From the Shelf
Sweet on Summer
When the livin' is easy, sweeten long summer days with dessert that's easy, too--like a bowl of homemade ice cream. To learn the basics, start with the Salt & Straw Ice Cream Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $25). The hit chain's cofounder Tyler Malek promises "making ice cream is fun and easy, I swear" and, with cowriter JJ Goode, he offers recipes and tricks to re-create Salt & Straw hit flavors or invent your own. (Do yourself a favor and start, though, with Salt & Straw's famous Sea Salt with Caramel Ribbons.) Then, go a round with The Perfect Scoop, Revised and Updated (Ten Speed, $24.99) by ice cream authority David Lebovitz. Master the custard base or just or call it 5 o'clock somewhere and dive into a Spritz Sorbet or Negroni Slush.
For plant-based treats that feel almost virtuous--or at least free from refined and artificial sweeteners--see "Miss Marzipan" blogger Marisa Alvarsson's Naturally Sweet Vegan Treats (Page Street, $21.99). Try the creamy-dreamy Neapolitan Ice-Cream Cake or the Lime & Berry Tartlets that pack a "a zesty punch" with bright hits of lime. Stay fruit-forward with The Peach Truck Cookbook (Scribner, $28) from husband-and-wife peach-truckers Jessica N. and Stephen K. Rose, whose take on a classic Peach Pie calls for a game-changing tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (hello, tender crust) and whose luscious Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Macerated Peaches "kids might call fancy Jell-O and adults would call heaven."
Evi Aki, "Ev's Eats" blogger, offers mostly savory fare in Flavors of Africa (Page Street, $21.99), but she also includes several standout desserts, such as easy-breezy Malva Pudding, and two particularly delicious doughnut recipes, Nigerian Puff Puffs and Kenyan Mandazi. Either would be perfect on a summer evening with a handful of juicy, fresh berries--and maybe even a homemade scoop of ice cream on the side? --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
In this Issue...
by Alix Nathan
An engrossing morality tale about the devastating consequences of intellectual inquiry divorced from compassion.
by Alexandra Teague
Alexandra Teague's third poetry collection is filled with dark musings on love, representation, loss, patriarchy, mythology and history, while being both playful and moving.
by Jennifer Thermes
Map illustrator and children's book author/illustrator Jennifer Thermes tells the history of New York City in this winning picture book.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
08/28/2019 - 6:00PMWednesday, August 28th 6-7:30PM In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant―the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow...
08/30/2019 - 6:00PMFriday, August 30th 6-7:30PM Single payer is the tool—health justice is the goal! Single payer healthcare is not complicated: the government pays for all care for all people. It’s cheaper than our current model, and most Americans (and their doctors) already want it. So what’s the deal with our current healthcare system, and why don’t we have something better? In Health Justice Now, Timothy Faust explains what single payer is, why we don’t yet have it, and how it can be won. He...
Mysteries About Rare Books and Bibliophiles
CrimeReads investigated "7 great mysteries about rare books and bibliophiles."
Mental Floss challenged readers to name these 20 Harry Potter characters, based on descriptions of what their lives would be like if they were muggles.
"Book Junkie on the beach." Newsday noted that "Ishmael Samad takes reading to Manzanilla seaside" in Trinidad & Tobago.
"From Kafka to Gogol via Pynchon," author Joanna Kavenna chose her "top 10 absurd quests in fiction" for the Guardian.
Le Mystérieux Correspondant, "lost Proust stories of homosexual love" written in the late 1890s but held back from publication, will finally be released this autumn.
Bookshelf featured Michael Schlütter's LoculaMENTUM, which is "designed to meld traditional bookcase appearance with a modern interpretation and a twist."
Rediscover: Kristin LavransdatterIn 1928, Norwegian novelist Sigrid Undset (1882-1949) became the third woman ever to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. The award recognized her trilogy of historical novels called Kristin Lavransdatter, which tracks the life of a farmer's daughter in medieval Norway. As a young office worker in Oslo (then named Kristiania), Undset first attempted a novel set in the Nordic Middle Ages. When that manuscript was rejected, she shifted to writing realistic depictions of contemporary urban Norway and related women's issues. These works sold well, allowing Undset to move to the small town of Lillehammer, where she could concentrate on her writing in a traditional Norwegian timber house named Bjerkebæk. After publishing the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy, Undset wrote the Master of Hestviken tetralogy, which takes place during the Norwegian civil war era of 1130-1240 and incorporates elements of Undset's conversion to Catholicism. In 1940, her soldier son was killed when the Nazis invaded Norway and she was forced to flee to the United States. Undset was able to return after the war and lived the final four years of her life in Bjerkebæk.
The Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy consists of Kransen (The Wreath), published in 1920; Husfrue (The Wife), published in 1921; and Korset (The Cross), 1922. The original English translation from the 1920s omitted some sexually graphic scenes and added archaic English words to reflect the historical time period, despite concise modern prose in the original Norwegian. Undset's vision was lost to English readers until Penguin Classics published a new translation by Tiina Nunnally, who won the PEN Translation Prize for her work. In 2005, Penguin Classics released a deluxe edition of all three Kristin Lavransdatter novels in a single volume ($28, 9780143039167). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Candace Bushnell
|photo: Patrick McMullan|
Candace Bushnell is the author of Sex and the City, Four Blondes, Lipstick Jungle, The Carrie Diaries, One Fifth Avenue, Trading Up, Summer and the City and Killing Monica. Sex and the City, published in 1996, was the basis for the HBO hit series and two subsequent movies. Lipstick Jungle became a popular television series on NBC, as did The Carrie Diaries on the CW. Is There Still Sex in the City? (Grove, August 6, 2019) is her ninth book.
On your nightstand now:
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, The Paper Wasp by Lauren Acampora, The Early Stories of Truman Capote, How to Be Famous by Caitlin Moran, Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt, Kathleen Hale Is a Crazy Stalker by Kathleen Hale, The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer, Autopsy of a Boring Wife by Marie-Renée Lavoie and, for some reason, my own book, One Fifth Avenue.
Favorite book when you were a child:
A lot of Roald Dahl's and the Narnias, but one that sticks out now is Harriet the Spy. It really gave structure to the idea of being a writer in New York. Harriet was the first female character I'd ever read who questioned every idea about being a woman and being female. She didn't want to grow up and get married; she wanted to grow up and be a writer. And mostly she believed that being a writer was the best thing a person could be. The most honest, decent and interesting. This is how I really felt for a very long time and still do feel occasionally.
Your top five authors:
Leo Tolstoy, Gustave Flaubert, Edith Wharton, Thomas Mann and Evelyn Waugh.
Book you've faked reading:
None. Fake reading a book is all about needing to feel accepted and safe within the group you want to be a member of. That's group-think mentality, and while we all have to do it sometimes, it makes me nervous. However, I'm guilty of fake liking lots of things on social media.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Custom of the Country. Undine Sprague, perhaps Wharton's greatest female creation, is the ultimate unlikeable female heroine. She has not one redeemable quality and is not redeemed in the end. She continues on, using everyone and everything. She is a female psychopath; an emotional serial killer. She uses everyone and everything and her body and beauty to get what she wants, but it's never enough and it never will be enough. It really takes a lot of guts to write the irredeemable female lead. Naturally, Custom of the Country got terrible reviews; everyone hated the character so much they blamed it on the book. Nevertheless, I loved it and found it such a refreshing antidote to the specious ideas that are always being presented to women as fact (i.e., if you do what society tells you, you will be okay) that I did my best to copy it with my own book, Trading Up. In a way, Trading Up is fan fiction of Custom of the Country.
And like Custom of the Country, Trading Up got some terrible reviews. The best one was by New York Times book reviewer Michiko Kakutani. Trading Up and its lead character, Janey Wilcox must have literally short-circuited the synapses in Ms. Kakutani's brain, because she wrote her entire review in the voice of Elle Woods, a movie character from Legally Blonde. "Elle Woods" advice to Janey Wilcox? Take Prozac.
And maybe "Elle" was right. In any case, you cannot make these things up, and when they happen, all you can do is laugh.
Book you've bought for the cover:
A paperback copy of The Great Gatsby with the original artwork on the cover: those weird eyes staring out from that inky dark billboard. Someone should make it into a gif.
Book you hid from your parents:
It was a cartoon about a talking fetus. This old paperback from the 1940s was hidden in the attic of my grandparents' beach house. The fetus was in its mother's stomach in a cartoon bubble. It made fun of all the adults and said pithy things. It was my first introduction to satire, I suppose.
Favorite line from a book:
The last line from The Sun Also Rises. "Don't you wish it were so?" or "isn't it nice to think so?" or something along those lines. [Ed. note: "Isn't it pretty to think so?"] It gets me every time. It's bittersweet. Life sucks and we know it and it's sad, but we will soldier on and take the little bits of beauty we can find along the way.
Five books you'll never part with:
First editions of my own books. I have nine, so it would be hard to choose which five to save.
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney. Reading that book for the first time was a transporting experience, which doesn't happen often with books. It was the kind of book that made you really, really wish that you had written it.
The Warlow Experiment
by Alix Nathan
The year is 1793 and Herbert Powyss, gentleman farmer and amateur botanist, has hit upon an idea for an experiment to establish him as a true scientist: for seven years, a volunteer will live in complete isolation in a set of apartments two stories below his manor. This man will be given the same food that Powyss is served, with books and writing material to record his experience. Upon the completion of the experiment, he will receive £50 a year for the rest of his life. The only person who answers Powyss's advertisement is John Warlow, a laborer with a wife and children to support.
From a passing reference in a historical source about an actual experiment of this kind, Alix Nathan (The Flight of Sarah Battle) has constructed a fable about power. Warlow is trapped in an experiment for which he was never well suited, being semi-literate and unable to express himself in the journal, but which only he was desperate enough to accept. The absurdity of expecting him to entertain himself with Robinson Crusoe and a chamber organ is emphasized by every passage written in his point of view, effectively conveyed in halting, stunted language. Meanwhile, Powyss struggles with his unusual position of responsibility for Warlow's wife and family. The imbalance between these two and the effect it has on both could have been a book on its own, but Nathan puts it into further context as the ideas of the Enlightenment and the revolution in France reach the servants at the manor. The result turns The Warlow Experiment into a study of a microcosm in which an imbalance of power has devastating effects on both the person above and below, but infinitely worse for the latter. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: An engrossing morality tale about the devastating consequences of intellectual inquiry divorced from compassion.
The World Doesn't Require You: Stories
by Rion Amilcar Scott
Cross River, Md., is a fictional town with an exceptional claim: it was founded during the Great Insurrection, the only successful slave revolt in the United States. While its residents experience less hostility than they would in neighboring towns, the legacy of slavery has manifested itself in ways that make Cross Riverians unlike any other characters in literature.
In The World Doesn't Require You, Rion Amilcar Scott presents a collection of short stories and a novella that defy convention. Readers meet David, the least favored of God's sons, whose efforts to win his father's favor with a band devoted to the "Cross River sound" fall flat. There is Tyrone, a Ph.D. candidate whose dissertation on a seemingly innocent prank is part of Cross River's origin story. But the prank holds dire consequences when he and his friend Deez undertake it today. Then, Scott whisks into the future, where Jim is one of the last Robotic Personal Helpers, and whose Master gave him "the appearance of a minstrel. A blackface clown in a top hat and tails." The pinnacle of Scott's ambition is the novella Special Topics in Loneliness Studies, in which the narrator, a professor at Freedman's University, convinces his colleague Reggie to bare his soul in a year-long class--an effort to take down both Reggie and the university itself.
Cross River is a place steeped in mythology, where men are seduced by fantastical water-women and early founders become legends. While Cross River is fictional and magical realism abounds, it speaks volumes about the world of today. --Frank Brasile, librarian
Discover: Set in a fictional town founded following the only slave revolt in the U.S., The World Doesn't Require You delivers unforgettable characters and acerbic observations about race, masculinity and diminishing faith in institutions.
The Women of the Copper Country
by Mary Doria Russell
"Labor protests" conjures sooty-faced coal miners, Pullman porters or steelworkers. But Mary Doria Russell's (The Sparrow; Epitaph) seventh novel illuminates labor heroes history often neglects: the women who fought for their husbands, fathers and sons.
The Women of the Copper Country are led by Annie Clements, head of the Women's Auxiliary, Local 15, of the Western Federation of Miners in Calumet, Mich. In this Upper Peninsula city near Lake Superior, the world's largest copper mine boomed as fabulously wealthy owners exploited immigrant workers, numbering 15,000 men in 1913. Then a nine-month strike and a community tragedy forever altered the company town. Annie attended her first miner's funeral alone at nine (a thousand or more by now, she muses at 25) because the new immigrant had no family and "deserved some tears."
"Somebody should" became "Annie will," people said of the woman whose heart matched her six-foot-one frame. In spite of her husband's anti-union stance, Annie's leadership inspires the workers, comforts their families and draws support from the national Federation, which sends organizer Charlie Miller to Calumet. Photographer Michael Sweeney comes, too, because "people know unfairness and injustice when they see it." While 9,000 miners vote to strike for safety and fair pay, 5,000 vote no, but Annie, Charlie and Michael stand up to the mining boss, hired thugs and the state militia for nine frigid, brutal months.
Meanwhile, historic figures lend support: Mother Jones comes to Calumet, Clarence Darrow offers his expertise. Russell's meticulous research frames a gripping novel of rich characters in this story of a contentious era, rife with ethnic prejudice, that feels chillingly current. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Mary Doria Russell's gripping historical novel recounts the story of a real-life woman who inspired a nine-month miners' strike.
This Is Not America
by Jordi Puntí , trans. by Julie Wark
This Is Not America collects nine short stories, all previously published, from Catalonian author Jordi Puntí, translated by Julie Wark. Puntí's stories cover a range of characters, voices and situations, all exploring themes of loneliness and reflection.
A man walks through Barcelona in "Vertical," tracing his dead lover's name with his steps. He's forgetting her face, which is "gently fading away, a vapory cloud of smoke." In "Blinker," a man recalls his years hitchhiking, carrying a briefcase with contents never revealed. Conversing with drivers gives "the sensation that it all came from an earlier intimacy," yet he knows he's not connected with anyone, and he's "turned into an urban legend." "Kidney," about a man whose brother is requesting one of his, has a distinctly O. Henry feel. "Patience" is a piece of autofiction based on the author's participation in a literary project where he visited strangers' homes in order to write about the experience. "Seven Days on the Love Boat" finds a man on a cruise, separated from his wife. Feeling homesick, he considers that "the passage of time burns memories, too, first turning them into dry parchment, after which the combustion starts at the corners, but at least it grants us the illusion of experience."
These stories show Puntí's gift for creating distinctive voices and backgrounds. His characters search for self-acceptance more than they ever actually change. With writing that's smooth and full, This Is Not America showcases the humanity in people who might otherwise be overlooked. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: This Is Not America showcases acclaimed Catalonian writer Jordi Puntí's stories about desire, loss and memory.
Night of Power
by Anar Ali
When dictator Idi Amin decrees all South Asian people in Uganda must relinquish their possessions and exit the country or be forcibly removed, Mansoor Visram, his wife, Layla, and their son, Ashif--a well-to-do family--choose Canada as the place to begin their lives anew.
While Layla clings to her religion in their adopted country, Mansoor wonders who needs faith when you have business acumen. After working menial jobs, he buys a couple of businesses. He makes great sacrifices to ensure the success of each venture, but financial stability remains elusive, driving a wedge between him and his family. Frustrations over finances cause a generations-old pattern of domestic violence to emerge.
Ashif leaves home for a job to save his family while Layla sells home cooking mixed with tears, and Mansoor wanders ghostlike in a domicile where he and his wife no longer share a bed. Everything comes to a head during a Night of Power, a midnight-to-dawn prayer event at a temple Layla attends. Will tremendous loss fix what years of noncommunication has torn asunder?
In Night of Power, Anar Ali writes a heartbreaking story of dysfunctional family dynamics reminiscent of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman. The hapless Mansoor echoes Willy Loman's overabundance of confidence in his and his son's eminent success, positive his only impediment lies in the inability of others to see his vision. Mansoor's cruel father gnaws at him in both mental and self-imposed physical manifestations. Just as Mansoor aspired to be nothing like his father but cannot thwart learned behavior, Ashif struggles with the same traits taking hold of his own life in this potent debut novel. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer
Discover: A dysfunctional family struggles 25 years after a dictator ejects them from their homeland.
Mystery & Thriller
The Bird Boys
by Lisa Sandlin
Tom Phelan is painting over the remains of a bloody crime scene in his office as the second Delpha Wade and Tom Phelan mystery begins. The Bird Boys picks up where Lisa Sandlin's debut, The Do-Right, left off, with Delpha bloodied and under investigation for another act of violence. Vietnam vet Tom is six months into his private investigation practice. Delpha is even more tragically layered, lucky to get the secretarial gig following her release from Gatesville prison after serving 14 years for killing a man.
Xavier Bell hires Tom to find his estranged brother, with little more to go on than ancient family history and a 40-year-old photograph. Bell's strange story gets more questionable as Delpha and Tom pry into his past. The Bell investigation and a few minor cases keep things hopping, but the highlights are Sandlin's characters and their constant striving and growth. Delpha is sharp and resourceful and, as Tom's reliance on her grows, so does the trust each gives so reluctantly.
Sandlin's writing is Chandler-esque, her descriptions divine ("a comet's-tail of trouble," "a hem that would ride up to her crank case if she sat down"). Set in 1970s Beaumont, Tex., the surroundings are wonderfully suffused with Watergate, pay phones, Selectric typewriters and a little Cajun flavor. With phrasing to linger over but pacing that presses forward, The Bird Boys will have readers racing to grab the first book and crossing fingers for more of the dynamite characters inhabiting this noir series. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A freshly minted private investigator and his capable, ex-con secretary solve several cases in 1970s Texas while facing their own personal obstacles.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Cruel Stars
by John Birmingham
Far-future humanity spans the galaxy in corporate monarchies, slaving empires and other polities of variable egalitarianism. These vast distances are spanned by instant wormhole-based communications and ships with more time-consuming warp drives. Citizens of means edit their biological makeups, graft cybernetics to their brains, even remotely back up their consciousnesses and download into new bodies, effectively achieving immortality. But this transhumanism is not agreeable to all. Centuries ago, a fanatical faction of racial purists calling itself the Human Republic attempted to annihilate anyone with body modifications. The Sturm, as the rest of mankind called them, were defeated and exiled into the unknown reaches of Dark Space.
The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham follows five characters through a catastrophic Sturm invasion from Dark Space, which begins with a crippling virus delivered through humanity's communications network and neural implants. Officer Lucinda Hardy becomes commander of the Royal Armadalen Navy's last surviving ship when her captain and XO are turned into slobbering cannibals. Booker3, a jailed freedom fighter on the verge of being deleted, is spared that fate by a Sturm attack on his habitat. Alessia, a young princess of the Montanblanc Corporation, must go on the run when her planet is invaded. Sephina L'trel, leader of a Firefly-like band of rogues, gets caught up in the Sturm attack during an unrelated firefight. Finally, Frazer McLennan, the admiral who first defeated the Sturm hundreds of years and several bodies ago, must once again combat his old enemy. Birmingham (the Axis of Time series) expertly weaves these plots together while building an intriguing world. The Cruel Stars is a strong start to a promising series. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Spacefaring future societies with transhuman technology face off against an exiled faction of racial purists.
Biography & Memoir
Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver
by Jill Heinerth
"If I die, it will be in the most glorious place that nobody has ever seen." So begins explorer Jill Heinerth's fascinating Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver. Heinerth's obsession with venturing toward the center of the Earth eventually brings her to the depths of an Antarctic iceberg, where "beauty contradicts the danger." A veteran of underground expeditions, Heinerth leads a National Geographic diving team into an iceberg that scientists call Godzilla.
Within that frozen world, trapped by shifting currents that could swiftly turn fatal, Heinerth finds beauty: a cave with a "turquoise ceiling," "a multi-colored shag carpet" of sea creatures covering its floor. Fish live within the smooth ice walls, in niches just large enough to provide a finger's grip, and the divers pull themselves up to safety. Hours after emerging from their potential tomb, they watch it shatter to "crystal shards," destroyed by relentless wind and waves.
In a life spent exploring underground rivers and caverns, Heinerth battles the sexism found in the male world of cave diving, struggles with her marriage to a man who shares her hunger for risk, and finds her career provides a motivation more compelling than adventure. In her journeys into the Earth, she tests equipment that will be used by astronauts, maps hidden environments that support our own and follows the subterranean odyssey of drinking water in an award-winning PBS series, The Water's Journey. Heinerth becomes a champion of "water literacy," promoting both awareness and conservation of this dwindling resource. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller
Discover: Into the Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver combines hair-raising adventures, scientific facts and poetic observations that will make readers long to experience the depths of the Earth.
Reference & Writing
What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading
by Leah Price
Video killed the radio star, goes the song. Then the bells tolled for books, victim to increasing distractibility and the digital revolution.
Actually, not so much, argues book historian Leah Price in What We Talk About When We Talk About Books: The History and Future of Reading. In the years since (and before) Nicholas Carr's 2008 Atlantic article asking "Is Google making us stupid?" literacy researchers have found ample evidence to suggest otherwise.
Price (The Anthology and the Rise of the Novel; How to Do Things with Books in Victorian Britain; Unpacking My Library) argues that a longer view of reading might ask us to more closely examine the different uses readers put texts to, not just the differences between print and digital works. She takes to task the myth of exceptionalism--contemporary readers' "sense of living through an unprecedented change"--and argues that there exists neither an "ideal reader" nor a "self-made reader."
A longtime Harvard professor and founding director of the Rutgers Book Initiative, Price is also funny, having fun with form and often infusing her extensive research with humor: "Perhaps print is to digital as Madonna is to whore: we worship one but use the other." Likening public libraries to public swimming pools, both become "testing ground for hopes and fears about civic connection."
And reading does connect us. Reading can be a luxury, a prescription, a requirement, a treat; Price's book is all of the above. As a librarian might say, check it out. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: A longtime Harvard professor offers deeply researched and deeply fun-to-read reassurance that there is still hope for books--and that there always has been.
Or What We'll Call Desire: Poems
by Alexandra Teague
Alexandra Teague's third collection of poems, Or What We'll Call Desire, is a lyrical, emotional dance between high art and popular culture, mythology and history. The poet ponders love, representation, mental illness, loss and patriarchy, ultimately considering across the pages the depiction of, and the making of, a woman's form.
Everything gets folded together into layered musings both embedded in and separated from the now--snapshots of landscapes and moments in time dissected and woven into each other. Both Hedy Lamarr and Baba Yaga make appearances in Teague's reflections, as do Phryne and Ofelia. Standout selections include "The Giant Artichoke," "End Times" and "How to Become Stained Glass."
"Sketch: Charcoal and Body on Paper" seems emblematic of Teague's ability not only to capture a moment in words, but also to twist the gaze of the viewer from the objects described to the internal gaze of the speakers, and how they see themselves via the objects viewed. In this case, the objects are literally female bodies--models for a beginning drawing class. Teague (Mortal Geography) writes: "How I wanted that beauty/ that knew how not to care: let people/ stare. Let them mismeasure,/ smudge pages with charcoal, erase me." In these lines, as in many other poems, there is a process of making and unmaking in reflection that brings the reader closer to a truer sense of self. As a collection, Or What We'll Call Desire is a refreshing creation of transformative art. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: Alexandra Teague's third poetry collection is filled with dark musings on love, representation, loss, patriarchy, mythology and history, while being both playful and moving.
Children's & Young Adult
Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island
by Jennifer Thermes
"Millions of years ago when the glaciers melted, before anything had a name, the island lay sheltered in an estuary." For thousands of years, the Lenape people lived on the island of Mannahatta, "using what they needed and nothing more." In 1609, Englishman Henry Hudson saw the island and told his Dutch employer about the land; the Dutch then claimed its southern port as their own.
So begins Jennifer Thermes's (Charles Darwin's Around-the-World Adventure) picture book history of New York City, Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island. Thermes gives readers a fascinating account of New York City's development from the time of the Lenape people to the present day, including information about the American Revolution, city planning, the Great Fire of 1835 and more, right up through Hurricane Sandy and "Manhattan Today." In addition to her historical text about "the city on the island," she uses sidebars, speech bubbles and notes incorporated directly into the illustrations to give supplemental information. An example: an illustration of Manhattan in the late 1700s sits on the same page as text that says it was a "time of industry, growth, and freedom. (But not for everyone.)"; an illustrated sidebar points out that "slavery continued in New York City after the American Revolution" and that "the city was rebuilt using slave labor and immigrants." Thermes's dynamic watercolor, colored pencil and ink illustrations tell as much of the story as the text, showing New York City's expansion in great detail.
Manhattan, with tons of backmatter and fun paratextual material, uses every part of the book--front cover all the way to the final endpapers--to give young readers an in-depth and entertaining history of the city on the island. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Map illustrator and children's book author/illustrator Jennifer Thermes tells the history of New York City in this winning picture book.
The Very Short, Entirely True History of Unicorns
by Sarah Laskow , illust. by Sam Beck
No matter how readers picture unicorns--majestic, pure white, horse-like creatures or cartoon characters sporting manes streaked with all the colors of the rainbow--when they open the pages of this inviting compendium they'll find plenty of fascinating, fun facts about the ever-popular magical creatures.
A Greek doctor living in Persia "more than 2300 years ago" wrote about "the existence of fantastic one-horned 'wild asses' " whose "bodies are white, their heads dark red, and their eyes dark blue." In the centuries that followed, one-horned beasts were said to resemble goats, deer and bulls. The horns themselves were reported to vary from "a foot and a half in length," to three feet, to "four feet long and spiral," until finally, "by the 1200s, some writers thought the unicorn's horn was ten feet long!"
Sarah Laskow's text provides a fine collection of information about the history of human fascination with the unicorn. A limited number of period drawings, tapestries and coins are heavily supplemented with comics artist Sam Beck's illustrations. The material brings the creature into modern times with the inclusion of more recent oddities such as Lancelot the "Living Unicorn" (which traveled with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus in the late 1980s) as well as a concise survey of 21st-century cartoons, video games, emojis and memes based on the mythical beast. Foods, too, have been affected by the popularity of unicorns--Laskow even includes a recipe for "Unicorn Poop Bark." Overflowing with evidence that "people have been talking and thinking about unicorns for thousands of years," The Very Short, Entirely True History of Unicorns suggests there is every reason to expect the fascination will continue. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: This small but wide-ranging history provides a wealth of information about the mythological unicorn.
The Downstairs Girl
by Stacey Lee
As The Downstairs Girl begins, it's March of 1890, and 17-year-old narrator Jo Kuan of Atlanta needs a job to help support herself and Old Gin, who has cared for her since infancy. She reluctantly accepts employment as a lady's maid for a Nellie Oleson type who doesn't let Jo forget that she's Chinese.
Jo and Old Gin are secretly living in the basement of the Bell home, where the family publishes a progressive but financially imperiled newspaper. Jo eavesdrops on the family through a listening tube designed by the abolitionists who built the house, and one night she overhears the Bells talking about running an advice column to entice subscribers. Jo wants to help the cause--she and Old Gin will be homeless if the paper folds and the Bells must move--so she writes a column that she submits anonymously, using the pen name Miss Sweetie. Soon all of Atlanta is abuzz: Who is this Miss Sweetie who airs such forward-thinking ideas about ladies and colored people? Meanwhile, Jo has her own mystery to solve: What happened to her parents?
Stacey Lee, who also wrote the historical young-adult novels Under a Painted Sky and Outrun the Moon, has found her calling. In The Downstairs Girl, characters' conversations about newfangled inventions, like safety bicycles and electric streetcars, segue effortlessly into chatter about suffrage and segregation, the day's hot topics. But like any good historical novelist, Lee traffics in timeless themes, including first love; frets Jo at one point, "I cannot go spoony over Nathan Bell." --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: In this polished YA novel set in 1890 Atlanta, a Chinese teenager anonymously vents her progressive ideas about gender and race in a newspaper advice column.