From the Shelf
The Bookseller of Florence
The Florentine Renaissance is best known for its magnificent art and buildings, which include works by Michelangelo and da Vinci and structures like the Dome cathedral and the Basilica of San Lorenzo. But at the time, Florence flourished in other ways not as well known.
As Italian city-states like Florence experimented with a limited form of democracy and many debated how to lead ethical lives and be responsible citizens, interest grew in classical texts in Greek and Latin, many of which were decaying in monasteries around Europe. As a result, booksellers became ever more important in helping find the texts and creating more accurate, more durable--and often expensive, beautifully illuminated--copies.
In the center of this intellectual ferment, one bookseller stood out: Vespasiano da Bisticci. Born in 1422, he started in the physically challenging role of book binder, binding together sheets of parchment. But he quickly became interested in the content of the books, and with his easy sociability became a friend of scholars and the merchants, particularly the Medicis, among major art patrons and book collectors. Vespasiano created libraries for customers who included popes, kings, princes and scholars across Europe. He also wrote biographies of 300 "illustrious men of the 15th Century," a book that in the 1800s helped define the concept of what is now known as the Renaissance.
In The Bookseller of Florence: The Story of the Manuscripts that Illuminated the Renaissance (Atlantic Monthly, $30), Ross King brilliantly traces the life and career of Vespasiano. At its height, that career crumbled because of a kind of transformative disruption in the book world that people in the age of e-books and audiobooks might appreciate: in 1440, Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press. Soon copies of books, printed on paper and easily affordable, flooded the market and led to the demise of the illuminated parchment manuscript, upon which Vespasiano's business was based.
As he did so well in Brunelleschi's Dome, in The Bookseller of Florence, Ross King captures the magic of Florence and one of its leading lights at a key moment. --John Mutter, editor-in-chief, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Rob Howell
Rob Howell's joyful and visually stunning new cookbook offers colorful, creative recipes with vegetables as the main course.
by Matt Ringler
A neighborhood becomes a roller-coaster track, a stroller the car, in this lively picture book about a father-daughter outing.
by Eley Williams
This whimsical, intricate collection of 16 short stories explores the beauty and limitations of language, the triumphs and failures of communication, with brilliant, irreverent prose.
Review by Subjects:
From Garden District Book Shop
09/16/2021 - 6:00PMEVENT Postponed THE GARDEN DISTRICT BOOK SHOP HOSTS KENT BABB TO CELEBRATE HIS NEW RELEASE, ACROSS THE RIVER: LIFE, DEATH, AND FOOTBALL IN AN AMERICAN CITY The Garden District Book Shop is thrilled to host an evening celebrating the recent release of award-winning sportswriter Kent Babb’s, Across the River: Life, Death, and Football in an American City. What is sure to be a classic work of sports journalism, Across the River is an investigation into the...
Fictional Murders Hiding in Plain Sight
CrimeReads drew up "a list of fictional murderers hiding in plain sight."
Conservation at the Library of Congress: "What We Do!"
"Watch accurate recreations of medieval Italian longsword fighting techniques, all based on a manuscript from 1404," Open Culture suggested.
"Celebrating Haiti: books by Haitian & Haitian American authors." (via the New York Public Library)
Pop quiz: "Who wrote it: Dr. Seuss or Roald Dahl?" (via Mental Floss)
In 1953, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man won the National Book Award for Fiction, beating Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea and John Steinbeck's East of Eden. Ellison (1913-1994) did not publish another novel for the rest of his life. Instead, between essays and short stories, he produced an unfinished manuscript more than 2,000 pages long. His friend, biographer and literary executor John F. Callahan condensed Ellison's writing into Juneteenth, a 368-page novel published in 1999. With help from Adam Bradley, professor of English at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Callahan incorporated larger sections of Ellison's unfinished work into Three Days Before the Shooting..., a 1,101-page book published by Modern Library in 2010. It follows a man of unidentified race named Bliss, raised by a Black Baptist minister, who adopts a white identity as an adult and becomes a racist U.S. Senator.
Today, Vintage is publishing a revised version of Juneteenth featuring a new preface by Charles Johnson, author of Middle Passage, available in paperback ($17). On May 25, Modern Library will publish a hardcover of the same revised version, including Johnson's preface, with an introduction and new postscript by John F. Callahan ($25). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Claire Fuller: An Affinity for Atmospheric Places
|photo: Adrian Harvey|
Claire Fuller began writing fiction at age 40, following a career in marketing. After receiving her Masters in Creative and Critical Writing from England's University of Winchester, near where she lives, Fuller wrote and published three novels: Our Endless Numbered Days (2015), Swimming Lessons (2017) and Bitter Orange (2018). Her fourth novel, Unsettled Ground (reviewed below), was just published by Tin House Books.
What spurred you to write Unsettled Ground?
It was a place my son found in the woods in Hampshire not far from where I live. He came across this caravan, which in America is a trailer camper. There are loads of these things nobody wants anymore. They get left on wasteland or used by agricultural workers or just fall into disrepair. He came across this caravan in the woods that had been vandalized. And he knows I like weird places, atmospheric places where people have lived but no longer live and maybe have left something of themselves behind. I went out there with him and he was right, it was really atmospheric. It slept two people, but all the windows had been smashed, the door was hanging off, it was very smelly. There were some things people had left behind: shoes and bedding. It made me start thinking: Who had lived there? What circumstances had taken them there? And where did they move on from there?
I created Jeanie in my head, but I decided to go back in time to see what circumstances would have taken her to the caravan, and started writing. I don't plan my novels. It feels like I'm following the character, just running to keep up with them while I discover what they do and who they are.
What were some of the challenges in writing Jeanie and Julius as characters?
I think Jeanie is the most challenging character I've ever written; I found it really difficult to write someone who struggles to read and write. That's my job, to read and write, and it feels so fundamental to who I am. To not have it, to invent a person without any of that, was quite a challenge. I would put her in scenes and have her do things and then I would think, "Oh, but she can't do that, because she can't read!" All the time I was forgetting that this attribute just fundamentally affected all of her life. In the way that she has to learn to be very clever in finding her way around the fact that she can't read or write, I had to do the same.
Music is often what keeps Jeanie and Julius together, although they differ on what to do with their music. What led you to make music so central to this piece?
In all four novels, music has seeped in. When I start a book, I try to work out what I'm going to listen to. With Unsettled Ground it took me a long time. It came down to two pieces of music, which I then listened to for two years. The first is a song called "Polly Vaughn" which is an old English folk song, but the version I listen to is sung by a woman called Tia Blake. And the second is a song called "We Roamed Through the Garden," written by my son, who is an acoustic guitarist. I also wanted to show Jeanie was capable of great skill and learning. She's failed the normal education system, or it's failed her, but she's not a stupid woman. And I needed to give the characters and the readers some joy. It's quite a bleak book and I needed some moments to lift it.
Some terrible things do indeed happen. Their eviction is quite traumatic. What made housing insecurity a vital topic for you to explore?
In terms of housing, it wasn't the case that I planned to write about it. I had Jeanie in this cottage, and I started to write about how little money they had. If I wanted things to get worse for them--and, of course, you do want that in any novel--the next thing seemed to be eviction. When I finished the novel, I understood one of the things Jeanie really cared about was home. It takes me maybe a year and a half to finish a draft. When I know what a book is about, I'll go and enhance those themes. That theme of housing and worrying about home just came later, it wasn't something I planned.
Are there any books or authors you consider "tuning fork" texts? Books you return to for inspiration on atmosphere or tone?
I do have works I use in that way! One is Wildlife by Richard Ford. I absolutely love the story and there's something about the tone. If I'm writing and I feel like it's going badly and the tone is all wrong, I can open to any page of that book and I can say, "Oh, that's what I'm meant to be doing!" It's not like I want to copy what's there but it's absolutely a tuning fork. John Updike's Rabbit, Run or almost any of the Rabbit books do that for me. I don't want to write a Rabbit book or be like Updike, but it just gets me back on track. And in terms of content and writing I always go back to We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson for its weirdness and oddness.
What are you working on for your next project?
I haven't finished it, so I don't know what happens. I'm still discovering who the people are and what they're doing. But I started writing it the October before the pandemic started and it's about five people who volunteer for a flu trial in a clinic and then a flu pandemic happens, and they are stuck there. Because the pandemic happened, I've changed it so it's coronavirus because it would be odd to write about a flu pandemic when that's not what's happening now. If this book does get published, no one is going to believe me that I started it before the pandemic!
But I find it hard to write about people in a city or inside; I want to write about nature in fiction. If these people are stuck in a hospital clinic, where am I going to get my nature from? So the main character goes back to Greece and becomes a marine biologist specializing in octopuses. That's where the nature comes from. Lots of octopus stuff in this book.
Is there any kind of genre or type of story you'd like to try to write that you haven't yet?
I'd really like to write a literary horror or ghost story. I used to read a lot of horror--not gore, just unsettling, scary things. I struggle to find fiction that really does scare me. I'd like to see if I could do that. Could I scare myself? --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Attrib. and Other Stories
by Eley Williams
Eley Williams's first short story collection is a celebration of the precision--and inevitable imprecision--of language. Attrib. and Other Stories follows a group of indecisive characters (usually first person, usually unnamed, often addressing a mysterious "you") in a series of moments before the crescendo: the pause before a kiss, the dismount at a subway stop, the half-sleep before total consciousness. These characters are united by their inaction, and by the language they use to describe that inaction, mulling over words, definitions and puns, as they think of the perfect phrase that should've been said in a moment now past.
Williams (The Liars Dictionary) explores the barriers of communication, the ways in which our thoughts can never be perfectly translated. Two of the 16 stories, "The Alphabet" and "Synaesthete, Would Like to Meet," explore various conditions that distort language into something unrecognizable. In the former, one partner's aphasia has driven a wedge between a language-loving couple. As the recognition of words dies, so does the relationship: "Forgetting hairbrush became forgetting our address became forgetting dates became figmenting became fragmenting became I remembered your beautiful, beautiful face but could not quite place it." The connection between the language and the thing itself is deftly explored, again and again.
Despite their frequent focus on loss, breakups and otherwise emotional situations, the stories are tragically funny. In "Platform," while staring at a photo of a friend long gone, the narrator notices a man losing his toupee in the background, "like a ridiculous Frisbee of hair, or one of those gliding squirrels." Despite its frequent neuroticism, Williams's work brims with ever-present humor. --Simone Woronoff, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: This whimsical, intricate collection of 16 short stories explores the beauty and limitations of language, the triumphs and failures of communication, with brilliant, irreverent prose.
by Claire Fuller
Unsettled Ground by critically acclaimed author Claire Fuller (Bitter Orange; Our Endless Numbered Days) is a moving portrait of two unusual siblings desperate to find a place to belong in their small, rural English hometown. Fifty-one-year-old twins Jeanie and Julius have always lived with their mother, Dot, tending to the garden near their small, rented cottage. But when Dot dies suddenly, and the cottage landlords claim the twins owe years' worth of rent, Jeanie and Julius find themselves overwhelmed by both grief and poverty as they face eviction. While Jeanie scrambles to find a job and a way to hold onto their home, Julius begins to see that there may be ways to live other than the limited and dependent life their difficult mother led them to.
Fuller's ability to craft nuanced and affecting characters is on full display in Unsettled Ground. Jeanie in particular stands out as a lesser-seen heroine who may stumble through the unrelenting obstacles in her way, but nonetheless holds tight to her loyalties, convictions and desires to carve out a small and quiet place for herself in a fast-changing and often unforgiving world. Like Fuller's other novels, Jeanie and Julius's story is tinged with a haunting atmosphere of loss. From a worn wooden piano rutted in mud to a rusted and gutted camper lost deep in the woods, the novel is filled with evocative images that embody the deep-rooted pathos of the book's setting and characters. And while the slow-burn tension of the plot builds gradually, the unexpectedly explosive climax will reward reader anticipation in this devastating and contemplative family drama. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: An unnerving and emotional novel of family secrets, vulnerability and resilience, Unsettled Ground is an engrossing look at the corners of everyday life that often go unseen.
by Lina Meruane , trans. by Megan McDowell
Lina Meruane's Nervous System is a novel both fanciful and visceral, pairing the study of the cosmos with medical mysteries and wounds on earth. It is set dually in "the country of the present" and "the country of the past," the latter swimming with political violence and trauma, and bearing a resemblance to Meruane's native Chile. Megan McDowell's translation from the Spanish establishes an eerie tone.
The protagonist is Ella. Her partner is El: Are these names, or the Spanish pronouns She and He? El is also known as "the bone guy," a forensic scientist combing through mass graves, "more migrant bodies made to disappear piece by piece," to determine cause of death. Ella's father is simply the Father, her stepmother the Mother; only gradually the reader becomes aware of the Firstborn and the Twins (Boy Twin and Girl Twin), completing a family filled with holes and secrets. Ella is supposed to be writing her doctoral dissertation in astrophysics, but she has stalled. "This final attempt would be spent on stars that had already lost their light and collapsed in on themselves, forming dense black holes." Instead, she winds up tracking not solar systems but the systems of her own body, as an undiagnosed condition contributes to her long, slow downfall.
The narrative unfolds in a bit of a fever dream, narrated in a third-person perspective close to Ella's own consciousness, and characterized by a distant way of describing even horrendous events, "women hacked to pieces and children lost in arid lands." Nervous System is filled with anguish and unease, but also starlight, which touches Ella at its close. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This complex novel moves between outer space and private torments to embrace bonds forged in pain.
Mystery & Thriller
Local Woman Missing
by Mary Kubica
In Local Woman Missing, Mary Kubica (When the Lights Go Out; The Other Mrs.) moves around in time and perspective to create a kaleidoscopic view of the disappearance of a young mother, and then of another woman and her young daughter, rocking the quiet suburb in which they all lived.
The first woman to vanish is Shelby Tebow, new mother unhappily married to an unfaithful husband. Weeks later, Meredith Dickey and her six-year-old daughter, Delilah, are gone, too, without a trace. It's unclear to all--families, neighbors, police, readers--if these disappearances are related, though they feel too close to be coincidence. And when the bodies of both women are found and identified, the questions shift: Who would want these women dead, and what happened to Delilah? When a teenage Delilah shows up out of nowhere 11 years later, covered in dirt and with no memory of her life before her kidnapping, the questions only multiply, sucking in everyone in the orbit of both families.
There are a lot of threads in Local Woman Missing, which may make the novel difficult to follow, but also the best of the whodunit variety: red herrings and false leads abound, leaving readers guessing to the very end about how these threads connect to one another, despite an absolute certainty that they do. As they do, Kubica further owns her role as a master of domestic suspense, weaving a dark mystery that reveals just how far some people will go to keep a secret--no matter the cost. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: With many threads and no loose ends, a master of domestic suspense weaves a mystery of two missing women and a child.
The Hunting Wives
by May Cobb
Some people aren't aware they are in a toxic relationship until they are well out of it. That's not the case with lifestyle journalist Sophie O'Neill who, with her architect husband, Graham, and preschooler son, Jack, moved seven months ago from suburban Chicago to slower paced Mapleton, Tex., "small enough to feel quaint... big enough to have a Chipotle." There, Sophie finds a honeycomb of society women oozing with noxious gossip and backbiting--and Sophie desperately wants in. May Cobb (Big Woods) compellingly explores the dark side of female friendship in The Hunting Wives, her second novel.
Sophie becomes infatuated with queen bee Margot Banks, whose family has "oil money dripping out of their ears," and her three women friends. Sophie trolls them on social media and wangles invitations to parties where they will be. She's finally invited to join their "Hunting Wives" club, which involves a lot of drinking and shooting skeet at Margot's remote lake house. Then comes barhopping, which moves from flirting with strangers to adultery. Sophie's fascination with Margot puts her marriage in jeopardy, ignoring that she isn't a pal but a pawn in their risky games--until a fatality occurs.
Cobb plumbs the depths of Sophie's ennui as she realizes that this small-town life that she craved--"the quiet ticktock of the street"--begins to feel "oppressive." Sophie sees the manipulative Margot as a "glamour fix," an outlet for her restlessness. Cobb intelligently imbues The Hunting Wives with unexpected twists, accented by witty dialogue, leading to a surprising finale. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer
Discover: In this intelligently plotted thriller, a woman desperate to be a part of a secret women's clique gets caught up in risky games.
by Joe Ollmann
In Fictional Father, his darkly humorous and self-referential graphic novel, Joe Ollmann (The Abominable Mr. Seabrook) charts the journey of a middle-aged artist to define his life apart from his famous father.
Caleb Wyatt has led an apparently charmed life, owed to the success of his father's long-running comic strip, Sonny Side Up. Beloved by many, the schmaltzy father-and-son daily earned Jimmi Wyatt the nickname "Everybody's Dad." But to Caleb and his mother, Jimmi was nothing but cruel and withholding. Now an adult, Caleb struggles to balance the pressures of life: his sobriety; his own art career, forever overshadowed by his father's; and his boyfriend James who, though supportive, is growing weary of Caleb's privileged, boneheaded behavior. When suddenly faced with the opportunity to take over his father's strip, he must choose between preserving a legacy he resents and carving his own creative path.
Caleb notes that his father's strip was celebrated for the "deceptive simplicity" of Jimmi's lines, a suggestive phrase given the tumultuous reality the comic concealed. By contrast, Ollmann's own style is marked by bold linework and richly saturated colors, with frames full of craggy faces given to bouts of red-cheeked rage and exasperation. This expressive quality suits Ollmann's interest in the potential of comics to represent the messiness of life. Structurally, Ollmann plays with this same idea by incorporating a nonfictional frame story into the book's prologue and conclusion. Readers--especially those with a keen interest in the history and mechanics of comics--will appreciate Ollmann's formal playfulness and emotional honesty. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: In this wry, visually exuberant graphic novel, an artist grapples with the legacy of his famous cartoonist father.
Food & Wine
Root: Small Vegetable Plates, a Little Meat on the Side
by Rob Howell
At most restaurants, vegetables don't get the attention they deserve, typically being relegated to side dishes that complement a protein centerpiece. But in Root, chef Rob Howell's joyful and visually stunning new cookbook, greens, peppers, squash and more are the stars of the show. Based on recipes prepared at Howell's waterfront restaurant of the same name in Bristol, U.K., which he runs with his partner, Megan Oakley, the more than 100 dishes, salads, snacks and desserts presented here are colorful, creative and surprisingly robust. While a novice can easily whip up basic items like the cashew and chickpea hummus, some of Howell's food preparation techniques likely require a certain amount of culinary skill. The onion, leek, celeriac and Jerusalem artichoke lattice with vegetable gravy, for instance, comprises two full pages of detailed (yet surprisingly easy to follow) instructions. The resulting loaf, however, is an edible work of art that is certainly worth the effort.
Root also offers directives to prepare fish and meat-based side dishes, such as spiced monkfish with curried onions, applesauce, mint and coriander yoghurt. These enticing and distinctive flavors are key to Howell's approach as a chef: "I learned the importance of using the freshest ingredients and how simplicity is the best friend to flavour," he writes in the introduction. With recipes accompanied by crisp, striking illustrations, this cookbook will encourage home chefs to elevate their flavors, and perhaps start to shift to a more sustainable, plant-based diet. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer
Discover: Rob Howell's joyful and visually stunning new cookbook offers colorful, creative recipes with vegetables as the main course.
Biography & Memoir
Tastes Like War
by Grace M. Cho
Sociologist Grace M. Cho untangles a menacing snarl of family history in Tastes Like War, a poignant memoir of steadfast love between a troubled mother and her determined daughter. Cho was 15 years old when her mother, Koonja, began showing signs of mental illness and fierce suspicion toward everyone in their small town of Chehalis, Wash., even those once considered friends. Although Cho diagnosed her with schizophrenia from a textbook in 1986, it wasn't until 1994 that a psychiatrist confirmed Koonja's condition, by which time shared and secret traumas had set each member of their family adrift in different directions.
As Cho works to parse "my han--the untranslatable Korean word that refers to 'unresolved resentment against injustice'... or 'knotted grief,' " she follows dark and varied threads into arenas of devastating oppression. She navigates an unreliable mental health industrial complex vacillating between psychoanalytical and biomedical models of treatment, uncovers a history of abusive sex work for Korean women under Japanese and American occupation, and grapples with vicious xenophobia within the United States. But it is Korean food and flavors that help Cho and her mother deal with this painful mess, quite literally like a trail of breadcrumbs.
Cho's persistent memories of the mother she knew as a child, a wizard in the kitchen, reassures Cho that she lives on somewhere in that fragile mind. And eventually, as Koonja instructs Cho in re-creating dishes like the chilled soybean soup kong-guksu and the fish stew saengtae jjigae, glimmers do reemerge. Somehow both mouthwatering and heartbreaking, Tastes Like War is a potent personal history. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This bittersweet family history blends social psychology and food writing into a potent case study of a Korean American immigrant with schizophrenia.
The Tyranny of Algorithms: Freedom, Democracy, and the Challenge of AI
by Miguel Benasayag , trans. by Steven Rendall
In his preface to The Tyranny of Algorithms, anthropologist Régis Meyran notes that for all the discourse surrounding the concept of artificial intelligence (AI), "we cannot be 'for' or 'against' AI, insofar as it is already here and not likely to disappear any time soon. The question we now face is rather how to exist qua human beings, individually, social, collectively, in a world governed in large measure by algorithms." What follows is philosopher and psychoanalyst Miguel Benasayag's comprehensive argument for how to go forward as individuals and groups in the world ceded to the structures of AI, framed as a dialogue between Benasayag and Meyran.
The book's engrossing conversational structure makes it easy to follow Benasayag's reasoning, and helps to take readers through some quite complicated arguments. The questions framing the discussion anticipate the questions that readers might themselves have about the idea that the future lies less in models of certainty and more in embracing the idea that humans just need to know what they do not want to happen. Benasayag challenges the reduction of humans to predictive microdata, such as targeted advertising on social media, and confronts a world that uses AI to make social, financial and governing decisions without considering the impact on humans beyond efficiency or profitability. Most significantly, Benasayag puts forth a provocative solution in which new technologies and digital architecture are integrated in a way that emphasizes human emotion and experience, rather than treating such things as secondary. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: Presented in conversational style, this book outlines the dangers to democracy posed by artificial intelligence and how these perils might yet be thwarted.
Children's & Young Adult
by Matt Ringler , illust. by Raúl the Third , Elaine Bay
In this vibrant, energetic picture book, Matt Ringler (School Surprise!) imagines one wild ride of a parent-child outing, illustrated by three-time Pura Belpré Award winner Raúl the Third (¡Vamos! Let's Go Eat!) and artistic partner Elaine Bay.
"The inside feels too small for Sam," a brown-skinned little girl with ink-black pigtails. Her dad can cure "this daily disaster" of a nascent tantrum: a ride on the strollercoaster! Sam's plush bunny wipes its forehead in relief as her dad, a rubber-limbed gentleman with a high pompadour, scoops Sam into her stroller. Kelly green with streamer-enhanced handlebar grips and fenders to deflect tendrils of lightning pouring off the wheels, the stroller acts as a dad-powered carnival ride through their bustling neighborhood. "Click clack, click clack, click clack" rattle the wheels, like a wooden coaster rising up a track, as racially diverse neighbors wave to them. In a full-spread close-up, Sam's face radiates elation, her arms spread like wings against a sunset-hued background. In a tunnel, Sam and her dad turn into something akin to scratch art, rainbow sketches against a deep black background. Back at their front door, Sam's dad carries the snoozing Sam inside in the stroller, then settles down with her for a much-deserved nap.
Ringler's zippy, onomatopoeic description of a daily father-daughter ritual lays the track for a breathless thrill ride that perfectly mimics a classic coaster. Bay's peppy palette grabs the eye, and Raúl the Third's visual feast of detail-stuffed scenes and sly sight gags invites readers to linger. Strollercoaster shows that imagination and the bond between caregiver and child can transform a pedestrian routine into a joyful, unforgettable adventure. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A neighborhood becomes a roller-coaster track, a stroller the car, in this lively picture book about a father-daughter outing.
Luck of the Titanic
by Stacey Lee
Although no spoiler alert is needed for a book with Titanic in its title, readers will undoubtedly find themselves neglecting sleep to finish Stacey Lee's thrilling fictionalized account of a small group of Chinese passengers who took that fateful voyage.
Seventeen-year-old twins and former street acrobats Valora and Jamie Luck were orphaned after losing both their British mother and Chinese father. Val, the more impulsive of the twins, masquerades as her recently deceased wealthy employer to board the Titanic, where Jamie and "seven other Chinese men from his company" have been rerouted for an eventual trip on to Cuba. When Val meets a fellow passenger and part owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus, she hopes to convince Jamie to join her in striking out for America--Chinese Exclusion Act be damned. Jamie, however, is not a fan of his sister's "hasty pudding plans." And, of course, fate has its own objectives.
Lee, known for her superb works of historical fiction, including The Downstairs Girl, Outrun the Moon and Under a Painted Sky, hooks readers with the riveting tale of an impetuous and ambitious young woman. Lee keeps them on the line with vivid details of ship life, both mundane (the boiler room layout, the fact that passengers must pay if they want a room key) and sumptuous (crystal bowls filled with candy in the hallways, silk wall panels, the "tidal wave of a staircase"). Lee seamlessly weaves fact and fiction in Luck of the Titanic, inventing a story that gorgeously captures an era and a tragedy. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: In this breathtaking, heartbreaking novel, Stacey Lee turns the fact that there were eight Chinese passengers on the Titanic into a thrilling tale of impersonation and acrobatics.