We review an array of memorable nonfiction titles this week: "In one emotionally resonant section after another," Kate Zambreno chronicles her struggles in The Light Room; Jennifer Ackerman offers up a "thoroughly researched, eloquent examination of a bird that has fascinated people throughout history" in What an Owl Knows; Naomi J. Grevemberg's Living the Vanlife "will undoubtedly appeal to anyone considering opting out of the traditional work-life model"; and Jennifer N.R. Smith illuminates the fascinating mysteries of light-up life forms in the visually stunning picture book Glow: The Wild Wonders of Bioluminescence. Plus so much more!
Our Summer Page-Turners feature offers up refreshing options, from humor to romance to mystery/thrillers!
Forgiving Imelda Marcos
by Nathan Go
"What does it mean to forgive somebody?" the protagonist of Nathan Go's immersive debut novel, Forgiving Imelda Marcos, asks halfway through a series of seemingly confessional letters he's writing to his estranged son. Forgiveness--and its longed-for companion, redemption--haunts Go's meditative narrative, which brilliantly reimagines complicated history through the intimate single lens of a lonely, dying man.
Angelito Macaraeg's kidneys are failing, but he's hopeful that the story he insists on sharing now might be a final gift to his American journalist son, who could "package it off in some newspaper or shiny magazine with your name on the cover." For 36 years, Lito was employed by the Aquino family, most notably as Corazon Aquino's personal driver. A year before her death, she convinced him to ferry her from Manila to Baguio City to meet "an old acquaintance"; the novel's title, of course, provides the identifying clue to their destination. Lito's recollection of what happened on the six-hour drive becomes the perfect framework from which to also interweave his own personal journey--his mother's murder, his father's misguided choices, his education, his silence, his absence--to the son he hasn't seen in decades.
Go, a Filipino native with an Iowa Writers' Workshop degree, is a deftly assured, culturally fluent storyteller. He introduces a hesitant Lito, earnest--even desperate--to be understood. Lito may call himself "a poor, bumbling, bald high school dropout," but such deprecation quickly gives way to reveal astute awareness. Rife with aching pathos, Go's novel presents an intricate exploration of the very nature of human (dis)connections, from the most powerful to the overlooked everyman. --Terry Hong, BookDragon
by Mai Nguyen
Mai Nguyen's wickedly funny debut novel, Sunshine Nails, paints a layered, colorful portrait of a Vietnamese immigrant family working to save the titular nail salon--and their own relationships--from destruction when a flashy new competitor moves in.
Former refugees Debbie and Phil Tran have spent their adult lives working hard to keep their Toronto nail salon afloat. It's far from fancy, but between their devoted regulars and their efforts to keep costs down, they've managed to balance the books. Then right after their daughter, Jessica, moves back home from Los Angeles (smarting from a double-whammy setback in romance and career), a hip salon chain, Take Ten, sets up a location right across the street. Soon after, the Trans' landlord hits them with a big rent increase. Debbie and Phil do their best to fight the interlopers with the help of Jessica; their son, Dustin, who is wrestling with disillusionment about his job at Moodstr, a local start-up; and their niece, Thuy, who lives with them and works at the salon. But as they battle Take Ten's ruthless head of global expansion, Savannah, and her sleek publicity machine, the Trans start to wonder: Is it possible, or worthwhile, to destroy this new opponent? Or will the fight tear their family apart from the inside?
Nguyen's narrative focuses in turn on each of the five Trans, giving readers a window into each character's struggles. This sharp, witty, and warmhearted debut tackles gentrification, small business ownership, prejudice in the workplace, and--most importantly--the depth of familial ties, and the power of a good manicure. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Pete and Alice in Maine
by Caitlin Shetterly
The "fish out of water" story has a reliably entertaining subcategory: the story about city folks who must survive without their creature comforts. With her first novel, Pete and Alice in Maine, Caitlin Shetterly finds the humor in her transplanted New Yorkers' disorientation and gracefully weaves such moments into another classic story line: a marriage is in trouble.
It's the early days of Covid, and Alice, an at-home mom who has let her writerly aspirations languish, and Pete, her finance-guy husband, decide to leave Manhattan with their two daughters for their second home in Maine. ("Our privilege is clear, almost criminal," Alice admits.) Alice has a reason for fleeing the city with her family beyond a desire to elude the virus: in New York is the woman with whom Pete has been having an affair.
Shetterly (Made for You and Me) occasionally hands the narrative reins to Pete or one of the kids, but this is the plucky, if coddled, Alice's story. Her chapters read almost like journal entries in which she recounts her days in Maine, rehashes memories of happier (and unhappier) times with Pete, and ruminates over what's become of her life. "This isn't a Stephen King novel," Pete reminds Alice, who's frightened by the locals' vocal concern that she and her family have brought the virus with them. But like a Stephen King novel, Pete and Alice in Maine pays homage to the visual splendor of the Pine Tree State and its proud, distinctively accented citizens. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
by Alex Hay
In English writer Alex Hay's glittering debut novel, The Housekeepers, a band of disgruntled employees and their criminal cronies seek revenge via a heist on a London mansion in 1905. When Dinah King is dismissed from her position at the de Vries' grand home on Park Lane, she immediately concocts a plan. Three weeks from now, Miss de Vries plans to host a costume ball she hopes will coincide with her engagement to Lord Ashley. With the help of two black-market mavens--pawnshop owner Mrs. Bone and Winnie Smith, Mrs. King's predecessor as housekeeper--along with a bevy of faux maids, actresses, and crooked cops, Mrs. King intends to clear the house of its opulent contents, sell them, and live off of the profits.
The countdown to the ball sets a rollicking pace. Hay gradually unfolds the various players' motivations to create an intriguing backstory. Wilhelm de Vries, who died just two months ago, was faking a posh background and, in fact, Mrs. King believes she has a legitimate claim to his riches. Others want vengeance for the abuses that went on under his roof. The ball is a showy affair that Hay describes with panache. The entertainment and the burglary alike involve circus-level feats of disguise and agility. Hired actresses add a veneer of nobility that distracts from the large-scale theft. Some characters, like Alice the seamstress, bridge the upstairs-downstairs divide. The ensemble cast is a delight of this delicious, Downton Abbey-like tale of the reversal of fortunes. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck
The Happiness Plan
by Susan Mallery
For anyone who enjoys summery novels by Elin Hilderbrand or Sarah Morgan, Susan Mallery's The Happiness Plan is sure to be a big hit. Mallery (Sisters by Choice; Daughters of the Bride; Three Sisters) deftly spins the tale of three friends--and the three brothers they fall for. Heather, who grew up with a bitter, manipulative mother, is proud to have built her own marketing agency and happy to get to work with Tori, one of her best friends. The fact that her ex is moving on bothers Heather, even though she is the one who broke things off. Tori finds herself falling for her doctor neighbor, whose two brothers are Heather's ex and the husband of their friend Daphne. Daphne, a high-powered lawyer, thought her marriage was perfect--until her husband accuses her of having an affair.
The Happiness Plan, fast-paced and funny, follows the three women and the way their lives change as Heather hatches a plan, which inadvertently affects Tori and Daphne, to find more happiness in her life. With a beautiful Seattle setting and cheery vibes, The Happiness Plan is an encouraging homage to the power of female friendship: Daphne and Tori root for Heather's contentment, and all three women support each other in their careers and their relationships, which include several huge surprises. Readers who count friends as their found family are sure to appreciate the bonds between the three women and the way Mallery tells their stories. --Jessica Howard, freelance book reviewer
by Charlotte Mendelson
Ray Hanrahan, a 60-something washed-up art star, refers to Anna Karenina's famous opener--"All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way"--when he launches Charlotte Mendelson's The Exhibitionist like so: "Tolstoy was an idiot." Ray should know from idiots. His gleeful misanthropy blinds him to the glorious center of his life, who is also the center of this bitterly funny novel: Ray's brilliant, beyond-put-upon sculptor wife, Lucia.
The Exhibitionist covers a three-day stretch in 2010, during which Ray intends to make a comeback: there's Friday's celebratory inner-circle dinner at the ramshackle London home of the rambling, shambolic Hanrahan family, followed on Saturday by a show of Ray's work. It's to be "the most important weekend of my tragic life," he says.
Lucia, whose deference to her husband makes her seem like the woman whom feminism forgot, is so busy preparing for Ray's relaunch that when her gallerist phones on Friday, she doesn't take the call. Lucia managed to balance family and art-making until three years earlier when she was treated for cancer; she couldn't bring herself to work for a year. Hindering her recovery were Ray's usual confidence-eroding quips plus a fresh method of cruelty: his poorly concealed affair with his osteopath.
The Exhibitionist is keenly observed (someone is "talking to a woman with lady-novelist hair and what Ray calls menopause jewelry"), and its roving point of view yields insights from all key players, including Lucia's and Ray's three adult children, for whose shortcomings Ray unblinkingly blames Lucia. Perhaps even more than an unhappy-family novel, The Exhibitionist is a comeuppance novel to savor. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Days at the Morisaki Bookshop
by Satoshi Yagisawa, transl. by Eric Ozawa
High-brow literary fiction this is not, but Satoshi Yagisawa's Days at the Morisaki Bookshop is brimming with sweet charm, touching insight, and undeniable satisfaction. "I'm getting married," 25-year-old Takako's boyfriend tells her on a dinner date, as casually as he might have mentioned, "Hey, I found one hundred yen on the side of the road." Seeing him and his fiancée every day at work proves unbearable, prompting Takako to quit her job. When Uncle Satoru--whom Takako hasn't seen in more than a decade--offers to let her stay at the family bookshop in exchange for opening the store in the mornings, she reluctantly agrees. In hindsight, she recalls, "without a doubt, that if not for those days, the rest of my life would have been bland, monotonous, and lonely." Third-generation bookseller Uncle Satoru of Tokyo's book district is "so unconventional that he was hard to figure out," but he's got plenty to share, on and off the page, with his listless niece.
Originally published in Japan in 2010 and adapted into a film the same year, Yagisawa's comforting, quotidian international bestseller arrives in a welcome translation by Eric Ozawa; perhaps ironically, Ozawa is a New York University professor who's also a Granta-level literary author. Here, Yagisawa's effortless, unembellished prose ensures a leisurely read, although not without the occasional, realistic reminders of entrenched sexism, privileged posturing, and mental health challenges. With Bookshop in the title, Yagisawa has, of course, written a love letter to the lifesaving power of literature. A sequel was published in 2011, which gives hope to Anglophone audiences that it, too, might travel Stateside in the near future. --Terry Hong, BookDragon
The Sunset Crowd
by Karin Tanabe
Historical fiction novelist Karin Tanabe (A Woman of Intelligence; The Diplomat's Daughter) creates a mesmerizing background for The Sunset Crowd in the glamourous world of 1970s Hollywood. Beatrice Dupont escapes to Hollywood to pursue her photography career; there, she meets Evra Scott, owner of the coolest clothing store in L.A.: "Sunset was like the sixties and seventies had met the twenties and thirties at a cocktail party, shook hands, clinked glasses, and declared that they were getting along famously and dear god, why hadn't they met before?" Mysteriously refusing to follow in her parents' footsteps in the film industry, Evra instead relishes in the world of Sunset. Bea meets Evra and her boyfriend, Kai de la Faire, at one of her famous Sunset parties. According to Rolling Stone, their new posse quickly becomes "The Only People You Need to Know in LA." But when Theodora Leigh, in cowboy boots and star-shaped glasses, walks into Sunset, her mysterious background and relentless ambition add a layer of mystery to the world of the "Sun Set."
Amid the entertainment of lavish parties, dazzling movie premieres, and trips to Cannes, Tanabe creates characters who resist the limitations Hollywood assigns to gender and ethnic stereotypes. However, while discovering how far their dreams can take them, they also discover how far is too far to reach them. The Sunset Crowd, with its questionable motives, obscured pasts, and struggles for survival, is a brilliant portrait of 1970s glitz, glamour, and deceit. --Clara Newton, freelance reviewer
The Last Dance
by Mark Billingham
The Last Dance by British author Mark Billingham (Rabbit Hole; Their Little Secret; Bloodline) marks the launch of an intriguing series that melds humor with a hard-edged police procedural--and that also explores grief's vagaries. Billingham, best known for his 18 novels about detective Tom Thorne, brings a fresh approach to crime detection and character development with detective sergeant Declan Miller. Long an anomaly in the Lancashire, England, police department, Declan is an insightful but unorthodox detective, prone to inappropriate humor, bad jokes, and generally antagonizing his superiors and colleagues. Co-workers aren't sure how to respond when Declan insists on returning to work just six weeks after his much-loved wife, Alex, also a detective, was murdered on the job. Consumed by grief though still cracking poor jokes, Declan and his new, much-younger partner, detective sergeant Sara Xiu, investigate the murders of an IT consultant and the heir to a crime family. They were killed in adjacent hotel rooms yet don't seem to have known each other. The detectives' investigation taps into Declan's sources--a young homeless woman, a criminal, and a group of ballroom dancing friends he and Alex had acquired as part of their favorite pastime.
Billingham's brisk plotting and in-depth character studies elevate The Last Dance. Declan's grief over his wife is palpable, and he uses humor as his way to manage his emotions. His frequent talks with Alex's ghost are heart-wrenchingly believable. Scenes with the murdered men's wives add to the strong plot. Declan and Sara make a formidable team, despite their differences, especially in music. Readers will be eager to welcome Declan back. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
by Bonnie Kistler
Manipulation of the legal system and the treatment of sexual assault victims provide a sturdy plot for Her, Too, Bonnie Kistler's third novel. Although Her, Too occasionally dips into melodrama, Kistler (The Cage) writes with a strong voice and excels at creating full lives for her characters.
Boston attorney Kelly McCann has a national reputation for her singular practice of defending male clients accused of sexual assault. She has never lost a case and destroys women's credibility on the stand--while defending high-profile men who are probably guilty. Her latest triumph results in an innocent verdict for George Benedict, a prominent research scientist who may have discovered a cure for Alzheimer's. But, later, Kelly is raped by her client. She believes she cannot go to the police, as news of the crime would demolish her reputation and career. Wanting to destroy George, Kelly approaches his other three victims, who don't believe her intentions and blame her for further humiliating them. Eventually, the women agree to help ruin George, but their complicated plans go fatally awry.
Readers' first inclination might be to despise Kelly's ruthlessness and cold-heartedness toward female victims. But Kistler depicts why Kelly takes these cases that promise a lucrative payoff: her husband has been in a coma for 10 years, so those big checks pay for a full-time home care giver, her two children's nanny, and her law staff. Kelly also confronts her own "bottomless hunger for victory." Kistler persuasively shows that victims of sexual abuse still face pushback, despite the #MeToo movement. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Will They or Won't They
by Ava Wilder
Ava Wilder (How to Fake It in Hollywood) gives a new meaning to the age-old question "Will they or won't they?" In her novel of the same name, Lilah Hunter and Shane McCarthy think that their instant chemistry at the final audition for a new TV show will give them the advantage they need to book the job. However, Lilah, an aspiring actress, and Shane, a waiter at a local restaurant, have no idea what Intangible, a paranormal romance between a ghost and a psychic, will mean for their careers--and their lives.
Following the initial success of Intangible, Lilah leaves the show after season five, never expecting to return for the show's final season, but "No matter how the two of them felt about each other when the cameras were off, it was the chemistry between their characters, Kate and Harrison, that made the show worth watching. She knew it. He knew it. The whole fucking world knew it." Their reunion forces Lilah and Shane to confront their past, including their steamy and implosive fling after season one that turned their once lustful attraction to each other into frigid disgust. Their playfully combative banter and lively dialogue drips with sexual tension, creating a glimmer of hope for the old spark's reignition.
Will They or Won't They creatively evokes the nuance of on-screen and off-screen Hollywood romance. Wilder's prose captures irresistible slow-burning tension and edge-of-your-seat anticipation for Lilah and Shane's finale, exposing their behind-the-scenes struggles with crippling anxiety, high expectations, and the search for a true happy ending. --Clara Newton, freelance reviewer
Mrs. Nash's Ashes
by Sarah Adler
In Mrs. Nash's Ashes, Sarah Adler's witty and charming debut romantic comedy, a historian sets out to prove the existence of true love--alongside an MFA grad acquaintance who seems determined to do the opposite. Former child star Millie is going through a rough patch. In the past few months, she has broken up with her longtime boyfriend after an unforgiveable betrayal, been forced to move apartments twice, and lost her elderly best friend, Mrs. Nash. Rose Nash spent her final days telling Millie about her long-lost love, Elsie, and Millie is determined to bring Mrs. Nash's ashes to Key West, Fla., to find her. Unfortunately for Millie, all flights from D.C. are grounded due to a technological glitch, and she's stuck getting a ride from Hollis, a cynical writer she met through her ex, who doubts the very existence of lasting love.
With laugh-out-loud dialogue, emotional acuity, and undeniable romantic chemistry, Mrs. Nash's Ashes will do more than satisfy seasoned romance fans and newcomers alike. Adler proves herself to be an expert at crafting delightfully eccentric characters whose dynamic is recognizable and unique, comforting and fresh. The novel's road-trip structure provides Adler with ample opportunity to stretch her comedic legs, too, as Millie and Hollis encounter everything from a small-town broccoli festival to an Italian-Mexican fusion restaurant and its sombrero-wearing bear mascot. And while Mrs. Nash's Ashes has more than its fair share of laughs, flirtation, and sexual tension, it still manages also to deliver a refreshingly self-aware meditation on what it means to craft and record a true love story. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Business or Pleasure
by Rachel Lynn Solomon
An actor and his ghostwriter put in extra hours in Rachel Lynn Solomon's scorching, bighearted romance, Business or Pleasure. Chandler has worked as a professional ghostwriter since the Web journalism site she worked for closed. After a dispiriting book event for her latest client, Chandler meets a gorgeous, charming stranger and goes back to his hotel with him. Unfortunately, they have the worst sex of her life. Even worse? She finds out the next day she's going to be ghostwriting his debut memoir.
Since his fan-favorite role on the paranormal teen drama The Nocturnals, Finn hasn't landed many acting roles. Most of his work time is spent traveling to fan conventions, so he and Chandler travel the country as he shares his life story and she turns it into a book. Naturally, they also engage in some extracurricular activities in the form of sex lessons. Lord of the Rings mega-fan Finn and fledgling cozy mystery writer Chandler will make even the most jaded romance readers blush.
As usual, Solomon's characters are well-developed and relatable. Finn and Chandler are both Jewish, and their faith shapes their lives and their connection to each other to varying degrees. Solomon (Weather Girl) also treats the subjects of abortion and mental health with care and respect--Finn has obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Chandler has clinical anxiety. Business or Pleasure is a steamy love letter to fandom and creative passion, set in the form of a forced-proximity workplace romance. Fans of Book Lovers and A Merry Little Meet Cute, take note. --Suzanne Krohn, librarian and freelance reviewer
The Light Room
by Kate Zambreno
One could be forgiven for thinking the early pandemic years felt as if life was a perpetual series of boxes--from Zoom rooms to the boundaries of one's home--and it's that sense of constriction Kate Zambreno (Green Girl) plays with beautifully in The Light Room, a somber, intellectual gut punch she calls a "collection of meditations." Like the Joseph Cornell boxes Zambreno frequently cites, an enclosure focuses attention on an interior's features. In Zambreno's case, they included the struggles of caring for a kindergarten-age daughter and newborn baby in Prospect Park, fretting about climate change, and "surviving on almost no sleep, while teaching a full slate of classes."
In one emotionally resonant section after another, Zambreno chronicles her struggles. She describes meetings with other mothers at outdoor classes and sharing parenting duties with John, her partner. With wide-ranging erudition, she cites cultural touchstones to put life in perspective: Cornell's boxes; Yūko Tsushima's novel Territory of Light, "this work of the vertiginousness of early motherhood, of exhaustion and despair and small joys"; and the expressions of grief in the work of artist David Wojnarowicz. At times, the relentless cultural references feel evasive, but that doesn't diminish the book's power. In a passage on Wojnarowicz's work after the death from AIDS of his lover, Peter Hujar, Zambreno asks: "How do we go on living and making art, in the face of so much death?" This intellectually rewarding book is an attempt to find an answer. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer
The Rooster House: A Ukrainian Family Story
by Victoria Belim
In 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea, Victoria Belim determined to return to her homeland of Ukraine. In The Rooster House: A Ukrainian Family Story, Belim candidly shares her reunions, research into her ancestors, and immersion into the fraught history of the country of her birth. She completed her bittersweet memoir in 2022 during the Russian invasion, writing, "Ukraine's resilience makes me hopeful that it will emerge out of this war victorious."
As an American citizen living in Brussels, her "latent yearnings" to better know Ukraine heightened in 2014 with the Russian aggression. Belim was confused when her grandmother, Valentina, was initially casual about her visit, continuing to plant potatoes and whitewash tree trunks in her cherry orchard. "When you owe your existence to famine, you become branded with fear," Valentina explains, referring to the starvation of the 1930s. Defying a warning not to "disturb the past," Belim searches for a long-missing great uncle "to make sense of the present and to understand my roots." This leads her to the Rooster House, notorious site of several iterations of the secret police. She discovers that her great-grandfather's brother (said to have "died fighting for a 'free Ukraine' " in 1937) "disappeared" in the Rooster House during the Stalinist "Great Terror."
Belim unearths grim details of her family's painful history, but also finds "at its simplest... my sense of self and my belonging." A historical yet personal memoir, her story from places now familiar in news reports also heightens the sadness for a people once again victimized by a brutal war. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza
What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds
by Jennifer Ackerman
"What is it about owls that so enthralls us?" wonders acclaimed science writer Jennifer Ackerman (The Genius of Birds; The Bird Way) in the opening lines of What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds. She then proceeds, in just over 350 pages with a smattering of photographs, to show readers exactly why she believes that owls are "dissidents and iconoclasts, rule breakers."
This thoroughly researched, eloquent examination of a bird that has fascinated people throughout history explores many of the questions surrounding these elusive creatures. Ackerman investigates almost every aspect of owl biology and natural science, including their evolution into nocturnal hunters, beguiling behavior, and the subtle nuances of their hoots. Ackerman points out that a "hoot is not just a hoot" and explains the differences between greeting, territorial, and emphatic hoots.
All these facts and data are a citizen scientist's dream, and Ackerman brings them to life vividly, with her own field observations and contagious appreciation for these enigmatic creatures. There is intriguing owl trivia on every page, taken from scientific papers, history books, and literature. The book ends with an afterword aptly subtitled "protecting what we love"--a call to action to address the various threats to the existence of owls.
Through the many tender anecdotes of real-life birds, Ackerman poignantly illustrates how, while "owls are not omnipresent for us in the way songbirds are,... they're present for us in some deeper way or place, where night lives inside us." --Grace Rajendran, freelance reviewer
Living the Vanlife: On the Road Toward Sustainability, Community & Joy
by Noami J. Grevemberg
In her foreword to Living the Vanlife, Deenaalee Hodgdon (queer indigenous nomad and executive director of On the Land Media) explains that author and activist Naomi J. Grevemberg's "Diversify Vanlife" project "offered accessible and approachable resources for getting started and building community from BIPOC perspectives." Grevemberg offers her book as "a contribution to that purpose, written through the lens of the multiple intersections that I navigate." Born in Trinidad, Grevemberg immigrated to the United States at 17 after graduating high school, and describes herself as "a Black-identifying, queer woman"--all demographics that have historically been underrepresented in outdoors media.
With lush, full-color photos and a conversational, friendly tone, Living the Vanlife will undoubtedly appeal to anyone considering opting out of the traditional work-life model. But Grevemberg refuses to romanticize the experience, balancing the pros (such as "sustainable, off-grid living") against the cons (financial uncertainty), and includes real talk about traditionally taboo topics like personal hygiene and menstruation. Besides covering vanlife essentials, Grevemberg maintains a thoughtful focus on issues of equity and sustainability, such as providing practical ways to honor and support Indigenous communities or singing the praises of slow travel, which she explains "means accepting experiences for what they are, rather than imparting our own ideas of what they should be." With detailed appendices featuring tips and lists, a glossary of terms, and a comprehensive list of Native land acknowledgements, Living the Vanlife is a great resource for those considering life on the road. --Sara Beth West, freelance reviewer and librarian
Like a Rolling Stone: A Memoir
by Jann S. Wenner
Few people have interacted with more celebrities, rock stars and politicians than Jann Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone. Even fewer possess Wenner's prodigious wordsmanship; in his soaring memoir, Like a Rolling Stone (clocking in at nearly 600 pages), he captures these encounters, fights and friendships with much verve and economy. A Berkeley dropout, Wenner founded Rolling Stone in 1967. It was revolutionary in that, amid a sea of music fanzines, it took music, especially rock 'n' roll, seriously--particularly when Wenner began to fill his writing staff with such future heavyweights as Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe. Photographer Annie Leibovitz joined the staff in 1970.
In addition to lengthy interviews and music articles, Rolling Stone ran long-form journalism pieces on Charles Manson; the 1968 Chicago riots; Karen Silkwood's suspicious death; and, later, AIDS, wars, climate change, prison reform, and politics. Wenner digs deep into the magazine's political side. He delights in sharing his friendships with Springsteen, Bono, Dylan, John Lennon, and Yoko Ono. He also gives concise insight into his friendships with Jacqueline Onassis ("She was a gossip, and I heard some rarefied stuff") and John F. Kennedy Jr.: "[H]e was polite, funny, and an all-around terrific guy. He also had a temper, was impetuous, and sometimes reckless." In 1995, Wenner ended his marriage of more than 25 years when he fell in love with Matt Nye and came out as gay. In 2019, he sold Rolling Stone.
Wenner's enormously influential life is masterfully told and should be a treat for pop culture fans and historians alike. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
by Ottessa Moshfegh
Good news for fans of cannibalism and other grotesqueries: Ottessa Moshfegh (Death on Her Hands; My Year of Rest and Relaxation) serves up a smorgasbord of medieval ugliness in Lapvona. The equally good news is that this is a well-constructed and thoughtful novel that makes timely comments about inequality and despair.
Marek, a religious 13-year-old shepherd boy who "had grown crookedly," lives in squalor with Jude, his brutal father, who hits him hard enough to knock out his teeth and laments the absence of his wife, Agata, who he says died in childbirth. The only person to show kindness to Marek is Ina, the village wet nurse with encyclopedic "knowledge of medicinal plants" and "whose breasts had fed half the population." The villagers' poverty exists in sharp contrast to the life of Villiam, Lapvona's "lord and governor," a ruler so pampered that when he chokes on his sumptuous feast, he summons a servant to slap him on the back. Even his privileged and silk-clad 14-year-old son, Jacob, hates the guy.
These two worlds collide in beautifully rendered scenes that challenge Marek's devotion and--be warned--involve creative forms of violence and degradation. Lapvona may not be for all stomachs, but one of its pleasures is that, like many good novels, it takes narrative turns that will surprise and unmoor readers. This isn't a hopeful story, but readers will come away thinking that, if one squints hard enough, one can sometimes see pinpoints of light in the darkest times. And that's good news. --Michael Magras, freelance book reviewer
Glow: The Wild Wonders of Bioluminescence
by Jennifer N.R. Smith
Medical illustrator Jennifer N.R. Smith (The Modern Bestiary illustrator) illuminates the fascinating mysteries of light-up life forms in the visually stunning nonfiction picture book Glow: The Wild Wonders of Bioluminescence.
The opening spread invites readers to imagine touching ocean water on a warm evening and observing that "tiny stars sparkle and then fade across your skin." The text is surrounded by a vibrant white-on-blue gradated illustration of dolphins and human hands trailing through glowing sea sparkle while jellyfish drift nearby, the white points leaping out at the eye like stars against a dark sky. The spellbinding spreads that follow investigate the anatomy and purpose behind bioluminescence, as well as tracing the history of research into the phenomenon and revealing surprising "hidden" bioluminescence in land-dwelling animals.
Radiant surprises await intrepid explorers in the depths of the sea and the heart of the forest, and Smith, who collaborated with marine biologist and bioluminescence expert Edith Widder (Below the Edge of Darkness), presents them in lush illustrations that shine in the oversized book format. UV ink technology lends an eye-popping phosphorescent effect to the wildlife and flora that adorn the pages, and short paragraphs of informational text pack a hefty dose of scientific knowledge. This brilliant dive into all things literally bright and beautiful is custom-made for curious upper-elementary scientists, though younger children and adults may also fall in love with the sheer beauty of the artwork. Back matter includes glossary; view under blacklight for phenomenal effects. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth experience manager, Dayton Metro Library
The Many Masks of Andy Zhou
by Jack Cheng
A sixth-grader tries to adapt to the complex circumstances of adolescence in The Many Masks of Andy Zhou, an earnest, authentic middle-grade coming-of-age story by Jack Cheng (See You in the Cosmos).
Chinese American Andy Zhou and his best friend Cindy Shen are starting middle school. Cindy insists they need to "make a statement" and, though Andy has always followed her lead, he isn't sure he likes her current trajectory. When school starts, they find themselves on different paths: Cindy following "the tall girls," and Andy spending more time with a bully-turned-friend. At home, his grandmother and ailing grandfather are visiting from China, and the stresses of life have Andy pulling out his hair--literally. It feels important to Andy that he figure out who he is, but is that knowledge even attainable?
The Many Masks of Andy Zhou is a brilliant, heartfelt story of self-discovery. Andy faces challenges that Cheng deftly tackles without ever weighing down the story or pausing its momentum. These include generational and cultural differences, like Andy understanding his parents' Shanghainese but being unable to converse fluently in the language. Cheng also makes the timely choice to include a content note at the start of the book, so readers of all ages can be prepared for the topics within. The Many Masks of Andy Zhou is a sincere window into the complicated, tricky, and painful parts of growing up. --Kyla Paterno, freelance reviewer
Great Carrier Reef
by Jessica Stremer, illus. by Gordy Wright
In Great Carrier Reef, debut picture book author Jessica Stremer and seasoned illustrator Gordy Wright (Sharks: A Mighty Bite-y History) tell the fanfare-worthy true story of a superhero of an inanimate sort: a human-made vessel that comes to the rescue after underwater changes wreak havoc on marine life.
Sea creatures are suffering: their ecosystem is breaking down due to overfishing, pollution, and warming waters. They need "something solid./ Something mighty./ Where new life can take root/ and thrive." Scientists spot the solution in a retired aircraft carrier: "Its massive size will offer marine invertebrates, sea squirts,/ and mollusks a large surface to grow on." Workers prepare the USS Oriskany, also known as the Mighty O, for its new job: "Oil and fuel,/ poisonous to marine animals,/ are drained from pipes, pumps, and tanks," and so on. The Mighty O is tugged to Pensacola, Fla., and explosives ("KABOOM") send the ship down to its new home. "Hours later,/ divers descend and discover" that marine animals have indeed made their way to their new host: "Urchins parade across/ the former flight deck" of what is now the world's largest artificial reef.
Matching the subtle poetry of Stremer's writing is Wright's gouache and acrylic art, which juxtaposes the ship's rugged, industrial look with that of colorful, relatively delicate sea creatures. Illustrations featuring the submerged vessel call to mind still lifes from The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. Great Carrier Reef is a tale of real-life suspense (from 2006, according to the book's back matter) that makes a counterintuitive point worth acknowledging: sometimes artificial means are necessary to keep the natural world running smoothly. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Gnome and Rat
by Lauren Stohler
The classic odd-couple pairing gets a fresh addition with Lauren Stohler's Gnome and Rat, a sunny and lighthearted graphic chapter book featuring the antics of the titular forest friends.
Gnome and Rat share a tree stump home in a cozy corner of The Enormous Forest. One morning in Gnomevember, Gnome wakes with glee to celebrate his hat's birthday. He removes the red, pointy cap from beneath a protective glass cloche, then dons the hat to greet Rat in their kitchen. Rat sits feigning ignorance as to the special day; readers know before Gnome does that Rat has secretly decorated for this occasion. Through four more whimsical adventures at home and in their woods, Gnome remains mostly focused on his hat while Rat plays the ever-supportive companion and comedic straight man.
Stohler (The Problem with Pajamas) helpfully sets the stage by offering readers a distanced view of The Enormous Forest at the book's start. Expressive characterization and exaggerated body movements are supported by onomatopoeic pops and emphatic text in an impressive variety of comics panel layouts; the overall illustrative effect is vivid yet cozy. Chapter titles like "Hat Day" and "Back Hat It Again" hint that Gnome's beloved headwear takes center stage throughout the book. Each vignette may be read independently, although recurring side characters and small illustrative details unify the reading experience. Fans of modern graphic novel friendships like Narwhal and Jelly or Norma and Belly should find similar camaraderie and capers here, with subtle nods to classics like P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog. Go! and Arnold Lobel's antithetical amphibian pals. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
Whether you're napping in a hammock with a book, sitting on a deck with a cold drink, or huddling inside on a rainy day, summer reading means page-turners. And we have them.
Jesse Braddock has made some bad choices. She is now broke in the Everglades with her baby, her baked boyfriend who dreams of YouTube glory as the "Glades Man," and a cache of buried gold ingots. Bait shop owner Ken Bortle also has dreams of viral fame with his "Everglades Melon Monster," aka an unemployed alcoholic named Phil in a fake head. Throw in two violent brothers after the gold, a drug lord, a craven lawyer, a presidential candidate, a wild boar, a Burmese python and, of course, an alligator. This can only be a Dave Barry novel: Swamp Story (Simon & Schuster, $27.99)--a hysterical, zany romp through South Florida in all its weirdness.
One Summer in Savannah by Terah Shelton Harris (Sourcebooks Landmark, $16.99 paperback) is set eight years after the rape of Sara Lancaster. Sara moved as far away from Savannah as she could. But after her father is hospitalized, Sara returns, with her eight-year-old daughter, to run his bookstore. Her attacker, Daniel, is in prison; his twin brother, David, has changed his name to Jacob; and his mother is a recluse. Jacob has also come back to town--Daniel has leukemia and needs a bone-marrow transplant. This could be the stuff of melodrama, but not in Harris's deft hands. She explores love, forgiveness and redemption with nuance and compassion.
Millie promised her deceased elderly friend, Rose Nash, that she would track down the nurse Rose fell in love with during World War II, and reunite them, albeit only with three tablespoons of Mrs. Nash's Ashes (Berkley, $17 paperback; reviewed in this issue). So Millie begins a trip to Key West, hitching a ride with a cynical writer, Hollis. The journey is replete with quirky characters, misunderstandings, sexual tension, and hilarious dialogue. Woven into this romcom is the lovely, heartbreaking story of Rose and Elsie, and why they parted. Sarah Adler's debut novel will warm hearts with both poignancy and wit.
"Some years ago, in Dodge, I was a sporting woman." Before that, she was a drunkard's daughter in Arkansas. How Bridget got out of Arkansas, wound up at the Buffalo Queen brothel in Kansas, and made her way in the world is a wild ride through the West of the late 1800s. Claudia Cravens has filled her novel Lucky Red (Dial, $27) with a stunning cast, from Bridget's father to the female gunfighter whom Bridget loves. This is a fierce and exciting reimagining of the traditional Western, packed with thrills and wry humor.
What one really wants while relaxing is a good heist caper, and Alex Hays delivers with The Housekeepers (Graydon House, $30; reviewed in this issue). In 1905, Mrs. King is the housekeeper of a grand home in Mayfair, but prior to that, she lived with con artists and thieves. Her hard-won new life vanishes when she is dismissed from her post after she's seen with a footman. Desiring revenge, and some answers about her past, she recruits a gaggle of women, all with particular skills, to rob the mansion of every single possession--on the night of a costume ball. It's unpredictable and fun. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness
Flummadiddle, for example. Merriam-Webster showcased "more silly words from the 19th century."
"Five rare books for collectors: fore-edge painting." (via Fine Books & Collections)
David Barnett picked his "top 10 summer love stories" for the Guardian.
"A stand-up comedy routine discovered in a medieval manuscript: Monty Python before Monty Python (1480)." (via Open Culture)
One Summer in Savannah
by Terah Shelton Harris
One Summer in Savannah by Terah Shelton Harris is a beautifully rendered, amazingly accomplished first novel. Sensitively drawn characters populate this multi-layered, philosophical story infused with themes of grief, forgiveness, and acceptance. Harris traces the aftermath of a sexual assault, and its effect on the people involved, their families, and a community tucked amid the antebellum architecture and cobblestone streets of Savannah, Ga. The novel is set eight years after the attack and told via the intimate points of view of the victim, Sara Lancaster, and the twin brother of the attacker, David Jacob Wyler. These characters reveal how each of them--and the lives of their loved ones--were profoundly shaped by the crime.
The story begins with Sara, a Black woman now in her late 20s. She was raised by her "gentle but capricious" father, Hosea, the proprietor of the local bookshop who became a single parent when a car accident claimed the life of Sara's mother. After the trauma, Hosea, a fervent and unapologetic lover of poetry, sought solace in verse. He began to live his life largely conversing via "other people's words"--he incessantly recites notable poetic lines he's committed to memory, which can be "as alienating, even as destructive, as it is astounding" for Sara and others in his orbit.
At age 17, Sara attended a local high school party where she was raped by Daniel Wyler, a brilliant young man, charismatic and handsome, with a bright future in front of him. Daniel is the identical twin to his gentler, equally intelligent brother, David. The Wylers were once an influential family--interracially married, wealthy, progressive, and well-respected. That was before unexpected tragedies beset the family. The prolonged duress of familial loss and grief--shattering details that the author gracefully divvies out to readers--preceded the sexual assault for which Daniel was accused and later tried.
During a very public court battle, Daniel vehemently proclaimed his innocence, supported by his steadfast and headstrong mother, Bernadette (aka "Birdie"). David, however, testified--without coercion--to a different version of events. His testimony led to a guilty verdict that sentenced Daniel to 10 years in prison and drove a wedge between Daniel, David, and Birdie.
Sara moved to Maine and gave birth to a daughter, Alana--Daniel's child. Only Sara, Hosea, and Sylvia--who works at the bookstore and is a dear companion to Hosea--are privy to Sarah's whereabouts, Daniel's paternity, and Alana's existence. Sara builds a new life, determined to shelter and shield Alana from the truth. Until, years later, when Sara, now a published poet and teacher, receives a call from Sylvia informing her that Hosea is in the hospital. Sara returns to Savannah with Alana in tow, to take over running the bookstore.
Much has changed in eight years. Daniel remains in prison, having reformed his life in substantial, positive ways. However, he is now battling leukemia and in need of a bone marrow transplant. With Daniel's health challenge, David returns to town. He is a poetry-loving, introverted loner with advanced degrees in physics, astrophysics, and astronomy, who now goes by his middle name, Jacob--chosen in an effort to disassociate himself from Daniel and his actions. But a name change cannot alter the Wyler blood coursing through Jacob's veins--nor his bone marrow. Upon his return, his estranged, now reclusive mother, Birdie, asks: Is Jacob willing to help save his brother's life?
Providence is hard at work in the lives of these people who are still trying to untangle themselves--and move on--from the past. Life takes an unexpected, drastic turn when Jacob crosses paths with his unknown, eight-year-old niece, Alana, while she is on a school trip to the science museum, and later, with Sara, when he attends an event at Hosea's bookshop. Without recognizing each other at first, Sara and Jacob have an instant attraction. However, once their identities are revealed, emotions escalate, and panic ensues. The walls Sara spent years building are suddenly breached. Jacob seems kind and sincere. But can Sara trust him? What will happen, what will change, if the truth gets out--if Jacob discovers that Alana is actually his niece, his brother's daughter... a Wyler?
Grief--protracted and active, and processing it in different ways--permeates this tender, sympathetically drawn story that brings together many surprising threads. Harris employs great finesse in knitting these intricate subplots, and ratcheting up complications that posit provocative and inspiring moral questions.
Love and loss, forgiveness and redemption--these emerge as central themes whose intricacies are fortified via the alternating points of view of Sara and Jacob. Readers are allowed an introspective glimpse into deeply wounded characters forced to confront the past and its injustices while grappling with the truth of who they are and what they want out of life. What are they willing to sacrifice in order to embrace the unknowns of the future?
Readers will be completely swept up and absorbed by Harris's emotionally evocative storytelling, as she exquisitely probes the bittersweet depths of the human condition and the renewable nature of the heart and soul. --Kathleen Gerard
The Intersection of Grief, Forgiveness, and Acceptance
An Interview With Terah Shelton Harris
|(photo: Sarah Willis)|
Terah Shelton Harris is a librarian and freelance writer whose work has appeared in consumer and trade magazines including Catapult, Women's Health, and Every Day with Rachael Ray. One Summer in Savannah (Sourcebooks Landmark)--about the aftermath of a rape-related pregnancy--is her first published novel.
Who is the ideal reader for this novel?
Anyone with an open heart and mind is an ideal reader. I invite anyone looking to read something different, explore new topics and ideals, and discover how a shared trauma connects two people to read this book.
Why write this story now?
Every year, thousands of brave women are faced with rape-related pregnancies, a number that stands to increase with the overturning of Roe v. Wade. And yet, conception following a sexual assault is rarely covered in fiction.
Why do you suppose that is?
There is a tendency to run away from that which makes us uncomfortable. As writers, we should take risks, challenge ourselves, and step outside of our lived experiences. We should also challenge our readers to do the same, to venture far from their comfort zones so that they may grow. By writing One Summer in Savannah, it is my hope, at the very least, to raise awareness of the plights of the Saras of the world.
What other novels, besides yours, tackle this topic?
In researching comps, I discovered just one, The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers. The aftereffects of a sexual assault on a family are also beautifully explored in We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates.
You don't ever render the scene detailing Sara's assault.
I did not want to include Sara's assault on the page. While it is briefly discussed in dialogue and introspection, it is not detailed at all. Instead, I focused on Sara's love and protection for her daughter, Alana. Every decision Sara makes is in the best interest of Alana. Despite her trauma, Sara placed Alana's needs ahead of her own, and that's a testament to the real Sara and all the Saras of the world. That's the truest form of bravery.
In your acknowledgements, you thank "the person who shall remain anonymous, who lived Sara's story and provided... insight and knowledge" for the novel. What do you hope that real-life person will feel after reading the novel?
Simply put, I want that person to feel seen.
Why did you set the novel in Savannah, Georgia?
I find setting just as important as plot. It can almost act as a character in story. I've visited Savannah several times over the years and somehow saw an advertisement for a cottage on Hird Island. After a little research, I learned that Hird Island is only accessible by boat or aircraft. I knew immediately that's where Jacob (the identical twin brother of the rapist) was going to live. It illustrates that he's back home but still craves his privacy.
Why tell the story via two narrative points of view?
This story was always Sara's to tell. But when I started writing, I felt as if something was missing, another side of her story. That's when I realized that Jacob's point of view offered direct commentary and perspective that would not have existed in Sara's single point of view.
Why create the two brothers in the story as identical twins?
Making Daniel (the rapist) and Jacob (his brother) identical twins allowed me to stretch and explore an unexpected and unique nuance. It would have been easy for me, for Sara, for the reader, to accept Jacob if he were a fraternal twin. But writing and reading isn't supposed to be comfortable or easy.
A mirror of life?
Yes, the road to forgiveness is often not paved smoothly. It's rough. It's hard and lined with unexpected obstacles. I wanted Sara's journey to reflect that. She's been running from her past for eight years and when she finally accepts her plight and begins her walk toward forgiveness, I, quite literally, wanted Sara to face her past. While the two brothers are identical twins, certain circumstances (no spoilers) have altered their appearance, but making them fraternal twins would have been taking the easy way out when forgiveness is anything but easy.
Would you say forgiveness is the overarching theme of the book?
Forgiveness is more about healing the person who gives it than absolving someone of their wrongs. Understanding forgiveness is about defining it for yourself and not conforming to someone else's definition. It takes a strong heart and a willing mind to accept that. And while forgiveness is the overarching theme of the book, grief is also an undercurrent. Forgiveness and grief often collide, and I wanted to explore that in two separate ways.
Initially, Sara chooses to run from her grief. When the book opens, Sara and Alana live in Lubec, Maine, which is the easternmost town in the continental United States. That setting illustrates just how far Sara is willing to hide from the world. But in returning home to care for her father, she stops running and faces up to her grief. Jacob, too, comes home to face his grief, but soon realizes that he doesn't know how to grieve. And what Jacob experiences is what many experience when standing at the intersection of grief and acceptance.
That intersection is complicated and difficult. Yet the journeys these characters take, emotionally and spiritually, are also bittersweet.
I like to say that I write books with bittersweet endings and my next novel, Long After We Are Gone (spring 2024), continues that theme. It's a family saga that tells the story of four siblings--each fighting a personal battle--who return home in the wake of their father's death to save their family home--and themselves. --Kathleen Gerard
Charles L. Blockson, "world-renowned historian of African American culture, founder and curator emeritus of the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University, award-winning scholar, and prolific author," died June 14 at age 89, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Blockson assembled two of the world's largest collections of African American history, culture, and contributions. In addition to the one at Temple, the Charles L. Blockson Collection of African-Americana and the African Diaspora resides at Pennsylvania State University, his alma mater.
Blockson was the first African American to write a cover story for National Geographic magazine, and he published more than a dozen books, including Black Genealogy; The Underground Railroad; Damn Rare: The Memoirs of an African-American Bibliophile; Liberty Bell Era: The African American Story; and The Haitian Revolution: Celebrating the First Black Republic. His most recent book, Blam! Black Lives Always Mattered!: Hidden African American Philadelphia of the Twentieth Century, was published in 2022.
An authority on the Underground Railroad and the Great Migration of the early 1900s, Blockson received the Philadelphia Award for community service in 2017. He told the Inquirer at the time that he was driven to "uncovering the history of our past in order to build a better future." In 2013, he said his collections are "a legacy that comes primarily from books and the people I met, all kinds of people of all ages. I am emeritus and all, but I will never retire.... I'm following a noble tradition from those who paved the way for me."
State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta said he will introduce legislation to mark Blockson's December 16 birthday as a state holiday, adding: "Charles Blockson is a giant of a man. He is a hero."
Diane Turner, curator of Temple's Blockson Collection, said that Blockson was "well-respected because of his passion for collecting, preserving and disseminating the histories of people of African descent. His collections make accessible rich and diverse stories about their histories and cultures. He has been a great influence on numerous scholars, students and people of all nationalities."
Blockson once said: "My main goal in life is to build a good library of Black history--knowledge is a form of Black power and this is my part in it."