Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 24, 2020

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

From My Shelf

Cozy Up with Some Comics

When I was a kid, the most coveted section of the daily newspaper was the comics. Such wit and whimsy packed into three or four panels. But it's been ages since I've squandered a morning at the breakfast table that way.

Archie Bongiovanni's Grease Bats (Boom Box, $19.99) managed to evoke that same level of amusement, though. In this treasure trove of comic strips, best friends Andy and Scout strike an instant rapport with readers. They're out and proud 20-somethings scraping by on measly retail paychecks and navigating the joys and anxieties of romance in the age of Tinder. While they rely a bit too heavily on alcohol as a coping mechanism, they make a hilarious and endearing pair--more so for their vibrant array of friends, roommates, lovers and exes.

The comics form is delightfully varied, and in The Life & Times of Butch Dykes (Microcosm, $19.95), Eloisa Aquino creates dynamic portraits of artists and activists who've changed the world. The Brazilian-Canadian artist highlights personalities I'm familiar with, like writer Audre Lorde, as well as ones new to me, like Mexican singer Chavela Vargas, exquisitely balancing their gravitas and senses of humor. Tennis great Martina Navratilova comments on her decorated athletic career, "I'm not involved in sport. I'm committed. The difference is like eggs and ham. The chicken is involved but the pig is committed."

Manga powerhouse Gengoroh Tagame sustains a similar balance of comedy and depth in his family saga My Brother's Husband. I recently devoured Volume 2 (Pantheon, $25.95) of this heartwarming story about Yaichi reconciling with the memory of his late brother, whose Canadian husband, Mike, has come to Japan for his own bereavement. With Pantheon releasing both volumes in a single paperback next month, winter's a great time to cozy up with some comics.

--Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson on Parenting: How to Show Up Predictably (Not Perfectly)

Together, Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., and Tina Payne Bryson, Ph.D., have co-authored the parenting books The Whole-Brain Child; No-Drama Discipline; and The Yes Brain. With their latest, The Power of Showing Up (Ballantine Books, $27; reviewed below), they combine scientific research with no-nonsense guidance to reassure readers that "There's no such thing as flawless child-rearing" and that ideal parenting--creating secure attachment relationships--can be as simple as applying the "Four S's": making a child feel Safe, Seen, Soothed and Secure.

How does The Power of Showing Up vary from your previous titles, and what makes it such a good introduction to the other three?

Daniel J. Siegel: The reason we wrote this new book was to offer parents a solid foundation in the art and science of attachment--the ways in which research across cultures reveals the foundations of a parent-child relationship that leads to a child flourishing. It's a fun and grounding book that can serve as the framework for our other works as well.

Tina Payne Bryson: The first three books emphasize many powerful and effective ways caregivers can provide experiences and opportunities, things we can do or teach, to build kids' brains and minds, allowing them to thrive. The Power of Showing Up is also about experiences that build their brains and minds, allowing them to thrive, but it's focused on relational experiences--how we can be as parents, on the quality of our presence, and our relationship with them. It focuses on the one thing our kids need most from us--that we show up--and this book walks with parents to explore how to do that.

Dr. Daniel Siegel
(photo: James Reese)

As the mother of a young toddler, I can certainly speak to the never-ending list of concerns about raising children the "right" way. What is it about the experience of parenting and how we care for our children that makes it such a universally recognizable and sympathetic one?

Siegel: Attachment is how our young become shaped by what we do as parents. Because of this innate human legacy, the universal experiences of parenting involve deeply embedded neural circuits of connection which in turn make it possible to deeply see our kids, have them feel soothed, keep them safe and build the security they need. There is no such thing as "perfect parenting" and so what we try to offer are science-based strategies that are both practical and reflective of the reality that no one ever "gets it right all the time" and that repair is possible so long as we are aware and intentional about it. In fact, it is this kindness toward ourselves that can mobilize our capacity to make a repair more readily. These mismatch-repair-realignment sequences are not only inevitable, but they are what builds resilience in our kids and in our selves.

Tina Payne Bryson
(photo: Darrell Walters)

Bryson: As a mom to three, and as a therapist who has listened to many parents, I agree that, at least in our culture, there's a fairly universal experience of fearing we're "not enough" or that we're messing them up, and then that's compounded by the fear and anxiety that come with trying to do it "right." Simply, I think we feel these things because we care so darn much and we want to do right by our children. We know our parents failed us in certain ways, and we want desperately to be the best parents we can be.

One of the reasons I love attachment science is that the research indicates that there is quite a bit of room for parents to be flawed and that we can make a lot of mistakes, but as long as we help our kids feel safe, seen and soothed most of the time, their brains wire to securely know that if they have a need we will see it and show up for them. And when we do that predictably (not perfectly), they learn how to find friends and mates who will show up for them (they come to expect it!), and they learn how to show up for themselves.

Parenting styles and popular methods seem to change with each generation, and many parents worry about too much sensitivity resulting in kids who are "soft" or spoiled. How do you respond to caregivers who worry about spoiling their children or giving them unreasonable expectations of the world?

Siegel: Attuning to our kids involves being able to sense their inner life and respond with compassion and care. The research is quite clear, however, that such attuned connections--coupled with repair of ruptures--builds resilience, not weakness as some may be understandably concerned it might. What we can say to parents is that when a child is seen, safe, soothed and secure, they know themselves well--they don't expect the whole world will be that way for them. This inner knowing, then, has built the capacity to have mutually rewarding relationships, the emotional awareness and equilibrium to take on challenges, have the patience and persistence to move through them and to have a "growth mindset" knowing that the effort they put into something can determine the outcome of their pursuits. That's the stuff of strength, not weakness or being spoiled.

Bryson: The two most heavily researched topics in the childrearing literature are 1) limits/boundaries (also referred to as demand/control) and 2) emotional responsiveness (also referred to as warmth/nurture). Many parents don't know that parenting in sensitive, emotionally responsive, warm and nurturing ways can and should go hand in hand with setting clear, predictable limits and boundaries. We can tune into our child's internal experience and communicate connection and empathy while holding a limit or boundary.

The bottom line is that if you want to raise a kid who is hearty and tough, you should soothe them any chance you get. When you do that, it gives their brain practice going from a reactive state into a regulated state so they can do that for themselves and can handle the hard things that life will inevitably bring. The research doesn't show that kids can get spoiled or become fragile from too much attention or love or affection or nurturing. The research shows that where kids can get "spoiled" is when there are not rules and boundaries that are enforced and they don't get practice respecting limits.

How has technology and the seeming increase in screen time and device usage affected modern-day parenting and relationships?

Siegel: The challenge for all of us is to maintain our face-to-face time of connection and communication. With so many distractions in this digital, mobile age, if we lose these important sources of belonging and understanding in relationships, the art of conversation and the need for self-awareness can become compromised. One big concern is that this impairment in the growth of emotional and social skills will itself produce relational thinness that will make anxiety, depression and despair more prevalent at a changing time in our society when resilience is needed more than ever before.

Bryson: The technology we use can be great and even help us stay connected better if we use it in thoughtful ways. My biggest concern is that we unconsciously reach for [our devices] so often that they pull us away from being present. We are modeling what we value by what we give the most attention to, and my fear is that we're modeling that we value our devices more than our relationships. Our devices can enrich life in certain ways, but I think we can do a much better job of using them as little as possible when we are providing care to children, particularly young ones. One time a stay-at-home mom told me that she worried that she was on her phone too much while she cared for her toddler and asked me, "How much is too much?" I asked her, "If you had a nanny who was caring for your child and he or she was on their device as much as you are, would you feel good about the care your child was receiving?" Her eyes widened and she said, "I'd fire her."

It's important that we are thoughtful about how, when and how much we are on our devices and that we're honest with ourselves regarding how much it interferes with being present with our kids.

You place a significant emphasis on the importance of empathy in child-rearing, both in understanding a child's motivations and in relating one's own experiences to theirs. What are the implications of increased empathy and "showing up," beyond personal relationships, for the next generation as world citizens?

Siegel: The term "empathy" can be defined in many ways. For us, the scientific view of empathy--having at least five interrelated facets--is how we use this term: emotional resonance, perspective-taking, cognitive understanding, empathic joy, and empathic concern. These serve as the gateway in turn for compassion and kindness--compassion being the way we sense suffering, imagine how to reduce that suffering and then take actions to alleviate that suffering. Kindness can be seen as a positive intention to be of benefit to others without expecting anything back in return, a way of being in which we honor and support one another's vulnerabilities. For world citizens, providing an early experience of caregivers who "show up" is the basis for cultivating empathic skills, compassionate states of mind and kindness. Also, moving beyond a solitary sense of self and realizing the importance of the inner self's relational interconnections with other people and with nature--with the planet--may be the crucial shift that the world needs as we move forward as a species.

Bryson: Beautifully said, Dan. I'd just like to add that when we show up empathetically for our children, we are doing something much more than just being nice, more even than regulating their nervous system in the moment to help them calm down. We're stimulating the growth and development of their integrative prefrontal cortex, which allows them, as development unfolds over time, to have greater capacity for problem-solving, insight, empathy, morality, mental and emotional flexibility, creativity, curiosity, decision-making and much more. These qualities of social and emotional intelligence, of wise discernment and of strong executive function to plan and solve are all essential for the world citizens of the next generation. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Book Candy

Very Cool Bookshelf 'Book Nooks'

Book nooks: The BBC invited readers to "take a look behind the 'small doors to imaginary spaces' within bookshelves."


"Watch Hunter S. Thompson & Ralph Steadman head to Hollywood in a revealing 1978 documentary," Open Culture recommended.


Author Ani Katz chose her "top 10 books about toxic masculinity" for the Guardian.


"Why did Leo Tolstoy hate sex?" Russia Beyond tells all.


"Turdsworth" was Lord Byron's "not-so-affectionate nickname for William Wordsworth," Mental Floss revealed.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Johanna Lindsey

Romance novelist Johanna Lindsey died last October at age 67, news that was made public only recently. All of her 55 books reached the New York Times bestseller list and collectively sold more than 60 million copies worldwide. In 1977, Lindsey wrote her first book, Captive Pride, on a whim. Its success led to A Pirate's Love, Brave the Wild Wind, Fires of Winter and Paradise Wild. By 1990, she was writing two books a year, each selling at least 700,000 copies. After completing a 10-book deal for Avon, Lindsey moved to Simon & Schuster in 2001. Her most recent title, Temptation's Darling, was released in July (Gallery, $27, 9781982110802).

Romance and YA author Sarah MacLean told Entertainment Weekly that "Johanna Lindsey was one of the most powerful voices of the romance genre, and at a critically important time. As the women's movement revolutionized homes and workplaces in the late '80s and early '90s, Johanna's strong, feminist heroines were revolutionaries in their own right--fighting for partnership, respect, and happily ever after. These were heroines who captained their own fate... they lived fearlessly, fought passionately, and loved with abandon... and they inspired millions of us to do the same."

Book Review


The Majesties

by Tiffany Tsao

Since comparisons to Kevin Kwan's Crazy Rich Asians seem unavoidable, here's what might be familiar: yes, crazy, rich, Asian characters populate Tiffany Tsao's The Majesties. Differences, however, immediately overshadow superficial similarities, most obviously from the very first sentence: "When your sister murders three hundred people, you can't help but wonder why--especially if you were one of the intended victims." As the sole survivor of her sister's deadly machinations, Gwendolyn--called "Doll"--lies in a coma. She claims the position of omniscient narrator, revealing how she became trapped in her hospital bed. The determination to understand why Estella did what she did keeps Doll alive.

Doll and Estella are Sulinados, who are among Indonesia's wealthiest families. The patriarch--prone to outbursts--is turning 80, and the extended clan gathers to celebrate, only to die by poison-laced shark fin soup. Estella flawlessly executes this mass murder by including herself among her victims. Her final words are only for Doll: "Forgive me." The trespasses in The Majesties are many, although Estella is hardly the lone perpetrator: three generations of Sulinados have used their unfettered power to create alliances, multiply holdings, exert and sustain control.

The Majesties is an urgent literary thriller that also affectingly, seamlessly acts as a social treatise exposing the moral and legal abuses of the ultra-elite. Raised in Singapore and Indonesia, Tsao evokes a convincing sense of place. Vivid geographic and cultural details notwithstanding, Tsao's (The Oddfits) first non-fantasy novel proves to be an engrossing, eloquent story of fatal familial dysfunction. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: The mass murder of one of Indonesia's elite families is a mystery that can be solved only by the comatose sole survivor in Tiffany Tsao's absorbingly maleficent The Majesties.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 272p., 9781982115500

The Wicked Redhead

by Beatriz Williams

In Beatriz Williams's 2017 novel The Wicked City, redheaded flapper Geneva "Gin" Kelly surprised herself and everyone else by falling madly in love with a Prohibition agent. Things got (even) more complicated when her new beau, Oliver, enlisted Gin to help lay a trap for Duke Kelly, her notorious bootlegger stepfather. In The Wicked Redhead, Williams picks up both Gin's story and that of Ella Gilbert, a woman living in 1990s Greenwich Village, who suspects her building holds Prohibition-era ghosts. This second installment has as many twists as the cocktails Gin adores.

Newly separated and unemployed, Ella has only Gin's name and a racy photo to fuel her research into her building's history. Though Ella, like Gin, is connected to Williams's illustrious Schuyler clan, her narrative mainly serves to frame Gin's adventures up and down the East Coast. As Oliver doggedly pursues a liquor racket from the Gulf of Mexico to the northern Atlantic, Gin is beholden to and frustrated by his wealthy family. Like her namesake liquor, Gin and her story both sparkle elegantly on the surface and pack a surprising punch. More than just a smart-mouthed beauty, Gin is a grieving daughter, a hillbilly girl trying to build a life in New York, a brand-new guardian to her orphaned younger sister and a strong-willed woman in love. Her fast-paced, fast-talking adventures will leave readers astounded at her courage and thirsty for the next deliciously wicked romp in this series. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dream

Discover: Beatriz Williams returns to the adventures of flapper Geneva "Gin" Kelly in an elegant, fast-paced romp.

Morrow, $16.99, paperback, 432p., 9780062660329

A Long Petal of the Sea

by Isabel Allende

In the wake of the Spanish Civil War, thousands of Spaniards fled the victorious dictator's harsh regime. Thanks to the intervention of the poet Pablo Neruda, more than 2,000 Spanish refugees emigrated to Chile aboard a French steamer, the Winnipeg, in 1939. Isabel Allende (The House of the Spirits) traces the lives of a refugee couple, Roser and Victor Dalmau, and their connection to a powerful Chilean family in her sweeping novel A Long Petal of the Sea. 

Roser is a young piano prodigy who comes to Barcelona to study music with Victor's father. She ends up falling in love with Victor's brother, Guillem, and is carrying Guillem's child by the time both brothers are caught up in the war. A series of particularly brutal battles (one of which causes Guillem's death) forces Victor and Roser to flee the country aboard the Winnipeg. In Chile, they are taken in by the idealistic son of a wealthy family, and rather grudgingly agree to live as man and wife, caring for the child, Marcel. Allende follows the intertwined fortunes of both families over the next six decades, as Victor and Roser struggle to build a life out of components they would not have chosen. They gradually come to respect, admire and then love one another, but both of them wrestle with the realities of lives shaped powerfully by war and death.

Even as Roser and Victor establish themselves in Chile, they long for Spain. Allende brings them through joys and challenges with grit, grace and stubborn hope. A Long Petal of the Sea is sprawling, sometimes difficult but ultimately satisfying. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Isabel Allende's epic family saga follows the fortunes of a Spanish couple who emigrate to Chile after the Spanish Civil War.

Ballantine Books, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781984820150

The Glittering Hour

by Iona Grey

The romance see-sawing at the axis of Iona Grey's The Glittering Hour easily could have been weighed in the wrong direction by its cliched premise: poor boy meets rich girl, and a star-crossed affair ensues outside the stuffy parlors of 1920s-era London. Yet the novel escapes stereotype oversaturation through its delicate prose and tender treatment of passion. As nine-year-old Alice Carew languishes in the nursery of her family's frigid estate, she awaits letters from her mother in Burma, where her father is supposedly conducting business. But Selina, Alice's mother, has a story to share, and each of her letters nudges Alice along a treasure hunt, one that promises to remove the shroud over her past.

Interwoven throughout Alice's plodding days are flashbacks to Selina's youth in London, where she was a "Bright Young Thing," gossip columnists' favorite source for scandal. Her predilection for champagne-soaked evenings racing through London with her wealthy friends lands her at the door of Lawrence Weston, a poor painter who falls for her almost instantaneously. The two engage in a brief but breathtaking romance, an especially interesting and enjoyable section of the novel, before reality arrives to rip them apart. The reasons for their separation prove oversimplified, yet the heart of their story remains intact as Alice discovers her own identity and, in the process, learns her mother's fate. Grey (Letters to the Lost) proves that, above all, she understands how to write a love story that survives after it shatters, one that manages to outlive its own ticking clock. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: A young girl in Depression-era England learns of her mother's past through an inspired treasure hunt in this tender, romantic novel.

Thomas Dunne Books, $28.99, hardcover, 480p., 9781250066794

Mystery & Thriller

The Tenant

by Katrine Engberg

Copenhagen Police detectives Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner are the far-from-standard-issue pair who drive Katrine Engberg's crime series. The Tenant, originally published in 2016, is the first of four Kørner and Werner novels and the first to be published in the United States. Here's hoping the rest of the series makes it across the Atlantic.

"No one dies in my building," insists landlady Esther de Laurenti, but someone has: her 21-year-old tenant Julie Stender. Before Julie's assailant finished her off with a blow to the temple, he stabbed her repeatedly and carved a pattern into her face.

Not only has someone died in Esther's building, but the killer seems to have modeled his crime on a story that Esther has been writing. Recently retired from her professorship at the University of Copenhagen, Esther is working on a crime novel in which her young tenant features prominently. The violence in Esther's fiction is the apparent blueprint for Julie's murder, right down to the knife work on her face. Esther has been using Google Docs to share her work with the two other people in her online writing group; might one of them be the killer, or could someone else have read Esther's work in progress?

Engberg's plotting is dexterous, and her character-centered storytelling aligns nicely with her unhurried descriptions of Copenhagen. On one particular matter, readers will be a step ahead of the detectives, but otherwise The Tenant is yet another feather in the plumed cap of Scandinavian noir. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: The first Kørner and Werner thriller published in the United States finds the Copenhagen detectives looking for a killer who took inspiration from a scene in a crime novel.

Scout Press/Gallery, $27, hardcover, 368p., 9781982127572

Biography & Memoir

Life in a Cold Climate: Nancy Mitford: The Biography

by Laura Thompson

Beautiful, aristocratic and controversial, the Mitford sisters are still famous, largely because the oldest, Nancy, enriched her eight novels with details from her family's eccentric lives. In Life in a Cold Climate, Laura Thompson (The Six: Lives of the Mitford Sisters) investigates this enigmatic woman through her books and letters, and through interviews with two of her sisters, casting a brilliant light upon a writer whose glamour kept her books from receiving the respect they deserved.

Nancy Mitford (1904-1973) wrote her first novel, Highland Fling, to augment her income. When it became popular, she swiftly wrote three others and found that writing wasn't just a money-making endeavor--it was the core of her life.

Mitford outraged her family by satirizing them in her early books. In her masterpiece, The Pursuit of Love, she cannibalized their lives with cruel charm, creating what Thompson calls "the Mitford myth." Turning her family into vivid caricatures, she guaranteed they would be forever haunted by their fictional counterparts. This novel and those that followed were bestsellers, yet eroded her relationships with her mother and sisters.

Writing always came first for Nancy Mitford. Even the men she loved didn't get in the way of her work; after one disastrous marriage, she never embarked on another. Later, in France, she wrote four scholarly, readable historical biographies that were overshadowed by her fiction. Soon after completing Frederick the Great, her "light and sparkling" voice was silenced by cancer.

"The trouble with Nancy's life is she doesn't come first with anybody," her sister Diana once said. In this stunning biography of Nancy Mitford, she comes first, under an unshared spotlight, at last. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: This irresistible biography dives beneath Nancy Mitford's quelling elegance and slashing wit to reveal the brave and romantic woman she truly was.

Pegasus Books, $29.95, hardcover, 444p., 9781643133034


Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War

by Jonathan Rosenberg

According to historian Jonathan Rosenberg, classical music has little relevance in the contemporary United States. But that wasn't always true. For much of the 20th century, classical music occupied a prominent role in American cultural and political life. In Dangerous Melodies: Classical Music in America from the Great War through the Cold War, Rosenberg explores the surprising ways in which classical music in the U.S. became repeatedly tangled in international politics.

It is a complicated and often ugly story. Music lovers divided into two camps. Musical nationalists found it difficult to separate the country's troubled relationships with Germany, Italy and, later, Russia from those countries' musical heritage. Musical universalists believed that music not only rose above nationalism but could be used to heal schisms between nations. For more than 50 years, the two groups clashed repeatedly over who should be allowed to perform in American concert halls and opera houses and what music they should be allowed to play, forcing the directors of musical institutions to make hard decisions. The music of Beethoven, Brahms, Strauss and Verdi, among others, became the focus of heated debate, and occasional violence. With the advent of the Cold War, the role of music and politics became even more complex as the U.S. government deployed American musicians as ambassadors for "the image of freedom in oppressed countries abroad."

In fact, Rosenberg argues, neither the fears of the musical nationalists nor the hopes of the musical universalists proved true. Still, classical music gave Americans a forum for discussing the nature of loyalty, patriotism, democracy, freedom and oppression. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Dangerous Melodies evokes a time when classical music was a hot-button political issue in the United States.

Norton, $39.95, hardcover, 512p., 9780393608427

Essays & Criticism

The Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison

by John F. Callahan , Marc C. Conner, editors

Ralph Ellison (1913-1994) completed only one novel in his lifetime, but he was an accomplished essayist and letter writer. In a letter to Richard Wright, he wrote, "Letters come with difficulty." But "there was a time when I was more myself when writing a letter than at any other time." His voluminous correspondence is part memoir and part astute observations on literary and social issues. John F. Callahan, Ellison's literary executor, provides outstanding biographical overviews before each chapter.

Ellison's 1952 novel, Invisible Man, won the National Book Award for Fiction (besting Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck's East of Eden). But it proved a hard act to follow. Over the next 42 years, Ellison worked on his second novel. "I've got a natural writer's block as big as the Ritz and as stubborn as a grease spot on a gabardine suit," he wrote to Saul Bellow in 1958. At the time of his death, the manuscript ran more than 2,000 pages. (Juneteenth was published posthumously in 1999, edited down to 368 pages. An expanded version, running 1,100 pages and retitled Three Days Before the Shooting..., was published in 2010.)

Ellison's most frequent correspondents include Langston Hughes, Saul Bellow, Richard Wright, close friend Albert Murray and his wife, Fanny. Particularly fascinating are the letters he wrote to his wife in the late 1950s during his affair with a married woman. Ellison's letters are as stirring, vital and well-crafted as his published essays and fiction. This is a monumental and irresistible collection. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This monumental collection of Ralph Ellison's letters over seven decades illuminates the writer's personal life, writer's block and astute opinions on social issues and the literary landscape.

Random House, $50, hardcover, 1072p., 9780812998528

Psychology & Self-Help

We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life

by Laura McKowen

"You are a human. Not an addict, or an alcoholic, or any of the worst things you've ever done. Addiction is just an experience, one of many that can shape a life. It's not unique. It's not a flaw. It's not even that interesting."

This is the compassionate, forgiving message that writer and sobriety guru Laura McKowen wants to share with the 21 million people in the U.S. who struggle with substance addiction. But don't be misled by her statement that addiction isn't "even that interesting." Her story--that of a devoted mother and successful professional who hid, and then overcame, a debilitating and destructive alcohol addiction--is certainly interesting, just as many stories of addiction are interesting (as the robust "recovery memoir" genre testifies). What she means is that addiction is so much less interesting than life without it.

For McKowen, getting and staying sober led to a creative, spiritual and professional transformation. With hard-earned honesty and clarity--things that were once far out of her reach--she uses her story as a catalyst to guide her readers to their own transformation, whether "their thing," as she puts it, is alcohol, drugs or some other toxic force in their lives.

We Are the Luckiest: The Surprising Magic of a Sober Life isn't a recovery memoir, exactly, though it is certainly in conversation with the genre's many classics. At the same time, calling it a "self-help" book undersells its grace, lyricism and narrative complexity. It also shouldn't be limited to readers who are confronting substance abuse; it holds a good deal of "surprising magic" for anyone seeking to live a more honest, vivid life. --Hannah Calkins, writer and editor in Indianapolis

Discover: Inspiring, sincere and full of heart, We Are the Luckiest is sobriety guru Laura McKowen's invitation--and guidebook--for people to remake their lives and themselves in the wake of addiction.

New World Library, $25.95, hardcover, 248p., 9781608686544

Parenting & Family

The Power of Showing Up: How Parental Presence Shapes Who Our Kids Become and How Their Brains Get Wired

by Daniel J. Siegel, Tina Payne Bryson

Parents everywhere can breathe easier: "There's no such thing as flawless child-rearing." There is, however, a way to help children become empathetic and independent individuals. The goal, as psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel and psychotherapist Tina Payne Bryson define it, is "emotionally balanced, resilient, insightful, and empathetic" children. By applying the "Four S's"--making a child feel safe, seen, soothed and secure--and consistently responding to their needs, parents can create the ideal relationship of secure attachment with their child that will ultimately empower and help them emotionally self-regulate as adults.

The Power of Showing Up completes Siegel and Bryson's quartet of books on parenting and developing child psychology (The Yes Brain, No-Drama Discipline and The Whole-Brain Child). Based on research in the fields of attachment science, interpersonal neurobiology and neuroplasticity, as well as their own clinical case studies, Siegel and Bryson make the compelling case for empathy and trust as some of the most important pieces of the parenting puzzle. The authors refute concerns about spoiled, coddled or disrespectful children, and specify that their method does not mean permissive parenting; setting boundaries continues to be an essential piece of creating a secure environment. Instead, parents can "walk beside [children] through their pain, helping them see that they are strong enough to handle a difficult situation and come out okay," developing the emotional toolbox necessary for managing difficult situations in life. Offering strategies in communication, understanding and personal insight, The Power of Showing Up is a clear, compassionate instructional guide to the significant ways a shift in parental behavior can and will affect a child. Highly recommended for parents, guardians and educators seeking insight for themselves and their children. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A user-friendly guide exploring how adult empathy and attentiveness can help children develop into emotionally balanced and independent individuals.

Ballantine Books, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9781524797713

Children's & Young Adult

Dark and Deepest Red

by Anna-Marie McLemore

Anna-Marie McLemore's fifth novel, the National Book Award-longlisted Dark and Deepest Red, is an artful, spellbinding YA reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Red Shoes."

Lala and her Tante Dorenia moved to Strasbourg because, as Tante says, "What we are, they have made it a crime in our own country. So we will go somewhere no one knows us." She refers to a law that forces the Romani out of home after home: "Whoever harms a Gypsy commits no crime." Then "la fièvre de la danse" takes over the city. At first one, then tens, then hundreds of people dance manically, as if possessed. Lala knows it is only a matter of time before the stares of the city turn to her, fear in their eyes, "witchcraft" on their tongues.

Rosella, like Lala, is 16 and lives in present-day Briar Meadow where, every October, a "strangeness" they call the "glimmer" settles onto the town. For generations, Rosella's Mexican American family have been shoemakers known for their red shoes; this year's glimmer has ensnared their shoes, making anyone wearing them fall in love. Even as the magic of the red shoes romantically enchants Rosella and childhood friend Emil, Rosella's pair makes her dance as if possessed.

McLemore's (Blanca & Roja) vision and skill inspire awe in this gorgeously rendered novel. Though their characters are tied to places so tightly they chafe, the work itself is expansive, somehow evoking the vastness of human experience through only three points of view. McLemore's settings charm and their plotting captivates, but it is their devoted and deep character development that makes the work so enthralling. Deep and Darkest Red is for the teen "capital R" Readers out there who want a work with writing as entrancing and seductive as the story. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Anna-Marie McLemore's fifth novel, Deep and Darkest Red, is a lush, captivating YA retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Red Shoes."

Feiwel & Friends, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 13-up, 9781250162748

The Runaway Princess

by Johan Troïanowski

If someone collected the stream-of-consciousness storytelling of the world's most imaginative children, it might read something like The Runaway Princess.

In the first of the graphic novel's three parts, "The Princess Runs Away (and Makes Some Friends)," Princess Robin of Seddenga flees from the castle. Who can blame her for skipping etiquette class when outside the castle walls is the Aquatic Carnival in Noor, the City of Water? On the way, she meets four abandoned brothers in the forest and leads them to safety. In "The Princess Runs Away Again (by Accident This Time)," Robin and the brothers are playing hide-and-seek in the castle gardens when she hears a voice inside a well calling her name. That night, the voice lures her from the castle while she's sleeping. And in "The Princess Tries to Stay in One Place (but the Weather Doesn't Cooperate)," Robin and the brothers are playing pirates when a storm comes. They scuttle to safety aboard a ship, which is swept away to a deserted island.

Johan Troïanowski grounds his impetuous storytelling with allusions to iconic children's tales: redheaded, red-frocked Robin's amble through the forest recalls Little Red Riding Hood's, and the kids encounter a Cheshire cat and a gingerbread house. Yet The Runaway Princess is unmistakably a modern confection, with the book's robot bugs and lines like "Ow! I've bumped my booty." Troïanowski's dainty hand-drawn and -colored illustrations range from modest panels to two-page spreads; some pages feature activities. More interactivity is on offer through the text's dozen or so calls for action, from either a cast member or an omniscient narrator. This improvised, kitchen-sink quality gives The Runaway Princess the look and feel of a sumptuous, thrown-together royal feast. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: This middle-grade graphic novel starring an adventuresome princess has fairy tale motifs, modern touches and an irresistible improvised quality.

Random House Graphic, $12.99, paperback, 272p., ages 8-12, 9780593118405

Black Is a Rainbow Color

by Angela Joy, illus. by Ekua Holmes

With Black Is a Rainbow Color, debut author Angela Joy pens a loving tribute to all the ways black is beautiful. Caldecott Honor and Coretta Scott King Award-winner Ekua Holmes's brilliant collage illustrations elevate the text's themes of resilience and strength.

This multifaceted look into varying definitions and descriptions of what black is begins with the literal ("Black is a crayon, tangled in a box... Black is the dirt where sunflowers grow") before moving into more figurative explorations ("Black is history... Black is the love that lives inside of me"). Some of these examples are explored in depth in comprehensive back matter that includes an author's note, a themed playlist, poetry, a bibliography and "A Timeline of Black Ethnonyms in America" which shares the evolution of terms used for black people throughout the history of the United States.

Holmes's (What Do You Do with a Voice Like That?) deft hand unifies snippets of old newsprints, boldly colored patterned paper, demure cityscapes and figures outlined in thick, black lines. One particular spread epitomizes Holmes's graceful blending of textures: four "cornerstones... of the modern Civil Rights Movement" are pictured, the women (Mamie Till-Mobley, Ella Baker, Marian Wright Edelman and Fanny Lou Hamer) puzzled together as stained-glass windows framed by solidly defined stonework, all placed atop a misty, muted rainbow. With its charming simplicity, Black Is a Rainbow Color is a great way to begin unpacking a wide spectrum of connections and ideas behind the layered definitions of black. --Breanna J. McDaniel, freelance reviewer

Discover: Black Is a Rainbow Color is a bright picture book that shines a light on the history and importance of black personhood within the United States.

Roaring Brook Press, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781626726314


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

Famous screenwriter Charlie Yates wrote a romantic comedy screenplay--and it’s terrible. Aspiring writer Emma Wheeler just got hired to fix it. But Charlie doesn't want anyone rewriting his work--least of all a "failed nobody," and Emma can't support a guy who doesn't even like rom-coms, adding another bad one to the pantheon. So what choice does Emma have but to stand up for herself, and rom-coms, and love in general--and, in the process, to show her nemesis-slash-writing-hero exactly how to fall stupidly, crazily, perfectly in love?

Email with the subject line "The Rom-Commers sweepstakes" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

When I started writing Ringmaster Emerson Durand in the Smoke and Mirrors series, I knew he would get his own story. Insouciant. Charming. And he's actually the villain of that book. So can he be redeemed? It's the question I'm always working to answer in my books.

If he's going to deserve his own happily ever after, it's going to be a journey. A scorching hot journey!

That's what BLUE MOON illuminates. A dangerous ringmaster claims his rebellious acrobat for a sensual show you cannot miss.

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Blue Moon (A Smoke and Mirrors Novella) by Skye Warren

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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