From the Shelf
A Time to Grill
July is National Grilling Month, though for many, the lure of the grill wins all summer--and beyond. As certified barbecue judge Adrian Miller writes, "Barbecue is an adjective, a noun, a verb, and a way of life."
Extend grilling season and build confidence with Foolproof BBQ: 60 Simple Recipes to Make the Most of Your Barbecue by Genevieve Taylor (Quadrille, $19.99), an expert on playing with fire and flavor. Taylor includes delectable options for all eaters--vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, carnivore--guiding readers through grilling basics with creativity and reassurance.
Celebrate classics and find new favorites with Flavors of the Southeast Asian Grill: Classic Recipes for Seafood and Meats Cooked over Charcoal by the prolific Leela Punyaratabandhu (Ten Speed Press, $30), with dishes from Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia. Punyaratabandhu hews closely to authentic flavors and presentations, though she features meat cuts widely available in North America, making the collection feel at once inventive and convenient, and always delicious.
Vegetarians (or anyone motivated to eat more plants) wanting a master class in inspired meatless barbecue should read How to Grill Vegetables: The New Bible for Barbecuing Vegetables over Live Fire by "America's master griller" and multiple James Beard Award-winner Steven Raichlen (Workman, $24.95). Try hay-smoking lettuce; savor Wood-Grilled Bruschetta with Fire-Blistered Tomatoes and Ricotta.
Learn pit tricks and life lessons in Rodney Scott's World of BBQ: Every Day Is a Good Day: A Cookbook by James Beard Award-winning restaurateur Rodney Scott (Clarkson Potter, $29.99), whose Whole Hog BBQ in Charleston, S.C., has become an institution. And tuck into Adrian Miller's excellent Black Smoke: African Americans and the United States of Barbecue (University of North Carolina Press, $30), in which the James Beard Book Award-winner offers fascinating and important history and context, plus 22 recipes from an all-star roster of Black and Indigenous chefs. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
In this Issue...
by Georgina Pazcoguin
This diverting and cackle-worthy memoir by a New York City Ballet soloist is equal parts autobiography, insider intel and righteous indignation.
by Simon Rich
The book every fun-loving reader needs after a tough year, this humorous collection of 11 stories showcases sincerity, insightfulness and self-aware laughs.
by Alex Richards
A teenage girl mourns the death of her father and forms a connection with his pregnant mistress in this emotionally powerful contemporary YA novel.
Review by Subjects:
09/18/2021 - 12:00PMJoining us from afar - Windhoek, Namibia - and not so afar, as Zoom has its virtually intimate ways, is Namibian writer and photographer Rémy Ngamije with his sweeping, captivating debut novel, The Eternal Audience of One (Scout Press). “At once a millennial caper and a loving homage to all that is lost in exile, The Eternal Audience of One is nothing short of brilliant. The humor in this stunning novel will keep you glued, but it is the wisdom – elegiac and mature -- that will keep you...
09/20/2021 - 7:00PMSeattle University philosophy professor Paul H. Kidder this evening celebrates publication of his newest book, Minoru Yamasaki and the Fragility of Architecture (Routledge) with this virtual presentation. This amply illustrated book is a searching look at Minoru Yamasaki’s life and work, which spanned pivotal moments in both U.S. architectural and national history. Seattle has some interesting history here, as well - including iconic Seattle structures such as the Pacific Science Center, the...
09/20/2021 - 7:30PMIt is planned that the three co-authors - Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami, and Jeremy M. Weinstein, Stanford professors, all - of the new book, System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot (Harper) will all be on hand at ye old Town Hall - 1119 Eighth Avenue - for this live, in-person program. "System Error is a triumph: an analysis of the critical challenges facing our digital society that is as accessible as it is sophisticated. Best of all, the authors offer actual solutions for a...
09/20/2021 - 7:00PM**This event has been postponed** A debut author who is well-known to many for her award-winning work as an international television news correspondent, Clarissa Ward was on her way to Seattle a year-and-a-half ago when the pandemic came along and altered pretty much everything, including the initial publication of her extraordinary book, On All Fronts: The Education of a Journalist (Penguin), to say nothing of public, in-person appearances such as was scheduled here. We are grateful that we’...
09/21/2021 - 7:00PMIf Sumana Roy is doing this program from Siliguri, India, it will be 7:30 Wednesday morning for her as she gives lucky readers here an introduction to her most extraordinary book, How I Became a Tree (Yale University Press). First published in India four years ago, it has quietly, steadily built a readership there, and wherever readers might encounter it. Now, U.S. readers will have a chance to read one of the most ardent, poetic, beautifully written books in the present growing grove of...
09/21/2021 - 7:00PMTuesday, September 21 at 7 p.m. :: Live/In-Person at Boon Boona Coffee Wednesday, September 29 at 7:30 p.m. :: Live/In-Person at Town Hall Seattle (and Livestream) These two evenings, noted above, mark the launch of a debut book, by one of the vital, essential journalist voices here in Seattle today, Marcus Harrison Green. The founder/publisher of the South Seattle Emerald and a columnist with the Seattle Times, he has not only put his own writing on the line, but has helped give a forum for...
09/21/2021 - 12:00PMAuthor Naomi Hirahara will appear in conversation with Densho’s Brian Niiya to discuss her new mystery novel, Clark and Division. Set in 1944 Chicago, Clark and Division follows the story of a young woman searching for the truth about her revered older sister’s death, and brings to focus the struggles of one Japanese American family released from mass incarceration at Manzanar during World War II. Naomi Hirahara and Brian Niiya, who share a decades-long friendship, will talk about the...
15 'Weird and Wonderful Olympic Words'
Mental Floss looked up the etymology of 15 weird and wonderful Olympic words."
Author Nikita Lalwani chose her top 10 platonic friendships in fiction for the Guardian.
Poet Sylvia Plath's "wedding band and other prized possessions" netted $1 million at auction, Forbes noted.
Open Culture featured "a new digital database that collects seven centuries of art inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy."
Atlas Obscura checked out Budapest's Szabo Ervin Library, a 19th-century "aristocrat's mansion, turned into a library, hidden in a modern library."
Rediscover: Rhode Island Red
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Charlotte Carter released a trilogy of mysteries starring Nanette Hayes, a young Black jazz musician who makes a living teaching French and playing saxophone on the streets of New York City. This Francophile busker, while not contending with romantic entanglements and the usual travails of her itinerant life, must contend with more serious danger. Her first appearance, Rhode Island Red, finds Nanette in a web of trouble after a man she thought was a fellow busker turns out to be an undercover cop and dies in her apartment. Her attempt to do the right thing with a bundle of money the man left behind leads to a hunt for a priceless saxophone that others are willing to kill for. The second novel, Coq au Vin, takes Nanette to Paris in search of a lost relative, where she finds more danger and a handsome violinist. She returns to New York in Drumsticks, where a lucky voodoo doll causes grave misfortune.
Carter is also the author of the Cook County mystery series, which is set in Chicago during the 1960s. The Nanette Hayes trilogy, long out of print, is being republished by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, beginning today with Rhode Island Red ($15). Coq au Vin will be available on August 31 and Drumsticks on September 28. --Tobias Mutter
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Guy Delisle
Born in Québec City, Canada, in 1966, Guy Delisle now lives in the South of France with his wife and two children. Delisle spent 10 years working in animation. He is the author of numerous graphic novels and travelogues, including Hostage, Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City and Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea. In 2012, Delisle was awarded the Prize for Best Album for the French edition of Jerusalem at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. His most recent book is the memoir Factory Summers (Drawn & Quarterly, June 15, 2021), a coming-of-age story about the three summers Delisle spent as a manual laborer in a pulp and paper mill.
On your nightstand now:
I just finished up The Last Frontier by Howard Fast. It came out in 1941 and shows the last phase of "How the West Was Won." The Cheyenne population rebels and decides to return to their ancestral lands. I think this was the first book to really consider and share the experiences of Indigenous people in North America during that particular period of time. The book received a lot of critical acclaim and John Ford made a film adaptation of it in 1964. I was curious to see what had inspired him.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. After having owned it when I was a kid, I bought it for my own children and the book has just never aged. It offers everything I loved about the books I read when I was a kid--beautiful illustrations, a peek into the dark side of children's imaginations and this very free, open approach to storytelling. All these elements are things I didn't necessarily notice when I read it as a kid, but which I absolutely felt.
Your top five authors:
Jean Echenoz, Raymond Carver, Céline, Gabriel García Márquez, Hergé.
Book you've faked reading:
I have never been in a situation where I had to fake reading a book.
Book you're an evangelist for:
Les Rois Maudits (The Accursed Kings) by Maurice Druon. I sometimes work with students and whenever they give me the chance to do so, I recommend that they check out this series of seven novels written between 1955 and 1977. It's the tragic story of a dynasty of seven kings of France in the Middle Ages. George R.R. Martin has frequently mentioned how influential these books were on his own series A Song of Ice and Fire. Inevitably, it's by offering up this particular anecdote that I pique their interest.
Book you've bought for the cover:
French book covers are plain and very straightforward. They usually don't even have images on the cover--just the title, author and publisher.
One time when I was traveling in the USA, I bought Legend of a Suicide by David Vann because I had read it in French before and the cover was very nice.
Book you hid from your parents:
Click! by Milo Manara. It's an erotic comic book that everybody was reading in the 1980s.
Book that changed your life:
Changed my life... that is a hard thing for a book to live up to, but when I read my first Raymond Carver novels, I was totally shocked. I didn't know it was possible to write that way--to tell a story as powerfully as he did in so few pages. I think it was the kind of experience that could have been what made me want to become a writer.
Favorite line from a book:
"Je vais encourir bien des reproches." ("I am going to bring a great deal of criticism on myself.") --Raymond Radiguet, The Devil in the Flesh
This book was published in 1923 by a young writer of just 23 years of age. From the very first sentence, the protagonist admits a mistake he's made but refuses to allow himself to be condemned for it. Step by step, line by line, this masterpiece moves the reader with great sensitivity toward outrage and scandal.
Five books you'll never part with:
Maus by Art Spiegelman
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Books you most want to read again for the first time:
The Seven Crystal Balls (Les sept boules de cristal) and The Temple of the Sun (Le temple du soleil) by Hergé.
by Simon Rich
Humorist and novelist Simon Rich's New Teeth is a warmhearted, laugh-out-loud collection of 11 stories about the pressures of modern life and the importance of family. Family values take center stage in "Learning the Ropes," in which two bloodthirsty pirates learn to parent a charming toddler, as well as in "The Big Nap," in which a two-year-old hardboiled detective teams up with his new baby sister to solve one of life's mysteries. Meanwhile, in "Chip" and "Clobbo," two unlikely employees--an outdated AI system and a once-beloved monkey superhero--learn that the unrelenting pace of today's workplace means nothing without a little human connection.
Rich's high-concept premises may seem ridiculous at first glance, but they consistently pay off with their recognizable conflicts, deeply clever twists and emotionally acute conclusions. Every story has a heart, and often one attuned to the redemptive power of the parent-child relationship. Additionally, Rich crafts his silliness with care, making these stories not only affectively engaging but also hysterically funny. Even in the collection's least-absurdist tale, "Screwball"--a retelling of Babe Ruth's rookie season--Rich (Spoiled Brats) displays his relentlessly dry humor while still finding a soft spot at the center of every joke. From the pirate-ized versions of couples' arguments in "Learning the Ropes" ("Arr, I guess you be perfect, and I be horrible, congratulations") to the even-handed advice-column confession that perhaps children really do have something living under their beds to fear (ever since the Great Monster Uprising in "Everyday Parenting Tips"), Rich uses his pitch-perfect irony and parody for good in this consistently entertaining collection. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor
Discover: The book every fun-loving reader needs after a tough year, this humorous collection of 11 stories showcases sincerity, insightfulness and self-aware laughs.
How to Find Your Way in the Dark
by Derek B. Miller
In this sweeping prequel to his Dagger Award-winning Norwegian by Night, Derek B. Miller traces the momentous arc of Sheldon Horowitz's young life in the 1930s and '40s as he pursues revenge for his father's death.
Orphaned after his father's murder, Sheldon is living in Hartford, Conn., with his cousins Abe and Mirabelle, whose mother died in the same fire as Sheldon's mother, one year earlier. As Sheldon tracks down his father's murderer, his fierce cousins support him. "If his death was as equally meaningless as Mom's," Mirabelle says, "I'm going to scream and never stop." Abe agrees: "Jews wait too long to throw a punch.... We're getting squeezed. And I'm not going to stand around." Eventually, Abe enters World War II, preferring "to die for one's actions rather than inactions"; Sheldon moves in with Lenny Bernstein, an up-and-coming comedian whose "too Jewish" material condemns antisemitism. Meanwhile, Mirabelle combats sexism in "fabulous and dangerous" ways, knowing that "being a Jewish woman is tougher." With everyone around him pushing back against wrongs, Sheldon must decide what real justice means.
How to Find Your Way in the Dark is a powerful exploration of right and wrong. Through a jewel heist, fraudulently becoming a bellhop and plotting against a mob boss, Sheldon evaluates his loved ones' different expressions of bravery, demonstrating how the person one plans to be isn't always the person one must be. This historical coming-of-age crime novel is filled with heart and heartbreak, timely discussions of immigrant life, fun era-marking pop culture references and thoughtful characters who refuse to stay silent. --Samantha Zaboski, freelance editor and reviewer
Discover: With a backdrop of antisemitism during World War II, this exciting and epic historical novel follows Norwegian by Night's Sheldon Horowitz as a teen plotting revenge for his father's murder.
When We Were Young
by Richard Roper
British novelist Richard Roper has the uncanny ability to embroil quirky characters in heart-wrenching situations, rendering their predicaments into immensely appealing fiction. In How Not to Die Alone (retitled and reissued as Something to Live For), a grief-stricken man grappled with his sad lot in life. In Roper's second novel, When We Were Young, he again mines the theme of how breaking the shackles of the past can lead to transcendence.
As teenagers, Theo and Joel--would-be writers--were best friends until a life-changing accident drove a wedge between them. Now, estranged for more than 10 years, the two men lead separate lives. Hard-driving Joel, from a sordid family background, is a successful TV writer who harbors secrets. Floundering, lovesick and bitter Theo is barely scraping by, living in a backyard shed at his parents' house. Things take a turn when Joel crashes Theo's 30th birthday party, hoping to reconnect with his long-lost friend and to convince him to make good on a promise made in their youth: to hike all 184 miles of the Thames Path, from Gloucestershire to south east London. As the two set out on the long, arduous journey, they wind through episodic memories of the past--what united and divided them. What will it take for them to bury the hatchet and make peace?
Roper delivers an enormously moving and surprising story about the rarely documented bond of male friendship, focusing on the lengths some must travel in order truly to forgive and sacrifice for another. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A moving, life-affirming story about two friends who reunite and unravel old secrets and resentments while taking a long hike.
All the Little Hopes
by Leah Weiss
Leah Weiss's ear for dialogue and her expert balancing of multiple narrators captured readers of her first novel, If the Creek Don't Rise. Her second novel, All the Little Hopes, uses two 13-year-old narrators to tell a lyrical, often gripping story of wartime struggle, small-town mysteries and what it means to be a family.
As World War II drags on, Lucy Brown's tobacco-farming family in eastern North Carolina receives a government contract to produce beeswax for the war effort. Soon, they gain an unexpected addition: Allie Bert Tucker, who came from the state's western mountains to care for her pregnant aunt. When her aunt starts behaving oddly and her uncle disappears, Bert turns to the Browns for help and eventually becomes part of their household. Lucy, bookish and fond of using "ten-dollar words," is thrilled to have a new friend and sleuthing partner (she fancies herself a Nancy Drew). Bert, grieving her mother's death and always conscious of the class gap between herself and the Browns, is thrilled to be welcomed but doesn't quite trust that her new situation will last. Telling their story in alternating chapters, Weiss shows how both girls struggle to navigate their teenage years while going to school, helping Lucy's mama with the housework and laboring alongside her father and brother on the farm.
Filled with vividly drawn characters of all ages, All the Little Hopes is a warm, sensitive story of family during wartime, as well as a glimpse into rural life in the North Carolina coastal plain. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Leah Weiss tells a gripping wartime story of family, honeybees and missing men in her second novel, set in North Carolina.
The Lost and Found Necklace
by Louisa Leaman
Louisa Leaman (The Second Chance Boutique) turns her art history credentials to lovely use in The Lost and Found Necklace, which traces a distinctive art deco necklace through five generations of an English family.
As The Lost and Found Necklace begins, Jess Taylor is trying to start her life over. Jess has always been a thrill-seeker, an adrenaline junkie who is obsessed with jewelry. But a recent injury has been difficult to overcome, and Jess is trying to settle down. She's started a mail-order jewelry business, and she's dating a charming teacher named Tim.
But Jess's grandmother Nancy, another free spirit, is dying in her care home, and she's begged Jess to find the family's dragonfly necklace. The necklace was made by Nancy's grandmother Minnie, who was a rare female designer in the early 20th century. Jess finds it at an auction, but loses in the bidding to a charismatic, curly-haired man named Guy. Desperate to acquire the necklace, Jess finds herself rising to meet several absurd challenges from Guy, and traveling to Wales and to California seeking more answers, much to Tim's dismay.
Leaman does a delightful job weaving the lives of five women into the story of the dragonfly necklace, all the way from Minnie down to Jess. As Jess slowly uncovers the secrets of her ancestors, she not only learns more about the Taylor women, but also about herself. A perfect summer read, The Lost and Found Necklace is an absorbing family saga. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Flagstaff, Ariz.
Discover: In this sweet story, a young Englishwoman traces a missing dragonfly necklace through five generations of her family.
Biography & Memoir
Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina
by Georgina Pazcoguin
Memoirs by performing artists who have achieved a level of renown in their field can often be rhapsodizing nostalgia jobs. As Georgina Pazcoguin might put it: oh, honey, that is so not Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina. With her aggressively entertaining memoir, Pazcoguin, a proudly foulmouthed New York City Ballet soloist since 2013, has set out to take the shine off her profession's glittery image: "Onstage, we're graceful and as ethereal as mist, but once the pointe shoes and tutus come off, it's a different story."
Raised in Altoona, Pa., by an Italian American mom and a Filipino dad, Pazcoguin found her calling at an early age: "I'd always pick ballet over a John Hughes movie." In Swan Dive, she traces her journey to NYCB, spotlighting career highs (she has appeared in ballets and Broadway shows including West Side Story Suite, Cats and On the Town) and low points, such as getting a "fat talk" from NYCB artistic director Peter Martins. (Martins retired in 2018 amid a whirl of misconduct allegations; Pazcoguin's tussles with him speckle her narrative.)
She's generous with endearingly disarming accounts of her on- and offstage belly flops, each of which gets its own Swan Dive section, fueled by her plucky peevishness. That spirited petulance is also out in force when Pazcoguin encounters injustice, as after she realizes that dancers of color like her are being relegated to the ballet company's "B cast." She has since cofounded Final Bow for Yellowface, which is devoted to convincing ballet companies worldwide to purge their dances of Asian stereotypes. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer
Discover: This diverting and cackle-worthy memoir by a New York City Ballet soloist is equal parts autobiography, insider intel and righteous indignation.
Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, and Los Angeles, California
by Matthew Specktor
In Always Crashing in the Same Car: On Art, Crisis, & Los Angeles, California, novelist and screenwriter Matthew Specktor (American Dream Machine) offers an empathetic and eloquent set of portraits of nine Hollywood artists and creators of varying prominence, gracefully blending their stories with an account of his own artistic challenges and glimpses of his family's connection to the entertainment industry.
At a time he doesn't specify, but after he had "suffered a kind of crash," Specktor returned to Hollywood, the city where he had grown up and from which he'd "departed in a nervous panic at eighteen." He rents an apartment at the "stone center of Hollywood's mythological grid," 30 yards from the Sunset Strip and across the street from where F. Scott Fitzgerald died in 1940.
Though Specktor thinks of this dwelling as a "launching pad toward a greater, more hopeful future," it seems fitting that the melancholy atmosphere of the place serves as the inspiration for what he calls "meditations on people who soared and then collapsed...." Most of Specktor's subjects are drawn from the film industry, and include well-known figures like Academy Award-winning directors Hal Ashby (Coming Home) and Michael Cimino (The Deer Hunter), whose careers imploded with dizzying speed, along with talented but less prominent artists like actress Tuesday Weld, writer Renata Adler and screenwriter Carole Eastman. One of the most interesting chapters offers a retrospective on musician Warren Zevon.
Specktor's is an affecting reflection on the lure of fame and of how it often eludes those most determined to cling to it. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: An incisive collection of artist portraits illuminates the tenuous quality of Hollywood celebrity and the price it exacts.
Well, This Is Exhausting: Essays
by Sophia Benoit
A quick perusal of the table of contents in Sophia Benoit's debut essay collection, Well, This Is Exhausting, provides a sense of what's to come: "Section One, in which I try really hard to be a good kid for my parents, miss out on a normal youth because I was fat, and then date someone who sucks"; "Section Two, in which I try really hard to impress shitty men, discover Skinnygirl pina colada mix, and learn how to do eye makeup"; and "Section Three, in which I get very tired of trying so hard, realize I was wrong about almost everything, and save my boyfriend's life."
These headers provide a loose chronological framework for Benoit's 30 essays, which are as hilarious and biting as their subtitles suggest. Benoit chronicles her early childhood spent as a well-behaved people-pleaser, the many lengths to which she has gone to impress men not worth impressing, and then inches closer to the present day, in which she lives in Los Angeles with her long-time boyfriend and has mostly stopped tying herself in knots to please other people. It's a classic millennial tale, but in Benoit's hands, this story of coming into one's full and honest self feels fresh and new. Perhaps it's her ability to balance self-deprecating humor with a white-hot rage against the cis-het white patriarchy, or to combine razor-sharp jabs at terrible ex-boyfriends with smart and reflective thoughts about what it feels like to live in a woman's body in the 21st century. Whatever the secret may be, Well, This Is Exhausting is exhilarating to read. (And the footnotes are not to be missed--they are somehow even funnier.) --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A collection of 30 heartfelt and hilarious personal essays documents one woman's journey from people-pleaser to tired, happy, independent self.
Now in Paperback
Vesper Flights: New and Collected Essays
by Helen Macdonald
In Vesper Flights, Helen Macdonald (H Is for Hawk) showcases her affinity for the essay in her quest for readers to see "the glittering world of non-human life around us," and see it through other eyes, to realize the world does "not belong to us alone. It never has done."
Topics include a captive wild boar provoking introspection about Macdonald's place in the world; the territorial anxiety over wild animals "intruding" in human spaces; an autistic boy's mutual delight with Macdonald's parrot; a young refugee smuggled into the U.K.; and the complexity of avian navigation.
The poet in Macdonald moves these subjects toward mystery. A night flight of migrating birds delicately amazes: "Watching their passage is almost too moving to bear. They resemble stars, embers, slow tracer fire." A peregrine falcon seems to make the atmosphere heavier as it flies, "the barred feathers of his chest, his black hood, a faint chromatic fringe ghosting him with suggestions of dust and rainbows. He's exquisite, the colour of smoke, paper and wet ash."
She crafts brilliant descriptions, drawing wisdom from her observations: "It's true that time walking in a forest can be beneficial to our mental health. But valuing a forest for that purpose traduces what forests are: they are not there for us alone." She takes hard-won emotional solace from "knowing that animals are not like me, that their lives are not about us at all."
Helen Macdonald set the bar high with H Is for Hawk; with Vesper Flights, one of the Washington Post's 10 Best Books of 2020, she still soars into the ether. --Marilyn Dahl
Discover: Helen Macdonald's dazzling essay collection showcases her wonder, deep love and respect for nature.
The City We Became
by N.K. Jemisin
After making history as the first writer to win the Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row for her Broken Earth trilogy, N.K. Jemisin kicks off another ambitious trilogy with The City We Became, an urban fantasy that transforms New York City into a multiversal battleground. The author--a 2020 MacArthur Fellow--has written a paean to a much-celebrated metropolis, though it is far from an uncomplicated portrait. The supernatural threats facing her protagonists often piggyback on some of the very real challenges facing the city, from racist policing to gentrification. The City We Became is about New York fighting for its life in more ways than one.
In Jemisin's novel, "great cities are like any other living things, being born and maturing and wearying and dying in their turn." The City We Became is about New York City giving birth to itself, becoming a "living, thinking entity shaped like a big-ass city." The city is vulnerable in the process, necessitating the help of human avatars it imbues with the power of each of the five boroughs. When something goes wrong with the city's birth, the avatars--Jemisin's protagonists--must learn to wield the city's strength against an otherworldly entity bent on its destruction.
The novel's imaginatively realized battles against Lovecraftian evil exist alongside Jemisin's interpretation of New York City, which is bound to both raise hackles and inspire recognition among New Yorkers. A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020, The City We Became is a fierce, opinionated vision of a storied metropolis facing down existential threats. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine
Discover: New York City's five boroughs engage in a fantastical war and the result is an opinionated, warts-and-all love letter to the city.
Children's & Young Adult
When We Were Strangers
by Alex Richards
When We Were Strangers is an affecting, expertly told contemporary YA novel that explores the complexity of love, loss and family.
Seventeen-year-old Evie Parker is mourning the sudden death of her father when she makes a shocking discovery: on the day he died of a heart attack, he was going to leave Evie and her mother. He was planning to move in with his receptionist, Bree, who is "beautiful and young, fresh and blond" and pregnant. Evie, hoping to spare her mother further heartbreak, unpacks her father's belongings and hides the truth. Her mother, hoping to give Evie a distraction, signs her up for a summer photography class. There she finds creative fulfillment and falls for her cute Asian American classmate, Declan. But Evie can't shake her fascination with Bree. She begins to follow her father's mistress around with a camera, feeling "safer from behind a lens." When circumstances bring Evie and Bree face-to-face, Evie is forced to reckon with the assumptions she has made and to confront the complicated truth about her father's affair.
Alex Richards (Accidental) skillfully channels the voice of a teenage girl experiencing emotional turmoil--as Evie is grieving, she also comes into her own as an artist and finds friendship as well as unexpected first love. When We Were Strangers has no heroes or villains, only flawed, sympathetic characters trying their best. Evie initially views Bree as "a monster" but learns that "Bree is more than just one thing... we all are." Richards's deft first-person narration infuses what could easily be a grim story with hope, humor and empathy. --Alanna Felton, freelance reviewer
Discover: A teenage girl mourns the death of her father and forms a connection with his pregnant mistress in this emotionally powerful contemporary YA novel.
It Could Be Worse
by Einat Tsarfati , trans. by Annette Appel
Two shipwrecked sailors confront preposterous woes with varying degrees of optimism in Einat Tsarfati's delightfully farcical picture book It Could Be Worse.
Perched upon the floating wreckage of a ship, two men survey a blue sky and calm ocean. George, smiling beatifically, appears pleased; Albertini, scoffing, shoos at a gull. As a storm cloud descends, the contrast in their attitudes becomes clear: " 'This is so unfair!' shouted Albertini. 'It could be worse...' said George." And, indeed, it does get worse, as a stream of indignities befall the friends, including ghost pirates, an ark of famished animals and a smelly, bubble-gum pink whale that swallows the men whole. After facing a threat that daunts even George, the pair reunite with their jovial and eclectic crewmates. In a satisfying about-face, Albertini assures the captain that his night may have been rough, but "trust me--it could have been much, much worse."
Tsarfati (The Neighbors) here expounds on a Yiddish folk tale (translated by Annette Appel) offering a comical take on the relative scale of misfortune. Intricate digital illustrations in candy-colored hues include impressively detailed nautical pastedowns and lend a cheerful air to the daytime travails, while velvety blues dominate the climactic nighttime scenes. Minimal text is kept to one page when it appears at all and allows the expressive full-bleed artwork to shine. Optimists and alarmists both will relate to this entertaining adventure as George and Albertini navigate laughably bad situations before finding safe harbor. --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
Discover: Shipwrecked sailors suffer an absurd escalation of indignities before agreeing that even terrible misfortunes can be relative, in this picture book interpretation of a Yiddish folk tale.