Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 5, 2018

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

Reading Star Wars

I'm a Star Wars fan. I say that cautiously, since I can't even aspire to the highest levels of fandom in the Lucasfilm universe. But I watch the original films at least once a year. I quote them all the time: "Never tell me the odds!" And I've dressed up twice as Princess Leia: once in my teens, once in my 30s. Until this fall, though, I'd never read a Star Wars novel.

Why not? Call it confusion, or intimidation: there are dozens of novels, set in every conceivable niche of the Star Wars timeline and galaxy. Where to start? Add to that the thorny question of what's considered "canon": I'm not qualified to even touch that one. But there's a darker reason: my own literary snobbery.

Although I'm a lifelong bookworm with two literature degrees, I usually insist I'm not a book snob: I believe people should read what they love, be it a Pulitzer winner or the latest bestseller. But I secretly thought Star Wars novels had to be just cardboard imitations of the movies I loved.

Enter Claudia Gray's novel Leia: Princess of Alderaan (Disney Lucasfilm , $17.99), which follows the young Leia as she takes a survival course and flies around the galaxy on missions of both humanitarian aid and espionage. It's smart, fast-paced and full of the series' signature wry humor. I devoured it and immediately picked up Bloodline (Del Rey, $9.99), Gray's 2016 novel recounting Leia's political career in the New Republic. I might have loved that one even more: Leia the senator is even more brave and badass than Leia the teenage rebel.

I doubt I'll be diving into the whole Star Wars backlist any time soon. But it's been a deep pleasure to read more of Leia's story--and a reminder that, as Yoda says, sometimes we must unlearn what we have learned. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Book Candy

Writers' Tips on Writing

"Buy a cat, stay up late, don't drink: top 10 writers' tips on writing," via the Guardian.


"Is your vocabulary good enough to pass this synonym quiz?" Buzzfeed challenged. 


Mental Floss revealed "8 literary relics from the world's largest private collection of Mark Twain memorabilia."


Dotard, for example. CNN shared language-learning app Babbel's list of the "top 10 mispronounced words in 2017, complete with how to say them so you don't keep butchering them."


Joni Mitchell's "Urge for Going" is one of "10 songs for Sir Gawain and the Green Knight" suggested by Lit Hub.          


"This publisher rejection letter from 1928 is straight up the most crushing thing you'll read today," Bustle warned.

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship

by Charles Waters, Irene Latham, illus. by Sean Qualls, Selina Alko

"When our teacher says,/ Pick a partner,/ my body freezes/ like a ship in ice." Irene wants to partner with Patty Jean for Mrs. Vandenberg's poem project but Madison has already claimed her. "Within seconds,/ you-never-know-what-/ he's-going-to-say Charles/ is the only one left" and Irene is paired with him.

"Mrs. Vandenberg wants us to write poems?/ Finally, an easy project," Charles thinks, "Words fly off my pen/ onto the paper, like writing is my super power." When not writing, though, his "words are a curse": "I open my mouth,/ and people run away." Despite his excitement for the project, Charles really doesn't want to work with Irene. "Write about anything!" Mrs. Vandenberg said, "It's not black and white." But for Irene and Charles "it is./ Charles is black,/ and [Irene] is white."

The two children approach each other hesitantly. "What do you want to/ write about?" Charles asks Irene. She only shrugs. Charles continues valiantly on. "How about our shoes, hair?/ Then we can write about school and church?" Irene "takes a deep breath. 'Okay.' "

In their first collaborative efforts, the two children write about their shoes. Irene wants ruby shoes with heels to click her to "another land" or "glass slippers/ to make a dancer" out of her. Unfortunately, her mother thinks shoes should be sensible. Charles also wants exciting shoes: "neon high-tops/ with tie-dye laces," but his dad thinks shoes should be comfortable, not fashionable.

The two children continue the writing project, going back and forth covering church, the beach, horseback riding, the playground, fresh starts and more. In "Hair," Irene writes that her hair is "long and straight--/ a curtain I can hide/ behind." Charles remembers a situation in "Strands" in which a white classmate, Dennis, asked, "Can I touch your hair?" Before getting a response, Dennis patted Charles on the head: "It feels like a sponge," he said. Angry, Charles retorted, "You need to learn to wait/ for an answer after asking permission." Charles then patted Dennis's hair, "hard." "Your hair feels like a mop," Charles said, fists at the ready.

In Irene's "Church," "everyone is white"; at Charles's "Sunday Service," "everyone's brown arms are raised in devotion." Everyone's arms, that is, but Charles's.

"If it says in the Bible that Jesus
had hair like wool, eyes that were a flame of fire,
and feet like brass as if they burned in a furnace,
then why is everyone praising the straight-haired,
blue-eyed white man I see looking down over all of us?"

Each spread includes an illustration and one of the children's poems, with distinct fonts for each child, visually marking the difference between the two narrators. While the poems slowly build to depict the shared emotions of the two children and their developing friendship, some stand out as particularly heartbreaking. In "Beach Day," Charles writes,

"There's a pack of guys and girls, whose pearly skins
have been baked into a bronzed hue, strolling past me.
Each of them has hair woven into cornrows
or twisted into dreadlocks....
When I wave, they look at each other, begin snorting,
laughing at my good manners....
I'm confused: why do people who
want to look like me hate me so much?"

In "The Athlete," Charles points out the quiet racism he lives with every day: picked first for sports, even though he's not particularly athletic; chosen last to read out loud, even though he loves words. On the playground, Irene goes "to the spot by the fence/ where the black girls/ play freeze dance," hoping Shonda will ask her to play. "You've got/ the whole rest of the playground," Shonda says, "Can't we/ at least have this corner?"

The children's lives flow through their poetry, touching on big ideas that are everyday struggles. Charles finds it difficult to explain to his grandparents why he's gone vegan, why he won't eat "soul food" any longer; Irene hides "behind the door" after her "Mama pulls the paddle/ from the top of the fridge" to discipline her little brothers. Charles watches the news and sees "people who/ could pass as [his] family being choked, pummeled, shot, killed/ by police officers." Irene explains "Why Aunt Sarah Doesn't Go Downtown after Dark": "sky/ black/ streets/ black/ faces/ black/ fear/ white."

Charles and Irene's story, according to the collaborative authors' note, is that of the adult authors' if they "had met in a current-day fifth-grade classroom in a suburban school with a 60 percent white and 40 percent minority population." The "spirit" of each poem is based on their real-life experiences growing up in the 1980s, and, "whether real or imagined," the poems reflect their "truest and most honest emotions and recollections" about their own experiences related to race.

Like both the fictional and real white Irene and black Charles working together on poems, Selina Alko and Sean Qualls (a couple of almost two decades) collaborated on the illustrations in the work. Using acrylic paint, colored pencil and collage, they mixed materials together to mirror their "philosophy of mixing together [their] cultures." And as Irene's and Charles's poems speak to and with each other, building experiences and new bonds, the illustrations speak with the text, building relationships with the reader. The illustrations and text are balanced, layered and nuanced, allowing the child protagonists (and readers) the chance to sit with and make sense of race and our society's long history of inequality. Can I Touch Your Hair? is a beautifully direct yet somehow outstandingly subtle work that will allow young readers to navigate and understand their places in their communities and the greater world. --Siân Gaetano

Carolrhoda Books, $17.99, library binding, 40p., ages 8-12, 9781512404425

Authors and Illustrators on Race and Collaboration

Irene Latham
Charles Waters
Sean Qualls and Selina Alko

Irene Latham and Charles Waters were sort of friends when they began writing Can I Touch Your Hair? (Carolrhoda/Lerner Publishing Group, January 1, 2018) together. Now, after many e-mails and texts (and the occasional phone call), they are friends for life. They believe poetry can start conversations and change lives. With a little courage and understanding, together we can make the world a better place.

Sean Qualls and Selina Alko have collaborated on The Case for Loving as well as Why Am I Me?. Sean has illustrated a number of acclaimed children's books, including Emmanuel's Dream and Before John Was a Jazz Giant, for which he won a Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor. Selina is the author and illustrator of more than a dozen books for children, including Daddy Christmas & Hanukkah Mama and B Is for Brooklyn. They live in Brooklyn, N.Y., with their two children, Isaiah and Ginger.

What made you interested in this project?

Irene: I live in Birmingham, Ala., where probably the worst thing you can say about a white person is that they are racist. What happens is, white people don't talk about race or racism. It's too dangerous. What if we say the wrong thing? Or worse, what if we really are racist? I can't think of a more important issue, or a simpler way to improve the world than to talk about race and racism--to listen, to choose not to be offended, to make mistakes, to at least try.

Charles: In my opinion, this is one of, if not the most central issue facing our nation today. How we talk about race; how to not be afraid of having hard, heartfelt, respectful conversations about how it affects us, both in the giving or receiving of it; how over-the-top racism can be as hurtful as subtle racism. How can we can go to the heart of the matter on the three C's--color, culture, class--and emerge with our humanity intact?

Selina & Sean: We had a visceral reaction to the manuscript; immediately we could imagine our childhood selves in Charles and Irene.

Was your work done as a collaborative effort?

Charles: Yes. Irene and I would pick general topics and write different versions of poems and send them back and forth to each other. Sometimes, we'd edit each other's poems. That took our trust to a whole new level. It's one thing to write pleasant e-mails to each other, but when you start rewriting another person's poems, that's a whole other row to plow.

Irene: This was my first adventure in collaboration, and I loved working with Charles. We shared powerful memories and connected on a vulnerable, human level. It was an intense experience, and we had the first draft completed in about three weeks.

Selina & Sean: Yes. We never work on the same piece at the exact same time. We usually spend the most time figuring out our characters in the beginning and then divide and conquer from there. When we work, it is always a back and forth.

Do you have a favorite part of the book? Or did you have a favorite part of working on the book?

Charles: My favorite part of working on the book was working with Irene and our editor Carol Hinz. Both are such strong, heartfelt humans. My favorite poem in the book is "News," written by Irene about police brutality. She did something that's so, so difficult, taking a tricky subject matter and distilling it to its bare essence with humanity.

Irene: Getting to know Charles was the best part! I have three biological brothers, two adopted ones and now Charles. As a reader, I want to feel something, and Charles's poems fill me and empty me. And then there are the illustrations! I adore "mad Charles" so much that I convinced Sean and Selina to sell me the original piece.

Selina & Sean: Our favorite part was creating a young Charles and Irene and coming up with the symbols--such as blooms of flowers and exaggerated tears--that would emphasize their issues (growth and suffering).

This picture book explores interracial communication--why did you choose to create this project for young readers?

Irene: Curious, shy, young me would have loved this book. I was fortunate in that I was exposed to a lot of different cultures, in part due to living in Saudi Arabia for two and a half years and then traveling with my family worldwide. This project gives all kids a way to celebrate diversity and provides a model for vulnerability, trust and friendship.

Charles: I am of the opinion that more of life can be soaked up as a younger person than as an adult because one is more open to their surroundings. I feel life is a great mystery but more so when I was a kid, more of a sense of wonder at the world, more mistakes that can happen and also more that can be learned.

Selina & Sean: We can remember our own fragile states of minds at that age (and we have kids similar ages now, so it's even more personal to us). We believe it's important to talk about race and identity at a young age and not brush hurts/misconceptions under the carpet.

Is there something you hope this book will do or say?

Irene & Charles: For all our differences, we both grew up in big families (each of us is one of five kids), were blessed with loving parents, went to public schools, loved to read, had and still have curious minds--which means, ultimately, we're more alike than we are different. It's our hope that this book starts all kinds of conversations about race and racism and that it brings people together in friendship, just like writing the book did for us.

Selina & Sean: We hope it will start conversations. We need to talk now more than ever.

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review



by Fiona Mozley

Deep in the Yorkshire woods, Daniel is learning the beautiful and brutal nuances of life from his father, John, and older sister, Cathy. John, a man of gargantuan proportions, is a gentle soul who wants to be left alone with his children. Cathy, tiny and intense, is viciously protective, but keeps a calm façade. After a landowner comes to claim the territory, John is forced into increasingly dangerous situations that threaten the well-being of his family. As the inevitability of violence looms, Daniel stares ever harder at the father and sister who comprise his entire world, but who cannot protect him forever.

Elmet's power derives from its expert illustration of a world built on contradictions. The atmosphere is both lush and austere, the writing lyrical and simplistic, the characters violent and tender. Fiona Mozley captures the serenity of her setting while still acknowledging its jagged edges and the darkness shifting among the trees. Crafted like a series of connected short stories, the narrative maintains a hidden tension that simmers beneath the surface until it overwhelms the reader in its final, catastrophic sequence. This debut novel is notable, however, not for the shock of its climaxes, but for its focus on small moments. Its emotion resides in a scene's shuddering pauses, the quivering of a character's lip, the exhale after an intake of breath. Elmet, which was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, is a backwoods gothic that knows better than most how to be explosive in stillness. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Striking a balance between mounting pressure and literary quietude, Elmet delivers a violent family drama that finds depth in the complexity of detail.

Algonquin, $15.95, paperback, 320p., 9781616208424

One Station Away

by Olaf Olafsson

Born in Iceland, raised in England and living alone in New York City, Magnus Conyngham, the narrator of Olaf Olafsson's brainy novel One Station Away, is neuroscientist working in a well-funded lab in Connecticut. His days are filled with coffee, commuting and navigating the egos of his department chair, his lab assistants and the chairs of the two European academic centers collaborating on his research project. Although focused on his study of the brain function of comatose patients, Magnus is frequently preoccupied with his Buenos Aires-born, ballet dancer lover, Malena, and her sudden death from a motor neuron disease--a disease he failed to detect in his exuberant infatuation with her.

In self-imposed exile, Magnus hardly understands anyone around him--until he takes on a new research subject in a coma after a New Mexico motorcycle crash. A Latina Jane Doe, she fails to show any MRI brain response to his rote questions until he begins to sit with her, talking, playing music and reading to her in Spanish from One Hundred Years of Solitude. Finally, she blinks, her scans light up and she is able to answer yes and no questions. Is it a scientific breakthrough, a sociable dialogue or a call for help?

A Time Warner executive born in Iceland, Olafsson (Restoration) methodically immerses readers in the mind of the contemplative, sensitive and self-doubting Magnus. Olafsson's smooth and deliberate narrative gradually reveals the deceptive complexity of his characters. Even as they move in the professional worlds of the artist and scientist, they are as prone to detachment as the rest of us. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: One Station Away is a carefully measured novel of the search for personal connection in a world of uncertainty and self-doubt.

Ecco, $25.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062677488

Everything, Then and Since

by Michael Parker

Michael Parker's slim volume of flash fiction conveys more in a few pages than some authors do with doorstop novels. These stories--23 of them in fewer than 100 pages--contain a vivid sense of place, mostly working-class communities in the rural South. The worlds are rich but brief, as if viewed from a tiny window. Consider a line from "Never Mind": "The sun had burned off the clouds but was setting now pinkly over the ridge, each tree visible like the hair on the overgrown ears of his grandfather just before he died." Parker knows his characters, their voices and homes, and his empathy and evocative prose are reminiscent of Brian Doyle. Reminiscent of Stand by Me, "Work Camp" follows three boys who speak with inmates through the fence of a local prison, in an examination of who we are as children, who we become as adults, and whether that's who we're supposed to be. "Typingpool" begins with a bizarre wedding gift and goes on to wonder about truth in relationships.

Everything, Then and Since is a lesson in the economy of language, using as few words as necessary to create an entirely real person, home and philosophy. Though the book could be a quick read, these pieces, like poetry, benefit from reflection and stillness before moving onto the next, and each conclusion feels both shocking and inevitable. One after another, these stories leave the reader breathless, sated, but still wanting more. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and publicist

Discover: Michael Parker's gorgeously written collection of short fiction explores uncertainty, yearning and the search for identity.

Bull City Press, $13.95, paperback, 112p., 9781495157677


by Susan Sontag, Benjamin Taylor, editor

Celebrated American intellectual Susan Sontag was known as a master essayist and novelist, but this short story collection aims to widen readers' view of her work. From the autobiographical to dabbling in science fiction, the pieces in this collection (edited by Benjamin Taylor) show a writer always thinking of new ways to tackle questions of identity, loss and language.

Taylor eases the reader into Debriefing by putting a piece of memoir at the beginning. "Pilgrimage" recounts a journey by the awkward teenage Sontag to visit the famous German author Thomas Mann while he was living in California. Told in a funny, self-deprecating style, the story expertly depicts her influences and concerns, all of which will reappear in the following pages. Debriefing is never so close to the author again, but readers will keep that first impression as they move forward through the collected stories.

The standout "Doctor Jekyll" reimagines Robert Louis Stevenson's novella in modern New York, recasting the titular hero as a man in midlife crisis before taking the story in directions the original never dared. The final story, "The Way We Live Now," is a tragic, if often funny, look at how AIDS impacted communities. Told in a strange style where every sentence is run-on and full of hearsay, Sontag mimics the feeling of a group discussion, where the topic at the center (in this case a very sick friend) is less important than the interactions between the speakers. Fans of Sontag and new readers alike will find plenty of enjoyable material in this lovely collection. --Noah Cruickshank, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Debriefing collects short works of fiction by the late Susan Sontag.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780374100759

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by Andy Weir

In Artemis, Andy Weir showcases the same combination of space, suspense, science and humor that made his first novel, The Martian, such a big hit. The setting this time is Artemis, the first colony on the moon, in the near future.

Jasmine Bashara--Jazz to her friends--moved to the moon with her father at age six. She now works as a porter, but that barely pays the rent on her tiny bunk (a "coffin" in the local parlance). Jazz really makes her living as a smuggler, though she wishes she could earn extra money faster so she could pay back her father and rent a decent place to live.

Even though Jazz is strictly a small-time criminal, she agrees to take on a job that is way beyond the law because the expected payoff is the answer to her dreams. Her initial misgivings grow as she comes to realize there is far more to this job (and the story behind it) than meets the eye.

Jazz is drawn deeper and deeper into a criminal world she didn't even know existed. Through Jazz, Weir details the intricate science behind pulling off a crime in a vacuum and in low gravity. As the tension continues to build, Jazz cracks jokes to keep from completely losing it. The result is a moon-set caper that's witty, taut and a whole lot of fun. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book by Book blog

Discover: Andy Weir provides another witty, science-filled, suspenseful story, this time focused on a caper on the moon.

Crown, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780553448122

Biography & Memoir

The Art of Misdiagnosis: Surviving My Mother's Suicide

by Gayle Brandeis

In her memoir, The Art of Misdiagnosis, novelist Gayle Brandeis (The Book of Dead Birds) focuses on her mother's suicide in 2009. Arlene hanged herself in a parking garage in Pasadena, Calif., just weeks after Brandeis had given birth to her youngest son, Asher. Recovering from the pregnancy and nursing her son, Brandeis was thrown into a surreal emotional state after the suicide, between extremes of life and death. In The Art of Misdiagnosis, she's able to approach the tragedy with writerly distance and perspective, delving into the complexities of her mother, her parents' marriage and her own childhood. Brandeis crafts a sympathetic portrait of a flawed yet enterprising woman who suffered from mental illness. Her mother was working on a documentary film about medical misdiagnosis at the time of her death, and excerpts from the script are included throughout the memoir.

Brandeis relies on her novelistic skills to reconstruct her mother's story, as well as her own. She addresses a period in her adolescence when she used a misdiagnosed illness to garner attention, and connects the experience to her mother's eccentric personality and the way illness is perceived in the world, both as handicap and martyrdom.

The Art of Misdiagnosis is a gripping and deeply felt memoir that demonstrates how the very act of writing can pull one from the depths of tragedy and toward the light of compassion. In the words of Arlene Baylen Brandeis herself, "all is preparation for love." --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: In this heart-twisting memoir, novelist and poet Gayle Brandeis grapples with her mother's suicide and her own infirmities.

Beacon Press, $26.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780807044865

The Mother of Black Hollywood

by Jenifer Lewis

The outrageous, audacious and hilarious Jenifer Lewis earned the nickname "Mother of Black Hollywood" from playing movie and TV roles as mother to Angela Bassett (What's Love Got to Do with It?), Whitney Houston (Preacher's Wife), Tupac Shakur (Poetic Justice), Anthony Anderson (Black-ish) and others. Musing on her never-aired talk show for Disney, she writes, "To make a long story short, I was basically incapable of asking other people about their lives without going on and on and on about my own." Fortunately, this trait is ideal for a memoirist--Lewis's tales are acerbic, entertaining and brutally honest.

Born in Missouri, the youngest of seven children, Lewis always knew she'd be a star. Her career took off immediately. One day after graduating from college, she moved to New York City, and 10 days later made her debut on Broadway in Eubie! with Gregory Hines. She played Effie in the workshop production of the musical Dreamgirls, but lost the role to Jennifer Holliday when it moved to Broadway. Touring as a backup singer to Bette Midler, she forged a friendship but realized she couldn't sing in anyone's shadow.

Her manic behavior, spending binges, crying jags and the reliance on alcohol and sex to numb her feelings were later diagnosed as bipolar disorder. The second half of Lewis's memoir delves deeply into her therapy, a troubled relationship with her mother and her fear that mood-stabilizing drugs might dilute her persona. This outstanding, no-holds-barred memoir is captivating, thoughtful, disarmingly frank and unforgettable. The book, like its author, is a treasure. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Brash and outrageous singer/actress Jenifer Lewis defies expectations with a brilliantly funny memoir that also deals frankly with her bipolar disorder, addiction and recovery.

Amistad, $25.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062410405

Essays & Criticism

Translation as Transhumance

by Mireille Gansel, trans. by Ros Schwartz

French translator Mireille Gansel won the 2016 French Voices Award and the 2017 English PEN Translation Award for this elegant, extended essay that muses on humanistic approaches to translation. Her reflections are based on her personal and professional experience. As survivors of the Jewish internment camps of World War II, Gansel's family avoided speaking German--it represented the "barbed-wire fences and watchtowers of history." As an adult, Gansel learned to appreciate the underlying beauty and lyricism of her family's native tongue through the happy prewar memories of an aunt.

Gansel discovered that intimate involvement--living, breathing and talking poetry with the people creating it--in the process of translation provided "the clay from which I could fashion my own interior language." While studying and working with poet and translator Reiner Kunze, Gansel learned how exile affected the language of expression. This played a role in how she interpreted the works of Nelly Sachs, a German Jewish exile whose experience of Nazism provoked her to write eloquently of the pain and suffering of the Jewish people. While using an ethnologist's approach in translating the poetry of the mountain people of Vietnam, Gansel gained a deeper emotional understanding of the language's musicality of expression, absorbing its rhythms, cadences and registers.

In applying such humanistic approaches, Gansel found that translation transcends language to offer universalities of meaning. And Ros Schwartz's English translation of Gansel serves to bear out the poet's (or in this case, the translator's) vision: "I was the one who had everything to learn, everything to understand, from the other." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A revelatory meditation by a noted French translator on the depth of meaning that comes from applying humanistic approaches to translation.

Feminist Press, $14.95, paperback, 150p., 9781558614444


Chronicles of a Liquid Society

by Umberto Eco, trans. by Richard Dixon

The late Italian literary icon Umberto Eco (The Name of the Rose) casts a wide net in his collection of essays Chronicles of a Liquid Society.

Eco, who died in 2016, was famous for both his novels and essays. Collected and translated here are columns he wrote for the Italian newspaper L'Espresso. Spanning the early aughts to the second decade of the millennium, the pieces are arranged thematically. Many focus on history and globalization and how technology is changing culture and politics. Nation-states, political parties and ideological structures have collapsed "into a sort of liquidity," Eco argues. In this new, decentralized world that lacks traditional points of reference, individual conspicuousness becomes the ultimate value.

Eco is a critical thinker, a philosopher and theorist, but he writes with refreshing clarity, sometimes sardonically but almost always to the point. These columns are pithy in the way they address complex ideas, and this itself is ironic as Eco often criticizes "disastrous journalistic simplifications" of complex truths. That Eco can be precise in his writing while respecting complexity and resisting dogmatism is a testament to his intellect. A philosopher of language, he understands the fluidity of semantics and the dangers of political fundamentalism, reminding us that between two poles "there are countless shades." Though critiquing an increasingly unpredictable society, Eco's last reflections are strangely forward-looking and sensible. Chronicles of a Liquid Society forms a map of sorts with which to navigate the modern world. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Legendary philosopher and novelist Umberto Eco ponders the effects of technology on society in this collection of essays.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, hardcover, 320p., 9780544974487

Nature & Environment

Leaving the Wild: The Unnatural History of Dogs, Cats, Cows, and Horses

by Gavin Ehringer

Gavin Ehringer has been studying animals and writing about them for more than 25 years. He grew up next to a game farm and spent his young adult years working on a ranch; he is also an accomplished dog trainer. In Leaving the Wild, he explores four common animal species--dogs, cats, cows and horses--expressing his admiration and passion for these beautiful creatures who have given up the wild in order to share their lives with humans. "Understanding how once wild animals came to live in barnyards and under our roofs helps us... to better understand our own place in the world." Are people really living up to their end of the bargain in caring for and protecting these animals? Are humans making proper provisions for the well-being and ethical treatment of animals?

Ehringer (100 Best Ranch Vacations in North America) makes a case that "animals who left the wild made a very good choice. Their value to us has ensured their survival." However, he also believes that "human values shape animals." In some instances, those values can be distorted and accountability can fall by the wayside. Thus, this informative, entertaining narrative raises red flags and outlines causes for concern. Animal devotees will be eager to explore Ehringer's interpretative research that blends natural history, human history, personal experience and science. His engrossing study presents ways humans can set and maintain high ethical and moral standards for the breeding and care of our animal partners now and in the future. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A horseman and dog trainer maps the evolution of four species of animals and their partnerships with humans into the modern day.

Pegasus, $27.95, hardcover, 336p., 9781681775562

Children's & Young Adult

The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily

by Laura Creedle

School is "a molasses eternity, a nightmare ravel of bubble sheets and unkind whispers unfurled in slow motion" for 16-year-old Lily Michaels-Ryan, who goes on and off her attention deficit meds "because they made [her] puke randomly and caused [her] head to ring like an empty bell at night." But when she connects with a boy named Abelard Mitchell, she is overtaken by "a wave of golden happiness... like a drug strong enough to counteract the late-day letdown of... ADHD meds." Abelard is also neurodivergent--he has Asperger's--and even though their brains manifest themselves in almost opposite ways, they are drawn to each other. They communicate mostly through texting, quoting heavily from The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, the 12th-century collection of letters between a French philosopher and his student. Finding the perfect quotations to move their own relationship deeper becomes a thrilling joint undertaking. But life is still a daily challenge for Lily. She and Abelard are each faced with potentially life-changing prospects as they move toward adulthood, and even their beloved Middle Ages romantic heroes can't produce the answers they need.

The Love Letters of Abelard and Lily is Laura Creedle's exquisite debut novel. Readers will fall in love with the eponymous characters, squirming at clever Lily's propensity for putting her foot in her mouth and laughing at their delight in each other's differences: Lily babbles; Abelard finds it hard to speak when overwhelmed with feelings. Who can't relate? --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Boy (with Asperger's) meets girl (with ADHD) in this funny, poignant and beautifully written debut novel about neurodivergence, love and choices... and 12th-century romance and philosophy.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., 9780544932050

Martin Rising: Requiem for a King

by Andrea Davis Pinkney, illus. by Brian Pinkney

Using powerfully lyrical poetry and strikingly bold watercolor, gouache and India ink illustrations, wife-and-husband collaborators Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney pay homage to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s final months of life. They chronicle the Memphis sanitation workers' strike, Dr. King's role in the protest, his assassination and the legacy that lives on in his name.

Andrea Davis Pinkney's poems present the peaceful civil rights activist on a multitude of levels, offering insight for young readers of varying abilities. Whether literal, spiritual or metaphorical, all of her words carry a melodic quality that exalts her subject, celebrating his courage and accomplishments while leaving a lasting impression on her audience. In the poem "Compass," about King's murder and printed on a darkly painted page, she describes his necktie, on a white shirt now splattered with blood: "The necktie's tail--flipped, crooked, cockamamie--/ is a needle pointing north/ on a compass whose every arrow/ leads to peace." In darkness, Pinkney finds an indicator of hope in this American icon.

Complementing his wife's language, Brian Pinkney reveres King with strokes of heavenly color. He depicts the Lorraine Motel, strikers, King's friends and family and, of course, the man himself. Pinkney interprets weather, emotion and the strong spiritual aspect of King's life through his arresting paintings.

Additional content at the conclusion offers presentation ideas for classrooms, but Martin Rising is a treasure for lone readers, reading groups or classrooms. And while middle graders are the target audience, the content will inspire people of all ages. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney celebrate the last months of the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through poetry and painting.

Scholastic Press, $19.99, hardcover, 128p., 9780545702539

The Cruel Prince

by Holly Black

A tall stranger mysteriously appears in the home of seven-year-old twins Jude and Taryn, "as if stepping between one shadow and the next." He proceeds to murder their parents in front of them, then whisks away the twins and their older sister, Vivi, to live with him in Faerie. Although the twins are human, Vivi is the stranger's heir, fathered when the girls' mother was his wife.

Now Jude is 17, and being raised like "a trueborn child of Faerie." She is frequently reminded by the fey servants how fortunate she is that her adoptive father, Madoc, treats all three sisters as Gentry, because to most of the Folk she will always be "a bastard daughter of a faithless wife, a human without a drop of faerie blood." Determined to win a place at Court through skill rather than marriage, she hones her bladesmanship. She aims to be granted a knighthood, and with it a place in one of the royals' personal guards. But Madoc denies Jude the right to try for a knighthood, leaving her with a desperate need to prove she's not weak. When she is recruited to spy for third-born Prince Dain, she takes the opportunity to prove herself and is drawn into dangerous games of Faerie power and intrigue.

Holly Black (The Coldest Girl in Coldtown; The Darkest Part of the Forest) works her magic with this story, effortlessly giving all things fey a thoroughly modern sensibility. With The Cruel Prince, she introduces a stunning new series, full of all the glamour and brutality that Faerie can deliver. Secret strategies, twisted loyalties, love, lust and betrayal all come into play as Jude struggles to find her way among the Folk. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Seventeen-year-old mortal Jude vies for power as she struggles to live among the stronger, more beautiful and deeply wicked inhabitants of Faerie.

Little, Brown, $18.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780316310277

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