Flatiron Books: The Narrowboat Summer by Anne Youngson

Blue Willow Bookshop Issue for Tuesday, January 26, 2021

From the Shelf

Developing a Mind for Winter

As a Texan transplant to the Northeast, I struggle with the cold and dark of winter. This year, with the ongoing pandemic, I'm dreading the icy isolation more than ever, and turning to books for comfort and distraction.

British essayist Horatio Clare's memoir The Light in the Dark (Elliott & Thompson, $16.95) charts his winter experiences in West Yorkshire. Clare suffers from seasonal depression, and his lyrical descriptions of frigid windswept walks and damp, crowded trains provide a candid account of a challenging time. But, as his title suggests, Clare also looks for joy in the dark months, prompting readers to do the same.

Journalist and actress Isabel Gillies believes firmly in the power of coziness--in all seasons and in all places. Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World (HarperWave, $22.99), her exploration of the concept, mixes whimsy (an ode to tubby blue mailboxes) with gentle realism (nurses' efforts to provide coziness for hospital patients). Gillies's book joins Meik Weiking's The Little Book of Hygge (Morrow, $19.99) and other similar explorations of comfort and warmth, as many of us hunker down for a long pandemic winter.

In 2011, Adam Gopnik made winter the subject of five talks he delivered for the CBC Massey Lectures, published in Winter: Five Windows on the Season (House of Anansi, $19.99). He explores winter from various perspectives (romantic, recuperative and recreational, to name a few), and delves into historical ideas of winter, childhood nostalgia, winter sports and even modern-day underground cities in his quest to understand and better survive the cold season. Gopnik's deep research and wry humor combine to make me think winter can be fascinating--even enjoyable.

The cold season may never be my favorite, but with these books (and plenty of tea), I'm searching for its unexpected (if chilly) delights. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Forge: My Brilliant Life by Ae-Ran Kim, translated by Chi-Young Kim


Andrews McMeel Publishing: Shine Your Icy Crown (You Are Your Own Fairy Tale) by Amanda Lovelace


Johns Hopkins University Press: The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America by Lawrence T Brown

In this Issue...

Reviews

Concrete Rose

by Angie Thomas

In this compelling, thought-provoking prequel to The Hate U Give, a Black 17-year-old gang member must make difficult decisions when he becomes a father.

Read this review >>

An iconoclastic drug expert delivers an engaging corrective on illicit substances and their effects, as well as a rousing antidote to racist drug policies.

Read this review >>

The Cathedral

by Ben Hopkins

This compelling and sweeping medieval saga considers the building of a cathedral and a realignment of society.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy Biography & Memoir Social Science Essays & Criticism Children's & Young Adult

Chronicle Books: There Is a Rainbow by Theresa Trinder, illustrated by Grant Snider

From Blue Willow Bookshop

Upcoming Events

Peter Sís | Nicky & Vera

01/27/2021 - 5:00PM

What: Peter Sís will discuss his book Nicky & Vera: A Quiet Hero of the Holocaust and the Children He Rescued.  This event is free to attend, but registration is required. You can register for the event here. Once you register, you will receive an invitation to join the event. NOTE: Because this is a virtual event that will be hosted on Zoom, you will need access a computer or other device that is capable of accessing the internet at a sufficient bandwidth...

Brigid Kemmerer | A Vow So Bold and Deadly

01/28/2021 - 7:00PM

We are thrilled to welcome Brigid Kemmerer who will appear in converastion with author Jennifer Armentrout to talk about her new book A Vow So Bold and Deadly. This free event will be delivered via a Zoom webinar at 7:00pm CDT/8:00pm ET. You need to register to attend. If you buy a book when you register you will received the book, a bookplate signed by Brigid and a special deleted scene from the series! You will receive a link to the Zoom webinar the day before the event. When:...

Kelly Rippon in conversation with Adam Rippon

01/30/2021 - 2:00PM

What: Author Kelly Rippon will speak about her new book, Parent Up: Inspire Your Child to Be Their Best Self , in this virtual event on Saturday, January 30th at 2:00pm CT on Zoom. She will be in conversation with her son, Olympic medalist Adam Rippon. Kelly and Adam will be sharing stories and never-before-seen photos exclusive to this book launch tour! This event will be ticketed through Eventbrite. We will let you know when your books are available for in-store pickup and...

Book Candy

Grammar Quiz

"How well can you complete this fill-in-the-blank grammar quiz?" Mental Floss challenged.

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CrimeReads investigated "diamonds in literature: the ultimate Macguffin."

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"A long-lost Elie Wiesel poem--a serendipitous literary finding." (via the Jerusalem Post)

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Author Peter Ho Davies recommended his "top 10 books about the unknowable" for the Guardian.

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"Why do books have prices printed on them?" NPR's Marketplace had the answer.

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"A 16th-century astronomy book featured 'analog computers' to calculate the shape of the moon, the position of the sun, and more," Open Culture noted.

Great Reads

Rediscover: The Defining Moment

When Franklin D. Roosevelt became president of the United States in 1933, he was faced with the daunting task of saving a country in the midst of its worst ever economic crisis. During the first 100 days of his presidency, Roosevelt called Congress into a special three-month session in which he passed 15 bills that marked the beginning of the New Deal, an ambitious program of progressive legislation to combat the Great Depression. This remarkable period is the subject of Jonathan Alter's 2006 book The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope. Alter, a former senior editor for Newsweek, argues that Roosevelt's childhood, tumultuous personal life--including his polio diagnosis--and early political career made him uniquely qualified for that historical moment, along with Roosevelt's willingness to "throw a lot of things against the wall to see what stuck."

In a November 18, 2008, interview with 60 Minutes, President-elect Obama said he had been reading The Defining Moment and hoped to apply some of its lessons to his forthcoming administration. With Obama's former Vice President now at the helm amid even graver circumstances, one hopes for a repeat of FDR's decisive action. The Defining Moment is available in paperback from Simon & Schuster ($18). --Tobias Mutter

The Writer's Life

Reading with... Nikki Grimes

photo: Aaron Lemen

Nikki Grimes is the recipient of the Children's Literature Legacy Award, the Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement and the NCTE Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children. Grimes's works include Southwest Sunrise, illustrated by Wendell Minor; the Printz Honor and Sibert Honor book Ordinary Hazards; NAACP Image Award nominee Planet Middle School; Coretta Scott King Award winner Bronx Masquerade; Coretta Scott King Author Honor books Jazmin's Notebook, Talkin' About Bessie, Dark Sons, The Road to Paris and Words with Wings (which was also named an ALA Notable Book); and What Is Goodbye?, an ALA Notable Book. Her most recent book is Legacy: Women Poets of the Harlem Renaissance (out now from Bloomsbury). She lives in Corona, Calif.

On your nightstand now:

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle
Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light by Joan Chittister
All of Me by Chris Baron
The Unvarnished Jesus: A Lenten Journey by Brian Zahnd
Watch Us Rise by Renée Watson and Ellen Hagan

Favorite book when you were a child:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. Francie and I had a lot in common--we were both familiar with childhood trauma and we were both tough.

Your top five authors:

This, of course, is an impossible choice, but here goes.

Lucille Clifton is the poet I want to be when I grow up. Of course, there's not much time left, so that probably won't happen!

Mary Oliver because her poetry is simply sublime.

James Baldwin because he was brilliant, his work still resonates and he was my first mentor.

Naomi Shihab Nye because, whether she's writing for children or adults, all of her work feels elegant and necessary.

C.S. Lewis. Because he's C.S. Lewis. Come on! The Chronicles of Narnia? The Screwtape Letters? Mere Christianity? Who can argue with those?

Book you've faked reading:

I never faked reading Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, but I didn't actually read it until I was well into my 40s.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler. It takes the modern reader inside of the experience of being a slave and shows us what it truly means to have no choice and no power. It eliminates any excuses we might have for not making something of our lives today.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Brown Angels: An Album of Pictures and Verse by Walter Dean Myers. It was so unusual to see a book cover celebrating the beauty of Black babies and I had to have it.

Book you hid from your parents:

It doesn't exist.

Book that changed your life:

Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters changed my writing life. It taught me how powerful a tool of storytelling poetry could be. I've been telling stories that way ever since.

Favorite line from a book:

Another impossible task! I'll choose two. 

From The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: "A little black girl yearns for the blue eyes of a little white girl, and the horror at the heart of her yearning is exceeded only by the evil of fulfillment." I found this stunning. I ached for this girl who failed to see her own beauty but wanted to borrow someone else's.

Another favorite is from Come with Me: Poems for a Journey by Naomi Shihab Nye. It's from the poem "Secrets" which opens, "Because a secret is a ticket... and without it/ the trip would be/ too lonely." There is no more perfect line than that.

Five books you'll never part with:

The Bible. This is the book upon which I build my life.

Kindred by Octavia Butler.

The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo by Tom Feelings. The horror and anguish Feelings captured remind me of how much my people have overcome, and what a miracle it is that we're alive.

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. No essays have ever been more potent, more true, more prophetic or more exquisitely written. They are as fresh and resonate as much today as ever.

A Dark and Splendid Mass by Mari Evans. Mari Evans was one of the most underrated poets of this generation and this collection makes the point.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Liars' Club by Mary Karr. It was brave, it was bold and so much of Karr's story resonated with my own. This book showed me what a memoir could be, and it was this memoir I had in the back of my mind while I worked my own.

Book Reviews

Fiction

The Cathedral

by Ben Hopkins

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Ben Hopkins's debut novel, The Cathedral, immerses readers in the cutthroat world of 13th-century Rhineland. In the town of Hagenburg, the construction of the titular cathedral draws together residents from all walks of life. A farmer apprentices as a stonecutter to work on the cathedral. The bishop's treasurer chases the funding while wrestling with the politics of the church and the Holy Roman Empire. But this is a time of massive cultural shifts. Money is becoming more important than land as a source of power, and the church will need relationships with the people who have it, including the Jewish residents of Hagenburg. A rising class of merchants and guild members demand a voice alongside the nobility and clergy in the building of the cathedral. Women are finding this evolving world of trade allows them to accumulate power, and nonlinear chapters set in the 14th century provide glimpses of greater changes to come.

The Cathedral is an expansive fictional epic addressing themes of art, religion and power in the mode of Ken Follett or Umberto Eco. The large cast of characters can at times be challenging to track, but presents an impressive assortment of society. It also means that readers cannot assume any of the characters are safe; with so many prominent ones, there is no reason to believe that any one of them in particular will survive to the end. Hopkins's compelling and descriptive tale will leave readers eager for more. --Kristen Allen-Vogel, information services librarian at Dayton Metro Library

Discover: This compelling and sweeping medieval saga considers the building of a cathedral and a realignment of society.

Europa Editions, $28, hardcover, 624p., 9781609456115

What Could Be Saved

by Liese O'Halloran Schwarz

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Liese O'Halloran Schwarz's What Can Be Saved is a family saga, a mystery and a lush depiction of expat Americans in 1970s Asia that moves seamlessly among decades and between continents.

In 2019, a stranger in Thailand e-mails Laura Preston in Washington, D.C., with a shocking claim: that she knows Philip, Laura's brother, who disappeared in that country more than 40 years earlier. Laura flies to Bangkok, defying her sister Bea's caution that it's a hoax. With this, readers sense the mystery that haunts the Preston family--what happened to Philip?--and the stress and sorrow the tragedy creates.

Robert Preston's job is vague: he's designing but never completes a dam--a clue that eventually leads to revelations. He's posted from D.C. to Thailand in 1972, where his three children, Laura, Bea and Philip, enjoy the perks of wealth and their mother, Genevieve, is a charming lady of leisure. A parallel story, of their Thai servants' lives, is critical to the pivotal event, eight-year-old Philip's apparent abduction from a judo class. Opening in 2019 with Philip's purported reappearance and Laura's return to Bangkok leads to a natural progression back to the memories of their childhoods, and Schwarz alternates sections from the past and the present, providing clues that unravel the individual Prestons' stories. The story of Philip's disappearance and his alleged reappearance in 2019 offers a fascinating view of Southeast Asia in those decades. Schwarz (The Possible World) keeps the surprises coming and celebrates the notion that in every family and situation, there's always something to be saved. --Cheryl McKeon, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: A family saga with a mystery at its core is set over four decades, in Thailand and the United States.

Atria, $27, hardcover, 464p., 9781982150617

The Lost Manuscript

by Cathy Bonidan , trans. by Emma Ramadam

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French author Cathy Bonidan's English-language debut, The Lost Manuscript, is a moving epistolary adventure that follows four lost people on a mission to find an author. When Anne-Lise Briard discovers a manuscript in her hotel room in Brittany, she's inspired by its contents and decides to return it to the author herself, instead of handing it in at the front desk. The postal system is able to find Sylvestre, the author of the first half of the manuscript, and he and Anne-Lise start exchanging letters.

Sylvestre Fahmer lost the only copy of his book on a trip to Montreal in 1983, and The Lost Manuscript is the story of Anne-Lise's efforts to trace its 30-year journey back to the unknown person who decided to pick up and finish it. Anne-Lise is almost chronically nosy, pushing past Sylvestre's resistance and enlisting the help of friends and strangers alike in her quest. These events are recounted entirely through letters, most of which are between Anne-Lise, Sylvestre and two others. Often left in storage for years at a time, the novel pops up again and again, and changes the lives of those who read it, often inspiring them to pick up the pieces of their lives and start anew.

Bonidan's characters are funny, annoyed, frustrated and disappointed, but the end result is heartwarming. Full of complex side characters, The Lost Manuscript, translated from the French by Emma Ramadam, has a clever structure scaffolding a familiar theme: the power of stories to connect and reconnect flawed people and open their hearts. --Suzanne Krohn, editor, Love in Panels

Discover: Cathy Bonidan's heartfelt epistolary novel traces the 30-year journey of a manuscript that has a surprising and inspiring impact on everyone who reads it.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 288p., 9781250256300

Mystery & Thriller

If I Disappear

by Eliza Jane Brazier

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"I have been alone for the past year, trapped on my bed in my room, listening to you. I have accomplished nothing, apart from memorizing your every word." As far as obsessive fans go, there are worse than 33-year-old Sera Fleece, who narrates Eliza Jane Brazier's seductively disquieting debut, If I Disappear, as though she's speaking directly to the object of her infatuation.

Sera is sure that something has happened to Rachel Bard--something along the lines of what's befallen the missing women Rachel has discussed on her true-crime podcast, Murder, She Spoke. What's more, Sera is certain that Rachel saw it coming. Sera knows from Rachel's podcasts that she broadcasts from a house at Fountain Creek Guest Ranch, run by her parents, in Northern California. Sera drives the three hours from her apartment to the property, where she meets Rachel's mother, Addy, under the pretense that she's looking for work. Of course, Sera remembers exactly what Rachel said about Addy in Episode 66: "She believes every fact is a lie spawned by the government to target her specifically."

Addy isn't the only tough nut that Sera meets while she's sniffing around, and as she inquires into Rachel's whereabouts, she hears spurious things and faces hostility that's in discombobulating contrast to the book's bucolic setting. Brazier's unsettling thriller is really about two missing women: one who seems to have been taken against her will and her putative rescuer, who is convinced that only by disappearing from her old life can she find herself. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: In this alluringly unsettling thriller, a fangirl travels to a Northern California ranch to look into the disappearance of her favorite podcaster.

Berkley, $26, hardcover, 304p., 9780593198223

Deep into the Dark

by P.J. Tracy

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An emotionally and physically scarred army veteran's attempts to manage civilian life jumpstarts Deep into the Dark, an exciting series launch that also sets a new direction for P.J. Tracy's career. It skillfully melds the psychological thriller with the police procedural while persuasively delving into veterans' issues.

The only soldier to survive a car bombing, Sam Easton returned from Afghanistan with half his face disfigured and deep mental wounds that cause blackouts. Each day is a trial in survival as Sam bartends at the Pearl Club, which attracts Hollywood insiders, while dealing with the breakup of his marriage. He finds a purpose in helping his platonic friend and fellow bartender Melody Traeger after she's beaten up by her boyfriend, music promoter Ryan Gallagher.

When Ryan is murdered a couple of days after Sam confronted him, the veteran falls under the radar of LAPD homicide detectives Maggie Nolan and Al Crawford, who are also investigating several killings on Los Angeles's Miracle Mile. Al is suspicious of Sam. But Maggie believes Sam is innocent because he reminds her of her brother, a soldier killed in Afghanistan. The investigations intensify when another person close to Sam is murdered and Melody believes she is being stalked.

Believable, complicated characters fuel an energetic plot full of realistic twists. Deep into the Dark marks the third solo effort from P.J. Tracy, the pseudonym of Traci Lambrecht who, with her late mother, P.J. Lambrecht, wrote 10 lighter, award-winning novels about Minneapolis's Monkeewrench Software company. Tracy delivers a darker, richer story in Deep into the Dark. Mom would be proud. --Oline H. Cogdill, freelance reviewer 

Discover: A veteran suffering from PTSD becomes the prime suspect in several murders in this gripping combination of psychological thriller and police procedural.

Minotaur Books, $26.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250754943

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Doors of Sleep: Journals of Zaxony Delatree

by Tim Pratt

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"Here's the situation. Every time I fall asleep, I wake up in another universe." Twenty-two-year-old Zax hurtles through a complex multiverse in Tim Pratt's Doors of Sleep: Journals of Zaxony Delatree. This imaginative adventure stands on the shoulders of classic science fiction action novels like H.G. Wells's The Time Machine and provides as much entertainment.

Zak can't explain his predicament, but he knows he's been to more than 1,000 separate universes. Luckily, he stumbles on ways to counter the continual existential dangers. He's injected with a linguistic virus that helps him communicate as he jumps worlds. He learns to manipulate drugs, both artificial and natural, that keep him awake for days in hospitable worlds or put him to sleep quickly should danger arise. "Sometimes I need to spin the wheel of worlds again fast," he admits. Zak's also fortunate when he finds friendly life forms that add their own unusual skill sets to his. Vicki, for example, a small crystal life form that is "a tactical and strategic engine," tries to determine why Zak is in this unending loop--and, perhaps, how to stop the process.

This is an escapist fantasy with something for everyone. There are close calls, chases, heartbreak and, of course, an evil villain, all within colorful and distinctive worlds. "Traveling is... it's like life, I guess," Zak says. "Sometimes it's wonderful, and sometimes it's terrible, and sometimes it's boring." This fast-paced tale is perfect for anyone looking for sympathetic characters and nonstop action. --Cindy Pauldine, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.

Discover: This entertaining science-fiction story follows the adventures of a man who finds himself in a different universe every time he wakes up.

Angry Robot, $14.99, paperback, 272p., 9780857668745

Biography & Memoir

The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication

by Alexander Larman

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If books were food, Alexander Larman's The Crown in Crisis: Countdown to the Abdication would have the nutrients of spinach and the decadence of a chocolate cupcake. History buffs can guiltlessly consume this abdication saga alongside fans of The Crown because underneath the juicy empire-shaking scandal that's at the book's heart, The Crown in Crisis is a marvel of erudition.

When he was the Prince of Wales, Edward VIII fell for Wallis Simpson, a married American woman. Their love endured through the death of his father, George V, in January 1936, which made Edward king. Following Wallis's divorce, Edward embraced the idea of a morganatic marriage, in which people from different social ranks can wed on the condition that any children they produce won't inherit the title, but members of the Cabinet weren't having it. This led Edward to conclude that his only chance at happiness was to abandon the throne--the first English king ever to do so of his own free will.

The Crown in Crisis is a barn burner: it has intrigue, subterfuge, betrayal, a salivating press, Nazis and an up-and-coming Winston Churchill. Larman, a British historian and journalist, is a resourceful and, when provoked, witty writer. (Wallis pens a letter to Edward appealing to what Larman calls the man's "possibly non-existent better nature.") A cautionary note: Larman's brief references to Edward's post-abdication life with Wallis may disappoint readers, particularly those named Harry or Meghan, who hope to leave the book assured that putting love first pays off. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This account of the turmoil surrounding King Edward VIII's decision to abdicate in order to marry American divorcée Wallis Simpson sits in the sweet spot where erudite history meets soapy saga.

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 352p., 9781250274847

American Daughter

by Stephanie Thornton Plymale

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Stephanie Thornton Plymale is the American dream. She has a long, loving marriage, wonderful children, a thriving design business and a position as CEO of the Heritage School of Interior Design. But her poignant and often distressing memoir, American Daughter, does not begin there. Plymale is also "an American nightmare," a child failed by every part of the American system and, most egregiously, by her mother.

American Daughter opens in 1974, with Plymale and her four siblings (from various fathers in the "relentless succession" of men) living out of a station wagon in a California state park. While their mother works as a motel maid, they explore the beach "like a pack of stray puppies." When they have no food, the eldest, 10, harvests seaweed (their mother responds that seaweed is healthy and "People in the city paid top dollar for it!").

Staggeringly, these were some of the best years of Plymale's childhood. Though she wildly succeeded in leading a life the opposite of her mother's, she was haunted by memories. Decades later, Plymale receives a call from her mother (in violation of the stalking order filed after she threatened to burn down Plymale's house). She has stage-four lung cancer and six months to live. Plymale's recounting of this time with her mother, meshed with her memories, is as astonishing as it is disturbing. The writing is shatteringly candid but never overwrought, the story a stark reminder that "the most difficult people are often suffering in ways we can't fathom." --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A successful designer and teacher finally deals with her tortured past and horrific mother in a memoir full of twists and revelations on the way to redemption.

HarperOne, $27.99, hardcover, 288p., 9780063054332

Social Science

Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear

by Carl L. Hart

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Carl L. Hart is engaging and informative in his campaign against the War on Drugs. As a professor of psychology at Columbia University and a research scientist at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, he wields impressive expertise on the effects of chemicals on the human brain. As a Black man, husband, father and recreational drug user, he's also well-acquainted with the misinformation and political agendas that unnecessarily complicate the relationship between adults and their leisure activities.

In Drug Use for Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, Hart establishes a compelling case for drug decriminalization, both by objectively detailing the chemical effects that popular substances have on the body, and by outlining the political and financial incentives behind their criminalization--laws with egregiously racist enforcement: "Complex economic and social forces are routinely reduced to 'drug problems,' and resources are directed to those in law enforcement rather than to neighborhoods' real needs, such as job creation, better education, or lifesaving drug services." Drug use, he points out, is common and often beneficial; it's addiction, poverty and ignorance that kills.

Hart doesn't ignore fatality risks, but he presses beyond simplistic reasoning to illuminate the ways that unregulated, underground economies negatively influence quality and lead to overdose. His passion about the advantages of drugs on people's wellbeing is infectious, and he enumerates the positive effects that methamphetamines, opioids, hallucinogens, etc., can have when consumed safely and smartly. Abstinence-only education has been de rigueur for a fatally long time, and this iconoclastic manifesto offers a welcome pathway toward society's more sensible relationships with drugs. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An iconoclastic drug expert delivers an engaging corrective on illicit substances and their effects, as well as a rousing antidote to racist drug policies.

Penguin Press, $28, hardcover, 304p., 9781101981641

Essays & Criticism

Let Me Tell You What I Mean

by Joan Didion

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Joan Didion's literary career has spanned more than half a century and has earned her justifiable acclaim. But long before she produced award-winning works like The Year of Magical Thinking, she was delivering articles to publications that included the Saturday Evening Post and the New York Times Magazine. Let Me Tell You What I Mean features 12 of those previously uncollected pieces that together foreshadow Didion's distinctive style and the considerable range of her interests.

The collection's entries blend reportage, profiles, personal essays and even a bit of literary criticismHalf were published in the turbulent year of 1968, and all but one appeared before the beginning of the 21st century. Despite its brevity, Let Me Tell You What I Mean hints at some of the subjects that would preoccupy Didion, including life in her native California and the craft of writing. Among the most appealing of Didion's personal essays are "On Being Unchosen by the College of One's Choice," the story of her rejection by Stanford University in 1952, and "Telling Stories," an account of her fitful effort to write short stories and its abrupt, early end.

"The peculiarity of being a writer is that the entire enterprise involves the mortal humiliation of seeing one's own words in print," Didion writes in "Last Words," her homage to Ernest Hemingway, a writer, she says, who "made the English language new." For all the discomfort she may feel reading her own work, she undoubtedly helped do something similar for the craft of literary journalism. These examples of her early work clearly foreshadow that. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: This slim collection of mostly early pieces from Joan Didion provides a window into the work of her long, much-admired career.

Knopf, $23, hardcover, 192p., 9780593318485

Children's & Young Adult

Concrete Rose

by Angie Thomas

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In this impressive, highly dramatic prequel to Angie Thomas's much celebrated The Hate U Give, Black 17-year-old Maverick Carter must choose between gang life and domestic life when he becomes a father.

Maverick is the son of "Li'l Don" Adonis, the incarcerated leader of the King Lords gang. Despite his father's legacy, Mav operates at the gang's bottom ranks. He and best friend King also sell drugs behind the gang's back to make fast cash. Then Mav--who is in love with a young woman named Lisa--finds out that Iesha, who's in an on-again, off-again relationship with King, has just given birth to Mav's child. While trying to raise his son, Mav's relationships with King and Lisa begin to suffer: King rekindles his relationship with Iesha; Lisa, dealing with Mav's infidelity, realizes she is pregnant with his second child. When Mav is offered a part-time job at the supermarket, he begins to consider leaving the King Lords. His escape, however, is potentially thwarted when his cousin, a fellow King Lord, is killed by an unknown assailant. Will Mav follow street code and take revenge? Or will he become his own man and leave vengeance behind?

Thomas's skillfully constructed dialogue elevates the story, giving authenticity and individuality to each character. Fans of The Hate U Give should appreciate learning more about Garden Heights' history, culture and historical inhabitants, and hearing Mav's story from his own perspective will surely excite those with an appreciation for Starr Carter. The uninitiated are also welcome, as Thomas explores social themes and immerses her readers in gang hierarchies, jail visitation systems and postpartum depression. --Kharissa Kenner, children's librarian, Bank Street School for Children

Discover: In this compelling, thought-provoking prequel to The Hate U Give, a Black 17-year-old gang member must make difficult decisions when he becomes a father.

Balzer + Bray, $19.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 13-up, 9780062846716

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space

by Shaun David Hutchinson

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Outlandish adventure and meaningful self-discovery combine in Shaun David Hutchinson's A Complicated Love Story Set in Space, a far-out, genre-bending novel for teens.

"You are in space, floating outside a ship called Qriosity. There is no reason to panic."

Noa begs to differ. One minute the jaded teenager was in bed in Seattle, the next he's in a space suit warning him his "heart rate is exceeding the maximum recommended beats per minute." Noa isn't alone--two other teens are also on the ship, with no memory of how they got there. As Noa, DJ and Jenny search the ship for answers, they get to know one another, all while facing ship malfunctions, alien monsters and time loops. Attraction begins to kindle between Noa and DJ, but Noa struggles with a history of sexual assault and an inability to trust. Compassionate DJ, meanwhile, will do anything to protect Noa, even if it means his own love goes unrequited. As the three teens bond, life on the ship starts "to feel more real to [them] than... life on Earth." But when memories and their very identities become suspect, the new family they've developed threatens to shatter.

A Complicated Love Story Set in Space is exactly that, but don't let the direct premise fool you: Shaun David Hutchinson's (We Are the Ants) ninth novel for young adults packs in enough twists, turns and wacky moments to make for a wild ride. Through humor and heartache, Hutchinson balances an incredible situation with the great emotional depths and fragile relationships of his characters. More than survival or love, Hutchinson's novel is about personal identity and how we define ourselves through memories, experiences and the perceptions of others. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Teens stranded in outer space struggle to survive both physical danger and emotional vulnerability in this funny and insightful queer sci-fi romance novel.

Simon & Schuster, $19.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 13-up, 9781534448537

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