From the Shelf
Hot Books for Cold Nights
The weather outside may be frightful, but curling up with a good book by the fire is perfectly delightful. And since it's nearly the season for mistletoe, here are a few new romance novels sure to get you into the holiday spirit.
Jill Shalvis's Hot Winter Nights (Avon, $7.99) begins when two elderly Christmas elves show up a detective agency in San Francisco, complaining that they work for a bad Santa. Then things get even weirder, when investigator Lucas Knight realizes he's spent the night with office manager Molly Malone. He was too drunk to remember what happened, so Molly gleefully teases him about their amazing night (even though nothing really happened) as they work the bad Santa case together. Soon, however, Lucas discovers that Molly might not care if she ends up on the naughty list....
In Katie Ruggle's Rocky Mountain Cowboy Christmas (Sourcebooks Casablanca, $7.99), single dad and firefighter Steve Springfield has moved his four kids to a Christmas tree ranch in his hometown in Colorado, in hopes of a happy new beginning. There he becomes reacquainted with artist Camille Brandt, whom he vaguely knew in high school. Camille is awkward and shy, but she begins to fall for Steve, until a series of mysterious fires in the area threatens their holidays and their happiness.
Sarah Morgan's The Christmas Sisters (HQN, $15.99) begins with Suzanne, the adoptive mother of three women whom she loves dearly. Suzanne runs a cafe in the Scottish Highlands with her youngest daughter, Posy, and always struggles at Christmastime with her terrible memories of the accident that killed the girls' biological parents 20 years earlier. But she is thrilled that Hannah, the workaholic, and Beth, the stay-at-home mom, are coming home for the holidays this year. Things are looking good, till Hannah has a shocking surprise, Beth's marriage hits a rough spot, and Posy begins to chafe at small-town life. Can the sisters find happiness before Christmas?
Light and enjoyable, all three of these books are sure to boost the Christmas spirit, even for the most Grinchy of readers. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
In this Issue...
by Nick Seluk
The lone star of the solar system takes center stage as a comics writer and illustrator explains why the Sun is so vital to our existence.
by Bella Bathurst
British journalist Bella Bathurst writes in moving, fascinating detail about losing her hearing almost completely and then regaining it.
Jabari Asim's essays about the African American experience are jewel-like set pieces with autobiographical facets.
Review by Subjects:
Book Cover Quiz
"Only a true bookworm can beat this book cover quiz," according to Buzzfeed.
Ian Black recommended "five books to understand Saudi Arabia" for the Guardian.
"Stephen King sells short story film rights to students for $1," Mashable reported.
Check it out: Mental Floss showcased "12 things you might not know about dictionaries" and "26 of Noah Webster's spelling changes that didn't catch on." It also looked up "25 words you didn't know were in the dictionary."
"Anyone obsessed with British authors should add these four literary destinations to your travel list," Buzzfeed advised.
Rediscover: Ntozake Shange
Author, poet and playwright Ntozake Shange, who died on October 27 at age 70, was best known for her 1975 Tony Award-nominated play for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf, which uses poetry, music and movement to explore the many struggles of black women in America. Shange was the first to call this multimedia mix a "choreopoem." It features seven women, nameless save for the colors they wear, addressing topics like abortion, rape and domestic violence. Shange's work was first staged off Broadway, but eventually became the second play by a black woman to reach Broadway (after Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun in 1959). In 2010, Shange updated for colored girls... with the poem "positive," about the Iraq War and PTSD.
In addition to 15 plays, Shange published 19 poetry collections, six novels, five children's books and three essay collections. Her work includes Wild Beauty: New and Selected Poems (2017); lost in language & sound: or how i found my way to the arts: essays (2011); Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo (1982); Some Sing, Some Cry; I Live in Music (1994); and The Sweet Breath of Life: A Poetic Narrative of the African-American Family (2004).
Shange's sister, playwright Ifa Bayeza, described Shange's death as "a huge loss for the world. I don't think there's a day on the planet when there's not a young woman who discovers herself through the words of my sister." --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Chris Womersley
|photo: Roslyn Oades|
by Joe Ide
Despite being East Long Beach's most famous private investigator, Isaiah Quintabe (IQ for short) is still solving low-level crimes and getting paid in "casseroles, cookies, needlepoint homilies, leftover Christmas presents, home repairs, and knitted woolen scarves so perfect for the California weather." His buddy Juanell Dodson, a former hustler and occasional partner in solving crimes, has gone legit with a food truck business. But Dodson is being blackmailed and needs to make some real money. He convinces a reluctant IQ officially to join forces as investigators, but will they survive their first case?
Their client is Grace, an artist looking for Sarah, her mother who disappeared 10 years earlier. Despite Dodson's objections to the case, the investigators begin their pursuit. It's not long before the trio discover they're up against members of a Blackwater-type paramilitary force who engaged in unspeakable atrocities at Abu Ghraib, led by the merciless Stan Walczak. Sarah has damning photos of Walczak and his crew torturing Iraqis, and the villainous mercenaries will kill anyone who threatens to publish them--or even knows they exist.
Joe Ide has given mystery readers a truly distinctive protagonist in his 26-year-old, socially challenged African American sleuth. With Wrecked, the third installment in the series (IQ, Righteous), Ide adds new dimensions to IQ, with Grace as a love interest and his awkwardness around her in stark contrast to his proficiency as an investigator. Ide's commitment to character and ear for dialogue are a treat; even supporting characters like Dodson's girlfriend, Cherise, and business partner Deronda are well-rounded. Ide's ability to find comedy and vulnerability amid the violence make the IQ series a refreshing addition to the genre. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: IQ's third case takes him face to face with a ruthless private security force, and his pursuit of a love interest proves just as challenging for him.
Horsemen of the Sands
by Leonid Yuzefovich , trans. by Marian Schwartz
Horsemen of the Sands collects two novellas by Russian historian and novelist Leonid Yuzefovich. The novellas address vastly different subjects, tied together by the author's hallucinatory style. "The Storm" follows students and teachers at an elementary school during what begins as an average day but eventually takes unlikely turns. Yuzefovich is skilled at concise characterization, getting across complex psychological profiles in a few paragraphs. He also possesses a welcome sense of humor--a dry, compassionate wit that notes one character's "mature married man's natural, nonbinding interest in a mature married woman."
In the titular "Horsemen of the Sands," Yuzefovich has crafted a mini-epic. It covers a strange historical episode in the early 20th century wherein a Russian monarchist officer, R.F. Ungern-Shternberg, makes a quixotic attempt to revive the Mongol empire and oppose Bolshevik forces. The novella begins in 1971, with a Russian soldier involved in preparations for a possible Chinese invasion on the Mongolian steppe. His conversations with a local named Boliji lead to protracted flashbacks depicting Ungern's increasingly messianic aims, prompted in part by his fanatical devotion to Buddhism. Traveling from village to village, Ungern stages demonstrations where bullets are fired at him point-blank. The "Mad Baron" repeatedly survives, claiming divine protection. Ungern's story ends in tragedy and failure, but his legend persists a half century later, when Boliji and Russian soldiers argue over his legacy. "Horsemen of the Sands" and "The Storm" are both thoughtful reflections on anxieties buried just beneath the surface of Russian society. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: Horsemen of the Sands collects two unconventional novellas that explore a bizarre episode in Russian history and existential crisis in an elementary school.
Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return
by Martin Riker
When Samuel Johnson is 12, the town of Unityville, Pa., (pop. 30 religious zealots) is rocked by the arrival of a television set ("less likely than a stigmata"). A loner and a mope, Samuel brightens as television transports him outside his tiny town. His viewing sessions with fellow preteen Emily blossom into romance. They eventually marry, but tragedy strikes when Emily dies in childbirth.
Four years into parenting by himself, Samuel dies protecting his son from a crazed stranger. Struck by the "odd turns" of his afterlife, Samuel realizes his soul now resides in the body of the lunatic who killed him. That horrible fate is altered when his murderer then dies, propelling Samuel into an occupant of a passing airplane. Hurtling ever farther from his boy, Samuel feels punished by God for his shortcomings as a father (and for watching too much television).
Samuel Johnson's Eternal Return is a quirky, multi-bodied story of the peculiar road trips Samuel's soul takes as he desperately tries to maneuver back to his son. Martin Riker, English lecturer at Washington University in St. Louis and co-founder of the feminist press Dorothy, evidences an engaging narrative voice in his enjoyable debut.
Samuel's perceptions change as he observes through what are, in essence, human televisions. The television theme is mined to useful and comic effect, and fans may enjoy revisiting programming lineups and their reflection of society from the 1960s forward. Riker dips into the existential, but the navel-gazing feels natural to Samuel's predicament and lends itself to a heartwarming and rewarding conclusion. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: The soul of a young murdered father transforms while inhabiting a variety of bodies that both aid and impede his efforts to reunite with his son.
Mystery & Thriller
Alice Isn't Dead
by Joseph Fink
Welcome to Nightvale podcast creator and writer Joseph Fink expands on the hit serial podcast Alice Isn't Dead in this flesh-crawling horror thriller with a heart.
"This isn't a story," Fink begins. "It's a road trip." When her wife, Alice, disappeared, Keisha searched for months, eventually held a funeral and then tried to overcome her grief in a world that no longer made sense. Things turned upside-down again when she began noticing Alice on the news, always in the crowd at the scene of tragedies across the United States. A year and a half later, Keisha works as a long-haul trucker so she can search the country for Alice.
On the road, she attracts the attention of an unkempt creature in a dirty polo bearing the word "thistle," who eats a living victim in front of her. Though human in appearance, the Thistle Man is "like a boogeyman from a vaguely recalled nightmare," and police officers turn a blind eye to his activities. Stalked by the predator, Keisha picks up a teen girl, Sylvia, who lost her mother to the Thistle Man. Their ensuing investigation puts Keisha on the path to uncovering a dark world hidden within the shadows of our own.
In his third novel, Fink (author, with Jeffrey Cranor, of It Devours) achieves an eerie, off-kilter atmosphere that induces a constant sense of paranoia. Fans of the podcast will no doubt enjoy this expansion of Keisha's quest, but readers who have no familiarity with the story will likely appreciate its surprises and chills even more. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: This expansion of a hit podcast, Alice Isn't Dead follows truckdriver Keisha as she battles an ancient evil while searching for her missing wife.
Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses
by Jenny Hale
At the center of Jenny Hale's feel-good romance Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses are handsome, wealthy workaholic Nick Sinclair and single mother and overworked nurse Abbey Fuller. In Richmond, Va., Nick has settled his elderly grandmother Caroline into a small cottage adjacent to his Georgian Revival-style mansion on the banks of the James River. He never wanted the sprawling estate--the oversized house was his wife's idea. Since the couple's acrimonious divorce, the mansion has been stripped bare.
Having been lured by Nick from her job at an upscale retirement home, Abbey assists and cares for Caroline, and the two women become friends. Abbey shares her passion for interior design and explains that she was forced to put her design dreams on hold in order to raise her son, Max. Caroline offers Abbey the chance to decorate her cottage, and the result is so pleasing that Caroline convinces Nick to hire Abbey to redesign his mansion in time for Christmas, when Nick's sister and her family will arrive to spend the holidays. The salary Nick offers for the job is beyond Abbey's wildest dreams, but can she meet the decorating deadline while accommodating Caroline's and Max's needs?
An opposites-attract romance riddled with complications ensues between private, standoffish Nick and bubbly, inquisitive Abbey. Hale (The Summer House) playfully captures the light, fluffy spirit of true love and the meaning of family at the most wonderful time of the year. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An interior design overhaul of a mansion spurs a light, feel-good romance between a wealthy divorced businessman and a hardworking single mother.
Biography & Memoir
Sound: A Memoir of Hearing Lost and Found
by Bella Bathurst
In her late 20s, British journalist Bella Bathurst (The Lighthouse Stevensons) noticed something disturbing: her hearing was getting worse, gradually but undeniably. By age 28, she had almost entirely lost the ability to hear. Floundering in a world that grew more and more silent, Bathurst dove into research about noise, sound frequencies, hearing loss, deaf culture and possible cures. Her memoir, Sound, takes readers on a tour through the not-quite-silent land of deafness and the ways hearing connects people to the world.
Initially, Bathurst couldn't believe her own (failing) ears: Wasn't hearing loss for older people? But, as she learned, people lose their hearing for all kinds of reasons. Some, like rock musicians and factory workers, pursue careers that put them at greater risk for deafness. Many of these people hide or minimize their hearing loss, as Bathurst sought to do. Embarrassed by her own deafness yet fascinated by all things aural, she toured a shipbuilding hangar, delved into the life of Beethoven and cajoled several musicians and sound engineers into discussing hearing loss and its difficulties. She writes movingly of her struggle to accept her deafness as well as the eventual transformative experience of regaining her hearing through surgery--when she found herself drunk on the poetry of accents and "sound's unsayable loveliness."
Packed with detail about the physiology of hearing, the intricacies of acoustics and Bathurst's particular experience, Sound is a powerful argument for true listening--which, as she says, is "when all the interesting things start to happen." --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger atCakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: British journalist Bella Bathurst writes in moving, fascinating detail about losing her hearing almost completely and then regaining it.
Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home
by Nora Krug
Finding one's roots is a pastime for curious genealogists. But for Nora Krug, it meant laying to rest fears that her family was complicit in World War II atrocities. In Belonging: A German Reckons with History and Home, she shares her trip back in time, to the very streets her grandparents shared with Nazis.
"Heimat" means homeland, the place with which one identifies. Krug's is elusive, and she determines "the only way to find the Heimat I've lost is to look back." In this scrapbook-style memoir of drawings, photos and ephemera linked with short passages chronicling her quest, Krug imparts a sense of immediacy that reflects her trepidation. Was her grandfather Willi a Nazi? Why didn't anyone speak of the war as she was growing up in the German region where her family had lived for generations? Krug avoided questioning, and her aunt advised when she traveled, "Just say you're from the Netherlands." Twelve years after she came to the U.S. for college, Krug confronted the guilt of her heritage: "Not even marrying a Jewish man has lessened my German shame."
Krug returned to Germany to excavate her family's past, piecing together sometimes contradictory information through interviews and archives, including a military file untouched for two generations. As she turns pages, readers may hold their breath in empathy: What will she learn, and will it ease her guilt and secure her Heimat? --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A poignant memoir encompassing drawings, photos and memorabilia chronicles a German woman's anxious search for the truth about her family's World War II history.
The World of Lore: Dreadful Places
by Aaron Mahnke
Aaron Mahnke, author of the creepy and engaging The World of Lore: Dreadful Places, launched his immensely popular Lore podcast in 2015. Today he draws an audience of millions with spine-tingling stories culled from actual folklore and couched in his own historical research. Amazon Video adapted the podcast for television in 2017, and now there are three Lore books. Dreadful Places is the third and somehow even scarier than the first two.
Featuring expanded retellings of stories he's told on the podcast as well as new material, Dreadful Places hit shelves in time for Halloween, but it makes for a fascinating read throughout the year. That's because Mahnke is as much a historian as storyteller. Each chapter delves into the history of the city where the story is set, revealing odd facts and terrifying personalities. Most of the stories contain supernatural elements, but some focus on the monstrosity of ordinary human beings. In "Echoes," for example, Mahnke tells the tale of Dr. Walter Freeman, who in 1936 directed the first prefrontal lobotomy in the U.S. The doctor performed the brain procedure using an ice pick and no anesthetic on children as young as four years old. Many of those patients, we learn, died on the operating people. "Ironically," writes Mahnke, "some people still don't believe in monsters."
Mahnke's writing style balances breezy humor with rigorous research, making these stories a scary pleasure to read. Dreadful Places continues to haunt long after the last page is turned. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Based on the popular podcast Lore, this smart collection of scary stories draws its monsters and haunted houses from folklore.
Essays & Criticism
We Can't Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival
by Jabari Asim
For nearly two decades, Jabari Asim has chronicled the African American experience--past and present--in books for adults (The N Word) and kids (Fifty Cents and a Dream). In the eight essays in We Can't Breathe: On Black Lives, White Lies, and the Art of Survival, he merges a memoirist's personal narrative with a historian's authority, producing a work of panoptic scope and clarity.
In "The Seer and the Seen: On Reading and Being," Asim reflects on the sporadic presence of black characters in the picture books available to him as a child. In "The Elements of Strut," about the way that white people read the black body in motion, Asim describes a morning walk during which he picks up a subtext of distrust from a white police officer's idle-seeming chatter. "Color Him Father" begins with a look at President Obama's 2009 Father's Day speech, during which the president addressed the deleterious effect of absent dads on the black community, and proceeds with Asim's assiduous consideration of his reliably present schoolteacher father.
While each of We Can't Breathe's essays is a powerhouse, the book's tour de force is "The Thing Itself," a five-part look at white appropriation of black identity, notably through artistic interpretations of Emmett Till's and Michael Brown's dead bodies and in William Styron's novel The Confessions of Nat Turner. For this essay, Asim reserves his harshest judgment and sharpest wit. Perhaps most winningly: "As for Styron's renderings of black women, calling them cartoons would be uncharitable--to cartoons." Without its plentiful moments of levity, We Can't Breathe would break your heart. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: Jabari Asim's essays about the African American experience are jewel-like set pieces with autobiographical facets.
18 Miles: The Epic Drama of Our Atmosphere and Its Weather
by Christopher Dewdney
The weather affects everyone on a daily basis; we check the forecast to see if it'll be rainy or sunny, or to track the latest storm, yet how many of us completely understand how and why there are clouds, storms and seasons? In 18 Miles, essayist and poet Christopher Dewdney (Acquainted with the Night) explores the complex and multi-layered atmosphere that lies like a thin film over the earth. At its deepest, it is only 18 miles thick, yet without this skim layer, none of us would exist.
Using humor, personal stories, details of meteorological history and an incredible amount of scientific data, Dewdney describes each level of our atmosphere, explaining how clouds are formed and the evolution of the atmosphere on the planet. He shares the way hurricanes and tornadoes are born, the scales used to classify them and his experience of living through Hurricane Katrina. Thunderstorms and the various types of lightning--sprites, blue jets, elves, pixies, gnomes and trolls--are described in lush detail. He includes fascinating tidbits about the early rainmakers and the way the U.S. and other countries "seed" clouds in order to create rain. Covering the driest places on the planet and the wettest, the mildest clouds and the most destructive, Dewdney has written a complex, entertaining and highly informative book that rivals the information one might find in a college classroom. For anyone interested in the air we breathe, 18 Miles is a great addition to any library. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: An essayist and poet crafts an all-encompassing look at the whys and hows of weather here on Earth.
Children's & Young Adult
The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal
by Nick Seluk
Heart and Brain creator Nick Seluk navigates young readers through an entertaining tour of the Milky Way to explain why the Sun is kind of a big deal. Using accessible analogies, fun facts and whimsical illustrations, Seluk expertly engages his audience in the wonderment of the solar system. When explaining the concept of orbits, the text states, "The planets move around the Sun like a big racetrack in space.... Some planets are faster than others, but each one stays in its lane." Seluk's accompanying illustration depicts anthropomorphized planets circling a trainer-like Sun, stopwatch in hand, tweeting a whistle.
The dialogue bubbles hovering over the planets add to the book's charm, and keep the reader turning pages to see what comical quips come next. Some may float over the heads of the youngest readers, such as Mars's "Did someone lose a rover?" question, but adults joining their kids in this galactic adventure will certainly appreciate them. Other special discoveries in Seluk's homage to the Sun include "Oh Hey, Guess What?" callout boxes sprinkled throughout. These graphics beckon toward related factoids on topics such as galaxies, the equator and sunrises. He also incorporates a glossary of terms and historical information in appendixes to the book.
Covering heat, light, precipitation and photosynthesis, The Sun Is Kind of a Big Deal explains how "[t]he Sun works really hard to help us out" in terms (and pictures) budding astrologists, biologists and regular Earthly citizens can understand. Readers are sure to find this picture book thoroughly enjoyable and cosmically intriguing. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: The lone star of the solar system takes center stage as a comics writer and illustrator explains why the Sun is so vital to our existence.
The Boneless Mercies
by April Genevieve Tucholke
The Boneless Mercies's 17-year-old narrator, Frey, is an adult in her own right. Her parents died when she was 12, and her uncle sold her to a Bliss House; when she was considered old enough to make the move from the "kitchen to the bedroom," she fled. She was found by an older woman named Siggy who took her in and introduced her to the death trade. "They called us... the Boneless Mercies," Frey tells the reader. "They said we were shadows, ghosts, and if you touched our skin, we dissolved into smoke. We made people uneasy, for we were women with weapons. And yet the Mercies were needed. Men would not do our sad, dark work."
Though Siggy has passed on to Holhalla, Frey is not alone: she is accompanied by the Sea Witch Juniper; Runa and Ovie, two young women who "under[stand] darkness and carr[y] it with them"; and Trigve, a young man the Mercies saved from freezing to death. Frey, Runa, Ovie and Juniper barely make a living as purveyors of merciful death and have grown weary of killing. "I was a Mercy-girl with no family, no home, no fortune," Frey says to the reader, "and yet my blood sang of glory." Frey and the Mercies decide to seek fame and fortune by traveling across Vorseland to defeat a beast that has been terrorizing the northern jarldom.
April Genevieve Tucholke's (Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea) genderbent Beowulf is as dark and quietly mysterious as the fantastical winter in which it takes place. Her alternate Scandinavia is a land of powerful magics and eerie landscapes, bloodlust and genuine, deep friendships that is full of foreboding, menace and eventual (though not unfettered) glory. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A band of brave young women seeking fame travels across Norseland to kill the Blue Vee Beast in April Genevieve Tucholke's all-female take on Beowulf.
by Jihyeon Lee
A magical journey broadens a young child's horizons in this mostly wordless import by South Korean illustrator JiHyeon Lee (Pool).
In a world of dour, gray-penciled humans trudging through life against a blank cream background, a blue-and-red insect leads a child to a mysterious key and then on to a forgotten, cobwebbed door. Curiosity trumps apprehension, and the child steps through the doorway to a brightly colored land inhabited by cheerful red creatures whose beaked heads gently evoke Tim Burton's Beetlejuice. The strangers' speech bubbles contain incomprehensible squiggles to indicate the protagonist's inability to understand their words. However, the language of kindness proves universal when a child from a family of the creatures issues an invitation to join them for a picnic and walk in the country. As they walk, the child begins slowly to take on the colored pencil hues of the pastoral landscape. Eventually, they reach a field with doors of all shapes and sizes that release various whimsical creatures into the world; everyone is gathering to celebrate the wedding of a short, hamster-like groom to a pink, antelope-horned bride. After a joyful party, the now-rosy child returns to the black-and-white world, purposely leaving the wooden door wide open.
Lee's charming use of the magic portal and the transition from a black-and-white mundane world to a colorful fantasyland recalls such favorites as The Wizard of Oz, Lewis Carroll's works and Aaron Becker's Journeyseries. The densely colored pencil drawings look fresh enough to smudge, as though a friend drew them for the reader mere moments ago. Preschoolers may find reassurance here that different can mean fun, while older readers can use Door to start discussions on diversity, inclusion and acceptance. This quiet fable feels both relevant and timeless. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A child from a black-and-white world steps through a door into a vibrant new land where anthropomorphic beasts provide a hearty welcome.