From the Shelf
Winter Beach Reads
This long pandemic winter had me thinking about books set in sunny places--or books I've picked up while visiting warm locales. San Diego is one of my favorite destinations: in addition to palm trees and fish tacos, it has great bookstores. On my most recent visit, I found a handful of literary treasures--an excellent range of beach-reading options to suit any mood.
Traditional beach reading, of course, involves feel-good plots, charming characters and perhaps a bit of romance. I imagined myself in England, baking fig pastelitos, with Laura Taylor Namey's wonderful YA novel A Cuban Girl's Guide to Tea and Tomorrow (Atheneum, $18.99). I eyed several other lighthearted novels before settling on Beth Morrey's The Love Story of Missy Carmichael (Putnam, $17), whose title character (and her dog, Bob) stole my heart.
Sometimes my brain craves compelling nonfiction--either set in the place I'm visiting, or somewhere entirely different. I picked up Ghostways (W.W. Norton, $15.95) to complete my Robert MacFarlane collection; in it, MacFarlane takes readers to the haunting paths of Dorset and the East Anglian coast. I also bought Tiffany Francis-Baker's memoir, Dark Skies (Bloomsbury Wildlife, $15), in which she visits eerie English hillsides and Nordic nightscapes to explore humanity’s complicated relationship with darkness. To fuel my creativity, I found a green-covered book of Writing Memoir prompts, part of the "Lit Starts" series from the San Francisco Writers' Grotto (Abrams Noterie, $12.99).
I'd packed other books in my bag: a Sara Paretsky mystery, Sonali Dev's foodie love story Recipe for Persuasion. But part of the fun of any vacation is browsing a bookstore or two--and building a book stack that will amuse and entertain while I'm away and provide good memories when I take it home. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
In this Issue...
by Willy Vlautin
This neo-noir search for cash and a place in life will grip readers until the last page.
by Bruno Lloret
Chilean author Bruno Lloret's daring debut novel, brilliantly translated by Ellen Jones, is both a resonating tragedy and stunning visual enigma.
by Meg Medina
Twelve-year-old Merci Suárez deals with the changing landscape of friendships and family in this uplifting coming-of-age novel.
Review by Subjects:
From Penguin Bookshop
04/22/2021 - 7:00PMdiscuss Lily King's WRITERS & LOVERS
Book Title Number Quiz
"Can you pick the number that completes the book title?" Mental Floss challenged.
Author Catherine Menon chose her top 10 homecomings in fiction for the Guardian.
Russia Beyond noted "5 books Dostoevsky considered masterpieces."
Gastro Obscura invited readers "inside the world's largest Jewish cookbook collection."
"Winning design revealed for new library at London's brutalist Thamesmead estate," Dezeen magazine reported.
Rediscover: The Transit of Venus
Shirley Hazzard (1931-2016) was an Australian American writer who traveled extensively with her diplomat father in her youth before settling in New York City to work for the United Nations. She was a typist for the United Nations Secretariat for 10 years before her short story "Woollahra Road" was accepted by the New Yorker and she quit to write full time. Hazzard released her first novel, The Evening of the Holiday, in 1966, followed by The Bay of Noon in 1970. Her breakthrough work, The Transit of Venus, won the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1980. Hazzard's final novel, The Great Fire (2003), received the National Book Award for Fiction. She also wrote two scathing nonfiction books about her experiences at the United Nations: Defeat of an Ideal (1973) and Countenance of Truth (1990).
The Transit of Venus follows orphaned Australian sisters Caroline and Grace Bell as they build new lives in postwar England. Grace marries a wealthy bureaucrat. Caroline pines for an unscrupulous married man, pursued meanwhile by her own shabby suitor. Hazzard tracks these divergent lives over decades, to where the ramifications of youthful decisions can only be understood with age. Penguin Classics recently republished The Transit of Venus with a new introduction by novelist Lauren Groff. --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Lisa Napoli: 'Researching Biography Is a Thrill of Discovery'
|photo: Ted Habte-Gabr|
Lisa Napoli's fourth book, Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie (Abrams, reviewed below), is the story of the "founding mothers" of NPR set during the emergence of public radio and second-wave feminism in the 1970s. A Brooklyn native now living in Los Angeles, Napoli has worked as a journalist and a documentarian. Previously she wrote Radio Shangri-La, about media culture in the Kingdom of Bhutan; Ray and Joan, about McDonald's founder Ray Kroc and his philanthropist wife; and Up All Night: Ted Turner, CNN and the Making of 24-Hour News.
Susan, Linda, Nina and Cokie is full of colorful anecdotes about these women, some from decades ago. A favorite is the story of legendary House Speaker Sam Rayburn singing a hymn at the funeral of little Cokie Boggs's pet chicken. How did you find these stories?
Researching biography is a thrill of discovery, as well as an exacting task. For this book, in addition to talking with people, I read, a lot: the books written by the women themselves and other early NPR staffers, gems unearthed from research libraries, countless newspaper and magazine articles--some from magazines that no longer exist that I discovered on microfiche in unlikely places. I also sleuthed out archival audio and watched dozens of speeches, talks, interviews, documentaries, etc., to conjure up the women as well as the time in which this story is set.
As for the Cokie/chicken story, I first read it in the memoir written by her estimable mother, former congresswoman and ambassador Lindy Boggs, Washington Through a Purple Veil. (As with all our best family "yarns," the story was repeated by Cokie herself elsewhere.)
A "group biography" covering 50 years of history, your book flows smoothly, includes equal content on all the women, and is very well organized. Did you consciously "balance" content about the four? How did you determine the structure?
Thank you! The women's individual stories echoed the themes of the era and snapped together like a perfect jigsaw puzzle with which to advance the narrative. When I discovered Frank Mankiewicz's critical role as the third president of NPR and the drama surrounding his time at the network, it seemed incredible to me that no one had stitched this "founding story" together like this before.
Looking back, what do you see as the biggest challenges the "founding mothers" faced?
The moment in time in which they lived--the collective challenge women and other marginalized groups faced at the time. (Though those challenges haven't been eradicated, at least today we discuss them more openly.) It did seem crucial that public radio was new and untested at the same time opportunities were beginning to crack open for women, and, by extension, for Susan, Linda, Nina and Cokie; had it been more established, it might have been harder to break in (and less compelling a tale.)
Are you a dedicated NPR listener?
The immersive nature of writing long-form nonfiction on intense deadlines (two back-to-back!) has inspired me to dial down my own media consumption, beyond what's needed for research. To cope with the overabundance of information and warp-speed updates in this last year in particular, I've found myself gravitating toward print for my news.
That said, when the divine DJ Raul Campos plays music on KCRW in Santa Monica, I blissfully tune in.
With the multitude of social media and virtually everyone disseminating news, what do you think the heroes of journalism will look like in the future?
Does anyone remember "reporter" Al Franken long, long ago on Saturday Night Live, beaming news from a satellite dish perched on his head? It seemed so preposterous then. Future heroes will be intrepid souls (just as they are today and have been in the past) who make skillful, thoughtful use of new technologies that allow them to craft compelling stories and uncomfortable truths. They may never become household names or "brands," but they will uncover essential stories.
Your earlier works include Ted Turner: Up All Night, CNN and the Birth of 24-hour News. What draws you to examine media?
During the explosive change in communications of the late 20th century, I've had the pleasure of working in different media--from an internship at CNN in its earliest days that led to my first job there, on to the opportunity years later to be one of the first journalists to write about the World Wide Web (for the New York Times's "Cybertimes," a section now, sadly, lost to history.)
At this stage of my life and given the state of the world, I feel it's essential to look at media's history to contextualize how we got where we are--to emphasize the impact of mass media on every single aspect of our lives.
This is why I also loved volunteering to help start a radio station in the Kingdom of Bhutan over a decade ago, at the dawn of democratic rule (the subject of my first book, Radio Shangri-la) and not long after broadcasting was first allowed in the country. It gave me a different sense of the impact of an emerging media culture and the crucial role media can play in bringing people together.
Would you offer any specific advice to women choosing journalism careers now, based on your research and your experience as a writer?
Spend at least as much time reading history and biography as tweets. ;) Hone your skills as a listener. And take a cue from these women in this story, and the pioneers before them: make allies aplenty, and fortify yourself with tenacity, boundless curiosity and an open mind.
As my mother always told me, "Don't say you can't do something. Say yes, and figure out how." --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.
The Night Always Comes
by Willy Vlautin
A lifetime of struggles comes to a head in two frantic days and nights in this gritty novel from Willy Vlautin (Don't Skip Out on Me).
Lynette has been juggling multiple jobs for years to buy the house where she lives with her mother and her developmentally disabled brother. She has managed to save a sizable down payment, but her poor credit history means that her mother will need to take out a loan for the rest. The week before they plan to close, her mother buys a new car and backs out. Desperate to salvage what she has struggled for, Lynette sets out to collect every debt she can, legally or not.
The Night Always Comes is a brief, harsh novel in which nothing is wasted. As Lynette seeks out friends and associates she hopes will help her in her search for cash, her reflections weave in a history of abuse, drug use and mental health struggles from which she had been rebuilding her life until she made it to this point. Her quest takes her on a tour through gentrification and its victims, to men in high finance and to those struggling to get by while on parole. Although a brutal story, a thread of hope runs through it. People suffer under societal forces, from betrayal by those close to them, and from their own mistakes, but they survive to carve out space in a world that had not left one for them. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library
Discover: This neo-noir search for cash and a place in life will grip readers until the last page.
by Bruno Lloret , trans. by Ellen Jones
In Chilean author Bruno Lloret's inventively sly debut novel, Nancy, the narrative might seem relatively transparent: titular Nancy approaches death by cancer and recalls her happy childhood, her dangerous adolescence, her brother's disappearance, her mother's abandonment, her father's Mormon conversion, her husband's gruesome death. Lloret, however, is creating something more than story; his opening author's note requests readers to "engage with the text in different ways." That intriguing invitation immediately manifests on a first page filled with Xs arranged rather like the bottom half of an hourglass, as if Nancy's tragedy is already well in progress, and time is literally running out. Indeed, discerning time will require meticulous attention--watch for passing decades and a single tombstone.
Nancy originally formed in Lloret's imagination as a ghost, making her already otherworldly. In daring "to construct a voice, a rhythm outside my own physical boundaries," Lloret eschews standard punctuation for single, multiple, only Xs--inspired by flipping Spanish's angle quotation marks from (< >) to (><)--transforming the pages into a "visual enigma." Emphasizing the fever-dreamish nature of Nancy's memories, the Xs as marks on the page might serve as pauses, elisions, even requests for active engagement. The repeated references to physical crosses--in the desert, in fields, in cemeteries--further serve as warnings and markers of death, not only of Nancy's inevitable demise, but a chilling reminder of Chile's (and too many other nations') high rates of femicide.
Originally published in Chile in 2015 and brilliantly, stunningly translated by Ellen Jones, Nancy proves both bewildering and illuminating. For intrepid readers, indelible rewards await. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Chilean author Bruno Lloret's daring debut novel, brilliantly translated by Ellen Jones, is both a resonating tragedy and stunning visual enigma.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Caroline Hardaker
Poet Caroline Hardaker's eerie debut novel, Composite Creatures, follows a newly engaged couple who sign their lives away to an exclusive corporation for a chance at an artificially extended existence. In a noxious near future polluted with chemicals, where natural life is undergoing a slow, painful death, Norah and Art employ the services of Easton Grove, a private healthcare company that caters to the wealthy, prolonging, protecting and controlling its clients' lives. As part of the program, the couple are given an ovum organi, a living creature of indeterminate origin and deliberately vague appearance, that lives in their loft, adopting their habits and growing into something almost-human. Norah's attachment to this creature, which she nicknames Nut, becomes problematic, as she questions the program's morality, her relationship and her ability to save herself at the expense of another.
Hardaker (Little Quakes Every Day) uses sparse, precise language to craft a chilling atmosphere. Part atmospheric horror story, part science fiction, Composite Creatures is perfectly tense. As the plot crystalizes, and Nut's horrifying role begins to take shape, the brilliantly planned twists unspool; Hardaker's creative vision shines. Many of this world's secrets are left unclear: Hardaker declines to spell out what forces are shaping her world, how long the underprivileged have left, exactly how Nut is formed. And it is this refusal to explain that makes the novel so spellbinding--the room Hardaker leaves for the reader's imagination to take over. The story's slow, enigmatic unfolding is well worth the wait. --Simone Woronoff, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: This thought-provoking, slow-burn debut deftly combines gothic horror and science fiction, exploring greed, narcissism and morality.
Second First Impressions
by Sally Thorne
Second First Impressions by Sally Thorne (The Hating Game) is a pleasantly quirky rom-com featuring wonderfully realistic characters opening up to each other.
Twenty-five-year-old Ruthie Midona hasn't kissed anyone since prom. She manages the Providence Retirement Villa, lives onsite and rarely leaves, but is considering dating. The office temp, Melanie Sasaki, acting "electrician" to Ruthie's love life, warns her against Teddy Prescott, the new owner's son.
Not easy when the tattooed, sexy-haired motorbiker now lives next door to Ruthie and confides in her through their shared wall. And Teddy's bad guy persona? It's a veneer. Ruthie can tell from how he humors the Parlonis--two kooky old ladies in the villa who employ him for tasks such as plating Big Macs like a five-star meal or burying a white T-shirt twice, then handwashing it.
But Teddy couldn't want Ruthie, the list writer with a label maker and a Golden Girls aesthetic. Plus, she chose safety here at Providence. She can't risk heartache: "Teddy Shields Up."
Second First Impressions is a buoyant story about second chances. While Teddy tries to prove he's not going to break her heart, Ruthie, a "champion at guarding [her] feelings," illustrates the difficulty in believing that strangers don't see the turnoffs a person sees in themself. Meanwhile, the hijinks-loving Parlonis embody the sentiment of living every day like it's the last. Rich with Thorne's crackling prose, Second First Impressions is an inspiring rom-com full of weak-at-the-knees moments, personal redemptions and the joyous satisfaction of even give and take in a relationship. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: In this rom-com, a reserved woman working at a retirement home falls for the owner's devil-may-care son.
by Sarah Hogle
In Sarah Hogle's slow-burn romance Twice Shy, Maybell Parish is prone to flights of whimsy, living in the cute diner in her head instead of living in reality. It's undoubtedly nicer in her imagination--in real life, she's in a dead-end job with a "best friend" who catfished her with the man of her dreams. When her great-aunt Violet passes away, it's just another blow on top of her bad life, but it comes with a silver lining. Violet's beautiful home and property in the Smokies, the one place Maybell felt safe as a child, are now hers. Maybell quits her job, ghosts her "friend," and moves her life to Falling Stars.
Unfortunately, Falling Stars isn't the dream Maybell remembers. Not only is the house in disrepair, her great-aunt neglected to mention in her will that she'd share the inheritance with the groundskeeper, Wesley Koehler--who is also the person her ex-friend used pictures of in order to catfish Maybell. Wesley is gruff, quiet and determined to convert Violet's home into an animal sanctuary. Both are grieving for Violet in different ways--Maybell at the lost opportunity to reconnect with the person who cared for her the most and Wesley at losing a friend who understood him. Though their relationship starts cold, things quickly warm as Wesley opens up, and Maybell disconnects the pictures that her friend catfished her with from the charming man in front of her. Hogle (You Deserve Each Other) writes a touching romance that explores Maybell's past and Wesley's social anxiety with care, coupling tough topics with a fluffy love story. --Amy Dittmeier, librarian
Discover: Hogle builds a slow-burn romance between two people fixing up a crumbling house and discovering its secrets and eccentricities.
Food & Wine
Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking
by Elva Ramirez
Go ahead--flip straight to the creative, colorful, tempting recipe section of Zero Proof: 90 Non-Alcoholic Recipes for Mindful Drinking. Then, glass in hand, return to Elva Ramirez's fascinating, detailed history of drinking in the U.S., and the growing movement to consider the health and social effects of alcohol consumption.
A brew shortage in colonial Jamestown led to "intemperate drinking" of contaminated water, so breweries were hastily built and enthusiastically patronized. Eventually, profligate alcohol consumption see-sawed with abstinence efforts, leading to Prohibition in 1920, then its 1933 repeal. Food journalist Ramirez traces the history of "no proof" beverages, from a 1931 "Temperance Cocktail" to the "mocktail" parties of the 1970s and '80s.
These 90 recipes are booze-free, but the "mocktail" label is out. " 'Mock' is defined as a mimicry or lesser version of what it replicates," Ramirez notes. "An alcohol-free bar may once have seemed like a punchline, but it's now one of the most talked-about developments in hospitality." She cites the "swelling ranks of mindful moderates" who participate in Dry January and Sober October. The no-proof movement is compared to gluten-free, dairy-free and vegan menu options: "The goal is a balance of choice."
Zero Proof's recipes--most with mouth-watering, full-page color photos--definitely offer choices. Forty contributors from around the globe are represented in five sections: "fruity and floral" to "vegetal and savory." Directions include where to find esoteric ingredients (herbal teas, specialty sodas) or how to make them (nettle cordial, ginger syrup). These creatively presented, lush drinks may be alcohol-free, but they're bursting with flavor. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.
Discover: This history of the legal and social trends of drinking alcohol, from colonial times through today's "new moderation," includes creative recipes for spirit-free beverages.
Biography & Memoir
Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie: The Extraordinary Story of the Founding Mothers of NPR
by Lisa Napoli
NPR listeners know the "driveway moment": when the story's too good to leave the car. As NPR celebrates its 50th anniversary, journalist Lisa Napoli's group biography focuses on the women whose voices gave it life. Susan, Linda, Nina & Cokie is a delightful book brimming with driveway moments.
Susan Stamberg, Nina Totenberg and Linda Wertheimer came to NPR shortly after its 1970 incorporation, and Cokie Roberts joined in 1978. Napoli opens with Cokie's death in 2019, writing that as a beloved "media superstar," she was "one part proper, one part ferocious, equal parts sage." The other "founding mothers," as Susan named them, shared Cokie's commitment, bucking tradition and battling flagrant chauvinism to speak for overlooked Americans. All were born between 1938 and 1944, though their roots varied. Cokie, daughter of renowned Louisiana Rep. Hale Boggs, roamed the halls of Congress as a child. Susan Stamberg, named co-host of All Things Considered in 1972, had, as a Barnard graduate, typed her way to the D.C. "educational" start-up WAMU-FM. Nina Totenberg grew up in New York City dreaming of a journalism career. From a grocer's family in New Mexico, Linda Wertheimer attended Wellesley College, where, they discovered years later, she and Cokie sang in the same a cappella choir.
Napoli balances her thoroughly annotated history of NPR with tales of the colorful careers of its most famous voices. Anecdotes are replete with iconic names, including Helen Thomas, Walter Cronkite and House Speaker Tip O'Neill (whose high praise was "I give youse girls from NPR everything."). Her meticulous research supports her premise: the founding mothers "changed journalism, the public's perception of women, and women's perception of themselves." --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.
Discover: A delightful group biography of four iconic women journalists whose voices became synonymous with National Public Radio, which celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig's Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend
by Joshua M. Greene
In Unstoppable: Siggi B. Wilzig's Astonishing Journey from Auschwitz Survivor and Penniless Immigrant to Wall Street Legend, renowned Holocaust historian and documentarian Joshua M. Greene (Witness; Justice at Dachau) shares the story of one man's incredible life and enduring faith.
Born in a West Prussian village, Siegbert "Siggi" Wilzig lost 59 members of his family in the Holocaust. As a teenager, he survived nearly two harrowing years in Auschwitz-Birkenau, enduring two death marches before being liberated from Mauthausen in 1945. He spent the next two years hunting Nazi criminals--including Hans Goebbels, younger brother of Joseph Goebbels. The United States Army rewarded Wilzig's efforts by funding his passage to the U.S. in 1947, where he settled in New York at age 21. He arrived ready to work, and work he did: manual labor, toiling in a sweatshop, working as a traveling salesman, managing and owning businesses and, eventually, Wall Street-trading his way to building oil and banking empires worth billions.
In Greene's thorough, detailed treatment, Wilzig's improbable survival and success constantly amaze, even as Greene (and Wilzig's family) acknowledges Wilzig's whole self, rough edges included. Greene accessed troves of interviews and recorded materials, including footage of Wilzig shot by Steven Spielberg's crew. But especially candid and moving are quotes from Wilzig's children.
Wilzig remained steadfastly devoted to combatting Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism until his death in 2003. He once said, "Young people can learn accounting or law, but first they should get a real education. They should learn from the past." Wilzig's story will continue to teach them. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: A historian and documentarian paints a vivid, moving portrait of a Holocaust survivor who built business empires worth billions and tirelessly fought anti-Semitism.
The Twelve Lives of Alfred Hitchcock: An Anatomy of the Master of Suspense
by Edward White
While dozens of books on Alfred Hitchcock (1899-1980) already exist, Edward White (The Tastemaker) sidesteps familiarity with an inventive and clever new way to present his biography and critical assessment of the filmmaker. Rather than tell Hitchcock's life in chronological order, White has written 12 lengthy chapters, each presenting a different aspect of his subject. "Only when all twelve are seen together will the full picture be complete," he writes.
The chapters (or "lives") begins with "The Boy Who Couldn't Grow Up," which examines Hitchcock's childhood phobias that seemingly lasted his entire life. "The Murderer" posits "Hitchcock had a lifelong fascination with cruelty and violence that fueled his creativity." "The Auteur" shows how Hitchcock's persona changed after decades of being regarded as merely a Hollywood hit-maker until French critics declared him an "artiste" in the mid-1960s. One of the more fascinating chapters is "The Womanizer," which looks at Hitchcock's wildly conflicted treatment of women on and off screen. Hitchcock was, White writes, "caught between feelings of admiration and resentment, identification and estrangement, an instinct to worship and a desire to control." Other fascinating chapters include "The Voyeur," "The Entertainer," "The Dandy" and "The Fat Man," which poignantly examines his lifelong relationship with food ("the source of joy and companionship, disgust and shame"). The final chapter begins in 1979 with Hitchcock in failing health and closing down his office at Universal studios. "Life away from work proved an oxymoron," writes White.
White's clever, authoritative and opinionated critical biography of Hitchcock is a treat for film buffs. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: Edward White's outstanding Alfred Hitchcock biography divides his epic life and film output into 12 insightful and fascinating chapters, creating a vibrant portrait.
Psychology & Self-Help
Did I Say That Out Loud?: Midlife Indignities and How to Survive Them
by Kristin van Ogtrop
In Did I Say That Out Loud?, Kristin van Ogtrop (Just Let Me Lie Down) shares frank, often laugh-out-loud--and at times, surprisingly poignant--essays about her life and the encroachment of middle age. She draws from her own experiences and shares stories from others who have affected her life along the way. "Some of what you learn between the ages of twenty-nine and fifty-six is wonderful and some of it makes the world feel scrambled and cruel," she writes, weaving in sections about her upbringing, early jobs, her marriage, raising three boys and wayward dogs, and how she landed a career in the magazine publishing industry.
Van Ogtrop climbed the corporate ladder at magazines for 25 years. Joy and fulfillment prevailed in her career, while chauvinistic anti-feminist episodes also brought occasional challenges. When the Internet became the go-to for reading preferences, van Ogtrop was forced to cut budgets and jobs--and rethink her goals. At an annual pelvic exam, van Ogtrop mused to her gynecologist: "I think I'm either going through peri-menopause, suffering from depression, or need to find a new job." The doctor looked at van Ogtrop "over the tent" of her legs and replied, "Or maybe it's all three."
The doldrums of middle age may be a time when women lack energy, inspiration, fervor and intention. But reading about van Ogtrop's experiences is never dull. The playful honesty of van Ogtrop's inimitable mindfulness will offer readers a fresh sense of perspective as they laugh at the absurdities of life and getting older right along with her. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: Kristin van Ogtrop, a long-time heralded magazine journalist, dishes out fresh, playful essays on the joys and absurdities of middle age.
Children's & Young Adult
Merci Suárez Can't Dance
by Meg Medina
The follow-up to Meg Medina's 2019 Newbery Medal-winning novel, Merci Suárez Changes Gears, is a joyous celebration of family and friendship.
Merci Suárez had thought sixth grade was going to be tough--she had no idea seventh grade would be a whole new beast. At school she is paired with Wilson Bellevue, a kid she barely knows, to co-manage the school store, "a job that no one wants." Merci is displeased but is swayed by the promise of daily free Key lime pie: "If I was going to die of boredom... at least there would be pie." To make matters worse, Merci's BFF becomes friends with her nemesis. Meanwhile, in the Suárez household, Lolo (her grandfather) has Alzheimer's and "talks a lot less now," and her twin cousins, who Merci must regularly watch, are more rambunctious than ever. On the route to understanding why things have to change, Merci stumbles, lying and hurting people she loves. As she unpacks these actions, she thinks, "All my feelings are so confused... all of them harden in my chest, and words just can't get out."
Merci is a bold but introspective girl, figuring out the boundaries of being a kid who is almost a teenager. Medina's narrative is episodic and hurls challenges at Merci faster than the plucky 12-year-old can solve them. Growing up is tough stuff, but Medina resolves conflict with unflinching honesty and the joy that comes with dancing. Ultimately, the hard lessons reinforce the heart of who Merci is: "I'm Team Suárez and we don't back down." Merci is brave, spirited and impossible to forget. --Zoraida Córdova, author and freelance book reviewer
Discover: Twelve-year-old Merci Suárez deals with the changing landscape of friendships and family in this uplifting coming-of-age novel.
by Lana Popovic
This YA historical thriller about a real French serial killer who dabbled in the occult bleeds with luscious language and commentary about the patriarchy's stifling power.
In 17th-century Paris, 19-year-old Catherine Monvoisin leaves behind a childhood of servitude and poverty only to marry a man who "spends his jeweler's income like water." Catherine would rather die than be poor again, so she uses her special "sight" to earn a living as a fortune-teller. Soon, she becomes the official sorceress of the Marquise de Montespan, a noblewoman who seeks the affections of King Louis XIV. Catherine enjoys profiting off the nobles at court, peddling them potions that inflict or lift "curses" she invents. It's all innocent trickery, until she pairs up with a magician who has a troubled past and a penchant for revenge. Catherine finds herself on a dangerous path of deception, destruction and murder.
In Poison Priestess, the second book in the Lady Slayers series, Lana Popovic (Blood Countess) recalls the real-life story of a murderess while exploring the society that created her. Without justifying Catherine's crimes, she ably uses examples of oppression--like Catherine marrying one man to release her from being indentured to another--to help readers sympathize. Popovic augments Catherine's story with queer romance and evocative language--"a shifting sea of snakes... seethe around me.... As if I am some dark pupil, floating in the center of a colossal iris"--resulting in a vivid and lurid novel. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: Nineteen-year-old Catherine Monvoisin becomes the official sorceress to King Louis XIV's mistress, then finds herself at the center of several murders in this tantalizing YA historical novel.
Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask: Young Readers Edition
by Anton Treuer
Ojibwe author and professor Anton Treuer has taken his 2012 book for adults, Everything You Wanted to Know about Indians but Were Afraid to Ask, and reconfigured it for young readers. For this comprehensive edition, Treuer uses the opportunity to update information and expand topics, "with a lot more information on social activism and current events."
"I do not claim to represent 'the Native view'... My responses reflect the views of one Native person, and they have to be read with this understanding," Treuer begins. It is his intent to create in this book a safe space for Indigenous and non-Indigenous youth alike to find answers, reach understanding and combat racism. The first section discusses terminology: "What general terms are most appropriate for talking about North America's first people?" Treuer offers an engaging discussion of the different terms used in the United States. "The problem," he says, is that in the United States, unlike in Canada, "there is no established inclusive process" and so "terminology is not settled." Treuer, who uses "Indian," "Native," "Indigenous" and "Native American" throughout, makes a recommendation: "As much as possible... use the terms each tribe uses for self-reference."
Treuer brings this level of detail and absorbing discussion to every question asked in the book, whether it be about terminology or racist stereotypes. The breadth of topics covered is astounding; perhaps even more impressive that the book, which could easily be workmanlike, is a diverting read. Caregivers, teachers and librarians would be well-served to have Treuer's work within reach. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: This young readers' version of a 2012 adult book about Indigenous peoples in North America is a comprehensive and stimulating read.