From the Shelf
Further Reading: Understanding Social Justice Through Criminal Justice
Ta Nehisi-Coates wrote Between the World and Me as a powerful letter to his son, reflecting on what it means to live--and to face dying--as a black man in the United States today. Coates acknowledges and addresses the tribulations without shying away from hard truths. "I would have you be a conscious citizen of this terrible and beautiful world," he writes--and acknowledging the truths in this National Book Award winner is an important first step in that consciousness.
Recognizing the many flaws in the country's criminal justice system is crucial to continuing on the path to conscious citizenship. Michelle Alexander's 2010 book The New Jim Crow addresses the systemic racism of the United States justice system, drawing parallels between the Jim Crow laws of the late 19th and early 20th century and the War on Drugs that grew up after the collapse of Jim Crow in the 1960s. Importantly, Alexander's study addresses not only the causes of incarceration, but the lasting impact of a criminal record on an individual's life. Those interested in a deeper dive into the history of the War on Drugs--and the ways it has been played out not just in the U.S., but across the globe--will be interested in Johann Hari's Chasing the Scream.
Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer working with inmates on death row, writes about his experience in Just Mercy, and about the many ways it has prompted him to be merciful in his judgment of others. This mercy, he argues, is the only way to elevate the broken among us--and to elevate ourselves, as well: "Simply punishing the broken--walking away from them or hiding them from sight--only ensures that they remain broken and we do, too. There is no wholeness outside of our reciprocal humanity." --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
In this Issue...
by Michael Koryta
Mark Novak's single-minded drive to find justice for his murdered wife leads him straight into the deadly plot of a ruthless mastermind.
by Jason Miller
When "Slim: Redneck Investigations" takes a missing dog case, all hell breaks loose in Jason Miller's funny country noir crime novel.
by Tom Avery
Twin brothers living near the English Channel in the 1980s find a tiny fish-man in the sea and take him home.
Review by Subjects:
Book Lovers Go Back to School
It's that time of year: Bustle explored "11 things all book-lovers do when going back to school," and shared "14 poems about fall to get you ready to say goodbye to summer."
"Show us your John Green-inspired tattoos" was the invitation extended to the Buzzfeed Community.
"The most popular book the year you were born" was shared by Good Housekeeping magazine.
"To the Interstate and beyond: Geek vacations for sci-fi and fantasy-loving families" were showcased by Quirk Books.
"National park signs in Michigan now sport poetry," the Detroit Free Press reported.
Regarding her book's success, she once said: "The 1960s will be remembered for Andy Warhol, The Beatles and Me!" Flavorwire collected "15 things you didn't know about Jacqueline Susann's Valley of the Dolls."
The Writer's Life
Andrew Gross: Finding Inspiration in Personal History
Andrew Gross has written many bestselling thrillers, five of them with James Patterson, and his novels have been translated into more than 25 languages.
The One Man (published on August 23 by Minotaur Books), is about an intelligence officer deployed by the U.S. government to break into Auschwitz to extricate Alfred Mendl, a scientist with knowledge that could help the Allies win World War II. The reason Nathan Blum is chosen for this impossible mission: he's a Jew who escaped Poland as a boy and can convincingly go undercover as an Auschwitz prisoner.
Nathan Blum was based on your father-in-law, who passed away in February. What was his reaction to your book?
My father-in-law came to this country in April of 1939, six months before the start of the war. He never knew the fates that befell any of his family. He was the only one in his extended family to survive. His entire life, in spite of some success, he carried a mantle of sadness over him. No one ever knew fully why.
He never talked about his family or his upbringing back in Poland. My wife and her brother knew nothing more than the names of their grandparents. In 1941, when America entered the war, he enlisted in the army of his new country, and because of his facility with languages, was placed in the [Office of Strategic Services]. He never spoke about his duties there, either.
So The One Man is about an escaped Jew who is convinced to go back to where his family was murdered to bring out the one man the Allies feel can win them the war. In many ways I wrote the story I always imagined he would tell.
A few months before he died, my wife read him the opening chapters, about a man built off of him, and with tears in his eyes he took her hand and said, "Lynnie, I have some things to talk to you about."
What were those things? How closely did his stories resemble those in The One Man?
He just talked about how it was always too painful for him to bring up the past (which was more than he ever admitted prior; he would just ignore the questions). How he felt badly my brother-in-law Greg and my wife were so disconnected from their past. I know he told her that his father was a horse trainer. (A Jewish horse trainer--ha!) Things like that. He never told her about the cache of letters, which she found later, where it came out his mother always questioned him: "Why have you not written us?"
Tell us about those letters.
After he died, we found a cache of letters written to him by his mother under Nazi occupation, which, incredibly, he never shared. They showed a modern, confidant, funny woman. In these letters my wife and her brother met their grandmother for the first time.
Many of the letters asked imploringly why he had never written them back. No doubt his letters were never delivered to the ghetto. So we began to understand the sadness he carried with him, the feeling that his parents died feeling he had never written them. So after his death, his life finally began to make sense. It's incredibly sad.
It is. How do you think your book differs from others about the Holocaust and Auschwitz? What unique perspective do you think you provided?
The last thing I tried to do was do in fiction what countless eyewitness testimonies have documented in fact. Yet most of what takes place in the book was true or based on truth through stories passed on to me. What is critical, though, is that I tried to focus on Nathan's heroism, not the camp's atrocities, which have been even more compellingly depicted elsewhere. I tried to make the story uplifting, not enervating.
You write about advanced math and science with authority in this novel. How much of it was information you already knew and how much was research?
That's a compliment. I'm someone who barely muddled through eighth-grade earth science. The key was to make atomic science interesting and conversational, even in short doses, and to do it in dialogue, so it becomes part of the repartee between Alfred and Leo [a chess wunderkind Alfred befriends] that defines their relationship. But still, it was important that readers understand just what it is Alfred knows that's so essential.
You've said One Man is a departure for you. Besides being a very personal story, how else does it differ from your previous books?
It's a departure in setting and style. In the past I've written pace-driven stories and I generally erred in bias on the side of plot as opposed to character. Yet I always wanted to write a richer story with bigger bones. What richer subject is there in humanity and theme? To do so, it had to have a much more atmospheric texture and sense of historical detail, and deeper palate of character than I ever allowed myself. Though it moves briskly, I do think this is a book where the people you meet stay with you for a long time. Or so I've heard.
How did you convince your reps--agent, publisher, publicist, etc.--that this was the right novel for you to write at this time?
The easiest part was that my nine-book contract had come to an end. I had to [write this book] for my own artistic liberation. I believed in this story from its first day. The hard part, as you say, was convincing everyone else that I could 1) handle the material, 2) pull it off, and 3) find a publisher eager to take the risk and the ride with me. Which I have. It was fraught with risks, both financial and market-wise, but not so much of a risk as when I got in this business in the first place!
Now that you've written such a departure, where will you go from here?
Another World War II story, a tale of incredible individual heroism and endurance, built off the British and Norwegian raid that ended the Nazi efforts to acquire the atomic bomb. It's a little more Alistair MacLean than Schindler's List, so to speak, but very inspirational and thrilling. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
A House Without Windows
by Nadia Hashimi
Through the heartrending stories of her fellow inmates, Zeba comes to appreciate that "a woman's worth was measured, with scientific diligence, in blood. A woman was only as good as the drops that fell on her wedding night, the ounces she bled with the turns of the moon, and the small river she shed giving her husband children. Some women were judged most ultimately, having their veins emptied to atone for their sins or for the sins of others."
Defending Zeba is Yusuf, a young Afghan émigré lawyer who has returned to help rebuild the country. While Yusuf could have become a Western cliché, he is written with depth and motivation. Through both Zeba's and Yusuf's perspectives, there is much empathy in this exploration of a rapidly changing land torn between tradition and modernization, between the mores of graybeards and laws of a new constitution.
Minor weaknesses creep in as the novel concludes, including an almost unbelievable coincidence. Nevertheless, the emotional payoff, crisp writing and nuanced protagonists more than compensate. --Evan M. Anderson, collection development librarian, Kirkendall Public Library, Ankeny, Iowa.
Discover: A House Without Windows is a compassionate exploration of the plight of women in post-Taliban Afghanistan.
by Tom Bullough
The first of Tom Bullough's novels to be published in the U.S., Addlands covers 70 years in the life of one Welsh family and the changes in the world around them. The novel's beauty lies in the common experience embedded in the personal, and Bullough has the rare gift of brevity: this sprawling storyline fits comfortably in about 300 pages.
Addlands opens in 1941. Idris Hamer is struggling to keep his sheep farm running when his young wife, Etty, gives birth to a son, Oliver, who grows into a champion boxer and prodigious bar brawler. Idris is tyrannically religious and mistrustful of change; Etty is a stronger woman than he might prefer. As generation gives way to generation, the Hamers face the challenges of technological and cultural changes (such as the fraught decision to exchange horse for tractor), financial troubles and their town losing people as a younger generation moves away. Family secrets are obliquely revealed, including Idris's traumas in the trenches of World War I and a feud between brothers.
Bullough's story and storytelling method are deeply rooted in the Welsh borderlands. His commitment to dialect can be challenging, exchanging a degree of ambiguity for the benefits of flavor and sound, although context clues serve adequately. Bullough pays special attention to natural landscapes, native flora and fauna and agriculture's mark on the land. This wide-ranging but locally fixed style and plot combine to offer a muscular, evocative experience of a land and people, a novel to get lost in. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: This richly detailed novel explores borders--between Wales and England, and in a changing world.
Mystery & Thriller
Red Dog: A Slim in Little Egypt Mystery
by Jason Miller
Jason Miller's second Slim in Little Egypt crime novel (after Down Don't Bother Me) cuts through a rich seam in the underworld of southern Illinois coal country. A former coal miner turned occasional private investigator, Slim is a single parent raising his precocious 13-year-old daughter, Anci. When two sketchy locals show up at their door offering cash to find their missing pit bull, Anci quickly speaks up as Slim's "business manager" and agrees to the job. Hardly breaking a sweat, Slim and his right-hand muscle, Jeep, run down and rough up lowlife Dennis Reach, who reluctantly points them to where the dog is caged. Too easy. Soon after, the dognapper's head is blown open and Slim is the prime suspect. To clear himself, he follows a trail that leads into a cabal of white supremacists, shady drug and gun dealers, arrogant mine owners, vindictive county sheriffs, a dogfighting ring and the pivotal femme fatale Carol Ray--Reach's ex-wife and owner of Shotguns & Shakes, "a combination burger joint/shooting range."
Red Dog is violent country noir at its funniest--as if Tim Dorsey wandered out of Florida into Donald Ray Pollock's white trash Knockemstiff, Ohio. Miller nails the argot and warped minds of nimrods who "looked the same, but they were missing different teeth." Even when threatened by the psychopathic poobah of the White Dragons, Slim wryly observes: "He was awfully serious now.... Henrik Ibsen would have told him to lighten up." Slim, Jeep and the perspicacious Anci make for a lively team of good guys in the crime-ridden hollers of Illinois's rural Little Egypt. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: When "Slim: Redneck Investigations" takes a missing dog case, all hell breaks loose in Jason Miller's funny country noir crime novel.
Rise the Dark
by Michael Koryta
Markus Novak, no longer investigating for the Florida death row defense firm Innocence Incorporated, is taking on the personal case that has dogged him since his introduction in Michael Koryta's Last Words--the murder of his wife, Lauren. Garland Webb, the man accused of killing Lauren, is out of prison, and Novak is determined to exact justice for both his wife and himself. He just has to find the monster first.
Webb's trail leads Novak back to the scene of Lauren's death before it takes a sharp turn, introducing him to an honest-to-goodness Pinkerton PI and sending them both to a place Novak swore he would never return, Red Lodge, Mont. Here Novak's past collides with his present, and he uncovers the truth behind Webb (who is just the tip of a terrifying iceberg), as well as the meaning of words left on Lauren's notebook before she was murdered: "Rise the dark." As Koryta tests his determined protagonist with a brilliantly sadistic villain, Novak races against time to prevent a global crisis.
Koryta's second installment in the Mark Novak series is easily appreciated on its own, but readers of Last Words and Koryta's standalone Those Who Wish Me Dead will delight in small references to his earlier works. While some of the detailed technical explanations deter from the thrilling action, Koryta constructs an enveloping atmosphere that artfully merges the landscape's beauty with the plot's terror and the darkness of his characters. This dichotomy ramps up the suspense, making Rise the Dark heart-poundingly swift and chock-full of explosive excitement. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: Mark Novak's single-minded drive to find justice for his murdered wife leads him straight into the deadly plot of a ruthless mastermind.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Mary Robinette Kowal
Spiritualists and ghosts determine the success of military maneuvers during World War I in Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghost Talkers. Combining otherworldly elements with history, Kowal (Shades of Milk and Honey) imagines the Allied Powers depending on their dead to help them fight against the Central Powers. With greater numbers and a better arsenal, the Germans have run Allied forces to the end of their endurance. Only a small group of spiritualists, known as the Spirit Corps, gives them a slight advantage. The Spirit Corps reaches beyond the veil of life and interviews the ghosts of dead soldiers. As Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini uncover the tricks behind purported magic and supernatural occurrences, Kowal reveals that their goal is to undermine the belief in spiritualism in order to protect the Spirit Corps from being discovered.
Ginger Stuyvesant is one of the group's mediums. She disengages her soul from her body to talk with the ghosts of soldiers killed in action. But when someone leaks the existence of the Spirit Corps, Ginger and her group become the focus of attacks. Ginger finds evidence of a traitor, but her supervisors dismiss her as having imagined what she saw. The only one who believes her is a ghost struggling to keep from becoming a poltergeist, and with his help, Ginger abandons her post for the field in search of the traitor. In this gripping story, Kowal (Shades of Milk and Honey) creates a vivid world with elements of suspense that will keep readers guessing as to who can be trusted and who has divulged the truth about the Spirit Corps. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.
Discover: Mary Robinette Kowal's Ghost Talkers is an imaginative alternate reality in which spiritualists and ghosts help determine the outcome of World War I.
Dancing in Dreamtime
by Scott Russell Sanders
Scott Russell Sanders (Earth Works: Selected Essays) delivers compelling science fiction with this collection of ecologically inspired stories that remind readers of our connection to nature by imagining a disconnect from it.
Grouped in what can be construed as a loose chronology, Sanders's straightforward episodes begin in the current day and progress into a future of ocean-based biodome cities that protect and isolate humanity. A young woman who sees characters from dreams in waking life is helpless when the apparitions begin to disappear as people cease to dream and then die. In a rural town, the mayor's husband dons a spacesuit and falls deeply asleep while the town and its visitors suffer incurable insomnia. In the future, a kind man in the Oregon City biodome teaches a young apprentice to care for robot animals in his animatronic park, or "disney." As in every society, rebels rise--an elderly couple scavenge for objects from the world before the domes, and citizens plot escape from the shopping malls and slenderizing parlors of the bubble cities, back into a world of moss, leaves, fossils and dirt.
Clear-eyed and philosophical, Sanders's vision of our collective undoing, and how we salvage the pieces, mixes intellectualism with magical realism in an uncommon unity of mind and spirit. Readers who prefer quiet contemplation and the occasional laugh or tear with their post-apocalyptic worlds will linger at this oasis of reflection filled with sound and fury. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: This is a collection of ecological sci-fi stories about dreams and our connection to the planet and our future.
by Chuck Wendig
When Hannah Stander, a consultant for the FBI, is called in to investigate a murder in a remote cabin in New York State, she wonders why, since her specialty is working on cases that include advanced technology. But she quickly realizes that this is no ordinary murder: there is one dead man, who's missing a lot of skin, and more than a thousand dead ants. Forensic studies reveal the ants are not natural, but rather some form of hybrid. This information sends Stander on a pell-mell trip to Arizona for more data on the species, and then to a remote island in an attempt to stop the people who engineered the creatures before more are unleashed on the world.
In Invasive, Chuck Wendig has crafted a clever spin on modern technology and genetic engineering falling into the wrong hands: devious humans who want to control the world with the help of malevolent insects. Stander has been raised by survivalist parents, so her ability to adapt quickly to her surroundings and her heroic efforts to stop the invasion are not over-the-top. The supporting characters play suitable roles, including those who created the ants. Graphic, gruesome details of flayed bodies add a layer of horror amidst a story reminiscent of a James Bond movie--lots of fast action, maniacal people who think they can improve the world by unleashing a force only they can control, and an intrepid and intelligent agent who can't be stopped. Sit back and enjoy, but have a can of Raid nearby just in case. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: When a new type of ant appears at a crime scene, an FBI agent races to a remote island to stop the ants from spreading.
Food & Wine
A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression
by Jane Ziegelman , Andrew Coe
Is eating dairy patriotic? The 1922 United States government thought so. In A Square Meal: A Culinary History of the Great Depression, historians Jane Ziegelman (97 Orchard) and Andrew Coe (Chop Suey) chronicle the government's evolving approach to researching and overseeing how its citizenry ate during the decades spanning the World Wars. Ziegelman and Coe probe motives that drove Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt to make tough and sometimes callous policy decisions, also profiling significant female figures, like Louise Stanley and Flora Rose, at the forefront of nutritional science and home economics.
This is as much a history of food science as it is compelling portraits of the faces in the breadlines, of leaders, eaters, and the ubiquity of "white sauce." The writing is measured and clear, with occasional droll forays: "Who but a WASP could think up a diet based around milky chowders and creamed casseroles?" Sources like newspapers, letters, lyrics, literature, menus and recipes (one fright: "Pea Roast," an arranged marriage of peas and peanuts for protein's sake) highlight ingenuity. Each page brims with interesting facts: Vitamin A? So-named because it was the first discovered. B? "The vitamin with sex appeal."
The authors include experiences of people of varied class, race, and ethnicity, and their fundamental questions are timeless: what does a government owe its citizens? How is charity best dispensed? Ultimately, A Square Meal evokes a window into the past through which not only to see but to taste history, inspiring appreciation for living in a time of plenty. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: This story of how the U.S. managed to put food on the table during hard times will fascinate fans of history and lovers of food writing alike.
My Halal Kitchen: Global Recipes, Cooking Tips and Lifestyle Inspiration
by Yvonne Maffei
For Maffei, halal is a constant practice, one that takes education and intention. With its focus on reducing harm, halal is well suited to any ethically and environmentally conscious consumer. For example, halal meat meets specific standards: in order for an animal to be considered for slaughter, it must have had a proper diet throughout its life and be in good health. While My Halal Kitchen may initially highlight the restrictions that define the diet, such as avoiding pork, Maffei's approach is one of abundance and creativity. Instead of offering traditional Mediterranean-style meals, she shares recipes inspired by iconic American comfort foods, like the "Bacon," Lettuce and Tomato Sandwich, as well as global cuisine. With recipes such as Korean Beef Bulgogi, Bouillabaisse, Chicken Florentine and Lemon Tiramisù, My Halal Kitchen presents readers--whether Muslim or those simply interested in considering their food choices more carefully--with a vast array of options that can redefine one's relationship with the kitchen. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company
Discover: Yvonne Maffei shares halal recipes that reach beyond traditional fare to incorporate many international dishes and American comfort foods.
Psychology & Self-Help
The Selfishness of Others: An Essay on the Fear of Narcissism
by Kristin Dombek
In The Selfishness of Others, essayist Kristin Dombek (her work appeared in The Best American Essays 2014) looks at the common belief in "a kind of selfishness we increasingly fear, judging by the rising chorus that calls the young and the bad boyfriends by the same name as the murderers: narcissist." Popular self-help literature describes the narcissist as an empty shell, a fake that only pretends to have emotions and selfhood. But then, she says, who is doing the pretending? How is it that these descriptions of pathological narcissism so perfectly describe exes and bad bosses, mass murderers and perhaps your mom? And "why do these descriptions also (in moments you quietly bury deep inside you) remind you, sometimes, of an entirely different person--that is, you?"
Reflecting on her personal experiences, Internet forums and the works of psychologists and philosophers including Freud, René Girard, Alice Miller, Otto Kernberg and Heinz Kohut, Dombek considers current and past debates about narcissism in a conversational, humorous and sometimes profane style. She disentangles the worldview in which "the weak and empathetic are victimized by the cold and diabolical." The truth may lie in the gap between our initial fantasies of other people, and who they truly are--flawed, ineffable and often self-centered human beings like ourselves. And it may lie in accepting our losses, along with our inescapable human fragility and dependence. "Maybe it's not something to run from, but... something to turn toward, the selfishness of others, a kind of gift: the thing that can empty the future of your fears from the past." --Sara Catterall
Discover: A gifted essayist picks apart the common beliefs and psychological debates around the "narcissism epidemic."
Children's & Young Adult
Not As We Know It
by Tom Avery
It's life, Captain, but not as we know it. --Commander Spock, Star Trek: The Motion Picture
In Not As We Know It, Tom Avery (Too Much Trouble; My Brother's Shadow) invites readers to a tiny island in the English Channel where the 11-year-old narrator, Jamie, and his gravely ill twin brother, Ned, hunt for sea-tossed treasure on the stony banks of Chesil Beach.
One day, Jamie and Ned find something "awesome and terrible" in the sea. Something small and alive, with large eyes, gills and a scaly, limbed body. Something that grabs Ned by the wrist with its long thin hands. Ned, the risk taker who "boldly goes," is purely excited, and promptly names the merman Leonard after their beloved Star Trek's "Doctor Leonard McCoy," but cautious Jamie is full of dread. Ned doesn't want Jamie to tell anyone about the tiny fish-man in their garage bathtub, because he doesn't want anyone to take his new friend away--like they did E.T.--and he thinks that with his dire diagnosis of cystic fibrosis, Leonard might be his "last adventure." But might Leonard instead be the miracle cure Ned needs? Jamie wavers between feeling hopeful and being jealous of the creature's ever-strengthening, "unknowable" bond with his brother.
Avery tells this captivating story with fresh prose that reels in its readers... and then guts them. Jamie's devotion to his smaller, weaker twin is touching, as is Ned's clear-eyed awareness of his own condition. Devoted parents, homeschooling, Granddad's legends of healing merpeople and the strange fish-man are all part of this shining constellation of love, hope and loss. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Twin brothers living near the English Channel in the 1980s find a tiny fish-man in the sea and take him home.
The Left-Handed Fate
by Kate Milford , illust. by Eliza Wheeler
The year is 1812. War is raging between England and France and now the young United States has joined the fray. Can two young sailors and the philosophical teenager Max Ault stop the madness? When Ault hires the Left-Handed Fate, a British privateer ship, his mission is to do just that: stop the French by finding the two remaining pieces of a "remarkable thing that's going to change the course of the war." Armed with only his late father's notes on this elusive "thing," Max heads to Chesapeake Bay on the Fate, hoping to find the next piece of the mechanical device he's sure must be a powerful weapon designed to restore peace.
When the Fate is captured by the American frigate Amaranthine, Lucy Bluecrowne, daughter of the Fate's captain, decides to honor the deal her father made with Max and help him in his quest. With Frenchmen and a mysterious ship on their heels, Lucy and Max need to convince their new captain, 12-year-old Oliver Dexter, to help them. For Oliver, conspiring with enemy British sailors during a time of war could be considered treason, but wouldn't peace be worth it?
In The Left-Handed Fate, Kate Milford (Bluecrowne; The Boneshaker; Greenglass House) breathes life into the sails of 19th-century maritime adventure with perplexing mysteries, divided loyalties, heart-stopping action sequences and hints of romance. At turns humorous and heartbreaking, this delightful tale, told from multiple perspectives, keeps readers wondering what sort of weapon Max's device might be, and pondering the danger of such tremendous power. --Kyla Paterno, former children's & YA book buyer
Discover: In Kate Milford's 19th-century maritime adventure, an unlikely trio must decide whether to band together to build a device capable of stopping war.