Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Spring Cooking

As spring approaches, the days slowly stretch out. Shoots peek out of the soil, morning sunlight streams inside before the eggs hit the pan and farmers set out market stands to introduce the season's tender greens and crisp new vegetables. Given the bounty of the season, spring is the perfect chance to take stock of your cookbooks and get to some spring cooking.

In climes where spring leans cold, cozy up with Fresh and Smoked Haddock Chowder and bright Celery Root Slaw from the March menu in Annemarie Ahearn's Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm: Recipes from Land and Sea (Roost Books, $35).

For flavors that wake up the taste buds after a season of stews, sample Hawker Fare: Stories & Recipes from a Refugee Chef's Isan Thai and Lao Roots (Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, $39.99). James Syhabout and John Birdsall offer recipes that shine as farmers' market season begins. Try the fresh, crunchy Lao Imperial Rolls along with bright Tamarind Water, or unite savory and sweet with Fresh Rice and Tapioca Noodles with Shredded Chicken, Fried Garlic Oil and Donuts.

Revisit The Sioux Chef’s Indigenous Kitchen (Univeristy of Minnesota Press, $34.99) by Sean Sherman and Beth Dooley for a fresh approach to clean eating that highlights Indigenous wisdom and perspectives on plants, animals and elements. Sherman calls for spices especially welcome on a spring table--crushed juniper, sumac, smoked salt--adding new dimensions to familiar flavors. Try the Duck Egg Aioli with new potatoes, or expand your salad repertoire with the Spring Salad with Tamarack Honey Drizzle.

Finally, dust off a classic: M.F.K. Fisher's 1942 How to Cook a Wolf (North Point Press, $16). Fisher offers more than 70 recipes and top-shelf prose. When new greens are aplenty, make her Potage Else, a buttery sorrel soup enriched with cream and fresh herbs. Or try her simple polenta as a bed for any combination of spring produce. In Fisher's words, "No matter what conceits it may be decked with, its fundamental simplicity survives, to comfort our souls as well as our bellies, the way a good solid fugue does, or a warm morning in spring." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

Book Candy

World Book Day's Winning Costumes

Buzzfeed featured "27 Costumes that won World Book Day 2018," the annual celebration of all things bookish in the U.K. and Ireland.


Unbound Worlds has just launched Cage Match 2018: Creature Feature, its March Madness-style bracket tournament. Running through April 6, this year's Cage Match features an all non-human bracket of 32 characters.


Hygge is so last week. Mental Floss shared "9 untranslatable words for comfort that go beyond hygge."


"The unlikely pulp fiction illustrations of Edward Hopper" were showcased by Lit Hub.


"One of the world's most irreplaceable books was used as a cutting board," Atlas Obscura noted.


"From illicit James Salter to category-defying Jeanette Winterson," author Jamie Quatro picked her "top 10 books about cheating" for the Guardian.

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions

by Mario Giordano, trans. by John Brownjohn

Mario Giordano's first novel to be translated into English, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions, is a charming-with-a-bite mystery starring Isolde Poldina Oberreiter, aka Auntie Poldi, a sensual woman of a certain age. Usually in mysteries, older women are clever, wise or crotchety, rarely lusty. Poldi is all that, and more. Although booze and depression have taken their toll, she is still glamorous and stylish, and never without her black wig.

On her 60th birthday, Auntie Poldi moved from Munich to Sicily, "intending to drink herself comfortably to death with a sea view... [but] Sicily is complicated--you can't simply die there; something always gets in the way." She wanted to be near family: three sisters-in-law--Teresa, Caterina and Luisa--and Uncle Martino, Teresa's husband. She finds a house in Torre Archirafi, a sleepy little town between Catania and Taormina, with the sea below and Etna behind. It's crowded on summer weekends with Catanians "dazed by a miasma of coconut oil, frying fat and fatalism," but Poldi settled in at No. 29 Via Baronessa, where her days begin with a revivifying Prosecco, followed by an espresso with brandy, followed by brandy, then by her first beer; later in the day, gin and tonic. She was well on her way to dying--until she hired a young, handsome handyman, Valentino.

Soon after he began working for her, he vanished. Auntie Poldi decides to find him after not hearing from him for a few days, and becomes suspicious when she can't get any information from the village or his parents. Although she is still determined to go down the slow suicide road, she wants answers. After all, her father had been a homicide detective in Augsburg, so Poldi was preprogrammed for suspicion and the hunting instinct.

Once a month, her somewhat hapless nephew from Germany comes to stay in Poldi's attic while working on an epic family saga. In the evenings, if she is tipsy enough (a given), he hears about her investigations into Valentino's disappearance, and narrates the story with various comments and asides.

Auntie Poldi finds Valentino's body at the local beach, his head blown away. After calling the police, she meets Vito Montana, a detective chief inspector with a face like a Greek god. Poldi chats him up, offering her take on the evidence (no saltwater marks on his clothing). Smitten with the sexy detective, she tells her nephew she "had to lay a little scent mark, and nothing is more appealing to a detective than a mixture of half-truths and subtle eroticism."

She begins to unravel the mystery when she finds out about the commonplace theft of tiles, mosaics and sculptures from old palaces and country mansions--they are sold to people who want to outfit their expensive new houses. Poldi finds inspiration and clues on a mushroom-hunting expedition, in her photos of Taormina, with a missing stone lion that ends up on her roof. They sometimes lead her down the wrong path, but she perseveres. Poldi is also energized by her need to be one step ahead of Montana and, after she discovers another woman in his life, to make him look like a fool. "The ice cubes tinkled their serenade of coolness and refreshment, the scent of juniper hummed its promise of farewell and oblivion, the tonic promised tears and bitterness, the sun went down behind Etna, and the sea was as heart-rendingly blue as Poldi planned to be before long." However, she isn't blue for long, and sets a trap for Valentino's murderer; of course, things don't go as planned.

Auntie Poldi is enchanting and formidable. Melancholy often overtakes her, but she has a restlessness that has dominated her family for centuries, "arising whenever the wind changed--whenever the world went awry and called for adjustment and correction." In spite of her melancholy and depression, and desire to drink herself into oblivion, Poldi knows a thing or two about "starting afresh, picking yourself up, laughing at yourself and standing for no nonsense." And, when the chips are down, showing plenty of cleavage.

In addition to creating a delightful character, Mario Giordano treats the reader to a primer on Sicily. "For Sicilians, joie de vivre rests on two pillars: good food and talking/arguing about good food.... Life is complicated on an island imprisoned in a stranglehold of crisis and corruption, where men still live with their parents until marriage or their mid-forties for lack of employment, but no culinary compromises are ever made." Sicilian cuisine is "all-embracing and pleasurably involves all the senses in a single dish. [The pistachio ice cream was] salty as sea air, the chocolate ice cream faintly bitter and a little tart like a lover's goodbye the next morning."

Giodano has a knack for description--a Frenchwoman, Valerie, is "every chain-smoking French film director's dream"--and for fancy. Death visits Auntie Poldi with a clipboard and a to-do list, but tells her that, against her wishes, he hasn't come for her yet. Inspector Chance, who's always needed at some stage in crime solving, does minimal work, is a capricious slob, but he can shine a light on hidden mysteries. In this case, Inspector Chance brings together Poldi, a photograph and Ringo Starr.

Giordano's prose is witty and lush, and sometimes overblown to match Poldi: "the argosy of their passion finally departed under full sail." Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is absolutely enchanting, combining whimsy, mystery, sorrow and Sicilian hot blood, with a lusty, tart heroine who "[knows] a thing or two about good places, friendship and things that sustain us." --Marilyn Dahl

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, hardcover, 346p., 9781328863577

Mario Giordano: Life into Art

photo: Rica Rosa

Mario Giordano, the son of Italian immigrants, was born in Munich. He is the author of 1,000 Feelings for Which There Are No Names; he has also written thrillers, books for children and screenplays. Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is his first novel translated into English. He lives in Cologne.

Is there a real Auntie Poldi?

Yes. I had this Bavarian aunt and she moved to Sicily in order to drink herself to death, which she managed to do. She never expressed it openly, but it was quite obvious that she had that plan. She was a very funny and glamorous and dramatic woman. We all loved her. But she was very melancholy, too, so there was a blueprint, so to say.

Did she inspire you to write a mystery?

Well, it was a little bit like the nephew in Auntie Poldi attempting to write this big, big family saga. For many years I had the same idea. Three generations--Sicily, Germany, immigration, history, whatever. I never came to grips [with my problem with it] until I realized why. The reasons were quite simple: I didn't have a real story, no protagonist, no narrative perspective. So I thought, let's try with a genre I am familiar with, which is mystery and crime fiction. Then I had this idea to make it funny. Then I remembered my Aunt Poldi. At that moment, everything fell together. I immediately knew I would write a funny mystery with Auntie Poldi as a protagonist and myself as a clumsy, nerdy narrator. And that's it.

Do you have aunts like the characters Teresa, Caterina, Luisa? An Uncle Martino?

Of course. I had to ask them very seriously before I was writing the first book, because immediately they said, okay, no worries, you can write about us. I said no no no no no... take your time, sleep on it, and then give me an answer, because I don't want you to complain when the novel is done. So they said, okay, Mario, you can write about us, just change the names and we are fine. They really liked it, and since they grew up in Germany they can read the German editions.

"Sicilians find it a cinch to emigrate to Germany for decades: bag packed, bacio, addio--and off they go." Why Germany?

Well, it's not only Germany, of course. Sicilians have always emigrated to Austria, to Switzerland, to wherever in Europe, and even of course to the U.S. But Germany has always been a major destination because, as Machiavelli said, the neighbor of your neighbor is your friend. Italians do have a very romantic relationship with Germany, and vice versa. And it's not that far away. It was always possible to go back to Sicily on summer vacations. I am German, and this is the story of my family--they immigrated here in the early 20th century, and then went back in the 1960s.

Do you work with your translators?

In this case, no. I was in touch with the translator [John Brownjohn] later; sometimes he had questions, so we had a little e-mail exchange. I usually don't have much contact with a translator. It was a bit different with the Italian translation, because I commissioned the translation to make it a present to the non-German-speaking part of my family. Then an Italian publishing house bought this translation, and since my Italian translator was living in Berlin, we were in touch all the time. It's interesting to see how they struggle and which solutions they come up with.

One of the things I like about the English version is that the translator left in not just the usual familiar Italian words and phrases, but more, like forza, bella figura, che schifo.

I think that translators should have enough freedom to decide on their own how they work. It's never a good idea for me, as a writer, to recommend some stuff; if it's a good translator, they always have a feeling for what is best. I really like the idea that the translator left a few Italian words and phrases here and there. Even in the German original there are some Italian expressions which add atmosphere to the whole.

Will there be another Auntie Poldi book?

Yes. The second in the series is Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna [March 2019]. I just finished the third volume this summer, Auntie Poldi and the Handsome Antonio [March 2020]. Last week I decided to immediately finish a screenplay, and then I will start working on the fourth Poldi. I originally had the plan to write a very different novel in between, just for a change, but it was so much fun I really wanted to write another one. I always have said that I have enough material and ideas for six, but I think six would be enough. I never wanted to write a series for the rest of my life.

You have to know when to stop.

That's clear, because in a series at some point you have narrated all about the mystery of the character, and then everyone knows everything about the character. Then the series is done. There is no engine for continuation. As long as I can give the character a little secret and interesting parts to discover, then I'm fine.

Will you keep teasing us with what's under Poldi's infamous wig?

In the third volume, the nephew will get a little glimpse of what is probably under the wig. But he's not sure. And he wouldn't ever talk about it.

Good! I don't want to know.

Exactly. It's a ridiculous secret, but I really like it. --Marilyn Dahl

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Berlin Alexanderplatz

Novelist and essayist Alfred Döblin (1878-1957) was a major figure in German literary modernism whose work spans multiple genres and historical periods. Despite his influence on later German writers like Günter Grass and W.G. Sebald, Döblin remains far less well known than contemporaries Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. Döblin's tumultuous early life was defined by an absent father and poor mother. He became a doctor and volunteered for World War I to avoid conscription, all while working toward a literary career. His breakthrough came in 1916 with the publication of The Three Leaps of Wang Lun, a historical epic about revolution in 18th-century China. Despite that success, Döblin struggled in the chaos of the Wiemar Republic. He wrote Wallenstein, set during the Thirty Years War, in 1920 and Mountains Seas and Giants, a ground-breaking science-fiction epic, in 1924.

His most famous work is Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), published prior to Döblin's flight from Nazi Germany. The novel follows convicted killer Franz Biberkopf upon his release from prison into the working-class neighborhoods around Berlin's Alexanderplatz. Döblin uses montages, point-of-view shifts and other modernist literary techniques to depict Biberkopf's various violent calamities amid the rise of National Socialism. Berlin Alexanderplatz is considered an iconic work of Wiemar literature. On March 6, New York Review Books published a new English translation of Berlin Alexanderplatz by Michael Hofmann ($18.95, 9781681371993). --Tobias Mutter

Book Review


The Coincidence Makers

by Yoav Blum

Yoav Blum raises fascinating questions about destiny and free will in this fast-paced novel exploring otherworldly dimensions. In The Coincidence Makers, Blum has created a rich fantasy that focuses on trained and skilled secret agents who work--along with bureaucratic forces much greater than themselves--to orchestrate events that nudge ordinary people toward changing the course of their lives.

This smartly crafted novel focuses on three trainees--Guy, Eric and Emily--who have been rigorously educated on the intricacies of coincidences and the roles they, as Coincidence Makers (CMs), are expected to play in shaping human destiny. Eric is a showman who has been known to grandstand in creating very complex coincidences that have led to accidents, death and even murder. Emily is bright and highly sensitive, but tight-lipped in talking about past assignments. And Guy, while adept, is riddled with self-doubt and haunted by a past that broke his heart.

When the CMs are asked to put what they've learned into practice for a complicated assignment involving a former imaginary friend case, the CMs must reassess their roles in relation to humankind and how their efforts very often lead others--sometimes, even themselves--to find deeper meaning and purpose in life and in love.

Blum cleverly probes the cause and effect of life, while exploring the hearts, motivations and questioning nature of people. This makes his carefully constructed fictional universe all the more plausible and captivating--especially as the plot intensifies and unravels in surprising ways. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A suspenseful novel about secret operatives who cleverly orchestrate and execute forces of destiny.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250146113


by Caitlin Macy

In Caitlin Macy's novel Mrs., the roles of women are largely defined by their mates (Mrs.) and their children (Mom). They gather and gossip during school drop-off and pick-up at Manhattan's St. Timothy's. They eye each other's fashions, limos, nannies, husbands and children's behavior. Theirs is "a society that ran on Lycra and imported Labradoodles."

Philippa Lye appears at morning drop-off "nearly six feet tall... those cheekbones, unconciliatory in the extreme; the arrogant jutting triangle of a nose." She has a past and she drinks; her husband is an old-money investment banker. After a crippling miscarriage, Gwen Hogan has only one child and gave up a career as a Ph.D. chemist to raise her daughter. Her husband is a prosecutor for the U.S. Attorney who lives to send slippery billionaires to prison, but frequently wonders if he shouldn't go white-shoe private for the big bucks. Minnie Curtis ("shining hair of the darkest near-black brown and wonderfully white, perfect teeth... a little cheesy, the way she was made up, pink blush and glossy lips, but it worked") married up to an ambitious, sleazy hedge fund magnate--a bottom-feeder, a "benthic organism trying to transform himself into a top-level carnivore."

The plot, to the extent there is one, heats up when Gwen's husband's office launches an investigation implicating Philippa's and Minnie's husbands. Marriages and friendships are tested as Macy dexterously reveals the flesh and blood beneath her characters' branded fashions. Mrs. is a well-observed story of the precarious social network of today's wealthy--a strong addition to the large catalogue of fiction about those with privilege and pedigree. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Among New York City's wealthy, women defined by their husbands and families have a lot to lose when the district attorney's office launches an investigation.

Little, Brown, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780316434157

The Cloister

by James Carroll

In Cluny, France, in the year 1142, Mother Heloise of the Prelate comes to collect the corpse of theologian Peter Abelard, a recently excommunicated priest and, secretly, her husband. She also takes his writings, planning to hold them in trust at her abbey against the day when the views that brought about his damnation find their place as the true interpretation of God's love.

In Manhattan in 1950, Father Michael Kavanagh ducks into the Cloisters, reconstructed buildings from French abbeys that house the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection of medieval art. Seeking solace after a startling encounter, he instead finds Rachel Vedette, a Jewish museum docent. As their acquaintance deepens, Rachel shares with Kavanagh her copy of Historia Calamitatum, Abelard's memoir of his affair with Heloise and eventual downfall, taken from the very same papers Heloise received in 1142. In it, Kavanagh sees a turning point in the history of the Church that led, centuries later, to the prejudices that brought on both the Holocaust and a personal tragedy perpetrated against his best friend in seminary.

Former priest James Carroll (Warburg in Rome) sets the bar high in a novel that shifts seamlessly between epic love story, the anatomy of a crisis of faith, family tragedy and trauma survival saga. While the separate parts initially seem tenuously connected, as the novel progresses they interlock to show the far-reaching impact of choosing one path over another as the moral right for a huge portion of the world population. Both moving and enlightening, The Cloister will engross readers of any--or no--faith. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Former Catholic priest James Carroll tells twin stories of legendary lovers Peter Abelard and Heloise, and a mid-20th-century priest and the Jewish woman who befriends him.

Nan A. Talese, $27.95, hardcover, 384p., 9780385541275

Don't Skip Out on Me

by Willy Vlautin

Willy Vlautin's (The Free) works have explored the American underclass; he champions the poor, the marginalized and the forgotten with a grace and understated lyrical precision. His latest, Don't Skip Out on Me, a powerful and provocative story about identity, continues this approach.

Twenty-one-year-old Horace Hopper is a half-Paiute, half-Irish ranch hand from Tonopah, Nev., who yearns to be a champion boxer. Horace's elderly guardians, Mr. and Mrs. Reese, are sheep ranchers who have cared for Horace since he was 14 and have come to regard him as a son. However, Horace struggles with his parents' abandonment of him. He feels the only way he can reconcile this identity crisis is to leave the safety and comfort of the ranch and find his own way, despite the odds and the unconditional love the Reeses have shown.

The Nevada desert imprints loneliness on its inhabitants, and mentors disappoint. With a depth of feeling and immediacy, Vlautin conveys the struggle to live the dream, only to see it turn to despair when hopes do not live up to expectations. His characters are textured; their problems belong to the everyman. Readers can root for Horace's success, as well as for his reunion with the Reeses, while he learns his lessons through anger and pain. Vlautin's powerful story reverberates long after the book has been closed. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Willy Vlautin's fifth novel is a moving story about a young American Indian man struggling to find his identity after being abandoned as an adolescent.

Harper Perennial, $22.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062684455

Mystery & Thriller

This Fallen Prey

by Kelley Armstrong

In Kelley Armstrong's This Fallen Prey, third in the Casey Duncan series (after A Darkness Absolute), the detective and the off-the-grid town of Rockton remain as fascinating as ever. Rockton, situated in the Canadian Yukon, is a sanctuary for people hiding from their pasts, but Casey and Eric Dalton--sheriff and Casey's lover--are told they must keep a serial killer there for six months, until further arrangements can be made for him. Refusal isn't an option because Rockton will receive $1 million for its trouble.

Oliver Brady arrives accompanied by stories of his sadistic murders, and Casey and Dalton, along with deputy sheriff Will Anders, scramble to build a facility secure enough to hold him. The trio also have to deal with residents who, fearing for their safety, develop a lynch-mob mentality, demanding crowd justice instead of shelter for the alleged murderer. But Brady maintains his innocence, and some in Rockton believe him. When people start dying, Casey races to determine the truth about Brady's guilt before she becomes a victim.

Some of the plot reveals aren't shocking, but Armstrong keeps readers guessing about Brady. She holds readers captive in her world with a sense of dread constantly lurking beyond the next tree in Rockton's surrounding woods. With residents who have mysterious and violent pasts, and uncivilized hostiles living in the wild, anything can happen. Rockton isn't safe at all, but the threat of sudden Lord of the Flies-like savagery is what makes This Fallen Prey captivating. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Detective Casey Duncan must determine whether to protect a possibly innocent man or make him pay for the murders he's accused of committing.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 368p., 9781250159892

The Fear Within

by J.S. Law

Lieutenant Danielle "Dan" Lewis must deal with a sinister serial killer, the disappearance of a young woman off a navy warship and criticism from the higher-ups over her unorthodox strategies in The Fear Within. J.S. Law (Tenacity) makes the ace investigator of the Royal Navy's Special Investigation Branch both authentic and almost superhuman, as she tries to juggle several spiraling investigations.

Nearly a decade earlier, Dan helped catch notorious predator Christopher Hamilton, who used his military position to murder dozens of women. She'd hoped to never speak to him again, but now body parts of some of his victims have been mailed to headquarters. Does this mean he had a partner, who's remained at large all this time? She reluctantly heads to prison to speak with Hamilton, at his request.

Meanwhile, Natasha Moore, 18, has gone missing from her ship, the Defiance. As Dan and her partner start to investigate the Defiance's crew, they begin to suspect something truly terrible is roiling beneath the apparently placid surface of the crew's personnel.

Fast-paced, shocking and full of twists and turns, The Fear Within is perfect for thriller-readers and NCIS-watchers alike, offering American readers an interesting glimpse into what's probably an unfamiliar world. Alternating between Natasha's early experiences aboard Defiance and Dan's present-day investigation, the staggered storylines ratchet the tension ever higher, keeping the reader guessing until the very last moments. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: The Fear Within, a high-octane thriller set on a Royal Navy warship, stars investigator Danielle "Dan" Lewis.

Holt, $18, paperback, 368p., 9781250173676

Biography & Memoir

The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust

by Laura Smith

In The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust, Laura Smith attempts to track the disappearance of Barbara Follett, an early 20th-century wunderkind author. While reading through Barbara's books and letters, Smith can't help but see the similarities between Barbara's thirst for adventure and her own. Smith loves her husband but has always wanted a nontraditional lifestyle. As she and her husband explore the boundaries of an open marriage and the inevitability of routine, Smith's desire to know what happened to Follett grows ravenous. She hopes to find answers to her questions about marriage and freedom, or at least kinship with a woman who shares her love of being untethered.

Smith's memoir approaches her taboo subject matter with directness and honesty. Her style, which is fluid and shockingly clear, hides nothing as she plunges into the depths of her own marriage. She tells her story alongside Follett's, drawing the comparisons deftly but with emotional nuance that skillfully avoids cliché. The memoir's most impressive feat is its ability to build momentum seamlessly between Smith's search for Follett and her experimental open marriage. The obsessive energy and tireless passion Smith brings to her story allows the book to feel both deeply personal and undeniably recognizable. Smith's memoir never suggests any easy answers to her questions about love and marriage, but rather stares bravely at the questions themselves. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Laura Smith offers an unflinching inspection of her life, marriage and yearnings in a memoir that explores the lives of women who wish to wander.

Viking, $25, hardcover, 272p., 9780399563584


Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968

by Ryan H. Walsh

Though it garnered scant attention at the time of its release, Van Morrison's 1968 album Astral Weeks gradually entered the pantheon of rock music's greatest works over the next half century. Taking as his starting point Morrison and his iconic disc, Boston musician and journalist Ryan H. Walsh paints a fine-grained and wide-ranging portrait of the album's gestation during the several months the Irish singer-songwriter lived in Cambridge, Mass., and of life in the city's counterculture during that raucous year.

In early 1968, Morrison moved to Cambridge to escape his ties to a New York City producer and record label with serious mob connections. The chapter in which Walsh describes the Astral Weeks recording process in that fall offers insight into the creative process of this mysterious work, and reveals how closely the final product was tied to Morrison's Boston area performances.

Walsh also devotes considerable attention to life in a commune known as the Fort Hill Community, in Boston's Roxbury neighborhood. The group, which bore some superficial resemblance to the Manson family (fortunately without its homicidal streak), was started by a folk musician named Mel Lyman. Walsh's re-creation of life in the Boston of 1968 is affectionate but exhaustive; there are moments when some readers may find their attention flagging. But he succeeds in rescuing the book from tedium at those times with lively anecdotes about the numerous colorful characters. As Walsh notes, the late '60s counterculture in New York and San Francisco is a well-known story. What happened in Boston, "has gone largely unremarked." Astral Weeks fills that void with gusto. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Musician and journalist Ryan H. Walsh offers an energetic history of Boston's robust counterculture in 1968.

Penguin Press, $27, hardcover, 368p., 9780735221345


One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together

by Amy Bass

Soccer has historically taken a backseat to hockey in Lewiston, Maine. But the arrival of thousands of Somali refugees to this overwhelmingly white, struggling former mill town has tipped that balance dramatically. Under the leadership of longtime coach Mike McGraw, the Lewiston High Blue Devils have become a powerhouse. Journalist Amy Bass spent months following the team from practice to the locker room to the field and back again, and she tells their story with grit and grace in her first book, One Goal.

Bass captures the team members in vivid character sketches: Maulid, Maslah, Karim, Zak, Abdi H. and their families. She traces their migrations from Somalia to Maine, most of them via refugee camps and unthinkable trauma. But like the players themselves, Bass doesn't focus on the tragedy: she's more interested in the team's progress and the ways their bond is transforming the community of Lewiston. There's no way to minimize the challenges: language barriers, sharp cultural divides and outright racism are only some of the constant tests they face. But with the help of dedicated teachers, community workers and team supporters, the Blue Devils have become a force on and off the field. McGraw's legendary team speeches and his constant rallying cry of "TOGETHER!" are echoed by the players' version: "Pamoja ndugu!" which means "together brothers" in Swahili. Bass's account of the 2015 championship season crackles with excitement, and her narrative of teamwork and hard-won community provides a ray of hope in deeply divisive times. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams 

Discover: An insightful, vivid account of a championship Maine soccer team largely made up of Somali refugees.

Hachette, $28, hardcover, 328p., 9780316396547


The Möbius Strip Club of Grief

by Bianca Stone

Bianca Stone (Someone Else's Wedding Vows) tours a lurid netherworld of souls--both lost and found--in her imaginative and incisive poetry collection The Möbius Strip Club of Grief.

Stone begins by saying, "The dead don't want your tips. They just/ want you to listen to their poems." The collection positions the reader as an observer in a swirl of voices: complaints, joys and revelations hidden in the living world but repressed no more. Stone occupies this liminal psychic space, this other dimension, which is brimming with secrets and regrets. To get in, she explains, one must show the bouncer a scar. Strippers, grandmothers, women of genius and a "great cosmic cow," among others, share the stage, all connected by their grief and mistreatment in life. In their purgatorial death, however, they're able to vindicate themselves.

As a poet, Stone writes mostly in free verse, though her lines, smooth and precise, occasionally rhyme. Her poetic images are exquisite. She takes the rawness of her subject matter and focuses it in sharp, erotically charged constructions. In "A Brief Topography of the MSCOG," the poet describes "the dungeons of the mind, the most defeated cells, wherein cruelty cums." There's something almost masochistic about these explorations of grief. Some of Stone's best poems have little to do with the conceit of the strip club and serve more as her personal reflections.

This collection showcases a talent who is bold, original and highly attuned to human suffering, though the collection is not without moments of humor. Stone's wild and ingenious exhibitionism exposes the psyche's innermost sensitivities--a literary strip club for the soul. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: Poet Bianca Stone displays the vicissitudes of human grief in various characters and personal reflections in this imaginative, powerful poetry collection.

Tin House, $15.95, paperback, 90p., 9781941040850

Children's & Young Adult

The Field

by Baptiste Paul, illus. by Jacqueline Alcántara

Sports fan Baptiste Paul joins forces with Jacqueline Alcántara, winner of the 2016 We Need Diverse Books Campaign Mentorship Award, for this lively picture book debut.

In a series of three panels, a boy in Saint Lucia dribbles a soccer ball up to two friends who are sitting outside and chatting. "Vini! Come! The field calls!" He moves around town, inviting one and all to come play futbol. The two children seen chatting in the first panel now stride across an open field carrying a handmade goal. "Bol. Ball. Soulye. Shoes. Goal. Goal." A cow grazes nearby. On the next spread, one brave child has begun shooing away the doe-eyed cows as more people arrive to play. The colors pop off the page--lush greens, vibrant reds and yellows, sparkling blue water in the background--as teams are chosen. "Ou. Ou. Ou. You. You. You. Friends versus friends. Annou ale! Let's go!"

A boisterous game begins, the figures' edges blurring with their speed. As the children yell to each other--"I'm open!" "Pass!" "Shoot!"--a small crowd gathers to watch. The next full-page spread depicts our original eager-to-play child in mid-stride, looking over his shoulder as the sky greys behind him: "Uh-oh."

The bold colors of Paul's native Saint Lucia dim as driving rain slants across the page. "Fini? Game over?"

"No way. Play on!"

Paul and Alcántara's picture book is full of joy and finishes with an author's note and a glossary of all the Creole words sprinkled throughout. The Field, with its concise and energetic text and dynamic illustrations, is irresistible, unfettered fun. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: On the island of Saint Lucia, children play an exciting pick-up soccer game in this vibrantly illustrated work by Baptiste Paul and Jacqueline Alcántara.

NorthSouth, $17.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780735843127

I Have the Right To: A High School Survivor's Story of Sexual Assault, Justice, and Hope

by Chessy Prout, Jenn Abelson

On May 30, 2014, at the elite St. Paul's prep school in Concord, N.H., 17-year-old Owen Labrie brought 15-year-old classmate Chessy Prout to the roof of one of the school's buildings as part of a "tradition" called the "Senior Salute." "The Senior Salute was a well-known ritual at St. Paul's, where sixth formers [seniors] tried to make out with as many younger girls as possible before graduation."

Chessy initially (and repeatedly) rejected the senior's invites. But when a male friend pushed her to accept--"Oh, he's a nice guy.... Don't be a bitch"--Chessy relented. "Truth be told," she writes in I Have the Right To, "I was flattered that one of the most popular boys thought I was special." Trusting her friend and thinking herself more than capable of handling "golden boy" and teacher's favorite Owen, Chessy agreed to meet him. That evening, Owen Labrie raped Chessy.

After days of disgust, depression, fear and confusion, Chessy told an adult at the school what had happened. What followed was a trial that pitted Chessy's family against the school and received national coverage that, because of her age, referred to Chessy only as a "15-year-old freshman." In August 2016, after Labrie was acquitted on three counts of felony sexual assault and convicted on three counts of misdemeanor sexual assault, Chessy broke her anonymity and came forward as the St. Paul's School assault survivor. I Have the Right To is now-19-year-old Chessy's direct and candid account of her life leading up to the assault, the assault itself and every painful step afterward. The memoir is both heartbreaking and hopeful, an honest and frank testimony; it is an important (if difficult) read that acts as both an eye-opener and a call to action. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Chessy Prout, the St. Paul's School sexual assault survivor, bravely tells her story in this memoir.

Margaret K. McElderry/S&S, $18.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 12-up, 9781534414433


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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