HarperCollins: Chester and Gus by Cammie McGovern

Village Books Issue for Friday, March 24, 2017

From the Shelf

Science Books for Non-Scientists

In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson observed that, among textbook authors, "there seemed to be a mystifying universal conspiracy... to make certain the material they dealt with never strayed too near the realm of the mildly interesting."

Luckily for the modern reader, contemporary science books have come a long way from the dry, never-interesting conspiracy of the scientific textbook--and Bryson's own work is a testament to that fact. A Short History of Nearly Everything (which, at 500+ pages, is not actually short) tackles the history of, well, everything. From the Big Bang theory to the rise of modern civilization, Bryson offers a quick tour of the greatest concepts of scientific theory, all in his characteristically witty style.

Where Bryson's sense of humor elicits the occasional chuckle and inward smile, Mary Roach's writing brings about tears of laughter. Truly, it's hard to believe that writing about cadavers (Stiff), digestion (Gulp) or military science (Grunt) could be so funny, but with anecdotes, footnotes and a sense of tell-all determination, Roach packs her books full of scientific detail and laugh-out-loud delights.

Humor is not the only way to make scientific study accessible, of course. In her memoir, Lab Girl, Hope Jahren writes about her passion for scientific inquiry and her curiosity about the world through the lens of her career as a geobiologist. In The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot explores the intersection of scientific study and social justice through the story of Henrietta Lacks, a poor black woman whose cancer cells were used--without her knowledge or permission--as the basis of myriad studies over the last several decades.

"We are part of this universe; we are in this universe," said Neil DeGrasse Tyson (astrophysicist and author of Death by Black Hole). Studying that connection can be both fascinating and entertaining; we offer these books as proof. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

W. W. Norton & Company: Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson

Algonquin Books: Our Short History by Lauren Grodstein

Indiana University Press: What My Last Man Did by Andrea Lewis

In this Issue...

Reviews

A specialist in war reporting investigates why hostilities at high altitude account for a vastly disproportionate percentage of global conflict.

Read this review >>

New York 2140

by Kim Stanley Robinson

Kim Stanley Robinson envisions a future New York City where rising sea levels have forced inhabitants to ingeniously--or maliciously--adapt.

Read this review >>

Star Scouts

by Mike Lawrence

This winning middle-grade graphic novel celebrates outer space, teamwork and the power of curiosity.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Biography & Memoir Political Science Social Science Children's & Young Adult Pets Poetry

Titan Books: Relics by Tim Lebbon

From Village Books

Upcoming Events

VB Writes...Prompts

03/27/2017 - 4:00PM

Open Mic Night with Laurel Leigh

03/27/2017 - 7:00PM

Tuesday Story Time with Claire

03/28/2017 - 10:30AM

Booked at the Baker! Alton Brown Live: Eat Your Science

03/28/2017 - 7:00PM

Story Time in Lynden!

03/29/2017 - 11:00AM

Book Candy

How Reading Improves Relationships

Bustle suggested "10 ways reading can help improve the relationships in your life."

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Monday was Alien Abduction Day, so Quirk Books showcased "some planets we wouldn't mind seeing."

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Help wanted: Mental Floss reported that the company is looking for a researcher "to ensure accuracy and authenticity of American Girl characters" in books, toys, games, and anywhere else they appear.

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The Millions offered "a brief review of walls in literature."

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Headline of the day (via Cleveland.com): "It's a mystery: A1 Steak Sauce bottles appear at Avon Lake Public Library."

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Cool bookshelf of the day: "frame book storage" by NAM, constructed of steel and wood and fixed wire in frame.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux: Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz by Michael Bornstein and Debbie Bornstein Holinstat

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Bridges of Madison County

Robert James Waller, author of the bestselling romance The Bridges of Madison County, died on March 10 at age 77. Waller's novel follows Robert Kincaid, a National Geographic photographer chronicling the covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa in the 1960s, where he engages in a four-day affair with Francesca Johnson, a married Italian-American woman. This fictional story is presented as a novelization of true events, though Waller was often coy about the many similarities between himself and the main character, and whether or not those similarities extended to the novel's extramarital relations. The book rose to the top of the bestsellers lists, where is remained for several years. It has since sold more than 50 million copies, and was adapted into a 1995 feature film starring Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep and a short-running Broadway musical in 2014.

In 2002, Wallace continued the stories of Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson in A Thousand Country Roads: An Epilogue to The Bridges of Madison County, in which the two lovers reflect on the four days that forever changed their lives. High Plains Tango (2005) follows Carlisle McMillan, the illegitimate son of Robert Kincaid, and his relationships with two women in small town South Dakota. The Bridges of Madison County was last published by Grand Central in 2014 ($8, 9781455554287). --Tobias Mutter

Yearling Books: Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar

The Writer's Life

Lauren Grodstein: Our Short History

photo: Ken Yanoviak

Lauren Grodstein has written four novels, including A Friend of the Family and The Explanation for Everything. Her new one is Our Short History (see our review below). Her essays, stories and articles have been published in Gourmet, the New York Times and the Washington Post. She is an associate professor of English and directs the MFA program at Rutgers University-Camden; she lives in New Jersey with her husband, son and dog.

Our Short History is a poignant novel-as-letter from Karen, a dying mother, to her little boy. You have a young son. Was writing this novel more emotional for you than your first three books?

You know, I manage to get pretty worked up no matter what I write, simply because writing a novel is such an intense process. That said, I certainly felt emotional while thinking about the women I knew who inspired the novel. In trying to wrestle with Karen's illness, for instance, I read a letter from an acquaintance of mine, a wonderful poet, that she wrote to her husband at the very end of her life. She wanted him to know how much she loved him and their young children, and how they'd made her short life worthwhile. That letter utterly did me in.

Your novel smoothly incorporates details of ovarian cancer and end-of-life planning, while not losing the sense that this is a very personal missive to Karen's son. How did you research?

I always begin my research by reading. For Our Short History, the first thing I read was a wonderful book called Memoir of a Debulked Woman by Susan Gubar, an English professor. She was unsentimental and unsparing about the details of her treatment (hair loss, exhaustion, panicked trips to the bathroom, despair, unexpected moments of humor). I also talked to some doctors I knew, and the doctors they referred me to, about what a young, otherwise healthy woman's prognosis would be, and what her treatment would likely look like.

But the research that affected me most was talking to ovarian cancer patients and the people ovarian cancer left behind. My sister-in-law's family has been struck by ovarian cancer again and again, and she was so generous and insightful when she talked to me about the disease, and what it means to fight through it. The book was inspired, in part, by her family and their fight.

The novel has a sense of immediacy, because of the letter format. Did you try other approaches to the story?

I didn't. The novel just wanted to be addressed to Jake. Karen was writing for him and only for him. And I think, because she didn't see herself as a novelist, really, she would never have set out to write a novel if it weren't something written specifically for her son.

How do you feel about your character Ace, in light of the current political atmosphere? Would you have written him any differently in light of the 2016 election?

Ace seems like such an innocent now. He's kind of a slimeball, a low-level New York City politician who made his way up the power chain by slapping backs and making backroom deals. He was also sleeping with any young girl he could get his hands on. But, hey, he never grabbed anyone by the pussy, never stiffed his workers or contractors, never lied to his constituents, never filed for bankruptcy, never claimed close to a billion-dollar loss on his taxes and never conspired with any Russians. His worst crime was hurting someone he loved. Doesn't that seem quaint? I don't know, had I written him after Trump's election, if I would have written him differently--I just might not have written him at all. The idea of writing about politics is much less appealing now than it was when I started this book in 2012.

Karen is so multi-dimensional: selfless mom, savvy political consultant, conscientious daughter, yet initially flawed in her resentment of Jake's father. Was it challenging to balance these characteristics to come up with a really credible protagonist?

I always imagine my characters as real people, people who are good and bad, selfish and selfless, full of good humor and self-doubt and ambition and anger. Karen is certainly all that, or at least that's how I envision her.

Actually, what was most important to me was to make Karen something besides her illness. I think we often treat people with incurable diseases or other physical ailments as somehow other, as if they didn't live among us, as if they might not be us one day. Karen is funny and smart and angry and loving and happens to be a terminal cancer patient. And I think you can see, in the book, how people treat her gingerly, as though she's somehow a little bit less legitimate because she's dying.

The cover is perfect. Did you contribute to it?

Don't you love it? I love it. My agent suggested the mother and son outline on the bottom of the image, which I think makes the whole thing come together. But I had nothing to do with it. I'm actually not a very visual person, so I can never come up with good cover ideas beyond "please don't make it a sexy picture of a woman's legs."

What are you reading and recommending these days?

I've been reading some wonderful books lately--anything to take my mind off the news. I loved Nathan Hill's The Nix, and A Separation by Katie Kitamura, and I also read Brad Watson's Miss Jane, which I want to mention here because I want more people to read it. It was so lovely!

You direct the Rutgers University-Camden creative writing MFA program. How do you balance home and work and writing?

I think there are two things that help me get it all done. The first is that, by nature, I'm very jittery. It's hard for me to sit still. From the moment I open my eyes, I'm doing something, washing dishes or making lunches or folding laundry or answering e-mails or, on the best days, writing. I basically don't stop until I pass out at night, although I pass out pretty early, since I've been so damn jittery all day.

The second thing is that by inclination and location (I live in southern New Jersey), I don't go to a lot of parties, I don't do a lot of networking, and I don't participate in any kind of real literary social life outside what I do for my job. While this can be sad for me sometimes--I like going to readings, for instance, and even enjoy an occasional party--the truth is I'm a homebody, and I don't have a lot of distractions.

Oh, and I guess the third thing--there's a third thing!--is that I like all of the different things I do, for the most part (even the laundry folding, since that's when I treat myself to Internet reruns of Samantha Bee). It's not hard to get stuff done when you like what you're doing. And believe me, I know how lucky I am to be able to say that. If there's one thing writing this novel has taught me, it's that I'm a lucky person to be here, to be with my friends and family, to be folding the laundry, to be alive. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

HarperCollins: Curiosity House: The Fearsome Firebird (Curiosity House #3) by Lauren Oliver and H.C. Chester

Book Reviews

Fiction

Turkish Delight

by Jan Wolkers , trans. by Sam Garrett

Jan Wolkers's 1969 novel Turks Fruit was translated from the Dutch into many languages and adapted into a highly regarded 1973 film. Sam Garrett's English translation is not the first of this work, but reflects its continuing appeal.

Turkish Delight opens with the unnamed narrator, a sculptor, lamenting and railing against his lost love. He describes in great detail a surfeit of sexual affairs undertaken after she departed, then flashes back to describe their first encounter: Olga picked him up as a hitchhiker, then pulled over the car for the first of their sexual enthusiasms. Olga is the heart and life of this novel and of the narrator's existence: he obsessively recites and reviews her body, her sex, her red hair, her love for animals, her jokes and delights. The lengthy flashback sees their relationship and, later, marriage run its course (his evil mother-in-law plays a heavy role), and returns again to the sculptor's tortured single life. His love for Olga does not flag, even as she degrades herself (in his eyes) with subsequent marriages and physical decline. The novel ends at Olga's deathbed, where the former lover feeds her the soft candy Turkish delight, as her teeth fail her.

Not for the faint of heart, Turkish Delight was immediately notorious upon its original publication for its graphic sexual content. Garrett's translation of Wolkers's prose is often lyrical and always heartfelt; the juxtaposition of poetry with crude language echoes the narrator's passionate love and enormous lust. Turkish Delight is a serious and artistic literary work, but only appropriate for readers fully tolerant of the salacious. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A Dutch novel of 1969 still titillates with its sexual content, but deserves serious consideration for style and themes, too.

Tin House, $15.95, trade paper, 240p., 9781941040478

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Greatest Story Ever Told--So Far: Why Are We Here? by Lawrence M. Krauss 03.21.17

Ties

by Domenico Starnone , trans. by Jhumpa Lahiri

Domenico Starnone's Ties is an expertly crafted short novel that is charmingly intimate, disarmingly chatty and laced with some walloping surprises. Its Italian publication so captivated Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jhumpa Lahiri (whose memoir In Other Words documents her study of Italian) that she translated the novel into English, and superbly so.

The novel is a meditation on love--what is gained, what is lost and who is affected when it all goes wrong. Part one follows a sequence of furious letters written by Vanda Minori, a 30-something wife abandoned, along with her two well-behaved children, by her husband, Aldo, who has fallen in love with 19-year-old Lidia and set off on a new, exciting life.

Part two, told by Aldo 40 years later, opens with Aldo and his wife (they're still together!) returning home one night to discover their apartment vandalized and the cat missing. Among the wreckage Aldo finds a swollen yellow envelope containing his wife's letters from four decades ago--the contents of part one. Something else has gone missing as well--the secret little packet with naked photos of Lidia that Aldo has never been able to throw away. Part three is unexpected, perfect and best left without comment here.

Starnone's natural theatricality and robust characters, combined with a sneaky, clever plot, make for a delightful novel that is cruelly short. Nevertheless, the whole story reeks of love--the frustrated, truncated, too-much and not-quite-enough love that holds families together in life. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Jhumpa Lahiri has translated this perfectly crafted Italian novel about marital infidelity.

Europa Editions, $16, paperback, 144p., 9781609453855

Grim Death and Bill the Electrocuted Criminal

by Mike Mignola , Tom Sniegoski

Comic book writers Mike Mignola (Hellboy) and Tom Sniegoski (B.P.R.D.) have collaborated on a highly entertaining, illustrated gothic horror story. In Grim Death and Bill the Electrocuted Criminal, Bentley Hawthorne is a Bruce Wayne type of vigilante. Haunted by ghosts of the unjustly killed, he dishes out vengeance to murderers behind a skull mask and black trench coat, guns a-blazing. He is assisted by Pym, the devoted manservant who raised and protected Bentley after his parents died.

One day the ghost of a beautiful circus aerialist visits Bentley and demands justice for her murder at the hands of her lover, William Tuttle, who now sits on death row awaiting execution. What appears to be a clear-cut case turns out to be anything but, and Bentley must solve the puzzle of what transpired in the face of  threats to his own life.

The story alternates between present and past, with the past serving to highlight how Bentley came to inherit his current occupation. Mignola and Sniegoski are both masters of storytelling, and Grim Death follows in this tradition. The authors include a lot of visual description, which makes the novel move like panels in a comic, building in suspense and anticipation until the final reveal. Mignola's drawings serve to break up the story and emphasize Bentley's vengeful nature. Grim Death offers a satisfactory and somewhat uplifting ending that leaves open the possibility for sequels. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: In this engrossing gothic mystery, a skull-faced vigilante seeks vengeance for those who have died too early.

St. Martin's Press, $23.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781250077684

Our Short History

by Lauren Grodstein

A single mother dying from ovarian cancer writes a book of memories, hopes and wisdom for her six-year-old son. Her plan is for him to receive it when he is 18, so he can "open this book and read these pages and remember me." Readers should have tissues nearby. Yet Our Short History, Lauren Grodstein's fifth work of fiction, is funny as well as poignant, sad but not maudlin.

Manhattanites Karen Neulander and her son, Jake, are spending their summer across the country, on Lake Washington's lush Mercer Island, with her sister and her family, who will care for Jake after Karen dies. She's in remission, and so she has continued working as a political consultant for a narcissistic New York City council candidate--whose antics offer a welcome respite from tragic themes. In spite of Karen's carefully constructed plan for Jake's future, her bright little boy throws her a curve: he asks her to find his father. Her lover rejected Karen when she announced her pregnancy; she's told Jake his father left them. However, Jake persists, and Karen concedes and contacts David.

Against her hopes, and to Jake's delight, David is kind, thoughtful and smitten with the son he'd never met. Karen honors Jake's needs, struggling with her own sorrow while allowing father and son to grow closer. While a happy ending is impossible, Grodstein reaches the inevitable conclusion with Karen at peace, knowing she's given Jake everything she could. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: As she is dying, a young mother writes a book to her son for him to receive when he is 18.

Algonquin Books, $26.95, hardcover, 352p., 9781616206222

Mystery & Thriller

Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly

by Adrian McKinty

Adrian McKinty (Gun Street Girl) writes again about the tense world of 1980s Northern Ireland in Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly (a line from a Tom Waits song that aptly sums up the violent atmosphere). As the novel opens, Detective Sean Duffy, one of the only Catholics on the Royal Ulster Constabulary force, is being marched at gunpoint into a boggy wilderness. Unknown villains have come calling for Duffy's head, and even Duffy's quick tongue is unlikely to save him.

The story then flashes back a few weeks, to when a low-level drug dealer turned up dead with a crossbow bolt in his back. It seemed like an open-and-shut case, but the more Duffy investigated, the more he was convinced that somebody--quite possibly a high-ranking officer in the RUC--wanted him to think it was an easy solve. And so, naturally, someone as stubborn, tenacious and irreverently honest as Duffy couldn't stop digging. But will it be the death of him?

Often laugh-out-loud funny, with a vivid Irish setting, McKinty's sixth Sean Duffy novel is sure to appeal to fans of Ian Rankin or Tana French as well as to history buffs who remember the days of "the Troubles." Set during the escalation of violence following the March 1988 deaths of IRA volunteers in Gibraltar, Police at the Station and They Don't Look Friendly is simultaneously a gripping thriller and a fascinating history. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Detective Sean Duffy must tread a thin line between the IRA, his fellow police officers and the criminals who are gunning for him.

Seventh Street Books, $15.95, paperback, 319p., 9781633882591

Science Fiction & Fantasy

New York 2140

by Kim Stanley Robinson

In New York 2140, Kim Stanley Robinson (Shaman), one of the greatest living science fiction writers, presents a drastically changed city that retains many of its eternal charms and perils. In his vision, climate change has resulted in the First Pulse and the Second Pulse, massive sea level rises fueled by polar ice sliding into the ocean. After a period of devastating flooding, New York has adapted and survived as the newly christened "SuperVenice"--a city linked by boats, sky bridges and dirigibles rather than roads.

The novel's complex plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of two coders from the partly submerged MetLife building, which leads to wide-ranging investigations. These turn up various threats that target the building, including sabotage, a hostile takeover attempt and machinations by cutthroat corporations.

Sporting a diverse cast of characters and a bracing, rarely cynical tone, New York 2140 is some of Robinson's nimblest writing to date. More traditional characters are occasionally interrupted by a "citizen" who provides a witty, fourth wall-breaking running commentary: "a New Yorker interested in the history of New York is by definition a lunatic, going against the tide, swimming or rowing upstream against the press of his fellow citizens, all of whom don't give a s**t about this past stuff."

The trials and travails of Robinson's characters range from goofy to darkly topical--Robinson has cleverly replaced subprime mortgages with "submarine mortgages," for example. Through it all, though, his 2140-era New York City remains as delightfully confounding as the present iteration. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: Kim Stanley Robinson envisions a future New York City where rising sea levels have forced inhabitants to ingeniously--or maliciously--adapt.

Orbit, $28, hardcover, 624p., 9780316262347

Biography & Memoir

Madame President: The Extraordinary Journey of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

by Helene Cooper

Helene Cooper (The House at Sugar Beach) is a Liberian-born, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who has worked for the White House, the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. Her second book, Madame President, is a sympathetic biography of Liberia's extraordinary and controversial president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Raised mostly in Monrovia as a light-skinned member of the Congo elite, Sirleaf became head of the Debt Service Division at the Treasury Department in the 1960s, a huge job for a young woman in Liberia at the time. Her courage was astonishing from the start of her career. She repeatedly spoke out against Liberian political corruption despite being marginalized at work, jailed and sentenced to hard labor, released and imprisoned again, gradually becoming a domestic and international political hero. She first ran for president in 1997, but lost. She ran again in 2005, with a spectacularly successful grassroots campaign that increased the voter registration of Liberian women from 15% to 51%. Sirleaf then had to confront the chaos of her decimated, traumatized and deeply violent country, its $4.7 billion debt and the outbreak of Ebola. She won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize four days before she went up for re-election.

Cooper frankly describes Sirleaf's missteps, nepotism and other failings as president, while sympathetically laying out what she considers to be extenuating circumstances. She regards Sirleaf as a flawed but still heroic figure, and though her view is persuasive, she also makes it possible for readers to develop their own opinions. Madame President is a valuable addition to the history of an iconic world leader. --Sara Catterall

Discover: This is a sympathetic biography of Liberia's extraordinary and controversial president by a Liberian-born U.S. journalist.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 336p., 9781451697353

Political Science

No Friends but the Mountains: Dispatches from the World's Violent Highlands

by Judith Matloff

One quarter of the earth's surface is mountains, and about 10% of the population resides in them. Given the inclement weather, difficult travel conditions and relative isolation, this is perhaps unsurprising. In No Friends but the Mountains, journalist Judith Matloff does explore a surprising statistic: approximately 85% of the world's conflicts over the past two decades have been fought in mountain areas.

A professor of conflict reporting at the Columbia School of Journalism, Matloff is intimately familiar with this disproportionate reality, learning firsthand as she covers clashes in 39 countries over five continents. While altitude appears to nurture danger, the causes are many and fascinating, borne of different cultures, environments, traditions and politics.

Whether the discord is violent at its core (drugs, traditional vendettas), based on spiritual connections to land, or the product of diminishing resources, harsh topography tends to breed self-sufficient, insular communities that don't take well to rule by others. No Friends but the Mountains travels straight to the heart of eight mountainous regions as distinctive as their surrounding terrain.

Each region is steeped with centuries of politics, religion and culture. Matloff's lively writing keeps the dense subject matter from getting bogged down, and her accounts of perilous trips into hot zones are akin to an adventure novel. In addition to macro views, Matloff highlights the stories of individuals to provide a more personal perspective and connection. As distant as they may seem, mountain conflicts have global consequences. Understanding is crucial, and No Friends but the Mountains is an essential work on the fundamentals of high-altitude warfare. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A specialist in war reporting investigates why hostilities at high altitude account for a vastly disproportionate percentage of global conflict.

Basic Books, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780465097883

Social Science

The Mother of All Questions

by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit's Men Explain Things to Me was warmly welcomed by readers who saw their own experiences reflected in Solnit's reaction to patronizing exchanges with men who considered her incompetent or underestimated her intelligence simply because of her gender. In her follow-up collection, The Mother of All Questions, Solnit continues the conversation with new and previously published essays that explore the "rapid social changes of a revitalized feminist movement in North America and around the world that is not merely altering the laws [but] changing our understanding of consent, power, rights, gender, voice and representation."

In this collection's newest and longest essay ("Silence Is Broken"), Solnit writes of "the ocean of the unsaid, the unspeakable, the repressed, the erased, the unheard.... If our voices are essential aspects of our humanity, to be rendered voiceless is to be dehumanized or excluded from one's humanity. And the history of silence is central to women's history."

Distinguishing silence from quiet's more voluntary nature, Solnit explores why many in society perpetuate the silencing and discrediting of women through instances of domestic violence, sexual assault, online harassment and economic inequality, among others. Solnit is encouraged by the groundswell of activism in the aftermath of recent high-profile incidents such as the Steubenville rape case, the massacre at a University of California Santa Barbara sorority (which prompted the hashtag #yesallwomen), and reports of "America's Dad" Bill Cosby assaulting enough women for New York magazine to fill an entire cover with their photographs. Solnit documents an uprising of empowerment that can amplify others' voices and stories with the potential to bring meaningful change. --Melissa Firman, writer, editor and blogger at melissafirman.com

Discover: Rebecca Solnit's essay collection is an engaging followup to Men Explain Things to Me.

Haymarket Books, $14.95, paperback, 192p., 9781608467402

Children's & Young Adult

Star Scouts

by Mike Lawrence

Avani's dad wants her to go to Flower Scouts to make some friends in their new town, but she doesn't have much in common with the other girls and hates being a scout. When an alien scout accidentally abducts her, though, scouting becomes her lodestar. Avani's new alien friend Mabel introduces her to the Z-98s, "the worst troop in Star Scouts," and Avani's lonely days are transformed. But when her new troop heads to the galactic Camp Andromeda for a week, Avani stumbles into a competition for badges with an angry "methane breather" (the camp is split between oxygen and methane scouts), and she'll need help from all of her new friends to get her back to Earth and keep her Star Scout status.

Lawrence's debut as a solo graphic novelist (he previously illustrated Muddy Max: The Mystery of Marsh Creek by Elizabeth Rusch and The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil) is a colorful romp with a silly sense of humor; one benefit to adding methane-breathing aliens to a book is endless opportunities for fart jokes. Though there's not much Earth science in the story--one of the badge challenges is Jetpacks--the book's sense of wonder will complement STEM-oriented lessons and readers. Lawrence’s illustrations are bright and dynamic, driving the action across (and down, and around) each page. And, significantly, when Avani's father tries to cheer her up with "tum meri raajkumari ho" ("you are my princess" in Hindi), Star Scouts adds a much-welcome young Indian girl to Earth's ranks of fictional space explorers. --Stephanie Anderson, assistant director for public services, Darien Library, Conn.

Discover: This winning middle-grade graphic novel celebrates outer space, teamwork and the power of curiosity.

First Second, $14.99, paperback, 192p., ages 8-12, 9781626722804

Freya

by Matthew Laurence

Freya is really something--funny, gorgeous, smart. She also happens to be the Norse goddess of love and war. Centuries of diminishing belief have left her in a weakened state, so she bides her time in a Florida mental hospital, passing herself off as a delusional high school student. As she says, it's "the only place where they'll believe in me." When the evil Finemdi corporation comes calling, resolved to add her to its stable of useful deities, Freya bolts, causing a bit of mayhem in the process. She gets work as a Disney World princess, gaining strength from the adoration of small children, and then decides to destroy Finemdi from the inside, pretending to work for the company while devising a plan of attack.

This raucous debut young adult novel by Matthew Laurence celebrates a strong-willed female out to establish herself as a "world-changing goddess on the rise." She's not above using her sexual charms to get humans and gods to do her bidding, but she's also dabbling in something new for a goddess of her vintage, self-control. As she resists the urge toward chaos, she gains control over her life, a lesson any non-divine teenager might find helpful. In Finemdi, Laurence nicely satirizes the earnestness of corporate life. One droll scene shows Freya and her nemesis, Dionysus, enduring a PowerPoint presentation entitled "Divine Calibration: Setting you up for success!" Freya's refusal to cede her divinity to her corporate overlords, and her determination to fight back when the moment is right, make her a goddess worth worshipping. --Ann Shaffer, freelance writer and editor

Discover: After sitting out several decades of human history, Freya, the Norse goddess of love and war, takes on a vast corporation determined to subvert divinity for its own shadowy ends.

Imprint, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 15-up, 9781250088178

A Good Day for a Hat

by T. Nat Fuller , illust. by Rob Hodgson

Mr. Brown, a cheerful, pear-shaped brown bear, is a big, big fan of hats. As he steps out one morning, he's wearing the perfect topper to call on his friend Miss Plum: a wide-brimmed purple derby with a perky flower in the brim. Alas! It's raining. Luckily, "I have just the hat for that," says Mr. Brown, retreating to don a bright yellow rain hat. He opens the door again... but now it's snowing! Thank goodness he has just the hat for a snowstorm, too: a cozy, green-ear-flapped number. Savvy readers will have a sneaking suspicion by now that his next attempt to leave the house will be met by yet another hat-changing event--and they will be right. Again and again (but not enough to get boring!), dogged Mr. Brown returns to his hat rack to find the right headgear for a marching band, a "rootin' tootin' rodeo" and even a fire-breathing dragon. When he realizes he's going to be late for his visit, his delightful solution is, of course, to wear them all, one on top of the other. Little does he know that the biggest surprise of the day awaits him behind Miss Plum's door: a birthday party for him with all the friends we've been catching sight of in previous pages.

Hats off to T. Nat Fuller and Rob Hodgson for joining the pantheon of hat-obsessed children's authors and illustrators. Their silly and entertaining contribution will fit nicely on the shelf between P.D. Eastman's Go, Dog. Go! and Esphyr Slobodkina's Caps for Sale. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A bear of many hats is forced to wear them all as the scene outside his door changes from rain to snow to the high seas, in this charming picture book about patience and adaptability.

Abrams Appleseed, $15.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9781419723001

Pets

Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog

by Lauren Fern Watt

"I guess when you bring a dog into your life, you are setting yourself up for heartbreak, aren't you? Sure, you will most likely have to say good-bye and it will be the saddest day ever, but it's so worth it," Lauren Fern Watt learns through the unconditional love of her 160-pound, English mastiff best friend, Gizelle.

Nineteen-year-old Watt and her mother buy Gizelle as a not-so-little puppy on a whim one weekend. Gizelle's ever-growing size isn't an issue while Watt is in college near home in Tennessee. But when Watt--who habitually keeps lists in her journals--decides she's going to cross off a goal by moving to New York City with her giant best friend, life becomes much more challenging. Through tiny apartments, a boyfriend, her mother's addiction, even their jaunt on a Halloween costume contest runway, the pair navigate life in the city that never sleeps.

Gizelle's Bucket List is more of a before-the-bucket-list story, but the last third focuses on the tragic news of the Gizelle's cancer diagnosis and list Watt creates to ensure her friend experiences as much life as possible in her remaining days. Anyone who's ever loved a pet will identify with the humor that fills one's heart to overflowing and the devastation that breaks it into a million pieces. Watt articulates those emotions with raw authenticity and honesty. She will undoubtedly have readers scribbling their own pets' bucket lists before they even reach the end of this touching memoir. --Jen Forbus, freelancer

Discover: When a young woman learns her dog has cancer, they set off on a bucket-list adventure to make the most of their time together.

Simon & Schuster, $24.99, hardcover, 256p., 9781501123658

Poetry

Whereas

by Layli Long Soldier

In this searching, plaintive poetry collection, Native American poet Layli Long Soldier digs deep into the often unseen strata of language, history and identity. Whereas beautifully upends poetic forms to summon a powerful voice hidden in the interstices.

Long Soldier is a member of the Oglala Lakota Nation. Her poems confront the dual existence of those Americans belonging to a culture predating European colonialism. They address atrocities and injustices perpetrated against indigenous peoples and the duplicity of the American government in officially "apologizing" for historical wrongs. In fact, the collection's title refers to the government's self-indemnifying legalese, perhaps nowhere more conspicuous than in repeated use of the conjunction "whereas."

To break through such jargon, Long Soldier unleashes fierce poetic energy. While it manifests in experimentation with shape and punctuation--forcing attention to the bright lacunae of a page and alternately to isolated words in all their gravid peculiarity--it also produces cadences and images of breathtaking clarity: "Whereas since the moment had passed I accept what's done and the knife of my conscience/ slices with bone-clean self-honesty."
 
These poems are haunted by what Long Soldier describes as the "meta-phrasal ache of being language poor." Exploring this ache--and delving into the instability of linguistic meaning and identity--she is able to create a surprisingly positive argument for poetry as a way to fill the philosophic void and provide spiritual restitution. "My hope: my daughter understands wholeness for/ what it is, not for what it's not, all of it     the pieces." --Scott Neuffer, freelance journalist, poet and fiction author

Discover: Layli Long Soldier's debut poetry collection stands as a remarkable achievement of artistic innovation and personal revelation.

Graywolf Press, $16, paperback, 114p., 9781555977672

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Kids Buzz

Star-Crossed

by Barbara Dee

Dear Reader,

Here's Gail Carson Levine (Ella Enchanted) on STAR-CROSSED: "Star-Crossed delighted me! Barbara Dee has a light touch and a pitch-perfect middle school voice." And Donna Gephart (Lily and Dunkin): "Star-Crossed takes...Romeo and Juliet and transforms (it) perfectly to the middle school stage."

STAR-CROSSED is a gentle comedy about a girl crushing on the girl playing Juliet.  Kirkus Reviews calls STAR-CROSSED "a sweet story of young love amid middle school theatrics."

Email Barbara@BarbaraDeeBooks.com to enter to win a free copy!

Happy reading!

Barbara Dee

 

Buy this book

KidsBuzz: Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

PUBLISHER: Aladdin

PUB DATE: March 14, 2017

AGE RANGE: 9 to 13

TYPE OF BOOK: Middle Grade Fiction

ISBN: 9781481478489

PRICE: $16.99

 

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