From the Shelf
Bending Genres, One Book at a Time
Bestselling author David Wong (the pseudonym of Jason Pargin) is executive editor of the comedy site Cracked.com. A trademark blend of horror, comedy and existential pondering, Wong's What the Hell Did I Just Read: A Novel of Cosmic Horror (St. Martin's Press) is the third installment in his John Dies at the End series. Shelf Awareness recently spoke with the author about writing and what's up next.
When asked how, exactly, he landed on the fantastic mix of genres his work represents, Wong said, "I think this is one of those situations in which having no education in literature, or any friends in the industry, helped me. I never spent one second thinking about what genre I wanted to work in, or what kind of material was selling in that genre, or who were the current masters of it. I just wrote the type of stuff that entertained me, and in a way that would make me laugh. I have too short of an attention span to attempt anything else. My unprofessionalism kept it fresh!"
Addressing the rumor that What the Hell Did I Just Read might be the last installment in the series, Wong declared, "It will not be the last! There will be at least one more. I've never written a series that has run its course before, so I suspect that event will take me by surprise long after it's too late, and that it will be a major disaster in my life."
As for what's next for Wong? "The sequel to Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, then after that I'll come back to the John Dies series, assuming some life circumstance doesn't intervene. Then, at some point down the line, the sun will swallow the earth and all life will be eradicated."
In this Issue...
by David Barclay Moore
After his older brother is killed, a 12-year-old boy uses his love of building with Legos to deal with the strain of living in a Harlem neighborhood fraught with drugs and gangs.
by Deon Meyer
In the wake of a deadly global plague, a group of South Africans form a utopian community, testing the relationship between a father and son.
by Josh Weil
Josh Weil showcases his exceptional talent in this moving collection of stories that imagines the modern world both with and without light.
Review by Subjects:
Making a Yearly Reading Challenge
"A yearly reading challenge just might be the most beneficial bookish goal you can make," Bustle suggested.
Flavorwire shared "15 fantastic J.R.R. Tolkien-isms to live by."
"Which classic book should you read based on the Disney movie marathon you put together?" Buzzfeed wondered.
Andy Warhol was "a sphinx without a secret." Mental Floss highlighted "16 of Truman Capote's fiercest insults."
Author Sarah Ward picked her "top 10 brothers and sisters in fiction" for the Guardian.
The Misadventures of Waterhouse Press
It started four years ago as a self-publishing venture, a way for an aspiring romance author to publish her books and find an audience. Although the books did well, Meredith Wild found it difficult to get the placement and promotional opportunities traditionally published authors received. So, in 2014, she added a name--Waterhouse Press--thinking that would make it easier to gain access to e-tailers, retailers and the press. Having a name helped, but what mattered more was what Wild calls her "sheer tenacity of knocking on doors until people would listen" that got the company noticed.
In the meantime, Wild built Waterhouse Press into a true publishing house, and it's blossomed so much that now it has eight staff members besides Wild, handling everything from acquisitions and editorial to production, marketing and publicity. Waterhouse continues to publish books by Wild but has expanded and now has a stable of a dozen writers who it's publishing in some unusual ways, with a focus on creating brands and expanding their markets.
The most striking new venture of Waterhouse Press is the Misadventures series, whose first title, Misadventures of a City Girl by Meredith Wild and Chelle Bliss, appeared last month and whose second title, Misadventures of a Good Wife by Meredith Wild and Helen Hardt, appears today. (More on the first six Misadventures titles below.)
The books are "short, sexy reads," Wild says, stand-alone titles that "hopefully readers would enjoy reading as much as we enjoyed writing." She's also described them as "Golden Books for adults" and says that "fun" is a key element, making the books "the perfect bedside read, a 'quick blush' for the reader who loves a page-turning romance."
They're the first titles Waterhouse Press is publishing in hardcover; other titles have been published in trade paperback, and overall sales have been overwhelmingly digital. (The company's print distributor is Ingram Publisher Services.)
The series has its origin in what Wild calls "a casual and extra steamy writing project" she began with author friend Mia Michelle. (The pair's Misadventures of the First Daughter appears October 30.) "We had no formal plans to publish the story, but we had so much fun writing it that it gave me the idea that other authors might want to join in," she says.
Wild has chosen each of the authors who are writing for Misadventures, based on works by them that she's read and loved.
Continuing the approach she took with Mia Michelle, Wild has written several of the Misadventures books with other authors. The process is "incredibly fun," she says. "Writing with a friend takes some of the pressure of plotting away, because there's always an element of surprise when I get a chapter back and have to figure out where to take the store next."
The Misadventures series will continue next year, with seven more titles slotted for the spring season. They include three books by authors who have fall Misadventures titles: Lauren Rowe (College Girl), Angel Payne (Time Traveler) and Helen Hardt (Rockstar). In addition, Kendall Ryan, Toni Aleo and Elizabeth Hayley (the pen name for a pair of friends named Elizabeth and Haley) are also contributing title. Meredith Wild is also writing a new story on her own, called Misadventures of a Virgin, which will be released in January.
The Fall Misadventures Titles
The first six titles in the Misadventures series make their fun, steamy debut this fall:
Misadventures of a City Girl by Meredith Wild and Chelle Bliss ($19.99, 9781943893409, Sept. 12, 2017). Madison Atwood needs to get away from the paparazzi hounding her after divorcing a Hollywood big shot. She discovers Avalon Springs, a rural retreat in Northern California, where mountain man Luke Dawson lives off the grid and away from people on purpose. He considers Madison a distraction, until she finds his cabin and a way into his heart. Together they face the wrath of mother nature, a test of whether or not their relationship is more than a fling. USA Today bestselling co-author Chelle Bliss has also written the Men of Inked and ALFA P.I. series.
Misadventures of a Good Wife by Meredith Wild and Helen Hardt ($19.99, 9781943893461, Oct. 3, 2017). Kate and Price Lewis had a perfect marriage, one that ended in tragedy when Price died in a plane crash overseas. A year later, Kate's sister-in-law invites her to come along on a three-week girl's trip to the South Pacific. There, on the beach near a secluded island villa, Kate spots her supposedly dead husband. Loyal, heartbroken Kate deserves answers, but all she gets from Price is a cryptic response: go home at the end of her vacation or disappear with him forever. Kate must decide if her former marital happiness is worth forgiving Price his terrible secrets. Helen Hardt is the New York Times bestselling author of the Steel Brothers Saga and the Temptation Saga.
Misadventures with a Super Hero by Angel Payne ($19.99, 9781943893447, Oct. 10, 2017). A young night shift worker at a five-star Los Angeles hotel gets accosted by a worse-than-average weirdo. She is saved by Bolt, a superhero hunk who also happens to be Reece Richards, her boss. She falls for him, but Reece has commitment issues with an evil ex and is preoccupied by a global business empire--not to mention a supervillain out to destroy the city. Angel Payne is the USA Today bestselling author of the Suited for Sin series and the Cimarron Saga.
Misadventures of a Backup Bride by Shayla Black ($19.99, 9781943893423, Oct. 17, 2017). Carson Frost inherits a confectionery company that will make billions in the long run but is strapped for cash in the short term. To survive the next 60 days, he takes a loan from a business rival. There's only one catch: Frost has to marry the man's daughter. He can get out of that stipulation by marrying someone he's already in love with, a difficult proposition when Frost isn't even dating. Enter struggling actress Ella Hope, who goes along with Frost's deception only to find their fake romance getting too real. Shayla Black is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of the Wicked Lovers and More Than Words series.
Misadventures of the First Daughter by Meredith Wild and Mia Michelle ($19.99, 9781943893454, Oct. 30, 2017). Charlotte Daley has been both spoiled and neglected her entire life. Now that her dad has been elected president, she's determined to make the most of her lack of parental supervision by going on a partying spree. The Secret Service agent assigned to protect her, Zane Parker, has to hide his feelings for Charlotte while trying to prevent her from causing a political scandal. He offers to show the First Daughter the excitement she's been looking for in exchange for her obedient behavior, but their new arrangement threatens to cause even more trouble. Mia Michelle is the author of the Rose of Thorne series.
Misadventures on the Night Shift by Lauren Rowe ($19.99, 9781943893430). Abby Medford enjoys her job as a night shift hotel clerk. The quiet and solitude let her read and study law books. When rock star Lucas Ford checks in to the penthouse suite, he demands personal room service from Abby. When his requests turn erotic, Abby's simple good times threaten to grow into an emotional connection she doesn't want. Lauren Rowe is the USA Today bestselling author of the Club series.
The Writer's Life
Chip Kidd: Always Focused on What I'm Doing Next
|photo: Brent Taylor|
Chip Kidd is a graphic designer and the associate art director at Alfred A. Knopf. He is also a novelist, graphic novelist and editor, among other occupations. Chip Kidd: Book Two, collects examples of his work from 2007 to 2017--the first volume covered his career from 1986 to 2006--and features captions and essays about a variety of his projects, including his iconic book covers. The book also features introductory essays from Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman and Orhan Pamuk.
Your book goes into this a little bit, but could you elaborate on why/how design trends develop, especially when it comes to book covers?
The boring answer is I have no idea. I do what I do and make my design choices very intuitively, and yet however independent I think I am, I find that sometimes I am following the herd, totally by accident. However, warm yellow works for a very good reason, and it's not like I'm going to drop that option if it seems appropriate to the book at hand.
What are some book cover clichés that you wish you could ban?
High-heeled shoes, beaches, the backs of women's/girl's heads, "three-dimensional" typography, dragons, puppies, pasta, kittens. But, hey, never say never.
Many female writers have complained that they're given covers that pigeonhole their work as "women's fiction." Should it be a function of book covers or graphic design in general to suggest an intended audience (at the possible cost of broader appeal)?
Absolutely NOT. One of the phrases that is used routinely in this business that I really hate the most is "Target Audience." Whenever someone invokes that, I cannot help but say: "The people in our audience are NOT targets; we are not aiming guns at them. They think for themselves, let's just do the best job we can." I would say the female writers you cite are quite justified in their anger. You don't see Alice Munroe or Lorrie Moore being pigeonholed in this way, and neither should anyone else.
What are some recently released book covers that you particularly admire?
By me or other designers? Re: me, I am particularly proud of what I've been able to do for Haruki Murakami, especially the last four books or so. Ditto astronaut Scott Kelly's forthcoming memoir Endurance--I wish that could have made it into Book Two, but there wasn't time or room. Re: other designers, I am always in admiration of what Kelly Blair, Oliver Munday, Paul Sahre and Rodrigo Corral come up with. Lots of others, too, just can't think of names right now.
How do you deal with the rejection and disappointment that seems inescapable in your field? Your book provides many examples of fascinating concepts that just didn't work for authors or publishers.
Look, it hurts--that's why it's called rejection. But it's part of the job and pointless to dwell on it. You have to see it as an opportunity to do something better. I think what helps me deal with it is that I have been doing this for so long, I have enough "successes" under my belt that I can absorb whatever hits that come. If everything was getting rejected all the time, well, that would be a suggestion that I've reached my sell-by date. Not yet, but who knows?
You touch on this a little in the book, but how does your design process change when dealing with difficult political or racial issues? Have you declined work that you disagree with on moral or political grounds?
Very good question. The short answer is that, no, I have never been asked to design a book cover for a work to which I was morally opposed. I would refuse such a request. Luckily, Knopf and I seem to be aligned in this way, and have been for 30 years and counting.
Your craft is often in the service of other people's projects, working behind the scenes. Is it hard putting yourself front and center in a book like this? What's it like to be the object of critical attention?
I am narcissistic enough that I don't mind putting myself front and center (in this case), as you say it, but I also try not to take myself too seriously. That said, there is no denying that the very act of publishing a book like this is to declare: "Wow, can we believe how great I am?" But I also think that if I don't collect and record all this work in one place, no one else is going to. And if it inspires a designer or two in the process, so much the better.
There's a lot of variety to your recent work. Do you ever decline any requests out of concern that they're just not in your wheelhouse?
Every now and then, but it rarely comes up. When it does, I pass. As in, you will not see any "Self-Help" covers in Book Two, and only a few "financial advice" covers--which I did when I felt I could lend something conceptually to the projects.
One of the things I liked and appreciated about the book was that Alan Moore and Frank Miller were featured alongside Orhan Pamuk and Haruki Murakami. You seem to have such a diverse world of influences and collaborators. Looking back, do you think there are any common threads that tie your objects of admiration together?
Thank you--I have been so lucky to work with such a diverse group of writers and cartoonists who come from so many unrelated backgrounds. I would say the common thread is that they're all great at what they do, and I just hope I can contribute in some small way to that. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books
The Age of Perpetual Light
by Josh Weil
Josh Weil (The Great Glass Sea) is an immense talent, a writer who can craft convincing characters, with distinct voice and ethos, and also elevate narrative language to a level of poetry. The eight stories in The Age of Perpetual Light are thematically connected by Fulbright Fellow Weil's treatment of technology, specifically the evolution of modern lighting. The collection begins with "No Flies, No Follies" and ends with "Hello from Here," both first-person tales narrated by a Jewish peddler named Yankel, who, at the start of the 20th century, falls in love with an Amish woman to whom he shows off the wonders of an electric lamp. In between these two stories, Weil explores the early- to mid-20th-century United States with "Long Bright Line," about a female painter obsessed with airplanes, and "The Essential Constituent of Modern Living Standards," about farm workers organizing against a power company. "Angle of Reflection" focuses on satellites of the late century, while "The Point of Roughness" and "Beautiful Ground" explore relationships in more modern-day settings. "The First Bad Thing" represents Weil's foray into near-future dystopian fiction in which "mirror light" provides endless daylight and crop-growing capacity for humans.
It isn't the evolution of technology itself but humans' relationship to it that defines these stories. The Age of Perpetual Light is the result of an original mind working at the nexus of known history and poetic imagination. The collection is luminous throughout, its impressions and insights into the human condition coalescing like wondrous heat on a cold night. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: Josh Weil showcases his exceptional talent in this moving collection of stories that imagines the modern world both with and without light.
by Jean Giono , trans. by Paul Eprile
Originally intended as a preface to the French translation of Moby-Dick, Jean Giono's (Hill) Melville evolved into a literary essay, a fictionalized portrait of Herman Melville in the years leading up to the publication of Moby-Dick. Melville, first published in 1941, was a transitional work that bridged the two periods of Giono's creative career--the landscape-driven Pan Cycle and the character-driven Hussard Cycle.
Herman Melville has returned to the U.S. in 1849, after a fortnight in London with an unusual item: "It was an embalmed head... but it was his own." With that opening, Giono steps back in time to London, where a short negotiation on The White-Jacket ("a bitter, blood-soaked book, a book about desperate combat, a renewed attack against the rule of law, against corporal punishment in the United States Navy") has left Melville with nearly two weeks to burn before his return home. Melville swaps out his dress clothes for sailor's gear and hitches a ride on the mail coach to Woodcut on the advice of a stable boy whose girlfriend lives there. He becomes aware of a female passenger, Adeline White, within the coach, and her voice and gestures stir his imagination. They meet face-to-face at an overnight stop and strike up a friendship filled with poetic imaginings and a heartfelt longing for the unattainable.
The marriage of Melville's and Giono's styles results in a skillfully complex melding of two distinctive voices, and becomes a more profound reflection on art and its philosophical relevance to life. In mimicking Melville, Giono exercised his own considerable literary powers and created an inspired work that both celebrates Melville and is itself a memorable achievement. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Jean Giono's literary essay is a lovingly fictionalized tribute to Herman Melville.
Mystery & Thriller
by Deon Meyer , trans. by K.L. Seefers
In this dystopian novel, South African novelist Deon Meyer (Icarus) departs from his mystery series for a haunting look at survival in the wake of catastrophe, and the fundamental nature of mankind.
A terrible fever has swept the globe, killing more than 90% of the human population. Willem Storm and his teenage son, Nico, are traveling the South African hinterlands, scavenging what food they can. Willem, however, is a visionary, and he decides to launch a utopian community called Amanzi, which will gather survivors together to create a beautiful new community. Over the months Willem assembles a strange hodgepodge of people, including the brutal and brilliant Domingo, the talented pilot Hennie and Beryl, who arrives in a van with more than a dozen orphans.
As Amanzi grows, Nico does too. He's fond of his clever, intense father, but is nevertheless frustrated with Willem for upholding peace and his own utopian visions at all costs, even when roving gangs of marauders repeatedly attack the group. Domingo, on the other hand, believes that people are animals. "Domesticated, social animals, thin veneer of civilization.... But if you disturb the conditions, that veneer wears off." Nico must ultimately decide whether to follow the hopeful ways of his father, or the pragmatic path of Domingo, when disaster strikes at the heart of Amanzi.
Beautifully written, and including the viewpoints of dozens of community residents, Fever is a sweeping, spellbinding novel. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans
Discover: In the wake of a deadly global plague, a group of South Africans form a utopian community, testing the relationship between a father and son.
The Gospel of Mary
by Philip Freeman
Sister Deirdre--a feisty, young Irish bard and Christian nun--returns in the third installment of Philip Freeman's suspenseful mystery series set in sixth-century Ireland. Previously, courageous Sister Deirdre, from the order of Saint Brigid of Kildare, went on a mission to recover the stolen bones of the holy patron of the convent, and later hunted down a grisly serial killer brutalizing the nuns of Ireland.
In The Gospel of Mary, an old and gravely infirm British nun shows up at the monastery to deliver an ancient manuscript. On her deathbed, she asks Sister Deirdre to guard the papyrus roll--five centuries old--which is believed to be dictated by the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. The contents of the scroll had been squelched by the head of the church in Rome--deemed a forgery--for fear it would undermine tenets of the Christian faith. To keep the lost scroll safe from powerful enemies, Sister Deirdre sets off with another nun across Ireland, charged with translating the Aramaic text to determine its authenticity. But as the women travel through Glendalough, and on to Clare Island and Armagh, henchmen from within the church in search of the scroll threaten their safety. Does the papyrus really contain the truth about the Mother of God?
Freeman (Sacrifice) creates another atmospherically absorbing mystery fortified by biblical and historical fact. By unraveling the plot of the translated text alongside Sister Deirdre's mission, this briskly paced narrative becomes even more dark and dangerous. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A nun in ancient Ireland tries to protect and decipher a scroll believed to contain the thoughts of the Virgin Mary.
Dead Woman Walking
by Sharon Bolton
Early one morning, a hot-air balloon takes off near the Scottish border, carrying a group of tourists. While afloat, they witness a man kill a young woman on the ground. The killer looks up and locks eyes with one of the women in the balloon's basket. The balloon crashes, spurring the following press release from police:
"This woman--Jessica Lane--should have died.... Not only did Lane survive, she walked away.... So, I want to know where she's going...why she hasn't been in touch. Why she isn't seeking help. Why she's deliberately avoiding the police. I want to know who she's running from."
This is how Sharon Bolton's Dead Woman Walking opens. Readers will want those answers, too.
But since Bolton is a master plot strategist, she keeps readers on the hook by meting out clues slowly without ever sacrificing momentum or letting up on the suspense. Bolton allows her heroine no respite from the menace pursuing her and readers no time to relax. While the author unravels the mysteries, she throws in subtle social commentary and creates characters of varying shades on the human spectrum. No one is one thing--not cops or killers or even nuns. The best way to read this thriller, and Bolton's others, is to accept not knowing where the story is headed or what the people are capable of. The plot will become unsettlingly twisty, but the author is an expert guide, taking readers on an exceptional and memorable adventure. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A woman survives what should have been a fatal crash, walking away for mysterious reasons.
The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry
by David L. Carlson , illust. by Landis Blair
Author David L. Carlson and illustrator Landis Blair created The Hunting Accident: A True Story of Crime and Poetry, a haunting graphic novel about real-life blind poet Matt Rizzo, a one-time mob criminal.
Rizzo's son, Charlie, narrates the story, beginning with Matt telling him he lost his eyesight in a hunting accident as a child. He now sells insurance, but his true passion is poetry and writing, using a Braille typewriter. After his work is transcribed, Charlie reads it aloud to help proofread. As they work together, the father teaches his son about literature and life.
What he doesn't tell Charlie is the truth about his past, at least not until the boy becomes a troubled teen. He feels betrayed to learn that his dad lost his eyesight in an armed robbery and spent time in prison. There, a highly unlikely savior changed Matt's life: Nathan Leopold, Jr., the Leopold of the infamous "perfect crime" Leopold and Loeb murderers.
This immersive, captivating story is told through a variety of approaches, including historical facts, literary quotations and the dark, evocative crosshatched drawings that bring the characters to life. Relying heavily on Dante's Inferno, the story also references a range of literature, including Homer, Emerson, Keats, Nietzsche and more.
Imaginative and full of metaphorical imagery as well as factual details, this graphic novel takes the reader on an emotional journey through secrets and lies, delving into relationships between fathers and sons. Bits of primary sources are sprinkled throughout, making this compelling combination of story and drawings both entertaining and informative. --Suzan L. Jackson, freelance writer and author of Book by Book blog
Discover: This engrossing graphic novel tells the story of Matt Rizzo, a one-time mob criminal turned blind poet.
Food & Wine
Style and Spice: Over 200 Recipes from the American Southwest
by Larry Edwards
Spicy. Smoky. Savory. Sweet. These quintessential flavors of the American "lower left" shine in Style and Spice: Over 200 Recipes from the American Southwest by chef Larry Edwards (The American Table; Edwardian Cooking: 80 Recipes Inspired by Downton Abbey’s Elegant Meals).
Edwards eschews processed ingredients, and begins with recipes to stock a Southwest pantry--homemade versions of marinades, salsas, flavored oils and more. In the subsequent Southwest Kitchen section, party hosts and meat lovers will find much to love, with Jalapeño Tequila Bombs and Baja Flank Ribs with Tequila and Honey Glaze. Vegetarian and vegan options include dishes like Whiskey Grilled Portobello Salad and Casa Vegan Cornbread.
Desserts from the Southwest Oven span breads and desserts of all stripes. Standouts include Puff Bread, sweet Cactus Pear Sorbet and rich Applewood Smoked Bacon Ice Cream. Finally, Southwest Cantina spotlights cocktails.
Absent are photos of hyper-styled tables with thimbles of salt tumbling over silk napkins. Style and Spice is devoid of pretense, relying on photographs of meals that look beautiful yet attainable to accompany many of the recipes. Practicality is key, and as such, the instructions are simple. Most of the recipes yield four servings and are easy to halve or double. Edwards offers simple tips and concise instructions throughout, and his humor and personality sneak in even in sections light on commentary; e.g., the cocktail Q.F. note: "As for the name of this drink, the initial 'Q' stands for 'quick,' and the initial 'F' stands for a word never used in a cookbook." --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Chef and food writer Larry Edwards compiles a flavor-packed and comprehensive anthology of American Southwestern recipes.
Biography & Memoir
Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime
by Ben Blum
Alex Blum grew up in the Denver suburbs dreaming of being a soldier--a special operations Army Ranger. His cousin Ben Blum was a precocious math nerd. Alex signed his Airborne Rangers contract before he graduated from high school, while Ben went off to Stanford at age 17 "with a suitcase full of Nine Inch Nails T-shirts and combat boots."
Just before Alex was scheduled to ship out for his first deployment in Iraq, however, he drove four other Rangers to a Tacoma Bank of America branch outside Fort Lewis. Brandishing AK-47s, they robbed the place. Within a few short days, the five were captured and locked up for trial. The Blum family was shocked. Ben decided to investigate how his cousin went off the rails. Ranger Games is memoir, biography, military history, heist caper, courtroom drama, whodunit and family saga rolled together.
As a family member, Ben had access to everyone connected with Alex's military training, legal defense and psychological evaluations. He talked extensively with Alex's father, Norm. He corresponded with the robbery crew's charismatic ringleader, the Canadian-born Iraq War veteran Luke Elliott Sommer. But the meat of Ranger Games is in the conversations and correspondence between Ben and Alex. Was Alex a "hapless criminal accomplice" as he claimed--duped by the higher-ranking Sommer--or was he in on the whole thing for the thrill of pulling off a "mission?" Ben probes the mystery of Alex's crime, unfolding it with a fitting denouement. Ranger Games is a hell of a story. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: With diligent research and persistence, Ben Blum investigates how his straight-arrow Army Ranger cousin wound up driving the getaway car in an armed bank robbery.
Landslide: True Stories
by Minna Zallman Proctor
"We tell ourselves stories in order to live," Joan Didion once famously observed. In Landslide, her revealing essay collection, critic and translator Minna Zallman Proctor (Do You Hear What I Hear?) dusts off that aphorism to give it a different spin. "I think we tell stories to relate, in order to find a point of communion with our fellow person, in order to say: Look, I get you." Her skill at that task infuses the 14 pieces in this collection with both wisdom and grace.
It's hardly necessary to share Proctor's life experience in order to appreciate her gift of observation and her talent for concision in essays that typically span no more than 15 pages. Whether she's describing her ill-fated romance with a Boston boy named Joey ("Driftwood"), or the awkward searches to secure her mother's burial in a Jewish cemetery ("A Mystic at Heart") and acquire a proper gravestone years after her death ("The Waiting Earth"), the universal subjects of family, love and memory gradually emerge. If there's a thematic unity to the collection, it centers on Proctor's challenging relationship with her mother, a professional musician and composer she describes as "clingy, indulgent, petulant, and maudlin." The last 15 years of Arlene Zallman's life were lived in the shadow of cancer, a fact that gives special tension to the essay "Distress Abandon."
Proctor relates all these stories in crisp, coolly ironic prose that evokes something of the flavor of Joan Didion's writing. Landslide is poignant, tart and insightful. Its only flaw is that there isn't more of it, but perhaps Minna Zallman Proctor will rectify that shortcoming someday. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: Minna Zallman Proctor's essay collection is an intimate portrait of her life and family relationships.
Business & Economics
A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History
by Diana B. Henriques
Reading Diana B. Henriques's A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History could be a revelation to younger readers used to thinking of the 2008 financial crisis as the signature market crash of modern times. Henriques brings readers' attention back to October 19, 1987--dubbed "Black Monday"--when the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped a shocking 22.6%, "still the largest one-day decline in Wall Street history. That was the equivalent of an urgent midafternoon news flash today screaming, 'DOW FALLS NEARLY 5,000 POINTS!' " The book is a reminder that the 2008 meltdown was not unprecedented, and that the disaster might have been avoided altogether if market leaders and government officials had learned the right lessons from the 1987 crash.
Henriques has a low-key style, favoring patient explanation over moral outrage. Still, her account subtly undermines the concept of rational markets while also making the case for pragmatic responses to financial crises. Referring to the controversial question of whether to bail out big banks while letting smaller ones fail, Henriques writes: "If a bunch of small retention ponds are leaking and there is a rapidly growing crack in the Hoover Dam, you shore up the Hoover Dam." Her account is not hopeful, as might be expected from a book about a major crisis that "if it was remembered at all, was recalled as the crash without consequences." A First-Class Catastrophe capably punctures that myth, along with many more dangerous truisms that continue to proliferate in political and financial circles. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: This cogent history of the events leading up to and following the 1987 Black Monday stock market crash reflects on its connections to the 2008 financial crisis.
Children's & Young Adult
The Stars Beneath Our Feet
by David Barclay Moore
Lolly Rachpaul's older brother, Jermaine, was shot and killed a few months back and Lolly keeps erupting in anger. He's scared, too. Living in the St. Nick projects in Harlem, he's always on guard. Some of the older kids in the neighborhood are pressuring Lolly to join a "crew," but what Lolly really wants to do is keep working on the one thing that, as he says, "Makes me me": Legos.
Following the kit instructions has always been important to him, but after Jermaine's death, Lolly begins creating cities. When his mother's girlfriend starts bringing home garbage bags full of cast-off Lego bricks from her custodian job, Lolly's ambitions--and his city--grow.
Soon, he moves his building site to the community center, where he finds a measure of peace for the first time in months. When a girl he and his classmates call Big Rose shows up at the door wanting to build, too, Lolly is furious: "My world felt hijacked." Little by little, though, he finds that it is nice to share his passion for building--or for a life that does not involve a gang. His new approach to designing structures from scratch, inspired by his travels through New York City to visit the buildings he reads about in an architecture book, starts to carry him toward a future that has more possibility than he imagined.
David Barclay Moore's magnificent debut novel, The Stars Beneath Our Feet, is named for the glittery stars on the sidewalk Rose creates in her perfect replica of the projects, representing the lives lost in their community to drugs and despair. Rose frequently repeats, almost chanting, the words her grandmother once told her: "Your mama, your daddy--they were buried under the ground, but they're stars now, girl, stars beneath our feet." --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: After his older brother is killed, a 12-year-old boy uses his love of building with Legos to deal with the strain of living in a Harlem neighborhood fraught with drugs and gangs.
by Peter Sís
"My friends and I love adventure. We play pirates all the time. Together, we rule the high seas! So when the school costume party is announced, of course we know we will go as pirates."
Peter's mom has a different idea: "Why don't you go as Robinson Crusoe?" she says; he's "the hero of your favorite story." Recognizing this as truth, Peter agrees and eagerly watches her pull together a stunning Robinson Crusoe ensemble, complete with scruffy facial hair. Sís, the first-person child narrator, dons his costume: "On the walk to school, I am bursting with excitement. What will my friends say? I can't wait for them to see me!"
But when Peter arrives at school, his friends, all dressed in similar pirate costumes, "laugh and tease" him. Feeling small and embarrassed, his mother agrees to bring him home where he feels ill: "My head swims. I toss and turn. I feel lost. I am drifting." And he is drifting. Or, at least, the double-page spread shows his bed slowly morphing into a ship that is "cast upon an island."
Sís's illustrations play with tone, format and perspective, moving young Peter from cooler-toned, bordered illustrations in the graphic novel-like "real world" to the full-page spreads of deep blue ocean and glorious green plant life in his imagined safe harbor. Any reader will be able to sympathize with young Peter's experience--who hasn't felt conspicuous and uncomfortable? But the beauty of the work lies in finding comfort in the limitless possibilities of imagination and people excited to share those fantasies with you. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In this beautifully illustrated picture book, Peter Sís uses a bit of his past to create a new story and fantastical world.
by Supriya Kelkar
In 1942 India, 10-year-old firebrand Anjali (a Hindu Brahmin) and her Muslim best friend, Irfaan, paint "Quit India" graffiti on Captain Brent's door; Anjali's mother, Shailaja, recently left the British officer's employ and Anjali is convinced the Englishman fired her. Actually, Shailaja, dedicated to Gandhi's ahimsa (nonviolence) movement, quit to become a "freedom fighter." Shailaja begins working to promote the making of khadi, hand-woven Indian cloth, to replace British manufactured cloth. She also involves Anjali in her passion to educate Dalits, known as "Untouchables."
But Mohan, Anjali's family's toilet cleaner (a traditional "Untouchable" job), turns the tables, educating Anjali and Shailaja and making them aware of Gandhi's faults. Gandhi renamed the "Untouchables" Harijans or "children of God," but the community finds the term insulting and prefers the more realistic word Dalit, which means "oppressed" in Sanskrit and "broken or scattered" in Hindi. Thirteen-year-old Mohan angrily says: "Everyone will still think of us as dirty and beneath them. Changing what you call someone doesn't fix the problems behind the name." Shailaja and Anjali, courageous, idealistic and sometimes naïve, must learn that the hero of some is not necessarily the hero of all.
Hollywood and Bollywood screenwriter Supriya Kelkar uses family history--her great-grandmother was an independence and women's rights activist--to create her outspoken feminist characters in this New Visions Award winner. Skillfully crafted, Ahimsa incorporates Indian history, culture, a less often seen view of Gandhi and harsh daily realities, including the mother's and daughter's attempts to clean their own outhouse, Mohan's beating by Anjali's neighbors, Shailaja's imprisonment (and hunger strike) and Hindu-Muslim riots. This is an absorbing story of a young girl concerned with important issues but also convincingly anxious about school, family, pets and being shunned by classmates after she befriends Dalit children. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer
Discover: Ten-year-old Anjali takes an active role alongside her freedom-fighter mother during India's fight for independence and social change.