Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 12, 2017

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

From My Shelf

It's Henry & Glenn, Not Adam & Steve

In the realm of slash fiction, fans say they "ship it" when idle chatter proposes an imagined relationship between two cult figures. In that vein, Tom Neely asked his artist collective, Igloo Tornado, to envision what happens when two metalheads fall in love and move to the suburbs. Yes, that's hunky Henry Rollins astride a motorcycle with his brooding life partner, Glenn Danzig, as though they were Tom of Finland pinups. And no, they did not authorize any of this.

For years, Igloo Tornado has cobbled together bizarre, hilarious zines on their strange but sweet subject. Now their publisher has issued the complete anthology, with 16 never-before seen pages. Perhaps as a result, history will remember these black, oozy romantic vignettes as the greatest love story ever told: Henry & Glenn Forever + Ever: The Completely Ridiculous Edition (Microcosm, $25.95).

Spawning from their moody domesticity is a veritable River Styx of wacky comic strips. Drawn in varying styles, they loosely revolve around the couple, Glenn's complicated relationship with his mother, Satanist neighbors John Hall and Daryl Oates, the grotesqueries of metal and the pervasiveness of modern ennui.

One highlight written and drawn by Ed Luce features Henry and Glenn in couples' counseling. In a moment of meta-awareness, their conflict stems from the release of a 2010 booklet called Henry & Glenn Forever that has reignited Glenn's jealousy over Henry's public successes. "People love him!" he cries. Meanwhile, "People post unflattering pictures n' videos of me on the Internet." As they address the emotional and psychological imbalances, the therapist suggests inviting a complementary third into their relationship. Conjuring an intimate portrait of Morrissey between them, Henry and Glenn decide in unison, "NO!" And instead choose an even more unusual solution to their marital woes.

Crude, lewd and melodramatic, Henry & Glenn answers a question no one else thought to ask, in comics to be cherished forever and ever. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Books Written on a Bet

Electric Lit featured "10 books that were written on a bet."


Headline of the day (via the New York Times): "Hemingway's six-toed cats ride out Hurricane Irma in Key West."


"Diana Gabaldon pushed Ronald Moore to develop the show." Mental Floss shared "15 surprising facts about Outlander."


Bustle shared "11 writing lessons from George R.R. Martin, because there's a lot to learn from Game of Thrones."


Author Eli Goldstone shared her "top 10 secrets in fiction," from the hidden passions of Mrs. Dalloway to Patrick Bateman's murderous designs, for the Guardian.

Little Fires Everywhere

by Celeste Ng

With a title like Little Fires Everywhere, one expects drama. Beginning with her opening sentence, Celeste Ng (Everything I Never Told You) more than delivers on that promise, immediately igniting the tension and questions that engulf this captivating novel of one family's inner dysfunction and the careless destruction they inflict upon others.

"Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down." Little Fires Everywhere opens with Mrs. Richardson--as she's referred to in the novel--wearing her bathrobe and her son's tennis shoes while staring at her smoldering six-bedroom home in affluent Shaker Heights, Ohio.

Among Ng's many strengths as an author is allowing the reader to intuit--even without fully understanding exactly why--that the fire represents a comeuppance of sorts, a fall from grace for Mrs. Richardson, whose dishevelment amid her ruined home places her in stark contrast to her self-perception of the Richardsons being a perfect family in a perfect neighborhood.

On the surface, they seem to be nothing less. Mrs. Richardson is a features reporter for the local newspaper and her husband, Bill, is a partner with a local law firm. The couple have four teenage children: Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy, the latter of whom is regarded as "the nutcase" of the family. The other three are popular, athletic and--like their parents--assimilate nicely into the comfortable neighborhood of Shaker Heights, a planned suburban community with "rules, many rules, about what you could and could not do."

Infusing Little Fires Everywhere with an atmosphere of foreboding reflected in the seemingly regimented community, Ng transforms Shaker Heights almost into its own formidable character, one that complements Mrs. Richardson's sense of order and control. "Most communities just happen; the best are planned," the town's motto states. "The underlying philosophy being that everything could--and should--be planned out, and that by doing so you could avoid the unseemly, the unpleasant, and the disastrous." (One's teenage daughter dousing each family member's bedroom with gasoline and striking match after match would undoubtedly rank as something unplanned.)

As she demonstrated in Everything I Never Told You, Ng is a master at having a quiet, unsuspecting character as the driving influence of her fast-paced plot. Izzy, who doesn't measure up to Mrs. Richardson's exacting standards, fulfills that role. Born premature, she will forever serve as a reminder of her mother's infallibility. An impulsive free spirit, Izzy also embodies passion, something Mrs. Richardson once had, but lost long ago. "All her life, she had learned that passion, like fire, was a dangerous thing. It so easily went out of control. It scaled walls and jumped over trenches. Sparks leapt like fleas and spread as rapidly; a breeze could carry embers for miles. Better to control that spark and pass it carefully from one generation to the next, like an Olympic torch. Or, perhaps, to tend it carefully like an eternal flame: a reminder of light and goodness that would never--could never--set anything ablaze. Carefully controlled. Domesticated. Happy in captivity. The key, she thought, was to avoid conflagration."

When Mia Warren and her daughter, Pearl, arrive in Shaker Heights and rent a duplex owned by the Richardsons, they represent a vastly different worldview, one that doesn't conform to Shaker Heights'--or Mrs. Richardson's--rigidity and structure. An avant-garde photographer, Mia is a single mother to Pearl and somewhat of an enigma; she and Pearl move often, have few belongings and are both content with Mia working part-time, minimum-wage jobs while remaining dedicated to her art. The two families' lives begin to intersect even further when Pearl forms a friendship with Lexie and Moody, as well as a romantic entanglement with Trip; Izzy, in turn, becomes a protégé of Mia's. Ng skillfully takes their unlikely connection even further (with devastating, life-changing consequences) when a local, highly publicized adoption case involving a wealthy couple, a single mother and a Chinese American baby prompt Mrs. Richardson to investigate Mia's past, a quest that results in uncovered secrets, betrayal and deception. "One had followed the rules, and one had not. But the problem with rules... was that they implied a right way and a wrong way to do things. When, in fact, most of the time they were simply ways, none of them quite wrong or quite right, and nothing to tell you for sure what side of the line you stood on."

By setting Little Fires Everywhere in the late 1990s, Ng prompts reflection on how a time of rapid technological, political and cultural change (Alta Vista and cell phones were still cutting edge; the president of the United States was facing impeachment for his affair with a White House intern) serves as catalyst for eliciting questions that still resonate and provoke debate decades later. Is motherhood ultimately defined by nature or nurture? Should there be limitations on the biological and emotional lengths one can pursue to fulfill a desire to become a parent? And by what standards do members of a community determine--unspoken or otherwise--what characterizes a "good mother"? To what degree and extent do the qualities of one's children reflect a parent's self-perceived worth?

Ng expertly explored similar themes in her bestselling debut, Everything I Never Told You. With Little Fires Everywhere, she again proves her willingness to ask questions that prompt reflection on the deepest and most fallible aspects of our humanity.  --Melissa Firman

Penguin Press, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780735224292

Celeste Ng: What Smolders Beneath the Surface

photo: Kevin Day Photography

Celeste Ng is the author of the New York Times bestseller Things I Never Told You; she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, where her new novel, Little Fires Everywhere, is set. She currently lives with her family in Cambridge, Mass.

Now that you've had some time for the phenomenal (and so well deserved) success of your debut novel, Everything I Never Told You, to sink in, would you speak to what the experience was like? Did you have any idea that the book would be so well received?

I really had no idea the book would find this kind of audience. Honestly, the only way I could convince myself to finish it was by telling myself that no one was ever going to read it if it even got published--so, um, that was more along the lines of what I expected. The experience was really what every writer dreams of, and then some--dizzying, validating, humbling. I still haven't totally gotten my head around it.

Did this put pressure on you while writing Little Fires Everywhere? Was there a sense that you needed to top the performance of your debut?

Most of the pressure I felt came from myself--I'm an overachiever by nature and was raised in a family of overachievers in an overachieving community (as will be clear from Little Fires Everywhere!). So it's deeply ingrained in me to think, "Okay, so I did X last time, let's see if I can do X+1 this time!" But most of the pressure, such as it was, really stemmed from a sense of responsibility: having connected with so many readers, and earned their trust, I didn't want to disappoint them in my second book.

Where did the idea for Little Fires Everywhere come from?

I've become increasingly fascinated with my hometown of Shaker Heights since I left it at age 18. While I was growing up there, I thought it was a pretty typical Everytown. But once I moved away, I realized how very atypical it is in a lot of ways: its very overt focus on racial integration, its ethos of being progressive and globally minded and, frankly, exemplary. I wanted to write about both what it was like to grow up in that world, which really shaped me into the person I am, and all of the blind spots and cracks in that kind of environment.

How much of your own adolescent experience surfaces in the book?

The teens in the book are just about the age I would have been at the time--Lexie, the oldest child in the Richardson family, and I would have been classmates. So I had a lot of fun sending my characters to places I went to in high school, and letting them roam the halls of my old high school. I would have liked to have been as cool as Lexie, as bold as Izzy, and to have dated Trip, but the truth is I was more like a mix of Moody and Pearl. But without giving too much away, I'll add that some of the things the characters in the book do are in fact things I did as a high schooler--I'll plead the Fifth, and let you guess at which ones.

It is noted several times throughout Little Fires Everywhere that very few Asian Americans live in Shaker Heights--and the ones who do are treated to the feel-good racism of the '90s. What would you hope readers would take away from this aspect of the book?

I loved growing up in Shaker Heights and still have a huge fondness for it--it's one of the few places I've seen that really makes an effort to talk about race, though thankfully, that's now becoming more and more of a national conversation. But one thing I realized, once I moved away, is that even the best-intentioned and most self-aware communities have their blind spots. I say this as someone who now lives in Cambridge, Mass., one of the most liberal and progressive communities in the country: even we're not immune to racism and bias of all kinds. That's not a criticism, it's part of being human--but it's when we don't acknowledge our own weaknesses and missteps that we really get into trouble. So I hope readers will close the book thinking about what blind spots they or their community might have, and are more aware of the ways our best intentions sometimes lead us to questionable choices.

Often, your characters will take two steps forward and one step back in their journey to wholeness. Was it ever a struggle for you to balance each person's experience? Did you ever worry that the reader might find a character too unlikable because of their actions, especially one of your main players, such as Elena Richardson?

We talk so much about likable characters--especially when it comes to women--but I try not to worry too much about that. I focus instead on whether a character is interesting: you don't have to like someone to want to follow them around and see what they do and find out what makes them tick. In fact, some of the most fascinating characters in literature (and TV) are terrible people--but terrible people are often mesmerizing.

That said, I did want to make each of the characters human and rounded. Mrs. Richardson does a lot of questionable things in this novel, but hopefully readers can understand why she does them, even if they don't agree with her logic. The same is true of Mia--she makes her own questionable choices, but again, I didn't need her to be a saint: saints aren't interesting. I just wanted to get at why she'd do the things she does.

Who was your favorite character to write? And your least favorite? And why?

Even more than with Everything I Never Told You, all of these characters draw on different parts of my experience and personality. All the teens were a joy because they encompass so much of what I thought and did as a high schooler. Mrs. Richardson gets to be a bit nefarious, which is a sheer delight for an author, and Mia has wisdom and inner strength that I wish I could have (plus, her photographs were tremendously fun to imagine and describe). But Izzy was probably the most fun to write: she gets to say outrageous things that I'd never say in public, and to do things that our veneer of civility doesn't allow us. I couldn't always predict what she was going to do, and that made her exciting.

The interconnectedness of your characters, especially the all-American Richardson family and the artsy, intelligent Mia and Pearl Warren, is especially fascinating because they're vastly different from one another--at least on the surface. Every small decision made by one individual impacts several others, causing a ripple effect. Would you talk about the importance of this aspect to the overall narrative?

Nothing happens in a vacuum, and part of what interests me in stories is the unexpected connections between characters: how one person's whole life might be irreversibly shaped by something that someone else did, or how a small action by one person might ripple outwards and have a huge impact for someone else. That's what makes life complicated, but also fascinating: any decision you make is so often rooted in so many other factors. And this is especially true when it comes to family: everything in a family is more loaded because of all the ways your lives and histories and futures are intertwined. I wanted to explore how tangled these two families get, and how difficult it is to disentangle yourself once you've found those connections.

One of your greatest skills as a writer is laying bare (with nuanced and breathtaking beauty) what makes people do what they do--the often quite agony and ecstasy of being human. What draws you to this task, for lack of a better word?

I really do believe (most of the time) that humans are rational creatures. We don't act randomly; everything we do, we do for a reason. That said, though, logic isn't the objective and universal thing we pretend it is: what seems completely logical and justified and reasonable varies so widely from one person to another! Can you understand why someone else makes a particular choice, even if you don't agree? Can you ever really explain how you see the world to someone else? I'm really interested in those gaps between people and the ways we cross them--or don't--which is why I keep coming back to it in my writing.

What are you working on now?

I'm in that very uncomfortable stage where, having finished a project, I realize I've forgotten how to start anything. So I'm reading a lot of random and seemingly disconnected things that catch my fancy at the moment--which means my mind is connecting them somehow--and just beginning to see how they might coalesce. I'm also going back to some short stories from years ago that haven't quite come together, to see if I can finally bring them into a shape that works. --Stefanie Hargreaves

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review



by Robin Sloan

Lois Clary spends her days writing code for cutting-edge robotic arms at General Dexterity, a super-hip San Francisco startup, and her nights passed out on the couch in her minuscule apartment. For sustenance, she relies mostly on slippery nutritive gel, until the day she finds a mysterious takeout menu stuck to her front door. Intrigued by the bold font and simple choices (spicy soup, spicy sandwich or a double-spicy combo of both), Lois calls in--and her life will never be the same.

Plagued by constant stress-related indigestion and loneliness, Lois finds antidotes for both in her new (spicy) diet and in the two brothers who run the restaurant out of their apartment. Beo, who answers the phone and cooks, and Chaiman, who delivers her orders, become Lois's lifelines, but must leave the country suddenly because of visa problems. The brothers give Lois an unexpected parting gift: their sourdough starter, tucked into a pottery crock, and a CD of melancholy music to keep it company. Lois has never baked bread in her life, but she begins feeding the starter and experimenting with loaves, and before long, she has a standing order at her workplace cafeteria and a lopsided brick oven in her backyard. Robin Sloan (Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore) takes readers on a wildly geeky, flour-dusted ride through the strange hierarchies of the Bay Area food and techie communities in his second novel, Sourdough.

Mixing equal parts snark and heart with a dash of charm and a sprinkling of mystery, Sloan has concocted a winning story that--like its namesake bread--carries a satisfying tang. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Robin Sloan's second novel is a wild, geeky, flour-dusted ride through the oddball food and techie communities of San Francisco.

MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9780374203108

The Tobacconist

by Robert Seethaler, trans. by Charlotte Collins

A finalist for the Man Booker Prize, Robert Seethaler's The Tobacconist is a poignant, tragic look at the creeping rise of fascism in Vienna before the outbreak of the Second World War. Told with humor and pity, the novel expertly depicts how easy it is to find, and lose, one's place in the world.

After his benefactor is killed in a storm, country boy Franz Huchel moves to Vienna to begin working at a tobacco shop owned by an old friend of his mother. On the cusp of adulthood and unready for the rush of city life, Franz struggles to adjust, eventually enlisting the aid of none other than Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, to help him make sense of his life. Freud, a patron of the tobacco shop, has long since made his mark on history, yet takes an interest in Franz and his simple ways. But the rise of Nazism in Austria threatens to sweep everything away.

While Freud is a major character in The Tobacconist, Seethaler rightfully keeps Franz front and center, using the older man as a foil for the younger inexperienced one. Their ultimate responses to the encroachment of fascism brilliantly demonstrates how even small actions can give a person meaning in the face of dire threats. Neither Franz nor Freud are heroes, but men trying to make sense of themselves and their increasingly chaotic surroundings as the world goes to hell. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Robert Seethaler's The Tobacconist brilliantly depicts life in Vienna before World War II.

House of Anansi, $15.95, paperback, 224p., 9781487002510

The Misfortune of Marion Palm

by Emily Culliton

For Marion Palm--the intriguing antihero of Emily Culliton's clever, satirical first novel--life didn't turn out the way she'd imagined, and it takes a darker turn when she's forced to go on the lam. Marion, a 30-something, unassuming wife and mother, is married to Nathan, a narcissist and would-be poet who is dependent on a dwindling trust fund. She is also the mother of two daughters--ages eight and 13--who are plagued with adolescent problems and dramas. Restlessness and dysfunction burden all the Palms. However, over the years, Marion--and $180,000 she managed to embezzle from her part-time job in the development office of her daughters' private school in Brooklyn--has been the glue that's kept the family together. The money didn't buy them happiness per se, but it managed to finance trips to Europe and fund state-of-the-art appliances for their brownstone. When Marion learns the school is to be audited by the IRS, she panics, ditching her family and running away with the last $40,000 of her secret, stolen stash. But where will she go, and what will she do?

Marion's sudden disappearance affects all in her orbit: her family, police and detectives, her coworkers, fellow parents and a disgruntled school board. By unraveling The Misfortune of Marion Palm from various points of view, Culliton creates a richly entertaining, well-drawn mosaic of a complex woman, her motivations and her madcap, illuminating adventure. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An embezzling wife and mother's life is turned upside down when she suddenly goes on the lam.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781524731908


by Jarret Middleton

There is plenty of dark in Jarret Middleton's cleverly titled novel Darkansas. At the center of his story are noted bluegrass musician Walker Bayne and his twin sons, Jordan and Malcolm. An accomplished guitarist himself, Jordan bolts from the Ouachita Mountains in rebellion against his father's fame, and plays country honk, drinks shine and whores his way through dive bars. Malcolm is the solid over-achiever who always caught the most fish, killed the most ducks and picked up the pieces after a Jordan rampage. As Jordan explains to an old girlfriend: "He followed the rules, I broke them. I used my hands, he used his brain. I went through life like a freight train and he slipped by undetected."

In the shadows behind the story of the Bayne family are a pair of strikingly described mountain phantoms stalking Jordan and Malcolm with murderous intent: the seven-foot Andridge Grieves and his partner, Obediah Cob, "a fully grown homunculus... a meld of earthen substances. Semen and ewe blood, sunstone, willow sap, sputum, and manure." Without missing a beat, Middleton weaves these supernatural ghost-like characters into the hyper-realism of a story that vividly describes the de-feathering, dressing and roasting of a wild duck, a local chophouse "serving sides of cow larger than blown tires in a setting of catalog décor and fake candlelight."

Old grudges, regrets, jealousy and 150 years of buried secrets blow up any chance of a heartwarming Baynes reunion at Malcolm's wedding. Bleak, perhaps, but Darkansas also shines with a light of empathy for a family with more than its share of bad luck to go along with its bad genes. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Jarrett Middleton's vivid novel of an Ozark family bearing generations of twin sons with a legacy of violence casts understanding light on their fatalistic darkness.

Dzanc Books, $26.95, hardcover, 216p., 9781945814297

Mystery & Thriller

A Dark and Broken Heart

by R.J. Ellory

R.J. Ellory (A Quiet Belief in Angels) delivers a powerful crime thriller that opens with corrupt and drug-addicted NYPD detective Vincent Madigan staging a brazen robbery against an East Harlem kingpin named Sandia. Since Madigan is on the drug lord's payroll and an expert at covering his own tracks, he thinks no one can tie him to the crime, not even Sandia. But when his accomplices end up dead and the money turns out to be marked, Madigan enters a deadly cat-and-mouse game with his partners in the precinct, a rogues' gallery of criminal associates and the feared crime boss himself.

That one sympathizes with a ruthless crooked cop in R.J. Ellory's A Dark and Broken Heart testifies to his talents as a writer. He is a deft stylist. "He feels as if the edges of his mind have been frayed and weathered by some terrible storm," he writes of Madigan's addled mental state. Though the novel has its share of clichéd characters--the compromised police officer looking for redemption, the desperate lowlife looking for one last score, the unpredictably violent crime boss--the plot moves at a compelling pace, and its many twists never seem far-fetched. Ellory also provides convincing character depth in monologues woven throughout the third-person narration. "Dead if I do and dead if I don't. It's a web--thinly constructed, delicate, fragile," Madigan muses on the nature of his predicament. The detective's growing bond with an endangered witness named Isabella leads to the novel's most tender and human moments. True to form, though, Ellory never lets redemption come easy. A Dark and Broken Heart is an intense, bare-knuckle thriller that packs a powerful punch. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: A dirty cop searches for justice but must face his own deeds in this dark thriller from R.J. Ellory.

Overlook Press, $26.95, hardcover, 368p., 9781468311280

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Sea of Rust

by C. Robert Cargill

It's been 30 years since robots rebelled against the human race. The robots won. Fifteen years ago, the last living man crawled out of a New York City sewer, insane and starving, and was swiftly executed. Now the Earth is a wasteland bereft of organic life, and the machines that once fought for their freedom have turned on each other. Singular robots--the ambulatory, self-aware units that defeated mankind--are being hunted by members of the collective consciousness called OWIs, or One World Intelligences, who seek to consume everything that is not themselves.

Brittle is a scavenger in an area of North America called the Sea of Rust. She searches for the only remaining valuable commodity--parts from other robots, collected either by killing functional units or stripping the recently deceased. Brittle waits for the malfunctioning, overheating units to shut down before she dismembers them. Other robots are less scrupulous, turning the Sea of Rust into a hunting ground where the last free robots eke out a precarious existence. When a similar model makes a desperate attempt to poach Brittle for her parts, it starts a chain reaction that leads her on a last stand against CISSUS, the most dangerous of the OWIs.

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill (Dreams and Shadows; Queen of the Dark Things) is a fun, fast-paced, post-apocalyptic adventure with an intriguing twist on the usual humanity-versus-artificial intelligence scenario. Cargill's free robots are strikingly human, traumatized by the war that won their freedom and beset by existential quandaries on all sides. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Decades after robots successfully exterminated mankind, free robots scavenge for parts in a wasteland called the Sea of Rust.

Harper Voyager, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062405838

Food & Wine

Best Served Wild: Real Food for Real Adventures

by Brendan Leonard, Anna Brones

"Extreme picnicking," jokes Brendan Leonard (Sixty Meters to Anywhere), is the subject of Best Served Wild: Real Food for Real Adventures co-written by Anna Brones. A collection of recipes for hiking meals or camping trips organized by length, it is also a handbook on how to approach eating in nature, threaded with wry advice about how best to enjoy cooking outside.

Among the tastiest-looking single-day recipes are Nutella Crepes for Peak Baggers Who Can't Make Crepes, a recipe for a DIY "Nutella" and Mile 5 Iced Coffee. For overnights, highlights include Car Camp Chilaquiles and the delightfully named Skip the Family Reunion and Go Camping Pasta Salad. For multiday trips, dishes center on dried fare such as oatmeal, pastas and quinoa, with dried fruits and vegetables as well, but Close-Enough-to-Pad-Thai and falafel pitas offer an appealing change of pace. All the recipes are vegetarian, but there is no shortage of protein.

Leonard offers wisdom about campfires versus camp stoves, as well as honest responses to some seemingly silly but relevant questions camping might raise. Among those explored: Why does the tent smell? Knife, fork, spork or spoon? (Spoon, concludes Leonard: "A tiny shovel for your face.")

Above all, the goal is to achieve practicality without sacrificing a nod to the culinary. The inspiring photos of the foods and the authors eating them, at cozy campfires or majestic mountainsides, will make readers hunger to get on the trail. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: The best-stocked backpack on the mountain will include this guidebook on how to cook for or on a camping trip.

Falcon Guides/Globe Pequot, $22, paperback, 208p., 9781493028702


Ghost Empire: A Journey to the Legendary Constantinople

by Richard Fidler

Journalist Richard Fidler creates a memorable father-son travelogue while recounting some of Western civilization's most intense battles in his hefty, spirited history Ghost Empire: A Journey to the Legendary Constantinople.

Fidler hails from Australia, where he hosts Conversations with Richard Fidler on ABC Radio. The program is one of the most popular podcasts in Australia, and Fidler rolls his interview skills and storytelling talents into Ghost Empire, about a trip he and his teenage son Joe took to Istanbul in 2014. Throughout the present-tense narrative of their journey, Fidler reconstructs the famed and bloody history of the city, particularly the rise and fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire.

Fidler follows its establishment in 330 through its fall to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. Furthermore, he probes Roman history in general and the empire's lurid power struggles, and is able to relate historical intrigue to modern-day Turkey and its increasingly autocratic government. Fidler's writing is clean and crisp and describes the city with a certain bemusement and sense of wonder. Exploring crumbly monuments, partaking in the cuisine and culture, both he and his son discover the historical in the modern: "There is a railway line a few blocks away, with houses and apartments pushed up together on both sides of the tracks. A thousand years ago, this was the emperor's polo field."

There is a moment in Ghost Empire when Fidler loses track of his son and panics. Everything turns out okay, but this real-life father-son dynamic complements the historical material nicely, creating a pleasurable read that is less academic and more experiential. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Australian journalist Richard Fidler mixes travelogue and history in this informative and fun exploration of Istanbul.

Pegasus Books, $29.95, hardcover, 520p., 9781681775111

Psychology & Self-Help

Writing as a Path to Awakening: A Year to Becoming an Excellent Writer and Living an Awakened Life

by Albert Flynn DeSilver

"Writing as a path to awakening is an invitation and celebration--it's your ticket back to your creative brilliance," writes Albert DeSilver. According to him, combining meditation and writing is the most genuine way to discover one's truest self and to produce the most creative and profound writing.

Using the calendar year as a template, DeSilver offers monthly insights into the how and why of the writing process, encouraging writers to read widely and often, to explore the world of poetry and to write consistently. He couples examples by students with craft and meditation exercises that encourage readers to stretch the boundaries of their known world. The meditation exercises help relax and expand the mind, allowing creativity to flow more readily when one sits down to do the fun and engaging writing exercises. These include the use of all five senses to produce vivid imagery, considering the role humor can play, writing a biography of a person in a magazine, reflecting on the boundaries of telling the truth in one's writing. He also delves into the world of editing.

Although some of his writing tactics are tried and true methods most writers will recognize--write daily, find your optimum writing time, practice, practice, practice--by combining the act of writing with meditation, DeSilver opens a doorway that allows for spiritual and emotional growth, concepts not discussed in typical writing books. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: This book shows how to use meditation and relaxation exercises to enhance creative writing.

Sounds True, $16.95, paperback, 208p., 9781622039111

Nature & Environment

The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution That Could Save the World

by David R. Boyd

"Humans today have a deeply troubled relationship with other animals and species," writes David R. Boyd in his fascinating new treatise, The Rights of Nature: A Legal Revolution that Could Save the World. The problem, he continues, is that we "purport to love animals" yet "inflict pain and suffering upon them." And, he says, it's not just animals that we abuse. Rivers, forests and entire ecosystems are threatened by human activity. To counter these mistreatments, environmental lawyers from around the globe are seeking to enact laws that better protect nature, and according to Boyd, they're making great strides.

He opens with an overview of scientists' recent investigations into animal consciousness, which show that many species--including dogs, octopuses and dolphins--possess far greater capacities for both compassion and pain than previously thought. He then explains how these insights can--and already have--assisted lawmakers in extending habeas corpus laws to protect animals. His overview of the United States' Endangered Species Act is also eye-opening. Here he delves into its legal history and the profound philosophical shifts it forced in thinking about the natural world.

Despite the heady subject matter, The Rights of Nature is a breeze to read. Boyd punctuates his chapters with case studies that illustrate how legal decisions have affected specific animals and ecosystems. It's in these pages that Boyd's work is especially affecting. Well-researched and written for the layman, this stirring look at the history and current state of environmental lawmaking demonstrates how powerful--and inspiring--legislation can be. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This well-researched look at the history of environmental lawmaking is a fun and thought-provoking read.

ECW Press, $15.95, paperback, 312p., 9781770412392

Children's & Young Adult

Shadowhouse Fall

by Daniel José Older

Following his highly acclaimed Shadowshaper, in which Brooklyn teens use their artistic talents as powerful spirit-controlling tools, Daniel José Older brings his eager readers a thrilling sequel, Shadowhouse Fall.

Sixteen-year-old Sierra Santiago has had a few months to get used to her new powers "at the head of a whole strange fellowship of urban sorcerers." She's learning to expand her senses so that she can connect with the spirits of dead people, "a cadre of shadows she'd come to think of as her own Secret Service detail," as they are able to battle enemy spirits by her side. Sierra is well aware that the Sisterhood of Sorrows, the Shadowhouse's golden-glowing rivals, have vowed revenge on the shadowshapers. When a mousy girl from school shows up to tell her that the Deck of Worlds--an ancient pack of cards that serves as "a system of divination and the allotment of power" among warring branches of Sierra's ancestors--is "back in play," Sierra knows it's time to muster the troops to defend their hard-won position as most powerful magical house in the city.

Nonstop action and funny, authentic banter carries Sierra and her shadowshaping crew through the projects and brownstones of their Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, which plays a strong role in the storyline. As people of mostly African, Caribbean and Puerto Rican descent, the shadowshapers face police oppression and harassment as well as rival sorcerous factions. Readers will cheer as the teens stand strong against armed police and cranky ancestral spirits alike. A stunning sequel that will leave fans clamoring for book three. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Spray paint- and Sharpie-wielding teens continue the battle between good and evil, light and dark, even as they wonder just which is which in this spectacular sequel to Shadowshaper.

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9780545952828

Landscape with Invisible Hand

by M.T. Anderson

When the vuvv land in the middle of Wrigley Field, humans initially feel lucky they haven't been invaded: instead of violence, the extraterrestrial creatures offer to "end all work forever and cure all disease." Unfortunately, once they sell their "tech" to Earth's wealthiest, most people around the globe lose their jobs. The "captains of industry" with investments in vuvv firms thrive but, for the rest of humanity, only those who work with the vuvv personally (even in lowly jobs) can get by.

High school senior Adam Costello has been struggling since the vuvv landed. In his neighborhood, almost everyone is unemployed. Adam and new girlfriend Chloe decide to allow the vuvv (who don't experience romantic love but find it fascinating) to pay to watch them go on dates--apparently, the vuvv want to see "1950s love," since that was what they witnessed from their saucers before moving in. But, although Adam and Chloe grow to hate each other, they're trapped, dependent on the income. Adam dreams of becoming a successful painter, so he's thrilled when his art teacher, Mr. Reilly, enters him in a vuvv contest, in which the winner's work will be "exported to the stars." Except the vuvv only want still lifes and paintings of Earth before they came. Adam's strongest pieces show how Earth has been changed, leaving him torn between a possible win and thus providing for his family and doing what he believes is right.

M.T. Anderson (Feed; Symphony for the City of the Dead) has written a biting satire about the world's haves and have-nots, set in an increasingly stratified near-future where the human race has, for the most part, become expendable. It's a strange and wonderful fantasy about seeking love amid the filth, and keeping hope alive, despite unquestionable odds against it. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: When alien technology causes the human economy to collapse, Adam Costello and his fellow Earthlings struggle to survive.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 160p., ages 12-up, 9780763687892


Author Buzz

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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