Barbara Kingsolver's Unsheltered takes place in Vineland, N.J., in two eras: the end of the 1800s and the present day. In alternating chapters, the novel relays the life of 21st-century grandmother Willa Knox and 19th-century science teacher Thatcher Greenwood. Knox has just inherited an old, dilapidated house in Vineland, and lives there with her husband, Iano, and her terminally ill, Donald Trump-loving father-in-law, Nick. Also residing there are her rebellious adult daughter, Tig, and depressed adult son, Zeke. Zeke's wife has recently taken her own life, leaving him with a newborn son. Underemployed, on government assistance and struggling to keep a roof over their heads while their house falls apart, the extended family represents the ailing American middle class that can no longer expect a brighter future for the next generation.
Thatcher, who lives with his new wife, Rose, in Willa's house when it's first built, struggles to fit into Vineland's faux-utopian community. In embracing Charles Darwin's new theories of evolution, he challenges orthodoxy and alienates himself from the town's supposedly benevolent elite. They fear Darwin's scientific explanations of human origins, and Thatcher finds his job in jeopardy as he defends basic scientific principles. Rose's loyalty is also put to the test.
Kingsolver uses the house to great effect, juxtaposing Thatcher's anxieties about its structural deficiencies with Willa's same anxieties more than a century later. Both worry about homelessness, or the state of being unsheltered. More than being physically without a home, though, their states of mind reflect sweeping cultural changes that threaten old ways of life. Kingsolver expertly channels these two eras into a powerful message about the future and humankind's ability to adapt. --Scott Neuffer
, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Barbara Kingsolver's ambitious novel follows characters in different centuries as they undergo seismic cultural shifts.
$29.99, hardcover, 480p., 9780062684561
An Absolutely Remarkable Thing
Hank Green, YouTube celebrity and brother of popular YA author John Green, has turned his attention to fiction with a debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, that is both thought-provoking and entertaining.
Twenty-something April May is working as a graphic designer when she comes across a giant robot-like statue in Manhattan late one night. She calls her friend Andy to bring his video equipment. The two make a video with the statue, which they nickname Carl, thinking it is an art installation, though they soon learn that more than 60 Carls have appeared mysteriously overnight in cities around the world. Within days, the video goes viral and April becomes an Internet sensation, frequently appearing as a guest on TV shows. She is flung into a world of international renown that is both exciting and unsettling.
Green has created a bizarre situation (that gets even stranger) while reflecting the present culture of overnight celebrities, social media empires and divisive politics, all seen through the mirror of the Carls. His compelling novel combines mystery, suspense and science fiction with insightful social commentary while exploring what it means to be famous today, based on his own experiences in becoming an Internet star. As April herself says, "I was virtually a social media celebrity now, and so I had to let the entire world know every time I experienced any inconvenience!" All of this is bound up in a laugh-out-loud, fast-paced story that is just plain fun to read. --Suzan L. Jackson
, freelance writer and author of Book By Book
Discover: In this insightful and funny novel, a young woman experiences sudden fame when mysterious statues appear around the world.
$26, hardcover, 352p., 9781524743444
Listen to the Marriage
John Jay Osborn
Whether readers will enjoy John Jay Osborn's Listen to the Marriage depends entirely on whether they're intrigued or horrified by the idea of reading a novel that is, essentially, a year-long transcript of one couple's marital counseling sessions.
If that description sends them screaming, they should stay away. But if it doesn't--and perhaps if they're fans of Esther Perel's popular podcast Where Should We Begin?--they may take Osborn's novel as an intimate opportunity to observe the healing transaction between couple and counselor.
Gretchen and Steve are an affluent, attractive, 30-something couple in San Francisco. She's an English professor, he's in finance and they adore their two children. But this perfect image has been fractured by infidelity, communication problems and the corrosive pressure of high-stress careers. The counselor, Sandy, is there to guide them toward understanding, if not reconciliation--and she has heartaches of her own.
Much like real-life counseling, the novel is by turns revelatory and tedious. For every insight, there's a setback, and rare breakthroughs are earned only by slogging through some frustrating, repetitive conversations. The story is told from Sandy's perspective, and so readers experience Gretchen and Steve as she does--within the confines of her office, without external influence or context.
In a brief note, Osborn, who wrote the '70s law school classic The Paper Chase
, discloses that Listen to the Marriage
was inspired by his own experience in marital counseling. His deep appreciation for the counseling process, and for his counselor, is apparent; Sandy's quiet inner nature is even more compelling than Gretchen and Steve's unfolding drama. --Hannah Calkins
, writer and editor in Washington, D.C.
Discover: Step into the sacred space of a counselor's office to "listen in" on the slow, intricate, session-by-session repair of one deeply damaged marriage.
Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
$25, hardcover, 256p., 9780374192020
City of Crows
In 1673, when Charlotte Picot's husband dies of the plague, she leaves her small home village, along with her one remaining son, Nicolas, and searches for a new life. But disaster strikes when ruffians attack them, kidnapping Nicolas and leaving Charlotte for dead. Meanwhile, Adam du Coeuret, also known as Lesage, a tarot card reader imprisoned for performing magic, is set free, and through fate and magic encounters Charlotte. Together, the unlikely duo head to Paris in search of Nicolas. Lesage is familiar with the more sinister aspects of the city, having worked closely with some of the witches who reside there, so he's a perfect ally for Charlotte, who knows nothing of the place. He is also on a quest of his own for which he will need Charlotte's help.
Chris Womersley (Cairo
) has expertly blended historical facts about Paris with his story told in alternating points of view. During this infamous period, the city was filled with murderers, poisoners, witches and others who performed all sorts of wicked deeds, including murdering innocent children, which Womersley shares in abundant detail. The overall effect is a lavish feast for those who love specifics. The main characters are likable and believable, while the supporting characters add their own flair to the tale. Superstition, fear and magic abound in this historical tale of mistaken identity and of a mother's love for her child, making for a read that entertains and informs at the same time. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A mother and her mysterious new acquaintance search for her kidnapped son in 17th-century Paris.
$17, paperback, 384p., 9781609454708
Mystery & Thriller
We Sold Our Souls
Twenty years ago, Kris Pulaski's dreams were about to come true. She was the fierce lead guitarist for Dürt Würk, a heavy metal band on the precipice of stardom. But today, Kris is 47, managing a Best Western, and about to be kicked out of the family home. Her life has turned into a nightmare.
Dürt Würk's lead singer, Terry, wanted fame and fortune--fast. Just as the band completed the album Troglodyte, Terry declared Dürt Würk dead and presented contracts for the band to join him as members of Koffin--"nu metal" whose fans Kris dismissed as "cul-de-sac crybabies with their baseball hats on backwards." She refused to sign and fled with her bandmates, resulting in a car accident that changes the trajectory of their lives. The night is stripped from their memories, and Koffin becomes a sensation.
Now Koffin is headlining Hellstock '19. Kris--bitter and with nothing left to lose--seeks to discover the truth about what happened that night. Her visits to former bandmates leave a trail of destruction in her wake, but brings her closer to the unimaginable truth: Did Terry make a deal with the devil that secured his success and doomed her forever? Can Kris elude killer UPS men, sinister spa employees and deranged Koffin fans to confront Terry at Hellstock?
We Sold Our Souls
is a wild ride, and the affection Hendrix (Horrorstör
) has for Kris will have readers rooting for her from the first page. This mix of horror, humor and social commentary makes We Sold Our Souls
a fun and bloody good time. --Frank Brasile
Discover: In this supernatural horror novel, a washed-up heavy metal guitarist seeks the truth about a fateful night that changed her life.
$24.99, hardcover, 336p., 9781683690122
Food & Wine
Gordon Ramsay's Healthy, Lean & Fit: Mouthwatering Recipes to Fuel You for Life
Decorated chef and television personality Gordon Ramsay shifts from Hell's Kitchen to a healthy kitchen with Gordon Ramsay's Healthy, Lean & Fit: Mouthwatering Recipes to Fuel You for Life.
Fans of Ramsay's signature brashness and colorful language will find neither here. Instead, Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay's Home Cooking
) adopts a personable tone, writing often of his family and their tastes both in food and fitness. He groups recipes in three sections. In "Healthy," Ramsay shares nourishing, nutritious dishes for every meal of the day, low in saturated fat, sugar and sodium. Highlights include Healthy Vegetable Samosas--loved by his kids and their friends and easy to make in large batches--and Zucchini and Fennel Carpaccio, bright with lemon, mint and pomegranate seeds. Lower-calorie recipes compose "Lean." Ease and simplicity characterize most: see the Zucchini Omelet with Tarragon or the One-Pan Chicken with Lima Beans, Leeks and Spinach. "Fit" includes pre- and post-workout meals like Peanut Butter and Raspberry Jam Pancakes; Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad; or even indulgences like Cheesecake in a Jam Jar.
Ramsay includes nutritional breakdowns as well as variations and tips. Don't like sweet potatoes? Use pumpkin. Measuring honey? Coat the spoon with oil so the honey doesn't stick. Many recipes will appeal to parents hoping for finicky eaters to "get their veg on," as Ramsay says. Others, like Miso Cod en Papillote or Baked Whole Tandoori-Spiced Cauliflower, offer a "wow" factor fit for a party--or for making any weeknight dinner feel a little fancy and, incidentally, healthy. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay shares recipes with an eye toward health and wellness.
Grand Central Life & Style,
$32, hardcover, 288p., 9781538714669
Biography & Memoir
A Mind Unraveled: A Memoir
In a career that's included hundreds of articles in publications like the New York Times and Newsweek and books about the collapse of Enron (Conspiracy of Fools) and other corporate scandals, investigative journalist Kurt Eichenwald has established himself as a dogged and fearless reporter. But no story he's unearthed is as compelling as the one he tells in his traumatic memoir, A Mind Unraveled. In it he focuses on his battle with epilepsy and the equally fierce fight he waged against the discrimination he suffered as a victim of that disease.
First diagnosed in 1979, his freshman year at Swarthmore College, in suburban Philadelphia, Eichenwald underwent care initially guided by his father, a world-renowned expert in pediatric infectious disease, that was nothing short of disastrous. It was only when he entered the care of a neurologist in Dallas who was compassionate and, above all, capable of listening, that his condition began to stabilize.
But Eichenwald's medical story isn't merely an account of treatment that was ill-informed. Equally disturbing is the story of his battle against the efforts of Swarthmore's administration to force him out of school in 1981, treating him as a "frightening oddity impeding other students' education." However, when the college administration became convinced that Eichenwald would follow through with his threat to launch a federal investigation for violation of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the school capitulated and reinstated him.
Candid, meticulously reported and at times terrifying, A Mind Unraveled
is an inspiring story of a man whose fierce will helped ensure he would not be defined or defeated by a chronic disease. --Harvey Freedenberg
, freelance reviewer
Discover: An esteemed journalist brings his considerable skills to the story of his battle with epilepsy.
$28, hardcover, 416p., 9780399593628
We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet's Culture Laboratory
When Steve Huffman and Alexis Ohanian met at the University of Virginia in the early 2000s, each recognized something of himself in the other. Both college students were smart, good with computers and filled with more ambition than most middle-aged CEOs. They also had their differences. Huffman was a quiet, coding savant with a penchant for pranks, and Ohanian was a charming people person. Like Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, they were an ideal duo for launching a tech start-up. Fate agreed, and in a few short years they became founders of the popular website Reddit. According to Christine Lagorio-Chafkin, in her fascinating history of the site, We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit, the Internet's Culture Laboratory, the world would quite literally never be the same.
The book traces Reddit's history from the moment it went live to its arguably significant influence on the 2016 presidential election. Drawing on dozens of original interviews with Reddit's founders and employees, old chat logs and photographs and e-mails, Lagorio-Chafkin, a senior editor at Inc
. magazine, re-creates key moments in novelistic detail. Among the highlights is how some Reddit users exploited the site to cultivate one of Trump's largest online supporter groups consisting of "racists... alt-righters... former Bernie Sanders supporters... Russian propagandists... and anyone lured by the promise of a place that tolerated Islamophobia." Sharply written and brilliantly reported, We Are the Nerds
is an eye-opening look at how Reddit helped shape contemporary Internet and political culture in the United States. --Amy Brady
, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This illuminating history of Reddit reveals the website's significant influence on American culture, including the 2016 presidential election.
$28, hardcover, 512p., 9780316435376
Almost Everything: Notes on Hope
"Some days there seems to be little reason for hope, in our families, cities, and world," admits essayist Anne Lamott (Hallelujah Anyway; Bird by Bird). "Well, except for almost everything." That exception is the impetus for Lamott's essay collection Almost Everything: Notes on Hope. Lamott, who has made a career out of facing the darkness and then looking for the pinpricks of light, brings her pithy, self-deprecating humor to bear on such topics as a friend's alcoholism, the power of stories to redeem and transform and the ways grace sneaks in: without warning and against all expectations.
In brief, wry chapters on topics such as "Puzzles" (not the 500-piece kind), "Humans 101" and "Famblies," Lamott explores the complicated truth of "the mess and the tenderness"--the ordinary human condition, shot through with despair and joy. This takes the form, at times, of sticking with friends and family members through illness and death; learning to treat ourselves and our bodies with kindness; and struggling not to give in to hate in a fear-filled political climate. It also can mean glancing out the window at a bird, laughing (kindly) at ourselves and simply being willing to be amazed.
On the days when "it doesn't feel like the light is making a lot of progress," Lamott also recognizes that "love has bridged the high-rises of despair we were about to fall between." Fortunately for Lamott's readers, this book, like her others, is both a celebration of that bridge and a gentle but insistent call to keep building. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Anne Lamott's essays on hope offer pithy, straight-shooting insights in times of despair.
$20, hardcover, 208p., 9780525537441
Psychology & Self-Help
How to Leave: Quitting the City and Coping with a New Reality
Eventually, in the lives of many, the time comes to uproot. Whether it's to start a family, find a new job or change pace a little, trading the city for the suburbs--or a smaller city--requires an adjustment period that can be filled with anxiety, regret, anger, confusion and homesickness. Fortunately for readers of Erin Clune's manifesto on relocation, they don't have to go through this alone.
How to Leave: Quitting the City and Coping with a New Reality documents the transition Clune (Sh*tty Mom for All Seasons co-author) and her family went through after moving from New York City to Madison, Wis. When the boxes are unpacked, and the house has been set in order, a newbie's work has really just begun. Assuming a get-together in the park is a potluck when it isn't; ordering the wrong dish in a restaurant; overdressing for an evening out--if Clune hasn't experienced one jolt of culture shock or another, she knows someone who has. With anecdotes provided by contacts all over the U.S., she guides readers through the process of settling in--leavening her warm empathy with generous helpings of snark.
At times her jokey prose gives way to solid punch lines, but Clune's real strength is her nuanced understanding of the mixed emotions that go along with fumbled attempts to reestablish oneself in a new place. She has solid advice for making new friends and gives space to grieve friendships lost in the process. Best read in short spurts, How to Leave
can be a fun companion in a challenging phase of life. --Dave Wheeler
, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Relocating is difficult, but Erin Clune's humorous advice can make that transition a little easier.
$26, hardcover, 272p., 9781632868541
Children's & Young Adult
Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani
, Viviana Mazza
Nigerian author Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's (I Do Not Come to You by Chance) harrowing YA debut is certain to stun readers. Especially staggering is the lengthy afterword by Italian journalist Viviana Mazza explaining that Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree is based on interviews with some of the 276 girls kidnapped by extremist group Boko Haram from the village of Chibok in Borno State, Nigeria, in 2014.
The young Nigerian narrator never tells readers her name, but her parents call her "Ya Ta," Hausa for "my daughter." The only girl in her family, she loves sharing secrets with her best friend (especially about her crush on the pastor's handsome, educated son), and also studies hard to test into a government scholarship, encouraged by her proud father. Her dreams for the future shatter when Boko Haram storms her village, murdering the men and stealing young women and children. Enslaved, beaten and starved, the girl and her friends must convert to Islam at knifepoint and marry their captors. Raped repeatedly and forced to answer to the Arabic name Salamatu, which means "safety," the heroine wonders if she will ever see home again.
Nwaubani portions out the heartrending story in brief chapters with deceptively poetic prose for such a brutal saga. Sensitivity, not sensationalism, rules this raw and important narrative. Nwaubani takes care to indicate the true villains; conversations with kind Muslim neighbors illustrate the difference between Islam and extremism. This difference is emphasized repeatedly, as with the devastating emotional response one of the girls has after being raped: " 'This is not Islam,' she says again. 'This is not Islam,' she says over and over again." Buried Beneath the Baobab Tree
is a disturbing, agonizing story that will surely provide rich thought and discussion for mature readers. --Jaclyn Fulwood
, youth services division manager at Main Branch, Dayton Metro Library, Dayton, Ohio
Discover: This fictional account of one girl's tragedy takes inspiration from interviews with Nigerian schoolgirls abducted by the extremist group Boko Haram in 2014.
$17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9780062696724
The Curious Lobster
Richard W. Hatch
, illust. by Marion Freeman Wakeman
This delightful edition, titled simply The Curious Lobster, collects in one volume all of the classic Mr. Lobster stories, originally published in The Curious Lobster (1935) and The Curious Lobster's Island (1939). Teacher and author Richard W. Hatch's reissued work includes the original detailed black-and-white engravings by Marion Freeman Wakeman.
Mr. Lobster, bored after 68 years of the same daily routine, ventures onto land because he is inquisitive and wants to know everything about the world above the ocean floor. Mr. Badger is a very smart, natural leader, who is able quickly to master skills like sailing a boat. He is also a great trickster. Mr. Bear is a bit lazy and preoccupied with food; he had been a circus performer earlier in life and now doesn't really want difficulties or adventure. The three, with their very different personalities, become friends, occasionally behaving like the animals they are, but usually acting like the very civilized beings they aspire to be. (Mr. Bear even has a window in his cabin and fries his fish.) They take turns saving each other from various mishaps on the New England coast and an offshore island, and always proclaim themselves "heroes." The trio repeatedly proves that friendship and teamwork make life worth living, and that "nothing makes people so happy as to rescue someone."
Hatch writes in a soothing, quietly humorous, style that works for adults and children of varied ages and Wakeman's illustrations match the calming qualities of the text. The Curious Lobster
is a perfect bedtime family read aloud or a read-alone for a rainy day at a beachside cottage. --Melinda Greenblatt
, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Mr. Lobster has charmingly old-fashioned adventures exploring the land with friends Mr. Badger and Mr. Bear in this reissue of Richard W. Hatch's Mr. Lobster stories.
$14.99, paperback, 400p., ages 7-10, 9781681372884