Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Dark and Creepy Fall Reading

I always look forward to fall, and I love to indulge in dark and creepy reading to celebrate the season. Here are a few favorites with a nice fall chill.
In a Dark, Dark Wood (Scout Press/Gallery $16) by Ruth Ware is a super-suspenseful thriller that begins at the end, with Leonora, the main character, waking up in a hospital bed, so you know something bad is going to happen at this "hen weekend" (Brit for a bachelorette party), where secrets lurk. The setting of the party--a glass house surrounded by dark woods--ups the ominous atmosphere of the story.
A wintery Lake Placid, N.Y., is the appropriately chilling location of A Cold and Lonely Place (Broadway Books, $15) by Sara J. Henry. After a body is found in the ice during preparation for a winter festival, the story moves forward with slow-burning tension. The frigid, dark surroundings add to the novel's foreboding feeling.
Another snowy locale--Minnesota--enhances the sinister mood of The Life We Bury (Seventh Street Books, $15.95) by Allen Eskens. This thoughtful, gripping mystery about family and memory is off and running when a college student's interview with an aging Vietnam veteran uncovers a 30-year-old murder.
Finally, the thrills and chills don't let up in Before I Go to Sleep (Harper, $15.99) by S.J. Watson. This unsettling novel centers on Christine, a woman with amnesia who relies entirely on her husband, Ben, to remind her who she is each morning--until she gets a mysterious phone call telling her, "Don't trust Ben."
Creeped out yet? --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and blogger at Book By Book

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

Aminder Dhaliwal: A World Without Men

Aminder Dhaliwal received her Bachelors of Animation from Sheridan College in Toronto. She then moved to Los Angeles where she served as a storyboard director at both the Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. She is currently a director at Disney TV Animation. Her debut graphic novel, Woman World (Drawn & Quarterly, $24.95), began as a biweekly Instagram comic in 2017 that now has more than 120,000 followers.
What inspired you to write Woman World?
I was going through a dark place, personally. In late 2016, I had just finished making a pilot at Nickelodeon, and it was passed on. The pilot felt like it had gotten away from me. I was upset that it had been passed on, but I think I was more upset that my voice had gotten lost. I decided that I would take a break from television and work on comics just to reestablish my voice--even just to remember what my humor was.
Eventually, three or four months later, I went to the Women's March with a couple of friends and we all made signs. I saw all of the "The Future Is Female" signs and thought it would be pretty funny if that was true. Later that day, friends were posting their signs from the Women's March. A lot of those friends are webcomics people, so they have large followings. There was a backlash, asking why we marched. And I was just like, I'm going to make this comment. It will be for me, like all the other commentators had been making. I text-messaged my friends and sent them the first one, and they're like, yeah, go for it. And then it was, wow... it's resonating with people. That's really cool.
In mythology, Gaia is the Mother of Earth and Giver of Life. In this book she walks around in the nude except for one panel. Was that a conscious choice? Was there any hidden meaning behind that?
So there is quite a lot of backstory to the worldbuilding which isn't actually in the comic themselves, but it was good for me to know. It was 2017, and there was a lot going on in the world. I decided that politicians in this world are all nudists because they believe that in order to be a politician or a government official you need to believe in the naked truth--transparency. So they're all nudists. That's the starting point, and it's worked out for me. There has to be some humility and humbleness to be in that spotlight, in a powerful position. She's [Gaia] the mayor and also being slightly vulnerable. That was something I liked.
In the book, women are self-sufficient. They know what they want. They're doing all the male and female jobs. Yet there's this yearning from Emiko, the young girl. She wonders what man was like. Emiko's grandma skirts around the questions with jokes. Do you think a world based solely on females could, or would, survive?
I never wanted to make a comic that was man-hating. If man really died, we wouldn't all be celebrating. A lot of people jump to that joke. But it would be really awful, really sad.
There's a yearning there, just the same way I currently yearn to see a real dinosaur. There's a reason Jurassic Park is a movie. On the scientific side, they haven't been able to do it yet. With certain animals they have been able to take female bone marrow and create female sperm. Women could become asexual creatures and reproduce on their own. So it is actually possible. But I don't have my characters worrying too often about reproduction because in their world, they have something else for that option.
In your world, you have Her-story set apart from His-story. If we talk about general history, it is usually from the male perspective. So what does Her-story look like in this accidentally utopian world?
I don't know if I could answer that because in this world, there has been this destruction that destroyed a lot of the records, so they no longer have that male perspective on a lot of things that happened. I want to hope that it's a kind view back on things that happened, one that comes from a place of understanding.
Is there a sequel to Woman World in the works?
I'm already making the new comics now. There is a whole other version I'm working on. It's a little more of an arching story. I do have an alternate version which I would like to work on and which one day I can put out as well. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

The Relaunch of DK Eyewitness Travel

DK Eyewitness Travel is celebrating its 25th anniversary in style--with a stunning makeover that updates the guidebook brand for today's travelers. Known for travel guides whose visually appealing design makes it easy for readers to access all kinds of information about the places they're visiting, the publisher is relaunching the books with what publishing director Georgina Dee calls "the single largest investment" the company has ever made in its flagship series. The aim is to create travel guides that are "as much at home in your bag on your trip as on your coffee table when you get home" and that include information that "has been thoroughly researched, designed with love and will ultimately make your trip better."

The relaunch includes, for the first time, all new photography, new content in the first sections of the book, revamped content throughout and completely updated maps. In addition, the guides are now printed on a more modern, lightweight, uncoated paper that reduces the weight of the guide and, as Dee points out, "makes them much more tactile." The new DK Eyewitness guides have "an inspirational, gorgeous look and feel," are easy to navigate and offer solid, practical information that can be accessed in a variety of ways.

The relaunch has begun with 10 DK Eyewitness Guide annuals this fall (for more on those titles, see below), and by the end of 2019, 44 key titles will have been remade.

While the changes are extensive, Dee emphasized, the DK Eyewitness Guides remain true to the principles that have guided the series since its founding in 1993. They were originally conceived as the visual travel guide that "showed you what a destination had to offer before you went," Dee explains. The company has stayed true to that while having "today's traveler in mind. Our expertise in marrying visuals and text to give the reader multiple ways into the information is still as important to the guides as it was 25 years ago."

The guides' photography--which has always been a key element of DK Eyewitness books--has been transformed, in large part because everyone has becomes used to high-quality photographs in the modern digital era. Thus, as Dee puts it, travel guide photos no longer need simply to show travelers what a destination looks like. Instead photos need "to show what a destination feels likes." With the relaunch, "we have completely brand new photography on every page in every book for the first time," Dee says. "And they are absolutely stunning."

Hand-drawn illustrations are also a key element of the guides and have been updated with an emphasis on clarity and their color. "We're thrilled with them," Dee notes.

In each guide, the first 40-50 pages is brand new. "We wanted to give the reader something really special to help them get excited about their trip," Dee explains. "We wanted them to recognize themselves in the first pages of the guide and allow themselves to really start dreaming about what they want to do on their trip."

The structure of key information has been improved as well. "We still take you through the destination area by area, but now the must-see sights are pulled to the front of each area so you can immediately see what's not to miss," Dee says. Also, information about hotels, restaurants and bars have been moved to relevant sections rather than being listed at the back of the book.

Layout and design has been improved so that every spread "delivers on every level," Dee says. "The design is inviting yet sophisticated and the layout gives the reader all the navigational tools they need to find the information they want."

The maps have all been updated throughout the guides "to ensure they are bigger where necessary and perfectly suited to the role they are filling at that point in the guide," Dee notes. "Our in-house cartographers are masters of their craft and this shows in every beautiful map in the books." (For more on DK Eyewitness mapmaking, see the q&a below with the mapmaking team.)

DK Mapmakers Chart New Ground in Helping Today's Travelers

DK Eyewitness's team of mapmakers talks about how they make the best maps for today's travelers:

How crucial are your maps for today's travelers? 

When planning a trip, it's great to get a good geographic context, to work out how the different parts of the destination link together. Understanding the layout of a city or region is the first step to really starting to connect to it and maps are the best way to do this. The maps drawn for our books are designed expressly for the readers and show only what is helpful to navigate and explore somewhere new without anything cluttering the maps, all while keeping them as wonderful to look at as possible.

Not only are they practical tools, but maps can in their own right be beautiful things. Flicking through a book, most people will pause at a map to explore. Maps and guidebooks are treasured long after the trip is over. The travel-worn guidebook collection is as much of a reminder of a holiday as the photographs taken, and books can sometimes be the much-needed physical memento on the shelf.

How are they different from maps of the past? 

Our guidebooks have many images which are hand-drawn, sketched or painted but the maps we make are all produced 100% digitally. The tools we use mean we can adapt and change maps very quickly to keep things current, so the maps can serve their essential purpose, which is to show where things are as clearly as possible.

Do today's travelers have different expectations about maps--and do they use them differently from the way travelers of the past did?

On the whole people use maps for exactly the same purpose as they did centuries ago, to find out where things are. Most daily interactions with maps are the online mapping services which tend to be dedicated to efficient navigation more than location and experience. 

There is a big difference between online mapping and our printed cartography, which is immediately apparent when you look at our maps. We undertook some major research to see how travel guides are used in these days of Google maps and social media. The near consistent response was that our maps were loved and trusted for how they present information, and how they can help you learn more about a place above and beyond just how to get around.

What are the most popular kinds of maps for today's travelers?

It depends on the traveler and destination. If you are heading to Rome for a week, then a clear, localized mapping is perfect, but a week hiking in the Cascades requires more dedicated topographic sheetmapping.

Online mapping such as Google maps is hugely popular and it is a fantastic resource, but when you add roaming charges, battery limitations and the risk of losing devices, printed maps are still rightly popular. You can annotate and make your map your own on paper much easier than online and you connect more with a physical thing, it becomes much more part of the experience.

You will always explore a destination more with a map, but if you are following the quickest route given by your phone you can isolate yourself from the locations around you, whereas a printed map opens you up to so many more opportunities.

How much do you revise maps from one edition of a travel guide to the next?

Every map is checked over for every edition by the team. Authors, editors, updaters and of course the cartography team each focus on different elements to ensure everything is correct.

How has map making changed in the digital era and with GPS?

It's an entirely new world! Anything that can produce a set of coordinates can be used as a tool to make a map and most smart phones can capture incredibly detailed GPS coordinates, suddenly everyone with a phone can start getting involved in map making. As a result, digital map data is now available for pretty much every place on the planet easier and cheaper than ever, the problem is not all of it is as reliable as we would hope which means we still need to check the data we use.

The digital map data is always just a starting point for us to build maps and the sheer amount of data means we have to edit down more than ever to ensure maps are as clear as possible.

How up to date are your maps?

We are checking the maps up to the point we send the books to the printers.

How detailed are your maps?

The level of detail we show on a map depends on what we are trying to show. A map covering the whole of greater Tokyo showing every road would be so busy as to be totally useless, successful maps are as much to do with what is left out than what is shown. Maps of smaller areas can include more detail to really help navigate your way around on foot by showing and labelling pedestrian areas, footbridges and streams. The great thing about the design of the new Eyewitness Guides is we have now got more space than ever for the mapping, meaning we can map the destination to the page as clearly as possible.

How do you coordinate maps that are in printed books and maps online?

We produce e-book versions of our guides that contain everything the printed book holds, including the maps, of course!

What are the most common misconceptions among readers about your work?

A common misconception is the maps team are endlessly jetting off around the world. Thanks to the work of the authors and our access to up-to-date digital data we tend, regrettably, to not leave our desks.

We do however learn the world remotely which can be a unique experience when you arrive in a city you've never been to and discover you know your way around just from working on the maps for years and years.

Book Review


Waiting for Eden

by Elliot Ackerman

Narrated from the grave by a marine killed in the same IED attack that left Eden Malcom an intermittently conscious, skin-torched, dismembered, vision- and hearing-compromised survivor, Waiting for Eden tells of his wife Mary's three-year bedside vigil holding on to the thread of life. Her refusal to take him off life-support alienates his siblings, who hold a symbolic memorial service and move on. Even the stoic nurses at the San Antonio VA hospital shudder to care for this patient: "Not alive, not dead, what it was didn't have a name... it was man suffering into the anlage of whatever came next."
National Book Award finalist Elliot Ackerman's unusual choice of a dead comrade to narrate his spare tale allows for unobtrusive flashbacks fleshing out the history of Mary and Eden's life. We learn of his first deployment, their early dating and marriage, her desire for a child, his war-driven impotence and the narrator's brief affair that impregnates Mary. When Eden's condition deteriorates to the point where Mary is ready to let him go, his training in prisoner communication by coded taps opens a window of connection. She hesitates until it is clear that he is messaging her to "end, end, end"--the signal of a desire to "tap out." The narrator patiently waits for her decision to release his fellow Marine to the limbo of post-death "whiteness." What comes next is unknown. Waiting for Eden is a tight, intense story of loyalty, guilt and suffering that belies its brevity. Ackerman (Dark at the Crossing)  has crafted another prismatic window into the long-lasting agony of war. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: National Book Award finalist Ackerman's spare third novel about a severely wounded soldier on life support is a tightly woven tapestry of loose ends.

Knopf, $22.95, hardcover, 192p., 9781101947395

My Struggle: Book Six

by Karl Ove Knausgaard, trans. by Martin Aitken, Don Bartlett

In a weighty finale to his epic My Struggle series, Karl Ove Knausgaard turns to the recent years of his life in book six. In Part 1, Knausgaard copes with his own doubts and his uncle's anger over the contents of My Struggle: Book One. In Part 2, Knausgaard conducts a close reading of Nazism and the dark corners of the human soul, daring to connect Hitler with his own work. Finally, Part 3 rejoins Knausgaard's family years later, as he grapples with his wife's deepening depression.
While each book in the six-volume series has had its share of meta-textual elements, this final installment explodes any remaining barriers to address the publication of its own pages. Knausgaard maintains all the hypnotic clarity and propulsive insights that attracted past readers, but adds a new layer of literary and philosophical scholarship into literature's most defiled achievement: Mein Kampf. In doing so, he confronts key thematic questions that have stitched each book together: questions of reality versus fiction, what it means to write and where the divide exists between the individual and the collective. For all its dizzying fatalism and pulsing anxiety, the book's musings ultimately inspire with a spiritual perspective, arguing "the loss of identity in the mass [is] merely ostensible, for the number of stars or the number of grains of sand is not infinite, but finite, and only from a distance are they the same, seen up close each grain of sand is different, each star unique." By the end, the reader, like the writer, experiences an existential exhaustion that is as emptying as it is revelatory. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Unlike anything else in the contemporary literary landscape, Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle: Book Six delivers a fitting final blow.

Archipelago, $33, hardcover, 1160p., 9780914671992

The Sadness of Beautiful Things: Stories

by Simon Van Booy

In The Sadness of Beautiful Things, British-born and Brooklyn, N.Y., resident Simon Van Booy offers eight short works that focus on a host of ordinary people who suffer devastating life losses, but find ways to go on--dramatically changed.
Each of these haunting, at times mystical, fictions are, at their core, love stories in every conceivable sense of the word. A daughter tells of her absent, volatile father and the lengths her long-suffering, yet forgiving mother ultimately goes to for their star-crossed relationship. Familial love takes center stage when the mental deficiencies of old age lead an unfeeling father into a labyrinthine depression, and his devoted wife and their daughter connect with an eye doctor in Chinatown who offers a remedy.
"Not Dying," the longest and most inventively told story in the collection, probes a father's love for his wife and daughter--and their lives' meaning and purpose--amid impending fears of the apocalypse. Meanwhile, the kindness and loving generosity of strangers are central to another tale, about a mysterious shut-in with a heartbreaking past, who becomes an anonymous benefactor to a struggling family in town.
Van Booy is a wise, philosophical writer. His spare prose is incredibly illuminating and is further enhanced by unexpected resolutions that allow graceful themes to expand and flourish. What makes this collection all the more compelling is that Van Booy claims to have based most of the tales on true stories, told to him over the course of his travels. The dark, sad circumstances that germinate each of these poignant, unpredictable gems will lead readers to refreshing glimpses of transcendence and hope. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines.

Discover: This wise and deeply affecting collection of vividly told stories centers on the inner lives of ordinary people shaped by personal tragedy.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 208p., 9780143133049

The Bus on Thursday

by Shirley Barrett

Australian author Shirley Barrett (Rush, Oh!) takes readers on an arrestingly dark and hilarious journey to a bizarre small town in Australia and through a young woman's growing madness.
She survived breast cancer, but Eleanor Mellett is unprepared for life after the battle, an aggravating maze of humorless support groups, post-mastectomy dates with insensitive men and thoughtless comments from her friends. Needing an escape, Eleanor finds a job teaching primary school in the town of Talbingo, population 241--actually, 240, since the previous teacher, Miss Barker, skipped town in the middle of the night. Her disappearance made little sense considering her alleged devotion to her students, but Eleanor is in no position to look a gift horse in the mouth.
In a private blog, she chronicles her increasing bemusement at Talbingo, where she learns there is no cell signal. She has a run-in with a priest who tries to exorcise her, a teen student who ogles her and a volatile relationship with the local bad boy who may or may not have had an affair with Miss Barker. Beginning to suspect her predecessor may not have left town of her own free will, Eleanor also slides into drinking and outbursts of uncontrollable anger. Perhaps something is rotten in Talbingo, or perhaps the fault lies in Eleanor's own mind.
Written in Eleanor's snarky, seething voice, this warped gem will throw readers off-balance with its mix of horror and humor. A raw exploration of grief and illness woven into a more traditional horror story, The Bus on Thursday will chill readers across the board. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Shirley Barrett blends horror and chick-lit conventions with dark humor for a slyly comic slice of dread sure to keep readers guessing.

MCD/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15, paperback, 304p., 9780374110444

Mystery & Thriller

A Borrowing of Bones

by Paula Munier

In her fiction debut, A Borrowing of Bones, Paula Munier (The Writer's Guide to Beginnings) introduces retired Corporal Mercy Carr and her bomb-sniffing dog, Elvis. Both human and dog share a special bond with Elvis's handler, Sergeant Juan Miguel Pedro Martinez. When he dies in the line of duty in Afghanistan, Mercy and Elvis suffer a heavy emotional loss in addition to their physical wounds incurred during the same duty. Mercy promised the dying Martinez that she'd take care of his dog, so she arranges to take Elvis back to Vermont where they can focus on healing, inside and out. 
In Vermont, the pair hike the quiet woods, meditate and bond. But Fourth of July weekend brings an unexpected commotion to their newfound calm. Mercy and Elvis discover an abandoned baby in the forest; game warden Troy Warner and his search-and-rescue dog, Susie Bear, respond to Mercy's 911 call. And when Mercy takes the pair to where she and Elvis found the infant, the two working dogs unearth an even bigger surprise.
Munier's multi-layered plot takes Mercy and Troy through the wilderness, the art world, a cat-infested crime scene and numerous dog-friendly restaurants. The small town possesses its fair share of delightful characters, including Patience, Mercy's grandmother and the local veterinarian. And it isn't wanting for evil crime suspects either. While some of the dog details may not sit well with canine enthusiasts, like an experienced dog handler treating another dog without established permission, the overall novel is an entertaining, escapist retreat. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: An emotionally scarred ex-soldier and her canine companion try to find quiet in the woods of Vermont, but instead wind up in a complex criminal investigation.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250153036


by T.M. Logan

It had been an ordinary day for Joe Lynch, and he expects it to be a normal evening, until his four-year-old son spots his wife's car headed in the opposite direction from their home. Joe decides to follow Mel and discovers she's gone to a hotel, where he finds her deep in conversation with the husband of her college friend. He begins to put two and two together and doesn't like the result. When the man disappears and is presumed dead, Joe questions everything he's ever known about his marriage and wife as he navigates a cat-and-mouse game as chief suspect.
In this fast-paced debut by T.M. Logan, readers are dropped into a swirling mix of lies upon lies where unreliable narrators abound and social media, text messages and cell phones play an integral part in the moves and countermoves of all the characters involved in this game of deception and deceit. The action is swift, the dialogue flows and the emotions run deep as Joe tries to figure out how his world unraveled so quickly. This is a tense suspense thriller with a surprising and satisfying ending, a whodunit of the best kind as it twists and turns, creating layers upon layers of storyline. Logan provides a highly sympathetic character in Joe, as he falls deep into a web of dishonesty, duplicity and shams. Perfect reading for a hot summer day, Lies will keep you guessing until the very end. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: After discovering his wife's unfaithfulness, a husband becomes determined to save his marriage regardless of the costs.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 432p., 9781250182265

Biography & Memoir

Invisible: The Forgotten Story of the Black Woman Lawyer Who Took Down America's Most Powerful Mobster

by Stephen L. Carter

Few people know that a black female lawyer, Eunice Hunton Carter, was a vital part of the team that took down notorious New York mobster Lucky Luciano in the 1930s. Fewer still know the story of her remarkable life. The granddaughter of slaves and a graduate of Smith College, Eunice was whip-smart, ambitious and determined to rise above the expectations for black women of her day and time. Her grandson, author and law professor Stephen L. Carter (The Emperor of Ocean Park), paints a detailed portrait of his formidable Nana in the insightful biography, Invisible.
Eunice began practicing law in New York City and even ran for state office. But her career took off when she began working for Special Prosecutor Thomas E. Dewey, the future governor and presidential candidate who was determined to tackle organized crime in the city. Eunice, the only woman and the only black person on Dewey's team, provided essential information and strategy that led to Luciano's conviction. Despite her contributions, Eunice was repeatedly passed over for promotions, but she never gave up, continuing to juggle multiple roles as a lawyer, an activist, a politician and a noted Harlem hostess.
Carter's narrative reads at times like a legal thriller, as he traces the ins and outs of the case against Luciano and other high-profile cases Eunice later handled. This is not merely a courtroom account, though: it is the story of the life of a complicated woman. Meticulously researched and compelling, Invisible is at once a fascinating slice of New York legal and racial history and a thoughtful portrayal of a woman who refused to be hidden. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Stephen Carter tells the life story of his grandmother, the black female lawyer who helped take down notorious mobster Lucky Luciano.

Holt, $30, hardcover, 384p., 9781250121974

Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture that Shaped a Generation

by Juan Vidal

Writer, musician and NPR cultural critic Juan Vidal makes an inspiring debut with his memoir, Rap Dad: A Story of Family and the Subculture that Shaped a Generation.
He recounts his turbulent youth growing up Latino in Miami in the 1980s and '90s. His parents were Colombian immigrants--with problems of their own--and Vidal and his friends got into all sorts of trouble that involved drug use, vandalism and other minor crimes. It was during these formative years that he discovered the power of rap music, "loud and savage and free, like us." Vidal reminisces about his youthful ambitions when he formed a rap group and toured around the world, trying his best to build a music career.
That music criticism eventually became his forte is no surprise. He balances his memoir with passionate and insightful critiques of the various rap artists who influenced him--Wu-Tang Clan, Public Enemy, Jay-Z, Nas. The main focus of Rap Dad, though, is on parenting, as Vidal describes his challenges as a father. Candidly and painfully he recalls his father's shortcomings and how, as a young man, Vidal turned to rap music for male role models. His best criticism in the book breaks open the racist myth that black and Latino men are bad fathers. Besides offering substantive research to make his point, he discusses many rap artists who are nobly engaged in fatherhood. "I've come to know that great artists, like great parents, can be the best mirrors for us all," Vidal concludes.
Rap Dad is not only entertaining, it is socially and politically important for the way it challenges stereotypes. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset

Discover: NPR cultural critic Juan Vidal delves into rap music and fatherhood in this illuminating memoir.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781501169397


Presidents of War

by Michael Beschloss

Harry Truman often cited James Polk among his favorite presidents because Polk "regularly told Congress to go to hell on foreign policy matters," writes Michael Beschloss in Presidents of War. Such bravado would have rattled the Founding Fathers, who intended that the power to declare war rest solely with Congress, rather than the president. However, Polk's stance during the Mexican War reflects the beginning of a transformative shift, one adopted by commanders-in-chief during the modern nuclear age.
Presidents of War traces the arc of this fundamental change by focusing on the approaches to war taken by Jefferson, Madison, Polk, Lincoln, McKinley, Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, Truman and Lyndon Johnson. Beschloss (The Crisis Years: Kennedy and Khrushchev, 1960-1963) expertly assesses and analyzes each leader's motivations, degree of honesty with the public, level of cooperation with Congress and treatment of civil liberties. As for Congress, Beschloss states, relinquishing the power to engage in war resulted in sending "an unintended message to later presidents that when they ask the House and Senate for war, those commanders-in-chief could be duplicitous, too."
Beschloss's style is to present a complicated dynamic in a well-researched but easy-to-read monograph, and Presidents of War succeeds in this mission. He captures nearly 150 years in a single volume, from Jefferson's attempts to prevent war with France or England up to the Vietnam War, with brief discussion of the Gulf Wars. For each conflict, Beschloss provides an engaging look at how and why the dramatic pendulum swung, and of the leaders who helped change its--and the country's--direction. --William H. Firman Jr., presidential historian and writer

Discover: A thoughtful examination of how eight American presidents approached the prospect of war.

Crown, $35, hardcover, 752p., 9780307409607

Nature & Environment

Plight of the Living Dead: What Real-Life Zombies Reveal about Our World--and Ourselves

by Matt Simon

"This is going to get weird." Depending on one's thoughts regarding zombies, Matt Simon's declaration about the chilling scenarios described in Plight of the Living Dead can be good news or bad news. Regardless, there is no denying that his examination of nature's zombifiers is utterly engrossing (no pun intended). A science and tech writer for Wired magazine, Simon's job is to tell the stories of those who dedicate their lives to science in a way that makes sense to the rest of us. Again, fortunately or unfortunately, he plies his trade marvelously.
Tales of emerald wasps performing brain surgery on cockroaches (to use them as incubators, naturally) might freak out mere mortals. Simon, however, gleefully reveals myriad "diabolical and horrifying" ways organisms have evolved to maximize the perpetuation of their species. One fungus subjects ants to mind control as a means to infiltrate more real estate. And a certain worm variety cuts off the oxygen supply in moose; another lives inside crickets, boring a hole in the exoskeleton to check for water.
Assuming control over a host's mind or body feels like a Hollywood screenplay, but the physiology of the truth is almost too bizarre for fiction. One may not want to conjure up what Simon depicts, but his splendid narrative voice can't help but evoke an enthralling documentary. Conversational and engagingly funny ("There is no dying peacefully in sheets with high counts"), Simon captures the reader's mind like a wasp larva virus in a ladybug. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: Take a wonderfully fun and educational trip through the wild world of nature's parasites and see how the drive to reproduce impacts their evolution.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 256p., 9780143131410

Children's & Young Adult


by Courtney Summers

Sadie begins, "as so many stories do, with a dead girl."
Cold Creek, Colo., is the kind of town "that's only good for leaving." In October, a local resident found the body of 13-year-old Mattie Southern, who had been reported missing three days earlier. "Mattie left behind a nineteen-year-old sister, Sadie; a surrogate grandmother, May Beth; and her mother, Claire; but Claire's been out of the picture for a while." When Claire, an addict, left the girls three years ago, Sadie quit high school and dedicated herself to raising Mattie. "It broke Sadie, Mattie's murder," and it burned that the murderer was never found. Then, Sadie disappeared. As far as May Beth knew, Sadie was simply gone. But in fact, she went on a mission to find and kill the man she believed responsible for Mattie's death. In July, Sadie's car was found; Sadie was not.
Courtney Summers's (All the Rage) gripping young adult novel is told in two parts: Sadie's first-person narration of the events that begin with her leaving Cold Creek; and a Serial-like podcast, narrated by host West McCray, that tries to piece together what happened to Sadie. Sadie's journey is punishingly hard--she has little money, a stutter that makes questioning people difficult and only a deep well of pain to keep her moving. The slow revelation of information combined with the close-but-not-overlapping timelines create a sense of both urgency and immediacy: Sadie must find the murderer; West McCray must find Sadie. Haunting, captivating and full of surprising moments of beauty, Sadie leaves a mark on the reader and will open eyes to how very many stories begin with, end with or are wholly about "a dead girl." --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This gripping YA novel tells the story of "a dead girl" from two perspectives: her sister, who is hunting the murderer, and a Serial-like podcast that is hunting Sadie.

Wednesday Books/Macmillan, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 13-up, 9781250105714

Tales from the Inner City

by Shaun Tan

In Tales from the Inner City, Shaun Tan (The Singing Bones) perfectly illuminates the sometimes symbiotic, sometimes parasitic relationships between animals of various species, with an emphasis on those that include human beings.
In this collection of 25 untitled short stories and poems, Tan imagines existences for animals in inner cities, giving special attention to the curious distance or extreme closeness humans maintain with other animals. A poem features one of the oldest friendships, that between human and dog, and examines the joy of finding companionship, as well as the pain of deep, unsettling loss. A series of illustrations of the same scene in different settings--dog and owner in tundra, war zone, meadow, desert--interrupts verses of the poem, the ending showing the beauty of reconciliation. Many of the stories, like the animals within, form a synergistic bond. One tells about the annihilation of generations when a great shark-like creature is slaughtered; the other tells about the salvation of generations when the fish's roe sack is released into the inky waves of the atmosphere. "The only place left for a fish... the only untouched openness with any tide or current," Tan writes, "well, it's the sky."
With the "names" of each short story or poem marked by the silhouettes of numbered beasts before the epigraph of the book, Tan's brilliant illustrations thread together these haunting pieces. Tan's full-page spreads of the last rhinoceros against a background of bumper-to-bumper traffic and of yellow eyes beaming out from the face of a snowy owl are just two of the evocative illustrations that accompany these prescient and apocalyptic works. Tales from the Inner City is a nuanced, emotional look at animals who were here pre-human settlement, who will be here after--and those who won't. --Breanna J. McDaniel, author, freelance reviewer

Discover: A sobering, prepossessing exploration of connection, the resilience of nature and the satisfying finality of what comes when "our time is long past."

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $24.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 12-up, 9781338298406


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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