Magination Press: Snitchy Witch by Frank J Sileo, illustrated by MacKenzie Haley

Arcadia Books Issue for Friday, September 13, 2019

From the Shelf

Bye-Bye Bookselling--for Now

I'm going to miss bookselling. I've been a bookseller for more than six years and likely would have stayed for many more were it not for a recent cross-country move to Madison, Wis. I'll miss my friends and co-workers, of course, but I'll also miss a few of the things that make working at an independent bookstore unique.

I loved writing recommendations. Everyone calls it something different--Staff Picks, etc.--but I seek them out in every bookstore I visit. What surprised me was the impact they can have. I wrote a recommendation for Cormac McCarthy's Suttree (Vintage, $16.95) almost on a whim: it's a long, strange and frankly unapproachable book. To my surprise, it sold and sold throughout my entire time at the bookstore--more than 200 copies in total. This is not to say that all my idiosyncratic picks were winners--my recommendation for the door-stopping The Anatomy of Melancholy (New York Review Books, $29.95) went over about as well as you would expect. Here's the thing, though: it sold. Just a few copies, but that was enough for me. It may sound corny, but one thing I love about independent bookstores is that people respond when you put yourself out there a little.

In a similar vein, when customers asked me for recommendations, they were often looking for something older or out-of-the-way, already familiar with the recent bestsellers. Your kid can't get enough of the Warriors books? Try Brian Jacques's Redwall (Firebird, $9.99). Loved Annihilation (FSG Originals, $14)? Jeff VanderMeer borrowed a lot from Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's Roadside Picnic (Chicago Review Press, $15.95)--check it out! As a long-time genre fan, it made me endlessly happy to show people that there really is something for everyone in science fiction or comic books/graphic novels. Customers respond to that passion, and to the books themselves, of course, and that interplay is just not replicable with an online retailer. I know the first thing I'll do when I need something to read in my new home is find my local indie bookstore. --Hank Stephenson, former bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Antoni in the Kitchen By Antoni Porowki and Mindy Fox


Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes


Sterling Children's Books: Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus (Life of a Cactus #2) by Dusti Bowling

In this Issue...

Reviews

In this book for children and adults, the heavy questions about death and dead bodies are answered with honesty and hilarity by the creator of the webseries "Ask a Mortician."

Read this review >>

Small in the City

by Sydney Smith

In this heartrending picture book, a boy directs encouraging thoughts toward his missing cat as he combs the city looking for it.

Read this review >>

Hope Farm

by Peggy Frew

This gorgeous, elegiac novel explores how bonds get broken between mother and daughter.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Biography & Memoir Social Science Travel Literature Poetry Children's & Young Adult

Shadow Mountain:  Master of the Phantom Isle (Dragonwatch #3) by Brandon Mull

Book Candy

Books Set in a Bookless World

"Books set in a world without books" were highlighted by Quirk Books.

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"From the sanguine to the downright choleric," Merriam-Webster explored "humorless words for the bodily humors."

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Author Henry Hemming picked his "top 10 books about fake news" for the Guardian.

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"The first public library in the Americas," Biblioteca Palafoxiana in Puebla, Mexico, "has more than 45,000 books dating back to the 15th century."

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The Slightly Foxed revolving bookcase "spins on a sturdy solid wood base using a high quality lazy Susan bearing set," Bookshelf noted.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light

by Petina Gappah

Zimbabwean writer Petina Gappah (The Book of Memory) takes  readers on an epic adventure through the wilds of 19th-century Africa in her novel Out of Darkness, Shining Light. Following the men and women who deliver the body of Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone 1,500 miles from Zambia to Zanzibar, the plot evolves through the narration of two members of the group: Livingstone's cook and a Christian freed slave, both individuals who have faded into the obscurity of history. Gappah returns them to the forefront of this amazing pilgrimage and brings both the time and the terrain into focus for her audience with humor, horror and all the wonder unique to the continent.

Halima is a smart, spirited woman. Readers will find that her sharp wit and cagey nature combine for a fascinating perspective of the funeral trek. She has strong opinions about everyone and everything: "He puts me in mind of a plucked chicken that has sat too long without being cooked, so that when you see the white flesh, you think all is well within, but when you slice it open, it is all green and crawling with maggots, and the smell hits you like a stone to your head. A maggoty fellow if I ever saw one is that Chirango." But she also offers insight into the lives of the slaves and, more specifically, the enslaved women. Sometimes that view is comic: "Misozi, as always, was slow to catch on, but Ntaoéka, Laede, and I looked at each other in perfect understanding. This is how we normally managed things when we wanted something. We talked it over among ourselves first, then with our men separately, until they believed that our thinking was their own."

Through Halima, Gappah also portrays the atrocities of African slavery. Halima has spent her life as a piece of property; she knows the nightmare of those in bondage. Her relationship with Livingstone is touching. While she does not understand his obsession with finding the source of the Nile, she cares for him and nourishes him with her meals, and trusts that he will fulfill his promise to buy her a house with a door. She dreams of her door throughout the journey, "a door that would truly be a marvel to all."

Contrasting Halima is the pious, egocentric freed slave Jacob Wainwright, whose goal is to be ordained and convert everyone to Christianity. He's critical of Dr. Livingstone because in Livingstone's explorations on the continent, he didn't turn more Africans to the religion. Jacob is certain Livingstone's priorities were in the wrong order. Like Halima, Jacob is full of opinions about others. And while he has no room to forgive them, he has ample rationalizations for his own immoral behavior: "I comfort myself with the certainty that it is perhaps as well that I know what it is to sin, for I have, until this moment been completely without blemish. It is surely right that one who is to be a clergyman should know, firsthand, what it means to be a sinner." The pedestal Jacob puts himself on gives him plenty of height to fall from. Through the absurdity of Jacob's character and the pragmatism of Halima's, Gappah delivers her own sermon on the hypocrisy of Christianity and the efforts to force this religious belief on the people of Africa. It comes across as anything but preachy, but still inhabits the souls it touches.

There's a mystery woven into the entertainment of these two colorful characters narrating an arduous trip: people in their group are inexplicably dying. At first the deaths seem to be accidents, but when one demise turns out to be homicide, the others become suspect as well. As the band of travelers begins to dwindle, the likelihood of reaching Zanzibar looks smaller and smaller.

In Out of Darkness, Shining Light, Gappah has managed to artfully blend brilliant humor with a strong sense of place and themes surrounding the dark issues of slavery and colonization. She delivers an engrossing adventure laced with details that history books have neglected, and offers glimmers of hope through her resilient characters. The voices she's chosen to tell this powerful story are stark reminders of all that is lost when such perspectives die. Gappah paints an emotionally charged image of the slaves who are unable to continue walking. Their captors chain them to trees and leave them to die. The infrequently traveled paths mean that often all that is found by the next traveler is a pile of bones at the base of the tree. For the voices of Halima and Jacob, Gappah is their release. She's freed their stories from those chains in order for them to live and shine their light. --Jen Forbus

Scribner, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9781982110338

Scribner Book Company: Out of Darkness, Shining Light by Petina Gappah


Petina Gappah: The Subaltern View of History

(photo: Marina Cavazza)

Petina Gappah is an award-winning and widely translated Zimbabwean writer. She is the author of the novel The Book of Memory and two short story collections, Rotten Row and An Elegy for Easterly, which won the Guardian First Book Award. Gappah is also a lawyer specializing in international trade and investment. Her second novel, Out of Darkness, Shining Light, the story of the men and women who carried Dr. Livingston's body and his work across Africa so that his remains could be returned to England, was just published by Scribner.

You published your first story when you were 14 but then went to law school?

I am so tickled that you know that! My first published story came out in 1985 in the annual school magazine, the Santa Dee Blues--I was educated at a rural convent school, St Dominic's Secondary School near my home city, Harare. The story was called "Marooned on a Desert Island" and began with the sentence, "For the umpteenth time I looked out at the sea, and for the umpteenth time, I was disappointed." It would definitely not make the list of immortal first lines!

Before that, at age 10, I had written a science fiction "novel" set in a penal colony on Mars called Return to Planet Earth!, complete with the exclamation mark and my own illustrations.

I always wanted to be a writer, but as the first person ever in my entire family--and we are talking across three generations and more on both the maternal and paternal sides--to go to university, my parents and teachers urged me to study for what they termed a "professional degree." And so I chose law.

In your acknowledgements you say, "this book has been almost twenty years in the making." What connected you to the story of Dr. Livingstone originally?

We studied African history at school, and that included the first encounters between Europe and Africa. Along with English literature, African history was my favourite subject. I still have my history book from when I was 16, the book in which I traced out David Livingstone's journeys and wrote about his final days, his death and the journey that his companions undertook to bring him home to England. That journey, his very last one, as a corpse, was something that intrigued me because it was such an extraordinary thing for his companions to have done. I thought it would not only be a fantastic premise for a novel, but also for a play or a film.

You tell this story through two voices that the history books have essentially erased. Why these two?

I don't think they have been erased so much as they were just not important to the Victorians, and subsequently, to history. Only Livingstone mattered, Halima and Jacob were just two among the amorphous group of anonymous companions who carried his body. I am strongly influenced by what South Asian social scientists call the subaltern view of history, that is, in looking at history and social change not from the point of view of elite participants, but from that of ordinary people. Livingstone's work had a profound effect on the fate of Africa, and his companions played a role that was just as important. Not only did they carry out maps and documents that eventually assisted in the colonization of the African continent, they also cemented the Victorian myth of Livingstone as the white man loved by Africans who ended the east Africa slave trade and spread Christianity in its place.

Did you know from the start it would be Halima and Jacob, or were there others you considered as narrators?

My initial inspiration was the magnificent As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. I had about 12 narrators at first, but the three that really pulled me in, and seemed most distinctive, were Jacob and Halima and the chorus. So I soon dropped the others and focused on those three.

Did you find one to be more challenging to create?

I really loved all three voices because they are so different. Jacob and Halima are contrasting characters in that, much as Jacob believes he is free because he is no longer a slave, he is in fact the least free character in the book, and while Halima believes she is a slave, she is nonetheless the most free.

As much as I loved Halima though, she was the most difficult to write because I could not give her more knowledge than an uneducated and illiterate slave woman of her time could reasonably be expected to have. At the same time, I wanted to avoid the "Massa Livingstone, he talk, Massa Livingstone, he sleep" stereotype that is associated with uneducated slaves. She narrates in the first person, and no one is illiterate in their own mind and, in any event, she may be a slave and uneducated but she is not an unintelligent woman. Finding that line between her ignorance and her natural intelligence was a big challenge. I really missed her voice in the second part of the novel, where Jacob takes over. But if she had been narrating it, it would have just been "and then we came to this place and moved on to that place" because she has no conception of geography. So I had to limit her voice to her knowledge.

I also ended up cutting quite a lot of the chorus voice because at some point it became artificial and stilted. So I left it to just the prologue.

My favourite character to write was Jacob.  I was strongly influenced by Marilynne Robinson in writing his character because she writes such wonderful, believable, and flawed characters of faith.

How did you go about excavating their stories?

I did a crazy amount of archival research. The key really was in Livingstone's journals. He was a man of great curiosity, and was interested in just about everything and everyone. His journals are filled with stories of his companions. One of my favourite passages is when he says that one of the women in his party is dangerously attractive and he wants her married to avoid trouble. I was greatly amused by the idea that while he was on this great, history-making enterprise of looking for the source of the Nile, he was also involved with everyday gossip and interfering in the love affairs of his companions. Little passages like that were really the flesh around which I built the story. The novel is obviously fiction imagined around a historical fact, but I tried as much as I could to give life to actual events, many narrated in Livingstone's journals.

And, finally, what's next now that this book is complete?

I am now working on my fifth book, a novel provisionally titled Mount Pleasant. It is very much in the same subaltern approach as Out of Darkness, and narrates the history of Rhodesia and the transition into Zimbabwe as told through the lifelong friendship between two very different men, one a Jewish man born in Vienna, Austria and the other, a Karanga man born in rural Gutu, Rhodesia. It is a doorstop of a novel, and I can't wait to finish it. --Jen Forbus


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Lovers Con 2020 - The Ultimate Reader Experience

Book Reviews

Fiction

Hope Farm

by Peggy Frew

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Australian author Peggy Frew won the 2010 Victorian Premier's Literary Award for her debut novel, House of Sticks, a deeply affecting story about a young woman becoming a mother. With her second novel, Hope Farm, Frew writes from the perspective of a child. This beautifully written story is set in 1985, the year that 13-year-old Silver experiences a series of events that destroy her relationship with her mother.

Told from Silver's adult point-of-view, the story is set on Hope Farm, a hippie commune where Silver and her mother, Ishtar, begin their new life with Miller, a charming ne'er-do-well with whom Ishtar has fallen in love. Up until this point, Silver and her mother have led an itinerant life, moving from one group home to another. Ishtar's short diary entries appear every few chapters to explain why this is: she became pregnant with Silver at only 17 and was abandoned by her parents after she refused to give up the baby.

At Hope Farm, Silver develops a close friendship with a bullied classmate. She relies on their relationship to escape the drugs, sex parties and general neglect of her home life. But no matter how hard she tries to push that life--and her mother--to the periphery of her day-to-day existence, she can't escape its emotional toll. This devastating coming-of-age tale arrives at a harrowing and deadly conclusion, but the novel's not wholly tragic; Silver's character is cheer-worthy, and her voice lingers long after the final page. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor

Discover: This gorgeous, elegiac novel explores how bonds get broken between mother and daughter.

Scribe U.S., $17, paperback, 352p., 9781947534728

Harper: The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

The Siege of Troy

by Theodor Kallifatides , trans. by Marlaine Delargy

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Under German occupation, a Greek village has no teacher for its children, until one day a woman appears.

Everything about this teacher is mysterious; the fragments of information that her students piece together fail to explain who she is. She speaks fluent German, she takes long solitary walks at night to visit a friend in a nearby village, she spends time with a handsome German fighter pilot. But these facts lose their importance when Miss and her students take shelter from British bombers in a cave and she calms them by telling them the story of The Iliad.

Homer was a storyteller, and Miss shares his gift. Soon the reality of World War II fades for the enthralled students. Every day, through Miss's words, the heroes of the Trojan War assume their forgotten glory, flaring into life as flawed and courageous fighters, unbuffered by divine protection. The invading Achaeans are far from home; in their walled city the Trojans are under constant attack. Both sides meet on the battlefield, immersed in a savage, relentless war that pits the soldiers in single combat, fighting with spears, swords and stones, each facing a brutal death.

Pulled from clouds of myth, The Iliad's blood and tragedy is revealed in its true horror; neither Homer nor Miss allows the story to end in triumph.

"War is a source of tears... there can be no victors," Miss tells her students. Her words, and her own shadowed story, will haunt readers of The Siege of Troy. --Janet Brown, author and former bookseller

Discover: As World War II nears its end, an enigmatic teacher brings the Trojan War to unforgettable life, while her private ambiguity provides a compelling counterpoint to this concise and powerful novel.

Other Press, $14.99, paperback, 208p., 9781590519714

Tor Books: The Ruin of Kings (Chorus of Dragons #1) by Jenn Lyons

Mystery & Thriller

The Long Call

by Ann Cleeves

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Ann Cleeves is known for her two mystery series, which have both been turned into successful crime dramas: the Vera Stanhope books, which became the show Vera, and the Shetland mysteries, featuring Detective Jimmy Perez in Shetland. Cleeves excels at creating believable, flawed characters in dramatic settings.

The Long Call is the initial book in a third series, set on the Devonshire coast. Fans of Jimmy and Vera are sure to love Detective Inspector Matthew Venn. Matthew is a newlywed, happy, but still uptight, and trying to become more relaxed, like his husband, Jonathan, who runs a successful town project called the Woodyard Centre. The Woodyard provides services for the needy and the mentally handicapped, and is the focus for the arts in their small town.

Partly because of his job, however, and partly because of his upbringing in a puritanical sect called the Brethren, Matthew remains formal and reserved. He is observing his father's funeral from afar, not welcome to attend, when he gets a call that a body has been found on the Devon beach, a scant distance from his and Jonathan's home. When the dead man is discovered to have ties to the Woodyard, possibly implicating members of the staff, Matthew has to let down his own guard and allow his team to help him catch a killer in a case that strikes far too close to home. Moody and tense, The Long Call will more than satisfy Cleeves's many existing fans and new readers alike. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: In this atmospheric mystery, the first in a new series from Ann Cleeves, a Devonshire detective investigates a murder that possibly implicates his husband.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9781250204448

Rebel Girls: ADA Lovelace Cracks the Code by Marina Muun and Madam C.J. Walker Builds a Business by Salini Perera

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Ten Thousand Doors of January

by Alix E. Harrow

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The Ten Thousand Doors of January expands on one of fantasy literature's most common tropes--magical doors into other worlds--to tell a strikingly original coming-of-age story set in the early 1900s. Alix E. Harrow's debut novel follows January Scaller, a ward of the wealthy Mr. Locke and a curiosity among curiosities. Mr. Locke collects exotic objects from around the world and stores them in his mansion. January's father flits in and out of her life, always sent away by Mr. Locke to find more far-flung treasures. January's fascination with Doors begins when she finds one at seven years old and steps into a "world made of saltwater and stone."

The Ten Thousand Doors of January sets itself apart from its influences--C.S. Lewis's wardrobe comes strongly to mind--by focusing on some of the knottier issues of the early 20th-century setting. January is an outsider not only by virtue of her odd relationship with her father, but because of her skin color, an unplaceable shade that Mr. Locke assures her means she is "odd-colored, perhaps, but hardly colored." Harrow is also thoughtful about why the escapist promise of doors to other worlds lingers in our imagination. January finds a book about Doors that contains stories of another young woman "heartsick with the sameness of her days." The plot revolves around unraveling the mysteries of the Doors, of January's parentage and of her relationship to Mr. Locke. Throughout the book, though, Harrow suggests answers to the larger mystery of why people, especially readers, seek to escape into other realities. --Hank Stephenson, former bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: The Ten Thousand Doors of January uses and comments on the timeless trope of magical doors into other worlds to tell a fantastical coming-of-age story set in the early 1900s.

Redhook, $27, hardcover, 384p., 9780316421997

Johns Hopkins University Press:  Killing for the Republic: Citizen-Soldiers and the Roman Way of War by Steele Brand

Biography & Memoir

Diamond Doris: The True Story of the World's Most Notorious Jewel Thief

by Doris Payne , Zelda Lockhart

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At age 88, Doris Payne (assisted by Zelda Lockhart) looks back at her six decades as an international jewel thief. Diamond Doris is the first time Payne has revealed all aspects of her remarkable life, including the techniques she used to walk out of world-famous jewelry stores with rings worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. She and her five siblings were raised in a poor, segregated coal mining town in West Virginia by her boorish black father and doting Native American mother. Early on, Payne found she had a talent for stealing things. It put food on her family's table and quickly became a lucrative career when she began visiting high-end jewelry stores. By dressing elegantly and wearing an impressive wedding ring set, she became "a woman of class, not a woman on a mission to steal." And her constant chatter kept storekeepers off-balance long enough for her to perform a sleight of hand.

In 1974, she was apprehended in Monte Carlo after stealing a 10.5 carat diamond ring worth $550,000 at the time. She was held for nine months but not charged because the authorities couldn't find the ring she'd hidden. Rather than being intimidated by her incarceration, when she escaped, she devised and executed a four-day plan to steal from three top jewelers in London, Paris and Rome.

Payne is a feisty anti-hero who refused to be defined by the prejudices and mores of a hypocritical society. Even when she was forced to serve prison time in her 80s. Diamond Doris's captivating capers are audacious and entertaining. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant

Discover: Feisty octogenarian international jewel thief Doris Payne reveals her captivating and audacious capers that span six decades.

Amistad, $25.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780062917997

All the Powers of Earth: The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln Vol. III, 1856-1860

by Sidney Blumenthal

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Starting in 2016, Sidney Blumenthal has published installments of his multi-volume presidential biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln. Although it isn't mandatory to read A Self-Made Man (2016) and Wrestling with His Angel (2017) prior to All the Powers of Earth, doing so will offer valuable context for this volume's panoramic view of American politics leading up to the Civil War. 

All the Powers of Earth focuses on the founding and growth of the new Republican Party, a development that would have been inconceivable if not for Democrat Stephen A. Douglas's presidential aspirations. Douglas united "his opponents into common cause. The more he tarred them as 'Black Republicans,' the more he galvanized them" into becoming a formidable political party. In this well-researched and easily readable biography, Blumenthal shows how Lincoln used this animosity to his advantage to help build the Republican party in which he was considered a rising star.

"Until his Senate contest with Douglas [Lincoln] was a minor provincial character without any reason to demand a wider attention," Blumenthal writes. Anticipating the 1860 presidential race, however, Lincoln saw opportunity; his victory assured that "a president pledged against [slavery's] expansion would soon be at the helm of the executive branch." It's a pivotal moment in history and an exciting endnote for All the Powers of Earth, a fine addition to Blumenthal's previous work on Lincoln. Historians and casual readers of history should eagerly await his next volume. --William H. Firman Jr., writer and presidential historian

Discover: This well-researched and engaging third volume of a comprehensive biography of Abraham Lincoln explores the future president's rise in the new Republican party during a critical historical moment.

Simon & Schuster, $35, hardcover, 784p., 9781476777283

Social Science

Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death

by Caitlin Doughty

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Caitlin Doughty wrote Smoke Gets in Your Eyes to share what she's learned about the mortuary business and, more importantly, about death, with adult readers. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals About Death is a delightful follow-up and expansion on that project, aimed at younger readers but absolutely for adults as well. Doughty's continuing experience in the business (from crematory operator to mortuary owner, with a degree in mortuary science) means her expertise has grown. Her sense of humor and fun when approaching topics often considered morbid, however, is her most valuable contribution.

"Every question in this book is 100 percent ethically sourced (free range organic) from a real live child." And children do ask "the most distinctive, delightful questions": We eat dead chickens, why not dead people? Can we give Grandma a Viking funeral? What would happen if you died on a plane?

Doughty's answers are as delightful and distinctive as the questions. She blends humor with respect for the dead, joking around but repeatedly reminding her readers that it's never okay to do something with a person's remains that they wouldn't have liked. ("Did Grandma want a Viking funeral?") Dianné Ruz's accompanying images keep the same tone of playful but plainspoken discussion. "Don't let anyone tell you your curiosity about death is 'morbid' or 'weird,' " Doughty reminds readers. If they try to say so, "it's likely they're scared of the topic themselves." This informative, forthright, comical guide to bodies after death is just the antidote--and surprisingly great fun as well. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: In this book for children and adults, the heavy questions about death and dead bodies are answered with honesty and hilarity by the creator of the webseries "Ask a Mortician."

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 240p., 9780393652703

Axiomatic

by Maria Tumarkin

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When Australian literary legend Helen Garner says, "No one can write like Maria Tumarkin," one sits up and pays attention. Cultural historian Tumarkin teaches creative writing at the University of Melbourne while writing novels and essays. Axiomatic testifies to Tumarkin's captivation by and insight into sociology; these five extended essays explore themes that stir intriguing communal reaction and response.

In "Time Heals All Wounds," several youth suicides rock a school community. Students grieve through English papers, "submitting their heartbeats as assignments." Tumarkin delves into the cultural reaction to suicide. The school's administration tries to comfort, but Tumarkin signals the particular difficulties with suicide by deftly contrasting the handling of multiple student deaths in a car accident.

Perceptions of historical trauma and the inadequacy of children's courts are depicted in "Those Who Forget the Past Are Condemned to Re--." A Polish couple abducts their grandson and hides him in a Melbourne "dungeon." Discounting the grandmother's argued protection of the boy as a misapplication of her own trauma (hiding from Nazis to survive the Holocaust), authorities prosecute her and send the boy "home" to unfit parents. 

Tumarkin's writing is often hauntingly beautiful, but the exploration of the generational influences of trauma, addiction and suicide always feels journalistically balanced. The past marks us, but is only one element on the road to "junkie or philanthropist," businesswoman of the decade or abject failure. There are no Hollywood endings, just a fascinating reflection of life in the tarred trenches. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A cultural historian explores how communities and bureaucracies handle various traumas and crimes, as well as the generational impact on those affected.

Transit Books, $16.95, paperback, 224p., 9781945492297

Travel Literature

Great Cities Through Travelers' Eyes

by Peter Furtado

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In Great Cities Through Travelers' Eyes, Peter Furtado, historian and former editor of History Today magazine, has compiled an armchair travelers' delight. Building on the idea that cities are the most enduring of all historical artifacts, he presents travelers' accounts of 38 cities around the world, from Alexandria in Egypt to Washington, D.C.

Furtado outlines his selection criteria clearly for the reader. All the cities still exist: no romantic musings on the ruins of Persepolis or Machu Picchu are included. He does not use descriptions by a writer native to a city. For example, Furtado gives us Dickens's opinions of New York and Rome, but turns to writers from Switzerland, China, the United States (via France) and Germany for impressions of London. He does not draw on travel accounts later than the 1980s because he believes that cheap airfares and the Internet have fundamentally changed the experience of travel and travel writing. Within those criteria, he carefully chooses a range of sources from across the centuries and around the world: men and women, merchants, conquerors, explorers, pilgrims, journalists and monarchs. (Queen Victoria was mildly pleased with Paris.)

Even without entries from the last 30 years, Furtado gives the reader a complex picture of cities through time. Presented chronologically, the entries for each city function as a shaft in a literary archeological dig, allowing the reader to see both change and continuity in how a city is portrayed. The entries also give us an anecdotal history of travel itself, before the age of TripAdvisor and Google Earth. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Carefully chosen travelers' accounts create a vivid, sometimes opinionated, portrait of 38 cities and how they have changed over time.

Thames & Hudson, $29.95, hardcover, 408p., 9780500021651

Poetry

Bitter English

by Ahmad Almallah

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How are we formed by language? How do we form the world through language? How are our concepts of who we belong to, and where we might belong, formed? These are some of the questions at the heart of Bitter English, Ahmad Almallah's first collection of poetry--perhaps better thought of as an "autobiography in verse."

Almallah explores the themes of family, home and identity in fluid language. The free verse of the poems allows for a deeper exploration of the construction of culture. The titular poem opens the collection, and sets the tone for the rest of the book. Almallah writes, "I owe everything to one place that owns me, not/ here, where what I owe I do not own," and from this point, his writing conveys a sense of being broken apart and remade by borders. Whether those borders are geographical, based on language or cultural, there is a continuing process of learning and unlearning the sense of being whole, of being certain of one's identity. Readers see the flux of selfness in different contexts, across different timelines, and contemplations of what was and what might have been. In poems such as "Lines of Return," this sense is furthered, evoking the strangeness of returning to a place we once thought we knew intimately.

In accessible verse, Bitter English brings to the forefront the displacement in every aspect of the immigrant experience, and Almallah's distinctive voice manages to put this ineffable experience into words. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer

Discover: Ahmad Almallah's "autobiography in verse" explores the language and meaning of being an immigrant in America.

University of Chicago Press, $18, paperback, 96p., 9780226642642

Children's & Young Adult

Small in the City

by Sydney Smith

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At first, there's no reason to suspect that the narrator isn't addressing the reader: "I know what it's like to be small in the city" corresponds with an image of a behatted, bundled-up and backpack-toting child crossing a skyscraper-flanked avenue. But after several pages of what sound like his calls for sympathy ("People don't see you and loud sounds can scare you"), it becomes clear that the boy isn't being self-referential: "But I know you. You'll be all right." What's going on here? As the boy proceeds to share some tips with the unidentified "you" ("Alleys can be good shortcuts"), he's depicted hanging up flyers--hence the backpack--publicizing a cat's disappearance.

In Small in the City, the first book written and illustrated by Sydney Smith (who previously lent his considerable artistic talents to Sidewalk Flowers and Town Is by the Sea), the images do most of the talking. They range from modest vignettes of city life--a portion of wire fencing, a swatch of building--to showstoppers including a fractured illustration of the downcast boy's funhouse-like reflection in a mirrored-glass skyscraper.

Small in the City is too naturalistic to conclude with the expected child-pet reunion, but toward book's end, Smith gives us the reassuring sight of boy and mother hugging in front of their apartment building. If that doesn't send the reader to the tissue box, this might: a final, wordless illustration showing paw prints in the snow near some red flowers--a promise of relief from winter, relief from sorrow. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In this heartrending picture book, a boy directs encouraging thoughts toward his missing cat as he combs the city looking for it.

Neal Porter/Holiday House, $18.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780823442614

The Star Shepherd

by Dan Haring , MarcyKate Connolly

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Soon after the world was first formed, the Seven Elders hung stars "from hooks fastened to the sky." These stars formed a "wide net of light with beams connecting star to star," in order to shield people from "unspeakable horrors that thrived in the darkness." Centuries later, the original burlap casings began to wear out, and it fell to Star Shepherds to "catapult... the stars back into the sky."

When Kyro's mom died five years ago, his father, Tirin, honored her by sending a star back to the heavens in her name. Tirin became a Star Shepherd, but, as time went on, it seemed as if each newly fallen star became a reminder of his loss. Now, all Kyro wants is to "protect the stars" alongside his father and to be allowed to "feel like a part of his own family again," but Tirin barely even notices his son. When unprecedented numbers of stars begin falling and legendary monsters resurface, Tirin disappears, leaving his beloved watchtower in the hands of his worried son. As days go by and Tirin fails to return, Kyro, accompanied by his good friend Andra and his faithful pup Cypher, sets out to find his father and, while he's at it, discover who's been cutting down the stars.

Haring and Connolly have crafted an inviting fantasy that combines the epic feel of a creation myth with plenty of monsters to fight and monumental wrongs to right. Kyro's love--for his father and for the stars--stays strong and, like the best of heroes, he takes his quest seriously. Originally envisioned as an animated film, this handsome volume is adorned with plenty of spot art and striking, full-page illustrations and is likely to draw in younger middle-grade readers as well as tween fantasy lovers. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Kyro, the son of a star shepherd, must find his missing father and figure out why so many stars have begun falling from the sky in this illustrated middle grade fantasy.

Sourcebooks, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 8-12, 9781492658207

Frankly in Love

by David Yoon

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High school senior Frank Li is the "silent hyphen" in Korean-American: an entity that bridges two cultures without ever taking a full step toward either one, a "Limbo," as he calls it. "I'm not Korean enough," he thinks, but "not white enough to be fully American." He's expected to study hard, go to a top college and marry a nice Korean girl (unlike his sister, who was disowned when she married a black man). Instead, he falls for an "American" (i.e., white) classmate. To appease his parents and satisfy his desire to date outside the "tribe," he concocts a plan with fellow Limbo Joy Song, who hides her Chinese-American boyfriend from her family. The two agree to "fake-date," but what should "work gangbusters" backfires, ultimately teaching Frank that "there's no greater will than the will to love who you want."

In Frankly in Love, David Yoon presents a candid, insightful look at the experience of second-gen Korean-Americans. Delivered with witty banter and Frank's nerdy metaphors--"There are too many worlds in my head... and really all I want to do is reach escape velocity, bust out into space, and form my own planet tweaked just how I want it."--the everyday struggles of a teenager straddling two communities is deftly expressed. Yoon also adroitly deconstructs racial bias, including examples of both overt and unconscious prejudices present in immigrants and their American-born children, within communities of color and among white liberals.

In his debut novel, Yoon examines love in the context of cultural identity, expertly tackling sensitive issues with nuance and a bit of humor. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader

Discover: A Korean-American teenager struggles with his identity in this thought-provoking, heartwarming YA debut about first loves, self-discovery and family.

Putnam, $18.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 14-up, 9781984812209

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