From the Shelf
'People of Earth, Looking for a Sign of Hope'
Spiritual people making hard, practical decisions; I'm always intrigued by their stories. In Brad Kessler's fine new novel, North (the Overlook Press, $26), the seemingly disparate lives that converge on a snowy Vermont night--Sahro, a Somali refugee seeking asylum, and Father Christopher, the abbot of a mountain monastery--are woven together with intricate threads of home, flight, sanctuary, danger, hope, faith, storytelling and much more.
"She looked at Christopher with a wan smile, and his heart broke a little for her bravery, her strength, her faith," Kessler writes. "He looked down at his hands. All he could do was listen, accompany, be present, put himself in the same vulnerable position, walk with."
Stories of practical spirituality have been everywhere in my reading lately. In Lauren Groff's Matrix (Riverhead Books, $28), Marie, abbess of the Royal Abbey, walks a line between the harsh responsibilities of her office (not a vocation, at least not at first) and the spiritual mission of abbey life ("Prayer helps, but what helps more are stories").
And in One Night Two Souls Went Walking by Ellen Cooney (Coffee House Press, $14.95), an interfaith chaplain wanders the hospital corridors on night shift, listening to patients' stories and seeking to interpret for them--and herself--the mystery of the soul. " 'I believe in expecting light," I say, as if it doesn't matter they can only be words to hang on to, out of habit, when there are no other words, when I am looking at darkness."
Practical spirituality. In Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris (Mariner Books, $14.95), a minister recalled the first funeral service she conducted in the town: "As people gathered for the graveside service, the men, some kneeling, began studying the open grave. It was early November, and someone explained that they were checking the frost and moisture levels in the ground. They were farmers and ranchers worried about a drought. They were mourners giving a good friend back to the earth. They were people of earth, looking for a sign of hope." --Robert Gray
In this Issue...
by Shawn Hitchins
This memoir of grief and recovery looks at love and loss with resilience, humor and honesty.
by Rick Riordan
In this action-packed Jules Verne-inspired sea adventure, 14-year-old Ana Dakkar, a descendent of Captain Nemo, must protect her ancestor's legacy before it falls into the wrong hands.
by Sofija Stefanovic
These 36 tales celebrating immigrants--activists, actors, artists and authors--transform from stage performances to page.
Review by Subjects:
From Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe
10/15/2021 - 6:00PMMalaprop's is pleased to partner with UNC Press and the North Carolina Arboretum to present this discussion with Lytton John Musselman and Peter W. Schafran, authors of Edible Wild Plants of the Carolinas. Like most of our events, this event is free but registration is required. Click here to register for the virtual event. The link required to attend will be emailed to registrants prior to the event. If you decide to purchase the authors' books, we ask that you...
10/16/2021 - 11:00AMA CONVERSATION ABOUT RACIAL INEQUALITY AT THE NATION’S OLDEST PUBLIC UNIVERSITY The NC Poor People’s Campaign and the YMI Cultural Center present a conversation with civil rights attorney and UNC law professor Geeta N. Kapur, author of the new book, “To Drink from the Well: The Struggle for Racial Equality at the Nation’s Oldest Public University,” at 11 a.m. Oct. 16 at the YMI Cultural Center, 20-44 Eagle St. Kapur will be in conversation with UNC Asheville Professor Dwight Mullen, who with...
10/17/2021 - 3:00PMThe Writers at Home reading series features work from UNCA’s Great Smokies Writing Program and The Great Smokies Review. September's event is canceled, but Writers at Home will resume in October. RSVP here to receive the YouTube link for the live event. We will send a reminder email on the day of the event with link required to attend. Like most of our events, this event is free. If you decide to attend and purchase books recommended during the event, we ask that...
Tenesse, Vermount, Etc.: Oft-Misspelled State Names
Mental Floss featured "America's 25 most misspelled state names (and their most common misspellings)."
"The Myth of Sisyphus creatively animated in an Oscar-nominated short film (1974)." (via Open Culture)
Merriam-Webster looked up "Stygian, umbra and other words for darkness; words borne from the dying of the light."
"Let's stop labeling books as boy books or girl books," Janssen Bradshaw wrote on Brightly.
Messy Messy Chic served up "a brief compendium of vintage cocktail recipe books."
"Peter Rabbit: the design evolution of a blue-jacketed icon." (via Penguin UK)
Rediscover: The Happiest Man on Earth
Holocaust survivor and author Eddie Jaku died earlier this week at age 101. Born Abraham Jakubowicz to a Jewish family in Leipzig, Germany, Jaku emigrated to Australia in 1950, where he lived for the rest of his life. His memoir, The Happiest Man on Earth: The Beautiful Life of an Auschwitz Survivor, was published in May of this year and became an international bestseller.
Jaku was expelled from school in 1933 for being Jewish. He earned an engineering degree in a different city under an alias, which later spared him from the gas chambers to work as a slave laborer. Most of his family and friends did not survive the Holocaust. Jaku was sent to his first concentration camp after Kristallnacht in 1938. He was in Auschwitz near the end of the war and forced into a death march away from oncoming Soviet troops. Jaku escaped and spent months in hiding until discovered by Allied troops.
Jaku was a longtime volunteer at the Sydney Jewish Museum, where he shared his story and prisoner number tattoo with visitors. In a 2019 speech, he said "I do not hate anyone. Hate is a disease which may destroy your enemy, but will also destroy you." The Happiest Man on Earth is available from Harper ($24.99). --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Marie Lu and Marie Rutkoski: Writing Through the Pandemic
Marie Lu is the author of the Legend series, the Young Elites trilogy, the Warcross series, Batman: Nightwalker and The Kingdom of Back. She lives in Los Angeles with her illustrator/author husband, Primo Gallanosa, and their son. Her most recent book is Steelstriker (Roaring Brook Press), the follow-up to Skyhunter.
Marie Rutkoski is the author of The Midnight Lie, The Shadow Society, the Kronos Chronicles and the Winner's Trilogy. She is a professor at Brooklyn College and lives in New York City. Hollow Heart, the conclusion to the Forgotten Gods duology, is out now from FSG.
Here they discuss writing during the pandemic and the social issues that push to the surface in their recently published books.
Marie Lu: Marie, my name twin, what has your experience been with launching and closing a series through the pandemic?
Marie Rutkoski: I would say that it's been a scary year for so many, and that I'm grateful to have been able to write, be with my family and stay in touch with my readers. So much has been exposed by the pandemic that was there all along: the troubling political dynamics of this country, a rise in antagonism between people who identify differently, the growing disparity between the haves and have nots. I think the issues we are seeing in the world are issues that both of us care about as writers and explore in our books. What about you?
|Marie Lu (photo: Primo Gallanosa)|
Lu: In some ways, I wrote Skyhunter as a direct reaction to what began in 2016 with our political system, and it has been a bit surreal to pour my frustrations and anger over our country into this series as the past four years culminated in 2020's chaos. As you said, we've both always written about the gap between the elite and the non-elite, and to see it play out with such stark clarity has truly been sobering. Did you find yourself changing your writing process during the pandemic?
Rutkoski: Yes! Something that is very clear in The Midnight Lie is that the main character, Nirrim, is vulnerable, goodhearted and brave, yet has been boxed in by a punishing and restrictive society's demands. In The Hollow Heart, she is empowered, has traded her heart to the god of thieves and is ready for revenge. As I was watching the pandemic unfold, and thinking about people quarantining on yachts or hiring modern-day governesses to teach their children, it was hard not to fold some of what I was seeing into the book, and to think about a really pertinent question, which is: When will this kind of disparity be too much to stand?
|Marie Rutkoski (photo: Tobias Everke)|
Skyhunter also portrays oppression and Talin is so courageous, even in the face of people who don't appreciate her courage. Could you tell me a little bit about what was important to you in the construction of her character in the context of the dark world you created?
Lu: Building Talin as a character has been a bit weird as I witness the double experience of going through the pandemic and being Asian American. Much of Talin's early character building extended from hearing Mr. Khizr Khan's speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention about his son Humayun Khan, a young Muslim American soldier killed in Iraq while protecting his fellow soldiers, and my thoughts on how so many young people of all marginalizations go off to war to protect us and then return to a country that doesn't give them the respect they deserve. So Talin is that: a soldier from a fallen land, defending a hostile new homeland. She took on a new layer for me as the pandemic continued and hostilities rose against the Asian American community. In the end, what mattered the most to me in creating Talin has remained the same: the desire to show that she leans on the good people around her in the face of so much awfulness. That there will always be evil in the world, but also that the world can be what we make of it.
Can you talk a little about building the world of The Midnight Lie?
Rutkoski: In The Winner's Kiss (the last book of the Winner's Trilogy), Arin has conversations with the god of death in his mind, and I liked creating uncertainty about whether he is truly talking with Death, as he believes, or whether this is the result of his trauma, as Kestrel believes. I began writing The Midnight Lie with this question: What if Arin was right? What if the gods are real? The world established in the Winner's Trilogy continues in the Forgotten Gods duology. But the world gains a new dimension, where we consider what adding magic or god-given abilities might do to the precarious political system already established in the earlier trilogy.
Can you tell us anything about what's to come in Steelstriker?
Lu: Steelstriker was my pandemic book, and thus probably the hardest book I've ever written in my life! I think it would always have been hard, though--in Skyhunter, Talin's life is difficult in many ways, but she is supported by her fellow Strikers and her mother. All that is stripped away from her in Steelstriker. There's a lot of her pain in this book--but also a lot more of her love. Writing love and romance does not come naturally to me, but I have a lot of fun doing it, and I'm excited to share all of that with readers.
Rutkoski: Is there anything you especially loved about writing Steelstriker? Or do you have a favorite moment with one of your readers?
Lu: One of my favorite scenes to write was a quiet one between Jeran and Red, two very different young men, as they had an earnest conversation about their love lives. And gosh, I have so many favorite memories of my readers... a father and daughter came to one of my Champion events once and wore matching custom sweatshirts, and the father's read "She is a Champion!" and it just warmed my whole heart. Every personal letter I've ever received from a reader is one I cherish.
How about you, Marie? And what's next for you?
Rutkoski: I feel the same way you do! So lucky. I wrote a middle-grade series before I began writing YA, and some of my favorite memories are seeing readers at events whom I've seen before, who were kids when I first met them. As for what's next, I have an adult novel called Real Easy that comes out in January 2022. It's a murder mystery set in 1999 in Illinois--think Mare of Easttown, but Midwestern. What about you?
Lu: For me, I have a new YA that I'm working on... I can't talk much about it yet, but this was the story that germinated during the pandemic when I truly wanted to escape. I hope I get to talk a bit more about it someday soon!
by Eugene Lim
For audiences in search of a quick slender read, Eugene Lim's surreally quirky Search History is not it. The pre-prologue to the prologue opens as "A Warning to the Reader" with various cautions and enlightenments; 152 dense pages later, gratification awaits. The story features a late Korean American pianist-turned-gamer named Frank Exit and his drone aficionado narrator friend, who becomes convinced that a stranger's dog named Izzy (short for Izanami) is actually Frank's reincarnation. Curiosity begets theft; multiple chases ensue. The narrator and dog-Frank's owner, Donna, need answers, which will require finding Donna's widowed birthmother, who's trying to skyrocket to the moon. Meanwhile, narrative layers multiply, highlighting hybrid identity, Korean motherhood and all manner of relationships.
Interwoven into this elusive quest are ruminations on the literary--as compiled by "Cyborgian writing teams" programmed "to write An. Award. Winning. Book." Their dysthymic AI scientist-creator, who's also a Stanford-educated community college adjunct recently relegated to house sitting, is "aiming for a Pulitzer or an NBA shortlist but willing to settle for a PEN/Faulkner." And yet, a robot named César Aira is not a writer, neither is his ex-wife, Onoto Watanna. Maude Edith Eaton here is also not an author, although in real life, Otono (born Winnifred Eaton) and Maude (famous as Sui Sin Far) were Chinese British American sister writers.
Lim's labyrinthine imagination ably encapsulates his various identities as author, librarian and co-founder of micro-publisher Ellipsis Press. Existing fans might recognize Frank Exit from Lim's 2019 Dear Cyborgs--reading continuity, however, not required. Nothing will prove quite reliable here, which enhances Lim's clever, subversive appeal. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Eugene Lim's inventive narrative gathers a dysthymic AI scientist, a drone aficionado, a reincarnated pianist-gamer-now-dog and a prodigious adoptee for an epic chase through multiple surrealities.
by Robert Seethaler
Robert Seethaler's The Field gives concrete expression to the oft-spoken wish that the dead could talk. In a collection of brief reminiscences, he summons the voices of the inhabitants of the titular burial ground to offer a panoramic vista of life in the fictional small town of Paulstadt, through the memories that linger for some of these former residents after their earthly days have ended.
The land where these dead are buried "wasn't any use for grazing cattle, but it was good enough for the dead." Each day, an elderly man goes there to sit on a bench under a birch tree, "convinced that he could hear the dead talking," but somehow unable to "piece the fragments together so that they made sense." The Field's vignettes represent his imaginative re-creation of those cacophonous voices.
Seethaler's (The Tobacconist; A Whole Life) characters are, for the most part, a querulous lot, reflecting with regret, and often bitterness, on the fleeting moments of their lives. Nabil al-Bakri, who came to the town as a teenager, recounts the bigotry he faced as an immigrant. Susan Tessler recalls her friendship with Henriette, a fellow cancer patient dying in the local sanatorium: "For a long time I tried to tell myself that we don't die, we just leave this world. Death is just a word. But that's not true."
When it comes to life's end, "death holds the truth, but you're not allowed to tell it," cautions Annelie Lorbeer, the town's oldest resident, who lived to age 105. Until that changes, stimulating works like Seethaler's will have to fill the void. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: The rhythms of life in a small European town are explored through the confessional recollections of its deceased residents.
Mystery & Thriller
No One Will Miss Her
by Kat Rosenfield
No One Will Miss Her by Kat Rosenfield beckons thrill-seeking crime fiction fans with a gruesome murder in the atmospheric New England town of Copper Falls. Rosenfield's fast-paced plot features sharp angles and multiple viewpoints, culminating in a series of dramatic, unforeseeable twists.
Lizzie Ouelette is known in her hometown as "the junkyard girl." Raised on her father's junkyard and derided by the town as a misfit, there's nothing wholesome about Lizzie's upbringing. A dark, ferocious cloud seems to follow her, even when she shocks the town by marrying high school baseball star Dwayne Cleaves.
But now Lizzie is dead, found shot at her lake cabin with her nose cut off and her body stuffed into the garbage disposal. Dwayne is missing and there's no sign of Adrienne and Ethan Richards, the wealthy Boston couple who rented the cabin from Lizzie. When homicide detective Ian Bird is assigned to the case, he realizes Ethan is the infamous financier whose fraudulent actions destroyed the life savings of many innocent people, including Bird's parents.
Rosenfield (Inland; Amelia Anne Is Dead and Gone) alternates between Lizzie's story, narrated from beyond the grave, and scenes that drive the plot mysteriously deeper, daring readers with tantalizing hints and glimpses of what initially appears as a straightforward crime. No One Will Miss Her is the successful YA novelist's adult debut. At first glance Lizzie and the sophisticated Adrienne appear to have little in common, but as the mystery unfolds, Rosenfield's urgent plot throws a truly ingenious curveball and leaves readers with a haunting vision of the future. --Shahina Piyarali, reviewer
Discover: This tantalizing mystery centers on the murder of a young woman, the owner of an isolated New England lake house, and a beautiful Boston socialite looking for an escape from her troubles.
The Mother Next Door
by Tara Laskowski
In the sleepy suburb of Ivy Woods, life seems perfect--but beneath the façade, a tangled web of lies threatens to upend residents' way of life, and someone in the neighborhood knows all about it. The suspenseful, compulsively readable The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski (One Night Gone) centers on the weeks leading up to the area's legendary annual Halloween party--as well as the shocking truth behind a local ghost story that could have dire consequences for everyone involved.
When Theresa Pressley moves to the picturesque cul-de-sac after a lifetime of struggles, she feels like she's finally made it. She quickly befriends a tight-knit group of moms known as the Ivy Five, even though the clique is comprised of just four women--including Kendra McCaul, their delightfully sharp-tongued and overachieving leader. As Theresa begins to uncover what happened to the fifth member of the gang, she also discovers her own heartbreaking connection to a tragedy that occurred more than a decade ago.
Though certain characters' motives occasionally seem confusing or unclear, above all, Laskowski's thriller is extremely fun to read. Steeped in all the best parts of spooky season--lurking ghouls, grotesque decorations, ridiculous costumes--this atmospheric tale calls up trick-or-treat nostalgia, as well as the hard truth that behind every cheery childhood memory are hidden adult struggles. The snobby, exclusive Ivy Five will also feel familiar to anyone who ever attended high school, particularly the jealous yet fiercely loyal "Queen Bee" Kendra, who will do anything to hold on to her throne--perhaps even kill. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer
Discover: This suspenseful, compulsively readable thriller centers on the shocking truth behind a suburban ghost story that could have dire consequences.
The Ex Hex
by Erin Sterling
Erin Sterling, a pseudonym for Rachel Hawkins (The Wife Upstairs), delivers a pitch-perfect paranormal romantic comedy with The Ex Hex, a tale of magic gone awry and the rekindled love that follows in its destruction.
When Rhys Penhallow broke Vivienne Jones's heart, she in turn broke her aunt's cardinal rule ("Never mix vodka and witchcraft") in order to curse the heartless "Witch Boy." Of course, the curse wasn't real magic--or so Vivienne assumes, until an age-old tradition draws Rhys back to Vivienne's hometown of Graves Glen, Ga., and the typically straightforward task of recharging the magical ley lines beneath the town results in magic gone horribly wrong. Vivienne and Rhys are thrown back together to try to set their magic--and perhaps their relationship--back on track, as they make out in the spookiest of settings (the closet of a haunted house, for one) and battle unexpectedly dastardly, if also somewhat amusing, threats to Graves Glen (like a display of plastic skulls running loose in the Joneses' family witchcraft store).
The Ex Hex seamlessly blends fantasy and romance, with a strong sense of world-building and magical rules that guide Vivienne and Rhys's attempts to course-correct from the "accidental" curse, and an equally evident sense of attraction between these two witches. A bit of unexpected magic, a dose of revenge and a sprinkling of steaminess churn together in a humorous and heartfelt paranormal romance, sure to delight fans of Hocus Pocus and Practical Magic--or any contemporary tale of witches run amok. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer
Discover: This pitch-perfect paranormal romance features hexes gone wrong and exes forced to work together.
Biography & Memoir
The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration
by Shawn Hitchins
Comedian Shawn Hitchins (A Brief History of Oversharing) takes a turn toward the serious with The Light Streamed Beneath It: A Memoir of Grief and Celebration. Within five months, he loses two loves of his life to sudden death. This raw, probing memoir explores those loves, deaths and personalities, and Hitchins's journey back to life.
Matt is Hitchins's ex and still his best friend on the night of an unlikely accident; it is Hitchins, along with Matt's father, who must choose to turn off the machines. Hitchins had already been struggling with a painful breakup from a new, fairy-tale-perfect boyfriend, David, who had been the cause of much whirlwind travel and light. After losing Matt, Hitchins and David tentatively work their way back to togetherness: "This is where partnership begins for me," Hitchins speaks aloud to his lover, just hours before David will die by suicide.
These unspeakable losses could have broken him, but instead Hitchins goes to work: therapy, spirituality, yoga, therapeutic dance, courageous connections and reconnections with new and old friends. Through Día de los Muertos traditions, Dickens's A Christmas Carol and his (and Matt's and David's) chosen families, Hitchins develops a new understanding of his body, life and loves. "The time to learn about death is not just in the eye of a shitstorm of loss; death is also a conversation for still waters and blue skies." In sharing that conversation, Hitchins pursues self-knowledge, growth and healing in a vulnerable memoir for any reader who has experienced loss. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This memoir of grief and recovery looks at love and loss with resilience, humor and honesty.
The Year of the End: A Memoir of Marriage, Truth and Fiction
by Anne Theroux
Anne Theroux's thoughtful, engaging memoir, The Year of the End, explores her separation from novelist Paul Theroux three decades after the fact. Using brief entries from the diary she kept during 1990 (the couple separated that January), Theroux revisits what was really happening behind and around the few sentences she wrote each day. Month by month, she explores her maelstrom of emotions ("My journey of loss was full of stops and starts," she writes); her coping mechanisms, including a trip to Egypt and sometimes drinking too much; and her gradual realization that her marriage was over for good.
Theroux brings a journalist's eye to her marriage, writing with keen insight about Paul's affairs and her own, her experiences with his American family, her career as a radio producer. She muses on several world events (Nelson Mandela's release from prison, Margaret Thatcher's fall from power), but mostly focuses on quotidian details: working in the garden, trying to find a new job. Throughout the book, she considers the difficulties of being married to a brilliant but often harsh novelist, and her struggle to carve out a new identity for herself after Paul left. In recounting her year of limbo and reflecting on their years together, she has created both a tribute to their marriage and a poignant exploration of how it felt to watch it disintegrate. Often melancholy and quietly candid, The Year of the End is a sensitive account of a woman stepping into a complicated new freedom. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Anne Theroux's sensitive, engaging memoir explores the difficulties of her marriage and charts its gradual disintegration.
Essays & Criticism
Alien Nation: 36 True Tales of Immigration
by Sofija Stefanovic
The expectation of consistent quality among 36 global voices seems daunting, but editor Sofija Stefanovic admirably achieves this in a majority of these stories. Alien Nation: 36 True Tales of Immigration began on "one of the best-known stages of New York City"--the "plush and cozy" Joe's Pub at the Public Theater. Most of these tales were performed live for "This Alien Nation," a series hosted by Stefanovic--herself from "ex-Yugoslavia"--who, starting in 2017, curated regular tell-your-immigration-story sets, until the pandemic shutdown. During that "lonely year of 2020," publisher Judith Curr convinced Stefanovic to "send these stories from the stage into the world." Stefanovic chose her New York City faves, combined with several overseas stories first presented in Indonesia and Australia, and a few as yet unacted to showcase activists', actors', artists' and authors' hybrid experiences.
Artist/actor Danusia Trevino commenced her immigrant journey with a Polish toilet-paper-laden blessing from a favorite aunt. For Sudanese American journalist Mazin Sidahmed's scattered family, WhatsApp is their connecting archive. Hass Agili, escaping a probable death sentence in Libya, landed in New York during Pride, "happy, liberated... and a bit aroused." Nigerian-born Bangladeshi American Abeer Hoque makes wardrobe adaptations to fit diverse situations. Dominican actress Laura Gómez bridges the great divide in rural upstate New York. "If your relatives weren't Native Americans or brought here on slave ships, are you not of immigrant stock?" asks author Siri Hustvedt. The lessons, insights and longings are many throughout.
As if to remind readers that this was once live theater, the book's right corner ingeniously doubles as a flip-it, stand-up performance, from empty mic stand to final bow. Let the ovation begin. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: These 36 tales celebrating immigrants--activists, actors, artists and authors--transform from stage performances to page.
Health & Medicine
Flesh & Blood: Reflections on Infertility, Family, and Creating a Bountiful Life
by N. West Moss
N. West Moss (The Subway Stops at Bryant Park) was accustomed to blood, yet clots soaking through pads and running down her legs came as a shock in her early 50s. "My uterus and I have been at odds for forever," she remarks, but this hemorrhage was so acute she drove herself to the ER. She needed an exploratory D&C, a cruel flashback to the failed pregnancies of her 40s. Soon she faced a total hysterectomy to remove a hemangioma. In Flesh & Blood, she tenderly traces the before and after of surgery and how she came to terms with childlessness.
While she doesn't shy away from medical details, Moss delves more into the emotional effects of her condition. "Being ill has made me meet the world with a more patient heart," she notes. It's a chance to slow down, reconnect with her mother, who supervises her convalescence, and appreciate the companions who get her through: her husband and cats, Claude the praying mantis and the memory of her beloved Grandma Hastings. Post-recovery, a month house-sitting in Holland tests her newfound confidence, while resuming her writing reminds her "there's more than one way to be fruitful."
The few-page chapters are warm slices of life. Moss leavens her losses with a sense of humor, as in a tongue-in-cheek list of questions for her surgeon ("Do you have a periscope?"). Realistic about illness's challenges and gifts, this memoir is recommended to readers of May Sarton. --Rebecca Foster, freelance reviewer, proofreader and blogger at Bookish Beck
Discover: Warm and humorous writing enlivens a memoir of chronic illness and infertility.
Children's & Young Adult
Daughter of the Deep
by Rick Riordan
Rick Riordan combines his knowledge and passion for the ocean with his love of Captain Nemo's story in this action-packed, exhilarating, Jules Verne-inspired sea adventure.
Harding-Pencroft Academy (HP) is a high school in Southern California that produces the world's best marine scientists, naval warriors, navigators and underwater explorers. It's the home of 14-year-old Bundeli Indian American Ana Dakkar and her older brother, Dev, whose parents died on a scientific expedition two years ago. Ana is on the way to her end-of-year trials when HP is attacked--150 people, including Dev, and an aquarium of marine animals all gone instantly. The 20 remaining HP students learn that their rival high school, Land Institute (LI), launched the preemptive strike. For the past 150 years, the two schools have battled over scientific advances (alt-tech) created by the thought-to-be-fictional Captain Nemo, from Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Ana, who learns she's a descendent of Nemo, is suddenly thrust into leading a race against LI to a secret base that holds Nemo's most advanced technology and artifacts. With the help of her crew, Ana must safeguard her ancestor's legacy before it falls into the wrong hands.
Through Ana's story, Riordan explores the concept of good versus bad, including how a person or thing can be labeled as both, depending on who's doing the labeling. While HP views Captain Nemo as a genius submarine captain, LI thinks he was a raging madman outlaw. Riordan ties this idea into a discussion about how absolute power can corrupt people, governments and corporations. These more serious discussions, along with the inclusion of marine biology and AI concepts, are balanced by unexpected twists, heart-pounding action and vivid language. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: In this action-packed Jules Verne-inspired sea adventure, 14-year-old Ana Dakkar, a descendent of Captain Nemo, must protect her ancestor's legacy before it falls into the wrong hands.
The Mailbox in the Forest
by Kyoko Hara , illust. by Kazue Takahashi
Kyoko Hara entices young readers in this early reader with the charms of a concept with which they might be unfamiliar: letter writing. Hara's text, translated from the Japanese by Alexandrea Mallia, creates an enchanting epistolary friendship between a first-grade girl and a mysterious correspondent. The simple, realistic plot has a dash of magic that makes for a sweet tale of friendship.
Mayu is staying with her grandparents near a forest she finds especially enticing. From her own home high in an apartment building in the city, Mayu can just barely see the tops of the trees: "She smiled every time she imagined the forest." Now all she wants to do is go into the forest. And her first stroll rewards her with a grand discovery: "Placed in between two tree trunks was a box with writing on it that said, 'Mailbocks/ Please put letters in here. Everyone is welcome. From forest friend.' " Mayu begins to exchange letters through the box with a spelling-challenged pen pal named Konta. As their friendship develops, Mayu grows determined to discover exactly who this mysterious letter writer is.
Hara unearths the allure of letter writing for young readers who are likely to respond much as Mayu first does: "it's faster just to call you." Color and black-and-white illustrations from Kazue Takahashi accompany the narration, their childlike quality highlighting the innocence and wonder captured in Mayu's experiences. The Mailbox in the Forest is a cute story that can easily ignite positive discussions about new (or old) ideas. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A joyous celebration of letter-writing and friendship form the basis of this Japanese tale of a girl who corresponds with a mysterious friend through a mailbox she finds in the forest.
Alicia Alonso Dances On
by Rose Viña , illust. by Gloria Félix
In the picture book biography Alicia Alonso Dances On, Cuban American author Rose Viña (Icebreaker) chronicles the life of the Cuban ballerina, who overcame incredible odds to achieve international renown. Mexican American artist Gloria Félix's lively illustrations heighten the story by highlighting Alonso's graceful, powerful form.
Alonso moved to New York City at 16, after spending her childhood learning to dance in tennis shoes. As she pursued a professional ballet career, her eyesight began to deteriorate and impede her performance. Despite multiple surgeries to repair her detached retinas and a year-long bedrest, Alonso became permanently partially blind. So Alonso learned to "dance through the darkness"--she earned the starring role in Giselle and eventually the rare title of prima ballerina assoluta.
In her thoughtful illustrations, Félix (Azaleah Lane series illustrator) draws parallels between Alonso's experiences as a child and as an adult. On one page, an eight-year-old Alonso grins when her crystal-clear reflection in the mirror "transforms into a ballerina" wearing a pink leotard and tutu. Later, a determined adult Alonso is shown wearing a pink leotard and squinting at her blurry image in the mirror as she stretches before practicing. In a stunning double-page spread, Félix depicts five different versions of Alonso dancing as an adult; though each image is in a different costume and stance, they work as one piece, making it look as if Alonso is leaping and twirling across the page. The illustrations' warm hues echo the story coming full circle: Alonso is shown teaching dance in Havana, smiling and looking beyond the book's borders, suggesting hope and progress. --Kieran Slattery, freelance reviewer, teacher, co-creator of Gender Inclusive Classrooms
Discover: An emotional picture-book biography of Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso, who learned to dance in tennis shoes and overcame incredible odds to achieve international renown.