From the Shelf
Summer-Time Travel Reading
I've always been a sucker for time travel fiction, beginning with H.G. Wells and escalating when I discovered Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward 2000-1887 (Penguin Classics), in which Julian West falls asleep on Decoration Day in the 19th century and wakes up at the dawn of the 21st. Talk about a long summer's nap.
My new favorite is the beautifully conceived novel Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawaguchi, translated by Geoffrey Trousselot (Hanover Square Press). The story takes place in a windowless basement café, tucked away in one of Tokyo's narrow alleys. A certain chair in the café can transport you, briefly, to a specific moment in your past, subject to a considerable list of rules, including: you must drink the cup of coffee you are served before it gets cold. Time travel can be fickle.
For readers, of course, any book can be a time machine. I love J.L. Carr's A Month in the Country (NYRB Classics), in which an old man's mind whisks him back 50 years to a golden summer in 1920, which he spent in a Yorkshire village, uncovering a parish church's medieval wall painting. His subtle and compelling friendship, edging tentatively toward love, with the vicar's beautiful young wife, is "the missed moment" of his life.
"Luridly hot summers occupy a particular place in fiction; an interzone, where the normal rules are suspended," the Guardian noted in a 2018 review of Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller (Tin House Books).
Frances Jellico, wasted by age and illness, guides us backward to the summer of 1969 and a tumbledown English country house. She is there to catalogue the estate's garden architecture for an American who bought the property sight unseen. Under the spell of the estate's other summer occupants, Peter and Cara, the long-sheltered Frances blooms momentarily in ways both liberating and terrifying.
That trip was so intriguing that I'm now reading Fuller's terrific new novel, Unsettled Ground (Tin House Books), because readers also have the superpower to time travel in the present, elsewhere. --Robert Gray, editor
In this Issue...
by Brian Broome
Brian Broome's stunning memoir, full of tender empathy and searing intellect, is an expansion of Black masculinity that explodes with heart, power and verve.
by Mackenzi Lee
A richly imagined Marvel Universe origin story follows the rival daughters of Thanos on a mission to collect the heart of a dying world.
by Dara McAnulty
Sixteen-year-old Dara McAnulty's insightful, lyrical journal offers his perspective on the natural world, as well as the challenges of living with autism.
Review by Subjects:
06/14/2021 - 6:30PMThis month’s selection is LYCANTHROPY AND OTHER CHRONIC ILLNESSES by Kristen O’Neal. This book club will meet online. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the event.
06/14/2021 - 4:30PMThis month’s selection is SAVING FABLE by Scott Reintgen. We be reading this book over two months, the first half in June and the second half in July. This book club will meet online. Please email email@example.com to be added to the event.
06/14/2021 - 11:00AMThis month’s selection is IN FIVE YEARS by Rebecca Serle. This book club will meet online. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the event.
06/15/2021 - 8:00PMBefore Hamilton became a global phenomenon, before Lin-Manuel Miranda became a household name, a little show called In the Heights shook up Broadway with its hip-hop and salsa soundtrack and big, bilingual heart. In the new book In the Heights: Finding Home, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Quiara Alegría Hudes, and Jeremy McCartertell the story of the show’s humble beginnings, from rehearsals in a bookstore basement to the Broadway smash (and soon-to-be feature film!) that created an unbreakable community...
06/16/2021 - 6:30PMThis month’s selection is NAKED LUNCH by William S Burroughs Jr.. This book club will meet online. Please email email@example.com to be added to the event.
06/17/2021 - 7:00PMIn partnership with the Southern Independent Bookseller Alliance, Page 158 Books is excited to present Reader, Meet Writer, a virtual event series featuring Southern authors hosted by national bestselling author Wiley Cash. Space is limited, so RSVP is required. Check out the rest of the tour on our website. Sign up here. A literary master across genres, award-winning author Chris Offutt’s latest novel, The Killing Hills, is a compelling, propulsive thriller in which a suspicious death...
06/17/2021 - 6:30PMThis month's selection is VICIOUS by V.E. Schwab. This bookclub will meet online. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the event.
06/17/2021 - 3:30PMThis month’s selection is MAGIC MISFITS by Neil Patrick Harris. We be reading this book over two months, the first half in June and the second half in July. This book club will meet online. Please email email@example.com to be added to the event.
06/19/2021 - 11:00AMJoin Page 158 Books for storytime with Jessica Norwood, author of BED HEAD. This event will be held in front of the store and broadcast live over Facebook. We will be following all current Covid guidelines. BED HEAD is the first of the Your Hair is Magic books, a series focused on the beauty of big, curly, knotty hair. Rooted in realism and representation, these books are all about promoting self-love and building confidence, one curl at a time. Activity sheets will be provided for...
06/21/2021 - 6:00PMThis month’s selection is THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF by David Gerrold. This book club will meet online. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the event.
06/23/2021 - 6:00PMThis month’s selection is MADHOUSE AT THE END OF THE EARTH by Julian Sancton. This book club will meet online. Please email email@example.com to be added to the event.
06/24/2021 - 7:00PMIn partnership with the Southern Independent Bookseller Alliance, Page 158 Books is excited to present Reader, Meet Writer, a virtual event series featuring Southern authors hosted by national bestselling author Wiley Cash. Space is limited, so RSVP is required. Check out the rest of the tour on our website. Sign up here. My Mistress’ Eyes Are Raven Black is a noir thriller set on Ellis Island in 1920. It explores just how far some human beings will go to protect racial purity and...
06/24/2021 - 6:30PMThis month's selection is LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This book club will meet online. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org to be added to the event.
06/24/2021 - 11:00AMThis month's selection is THE MYSTERY OF MRS CHRISTIE by Marie Benedict. This book club will meet online. Please email email@example.com to be added to the event.
06/26/2021 - 11:00AMClose your eyes, make a wish, and blow up a storm with author Darren Farrell as he reads his interactive new book DANDELION MAGIC with us! Join us in store for storytime followed by activities and a chance to have your book signed by the author. Please note that we will be following all current Covid guidelines.
10 Richest Authors Ever
Mental Floss calculated "the 10 richest authors of all time."
The New York Public Library recommended "moody crime reads" for fans of HBO's Mare of Easttown.
"How Egyptian papyrus is made: watch artisans keep a 5,000-year-old art alive." (via Open Culture)
Emily Brontë's handwritten poems are the highlight of a "lost library" auction, the Guardian reported.
Boing Boing noted that "24 years after its release, Japanese bookstore simulator game BookStory is translated into English."
Rediscover: Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton
Margaret-Olemaun Pokiak-Fenton, an Inuvialiut knowledge keeper, residential school survivor, and co-author of the bestselling book Fatty Legs: A True Story, died June 2 at age 84. In a tribute, her publisher, Annick Press, said: "Young readers all over the world have been introduced to the harsh reality of residential schools through her books." Although she went by the the name Margaret when her stories were originally published, Pokiak-Fenton "would deepen her connection with her birth name, Olemaun, over the course of her later years," and by the publication of the 10th-anniversary edition of Fatty Legs, she began using Olemaun again, Annick Press noted, adding: "Her life's story, published two years before the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission began, would prove to be among the first of scores of heart-rending stories from fellow survivors."
Fatty Legs, its sequel A Stranger at Home, and young reader editions When I Was Eight and Not My Girl, have sold more than a quarter of a million copies and collected over 20 awards and distinctions. Christy Jordan-Fenton, who co-authored Pokiak-Fenton's books and is her daughter-in-law, observed: "I wanted my children to have no bigger hero than their grandmother." The 10th anniversary edition of Fatty Legs is available from Annick Press ($12.95).
The Writer's Life
Brian Broome: Don't Write Yourself as the Hero of Your Story
|photo: Andy Johanson|
Screenwriter and poet Brian Broome is a K. Leroy Irvis Fellow and an instructor in the writing program at the University of Pittsburgh. The recipient of a 2019 Vann Award for journalism from the Pittsburgh Black Media Federation, Broome has also been a finalist in The Moth storytelling competition and won a Martin Luther King, Jr. Writing Award from Carnegie Mellon University. His 2017 chapbook 79 was published by Creative Nonfiction. Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, reviewed below) is his full-length debut. He lives in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The structure of Punch Me Up to the Gods is so powerful--meaningful within each thread as well as holistically. How did you land on the final shape of the book, with your incorporation of Gwendolyn Brooks's "We Real Cool" and the story of the father and son interactions on the bus?
I read the Brooks poem, and I thought: this poem is kind of a treatise on Black masculinity. I immediately YouTubed Gwendolyn Brooks and listened to her talk about the poem. She said she was walking by this pool hall, and she saw these boys doing very manly things, and she says she wondered how they felt about themselves. And I thought: I wonder how you know. I wonder what I was thinking about myself at that age. I think she said they were really young, maybe between 11 and 13 years old. And I immediately thought about being a Black male and what being a man means or being masculine means.
Then I googled some more and saw that the great bell hooks wrote an entire book based off of this poem. It's called We Real Cool: Black Men and Masculinity. So, I got that book immediately. bell hooks writes in a very academic way. I got through it, but I was like: I don't have academic chops like that. But I have all these stories. I was like: I'm going to hang my book off of this poem.
The sections on the bus also happened really organically. I always, always, always write on the bus. Always. I just sit there like a maniac, taking notes of little things that I see on the bus because they give me character ideas, like an artist sketching. Someone with a big belly is proudly wearing a half shirt, and I'm like: that is awesome. I'll write something like, "Big belly, half shirt." I'll get home and have all these ridiculous notes like "Smeared lipstick" and "Kicking the back of my chair." And one day I was on the bus, and I saw this man and his son interacting. It seemed to me that the father was teaching the boy, so I just sat there--like a maniac once again--just taking notes on what I saw them doing. That's how the structure of the book came about.
You teach creative nonfiction in addition to writing it. How do your writing and teaching inform each other?
One of the things I try to push in my class is: write anything you want. Do not write for my consumption. Write it the way you want it, and then we'll talk about it. In a class on memoir, one of the things that I try to stress is: don't write yourself as the hero of your story. And then: what are you willing to tell on yourself? What are you willing to give up to tell a good story?
You've offered a beautiful answer on whom this book is for, saying, "I guess it's just for anyone who's ever carried the burden of shame just from living and feeling like they were born wrong."
I hope that everybody gets something from this book, something positive or something that they can think about. I don't know what everybody's going to take from it. For some people, it's about race, for some it's about masculinity, for some it's about poverty, for some it's about the importance of, and the indefatigability of, Black women. For some people, it's about a bunch of different things. All I can say is that I hope that everybody who reads it gets something positive that they can think about or think through, something that maybe reminds them of themselves or somebody that they know. I think the ultimate goal is for people maybe to read it and be a little bit gentler with each other.
In one section you switch to your mother's point of view. In what ways are those words hers, yours or both?
They are her words. They are not verbatim. I interviewed her, and we talked about a lot of sensitive subjects. I was afraid to interview her and ask these questions. And I was, quite frankly, stunned by how candid she was about everything that had happened in her life, in my life. I really didn't expect her to open up as much as she did. But that is my mother's voice. That is the way that she talks. There were some feelings and emotions that I extrapolated from what she told me. She didn't read it before it was published, and I thought, "Ooh, I'm taking some risks." But she read it, and she had no quarrel with anything I wrote. So, it was her telling me about her experiences, and me trying to feel like she would have felt, if that were happening in my life. And I got close--because she said when she read it, she had to put the book down for a little bit and walk away from it.
And it was great for me to get to know my mom a little bit better. Now I have this record of us talking that I'll have forever. A little mp4 on my computer of my mother and I just talking about her life. And that's one of the greatest things to come from this book.
What are you looking forward to about your virtual book tour? What kinds of questions are you most excited for or are you maybe dreading?
The experience is new, and I'm just waiting to see what it brings. I'll tell you one thing: I have had a few occasions where it feels to me like the interviewer is trying to sort of position my book as a trauma narrative. I try to steer the conversation away from that, because I don't think it is a trauma narrative. I think that there is trauma that happens within the narrative, but I feel like some people are doing this like, "Oh, you poor thing!" you know? But that's not what the book is about. It's a story that has joy and sorrow, and people who act like the moving parts in this machine. Sometimes they don't do the greatest things, but sometimes they do.
What are you reading right now, and what are you excited or otherwise motivated to read soon?
I have a stack--it's not a stack, but it's a file that may as well be a stack, the way it looms in my life--of books I want to read. At the top is Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. I want to read that. I want to read somebody who can make me laugh on the page. As for stories that I want to write? I'm just going to keep riding the bus.
I know traveling is complicated right now, so no pressure to answer this--but if you want: when was the last time you wrote on the bus?
I'm totally gonna answer that. It was yesterday. --Katie Weed
Mystery & Thriller
A Rogue's Company
by Allison Montclair
A Rogue's Company, the third entry in Allison Montclair's Sparks & Bainbridge series, is a historical romp through postwar London. The Right Sort Marriage Bureau is doing remarkably well, and Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge are quite pleased with how their matchmaking venture is going. If only their personal lives weren't so complicated: Iris, who goes by "Sparks," is having flashbacks to her time spying for Great Britain during the war, and juggling a relationship with an unsavory bloke, and Gwen has been unable to regain custody of her son since her in-laws took him away after her mental breakdown upon her husband's death.
Gwen, determined to prove she is now mentally stable, confronts her irascible father-in-law, Lord Bainbridge, who has just returned from six months in Africa, only to be summarily kidnapped along with him. Sparks, alarmed by Gwen's disappearance, calls on some wartime contacts for more information. Soon, willingly or not, both ladies find themselves hobnobbing with crooks and thieves as they try to figure out exactly what Lord Bainbridge has been up to.
Montclair ably captures the relief of the postwar era in the fast-paced and funny A Rogue's Company, as those who survived the Blitz and the battles try to put their lives back together. Gwen and Sparks have a delightful repartee, and A Rogue's Company further fleshes out their already enjoyable characters as they scurry about London in search of the truth. Readers of Ashley Weaver or Rhys Bowen are sure to adore the adventures of Sparks & Bainbridge. --Jessica Howard, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this delightful historical mystery set in postwar London, a pair of matchmakers find themselves embroiled in murder and mayhem.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The Wolf and the Woodsman
by Ava Reid
Ava Reid's debut novel, The Wolf and the Woodsman, is a captivating story about a young woman named Évike and her quest to survive in the tyrannical kingdom of Szarvasvár. Every year, the king sends his Woodsmen, a devout religious order of the Patrifaith, to the pagan village of Keszi to take a young woman, a wolf girl, back to the capital; Évike's mother was taken when Évike was a young girl and she has lived a life of scorn, abuse and unacceptance ever since. But this time, Keszi gives up Évike, the only woman in the village with no skills. When Évike and the Woodsmen are attacked by monsters, only she and one of the men survive. As war rages both at and within the borders of Szarvasvár, Évike and the Woodsman, who is not who he claims to be, enter an uneasy pact to face the growing evil in the kingdom.
Reid draws from Jewish mythology and Hungarian history, weaving a dark, complex world that is horrifying yet beautiful in its depictions of life from Évike's first-person perspective throughout the adventure fantasy. Reid's deployment of magic at key moments bolsters both the mystery and the internal mythos of the narrative. At its heart, it is a story about culture, identity, stories, histories, religion and finding oneself despite the darkest circumstances, as Évike finds herself, reclaims a bond with family she thought she lost, and works to build a new world and return home. --Michelle Anya Anjirbag, freelance reviewer
Discover: A complex and enthralling fantasy filled with myth, history and magic that pits the strength of a young woman against growing tyranny.
Biography & Memoir
Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir
by Brian Broome
In his thoroughly electric debut, Punch Me Up to the Gods: A Memoir, Brian Broome will shatter your heart. Then make you laugh, sweat and cringe. And--all while eviscerating stereotypes and expanding notions of Black masculinity and queer identity--he'll shatter your heart again, then carefully, exquisitely, piece it back together.
Broome structures his multidimensional memoir around two through-lines: Gwendolyn Brooks's seminal poem "We Real Cool" and a thread detailing a bus ride during which Broome watches a young Black father offer lessons on how to behave--how to "be a man"--to his toddler son. Interspersed between lines of Brooks's poem and vignettes from the bus ride, Broome offers brutal memories and beautifully rendered stories from his own life, fleshing out the various ways he, too, has been taught, encouraged or forced to be a man. The sum is an exploration that with unflinching honesty and style creates room for Black masculinity like his: queer, sensitive, reflective, funny, flawed, terrible at basketball. (See that story for monumental cringing.)
With his book's dedication to "Brother and Sister Outsiders everywhere," Broome honors Audre Lorde, and he pays consistent, vocal homage to the Black women who have supported him throughout his life. He is also generous with the forgiveness that thrums through recollections of even the most brutal abuses--sometimes even his own. As a boy, Broome accidentally burned down his family's house. Now, he incinerates preconceived notions: of Black manhood, of storytelling and of their stakes--both for the writer himself and anyone lucky enough to be his audience. --Katie Weed, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Brian Broome's stunning memoir, full of tender empathy and searing intellect, is an expansion of Black masculinity that explodes with heart, power and verve.
Diary of a Young Naturalist
by Dara McAnulty
Dara McAnulty notices things other people don't--a hen harrier in the trees, a forgotten feather on a trail, a butterfly's wings fluttering against his chest. This knack for observation makes him an excellent recorder of changes in the natural world in his insightful and heartfelt book, Diary of a Young Naturalist. Over the course of a year, McAnulty keeps a journal as he and his family explore various landscapes near their Northern Ireland home. Only 16 years old, McAnulty writes with the wisdom of someone much older. His lyrical prose mourns the destruction of nature, but also something more personal--the loss of the childlike ability to revel in new experiences and express unbridled joy when bullies and the rote tasks of adulthood loom. "Wildlife is my refuge," McAnulty declares. "When I'm sitting and watching, grown-ups usually ask if I'm okay. Like it's not okay just to sit and process the world, to figure things out and watch other species go about their day."
McAnulty's fascination with nature serves a dual purpose: it keeps him connected to his work as an environmental activist and, as an individual with autism in an increasingly overwhelming society, it also helps him remain centered. In particular, McAnulty struggles to connect with peers who routinely misunderstand and mock him. Instead, he finds a sense of belonging with other naturalists and within his close-knit family, as his mother and two siblings are also on the spectrum. Moving and inspiring, McAnulty's book offers an invigorating and ultimately hopeful look at the world. --Angela Lutz, freelance reviewer
Discover: Sixteen-year-old Dara McAnulty's insightful, lyrical journal offers his perspective on the natural world, as well as the challenges of living with autism.
Home Made: A Story of Grief, Groceries, Showing Up--and What We Make When We Make Dinner
by Liz Hauck
As a 20-something, Liz Hauck hatched a plan with her dad, Charlie, to start a cooking program for teenage boys in state care at the agency where he worked. But when Charlie died unexpectedly, Liz decided to press on alone. Home Made is Hauck's moving memoir of the three years she spent shopping, cooking, washing dishes and building a tenuous bond with a rotating cast of boys facing all kinds of trauma and challenges.
Hauck writes with deep compassion, not only for the boys but for her grieving, idealistic younger self. Visiting the group home, upstairs from her dad's former office, brings her into contact with his longtime colleagues and shows her a new side of the work to which he dedicated his life. The actual cooking is often fraught with frustrations: disappearing pots and knives, the occasional kitchen disaster, boys who refuse new foods or don't show up at all. But Hauck perseveres, planning elaborate birthday dinners and simpler weekly meals of stir-fry and homemade pizza. She captures the humor and pathos of interactions with young men already wary of well-meaning adults, and shares glimpses of the ordinary conversations that took place around the table. Home Made is not a prescription for sweeping social change or a story of a white woman saving young men of color (or even herself). Rather, it is a tender, insightful, often funny account of what happens when people show up--and keep showing up--to cook and eat together. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: Liz Hauck shares a moving, often funny account of the time she spent cooking with teenagers in a group home while also mourning her father.
From the Ashes: My Story of Being Indigenous, Homeless and Finding My Way
by Jesse Thistle
Winner of the Kobo Emerging Writer Prize for Nonfiction as well as the 2020 Indigenous Voices Award, this harrowing yet hopeful memoir from Métis-Cree professor and homelessness advocate Jesse Thistle is already a runaway sensation in his native Canada. In plainspoken prose and original poetry, Thistle tells a jaw-dropping story of trauma, struggle and healing.
When Thistle was a preschooler, his mother gave him and his brothers to their father, a drug addict. Neglected and starved, the boys learned to beg for change, dumpster dive and pull petty thefts before their father abandoned them. A stint in a children's home led to a dark time in a foster home, "my brother Jerry fighting off the giant wolf that... floated over our beds and ripped him apart." Eventually the boys landed in the care of their paternal grandparents, where their grandfather tried to toughen them with constant work and corporal punishment. Thistle continued to miss his parents deeply, struggled in school and faced casual racism. Disowned by his grandfather for drug use, he spent his early adulthood in a spiral of addiction, homelessness and stealing for survival before finding his purpose through connecting with his heritage.
Thistle delivers an unvarnished description of his past without judgment or self-pity. His colloquial metaphors and unpretentious style make the narrative both accessible and as sharp as glass. Candid and unflinching, From the Ashes illustrates the impact of losing contact with culture and community. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: A bestseller in its native Canada, Jesse Thistle's memoir of trauma, addiction and homelessness is harrowing and hopeful.
Surviving Katyń: Stalin's Polish Massacre and the Search for Truth
by Jane Rogoyska
Jane Rogoyska's Surviving Katyń investigates a tragedy that continues to haunt Poland and poison Russo-Polish relations almost a century after it occurred. Rogoyska is a historian, biographer and the author of a novel, Kozlowski, born from her research into the Katyń massacre in 1940, when 22,000 Polish prisoners of war were murdered and buried in secret by the Soviet secret police, the NKVD. Though millions died in World War II, the massacre is notable because the murdered prisoners, largely officers, constituted a significant swath of the Polish intelligentsia, and because of what came after. Soviet officials maintained for half a century that Katyń was a crime committed by the Nazis, a lie that muddied the waters around an already inscrutable tragedy and put Katyń at the heart of difficult questions about politics and historical truth.
At least until the first mass graves were found by the Nazis in Katyń Forest, the remaining Polish officers were left with the mystery of how and where their friends and comrades had disappeared. Rogoyska sensitively recounts how that uncertainty tortured the survivors and the families of the deceased. After the discovery of the bodies, the Soviets and Nazis blamed each other for the killings, and the truth became secondary to their propaganda war.
Surviving Katyń feels remarkably modern not only because the narrative extends to the present day, but because the arguments about the truth of Katyń recall the fake news and conspiracy theories that proliferate today. At a time when even historical facts are disputed, Rogoyska's efforts to get as close to the truth of Katyń as possible are more necessary than ever. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader
Discover: Surviving Katyń vividly reconstructs an infamous World War II-era massacre that became a decades-long propaganda battle over the truth.
Now in Paperback
by Alexis Schaitkin
In this riveting debut novel, Alexis Schaitkin delves into the ripple effects of a tragedy on two individuals from seemingly polar-opposite walks of life. Claire Thomas is seven when her 18-year-old sister, Alison, goes missing during a family trip to the Caribbean island of Saint X. After Alison's body is discovered, an investigation results in the arrest of two resort employees with whom she was last seen: Edwin Hastie and Clive Richardson. But with only circumstantial evidence, the men are soon released, and Alison's death goes unsolved.
Claire's and Clive Richardson's paths cross 20 years later when she steps into his New York City taxi. When she sees his license and name displayed on the cab's partition, she becomes obsessed with learning the truth about what happened that fateful night on Saint X.
Schaitkin vividly paints the emotional struggle Claire experiences after leaving the island. Her identity, her relationship with her parents, the expectations of friends are all defined by her sister's death. The author weaves Clive's story into Claire's. The contrast in their lives is stark--Claire lives a privileged life, while Clive is lucky to scrape by--but they are both haunted by the death of Alison. Clive loses his home and his family because of the fallout from the investigation. The differing points of view remind readers that both are unreliable narrators; readers must parse for themselves what the truth is, if it actually can be found. While Saint X on its surface presents a mystery, this is an engrossing tale of human relationships. --Jen Forbus
Discover: In her debut novel, Alexis Schaitkin presents a riveting tale of family, privilege and finding one's way in the labyrinth of life.
by Diksha Basu
Seemingly light reading featuring a New York family and friends headed to an Indian wedding morphs into a spectacularly entertaining examination of race, privilege, hybrid identity, family dysfunction and maybe even a love story (or five).
Tina Das, still single at 32, has plateaued at her television producing job. While she waits to board her flight to her cousin's almost week-long nuptial celebration, she's with her BFF-since-Yale-days Marianne, her divorced parents Neel and Radha, and her mother's boyfriend David. Once in Delhi, the family is accommodated at a posh country club in oversize private cottages with onsite staff. Marianne, whose partner stayed home, is enjoying the groom's brother's attentions. Neel anticipates a date with widowed Mrs. Sethi. Radha hopes she might reconnect with Tina, who still resents her for the divorce a decade ago. And then there's Tina: she's got plenty of drama balancing Sid, the gorgeous personal trainer from the Mumbai slums, and trying not to fall (again) for the charming Australian expat who dissed her in London.
Diksha Basu, who made keeping up with the Joneses bitingly insightful in The Windfall, gives a similar eyebrow-arch to her characters here. Her revealing glimpses into the lives of passing strangers include a young lover searching for privacy in public with her boyfriend, the butler's after-hours life and Mrs. Sethi's grumpy dessert-loving cook. Basu balances the haves and have-nots--both socioeconomically and emotionally--with deft assurance and expert timing. Her astute, often scathing, commentaries beneath the irresistible humor transform her fiction into a must-go literary destination. --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon
Discover: Diksha Basu's sophomore title, Destination Wedding, provides the perfect balance between hilariously entertaining and ingeniously divulging.
Children's & Young Adult
Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms
by Mackenzi Lee
Warrior sisters with a fraught history attempt to steal the heart of a planet in Gamora and Nebula: Sisters in Arms, a richly imagined Marvel Universe science-fiction novel by Mackenzie Lee (Loki: Where Mischief Lies; The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue).
Gamora and Nebula, the adopted daughters of the Mad Titan Thanos, are trained warriors. But Thanos glorifies Gamora and shames Nebula, sowing distrust between the two and making them bitter rivals. When Gamora is tasked to retrieve the heart of a valuable mining planet, Nebula secretly follows, seeking glory for herself. The young women unexpectedly bond when they find themselves forced together: "The desperation of a warrior who had never had anyone but herself to rely on, craving support. Two thirsty beings drinking the ocean." The sisters yearn to trust each other despite their painful history, allowing them to question their rivalry and consider joining forces. But can they overcome a lifetime littered with violence, jealousy and treachery and survive a journey into the depths of a crumbling planet?
In Gamora and Nebula, Lee has written a riveting Marvel origin story charged with emotional tumult that gives delicious depth to the existing literary and film franchise. With gritty descriptions of a planet disfigured by mining trenches, saloon shoot-outs and enormous space ships, Lee's creation is an action-packed sci-fi western, fantastic in its intergalactic reach yet accessible through its emotionally (and physically) scarred heroines. Fans of the Marvel universe as well as newcomers will relish Lee's complex characters and the beautifully rendered universe she imagines. --Jennifer Oleinik, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A richly imagined Marvel Universe origin story follows the rival daughters of Thanos on a mission to collect the heart of a dying world.
Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous
by Suzanne Park
A Los Angeles Korean American lifestyle influencer, forced to detox from social media, finds a new way to connect while at a Midwestern farm in this thoughtful and funny novel.
Seventeen-year-old L.A.-born Korean American Sun-Hee "Sunny" Song was thrust into Internet fame as a toddler when a video of her went viral. Now a teen, she's amassed nearly 100K followers on YouTube, but her parents and her school's headmaster aren't impressed. When a cooking livestream gets unintentionally racy, it elicits the hashtag "#BrowniePorn" and jeopardizes her school enrollment. Sunny's parents, in damage control mode, send her to Iowa's Sunshine Heritage Farms for a month-long digital detox camp. Despite a strict no-devices policy, Sunny sneaks in a cellphone so she can keep tabs on an influencer contest in which she's competing. But as she participates in group sessions and farm work and grows closer to the farm owner's son, Theo, she questions whether there's more to life than likes and subscribers.
In Sunny Song Will Never Be Famous, Suzanne Park (The Perfect Escape) smartly explores identity, specifically when it is intertwined with social media. She shows not only social media's toxicity but also its use as a crutch, such as how "online Sunny could edit and delete posts when she didn't like how they came out." Park also effortlessly weaves in details about Sunny's Korean American experience, including both the commonplace, like being a second-generation American, as well as the ugly, such as casual racism and bullying. This is an insightful, pertinent and humorous novel. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Discover: A Los Angeles Korean American social media influencer is sent to a digital detox summer camp on an Iowa farm in this thoughtful, funny novel.
by Sophy Henn
A scoffing superhero finds it easier to defeat villains than to make new friends in Sophy Henn's delightfully cynical graphic novel series starter, Pizazz.
Pizazz, 9¼, hails from a proud line of superheroes, complete with obligatory cape and costume, much to her chagrin. Pizazz is mortified by her name, convinced she is saddled with "the least cool of all the super powers" and (eye roll) "not particularly thrilled with being SUPER."
Making matters worse, her family has recently moved. Pizazz's overachieving, fire-breathing little sister, Red Dragon, has no trouble settling in at their new school while Pizazz's competitive streak and world-saving experience earn her the dreadful job of class "eco monitor." Flying off to fight super baddies like Farterella and Twerknado leaves Pizazz little time to solve an ecological threat to a nearby park; her Gramps offers a different perspective that helps Pizazz both save the day and make a new friend.
Over 10 action-packed chapters saturated with black ink, Henn (Where Bear?) crafts a resigned, endearingly sarcastic tween who aches for normalcy after her family's recent move. Energetic digital pop artwork calls to mind Roy Lichtenstein with its liberal use of Ben Day-like dots (a spotted printing method) while the mix of full-bleed and spot illustrations delivers high visual impact. Meanwhile, Henn's spirited blend of comic strips, dynamic graphic elements and punchy first-person prose should interest even readers as skeptical as our superhero. Just don't ask Pizazz about her super power... or that llama incident (it's a long story). --Kit Ballenger, youth librarian, Help Your Shelf
Discover: A skeptical superhero navigates a new school in between resenting her sister and saving the world in this charming, visually explosive series starter for middle-grade readers.