Harper: The House of Brides by Jane Cockram

Village Books Issue for Tuesday, October 22, 2019

From the Shelf

Memoir: Finding Commonalities in Differences

I love reading: stories, novels, poetry, magazine articles, listicles, all sorts of things. But the genre that strikes closest to my heart is memoir. I love finding commonalities among differences, noting the ways we're all tied together.

In The Wild Boy (Atria, $16.99), Paolo Cognetti recounts the year, at age 30, in which he returned to the Italian Alps with a sense of yearning for something earlier, simpler, purer. In these circumstances and in its literary cast, Cognetti's memoir recalls Phillip Connors's transcendent Fire Season (Ecco, $14.99), about a summer spent working as fire lookout in New Mexico's Gila National Forest. Connors's slim, moving book considers the history of fire management, family ties, solitude and so much more. That season became a career for Connors, and readers can follow his lovely, lyric writing, tender storytelling and heartbreak for the natural world in his sequel, A Song for the River (Cinco Puntos, $16.95).  

Following numerous essays and novels (Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist, The Wake, Beast [all Graywolf, $16]), Paul Kingsnorth offers a vulnerable core of himself in Savage Gods (Two Dollar Radio, $14.99), a memoir in part of writer's block and in part of the more general frustration, stagnation and despair brought about by years of fighting for the Earth and her nonhuman inhabitants. Only Kingsnorth could express anguish so beautifully--in the midst of a claimed inability to write.

Jennifer Croft's Homesick (Unnamed Press, $28) is a stunning, layered memoir, with photos, that reveals a passionate fascination with language as well as the story of two sisters, their devotion and devastation. It is a stylistic masterpiece, a narrative puzzle and an intelligent book to get lost in. In its elegiac consideration of family, it is cousin to fine work like Kelly Grey Carlisle's We Are All Shipwrecks (Sourcebooks, $15.99) and Jeannie Vanasco's The Glass Eye (Tin House, $15.95).

--Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Lion Forge: Bezkamp by Sam Sattin, illustrated by Jen Hickman


Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: A Big Bed for Little Snow by Grace Lin


Blair: Holding on to Nothing by Elizabeth Chiles Shelburne

In this Issue...

Reviews

Stories of remarkable women, from the colonists through contemporary leaders, highlight the progress and challenges particular to women aging in the United States.

Read this review >>

Pokko and the Drum

by Matthew Forsythe

When her parents give her a drum, a young frog breaks her family's soft-spoken mold in this hilarious picture book about being true to oneself.

Read this review >>

Freeman's: California

by John Freeman, editor

A diverse group of authors, editors, poets and other creative people contemplates the mystique of the Golden State in this revealing collection.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Biography & Memoir History Social Science Essays & Criticism Religion Psychology & Self-Help Children's & Young Adult

Magination Press: My Singing Nana by Pat Mora, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez

From Village Books

Upcoming Events

VB Reads...Books and Brews

10/22/2019 - 7:00PM

Tuesday Story Time with Claire

10/22/2019 - 10:30AM

Story Time in Lynden

10/23/2019 - 11:00AM

Chuckanut Writers - The Writer's Toolbox: Writing Compelling Dialogue with Roby Blecker

10/23/2019 - 9:30AM

Book Candy

U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

On NBC's Today Sunday, Harry Smith interviewed Joy Harjo, who became U.S. poet laureate in June.

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Stephen King's house in Bangor, Maine, will become an archive and writers' retreat, Rolling Stone reported.

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He might have been a spy. Mental Floss shared "10 facts about Christopher Marlowe."

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Author Nicholas Royle chose his "top 10 lighthouses in fiction" for the Guardian.

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Russia Beyond showcased "5 Russian writers who won the Nobel Prize."

Flatiron Books: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Great Reads

Rediscover: How to Cook Everything

In the 20 years since Mark Bittman served up How to Cook Everything, his comprehensive cookbook has become a culinary institution of its own. The former New York Times food columnist has since expanded his authorial pantry with How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (2007), How to Cook Everything: The Basics (2012), How to Cook Everything Fast (2014), How to Bake Everything (2016) and How to Grill Everything (2018). There's even an app. Though Bittman is best known for the How to Cook series, he has also written eight other cookbooks and books about food. In spring 2020, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt will release How to Eat: All Your Food and Diet Questions Answered, co-authored with physician David Katz, which promises to "cut through all the noise on food, health, and diet to give you the real answers you need."

On October 1, How to Cook Everything received some tasty updates. The 20th-anniversary edition (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $37, 9781328545435) includes all new color photographs, modernized recipes, and fresh information on grains, baking substitutes, produce and sustainable seafood. For free recipes like "Bacon-Wrapped Chipotle Meat Loaf on the Grill," check out Bittman's website. --Tobias Mutter

Charlesbridge Publishing: Baby Loves Science: The Five Senses by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan

The Writer's Life

Shea Serrano: 'Very Balanced and Secretly Smart'

photo: Josh Huskin

Shea Serrano writes about music, sports and culture for Grantland and the Ringer, and has also written for ESPN, GQ, LA Weekly and Vice. His relentlessly positive presence on Twitter inspired GOOD magazine in 2016 to declare Serrano "Our New Favorite Internet Hero," and his book Basketball (And Other Things) was included in Barack Obama's 2017 list of favorite books published that year.

In Movies (And Other Things), out this month from Twelve ($25) and illustrated by Arturo Torres, Serrano delivers an irreverent ode to post-1980s American film culture, featuring plenty of action movie smackdowns, hilarious one-liners, blood and guts, weird tangents and a whole chapter about Selena.

I love your eclectic and unpredictable chapter titles, ranging from broad categories like "Which Kills Are in the Action Movie Kills Hall of Fame" to hyper-specific ones like "When Was Diane Keaton the Most Charming When She Was in Something's Got to Give?" Did you have a process for coming up with these? Was it collaborative?

It's collaborative in the sense that I'll put a big list together and then I'll send that to the editor--for example, in this case, this guy named Sean [Desmond at Twelve]--and he'll tell me what looks like it could be interesting, or what looks like it could use some work. For the most part, though, I'm just sitting there trying to think of stuff that could be fun.

Whenever I'm working on a book, I want for it to feel very balanced and secretly smart. When you first open it up, I want you to be like, "This is like the dumbest thing in the world!" and then you start reading this stuff and you're like, "Oh--this is actually kind of a smart thing." One way to pull that off is to hone in on one specific thing, so somebody knows exactly what you're talking about. But you can also wander around in some open space and allow yourself to sort of show off a little bit.

This book taps into something that "serious" film criticism tends to overlook, which is that movies are communal, and the conversations we have about them are often the most important part of the experience. Who are some of your favorite people to watch and talk about movies with, and why?

I have a couple of cousins that I grew up with who I went to the movies with all the time, Jesse and Gary Gutierrez. They're brothers, my mom's brother's kids. We all sort of grew up in the same area together, and we were all together all the time, and they are four or five years younger than me. So it was always my job to be like, "Oh, have y'all heard of this cool movie? Let's watch this cool movie together!" and that was a big part of growing up for me, being the person who got to do that with them.

The people I like watching movies with now? I think first place on that list is Laramie, my wife. She's who I go to the movies most often with, and she's a very smart person. You sit down with her and you're like, "Oh wow, you're far smarter than I am," and I like to hang out with those kinds of people.

Another example would be Sean Fennessey or Wesley Morris, who are both work people that I know. Sean is the editor at the Ringer, and he also oversees a bunch of other stuff, and Wesley is a critic for the New York Times. But those are two people who, when you have a conversation about movies with them, they're able to pull in all kinds of information--"This is the cinematographer on this, and they did this because of that." That's always interesting to me.

Lastly, I really like talking about movies on Twitter with people, because I'm just in an office all day by myself, and that's an easy way for me to have some sort of interaction with other humans.

Speaking of Twitter, you've been really vocal there (and elsewhere) about supporting local independent bookstores. Did you have a favorite bookstore as a kid? What makes this such an important issue for you?

I didn't have one growing up. I was never a big reader. Going to a bookstore was not a thing I would get excited about, beyond when you walk in and they've got the magazine rack in there, you know?

It wasn't until college, the first time I started reading books. I remember I read a book--I think it was The Alienist by Caleb Carr. That was a book that we had to read for class, and it was the first time I really sat down to read a book. I remember just being totally pulled in! It was about a serial killer. It was the first time I've ever fallen inside of a book and been completely inside of that world. It took me like two days to read, and it was just eight hours straight of reading each day. I was really, really into it. And I remember being struck by the idea--I was like, "Holy sh*t! Every book in the bookstore is probably this good, and I should read as many as I can." And then it became a thing where I'm trying to read everything all of the time.

You go into an independent bookstore to buy a book, and everything is packed in there, and there's just a different level of enthusiasm in an independent bookstore.

Whoever you're buying it from wants to talk to you about four other books you should read that they know you're going to love, you know what I'm saying? That's just a cool, cool community.

What single movie character do you think has influenced your life the most?

Oh man, nobody has ever asked me that before. That's tricky. The one who has influenced me the most? Okay, I know who I'm gonna pick. Have you ever heard of this movie, Blood In, Blood Out? [It's] a Chicano gangster movie. It came out in 1993, and it's about these three guys, cousins/stepbrothers, who we follow along as they go from early adulthood to adulthood. And one of them is this character named Miklo. His mother is Mexican American, and his father is white, so he grows up wanting to be accepted in the Mexican community, but he can never quite get there. They won't let him join the gang. They make fun of his blond hair and blue eyes. He has this internal struggle about that, and he just goes way off the rails. He ends up committing a crime, he gets sent to prison, and while he's in prison he murders a guy. He becomes like the head of the Mexican gang in the prison, La Onda--basically the Mexican Mafia.

That's a character who I think has influenced me a lot, in part because I've still never seen anybody do it as well as he did. That's a thing that a lot of Mexican Americans struggle with. Do I belong to this community, to that community? How do I fit in both? How do I get that Venn diagram to work so that everybody feels satisfied? He has always stood out to me in my mind for that reason.

He also teaches a bunch of valuable lessons. He lets you know that if you're gonna do a thing, you've got to really try to do it, or else everything is going to go bad. And that's an interesting life philosophy for me. --Devon Ashby, marketing and sales assistant, Shelf Awareness

Faber & Faber:  Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell

Book Reviews

Fiction

Why, Why, Why?

by Quim Monzó , trans. by Peter Bush

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The darkly strange stories in Why, Why, Why? by Catalan writer Quim Monzó (A Thousand Morons) expose the tragic absurdities of human relationships. A nurse eager to meet a potential lover laments the inconvenient timing of a patient's death. A prince hunts for toads to kiss, hoping one is his "well-balanced, worthy princess" in an "enchanted state." A wife undergoes surgeries until she's unrecognizable, winning back her cheating husband.

Across whip-quick vignettes--many no more than three pages long--Monzó magnifies the downfalls of characters who typify and satirize the various roles people might assume. Whether spouses or lovers, friends or strangers, the characters exhibit familiar yet catastrophic flaws, relayed through Monzó's matter-of-fact narrative voice: the "good novelist" who "isn't successful enough to frequent top-notch restaurants"; the divorcee "regretting all those years lost to faith in monogamy"; the "heartless man" who discovers "the only path worth following is to increase alcohol intake to the maximum... and wait, longingly, for your liver to burst."

A number of stories espouse the sentiment that we want something only until it's ours. In "Mycology" and "Divine Providence," the fear of making mistakes traps characters in loops. Other entries illustrate fate's power as a butterfly effect--in "Trojan Euphoria," "one thing rapidly follows another," with one man's misplaced train ticket leading to another man's death after catching a suicide jumper. An unexpected few play with mythological and fairytale tropes (Pygmalion, bewitched amphibians, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella). In tales as cautionary as they are wickedly humorous, Monzó's characters self-destruct, while readers can't help but bear witness, asking themselves: Why? --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: An absurd story collection translated from the Catalan satirizes the darkest parts of human relationships.

Open Letter, $13.95, paperback, 114p., 9781948830041

The Girl Who Reads on the Métro

by Christine Féret-Fleury

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Juliette's "almost cloistered, gentle, humdrum existence" has a few bright moments every day. Although she is the girl who reads on the Métro, she often studies her traveling companions instead of her coffee-stained paperback. She imagines their stories based on what they're reading, entertaining herself before settling into her tedious office job.

In an uncharacteristic burst of curiosity, one morning Juliette takes a new path from the Métro, beginning her transformation from office worker to passeur. She discovers a door propped open with a book, under a metal nameplate reading "Books Unlimited," and can't resist entering. There she meets a frail man and a precocious child who assume she is applying to be a book-giver. The shop is crammed with books of all types, and Soliman, the owner, explains that passeurs are people who study strangers until they intuit the book each one needs.

The fairytale-like plot encompasses mystery, tragedy and joy. Befriending Soliman and his daughter, Zaide, Juliette embraces their world of old books and contemplates carrying on the Books Unlimited mission. She decides that she--the girl who peeks over her book on the Métro to observe what others read--is a natural passeur. In the spirit of The Little Paris Bookshop and The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Christine Féret-Fleury's short novel is a charming homage to the power of books and reading. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A Parisian book-lover has a chance to make a career of distributing books to strangers, intuiting what they would like.

Flatiron Books, $22.99, hardcover, 192p., 9781250315427

Homesick: Stories

by Nino Cipri

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Homesick, Nino Cipri's debut short story collection, is weird in the best ways. These stories take readers to the edge of understanding and leave them there to figure it out. Each of the nine stories centers on LGBTQ+ characters and relationships; a large part of their appeal is that queerness is normal and everything else is off.

In "A Silly Love Story," two trans friends spark a romance while trying to communicate with the possibly benevolent poltergeist living in one character's closet. A quiz to find out "Which Super Little Dead Girl™ Are You?" is fun and creepy; each set of answers (A, B, C or D) can be read as a different story of death, resurrection, revenge or heroism. In "The Shape of My Name," a young woman cleans out the home she grew up in while it changes and shrinks around her. Furniture and rooms disappear as the young woman's mother fades away in a hospital, and although she makes a choice before the house is completely gone, the ending remains ambiguous.

The longest of the stories, settling in at 70 pages, follows three friends who become estranged after events surrounding their discovery of two giant weasel skeletons and evidence of the weasels' written language. Cipri's Native archeologist wants the bones reburied now that they've been studied, while the two academics want to put everything into a museum. Meanwhile, the primary narrator--one of the academics--has sold documentary rights to a television network trying to push the idea of "space weasels."

Since it's a collection of stories, Homesick offers many stopping points. Like unraveling the mysteries of prehistoric intelligent weasels, however, stopping proves to be quite impossible. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: The queer stories in Homesick are as mystifying as they are provocative, and will appeal to fans of literary fiction and speculative genre fiction alike.

Dzanc Books, $16.95, paperback, 216p., 9781945814952

Mystery & Thriller

A Book of Bones

by John Connolly

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A woman's body is found in a junkyard freezer on the Arizona-Mexico border. Details of the murder suggest the killer is the same one Maine detective Charlie Parker has been chasing for years. The FBI flies Parker in to take a look at the scene, and Parker agrees the killing is similar to the other murders. His suspect is someone chasing an otherworldly book--made of human skin--imbued with the power to tear down the barrier between this world and Hell.

But saving the world is only part of Parker's agenda. The killer has ties to the murder of Parker's wife and child. Parker enlists his partners, Louis and Angel, as well as a trusted researcher to help track down the book before it's too late.

John Connolly's A Book of Bones continues his long-running Charlie Parker series (The Woman in the Woods). Readers get the usual nuances of crimes set in creepy New England small-town environs, but Parker also pursues his quarry to Amsterdam and finally London. A Book of Bones's thrilling hunt runs through centuries-old buildings, revealing the ancient beliefs these structures were built upon. Connolly creates witness testimonials for the death of Black Mary (allegedly Jack the Ripper's last victim) that insist Parker's seemingly immortal suspect killed her instead. The plot is scary, but it's the author's blend of actual and alternate history that provides shivers. And the tales of stained-glass windows in old churches might cause readers never to turn their backs to them again. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: A New England detective tracks a serial killer to London to keep him from creating a literal Hell on Earth.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $28.99, hardcover, 688p., 9781982127510

Biography & Memoir

Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA

by Amaryllis Fox

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Amaryllis Fox served in the Central Intelligence Agency for eight years when she was in her 20s, and that experience is the impetus for her memoir, Life Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA. But its contents are both broader and deeper, beginning with uncertainties encountered in childhood: when a grade school friend is killed by a terrorist's bomb, Fox's father offers her an education in current events, to understand what took her friend away. An insightful, curious child, the young Fox makes early observations about her parents' hidden or inner lives.

These trends persist from high school to college: before starting at Oxford, Fox poses as an acquaintance's wife, slipping into Burma to record and sneak out a historic interview with an imprisoned democratic leader. Early in her Georgetown master's program in conflict and terrorism, this high-achieving, daring young woman with international interests attracts the interest of the CIA (not the first intelligence agency to approach her, but the first to appeal). Fox continues to impress in her training within the agency, often winning coveted, extra-dangerous spots ahead of standard career trajectories. She recounts the challenges, from her analyst work through her field work in 16 countries, with absorbing anecdotes.

One expects a CIA memoir to be thrilling; this one is positively riveting. In addition, Fox's writing is lovely, with lines often ringing like poetry. Life Undercover is an astonishing book. Her subtle, lyric prose elevates this memoir beyond its action-packed subject matter, highlighting instead its true focus: the breadth and beauty of humanity. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This memoir of a talented young woman's CIA career is that rare combination: enthralling and gorgeously written.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780525654971

History

Agents of Influence: A British Campaign, a Canadian Spy, and the Secret Plot to Bring America into World War II

by Henry Hemming

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In June 1940, Americans were divided into isolationists, who wanted to keep the U.S. out of the European war, and interventionists, who believed that the country's safety and prosperity depended on supporting Great Britain in its fight against Nazi Germany. In Agents of Influence: A British Campaign, a Canadian Spy, and the Secret Plot to Bring America into World War II, Henry Hemming (Agent M and The Ingenious Mr. Pike) tells the story of how Britain and Germany attempted to influence American politics from behind the scenes.

The story feels all too familiar in the 21st century: American organizations infiltrated by foreign powers, propaganda, demagoguery, and false news. On the British side, businessman-turned-MI6-operative William Stephenson built a powerful intelligence operation from the 55th floor of Rockefeller Center's International Building. His people forged documents, planted false news stories, subsidized protest groups and coached "Wild Bill" Donovan through the creation of their American equivalent, the Office of Strategic Services. On the German side, Hans Thomsen, chargé d'affaires at the German embassy in Washington, found ways to distribute Nazi propaganda, including a daring plan using congressional franking privileges. Berlin funded isolationist attendees at the Republican National Convention of 1940, helped grow the America First movement, and indirectly coached Charles Lindbergh's increasingly strident isolationist speeches.

Hemming's account of this shadow duel remains remarkably even-handed, even when Hemming's grandparents make a cameo appearance on behalf of Stephenson's organization. No one had clean hands. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Henry Hemming unspools how state-sponsored subversion and fake news played a role in the United States' entry into World War II.

PublicAffairs, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9781541742147

Social Science

No Stopping Us Now: A History of Older Women in American History

by Gail Collins

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Journalist Gail Collins follows When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present with another fact-filled and story-rich book that invites exclaiming "Did you know?" to anyone within earshot. No Stopping Us Now: A History of Older Women in American History opens in the 1630s and covers the expectations--and limitations--placed on women, featuring famous and lesser-known leaders who defied tradition and fostered enlightenment.

Chapter titles like "Feeling Themselves to Be Mere Furniture," and "Silly, Vain, Impertinent Old Maid" (how a newspaper described Jane Addams) headline these enlightening stories of familiar heroines: Martha Washington was a savvy businesswoman before becoming "the wife" of George; Elizabeth Cady Stanton promised Susan B. Anthony that at 40, her eighth baby was her last and she could get on with their work on the women's rights movement. Gloria Steinem reprised her famous "This is what 40 looks like" retort with a 2014 "This is what 80 looks like" birthday party--a story Collins uses as a segue into a recap of the National Organization for Women and Steinem's theory that women get more radical with age.

Collins's humor and droll wit prevent No Stopping Us Now from resembling a textbook. A recurring theme is hair and its symbolism, from the prized white wigs of the colonial era to the iconic "only your hairdresser knows for sure" dye ads of the 1960s to the "generational point of contention" of afros. Collins's final chapters bring readers contemporary headlines about Nancy Pelosi and Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a reminder that unstoppable women are alive and well. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Stories of remarkable women, from the colonists through contemporary leaders, highlight the progress and challenges particular to women aging in the United States.

Little, Brown, $30, hardcover, 432p., 9780316286541

Essays & Criticism

Freeman's: California

by John Freeman, editor

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John Freeman grew up in the "multiverse" of California, experiencing reality as "a series of stacked versions of itself," where layers of diverse and simultaneous happenings surround its inhabitants. Freeman's: California is part of a theme-shifting anthology series Freeman edits twice yearly, and it captures the western state's complex history through the eyes of both new writers and established names.

Each piece in California provides a window into a state-shaped microcosm marked by homelessness, calamitous climate change, displacement and mental illness, while also illuminated by community, friendship, acceptance, precious avocados and glorious sunsets. In "Boxes," Matt Sumell ponders fine lines that separate people as he finds commonality with the homeless man living in a coffin-shaped structure outside his studio, their minds filled with similarly antagonistic voices.

Rabih Alameddine contributes a sublime piece on living in San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic. After he tests positive for HIV, he goes on a shopping spree, then becomes perhaps the greatest surly bartender ever to sit on a stool reading and watching soccer while resenting any patron who makes him work. Bursting with caustic humor and grace, "How to Bartend" reflects the best of California when the hard-drinking Irish regulars discover Alameddine is gay.

From every facet of the literary world, this cacophony of fresh and well-known writers (Jennifer Egan, Tommy Orange, Anthony Marra) with every award under their collective belts (Lambda, National Book, Walt Whitman, O. Henry, Pulitzer) movingly interprets struggles and dreams in the Sunshine State. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A diverse group of authors, editors, poets and other creative people contemplates the mystique of the Golden State in this revealing collection.

Grove Press, $16, paperback, 304p., 9780802147875

Religion

Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God

by Sarah Bessey

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Through the illness and surgery of her father and the traumatic birth of her youngest daughter, and then, most terribly, through her own injuries after a bad car accident in early 2017, Sarah Bessey (Jesus Feminist; Out of Sorts) found her worldview upended.

Struggling to reconcile her new normal with her desires for her body to return to how it was before the accident, Bessey receives an invitation to go to Rome and meet the Pope. As part of a Pentecostal movement, she was unsure of her place there: "I'm near the lowest rung of the Low Church ladder compared to the High Church grandeur of Rome." But Bessey decided she couldn't turn down the chance of a lifetime.

She and her husband participated in an ecumenical mass that surpassed their expectations, and a literal miracle happened when two priests prayed for her. Home again in Canada, trying to reconcile her partially healed body with her desire to continue to travel and preach as she had before, Bessey reluctantly begins to accept what has happened as a miracle: "I began to see the miracle of the therapist... of the doctor's diagnosis, of physiotherapy, of glorious neurodiversity, of differently abled bodies, of making friends with one's body instead of an enemy."

Ruminative and spiritual, Miracles and Other Reasonable Things: A Story of Unlearning and Relearning God is a mix of theology and memoir, the miraculous and the mundane, all told in Bessey's poetic style. Fans of Barbara Brown Taylor and Rachel Held Evans are sure to enjoy this meditation on faith in practice. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this contemplative memoir, Sarah Bessey recounts how her personal, professional and spiritual life turned upside down after a terrible accident.

Howard Books, $26, hardcover, 240p., 9781501155468

Psychology & Self-Help

Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness

by Tim Parks

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In 2015, novelist and critic Tim Parks was invited by the Deutsch-Amerikanisches Institut of Heidelberg, Germany, to contribute a chapter for a book on the subject of whether science has become a substitute for religion. While he eventually produced that essay, Out of My Head: On the Trail of Consciousness--an at times captivating, at times bewildering inquiry into contemporary scientific thinking on the subject of human consciousness--is the much more ambitious product of that engagement.

Parks (Teach Us to Sit Still) explains that he's been fascinated with the question "whether the self, the mind, the soul, or just consciousness, is a separate thing, isolated in the head, or some ongoing collaboration between body, brain and world" for some time. That curiosity has been fueled in recent years by his friendship with Italian robotics expert Riccardo Manzotti, who posits a controversial thesis he calls the Spread Mind Theory. In Manzotti's formulation, "experience is made possible by the meeting of perceptive system and the world, but actually located at the object perceived, identical with it even; in short, experience is the same thing as the object."

As he travels the circuitous path toward a better understanding of the human mind, Parks is a good-natured, self-effacing guide, revisiting the view of consciousness advanced in the popular animated film Inside Out or describing his mental gymnastics as he grapples with a problematic hotel tea urn. He is a thoughtful layman fully committed to his task, and anyone with a similar bent will find much grist for further reflection in this provocative book. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: A stimulating glimpse into the diverse and complex theories about how the human mind operates.

New York Review Books, $18.95, paperback, 320p., 9781681373973

Children's & Young Adult

Pokko and the Drum

by Matthew Forsythe

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An amphibious heroine literally marches to the beat of her own drum in this first authored picture book from Canadian illustrator Matthew Forsythe (The Brilliant Deep with Kate Messner).

As parents throughout history have done, Pokko the anthropomorphic frog's indulgent but conservative parents ruin their own peace and quiet by giving their child a musical instrument. The noise of Pokko's drum fills their mushroom house until her father asks her to play outside, quietly, without drawing attention. Pokko makes a token effort, but as soon as she taps her drum softly "just to keep herself company," she attracts other woodland musicians. After a rocky start in which Pokko scolds a wolf groupie for eating a rabbit trumpeter, the band attracts a parade of fans who follow her home. During a surprise crowd-surfing incident, Pokko's father realizes his daughter is "pretty good," though no one can hear him over the racket of the entire forest enjoying her music.

Pokko's expressive eyes speak volumes while her immobile mouth gives her an air of determination. Forsythe's warm and earth-toned color palette and the animals' geometric print wardrobes evoke a sunny, retro feel. Laugh-out-loud funny with a subtle dark side, Forsythe's quirky homage to individuality reminds readers to display their authentic selves proudly, even if it means casting off convention. When sharing this ode to creativity and confidence, have child-friendly instruments ready in case of spontaneous parades. Crowd-surfing not required. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: When her parents give her a drum, a young frog breaks her family's soft-spoken mold in this hilarious picture book about being true to oneself.

Paula Wiseman /Simon & Schuster, $17.99, hardcover, 64p., ages 4-8, 9781481480390

Dear Sweet Pea

by Julie Murphy

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In Dear Sweet Pea--Julie Murphy's first middle-grade endeavor following her acclaimed young adult novels Dumplin' and Puddin'--Murphy introduces the lucky reading world to 13-year-old Patricia "Sweet Pea" DiMarco. Sweet Pea's loving parents have recently decided to make their brand-new divorce easier on their daughter by choosing to live on the same street, in almost identical homes, with only one house separating them. Her therapist mother calls this situation "mindful division." Sweet Pea calls it a "twinning-parent-freak-show." So, when her eccentric in-between neighbor, the local advice columnist Miss Flora Mae, asks Sweet Pea to forward her correspondence while she's away for a couple weeks, then to send her returning responses to the newspaper editor, Sweet Pea is happy for the distraction. What she does not anticipate is the temptation to respond to the letters herself, especially after recognizing the handwriting of her ex-best friend/now nemesis, Kiera. What ensues is what you might expect when a seventh grader secretly takes over (a portion of) the town's advice column. Sweet Pea finds herself sinking under the weight of her ever-expanding deceptions. Soon everyone in town, including her current best friend Oscar, has become inadvertent victims--and occasional beneficiaries--of her mess of secrets.

Anyone whose parents' divorce has made them want to take their cat and "slink away into a cave" will understand how Sweet Pea finds herself doing things she might never otherwise do. But they'll also appreciate being by her side as she learns that "sometimes seeing something from a distance or from a different point of view is all it takes to figure out what you should have seen all along." --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Reeling from her parents' divorce, 13-year-old Sweet Pea secretly takes over her town's advice column in YA author Julie Murphy's splendid first middle-grade novel.

Balzer + Bray, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 8-12, 9780062473073

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