marked by dark lines of old flood. Their limbs spread horizontally, edged high over the water like rotors, each draped with long beards of moss."

Readers are sure to experience the journey through all of their senses. The inclusion of maps and illustrations to coordinate with le Moyne's story enhances this effect, making The River of Kings a dynamic reading experience that fully engages its audience. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: As two brothers take their father's remains to his final resting place, the mysteries of an ancient waterway help them answer questions about their enigmatic parent.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781250111753

Border Child

by Michel Stone

In The Iguana Tree, Michel Stone told the harrowing story of a border crossing that resulted in the loss of a child, betrayal by loved ones and exploitation by law enforcement on both sides. Border Child addresses the aftermath of that journey and the emotional and economic consequences that have ensued.

Nearly three years after their deportation, Hector and Lilia Santos are back in their remote village of Puerto Isadore. Despite adding a son to their family, both harbor guilt over the disappearance of Alejandra, their infant daughter: Lilia for leaving her daughter in the hands of an unknown female coyote, and Hector for his naiveté and for abandoning his family in his pursuit of the dream in el Norte. When Hector spots Emmanuel--Lilia's former boyfriend and the man responsible for connecting her to the treacherous coyote--in a nearby town, he decides to follow him. Hector once again must leave a very pregnant Lilia and their son under tenuous circumstances to discover the fate of their daughter.

Stone poetically considers the marital pressures and emotional toll that comes with the trauma of losing a child: "Our marriage is like a shattered clay pot whose shards have been glued back in place. The thing is not what it once was, but it's been salvaged." She also puts an authentic face to the problem of immigration and the price paid for daring to live a dream: the loss of innocence, the tearing apart of families, and the devastation and desperation of dashed hopes. Gripping, visceral and beautifully written, Border Child carries the potential to stir awareness and trigger debate about an increasingly controversial issue. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The loss of a child in a treacherous border crossing devastates a young couple after their repatriation in Mexico.

Nan A. Talese, $26.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780385541640

Mystery & Thriller

Vicious Circle

by C.J. Box

C.J. Box's Vicious Circle brings back the Saddlestring rodeo star Dallas Cates, who in an earlier Joe Pickett thriller dumped Joe's rodeo-loving daughter April in harm's way, forcing Joe to "go western" on the whole sleazy Cates family. Now Dallas is hell-bent on revenge. Joe, his wife, Marybeth, and their three daughters are in Dallas's crosshairs as he gathers two low-life ex-cons and an axe-wielding tweaker to torment the Picketts. Box's Wyoming is full of shoot-first individualists with little love for Washington (or the local game warden), but Joe is a lousy shot, a careful man and a champion of fair play. His loyal wingman, ex-special forces rifleman Nate, keeps Joe's contact number filed under Dudley Do-Right. But when it comes to kin, Joe holds nothing back.

What sets Box's Pickett series apart is the heavy load of family dynamics. The only guy in a houseful of women, Joe gets his macho posturing knocked down all the time. His attempts to balance nurturing his family while corralling the violent and the corrupt engender a compassionate heart in the not-quite-social Joe. The remote mountain landscape and natural bounty of Twelve Sleep County make for a stunning backdrop to Box's swiftly tangling plots and his sharp eye for little character tells--like the governor's heiress wife who'd "had enough face-tightening medical procedures to appear perpetually astonished." Vicious Circle brings us the comfort of old friends, old enemies and a tasty bunch of new oddballs and losers. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Joe Pickett and his loyal wingman, Nate, protect the Picketts from the vengeful torment of a sleazy rodeo star newly released from jail.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9780399176616

The Satanic Mechanic

by Sally Andrew

Sally Andrew (Recipes for Love and Murder) stirs up another engaging mystery in her second Tannie Maria novel, The Satanic Mechanic. Although South African journalist Maria van Harten  (affectionately called "Tannie" or "Auntie" by her younger colleagues) relishes her role in helping others with cooking and relationship advice, her own love life is more complicated. Still haunted by memories of her abusive husband (now deceased), Tannie Maria is hesitant to open herself up to her still-new boyfriend, Detective Henk Kannemeyer. When Tannie Maria sees a man poisoned at an arts festival and witnesses another murder days later, her relationship with Henk (who is investigating both cases) becomes much more fraught.

"I was maybe too hungry for love and ended up with murder on my plate," Tannie Maria admits as the novel opens. Determined to move past the dark memories of her marriage, she starts attending a local counseling group run by a gentle former Satanist named Ricus, the titular mechanic. But as Maria begins to confide in her fellow group members, Ricus's shadowy past comes back to haunt them.

Tannie Maria's first-person narration is studded with Afrikaans words, most of them related to food, and features a sheaf of recipes at the end. Andrew weaves together the two murders with issues of land rights and discrimination against indigenous peoples, while gently nudging her protagonist forward--not minimizing her past wounds but helping her deal with her pain in new ways.

In short, Tannie Maria's second adventure is like the meals that come from her kitchen: a bit eclectic, with many different influences, but ultimately a satisfying feast for readers. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Sally Andrew's second Tannie Maria mystery focuses on a double murder while serving up mouthwatering recipes and dealing with matters of the heart.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062397690

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Moon and the Other

by John Kessel

In the 22nd century, humanity has colonized the solar system, including the moon. The Society of Cousins is the most misunderstood lunar colony, a matriarchy where men are given enormous social and sexual liberties, but not the right to vote. The leaders of other colonies--particularly the patriarchal Persepolis--are suspicious of tyranny, and send a delegation to investigate the condition of men.

When the Society of Cousins' biggest male celebrity tries to gain custody of his son, he unwittingly fuels a rebellion led by his volatile lover. In Persepolis, an expat from the Society has married into a wealthy ice-mining family. When he's sent back on a dangerous mission, he must choose between conflicting loyalties.

If the literary zeitgeist has been dominated by dystopias, The Moon and the Other evokes Dickens and H.G. Wells. It's science fiction with heart, romance with idea density. It's utopian and it's savvy. Kessel's droll, sideways humor surfaces periodically, as in "uplifted" dogs and casual allusions to punitive "debtors freezers." He explores gender identity and politics, portraying the complexity of social customs and relationships with neither jaundice nor bullishness. Focused on the lives of his characters, Kessel keeps pace yet makes room for his meticulously thought-out future world.

It's a grownup vision: not because it's serious, but because it's wondrous. It extrapolates not just society and technology, but real-world emotions and human behavior as well. This moon is a place we've never seen before in fiction. --Zak Nelson, writer and bookseller

Discover: This fun, smart science fiction novel contends with gender and romance, with a message of clear-eyed hope.

Saga/Simon & Schuster, $27.99, hardcover, 608p., 9781481481441

Biography & Memoir

Unscripted: The Unpredictable Moments That Make Life Extraordinary

by Ernie Johnson Jr.

Fans probably know Ernie Johnson Jr. best as the Sports Emmy Award-winning host who sits alongside basketball greats Charles Barkley, Kenny Smith and Shaquille O'Neal on TNT's Inside the NBA. While Johnson always shows up meticulously prepared to talk sports on-camera, off-camera he's had an unscripted life that has thrown many obstacles his way. Johnson is a man whose Christian faith has been tested, and, in the process, his spirituality has been strengthened. Unscripted, a moving and multifaceted memoir, probes some of Johnson's personal detours while sharing the many joys that have defined who he is and how he has come to lead his life.

Johnson followed in the footsteps of his father, a great major league baseball pitcher who later became a legendary sportscaster. Father and son forged a strong bond that instilled a sense of integrity and character in Ernie Jr. as he built his own 40-year career in broadcasting. Unscripted offers stories from Johnson's childhood, as well as funny and unforgettable on-the-job anecdotes. Details about Johnson's personal life include his marriage to loving wife, Cheryl; their six children, four of whom were adopted; one son's battle with muscular dystrophy; and Johnson's own non-Hodgkins lymphoma, an ordeal that deepened his faith and wisdom. Throughout, he offers positive, inspirational lessons for readers and a hopeful message about learning to appreciate every moment of life. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A sportscaster opens up about his life--on camera and off--giving an inspirational perspective on faith.

Baker Books, $24.99, hardcover, 224p., 9780801074103

Charlton Heston: Hollywood's Last Icon

by Marc Eliot

Although Charlton Heston wrote several excellent autobiographies (including The Actor's Life: Journals 1956-1976 and In the Arena), Marc Eliot's hefty, compelling and intimate biography stands as the definitive portrait of the complicated and controversial Oscar-winning actor and political activist.

Prolific biographer Eliot (Cary Grant) creates a captivating portrait with the help of Heston's son and daughter (who had no editorial control) and new interviews with dozens of Heston's friends and foes. Eliot also uses the actor's files and unpublished journals. Surprisingly blunt about Heston's acting style, Eliot writes, "He played his characters literally, on their and his surface, at least in part because he was never asked to do more." And after Touch of Evil's box office failure in 1958, "he would henceforth seek out the conventional, the mainstream, and the commercial, and resist films that were personal artistic statements."

Charlton Heston offers plenty of juicy, behind-the-scenes tales of the making of some of his classic films, including Planet of the Apes, Ben-Hur and The Ten Commandments (where Yul Brynner and director Cecil B. DeMille kept their exhausting pace thanks to amphetamine injections and pills). Even more fascinating is Heston's political evolution: from a liberal Kennedy supporter, marching with Martin Luther King in 1963, to a disillusioned independent who eventually--right around the time his film career sputtered out in the 1980s--became a Republican gun rights advocate and NRA spokesperson. Eliot's Charlton Heston: Hollywood's Last Icon is an absorbing, haunting and richly detailed portrait of the iconic actor. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Fascinating and intimate, Charlton Heston follows the enormously popular film star's evolution and offers a complex study in contradictions.

Dey Street Books, $29.99, hardcover, 576p., 9780062420435


Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris: The Story of a Friendship, a Novel, and a Terrible Year

by Peter Brooks

Gustave Flaubert's evolving connection with political ideals and disillusionment drives Peter Brooks's fascinating work of literary history, Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris: The Story of a Friendship, a Novel, and a Terrible Year.

Literary critic Brooks (Reading for the Plot) focuses his discerning mind on Flaubert's underappreciated novel, Sentimental Education. He convincingly connects the book Flaubert considered his masterpiece to the violent and tumultuous political history of 19th-century France. Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris explores Flaubert's own assertion that serious reading of Sentimental Education would have prevented the devastation wrought in Paris in 1871, following the Franco-Prussian War, when the French Third Republic bloodily suppressed the Paris Commune.

Sentimental Education, Brooks skillfully argues, was written about the ill-fated revolution in 1848 that led to the French Second Republic, a failed revolution in which Flaubert foresaw the irrationality and violent sectarianism that would later tear his country apart. To make his case, Brooks includes Flaubert's correspondence with friend George Sand as well as passages from the novel, all of which display Flaubert's singular talent for description, characterization and mood. Moreover, Brooks's careful, sophisticated and nuanced scholarship pieces together a larger impression of troubled modernity, and reveals Flaubert's self-consciousness as an author in the face of cataclysmic historical events. Flaubert in the Ruins of Paris is a profound look at the personality and beliefs of a literary giant, a work as entertaining as it is probing. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: Literary historian Peter Brooks sheds light on Gustave Flaubert's politics and his great, overlooked novel, Sentimental Education.

Basic Books, $32, hardcover, 288p., 9780465096022


The Evangelicals: The Struggle to Shape America

by Frances FitzGerald

The Evangelicals is a comprehensive history of white evangelical movements in the United States, geared to provide a deeper understanding of present-day evangelicals and their influence. Journalist and historian Frances FitzGerald (Fire in the Lake) presents nearly 300 years of complex ideologies, schisms, social reforms and energetically creative theology in a well-organized, eye-opening narrative.

FitzGerald locates some of the deepest roots of U.S. culture in the two Protestant revivals of the 18th and early 19th centuries, known as the Great Awakenings. The revivalists of these movements transformed the rigid and hierarchical colonial society into the more democratic and free-thinking one of the 19th century. Their version of Christianity dominated the U.S. for a hundred years and "brought a populist anti-intellectual strain into American Protestantism" that still reverberates in American distrust of expertise and belief in individual freedom and conscience.

Early revivalists lobbied for the separation of church and state, and many fought against social hierarchies and religious organizations. But they eventually split over the abolition of slavery and the civil war. In the South, "the rejection of emancipation led to the rejection of all social reform," as well as a separation of religion from social and political life that mostly held until the Moral Majority and Roe v. Wade.

This book is not only for those with a particular interest in religious history; it is for anyone with a serious interest in American social movements, politics and culture. It is a history that strongly re-emphasizes the evolution of a nation, and those who hope to shape the future are wise to study the past. --Sara Catterall

Discover: The pervasive influence of evangelical movements on U.S. culture and politics is illuminated in this comprehensive history.

Simon & Schuster, $35, hardcover, 752p., 9781439131336

Nature & Environment

The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature's Great Connectors

by David George Haskell

The essays in The Songs of Trees by David Haskell are contemplative, lyrical and filled with insights on nature that come from years of dedicated observation. Haskell has a deep understanding of the complexities of nature and the interconnectedness of living things. These relationships can be seen through the interactions of a variety of trees around the globe with the birds, insects, animals, air, water and soil that surround them. His descriptions at times are like eulogies to dying trees that have fallen due to an encroaching sea, and at other times akin to the notes an oenologist might write for a fine wine: "The golden sap between dark plates of ponderosa bark has the vigorous odor of rosin and turpentine: oily, acidic, and bright."

Haskell studies the various microcosmic layers of plants, insects and water among the branches and leaves of a giant ceibo tree deep in the Amazon jungle. He listens to the rain as it falls on orchids, bromeliads, strangler figs and philodendron leaves, and hears hundreds of bats, the croak of frogs, the squawk of scarlet macaws and the call of howler monkeys from upper branches where the energy is vibratory and intense.

Throughout his observations, he deftly interweaves a deeper and broader scope: history, war, climate change, industrialization--the latter of which is threatening not just to these trees, but to all living things that share this planet. If anyone ever doubted that life is dependent on symbiotic relationships, then reading Haskell's The Songs of Trees will change that opinion forever. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: These vibrant and poetic essays are about the complexity of life found in the ecosystems of a dozen species of trees around the world.

Viking, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9780525427520

Children's & Young Adult

Town Is by the Sea

by Joanne Schwartz, illus. by Sydney Smith

Town Is by the Sea offers some of the most beautiful paintings of sunshine on water ever painted, and that is more than enough reason to track it down. But Toronto children's librarian Joanne Schwartz's (Our Corner Grocery Store; Pinny in Summer) extraordinary picture book, illustrated by Sydney Smith (Sidewalk Flowers), is also a moving visual portrayal of what it means to send humans deep into the earth, deep under the sea, to dig for coal.

In a 1950s mining town in Nova Scotia, a boy and his family live in a house overlooking the water. The chummy boy narrator describes it in conversational style: "It goes like this--house, road, grassy cliff, sea." When he wakes up, "it goes like this": "first I hear the seagulls, then I hear a dog barking, a car goes by on the shore road, someone slams a door and yells good morning." As cheerful days of baloney sandwiches and sunny shoreline ambling are vividly chronicled, Smith intermittently yanks the reader down into the blackness of the coal miner's subterranean realm, where the boy's father pushes his way forward through a claustrophobic tunnel.

Echoing a longstanding mining tradition, it seems likely that the boy will eventually follow in the footsteps of his father and grandfather: "One day, it will be my turn," he says matter-of-factly. Coal is frequently in the headlines these days, and this book puts a human face on the centuries-old practice of coal mining. More abstractly, Town Is by the Sea is a powerful and profound work of art that tweaks our perspective and transcends its subject. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In Canadian author Joanne Schwartz's stunning picture book, illustrated by Sydney Smith of Sidewalk Flowers, a boy lives a sunny life while his father digs in the coal mines deep beneath the sea.

Groundwood/House of Anansi, $19.95, hardcover, 52p., ages 5-9, 9781554988716

CatStronauts: Mission Moon

by Drew Brockington

In the cat-centric world of CatStronauts: Mission Moon, when a global energy crisis threatens lights-out for the planet, the president of the United States--a handsome dark-furred feline--calls the World's Best Scientist for advice. Not to worry, though; the bespectacled scientist has a plan. Four brilliant catstronauts--Major Meowser, Waffles, Pom Pom and Blanket--"will fly to the moon and build a solar power plant on the surface." The president is sold (fantasizing about newspaper headlines: "Moon Power Saves World: Coolest President in History!") and the mission is a go.

At Catsup Headquarters, the catstronauts train and pack for their voyage, while engineers race against time--literally, as huge clocks have been installed all over HQ to "keep us on task"--constructing a new spaceship from a massive carton labeled SATURN VI ROCKET KIT. Will they make it to the moon before the world goes dark? Only time (56 days, 16 hours, 37 minutes and 12 seconds) will tell.

Author and illustrator Drew Brockington rockets to a terrific start with his debut graphic novel series (book 2, Race to Mars, was released simultaneously with Mission Moon). Clever feline gags (Waffles is caught licking his paw during a meeting) mesh with realistic but accessible space lingo and technology. Full-color illustrations make each squarish catstronaut's personality pop: whether it's Major Meowser's raging, tiny-fanged expression when Blanket and Waffles have fallen asleep on the job or the commander-in-chief's bug-eyed face as he "spitooo"s his coffee while reading the paper (where he apparently gets all his intel). Cat fanciers, space enthusiasts, STEM educators and comic book fans alike will purr with delight at Brockington's exciting and funny series. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this clever and humorous graphic series debut, an energy crisis will doom the world unless four catstronauts can fly to the moon to establish a new source of power.

Little, Brown, $16.99, hardcover, 160p., ages 6-10, 9780316307475


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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