Harper: The Snakes by Sadie Jones

Rainy Day Books Issue for Tuesday, April 9, 2019

From the Shelf

Historical Fiction Picks

I first encountered Lyndsay Faye's historical fiction when The Gods of Gotham (Putnam, $16) came out in 2012, and it was love at first read. Faye's ability to pack a thriller of a story with accurate historical detail, period language and vivid descriptions of a time and place is exactly what draws me to historical fiction in the first place. So I was delighted to hear she was returning to historical fiction with The Paragon Hotel (Putnam, $26), which transports readers back to an all-black hotel in 1920s Portland, Ore.

Katrina Carrasco's The Best Bad Things (MCD, $27) incorporates rich historical detail into a carefully woven thriller. Carrasco imbues the history of the Pinkerton agents of the late 19th century with a sense of feminism and sexuality that is both unexpected and entirely reasonable, given the structure of the novel. Alma Rosales goes undercover as the smart-mouthed, quick-fisted Jack Camp in the story of a West Coast smuggling ring steeped in violence and lust.

For a novel with a bit less blood and gore, Crystal Hana Kim's If You Leave Me (Morrow, $26.99) acknowledges the brutal history of the Korean War by focusing on the very human and individual costs of the war--indeed, of war in general--on those who may not be fighting on its front lines.

Code Name Verity (Disney-Hyperion, $9.99) by Elizabeth Wein opens with Verity, a young Scottish woman working for the Allies in France, held captive by Nazi soldiers who have found her out. The narrative shifts backward and forward in time from that point to explain how she got there, and what secrets she is holding from her German captors. With its clever plotting and incredible character development, Verity is mesmerizing. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Dey Street Books: The Education of an Idealist: A Memoir by Samantha Power


John Scognamiglio Books: The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad


Pegasus Books: Second Sight by Aoife Clifford

In this Issue...

Reviews

Sonia Purnell tells the gripping story of an American spy who became a leader of the French Resistance.

Read this review >>

Gondra's Treasure

by Linda Sue Park

In this charming picture book, Gondra, daughter of an Eastern dragon and a Western dragon, muses about the attributes of her mixed heritage that make her unusual.

Read this review >>

The Editor

by Steven Rowley

In this refreshing, imaginative novel of self-discovery, a debut author has his work--and his life--edited by the inimitable Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Biography & Memoir History Essays & Criticism Nature & Environment Travel Literature Poetry Children's & Young Adult

Kokila: Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

From Rainy Day Books

Upcoming Events

Karl Marlantes will Present his New Hardcover Novel ~ Deep River

07/23/2019 - 6:30PM

EVENT OVERVIEW:  Karl Marlantes, The New York Times Bestselling Author of Matterhorn, will Present his New Hardcover Novel Deep River.  This Event is Co-Presented by Rainy Day Books & The Kansas City Public Library. ABOUT KARL MARLANTES:  Karl Marlantes, Graduated from Yale University, and was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University, before serving as a Marine in Vietnam, where he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Bronze Star, 2 Navy Commendation...

J. Ryan Stradal will Present his New Hardcover Novel ~ The Lager Queen of Minnesota

07/24/2019 - 7:00PM

EVENT OVERVIEW:  J. Ryan Stradal, Bestselling Author of Kitchens of the Great Midwest, will Present his New Hardcover Novel The Lager Queen of Minnesota.  This Event is Co-Presented by Rainy Day Books & Mid-Continent Public Library. ABOUT J. RYAN STRADEL:  J. Ryan Stradal is a Contributing Editor at TASTE Magazine.  His Bestselling Debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, won the 2016 American Booksellers Association Indie's Choice Award for...

Book Candy

Vocabulary Boost from Being Read to Aloud

"Kids whose parents read to them understand up to 1.4 million more words," Mental Floss reported.

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"For centuries, know-it-alls carried beautiful miniature almanacs wherever they went," Atlas Obscura noted.

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Merriam Webster looked up "7 words and phrases inspired by the theater."

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Quirk Books served up "beer in literature: a guide."

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Headline of the day (via the Guardian): "Polish priest apologizes for Harry Potter book burning."

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Brain Pickings showcased Arthur Rackham's "stunning 1926 Illustrations for The Tempest."

Lights All Night Long

by Lydia Fitzpatrick

Lydia Fitzpatrick's remarkable debut novel is a coming-of-age narrative interwoven with a gripping mystery. Lights All Night Long follows 15-year-old Ilya as he achieves his long-held dream by arriving in America as an exchange student. What should be the culmination of years of hope and effort is overshadowed for Ilya, however, by recent events in his tiny Russian hometown. The narrative moves back and forth in time, between Ilya's awkward introduction to his host family in Louisiana and his childhood in Russia. As Ilya adapts to life in America, we gradually learn the source of the deep worries and regret that haunt him: back in Russia, his brother, Vladimir, has been imprisoned for a series of gruesome murders that Ilya is sure he did not commit.

Ilya's childhood in Russia is dominated by his relationship to his older brother. Vladimir is a complicated character, a charismatic troublemaker who encourages Ilya's budding English-language skills while resenting the attention and favored status that they earn his younger brother. Fitzpatrick skillfully re-creates the sense of hopelessness that fell over many towns after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the rise of the oligarchs. The mood is so bleak that some older residents claim nostalgia for Communism despite the nearby mass graves. In this atmosphere, Vladimir comes into conflict with his family and gradually sinks into delinquency and drug addiction. Fitzpatrick heartbreakingly portrays Vladimir's descent through Ilya's eyes. Ilya is forced into a timeless, terrible role: watching a loved one slip away, helpless to save them.

In Louisiana, Ilya is welcomed by his relentlessly cheerful host family, the Masons. He finds himself overwhelmed by the consumerist abundance of America, fascinated yet repelled by how much Americans take for granted, their casual wastefulness. Fitzpatrick uses Ilya to present an outsider's view of American culture. Through his eyes, American life is saturated in wealth and excess. Even American religion seems super-sized: "Pastor Kyle's sermon was a mishmash of sound bites. He seemed more concerned with volume than with content. His voice was a power hose, blasting the congregation's brains."

Ilya is eventually drawn out of his shell by Sadie, the Masons' beautiful daughter, who has secrets of her own. Through Sadie, Ilya learns that he isn't the only one who feels out of place because of a traumatic past. Fitzpatrick shows herself just as capable at portraying the insecurities and false starts of teenage romance as she is at crafting an engrossing mystery.

The central mystery of the book is how Vladimir came to be blamed for the murders, and Fitzpatrick approaches it from multiple angles. In the present, Ilya digs into social media profiles and embarks on cross-country trips to prove Vladimir's innocence. In the past, we learn how Vladimir became increasingly alienated from Ilya and his family. Ilya sifts through his memories for clues, including tortured ones of the time Ilya spent with one of the young women not long before she was killed. The investigation into Vladimir's culpability doubles as an investigation into the breakdown of Ilya's relationship with his brother. Ilya is haunted by guilt, by the thought that he could have done more to keep his brother safe and close. Fitzpatrick leaves the question unnervingly open, forcing the reader to wonder whether anything might have altered Vladimir's trajectory.

One of the book's great pleasures is that, for all the pain of his past weighing Ilya down, he's forced to proceed with the ordinary business of being a teenager. Ilya's burgeoning crush on Sadie is as exciting as any 15-year-old's first love, while navigating high school is even more complicated given the cultural barriers. Ilya has to field ignorant questions and stereotyped assumptions about his life in Russia from teens and adults alike. He has to learn to let down his guard and trust people. And, with Sadie, he recognizes a kindred spirit: "...he realized why her room looked the way it did. Uninhabited. Like there was a suitcase just out of sight. Like she was ready for flight." In a deeply foreign place, Ilya eventually finds belonging.

Before Ilya leaves for America, Babushka tells him that she's glad his grandfather, who was in the gulag for seven years, is no longer with them. When Ilya asks why, she responds: "Because he wouldn't have let you go. America. Not in a million years. You suffer for a country, and you either find a way to love it or you go nuts." In some ways, this is analogous to the relationships between many of Fitzpatrick's characters, especially the one between Ilya and Vladimir. Vladimir is far from a model older brother. He's bitter, angry and heavy with poor decisions. And yet, his love for Ilya is fierce. For Ilya, part of unwrapping the mystery around Vladimir's imprisonment is discovering just how deep Vladimir's commitment to him remained even during his brother's darkest hours. Fitzpatrick shows that relationships can be as obscure and twisted as any murder mystery. Lights All Night Long is about the people you love despite everything, because you have to or you'll go nuts. --Hank Stephenson

Penguin Press, $27, hardcover, 352p., 9780525558736

Lydia Fitzpatrick: One Foot in the Past, One in the Present

photo: Erin Scabuzzo

Lydia Fitzpatrick's work has appeared in the The O. Henry Prize Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, One Story, Glimmer Train and elsewhere. She graduated from Princeton University and received an MFA from the University of Michigan. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughters. Her debut novel, Lights All Night Long (Penguin Press), is the story of Ilya, a 15-year-old Russian exchange student whose arrival in Louisiana is shadowed by what he left behind in his tiny hometown. 

How did you come up with Ilya and his life in Russia? Do you have any personal connections to Russia?

My mother is a Russian historian who lived and studied in Russia during the Cold War, and when I was little, my family hosted two Russian students, Olga and Tatiana. They were young--Olga couldn't have been older than six--and both were completely brilliant. Olga was a piano prodigy, and her stay with us culminated in a duet that she performed with master cellist Mstislav Rostropovich at the Kennedy Center. I remember her playing standing up because otherwise her feet couldn't reach the pedals.

When I was older, my family went to Russia for a summer. This was in the mid-'90s, in the long, chaotic wake of perestroika. We had a driver, Aleksey, whose life savings had amounted to a pack of cigarettes after the "shock therapy" economic reforms. I'll never forget him telling us this as he weaved through Moscow's hellish traffic, looking back at us in the rearview mirror to see if we understood, puffing on a cigarette that I couldn't help but think was from that fateful pack.

Ilya's story came about, in part, through my attempt to unpack these experiences, to tap into Aleksey's resilience and into that mix of trepidation and euphoria with which Olga and Tatiana took in my family, my world and our version of America.

Very roughly speaking, the novel seems to tie Ilya's coming-of-age story to an unraveling mystery about his brother's culpability in a series of brutal murders. What inspired you to meld these seemingly disparate plotlines?

I love mysteries and coming-of-age stories, and when I began writing the novel (more years ago than I care to count), I wanted it to be both. I've always been obsessed with the structure of "The Gift of the Magi," and that was an early inspiration for the novel, though the "gifts" that Ilya and Vladimir exchange create an imbalance in their relationship--and the only way for Ilya to rectify this is to solve the murders.

I think, too, that in a way the storylines aren't disparate at all. Solving the novel's central mystery is the catalyst for Ilya's coming-of-age because it allows him a deeper understanding of Vladimir and Vladimir's love for him. To me, decoding that familial bond is what the book is about as much as it's about the murders.

Ilya's town and the people in it seem haunted by the past. How did you get a sense of the shadow communism and the gulag cast over their lives?

Through visiting Russia and by reading everything I could get my hands on about Russia in the '90s and '00s. Secondhand Time by Svetlana Alexievich was absolutely indispensable. It's a collection of oral histories from 1991 to 2012 that beautifully captures the complexity of Russians' view of Communism and its collapse. Communism did cast a long shadow, but in the poverty and chaos of perestroika there was also a lot of nostalgia for it.

That said, Ilya and Vladimir are teenagers. History is all around them, but that doesn't mean they're always aware of it or sensitive to it. They're not above lying to a woman from Moscow about where the camp graves are or rolling their eyes at their grandmother's paranoia. This is a long way of saying that it was important to me that their characters--their personal histories--took precedence over their national histories.

It seems that one of the biggest differences between American and Russian mindsets in the book is that Americans are more optimistic, Russians pessimistic. Is that something you've found to be true?

Interesting. I think both the Russians and the Americans in the novel are optimistic, they just wear their optimism very differently. Ilya's storyline is fueled by hope--his own, his grandmother's, his mother's, his teacher Maria Mikhailovna's and, most significantly, Vladimir's. And, of course, Ilya's own mission to get Vladimir out of prison is almost outrageously optimistic, given how thoroughly the cards are stacked against him. 

Ilya and Sadie's bond seems formed in part out of what they have in common: traumatic pasts. What are the challenges that come with writing young characters who are dealing with such adult problems, or who feel out of place in typical teenage worlds?

Ilya is living with one foot in the past and one in the present. He's half in Russia, half in Louisiana, and the enormity and urgency of the problems he's dealing with don't leave him much time or bandwidth for typical teenage life. But life presses in--there's his burgeoning crush on Sadie, his first day of school, dinner with the Masons--and having Ilya engage with these less pressing concerns felt like an incredibly difficult balancing act, one that I had to reckon with in each chapter, paragraph and sentence. Anthony Marra once told me that you need to make a reader laugh and cry on every page. I don't think I've ever managed that, but allowing some typical teenage life on the page felt key to achieving a tonal balance in the book. 

This book is coming out at a time when the United States has a complicated--to say the least--relationship with Russia. Did any of that change how you perceive your book?

I think there's a risk that our current relationship with Russia will lead to a resurrection of Cold War stereotypes, and it's my hope that the novel challenges some of those stereotypes, that it brings to light a very different segment of Russian society, far from the intrigues of Moscow, but still very much subject to its politics. --Hank Stephenson


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Reviews

Fiction

The Editor

by Steven Rowley

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Steven Rowley (Lily and the Octopus) explores the complicated relationship between mothers and sons in his wise and deeply engrossing second novel, The Editor. Set in Manhattan in the early 1990s, the story centers on James Smale, an aspiring writer in his late 20s, who has worked "a never-ending string of toxic, depressing temp jobs" and is in a committed--although maybe not forever--relationship with Daniel, a loving and spirited companion who works in the theater.

The book opens with a dramatic and dynamic scene that establishes the tone of the novel: James is summoned to the high-powered offices of Doubleday--the book company has expressed interest in his novel, The Quarantine, a semi-autobiographical story about an emotionally estranged mother and son. Nerves and self-consciousness plague James as he waits in a conference room, and matters grow even more overwhelming when in walks Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis--former first lady of the United States who has become an esteemed editor in the last third of her life.

That moment marks the start of a working relationship that will later turn into friendship. Perceptive, analytical and astute Jackie becomes a literary mentor to James. She also raises questions--on the page and off--that gently nudge James to dig deeper into the emotional landscape of his fraught relationship with his mother and the rest of his family.

The resonance of Rowley's originality and sensitivity shines on every page. He has written a refreshing, superbly crafted novel of hard-won self-discovery filled with big, well-paced scenes and a pitch-perfect blend of humor and compassion that will charm and fully engage readers. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines.

Discover: In this refreshing, imaginative novel of self-discovery, a debut author has his work--and his life--edited by the inimitable Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 320p., 9780525537960

Outside Looking In

by T.C. Boyle

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In Outside Looking In, the prolific T.C. Boyle follows up his previous novel, The Terranauts, by continuing to probe the intimate lives of those who aim to see god. Fitzhugh Loney, a psychology graduate student at Harvard in the 1960s, is pulled into the orbit of Timothy Leary, a prominent psychologist experimenting with a new drug. Fitz and his wife, Joanie, begin to engage in Tim's "sessions"--parties filled with self-important academics who take LSD and record their experiences. Soon, Fitz's desire to be on the inside of these cutting-edge academic circles becomes a self-imposed exile as he and his colleagues are expelled from Harvard and form their own cult-like community in a mansion. While Joanie's high begins to fade, Fitz's is just getting started.

Boyle's writing remains crisp and restrained in this novel, despite its ecstatic and elastic subject matter. As Joanie and Fitz tumble further into a world of dazzlingly depicted sensations and pounding emotions, Boyle's prose remains on firm ground, serving as the sober guide to the reader that his characters so sorely need. Despite this even-handed narrative style, Outside Looking In manages to build dizzying tension as its characters sink deeper and deeper into a world that is portrayed as both astonishing and increasingly nauseating. By the end, readers, like Joanie, are eager to get off the roller-coaster ride of 1960s obsession and detritus, if only to stand back and admire the larger desires and fears that drove it in the first place. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Outside Looking In shows T.C. Boyle at his most controlled while confronting dizzying questions of addiction, desire, jealousy and ambition.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 400p., 9780062882981

Mystery & Thriller

Who Slays the Wicked

by C.S. Harris

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Napoleon's reign is drawing to a close, and the rest of the European powers are jockeying to fill the void left by France's defeat. The Grand Duchess Catherine of Oldenburg and her retinue are in the middle of a formal visit to London when the body of the sadistic Lord Ashworth is found hacked apart in his bed.

Ashworth, known to have exotic sexual habits, also happened to have recently married Stephanie, the beloved but troubled niece of Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin. So naturally Sir Henry Lovejoy, the local magistrate, calls in Sebastian to help investigate Ashworth's death.

Sebastian wishes he could believe that Stephanie is innocent, but is worried that perhaps she regretted her hasty marriage to the dissolute lord. On the other hand, he hears rumors that a certain Russian princess, part of Catherine's household, shared Ashworth's erotic interests and may have played a part in his demise.

As Sebastian digs into Ashworth's circle of friends and shady acquaintances, his wife, Lady Hero Devlin, continues on her quest to document the atrocities committed against London's poorest denizens, much to the irritation of her father, Lord Jarvis.

With panache, C.S. Harris (Why Kill the Innocent, What Angels Fear) brings the dark side of Regency London to life. Many readers are familiar with the balls and amusements of the ton. But in Who Slays the Wicked, Harris shows the seamy underbelly of society, and through Lady Hero makes a scathing denunciation of the upper-class people who allowed millions to be suppressed for the furtherance of their own pleasures. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.

Discover: Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, investigates the murder of his niece's sadistic husband in this intriguing historical mystery.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 352p., 9780399585654

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Luminous Dead

by Caitlin Starling

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The economy of colony world Cassandra-V is based around one thing: resource extraction. Below the settled surface run massive cave systems, many prospected for minerals, others unmapped. Early explorations of these caves invariably ended in disastrous attacks by native monsters called Tunnelers. Years later, cave prospectors have learned how not to attract the Tunnelers by donning hi-tech, fully sealed suits. Still, the profession is notoriously dangerous.

Gyre Price wants nothing more than to escape Cassandra-V and find her missing mother. Despite the many risks, she signs up for a caving operation with fake credentials and the promise of a large paycheck. She also expects a full surface team to monitor her suit and surroundings. Instead she gets Em, a lone young woman with massive resources and a dangerous obsession, who has no qualms about remotely controlling Gyre's suit, withholding information and administering drugs without consent. Missing equipment, Em's deadly stubbornness and the constant rumble of a stalking Tunneler drive Gyre into a mental darkness as entombing as the cave itself, and the lower she goes, the more she can't help feeling as if she's being followed.

The Luminous Dead is a master work of science-fiction psychological horror. Caitlin Starling's debut is a claustrophobic's nightmare, with plenty of tight spelunking and murky cave-diving done in something like a space suit. Gyre's tense progress and her evolving relationship with Em make for a propelling read. The Luminous Dead should find fans across genres. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A caver on a distant planet makes a dark and dangerous descent in this riveting sci-fi/horror debut.

Harper Voyager, $16.99, paperback, 432p., 9780062846907

Biography & Memoir

Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II

by Sonia Purnell

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Seven decades after the end of World War II, the stories of key players in the Allied intelligence services are still coming to light. Virginia Hall, a fearless American who spent much of the war working undercover in France for Britain's Special Operations Executive (SOE), is one of these formerly unsung heroes. Journalist Sonia Purnell (Clementine) tells Hall's story in her fast-paced, meticulously researched (and ironically titled) biography, A Woman of No Importance.

In her 20s, Hall spent time in Paris and Vienna, studying languages and absorbing the culture, before working as a clerk for the U.S. State Department. A hunting accident in Turkey left her disabled (she lost part of one leg) but never slowed her down, and in 1940, Hall was recruited by the fledgling SOE.

Purnell traces Hall's trajectory from fresh-faced recruit to battle-hardened, savvy Resistance fighter, and brings her comrades and civilian supporters to life. She follows Hall's movements around occupied France: organizing air drops, setting up Resistance cells, finding safe houses for refugees and radio operators. The woman's bravery and brilliance are on constant display, but Purnell also highlights the quiet heroism of ordinary people who risked their lives daily to fight fascism. She also minces no words about the sexism Hall and other women faced at the State Department and in SOE--both agencies having started as well-heeled boys' clubs.

Purnell's book is a gripping account of an extraordinary woman, and a celebration of courage, ingenuity and grit. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Sonia Purnell tells the gripping story of an American spy who became a leader of the French Resistance.

Viking, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9780735225299

History

Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America

by Jared Cohen

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Despite the American presidency having been tested by several unforeseen and tragic circumstances, the selection of a vice president traditionally has not been given the scrutiny it deserves. In Accidental Presidents, Jared Cohen (The New Digital Age) thoughtfully examines how American history changed each time a vice president ascended due to their predecessor's death. Eight vice presidents--John Tyler, Millard Fillmore, Andrew Johnson, Chester Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, Harry Truman and Lyndon Johnson--became president upon such sober occasions.

Cohen argues that Andrew Johnson succeeding Abraham Lincoln was "the biggest catastrophe of the eight," and details how Johnson changed the course of Reconstruction, leading to a 100-year delay in civil rights for African Americans. Cohen views Truman's ascension as the most positive due to his ability quickly to overcome his unpreparedness. (He adds that Truman must bear some blame for being uninformed, noting that before and after Yalta, Truman "made no inquiries, sought out no meetings, and took no proactive steps to better understand the situation he was about to inherit," despite his suspicions that Franklin Roosevelt was dying.)

Other changes in the course of history include Fillmore's signing of the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850 (which Zachary Taylor promised to veto); Theodore Roosevelt's championing of the progressive movement ("Had [William] McKinley survived, progressivism may have taken decades to gain steam."); and LBJ's far more liberal stance than John F. Kennedy's outlook on civil rights and the role of the government.

Accidental Presidents explores each of these pivotal moments and others that highlight the vagaries of history and how its trajectory changed eight times with the cessation of one beating heart. --William H. Firman Jr., presidential historian and writer

Discover: This is a detailed examination of how American history changed each time a vice president ascended to the presidency upon his predecessor's death.

Simon & Schuster, $30, hardcover, 528p., 9781501109829

Essays & Criticism

All the Fierce Tethers

by Lia Purpura

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In her essay collection All the Fierce Tethers, Lia Purpura (On Looking) offers poetic meditations on daily life.

The title piece considers the minutiae and routines of humans and animals, and how a small moment functions in relation to an entire life. "My Eagles" looks at the national, spiritual, biological and metaphorical power of the bird. And in an especially resonant series of four essays, "Bloodspots (I)" through "Bloodspots (IV): Coda," Purpura walks to the scene of a shooting in her Baltimore neighborhood and considers the racial divides therein.

Purpura's prose is sustained and melodic, like a rich thrumming alto or footfalls on soft ground. In "Three-Legged Branch" she writes, "Once I believed--though believed isn't right. I, child-wise, knew the not-indifference. I was given no church, no practice, no prayer (no under-the-breath rote anything to lean on) so it happened with color, with tide pools, with trees--which called me to them, and in their sight, I was heard, a see-hearing, a searing." She uses unexpected, singular words to great effect; in just one page readers are met with "hummock," "catkins" and a late summer afternoon described as "sun bright-but-downshifting." Purpura finds stories and life in everything around her--a lightning-split tree, a stained quilt, fire ants, landfills--thus deepening our relationship to them. Her essays, like her ambling reflections, are as full as they are quiet. --Katy Hershberger, freelance writer and bookseller

Discover: The author of On Looking expertly crafts a lyrical collection of urban meditations and nature writing.

Sarabande Books, $16.95, paperback, 200p., 9781946448309

Nature & Environment

Losing Earth: A Recent History

by Nathaniel Rich

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Nathaniel Rich's Losing Earth began as a New York Times Magazine article examining the rise and fall of climate science's prominence in the United States. Now fleshed out into a compelling, short history bordering on the prophetic, Losing Earth recounts the crucial years from 1979 to 1989 that set the stage for the turn of the 21st century.

Rich reports as if he were a journalist abreast of the movement in the 1980s, vividly rendering the movement's key initiators. Alarmed by the silence around the issue in the houses of government, Rafe Pomerance, environmental activist and lobbyist, spearheads an effort to bring the climate crisis to the forefront of public discussion.

Against all odds, the motley group of scientists consciously branches into strategists and activists to address the biggest moral, economic and scientific threat to life on earth. Even with the vast support they garner, their movement's denouement is sudden, buckling with the close of the decade. Rich bookends these 10 years with striking calls to action, echoing the words of renowned climate scientist James Hansen, as he addressed the press: "It is time to stop waffling so much... and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here."

The strength of Rich's synthesis of historical information and documentation is the profound underlying tensions of past and present that delineate an uncomfortably familiar trajectory. The result is a windswept read with the incline of a Keeling Curve. --Amanda Ibarra, events manager, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Discover: This compact, 10-year history of climate policy and activism reads like a political thriller.

MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25, hardcover, 224p., 9780374191337

Travel Literature

Vanlife Diaries: Finding Freedom on the Open Road

by Kathleen Morton , Jonny Dustow , Jared Melrose

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Kathleen Morton, Jonny Dustow and Jared Melrose are partners at the blog Vanlife Diaries, a community of and for nomadic types, where they promote relevant nonprofit organizations and meetups and other events, and vanlifers share their stories. A few years and a few hundred thousand followers later, Vanlife Diaries: Finding Freedom on the Open Road is available as a beautiful collection of photographs and essays, tips and tricks, celebrating this way of life and offering inspiration to those setting out.

Contents are organized by motivation to travel: for family, for love, for art, for nature and so on. Each section includes an essay by a featured vandweller, with helpful how-to pieces slotted throughout: guides to cooking in small spaces, traveling with pets, finding wifi and other finer points of life on the road. More than 200 accompanying photographs feature van set-ups and their human, canine and other inhabitants in breathtaking natural settings around the world. Even readers who thought they were immune to wanderlust can't help but be swept away by such stunning images. And the more serious consumer of vanlife literature will be impressed by the balance of these impressive images with the kind of gritty, realistic details that rarely accompany Instagram versions of the trending lifestyle.

Vanlife Diaries is for anyone who's ever considered nomadism as a means to reduce their carbon footprint, pursue nontraditional work or simply live more slowly and simply. With practical advice and inspirational full-color photos, this book has something to offer readers at every stage of the journey. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Beautiful photos, enthusiastic essays and handy tips portray vanlife as desirable and attainable.

Ten Speed Press, $25, hardcover, 240p., 9780399581144

Poetry

Sunbathing on Tyrone Power's Grave

by Kim Dower

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Sunbathing on Tyrone Power's Grave by Kim Dower brims with the vitality and preoccupations of everyday living. Life and death are inextricably entwined in Dower's poetry: the distinct grief of losing a parent, bidding farewell to a pet, but also the joys of naming a puppy and the pleasure of using a favorite fountain pen.

While the death of her father hovers over Dower's fourth collection, the focus is on remembering the good times and celebrating the small victories that add up to a productive day. From the comic irony of a grocery store clerk commenting on her "beautiful aura" to the keen sense of accomplishment when successfully parallel parking her car, Dower pays tribute to the power of mundane everyday activities to spark happiness and wonder.

Dower's wicked sense of humor fuels poems about alternative facts, the indignities of air travel and the misunderstood color pink. Pockets of anxiety open up here and there, with lingering concerns over mental decline. In "Letters to My Son," as profound a piece as anything Dower has ever written, she admits to a primal fear of losing her mind to dementia.

An L.A. transplant from the East Coast, Dower was named City Poet of West Hollywood, Calif., in 2016 and held the post until 2018. The title poem features Dower's father's favorite actor, Tyrone Power, a swashbuckling American icon from the '40s. The cemetery where he is buried among other Hollywood royalty is a place of celebration, awash in sunshine, memories of great movies and "angels in bikinis smoking KOOL Lights." --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Discover: Kim Dower's poems light up one's awareness and appreciation of life, from small daily pleasures to life-altering moments.

Red Hen Press, $16.95, paperback, 104p., 9781597096218

Children's & Young Adult

Gondra's Treasure

by Linda Sue Park , illust. by Jennifer Black Reinhardt

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Gondra is a dragon. Her "mom's family comes from the West" and her "dad's family is from the East"; Gondra "was born somewhere in the middle." In Linda Sue Park and Jennifer Black Reinhardt's second collaboration (Yaks Yak), young Gondra playfully explores the benefits of inheriting two very different cultural backgrounds.

This charming narrative unfolds in bantering dialogue among the three family members. Gondra's mother explains that "in the West, dragons breathe fire," while Dad says that "in the East, dragons breathe mist." When Gondra shares a baby photo of herself, she points to "a teeny tiny flame... coming from one nostril and a wisp of mist from the other." Young readers will understand perfectly that lucky Gondra reaps the benefits of both branches of her heritage. The affection between Gondra's parents is always obvious as they cheerfully tease each other about their attributes: Dad thinks fire is dangerous; Mom thinks mist is "pretty boring." Certainly, both adults agree that Gondra was "adorable... the most beautiful baby ever."

Reinhardt inventively illustrates the various points of Gondra's narrative, perfectly expressing the enthusiasm and awkwardness of the not-quite-grown protagonist. The colorful ink and watercolors depict a cozy, if slightly zany, household, where mist causes rain to fall in the living room if Dad gets too excited. The character design may be somewhat silly but the dignity and grace of Gondra's dragon family is undeniable and, though they have their differences, the love they share is evident. An interesting author's note provides some historical information on dragons, but the focus of the story is clearly on Gondra's ancestry, and how she is the beautiful product of her mixed heritage. --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: In this charming picture book, Gondra, daughter of an Eastern dragon and a Western dragon, muses about the attributes of her mixed heritage that make her unusual.

Clarion, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780544546691

The Quiet Crocodile Goes to the Beach

by Natacha Andriamirado , illust. by Delphine Renon

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Fossil the Quiet Crocodile loves the beach. While his many friends float, paddle, bob, dive and boogie board, Fossil prefers to "contemplate the waves, look for shells, take a nap, enjoy the moment." Observation might suggest he isn't moving, but he is engaged in active pursuits like "teach[ing] his friends how to swim, how not to splash" and "how to kick." But there's something "gnawing" at Fossil, "bothering him, and stressing him out." Although it seems impossible for a giant, beach-loving crocodile, "Fossil is scared to go in the water." Thank goodness he is surrounded by friends, who encourage him with kindness--and floaties. As the tide creeps up, Fossil finds that he can face his fears and enjoy the ocean after all.

This follow-up to Andriamirado and Renon's first book about Fossil (The Quiet Crocodile) is endowed with even more charm and off-beat humor than the original. The text is straightforward and feels as if it's being delivered with an affectionate smile, and the detailed colored-pencil and pen illustrations manage to depict plenty of activity and an abiding sense of calm at the same time. The gentle, mostly stationary Fossil is joined by a large cast of active, personable animals, such as Fippo the Hippo and Sonny the Bunny, all of whom are introduced in the endpapers, each sporting elaborate beachwear. A note instructs readers to "find, name, and count all of [Fossil's] friends as they play in the water," as well as to look for additional specific "hidden" objects, including rings and racquets, a fishing net, some chewing gum and "the sparrow, aboard a tiny boat." Young readers will surely dive into the fun! --Lynn Becker, blogger and host of Book Talk, a monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: Fossil the Quiet Crocodile loves spending time on the beach, but when the tide rolls in, he may to have face his fears and join his friends in the water.

Princeton Architectural Press, $17.95, hardcover, ages 2-6, 9781616898014

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