Maria's Bookshop Issue for Friday, October 4, 2019

From the Shelf

Literally Speaking Berlin

During a recent trip to Europe I had the good fortune to attend a Literally Speaking reading event in Berlin. The series features international writers who have made their home in the German capital; each author reads an excerpt from a book that inspires their work, and then reads a short story they have written. The theme of the evening was "Flux," and covered an variety of genres and subject matter.

For Rajeev Balasubramanyam, British-Indian author of Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss (Dial, $27), residing in this liberal city means "never being the weirdest person in the room." There's no pressure to conform, he can just be himself--which is actually the message behind his hilarious debut novel. In the case of Professor Chandra, tethered to the stuffy norms of scholarly life at the University of Cambridge, it's time for a spiritual awakening, and readers will find themselves picking up some excellent tips as they accompany the hapless professor on his bumpy journey to self-realization.

Nigerian-born author Elnathan John is a fixture on the Berlin literary scene. His writing style blends satire, history and current affairs to great effect. The subject matter of John's electrifying debut, Born on a Tuesday (Grove Press, $16), could not be more different from Professor Chandra's spiritual journey. For the young narrator Dantala, violence is the universal language by which he survives gang life in the Northwest Nigerian town of Bayan Layi. Dantala experiences a religious rebirth of sorts when he is given shelter at a mosque, but his faith is derailed by the rise of Boko Haram and its scorched-earth approach to Islam. Writing in Berlin has proved fruitful for John: he has two new releases on the horizon. --Shahina Piyarali, writer and reviewer

Magination Press: My Singing Nana by Pat Mora, illustrated by Alyssa Bermudez

In this Issue...

Reviews

The authors showcase the skills required for the young to ease into adulthood through portraits of four awe-inspiring animals in the midst of "wildhood."

Read this review >>

Red at the Bone

by Jacqueline Woodson

Jacqueline Woodson builds a powerful story of three generations of women with a shared legacy of intelligence and phoenix-like power.

Read this review >>

At the Mountain's Base

by Traci Sorell

An Indigenous family awaits the return of a loved one, a Women's Airforce Service pilot, in this touching picture book.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Romance Graphic Books Biography & Memoir Science Children's & Young Adult

Flatiron Books: Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Book Candy

Secrets of Lexicographers

Mental Floss revealed "11 secrets of lexicographers."

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Quirk Books served up "coffee orders of fictional characters."

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"Who said it: Shakespeare or a random person on Tumblr?" Buzzfeed wondered.

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Author Toby Litt chose his "top 10 escapes in books" for the Guardian.

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Atlas Obscura explored "a unifying Yiddish library in Tel Aviv's dilapidated bus station."

The Memory Thief

by Lauren Mansy

Lauren Mansy's debut novel, The Memory Thief, is a compelling, darkly fantastic tale, in which memories serve as commodities to be stolen, bartered or auctioned to the highest bidder.

In Craewick, one of four allied realms, Gifted citizens have "the ability to read another's mind simply by touching them." The Gifted can take ownership of these thoughts and experience "whatever joys" are to be had in the recollections of others--frequently to the point that they are so "stuffed full of rare talents and thrilling memories" that they lose themselves. Meanwhile, the Ungifted, who bring wealth to the region by toiling as "seamstresses, carpenters, blacksmiths, and farmers," regularly have to resort to bartering their few "desirable memories" to pay the rent on their "tiny shacks."

When 17-year-old Julietta Lark finds an envelope on her door, she fears the worst. Her mother lies in a coma at the asylum. Even though Etta has made a deal with Madame, the realm's power-hungry ruler, to ensure her mother would "have a place at the asylum till she woke," Etta fears the letter means that the place is full again, and Madame's Minders have drawn "slips of paper to choose a patient to kick out." Before being removed from the asylum, her mother's brain--on Madam's orders--will be mined for memories, and Etta will be allowed to keep whichever of them she chooses. With her mother as weak as she is, "the energy of having her mind read will kill her.” 

When Etta finally opens the envelope, she finds it's even worse: rather than the painless death of being read, the notice announces her mother's impending auction. Many years ago, Madame set up an auction block where the memories of people she deems criminals are sold to the highest Gifted bidder. Auction Day is popular, since Madame's tight grip on her realm ensures that, for most people, "the only hope of gaining new memories is up on that auction block." Auctions bring the promise of an "agonizing" death and strangers will likely buy "her [mother's] entire life and part of [Etta's], as well."

Ryder, the 12-year-old orphan whom Etta took in four years ago, urges Etta to go to the Shadows, a revolutionary group who use their Gifts "to undermine everything Madame stands for." Ryder is convinced they'll save Etta's mother because "they help people who can't help themselves." But Etta knows what Ryder does not: Bray, the leader of this resistance group, would love to get his hands on "the memory thief who backstabbed the Shadows to pay for that asylum bed in the first place"--Etta gave up the location of the former head of the Shadows, Greer, to save her mother.

Etta ultimately decides that she must try to strike a deal with Bray, "the one person who's powerful enough to slip in and out of the asylum, get [her] mother out of Craewick, and keep [them] hidden." When Etta arrives home, Bray is there; he slips a dark hood over her head and welcomes her "back to the Shadows."

She wakes in a prison cell in the Mines, a fortress where "the best thieves in the Realms live, trade, and vanish right out from under Madame's watchful eye." Etta insists that Madame was going to kill her mother if she didn't betray Greer; Bray's "deep, bitter rage rolls off him" as he informs her that when Madame came for Greer, she killed Bray's brother and another young Shadow. She sent Greer to the Maze, a prison "invented by" Porter, the "ironfisted," supremely Gifted "madman" who rules the neighboring realm of Aravid. There, prisoners are either killed or driven insane.

Bray knows Etta is the only one who can get Greer out: her unique Gift makes her unreadable to other Gifteds, meaning no one will be able to steal the plan from her mind. To get to Greer, she must acquire the key to the Maze: a map that exists only in Porter's thoughts. Bray assures Etta that if she doesn't agree to travel to Aravid and steal Porter's key, he'll drag her back to Craewick to "watch [her] mother die." To protect the interests of the Shadows, Bray forces Etta to travel with Reid, a powerful mind-reader and fighter who will ensure Etta's safety and keep an eye on her. As their chance of survival--not to mention success--rapidly decreases, Etta and Reid's mutual distrust turns into attraction.

Etta is a flawed character who has made mistakes, giving her depth and dimension and allowing the novel's strong message of forgiveness to ring true. Though Mansy builds an expansive fantasy world all her own, her tale uses dystopian motifs to great success, such as the corrosive effects of an overabundance of power falling into the wrong hands and her stern commentary on the divide between the haves and have-nots. Readers, like Etta and her fellow citizens, will be challenged to contemplate the nature of truth, considering the unique role that memories play in the Realms. Mansy also delivers a fine romance, made all the more gratifying by the difficulties sustained along the way. A welcome addition to the YA fantasy canon, The Memory Thief is a suspenseful page-turner, delightfully chock full of unexpected twists and turns. --Lynn Becker

Blink, $18.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780310767657

Lauren Mansy: The Definition of Strength

Robb Davidson Photography

Lauren Mansy is from the Chicago area, where she grew up helping her parents in their family business. She's spent years working with youth, from young children to high schoolers, and when she's not writing, she loves staying active outdoors, exploring the city to find the best deep-dish pizza and spending time with her family. Her debut novel, The Memory Thief (Blink, October 2019), was inspired by her own journey with her mother, who was a survivor when all hope seemed lost.

What inspired you to write this fantasy about a society in which memories are treated as currency?

When I was around Etta's age, my mom was diagnosed with a heart condition, which led to an unexpected open-heart surgery. Due to the trauma my mom experienced, the doctors warned my family that if she survived, she might not remember us when she woke. I was sitting at her bedside when she first began to stir, and she squeezed my hand three times, our signal that meant I love you. I knew that my mom was coming back to me, and it was a moment I'll never forget!

After facing the possibility of losing my mom, I was struck by how our memories make up so much of our identity and the vital role they play in our relationships with others. I wondered, "What if there was a world where memories could be transferred from mind to mind... and what kind of people would exist in a society like that?" I'm so thankful to say that my mom made a full recovery, but it was during those moments of uncertainty that the seeds for this book were planted.

Witnessing my mom's unwavering courage throughout her recovery process inspired me to write a story to honor her, and placing this book in her hands for the first time is one of my favorite memories!

In your story, many people buy, sell and trade memories--and talents--instead of experiencing life for themselves. Is this symbolic of anything you see happening in our world today? 

Throughout the story, Etta questions her own identity and how to find her true self in a world where it only takes one touch for someone else's memories to seep into your mind. For many in Etta's society, they often sell painful memories to avoid heartache or buy talents to avoid hardship, and they no longer value individuality and creativity. Instead of living both the joys and the trials of life together, they're isolated and disconnected from one another. Most are essentially choosing to live someone else's life instead of cherishing their own uniqueness and living in harmony with those around them.

Perhaps we face some of the same challenges in our society. I think there are quite a few things in our world today that allow us to "live" someone else's life--movies, television, the Internet, etc. Though these can be wonderful tools for expanding our minds, we also face the temptation of living an "imitation" of life instead of experiencing real life. We, much like those in Etta's world, have countless opportunities at our fingertips to gain new experiences.

It's interesting that the hero, Etta, and the villain, Madame, are both women. Was this a conscious decision? If so, why?

When I first began writing this story, Etta and Madame were characters who appeared very clearly in my mind. For Etta, Madame is like a mirror. She represents a lot of who Etta could end up becoming, depending on which choices she makes on this journey. Madame never intended to become a villain, and in her opinion, she's still very much a hero. Etta, on the other hand, has a lot of regrets. She doesn't believe she can ever do much good in this world. They're two women who are vastly different and yet they impact one another in ways neither of them could've predicted.

Forgiveness features prominently in the novel. Why was it important to you that Etta be a flawed--rather than a perfect--character? 

Etta is definitely guilt-ridden, has made costly mistakes and has lost hope that things can ever be made right. But she's also a character who believes a lot of lies about herself and the world around her. She doesn't think she deserves forgiveness, let alone to forgive herself.

While on her journey to save her mother, Etta is forced to confront the things and the people she's been running from, and she'll stop at nothing to protect her loved ones. I think there's a lot of courage in fighting for something you believe in, even when it scares you. It's during these moments of heartache that Etta begins to question if she's believed the wrong definition of strength. For years, her comatose mother hasn't spoken a word, but she's far surpassed any expectations placed upon her and has shown Etta the importance of never giving up.

Etta is slowly learning that true strength is so powerful that even the worst mistakes of the past can never extinguish it.

This story has so many fun twists and turns. Did you know exactly where you were going when you began? Can you take us through a bit of your process in writing it?

That's kind of you to say! I tried to keep an open mind while writing The Memory Thief. Though the story evolved throughout the revision process, many of the major plot points remained the same. I absolutely love revising, and I kept journals detailing the process and changes--it's been fun to look back and remember the various paths that this story has taken.

When I first began writing, there were fears, doubts and worries that I hadn't yet figured out how to voice out loud when faced with losing my mom. On the cover of The Memory Thief, there's a lock, which is symbolic of Etta's journal. She uses a journal to keep track of her own memories, so in a way, this book is like one big journal entry for her. It often feels like one for me, as well. Through telling Etta's story, I began to better understand my own. --Lynn Becker


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Charlesbridge Publishing: Baby Loves Science: The Five Senses by Ruth Spiro, illustrated by Irene Chan

Book Reviews

Fiction

Red at the Bone

by Jacqueline Woodson

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In the opening moments of Jacqueline Woodson's searing, hopeful novel Red at the Bone, 16-year-old Melody lays out the complex relationships among three generations of women. Melody descends the staircase of her grandparents' Brooklyn, N.Y., brownstone for her family's take on a kind of "coming out" party, wearing her mother Iris's previously unworn dress ("Already, when it was time for her ceremony, I was on my way").

Woodson (Another Brooklyn) builds the chapters in her novel like stanzas in a poem, rotating among the characters. Iris, who was 15 when she gave birth to Melody, remains at a distance at first, her chapters relayed through a third-person perspective, as she leaves Melody as a toddler in the care of her parents, Sabe and Po'Boy, to attend Oberlin College in Ohio. Gradually, readers see that Iris needed time to mature, to feed her intelligence, to understand who she is. Only then does Iris at last speak in her own voice.

Iris named Melody after Sabe's mother, survivor of the 1921 fire set by an angry white mob in the Greenwood section of Tulsa, Okla. Sabe's chapters reveal her guilt over her daughter's pregnancy ("all those blocks of gold don't mean a damn thing out in the world if you haven't even taught your own child how to stay pure"). But she stands by Iris and moves them to a new neighborhood, evoking the words of Maya Angelou ("You rise. You rise").

Woodson connects the burned remains of Tulsa that scarred the elder Melody's life with the smoldering World Trade Towers on September 11 that define young Melody's childhood. Each rises from these ashes to survive stronger, smarter, wiser. --Jennifer M. Brown, senior editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Jacqueline Woodson builds a powerful story of three generations of women with a shared legacy of intelligence and phoenix-like power.

Riverhead, $26, hardcover, 208p., 9780525535270

Faber & Faber:  Infused: Adventures in Tea by Henrietta Lovell

Right After the Weather

by Carol Anshaw

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Carol Anshaw (Carry the One) crafts a masterpiece of characterization and pacing with Right After the Weather, a novel of surprises. Cate, a set designer in Chicago, is a bit bumbling and hapless, but charming. A cast of similarly weird, struggling but lovable friends surrounds her. Her ex-husband, Graham, has moved in following his latest divorce, with a perfectly wonderful dog and with all his conspiracy theories, agoraphobia, fancy mail-order meals and "hemp and unbleached cotton, drawstring closures." Her best friend Neale is a comfort, with her wholesome do-it-yourself skills and dear son. Cate's new girlfriend, Maureen, appears to be just what she's been looking for--financially secure, "encyclopedic in matters of fixing things"--but there's something a bit off. Cate's former lover Dana is the opposite: the wrong thing, but entirely, overwhelmingly magnetic. Cate's and Neale's parents are each complicated and intriguing on their own.

Anshaw weaves a delightful tapestry, often laugh-out-loud hilarious, as Cate and the rest fumble through their lives. Halfway through the story, however, the tone changes abruptly when trauma strikes, and Cate must learn to navigate a new version of herself. Right After the Weather is smart and filled with the sort of evocative details Cate infuses into the sets she designs. It is compelling: once invested, the reader is hard pressed to turn away (so schedule a free evening for this one!). And it is populated by charisma and natural stars. --Julia Kastner, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This novel with style, momentum and delightfully odd characters hides a surprise emotional wallop in its middle.

Atria , $27, hardcover, 288p., 9781476747798

The Best American Short Stories 2019

by Anthony Doerr and Heidi Pitlor, editors

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In the 2019 installment of this annual anthology, author Anthony Doerr (All the Light We Cannot See) and series editor Heidi Pitlor have parsed thousands of stories to select 20 standouts from the last year. The stories are penned by both up-and-coming authors, such as Ella Martinsen and Julia Hellion, and well-established literary masters like Jeffery Eugenides and Deborah Eisenberg. A few particularly memorable tales in The Best American Short Stories 2019 include Nicole Krauss's "Seeing Ershadi," a retrospective meditation on female disillusionment and isolation; Karen Russell's "Black Corfu," a darkly vibrant tale of a doctor charged with disabling the undead, who loses his family in the face of medical controversy; and Wendell Berry's "The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased to Be Told," a bittersweet folk tale about the loss of small communities.

Reflecting Doerr's own literary interests, these pieces often delight in the description of everyday minutiae and time/space-specific settings and atmospheres. Whether mildly futuristic and disconcerting (like Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah's "The Era") or casually nostalgic (as Eugenides's "Bronze" is in its depiction of 1978 New York, "dying. But that was OK"), these stories have deep, physical roots. Berry's "The Great Interruption" displays this theme perhaps most entertainingly, as a narrator, nameless until the last line, unfolds a comical story within a story in order to mourn quotidian pleasures of yesteryear. While these thematic ties weave through the collection, ultimately this anthology rejoices in its range of subject matter, its emotional complexity and its depiction of quietly powerful moments. --Alice Martin, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Editors Anthony Doerr and Heidi Pitlor showcase 2019's collection of literary achievements from standout journals.

Houghton Mifflin, $28, hardcover, 400p., 9781328465825

Mystery & Thriller

Honey

by Brenda Brooks

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After a car accident kills her father and leaves her mother seriously injured, 24-year-old Nicole moves back into her parents' house to help out. Nicole works as a piano player at a local casino behind a Walmart and doesn't have much going on in life. Until one day, at her father's grave, she turns around and sees Honey, her best friend from childhood.

Honey and her mother disappeared from town six years earlier, to escape Honey's abusive dad. Her mom has since died, and Honey has returned, taking a job at a bank. It's the last job Nicole would have expected her wild, unpredictable friend to have.

Soon Honey's motives become clear, and she seduces Nicole into helping her commit actions Nicole never thought she was capable of. Even when a dead body appears, with a cop hot on the trail, Nicole realizes she'd go to extraordinary lengths to make sure Honey never leaves her again.

In Honey, poet Brenda Brooks takes her time building the characters and setting, and the result is less a mystery than an exploration of obsession and the ignition of latent desires. The pace is languid, and characters speak in long monologues that read more like prose than dialogue, but the book contains many lyrical observations like the one Nicole makes about her friend's easy physicality: "She knew her instrument and... how to improvise error into a kind of magic that was so much better than perfection." The characters may be rough around the edges, but their descriptions contain a sense of grace. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: In this sumptuous slow burn of a novel, a young woman reconnects with her childhood friend and becomes entangled in a murder investigation.

ECW Press, $15.95, paperback, 232p., 9781770414976

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Monster of Elendhaven

by Jennifer Giesbrecht

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A creature who named himself Johann steals and kills on the streets of a dark, northern city called Elendhaven. Johann can't be killed and has decided there's only one proper name for what he is: "monster." He stalks fragile-looking, isolated Florian, evaluating him as a victim, until he realizes the young man is a sorcerer. When Johann proposes a partnership that will grow into something at once disturbing and tender, they begin a campaign of revenge that could bring the city down around them.

In The Monster of Elendhaven, debut author Jennifer Giesbrecht has created a beautifully nightmarish blend of horror, dark fantasy and cruel romance. While Johann and Florian carry out their plan for vengeance and evade traveling hunters of sorcerers, readers slowly learn the full history of what drives Florian in his deep bond with Johann. The result is reminiscent of what Frankenstein might have been if the eponymous doctor had more sympathy for his creature and much less for the rest of the world. Elendhaven would be the sort of place a reader might expect Frankenstein's creation to take refuge--a dark, bleak city at the end of the world. Giesbrecht vividly depicts the setting in strong, sometimes lurid prose, all within a story that can be read in one evening.

This brief work transports readers into a haunting, gothic dreamworld in a fairy tale of the darkest sort, which one would never share with children. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: An original gothic tale of dependence and revenge for two different kinds of monsters.

Tor, $16.99, hardcover, 160p., 9781250225689

A Little Hatred

by Joe Abercrombie

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Joe Abercrombie offers an approachable jumping-on point to his First Law series with A Little Hatred, which welds Abercrombie's gritty approach to epic fantasy to a world undergoing violent technological change. Many fantasy authors choose to ignore technology, locking their worlds into an eternity of horses and swords. There are still plenty of swords--and bloody death--in A Little Hatred, but also canals, factories powered by child labor, pollution and ruthless investors seeking to maximize profits any way they can. For Abercrombie, a new era merely offers new opportunities for exploitation and cruelty.

Devoted Abercrombie fans will recognize characters previously featured in the First Law series, but A Little Hatred largely focuses on a new slate of characters. There is Leo dan Brock, a young warrior seeking fame and glory in a losing war. Savine dan Glokta profits from her father's fearsome reputation and from an approach to capitalism that would make Gordon Gekko proud. And then--because magic still has its part to play--there is Rikke, who catches glimpses of the future at the cost of terrible seizures. There are many more characters--Abercrombie likes to pivot among them rapidly so there is no possibility of getting bored. They are surprisingly likable inhabitants of a grim world, yet many of their good intentions are perverted by cynical realities.

As ever, Abercrombie's greatest talent is in writing violence, but A Little Hatred shakes up the fantasy status quo enough to intrigue any reader with a strong stomach. --Hank Stephenson, manuscript reader, the Sun magazine

Discover: Abercrombie's bloody fantasy world is made even gorier by the seismic changes of industrialization that leave no character unscathed.

Orbit, $27, hardcover, 480p., 9780316187169

Romance

Love on Lexington Avenue

by Lauren Layne

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The second novel in Lauren Layne's Central Park Pact series (after Passion on Park Avenue), Love on Lexington Avenue follows Claire, a recent widow looking to transform her beige life into something more reflective of her true self. After the death of her philandering husband, she makes a friendship pact with the other two women he betrayed and, with their help, sets about reinventing her life and the outdated Manhattan brownstone she now has all to herself. And though she'd never expect it, flannel-wearing Scott, the contractor she hires for the job, is a match for more than just this renovation.

While Claire is eager to settle into the next phase of her life, Scott makes his living traveling the globe to take on major contracting jobs. Betrayed by a former fiancée, Scott is absolutely not interested in anything long-term--especially with a pampered housewife who spends her days on Pinterest. But there's something about this historic house that turns it from small potatoes to passion project. Claire's predictable life is suddenly full of meddling friends, strawberry-lemon cupcakes, unwanted grief and construction debris. Meanwhile, Scott is growing attached to a woman and a life he never thought he could want again. Aided by smoldering chemistry and a giant goofy dog, the two fall into an unexpected romance. But what will happen when the renovation is done and Scott needs to move on?

Love on Lexington Avenue is a glitzy romantic comedy for fans of Sex and the City, home renovation shows and anyone who wants to believe in the human capacity for reinvention. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Opposites attract in this fixer-upper romance, complete with a grumpy contractor and a young widow out to refurbish her house and her life.

Gallery, $16, paperback, 288p., 9781501191602

Graphic Books

Once Upon a Time in France

by Fabien Nury , trans. by Ivanka Hahnenberger , illust. by Sylvain Vallée

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The story of Joseph Joanovici, based on a real Romanian Jew who made a fortune as a scrap-metal magnate, is morally complex. Some saw Joanovici as a hero for the lives he saved on behalf of the French Resistance, while others refuse to believe his friendliness with the Nazis was entirely altruistic. Written by Fabien Nury (The Death of Stalin) and rendered in intense, lavish detail by illustrator Sylvain Vallée, this omnibus edition collects the entire run of the comic series that was originally published in French.

Once Upon a Time in France is presented here in faithful translation by Ivanka Hahnenberger, who manages her feat without sacrificing one iota of this narrative's rich historical tension. Readers journey with Joanovici as he immigrates to France and starts a family after discovering his knack for sorting and accurately valuing scrap metal. Ultimately, Joanovici finds himself thrust into the middle of World War II amid a sea of impossible choices that will have profound ramifications. Nury's shifting narrative never lags as it jumps across Joanovici's timeline to contrast his decisions with their eventual repercussions. A fascinating hybrid of war history, biography and true crime, Once Upon a Time in France is a must-read for graphic novel fans as well as a compelling and artfully imagined story that will likely resonate with readers of all stripes. --Zack Ruskin, freelance reviewer

Discover: This graphic novel recounts the incredible, often harrowing true story of a French scrap-metal kingpin attempting to play both sides during World War II.

Dead Reckoning, $29.95, paperback, 368p., 9781682474716

Biography & Memoir

The Enigma of Clarence Thomas

by Corey Robin

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Clarence Thomas has been serving on the U.S. Supreme Court since 1991--longer than any of his fellow justices--and yet he remains a cipher: a black man who routinely takes positions that would seem to block steps toward racial equality. In The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, Corey Robin, a self-described "longtime reader of the right from the left" and the author of The Reactionary Mind, makes a persuasive case that Thomas is actually "a black nationalist whose conservative jurisprudence rotates around an axis of black interests and concerns."

Robin's book is presented in three chunks: "Race" picks apart Thomas's skeptical attitude toward affirmative action; "Capitalism" distills his opinions that seem to place commerce above the individual; and "Constitution" parses his conservative positions regarding the Second and Eighth Amendments.

How did Thomas transform from a Malcolm X-reciting college radical into a right-winger? While The Enigma of Clarence Thomas isn't a biography, threaded throughout the wonky stuff are illuminating personal details about the man, who was raised in the segregated South without a father, came of age during the civil rights era and grew disillusioned with activism ("I marched. I protested. I asked the government to help black people.... I did all those things. But it hasn't worked"). While liberal minds likely won't come around to supporting Thomas's views, readers of Robin's book will be left with a keen understanding of "the bleakness and brutality of Thomas's racial vision," which can't help but influence his opinions. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This superb examination of Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas's jurisprudence considers the way his personal history shapes his opinions.

Metropolitan Books, $30, hardcover, 320p., 9781627793834

Science

Wildhood: The Epic Journey from Adolescence to Adulthood in Humans and Other Animals

by Barbara Natterson-Horowitz , Kathryn Bowers

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Advice on "how to ask out a whale" may not seem a typical means to teach about adolescence, but evolutionary biologist and physician Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and science journalist Kathryn Bowers make such compelling and scientific connections between humans and animals that readers will come to believe that one can learn a trick or two from our fluked friends. In Wildhood, a follow-up to their acclaimed Zoobiquity, the authors explore the crucial stage between childhood and adulthood across the animal kingdom.

Safety, status, sex and self-reliance are the four universal challenges adolescents must navigate while transforming successfully into adulthood. Each is illustrated through one of the following points of view: Ursula, a king penguin who risks death from a voracious Antarctic predator she has never seen before on her first trip away from her parents; Shrink, a socially adept hyena pup born on the bottom of the ladder who rises through the hierarchy; Salt, a humpback whale who learns the complicated dating rituals of her species; and Slavc, a young wolf who sets out on a solitary journey to find his forever home.

Having identified the "core four" competencies to be mastered by every adolescent on earth, the team presents their cross-species theories in a highly entertaining yet skillfully informative format that will engross animal lovers and parents alike. Without anthropomorphizing, one still can't help but fall in love with these animals and, by association, hopefully gain some understanding and empathy for human adolescents. Wildhood is a roller-coaster ride through nature's wonders. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: The authors showcase the skills required for the young to ease into adulthood through portraits of four awe-inspiring animals in the midst of "wildhood."

Scribner, $28, hardcover, 368p., 9781501164699

Children's & Young Adult

At the Mountain's Base

by Traci Sorell , illust. by Weshoyot Alvitre

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With spare and poetic text, Cherokee author Traci Sorell (We Are Grateful: Otsalhilega) presents in At the Mountain's Base a family of women bound together by love. Tucked away in a cottage "at the mountain's base" next to a hickory tree, in a home filled with warmth, unity and pride, the women weave threads of red, gold, green and black to create a wonderful fabric. While they create the tapestry, they worry about and pray for the return of one of their own--a pilot in the Women's Airforce Service. As their invocation rises up, readers get a glimpse of their loved one, soaring in her plane. Overlooking both the pilot and the cabin is an otherworldly, larger-than-life figure high in the skies; she holds the different threads that guide and connect the characters, a visual theme used throughout the picture book. 

Tongva illustrator Weshoyot Alvitre's majestic watercolor-and ink illustrations include small portraits bordered by white space and framed with the ever-present thread, as well as sweeping, double page-spread paintings with changing points of view. These choices, along with the ample use of white space, give the art an expansive feel, immersing readers in the movement of the wind that brings the pilot closer to home. The lovely earth tones give way to more verdant and vivid hues as the pacing climaxes with a close-up of the missing family member--the attachment they have with one another is undeniable and bleeds off the page. This is most evident when the exultant pilot prays for peace just as her waiting family prays for her safe delivery home. --Shelley Diaz, supervising librarian, BookOps: New York Public Library & Brooklyn Public Library

Discover: An Indigenous family awaits the return of a loved one, a Women's Airforce Service pilot, in this touching picture book.

Kokila/Penguin, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780735230606

A Bottle of Happiness

by Pippa Goodhart , illust. by Ehsan Abdollahi

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"Two Americas" may be a modern coinage, but the idea of chasm-like social stratification has undergirded fairy tales and folklore for centuries. It's also present in A Bottle of Happiness, Pippa Goodhart's big-hearted homespun fable, which is set on a mountain: on one side the people are rich, while on the other people "grew and made just enough for them all to eat and wear if they shared things." The funny part is, it's the have-nots who have cornered the market on happiness.

This doesn't prevent a young have-not named Pim from setting out in search of the new. When a vendor on the rich side of the mountain agrees to give the boy a piece of fruit in exchange for something that the man's people don't have, Pim suggests happiness as a fair swap. The vendor accepts, and Pim returns home, grabs a bottle and uses it to collect happiness in the form of people's laughter and his uncle's singing. But something gets lost in transit: when Pim opens the bottle for the fruit vendor, nothing comes out--at least at first.

Ehsan Abdollahi's patchwork-style watercolor patterns grace A Bottle of Happiness's buildings, garments, plants and even animals. In a wily touch, Abdollahi reserves a curated palette for the rich people and a homey hodgepodge of color for the regular folk. Readers will note that while one side of the mountain may be more decorous, the other side seems to be having much more fun. --Nell Beram, freelance writer and YA author

Discover: In this dashingly illustrated original fable, the have-nots possess something that the haves don't (and are willing to trade for): happiness.

Tiny Owl Publishing, $16.99, hardcover, 28p., ages 5-7, 9781910328552

Parrots, Pugs, and Pixie Dust: A Book About Fashion Designer Judith Leiber

by Deborah Blumenthal , illust. by Masha D'yans

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Minaudierès is "a fancy French word for jewel-like handbags." Who could have imagined that a young Jewish woman who grew up in Hungary during the Holocaust would become known as the "Queen of Minaudierѐs"? In Parrots, Pugs, and Pixie Dust, Deborah Blumenthal (author of other fashion-themed books Polka Dot Parade and Fancy Party Gowns) celebrates Judith Leiber, the "queen" who designed glittering clutches in unusual and interesting shapes like "preening peacocks" or "burgers and fries."

Leiber first worked as the only woman in a "handbag house," then moved to a uniform factory where she created bags "with any scraps she could find." Her true career began in the U.S. after she met and married an American soldier. Blumenthal glosses over several decades in the U.S., but the magical quality of Judith's road to success is evident--First Ladies, Queen Elizabeth II and Beyoncé have all carried her creations.

Although the picture book's general mood is upbeat, Blumenthal does not shy away from the grimness of World War II, when Judith and her family first worked as slave laborers "sewing army uniforms," then "were forced to hide out in a dark basement." The text is accompanied by Masha D'yans's (Polka Dot Parade) somber watercolor illustrations, which make clear to young readers that most Jews were not as lucky as Judith. With Leiber's romantic interlude, the palette changes from the muted colors of war to the soft pastels of a new Europe and new love, featuring standout handbags rendered in Seurat-like pointillist images. Children interested in fashion design and creating art will likely find Leiber's story inspiring. --Melinda Greenblatt, freelance book reviewer

Discover: With imagination, skill and perseverance, a young Jewish woman wins her place in the fashion world after surviving the horror of World War II in this nonfiction picture book.

Little Bee Books, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 7-10, 9781499808988

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