Grove Press: Elements of Fiction by Walter Mosley

Village Books Issue for Friday, September 20, 2019

From the Shelf

Cozy Cooking for Autumn

As summer slides into fall and the sun sinks a little sooner, cravable flavors change along with the foliage. Sit down to a cozier meal on the table with any of the following.

Culinary icon Deborah Madison's Vegetable Literacy (Ten Speed Press, $40) offers a lovely guide to using fresh produce organized by botanical families. In autumn, tuck into a bowl of Madison's Golden Turnip Soup with Gorgonzola Toasts or Cauliflower with Saffron, Pepper Flakes, Plenty of Parsley and Pasta--or indulge with vibrant Sweet Potato Flan with Maple Yogurt and Caramel Pecans.

Bon Appétit darling Priya Krishna's Indian-ish (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24.99) makes excellent use of fall flavors, ushering in the season with warm spices and meals with "sneaky complexity." For a simple meal, try the chaat masala-dusted Indian-ish Baked Potatoes; impress a crowd with Indian Ribollita, Kaddu (Sweet-and-Sour Butternut Squash) or Lauki Sabzi "(The Back-Pocket Gourd Recipe You Never Knew You Needed.)"

Herald the tail of scallop season with Smoked Sea Scallops with Shaved Pear and Spearmint from Will Horowitz's Salt, Smoke, Time (Morrow, $35). The restaurateur and homesteader also offers the recipe for his restaurant's Famous Smoked Beef Brisket (and Hot Willie's BBQ Sauce), if you have a smoker and a sense of adventure.

You can even cozy-up your salads, with Kat Mead's Big Salads (Quadrille Publishing, $24.99), abundant with substantial, seasonal recipes. Mead writes, "When we have people over we can often fall into the trap of thinking we need to show off lots of fiddly dishes.... but what if it could be simpler?" Her answer: one big salad for everyone. Try the subtle, nutty Warm Pear, Mushroom and Ricotta Salad, the spicy Korean Glass Noodle-inspired salad or the Freekeh and Chickpea Salad with Pulled Harissa Lamb--Middle Eastern flavors to warm you from the inside out. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer

Neal Porter Books: Small in the City by Sydney Smith


Celadon Books: The Whisper Man by Alex North


Soho Press: Paperback Preview - Start Reading

In this Issue...

Reviews

These essays by one of the United States' most well-known climate journalists have renewed meaning in the wake of proposals for a Green New Deal.

Read this review >>

Stargazing

by Jen Wang

This heartwarming middle-grade graphic novel deftly navigates the dynamics of friendships and families while shedding light on the diversity of the Chinese-American experience.

Read this review >>

The Grave on the Wall

by Brandon Shimoda

Poet Brandon Shimoda makes his elegiac prose debut, seeking to understand his paternal grandfather through the legacy of unlawful imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Biography & Memoir Political Science Social Science Essays & Criticism Science Humor Children's & Young Adult

International Thriller Writers: Click here to read an exclusive interview with author Lisa Unger

From Village Books

Upcoming Events

Betsy Bell, Open Borders: A Personal Story of Love, Loss, & Anti-War Activism

09/22/2019 - 4:00PM

VB Writes...Prompts

09/23/2019 - 4:00PM

Book Candy

The Wider Meaning of Four New Words

Fast Company looked at "4 new words in the Merriam-Webster dictionary and what they say about 2019."

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"Books are heavy," Jenny Baum wrote on the New York Public Library's blog. "Their physical heft belies their emotional heft."

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He "read Playboy for the articles." Mental Floss shared "11 scrumdiddlyumptious Roald Dahl facts."

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"I spent the night at a library in Wales, and you can too," Jennifer Nalewicki wrote in Smithsonian magazine.

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Bookshelf featured Michael Schlütter's LoculaMENTUM, "designed to meld traditional bookcase appearance with a modern interpretation and a twist."

Thomas Nelson: Around the World on 50 Bucks: How I Left with Nothing and Returned a Rich Man by Christopher Schacht

Great Reads

Rediscover: The House Next Door

Anne Rivers Siddons, who was part of a post-civil-rights-era generation of Southern writers who helped define the literary New South, died last week at age 83. Siddons was born and raised in Georgia, then attended Auburn University in Alabama, where she worked for the student newspaper. A column she wrote favoring racial integration was attacked by the university's administration and, when they were unable to suppress it, ran it with a disclaimer. Siddons's piece gained nation attention and she was fired from the paper. This incident was the basis for her 1976 debut novel, Heartbreak Hotel (which was adapted into a 1989 film called The Heart of Dixie). She wrote 19 novels in total, including Hill Towns, Peachtree Road, Up Island, Islands, The House Next Door, Colony, The Girls of August, Outer Banks, Low Country and Off Season, and one essay collection (John Chancellor Makes Me Cry).

The House Next Door (1976) is a horror story about a couple living next to a newly built house that switches owners three times in two years for frightening reasons. In his nonfiction book Danse Macabre, Stephen King writes at length about The House Next Door, calling it a "contemporary ghost story with Southern Gothic roots and one of the best genre novels of the 20th century." It is available in paperback from Gallery Books ($16.99, 9781416553441). --Tobias Mutter

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

The Writer's Life

We Were All Weird Kids: R.L. Stine and Mackenzi Lee in Conversation

R.L. Stine
Mackenzi Lee

R.L. Stine is one of the bestselling children's authors in history--his Goosebumps and Fear Street series have sold more than 400 million copies around the world and have been translated into 32 languages. Several TV series have been based on his work, as well as two feature films, Goosebumps (2015) and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018), starring Jack Black. Stine lives in New York City with his wife, Jane, an editor and publisher.  

Mackenzi Lee holds a BA in history and an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Simmons College. She is the author of the bestselling historical fantasy novels This Monstrous ThingThe Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (which won a 2018 Stonewall Honor Award and was a Shelf Awareness Best Book) and its sequel, The Lady's Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. When not writing, Lee works as an independent bookseller, drinks too much Diet Coke and romps with her Saint Bernard, Queenie.

Here, Lee, whose YA novelization of Marvel's Loki in Loki: Where Mischief Lies was just published by Disney, chats with Stine about the Just Beyond series, his first original graphic novels, now available from Boom! Studios.

Mackenzi Lee: I'm so happy to be talking to you. Your books are legendary--as I'm sure you know.

R.L. Stine: Well, thank you.

Lee: So, my first question is, did you always want to be a writer?

Stine: I was this weird kid. I dragged a typewriter into my room and started typing all kinds of stories, joke books and little magazines. I would stay in my room for hours. My mother would stand outside my door and say, "What's wrong with you? Go outside and play!" and I'd say, "It's boring out there."

Lee: We were all weird kids. I think that's why we're writers now.

Stine: Well, to be serious, I was a very fearful kid. I was afraid of a lot of things and very shy. So I think it was comforting. It was a great escape to be in my room creating all this stuff.

Lee: If you were a fearful kid, were you into horror? Or did the interest in writing horror come later?

Stine: Everything I wrote was funny. But when I was a kid there were these horror comics, Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror. I loved them partly because the art was so amazing! I was a big comic book freak. They were gruesome, horrible, bloody stories and they all had a funny twist. I just loved that. They were very influential on me back then.

Lee: And now you're writing this original graphic novel series, Just Beyond. How is the process different than writing prose?

Stine: I'm having fun doing something different. It's a lot like script writing, which I've done. I'm not good at description. I don't have the writer's eye for describing things. When you write a comic book, you don't have to describe much. It's all dialogue. You can give art direction and say, "You flew across the room," then the artist has to figure out what the room looks like. It's kind of a pleasure for me to mostly write dialogue.

Lee: That sounds kind of like a dream.

Stine: Well, it is. It's not anything I ever really thought I would do. Everything that ever happened to me wasn't my idea. It wasn't my idea to be scary.

Lee: So how did that come about? Being scary?

Stine: I was writing a humor magazine with Scholastic called Bananas. One day I was having lunch with the editorial director at Scholastic. She had had a fight with a guy who wrote teen horror novels. She said, "Hey! You can write a good horror novel for teenagers! Go write a book called Blind Date." I didn't know what she was talking about. But I was at that point in my career where you don't say no. So, I said, "Sure, no problem." And I ran to the bookstore to find out what other people were doing. I wrote Blind Date and it became a bestseller. A year later I wrote Twisted. That was a number-one bestseller, and I thought, forget the funny stuff! Kids want scary! I'm going to be scary. I've been scary ever since, but it's kind of embarrassing because it wasn't my idea.

Lee: What is it about horror that attracts kids so much?

Stine: It was quite a discovery. I went to schools saying, "Why do you like these books?" Every time, they said, "I like to be scared." They like to be scared if they know they're safe at the same time.

Lee: What can readers expect from this new graphic novel series?

Stine: The stories go just beyond. The very first one, called the Scare School, is a about very normal-looking school but you have to go just beyond to find the horror that lies there. All the stories start out with something nice.

Lee: I've got one more question. As the most prolific horror author for young people, what scares you?

Lee: I can tell you the scariest moment of my life. When my son, Matt, was four, I took him to the New York Automobile Show. Thousands of people and hundreds of cars. And I lost him. I can still feel that moment of incredible fear, looking around in total panic. Then I spot him over by a car. I went running over to him and said, "Matt! Matt, are you okay?" He said, "Where were you, dad? I was about to call the manager." That 30 seconds was the scariest moment of my life.

Lee: Thank you so much for talking to me, Bob. Congratulations on the new series.

Stine: This was fun. Thank you, Mackenzi.

Newhouse: Britt-Marie Was Here directed by Tuva Novotny, based on the novel by the author of A Man Called Ove

Book Reviews

Fiction

The Last Train to London

by Meg Waite Clayton

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In 1936, 15-year-old aspiring playwright Stephan meets Zofie-Helene, a mathematics prodigy. She loves theater and knows of a series of tunnels under the city of Vienna that lead to the local theater, allowing them to observe rehearsals. They hit it off immediately, but their story of young love darkens quickly because Hitler's Nazi party is about to roll into Austria and wreak havoc. Stephan is Jewish, Zofie-Helene is Christian, and her mother is an outspoken journalist exposing Hitler. The teens are in the Nazi crosshairs, and they eventually become involved with Kindertransport leader Geertruida Wijsmuller. The Dutch activist-housewife has been quietly saving the lives of Jewish children by smuggling them out of Germany. It is dangerous work for Wijsmuller because she accompanies the kids herself and they don't have official identity papers; only a few can travel under her passport without raising suspicion at border crossings. Suddenly it's no longer a handful of children needing her help. Frightened parents, about to be killed or sent to concentration camps, shove their babies and toddlers into Wijsmuller's arms, pleading with her to give their children a better life elsewhere.

The Last Train to London is based on the real life of Geertruida Wijsmuller-Meijer, aka Tante Truus to the children she saved. Author Meg Waite Clayton (Beautiful Exiles) inserts a Romeo and Juliet element into an already heartbreaking true story of a heroic woman who smuggled hundreds of children out of Hitler's grasp. This is a solid and tenderly told tale juxtaposing budding young love against a backdrop of a well-documented time of cruelty. --Paul Dinh-McCrillis, freelance reviewer

Discover: Two Austrian teens, one Jewish and the other Christian, fall in love during the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party, and become involved with Truus Wijsmuller's Kindertransport.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 464p., 9780062946935

Grove Press: Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Night Boat to Tangier

by Kevin Barry

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In the Spanish port town of Algeciras, two men wait in a ferry terminal that is "as awful a place as you could muster." The men, Maurice and Charlie, are not much better, "a savage pair" of aging Irish criminals. While waiting for Maurice's daughter, Dilly, to arrive on a boat from Tangier, they ruminate on their illicit lives and careers, each haunted by their own ghosts.

From this deceptively simple scene, an existential conundrum unfolds in the tradition of Kevin Barry's countryman Samuel Beckett in Waiting for Godot. The two men are waiting for Dilly. Do they know when she will arrive? Is she arriving or departing? Is it possible she could have already come and gone? Have they missed her? What if she doesn't show? What if something happened to her? How long have they been waiting? Minutes? Months? Years?

Time gives way to an ever-expanding present overshadowed by uncertainty and danger. The tension captures the anxiety of a world teetering on the brink of chaos. Barry expertly places his characters in the crucible of this unravelling present, one increasingly destabilized by a refusal to confront, or even remember, the horrors of the past. If Dilly would just arrive, the pair could realize their only hope. Within the space of that constantly deferred action, everything happens.

In Night Boat to Tangier, Kevin Barry (City of Bohane; Dark Lies the Island) is at the height of his creative powers. --Jarret Middleton

Discover: A masterful inquiry into the lives of two haunted Irish criminals waiting for a boat that may never come.

Doubleday, $25.95, hardcover, 272p., 9780385540315

Other Press: Inheritance: A Novel by Evelyn Toynton

Mystery & Thriller

Mother Knows Best

by Kira Peikoff

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After losing their son, Colton, when he was eight, Claire and Ethan are desperate to have another child. But Claire carries the gene for a deadly disease, and adoption isn't an option for the couple.

Their only solution lies in the hands of Dr. Robert Nash, who illegally dabbles in gene editing to eliminate faulty DNA. When Claire hears about his work on the dark web, she volunteers to be Nash's first human test subject--without revealing the truth to her husband, a bioethics professor and vocal opponent of DNA experimentation. The procedure might get Claire what she wants, but it also brings dangerous consequences for her and her family. Is it worth bringing a healthy child into this world, only to put the child at risk?

Kira Peikoff's Mother Knows Best tackles cutting-edge science and the age-old question: Just because we can do something, does it mean we should? The author gives enough scientific information for readers to follow the story--and learn something in the process--but doesn't bog down the narrative with technical jargon. Peikoff (Living Proof) focuses on the emotional and ethical plight of the parties involved: Claire; Dr. Nash and his mercurial assistant, Jillian; Claire's husband, Ethan; and Abby, the miracle baby. The story is told from the points of view of the women and child, and shows there's no one clear answer to the question of whether or not genetic experimentation should be encouraged. Mother Knows Best offers intelligent, valid arguments from different angles, allowing readers to reach their own conclusions. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, freelance editor

Discover: A mother with a faulty gene undergoes DNA experimentation to ensure she has a healthy child and ends up disrupting her life in unforeseen ways.

Crooked Lane, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781643850405

Sleeping Bear Press: Snow Globe Wishes by Erin Dealey, illustrated by Claire Shorrock

Biography & Memoir

The Grave on the Wall

by Brandon Shimoda

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By the time Brandon Shimoda's grandfather died in 1996, he had been living with Alzheimer's for almost 20 years. Shimoda was then a college freshman, which meant he had had little opportunity to know the man without the disease. Reacting to "the loss--the losing," Shimoda started writing The Grave on the Wall almost a decade ago, collaging other people's memories, documentation and transcripts in search of Midori Shimoda, his father's father. The compelling result is a meditative memoir-of-sorts about his grandfather, his extended family, his ancestral heritage and ultimately himself as a 21st-century Japanese American.

Midori was conceived in Hawaii and born--in 1909 or 1910 or 1911, depending on who is remembering--on an island off the coast of Hiroshima. At nine, he immigrated to the U.S., where he lived the rest of his life. During World War II, he was one of 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry imprisoned without cause: his Japanese birth classified him as "enemy alien"; being a photographer with a camera landed him in unlawful confinement at Fort Missoula, Mont., where he was "held under pretext of being a threat to the national security of [this] country."

Decades later, Brandon Shimoda made his first visit to Missoula, "to the ruins of Japanese American incarceration, [and] found Midori's face" in a photograph hanging on the barracks wall. The unexpected discovery becomes, for Shimoda, "Midori's grave, because it is... the first, most accessible, place [he] could visit [Midori] after death." Through his expansive pursuit, Shimoda alchemizes his family's recollections and confessions, his country's trespasses, his legacy of loss, into elegant, haunting testimony. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: Poet Brandon Shimoda makes his elegiac prose debut, seeking to understand his paternal grandfather through the legacy of unlawful imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II.

City Lights, $16.95, paperback, 222p., 9780872867901

Lifestyle Entrepreneurs Press: The Offline Dating Method: How to Attract a Great Guy in the Real World by Camille Virginia

I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going: The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s

by Peter McGough

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In the fall of 1978, Peter McGough, who was raised in Syracuse in a big Catholic family, moved to Manhattan to attend the Fashion Institute of Technology. Of more interest to him than school was the Chelsea Hotel, Studio 54 and, fatefully, David McDermott, or McD, as the author refers to him throughout much of I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going: The Art Scene and Downtown New York in the 1980s, his absorbing if occasionally omissive memoir of their decades-spanning (and ongoing) partnership.

After McGough moves in with McD in 1980, they dedicate their lives to McD's conviction that the past outclasses the present. (McGough lifts his book's title from a typical McD proclamation.) They haunt the pre-gentrified East Village wearing frock coats and shirts with detachable collars. They install antique fixtures and furniture in every property they proceed to rent or own. As McDermott & McGough, they co-create paintings and photographs that incorporate their aesthetic, and their work sells well until the art market collapses in the early 1990s.

When the partners are at loggerheads, as when McD's spending outpaces their earnings, McGough generally loses the match; the caption "Saying no to McD meant overturned tables and smashed mirrors, among other things" accompanies one of the book's reproductions of the artists' figurative autobiographical work. But if memoirs were written by and about people with impeccable judgment and behavior, they wouldn't captivate, and I've Seen the Future and I'm Not Going is like life with McD: never dull. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This memoir by one-half of the art team McDermott and McGough is an engrossing portrait of a creative and romantic partnership.

Pantheon, $29.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781524747046

Weldon Owen: The Official Downton Abbey Cocktail Book: Appropriate Libations for All Occasions by Downton Abbey

Political Science

On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal

by Naomi Klein

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As news about climate change grows more urgent, the writing of journalists like Naomi Klein, who's covered the subject for almost 10 years, has grown more vital than ever. On Fire: The (Burning) Case for a Green New Deal collects Klein's finest long-form essays on climate of the previous decade. Organized in chronological order, the collection begins with her 2011 coverage of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a spill so large it's been described as "the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history." Klein explains in scrupulous prose how poorly the oil company handled the clean-up. Her description of a town hall meeting between a BP representative and the residents of a small town affected by the spill is especially pointed.

Another standout is her 2017 "Season of Smoke," wherein she draws connections between that year's record-breaking wildfires in the western U.S. with climate change. A prominent theme here and throughout the collection is one of inequality, and how, even within the relatively wealthy United States, injustices tracing economic and racial lines exacerbate the suffering caused by the fires and other consequences of global warming.

Opening the collection is an introduction by Klein that argues why the entire globe--and not merely the U.S.--needs a Green New Deal, a wide-reaching plan that would reshape almost every aspect of contemporary life, including policy, economics and health care. This enraging but judicious collection will appeal to anyone who cares about the future of the planet. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: These essays by one of the United States' most well-known climate journalists have renewed meaning in the wake of proposals for a Green New Deal.

Simon & Schuster, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781982129910

Social Science

Email

by Randy Malamud

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Email by Randy Malamud is both an entertaining look at how we communicate in the digital era as well as an ode to the lost art of letter writing. Much has been gained with the speed and convenience of e-mail but, as Malamud points out, much has been lost too. Firmly in the latter category is the fact that employees can be reached at all hours, with the result that the line between work and personal time has been blurred, to the detriment of workers.

There are myths to be debunked--e-mail is not carbon neutral--and hilarious anecdotes that many readers will find all too familiar. A chapter on passwords explores the dark side of cyber communications, including the risks posed by hackers, and accurately captures the bewildering complexity of computer-generated passwords that are not words at all. Malamud is well positioned to offer a refreshing angle on the topic of e-mail. As an English professor of a certain age, he was initially slow to adopt the technology and is decidedly old school in his views on e-mail composition. On the other hand, the author is cautiously optimistic that we can improve our relationship to technology by thoughtful and deliberate management. Importantly, he offers strategies to manage the ceaseless barrage of messages that can drain our time and energy.

Email is part of the elegant Object Lessons series of books that inspire readers to take a closer look at everyday items. It's a satisfying and informative book for anyone who has a love-hate relationship with their inbox and wants to improve their e-mail-writing skills. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and freelance reviewer

Discover: A compelling examination of how the magic of e-mail--instantaneous, ubiquitous, 24/7--is also its curse.

Bloomsbury, $14.95, paperback, 184p., 9781501341908

Essays & Criticism

Human Relations & Other Difficulties

by Mary-Kay Wilmers

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In the essays collected in Human Relations & Other Difficulties, Mary-Kay Wilmers uses her well-furnished mind and well-sharpened wit to address the "puerperal paranoia" that can accompany motherhood. She offers a respectful and insightful examination of Joan Didion's maternal qualities as revealed in Blue Nights and takes a horrifying look at the mother of Marianne Moore. She resurrects the truncated life of Alice James, whose parents praised her for the "nervous weakness" of her mind while paying scant attention to her "latent possibilities"; sums up Jean Rhys as "a narcissist who described herself beautifully"; and eviscerates Patty Hearst's transformation from "granddaughter of Citizen Kane" to an "ever pragmatic" member of the Symbionese Liberation Army.

Wilmers elevates book reviews into wide-ranging and often provocative essays. She writes a brief and funny history of obituaries in the Times, followed by a delightful look at Pears' Shilling Cyclopedia (a collection of bizarre facts, etiquette tips and "recipes for nine kinds of scone"), which existed to promote the sales of Pears' soap. And Brussels will never be the same again after Wilmers's dismissal: "You could say that a place that worships an undistinguished statue of a little boy urinating deserves to be held in contempt."

Wilmers, co-founder and editor of the London Review of Books and author of The Eitingons: A Twentieth-Century Story, has said, "I like sentences and I like people who use sentences well." The woman who gave Oliver Sacks his most memorable title, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, proves in her essay collection that she uses sentences as well as any writer and far better than most. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: Mary-Kay Wilmers displays her scathing wit and brilliant mind in a wide-ranging collection of essays that readers will devour with complete pleasure.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9780374173494

Science

How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems

by Randall Munroe

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There are plenty of self-help guides on the shelves, but none quite like Randall Munroe's fourth book, How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems. Covering a wide field of subjects--how to build a lava moat, play tag, dig a hole, charge a phone--this extreme manual takes reasonable, everyday questions on a meandering exploration of impractically complex solutions. Throwing a pool party? Munroe calculates the necessary wall thickness of an above-ground pool made from hard gruyere cheese. For instructions on crossing a river, he walks the reader through the necessary steps to boil away all the water in the Kansas River using teakettles. Trying to preserve your copy of this book? The best bet is transferring it to a nickel-titanium disk and storing it on a comet, but a salt mine will do in a pinch.

Former NASA roboticist and webcomic creator Munroe (What If?, Thing Explainer) revels in the ridiculousness and uses each question as a jumping-off point for further inquiry. (For example, if you're going to build a lava moat, you'll also need a way to cool your house against the heat radiation.) Munroe goes into the science and mechanics of each activity and follows up with additional concerns and possible solutions, some reasonable but most bizarre.

"Physics doesn't care if your question is weird. It just gives you the answer, without judging." With How To, Munroe once again showcases what he does best: he makes scientific inquiry fun. According to Munroe, "This is a book of bad ideas," but that's what makes it great. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Randall Munroe's absurd how-to self-help book answers questions, both serious and bizarre, in the most creative way possible.

Riverhead, $28, hardcover, 320p., 9780525537090

Humor

Nice Try: Stories of Best Intentions and Mixed Results

by Josh Gondelman

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In sincere and humorous essays, Josh Gondelman, an Emmy, Peabody and WGA Award-winning writer for Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, entertains at his expense, recalling both misfortunate and momentous episodes of his life. After revealing that being called "not nice" by his wife, Maris, nearly sparked happy tears, the "actually very nice" Gondelman shares anecdotes of trying to do more. He shaves "male pattern baldness" into his hair "to look more like Michael Keaton" for a school play, tries MDMA "for love" and lets his dog walker impersonate Michael Jackson at his wedding. Other stories highlight foul-ups, like serving Maris a dinner that could have killed her, and inspirations, like the speech he would give graduating high schoolers ("I Hope These Years Aren't the Best of Your Lives").

While significant milestones do appear, it's seemingly insignificant ones that resonate--becoming a "Real New Yorker" with a flip of the bird and wanting to spend his life with Maris after a well-timed Sublime lyric. Gondelman's vulnerability emerges when expressing shame at fainting during Gone Girl and recounting tears shed for his deceased Patriots-fan grandmother during the Super Bowl. Above all, Gondelman's unexpected analogies will please John Oliver fans: he compares his pug to yogurt ("technically alive, but not especially vigorous") and New York to "a tapeworm for your bank account and self-esteem." Both witty and matter-of-fact, Nice Try: Stories of Best Intentions and Mixed Results encourages readers to take solace in Gondelman's mishaps and keep trying until desired results are achieved. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer

Discover: This hilarious and heartfelt essay collection reminds readers to be who we want to be.

Harper Perennial, $16.99, paperback, 272p., 9780062852755

Children's & Young Adult

Stargazing

by Jen Wang

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When Moon Lin moves next door to Christine Hong, Christine is hesitant to meet this girl who, rumor has it, "beats people up." But Moon proves herself to be "confident," "funny" and the most "not Asian" Chinese-American Christine has ever met ("Really?" Christine's mom asks Moon, "Your mom doesn't speak Chinese to you?"). Christine and Moon quickly become best friends, and Moon shares with Christine that she sees "angel people" who will soon come to return her to her rightful place among the stars. When Christine's grades start slipping and her dad chastises her for straying from her "path," Christine distances herself from her new friend. But a shocking medical discovery puts things in perspective as Christine realizes how much Moon actually means to her.

Author-illustrator Jen Wang (The Prince and the Dressmaker) melds events from her childhood into a bittersweet story about friendship and self-identity. Stargazing is an excellent examination of the experience of Chinese immigrants and their American-born children from the perspective of someone with very little exposure to people outside her homogenous community. Wang gives her characters distinct voices while also allowing the art to speak, creating expressive, thoughtful moments that show Moon fearing she doesn't fit the mold of a Chinese-American or Christine feeling left out. Sometimes Wang lets the art break frame, which not only adds an extra dimension visually, but also gives a sense of immediacy to significant moments. Colorist Lark Pien adds even more nuance to the illustrations, using a muted palette to express the sameness Christine has witnessed her whole life or depicting Moon in a vibrant green shirt among everyone's drab earth tones to clue readers into her affecting presence. These deliberate choices lead to a dynamic story that is both hopeful and emotionally affective. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: This heartwarming middle-grade graphic novel deftly navigates the dynamics of friendships and families while shedding light on the diversity of the Chinese-American experience.

First Second/Macmillan, $21.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 8-12, 9781250183873

The Clever Tailor

by Srividhya Venkat , illust. by Nayantara Surendranath

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In Srividhya Venkat and Nayantara Surendranath's award-winning The Clever Tailor, the main character creates beautiful things from previously used fabric. This delightful story is based on an old Yiddish song. In today's global world, stories are shared in many ways; this song, already set down in several U.S. picture books, is refreshed in Venkat and Surendranath's Indian adaptation. 

Poor in monetary resources, Rupa Ram takes a piece of golden fabric originally given to him as a saafa (a fancy wedding turban) and uses his skill to turns it into many different objects over time. When the turban wears out, Rupa Ram transforms the cloth into an odhni, a headscarf for his wife. After many uses, he takes pieces of the scarf to make a kurta (a long shirt) for his son and, eventually, salvages smaller scraps into a gudiya (doll) for his daughter. When the doll wears out, after much playing and hugging, Rupa Ram creates a gulaab, a decorative rose, for the whole family to enjoy. Finally, the tailor realizes that there is just enough fabric left to make something that can last forever: a kahaani, a story! Told in vivid prose with words from several Indian-subcontinent languages featured in a bold, large font colored the same as the fabric pattern (and defined in the glossary), the story works well as a read-aloud. The bright, fully saturated illustrations, in jewel-like tones with heavy black outlines, are amusingly warmhearted. An endnote explains the "philosophy behind the practice of upcycling," a strategy used for both utilitarian and creative purposes. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer 

Discover: Rupa Ram upcycles a beautiful fabric into useful things for his family in this stunning picture book.

Karadi Tales, $13.95, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9788193388907

Alma and the Beast

by Esmé Shapiro

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Alma and the Beast's main character, an endearing creature covered with long, swirling gray tresses, wakes to a day "like any other." On this seemingly ordinary morning, Alma feeds her "plumpooshkie butterfly," braids the trees, combs the grass and pets the long, silky hair of the roof, "as one does when the days grow chilly and pink." But Alma soon finds that there is "something strange" in the garden. There appears to be a "hairless, button-nose beast" lurking about. Alma tries hiding but, "because beasts do not always go away when you close your eyes," the beast does not disappear. Instead, she insists that she's "TERRIBLY, TREMENDOUSLY STUPENDOUSLY LOST" and needs Alma's help to get home.

Once Alma understands that the beast is sad rather than scary, she leads her through some very hairy landscapes until the pair finally reach "a grand, whimpering, weeping willow." They go up the tree and down the other side, until they stand before the beast's "marvelous" but decidedly "bald" home. Here, Alma enjoys gardens that are watered not combed, roofs that are painted not petted, and hedges that can be trimmed rather than braided. Eventually, the day winds down, and Alma begins to "miss her hairy home."

Esmé Shapiro's (Ooko) gorgeous watercolor, gouache and pencil illustrations allow this story to soar, her boldly colorful palette and textured details bringing Alma to fantastical life. In this charming picture book, which celebrates the broadening of one's borders, Alma's day ends as it began, "like any other," but not before she hugs her new human friend, Mala, having learned that everyone--even "beasts"--have names. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: When a strange "beast" gets lost in Alma's garden, Alma learns to appreciate the ways in which her new friend is different.

Tundra Books , $17.99, hardcover, 44p., ages 3-7, 9780735263963

The Stranger Inside
by Lisa Unger
isbn: 9780778308720
Park Row
September 17, 2019


an exclusive interview with bestselling author Lisa Unger  
 

There’s nothing formulaic about your bestselling novels—but when it comes to writing, you’ve definitely created a “formula” for success. Would you care to elaborate?  

“A publishing contract is not a windfall—it’s an opening to the writing life. But if you want to succeed, you have to roll up your sleeves, check your ego, and get to work. Writing is never a chore for me. I don’t get frustrated. If I’m present for the work, then I know it’s the best work I can do. And that’s the goal every day—to write better than the day before. It never stops being about the words.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

 

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