Lion Forge: No Ivy League by Hazel Newlevant

Garden District Book Shop Issue for Tuesday, January 29, 2019

From the Shelf

Inspired Cruising

The middle of winter is when I like to do a lot of armchair travel. This is partly a coping mechanism for the cold, dark, rainy days, and lately I've been thinking that a cruise sounds fun. I have been on only one in my life. I was a teenager and with my parents, so I was just along for the ride. What I remember most were the long days far from dry land, when I managed to devour the entirety of Steinbeck's East of Eden (Penguin, $18). While we did go parasailing in Cabo San Lucas and joined an excursion to a secluded beach in Puerto Vallarta on that trip, I wonder what it'd be like to take charge of such a trip myself.

How to begin, though, right? The Cruise Handbook (Lonely Planet, $17.99) is perfect for someone like me, explaining the advantages of cruising and helping to decide what type of trip might be right for me. As a Seattle resident, I see a lot of ships embarking for Alaska, but I was completely ignorant of options in places like Egypt and Antarctica. With advice on getting the most bang for your buck, which destinations are popular with the LGBT community and what delicious cuisine awaits you in the dining room, The Cruise Handbook is definitely going to be a valuable resource when I finally get out of this armchair.

In the meantime, maybe I'll pull together a related reading list, for those long days at sea. Ruth Ware's Woman in Cabin 10 (Scout/Gallery, $16) seems like a good choice. A journalist covering the maiden voyage of a luxury cruise line investigates the disappearance of a woman that the others aboard don't think exists. Also perfect for deck reading is Kate Christensen's The Last Cruise (Doubleday, $26.95), about carefree idyll for those aboard the Queen Isabella for its final journey, with special attention to the food prepared in the ship's galley. At the very least, it's enough to keep me warm the rest of winter. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Neal Porter Books: Why? by Laura Vaccaro Seeger


Sharjah Exhibition for Children’s Book Illustrations —Register Now!


International Thriller Writers: William Morrow & Company: The Last Widow (Will Trent #9) by Karin Slaughter

In this Issue...

Reviews

Vigilance

by Robert Jackson Bennett

In a declining future U.S., mass shootings are reality TV.

Read this review >>

Restoration Heights

by Wil Medearis

A Brooklyn artist takes it upon himself to hunt for a missing woman in this deft and dogged first novel.

Read this review >>

The Bell Rang

by James E. Ransome

Award-winning author James E. Ransome's newest picture book, The Bell Rang, tells about an escaped slave from the perspective of the loved ones left behind.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Biography & Memoir History Psychology & Self-Help Children's & Young Adult

Grove Press: Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

From Garden District Book Shop

Upcoming Events

Sarah M. Broom in Conversation with Maurice Carlos Ruffin: The Yellow House

08/28/2019 - 6:00PM

Wednesday, 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...

Timothy Faust in Conversation with Nathan J. Robinson: Health Justice Now: Single Payer and What Comes Next

08/30/2019 - 6:00PM

Friday, 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...

Book Candy

Poetry Pharmacy Opens Doors

"Emergency Poet" Deborah Alma plans to dispense literary first aid from her new Poetry Pharmacy in Shropshire," the Guardian reported.

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Illustrator Tom Gauld "on how to deal with owning too many books."

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Headline of the day (via Reykjavik Grapevine): "Icelandic Cat Spends the Night in a Bookstore, Elicits Sympathy."

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Pop Quiz: "Who wrote it: Edgar Allan Poe or an Emo band?" Mental Floss challenged.

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The University of Oxford's Bodleian Libraries acquired a rare 15th century French Gothic book coffer, Bookshelf reported.

Charlesbridge Publishing: Sumokitty by David Biedrzycki

Great Reads

Rediscover: Native Son

First published in 1940, Native Son by Richard Wright follows Bigger Thomas, a black 20-year-old living on Chicago's South Side in the 1930s. He shares a single room with his mother, sister and brother, all of whom rely on his meager income. When Bigger gets a new job with a wealthy white family, he finds himself cast into an alien world of uncomfortable kindness and strange words. His employer's daughter, Mary, attempts to teach Bigger about Communism with little success. One night after chauffeuring Mary and her boyfriend, Bigger accidentally commits a heinous crime and tries to hide it--poorly. Bigger's life rapidly unravels into violence and incarceration.

Native Son was an immediate bestseller. It marked a new chapter in African-American literature by demonstrating how conditions imposed by dominant whites create and perpetuate America's racial divide, though the book has been criticized by some, including James Baldwin, for flimsy characterization. Native Son has once again been adapted into a film (previously 1951 and 1986). Rashid Johnson, a visual artist, directs a screenplay by Suzan-Lori Parks, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright. Ashton Sanders (Moonlight) stars as Bigger Thomas. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 24 and was acquired for distribution by HBO. Wright's book is available from Harper Perennial Modern Classics ($16.99, 9780060929800). --Tobias Mutter

Minotaur Books: The Bitterroots by CJ Box

The Writer's Life

Stephanie Land: Increasing Visibility, Increasing Compassion

photo: Nicol Biesek

As a domestic worker and single mother, Stephanie Land survived day by day, paycheck to paycheck, often judged or just unseen by the people around her. In her memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive (Hachette, $27; reviewed below), Land shines a light on the experience of escaping domestic violence and providing for her daughter, all while following her dream of becoming a writer.

The first line in this book is so powerful: "My daughter learned to walk in a homeless shelter." Your relationship with your daughter is at the heart of this book. How has motherhood impacted your writing, and how has being a writer impacted you as a parent?

I think the writer in me clashes with my responsibilities as a parent quite a bit. I get so lost in myself, in books, in journals, in things I want to write, and parenting interrupts that almost constantly. I think parenting made me a very fast, very focused and very productive writer. I had to learn how to write 12-page essays on Shakespeare with Sponge Bob Square Pants blaring in the background when I was in college, and that carried over to when I also had to write articles as a freelancer.

The issue of the invisibility of domestic workers is painfully apparent in this memoir--and you make visible some of the people who might not get to tell their own stories. What do you hope readers will gain by seeing these stories up close?

My biggest hope is to not only increase visibility, but to increase compassion by making invisible populations more human. I hope for empathy toward the people who clean up after us, who hand us coffee, who hand over our kids after caring for them all day. These people are not paid anywhere near a wage they can live off of, and definitely not enough to support a family. I hope people start to realize that more.

There are evolving definitions of "home" in Maid: "Our space was a home because we loved each other in it," and "Home was a place that embraced us, a community, a knowing." What is your definition of home now?

You know, I don't really know. I think I'll always feel a bit distanced from that word as someone who is estranged completely from family. I'd like to say it's where the people you love are, but most of my closest friends are scattered around the country. I don't think of home as a physical place as much anymore. It's a wholeness you carry with you wherever you go.

Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed is required reading in many schools; did you read the book in school yourself? Did you have any models for this book?

I read the book when it came out, or when the paperback came out. I was 19 or 20 and had already worked as a waitress and coffee girl and as a house cleaner for a brief stint. So at the time, it was about my life a little bit, even though I was young and didn't have any dependents and could work whenever I wanted to, not having to worry about child care or feeding people other than myself.

My models for Maid were countless breakout memoirs by female authors I've read over the years. I studied them as I grew into a writer because that was where I felt I was headed.

You've made it to Missoula, Mont., the town you set your sights on throughout the book. As you point out, it is a town made famous by many celebrated writers. How does it feel to be one of them now?

Ha! Boy, I don't know. We were at an event last night, and as I handed over cash to pay, the lady said, "Aren't you Stephanie Land, the famous writer?" and a lady behind her said "YES!!" I just kind of blushed and said, "Famous writer is an oxymoron," and moved along. Mia's friends at school call me famous, and I don't have to give my name for things like getting my card back when I open a tab or want a table, but I'm still just a girl in Carhartts with a couple of disheveled kids in tow.

You mention having a small stack of books while in the transitional housing. Do you remember what they were?

Probably the same ones that are on the shelf in my living room: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Still Life with Woodpecker by Tom Robbins and My Story as Told by Water by David James Duncan.

What books are on your nightstand now?

I'm currently loving Deep Creek by Pam Houston.

You drink a lot of coffee in this book. Do you drink it while you write? What's your ideal cup of coffee?

Yes! Oh god yes. There is always a cup of coffee within reach. If you want me to be extremely specific, I like drip coffee--Ethiopian Yrgacheffee is my favorite--with a small spoon of raw sugar and some whole milk. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Book Reviews

Fiction

Restoration Heights

by Wil Medearis

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Reddick is a 30-something white artist who lives in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, N.Y., and makes rent by working as an art handler. While on a job for the old-money Seward family on Manhattan's Upper East Side, he learns that the woman he encountered in the alley behind his apartment building the night before is the fiancée of scion Buckley Seward. And she has gone missing. From the Seward family's refusal to contact the police, Reddick draws an easy conclusion: Buckley would rather not admit that "his fiancée was out partying in a black neighborhood."

Spurred on and subsidized by a wealthy friend of the Sewards, Reddick turns detective, poking around his neighborhood in hopes of discovering what the missing woman was doing there. He constantly runs up against Restoration Heights, the unfinished towers whose construction has been halted for the winter. The site has been the source of much tension between the locals and the agents of gentrification; what's more, Reddick notes that it "could definitely hide a body."

Restoration Heights has all the signposts of a thriller, but it's ambitious enough to take on literary-powerhouse topics like white privilege, gentrification and selling out; the novel may remind readers of The Bonfire of the Vanities, minus the smirkiness. While HBO or one of its ilk would do well to snatch up the rights to Restoration Heights, a filmed treatment could hardly be more vivid than what debut novelist Wil Medearis--also a painter--has created with words on paper. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: A Brooklyn artist takes it upon himself to hunt for a missing woman in this deft and dogged first novel.

Hanover Square Press, $26.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781335218728

The Only Woman in the Room

by Marie Benedict

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Hedy Lamarr is famous as the glamorous Hollywood movie star of the 1940s. But few know of the Hedy behind the scenes: her life as an acclaimed actress on the Viennese stage, then wife of a notorious Nazi-connected arms manufacturer and, after her Hollywood fame, a scientist. As she did in her earlier historical novel, Einstein's Wife, in The Only Woman in the Room, Marie Benedict reveals a woman whose depth was lost to history.

Following her performances as the beloved Bavarian Empress Elizabeth, Hedy Kiesler dutifully returns to her family's home in a Jewish neighborhood in Vienna. That she marries Friedrich Mandl, an arms dealer known as "The Merchant of Death," seems uncharacteristic, but at 19 she's taken with his charm. She also heeds her father's prediction that as Mandl's wife she might protect all of them from Hitler's creeping power. Initially she savors the opulence of Mandl's lavish lifestyle, but as the only woman in the room, she also listens intently when her husband entertains politicians, including Hitler. When the Führer assures Mandl he'll name them "Honorary Aryans," she plots her escape to London and, soon after, to California.

Her Hollywood years bring fame, relationships and adoption of a war orphan; following the German sinking of a "mercy ship," she commits to repaying the good fortune of her escape. Combining what she overheard about weaponry at the Mandl dinners with diligent study, she joins with scientist George Antheil to invent a revolutionary radio-guided torpedo system using unjammable frequencies. But will the Navy listen to a movie star? Benedict's compelling novel illuminates a fascinating woman. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: This historical novel depicts film star Hedy Lamarr's little-known achievements in science, sparked by her knowledge of Nazi weapons gleaned when she was the young wife of an Austrian arms manufacturer.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $25.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781492666868

You Know You Want This

by Kristen Roupenian

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You Know You Want This, Kristen Roupenian's debut collection of short stories, includes 12 stories that tackle the nuanced and often monstrous dynamics of sexual power. The collection includes "Cat Person," the viral short story originally published in a December 2017 issue of the New Yorker. There are other standouts, such as "The Nice Guy," which follows seemingly innocuous Ted, who gets off on imagining women mutilating themselves. In "Biter," a young women lies in wait for the perfect moment to sink her teeth into men, and "Look at Your Game, Girl" reimagines the infamous kidnap and murder of Polly Klaas through the eyes of a girl who wasn't taken.

All of Roupenian's stories have a dark aura that hypnotically draws in readers, similar to the "glow of the phone like a campfire illuminating their faces" in "Cat Person." The prose is clean and slick, as writhing and slippery as the characters. Some stories approach reality with an eye for the surreal, locating moments of disjuncture and unease in everyday life. Others, like "Sardines" and "Death Wish," approach the surreal with an eye for the real, drawing out moments of eerie recognition from unrecognizable contexts. The men and women in Roupenian's stories are wonderfully grotesque as they follow their desires obsessively. In an uncomfortable but fascinating form of voyeurism, the reader may feel compelled to urge these characters on, both yearning and fearing the climax, picking at the blister until it breaks. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Kristen Roupenian reveals the interplay of gender and power to be equal parts fun house and horror show in You Know You Want This.

Gallery/Scout Press, $24.99, hardcover, 240p., 9781982101633

Mystery & Thriller

No Mercy

by Joanna Schaffhausen

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"You kill one guy, one time, and suddenly everyone thinks you need therapy." Officer Ellery Hathaway is irked when she's required to get counseling following a shooting. She's even less pleased when her psychiatrist wants her to attend group meetings for violent crime survivors. Ellery is already infamous from her childhood abduction by a serial killer--after the media coverage, a book and at least two movies, what more could anyone want to know about "the girl who got away?"

In the group, Ellery meets Myra Gallagher, survivor of a 1987 fire that killed her toddler son. The arsonist is up for parole and rumors are swirling he may be innocent. Then there's Wendy, hiding behind her shaved head and neck tattoo, hoping the man who snuck in her bedroom window won't find her attractive enough to return and rape her again. Since the formal police investigation has stalled, Wendy begs Ellery for help.

No Mercy, the second in Joanna Schaffhausen's absorbing mystery series, finds Ellery sucked into both cases, eventually calling on FBI profiler Reed Markham for help. The two have a complicated history going back to Ellery's abduction and the circumstances of The Vanishing Season. Although first-time readers may be confused by the level of backstory, Schaffhausen provides intriguing new investigations that build on Reed and Ellery's foundation and pique interest in their future. Schaffhausen is an ace at probing the nooks and crannies of victimology, and this installment's focus on surviving violence provides her with plenty of space to shine. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review.

Discover: A cop with an infamous history becomes embroiled in multiple mysteries stemming from a victim's group while she's sidelined following an on-the-job shooting. 

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 320p., 9781250297365

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Vigilance

by Robert Jackson Bennett

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In the mid-21st-century United States, mass shootings have been monetized. An exodus of the young and educated, combined with climate catastrophe, has created a country of cruel, terrified, mostly white and elderly people. In this grim future, the media network ONT (Our Nation's Truth) has turned mass shootings into reality TV.

Robert Jackson Bennett (Foundryside; the Divine Cities trilogy) imagines the NRA's dream future: a gun, or more than one, for every man, woman and child. As a way to encourage its citizens to remain armed and afraid, ONT, with the support of the gun manufacturers and other businesses that own the government, hosts Vigilance--an irregular TV event that locks down a surprise location and lets multiple pre-selected shooters, armed with camera drones and guns, go on killing sprees. Civilians who kill shooters, or shooters who kill all their targets, can win millions of dollars. The small print on every public building declaring all entrants subject to Vigilance makes the legalities of such slaughter a nonissue. As the latest shooting unfolds, Bennett shifts between its cynical producer at studio headquarters and a waitress who witnesses her fellow citizens at their worst.

Vigilance is a savage satire of American gun lust and media obsession taken to their most obscene extremes. Bennett has created a short but powerful parable that would feel outrageously unbelievable were it not for the United States' constant crisis. This novella successfully combines spectacle and substance into a satisfying whole. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: In a declining future U.S., mass shootings are reality TV.

Tor, $14.99, paperback, 192p., 9781250209443

Biography & Memoir

Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive

by Stephanie Land

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"You're welcome." These are the words spoken to Stephanie Land in a grocery store by a man behind her in line--because she's paying for her groceries with government assistance. Moments like this crop up throughout Land's debut memoir, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother's Will to Survive.

After escaping a relationship that became abusive when she got pregnant, Land has limited options. She can't rely on family for help, and friends don't realize just how much she struggles to get by. Finding work as a maid, Land becomes an intimate observer of people's lives. Yet she remains nearly invisible to them even as she comes to know their most private habits in the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom and beyond. Despite Land's tireless efforts juggling work and single parenting, she must rely for a time on seven different kinds of government aid. Even then, access to healthcare and healthy food for her daughter are a battle.

One constant in Maid is Land's Carhartt pants--a working person's go-to brand, ready to wash only "when you've taken them off and they still stand on their own." The metaphor is fitting. Land stands on her own, as does her story. She works constantly to support her daughter, and ultimately to achieve her own goal of moving to Missoula, Mont., to become a writer. In sharing her experience, she also offers a window into the lives of those whose stories we don't hear. Instead of "you're welcome," Land should be hearing a resounding "thank you." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: This powerful, poignant memoir probes the exhausting and often dehumanizing effects of poverty in the tale of a woman working desperately hard but barely making it.

Hachette, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9780316505116

Black Is the Body: Stories from My Grandmother's Time, My Mother's Time, and Mine

by Emily Bernard

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When she was a graduate student at Yale, Emily Bernard was one of seven victims of a random stabbing in a New Haven coffee shop. The attack was not racially motivated, but its effects--the enduring physical pain caused by her wound and the mental and emotional weight of the incident--have prompted Bernard to delve into the realities of her life as a black American woman. The essays in her third book, Black Is the Body, explore Bernard's experience as a black woman raised in Nashville who is now a long-time resident of Vermont. She explores what it means to be a mother of twin adopted daughters from Ethiopia, the wife of a white man and a thoughtful human being determined to get at the complicated truth of her identity.

After recounting the story of her stabbing, Bernard (Some of My Best Friends) moves on to "Teaching the N-Word," which reflects on the challenges of teaching African American literature to mostly white students at the University of Vermont. She appreciates her students' careful approach to racially charged terms, but pushes them to think beyond the words they so assiduously avoid saying. As with her students, so with her readers: Bernard's essays insist on critical thinking about the complexities of living in a black body.

Blackness, she argues, is an "art, not a science"; it is "a condition that encompasses beauty, misery, wonder, and opportunity." The essays in Black Is the Body contain all of the above. They are a brave rendering of one woman's experience, both particular and universal, and a vital addition to conversations about race and identity. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Emily Bernard's bold essays explore the realities of living as a black woman in the U.S.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780451493026

If I Can Cook / You Know God Can

by Ntozake Shange

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In the 20 years since If I Can Cook / You Know God Can was first published, black culture has continued to remember, incorporate and evolve in music, art, food and life in general, as more and more generations share histories and memories across the African diaspora. The late Obie Award-winning playwright Ntozake Shange (For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide / When the Rainbow Is Enuf) modernizes her journey with vegan recipes that nonetheless stay connected to their roots.

Providing a poetic, artistic meandering through a web of connected cultural influences that have defined and created what the world has come to know as African cooking, Shange unravels the complicated twisting pathways by which food and flavor have developed throughout African culture. She acknowledges the "ironic freedom" of former African slaves following the call of "Westward, ho!" to Oklahoma, where "a beef pot roast for supper, a venison pot roast or buffalo stew was... satisfying." Yet, "We also know that black soldiers, the Buffalo soldiers, were definitively responsible for the containment and oppression of many Native American tribes."

There is no recipe that has not been touched by the influences of another people, time and place. Do not expect a traditional cookbook with listed and measured ingredients and exact cooking times. Do enjoy Shange's intensely personal experiences with food, the oral tradition she transcribes onto paper when describing food preparation, and the stories of the people who taught her how to make it or who she made a meal for. --BrocheAroe Fabian, owner, River Dog Book Co., Beaver Dam, Wis.

Discover: This essay and recipe collection by the late Obie Award-winning playwright Ntozake Shange considers African cuisine and the history that shaped it.

Beacon Press, $15, paperback, 140p., 9780807021446

History

Underground: A Human History of the Worlds Beneath Our Feet

by Will Hunt

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Humanity has always felt a strange pull to the earth beneath us. Caves, as author and journalist Will Hunt explains, mess with our sensory apparatus and initiate our fight or flight response. Stay in the dark long enough and one will begin to hallucinate, seeing floating spots that eventually coalesce into shapes and images. And yet, humans have journeyed underground since we evolved from other upright apes: we can't escape its allure.

Underground explores this primal call from the deep, with Hunt relying on his experience as a spelunker and urban explorer to help shine light on the darkest places on earth. From ancient caves to the sewers in New York and Paris, Hunt takes the reader on a fascinating journey that transcends culture and time, linking modern and ancient practices to create a colorful mosaic. Hunt deftly explains a wide swath of subjects, equally comfortable with hard science as he is with personal narrative. The latter may be the best part of Underground, though, since his excitement at traveling beneath the earth is infectious when describing his first solo sojourn or his attempt to traverse all of Paris through its catacombs and sewers. Readers follow Hunt as he travels the world, learning about the collective human experience underground, yet another example of how cultural practice and belief transcends geography and time. Underground is a lively, informative read that nicely balances adventure with anthropology and science, placing Hunt's own dynamic history at the center of it all. --Noah Cruickshank, director of communications, Forefront, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Underground nicely pairs adventure and cultural history as it depicts humanity's never-ending obsession with the world beneath us.

Spiegel & Grau, $27, hardcover, 288p., 9780812996746

Psychology & Self-Help

Notes on a Nervous Planet

by Matt Haig

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Part memoir, part self-help book, Matt Haig's unassuming but wise Notes on a Nervous Planet is the perfect antidote for that stab of anxiety felt when the words "Breaking News" flash across the television screen. It's what you need when you can't kick the Pavlovian impulse to check compulsively the "likes" for your most recent Facebook post.

His memoir Reasons to Stay Alive described a struggle with depression in his 20s that pushed him to the brink of suicide. Now Haig offers a collection of mostly micro-essays, a buffet of ingenious responses to what he suggests is the overriding question of our time: "How can we live in a mad world without ourselves going mad?"

Haig singles out most of the usual culprits for collective angst, including the 24-hour news cycle and social media. But at the heart of his diagnosis is that, alongside this atmosphere of constant connection and distraction, the culture is designed to instill in its participants a feeling of perpetual dissatisfaction, of never having or being enough. "We are being sold unhappiness," he writes, "because unhappiness is where the money is."

There's no shortage of practical wisdom in this book. It features checklists entitled "How to own a smartphone and still be a functioning human being" and "Ten ways to work without breaking down." It also suggests adopting healthy practices like yoga, spending time in nature and dealing with sleep deprivation.

With generosity and wit, Haig gently reminds readers that life is hard enough without the damage people inflict on themselves every day, and that a bit of self-acceptance will serve to heal many modern maladies. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Matt Haig offers a wide-ranging survey of the steps we can take to live a saner life in a world that seems, at times, insane.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 304p., 9780143133421

Children's & Young Adult

The Bell Rang

by James E. Ransome

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Monday: "The bell rings.../ Daddy gathers wood./ Mama cooks./ We eat./ Mama kisses me./ Daddy hugs me./ My brother Ben/ touches my shoulder/ good-bye." Mama, Daddy and Ben head to the fields "with the overseer/ and Master Tucker's other slaves." On Tuesday, "the bell rings" and the cycle begins again. Wednesday is different: "The bell rings," but Ben "surprises" his little sister, first, "with a kiss on the cheek,/ then whispering/ 'Good-bye'/ in [her] ear." Thursday, the girl wakes to the sound "of Mama and Daddy/ searching." Mama is crying. "No Ben." Daddy is crying. "Ben ran."

On Friday, Daddy gathers wood and Mama cooks. The little girl can't eat. Saturday, "we talk of Ben," the girl's first-person narration says. "We miss him./ We hope he's free/ like the birds." Later, the boys who ran with Ben are found and whipped; "all night" the family cries, praying for Ben. On Sunday at worship, Big Sam preaches and everyone prays that "Ben made it./ Free like the birds./ Free like Moses./ No more bells." Then, it is "Monday..." again.

Award-winning author/illustrator James E. Ransome (Game Changers) uses The Bell Rings to, in his words, "address the difficult choice enslaved persons faced when making the decision to leave their loved ones behind." To do this, the work focuses on the "equally heart wrenching" impact on those left behind. Ransome's text is spare, the simple verse giving every action and emotion a universal feel. The text is repetitive, highlighting the ceaseless nature of the work forced upon the slaves. And, of course, Ransome's acrylic illustrations are magnificent. Every illustration is a snapshot of lives being lived, each a moment in time, fully saturated with color, emotion and action. The Bell Rings is a perfectly balanced, deeply emotional work of art. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Award-winning author James E. Ransome's newest picture book, The Bell Rang, tells about an escaped slave from the perspective of the loved ones left behind.

Atheneum, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781442421134

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

by Anika Aldamuy Denise , illust. by Paola Escobar

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Pura Teresa Belpré could be considered the mother of U.S. Latinx children's literature. In 1921, she moved from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to New York City, where she began working as a trilingual assistant for the New York Public Library. Using her storehouse of Puerto Rican folktales, she spent time in the children's room, telling tales and planting "her story seeds." Wanting to add books to the library shelves and create works that would allow "children new to this island... to remember la lengua y los colores of home," she published some of her stories, such as Pérez y Martina, in which "Martina, a beautiful Spanish cockroach, meets Pérez, a handsome and gallant mouse."

Anika Aldamuy Denise, also of Puerto Rican heritage, writes Planting Stories in simple, dynamic text. Spanish words are well-integrated, their meaning easily intuited by English speakers: "What began as a visit to celebrate her sister's wedding becomes the first steps in a new land--y una vida nueva--for Pura." Paola Escobar's digital illustrations create an appropriately retro, sometimes magical look. In a double-page spread depicting Belpré speaking at an American Library Association banquet, violinist Clarence White, sits at a table; Escobar superimposes puppet images of Belpré's characters with musical notes and stars floating in the air to echo the narrative: "like the beautiful Martina, [Pura] meets her Pérez."

This excellent read-aloud, with its informative author's note and bibliographic resources, pays homage to one of the United States' premier librarians and storytellers, now honored with an American Library Association award in her name. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: This picture book about the life of the Puerto Rican storyteller and librarian Pura Belpré will likely inspire young readers to create their own tales to share with others.

HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-8, 9780062748683

The Last Widow
(Will Trent #9)
by Karin Slaughter
isbn: 9780062858085
William Morrow
August 20, 2019


an exclusive interview with bestselling author Karin Slaughter  
 

When you finished writing THE KEPT WOMAN, you actually had the idea for THE LAST WIDOW—but you didn’t start writing it until a couple of years later. Why the hesitation?

“I had to give myself time to think about it. I wrote two books in between, and it was just my way of kind of wrapping my head around the subject matter. It took quite a bit of research to write this novel. I’m not one of these ‘ripped from the headlines’ kind of writers, so it was really difficult for me to decide whether or not this was the book to write because I thought, you know, this stuff is becoming very topical. Keep in mind I wrote it basically a year ago. I finally just decided, well, that’s not something I can think about. I just need to write the book that I want to write.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

 

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