Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 4, 2020

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

From My Shelf

A Lifelong Companion

Lately, I have been returning to the books that give me comfort. There are many, but one has remained a lifelong companion: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry (Everyman's Library, $18).

I remember at age seven, lying on the floor of the living room in our small Cape Cod-style home in Dearborn, Mich. When the narrator spoke of using a colored pencil, I took out a pencil, too, and drew around the "masterpiece" on the opening page. I loved that, where adults saw a hat, I could see the elephant inside the boa constrictor. (I still have that original book with my pencil marks.)

Later, other passages stood out to me. I chose for my college yearbook quote the passage where the fox that the Little Prince tamed speaks to the hero of the rose he left behind on his planet (from Katherine Woods's translation): "Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world... It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

In the new Everyman's Library edition, Richard Howard's translation from the French reads like poetry in its spareness and clarity and offers fans the chance to experience the text anew. He preserves the beauty of a child's view in the Little Prince's descriptions of his experiences and describes the enormity of that first true attachment: "You'll understand why yours is the only rose in all the world."

Decades later, when my mother died quite young of pancreatic cancer, her best friend gave me her hardcover copy of The Little Prince, which my mother had inscribed to her friend: "Barb, I just re-read this absolutely marvelous book--I want you to enjoy it too."

--Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Patti Smith's First Poetry Reading

"Hear Patti Smith's first poetry reading, accompanied by her longtime guitarist Lenny Kaye (St. Mark's Church, 1971)," Open Culture suggested.


"Can you pick which person doesn't belong in these literary families?" Mental Floss challenged.


Words Without Borders explored "36 metaphors for translation."


"On streets and subways in South Korea, poetry hides in plain sight," Atlas Obscura reported.


Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti chose her top 10 books about space travel for the Guardian.

We Are Not Free

by Traci Chee

In a mesmerizing genre-switch, YA author Traci Chee moves from the fantasy worldbuilding of her acclaimed The Reader trilogy (The Reader; The Speaker; The Storyteller) to World War II historical fiction, with unforgettable results, in We Are Not Free. As a fourth-generation Japanese American, Chee gets personal, affectingly infusing her own family's stories into the experiences of a tight-knit group of Japanese American youth who grew up together in San Francisco's Japantown. Chee gives distinct voices to the 14 friends through a precisely structured novel told in 16 compelling interlinked stories that follow the teens through their incarceration in internment camps to the scattered restart of their postwar lives three years later.

Following the December 7, 1941, bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942, which led to the forced removal and imprisonment of more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry--the majority of whom were U.S. citizens. Uprooted from their homes, mostly from the Pacific Coast states, and expelled from their communities, Japanese Americans were sent without cause to prison camps scattered throughout the western and midwestern states for the duration of WWII and, in some cases, for months past war's end.

We Are Not Free opens and closes with the book's youngest narrator, 14-year-old Minnow, a contemplative observer who records his surroundings in detailed drawings, as all that was once familiar implodes rapidly and irreparably around him. His middle brother, Shig, reluctantly prepares for their inevitable expulsion from home as he bears witness to entire households desperately up for sale while "bargain hunters descend... offering ten cents to every dollar's worth of stuff."

Shig's 16-year-old girlfriend, Yum-yum, describes the journey to the Tanforan Racetrack, transformed into a temporary detention center in San Bruno, and her family's months-long incarceration in filthy horse stables. They will remain fatherless throughout the war, since the FBI took him to parts unknown just after the bombing for being "a businessman with contacts in Japan." By September 1942, more permanent assignments are announced, sending many of the teens and their families to Topaz, Utah. Hiromi-now-Bette narrates, introducing herself at camp with her middle name, because--ironically--"Bette is so much more appropriate for a modern American girl like me." The details of everyday camp life include making homes in barracks, surviving food poisoning and supply shortages, negotiating parental relationships, planning dances, navigating romances and more. All are revealed by angry Frankie, whose father was a U.S. WWI veteran; Stan, who dreams of going to college; Aiko, who begins to assert her independence from her stifling parents; and Yuki, whose softball prowess gives--then snatches away--a brief moment of freedom.

As the politics of war invade the camp, families become divided over the so-called loyalty questionnaire's problematic Question 27, "Are you willing to serve in the armed forces of the United States on combat duty, wherever ordered?," and Question 28, "Will you swear unqualified allegiance to the United States of America and faithfully defend the United States from any or all attack by foreign and domestic forces, and forswear any form of allegiance or obedience to the Japanese Emperor, or any other foreign government, power, or organization?" Allowed to answer only "yes/yes" or "no/no," the incarcerees become further trapped in an impossible situation: a demand to risk lives (especially of young adult sons) while families remain imprisoned, or become completely stateless.

Stan's and Kiyoshi's families disclaim loyalty, causing their removal to Tule Lake. Minnow's oldest brother, Mas, and their friend Twitchy ship out to the European front in the segregated all-Japanese American 442nd Regimental Combat Team, which became the most decorated military unit of its size in U.S. history. Keiko gives voice to what happens at home as still-incarcerated families await news of their loved ones. When tragedy strikes, "all of us"--the survivors, anyway--must figure out ways of "knitting together in the places where we were broken... finding each other in the darkness... holding fast" and, once more, beginning to "breathe at last."

Chee's effortless amalgamation of history and fiction becomes spectacular storytelling that is both illuminating and immersive. "This history is my history," she explains in an author's note, specifically acknowledging the Nisei (second-generation) relatives she interviewed, including her great-aunt whose "I am not free" mantra while incarcerated at Tanforan gave Chee her title. Although "these fourteen perspectives are a mere fraction of what this generation went through," Chee manages to create a remarkably streamlined narrative, weaving together perspectives, reactions, reports and geographies. Chee makes the highly effective literary decision to forgo translating most of the Japanese words her characters insert into casual conversation, asking readers to find understanding through inference rather than interruption. (She even leaves untouched the Japanese hiragana script used in a letter from one teen friend to two others.) In electing not to translate, Chee minimizes the foreignness, instead emphasizing the fluid hybridity of her second-generation characters. This decision brilliantly displays how very ordinary the teens--and their dual identities--are.

Prefacing almost every chapter with a stark visual, including Minnow's notebook sketches (drawn by artist Julia Kuo), newspaper articles, official government announcements, black-and-white photographs, postcards and telegrams, Chee provides a wealth of edifying context to her already exceptional text. Exquisitely rendered, Chee presents what should prove to be a significantly honored addition to American historical fiction. --Terry Hong

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Books for Young Readers, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9780358131434

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

Traci Chee: The Magic of Reality

(photo: Topher Simon)

Traci Cheeis the author of The Reader Trilogy and the novel We Are Not Free, coming from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on September 1. She studied literature and creative writing at UC Santa Cruz and earned a Master of Arts degree from San Francisco State University. Chee spoke to Shelf Awareness about changing literary gears, sharing family stories and the intricacies of avoiding over-explaining.

Transitioning from worldbuilding fantasy to personally inspired historical fiction seems like quite the leap. Was it?

I've written speculative fiction for as long as I've been writing. For years, every story I wrote, even the ones I tried to make realistic, had a touch of the fantastical to it. Because my family was part of the Japanese American incarcerations of World War II, I've wanted to write a story about it for years and, at one point, I even thought I might inject a little fantasy into it--because what kind of a writer was I if I wasn't writing magic?--but all of that changed the deeper I delved into my research. The more books I read, the more museums I visited, the more relatives I interviewed, the more I realized that the magic was already there in the details and in the lived experiences of the incarcerees. I stumbled upon so many facts and anecdotes that I could never have made up, and that's what I've found so enchanting about writing historical fiction. That these things really happened, to real people.

When and how did you choose to explore their history through fiction?

I first learned about the incarceration when I was 12. My grandfather, who was 16 when he and his family were evicted from their apartment in San Francisco, was being awarded an honorary diploma from the San Francisco Unified School District, from which he would have graduated if not for the war and the incarceration. Although he was, I think, pretty honored to get it, he was also quoted in the newspaper as saying, "Where were the bleeding hearts in 1942?" I wasn't familiar with the term "bleeding hearts," but I could recognize that hard edge of bitterness and anger to his words.

When I started pursuing publication seriously, I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to write about what had happened to my family. The problem was that I didn't know how. How could I hope to capture not only the anger and the bitterness but also the joy, the sorrow, the resentment, the sense of betrayal that so many of these Japanese American kids felt when the only country they'd ever called home stripped them of their civil rights and locked them up behind barbed wire? It just didn't seem possible to do that with a single story.

How did you decide the ideal narrative structure was 14 points of view?

[Rather than a] single story from a single point-of-view, I could tell these stories from the perspective of a group of people, like my grandparents and their friends, who grew up together in Japantown and were forced through this experience of war and incarceration, which changed them, scattered them across the country and also brought them closer together. It had to be a novel-in-stories: one chapter for each character, united by their love for one another.

How much of your family's actual history is contained in these pages?

I like to say that We Are Not Free is "loosely inspired" by my family's experiences, and that's because their stories have been transformed by fiction. I don't think you can point to a character and say that it's my grandmother or my grandfather, but I've given some of them my family stories. There's a character, Bette, who wears a blonde wig throughout the first few chapters of the book, and that wig comes from a story about my grandmother, who was enrolled in beauty school after the war. She came home one day wearing this blonde wig, and her father (my great-grandpa) was so upset, thinking she'd dyed her hair, that he started screaming at her. She just stood there, grinning, while he got madder, until finally she ripped off the wig, wagging it in his face and laughing. It's little moments like that where I've woven in family anecdotes, hopefully honoring those stories and the relatives who lived them.

What made you decide to write this book now?

I started interviewing relatives back in 2016, before the presidential election, but in the months that followed, news came out about the Muslim ban, immigrant detention centers and children being separated from their parents at the border. More and more, this history of injustice and persecution was alive and well in the 21st century. We need to remember we have committed heinous acts in the name of national security before, and they are not ones we should repeat. I think inspiration is often like that--a surprising confluence of events all coming together in urgency and spilling over into creativity.

You didn't translate most of the Japanese words. You also never used the catchphrase shikata ga nai ("it can't be helped"), prevalent in most Japanese American imprisonment narratives. What was your thinking behind that?

I love this question! Having never written historical (or contemporary, for that matter) before, negotiating these lines of "how much to explain" and "how much is over-explaining" was totally new for me. It came down to audience: Who is this book for? It's for my family. It's for my Japanese American community. It's for the larger Asian American community of which we are a part, because what happened to us in the 1940s and how we dealt with it influenced so much of what came after for other Asian American communities. And it's for American readers at large, many of whom have only heard of the mass incarceration as a passing reference in one of their high school textbooks, if at all.

In the broadest sense, I hope that context will carry the meaning for readers who don't speak Japanese or who are unfamiliar with certain customs or foods. You don't need to know exactly what takuan is, for example, to know that when the characters are pickling foods during rationing and food shortages, they're gearing up for further shortages to come. But if you know what takuan is, if you've eaten it over rice or opened up your fridge to that particular sweet-vinegar smell, then I hope it provides an added layer of specialness and meaning to the story.

As for shikata ga nai, omitting it was a deliberate choice. I suspect that for a lot of people, when the mass incarceration is brought up, it conjures this stereotypical idea of "noble Japanese suffering," right? Shikata ga nai--it can't be helped. A lot of existing narratives lean into this idea, and that's important, because it's certainly one type of experience that people had. But since that story had been told before, and told often, I wanted to explore some of the other experiences that Japanese Americans, particularly nisei teenagers, had. I wanted to delve into their anger, their sadness, their acts of resistance, whether that be in activism or in joy. So I chose to tell other stories, hopefully that will supplement and engage with the ones we already have. --Terry Hong

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Rediscover: Randall Kenan

Randall Kenan, "the unapologetically Black, gay Southerner who used all his identities to tell the stories only he could tell," died August 28 at age 57, the News & Observer reported. Kenan's first novel, A Visitation of Spirits, was published in 1989, followed by a 1992 short story collection, Let the Dead Bury Their Dead, which was nominated for the Los Angeles Times Book Award for Fiction, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and was one of the New York Times Notable Books of the year. His other work included nonfiction books--a YA biography of James Baldwin; Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century; and The Fire This Time.

Kenan won a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, the John Dos Passos Prize and the 1997 Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He received the North Carolina Award for Literature in 2005 and was made a Fellow of the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2007. He was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in 2018. Kenan's most recent short story collection, If I Had Two Wings, was published a month ago by Norton ($25.95).

Book Review


Red Pill

by Hari Kunzru

What appears to be an average midlife crisis for an agitated midcareer male writer tumbles headlong toward existential apocalypse in Hari Kunzru's engrossing, mind-bending sixth novel, Red Pill. From the outset, the narrator is sleepless and skeptical of the high-minded Deuter Center in Wannsee, Germany, where he has taken up a fellowship in both an effort to find himself and produce a book about the Self. His desire for privacy, however, conflicts with the establishment's utopian ideals of openness. So, instead of working under scrutiny in the glass-walled workroom with the other fellows, he hides away in his room, where he videocalls his wife and daughter back in New York, eats Chinese takeout and binges the police drama Blue Lives.

Kunzru (White Tears) takes his time to establish the true stakes of this novel, which emerge organically from a scatterplot of dilemmas about privacy and openness, surveillance and security, paranoia and gaslighting, collective good and individual glory. But it all snaps into an anxious overdrive when the narrator enters an unlikely but ruthless showdown of ideas with Anton, the dapper American creator of Blue Lives, whose subliminal messaging may be trying to summon a brutal future world. "You know what the best part is?" Anton laughs after performing an esoteric Nazi salute. "I'm going to be living rent free in your head from now on."

Amid the rising tide of nationalist politics worldwide, Kunzru has intrepidly traversed the festering neofascist underbelly of the Internet Age so readers don't have to. Red Pill is a virtuosic portrait of the moment. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In a paranoid philosophical showdown, with real-world stakes, a writer in midlife crisis grapples with a neo-Nazi embedding esoteric messaging in a popular television drama.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780451493712

The Exiles

by Christina Baker Kline

A time period and perspective not often explored is laid bare in The Exiles, poignant historical fiction by Christina Baker Kline (Orphan Train). When the British were colonizing Australia, the women sent to the then-penal colony had often committed no crime greater than being from a lower class and in the wrong place at the wrong time. When Evangeline, a governess, becomes pregnant by a member of her employer's family, she is betrayed and forced onto the next prison ship. She is joined by, among others, Hazel, a young woman with healing knowledge whose crime was stealing a spoon to sell in order to buy food. Another woman, Olive, explains:

"England used to send its dregs to America, but after the rebellion they had to find a new rubbish dump. Australia it was. Before they knew it there was nine men for every woman. Nine! Ye can't found a settlement with only men, can ye? Nobody thought that through. So they came up with arse-backward excuses to send us over there."

What follows is an unflinching narrative illustrating the brutality of British colonization, both through the harsh realities of the mistreated British women and through the heartbreaking stories of the Aboriginal Lost Generation as told by Mathinna, a young Aboriginal girl who is forced to be essentially a pet to the colony's governor and his wife. A loose kinship between Hazel and Mathinna forms as they are enslaved in the governor's household, wrestling with questions about how to survive, what kind of prisoner to become, what kind of violations to allow and, worst of all, what kind of violations to perpetrate. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co.

Discover: In 19th-century Australia, the lives of three women--two British prisoners, one Aboriginal girl--converge as they struggle to survive the atrocities of British colonization.

Custom House, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780062356345

The Dazzling Truth

by Helen Cullen

Maeve is the heart of the Moone family, her husband Murtagh's queen, in their thatched stone cottage on Ireland's rocky island of Inis Óg. But in the first pages of The Dazzling Truth, Helen Cullen's moving second novel (after The Lost Letters of William Woolf), Maeve drowns in the frigid Atlantic, her pockets full of stones.

This tragedy happens on Christmas Eve, 2005. Then, Cullen backs up to 1978 to follow the Moone family through 2015. Knowing the sad ending doesn't spoil the delight of Maeve and Murtagh's courtship as students in Dublin, or their joy in their four children. Murtagh's pottery business thrives, and Maeve re-directs her acting talents. But recurrences of her lifelong burden are frequent, and "when the crow came to sit on her shoulder," she was "untethered"; when Murtagh proposes, she replies ominously, "Do you really think you can handle spending the rest of my life with me?"

After Maeve's suicide, Murtagh's "grief was louder in his ears than the waves," but Cullen's story then belongs to the children, and their distinctive paths create four new tales. As a family friend tells Murtagh's daughter Sive, pursuing a career as a glam-punk musician, "You are the best of her," an "impeccable cocktail" of her parents' genes. A decade of sorrow and angst divides the family, but a surprise plot twist leads to a joyous Christmas Eve 2015, and a memory of Maeve's motto, "You never have to lose anyone, or anything, if you just change the way you look at them." --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: An Irish novel moves from a family's joy to tragedy and back in this poignant yet hopeful novel spanning the late 1970s to 2015.

Graydon House, $17.99, paperback, 336p., 9781525815829

Mystery & Thriller

Winter Counts

by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

David Heska Wanbli Weiden's first novel, Winter Counts, is a gripping story of crime investigation set on the Lakota Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. Virgil Wounded Horse is cynical. He can't imagine not living on the rez, but he's more than skeptical of Indian spirituality and ritual, and doesn't feel very connected to his people; his memories of being bullied in school are too fresh. Now that both his parents and his sister are dead, he doesn't have much family to feel loyal to--but he is devoted to his orphaned nephew, Nathan, now a teenager who shares his home.

Virgil makes his living as a private enforcer. Tribal police have very limited powers, and the feds don't bother with much on the reservation short of murder, so the Lakota often resort to hiring someone like Virgil to deliver vigilante justice. It's not necessarily work to take pride in, though, especially in the eyes of his ex-girlfriend's politically powerful family. So Virgil is surprised when her father, a tribal council member, asks for his help. And he's even more surprised when the case brings Marie back into his life.

Action and suspense are special strengths in this novel, and Weiden, himself a member of the Lakota nation, brings valuable perspective to the lives and experiences of his characters. At the heart of Winter Counts is a fight for the future of Rosebud Reservation and the lives of Virgil, Nathan, Marie and many more for whom this place is home. Tightly paced, compelling, realistic and deeply felt, Weiden's debut offers a fresh take on the crime thriller. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: In this compelling thriller set on South Dakota's Rosebud Indian Reservation, local enforcer Virgil Wounded Horse is faced with a challenging and personal case.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 336p., 9780062968944

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Night of the Mannequins

by Stephen Graham Jones

Stephen Graham Jones (The Only Good Indians) packs bloody surprises and dark laughter into every page of Night of the Mannequins. Sawyer, the narrator, begins, "So Shanna got a new job at the movie theater, we thought we'd play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead, and I'm really starting to feel kind of guilty about it all." And from his captivating perspective, readers are launched into this brief but action-packed work of comedic horror. The prank in question goes awry and suddenly, there's a monster on the loose, or perhaps a psychopath. Or could it be both? New twists come with every chapter, and readers will delight more than once in the realization that they might be reading a different story from the one they thought was unfolding.

Sawyer makes for the most honest of unreliable narrators; his point of view is unvarnished, so far as it reflects his understanding. The accuracy of that understanding, however, and his judgment based upon it, is up for debate to say the least. Combine the horrors from the prank that lead to most of the group in question being dead with an undercurrent of anxiety about leaving childhood behind for adolescence (and the specter of college in the future--if one can survive that long) and the resulting voice is wry and engaging to the end. This book will take readers unexpected places; all one can do is trust Jones and enjoy the ride. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: A teenage prank leads to a twisting series of horrors in this startling and wryly comedic novella.

Tor, $13.99, paperback, 144p., 9781250752079


A Room Called Earth

by Madeleine Ryan

Madeleine Ryan's debut deserves comparison with Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway. As in Woolf's classic, A Room Called Earth takes place over one day and opens with a memorable protagonist preparing for a party.

Writing in a stream-of-consciousness style, Ryan reveals an unnamed Australian narrator who views the world through a quirky, insightful lens: "I want my life, and everything inside of it, to be absolutely mine. I don't want to be indebted to a laboratory, or to a plant, or to a guru, or to a doctor, or to some guy who cooks in his basement. I want to give myself to myself, fully." Strongly attuned to nature, she believes in crystal energy (she built an elaborate altar in her backyard), lives independently with her cat, Porkchop, and considers the deceased actor Heath Ledger to be her guardian angel. She anticipates an exciting evening of socializing and hopes "to leave people wondering, and nothing more. It's safe, it's sexy, and I want to live there forever. Mystery is my favorite accessory." Indeed, A Room Called Earth is satisfying while leaving unanswered questions.

Because Ryan identifies as an autistic woman, it is tempting to affix her narrator with similar labels or to parse A Room Called Earth for autobiographical clues. But readers who resist this temptation will discover a novel that beautifully shatters myths and stereotypes about people considered neurodiverse while celebrating their differing perspectives on life. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at

Discover: In this introspective and insightful novel set in Australia, a woman challenges societal norms and expectations of being neurodiverse and individualistic.

Penguin Books, $17, paperback, 304p., 9780143135456


Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings

by Neil Price

This majestic history of the medieval-era Scandinavian society that has broadly been called "the Vikings" is, in many ways, a reclamation of a people. For centuries, the popular conception of Viking-kind has come not from the records of the Scandinavians themselves but from accounts of other societies who encountered a people that the ninth-century Anglo-Saxon Chronicle called "seaborne pagans." Neil Price, the chair of archeology at Sweden's Uppsala University, points out that the term viking was, for the victims of these Norsemen's raids, something like pirate--a description of what some of them did, rather than who they all were. Children of Ash and Elm illuminates the brutal realities of Viking raids, of course, but its revelatory power comes from its focus on the culture that built and launched those ships, an industrial feat more impressive than the pillaging.

Price draws more deeply on material culture and archeological findings than he does on the famous Viking sagas, most of which date from centuries after the events they chronicle. He guides readers into Viking graves, privies, halls and stomachs; into their complex conception of the soul and their transactional religious practices; and sifts through the latest evidence for their variety of gender and sexual identities. Fascinating surprises abound: despite their barbaric rep, Viking men's fussy habit of hair combing reveals a zeal for personal hygiene, and men and women Vikings alike sometimes favored eye makeup. Price's stripping away of Viking cliché still leaves warriors worthy of the songs--they're just people now, too. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This fascinating history of Viking culture reveals the sea raiders as people rather than clichés.

Basic Books, $35, hardcover, 624p., 9780465096985

Nature & Environment

The Story of Gardening

by Penelope Hobhouse, Ambra Edwards

This fabulously illustrated volume starts with the ancient Sumerians and takes readers through history by way of the styles, techniques and philosophies of gardening in cultures around the world. Anyone who has spent time thinking about their garden will be fascinated both by how things have changed and by how they've stayed the same. It's no longer common to plan a garden to express references to mythology and the classics, as it was during the Renaissance, but it might be surprising to learn that even the ancients planted exotic species from faraway lands.

The Story of Gardening by garden historians Penelope Hobhouse and Ambra Edwards (The Story of the English Garden; Head Gardeners) covers the down-to-earth details of who planted what, where and how, tracing changing fashions such as the eternal back and forth between formality and naturalism. But it goes beyond mere description, connecting gardening to world politics, religion, art and architectural movements, and more. The level of detail may be more suitable for gardening and history geeks than for the casual reader, and even the former may not find everything equally enthralling--an interest in flowers doesn't necessarily correlate to a fascination with 18th-century politics. Fortunately, the format and layout make it simple to skim or skip.

Any reader will appreciate the amazing visuals, including gorgeous photography of significant gardens all over the world and art featuring plants and gardens from throughout history. The true enthusiast will enjoy digging in for both unexpected tidbits and a context that's much broader than expected. --Linda Lombardi, writer and editor

Discover: This history of gardening as part of human culture, gorgeously illustrated, describes how world politics, art and religion have influenced what gets planted and how.

Princeton Architectural Press, $60, hardcover, 512p., 9781616899196


Won't Lose This Dream: How an Upstart Urban University Rewrote the Rules of a Broken System

by Andrew Gumbel

Princeton Nelson was at a crossroads. He was born in prison, his parents convicted of dealing drugs. He attended an institution for kids with emotional and behavioral problems. He ran with gangs and carried a gun. Through it all, Princeton was a good student with natural intelligence. If it hadn't been for Georgia State, however, Princeton might have had a different end than graduating with a computer science degree and a 3.3 GPA.

When Princeton applied in 2016, Georgia State was gaining a "national reputation for its pioneering work" helping students like him--poor, Black and struggling to make it as the first in their family to attend college. "What is remarkable about Georgia State students is that despite the precariousness of many of their lives, they still graduate in extraordinary numbers." The six-year graduation rate is close to 60%, well above the national average.

Won't Lose This Dream is the remarkable story of how Georgia State revamped its system to help students on the edge flourish and succeed. "This is not just about the lives of a few unusually tenacious and talented individuals. We are talking about a fundamental transformation, a real-time experiment in social mobility that the university has learned to perform consistently, and at scale." Journalist Andrew Gumbel's well-researched account is backed up with hard statistics but remains far from tedious. Infused with background from the school's administration, particularly those who pushed for difficult change amid recession, and student success stories, it is a heartfelt and hard-won template for success. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A journalist researches how one university revamped its systems to help more lower-income and otherwise challenged students gain admission to college and succeed once there.

New Press, $27.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781620974704

Reference & Writing

The Saddest Words: William Faulkner's Civil War

by Michael Gorra

The two saddest words referred to by the title of this sweeping, multi-disciplinary study of the centrality of the Civil War in the imagination of American literature's great Southern modernist? Was and again, as identified by the doomed Quentin Compson in Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Words that, together, capture that Southern sense of the past--and its tragedies, failures and injustices--being fixed but also suffocatingly present.

Critic Michael Gorra's momentous, highly readable study, The Saddest Words, illuminates how the Civil War pulses in Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha cycle in a persistent present tense, shaping the consciousness (and cataclysms) of 20th-century characters. Faulkner rarely depicted the war directly, though the South's defeat, the brutality of Reconstruction and the triumphal myth of the "Lost Cause" defined his world. Gorra (Portrait of a Novel) fills in this lacuna by drawing on biography, Civil War history and close readings of the likes of Absalom, Absalom! and The Unvanquished to argue that Faulkner's fiction exposes deep, ugly truths about race and injustice in the antebellum and Jim Crow South. He suggests, persuasively, that Faulkner the writer saw clearly what Faulkner the citizen, a man predisposed to the prejudices and assumptions of his milieu, looked past. Gorra's book does far more than explain the references to Pickett's Charge and the battle of Vicksburg that pepper Faulkner's fiction. It offers a clarifying lens for understanding the books, the history, the man and the nation, and the failings of each, while challenging readers to resist the temptation to cancel an author who didn't always live up to his own genius. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A literary critic makes a revelatory case for why it's still important to read William Faulkner.

Liveright, $29.95, hardcover, 448p., 9781631491702

Children's & Young Adult

The Mountains of Mumbai

by Labanya Ghosh, illus. by Pallavi Jain

"I like Mumbai, Veda, but I really miss the mountains of my Ladakh." Upon hearing Doma's words--the opening salvo of Labanya Ghosh's enchanting The Mountains of Mumbai--young Veda sets out to expand her friend's definition of what a "mountain" can be.

As Veda shows Doma around the coastal city of Mumbai--they pass a house of worship, an open-air market--she posits that a mountain can be "any shape" and "doesn't have to be only a big, brown triangle." Doma isn't an easy sell: "When you climb this colorful, funny-shaped mountain, will the breeze blow cooler? Will your cheeks turn red? Will your heart beat as loud as the drums at the Hemis Tsechu festival? And will you be able to see the whole world?" Undeterred, Veda leads Doma into a tall building and up to its mountaintop-like roof, where Doma, overlooking the city aglow at dusk, gets her longed-for cool breeze, red cheeks and loudly beating heart.

The Mountains of Mumbai contains some clichéd writing (an eye has a twinkle, someone sighs in yearning), but there's unremitting originality in Pallavi Jain's supersaturated watercolors, which the Mumbai tourism bureau would be wise to license. At times the cityscape recalls a cubist painting; an aerial view of a main drag reveals the eye-pleasing particularity of each rooftop below. While Jain's Mumbai won't be mistaken for any other city, Ghosh's message--that an open mind can conjure a world of possibilities--should resonate with readers wherever they happen to be. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: When young Doma, who is visiting Mumbai, says that she misses the loveliness of the mountains of Ladakh, Veda sets out to open her friend's mind to the city's comparable beauty.

Karadi Tales, $15.95, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-6, 9788193654293

Your Place in the Universe

by Jason Chin

Starting with a frame of reference young readers can grasp easily, Sibert and Caldecott Honoree Jason Chin (Nine Months: Before a Baby Is Born) explains, "Ostriches are the tallest birds in the world, and may grow to be 9 feet tall. That's taller than two eight-year-olds standing on each other's shoulders, but it's less than half as tall as.../ this giraffe." From these avian/mammal comparisons, Chin takes his pint-sized audience on a wondrous exploration of the far reaches of space, sparking their curiosity in measurement, perspective, astronomy and more.

Your Place in the Universe travels up over the California redwoods and Mount Everest, into space and then the orbit of the moon. Chin soars through the solar system, the galaxy and beyond, illustrating in breathless awe the enormity of these phenomena: "Huge chains of galaxies, millions of light-years long, are strung throughout space," creating the "cosmic web." Each step of the odyssey is supplemented with helpful facts, definitions and, of course, fastidiously detailed gouache, watercolor and digital illustrations. Chin reinforces the grand size and distance through arresting, realistic imagery, constructed in precise scale.  

In the book's back matter, Chin provides fun and fascinating facts, sources and websites, as well as additional illustrations that build on the book's content. Your Place in the Universe transforms the astronomical into the comprehendible in a breathtaking expedition that readers of all ages should enjoy. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: Through gradually building comparisons, an award-winning author and illustrator brings the universe into a perspective young readers can appreciate and understand.

Neal Porter Books, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780823446230


by Mike Curato

Cleverly inked and masterfully told, Flamer by Mike Curato is a life-affirming story about finding the power within.

It's the summer of 1995. Fourteen-year-old Aiden Navarro is at boy scout camp, dreading the start of public high school. He fears he'll be bullied for being Filipino, fat and gay, as he was in Catholic school. He's been told to "man up," that his voice is effeminate. He's called a drama queen, a "Chinese faggot," "not normal." Yet, despite his confusing feelings for Elias, a fellow troop member, Aiden tells himself he isn't gay: "It's a sin. Gay people do bad things. And I'm not a bad person." Aiden bonds with Elias, with whom being himself seems possible. But when Elias rebuffs his advance, Aiden thinks everything is crashing down around him. Feeling lost, alone and unsafe, he struggles to see a way forward.

By carefully weaving in Aiden's religiosity and the intolerance within the scouting community, Curato reveals how dangerous internalized homophobia is. Aiden, who hopes altar serving will earn him extra credit (with God, of course), dreams he's going to hell. Yet it's with the scouts that Aiden begins expressing himself--sashaying "Valley Girl style" around a campfire or asking to create a female Dungeons & Dragons character. Curato (Little Elliot, Big City) illustrates Aiden's inextinguishable personality by depicting him with long eyelashes and flowing hair in scenes that otherwise reflect reality, thereby outwardly representing his nonconforming spirit. Drawing primarily in black and white, Curato reserves color for emotionally heated scenes, using flickering flames as a poignant metaphor as Aiden works to understand his inner fire. Both heartbreaking and joyous, Flamer acknowledges the brutal weight of hatred, yet inspires the courage to live. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: A teen boy scout works to reconcile his religious and gay identities in this encouraging graphic novel about finding comfort among friends and in one's self.

Holt, $25.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9781627796415


Author Buzz

Every Time We Say Goodbye

by Natalie Jenner

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.

Email with the subject line "Every Time Was Say Goodbye Sweeps" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Gratefully yours,
Natalie Jenner

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

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

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
May 14, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Happily Ever Maybe
(A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella)

by Carrie Ann Ryan

Dear Reader,

What happens in a bodyguard romance when both characters are a bodyguard?

All the heat and action!

I love writing workplace romances because things get tricky. And when a one night stand ends up burning up the pages, things get... explosive.

Gus and Jennifer are fiery, kick-butt characters that made me so happy to write.

I hope you love them!

Carrie Ann Ryan

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Happily Ever Maybe (A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella) by Carrie Ann Ryan

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
February 13, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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