Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

From My Shelf

Mini Imaginaries

Unicorns, sasquatches, monsters, oh my!

"Oscar is hungry. But he's eaten EVERYTHING. (Including his stable.)" What is a famished unicorn to do? In Lou Carter and Nikki Dyson's board book Oscar the Hungry Unicorn (Orchard Books, $10.99), the pink-bodied, rainbow-maned unicorn tries to fill his belly by eating a witch's house, a pirate ship, a fairy meadow, even a DJ at a cave party. Oscar, flashing his unamused and unimpressed side-eye throughout the entire book, is sure to elicit giggles from children ages zero to five.

A follow-up board book, Crix Sheridan's The Sasquatch and the Lumberjack: Family (little bigfoot, $12.99), isn't exactly what one might expect from the title. The Lumberjack's family meets the Sasquatch, right? Nope! The friends who met in The Sasquatch and the Lumberjack here bring their families together for group activities like motorcycling, fishing and making music. Every double-page spread features different family members in action and a single word--GRAMMIE, SISTER, MA--to identify the (lumberjack or sasquatch) family member. Colorful and full of movement, this board book is a fun introduction to simple family words for kids ages zero to three.

Pre-readers will almost certainly find Elise Gravel's big-eyed, horned monster anything but frightening. In I Am Scary (Orca, $10.95), a monster attempts to convince a child and their dog that it is very scary: "Look at my pointy TEETH! Look at my huge EYES!" The dog is alarmed but the child remains stoic, even when the monster lets out a mighty "ROAAAAR!" In fact, the child thinks the monster is cute. With a pleasant ending that caretakers are sure to love, the scary monster and the child find a better way to relate than through fear.

--Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

The Adoption Thriller

CrimeReads examined "the adoption thriller. There are no higher stakes than who takes responsibility for a child."


"Watch comics legend Alex Ross paint an incredible Marvel mural." (via Gizmodo)


D.H. Lawrence "on trees, solitude, and how we root ourselves when relationships collapse." (via Brain Pickings)


Author Philip Marsden chose his "top 10 books about adventures" for the Guardian.


"Sleeping among the books of a library in an ancient village in China." (via domus)


Open Culture looked back to "when Astronomer Johannes Kepler wrote the first work of science fiction, The Dream (1609)."

The Fixed Stars

by Molly Wizenberg

In another writer's hands, this could have been awkward. Molly Wizenberg's previous bestselling memoirs--A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table and Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage--are to a large extent valentines to Brandon Pettit, with whom she opened Delancey, a beloved Seattle restaurant. Wizenberg's blindsidingly beautiful new memoir, The Fixed Stars, is about how she initiated a divorce from Pettit after an incapacitating crush on a woman compelled her to rethink her marriage and sexuality. She also gives her morality some squinty-eyed accounting. "Are you allowed," she wonders, "to grieve if you've caused the death?"

To explain how she arrived at this brutal reckoning, Wizenberg begins with her youth. Born in 1978, she grew up a privileged only child in Oklahoma City; her lifetime aversion to feather ruffling ("I came out of the womb eager to please") is a big part of what will make her decision to end her marriage so shocking to Wizenberg's fans, who have come to know her rule-observant personality. She seems a little shocked herself.

Wizenberg always considered herself straight: "I liked boys," she writes in The Fixed Stars. "That was who I was." At 20, she lost her virginity to a man. A year or so later, a woman she was working with at Whole Foods seemed to be trying to woo her: "This was the same time period when I had my 'lesbian' haircut, and it was probably because of that haircut that Laura invited me to a party." A couple of weeks later, Laura asked her out on what sure seemed like a date, during which Wizenberg played her hand: she told Laura that this was the first time she had ever found herself attracted to a woman. Laura "must have said something in response.... She must have told me she couldn't, or she wouldn't. She didn't touch me. Nothing happened. I went home."

Down the heterosexual romantic path Wizenberg proceeded. She met Pettit in 2005, after they enjoyed an e-mail exchange that he had initiated: he was an admirer of her celebrated (and now dormant) food blog, Orangette. Pettit moved from New York to Seattle, where Wizenberg was based; they got married, opened Delancey in 2009, and had a baby in 2012. Wizenberg was 36 and being something of a homebody, taking care of her child, doing bookkeeping for Delancey, and foraging for time to write, when she received a jury duty summons that proved more existentially consequential than most.

Wizenberg found herself smitten with Nora, the trial's female defense attorney, of whom she takes stock from the jury box: "I knew only that she was a woman in a suit. But I think she looked like something more than that, something I didn't have: the will to stand apart, to crumple up the script." This isn't the first time the eager-to-pleaser takes pleasure in dashed expectations. As Wizenberg recalls when recounting her 15-years-earlier fizzle with Laura, "I told her what I wanted. I became someone who surprised me, someone interesting." Another time she surprises herself: Wizenberg e-mails Nora many months after the trial is over, having been unable to stop thinking about her.

The problem with being "someone interesting," as Wizenberg interprets the phrase, is that things tend to go less smoothly for such people. This is a trade-off that she is willing to make to follow her heart, but not without tearily registering the collateral damage suffered by her young daughter and by Pettit. Wizenberg is also bracingly candid about the ways that her marriage had been unfulfilling, although sex seems to have had nothing to do with it. For all the wonderful particularity of Wizenberg's story--from the Seattle-restaurant-scene backdrop to her calibrated foray into open marriage--The Fixed Stars is essentially a timeless tale: someone finds herself drifting from her spouse and decides to stray.

This is not to say that the gender of Wizenberg's crush object is beside the point, and she writes with grace, acuity and punch about her efforts to untangle her sexuality, and to untangle it further when things with Nora become untenable. She no longer sees things as simply as she did as a precocious eighth grader who, in an attempt to shore up compassion for gay people (including a cherished uncle who died of AIDS), selected homosexuality as the topic of a research paper. In it, she argued for the "born this way" theory of sexual orientation.

The adult Wizenberg understands the allure of such fixed ideas: "Astronomers know that every star is in motion, and that each moves along its own trajectory, according to its own properties. The constellations we see are temporary human creations, our effort to draw order and meaning from a mostly unknowable universe, to tell ourselves stories, to guide our way home across endless oceans." A Homemade Life and Delancey are marvelous guides, complete with recipes, for living a food-centered life; The Fixed Stars is a guide (of sorts) for a more improvised life, in which recipes are jettisoned and which, Wizenberg is finding, better suits her tastes. --Nell Beram

Abrams Press, $25, hardcover, 256p., 9781419742996

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley

Molly Wizenberg: A New Version of Life

(photo: Dorothée Brand)

Molly Wizenberg is the author of two bestselling books, A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table and Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage, and the James Beard Award-winning blog Orangette. She has written for the Washington Post, the Guardian, Saveur and Bon Appétit, and she also cohosts the podcast Spilled Milk. With chef Brandon Pettit, Wizenberg cofounded the award-winning Seattle restaurants Delancey and Essex. Her memoir The Fixed Stars is out now from Abrams Press.

My first thought when I read The Fixed Stars was that you are very brave for having written it--not just because you're so candid about your personal life but because you recount the end of your marriage to Brandon, whom readers of your previous books grew to love right along with you. Were you at all worried that your fans would be upset with you for leaving him?

I have to imagine that some of them will be. I mean, I'm as judgmental as anybody, and I know I'd have some thoughts about me, if I weren't me. I've struggled plenty with the judgments I've put on my own self--about the demise of my marriage, the decisions I made, what it means for our daughter, what it means for me as a writer. I could go on and on. I've been brutal to myself. Writing this book helped me to engage some with that inner monologue, to start to turn it into a dialogue, put it on the page and step back from it, actively interrogate my judgment and shame. They're not gone, but they're quieter. I don't expect that everyone will like what I've done and who I am--no, no. But I'm okay with myself now, more days than not.

I'm sure you've wondered this yourself: How do you think your life would have proceeded if you had never laid eyes on Nora?

I think my life would have proceeded for a while as it was, and maybe indefinitely. But someone or something else would have, at some point, woken me up like Nora did. That's what seeing her felt like, like waking up. I think it's a very human thing to have moments like that, when we find ourselves in a certain situation where we suddenly see ourselves, our potential, our lives from a different angle. I'm not talking specifically about sexuality; for some people, it's about religion, or profession, or... I don't know. Sometimes you visit a new place, and you just know you've got to live there, and you upend everything to realize a whole new version of your life. Nora was that certain situation for me.

Likewise, what do you think would have happened if you hadn't had the courage to tell Brandon about your crush?

I can't imagine not having told him. There were plenty of common silences in our marriage, I now see--things that we'd stopped trying to talk about because talking got us nowhere--but not telling him this felt impossible. The shift in my sexuality was shattering. Hiding it made me miserable, because I was hiding myself. Either I hid forever, or I told him. It didn't feel like a choice. Telling him was horrible, but it was a relief.

There's a remarkable and devastating scene in The Fixed Stars in which you tell Brandon that you want to try an open marriage. You write about all the reading you did on the subject, and you've obviously put a lot of thought into the topic. From what you've learned, do you think that it would be possible for an open marriage to endure and stay strong, or do you think that wanting an open marriage is necessarily a sign that for the person who initiates it, the marriage is irredeemably broken?

The only people who can say anything for sure about a relationship are the people in it, and I'm no (!) expert on open relationships. But from the meager amount I have learned, and from what I see in friends who successfully navigate open marriages, I can say that relationships work best when both (or all) partners are equally invested and committed. This goes for any relationship, right? Open or monogamous. That sense of being equally invested is, of course, a shifting thing; not everybody will feel the same way about it every single day. But at base, it seems to me that all partners should be similarly invested in the work of the relationship--in talking through everything, talking and talking and talking, and in listening.

Brandon and I went about opening our marriage under conditions, I think, that doomed it from the start. We weren't equally committed to it--not really. My desire propelled us, which wasn't necessarily a problem; the problem was that we didn't have equal stakes in the situation, and we continued as though we did. We learned a lot, and we talked more openly than maybe ever before, but we fell apart under the strain.

That said, we've both marveled at how that brief attempt at opening our marriage helped make our divorce less bitter and more collaborative. Because of all the emotional work we put into opening our relationship, our communication was more intentional, less reactive, than it would have been otherwise. I know that for sure.

If another author had written The Fixed Stars, what do you think you would have wished for her?

Oh, God, uh, how about universal acclaim and a castle with a moat? --Nell Beram

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


Rules for Being Dead

by Kim Powers

Kim Powers's haunting and spellbinding novel Rules for Being Dead reads like an intoxicating blend of the best of Shirley Jackson, Alice Sebold and Fannie Flagg. But Powers has created an original novel that is both a tender coming-of-age tale and a fascinating mystery that builds to a nail-biting climax.

Set in a small Texas town in 1966, the novel begins with the suspicious death of Creola Perkins, an unhappily married 44-year-old grade-school teacher, wife to alcoholic dreamer L.E. and mother to sensitive 10-year-old Clarke and epileptic seven-year-old Corey. The novel is told from various points of view--chiefly from the grieving Clarke and the earthbound spirit of Creola, who moves among the living and can see into the future but can't uncloud the last few days of her life. Was Creola's death an accident, suicide or murder? While the spirit of Creola wanders the small town wondering why she's not in Heaven or Hell, her final days start coming into clearer focus. At the same time, Clarke (who is beginning to realize he's attracted to male classmates) starts playing detective and comes to the conclusion that his mother's death was caused by his father (who already has a new girlfriend). When he finds a gun in his father's underwear drawer, he sets a plan in motion.

With a deceptively subtle, breezy writing style, Powers (Capote in Kansas) pulls readers into his tasty and tantalizing mixture of empathetic characters, Southern gothic coming-of-age comedy, mystery and magical realism. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: This captivating mixture of mystery, coming-of-age and magical realism will be catnip for book clubs--gripping readers from the first page to the last.

Blair, $25.95, hardcover, 312p., 9781949467352

The Death of Vivek Oji

by Akwaeke Emezi

Returning to adult fiction after the success of their 2019 National Book Award finalist YA novel Pet, Nigerian writer Akwaeke Emezi brings readers a deep, tender look at a family unraveling around the tragic and early loss of someone they loved but never understood. 

"They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died," the first chapter says in its arresting entirety. Born to Chika and Kavita, with a starfish-shaped birthmark on his foot identical to a scar his grandmother had on hers, Vivek comes into the world "after death and into grief." As a tween, he suffers from inexplicable blackouts, and Chika considers him too sensitive. As an older teen, Vivek finds solace and love among friends who accept him and in his impossible yet undeniably passionate relationship with cousin Osita. When Vivek's fabric-wrapped corpse is left on his parents' doorstep without explanation, Kavita desperately searches for explanations about his life and death, while Osita grapples with how much of the truth he should tell. 

By turns raw and gentle, this gorgeous #ownvoices drama features a cast of diverse nationalities, sexual orientations and gender identities. The mixture of third- and first-person narration reconstructs a life, largely from secondhand accounts. Emezi (Freshwater) beautifully captures an ordinary family in all its loving, hurtful, messy glory, then thoughtfully demonstrates that pressure placed on one member can backfire and undermine the entire unit. A spot-on pick for thoughtful book club discussion, The Death of Vivek Oji wraps up heartache with hope. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this gorgeous novel from National Book Award finalist Akwaeke Emezi, a grieving family searches for answers when its youngest member is found dead.

Riverhead Books, $27, hardcover, 256p., 9780525541608

You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

by Frances Macken

Frances Macken's darkly complicated You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here follows three Irish girls as they aspire to escape their dead-end hometown of Glenbruff. Working-class Katie, pretty, rich girl Evelyn and hanger-on Maeve are introduced as happy 10-year-olds running free, imagining the local quarry, wet bogs and abandoned buildings as wondrous faraway habitats. They plan for bigger, better lives together elsewhere but, like all childhood friendships, this trio's loyalties ebb and flow with the tides of their personal dramas.

As teenagers, Katie and Evelyn have a pact to study art in Dublin and become famous artists, while Maeve is happy to take a local job. The plan falters when Katie is accepted to art school and Evelyn isn't. Infighting among the three girls turns incendiary when Aidan and Peadar, brothers the girls have crushes on, are more interested in Pamela Cooney, who recently moved from the big city.

Luckily for the lead trio, Pamela's moment in the spotlight is quickly snuffed out when she suddenly disappears. She obviously met with foul play, but what isn't clear is how much Katie, Evelyn and Maeve know about what happened to their rival.

Macken highlights every scrappy kid's desire to free him- or herself from small-town thinking and limited opportunities. The author shines brightest when depicting a friends-for-life camaraderie mixed with hurtful actions only real friends can forgive one another for. Readers are immersed so deeply in the day-to-day mini-dramas of these girls that it's surprisingly easy to dismiss their apathy toward Pamela's disappearance and wholeheartedly root for their escape from Glenbruff. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: An epic story of three girls growing up in a small Irish town, dreaming of more exciting lives elsewhere.

ONEWorld, $25.95, hardcover, 288p., 9781786077653

What Happens at Night

by Peter Cameron

A journey to adopt a baby in a distant, northern European city tests a married couple in What Happens at Night, a menacing, suspenseful novel by Peter Cameron (Coral Glynn), its mood occasionally lightened by grim humor in the dialogue. Their journey from the United States had been difficult even before they arrive at their gloomily grandiose hotel. The wife is life-threateningly ill, which has made it nearly impossible for them to adopt. The nearby orphanage may be her last hope for a child before she dies, and to ensure her husband still has a family when she is gone. But there's another institution nearby that draws travelers to make the long train ride: a healer named Brother Emmanuel.

A vaguely surreal setting (the available food is either an elaborate meal with far too many courses or whatever can be scrounged from the bar; the room doors were salvaged from an old opera house) and fellow residents at the hotel who are either mysterious or too intimate by turns create a sense of unease. The atmosphere untethers the unnamed couple, leading them to doubt what they thought they knew about themselves and why they came there. Their lack of options beyond waiting and the absence of purpose in most of their day leaves them with little to do but question, and the novel will keep readers on tenterhooks, wondering how the tension will break. By the end, the couple will undergo changes far beyond the adoption of the child that brought them there. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: A desperate journey to a remote city shakes everything a married couple believes they knew in this quiet novel of psychological suspense.

Catapult, $26, hardcover, 320p., 9781948226967

The Disaster Tourist

by Yun Ko-Eun, trans. by Lizzie Buehler

Pristine beaches, spectacular landscapes, cultural landmarks might have been the go-to tourist destinations once upon a time, but in Yun Ko-eun's sly, compelling novel, The Disaster Tourist, scenes of death and destruction are where people really want to go.

Jungle, where Yona Ko has been working for 10-plus years, is one of these travel providers, and her professional success makes her a personal target of Team Leader Kim's sexual abuse. She's not alone, but Human Resources offers nothing more than "This kind of incident happens all the time.... If you can't take the heat, get out of the kitchen." When Yona finally submits her resignation, Kim instead offers her a month-long break, assigning her to evaluate one of the company's less-popular packages.

Yona chooses "Desert Sinkhole," which promises "volcanoes, deserts and hot springs all in the same location." She arrives on the island nation of Mui and joins five others to explore vestiges of genocide, perilous hazards and continued misfortune. When it's time to go home, Yona gets separated from the group on the journey to the airport--without her passport, wallet, luggage and only her dying phone. She manages to return to the resort, where the manager eventually presents her with a marketing plan to boost Mui's disaster-desirability and thereby save the residents from obscure starvation. Yona can hardly refuse.

Yun's English-language debut arrives in an agile translation by Lizzie Buehler. This disturbing novel might initially feel far-fetched, but Yun skillfully exposes an insatiability both to create and to consume anomalous experiences at any cost. With deft ingenuity, she transforms seeming surreality into chilling reality. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: This sly novel compellingly exposes global voyeurism--at any cost.

Counterpoint, $16.95, paperback, 208p., 9781640094161

Mystery & Thriller

Lineage Most Lethal: An Ancestry Detective Mystery

by S.C. Perkins

"Well, I'll be dashed.... It's a pigpen." Uttered by wily old fox George Lancaster, these words refer to something other than a mess. A cipher, to be exact--one that forces George to disclose long-held World War II secrets to his beloved granddaughter, genealogist Lucy Lancaster. To bust a murder scheme relating to an old espionage operation, they'll have to find the key and break the code before lives are lost.

Lineage Most Lethal is the second entry in S.C. Perkins's marvelous Ancestry Detective series, following 2019 Agatha Award nominee Murder Once Removed, and Perkins picks up the murderous magnetism right where it left off. Smarting from feeling ghosted by Harrison Ford-esque Special Agent Ben Turner, Lucy throws herself into her work for hotel heiress Pippa Sutton. Lucy is approached by an ailing, elderly man on the grounds of the Hotel Sutton. As he perishes, he presses a Montblanc pen against her hand and implores her to "keep them safe."

Charismatic Grandpa George comes to the rescue--as a collector of vintage Montblancs, he reveals to Lucy the special nature of the pen and its ties to a secret Allied mission. The messages held within uncover a plot for revenge that will embroil Lucy, George and the Sutton clan in a bitter grudge inherited through generations. Perkins's plots are thick with fascinating atmosphere, curios, history and family lore, but her humor and characters shine most brightly, holding readers in an embrace of warm and lethal Southern charm. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A genealogist must research the lineage of a set of World War II veterans to stop the murder of their descendants.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250750075

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Harrow the Ninth

by Tamsyn Muir

Harrow the Ninth has a tough act to follow in 2019's deranged, electrifyingly fun Gideon the Ninth, but the middle chapter in Tamsyn Muir's Locked Tomb Trilogy is every bit as wild and weird as its delightful predecessor. Following the events of the first book, Muir shifts focus to the necromancer Harrowhark as she joins a cohort dedicated to assisting the godlike Emperor in fighting strange cosmic entities.

Muir has not lost her penchant for throwing readers in the deep end, and some incomprehension is to be expected on their part. In fact, Harrow the Ninth seems purposefully disorienting for fans of the first book: the novel bounces back and forth in time, retelling events from the first book with noticeable differences that grow more glaring over time. Whereas Gideon the Ninth welded the structure of a locked-room mystery to its saga of necromancers and their sword-wielding escorts in an ancient, crumbling space-tomb, Harrow the Ninth plunges confidently into a mind-bending puzzle box structure. There is plenty of satisfaction in piecing things together, but it's not just an exercise in cleverness: Muir has much to say about denial and the dangers of suppressing grief, building to an emotional conclusion that will melt the hardest of hearts.

Harrow the Ninth carries over all the strengths of its predecessor, including the verbal sparring and ever-entertaining insults: "you bursting organ, you wretched, self-regarding hypochondriac and half-fermented corpse with the nails still on." And it delves even deeper into the vulnerabilities of Muir's damaged characters. Few books can be this funny, sad and romantic all at the same time. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Discover: A worthy sequel to Gideon the Ninth, this novel expands the grotesque world of necromancers and skeletons within an unpredictable puzzle box structure.

Tor, $26.99, hardcover, 512p., 9781250313225

Biography & Memoir

Life of a Klansman: A Family History in White Supremacy

by Edward Ball

In 1998, Edward Ball won the National Book Award for Slaves in the Family, his unflinching history concerning slavery his father's ancestors perpetuated in South Carolina. He continues unraveling the tightly knotted legacy of white supremacy by studying his mother's ancestors in Louisiana: specifically, Polycarp Constant Lecorgne, "our klansman."

A fighter in the rebel army during the Civil War and in the white militias of Reconstruction, Constant is but a focal point in Ball's broader concern, bringing clarity to the corrosive ideologies of slavery and race science, whose fallout continues to revisit generation after generation of Americans. "I am trying to make this thing visible," he writes, "whiteness. It looks transparent and flimsy, maybe. Some would say it does not even exist. But I am trying to make it conspicuous, as visible and as plain as blackness." Spanning most of the 19th century, Life of a Klansman is a nuanced case study of one cog within a machine of terrorism and oppression.

Ball creates a dynamic space for challenging reconciliation, breaking from the narrative periodically to reflect with empathy for family members acting in ways he abhors, yet never absolving them. In documenting white violence, Ball writes, "Here is a way not to see these events: the marauders like Constant are immoral, abject, and bad people.... It is truer to say this. The marauders are our people, and they fight for us." Never does the author lose sight of his complicit inheritance of privilege at the expense of black lives.

Life of a Klansman removes the histrionic hoods and gazes purposefully into the frantic eyes of a homegrown terrorism. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This expansive study of a 19th-century klansman adds depth and clarity to the ways white supremacist ideology became cemented into American society once slavery was abolished.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28, hardcover, 416p., 9780374186326

Body, Mind & Spirit

The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place

by David Sheff

For 30 years, Jarvis Jay Masters has been a resident of San Quentin State Prison's death row, some two decades of them in solitary confinement. As one of 700 inmates currently in that grim status, his story would not be remarkable, but for the fact that during his long imprisonment he's become an esteemed Buddhist teacher, and a confidant of the well-known writer and teacher Pema Chödrön.

In The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place, journalist David Sheff (Beautiful Boy) renders Masters's story in highly sympathetic fashion, tracing his transformation and describing the efforts of Chödrön and a growing cadre of supporters to overturn what they believe is his unjust death sentence.

Though he seems to share a belief in Masters's innocence, Sheff is less concerned with the machinations of his subject's multiple (and so far unsuccessful) legal appeals than he is with the way Buddhist practices have helped him to cope with his dire circumstances. Through his deep engagement with these teachings, he explains, Masters has come to understand that "when his mind was free, he was free," and that many who live their lives outside the walls of a prison are themselves in chains.

For all its hardship and heartbreak, The Buddhist on Death Row is an inspiring story of one man's ability to surmount suffering by applying the power of his mind. Anyone who's been tempted to explore meditation and mindfulness but who hasn't taken the first step should find encouragement in Jarvis Masters's far more difficult journey. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: In this moving true story, a death row inmate has transformed his life through insights gained from Buddhist teachings and practices.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9781982128456


The Last Stargazers: The Enduring Story of Astronomy's Vanishing Explorers

by Emily Levesque

The popular image of an astronomer is a lone figure peering into a telescope, discovering brand-new stars or trying to make contact with aliens. Emily Levesque, astronomer and "weird star enthusiast," knows the reality is a little different. In her first nonfiction book, The Last Stargazers, Levesque charts a course through the rapidly evolving field of astronomy. With humor and heart, she explains the basics of what astronomers do while relating dozens of entertaining anecdotes about her chosen field. She also makes a strong case for why humans should continue to study the skies.

A dedicated backyard stargazer as a child, Levesque spent her undergraduate years at MIT, before earning her Ph.D. from the University of Hawaii. Like many astronomers, she has spent time observing the night skies at some of the world's most powerful telescopes, tucked away in remote locations such as the mountains of Chile, rural New Mexico and Hawaii's Big Island. These observatories function as small ecosystems (human and scientific), and Levesque gives readers an insider's tour of their protocols and quirks.

Recent advances in telescope technology have allowed astronomers to observe the skies from the comfort of home and collect mind-boggling amounts of data, but the field still relies on human skills that can't be replicated by a machine. Perhaps more importantly, the study of the skies is predicated on wonder--and even the best telescopes can only note and demarcate data.

Warm, engaging and packed with highly accessible science, The Last Stargazers is thoroughly entertaining and an impetus for readers to take up a little stargazing of their own. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Astronomer Emily Levesque takes readers on an engaging tour of her field (and the skies) in a warm, informative work of popular science.

Sourcebooks, $25.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781492681076

Children's & Young Adult

A Map to the Sun

by Sloane Leong

Vibrant art and rich storytelling combine in A Map to the Sun, Sloane Leong's deeply emotional graphic novel about five girls on a basketball team shouldering different burdens and learning to carry them together.

The summer before ninth grade, Ren and Luna meet. They spend the season together and then Luna moves away. She never calls. Then, in 10th grade, Luna transfers back, optimistic about reuniting with Ren. Except Ren's world didn't pause: her parents are separated, her dad struggles financially and her friends face repeating sophomore year. Their best chance at extra credit is joining the new girls' basketball team.

Invested in a future playing basketball, Ren wants her ragtag team to succeed. Yet they don't always check their emotions at the sidelines. Jetta self-harms as a release from her mom's alcoholic husband; So-Young escapes her sister's shadow by chatting with strangers online; Nell skips class to work at her family's convenience store to the tune of her brothers' fat shaming. Increasing the pressure to perform is the boys' coach, who vilifies the girls as "a drain on the school and especially on the boys."

Leong's (Prism Stalker) slice-of-life approach allows for a more truthful representation of adolescence; not every conflict receives a clear resolution, alluding to the girls' continued evolution. Evocative art accentuates the story's multiple tones, with every backdrop colored like sunsets and sunrises, thereby elevating the atmosphere of magical summers come and gone. Leong's clever use of panels makes scenes dynamic: suspended action in one panel carries the eye through the offstage transition to the next. A sweeping portrait of camaraderie, A Map to the Sun reminds readers that simple kindness and understanding can go a long way in helping someone heal. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: This coming-of-age graphic novel portrays the varying friendships among five girls on an underdog basketball team.

First Second/Macmillan, $17.99, paperback, 368p., ages 12-up, 9781250146687

Ellie's Voice: or Trööömmmpffff

by Piret Raud, trans. by Adam Cullen

Ellie's Voice: or Trööömmmpffff abounds with music, and not just in terms of its subject matter. If illustrations could make noise, then Piret Raud's art would sing.

Ellie, a bird who lives by the sea, laments that she alone doesn't have a voice--"Even the rain sings when it falls." When the waves wash a horn ashore (it resembles an outsize shofar--at least at first), Ellie is elated. The noise that she makes with the horn, while non-euphonious (Trööömmmpffff!), summons appreciative animals from near and far.

Their cheers are interrupted by Albert the fish, who reports that the horn is missed by its rightful owner: "Duke Junior just isn't himself anymore without it!" Ellie is mortified: "Imagine that--Trööömmmpffff! wasn't her voice at all, but belonged to someone else!" After a long search, Ellie finds Duke Junior and gives him back his horn, which he proceeds to play marvelously: "The noise that Duke Junior made with the horn wasn't Trööömmmpffff, but was music" that "contained all the things Ellie thought and felt."

Ellie's Voice will likely give readers, too, the feels and something to think about. Estonian author/illustrator Raud's parable of self-acceptance, which features intricate black-and-white images of egg-shaped and otherwise oblong animals built with careful lines and pointillistic dots, harbors some applause-worthy sight gags. For one: the corpulent, big-eared and noseless Duke Junior isn't initially an identifiable creature; that he's an elephant becomes apparent only when he lifts the trunk-like horn to his face. No wonder he wasn't "himself" without it! --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: The black-and-white line-and-dot art in this animal-centric parable about a lost horn is music to the eyes.

Yonder, $18, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-6, 9781632061911


Author Buzz

Every Time We Say Goodbye

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Dear Reader,

EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE was the hardest book I will ever write, and the most rewarding. I packed everything I could into this book: love and conflict, faith and religion, censorship and resistance, art and moviemaking, fashion and food, cameos by favorite actresses and characters from my earlier books, and above all Rome, my favorite city in the world. I hope that my novel gives you the entertainment and inspiration that nourished me throughout its writing.

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Gratefully yours,
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AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner

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