Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, January 28, 2020

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

From My Shelf

Hear, Hear!

In 1995, Kurt Vonnegut reading Slaughterhouse 5 (in the original Caedmon recording; James Franco reads it on Brilliance Audio, $14.99) as I drove from Madison, Wis. (where I was living then), to the BookExpo America conference in Chicago got hooked me on audiobooks. Listening to Vonnegut's gravelly voice reading his own words (on cassette tapes) took the experience up a notch from when I read the book on the page in college.

While listening to the full-cast audio production of The Golden Compass (Listening Library, $44)--this time on CDs--with Philip Pullman himself as narrator, along with an extraordinary group of actors, I missed my turnoff to Jerry Spinelli's house. I was scheduled to interview the Newbery-winning author for a feature. (Luckily, I had built in an extra hour.) You might think the moral of the story is: Don't listen while driving!

On the contrary, audiobooks enrich my daily drives, now that I've left Manhattan for rural New Jersey. My car stereo recognizes my phone instantly and resumes where I left off. Shonda Rhimes's Year of Yes (Simon & Schuster Audio, $29.99) inspired me to rethink what I say "Yes" to and what I say "No" to in a whole new way. I also got to listen to her speeches--live.

Then came Malcolm Gladwell's Talking to Strangers (Hachette Audio, $40); snippets of his interviews offered another dimension to his examples of being misled by our own assumptions--how could that authoritative-sounding FBI agent have been so wrong about one of his subordinates?

Now I'm listening to Saeed Jones tell his own story in How We Fight for Our Lives (Simon & Schuster Audio, $29.99). Just try to stop listening after that opening meditation about his mother--a roller-coaster of emotion that sets us up for the entire ride. Hear, hear!
--Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Birthday Treat: Words from Robert Burns

Merriam-Webster shared "7 words we get from Robert Burns" to celebrate the Scottish poet's birthday. 


George R.R. Martin "will give Game of Thrones fans a new ending to the series," Men's Health magazine noted.


Architectural Digest offered a peek "inside the painstaking restoration of America's most historic artists' retreat," Yaddo.


Headline of the day: "Philip Pullman calls for boycott of Brexit 50p coin over 'missing' Oxford comma." (via the Guardian)


Russia Beyond explored "Boomers vs. Zoomers in Russian literature."

When We Were Vikings

by Andrew David MacDonald

Every so often a character transcends the page, leaping into readers' hearts; when this phenomenon coincides with the debut of a superbly talented author such as Andrew David MacDonald, it's even more extraordinary. In When We Were Vikings, MacDonald's captivating, beautifully written and witty novel, he introduces to the literary world an unforgettable protagonist.

Twenty-one-year-old Zelda has an intense fascination with Vikings and a diagnosis of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. Both contribute mightily to her quirky, slightly naïve but almost always upbeat approach to life. All of this immediately endears her to readers. In the spirit of her revered Viking heroes and heroines, Zelda has embarked on a quest to become legendary. According to her favorite book, Kepple's Guide to the Vikings, she already has much of what she needs to accomplish her goal:

A powerful weapon? Her authentic Viking sword.

The love of a fair maiden? Zelda is in love with her boyfriend, Marxy, a young man who is also intellectually challenged and who agrees that they are ready to become sexually intimate.

A wise man? Her psychologist, Dr. Laird, has the credentials befitting that description, as does Viking expert Dr. Kepple, whom Zelda regularly e-mails in search of guidance on living as a modern-day Viking.

A tribe? Despite their unconventional circumstances, Zelda's family meets that criteria. She lives with her older brother, Gert, a well-intentioned but overwhelmed college student doing his best to care for Zelda after their mother's death from cancer, their father's unexplained disappearance, and her brief stay with an abusive uncle. Gert's on-again, off-again girlfriend--whose given name is Annie but whom Zelda calls AK47--also takes a protective, maternal role in Zelda's life, demonstrating that sometimes it is necessary to build one's own tribe with people who aren't related by blood.

A villain that she must defeat? When she discovers that Gert hasn't been attending his college classes--jeopardizing his scholarship in the process--and may be involved in some criminal activity, Zelda decides that this is her opportunity to take on a villain. "I know that people do things they do not want to do to contribute to the hoard. It is like a sacrifice, only instead of lighting things on fire or killing animals to make Odin and the other gods happy, you sacrifice yourself, and instead of doing the things you want to do, you have to do things for other people." Combating her villains also means defying her brother, but "sometimes the heroes of legends have to break the rules in order to save the people they care about."

With a fast-paced and engaging plot, MacDonald makes it easy for his readers to care deeply--and immediately--about Zelda. As the humorous and bittersweet storyline of When We Were Vikings progresses, readers will feel compassion for Zelda, while enthusiastically cheering her on to victory against the perceived dangers in her life.

Those perceived threats derive from other humans--namely, a drug dealer to whom Gert owes money--as well as from the discrimination and stigma that society perpetrates against people with disabilities. When We Were Vikings succeeds in shattering two gargantuan (one of Zelda's favorite words from her Word of Today calendar) misconceptions about people with disabilities: their capacity as employees and as sexual beings with the same desires and feelings as everyone else. When Zelda applies for a job at the local library, she senses her interviewer's reluctance to hire her, and is told that no positions are available. Similarly, when Zelda and Marxy announce their desire to have sex for the first time, the other adults in their lives respond with a range of emotions, from resistance to compassion.

"I also believed that part of my legend was to show the world that people like Marxy and me can be powerful together, the way that Gert and AK47 are powerful, and that we can create a tribe of our own one day," Zelda says. The beautifully creative way that their loved ones support them in taking this next step is a testament to MacDonald's skill, and his realistic and respectful handling of this theme marks him as a writer to watch.

The coming-of-age themes in When We Were Vikings are universally relatable. Like Zelda, many of us want our lives to have meaning and to be the stuff of legends. But, as Zelda learns, our journey toward greatness is uniquely our own, and it often doesn't look like the linear or logical outline in a guidebook. Rather, the way to become legendary is, as Zelda observes, "about taking all of the power that the gods have given you and making the most out of them."

With his stunning, heartfelt debut, Andrew David MacDonald has accomplished exactly that. When We Were Vikings sets him on a trajectory for a most legendary writing career. --Melissa Firman

Gallery/Scout Press, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781982126766

Andrew David MacDonald: The Quest to Become Legend

(photo: Ali Unal)

Andrew David MacDonald grew up in Edmonton, Alberta. He won a Western Magazine Award for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Canadian National Magazine Award for Fiction. His work has been anthologized in four volumes of The Journey Prize Stories, which collects the year's best Canadian stories by emerging writers. He has an MFA from the Program for Poets and Writers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and lives in Southwestern Ontario. When We Were Vikings, his first novel, will be published by Scout Press in January 2020.

When We Were Vikings is such a well-crafted, perfectly paced novel. How did this story evolve for you as a writer?

The novel grew out of a short story, though it was written from the perspective of the character who would eventually evolve into Gert. At the time I thought I was writing about people I didn't know. A couple years after I finished the story, I realized that Gert's resentment about sacrificing aspects of his own life to take care of Zelda mirrored my own resentment towards a family member whom my brother and I had to take care of, in many respects, when we were teenagers.

I tend not to write about my own life, at least not explicitly, so it was surprising to see much of my internal world reflected in a story that initially seemed so foreign. From there, I started wondering about Zelda and Gert. Were they any closer to achieving their hopes and dreams, to finding love and acceptance out there in the world? From the bits and pieces I wrote to try and answer those questions, Zelda's voice started coming through. Eventually those bits and pieces became When We Were Vikings.

Zelda seems to transcend the page and feels completely real, like someone the reader actually knows. Tell us about the process of writing her and developing her voice. How did she come to life for you?

It seems to me that a person's idiom oftentimes reflects aspects of their personality. With that in mind, I set about discovering Zelda's private languages: the idiom she uses with members of her tribe, the terms and linguistic quirks, as well as the manner in which Viking culture becomes a way for her to understand a world that can be, at times, just beyond her understanding. My hope is that, in learning to speak and take part in Zelda's language, readers will likewise feel like members of her tribe.

As the title suggests, Vikings are a particular obsession of Zelda's. Did you share her fascination before writing this novel? Or did you need to research them?

Zelda's fascination with Viking culture grew organically. I had no idea when I first met her that she would become so immersed in it and, by extension, that it would become one of my interests. The research part was similarly organic; I started with a base understanding of the Vikings, which probably didn't extend much beyond that of the average person, and I began learning in real time along with Zelda. Coincidentally, well after the first draft was written, the remains of a female Viking warrior were discovered--which of course I had to include in the novel.

Your novel has been compared to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. How do you feel about those comparisons? 

I hadn't read Haddon's novel before I wrote the first draft of Vikings, since I wanted to let Zelda come to life without another idiosyncratic narrative voice slipping in. But having read the book and loved it, I am flattered by the comparisons! As for Silver Linings Playbook, I adored both the book and the movie. I appreciate the way Quick explores bleaker aspects of the human condition with vulnerability and open heartedness.

Zelda has Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD), a condition that we really don't hear much about. Why did you choose for her to have FASD?

It isn't as widely publicized as similar conditions, even though an estimated 500 babies are born each year with FASD in my home province of Alberta, Canada. Moreover, I grew up around a lot of substance abuse and had a close friend whose sister was on the Fetal Alcohol Syndrome spectrum. As such, the ramifications of alcohol abuse weren't foreign to me or the people around me. All of which is to say: it felt right.

One of the subplots of the novel is Zelda's relationship with her boyfriend, Marxy, and their intention to take the next step in their relationship. For some people, the idea of people with disabilities having sexual feelings is completely foreign. Tell us why you wanted to show this very real, very "normal" side of Zelda and Marxy.

I'd like to start by saying that everyone struggles with sexual intimacy, especially if it's a new experience. One thing I came to understand about Zelda and the other characters in the book is that, despite what can feel like a cultural obsession with labels, we are all confused and stumbling souls who do our best to navigate an incredibly complicated, confusing, at times hostile world.

Along with people with disabilities having intimate relationships, you also show another reality: someone responsible for a sibling with a disability. Tell us about the decision to include that storyline with Gert and Zelda.

I mentioned my own experience having to care for a family member, which probably covers the "why." But more broadly, I don't think it's much of a spoiler to note that, while Gert is ostensibly not the one with the "disability," over the course of the novel we see that at times Zelda comes to take care of him. Other characters similarly step in and out of the caretaking role. Thinking about my own life and the people in it, I can see a similar give and take, and I have a hunch that that's more universal than meets the eye.

One of the themes in the book is the idea of protecting the tribe. Zelda and Gert don't have what some might consider a traditional family arrangement--and even when they did, it was dysfunctional. Could "protecting the tribe" also be interpreted as permission to create your own family with others who aren't blood relatives?

Yes, absolutely! I remember struggling with something similar when I left home. I had no idea that the white picket fence families that existed on TV could be found out there in the world, and while my family will always be family, I think that, like Zelda, the number of "good eggs" who have become part of my tribe are too numerous to list (though I did try in the acknowledgments page of my book!).

While I was reading, I could see this as a movie so vividly. Have there been any discussions about a potential film?

Ah! A debut novelist can dream. As far as I know, Zelda and her tribe are swimming Hollywood's winding channels, looking for a dock at which to port.

This is your debut novel. Tell our readers a little bit about yourself as a writer.  

I started out as a jock who was a closet writer and have morphed into a closet jock who writes. John Irving's The World According to Garp was the first book to make me cry--and not just because, like Garp, I was a wrestler who started writing to impress a girl.

I write very early in the morning, in an apartment with no Internet and a geriatric tuxedo cat who yells at a tennis ball she pushes endlessly across the carpet. Whether I'm working on a short story or a new novel (in progress!), my deepest hope is to affect readers the way Garp affected me. If I can do that, then I'm a happy, content camper. --Melissa Firman

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Da Chen

Chinese author Da Chen, whose family was persecuted during China's Cultural Revolution, died December 17 at age 57. His wife, Dr. Sun-Ling Chen, told the Associated Press that Da Chen "watched his father being hung up by his thumbs and beaten and his grandfather stoned frequently with rocks thrown at him by children" for being prosperous landlords prior to the Communist revolution. "He would undergo a lot of humiliation parades where they would throw fruit and other things at him. Frequently he was sent to labor camps where he worked with people twice his age digging irrigation trenches in the mountains." After Mao's death in 1976, Da Chen was able to graduate from Beijing Language and Culture University. He received a scholarship to Nebraska's Union College and later to Columbia University, sometimes supporting himself as a Chinese restaurant waiter. He earned a law degree and became an investment banker.

Da Chen's first attempt at writing was a legal thriller inspired by John Grisham. When this and a second novel failed, his wife encouraged Chen to write about his childhood in China. The memoir Colors of the Mountain (1999) was an immediate success. He later wrote China's Son: Growing Up in the Cultural Revolution (2001), Sounds of the River: A Memoir (2002), and the novels Brothers (2006) and My Last Empress (2012). His most recent book is Girl Under a Red Moon (Scholastic Focus, 2019). Colors of the Mountain is available in paperback from Anchor ($15.95, 9780385720601).

Book Review


The Hills Reply

by Tarjei Vesaas, trans. by Elizabeth Rokkan

This final work of experimental, interconnected stories by the legendary Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas (1897-1970) is a startling book whose style will challenge as well as invigorate readers. The Hills Reply often shifts forms midway through paragraphs, blending poetry, prose and short vignettes in order to reach an ecstatic truth. The central characters try for the same thing as they attempt communion with the natural world and find transcendence in their austere, everyday lives. The mother in "The Melody" is gripped by the joy of the title, while the narrator of "In the Marshes and on the Earth" is incapable of bridging the gap between himself and the cranes that enrapture him. The characters often exhibit wild behavior as well, as they wander the vast farmlands and landscapes that nearly consume them. Vesaas's writing is deeply impressionistic, as if trying to match these weird and difficult journeys, with the translation by Elizabeth Rokkan emphasizing his lyrical tendencies. Here is a book that loses any pretense of traditional narrative and gains a dreamy quality in return.

Though Vesaas is certainly not an easily accessible writer, fans of Pers Petterson and other Norwegian literary fiction authors will find much to love in this volume. This is the work of an author following his imagination into new territory. By then pushing his prose into Blakean modes of thought, he has crafted an unusual hybrid novel that is immensely rewarding and often stunningly beautiful. The Hills Reply is without a doubt one of the great reading surprises of the year. --C.M. Crockford, freelance reviewer

Discover: Norwegian writer Tarjei Vesaas's final work is a multifaceted, lyrical meditation on the ecstasies of living.

Archipelago Books, $18, paperback, 272p., 9781939810380

Interior Chinatown

by Charles Yu

This novel in screenplay format from Taiwanese American author Charles Yu (How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional UniverseSorry Please Thank You) is a caustic, absurd and endearing exploration of Asian American stereotypes, police procedurals and the immigrant experience.

Yu pulls readers into the spotlight by narrating Willis's inner life in second person, asking the audience to imagine a life as "part of the American show, black and white, except they have no part for yellow." Readers will often find themselves unable to tell reality from television, which is Yu's point in a nutshell. Your name is Willis Wu, but the rest of the world sees you only as Generic Asian Man, if they see you at all. You work as an extra on a police procedural called Black and White, which films in a Chinese restaurant and stars a black actor and white actress. You've worked your way up the ladder from Background Oriental Male and intend to attain the highest on-screen rank for an Asian male: Kung Fu Guy. 

As Willis struggles to reach special guest stardom, he must also navigate his relationship with his aging parents. His father, once a Mysterious Kung Fu Master, has dwindled into a confused elderly man. Willis's mother wants more for her son than the role of Kung Fu Guy, but Willis can't see through his societal conditioning to understand her.

Leading with laughs but sneaking in a dose of wrenching irony, Yu's format-bending, deeply felt examination of the American dream is an exercise in encouraged empathy that will hold readers' hearts right up to its brilliant finale. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Playing with multiple formats, Charles Yu scripts a hilarious and pointed send-up of Asian stereotypes that also asks what it takes to be considered a real American.

Pantheon, $25.95, hardcover, 288p., 9780307907196

Mystery & Thriller

How the Dead Speak

by Val McDermid

In Val McDermid's riveting How the Dead Speak, a British convent-turned-orphanage for girls shuts down, and developers make a ghastly discovery while bulldozing the site: skeletal remains of 40 children.

The nuns and priest in charge of the orphanage have all been reassigned by the Catholic Church. A groundskeeper for the property claims he dug holes when the nuns told him to, nothing more.

Then remains of eight more victims are found under a flower bed on the same grounds, but these are fresher burials--and adult bodies. The groundskeeper lawyers up, the nuns deny everything, and the priest refuses to cooperate.

How the Dead Speak is part of the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series, but this installment can be read as a gripping standalone. Fans will recall from the previous novel, Insidious Intent, that Hill and Jordan were removed from ReMIT, the Regional Major Incident Team. Though sidelined, both Hill and Jordan have subplots connected to the case.

Detective Chief Inspector Rutherford takes command of the team, but his methods create division. Local law enforcement seizes on ReMIT's disarray by taking charge of the orphanage crime scene. ReMIT must wrest control of the case while grappling with the frustrating secrecy of the Catholic Church. Luckily for the team, its master interviewer, DI Paula McIntyre, and unit tech specialist Detective Constable Stacey Chen are willing to go rogue with their own sharp instincts to catch the killer or killers. The team rallies behind these two and finally becomes a cohesive unit. McDermid gives a macabre storyline an unexpectedly emotional outcome. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this gripping thriller, a major crimes unit must solve the mystery of 48 bodies buried at an abandoned orphanage.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, hardcover, 416p., 9780802147615


by Charles Soule

A scientist's experiment gone wrong leads to a technology, called "flash," that changes the world. Charles Soule (The Oracle Year) gives this conventional sci-fi theme a rollicking 21st-century update in Anyone. While researching a cure for Alzheimer's disease, scientist Gabby White inadvertently discovers a process that allows one person's consciousness to take over the body of another. Years later, an enigmatic woman with a motive to subvert the technology is running for her life.

When she discovers flash in 2019, Gabby is under contract to a shady venture capitalist who owns her discovery. Its implications are so profound that she tries, with tragic results, to keep the discovery from him. "I'm telling you, the potential for abuse is horrible," she tells her husband as she plans to hide her work.

Twenty-five years later, when flash is ubiquitous, Annami, a brilliant technology worker with a hidden past, is planning to undermine the owner of the flash network, NeOnet Global. Their motto is "Be anyone with Anyone." Annami is "one of the few people who knew the truth behind the lie of the world, and the only one who seemed to want to make it right." When the money she needs to complete her plan is stolen, her fury propels her to take revenge on the perpetrators even as she continues the scheme to cripple NeOnet. Annami, both detective and enforcer, could be the next futuristic female heroine. Fans of N.K. Jemisin will devour this mind-bending novel. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: In a future when one person's consciousness can enter the body of another, a secretive young woman fights to gain control of the technology.

Harper Perennial, $21.99, hardcover, 432p., 9780062890634

Food & Wine

Ultimate Veg: Easy & Delicious Meals for Everyone

by Jamie Oliver

Prolific cookbook writer and longtime TV personality Jamie Oliver has built a food empire on approachable, accessible cooking. Ultimate Veg: Easy & Delicious Meals for Everyone is Oliver's 23rd cookbook, eight years in the making and expansive in its collection of creative, healthy vegetarian recipes.

Novices and confident home cooks will enjoy Oliver's concise, clear recipes. He organizes Ultimate Veg by both recipe type and time of day, with sections like Curries & Stews; Pies, Parcels & Bakes; and Friday Night Nibbles. Selected standouts include Scruffy Eggplant Lasagne, Angry Pasta Fagioli and Speedy Egg-Fried Rice--all uncomplicated, delicious and aptly named. Reverse Puff Pastry Pizza is simple enough for dinner on a weeknight but impressive enough for a party--as are the smashing Rogan Josh Scotch Eggs. For gatherings, see shareables like the Ploughman's Nachos, Cheesy Kimchi Toastie or Supercharged Baba Ganoush. Dishes like the Phyllo Snake Bake or Double Corn Salad are rich in texture and whimsy (popcorn! on a salad!), destined to delight both kids and adults.

Where Oliver calls for any ingredients not strictly vegetarian, such as Parmesan cheese (which includes animal rennet) or Worcestershire sauce (anchovies), he suggests alternatives. He also offers tips about different fats, dairy alternatives, strategies for stocking a kitchen and notes on how to understand the nutritional guidelines included. Of the recipes in Ultimate Veg, 70% adhere to health guidelines provided within. The remainder are suited for occasional indulgence. As Oliver says, "Let your hair down and have a veg party!" --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver delivers a fresh collection of healthy, accessible vegetarian recipes sure to please vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

Flatiron Books, $35, hardcover, 312p., 9781250262882

Biography & Memoir

The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood

by Donna Rifkind

"If Salka is remembered today, it's not for her screenwriting career or her role in the antifascist emigration; it's most often for her alleged lesbian relationship with Garbo," tuts Donna Rifkind in The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler's Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood.

A Jew raised in Galicia, Salka Viertel (1889-1978) had been a working actress for two decades when Hollywood came calling--for her Viennese theater director husband, Berthold. In 1928, the couple left Berlin for the U.S. In 1932, Viertel began working as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where her chief task was finding vehicles for Garbo. On Sundays, she hosted salons at her house in Santa Monica. Anyone in her circle of émigré artist friends might drop by for chocolate cake and conversation about the latest worrisome news from abroad.

Viertel wasn't content just to talk about the Nazi scourge. She procured the affidavits necessary for artists and others trying to flee persecution in Europe. She convinced her rich and famous friends to sponsor refugees, and she donated money to the cause. Becoming a U.S. citizen in 1939 emboldened her to do more. She took refugees into her home, tried to find them jobs and helped them to assimilate into the new world, as she had.

Rifkind proves with The Sun and Her Stars--her first book and the first English-language biography of Viertel--that she's a formidable storyteller. "Without immigrants, there would be no Golden Age of Hollywood," writes Rifkind. And without Salka Viertel, Old Hollywood's lights would have shone less brightly. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This tour de force of a biography tells the story of an overlooked hero who helped make Hollywood's Golden Age gleam.

Other Press, $30, hardcover, 560p., 9781590517215

Hill Women: Finding Family and a Way Forward in the Appalachian Mountains

by Cassie Chambers

More a hopeful, somewhat guarded memoir than a hillbilly elegy, the debut book from crusading Kentucky lawyer Cassie Chambers charts, with wonkish warmth, its author's journey from the hollers and generational poverty of Owsley County, Ky., to the Ivy League--and then back again.

Chambers balances out her personal story with vivid portraiture of her Appalachian kin, especially her mother, the first of the family to go to college; her grandmother, who got married off at 15 to a 32-year-old man; and the hardy aunt who single-handedly keeps a family farm going until her 40s and then winds up working the register at the Family Dollar. Their voices ring out, frank and earthy, touched with King James but practical above all else: Chambers's Aunt Ruth declares to the man who comes to court her, "I just want you to know that if you ever put hands on me in anger, I'll have to kill you."

In its first half, as Chambers recounts breaking away from her home, Hill Women touches lightly on issues of mountain poverty and access to medical care. The second half finds the Harvard Law-trained Chambers returning to Kentucky to do legal work with domestic violence survivors. She faces the region's challenges with heartbreaking accounts of opioid addiction and a legal system less concerned with justice than it is with wringing money out of the broke and desperate. Like the hill women before her, Chambers is pragmatic, fighting for achievable change in a punishing system. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This Appalachian memoir doesn't just celebrate the women of the hills--it fights for them.

Ballantine Books, $27, hardcover, 304p., 9781984818911

Psychology & Self-Help

The Book of Ichigo Ichie: The Art of Making the Most of Every Moment, the Japanese Way

by Héctor Garcia, Francesc Miralles, trans. by Charlotte Whittle

Taking the time to notice simple moments amid busy lives often feels indulgent and impossible. In The Book of Ichigo Ichie, Héctor García and Francesc Miralles (co-authors of Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life) show how the simple Japanese concept of recognizing the impermanence of our lives can lead to a deeper appreciation of our present.

Pronounced "itchy-GO itchy-A," the definition of ichigo ichie is imprecise. The term attempts to capture the understanding that "what we are experiencing right now will never happen again and therefore, we must value each moment like a beautiful treasure." Dating back to 1588 when first seen in writings by the tea master Yamanoue Sōji, ichigo ichie is a tenet of Zen Buddhism with relevance for the 21st century.

"Ichigo ichie depends on our ability to listen, see, touch, smell, and savor every moment, doing only one thing at a time, and putting our heart and soul into it, as if it were the last thing that we were going to experience on Earth."

Emotions such as anger, sadness and fear keep people stuck in the past and unable to recognize the beauty in the everyday. To help readers cultivate more moments of authentic experience and connection, García and Miralles use Japanese stories, legends and culture to illustrate the concept of ichigo ichie alongside suggestions for mindfulness techniques and easy to implement strategies to reduce distraction and "recover the power of attention." --Melissa Firman, writer and editor at

Discover: In a world full of distractions, the Zen Buddhism concept of ichigo ichie can help people cultivate greater appreciation for everyday moments.

Penguin, $22, hardcover, 208p., 9780143134497

Reference & Writing

Consider This: Moments in My Writing Life After Which Everything Was Different

by Chuck Palahniuk

In the world of cult novelist Chuck Palahniuk, the success of a short story isn't always measured in sales figures. In some cases, a story's worth can instead be derived by how many people fainted during the author's live reading of the work. The story in question, "Guts," serves as one of many examples Palahniuk pulls from his own experience in this enlightening hybrid of memoir and writing insights.

Though that particular Palahniuk story did indeed lead to numerous instances of audience members losing consciousness when he started reading it aloud on tour in 2004, the author makes it clear that his interest lies not in shock but in subversion. Thus, there is no expectation that readers here be privy to the more intimate details of Palahniuk's work, although he does reference it often. Instead, many of the best lessons contained within Consider This derive from tips Palahniuk himself learned as a member of a writing workshop led by the writer Tom Spanbauer. To Spanbauer's credit, his workshop has launched a number of writing careers, including that of Palahniuk, who continues to meet weekly with a writing group.

Tackling subjects ranging from narrative authority to the passage of time, the Fight Club author references not only his own work but that of Nora Ephron, Margaret Mitchell and many others to great effect as he unflinchingly mines his past failures in hopes of steering readers in a different direction. Caustic and charming, Consider This is a worthy writing bible for even the most agnostic of writers. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer

Discover: Novelist Chuck Palahniuk turns his focus inward to offer tips on the craft of writing and reflect on his own life with wicked humor and brutal honesty.

Grand Central, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9781538717950


You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time: Rules for Couples

by Patricia Marx, Roz Chast

Two New Yorker contributors--writer Patricia Marx and cartoonist Roz Chast--join forces in You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time, 65 cartoons about love and relationships. Framed as an advice manual for people living together long-term, this collection showcases a diverse cast of characters united by love and annoyance.

Chast's signature black-and-white illustrations provide the visual and emotional context for captions such as "Earphones." In this cartoon, two women sit next to each other on a sofa, one rambling about traffic and spin class, the other happily ignoring her to listen to music. This sort of humor is consistent throughout, picking up at the point where the characters have moved past resentment and straight into an array of coping mechanisms.

The intentionally terrible advice in these cartoons provides readers with just those mechanisms, such as how to get your way: "Force yourself to say 'I love you.' It makes the other person feel guilty and that always works to your advantage." Despite the adversarial nature of the advice within, a strong undercurrent of affection runs through these cartoons. For example, how to be a good listener: "The answer to the question 'You know whatchamacallit who was dating the one with the father who had the business and there was that thing?' is yes."

Short and hilarious, this book is the perfect thing to leave in a very annoying place, such as in front of the microwave. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Marx and Chast transform the boring realities of long-term relationships into hilarious cartoons that readers will want to revisit and share with their own favorite nemeses.

Celadon, $20, hardcover, 160p., 9781250225139

Children's & Young Adult

Welcoming Elijah: A Passover Tale with a Tail

by Lesléa Newman, illus. by Susan Gal

Just as Jewish families open their doors for the prophet Elijah, Welcoming Elijah opens the Seder ritual and invites readers into the festivities. This heartwarming tale of a young boy and a tiny, stray kitten plays out entirely during the traditional meal as the story of the Exodus is retold and celebrated.

Lesléa Newman's (Gittel's Journey) poetic text alternates between the boy's perspective and that of the feline: "Inside, the boy drank grape juice./ Outside, the kitten lapped at a puddle." Inside, readers are engaged with the customs of a Jewish Seder, like filling Elijah's cup, dipping parsley into salt water and singing (the activities are discussed further in an author's note). Outside, the kitten mewls and swings its "skinny tail." Susan Gal's (Bella's Fall Coat illustrator) atmospheric illustrations reinforce the contrasting viewpoints: the child bathed in light and surrounded by family, the cat alone in the dark. This variance, paired with foreshadowing in the early pages--"Tonight would be different/ from all other nights./ The boy knew this./ The kitten did, too"--develops an intriguingly suspenseful tone. Gal's digital collage, charcoal and ink illustrations switch between hot and cool palettes, creating a sense of emotional warmth. Her superb use of line gives a fluidity to the art as well as a tactile impression of texture--readers will likely want to cuddle the furry white kitten with the silky pink ears. Meanwhile, anticipation builds for the moment the parallel paths of boy and kitten veer to intersect.

Together Newman and Gal immerse their audience in the beauty and joy of the Jewish service. This delightful, captivating Passover narrative can be appreciated by readers of any faith. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: The orbits of a Jewish boy and a stray kitten collide during a Seder dinner in Welcoming Elijah, a picture book Passover tale.

Charlesbridge, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 5-8, 9781580898829

Don't Read the Comments

by Eric Smith

Bolstered by a supportive and defiant online community, two gamers bond as they defend what they cherish most in Eric Smith's Don't Read the Comments.

Divya Sharma loves streaming her adventures in the popular MMORPG Reclaim the Sun. Her fame (100,000 subscribers) earns her sponsorships that help pay the rent, but it also attracts trolls' vicious comments. Divya meticulously ignores them; they can't spoil the joy of questing with her "Angst Armada." She specifically enjoys Aaron Jericho, the novel's other narrator, whose goofy stories and sweet gestures in private chats keep her smiling. For Aaron, adventuring with Divya is a reprieve from his mom's insistence he become a doctor instead of a video game writer, a passion he pursues even though his boss never pays him. Overlooking the bullies becomes impossible, however, when Divya receives doxing threats. As a woman, she's hesitant to report online blackmail when real-life harassment goes unpunished--her streaming partner, Rebekah, was beaten by men who were never penalized despite a video of the attack going viral. But when men assault them at an arcade, Divya wants justice.

Through a compelling dual point-of-view narrative, Smith (The Girl and the Grove) skillfully addresses how the online sphere can serve as a breeding ground for hate--and how left unchecked, virtual harassment can lead to trauma. Yet through Aaron's endearing antics and Divya's devoted fleet of followers, Smith more powerfully illustrates the beauty, strength and solidarity of the gaming community. With an in-game romance to geek out over, a group of gamers fighting for their leader and copious video game references, Don't Read the Comments is a gratifyingly nerdy story about realizing dreams. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: A famous streaming gamer and an aspiring role-playing game writer fight Internet trolls and follow their hearts in this charmingly geeky and hopeful YA novel.

Inkyard Press, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 13-up, 9781335016027


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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