From the Shelf
The Dark Side of Sports
Oliver Hilmes's Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August (Other Press, $24.95) is a great work of narrative history that focuses on the 16 days when Nazi Germany played host to the Olympics. It's a disturbing reminder of how repressive regimes have used the Games as propaganda centerpieces, presenting attractive but misleading portraits of the host countries. While South Korea is hardly a totalitarian state, the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games nonetheless had its own share of unsettling undercurrents, from geopolitical threats (North Korea) to doping scandals (Russia). While there are many features that the Berlin and Pyeonchang Olympics do not share, I was reminded of books that focus on the dark underbellies often concealed by the flashy surface pleasures of sports.
There are a number of excellent books about the outsized role that football (aka soccer) plays in Brazilian society. Dave Zirin's Brazil's Dance with the Devil (Haymarket Books, $17.95) features excellent reporting that documents the huge economic and political consequences of Brazil hosting the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016. In order to build the required facilities, the Brazilian government incurred debts and forcibly evicted thousands of people, leading to massive protests and police crackdowns.
Every big-money sport has its share of exposés, with college athletics receiving newfound scrutiny in recent years. The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football (Anchor, $16.95) by investigative journalists Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian and Indentured: The Battle to End the Exploitation of College Athletes (Portfolio, $18) by Joe Nocera and Ben Strauss take aim at the NCAA for raking in enormous profits that are not shared with the players. Both books emphasize the enormous sacrifices made by student athletes with only a small chance of long-term success. These books, and many others, serve to contrast the joy provided by athletics with the inequities that often lurk in its shadow. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
In this Issue...
by Michelle de Kretser
In this superbly written novel, Michelle de Kretser examines multiculturalism in Australia and abroad.
by Michael David Lukas
A modern-day son of the Muslim watchmen who guarded a Jewish synagogue for over a thousand years learns of his family's history.
by Chitra Soundar
Mama Elephant knows just what to say to soothe four animal babies unable to sleep.
Review by Subjects:
From Rainy Day Books
09/23/2018 - 7:30PMSOLD OUT! EVENT OVERVIEW: Sally Field, Academy Award-Winner of 2 Oscars for Best Actress, will be In Conversation with Vivien Jennings, Founder & President of Rainy Day Books about Sally's New Hardcover Memoir In Pieces. ABOUT SALLY FIELD: Sally Field is a 2 Time Academy Award-Winning Actress, and 3 Time Emmy Award-Winning Actress who has portrayed dozens of iconic roles on both the large and small screens. In 2012, she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and...
09/24/2018 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: William Kent Krueger, New York Times Bestselling Author will Present his New Hardcover Desolation Mountain: A Cork O'Connor Mystery. This Event is Co-Presented by Rainy Day Books & Mid-Continent Public Library. ABOUT WILLIAM KENT KRUEGER: William Kent Krueger is the Award-Winning Author of 17 previous Cork O'Connor Novels, including Tamarack County and Windigo Island, as well as the Novel Ordinary Grace, Winner of...
09/25/2018 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Keith O'Brien will Present his New Hardcover Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History. This Event is Co-Presented by Rainy Day Books & Linda Hall Library of Science, Engineering & Technology. Watch the Fly Girls Video Trailer on Vimeo! ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Keith O'Brien is an Award-Winning Journalist, a former Reporter for The Boston Globe, a regular Contributor to National Public Radio and Politico, and a...
09/26/2018 - 6:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Loren Long, Award-Winning Author & Illustrator will Present and Celebrate the Publication of his New Hardcover Children's Picture Book There's a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Loren Long is the Creator of the Otis Series of Picture Books: Otis, Otis and the Tornado, Otis and the Puppy, An Otis Christmas, Otis and the Scarecrow, Otis Gives Thanks, and Otis and the Kittens, as well as Little Tree. ...
09/29/2018 - 7:30PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Hank Green will Introduce his Debut Hardcover Novel An Absolutely Remarkable Thing alongside Special Guest John Green, New York Times Bestselling Author. This Multimedia experience will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. ABOUT THE NOVEL: In his much-anticipated Debut Hardcover Novel, Hank Green, Co-Creator of Crash Course, Vlogbrothers, and SciShow, spins a sweeping, cinematic tale about a young woman who becomes...
10/01/2018 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Kyle Mills, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author will be In Conversation with Vivien Jennings, Founder & President of Rainy Day Books about his New Hardcover Thriller Red War: A Mitch Rapp Novel. This Event is Co-Presented by Rainy Day Books & Mid-Continent Public Library. ABOUT KYLE MILLS: Kyle Mills is the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of 15 political thrillers, including The Survivor for Vince...
10/03/2018 - 6:30PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Sarah Smarsh will Present her Debut Hardcover Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Smarsh has covered socioeconomic class, politics, and public policy for The Guardian, VQR, NewYorker.com, Harpers.org, The Texas Observer, and many others. She is currently a Joan Shorenstein Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. A former Professor of Nonfiction Writing, Smarsh...
10/03/2018 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Deborah Harkness, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Discovery of Witches will Present her New Hardcover Novel Time's Convert. This Event is Co-Presented by Rainy Day Books & Mid-Continent Public Library. ABOUT DEBORAH HARKNESS: Deborah Harkness is the #1 New York Times Bestselling Author of A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, and The Book of Life. Deborah is a History Professor at the...
10/10/2018 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Kate Morton, Internationally Bestselling Author of The House at Riverton, will be In Conversation with Vivien Jennings, Founder & President of Rainy Day Books about Kate’s New Hardcover The Clockmaker's Daughter. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kate Morton, a native Australian, holds Degrees in Dramatic Art and English Literature. She is the Internationally Bestselling Author of The House at Riverton, The Distant Hours, The Secret Keeper, and more. She lives...
10/15/2018 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Leif Enger, Bestselling Author of Peace Like a River, will Present his New Hardcover Novel Virgil Wander. This Event is Co-Presented by Rainy Day Books & Mid-Continent Public Library. ABOUT LEIF ENGER: Leif Enger was raised in Osakis, Minnesota, and worked as a Reporter and Producer for Minnesota Public Radio before writing his Bestselling Debut Novel Peace Like a River, which won the Independent Publisher Book Award and...
10/16/2018 - 7:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Chelsea Clinton, #1 New York Times Bestselling Author will be In Conversation with Vivien Jennings, Founder & President of Rainy Day Books to discuss Chelsea's New Children's Book Start Now!: You Can Make a Difference. The Conversation will be followed by an audience Q&A. This Event is Co-Presented by Rainy Day Books & Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri. ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Chelsea Clinton, is the Author of...
10/18/2018 - 6:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Michael C. Katherns, Kansas City Author will Celebrate the Publication and Present his New Hardcover Kansas City Houses: 1885 -1938! ABOUT THE NEW BOOK: Kansas City Houses: 1885-1938 explores the development of Kansas City's affluent residential districts beginning with Quality Hill in the 1850s, through the boom years of the 1920s, including the Sunset Hill and Mission Hills districts. With 40 chapters including floor plans,...
10/20/2018 - 2:00PMEVENT OVERVIEW: Tish Jett, French Author and Blogger, will Celebrate her New Hardcover Living Forever Chic: Frenchwomen's Timeless Secrets for Everyday Elegance, Gracious Entertaining, and Enduring Allure. This Event is Presented by Rainy Day Books & Nell Hill's at The Village at Briarcliff. ABOUT TISH JETT: Tish Jett was a Fashion Editor for The New York Daily News Tonight Edition (under Clay Felker), the style and fashion editor of the...
Fake Book Covers Based on Popular Songs
"These fake book covers based on popular songs are amazing," Buzzfeed promised.
Atlas Obscura displayed "enchanting illustrations carved from old books."
"An ode to the secretive woman: 10 heroines who kept their motives hidden" were presented by CrimeReads.
"Gertrude Stein was godmother to his son Jack." Mental Floss collected "10 surprising facts about Ernest Hemingway."
"Are you pregnant? Can I have some creamer? And other questions I get at the library," recalled by Kristen Arnett for Lit Hub.
"How Louisa May Alcott's mother encouraged her early writing" was explored by Lit Hub.
The Writer's Life
Nafissa Thompson-Spires: Writing Black Bodies and Minds
|photo: Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography|
Nafissa Thompson-Spires's work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Paris Review Daily, Dissent, Buzzfeed Books, the White Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, StoryQuarterly, Lunch Ticket and East Bay Review. She is a visiting assistant professor of Creative Writing at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. Heads of the Colored People (reviewed below), a collection of stories, is her first book.
In your author's note, you give credit to 19th-century writers who narrated black life in particular ways. Why was it important for you to continue and to expand on this tradition?
I like this question a lot. Even though my goal in the collection is to think through a particular experience of blackness in this contemporary moment (during my lifetime, really), there's an imperative for black art to look back--both out of homage and respect, and because while many things have changed for the better, a lot of issues are nearly the same, or repeated. Those 19th-century writers were trying to think about what it would look like for black people to have full rights of citizenship. We're still doing that with Black Lives Matter, protests against state-sanctioned violence, voter suppression, etc. These aren't new; they're extensions and rearticulations of ongoing battles. A lot of black writers have theorized a kind of cyclical sense of time for black people, and when you read work from the 19th century, those cycles become apparent.
From a craft perspective, I'm a big fan of intertextuality and the richness older texts can lend to newer ones. So, I'm referencing and in conversation with James McCune Smith, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper and all these black writers, but also some white ones like Charles Brockden Brown. I love what we can signal through unexpected juxtapositions.
This brings me to your nod to Shirley Jackson in "Belle Lettres." Like Jackson, you filter shocking behavior through the mundane--to unsettling (if humorous) effect.
I've been influenced by writers like Jackson and Flannery O'Connor and Ishmael Reed who disarm with dark humor. It's not so much an intentional craft choice as it is my mode of getting through life. I'm a highly sensitive person, and the distance humor creates is often the only way I can tolerate upsetting content. I especially enjoy a deadpan delivery. My mom used to say I reminded her of Ben Stein and Janeane Garofalo. I was also a failed class clown who wanted to become a standup comedian. Perhaps that desire still exists and comes out in my work.
Quite a few of your characters struggle with their mental health.
It was important to address those concerns from a variety of angles, both with humor and seriously. Many people make blanket statements claiming black people delay addressing mental and physical health concerns or don't go to therapy, but that isn't true in my own life. Nearly all my black friends and family members (except a few very resistant ones) have been to, or are currently in therapy, and so am I. Mental health struggles are just another part of creating realism.
Most of the characters are one of only a few black people in their respective environments, if not the only black person. Why was this an important element to include?
I think that theme of isolation is perhaps more autobiographical than a lot of the other themes in the collection. I was often the only or one of a few black girls (or black people, or sometimes POC in general) in spaces. I attended a predominantly white private school from elementary through high school. In grad school it was more of the same. I've even taught courses in which I was the only black person in the room.
I'm not sure people who haven't experienced that can understand how jarring that is and the ways it teaches you to see yourself, to monitor your behaviors, to feel like an example all the time. I've also dealt with white people who became too comfortable in my presence and treated me like I wasn't black enough or made comments about my being "exceptional" because I didn't fit their stereotypes. I hear the same things from black friends with similar backgrounds. A lot of the stories in the collection are me shining a light on those situations and problematizing them.
You interact with the body in a variety of ways, addressing issues such as colorism, eating disorders, mortality and fetishization.
One of my interests is in the vulnerability of the black body, both historically and now. So the collection deals with a range of bodily harm--from police brutality in two stories to eating disorders and chronic illness in others. I'm interested in the idea that upper middle or middle class positions don't protect black bodies, that blackness supersedes class.
With eating disorders, traditional narratives frame it as a white illness; there's this pervasive idea that black women are more body positive. That may sometimes be true, but I also feel the more black people live under the pressure and pathology of white aesthetics, the more likely they are to internalize that. I grew up not wanting to be "thick," but as emaciated as possible. I used to pray that my butt would never be big and that I would get skinnier. That's appallingly sad to me now, as an adult, but I can't say I'm any less fat-phobic now. Even after years of therapy and recovery from an eating disorder, I worry about my weight all the time. Some of that's the nature of growing up in Southern California--a very fat-phobic place--some of it is familial, some of it is just my own particular issue, but a lot of it is because I subscribed to white body ideals.
Vulnerability coexists with acts of resistance (to both external and internal forces) in your stories. How do you see these elements working, both separately and in tandem, in your writing?
Black characters are often presented as either exceedingly vulnerable--to oppression of all kinds, which makes sense--or exceedingly strong. bell hooks has written at length about the myth of the strong black woman and how that idea of inherent resilience or superhuman strength can create a lack of empathy for black women's pain. I didn't want to slip into the binary of pure victimhood or super strength, so a lot of the characters are actively resistant. But I hope they're round, too, that their vulnerabilities are visible and ongoing and that their (small) triumphs are, too. This is why many of the stories end in medias res instead of with resolute endings. --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, freelance editor and managing editor at the Black Scholar
The Life to Come
by Michelle de Kretser
Michelle de Kretser's virtuosic novel The Life to Come labors quietly to find genuine human connection in a superficial and alienating world.
De Kretser (Questions of Travel) is a Sri Lankan-born Australian writer who has an extraordinary talent for both satire and impressionism. The Life to Come is a modern-day mosaic that follows multiple Australians in Sydney and abroad in Paris, as well as immigrants with roots in Sri Lanka. Three characters stand out: Celeste imagines a more fuller life with her Parisian lover, while Pippa tries desperately to make her mark as a writer among Sydney's upper-crust literati. Christabel, Pippa's neighbor, is a Sri Lankan immigrant who searches for consolation after her lifelong friend and roommate, Bunty, dies.
By turns acerbic and evocative, de Kretser's prose works like acid to melt away perceived realities until her characters are baffled by more fundamental truths beneath the surface. The surface dissolved most efficiently is that of white luxury liberalism. Pippa espouses multicultural views and takes great pains to advertise her own virtue on social media, while treating minorities in real life with paternalistic disdain. The most disturbing scene shows Pippa posting tweets in support of her Muslim friend Rashida, while fantasizing about the woman's death because of the attention she's received from family members, including Pippa's husband. In counterpoint to this hypocrisy stands the fortifying journey of Christabel, who in "one stark, superb gesture" dispenses with Pippa's façade and claims her own life.
At one point in the novel, the characters discuss the "ethics of possibility," what the new world may look like by way of globalization and changing attitudes. In its last pages, The Life to Come intimates an era of hope. --Scott Neuffer, writer, poet, editor of trampset
Discover: In this superbly written novel, Michelle de Kretser examines multiculturalism in Australia and abroad.
The Last Watchman of Old Cairo
by Michael David Lukas
Based partly on historical accounts, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas (The Oracle of Stamboul) chronicles a Muslim family's unusual bond with a Jewish synagogue.
Around 1000 CE, "when Cairo was still two cities and the Jews but a tribe among them," a Muslim orphan named Ali becomes watchman of Ibn Ezra synagogue, a recently vandalized Jewish temple. One of his chief duties is protecting the Ezra Scroll, a perfect, magical Torah scroll. Though Ali intends to serve faithfully, disastrous temptation awaits. Almost 900 years later, two wealthy British sisters who study ancient texts visit Ali's descendant Muhammad al-Raqb, desperate to find the Ezra Scroll before con men steal it. In the present day, Berkeley literature student Joseph al-Raqb goes to Cairo on impulse following the death of his father, Ahmed, the last watchman of Ibn Ezra. Raised in America by his Jewish mother, Joseph searches for the truth behind family legend, guided by a framed fragment of an ancient letter suggesting a boy named Ali receive a job as watchman of Ibn Ezra.
A coming-of-age story spanning several ages, Lukas's desert outing soars thanks to its themes of inclusion and forgiveness. Deceptively brief, The Last Watchman of Old Cairo charms with its cast of misfits and lost souls who find their way with the dream of the Ezra Scroll to guide them. Lukas's warm, thoughtful prose has a wry undercurrent steering it clear of the maudlin. Sweet yet melancholy, this romantic gem weighs little but invites deep discussion. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, main branch, Dayton Metro Library
Discover: A modern-day son of the Muslim watchmen who guarded a Jewish synagogue for over a thousand years learns of his family's history.
The Family Next Door
by Sally Hepworth
The Family Next Door, the riveting fourth novel by Sally Hepworth (The Things We Keep), starts with Essie leaving baby Mia at a park while she goes to get a coffee and heads home by herself. Three years later, after a short stint in a psychiatric hospital to treat the related mental breakdown, she and her husband are glad to have added another daughter. They're even happier that Essie's mother, Barbara, has moved in next door to help with the girls.
Fran, a lawyer and the mother of two small girls, and Ange, a successful realtor and the mother of two adolescent boys, live across from them on Pleasant Court in a small and happy corner of Melbourne, Australia. But then Isabelle moves in, single and somehow simultaneously mysterious and extremely friendly. Her arrival coincides with a seismic shift in the relationships on Pleasant Court, one that reveals shocking details about the women who live there.
Told in alternating chapters from the perspectives of the main characters, The Family Next Door is a gripping, entertaining and occasionally heartstring-tugging story. Discussing some tough themes--mental illness, infidelity, depression, gender roles--in a lighthearted way, it is hard to put down. The broiling Melbourne summer reflects the rising tension among the residents of Pleasant Court as Hepworth's story barrels toward its finale. With charming characters and shocking plot twists, this novel is not to be missed. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson
Discover: In this riveting novel, four neighbors discover shocking secrets about themselves (and each other) when a woman moves into their Melbourne cul-de-sac.
Mystery & Thriller
A Killing for Christ
by Pete Hamill
"Setting down a fiddle and picking up a cello" is how acclaimed journalist and writer Pete Hamill (A Drinking Life) describes the difference between his early journalism and this first novel, A Killing for Christ, rereleased to mark the 50th year of its publication. Hamill adds a foreword to this edition, providing context for a remarkably mature debut novel.
The story takes place in Rome, from Holy Thursday to Easter Sunday. Malloy is an American, a Vietnam vet and a faithless priest. "Perhaps he had come to understand that sin was a celebration," he thinks. He clerks at the Vatican to remove himself from pastoral duties. At night he drives to an apartment by the sea, where his mistress, Franca, waits for him. Meanwhile, a group of cardinals who oppose the politics of the current pope are conspiring to assassinate him. They employ Harwell, a malevolent young man with a rifle, and Rail, a mysterious co-conspirator, to carry out the assassination in front of the huge Easter Sunday audience. When Franca becomes involved with the conspirators, and a man is killed, Malloy trades his fatalism for outrage to become the savior he does not believe in.
A Killing for Christ is steeped in noir sensibility: bleak, sexual and cynical. The disillusionment in each character calls into question the motives of every social entity including, most crucially, religion. This is a tense, page-turning thriller that is as pertinent today as it was when it was first published. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Hamill's noir thriller, released in a 50th anniversary edition, finds continued relevance with its provocative questions about faith and morality.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Guardian Angels and Other Monsters
by Daniel H. Wilson
Daniel H. Wilson's creations can be the stuff of nightmares. His debut novel, Robopocalypse, chronicles a global robot uprising led by Archos, an insidious AI whose war against humanity has terrifying consequences. In his first short story collection, Guardian Angels and Other Monsters, Wilson taps a similar node of speculative technological horror grounded by sympathetic human stakes.
Guardian Angels begins with "Miss Gloria," in which a robot protector must rescue its young charge from kidnappers by transferring its consciousness from machine to machine as each of its bodies are destroyed. Tutor/babysitter/bodyguard Chiron's quest to free little Gloria is an oft-repeated theme in Wilson's collection--parents, lovers or siblings struggling against oppressive high-tech circumstances. The next tale, "The Blue Afternoon That Lasted Forever," is a stunningly imagined vision of astrophysics gone wrong, framed by a father's futile attempts to shield his daughter from danger.
Many of Wilson's stories do not have happy endings. His futures--some far, others near, a few allegorical--are grim places where the human spark is all too easily extinguished. "All Kinds of Proof" provides a little levity when a drunk is assigned to train a silent but endearing mail-delivery robot, and "Special Automatic" gives a mixed message of human empowerment via machine when a disabled teen builds his own invincible guardian.
Wilson's work is masterfully rendered, and his fans will find Robopocalypse and The Clockwork Dynasty tie-in entries. For newcomers, there are plenty of other sometimes dark, always engaging worlds to love. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Robopocalypse author Daniel H. Wilson's first short story collection delivers on all counts.
Biography & Memoir
Odd Girl Out: My Extraordinary Autistic Life
by Laura James
Laura James wrote Odd Girl Out: My Extraordinary Autistic Life after receiving the diagnosis in her mid-40s. It confirmed what James already felt for much of her life: she was hardwired differently, and her struggles were not those shared by her peers.
First published in the U.K. in 2017, Odd Girl Out chronicles James's eventful life both before and after her diagnosis. Autism is often associated with boys, with diagnosis in girls far less common. James explains that girls are better at blending in with their peers and masking some of the signs that normally lead to discovery of autism spectrum disorder. By publicly sharing her story, James joins brave souls like Temple Grandin in paving the way for greater acceptance, understanding and support for women and girls on the autism spectrum.
James's mind works best with logic, data and patterns, which she is prone to let consume her. As a result of her remarkably single-minded focus, James accurately predicted both the Brexit vote and the Trump presidency. Fear of losing control drives her pre-diagnosis days, with something as simple as an incorrect coffee order leading to a meltdown. Post-diagnosis James is better equipped to explore the depths of her neurodiversity and finds unexpected comfort in being part of the broader autism community.
There's inspiration in these pages, after a difficult journey of self-acceptance. Above all, Odd Girl Out makes clear that autism doesn't have just one face or one image. After being told again and again that she didn't look or act autistic, James speaks up for others whose neurological disabilities don't fit neatly into a preordained design by emphasizing the vast spectrum and range of autism. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer
Discover: A British journalist reflects on the challenges of living with autism spectrum disorder.
My Dead Parents
by Anya Yurchyshyn
Children rarely know their parents as complete human beings. When writer Anya Yurchyshyn and her sister were little girls, their parents were exciting people with brilliant careers. Their house was crammed with exotic objects they collected on their world travels. But as parents, they were distant, self-dramatizing and verbally abusive. She thought they had never been happy.
Her Ukrainian-born father died in a car accident in Ukraine when Yurchyshyn was 13. At the time, she felt only relief, as she did again when, years later, her mother died of alcoholism. But when she began dredging out her childhood home, she found a bundle of her parents' love letters to each other. Those letters were her first clue that they had at one time been happy together, passionate and hopeful. "I wanted to wave their letters in their faces and say, 'Hey, what the hell is this? And what the hell happened to you?' "
By dividing her book into two sections, Yurchyshyn allows her readers to experience her bewildering discoveries much as she did. The first tells the story of her harrowing, chaotic childhood. The second tells what she learned about her parents after their deaths, from their papers, from people who knew them and from her investigation into her father's death. What she learns does not erase her experiences, but it brings up better memories, of times they were fun and generous, and allows her to accept them, love them and grieve. --Sara Catterall
Discover: After the deaths of her unhappy, hurtful parents, a writer discovers their passionate early love and the suspicious circumstances of her father's death.
Heads of the Colored People
by Nafissa Thompson-Spires
Nafissa Thompson-Spires's debut collection, Heads of the Colored People, is a kaleidoscopic illumination of often neglected aspects of contemporary middle-class black life. Her stories mix gallows humor and sensitive candor with issues of psychological and physical stress, marginalization and isolation. Like counterweights in conversation, her characters internalize, react to and resist the pressures of being black in the United States, negotiating "the violence directed inside [that] mitigates the violence that comes from outside."
"Heads of the Colored People: Four Fancy Sketches, Two Chalk Outlines, and No Apology," which won StoryQuarterly's 2016 Fiction Prize, destabilizes internal and external beliefs on what constitutes "blackness" while reiterating the vulnerability of all black bodies. In the painfully comic "Belles Lettres," two status-obsessed mothers whose daughters attend a predominately white school pass increasingly vicious notes to each other via their daughters' backpacks. In "The Body's Defenses Against Itself"--only one example of Thompson-Spires's flirtation with surreal body horror--the now-grown daughter of one of the mothers in "Belles Lettres" struggles to ground herself in a traumatized and teeming body. A woman teases her suicide on social media in "Suicide, Watch," a perfect showcasing of Thompson-Spires's brilliant use of the absurd both to emphasize and alleviate the pressure of difficult issues.
The stories in Heads of the Colored People float along the tensions between devastation and humor, vulnerability and defiance, frustration and hope. It's a rare talent that can take such complicated and harrowing subjects and turn them into a refreshing and compulsive read. --Shannon Hanks-Mackey, freelance editor and managing editor at the Black Scholar
Discover: This debut collection of 11 stories illustrates modern middle-class black life with a perfect mixture of solemn intensity and dark humor.
Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word
by Alex Johnson
Bibliophiles and armchair travelers alike will delight in Alex Johnson's Book Towns: Forty-Five Paradises of the Printed Word, a tour of "semi-officially designated book towns." This charming, alphabetically organized--Bowral, Australia, follows Borrby, Sweden--guide highlights each town's unusual features in a dizzying spin around the globe.
These literary hot spots operate independently, but all encourage tourism, striving to boost their local economies as well as promote book-related businesses. The book town movement began in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, growing from the first few shops in the mid-'70s to a popular 10-day literary festival held every spring; these festivals have come to be replicated around the world as "Hay festivals."
Johnson includes entertaining idiosyncrasies in his reports. The Featherston, New Zealand, Yarns in Barns literary festival hosts its headlining event in a woolshed. Montmorillon, France, features its famous macarons and hundreds of types of beer during its June book fair. Wigtown, Scotland, offers the chance to live above and run a bookshop for up to two weeks, an experience "booked out months in advance." Paju, South Korea, is reputed to be the town most dedicated to books, with 250 publishers employing 10,000 people. Wunsdorf, Germany, has perhaps the darkest history: it was a Prussian military base, then headquarters of the Nazi Wehrmacht, and then, until 1994, was the largest Soviet base outside of the U.S.S.R.
With full-color photographs throughout, the tidy 8×6-inch Book Towns includes basic travel information for those opting for a first-hand experience. Johnson writes, "Book towns are beacons of hope in the fight to keep the traditional book alive. Please visit them and buy a book or two." --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A tour of 45 towns dedicated to bookshops and publishing around the globe will inspire buying a book or taking a trip.
Nobody's Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood
by J.E. Smyth
Fans of Molly Haskell's From Reverence to Rape and Marjorie Rosen's Popcorn Venus--which chronicled how women were portrayed on screen from silent films until the mid 1970s--now have an outstanding additional resource in J.E. Smyth's Nobody's Girl Friday. Smyth (Edna Ferber's Hollywood) delves even deeper to examine how female directors, writers, producers, editors, agents, designers and actresses shaped Hollywood films during the studio era.
Along with profiles of some familiar women working behind the scenes (like directors Dorothy Arzner and Ida Lupino, costume designer Edith Head and actresses Bette Davis and Katharine Hepburn), Smyth shines a spotlight on some fascinating women whose stories have previously been neglected. Screenwriter Mary C. McCall Jr. (Craig's Wife) became the first female president of the Screen Writers Guild in 1942 and served two additional terms. She was one of the most visible and vocal women in her field. She battled extreme right-wing political groups within the industry and was later blacklisted by the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Film buffs will delight in discovering the lives and careers of Oscar-winning film editors Anne Bauchens (who edited every Cecil B. DeMille film from 1918 to 1956) and Barbara McLean (All About Eve), producer/writer Virginia Van Upp (Gilda) and many others. Smyth's appreciation of producer/screenwriter Joan Harrison (Rebecca) removes her from the shadow of her mentor, Alfred Hitchcock.
Nobody's Girl Friday is an energetic, surprising and vital book that uncovers and celebrates the accomplishments of women who created film history from the 1920s to the 1960s. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: An invigorating addition to movie history, Nobody's Girl Friday uncovers and celebrates the enormous contribution of women behind the scenes in Hollywood during the studio era.
Children's & Young Adult
You're Safe with Me
by Chitra Soundar , illust. by Poonam Mistry
It's time for bed, but the dark, stormy sky prevents four baby animals--a monkey, a loris, a tiger and a pangolin--from finding sleep. Fortunately, Mama Elephant is passing by and notices their restlessness. As she rocks them with her trunk, she tells them, "You're safe with me." When they fret about the wind, she consoles them, "He's an old friend of the forest. He brings us seeds from faraway lands." And the thunder? It "brings us water from the sea and makes this forest grow from scattered seeds." The sound and sight of lightning, the rumble of the river--Mama Elephant has a soothing explanation and a "You're safe with me" for everything.
Chitra Soundar's text has the rhythm of a song, with call-like verses and response-like "You're safe with me" chorus. Poonam Mistry's illustrations in nighttime hues support the story's folkloric setting, giving the pages of You're Safe with Me the look of elaborate quilts in which geometric shapes are fused into emblems of the natural world; a frog, for one, looks as though it's embroidered out of circles, rectangles, triangles and ovals. Each spread is so densely packed--occasionally the text must bend to fit an illustration's contours--that some have a visual puzzle-like quality. As the four baby animals nestle in Mama Elephant's trunk, they assume a teardrop shape, and it's not clear where one ends and another begins--just right in a book about how, though we come from many different mothers, we're all in this together. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author
Discover: Mama Elephant knows just what to say to soothe four animal babies unable to sleep.
Boots on the Ground: America's War in Vietnam
by Elizabeth Partridge
Beginning in May 1962 and finishing in November 1982 with the National Salute to Vietnam Veterans, Elizabeth Partridge tells the complicated and painful history of the United States' involvement in Vietnam. Through different perspectives, in Vietnam and in the States, Boots on the Ground gives young readers a linear history of the war while keeping the focus on the individuals affected.
"It looked like only dead-end jobs out there for someone like" Mike Horan, so he signed up for four years with the Marines. Horan, a military adviser, was "in country" from May 1962 to June 1963; he was captured by the Viet Cong, held for several days, then accidentally rescued and sent immediately back into "regular duties." Focusing primarily on such oral histories--recorded by the author via in-person interviews, phone calls and e-mails--Partridge's short chapters alternate between experiences in Vietnam and in the States. She tells the history from 15 points of view, including four presidents (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford), Green Beret David Oshiro, nurse Lily Lee Adams and Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin.
With more than 100 photographs and ample back matter, Boots on the Ground shows the same dedication to detail that Partridge has displayed in her previous nonfiction works (Marching for Freedom). The people she chooses to highlight help tell a fully developed history, one that doesn't shy away from showing how men of all ethnicities fought side by side "in country" even though some couldn't sit next to each other at lunch counters back home. Partridge's work makes the morass that is the history of the Vietnam War accessible, brings all the facts to the front and gives voice to stories that have gone mostly untold. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Elizabeth Partridge uses the voices of presidents, infantrymen, nurses, protestors and others to bring readers an approachable and captivating history of the Vietnam War.