Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 15, 2017

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

From My Shelf

Slow Down, You're Reading Too Fast

"But slowness is also essential to grasping the experience of modernity--if only because the hallmark of modernity is speed." --Arden Reed, Slow Art: The Experience of Looking, Sacred Images to James Turrell

One of my favorite summer reads this year has been Slow Art, which was born from Reed's personal response, over the course of eight years, to Édouard Manet's painting Young Lady in 1866: "Gradually I came to understand that the image displayed--or, better, performed--a certain mystery. Not the hidden, but the visible.... I found myself drawn to the picture, resisted by it, and then drawn back. How long, I mused, could I sustain this conversation? I hardly thought about where I was being led, and certainly never imagined how often I would return to the spot, whether in my imagination or in fact."

I've been reading Slow Art with pleasure and patience. In fact, this seems to be my summer of the slow, concentrated read, beginning auspiciously with Martha Cooley's wonderful Guesswork: A Reckoning with Loss. Though linked in theme, her essays deserve to be savored individually, letting time pass slowly and quietly on the page as it does in the tiny Italian village where she lives part of the year. "For my own part, I have been practicing wordlessness," Cooley writes. "It is not a usual human art. Most people lack regular opportunities to try it."

My third brilliant and exquisitely languid summer read is Mathias Énard's Prix Goncourt-winning novel Compass (translated by Charlotte Mandell), an intricate, breathtaking interior monologue exploring "Orientalism" through the fevered perspective of a bedridden, insomniac musicologist in his book-cluttered Vienna apartment ("I don't throw anything out, and yet I lose everything. Time strips me bare."). It may not sound like beach read material, but Compass is absolutely mesmerizing and revelatory.

Slow down, you're moving too fast. Summer may be the best time to make a case for taking your foot off the reading pedal. Isn't languor a synonym for "summer read"? --Robert Gray, contributing editor

The Writer's Life

Camille Bordas: Finding One's Place

photo: Clayton Hauck

Camille Bordas is the author of three novels and her fiction has appeared in the New Yorker. Born in France and raised in Mexico City, Bordas now lives in Chicago with her husband. How to Behave in a Crowd (reviewed below), her first novel written in English, is the story of Isidore Mazal and his strange, precocious family.

How to Behave in a Crowd has been hailed as "a darkly comedic novel about the confusions of adolescence," but there is so much more to it than that one sentence could possibly convey.

Summarizing the story is always a bit hard, because it covers about three years in the life of this boy, Isidore--the major and the minor things that happen to him in that time span. Also, I don't want to give away any spoilers! But you could say it's about the adventures of a boy who keeps trying (and failing) to run away from home in search of adventure. Isidore keeps wanting to see what's beyond his home life and the silence and the constantly shut doors of his five super-smart academic siblings, but he's always drawn back to them. His brothers and sisters fascinate him, because they seem to know everything and to have life figured out. As the story progresses, though, it ends up looking like the family, which seemed so sturdy at first, might be more of an emotional Ponzi scheme in which everyone thinks the others are doing great and therefore continues with business as usual, until Isidore realizes that his siblings are all just pretending they know what they're doing, and the whole thing collapses.

This was the first book you wrote in English. Did writing in a different language change your writing process in any way?

I didn't find the process of writing a novel in English that much different, or harder, than writing a novel in French. That's probably because I see the process of writing a novel pretty much exactly as E.L. Doctorow describes it--similar to driving at night in the fog: you can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. It makes the whole endeavor seem both vertiginous and not at the same time. You never know where you are, or where exactly you're headed, but the way to get there is one sentence at a time, so that's a manageable unit--and that's how I wrote this novel, same as I would have in French, one sentence at a time.

Obviously, having not grown up speaking English but having learned it in my late teens, there will always be words or phrases that I won't only not know, but also not know that I don't know, so that can be a little paralyzing if I think about it too much. I guess it can all be either extremely freeing or frustrating, depending on the kind of workday I'm having. I have fewer tools than a native speaker, for sure, but I make do with what I've got. To riff on the Doctorow image, I feel that not being a native English speaker only means that my headlights are maybe a little dimmer than those of an American writer, but in a way that might be advantageous: it forces me to be even more focused and precise.

Isidore is such a wonderfully drawn character. He often seems to have no idea what's going on around him, but also has moments of great clarity and wisdom. How did you get into the mind and spirit of an 11-year-old boy?

By writing the book! My books get written one sentence at a time, and characters emerge that way as well. It took me a while to know who Isidore was. No character has ever come out of my imagination fully formed--as I put them in different situations to which they have to respond one way or another, their voices become clear. The questions are not, "What is it like to be an 11-year-old boy?" but more, "Would Isidore say this or that?" You never can fully be in someone else's head, know what it is to be them, but the more you spend time with them, the closer you get to having a glimpse of that.

But I guess I've made this question take a weird philosophical turn, when the simple, down-to-earth answer to it is probably that I remember being 11, 12, 13 years old very vividly. The sense memories of it are particularly strong: a constant discomfort, a feeling that things are going too slow, the loneliness of growing up, the impossibility of knowing if you're the first person to think a thing or if it's part of the process for all of us, the impossibility of knowing if everyone else is having a weird time too. In many ways, I feel out of touch with my teenage self and don't really know who that person was, but at the same time, I know that I haven't changed much since then. I've just had experiences pile up. That's why I liked writing a teenage character: Isidore's brain is fully formed, but not yet shaped by experience, so he mostly doesn't know what to do with it. It's like a useless superpower.

The novel features a 100-year-old woman, Daphne, who has lived so incredibly long--especially in comparison to Isidore's short 11 years. Did you intend for the novel to be an exploration of age and how it shapes our understanding of the world?

I never see my characters as vessels through which to explore any particular issue. I never intend much more in building them--and in this case, in writing Daphne--than to present full people who have something to say, or sometimes nothing to say, but in a funny way. They don't stand for anything other than themselves.

Something that I noticed in the United States, since I moved here, is that it is rare to witness much in the way of intergenerational friendships. In France, I have a handful of friends my parents' age and older, 70-somethings. I was friends with my grandparents. What interested me in Daphne was not so much her age itself (though the dissonance between her range of experience and Izzie's relatively clean slate was a great source for dialogue) but more the fact that she lived a normal life that only started becoming abnormal because of its length--a length that people start attributing meaning to when there isn't any. She becomes a receptacle for people's fears and hopes about old age, and that's problematic because she doesn't have any particular wisdom to offer.

It's clear that the Mazal family loves Isidore in their own ways, and Isidore knows that. And yet he keeps trying to run away from home. Why is that?

Isidore's case is complicated because it's unclear whether he really wants to run away or not. One minute he says he wants to be his own man, separate from his brothers and sisters, the next he says he only wishes to run away to please his mother, who's always complaining her children are not adventurous enough. I think, at the beginning of the novel at least, that it's more a desire to be noticed and find his own place in the family than to leave it. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Book Candy

The Joy of Rereading a Childhood Favorite

In an original comic, author and illustrator Siobhán Gallagher "perfectly captures the unique joy that is re-reading a beloved story from childhood as an adult," Brightly noted.


"Pemberley, Manderley and Howards End: the real buildings behind fictional houses" were explored by the Guardian.


Pop quiz (via Mental Floss): "Pick the correct word for each definition."


"This giant, breathtaking Game of Thrones tapestry weaves through the entire series," io9 reported.


Lit real estate listing: The Connecticut house where Uncle Tom's Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe was born--which was disassembled 20 years ago--is up for auction for $400,000, the Los Angeles Times reported.


The Independent gathered "23 things you didn't know about J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter universe."

Great Reads

Rediscover: On the Road

September 5, 2017 marks 60 years since the original publication of On the Road, Jack Kerouac's road trip roman à clef and one of the Beat Generation's three best known works--alongside Allen Ginsberg's Howl and William S. Burroughs's Naked Lunch. On the Road brings Kerouac's kinetic prose to a series of trips with Neal Cassady, called Dean Moriarty, through late-1940s America. Kerouac, as Sal Paradise, and Moriarty meet other Beat figures and many women on several drug and jazz-fueled jaunts across the United States and Mexico. Fast-living Dean is the catalyst to Sal's travels, separated in five parts, on an aimless but energetic search for a greater meaning to life, though tinged with a certain sadness at never being able to find it.

In April 1951, Kerouac wrote the first draft of On the Road over three weeks. He typed it as a single paragraph with no margins, covering eight, single-spaced pages of tracing paper. He later taped these pages together into a 120-foot-long scroll. This original version was heavily edited prior to its 1957 publication, including the substitution of pseudonyms for major characters and cutting sexual passages considered pornographic by 1950s standards. In 2007, Penguin Classics released On the Road: The Original Scroll, a 50th-anniversary edition of Kerouac's novel as originally written. The actual scroll is occasionally brought out for public display by its current owner, Indianapolis Colts CEO Jim Irsay. It's currently part of a special exhibition at the American Writers Museum in Chicago through October 6. --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


Meddling Kids

by Edgar Cantero

The Blyton Summer Detective Club is four bored children and one dog. In 1977, as they search for cases, they stumble into a traumatizing event that is impossible to deal with. In Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero (The Supernatural Enhancements), what first appears to be deference to the predictable child detective trope swiftly becomes a darker and more terrifying story of necromancy and the hard truths of adulthood.

The four detectives, even 13 years later, are unable to move beyond their disastrous summer. Andy, the tomboy, brings them back to Blyton hoping to put their demons to rest. Cantero gives stock genre characters unconventional traits. "Blyton Hills needs your help, kids," wryly observes a townsperson--but these are kids no longer. Kerri (who still owns a dog) is the genius turned college dropout; Andy is a fugitive; athletic Pete died from an overdose years ago; and nerdy Nate, recently in a mental hospital, still hears Pete talking. Supernatural events, legendary lake monsters, mutilated animals and black magic were inconceivable as children, but are all too real upon their return. Nate says, "The symbols... are not props meant to scare children away. They are signs of a very old science." Their return is noticed by an unseen presence, which leads to a terrifying showdown with powerful and dark forces.

Cantero writes on his blog that this novel is "a high concept that can be described in under a minute: kid detectives and monsters." Here is the mash-up fans of Scooby Doo and H.P. Lovecraft have been waiting for. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: Childhood pop culture references, witty banter and an unpredictable plot make this a compelling mystery/horror story.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 336p., 9780385541992

The Diplomat's Daughter

by Karin Tanabe

Twenty-one-year-old Emiko "Emi" Kato has spent her life moving around the globe, due to her father's position in the Japanese diplomatic corps. But after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Emi and her parents are uprooted and sent away with other foreign diplomats, eventually landing in a bleak internment camp in south Texas. Homesick and lonely, Emi is drawn to Christian Lange, the son of German parents who were wrongfully arrested for un-American activities. Meanwhile, Emi's first love, Leo Hartmann, has fled his home city of Vienna for a refugee existence in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. Through the eyes of these three protagonists, Karin Tanabe weaves a fascinating, vivid story of World War II in her fourth novel, The Diplomat's Daughter.

Tanabe (The Gilded Years) begins her story with Emi, who despite her cosmopolitan upbringing is sheltered and a bit spoiled, lacking Leo's native compassion or Christian's tender heart. But all three young people must grapple with previously unimagined tragedy on a personal and national scale, and Tanabe skillfully traces their journeys of sacrifice and growth. Leo waits tables at a seedy nightclub in Shanghai to make ends meet, while Christian enlists in the U.S. Army to avoid deportation to Germany. And when Emi ends up in the Japanese mountain town of Karuizawa, she repeatedly risks her own safety to help other members of her new community.

Rich with historical detail and full of appealing characters, The Diplomat's Daughter is a fresh, captivating story. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Novelist Karin Tanabe weaves a rich narrative of love, sacrifice and tragedy in the Pacific theater during World War II.

Washington Square Press, $16, paperback, 464p., 9781501110474

The Almost Sisters

by Joshilyn Jackson

Brew a pitcher of sweet tea and settle in with Georgia author Joshilyn Jackson's eighth novel (following The Opposite of Everyone), another Southern story about a feisty heroine with a complex family. The Almost Sisters are Leia Birch, comics artist and self-described dork, and Rachel, the "Super Pretty" one, blonde with the perfect life; their sisterhood resulted from their parents' marriage when they were toddlers.

Despite her publishing fame, Leia feels like an outsider in her family, but trips from Norfolk, Va., to the Birchville, Ala., Victorian home of her beloved Grannie Birch ground Leia in staunch Southern roots. After a celebratory FanCon appearance--where she "had myself some tequila. And some Batman."--Leia discovers she's pregnant. She hides the news at first, but is eventually set to spring the surprise on Rachel and their parents, when Rachel's marriage implodes. That's also when Birchie displays full-blown dementia at a First Baptist fish fry.

In a story with plot twists like kudzu vines, Leia (with Rachel's precocious 13-year-old, Lavender, as sidekick) rushes to Birchie, where her health problems overshadow Leia's pregnancy. Rachel joins them soon after, and Birchie's endearing longtime friend Wattie (with secrets of her own) gently supports the women. All seems manageable, until out tumbles the skeleton in the attic--literally.

Sharp-tongued townsfolk eager to see a Birch get her comeuppance represent a nasty side of small-town life, including racism, petty gossip and political aspirations, but like Leia's comic book character Violet, strong women prevail, and love and loyalty triumph. Jackson's sardonic wit and Southern dialect balance the crises with levity. And Batman? He makes more than a cameo. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A surprise pregnancy is just one crisis facing a comics artist whose beloved Grannie's dementia keeps her from explaining the skeleton in the attic.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780062105714

How to Behave in a Crowd

by Camille Bordas

It may be hard to like the Mazal family, but it is surprisingly easy to love them. Perhaps that is because this quirky, pretentious family is presented through the eyes of 11-year-old Isidore, the youngest of six children and the least over-achieving of the bunch. His three oldest siblings are on track to have completed advanced degrees by the age of 24. Jeremie performs with a symphony, and Simone, who is closest in age to Isidore, has skipped several grades and is working on her first novel. When "the father," as they call him, dies unexpectedly, the Mazal children--and their mother--seem to take his death in stride. Until the ever-observant Isidore begins to notice the small ways grief has changed the family.

How to Behave in a Crowd, Camille Bordas's first book written in English, is a darkly comedic coming-of-age story. In Isidore, Bordas has crafted a young, naïve, observant and unexpectedly wise character, whose sudden insights into the workings of the world are made all the more striking for his general bewilderment over much of what he observes in the adults around him. As he navigates the tender emotions of his family's grief--and his own--How to Behave in a Crowd moves beyond Isidore's typical 11-year-old angst and into the territory of adult confusion. Do people just pretend to be okay? Maybe, Isidore's experience seems to suggest. But maybe that's enough. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A darkly comedic coming-of-age story explores one quirky, pretentious family and the ways they cope with grief.

Tim Duggan Books, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780451497543

Mystery & Thriller

The Devil's Muse

by Bill Loehfelm

The drunken carnival ride that is Mardi Gras takes center stage in Bill Loehfelm's hard-boiled crime thriller The Devil's Muse.

Loehfelm (The Devil She Knows) focuses this entry in the Maureen Coughlin series on his protagonist's first experience with Mardi Gras. A scrappy female cop who has no problem speaking her mind, Coughlin lands in the middle of the famous bacchanal, cleaning up after a half-naked parade-goer under the influence of a powerful new street drug. A gang-related shooting near the parade route stirs even more chaos. As Coughlin comforts the victims and tracks down the shooter, she becomes entangled in a power struggle between the press and the New Orleans Police Department that strains loyalties of fellow officers and tests her own resolve.

The Devil's Muse takes place over a short period of time, following Coughlin's Mardi Gras shift. Loehfelm fleshes out the setting and sub-characters with enough detail so that the timespan seems longer. This leads to some slower moments--lulls in the narrative characterized by chatty dialogue and a lack of visceral action--but Loehfelm ratchets up the tension nicely toward the end. He presents a savvy, semi-satirical depiction of social media and Internet news outlets desperate for conflict. Most of all, he succeeds at catching the complex character of New Orleans. His descriptions of Mardi Gras are full of vivid similes--"The crowd roared and raised their faces and hands to the tumbling slips of paper like nomads lost in the desert greeting a long-awaited rain"--but he doesn't shy away from the racial tensions and cultural clashes that define much of inner-city life. --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: This gritty yet colorful crime thriller set in New Orleans presents Mardi Gras from the perspective of a female police officer.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780374279776

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Marina J. Lostetter

Earth, 2088: Humankind, finally at peace under the Planet United Consortium, develops the faster-than-light means to travel beyond the solar system. Twelve exploratory missions are planned, though their destinations have yet to be decided. Astrophysicist Reggie Straifer proposes a trip to LQ Pyxidis, a strange star whose variable brightness makes it a scientific mystery. Either some previously unknown natural phenomenon is shrouding the star, or it is blocked by a Dyson sphere--an artificial power plant and possible proof of alien life.

Reggie's proposal is accepted. Convoy Seven, nine ships equipped with subdimensional drives, will spend centuries traveling to LQ Pyxidis while millennia pass on Earth. Generations must live and die during the mission, and the only way to preserve the crew's initial scientific and engineering talent is to use clones. A society unlike any other in human history is founded, planned to the finest detail, with every biological and mechanical variable accounted for. But as the decades, then centuries roll on, imperfections in the convoy's creation--including the unpredictable personalities emerging in each new clone--threaten to derail mankind's most ambitious undertaking.

Noumenon is told in vignettes spaced throughout Convoy Seven's mission. Each chapter follows a clone, or the ship's artificial intelligence, in snapshots of starry sci-fi splendor and down-to-earth human drama. Nature versus nurture, the rights of the individual versus the collective, power politics and what it means to be sentient clash as the centuries pass. Noumenon is a grand achievement of speculative fiction. --Tobias Mutter

Discover: Generations of clones take a centuries-long voyage to a distant star.

Harper Voyager, $15.99, paperback, 432p., 9780062497840

Biography & Memoir

After Andy: Adventures in Warhol Land

by Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni

Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni was hired to work at Andy Warhol's studio four days before Warhol's death on February 22, 1987. Although their working relationship was brief, Fraser-Cavassoni (Sam Spiegel: The Biography of a Hollywood Legend) had met the pop artist seven years earlier, when she was 16. In 1980, Fraser-Cavassoni, the daughter of novelist and historian Lady Antonia Fraser and step-daughter of playwright Harold Pinter, was already running with a fast, glittery crowd and was months away from an affair with Mick Jagger ("Mick had the power to intoxicate") that landed her, Jagger and Jerry Hall in national tabloid headlines.

The bewigged Warhol is definitely a supporting player in this flashy, name-dropping memoir, but fortunately Fraser-Cavassoni's jet-set life, celebrity encounters and high-profile jobs make for a fast read and a gossipy good time. With jobs at Interview, Women's Wear Daily and W magazines, she was at all the art, fashion and film parties. Anna Wintour helped her get hired working under Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel Studio, while aging cosmetics pioneer Estée Lauder threatened to have her deported.

When the focus turns to Warhol and the running of his empire after his early death (he died at 58 from complications after gall bladder surgery), Fraser-Cavassoni offers a front row seat at the jockeying for power, the marketing of his image and the posthumous publication of Warhol's diaries in 1989, which caused uproar among fashionable society. After Andy reads like a delicious gossip column covering the wild antics of those in the art and fashion world. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Natasha Fraser-Cavassoni's After Andy shares her deliciously gossipy view of the fashion/film/art world from her front row seat at Andy Warhol's studio.

Blue Rider, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9780399183539

Essays & Criticism

Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology

by Ellen Ullman

With a Cornell undergraduate degree in English and a long career in computer coding, Ellen Ullman has written frequently and earnestly about the intersection of digital technology with the social, political and philosophical fabric of contemporary life (the memoir Close to the Machine and novel The Bug). Life in Code collects nine previous magazine pieces and eight new reflections on the logical discipline behind writing the algorithms that more and more rule the world.

Covering the years of rapidly evolving technology between 1994 and today, Life in Code hits all the familiar touchstones of the digital juggernaut. It also clarifies some of the jargon, acronyms and programming language idiosyncrasies of the tech world. On a personal note, Ullman laments the gentrification of her once gritty SOMA (South of Market) San Francisco neighborhood as AT&T tears up streets to lay fiber-optic cable for the tech start-ups flooding in.

An activist, Ullman wraps up her chronicle of two decades in programming with a comment on the rise of President Trump through the now-ubiquitous disintermediation of the Internet. With Twitter blasts of this and that--either true or false--he bypassed the traditional news gatherers and arbiters of accuracy to send messages straight to his people. She concludes that this is where her years of coding have taken us: "The intermediaries were useless: you could trust only websites; go directly to the internet." It remains to be seen whether this is good or bad, but Ullman's reflections on how we got here are canny, personal, enlightening and pleasantly diverting. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Lifelong computer coder Ellen Ullman describes the rise of the technology that now permeates our lives--for better or worse.

MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780374534516

Psychology & Self-Help

Text, Don't Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life

by Aaron Caycedo-Kimura

Twenty years ago, as illustrator and author Aaron Caycedo-Kimura was trying to figure out what to do with his life, he made a monumental discovery: that he was an introvert, specifically an INFJ, according to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. "The description nailed and validated me; among other things, INFJs are deeply emotional, empathetic, relational, and INTROVERTED."

Later, during a creative dry spell, Caycedo-Kimura, using the handle INFJoe, began posting illustrations online about his life as an introvert. "The response was amazing...! One person wrote, 'I'm so happy to find out I'm not the only one.' " Following that experience, Caycedo-Kimura created Text, Don't Call: An Illustrated Guide to the Introverted Life.

The guide is intended to help introverts understand themselves better and navigate the extroverted world. Caycedo-Kimura points out, for example, that introverts often describe themselves as antisocial or shy, but he illustrates how introversion differs from those two other qualities: being shy stems from a lack of confidence and antisocial behavior indicates an aggressive attitude toward others, while "introversion is the preference for directing our attention inward."

The guide could also help extroverts be introvert allies--e.g., by ensuring at social gatherings that introverts "have a quiet corner where people don't crowd [them]"--or simply be more empathic when introverts feel "peopled out" (exhausted after spending time at large gatherings). The drawings have a gentle wit, getting Caycedo-Kimura's points across in a conversational, nonclinical style. Introverts will find he nails and validates them, by making it clear "we introverts are alone together." --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Aaron Caycedo-Kimura, aka INFJoe, sheds light on life as an introvert.

TarcherPerigee, $14, paperback, 144p., 9780143130789


Lessons on Expulsion

by Erika L. Sanchez

Poet and YA novelist (forthcoming I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter) Erika Sánchez brings a world of raw personal material to her striking debut poetry collection, Lessons on Expulsion. Her work fearlessly explores sexuality, Mexican narco violence and the frequent tension of being of two cultures while searching for one's own identity. These poems grow from her time in Chicago, Mexico, New York City, Madrid, New Mexico and Puerto Rico, and speak in the voice of a woman looking at herself and the rough world around her. Visceral, even feral, she explores her earthy sensuality in poems like "Poem of My Humiliation": "That time I was stunned by my own pudendum. The smell.... The vulgarity of the orchid in all its hooded glory is showy but exquisite." Reflecting on a disappointing fling in Puerto Vallarta in the melancholy poem "To You on My Birthday," she observes: "You lie next to me--husk of spirit, bituminous/ and evasive... our bodies crack/ together on the faded flowered sheets,/ the sand making its way up,/ way up in me."

Beyond the quest for self-awareness, Sánchez's poems address the struggle to reconcile her blue-collar Mexican roots with the opportunities she finds in the United States and in travel and literature. Poems like "Crossing" directly address this emotional divide: "my parents crossed the border/ in the trunk of a Cadillac./ I was born in Chicago." Sensuality, self-doubt, poverty, joy and despair--the poems of Sánchez's Lessons on Expulsion frankly and memorably touch them all. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The bare-all poems of Erika Sánchez's debut collection are a visceral record of a Mexican American woman finding her way and understanding her roots.

Graywolf, $16, paperback, 96p., 9781555977788

Children's & Young Adult

The Only Fish in the Sea

by Philip C. Stead, illus. by Matthew Cordell

Little Amy Scott got a goldfish for her birthday and was so disdainful that she dumped him, plastic bag and all, into the sea. Sherman brings this distressing news to his pal Sadie, who immediately gears up for a fish rescue. "The important thing," Sadie says, "is that Ellsworth stays hopeful and brave, knowing that we're on our way." "Hey, Sadie, wait!" calls Sherman, "Who's Ellsworth?" Sadie responds without even looking up from her maps: "Sherman, you have to keep up. Every fish deserves a proper name." Sadie and Sherman, along with a literal band of monkeys, face the dangers of the ocean with a heroic determination to find lonely Ellsworth. Along the way, they outfit a welcome boat, hit the zoo for 21 pink balloons and have a near-miss with a giant squid.

Philip C. Stead and Matthew Cordell (Special Delivery) offer a perfect blend of adventure and silliness on the high seas. The main characters are charming and beautifully balanced with each other. Sherman's earnest kindness works perfectly with Sadie's snap decisions and forward motion. Illustrator Cordell's detailed and playful drawings beg for repeat readings. Kids will enjoy looking at realistically rendered sharks or spotting the fact that the monkeys are quietly bankrolling the expedition with bananas. As for a moral, Stead doesn't feel the need to punish the fish-endangering Amy Scott, but he does make it clear that no one will be hanging out with her in the future. The Only Fish in the Sea is a rollicking little adventure in the name of doing the right thing. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright

Discover: This cracking nautical yarn is full of humor, heart and the spirit of friendship.

Neal Porter/Roaring Brook, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9781626722828

Sun and Moon: Folk Tales by Various Artists


Gita Wolf, the talented editor of Tara Books, an Indian publishing company known for championing folk artists, crafted the concept for Sun and Moon: Folk Tales by Various Artists. Representatives of different Indian regions join to create a visually striking screen-printed, limited-edition book highlighting the relationship of the sun and the moon in Hindu and other local traditions. This distinctive encounter starts with the intensely purple cover, with its curvilinear images of a filigreed moon crescent and golden sun face peaking out from the title page through the die-cut opening. The double-page spreads, on heavy, handmade textured paper, feature a song, a line of poetic text, a short tale or an explanation of traditional customs, accompanied by strong, graphic representations of these primordial Indian symbols, the major heavenly bodies that figure so prominently in many cultures. The omnipresent orbs speak about their importance: "I am great, says the sun, for I make the world shine with light./ I am greater, says the moon: without me, the world is a sad sight."

Ten accomplished artists share their bold images. The blazing red and yellow suns and cool blue and white moons invite repeated viewings, depicted in the very individualistic styles of the Gond people from Madhya Pradesh, the Vaghari community of Gujarat, the artists of the Madhubani region of Bihar and the Meena people of Rajasthan. The last page credits the artists and provides some details about the various styles, which also include the ritual Pithora wall paintings of Gujarat and the Patachitra textile art of Orissa (now officially known as Odisha).

Children and adults interested in folklore and art will want to share this authentic exposure to a universal theme. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: This artistic, unusual book is a whirlwind tour of several Indian regions and their folk-art traditions.

Tara Books, $39.95, hardcover, 28p., ages 8-up, 9789383145447


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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