From the Shelf
April Is the Cruelest Month
One of my favorite scenes in Katy Simpson Smith's marvelous third novel, The Everlasting (reviewed below, Harper, $28.99), has the ninth-century monk Felix introducing his young companion Mino to the monastery brethren. Since Felix is the resident crypt-keeper, the friends he is introducing Mino to are dead, decaying until their bones may be placed lovingly and more compactly in a deeper chamber. "Come," Felix implores, "take his hand and tell him your name.... Do you feel his warmth?" An understandably nervous Mino replies that no, he doesn't. "That's because his hand is really in Christ's," Felix explains, "and this is only a sheet of canvas."
A global pandemic may seem like the worst--or most perfect--time to consider death as an extraordinarily dynamic canvas for literary contemplation. Alistair McCartney's narrator in the ruminative work of fiction The Disintegrations (Univ. of Wisconsin, $17.95) is explicitly obsessed with the subject, and I think he might enjoy Felix's company more than Mino does. "I like the way they handle it on Mount Athos, the all-male monastery on an isolated rocky island in Greece," McCartney writes. He then details their process of allowing the dead to decay before washing their skeletons in red wine and meticulously placing them in the ossuary.
Felix sees the magnificence without losing sight of death's gravity; McCartney sifts through its more granular aspects. Neither loses sight of its peculiar humors. This improbable source of comedy manifests in Jessica Anthony's oddball satire Enter the Aardvark (Little, Brown, $26), when a stuffed aardvark lands on the doorstep of a closeted Republican congressman--a curious memento mori from his now-deceased lover. Inherited taxidermy is also the driving force of Kristen Arnett's Lambda finalist Mostly Dead Things (Tin House, $15.95, available in paperback next week), a morbidly funny novel about a woman who takes on her father's trade after his death by suicide, and the family falling apart around her.
If the only certainties in life are death and taxes, these four books demonstrate that one can still be enjoyable to read about.
In this Issue...
by Rachel Harrison
Four longtime friends try to survive a frightful weekend at an isolated hotel after the mysterious disappearance and return of one of them.
by Monica Hesse
The author of Girl in the Blue Coat delivers another heartbreaking historical YA novel, this one set in the aftermath of World War II.
by Katy Simpson Smith
A loosely connected quartet spanning millennia explore tensions both corporeal and spiritual while a passionate Satan bears witness to the thrall of time.
Review by Subjects:
From Pages Bookshop
08/11/2020 - 6:00PMThis month we are reading "Orphan Train" by novelist Christina Baker. Whether you have just started the book or finished it months ago, all are welcome to come and join our book club, we would love to have you! This book club is a virtual book club. You can join it here or copying the link into your browser: https://meet.google.com/qts-qdtc-ewz This book club is free and open to the public. Purchase your copy at Pages and get 15% off. This book club meets the first Tuesday of every...
08/13/2020 - 6:30PMPages Bookshop and WDET are excited to present a live conversation with author and radio broadcast host John Moe to discuss his new book "The Hilarious World of Depression." John will be joined in conversation by the host of WDET's CultureShift, Amanda LeClaire. All ticket sales from this event will go towards WDET's fundraiser to raise 2 million dollars before September 30th. To learn more about their fundraiser please visit WDET's website. Tickets are available at different amounts in...
08/18/2020 - 6:30PMLooking for something to help you get through this long, hot summer? We have just the thing! Join us for an evening of poetry with Detroit writer and poet, Nandi Comer. Nandi's latest book of poetry, Tapping Out came out this past May and since we couldn't celebrate with her at Pages, we've decided to take the celebratory reading to a virtual realm. You can register for this event here. You can buy Nandi's book of poetry here. About Taping Out The relentless motions...
08/25/2020 - 6:30PMWe are beyond excited to virtually host poet francine j harris and debut novelist, Raven Leilani for their newest books "Here is the Sweet Hand and "Luster." Both francine and Raven's books come out on August 4, 2020! We cannot wait to hear what these incredible writers have to say to each other and learn more about their books and what it's like to have them come out now. This conversation with be hosted on Crowdcast. You can register for the event here. You can...
OED Pandemic Updates
The Oxford English Dictionary "has made an extraordinary update to include Covid-19 and words related to the pandemic," the Guardian reported.
"Noted philosophers reconsider their key insights after a month of social distancing." (via McSweeney's)
In these days of home schooling, a free Shakespeare coloring book might be a simple way to engage kids with the Bard, Open Culture suggested.
Mental Floss remembered "when Ernest Hemingway spent the summer of 1926 quarantined with his wife and his mistress."
Take an interactive personality quiz that "will determine your similarity with a long list of fictional characters."
"This 8th-century Bavarian monastery is home to an exquisite Baroque-era library," Atlas Obscura noted.
The Writer's Life
Reading with... Ginger Gaffney
|photo: Kiva Duckworth-Moulton|
Ginger Gaffney is the author of the memoir Half Broke (Norton), about her time working with the troubled horses and residents at a prison re-sentencing facility in New Mexico. A top-ranked horse trainer and teacher, Gaffney writes about addiction, incarceration and the transformative effects horses offer to those who are fighting for a sober life outside the prison system.
On your nightstand now:
Travel Light, Move Fast by Alexandra Fuller. I read everything Fuller writes. The way she brings people, animals and the scene and scent of Africa to the page is a constant lesson in craft for me as a writer.
Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore is a debut novel set in the west Texas town of Odessa, 1970. Wetmore's characters are the come-to-life, real in-the-dirt characters I love. Wetmore writes about working-class people, race and ranching in such raw, living language. She makes me forget I'm reading fiction.
Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich. I always have a half dozen poetry books on my nightstand, my desk, the living room table. I'm reading Rich again in this #metoo time. In this he, she, they time. She reminds me that we have been here before.
Favorite book when you were a child:
Truth is, I didn't read much. And what I did read, because I know I had to read in school, I don't have any recollection of. I'm pretty sure it is a byproduct of the extreme introversion of my childhood. I didn't speak until I was six or seven. Language was not something I trusted, and I think books were not interesting to me because of that. As my childhood goes, I don't have much memory of it. The one memory I have is an assignment in seventh or eighth grade. Our teacher wanted us to give a report on a book we had read. We each had to stand up and read our report. When it was my turn, I stood up and read the words from Gil Scott-Heron's song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." I'm white, and I lived in a very white town. I don't remember where I heard Gil Scott-Heron perform that early spoken-word song, but the words rang true. I could believe in them.
Your top five authors:
Annie Dillard gave me a spiritual path to memoir. Alice Walker woke me up. Zora Neale Hurston showed me how writing is all about living. Leslie Marmon Silko showed me that same thing in a very different way. Marie Howe and Jane Kenyon give me words to breathe on tough days. Whoops, that is six!
Book you faked reading:
In my freshman English comp class, a nice, crusty old white professor assigned Rudyard Kipling's poem "The White Man's Burden." We were to "do some research" and write a short essay about the poem. To be fair, our professor was trying to push and prod us a bit, given he was a devout Quaker and peace activist himself. I did not even fake read it. I took an "F."
Books you're an evangelist for:
We the Animals by Justin Torres. I love how sparse, lyrical and honest Justin's writing is. This book sits in a category all its own.
Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko. The best book about place, and time, and chance, and change. Should be, and hope it is, a standard for all English majors.
Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward. If we want to talk about being "woke," then we should read this book.
Book you bought for the cover:
I bought Pam Houston's new book Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country because I love Pam and I love her writing. But, also, I love her dog William, who is on the cover!
Book you hid from your parents:
Intercourse by Andrea Dworkin.
Books that changed your life:
The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Black Elk Speaks by John G. Neihardt. All three of these books I read during my first few years in college. These are the books which helped me believe in language--after a long, silent childhood.
Favorite line from a book:
"I like to believe that horses were fashioned moments before us, under us. I like to believe that they sprang from the earth snorting, lifting us loose from the imagination of God." --from Where Rivers Change Direction by Mark Spragg. Mark writes about horses the way I feel them, and that's a rare find for me.
Five books you'll never part with:
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
What the Living Do by Marie Howe
Power by Linda Hogan
Two or Three Things I Know for Sure by Dorothy Allison
Your Native Land, Your Life by Adrienne Rich
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I would love to read this book again, without knowing anything about writing--but with all the knowledge my body knows from the many years of living.
Writer you would most like to write a song:
Songwriter you would most like to write a book:
Mary Chapin Carpenter.
by Katy Simpson Smith
Katy Simpson Smith (Free Men) has accomplished a spectacular feat in harnessing the emotional thrust of a sweeping epic within the space of the average novel. The Everlasting spans two millennia with such strong assurance, the narrative never falters, even when it ascends to the eternal plane.
Four mere mortals navigate the uncertainties of their eras, all connected by the church of Saint Prisca in Rome. Tom is a modern biologist studying timeless protozoa in a nearby pond as he wrestles with a recent M.S. diagnosis. In the 16th century, Giulia is a powerful Medici, courted for her wealth as a potential patron for the monastery there, although her African heritage remains secret. Felix is the ambivalent crypt keeper for the site's ninth-century monks, desperate to maintain their relevance in the age of miraculous relics. Their faith is forever entwined with that of young Prisca in 165 AD, a Christian martyr who once pulled an eel from the pond with a fishhook.
Their arcs are embellished by the interjections of one who peers through time, sympathetically witnessing their predicaments. Smith lends Satan a marvelously epicurean voice. "I'd eat you with my eyes until your flesh was a pile of crumbs. God didn't make the body.... Take my hand, and let me show you the pieces I shaped."
The Everlasting crescendos magnificently, like Rome itself, erecting holy monuments upon earlier and earlier iterations, "until the city climbs so high," Satan observes, "God will have to ask Himself: Is this a shrine to me, or another Babel?" This novel is a wonder, building sensual prose toward a stirring inevitability. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A loosely connected quartet spanning millennia explore tensions both corporeal and spiritual while a passionate Satan bears witness to the thrall of time.
Code Name Hélène
by Ariel Lawhon
Novelist Ariel Lawhon (Flight of Dreams) features bold female characters who have a knack for bending the truth. In her fourth novel, Code Name Hélène, Lawhon turns her attention to Nancy Grace Augusta Wake, a scrappy Australian runaway who became a nurse and a journalist (under her own name) and then a spy with Britain's SOE (under several aliases) during World War II. Moving between Nancy's exploits in France toward the end of the war and several other periods in her life, Lawhon spins a captivating narrative of a woman who would stop at nothing to defeat the Nazis and who was as comfortable handling a revolver as her signature red Elizabeth Arden lipstick.
Lawhon's narrative begins in the winter of 1944, as Nancy (hungover but determined) jumps out of a plane into occupied France. She sweeps readers into Nancy's wry, fast-talking, first-person account of her adventures, taking readers deep into the French countryside with Nancy and her compatriots, and then flipping back to Paris, where Nancy meets her future husband, Henri Fiocca. Their love will sustain them throughout the war, as both (especially Nancy) face increasing hardship and danger.
While Nancy cuts a vivid, stylish figure through the novel's pages, her supporting cast is also compelling. Their feats of daring and gritty survival tactics are drawn largely from accounts by Nancy and others, but Lawhon's elegant plotting makes them shine. Bold, confident, dryly witty and driven by a strong sense of justice, Nancy (no matter which name she uses) is a fascinating character. Lawhon's gripping narrative gives "Hélène" her due. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Ariel Lawhon's elegant, powerful fourth novel tells the gripping story of socialite spy Nancy Wake during World War II.
Mystery & Thriller
by Rachel Harrison
Rachel Harrison's horror thriller debut, The Return, is a gas. Elise, Molly and Mae are stunned when their friendship fourth, Julie, quickly marries a virtual stranger. It would have been the shock of their lives if Julie hadn't then gone missing. Exactly two years later, Julie shows up, unharmed but with no memory of what happened.
Mae sets up a reunion at the Red Honey Inn (a "pastel Frankenstein's monster" straight from "some warped fairy tale"), isolated in the Catskills. Prepared for Julie to be different, they're stunned when the strict vegetarian shows an unnerving love of meat. She's also understandably thin, but her skin has a bluish tint and "pools like melted wax."
Things head magnificently and creepily downhill. The hotel begins to smell like rot, footstep sounds abound and the televisions emit moaning sounds. Julie's condition worsens--her meat consumption becomes ravenous and she spits out teeth without care--and relationships start to fracture. With no idea what sinister corridor Harrison is heading down, there's no hope or desire but to hang on and read through dread-squinted eyes.
Harrison has a degree in writing for film and television and has worked on game shows and in publishing and finance. The Return is as thematically varied, but all the pieces fit into a terrific whole that's suspenseful to the end. "Whatever's happening now... it's going to catch up to us. It's going to grab us by the ankles and bring us down, not let us go. It's going to change us." --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Four longtime friends try to survive a frightful weekend at an isolated hotel after the mysterious disappearance and return of one of them.
The Bramble and the Rose
by Tom Bouman
Henry Farrell's life is teetering toward a happy new start when a headless corpse is found off Red Pine Road. Although a bear has feasted on the body, it's clear the missing head was purposefully detached by something other than wildlife. In The Bramble and the Rose, third in Tom Bouman's Edgar-winning rural noir series (Dry Bones in the Valley), Henry is caught up in multiple homicides on the eve of his wedding.
Sole employee of the Wild Thyme, Pa., police department, Henry helps with the necessary tracking of the bear while also questioning neighboring landowners, trying to identify the body, investigating a string of convenience store robberies and coping with the stress of his and Julie's family in town for their impending nuptials. When someone from his past reappears with supposed information about the murdered man, and when his nephew goes missing, Henry's personal life is pulled into the mix, forcing him to leave his home and his family to clear his name of a second killing.
Bouman's writing is fluid, balanced and infused with a sense of place that makes Henry's mission all the more daunting. Bouman has a talent for "small town" writing--the secrets, character, quirky denizens and demanding landscape of Wild Thyme are seamless parts of the story but don't overtake it. The many intertwining plot arcs, both personal and professional, are compelling and always under control. Even with Henry on the run and loose ends fraying, Bouman ties the knots on another terrific mystery. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: Widowed loner and small-town cop Henry Farrell is challenged by several violent crimes and something from his past just before taking the hopeful step into his second marriage.
Hid from Our Eyes
by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Summertime in Millers Kill, N.Y.: An unidentified young woman is found dead in the middle of a rural road, barefoot, wearing a party dress, without a mark on her. When police chief Russ Van Alstyne arrives on the scene, he's taken back to 1972, when he was the prime suspect in a case that eerily resembled this one. In their ninth adventure, Hid from Our Eyes, Russ and his wife, Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson, struggle to balance the murder cases past and present with new parenthood, a pending town referendum on dissolving the police force, and other personal and professional challenges.
Julia Spencer-Fleming (Through the Evil Days) brings back her series' ensemble cast of smart, complex, compassionate characters, including Clare's ministry colleagues and Russ's fellow cops. The story centers on Russ and Clare, but past police chief Jack Liddle and current officer Hadley Knox (among others) play vital supporting roles. As Clare juggles vestry meetings, a new church intern and her fears about failing as a mother, Russ is frustrated by the lack of clues in his case and worried about his department's future. The eventual solution to the case reaches back to 1952, when a third young woman was found dead, and the repercussions of both the investigation and the referendum results will reverberate well into the future. Satisfyingly twisty, with a plot that tests both Russ and Clare's detective skills and their characters, Hid from Our Eyes is a worthy entry in Spencer-Fleming's stellar series. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A compelling entry in the Van Alstyne and Fergusson mystery series links the deaths of three women across the decades.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Alex Irvine
Anthropocene Rag is a strange and wonderful book. In the late 21st century, the United States is awash in trillions of feral nanomachines called the Boom. These robots remake the world at whim, coldly indifferent to human life. Many are obsessed with American history and folktales. The Donner Party tragedy replays on a loop in the Sierra Nevadas, dinosaurs roam the Louisiana bayou, Mark Twain plies the Mississippi on a steamboat, Henry Ford oversees bustling factories in ruined Detroit--all rendered by tiny machines. Any humans caught in the way are liable to have their atoms "borrowed." Between these capricious reconstructions and general environmental disaster, the United States has fragmented into disparate enclaves separated by anarchic countryside. And somewhere in the Rockies, the scientist responsible for the Boom holds dominion over a semi-mythical place called Monument City.
Prospector Ed, an AI emerging into sentience, travels the country at the behest of a more powerful intelligence in Monument City. Ed delivers Golden Tickets to six lucky recipients, each invited to Monument City for reasons unknown. Anthropocene Rag by Alex Irvine (A Scattering of Jades) follows Prospector Ed's Willy Wonka-ish distribution of the these Golden Tickets and their bearers' perilous trips across an ever-shifting country: a scavenger in flooded Miami steals his twin brother's ticket, a pious New York mailman living next to a talking playground makes one of Prospector Ed's deliveries himself, a shapeshifting actress leaves a troupe run by a buffalo, and a purchased orphan escapes certain doom. The intertwining stories of this eclectic cast are a hallucinatory voyage into America's fraught past and damaged future. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: In a future America teeming with dangerous nanomachines, six people are invited to visit a semi-mythical city.
Can't Hurry Love
by Melinda Curtis
Prolific romance writer Melinda Curtis (the Mountain Monroes and the Kissing Test series) begins a lively rom-com series filled with a large cast of eccentric characters, zany humor and a slew of clever plot twists.
In Can't Hurry Love, Lola Williams is a 29-year-old who gave up a career in New York City doing hair and make-up for high-powered Broadway celebrities in order to marry Randy and relocate to his small hometown of Sunshine, Colo. After only a year of marriage, Randy is killed in a car accident. Lola struggles as a young widow in a town where everyone knows everyone else's business--except for Lola, who, when she goes through her husband's belongings, discovers Randy was keeping secrets. Was he cheating on her?
Upset and angered by a string of unsettling revelations, she sets some of Randy's things aflame in a bonfire that draws the Sunshine Valley Widows Club and also Sheriff Drew Taylor, a divorcé and devoted father who's sworn off women. Sheriff Taylor and the group of local widows come to the emotionally wounded Lola's rescue: women of all ages, personalities and quirks; do-good fundraisers, gossips and self-professed matchmakers with tales to tell. Lola then becomes determined to solve the mystery of Randy. While on her quest, she starts to build a new life, suddenly finding herself enmeshed in the fabric of busybody small-town living, while also opening her heart again to love, however reluctantly.
Discover: A charming, cheerful romance about a young widow who discovers secrets about her late husband as she carves out a new life.
Biography & Memoir
I Want You to Know We're Still Here: A Post-Holocaust Memoir
by Esther Safran Foer
On her mantel, Esther Safran Foer keeps a collection of glass jars filled with dirt and pieces of rubble. These artifacts serve as a tangible reminder of her ancestors' lives in their remote Ukrainian shtetls of Kolki and Trochenbrod, before they were all killed during the Holocaust. Esther's parents, Ethel and Louis Safran, were the only survivors from their large extended families.
Safran Foer's poignant memoir I Want You to Know We're Still Here chronicles her quest to collect the fragments of her personal history and learn the reasons for her parents' silences about their past: "I had grown up surrounded by ghosts--haunted by relatives that were rarely talked about and by the stories that no one would share." When the Germans invaded Kolki in July 1941, 21-year old Ethel Bronstein grabbed her coat and fled without saying goodbye to her mother--a split-second, regrettable decision that she would carry throughout her life.
Esther was named for her two murdered grandmothers, and her earliest memories are of being in a displaced persons camp in Germany with her parents. The family emigrated to Washington, D.C., in 1949. But how her father survived the war would remain a mystery until Esther's mother reveals that a Trochenbrod family had hidden him, and that he once had another wife and daughter.
Through Safran Foer's photographs, scant recollections, connections with experts from the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and her travels to Kolki and Trochenbrod, I Want You to Know We're Still Here explores how to remember loved ones when all that is known is a name--and sometimes not even that. --Melissa Firman, writer at melissafirman.com
Discover: In this heartfelt and compelling post-Holocaust memoir, a woman dedicates herself to learning the truth of the stories that framed her family's lifelong silences and traumas.
House Lessons: Renovating a Life
by Erica Bauermeister
When novelist Erica Bauermeister and her family agreed to search for a new house, one that would bring them closer, they didn't picture the dilapidated Victorian on the Olympic Peninsula, northwest of their Seattle home. But Bauermeister, an acknowledged "champion of underdogs," and her husband were smitten. "It's not your fault," she whispered to the trash-filled house after their first visit revealed its myriad flaws. "We'll take care of you."
House Lessons: Renovating a Life is a family memoir, a primer of architectural theories and a study of how people relate to their spaces. Fans of her four novels know Bauermeister has a keen appreciation of the senses--savoring food in The School of Essential Ingredients, the art of fragrance in The Scent Keeper. She demonstrates that same respect for the renovation. "I wanted to understand our house and what it had to teach me." She chronicles the monumental tasks with humor: her young son's glee at handling a power tool, her teenage daughter's sledgehammer skills, and battling mold, various creatures and tenacious Pacific Northwest ivy.
"The big asbestos-covered marriage counselor" could satisfy Bauermeister's need to solidify her marriage, she thinks, and the renovation does confirm their complementary strengths and support, as she balances family life in Seattle with her role as "project manager" a drive and a ferry ride away.
As adeptly as she describes in layperson's language the physics of building a new foundation under a house suspended in air, Bauermeister condenses her family's two-decade journey from their discovery of the neglected, mossy house to the last sentence of this ultimately joyous memoir. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y.
Discover: A novelist and her family renovate a dilapidated Victorian on the Northwest coast, reviving the house and confirming their love and strengths.
Psychology & Self-Help
Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear
by Eva Holland
Eva Holland's debut, Nerve: Adventures in the Science of Fear, begins with a dramatic scene: the author paralyzed near the end of an ice climbing outing, preferring to remain in place and freeze to death than to take the one step that would bring her to safety. It's a vivid opening to a fascinating book, one that combines self-help with self-examination as Holland investigates the subject of fear in the hope of overcoming her own.
Nerve traces Holland's attempt to understand and wrestle with three broad categories of fears: phobias (in her case, a fear of falling from an unprotected height), post-traumatic stress (the byproduct of four automobile accidents) and fear of death and loss, triggered by the sudden death of her 60-year-old mother following a stroke in July 2015.
Holland leads readers on some interesting excursions into current research on the sources of fear, along with some of its antidotes. But Holland's real goal is to bring science to bear in an effort to overcome her own terrors. A correspondent for Outside magazine, she lives in the town of Whitehorse, in Canada's Yukon Territory. She pursues an active life outdoors, where her acrophobia was often crippling. Much of the enjoyment of Nerve involves rooting for Holland as she attempts to wrestle her own fears to the ground, and to report on the outcome of that effort would spoil that pleasure. It's enough to say that by the end of this account, her relationship to fear has changed, something that may well happen to the readers of her engaging book. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer
Discover: A journalist investigates the science of fear in an effort to master her own.
Children's & Young Adult
They Went Left
by Monica Hesse
In They Went Left, Monica Hesse explores the psychological, physical and emotional trauma that follows 18-year-old Zofia Lederman, a Holocaust survivor. Zofia's family died the day they were rounded up to be transported to the camps. Only Zofia and her younger brother, Abek, made it to the trains. After the war, Zofia makes her way back to Poland, where she and Abek had promised to reunite if they survived. Finding that her home has completely changed--except for the still rampant anti-Semitism of her neighbors--she sets out for Germany with only a shred of a rumor to help her find 12-year-old Abek. Zofia is plagued with memories and dreams from the last few tortured years, often unable to discern truth from fiction. She finally arrives at a refugee camp where she hopes to find more clues about Abek's whereabouts. There, she begins to fall in love with a brusque and handsome young man with secrets of his own.
Hesse (Girl in the Blue Coat) weaves an enthralling tale of survival, focusing on bonds forged in times of tragedy and loss. The novel's driving force is the unflinching love Zofia has for her brother; she is compelled by the memory of the family story she sewed into Abek's jacket's label ("Abek to Zofia... A to Z"). Immersive writing and perfect pacing make They Went Left compulsively readable, while each reveal keeps readers guessing until the stunning (and heartrending) conclusion. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library
Discover: The author of Girl in the Blue Coat delivers another heartbreaking historical YA novel, this one set in the aftermath of World War II.
In My Anaana's Amautik
by Nadia Sammurtok , illust. by Lenny Lishchenko
Nadia Sammurtok and Lenny Lishchenko swaddle their readers in the cozy ambience of an amautik in this gentle, comforting picture book. The infant narrator uses understandable comparisons to detail the pouch in the back of their mother's parka, inviting the audience to share in their contentment as pre-readers learn about this intimate bond-building element of child rearing in Inuit culture.
Warm and secure, soft and calm, the amautik provides an inviting transition between womb and independence. The baby explains, "The protection of the hood around me is like my own tiny iglu. I love peeking out from inside my anaana's amautik." The child-carrier gives its occupant a view of the world from the comforting safety of parental closeness. Inuit educator and writer Summurtok's descriptions are vivid and charming, the amautik presented so invitingly that young readers may request one of their own. Accompanied by Lenny Lishchenko's bold, bright illustrations, the story will wash its audience in calm and peacefulness. The strong texture and line of the rising sun, a page full of cottongrass or a spread depicting a rolling wave spark the senses and depict "the traditional Inuit lifestyle" with a welcoming intimacy. And the overall playfulness of the art seems designed to tickle the imagination of young and old alike.
In My Anaana's Amautik is a sweet peek into the Inuit baby pouch, complete with a small glossary defining the Inuktitut words used. Adults and the little ones to whom they are reading can bond within the glow of this cultural gem as it hugs them in an atmosphere of love. --Jen Forbus, freelancer
Discover: An Inuit baby explains all the wonderful characteristics of the pouch on anaana's back.
by Frances Hardinge
Frances Hardinge is a seemingly inexhaustible source of bizarre, creepy and utterly original books for young adults. In Deeplight, she gives a nod to Lovecraftian horror in her own brilliant and eccentric way.
The gods ruled the Myriad, a 1,000-mile-long chain of islands, for centuries: "Now and then, one would rise from the Undersea" and devour schooners, smash ports or destroy entire islands. The Glass Cardinal, with his "translucent tendrils"; the Red Forlorn, like a "cloud of blood in the water"; Dolor, who kicked "with dozens of human legs"--all unknowable and terrifying. "Then, without warning, the gods turned on each other." It has been 30 years since the Cataclysm, and 14-year-old orphan Hark ekes out a living through vaguely criminal means. A born storyteller, Hark grifts the occasional mainland tourist and sells counterfeit godware (magical pieces of the dead gods); when coerced, he helps best friend Jelt complete the more expressly criminal jobs Jelt prefers. When a smuggler enlists their services, Hark is caught and auctioned off as cheap labor. Surprisingly, a doctor of "practical theophysics" buys him and brings him to live among the old priests "whose minds broke when the gods died." But the doctor has a secret, Jelt is furious Hark left him, and the priests are hiding something that could destroy all of the Myriad.
Hardinge (The Lie Tree; A Face Like Glass) is matchless, and the enchanting, chilling and wholly uncommon novels she writes are truly remarkable. While Deeplight takes a moment to ramp up, once Hark's adventure begins, it doesn't slow. Hardinge's characters are sympathetic and genuine, and her terrors massive and unknowable, creating exactly the kind of reading experience her fans expect: extraordinary. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Fourteen-year-old Hark learns deadly secrets and gains an unexpected enemy after he's caught doing an illegal favor for a friend.