From the Shelf
Poets' Voices in the Air & on the Page
Not only have I been reading and rereading great poets lately, I also had the good fortune to hear some of them speak at events in Minneapolis this month. Their voices--in the air and on the page--sustain and nourish me.
"A whole day without speaking,
rain, then sun, then rain again,
a few plants in the ground, newbie
leaves tucked in the black soil, and I think
I'm good at this, this being alone
in the world, the watching of things"
I reread Ross Gay's Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude (Univ. of Pittsburgh Press) after hearing him say, "People often ask me, 'How is it that, in the midst of things, you're writing about joy?' And my response is always--and certainly relative to events now--along the lines of: There's nothing more important than thinking about and writing about and meditating on what you love."
Listening to Danez Smith speak inspired me to return to their extraordinary Don't Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press), which won the 2018 Forward Prize for Best Poetry Collection. From "summer, somewhere":
"do you know what it's like to live
on land who loves you back
no need for geography
now, we safe everywhere.
point to whatever you please
& call it church, home, or sweet love.
paradise is a world where everything
is sanctuary & nothing is a gun."
And I read the brilliant voices of playwright Sarah Ruhl and the late poet Max Ritvo in Letters from Max: A Book of Friendship (Milkweed Editions). Ritvo's cancer death sentence is the shadow here, yet what emerges from their brilliant, funny, heartbreaking exchanges is a frank exploration of human connection, mortality, art and much more in precious real time. Listen... --Robert Gray, contributing editor
In this Issue...
by Casey Gerald
The co-founder and CEO of MBAs Across America revisits his difficult upbringing in Texas and recounts how he found a space to call home as a gay black man in the U.S.
by Tanya M. Smith
In her fascinating first book, research biology anthropologist Tanya Smith recasts the history of evolutionary science through the examination of teeth.
by Anna-Marie McLemore
Magical realism weaves through this story of two sisters fighting an ancient curse that will turn one of them into a swan.
Review by Subjects:
01/21/2020 - 7:00PMFollowing journalist and novelist Fatima Bhutto, here a few months ago with her book on pop culture in India, the United Emirates, Turkey, and Latin America, is William Wheeler, with another in Columbia Global Reports’ books of long-form journalism. He visits with what is his first book, State of War: MS-13 and El Salvador’s World of Violence. "In State of War, his gripping, electrifying study of the brutal Salvadoran gang culture, William Wheeler dramatizes with almost painful immediacy a...
01/21/2020 - 6:30PMThis month’s selection for reading and discussion is Ada Hoffman’s novel, The Outside (Angry Robot). Learn More
01/22/2020 - 7:00PMWidely respected and highly regarded, Asma Uddin comes here as a religious liberty lawyer who has done work on behalf of a considerable range of religions and faiths. In her powerful new book, When Islam is Not a Religion (Pegasus), she does so through the lens of the present political climate in the U.S. around Islam, and the rights of Muslims. “Asma Uddin has written a terrific book. It is all at once a primer on the very American commitment to religious freedom, a history of the...
01/22/2020 - 11:30AMOur friends at PJ Library, who do these song & storytimes designed for tots, toddlers, and those looking after them at a number of select bookstores in the area, visit as a regular feature of our Wednesday mornings. These are free and open to all and are usually thirty minutes of good fun, activity, and exploration of language, movement, and rhythm. Please join us in the Children’s Section by the castle!
01/23/2020 - 7:00PMIn The Art of Return: The Sixties and Contemporary Culture (University of Chicago Press) James Meyer turns to art criticism, theory, memoir, and fiction to examine the fascination with the long sixties and contemporary expressions of these cultural memories across the globe. He draws on a diverse range of cultural objects that reimagine this revolutionary era stretching from the 1950s to the 1970s, including reenactments of civil rights, antiwar, and feminist marches, paintings, sculptures,...
01/23/2020 - 7:30PMPeggy Orenstein, author of the groundbreaking New York Times bestsellers Girls & Sex and Cinderella Ate My Daughter now turns her focus to the sexual lives of young men in Boys & Sex: Young Men on Hookups, Love, Porn, Consent, and Navigating the New Masculinity (Harper), once again offering “both an examination of sexual culture and a guide on how to improve it” (Washington Post). “Masculinity doesn’t have to be toxic—but so much of what we communicate to boys about masculinity is just...
01/24/2020 - 7:00PMFirst published a year ago to much praise, and ultimately achieving bestselling status (being selected by Reese Witherspoon for her national book club never hurting), Yangsze Choo’s riveting debut novel, The Night Tiger (Flatiron), found many readers here, and should, even more with this new paperback edition. Set in her home country of Malaysia, when it was colonial-era Malaya, is a novel of the clash of classes, of entitlement and aspiration, and of some particular quests. “Mythical...
Happy Bookish Halloween!
Electric Lit advised "how to decorate your house like Victor Frankenstein."
Merriam-Webster's pop quiz: "Name that Monster! A useful skill for longer nights."
Bookshelf checked out a carved pumpkin that "features several Lego people sitting in the comfort of their own mini-library under a tangled string of lights."
"L.A. Noir: a city in 15 quotes." For CrimeReads, authors "weighed in on the City of Angels."
The Stoic Series Strikes a Chord
In the last year, Ryan Holiday's four books on stoicism, two of which were co-authored with Stephen Hanselman, have been embraced by a range of sports stars, celebrities, politicians, businesspeople and many, many general readers. In 2017, the books sold more than 300,000 copies in the U.S., and since the first title, The Obstacle Is the Way, was published in 2014, they've sold a combined total of more than a million copies worldwide in the English language. The books' popularity is especially striking because they present the modern adaptation of a philosophy with roots that go back more than 2,000 years. And it's not an "easy" philosophy: it posits that hardship and adversity should be met with determination and strength, without complaint, and that every obstacle is an opportunity for improvement. Although that's a persuasive approach that resonates in many eras and situations, it may also be striking a chord in the current political climate with its message of "persist and resist" no matter how bad a situation seems.
In just one measure of the books' wide-reaching influence, their message has resonated throughout the sports world. Consider that in 2017 alone, the Stoic titles contributed to the national championship winners in three different professional sports. Early in the year, the New England Patriots, bolstered after reading both Ego Is the Enemy and The Obstacle Is the Way, won the Super Bowl in a record-breaking, come-from-behind victory.
Then in spring 2017, David West, who took a pay cut to join the Golden State Warriors, read Ego Is the Enemy before the NBA Finals, and used it and his selfless playing style to beat the defending champs, LeBron James and Cleveland Cavaliers.
And finally last fall, the Houston Astros, whose hitting coach, Jeff Albert, had been giving copies of Ego Is the Enemy to his players since January (and asked for some copies in Spanish), won a hard-fought World Series, the team's first-ever championship.
The business world is a strong supporter, too. One measure: The Daily Stoic spent 13 weeks on the business bestseller list of the Wall Street Journal, which gave it a rave review.
Some of the biggest independent bookstores are major fans of the Stoic series. Allison Hill, CEO of Vroman's, Pasadena, and Book Soup, West Hollywood, Calif., says, "Ryan Holiday's books are consistently on our Best of Business display at Vroman's and The Obstacle Is the Way is one of my favorites. Holiday views leadership through a philosophical lens, drawing on classic texts to elevate the modern leadership conversation. The result is energizing."
Abby Fennewald, director of marketing and publicity at BookPeople, Austin, Tex., comments: "Ryan is one of our absolute favorite local authors. He really knows what he's doing. His books are consistently among the bestsellers in the store in their categories."
And at Politics and Prose, Washington, D.C., buyer Mark LaFramboise notes that the store has had "great success" with corporate sales of the Stoic books... These are money in the bank."
Social Media Reach
Booksellers and librarians should know, too, that Holiday and the books have a striking social media presence that is helping to spread the message. The Daily Stoic has 121,000 followers on Facebook, 150,000 followers on Instagram, and 60,300 followers on Twitter. Holiday himself has more than 43,000 followers on Facebook, 62,000 on Instagram, and 235,000 on Twitter. In addition, the Daily Stoic newsletter has 120,000 subscribers, who receive an e-mail each weekday of the year with an original meditation penned by Holiday.
In addition, the Ryan Holiday Reading Recommendations list has 91,000 subscribers, many of whom are book lovers and correspond with him. The list is coordinated with BookPeople, which is wonderfully appropriate: the Stoic books grew out of the discussions Holiday had with list members.
The Four Stoic Titles
The Four Stoic Titles
The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph by Ryan Holiday (Portfolio, $25, 9781591846352, May 1, 2014). Almost 2,000 years ago, Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote: "The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way." Stoic philosophy advocates enduring hardship and adversity with determination and strength. To the stoic, a new obstacle is an opportunity for improvement.
Ryan Holiday's The Obstacle Is the Way was his first offering of ancient wisdom distilled for the modern reader. To control what we can control, to surf life's many waves instead of being crushed by them--these are all admirable goals, ones that have found fans in high places. Many successful figures throughout history have harnessed the strength of stoicism, including John D. Rockefeller, Amelia Earhart, Ulysses S. Grant and Steve Jobs.
Today's stoic successes run the gamut from politics/film (Arnold Schwarzenegger), music (LL Cool J), and, to an incredible extent, sports. It's not surprising that professional athletes and coaches would find stoicism useful: physical pain, frequent losses, and the need for constant training make it an almost required philosophy. The Obstacle Is the Way has been a touchdown success among NFL coaches, players and sportscasters, including Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Besides its popularity with athletes (as outlined in this Sports Illustrated article), Holiday's book was featured on a popular TED Talk by author Tim Ferriss, which has been viewed more than 4.7 million times. The Obstacle Is the Way has sold more than 428,000 copies and been translated into 17 languages.
Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday (Portfolio, $25, 9781591847816, June 14, 2016). In his prologue for Ego Is the Enemy, Ryan Holiday writes "While the history books are filled with tales of obsessive visionary geniuses who remade the world in their image with sheer, almost irrational force, I've found that history is also made by individuals who fought their egos at every turn, who eschewed the spotlight, and who put their higher goals above their desire for recognition."
The elevation of the self is anathema to stoicism. Grandiose self-promotion, posits Ego Is the Enemy, is effectively self-sabotage at every stage of one's career. Early on, ego interferes with the ability to learn new skills and practice one's talents. Later, ego can make it difficult to find fault in one's own actions and recognize problems. Ego also makes it more troublesome to learn and recover from failure.
Ego Is the Enemy explores the lives of successful people whose personal victories were in part achieved by taking their person out of the way. George Marshall, Jackie Robinson, Katharine Graham, Bill Belichick and Eleanor Roosevelt, among others, changed the world by conquering their own egos. Holiday's book promises to teach that same stoic strength, to give the skills necessary to survive in the age of reality TV and personal brands. It has sold more than 288,000 copies.
The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (Portfolio, $25, 9780735211735, Oct. 18, 2016). With the help of literary agent, publisher and Harvard Divinity School graduate Stephen Hanselman, Ryan Holiday makes it easier than ever to apply stoicism to everyday life. The Daily Stoic features a year of quotes from stoicism's greatest practitioners: Marcus Aurelius, the playwright Seneca, the philosopher/slave Epictetus, as well as lesser-known figures like Zeno, Cleanthes and Musonius Rufus.
Holiday and Hanselman give a quote for each day of the year and advice on how to apply said ancient wisdom to modern life. There is a reason George Washington, Frederick the Great and Ralph Waldo Emerson advocated stoicism, and why modern CEOs, football coaches and celebrities have followed that same path. Stoic philosophy holds the answers not only to bearing the many turmoils of life, but thriving in spite of--or even because of--them.
The Daily Stoic has been recommended by the likes of Arianna Huffington, Billy Bush, Debra Messing and a slew of senators--Marco Rubio has frequently mentioned it, and Ben Sasse discusses it in his book, The Vanishing American Adult. More than 253,000 readers have been given what Maria Popova, editor of Brain Pickings, calls "a generous gift of guidance on modern living culled from a canon of wisdom hatched long ago."
The Daily Stoic Journal: 366 Days of Writing and Reflection on the Art of Living by Ryan Holiday and Stephen Hanselman (Portfolio, $27, 9780525534396, Nov. 14, 2017). For those who have absorbed The Obstacle Is the Way, Ego Is the Enemy and The Daily Stoic, The Daily Stoic Journal is the next step in applying stoicism to everyday life.
This hardcover journal, made with Smyth-sewn binding (allowing the book to open perfectly flat without falling apart) offers weekly exercises for practicing the ancient wisdom of the stoics. These practices are paired with quotes from Marcus Aurelius, Seneca and Epictetus, among others, along with questions to gauge one's progress.
In 52 weeks, readers can master 2,000 years of philosophy. Even without having read Holiday and Hanselman's previous works on the subject, this journal makes a useful gift for those seeking a deeper understanding to their lives. It has sold more than 36,000 copies.
Winter in Paradise
by Elin Hilderbrand
Elin Hilderbrand (The Identicals, The Perfect Couple) is well known for her Nantucket settings and familial drama. But Winter in Paradise stands apart, as it's not set on Nantucket. This novel is still full of family tension amid a gorgeous island setting--this time in the Caribbean.
Irene Steele has been happily married for 35 years when she gets a shocking call. Her husband, Russell, has died in a helicopter crash off the coast of St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Since Russell was supposedly on a business trip, Irene is left reeling. She and her two grown sons--Baker, a stay-at-home Houston father, and Cash, a ski instructor in Colorado--head to the Caribbean to find out more about Russell's death.
To her horror, Irene discovers that Russell had a second life in St. John, including a massive villa and a mistress, Rosie, who also died in the crash. Things get more complicated when Irene meets and likes Rosie's father. Meanwhile, Cash and Baker, who have never gotten along, are busy keeping secrets from each other and their mother as they, too, grapple with their father's betrayal.
Hilderbrand has created an entertaining, poignant and immensely likable family in the Steeles and an irresistible setting in her depiction of St. John. Sure to inspire wanderlust and leave readers desperate for the next entry in this projected trilogy, Winter in Paradise is a perfect blend of beach read and cozy winter novel. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this wintry beach read, a family grapples with secrets revealed by the death of their patriarch.
The Taiga Syndrome
by Cristina Rivera Garza , trans. by Suzanne Jill Levine , Aviva Kana
In a year that may or may not be the present, but is certainly not too long ago, an unnamed man hires an unnamed woman to investigate the disappearance of his second wife. Except her disappearance may not be one at all, but rather a flight--from him, with another man, to the taiga, a boreal forest that might be in any number of cold, northern countries.
There's a lot we don't know in The Taiga Syndrome, but the lack of detail makes Cristina Rivera Garza's (The Iliac Crest) strange story all the more haunting. Allusions to classic fairy tales (the crumbs left behind Hansel and Gretel, and wolf of Little Red Riding Hood) underscore the dark nature. Garza doesn't stop with fairy tales, however; she inverts traditional tropes from any number of genres to great effect. The subject of the mystery is not the crime or even the victim, but the detective. The unreliable narrator reports on her own unreliability. She and her translator never believe they will succeed in their search, but start--and continue--anyway.
Garza's prose, translated from Spanish by Suzanne Jill Levine and Aviva Kana, is stark and strange and lyrical, told in a series of memories written down by the unnamed narrator. "I remember the passage of the light. The word: 'filter.' The word: 'wedge.' Above all, I remember that everything we see, we see through a crack. I remember, right now, how it saves us." It's unclear whether anyone is indeed saved by this in the end--but that's not the point, really. The Taiga Syndrome is not about answers, but about questions: Where is the line between the real and imagined, and does it even matter in the end? --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: In a haunting tale, an unnamed narrator searches for a missing woman amid the eerie setting of a boreal forest.
by Kathleen Kaufman
Kathleen Kaufman's atmospheric novel takes its mood from foggy moors and craggy highlands. In Hag, Scotland is home to long lines of women with mystical and powerful energies, all waiting for one who will be the culmination of their destiny.
Call them what you will: hags, goddesses, witches--certain women have been endowed with mysterious and sometimes frightening gifts for centuries. Kaufman builds on the Gaelic myth of Cailleach, a divine hag. Cailleach bears daughters with powerful gifts, and these daughters bring their daughters into the world, preserving their clan and powers. However, as generations pass, the daughters become removed from their origins and remember little of the purpose for their gifts. Alternating with lore is the contemporary story of Alice Kyles--a descendant many times removed from Cailleach--whose gift of seeing the future is sublimated even as her daughter, Coira, is learning to harness unimaginable forces.
Hag moves across time, showing how the past and present are paths "occurring on top of each other, none greater than the next, but different." Hags live among men but, as Alice's mother tells her, are "never entirely in this world; even now, we both have one foot on the other side of the mist." The culmination of this story of divine women is Coira's predestined path to the other side, bringing "a time of infinite peace to the world of man." Hag is a mystical story of strong feminine power, perfect for fans of The Power and Circe. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: Hag uses the Gaelic myth of Cailleach, a divine hag, to tell the contemporary story of a woman from this mystical lineage learning the source of her energies and powers.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Rachael Sparks
In 2041, antibiotic-resistant bacteria have wiped out millions across the globe. Microbiology student Rory and her meteorologist father, Byron, are among the lucky ones who've survived and are searching for a cure. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has its own team of scientists looking for a way to halt the progression of these deadly germs. There's reason to believe, though, that General Kessler, the man in charge of this elite group, is less interested in finding an antidote than in the money he can make if a cure is discovered. He believes an answer lies with Rory and the experiments her mother, another scientist, performed on her, which may have changed her DNA. When Rory and her father come under attack, she flees their farm with a mysterious stranger named Navy who appears suddenly, vowing to protect her and lead her to safety.
Debut novelist Rachael Sparks has taken a very plausible concept of a mass human die-off due to super-bacteria, thrown in some romance and espionage and written a fast-paced sci-fi thriller. Although the characters are a bit predictable, they are likable and creative in their endeavors. The concept of a high government official interested solely in monetary gain is credible, and the settings and romantic scenes are well-written, with rapidly shifting points of view. Resistant brings us into a world that may be approaching sooner than you might realize. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Germs have wiped out millions--does the antidote lie within one woman's DNA?
by Jasmine Guillory
Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date) opens her lively novel The Proposal at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. Nikole "Nik" Paterson--a young freelance journalist and not a baseball fan--is sharing a day out with Fisher, her "perfectly nice, incredibly boring" beau of five months. Nik gets the surprise of her life, though, when Fisher proposes marriage to her on the stadium JumboTron. With a crowd of 45,000 baseball fans eagerly awaiting her answer, Nikole renders a rejection. That's when "perfectly nice" Fisher turns perfectly insulting and nasty. But Nik is rescued when Carlos Ibarra and his sister Angela swoop in, pretending to be long-lost friends of Nik, and usher her away.
The fortuitousness of this meeting soon sparks a fling between Nik and Carlos, a conscientious, handsome young doctor. Carlos is very much involved with the demands of his self-appointed responsibility to everyone in his family, especially a beloved cousin during her difficult pregnancy, marred with medical complications. For Nik, the fallout from the JumboTron disaster resurrects insecurity and self-esteem issues from painful past relationships. These respective dilemmas pull Nik and Carlos in opposite directions, creating impediments to their deepening romance. They must confront what they truly want for their lives, their futures and their relationship.
Through snappy dialogue and short scenes, Guillory explores the traps, pitfalls and triumphs of contemporary young love in the age of social media and viral videos. And Carlos's dynamic extended family and Nik's wisecracking girlfriends enliven and fortify the appeal of the fast-paced story. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: After a public marriage proposal goes awry, an unlucky-in-love writer on the rebound grapples with her attraction to a handsome doctor in this snappy romance.
Biography & Memoir
There Will Be No Miracles Here
by Casey Gerald
Midnight passed on "the last night of this world," December 31, 1999, and Casey Gerald still sat in his grandfather's Texas church. He felt too young to die, but the Rapture's failure left Casey to fight his way in a world unfit to embrace him. There Will Be No Miracles Here is Gerald's intimate memoir of trying to find a space to call home as a gay black man in America.
Gerald yearned to break free from his legacy. His grandfather was a popular pastor, his father a legendary athlete whose gridiron sacrifices cost him his family and brought him a prison sentence. Gerald's mother came and went until he found it easier to conclude she was dead. Aided by his grandmother and sister, Gerald managed to avoid the institutionalized cracks that threaten to swallow boys like him and wound up playing in a Yale football championship game and interviewing as a Rhodes Scholar finalist in a two-day span. Still, he struggled to find himself.
In this conversational, nuanced, political, meandering yet pointed memoir, Gerald, co-founder and CEO of MBAs Across America, reflects on the conflicts of becoming part of a system that uses "salvation stories" like his to perpetuate itself. Bitingly humorous yet brimming with pain, Gerald's book lays bare his yearning to be "a normal person" when, in reality, "the way we were taught to be men, to be human beings even, was a dead end." Knowing the "folks in charge" weren't looking out for him, he turned "at last, and in desperation, to books." As books helped save him, so may his save others. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: The co-founder and CEO of MBAs Across America revisits his difficult upbringing in Texas and recounts how he found a space to call home as a gay black man in the U.S.
Current Events & Issues
Footprints in the Dust: Nursing, Survival, Compassion, and Hope with Refugees Around the World
by Roberta Gately
In her powerful memoir, nurse and humanitarian aid worker Roberta Gately (Lipstick in Afghanistan) explains "the refugees are often friends, people I've come to know and love... like precious gems, I carry their names and memories tucked safely into my heart." Footprints in the Dust shares Gately's cherished experiences in a world that is apprehensive and unsure about the millions of individuals displaced by war and violence. Through her words she illustrates the humanity of a sea of nameless individuals "who fight against the odds to live simple lives of dignity and grace."
Gately knew little about Afghanistan when she volunteered for her first humanitarian effort in 1986. But television images of starving children fleeing their homes during the Soviet invasion were all the motivation she needed to sign up and fly to a foreign land to provide health care in a refugee camp. Her first trip was only a couple of weeks, but it was long enough to intrigue her. She returned to the United States determined to save money for her next experience. This turned into the regular rhythm of her life: saving money to help save lives. Gately's dogged determination resulted in placements in Kenya, the Balkans, Iraq and Darfur. Footprints in the Dust skillfully highlights both the horrors and the joys she encountered.
Compassionate, insightful and honest, Gately's inspiring story is a timely reminder of the bonds we share, those that make us human and far more alike than different. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: A nurse and humanitarian aid worker passionately recounts her inspiring experiences in refugee camps around the world.
The Tales Teeth Tell: Development, Evolution, Behavior
by Tanya M. Smith
As the first in her family to attend college, Tanya Smith went to SUNY Geneseo to study biology in hopes of following the paths of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, observing African mountain gorillas in the wild. Instead, she became fascinated by microscopy and the human history it revealed when fossilized teeth were imaged. The Tales Teeth Tell is a first-person account of her work as an associate professor at Harvard and at the Australian Research Centre for Human Evolution at Griffin University in Brisbane. She offers a fascinating history of dental paleoanthropology and the role of teeth in human evolution. As she notes: "Not to knock rings in trees... but there is far more to discover inside our own mouths."
Filled with illustrations, charts, graphs and photographs, Smith's first book could easily have turned into one of those dry academic research papers that only other researchers read. But she is having none of that. The Tales Teeth Tell is an accessible, personal, often funny and occasionally controversial look into the murk of human evolution. Like Hope Jahren's recent highly lauded memoir Lab Girl, it at times drifts off-piste into cultural folklore, such as the "tooth fairy," "long in the tooth" and "gain a child, lose a tooth." She wanders into discussions of primates' use of toothpicks, tooth fossil evidence about the real "paleo" diet, the background of early tooth decoration with jewel implants and blackening, and the nascent experimentation in stem cell bioengineering of replacement teeth.
The Tales Teeth Tell is chock full of fascinating science, but it's also the personal story of a woman of science immersed in her work. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: In her fascinating first book, research biology anthropologist Tanya Smith recasts the history of evolutionary science through the examination of teeth.
Laika's Window: The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog
by Kurt Caswell
On November 3, 1957, a small dog named Laika was launched into space as part of the Soviet Union's Sputnik 2 mission. This 13-pound mutt, collected from the streets of Moscow and given rigorous training, became the first living thing to orbit the Earth. Laika was also doomed to die. In the rush to mark 40 years since the Bolshevik Revolution, and under pressure from the competing United States, Soviet scientists did not have time to develop a method of bringing Laika back. She died in space, having beaten Yuri Gagarin to his famous milestone. Despite the technical achievements displayed by the launch of Sputnik 2, world opinion turned against the Soviets for sending a dog to her death.
In Laika's Window: The Legacy of a Soviet Space Dog, professor Kurt Caswell (In the Sun's House; Getting to Grey Owl) takes a nuanced, philosophical look at Laika's life and death. Moreover, he considers the Soviet space dog program in the context of animal aerospace tests around the world (including U.S. experiments, which involved the use of electric shocks to make space-borne chimps pull levers). For all the understandable ethical problems with Laika's fate, Caswell finds great meaning in her sacrifice as a landmark in space exploration and in human-dog relations. Like the domestication of canines so many thousands of years ago amid the move to agriculture, mankind's oldest friend joined our next giant leap of civilization. Laika's Window is a beautiful, humane examination of what many would consider an inhumane act. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: Laika's Window is a compassionate exploration of the first animal to orbit the Earth, a little dog named Laika, who was deliberately sent to her death.
Little Me: My Autobiography
by Matt Lucas
Matt Lucas, the BAFTA-award winning comedian, screenwriter and actor best known for the many characters he created on TV's Little Britain, has written a "sort-of autobiography." Rather than writing a straightforward chronological memoir, however, Lucas arranges his beguiling and heartfelt chapters by topic alphabetically. "I have no attention span left," he confesses; "I give up halfway through reading a text message." And so, for instance, he offers "B--Baldy": at age six, he lost all his hair due to alopecia. See also, "E--Eating": "I go through phases where I get myself together, lose a couple of stone, but I always seem to return to my solace, my pleasure, my pain--food." And in "G--Gay," he concludes this angst-filled section: "Even gay people probably found this chapter a bit over-gay."
Lucas's wit and warmth shine throughout Little Me. Readers will root for him during his career trajectory from stand-up to his comedic partnership with David Walliams, and solo success on TV's Doctor Who and in supporting roles in films like Bridesmaids and Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. He does keep some parts of his life private, like the suicide of his domestic partner, Kevin McGee ("the man I loved and lost, a kind, warm, beautiful being who didn't have the armour for this world"). But he deftly discusses his deep grief--"When Kevin died, half of me died with him"--and its aftereffects: "I downloaded Grindr and went on an empty sexual rampage that would have put Casanova to shame."
Matt Lucas's disarming, honest and charming memoir is sure to delight fans and create new ones. --Kevin Howell, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: British comedian Matt Lucas's witty and charming memoir isn't afraid to tackle his grief following his husband's suicide.
Children's & Young Adult
Blanca & Roja
by Anna-Marie McLemore
In Blanca & Roja, Mexican-American author Anna-Marie McLemore (The Weight of Feathers) tells a story that readers will, at first, likely interpret as fairy tale. All the elements are there: two sisters (one fair and gentle, one dark and fierce), a curse, handsome "princes." But McLemore takes the fairy-tale mold and reforms it to suit her own artistic needs.
Although the sisters, whose last name means "of the swans" in Spanish, have always known that one of them is destined to be turned into a swan, they are determined to fight this curse. As the legend goes, the swans will arrive soon after the younger of the two del Cisne girls turns 15. But, at an early age, sweet Blanca began feeding her fierce younger sister herbs and berries and white rose petals to sweeten her nature and confuse the swans. "If the swans can't tell us apart," she says, "they can't decide which of us to take." Roja's 15th birthday has come and gone, and the swan bevy has not shown up. However, a yearling bear and a baby swan have appeared. Are these creatures the nahuales their mother told them about, humans that can transform into animal forms? When the animals disappear and two missing local teens (one a boy, the other gender fluid) reappear, the possibility becomes closer to a certainty. Tension grows between the close sisters as they begin to question each other's actions and motives.
What sets McLemore's writing apart is the way her rich, beautifully ornamented language is shot through with a vein of proud feminism and the importance of owning one's identity. In the end, Blanca & Roja is about, as Blanca says, "giving up the stories we thought we already knew." --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Magical realism weaves through this story of two sisters fighting an ancient curse that will turn one of them into a swan.
What If It's Us
by Adam Silvera , Becky Albertalli
Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda) and Adam Silvera (They Both Die at the End) join literary forces to bring readers an offbeat, contemporary romance told from dual perspectives.
Sixteen-year-old Arthur is from Georgia, a "five-foot-six Jewish kid with ADHD and the rage of a tornado." He's living in New York City for the summer while he interns at his mom's law firm. Arthur, a believer in "love at first sight... [f]ate, the universe, all of it," feels ready for whatever "nudges" the universe might have in store for him. Ben is a video game-playing aspiring fantasy writer with big dreams and even bigger expectations. Also in New York City, he is stuck in summer school with his cheating ex-boyfriend. His thoughts about the universe? He's been burned one too many times.
Arthur and Ben meet-cute in a post office where Ben is trying to mail a box of "leftovers from [his] breakup." When the price to mail the box is outrageously large, the two get into a conversation about the universe's plans--for that box and maybe for them, too. But a flash-mob proposal prevents them from getting any further than, "You think the universe wanted us to meet?" With only a crumpled shipping label for contact info, Arthur leaves a real-life missed-connection post on a bulletin board in a coffee shop.
What follows is an imperfect, epic romance between two flawed teens ready to challenge the universe. A seamless collaboration, What If It's Us is certain to be well-received by fans of both Albertalli and Silvera. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: This summer romance in New York City follows two boys as they navigate a relationship with an expiration date.