From the Shelf
When cookbook author Padma Lakshmi, of Top Chef, pitched the publisher Ecco, she originally considered writing a healthy diet book. But she realized that what she had to write would be more than a lifestyle book. Herein lies the beauty of Love, Loss, and What We Ate: her bravery shines. When Padma was young, her mother left her in their native India with her grandparents to escape the stigma of being divorced and forge a new life for them in New York City. Two years later, Padma joined her, beginning a lifelong love of travel. She became a famous model despite a visible scar from a terrible car accident. She ate her way around the world. She loved and lost under the ever-watchful public eye. What you won't find in Padma's memoir are fancy, cheffy recipes, but rather the simplest childhood staples that soothed her through her painful and inspiring journey toward fame. (Make the yogurt rice recipe; you won't regret it.)
I had the honor of speaking with Padma about her new book. We were so engrossed in our conversation about our favorite books and independent bookstores that we talked far beyond our allotted 30-minute time slot. What would be the one cookbook she'd take to a deserted island? She'd been reading Joseph Conrad's An Outcast of the Islands and decided on M.F.K. Fisher, "Because the writing is SO good." She knows good writing, and can write quite well herself.
Those of us who watch Padma on Top Chef are stunned by her beauty, her directness and good taste. In Love, Loss, and What We Ate, we go beyond the fame to discover a courageous woman, one who is delightfully unafraid to go lowbrow and offer the world exactly what it needs: her own version of a soul-soothing grilled cheese--with Indian chiles, of course. --Jenn Risko, publisher & co-founder, Shelf Awareness
In this Issue...
by Lisa Lutz
A woman spends a decade running from the law even though she may not be guilty of all she's accused of, including murder.
by Jeff Zentner
The son of an imprisoned, snake-handling Tennessee preacher and two other ostracized high school seniors band together in this extraordinary YA debut.
by Boris Fishman
In a nuanced, compassionate novel, a New Jersey immigrant family confronts the challenges of raising an adopted child born in Montana.
Review by Subjects:
07/07/2020 - 3:00PMWhat: Author and illustrator Sam Wedelich will be our guest at Camp Blue Willow. She will read her new picture book Chicken Little: The Real and Totally True Tale and share an activity with viewers. This event will take place on Blue Willow's Facebook Live stream. We hope you can join us! When: Tuesday, July 7, 2020, 3:00pm We work hard to bring events to our community for free, because connecting readers with authors is central to our mission. But these programs are not free for us to...
07/08/2020 - 7:00PMWhat: Megan Miranda will appear in conversation with Riley Sager discuss her novel The Girl from Widow Hills. This event will take place on Blue Willow's Facebook Live stream. When: Wednesday, July 8, 2020, 7:00pm We work hard to bring events to our community for free, because connecting readers with authors is central to our mission. But these programs are not free for us to put on! If you’re interested in attending this event, we hope you’ll consider purchasing a...
Spring Break for Book Nerds!
Surf's up! Bustle found "10 of the best spring break vacation spots for book nerds."
Quirk Books found "10 must-have things for National Grammar Day."
If you want to "avoid raiding the local toy store and make books the center of your birthday party," Brightly offered tips on "how to throw a toy-free birthday party for book-loving kids."
"Forget the boring old selfie," Mashable advised. "Let these 32 authors teach you how to shelfie."
Author Heinz Helle picked the "top 10 hateful characters you love in literature" for the Guardian.
"Bookshelves make the best walls: 10 stunning designs" were featured by Flavorwire.
Lindsay Eagar: On Magic, Márquez and Mormons
|photo: Hannah Kirby|
In Lindsay Eagar's lyrical debut novel, Hour of the Bees, 12-year-old Carol and her family head to the New Mexico desert one summer to a remote, dried-up sheep ranch where she will meet her Mexican American grandfather for the first time. Grandpa Serge's fantastical stories about rain-bringing bees, a green-glass lake, a healing tree, and his wandering wife, Rosa, seem like the hallucinations of a diseased mind, but by summer's end Carol knows his fairy tales must be true. From her home in Salt Lake City, where she lives with her husband and daughter, Eagar talks with Shelf Awareness about embracing roots and facing fears, magic realism and emu heads.
I read that you started your novel with the title Hour of the Bees before you even knew what the bees were, or which hour it was. That seems a bit... magical!
It really was magical. "Hour of the bees" was a little knot of text that came to me when I was out on a run one day. I don't know why it floated into my mind. Sometimes words do that, or phrases do.
I had just trunked another novel that I'd been working on for two years. I knew I had to admit failure and try something new, so when I sat down with a blank piece of paper one morning, I started with Hour of the Bees as the title and just went from there. It came together pretty organically, considering I had no idea what I was doing. The whole thing poured out of me in about ten days, the first draft did. It felt very otherworldly, like it was finding its way through me somehow.
I try to avoid the "this meets this" construct as a reviewer, but someone wrote that Hour of the Bees is "Big Fish meets One Hundred Years of Solitude." Do you like that assessment of your novel?
Oh yes, I love that. I didn't know much about magical realism before I started writing this, so... when I was trying to pigeonhole my genre to pitch this book, that was what kept coming up. The more I researched it, the more I realized magical realism wasn't a catch-all term for "light fantasy" like I'd thought, but that it has its roots in Latin American culture and cultures of oppression. So then I went on a Gabriel García Márquez binge--and I thought, "This is what I'm trying to do!" This exact feeling and flavor... this type of magic woven into reality.
I love the Big Fish aspect, too. That story was actually in my mind as a touchstone for the relationship between the grandfather and Carol's estranged father. The strain is there, and somebody dying, and you have all these things you want to say but everyone's too stubborn to say any of them. And then there's all this frustration. So yes. I think that's a good "this meets this."
You said, "Hour of the Bees was unlike anything I'd ever written before: First person, present tense? Mexican American characters? Dual narratives, New Mexico setting? All of it, foreign to me." Tell us how you chose to write about Mexican American characters in New Mexico.
Mostly I was trying to contrast the books that I had been working on as much as possible. The book before was this fun pirate adventure with lots of storms at sea, and so I went the opposite direction--dry and arid. I grew up in Utah, so I'm no stranger to the desert, but it's never been one of my favorite landscapes. It's miserable, you know... it can be. In that moment, I found some sort of beauty in the bleakness that I wanted to explore.
As for writing Mexican American characters... I'm extremely white. My cultural celebration is going to the Scottish festival every year, so to write a Mexican American family was terrifying in some ways. But I researched as much as I could and relied on my instincts to tell a story about people. If I've missed anything, my job will be to shut up and listen, and do better next time.
And about the first-person present point of view... I thought, I'll never write that... never! I'm a third-person kind of person! But that morning I thought I had to just try everything different, completely rebuild.
At first, 12-year-old Carol tries to hide her Mexican roots, but by the end of the book, she embraces them... and her Grandpa Serge. What is your own relationship with your family history?
I've been reflecting on this a lot lately, why I chose to write Hour of the Bees, especially the part about rejecting your roots and circling back to claim them again. I grew up in Utah in a staunchly Mormon family, and, man, it is so easy to be a rebellious Mormon living in Utah County, Utah, because everyone around you is super Mormon. Everyone is struggling with it in their own way, trying to push back from it while at the same time embracing it and not making your parents upset. I drew on those experiences. And now, as an adult, I am proud of my heritage. That's my blood. I'm no longer Mormon, but it's part of who I am.
You've said your novel came from your fear of death.
When I was 14, my maternal grandfather died. It was really sudden, really unexpected, and I was very close to him, so it shocked me. Since I grew up in a culture that is very much interested in the afterlife and is very chipper about it, people said, "Don't worry, you'll see him again someday, families are forever!" I thought, "No! I want him here now!" If I'm not careful, especially now that I'm a parent, my thoughts on this topic can spiral out of control. I'm up at 3 a.m. worrying. How will I die? How will I say goodbye to everyone? What happens next? But I know, on the flip side, you shouldn't be afraid to die if you're living a full life.
So this is something you tell yourself all the time.
Yeah. A lot. Peter Pan says, "To die would be an awfully great adventure." But I say, you don't know that! Here's where the fun is, here's where the people are and the music and all the good stuff.
Speaking of adventures, tell us about Grandma Rosa. She loves her husband, Serge, and her son, but maybe she loves travel most of all.
Rosa does love travel, but I'd say she loves life most of all. In the stories, bees follow her around, and it's because she's just brimming with life. The bees can sense it. So, yes, she loves travel, and she loves being home with her husband and son, but she also has this compulsion to see and experience all she can before she dies. It's easy to villainize her for her choices, but her inner compass is so strong. She knows what she wants.
Do you have a personal story behind the magical tree with its gift of immortality?
My dad and I both loved Tree of Life stories. Almost every culture has its own. There's a magical tree with fruit and some beautiful, amazing life-fulfilling something, but with a terrible consequence. I just drew on that idea, I guess.
Carol says "I measure time with changes..." I know the book is about a village where time is not important, but time--and how different people measure it--plays a huge part in the narrative.
Time is one of the things that the village gives up. Basically, when you live forever you have no need for it anymore. I was coupling that with the idea of entering adolescence, a period where time is everything and change is everything. Time is a connector between Carol and her grandfather. A man who is hundreds of years old is still concerned with time, just like a 12-year-old girl who's about to enter junior high in a super tempestuous period of her life.
Grandpa Serge has dementia. What inspired you to tell that part of the story?
When I was drafting this novel, my sister had been working at an assisted-living facility. She came home with stories about the people with dementia who lived there... the funniest, sweetest things, and also the saddest things. How scary it is that somebody with dementia can just slowly lose pieces of their minds and of themselves, and not know it.
There was an emu head in Grandma Rosa's closet at the ranch. What's the story behind that?
Totally out of the blue. I just thought, if I were a kid, what would be the most terrifying thing to find in my grandmother's closet? And, I thought, well, a mounted head, probably. It seemed exotic. Far away. And kind of funny to think that it would also be a necklace holder. Rosa was the coolest grandma. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Rediscover: The Prince of Tides
Pat Conroy, the author of bestselling fiction and memoirs, mostly set in the South, died last week at age 70. Much of Conroy's fiction came from his own life. He was the son of a Marine Corps fighter pilot and experienced the transient youth of a military brat (a subculture he helped popularize). His father was emotionally and physically abusive, inspiring the protagonist's father, Lt. Col. Wilbur "Bull" Meecham, in The Great Santini (1976). His college years at the Citadel in South Carolina were fertile ground for The Lords of Discipline (1980), and he drew on the year he spent as a teacher in a remote island schoolhouse for The Water Is Wide (1972). Conroy's love of basketball, his attachment to the South Carolina coast and his relationship with his father are all frequent themes in his work.
His best-known work, The Prince of Tides (1986), bundles many of Conroy's demons into a literary look at depression and dark family secrets. It follows Tom Wingo, a former football player from South Carolina who travels to New York City to help his sister, Savannah, whose lifelong history of mental illness has culminated in another suicide attempt. Through the course of the novel, Tom recounts his traumatic childhood to Savannah's psychiatrist in the hopes that his information can save his sister. The book became a bestseller and inspired a 1991 film directed by Barbra Streisand, who also starred alongside Nick Nolte, Melinda Dillon and Kate Nelligan. It was last reprinted in 2002 by Dial Press ($17, 9780553381542).
Conroy was also beloved by booksellers and publishers. In one of many tributes, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle called Conroy "a wonderful partner and friend to sales and to our booksellers. From the moment I met him, it was so clear, and so obvious to me why he was such a treasured member of our publishing family: his openness, his goodness, his warmth, and of course, his stories." --Tobias Mutter
Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo
by Boris Fishman
Leavened with a healthy dose of the history, culture and culinary arts of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in New Jersey, Boris Fishman's second novel (after A Replacement Life) tells the story of Alex and Maya Rubin and their nine-year-old adopted son, Max, whose Montana birth parents handed him over with the admonition: "Don't let my baby do rodeo."
Struggling to overcome the insecurity of separation from her Ukraine family, Maya meets Alex and marries him out of young love (and to get U.S. citizenship). When they discover they cannot have children, Maya takes charge of adoption over the strong objection of Alex and his Belarus-born busybody parents, who hold that "adopted children were second-class, by definition unwanted... used human being[s]."
A healthy baby, Max develops into a reclusive, almost feral, child who immerses himself in the natural world. Alex takes this to confirm his reluctance to adopt "because you get genes that belong to somebody else." Maya thinks this makes Max special and, becoming more self-assured, she insists that they drive to Montana to meet the birth parents and see Max's roots for themselves.
With graceful control and assurance, Fishman turns Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo into a layered story of identity and the challenges of weaving our many differences into compassionate bonds. So many things can drive a family apart; it's a wonder that Alex, Maya and Max (or any of us) can hold it together. Immigration and adoption are not for wimps. Writing well about them is a true art. Fishman is very much up to the task--heartbreak, headaches, happiness and all. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: In a nuanced, compassionate novel, a New Jersey immigrant family confronts the challenges of raising an adopted child born in Montana.
13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl
by Mona Awad
Mona Awad's novel 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl opens with Lizzie March's unhappy adolescent years, where readers are introduced to an overweight girl who craves acceptance and love. Lizzie is insecure and over-sexualized by everyone around her, to the point where she believes her worth is defined by the attention her appearance elicits. Again and again, Lizzie hears that her only worth is in being skinny. The few men in her life tell her fat girls have to "do anything"--they must please their partners or risk losing them. When she looks in a mirror, she no longer sees herself, or even a person; she sees just a set of flaws she has to fix.
In this way, Awad shapes body shame as a dissociative experience. After she loses weight through restrictive diets and obsessive exercise, Lizzie's life is both comical and miserable. She devolves into a food-obsessed gym rat, whose hours logged on a treadmill leave her feeling wholly without traction in her life. She fixates on constantly controlling her appearance to please others. Awad weaves in cutting humor that makes this tragic story funny and familiar. With tact and wit, Awad captures the pain and absurdity of a disturbing norm that many girls and women are subjected to. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company
Discover: 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl is a compassionate story about a woman's struggle with how weight and fat define every aspect of her life.
Miss Grief and Other Stories
by Constance Fenimore Woolson, edited by Anne Boyd Rioux
At the time of Constance Fenimore Woolson's death at the age of 53 in 1894, she had completed six novels and had published dozens of stories and poems in literary magazines such as the Atlantic Monthly and Harper's Bazaar. Her works were pioneering masterpieces of local color and were considered superior to those of any American writers at the time, including her friend Henry James. Yet, after her death, Woolson's reputation quickly faded, her importance overshadowed by her male contemporaries. Her biographer, Anne Boyd Rioux (Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist; reviewed below), reintroduces Woolson with a sampling of stories that includes the acclaimed "Rodman the Keeper," written from the perspective of a Union soldier returning to the post-Civil War South as keeper of the national cemetery and caring for an ailing Confederate counterpart; "Miss Grief," in which an impoverished and talented female writer looks for validation from an established male writer (a veiled reference to Henry James); and "A Florentine Experiment," Woolson's successful attempt to emulate Henry James's analytical staple of manner above matter, but with feeling.
Rioux praises Woolson as a woman who mastered the complex, aloof style of her male contemporaries, yet managed to infuse flawed individuals with depth and humanity to "reflect what is deeply human in all of us, particularly our need to be loved, to be understood, and to belong." Like Jane Austen, Woolson's protagonists knew and understood their place within the rigid social ladder of acceptable convention, and her portraits are vivid, picture perfect snapshots of that time and place. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: Anne Boyd Rioux reintroduces an American master of regionalism and local color whose works have been compared with Jane Austen.
by Peter Behrens
In Carry Me, Peter Behrens (The O'Briens) writes a fresh story of Europe between 1910 and 1938, an era of war and political turmoil. Told through two extended families and in locales including the idyllic Isle of Wight, Germany and the United States, the novel features characters responding to their circumstances with compassion and hopefulness.
Narrator Billy Lange opens with "This will become the story of a young woman, Karin Weinbrenner," the woman he loves. Their parents reflect the century's conflicts: Billy's father, "Buck" Lange, is German Irish, and his mother, Eilin, is Irish Catholic, while Karin's parents, who employ the Langes, are Baron von Weinbrenner, a Jewish German millionaire, and his wife, an Irish Protestant aristocrat. "Birthplaces, nationality--such details have consequences in this story."
Chapters move among eras as Billy, Karin and their parents live through one war and move inexorably toward the next. After opening with brief family history from 1884 to 1913, Carry Me fast-forwards to 1938 and a letter advising Billy to examine his "attitude to the national and racial developments in our Germany." Billy and Karin, their lives entwined from childhood, fantasize about the American West of Karl May's cowboy novels. By 1938, Hitler is fully in charge, pushing toward war. "This all happened before I or anyone else had watched half a century's worth of films about secret police and Nazis and the brutality of ordinary 'decent' men in uniforms, so I didn't recognize the situation, I didn't know the story line." Billy convinces Karin to leave Germany for the States.
"In 1945 I found myself alive on the other side of history," Billy reveals, summarizing events through 1977. Carry Me's perspective on war's tragedies is beautifully composed, and heartbreakingly credible. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: This epic novel of Europe from 1910 through 1938 tells a multi-generational story of two German-Irish families and their efforts to survive.
Under the Influence
by Joyce Maynard
Among the many mysteries in Under the Influence, Joyce Maynard's (After Her) ninth novel, is whether people believe the lies they tell themselves. Because there are as many lies and secrets as there are characters here, when the narrator tries to reinvent herself after a tragedy, the only person left to trust is the eight-year-old boy caught in the middle of it all.
Helen McCabe has had a hard life: a distant mother with a string of boyfriends, an emotionally abusive relationship and an alcohol problem. When a judge takes away her son, Helen feels that her life is over--until she meets Ava Havilland and her husband, Swift, an extravagantly rich and private couple. They become fast friends, to the point where Swift promises Helen he'll help get her son back. But, in the way that the Havillands treat their maid and Helen's new boyfriend, it becomes obvious they are hiding something.
As more is revealed about what, exactly, the couple is holding back, Maynard explores just how much Helen is willing to overlook and leaves it unclear whether Helen chooses to ignore her new friends' moral flaws or is blinded by her gratitude. The Havillands manipulate Helen so that she can't separate her own best interest from theirs, but will she will get out from under their influence before she loses herself completely? --Josh Potter
Mystery & Thriller
by Lisa Lutz
Tanya Dubois finds her husband, Frank, dead at the bottom of the stairs. "As far as I could tell, he fell down the staircase all on his own." The obvious next step, then, would be to dial 911, right? Wrong. Tanya changes her identity, acquires fake documents, and gets the hell outta Dodge. Because this isn't the first time she's gone on the run, and no one would believe she didn't kill Frank.
Soon after she leaves town, Tanya--now using the name Amelia Keen--meets Blue, a bartender who has unsettling hidden talents. She helps Amelia out of a sticky situation, but it's unclear whether Blue can be trusted--or will put Amelia in further danger. As her troubles escalate and more deaths occur, what does become certain to Tanya/Amelia (neither is her real name) is that the only way to stop running is to return to where she started and face her demons.
In her thrilling standalone, The Passenger, Lisa Lutz (the Spellman series) keeps the pace blistering without sacrificing characterization. She doesn't do perfect or cuddly; her people are regular folks doing the best they can with extremely bad luck. The protagonist, who goes through many name changes, is flawed and flinty, but her loneliness from her years in hiding is palpable. Blue is also vivid, someone with a sense of menace lurking beneath her coolness, keeping readers guessing about her motives. Both are women who start out as passengers in their own lives, until they decide it's time to take the wheel. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: A woman spends a decade running from the law even though she may not be guilty of all she's accused of, including murder.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Dexter Palmer
With Version Control Dexter Palmer (The Dream of Perpetual Motion) has written a slow burn of a near-future science fiction novel that manages to dive deep into themes of gender roles, grieving parents, the culture of academia, racism, what it's like to be a scientist and the fragile nature of causality violation--just don't call it time travel.
Rebecca Wright is married to physicist Phillip Steiner, the public face of the causality violation machine that he and his government-funded team have been testing for eight years. Phillip has trouble relating to people, but has found Rebecca "interesting," the highest form of praise from a socially awkward physicist.
In this near-future, the president interrupts television and radio shows to have personal chats with individuals, an online dating service employs algorithms and computing power to ensure its own future, and self-driving cars continue to evolve into spaces to relax and retreat while being taken anywhere.
Rebecca feels like something is wrong with reality, a discomfort--as though things just aren't the way they're supposed to be. Even the couple's personal tragedies seem somewhat off-kilter. Is it her grief talking, or something more sinister, something at the base level of reality itself?
Is the causality violation device, proven to not work hundreds of times, actually changing reality?
Version Control is a thoughtful look at a society's foibles through the lens of speculative fiction, while telling a compelling story that will engage readers from the first page. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A wise, unsettling look at one or more possible futures wraps around Version Control like a time machine rollercoaster ride.
by Glen Hirshberg
Good Girls, sequel to Glen Hirshberg's Motherless Child, is a creepy, atmospheric novel that never lets up. The horror of choices made in the previous book are developed to their fullest here, with mistakes and luck playing as much of a role as careful planning or serious intent.
Rebecca has moved on from the orphanage that raised her. Though she still looks to her "parents" there--the childlike Joel and hard-as-nails Amanda--for comfort when life gets hard, Rebecca tries to make it on her own, living in an apartment with three roommates and working at a crisis hotline at the nearby college.
When a stranger calls, hinting at more than suicide, Rebecca has no idea how to react. What she doesn't know is that her caller is a vampire-like creature called the Whistler. Though he's not human, he is attracted to worldly subjects like classic rock music; he takes to the darkness to attack Rebecca's friends in an ever-closing circle of death and mutilation, to demonstrate his love for her calm, still demeanor and (unbeknownst to her) magical talents.
Jess, protagonist from the first novel, hires Rebecca to mind her baby, Eddie, and keep an eye on her bed-ridden husband, Benny. Jess doesn't mention the legless horror in the attic, though, which may end up killing them all.
Good Girls is a powerful continuation of Hirshberg's previous novel, full of creeping horror and believable characterizations, even of mythical creatures. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: This hair-raising horror novel causes serious shivers with its portrait of humans and vampires pushed to their limits.
Biography & Memoir
Dreaming of Lions: My Life in the Wild Places
by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
From an early age, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas has been enthralled with the natural world, and she shares her keen observations in her memoir Dreaming of Lions. Her parents, particularly her father, wanted Thomas to experience life fully, and the biggest influence on her life was when her parents took the family to live in the Kalahari Basin in Africa in 1951.
She carefully intertwines memories of her African experiences as her family followed the ways of the local Bushmen, or Ju/wasi, who lived near various waterholes in the Kalahari, with her adult life in the U.S. with her husband and children, their own journeys to Africa and their interactions with the Dodoth tribes. On these later trips, she encountered elephants and lions, hostility for being a woman and the violence of Idi Amin's regime.
Thomas deliberately doesn't follow a timeline; she tells her life's story by subject and themes rather than chronologically, which gives readers perspective on how this woman's creative mind works. From microscopic waterbears living in a drop of swamp water to the leopards that prowled next to her as she slept near a waterhole to the cougar that killed a doe in her yard, Thomas shares her awe of nature with readers, providing insight into the ways of animals that is obtained only after years of careful scrutiny. Candid revelations about her own struggles with alcohol and the medical traumas endured by her family round out this undeniably powerful narrative of life that is reminiscent of The Flame Trees of Thika and Out of Africa. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: In this captivating memoir, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas tells the story of her upbringing and family, and details her knowledge and love of animals.
Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist
by Anne Boyd Rioux
Nineteenth-century novelist Constance Fenimore Woolson is one of the lost figures of American fiction. In her lifetime she was recognized as an important writer, but today she is generally treated as simply a footnote in the life of Henry James--the woman he feared committed suicide because he did not love her. In Constance Fenimore Woolson: Portrait of a Lady Novelist, literary historian Anne Boyd Rioux (editor of Woolson's Miss Grief and Other Stories, reviewed above) reclaims both Woolson's life and her work for a modern audience.
Rioux successfully navigates the balancing act at the heart of any literary biography. She considers Woolson's literary works--six novels and dozens of short stories--within the context of her life, but never reduces Woolson's fiction to mere biographical illustration. The end result is a portrait of a complex woman who chose a literary career over family and domesticity--one of the first women who successfully created such a life. Rioux presents Woolson as a serious writer who strove to portray the pressures of convention on women's lives within the format of the realistic novel. Like her male peers, Woolson traveled extensively in Europe, was a familiar figure in American expatriate circles in England and Italy, and occasionally retreated into solitude when the need to write was strong. Woolson's relationship with Henry James appears less as a story of unrequited love and more as the most important example of her lifelong efforts to find intellectual companionship and respect from her male peers.
Constance Fenimore Woolson is an engaging combination of storytelling and scholarship. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover: A fascinating biography of an accomplished writer overshadowed by her relationship with Henry James.
Children's & Young Adult
The Serpent King
by Jeff Zentner
Debut author Jeff Zentner's The Serpent King is the mesmerizing story of three teenage misfits who band together in the Bible Belt town of Forrestville, Tenn.--a place Lydia Blankenship, for one, can't wait to escape when she graduates from high school. Lydia is a fashion-loving social-media maven who's bound for New York. Travis Bohannon's brutish father wishes he'd play football, but instead his sensitive son is obsessed with a fantasy series called Bloodfall, and is a sucker for anything with "the whiff of the firelit, ancient, and mysterious." Dillard (nicknamed Dill) Early--the grandson of the snake-obsessed "Serpent King" and son of a snake-handling preacher--is a talented singer-songwriter... and he's on edge.
Dill is so tense because he's living in the shadow of his imprisoned father. He's also secretly in love with Lydia, who is pushing him to go to college, while his mother wants him to drop out of school to earn money for the family. Dill's mother says, "You don't need options in life. You need Jesus. Options are fine if you've got them, but we don't." Told from a third-person point of view, this riveting novel takes turns zeroing in on each of the three friends. Pens would run dry if readers were to underline extraordinary sentences--the kind that are so true, or funny, or beautiful that they clamp hearts. The narrative swirls with the scent of shampoo, the stink of mold, warm evening winds, wood smoke, vultures turning in lazy circles. Zentner sings a song of deep pain and harsh reality, but also of fierce love and hope. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: The son of an imprisoned, snake-handling Tennessee preacher and two other ostracized high school seniors band together in this extraordinary YA debut.
On the Edge of Gone
by Corinne Duyvis
At 16, Denise is used to difficulty. She's from a mixed-race family in Amsterdam, and she's on the autism spectrum. But now a comet is heading for Earth, and she knows she has far worse to get through. Her family is assigned to a shelter, but Denise's sister Iris is missing, and her drug-addicted mother can't even handle the basics when the world is not ending.
Corinne Duyvis (Otherbound), autistic and an Amsterdammer herself, has created a nuanced, compassionate character in Denise. She also imagines a believably devastated 2035--survivors stay connected through fading portable wrist tabs as they scavenge the flooded city under dust-storm skies. The author's real achievement, however, is in layering the inevitable dilemmas: If you can't save everyone, where do you draw the line? Denise stumbles upon a ship that's preparing for a multi-generation voyage to colonize another planet, but everyone must prove his or her usefulness to earn a spot on board, and she knows her mother is her biggest liability.
As Denise desperately works to join the ship, and searches for Iris, she pushes herself in ways she never thought she could. She isn't good at interpreting facial expressions, and her memorized social responses don't always work. Still, she keeps trying to connect and move forward. Denise says, "I don't think I'm built for the end of the world," but if she makes it, the end of the world may mean a new way of seeing herself.
On the Edge of Gone is an exciting read that packs in some deep thinking and real moral wallops along the way. --Ali Davis, freelance writer and playwright
Discover: Dutch author Corinne Duyvis's tension-filled science fiction YA novel brings a complex moral center to the end of the world.