From the Shelf
Matthew Sullivan's Dream Job
Matthew Sullivan's short stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore (out now from Scribner) is his debut mystery novel. He teaches writing, literature and film at Big Bend Community College in the high desert of Washington State.
I became an English major in college for one simple reason: the stack of Vonnegut paperbacks in my dorm room made me happier than just about anything. When I graduated and began looking for a job, the only ad that appealed to me said Bookseller Wanted.
I called the number and soon I was wearing a maroon uniform shirt and following a tiny boss lady through a busy terminal at the San Francisco Airport. The pay was dismal and it was a 90-minute bus ride from my apartment, yet I had a bounce in my step at the prospect of working with books all day. But when we reached the bookstore, we kept walking. Soon we were standing in front of a kiosk in the shape of a street trolley, with a cash register where the driver would sit. There was a seniority system, it turned out, and booksellers were at the top. At the bottom? Me: the new guy selling cigarettes and shot glasses from the trolley's helm.
A few years later, after moving home to Colorado, I spotted another alluring ad in the paper: Bookseller wanted. Apply in Person.
I felt that same excitement I had before and immediately hopped in my car. I knew Denver well, so I was puzzled when I ended up in a neighborhood with factories and gas stations--not retail.
I pulled into a lot behind a truck stop, certain that I'd written down the wrong address, or had somehow misread the word bookkeeper as bookseller.
Then I saw a different word, in red letters, on a cinderblock building: ADULT.
I was distraught when I got home, so I did something I should've done many years before: I opened the novel on my nightstand, pulled out the bookmark, and called the number printed there. The logo on the bookmark was a pair of open doors with a world of books inside.
"Are you hiring?"
In this Issue...
by Katherine Heiny
Katherine Heiny's debut novel investigates the sometimes inexplicable nature of romantic attraction.
by Frank Cottrell Boyce
On a mission to save Earth from pan-galactic declutterers, an alien named Sputnik and a silent, lonely boy named Prez make a list of the 10 best things about the planet.
by Leye Adenle
A British journalist and a Nigerian vigilante attempt to track down the perpetrators of shocking ritual murders in Lagos.
Review by Subjects:
From Rainy Day Books
07/06/2017 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Noah Hawley will present his Edgar Award Winning Novel Before The Fall. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Noah Hawley, the award-winning creator and show runner of FX mega-hits Fargo and Legion, had one of the biggest novels of 2016 with New York Times bestseller BEFORE THE FALL. BEFORE THE FALL won the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America and was named one of the 100 Notable Books of 2016 by the New York Times Book Review, the thriller of the year by...
07/18/2017 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Kathy Reichs and Fiona Barton, Bestselling Authors & Queens of Suspense, will visit the Mid-Continent Public Library, Woodneath Library Center, Story Center and be In Conversation about their New Hardcovers. Two Nights, Kathy Reichs’ New Hardcover, tells the story of Sunday Night, a woman with a dark past and a thirst for justice. The Child, Fiona Barton's New Hardcover is the follow-up to her Award-Winning...
YA-Inspired Literary Tattoos
Bustle displayed "39 literary tattoos inspired by young adult novels that prove YA fans are the best."
"Misprint the legends: famous typos from James Joyce to J.K. Rowling" were explored by the Guardian.
Pop quiz: "Name the missing word in each book title," Mental Floss challenged.
"You can now view an almost-8-foot-tall atlas from the 17th century online," Mental Floss reported.
"This two-year-old thought a bride was the princess from her favorite book and the photos are perfect," Buzzfeed reported.
Thibaud Poirier's "gorgeous photos of European libraries" were showcased by Flavorwire.
Rediscover: Tree of Smoke
Author, poet, playwright and journalist Denis Johnson, whose fiction delved into the tumultuous, sometimes transcendent lives of outcasts and addicts, died last month at age 67. Johnson earned widespread recognition with his 1992 short story collection Jesus' Son, 11 tales of petty crime, murder and drug abuse by addicts in rural America. Though Johnson published a poetry collection at age 19, he spent much of his 20s addicted to drugs and alcohol. His first year of sobriety marked the release of his debut novel, Angels (1983), in which a runaway mother of two and an ex-Navy sailor tour the downtrodden fringes of American society after they meet on a Greyhound bus.
Johnson's 2007 novel Tree of Smoke won the National Book Award for Fiction and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. It follows Skip Sands, a CIA psychological operations officer working against the Viet Cong, and is set between 1963 and 1970. In the book, Johnson weaves a disparate cast of often tragic characters into a baroque epic of cruelty, chaos and scarred people. Tree of Smoke also explores the background of Bill Houston, the former sailor from Angels. It was released in paperback by Picador in 2008 ($22, 9780312427740). Johnson's final book, a short story collection titled The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, will be published by Random House in 2018. --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Gerda Saunders: Field Notes on Dementia
|photo: Peter Saunders|
Gerda Saunders is former associate director of the Gender Studies Program at the University of Utah and the author of the short story collection Blessings on the Sheep Dog. Her memoir, Memory's Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia (just published by Hachette, and reviewed below), expands upon a series of journal entries, or "field notes," she wrote chronicling the progression of her dementia to talk about her life before and after her diagnosis. She alternates memories of her childhood in apartheid-era South Africa with looks at how dementia affects her daily life and candid discussions of her planned assisted suicide.
How difficult is it to write with dementia and what techniques do you use to circumvent those difficulties?
The part of my memory that is most affected is my working memory, or the ability to maintain and manipulate information "live" in a multistep process, such as remembering the street and the house number when someone gives me an address to write down. My nonfunctioning working memory decidedly slowed me down in places where I incorporated neurological and other research that required me to switch between screens. By the time I got to the research screen, I would have forgotten the question that I was trying to answer, and vice-versa. Accordingly, I wrote down, in longhand, the information I needed before switching screens. Once I had electronically copied the answer, I used the same process in reverse, jotting down keywords so that I would know what to do with the information once I got back to the draft screen.
Writing these parts of my book was very tedious and slow-going, and also used up a great deal of emotional energy. An oddity of my memory loss is that, as long as I stay inside my head, my thoughts still cohere on the page, even though writing anything at all takes me a very long time. According to my research, I am not the only person with dementia who has retained a set of ingrained skills. Musicians, chess players--even philosophers--retain abilities in their areas of excellence until long after they are no longer able to take care of themselves at all. I am grateful that, in my case, I have, in cognitive neuroscience researcher Michael Gazzaniga's words, "time for introspection into [my dementia's] troubling trajectory."
Are you worried that if you don't feel intelligent, you won't feel like yourself?
From an early age, I got a lot of attention in my family and at school for having a good memory, being "clever" and getting high marks. Not surprisingly, my intellectual ability became one of the cornerstones of my selfhood. It was in my intellectual life, indeed, that it first became obvious to me that something was very wrong with my memory: I would forget what had just been discussed at meetings, and my memory malfunction affected my ability to teach and fulfill my administrative duties in a way that I could be proud of. These failures struck a deep blow to my self-esteem.
However, one of the things I learned studying Freudian and Lacanian subjectivity was that there really is no such thing as one's "true self." Our selves change all the time, which is evident to me when I think of my childhood-, teenage- and 20-something selves that are now, in my late adulthood, overlaid and blended into my current self. By the time my dementia was diagnosed, my intellectual self was no longer only or even the most important core of my self. Rather, the qualities of showing and accepting love, maintaining good relationships and living with integrity had become all-important cornerstones of my selfhood.
Nevertheless, the loss of my intellectual capacities is painful, particularly as I am daily reminded of my brain's ongoing diminishment as I bumble through tasks that earlier seemed to require no brainpower at all. I make up for the erosion of my intellectual self through pursuing new ego-ideals: I strive to continue giving love in the ways I still can and--most importantly--to learn to accept help from others with grace and gratitude.
Do you think it's important to be open about your decision to pursue assisted suicide?
My family and I have taken steps to procure an assisted suicide for me--and for Peter, my husband--when we can no longer contribute to or participate in our most precious relationships. But my decision is by no means prescriptive. I honor the different choices that others make.
In my own situation, I am extremely grateful that my husband and my beloved children and their spouses are willing to help me die when the time is right. That is, when my days no longer supply more joy than disaffection; when I am mean to or scare my children or grandchildren; when I state repeatedly that I no longer want to live; when I spend more hours per day in consuming care than I do being on my own; or when I no longer make a mark on the world.
When my neighbors or others make their different end-of-life choices known to me, I tell them that I am happy for them that they have chosen to die in a way that is meaningful to them. I don't ask them to be happy for me or to accept my choice, but if they are or do, I am grateful.
Does it comfort you to know why, scientifically speaking, your brain is failing?
Knowing what is going on in myself and in the world has always been a source of comfort for me. Scientific knowledge enables me to let go of things that are not under my control. If I believed that dementia--or any other mental illness--was a character flaw, or that I could get my act together by just trying harder, or that pursuing unusual diets or other unsubstantiated cures could make me better, I would experience even more anxiety than I do now. (Anxiety is a particular result of microvascular disease, whereas depression is more common with Alzheimer's.)
My reaction to my dementia diagnosis and my experience of the disease are in line with my general understanding of the cosmos. Scientific evidence convinces me that the universe is impartial and that both disaster and good fortune can randomly befall the good, the bad, and the ugly. (This does not mean that personal responsibility is no longer relevant. It kicks in in how we respond to either disaster or good fortune.) Such an understanding of the human condition relieves me of the obligation that many religious people feel of "earning" a better place in life and the hereafter. It relieves me of the hope of being rewarded for my good deeds in the hereafter and the terror of being punished for my bad ones.
The obligation conferred on individuals in a random universe is to strive for goodness for the sake of goodness alone. The fact that my brain is failing does not absolve me of the obligation to be good. It merely provides an interesting challenge to try to be good for as long as possible. Living within this resolve comforts me very much. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books
by Katherine Heiny
Twenty-four years after the publication of her first short story in the New Yorker, Katherine Heiny's (Single, Carefree, Mellow) debut novel finally has made its way into the world, and the wait has been worth it. Standard Deviation is a winning effort that smartly examines the ties that bind in even the most unlikely of marriages.
Set in the affluent territory of New York's Upper West Side, Heiny's novel focuses on the pairing of venture capitalist Graham Cavanaugh and his wife, Audra Daltry, a freelance graphic designer 12 years his junior. Their affair ended Graham's marriage to corporate lawyer Elspeth Osbourne, a woman as orderly in the conduct of her life as Audra is free-spirited in hers. That striking difference leads to the novel's principal motifs: Graham's persistent speculation on the vagaries of romantic attraction that caused him to wed two such different women, and his hope that, despite the fatal wound he inflicted on his marriage to Elspeth, "maybe they could be successful friends."
Graham and Audra also must deal with the challenge of their 10-year-old son Matthew's Asperger's syndrome, a subject Heiny portrays with an understated realism. Her gift for quick-witted dialogue displays the skill of an observational comic. She applies that same talent to concise descriptions of her characters, as when Graham pictures Elspeth and her new partner, Bentrup, as "an entirely platonic couple like Bert and Ernie."
With its assortment of quirky characters who stumble through life even as, to all outward appearances, many of them should have it mastered, Standard Deviation offers intelligent but gentle domestic comedy. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: Katherine Heiny's debut novel investigates the sometimes inexplicable nature of romantic attraction.
by Jem Lester
Debut author Jem Lester draws on his experience parenting an autistic child in this novel of a father willing to break his own heart to improve his son's life.
Ben Jewell would do anything for his 10-year-old son, Jonah, even agree to fake a separation from his wife, Emma, and move in with his grouchy father, Georg, a Jewish Hungarian immigrant. Emma, a barrister, thinks the ruse could create an impression of instability at home and give them a better chance of proving autistic, non-verbal Jonah belongs at Highgrove Manor, a top-flight government-funded boarding school for autistic youth. However, after the move, Emma suddenly has endless excuses not to see Ben and Jonah. Taciturn Georg turns into a chatterbox with Jonah, spilling forth the family history he's always summarized for Ben as "gassed by the Nazis" and no more. Unmoored, Ben obsesses about Emma, drinks too much, and lets the family catering business slide downhill. As the tribunal approaches, though, Ben must pull himself together to ensure a better future for his son.
While many authors tend to focus on high-functioning autistic characters, Lester shows the other side of parenting a child with special needs, including all the frustration, dirty diapers and sleepless nights. For all his failings, Ben still earns the reader's respect and sympathy for his unwavering commitment to Jonah and his ability to accept his son for who he is. Blunt and big-hearted, Shtum contemplates the challenge of understanding those closest to us and the joy of connection. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Separated from his wife, Ben Jewell navigates life with his nonverbal autistic tween son and his curmudgeonly, close-mouthed father.
by Emma Smith-Stevens
Emma Smith-Stevens, creative writing instructor for the Bard Prison Initiative, introduces the nameless protagonist of her inventive debut novel, The Australian, as a young man living a freewheeling existence in Melbourne. Paying for college by posing with tourists while dressed as Superman, he believes he is destined for greatness, and despite haphazard enthusiasm, the Australian immigrates to New York to become a rich man. His winding path suffers failed turns--as a Wall Street trader, "venture capitalist," club owner and parkour competitor. He soon meets and marries Fiona, ultimately becoming a stay-at-home parent to their son.
Rudderless despite his family, the Australian returns to Melbourne hoping to find some ballast by coming to terms with his mother and investigating the legend of the father he never knew. Eventually he discovers that becoming the man he wants to be is a less clear journey than the one to riches.
A slice-of-life in six acts covering a dozen years, The Australian is an astute, often satirical look at self-actualization and what it means to be a man, partner, father and son. Smith-Stevens writes in a marvelously voyeuristic style, as if watching a lab rat from on high. The Australian can be shallow and clueless, but Smith-Stevens deftly avoids the potential for disconnect by injecting humor and insight into the human condition. The nameless man, both hero and no-hoper, is a poignant and pointed reflection of the imperfections that vex us all. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: A young Australian moves to New York to find fame and fortune, but must return home to discover the man he wants to be.
by J. Robert Lennon
When 12-year-old Irina moves with her artist father and writer mother from Brooklyn to Broken River, a small and dying town in upstate New York, she's partially aware that the relocation has something to do with her father's infidelity. As her parents work through their drama, the precocious young girl passes the time by researching her new town and large home, discovering it to be the site of a gruesome double-murder 10 years earlier, one in which the murdered couple's daughter was never found. When a young woman arrives in town, Irena is convinced she's the daughter of the murdered couple and convinces her parents to let the woman babysit. Meanwhile, her father continues an affair and her mother fears she's dying of cancer. Each of their worries, some real and some imagined, twist together toward a riveting climax that changes their lives forever.
Broken River, J. Robert Lennon's eighth novel, is a darkly hilarious examination of human behavior. Shifting from varying viewpoints--a young girl, a philandering middle-aged artist, a wildly talented writer, a down-and-out small-town criminal and a disembodied narrator (referred to self-referentially throughout as the Observer)--this literary psychological thriller gets at the root of motivation, whether it's to kill or love or even forgive. The characters are so richly developed they resonate as someone familiar--and that's what makes this wonderfully absorbing novel equally funny, terrifying and heartbreaking. --Amy Brady, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A couple trying to save their marriage moves with their daughter into a house with a murderous past in this well-wrought and darkly comic literary thriller.
Mystery & Thriller
Easy Motion Tourist
by Leye Adenle
Nigerian author Leye Adenle introduces fans of crime fiction to the staggeringly corrupt city of Lagos in his debut novel, Easy Motion Tourist. In a spare style reminiscent of Raymond Chandler, Guy Collins, an inexperienced British journalist new to Lagos, navigates the city. His misadventures begin abruptly when he stumbles upon a horrible crime: the all-too-real phenomenon of ritual killing, a gruesome practice involving the removal of human body parts in order to perform black magic. When he's arrested and interrogated by local police, he's acquainted with the brand of rough justice that leads many Nigerians to be "as scared of their police as they were of killers."
Collins is also introduced to Amaka, a cross between a vigilante and a guardian angel, who tries her best to look after the working girls of Lagos and get revenge on the men who abuse them. She springs Collins from jail and the two of them embark on a dangerous mission to find out who's responsible for the ritual murders.
For a short novel, Easy Motion Tourist is packed with feuding killers, prostitutes, police officers and the opulently wealthy inhabitants of Victoria Island--a city-within-the-city that serves as a reminder of the metropolis's incredible inequality as well as the main source of the police's funding. Adenle is skilled at evoking a sense of spontaneity and chaos even as he carefully orchestrates the action. The novel is a wild read, surging back and forth from seedy underbellies to the equally threatening halls of wealth and power with uncompromising speed. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: A British journalist and a Nigerian vigilante attempt to track down the perpetrators of shocking ritual murders in Lagos.
Surgeon X: The Path of Most Resistance
by Sara Kenney , illust. by John Watkiss
Writer and filmmaker Sara Kenney has teamed up with artist John Watkiss to create a fast-paced dystopian drama in which politicians control the medical fates of its citizenry. Surgeon X collects the first six issues of the chilling and urgent graphic series that plays against the troubled backdrop of modern times.
In 2036 London, policymakers debate antibiotics rationing in the aftermath of illnesses that have killed off nine million people. This sparks riots that pit wealthy right-wing extremists against the populace. Meanwhile, surgeon Rosa Scott quits her job at a local hospital over the disputed treatment of a seriously ill victim and her belief that "doctors should be in charge of antibiotics, not the 'Preservation Bureau.' " Together with her psychotic brother, Lewis, Rosa starts a renegade surgical practice that earns her the sobriquet Surgeon X and the scrutiny of Scotland Yard. Meanwhile, she and her family (including microbiologist twin Martha and their estranged father, John, doctor to the rich) work to solve their mother's murder. As the Scotts scurry to find new sources of antibiotics, Rosa must also grapple with her increasingly conflicted roles as a doctor and a political activist: "Extreme circumstances call for extreme medicine."
Kenney's first stab at comics shows her feeling her way around the medium in the first two chapters, but once she finds her stride, the result is a compelling story full of surprising turns and twists. Watkiss's art, particularly the close-ups, move the text seamlessly from panel to panel, conveying the bleakness of Rosa's journey with emotional resonance. Surgeon X is an intelligent and visceral work, an impressive comic that addresses many modern concerns. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Sara Kenney and John Watkiss's fast-moving thriller examines the consequences of a world where infectious disease has resulted in the rationing of antibiotics.
Food & Wine
Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm: Recipes from Land and Sea
by Annemarie Ahearn, photographs by Kristin Teig
Annemarie Ahearn didn't always want to live in Maine, where for generations her family has owned a blueberry farm. She dreaded childhood visits to the state, with its rocky beaches and rolling fog. But for Ahearn, Maine eventually became home, and in her family's barn on Maine's coast she founded her cooking school, Salt Water Farm.
In Full Moon Suppers at Salt Water Farm: Recipes from Land and Sea, Ahearn shares her favorite recipes from monthly dinners she hosts the night of each full moon, plus advice to keep both guests and chef happy, such as "every meal should begin with a well-made drink." Her first recipe is for a simple vodka martini. What follows for the January moon is considerably less simple: sea urchin butter on toasts; potato gnocchi with lobster, cream and tarragon; roasted beets with citrus, horseradish yogurt and toasted hazelnuts; poached codfish with green olives, fennel, saffron and tomato conserva; and cinnamon rice pudding with Cara Cara oranges, Medjool dates and wildflower honey.
Every moon yields similarly sumptuous feasts, plus useful tips like how best to open a pomegranate or make perfect tart dough. For a sauce to accompany haddock fritters, Ahearn edifies the less capable with another trick: "You can cheat by adding a spoonful of store-bought mayonnaise."
Reverence permeates Ahearn's writing on the fruits of nature and the roles of those involved in food's journey onto a plate, honoring lobster trappers, tipping a cup to harvesters, and celebrating animals and the land--indeed, everything under the moon. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Create seasonally inspired meals throughout the year with this beautiful, bountiful cookbook.
My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness
by Howard Jones
On the morning of March 16, 1968, U.S. Army soldiers killed between 347 and 504 unarmed men, women, children and infants in the villages of My Lai and My Khe in South Vietnam. The story of how these young Americans perpetrated what became known as the My Lai Massacre is one of disastrous leadership, an emotional boiling point, personal acts of inhuman savagery and a few noble deeds committed amid a hurricane of hate. In My Lai: Vietnam, 1968, and the Descent into Darkness, Howard Jones (Mutiny on the Amistad, The Bay of Pigs) gives a decisive account of this pivotal trauma in the Vietnam War.
Charlie Company, 1st Battalion of the 23rd Infantry (Americal) Division, was in Vietnam for three months before the massacre. They operated in an area designated Pinkville for its strong Viet Cong presence. By mid-March, the company had suffered 28 casualties from booby traps and mines without seeing a single enemy combatant. Their anger and frustration was channeled by their superior officers into an operation that would "clear" the Viet Cong from Pinkville once and for all. They were told, repeatedly, that the villages in the area (including My Lai) would be emptied of civilians on the morning of the mission, that anyone still there was a VC or VC sympathizer.
Charlie Company, led by Lieutenant William Calley Jr., found My Lai full of civilians. Jones tracks the massacre in excruciating detail as Charlie Company and several other units under the command of Captain Ernest Medina gather these civilians into large groups before gunning them down at point-blank range--among other atrocities. The resulting attempted cover-up, exposure and courts-martial make for equally gut-wrenching but necessary reading. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: A decisive account of the 1968 My Lai Massacre in South Vietnam.
Warnings: Finding Cassandras to Stop Catastrophes
by Richard A. Clarke , R.P. Eddy
Anyone desiring a frank assessment of some of the most serious risks facing the planet--sea-level rise, the hazards of powerful artificial intelligence--would do well to read Richard Clarke and Randolph Eddy's provocative Warnings. Inspired by the myth of Cassandra--the princess of Troy cursed with the ability to foresee the downfall of her city while unable to persuade her fellow citizens of its impending doom--the authors methodically survey the catastrophic consequences of recent unheeded warnings and offer guidance they hope will prevent repetition.
National security experts Clarke (Against All Enemies) and Eddy offer seven case studies featuring "accurate visions of looming disasters"--including the SEC's failure to credit multiple warnings about Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme and government officials' heedlessness concerning hurricane threats to New Orleans. These grim stories provide the foundation for Warnings' second half, in which the authors unveil their "Cassandra Coefficient," a matrix for assessing the risk that decisionmakers will ignore current predictions of dangers like threats from hackers or a pandemic surpassing the scale of 1918's Spanish flu. Their goal, simply put, is to "spot those with sentinel intelligence before a disaster occurs."
While it's reasonable to hope that some of the most dire predictions discussed in this clear-eyed work won't materialize, wise government and corporate leaders should consider adding Warnings to their reading lists. They just won't want to curl up with it at bedtime. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: Two national security experts outline a method for assessing the value of future warnings of catastrophe.
Health & Medicine
Memory's Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia
by Gerda Saunders
In her memoir, Memory's Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia, Gerda Saunders gives the reader an intimate, revealing account of living with dementia, as well as insightful meditations on selfhood and a window into her childhood in apartheid-era South Africa. Starting with her diagnosis of microvascular disease--the second leading cause of dementia--five days before her 61st birthday, Saunders copes by taking an anthropological view of her own illness. Her memoir features excerpts from a journal she kept called "Dementia Field Notes," with entries that range from the mundane ("I could not combine the up and sideways movements of our bathroom tap to make cold water come out. Instead fetched cold water from the kitchen in the plastic jug") to the existential ("When I put away the salad bowl after lunch, it appeared oval rather than round.... It made me feel disconnected from myself--as if it were not me looking at the bowl").
Saunders's memoir is similarly wide-ranging, discussing the state of neuroscience as it relates to dementia, the awful inequalities hidden by the shadow of a happy youth, the unreliability of memory in even healthy brains and her thoughts on end-of-life care (she is frank about her eventual plans for an assisted suicide). Saunders approaches some of the most difficult questions a human being can face with clarity and wisdom--her mind may be failing, but one could never tell from reading her memoir. Memory's Last Breath somehow transmutes "bottomless dread" into remarkable insight. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: Memory's Last Breath is an expansive, scientifically curious memoir that revolves around the author's dementia and her struggles to reconcile with her failing mind.
Children's & Young Adult
Sputnik's Guide to Life on Earth
by Frank Cottrell Boyce
Prez Mellows hasn't talked since his grandfather was taken away. When he's placed in a foster home with the talkative Blythe family on Stramoddie Farm, Prez appreciates the routine of farm life after years in a caretaking role for his grandfather, whose Alzheimer's has progressed to the point where he is no longer safe on his own. But Prez worries about his grandfather and doesn't know when he'll see him again.
When Prez answers the doorbell one day--realizing only later that Stramoddie has no doorbell--he discovers an odd boy in a kilt and goggles. Sputnik marches into the house and charms everyone in the family, who perceive him as a dog. However, he is actually an alien on a mission to prove to Planetary Clearance--the organization that "get[s] rid of all the useless old stars and planets to make room for new celestial bodies"--that Earth is worth saving. Prez and Sputnik must come up with a list of 10 things on the planet worth seeing or doing, "and then Earth can carry on waltzing around its little sun." Luckily, Sputnik can read Prez's mind, so there's no need for Prez to start speaking and no one need discover that Sputnik is not a dog.
Boyce (The Astounding Broccoli Boy; Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Flies Again; Framed; Millions) has an imagination that soars, paired with a profound empathy for the inner, sometimes bewildered, life of a child. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: On a mission to save Earth from pan-galactic declutterers, an alien named Sputnik and a silent, lonely boy named Prez make a list of the 10 best things about the planet.
The Girl in Between
by Sarah Carroll
The only thing that the unnamed, "invisible" girl who narrates this lyrical yet chilling novel wants is a safe place for her and Ma to live, off the streets, where the Authorities can't get them. Because the last time they were sleeping in an alley, when Ma was still drinking and using drugs, the Authorities came to take the girl away.
Now, they live in an old mill they call the Castle. Even though the mill has broken windows and rotten floors, it's the best place they've had since the day Ma and Gran had a massive fight, Ma packed her backpack and they left Gran's. As long as they're together, they'll be fine. But the girl has to remember not to stress Ma out. She doesn't want her to go back to drinking and getting what she needs from Monkey Man, a frightening drug dealer Ma sometimes works for. There's another danger looming, too. The Authorities are planning to tear down the mill to make room for new buildings, just as they've done across the road.
Sarah Carroll's heartbreaking debut, The Girl in Between, relates a darkly compelling story, albeit one tinged with hope. The girl never doubts her mother's love for her, and spends her time weaving fantastic tales, exploring the mill and hoping that one day Ma will bring them home to Gran's. Even when Ma leaves, even when she's sad and her eyes sink "as deep as the canal that runs past the mill," she always comes back. Eventually. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: An unnamed girl and her alcoholic, drug-using mother are off the streets now, living in an old mill, but they still fear that the Authorities will take the girl away.