Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Clarkson Potter Publishers: Eat a Peach: A Memoir by David Chang and Gabe Ulla

From My Shelf

Sourcebooks: Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad

Algonquin Books: Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Daughter of Smoke & Bone: The Complete Gift Set by Laini Taylor

The Core of Our Community

Many of us feel powerless right now, in these unprecedented times. But there is something we can do--besides washing our hands, coughing into the crook of our elbows, and avoiding large gatherings: We can support our local bookstores.

Books make the best companions. They make us laugh and cry, and help us escape whatever may be troubling us. They can supply large gatherings of characters we wish to meet or place us back in a simpler time.

Many local bookstores are keeping their doors open, to offer an oasis when you need a change of scenery. Maybe you'd rather not leave your home--call your bookstore and see how they can help. Most offer online services, including printed books, e-books delivered instantly and digital audiobooks you can listen to solo or together with family. You can support your local indie by signing up for its newsletter and following on social media, preordering upcoming books you're excited about, buying gift cards; you can help your bookstore get through these difficult days.

You can also support indie bookstores and indie booksellers by contributing to the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc), which since 1996 has provided assistance to booksellers suffering from severe hardships or emergencies. It's the only organization like it in the book business, and is, especially now, a most worthy cause!

As a distraction, consider sinking into a great piece of history with Erik Larson's profile of Winston Churchill, The Splendid and the Vile, or something insightful and humor-filled, like James McBride's Deacon King Kong or--for a little levity while we're all in tight quarters together--You Can Only Yell at Me for One Thing at a Time by Patricia Marx, illustrated by Roz Chast.

What we do have right now is the gift of time: time to read to each other, to read for ourselves. Let's support our booksellers, who form the core of our communities. Stay safe, and be well. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness


Seal Press: Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo


Book Candy

Classic Novel First Lines Updated for Social Distancing

"The first lines of 10 classic novels, rewritten for social distancing." (via Lit Hub)

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A dystopian reading list: "books to enjoy while in quarantine" were suggested by the Guardian.

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Slate explored "how the plague ravaged William Shakespeare's world and inspired his work, from Romeo and Juliet to Macbeth."

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"For sale: Sir Thomas More's utopian alphabet." (via Atlas Obscura)

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Neatorama displayed "the design worn by librarians during the 19th Century at the National Library of Spain in Madrid."


Lucy Knisley and the 'Fictionalized' Stepping Stones

Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley is a critically acclaimed and award-winning comic creator. She lives in Chicago. She specializes in personal, confessional graphic novels and travelogues. Her last name is confusing and has a silent K. It's pronounced kind-of like "nigh-slee." You can find her online @LucyKnisley.

Is Stepping Stones your first written and illustrated graphic novel of pure fiction?

Yep! This is my first fiction. The fact that the main character is a ginger girl who reads comics and doesn't like snakes and is bad at math is all coincidental! Okay, let's say it's "fictionalized."

What made you want to create a story about the change from city life to country life? And adjusting to life with a blended family?

I went through both! It isn't something I'd like to repeat, but it's something I'm glad happened. Now that I'm a parent, I've been thinking quite a lot about how, when you make a choice for yourself, it's really a choice for your family--the kid is just along for the ride. It's one of the most frustrating aspects of childhood and I wanted to get into that and how it can take you to surprising places.

The protagonist, Jen, doesn't really like her mother's boyfriend because he's kind of a jerk. Not in a dangerous way, exactly, but in a way that feels very true--sometimes, people are just jerks. What made you want to include this character?

Walter is based, of course, on my own mom's boyfriend, who lived with us for six or so years. He was totally obnoxious and it was the first time I recognized that an adult can be annoying! They can be immature and dumb and bossy and all these things I'd thought adults were "beyond"! But we all have to learn how to deal with people, even the annoying ones. For kids, it's complicated by being in a position where those adults can be authority figures. Once I got older and was in more of a position to ignore my "Walter," it was a lot easier to love him. I think the concept of personal boundaries and "this situation sucks" vs. "I suck" is something that took me a long time to understand, and I wanted to make that a major part of this story. It was a fine line to walk, though! I had to write him as annoying but in a way that doesn't make you really REALLY loathe him!

On the note of truth... the panel in which the baby chickens immediately destroy their home feels oh so real. Have you worked on a farm? Were there chickens?

Ha! Yes! They're the worst! I found it hilarious when all my adult peers started getting chickens in their little city backyards. You could not pay me enough eggs.

How does it feel to be one of RH Graphic's inaugural creators?

So great. I've been working with Gina Gagliano for more than a decade now, and she's a dear friend and a force of nature in comics. It's awesome to get to work with her--and Whitney Leopard and Patrick Crotty--on making my first middle grade AND fictionalized book!

Is there anything specific you hope readers take with them from reading Stepping Stones?

I hope you recognize yourself or something from your life in these characters and stories. And go into new experiences beyond your control with a little more hope--it might turn out to be annoying but also great.


Graphic Novels Everywhere: A Conversation with Gina Gagliano

Gina Gagliano

Gina Gagliano is the publishing director of Random House Graphic. She's a member of the comics programming and media committees for the Brooklyn Book Festival. She co-hosts the informational graphic novel publishing podcast Graphic Novel TK (with Alison Wilgus). You can find her online at @_GinaGagliano

Would you please tell our readers a bit about RH Graphic?

Random House Graphic is a kids' and YA graphic novel publisher. Our first books were released in January 2020. 

Have you always wanted to create a graphic novel-focused imprint? 

I fell in love with graphic novels as soon as I picked up my first one! And all the people in the industry I work with--from authors to booksellers, teachers, librarians and media--have such excitement and love for the form that I think it's the best (and most fun) part of publishing today. 

The brochure for the imprint is full of interesting information. Why did you want to include so much in that packet?

Graphic novels are still newcomers on the literary landscape--and so much has been changing for these books in the past decade. We wanted to start by calling out just how exciting the world of graphic novels is today for our readers, especially since it's changing and expanding all the time. Since one of our goals is to make graphic novels for all kinds of readers, that also means readers who are new to graphic novels and I think that background is especially important for them!

Your note to readers in the brochure says, "At Random House Graphic, our mission is to bring the kinds of stories that I read when I was young to the graphic novel form." What kind of stories does this include? What are you looking for when approaching manuscripts this way?

This includes everything! Fiction, nonfiction, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, memoir, mystery--for everyone ages five through young adult. What this means for our list (and our acquisition process) is that we're publishing books that are different from each other. Our list appeals to readers with interests from bugs to witches to fantasy quests to more contemporary slice-of-life--and every book is one that will stick in readers' hearts and heads.

You also say in the note that you have a "dedicated team of comic lovers." Who does this include? Tell us about your team.

Whitney Leopard is our Senior Editor. She's our point person on acquiring and editing all the RHG graphic novels. Patrick Crotty is our Designer. He works with us and our authors to make all our books into the most attractive possible versions of themselves. [For more from them, see the article following this one.] Nicole Valdez is our Marketing and Publicity Manager. She's the one who tells the rest of the world (and especially all of you) how excited we all are here at Random House Graphic. 

We all love graphic novels a whole lot! And we spend a lot of time reading them... and talking about them... and thinking about them... and working to publish them excellently!

How do you intend to bring about your stated goal of putting "a graphic novel on every bookshelf?"

We'll begin by publishing great graphic novels by great authors and then going from there. But, ultimately, we want graphic novels to be everywhere! They're books that reach every genre and age category and we believe that everyone who loves to read will love graphic novels too.


Great Reads

Rediscover: China Syndrome

In November 2002, a farmer in China's Guangdong province, next to Hong Kong, became the first patient to contract severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). By January 2003, the virus had spread to Hong Kong itself, where Karl Taro Greenfeld was the editor of Time Asia. Greenfeld and his staff were in the epicenter of a novel coronavirus outbreak that would infect 8,000 people around the world and kill 774 of them. From vague rumors that scared Chinese were boiling vinegar to purify the air, the SARS situation quickly spiraled into a global public health crisis. In 2006, Greenfeld released China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st Century's First Great Epidemic, an account of being caught in the middle of the SARS outbreak and a history of the epidemic on a wider scale. China Syndrome follows SARS through the initial attempt of a cover up by the Chinese government, the explosion of victims in overwhelmed hospitals, to scientists studying the virus and the response of the World Health Organization in Geneva. China Syndrome is available in paperback from Harper Perennial ($17.99, 9780060587239). --Tobias Mutter

Travelers' Tales Guides: French Like Moi: A Midwesterner in Paris by Scott Dominic Carpenter


Book Review

Fiction

The God Child

by Nana Oforiatta Ayim


Already an internationally recognized, award-winning art historian and filmmaker, Nana Oforiatta Ayim makes her literary debut with The God Child, a compelling and ambitious novel. It is a dynamic exploration of young Maya's shifting, peripatetic coming-of-age--from her Ghanaian origins and through multiple back-and-forth crossings between Germany and England, with returns to her homeland.

As a rare African immigrant living in a homogeneous unnamed German city in the 1980s, Maya is repeatedly warned by her parents: "You must always be better than them in everything you do, otherwise they will think you are lower." She's the "immaculately groomed" daughter of a respected doctor and his ostentatiously shopaholic, gregariously gorgeous wife, but her German fluency still surprises the locals.

Maya's detached, othered existence finds reprieve when her mother's godchild--her cousin Kojo--arrives from Ghana to become Maya's brother, bringing with him secrets and divulgences about their extended--and extensive--royal heritage. Stability proves brief as her immediate family implodes when her father leaves, and her mother moves both children briefly to England, at least until circumstances return them each to separate German boarding schools. Eventual adulthood brings further distancing: Maya retreats to London; Maya's mother and Kojo resettle permanently in Ghana.

Through Maya's disjointed experiences of wandering-searching-leaving-returning, Oforiatta Ayim adroitly navigates the lasting consequences of family dysfunction (instability), immigration (to be less than), colonial legacy (erasure), and political upheaval (indiscriminate destruction). Part parable, part history, part warning, The God Child is a resonant, intimate drama of family gone awry across a shrinking global stage. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: In an affecting literary debut, the child of an ousted Ghanaian royal family transforms from alienated immigrant to global citizen.

Bloomsbury Circus, $26, hardcover, 256p., 9781408882429

Running Press: Stir it up with cocktail and cooking gifts!


Barn 8

by Deb Olin Unferth


With Barn 8, Deb Olin Unferth (Wait Till You See Me Dance) delivers a most unusual tale. Janey Flores, 15, lives a comfortable life with her mother in Brooklyn, N.Y. When Janey learns that the father she never knew is alive, she flees, leaving "the old Janey" behind and starting anew in Iowa. "The new Janey" finds nothing but disappointment with her dad and pines for her old life, but her mother's sudden death extinguishes the old Janey forever. When she gets a job as an auditor for the egg industry inspecting barns that house chickens, Janey and her officious female boss, Cleveland Smith, forge an unlikely bond and concoct an unbelievable scheme: "Cleveland," the new Janey says, "let's take them all."

Janey and Cleveland scheme to steal a million chickens from Happy Green Family Farm, where tiers of birds and walls of hens as far as the eye can see live in squalor. The women join forces with Dill, a former animal rights investigator who's been waiting for years for his husband to dump him, and Annabelle, who's been living on contaminated land. They enlist a group of activists, vegans and assorted disillusioned misfits--"an assembling army called out of reserve. For what, they didn't know, but they believed in their cause and, despite everything, they'd been waiting for the summons."

While Unferth places the ethical and political implications of industrial agriculture front and center--"these days animal activism was less revolution, more capitalism with a conscience"--the novel is never strident, often hilariously funny, and sympathetic to the earnest loners who would be mocked by a less assured writer. Sobering but a ton of fun, Barn 8 is strange and wonderful. --Frank Brasile, librarian

Discover: Two women lead a ragtag group of activists to liberate a million chickens from the agricultural industrial complex in this outlandishly funny novel.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 256p., 9781644450154

Incorgnito Publishing Press: All the Good Little Girls Keep Quiet by K Kibbee


Hannah's War

by Jan Eliasberg


As World War II rages on, an international team of brilliant scientists is developing a top-secret bomb in the lab at Los Alamos. Among them is Dr. Hannah Weiss, a gifted Jewish physicist who fled Berlin to escape Nazi persecution. Major Jack Delaney, an intelligence agent sent to Los Alamos to catch a spy, has set his sights on Hannah: he believes her correspondence with her colleagues back home may contain vital nuclear information. Screenwriter and director Jan Eliasberg unravels Hannah's complicated story in the compelling debut novel, Hannah's War.

Eliasberg's narrative begins with Hannah, chained in an American prison transport, en route from Los Alamos to Fort Leavenworth for interrogation. After setting the scene at Los Alamos and introducing readers to Jack, Hannah and their colleagues, Eliasberg takes readers back to Hannah's girlhood. Diligent and gifted, she becomes a physicist at a prestigious institute in Berlin, but is often overlooked by her colleagues since she is female and Jewish. Her work attracts the notice of Stefan Frei, a talented but lazy physicist and the son of the institute's director. Together, Hannah and Stefan pursue a series of experiments that lead them ever closer to splitting the atom--only to have their work interrupted when Hannah must flee.

The true strength of this novel lies not only in its vivid characters and fast-paced narrative--though both of those elements are notable--but goes deeper by forcing its protagonists to reckon with complex questions of political allegiance, personal loyalty, vocation and love. Inspired by true events, Hannah's War is a stunning story of a brilliant woman fighting her own war on several fronts. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: This gripping debut novel follows Hannah Weiss, an Austrian-Jewish physicist working on the atomic bomb.

Back Bay Books, $16.99, paperback, 320p., 9780316537445

Seal Press: Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy by Leslie Brody


Oona Out of Order

by Margarita Montimore


In Oona Out of Order, the high-concept second novel by Margarita Montimore (Asleep from Day), its heroine experiences her life non-sequentially, which makes for a smart, funny journey around the last four decades.

On New Year's Eve in 1982, 18-year-old Oona Lockhart faces a life-changing decision: take a semester off from college to tour with boyfriend Dale and their band, or seize an amazing opportunity to study abroad in London. When midnight strikes, marking both a new year and Oona's 19th birthday, the choice becomes the least of her worries. Instead of 1983 and her 19-year-old body, Oona finds herself in 2015, trapped in a world and body she doesn't recognize. As her personal assistant Kenzie tells her, "You're fifty-one on the outside, but on the inside, you still have the mind and memories of yourself at nineteen. So it's like you've swapped bodies. Only with yourself. At a different age."

Oona will go on to live her life out of chronological order, leaping forward and backward through time each birthday. Anchored in its disparate time periods by pop culture, fashion and a few historical references, this coming-of-ages tale focuses purely on the personal. Like the average person, Oona spends too much time managing her closest relationships to influence world events. Despite her frequent at-sea moments, though, Oona repeatedly manages to take control of the time she is given and make a home for herself in any year. Montimore's meditation on what always changes and what never will sparkles with hope and heart, perfect for readers who love a quirky, thought-provoking tale. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this light-hearted but thought-provoking second novel, a woman lives her life out of chronological order, decade-hopping from the 1980s to the 2010s.

Flatiron, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250236609

Book Industry Charitable Foundation: Double your donation!


Mystery & Thriller

Trace Elements

by Donna Leon


Donna Leon's Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries arrive with the regularity of holidays and are perhaps as eagerly anticipated. Trace Elements, the 29th Commissario Brunetti novel, appears just as the ink of its predecessor, Unto Us a Son Is Given, has dried.

Trace Elements finds the detective and his colleague Commissario Claudia Griffoni called to the hospital bed of 38-year-old Benedetta Toso, who is dying of cancer. Toso speaks in snippets: "It was bad money. I told him no." "They killed him." The "him" is her husband, Vittorio Fadalto: a week after Toso came to the hospital, Fadalto, a water distribution technician, died after his motorcycle was hit by a car. The detectives dig around and learn that Toso had been transferred to the hospital from a private clinic because she couldn't pay her bill. Had Fadalto been using "bad money" to keep her in the private facility? As Trace Elements proceeds, readers may have an inkling about the kind of wrongdoing that's afoot, but they won't foresee Brunetti's agonizing quandary at book's end.

The languorous pace of Trace Elements allows readers to meander with Brunetti through his life in Venice, as he travels by vaporetto, seeks insights from literary classics and grouses about the United States. (Donna Leon is from New Jersey, and now lives in Venice and Switzerland.) Brunetti jabs: "A dying woman put out on the street because she couldn't pay for the hospital. Where were they, for God's sake, America?" --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: The 29th Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery offers a satisfying story laced with the Venetian detective's customary introspection.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780802148674

Little Brown and Company: Enter for a chance to win a James Patterson Prize Pack


No Bad Deed

by Heather Chavez


What people mean to do, and the result of those actions, creates a life-altering tailspin of consequences for one family in No Bad Deed by Heather Chavez.

On her way home one night, Dr. Cassie Larkin sees a man attacking a woman on the side of the road. The scene triggers a moment in her past in which Cassie saw something wrong but did nothing. She pulls over, calls 911 and gets out of her vehicle to try to intervene. Cassie struggles with the man over his victim's body. Police sirens are heard. Before escaping in Cassie's car, the man, Carver Sweet, tells Cassie, "Let her die, and I'll let you live." She doesn't hesitate to stabilize the woman until help arrives, though. The woman survives. Carver mercilessly targets Cassie, her husband and their two kids: he hacks the family's social media account and clones their cell phones; the family is assaulted, kidnapped and poisoned. Yet the police seem to suspect Cassie is behind it all. Unable to trust the authorities, Cassie must keep herself and her family alive while facing down the hard truth that everything happening to her and her family was set in motion long ago.

Debut author Heather Chavez takes a vicious swipe at the Good Samaritan concept with a tumultuous story of the consequences of best intentions. Her prose has a strange and quirky obsession with plants and bugs, but her scrappy female heroine and the breakneck speed in which Chavez unfolds her story make No Bad Deed an exceptional read. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: A woman who tries to do the right thing finds everything going horribly wrong in this fast-paced thriller.

Morrow, $27.99, hardcover, 320p., 9780062936172

Good Harbor Press: The Taste of Snow by Stephen V Masse


Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories

by Ken Liu


Ranging from 20th-century Hong Kong to the far reaches of the universe nearly a million years in the future, award-winning author and translator Ken Liu's second collection of short stories follows the progression of the human race with acute insights.

The Hidden Girl and Other Stories by Ken Liu (The Paper Menagerie) includes 18 science fiction and fantasy stories (including a novelette), plus an excerpt from The Veiled Throne (the third book in Liu's the Dandelion Dynasty series). It offers a penetrating exploration of themes like individualism, morality, racism, legacy and human identity. In "Maxwell's Demon," a Japanese American scientist during World War II, forced to spy to keep her family safe, finds that she can teach dead spirits to sort uranium molecules for weapons. In "The Reborn," a human law enforcer on alien-colonized Earth tracks down insurgents to erase their memories of lawbreaking, to "remove those parts... that are truly responsible for the crime--the mens rea, the evil will.'" In "The Gods Will Not Be Slain," humans across the globe leave the physical world as they upload their minds to a digital realm and "the last generation of humans in the flesh [depart], carried away by death or into the Data Center."

Each story begins in concrete certainty around a moral dilemma, only to be shaken apart as Liu incorporates new layers of context. Like much good science fiction, The Hidden Girl and Other Stories challenges the status quo with each story, offering a different view of humanity's past, present and future with two overarching questions throughout the collection: What makes us human, and what does it mean to be alive? --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Ken Liu's probing short stories use science and morality to explore the evolution of human civilization as it progresses across time and space.

Saga Press, $26, hardcover, 432p., 9781982134037

Social Science

American Sherlock: Murder, Forensics, and the Birth of American CSI

by Kate Winkler Dawson


Perhaps the most fascinating revelation contained within Kate Winkler Dawson's (Death in the Air) riveting story of forensics pioneer Edward Oscar Heinrich is that her subject's name isn't already world famous. Unlike the fictitious detective who once lived at 221B Baker Street, Heinrich was a real scientist in Berkeley, Calif., who introduced new methods for analyzing blood splatter, ballistics and fingerprints, and worked on several of the 20th century's most infamous cases.

A journalism instructor, Dawson offers an account of the late scientist's methods, including the questionable conclusions he reached in a murder trial involving actor Fatty Arbuckle. Indeed, Heinrich is portrayed as both a pioneer and a man obsessed, as his frequent spats with rival experts and perennial exhaustion over juries unconvinced by his evidence makes clear. By contrast, Dawson also celebrates some of Heinrich's greatest achievements, which include using scraps of evidence to find the men responsible for the Siskiyou train robbery of 1923.

Ultimately, American Sherlock's greatest strength comes from Dawson's willingness to examine Heinrich's forensic accomplishments by grounding them in modern research that shows the serious flaws in methodologies ranging from lie detectors to hair sample analysis. By understanding why these areas of forensic science sometimes falter, it is possible both to appreciate all that Heinrich accomplished while also proving the discipline still has a long way to go. Furthermore, American Sherlock also serves as a richly detailed overview of how the U.S. justice system and proof of guilt standards have changed--or failed to evolve--during the past century. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer

Discover: This is an engrossing blend of biography and crime history centered on Edward Oscar Heinrich, the 20th century's most accomplished forensic scientist.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9780525539551

Psychology & Self-Help

Everything I Know about Love

by Dolly Alderton


An international bestseller, Everything I Know About Love: A Memoir by Dolly Alderton is a rapturous and moving chronicle of a young woman having fun, battling personal demons and surviving early adulthood with steadfast female friends at her side.

Alderton, a former Sunday Times columnist and co-creator of pop culture podcast The High Low, relished adulthood when it came. She pulled "hedonistic all-nighters" in search of the "pots of experiential gold hidden on every street corner." Alcohol precipitated reckless adventures with "anecdotal mileage," like bankrupting herself for a 90-minute cab ride to a 5:30 a.m. afterparty. Decreasing her "blackout benders" allowed her to focus on jobs in TV and later as a dating columnist. What Alderton most wanted, however, was love. Once she found the right man, she believed she'd feel "centered and calm." But as her best friend prepared for marriage and her flatmate moved out, Alderton became unmoored. Through therapy, she began to vanquish her mounting anxiety over adulthood, discussing her obsession with men and alcohol, her need to be the best person for everyone else, and the years she starved herself to gain control.

Readers can identify with Alderton's search for a sense of self. With wisdom and humility, Alderton imparts, via turbulently fun essays, a vital life lesson: being oneself is enough. Even through episodes typifying Alderton's "rambunctious, restless and ramshackle" 20s, the exuberant spirit of a woman brazenly expressing her individuality emerges. Her journey of breathtaking escapades--and the women who see her through them--will rally readers to both seize the moment and cultivate love for themselves. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: In her energetic and forthright memoir, the former Sunday Times columnist tells of the boys, parties, adventures and friends that propelled her toward the vexing promise of adulthood.

Harper, $22.99, hardcover, 368p., 9780062968784

Clearer, Closer, Better: How Successful People See the World

by Emily Balcetis


In Clearer, Closer, Better: How Successful People See the World, Emily Balcetis offers a refreshing, interactive approach to setting and achieving goals such as losing weight, running a marathon, learning a musical instrument or even saving for retirement.

Balcetis is a social psychologist and scientist at New York University with more than 15 years of research experience on motivation and the brain-eye connection. She explains that there is a gap between reality and our subjective perception of it, such that the brain's determination to "see" something in a particular manner can alter the way people view challenging tasks and activities. While studying how people best pursue goals, she developed four strategies that harness the power of vision to help achieve successful outcomes.

Which strategy works best depends on the challenge at hand. At the launch of a daunting project, Balcetis recommends a "wide bracket" approach, considering the whole picture and identifying patterns to optimize results. At the end of a project, a "narrow lens" works best to bring the goal into sharp, concentrated relief. "Visual framing" involves consciously placing items within one's context and removing anything that might derail progress; it works well when trying to avoid unhealthy foods. "Materializing" one's goal, by documenting every step of the process, is a particularly helpful strategy when it comes to weight loss.

Balcetis herself experimented with these strategies in pursuit of her goal to master the drums. In Clearer, Closer, Better, she shares her journey, with entertaining anecdotes on how she eliminated obstacles to her progress, and argues persuasively for how the same tools can be applied to any task. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: This exciting contribution to the field of motivational training suggests achievable strategies for accomplishing difficult tasks.

Ballantine, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9781524796464

Children's & Young Adult

Mañanaland

by Pam Muñoz Ryan


In Mañanaland, Pam Muñoz Ryan, Newbery Honoree (Echo) and Pura Belpré Award winner (The Dreamer), creates a richly satisfying novel that is both contemporary and timeless. Almost 12, Maximiliano Córdoba is ready for a summer full of fútbol--instead, he explores family history and tests his courage as he rescues a small girl from horrible conditions.

There is a cruel dictator in Abismo from whom many have fled. In the neighboring country, Santa Maria, several of Max's family members have worked to rescue the refugees--"Los Guardianes de los Escondidos, the Guardians of the Hidden Ones." In fact, his papá was a rescuer who met his mother when she was fleeing, helping her to become a "hidden one" in Santa Maria; she later selflessly decided to flee again because her family could be persecuted for harboring a refugee. When Max's father briefly leaves their village, a priest shows up with Isadora, a young girl who must be brought to the "next safe place." With his father away, the priest asks Max to guide the girl. He agrees, with a secondary aim of finding out about his mother and the place where Max thinks she has gone: Mañanaland.

Ryan's portrayal of Max's village life and the children's perilous three-night trek is realistic, but there is also a hint of magic to the work, including an imposing tower, a peregrine falcon, a guardian whom some "think [is] a troll or a witch" and even Mañanaland itself. The author seamlessly weaves into Max's journey important themes about asylum seekers and the people who help them. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: A young boy in a Latin American-like country goes on a modern quest, discovering his own story and finding the courage to save another child.

Scholastic Press, $18.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 9-12, 9781338157864

Wicked as You Wish

by Rin Chupeco


A snow queen has cursed a magical land into endless winter; only a chosen warrior can remove a sword from a stone; the last of a royal line is in hiding; and a group of elderly Filipino aunties and uncles are magical warriors known the world over for their lethality. In Wicked as You Wish, Rin Chupeco (The Bone Witch trilogy) boldly mixes fairytales, myths and contemporary culture into unusual, exciting and oddly familiar combinations.

Tala, a "spellbreaker" who negates magic, was born in Avalon. Her Scottish father and Filipino mother were among the protectors of the kingdom until the Wonderland Wars 12 years ago, which led to the total destruction of Wonderland and Avalon's encasement in ice. Now refugees living in the Royal States of America, Tala's family agrees to harbor Prince Alexei Tsarevich, the exiled prince of Avalon. When the legendary firebird arrives, it both verifies Alex's right to take the throne and totally blows his cover. Helped by a group of trained warrior teens sent by a mysterious figure known as the Cheshire, Tala and Alex escape the Royal States and begin a dangerous trip to recover Avalon.

Chupeco's fusing of myths and fairytales with the contemporary doesn't simply take known stories and translate them into the 21st century, it blends the familiar with the made-up until her entire world has a feeling of the uncanny about it. Cellphones have "spelltech" on them, ICE seeks out immigrants from magical countries, Yamato Takeru wielded the same sword as Alice Liddell and the Nottinghams are rumored to talk to wolves. In the end, it all makes glorious sense. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this young adult fantasy, a teen who negates magic and the last surviving royal of Avalon fight to save the magical kingdom from a curse.

Sourcebooks Fire, $17.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9781492672661

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