"In the front bedroom, propped up among the books, is a color photograph of three people, a woman and two men. They are tightly framed, their arms around one another, and the world beyond is out of focus, and the world on either side excluded." Like their photo, the lives of Ellis, Michael and Annie are complete with each other; they could exclude the rest of the world. Sarah Winman's Tin Man is both devastatingly tragic and sensuously gorgeous, as it follows the three in Oxford, England, from the 1950s through 1996.
Love thrives in all its glory and sorrow, first as a friendship between the boys Ellis and Michael, shifting into and out of a sexual relationship, then the marriage of Ellis and Annie and the mutual love among the three. For a time, Michael leaves; they all mourn their loss. "Life was not life without him" for the couple. Told as a non-linear narrative, their story's end is revealed at the beginning of Tin Man, and discovering the layers of their experiences from separate perspectives and time periods deepens the poignancy.
Other characters are richly drawn: Ellis's mum, who is entranced with Van Gogh's sunflowers and "believes that men and boys are capable of beautiful things"; Mabel, Michael's openhearted grandmother; and friends and strangers who offer kindnesses. Winman's very short novel imparts joy. Plan to read it twice: first for the story, then to savor the beauty of the poetic symbolism threaded throughout the sparsely crafted prose. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon
, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Tin Man is a short novel epic in its portrayal of friendship, love and loss.
$23, hardcover, 224p., 9780735218727
That Kind of Mother
Rebecca Stone is a wife. A daughter. A sister. A poet. A woman who sees herself in Princess Di. And she is a mother to two boys--a white son born to her, and a black son adopted after the unexpected death of her eldest son's nanny.
It is the "and" in that last statement--"and she is a mother to two boys"--that forms the crux of Rumaan Alam's second novel, That Kind of Mother. Alam (Rich and Pretty) explores themes of individuality, motherhood, parenting, adoption, family ties and race through the lens of Rebecca's life. He pursues, to great effect, the tension between how Rebecca sees herself and how she wants to be seen by the world, the many ways motherhood both intersects with these perceptions and is entirely separate from them. Rebecca disappears into motherhood ("You've vanished," her sister scolds her), then balks at it in turn, desiring nothing more than her own quiet inner world. "She didn't want to be that kind of mother, the one who can't stop talking about her children, can't stop thinking about them. Surely there had to be another kind of mother for Rebecca to be."
Is there another kind? As That Kind of Mother
unfolds, never shying away from Rebecca's very real flaws as both a woman and a mother, Alam offers nothing close to a definitive answer. Instead, his novel celebrates the impossibility of answering such a question once and for all--and in that, That Kind of Mother
couldn't feel more honest in its depiction of the complexities, complications and emotions of what it means to make a family. --Kerry McHugh
, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: The author of Rich and Pretty tackles big questions about motherhood, individualism and identity in his second novel.
$26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062667601
Though his fans can hope for the discovery of a posthumous trove of William Trevor short stories, barring that happy event they'll have to take the title of this collection at face value and enjoy the offering of 10 new tales--three of them previously unpublished--from a 20th-century master of the form.
These muted stories, the majority of them set in England, where the Irish-born Trevor (Love & Summer
) spent most of this life, are noteworthy less for their dramatic action than for his keenly observed depiction of melancholy protagonists longing for something that's missing from their lives. Representative of that quality is "An Idyll in Winter," in which a man named Anthony reconnects with a woman he tutored years earlier as a teenager at her home on the Yorkshire moors. Now married and a father, he must confront his deep affection for her, while she understands she was "living in the past, that the past would always be there, around her, that she was part of it herself."
Also among the most moving stories is "Giotto's Angels." The protagonist is an aging prostitute who encounters a man suffering from an "amnesic abnormality" in a bar. When she accompanies him to his flat, she discovers that he's a skilled art restorer, in the process of unearthing a cache of money he's almost certainly forgotten himself.
Noteworthy for their striking openings and sometimes enigmatic endings, these stories fully embody Trevor's artistic gifts. His graceful writing and sharp insight into the tragic dimensions of human existence make this collection a fitting testament to a long and distinguished career. --Harvey Freedenberg
, freelance reviewer
Discover: This posthumous collection of 10 stories displays Irish writer William Trevor's affinity for plumbing the depths of human sadness.
$26, hardcover, 224p., 9780525558101
Mystery & Thriller
A Howl of Wolves
Judith Flanders directs a witty, well-plotted narrative of murder onstage and off in her fourth Sam Clair mystery, A Howl of Wolves. Sam generally prefers books to theatrical productions: she is an editor, after all. But when her friend and neighbor Kay and Kay's young son, Bim, land bit parts in a West End show, Sam and her detective boyfriend, Jake, drag themselves to opening night. While the gore-filled play contains more (fake) blood than brilliance, both audience and cast are shocked as the second-act curtain opens to reveal the hanged body of the production's director spinning above the stage. Both Sam and Jake are drawn into the resulting murder investigation--Jake in his professional capacity, and Sam through her connection to Kay and Bim (and her insatiable curiosity).
Flanders (A Cast of Vultures
) gives nearly equal treatment to Sam's day job--prep for her company's sales conference, dull editorial meetings--and the spare time she spends chasing down obscure leads. Sam's sleuthing skills lead her to various corners of London, including a costume design archive, an inheritance case from postwar Germany and a few posh drinks parties with her solicitor mother, Helena. Meanwhile, Sam spends hours backstage looking after Bim (and checking for clues); plots with her female colleagues to combat sexism at the office; and wrings helpful information from unlikely sources, including her elderly upstairs neighbor. The plot threads, woven together by Sam's keen observations and wry asides, coalesce into a satisfying denouement for mystery and theatre fans. --Katie Noah Gibson
, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Editor and amateur sleuth Samantha Clair dives into murder onstage and off in Judith Flanders's fourth mystery.
$26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9781250087836
Biography & Memoir
No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America
Darnell L. Moore
Darnell L. Moore grew up black and economically disadvantaged in Camden, N.J., a predominantly African American and Latino city that he later came to see as "willfully forgotten" by elected officials. But Moore diverged from the mainstream in another, less visible way: he was gay. No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America traces why, having first kissed a boy at age nine, Moore waited a couple more decades to come out proudly.
Born in 1976, to teenage parents--a stalwart mother and a violent father--Moore was harassed, and worse, by neighborhood kids who suspected that he was gay. Intellectually precocious, Moore had to ask his middle-school principal to put him in AT, or "academically talented," classes. He attended a private high school, having filled out the application himself, and then Seton Hall University, a largely white Catholic college where racial profiling was the norm; it was at Seton Hall that Moore became what he calls "politically black." After he earned his degree, he found his calling in advocacy for the disenfranchised and in activism on behalf of progressive causes.
"What childlike magic did he use to make it through?" Moore, now an editor with advanced degrees in theology and clinical counseling, wonders about his young self in his prologue. No Ashes in the Fire
isn't an "uplift memoir" in which a kindly outsider develops a marginalized child's potential. "You can't write!" a teacher once told Moore. This book says otherwise, and resoundingly. --Nell Beram
, author and freelance writer
Discover: Activist Darnell L. Moore's graceful memoir describes his experience growing up black, poor and gay.
$26, hardcover, 256p., 9781568589480
Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation
Robert W. Fieseler
On Sunday, June 24, 1973, a fire set on the outside steps of a New Orleans gay bar caused a harrowing inferno, taking 32 lives. Journalist Robert W. Fieseler salvages this unsettling moment in American history from the edge of forgetfulness in a remarkable, potent remembrance.
From its outset, Tinderbox distinguishes the Up Stairs Lounge fire from other galvanizing incidents in the fight for gay rights. For starters, there is no evidence that this was a hate crime, but rather "most likely... a disgruntled bar patron exacting revenge upon a rival gay clique." Moreover, the Gay Liberation uprising that followed was led largely by outsiders like Troy Perry, founding pastor of the gay-friendly Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Los Angeles.
Fieseler crafts an evocative, even romantic, portrait of gay life before the fire. Against a sultry summer backdrop, he details the lives of men in their element and men in love. The Big Easy fostered a laissez-faire closet for the gay community; while open homosexuality was despised, the rowdy French Quarter often turned a blind eye to the private liaisons of neighbors.
That disinterest, though, became maddening in the aftermath. Newspapers addressed the tragedy obliquely if at all. Neighboring churches turned away MCC's pleas. Civil rights organizations ghosted. Investigators dragged their feet and fumbled evidence. Live and let live turned on a dime to "Did you hear the one about the flaming queens?"
With amiable prose, Fieseler transforms rigorous research and the moving testimonies of survivors into a vital, inspiring volume in the annals of gay history. --Dave Wheeler
, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Journalist Robert Fieseler sifts through the ashes of a nearly forgotten tragedy that took 32 lives in a New Orleans gay bar.
$26.95, hardcover, 384p., 9781631491641
Chosen Country: A Rebellion in the West
A feet-on-the-ground journalist for diverse media such as Vice, the New Yorker and n+1, James Pogue goes after a story with the tenacity of a bulldog clamped on a stick. In the tradition of early Rolling Stone "new journalists" like Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and Lester Bangs, Pogue is not afraid to share booze and smokes with his interview targets in order to get the lowdown on his subject. In Chosen Country, he puts on tire chains and drives through snowy central Oregon to understand firsthand what is behind the 2016 occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by a ragtag army led by charismatic Mormon zealot Ammon Bundy. Pogue gets to know the occupiers, the FBI, local law officers and the annoyed uninvolved surrounding ranchers and feed store proprietors. In this volatile mix, he finds a potent stew of politics, activism, ideology and messianic cultism. One Bundy supporter states his anti-federal government stance succinctly: "If you don't want your nose broke, keep it out of my business."
Like a good gonzo journalist, Pogue often veers off into tangential historical asides and brings his own prejudices and personal rants to this story of "young men with guns and tactical gear." He chases his story into the Oregon basin because "the country was going insane, and at least here you could see the mechanisms at work." Chosen Country
burrows into the widening cracks that divide what someday may turn out to be the ironically named United States. --Bruce Jacobs
, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe
, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: Gonzo journalist James Pogue digs into the 2016 occupation of Oregon's Malheur Refuge by Ammon Bundy and his ragtag army.
$28, hardcover, 304p., 9781250169129
Essays & Criticism
Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms
"Doesn't wine retain the flavor of the weather the grapes were grown in? The particularities of the soil, the storms that came or didn't?" asks Michelle Tea in the title piece of her wickedly funny and thought-provoking essay collection Against Memoir: Complaints, Confessions & Criticisms. "Memoir is like that," she continues. "It picks up the essence of the moment you wrote it." Here she's speaking specifically of Valencia, one of her five previous memoirs. Since writing that book, she says, her feelings for the people and places described within it have changed considerably. But there's value, she argues, in leaving a record of one's life--even if that record is rendered obsolete by all that happens after.
With Against Memoir, Tea has collected an impressive record of her life's work as a memoirist and essayist. Divided into three sections--art and culture criticism, personal essays on queer love and reflections on writing--the collection features her finest pieces of the last 20 years for outlets like the Believer and xoJane.
Each section is rich with deep feeling and critical precision. "Purple Rain" is a highlight. Here Tea weaves memories of her adolescent sexuality with those of listening to Prince. Perhaps she just liked men who were "small" and "sensitive" and who wore "heels," she wondered while gazing at album covers. It would be years before she'd fully comprehend her own queerness. This essay is about herself, but it's also a smart piece of cultural criticism. As this collection indicates, Michelle Tea has brilliantly balanced both throughout the whole of her career. --Amy Brady
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Michelle Tea makes a persuasive case for documenting one's thoughts and feelings by collecting nearly 20 years' worth of personal essays in one engaging volume.
$18.95, paperback, 300p., 9781936932184
The Order of Time
, trans. by Erica Segre
, Simon Carnell
What is time? Is it like a river, flowing from the past, to the present and into the future? Is it a man-made construct? Does it even exist on the quantum level? All these questions and many more are expertly answered by Carlo Rovelli in his fascinating Order of Time.
Although more esoteric than some of his previous books, Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems
) again combines the lyrical, philosophical and scientific methods and prose to guide readers through an exploration of time on its multiple levels. He is especially intriguing when suggesting that time "passes faster in the mountains than it does at sea level," or that one's perception of time is a matter of perspective. Furthermore, he asserts that language isn't precise enough to describe time, as one person's "here and now" is vastly different for a person located on the opposite side of the globe.
Rovelli also delves a bit into his favorite topic, loop quantum gravity or loop theory, which has been the focus of much of his life's work. Here he dives into the issues of "granularity, indeterminacy and the relational aspect of physical variables" which break down the idea of time to the point of nonexistence. We all have a concept of time, regulated by clocks and the passage of the sun from one day into the next, but Rovelli's explanations and examinations will have one rethinking what it means to be "in the moment" or how to define past, present and future. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: An Italian physicist analyzes what time really is based on the latest scientific findings.
$20, hardcover, 256p., 9780735216105
Human Errors: A Panorama of Our Glitches, from Pointless Bones to Broken Genes
Nathan H. Lents
To call Human Errors by biology professor Nathan H. Lents a primer on natural selection and evolution would be a vast oversimplification. He tackles his subject (one that has no doubt put many a college student to sleep) with a conversational ease, and he does so while recognizing his own fallibility. And it's these qualities that make his writing accessible to the layperson.
According to Lents (Not So Different), genetic developmental flaws (or the "panorama of our glitches") arose as a result of incomplete adaptations to bipedalism and to ways of life that no longer exist. These include nasal cavities that drain up instead of down and backwards-facing retinas. Using modern analogies, Lents is able to tie natural selection and evolution to human behavior. The fact that we have never encountered, nor received contact from, alien civilizations points to a disturbing conclusion: if they followed a similar evolutionary trajectory as Earthlings (with our environmental pollution, resource overconsumption and war), then those civilizations may no longer exist.
To that end, even as technology and science have seemingly arrested human evolution, cultural and socioeconomic factors may provide the key to evolving future gene pools. "In order to fully grasp any aspect of the human experience, we must understand how it took shape," writes Lents. "Never underestimate science or our species' ability to overcome its own flaws."
Entertaining and informative, Human Errors
can provoke thought and discussion as to what evolution and natural selection mean for the future of the human race. --Nancy Powell
, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Flawed genetic development--despite the superiority of human brains and the ingenuity behind our biological selves--is more than the sum of its evolutionary parts.
$27, hardcover, 256p., 9781328974693
Children's & Young Adult
, illust. by Dan Santat
A glum Thai-American boy is dropped off at his delighted grandfather's house for a visit. They try to chat at lunch, but can't understand each other, and the uncomfortable silence grows more and more awkward. In spite of their efforts to connect, the two do not speak the same language or share a culture. It's not until the boy slips away to draw that they finally find common ground: Grandpa likes to tell stories through pictures, too! "Right when I gave up on talking, my grandfather surprised me by revealing a world beyond words. And in a FLASH--we see each other for the first time."
As man and boy weave their illustrations together, "all the things [they] could never say come pouring out." Their heroes look an awful lot like their respective illustrators, with the grandfather's black-and-white, ancient warrior brandishing a beautiful calligraphy brush and the boy's contemporary, anime-style wizard waving a star-topped wand. The swirling, elaborate design develops, the different styles intertwining, until they have created one magnificent world... which is suddenly disrupted by a huge, scaly monster that threatens to tear it apart.
Minh Lê (Let Me Finish!
) is a first-generation Vietnamese-American writer and a national early childhood policy expert. Dan Santat
is the New York-born son of Thai parents and author and illustrator of the Caldecott Award
-winning The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend
. Their partnership in Drawn Together
is as magical as the grandfather and grandson's eventual bond. Mostly wordless panels represent the frustration and confusion the two share at first, followed by vibrant mixed-media artwork as they bring their talent and imagination together.
is a testament to the strength of a shared love to overcome barriers of age, language and culture, and will leave readers, like Grandpa and his grandson, "happily... SPEECHLESS." --Emilie Coulter
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Separated by language, culture and age, a grandfather and his grandson find a beautiful way to forge a bond made of paint, ink and paper in this touching picture book.
$17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 3-5, 9781484767603
Light Filters In: Poems
, illust. by Yelena Bryksenkova
Caroline Kaufman's debut poetry collection begins with a dedication to "anyone terrified that it won't get better." These poems, she writes, "are proof that it will."
Now a college freshman, Kaufman began writing poetry at 13 to help her cope with depression. She started an Instagram account--@poeticpoison
--that has more than 200,000 followers. Light Filters In
is a mix of both new and old poems, a four-part journey through adolescence. In an author's note, Kaufman makes readers aware that "this book was not easy to write," and thus, "it may not be easy to read." She warns that the topics include "mental illness, self-harm, suicide, recovery, sexual assault, abusive relationships, violence, and other issues that may not be the easiest to swallow."
Generally eschewing capital letters, Kaufman's poems are short and full of emotion. The first part focuses on her depression and anxiety: "I am crowded/ in an empty room./ I guess it's the silence,/ the emptiness,/ the nothingness./ it pushes on me./ it tells me you take up too much/ space." In the second, she begins to address the mental illness, learning how to cope. The third part depicts the desire for growth and change: "I want to be a doctor./ maybe a surgeon./ how nice it would be/ to go from cutting my own skin/ in order to harm,/ to cutting someone else's skin/ in order to heal." And in the final chapter, Kaufman begins to heal. "lost:/ depression..../ if found:/ please tell her/ she is not welcome here." Black-and-white illustrations throughout heighten the emotions expressed.
Kaufman's poems are raw portrayals of mental illness and trauma, of healing and hope--they are very personal struggles laid bare in a way that speaks to the universal human experience. --Siân Gaetano
, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Caroline Kaufman's first poetry collection is a painful, yet hopeful, portrayal of the toll mental illness takes on adolescents.
$14.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 13-up, 9780062844682
, illust. by Brian Floca
A red-tailed hawk hunts for food to feed its chicks in Hawk Rising
, Maria Gianferrari (Coyote Moon
; Hello Goodbye Dog
) and Brian Floca's ornithological picture book collaboration. A young girl and her mother observe the feathered parent flying through their suburban neighborhood, perching on utility poles and scouting out food.
Gianferrari portrays the behaviors and sounds of the bird with a poetic beauty that mirrors its soaring flight. Sometimes it's easy and carefree: "Father Hawk shakes his wings and springs into the sky./ Keee-EEER,/ Keee-EEER,/ he calls,/ circling,/ seeking prey./ He rides the wind/ like a wave,/ twisting and turning,/ kiting and floating." Other times it's urgent and fierce: "Crashing,/ talons thrashing/ in branches./ Once./ Twice./ Then again/ and again./ Shielded by bramble,/ Sparrows are safe." And throughout, he provides a faithful look at a majestic creature.
Vibrantly complementing Gianferrari's lyrical prose are Caldecott Medal-winning Brian Floca's (Locomotive
) striking watercolor-and-ink illustrations. The texture and color of the red-tailed hawk leap from the page. And Floca's alternating perspective--between the humans on the ground and the bird in the air--carries readers effortlessly in the wake of Father Hawk's flight.
may inspire questions in young audiences about predators and prey (Father Hawk eventually catches a squirrel). The tale, combined with the additional facts at the conclusion of the story, presents an ideal opportunity for examining these and other elements of the natural world. As stunning as its title character, Hawk Rising
is a grand tribute to the wonders and complexities of our living world. --Jen Forbus
Discover: A young girl and her mother observe a red-tailed hawk throughout a single day as the bird hunts for food for its family.
Roaring Brook Press,
$18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781626720961