Clarkson Potter Publishers: Eat a Peach: A Memoir by David Chang and Gabe Ulla

Pass Books Issue for Tuesday, September 15, 2020

From the Shelf

A War Casts a Long Shadow

Throughout his impressive career, the subject of Vietnam has never been far from the mind or work of Tim O'Brien. These three books--two fiction and one nonfiction--all highlight that preoccupation.

In The Things They Carried (Mariner, $15.99), O'Brien deals most directly with his combat experience in Vietnam. The classic title story of the 22 in the collection primarily is a catalog of the items that accompanied an infantry platoon on patrol, but through them O'Brien reveals the essence of what it meant to be a foot soldier fighting in a distant, alien land. "On the Rainy River" features a character named "Tim O'Brien," a recent college graduate who must decide whether to submit to a draft notice or flee to Canada. Its ending juxtaposes two haunting declarative sentences: "I was a coward. I went to war."

O'Brien's novel In the Lake of the Woods (Mariner, $15.99) tells the story of John Wade, a rising star in Minnesota politics whose career collapses when his involvement in a massacre of civilians in Vietnam is revealed in the midst of his primary campaign for a Senate seat. John and his wife Kathy retreat to a cabin in the north woods to recover from his crushing defeat, but when she disappears, the mysteries in her husband's complicated life multiply and deepen.

His first book in nearly two decades, Dad's Maybe Book (Mariner, $16.99) is the result of O'Brien's becoming a father at age 58. Acknowledging frankly that he may not see his two sons--now 17 and 15--grow to adulthood, he assembles a collage of recollections and advice about his relationship with his own father, the family's life, the craft of writing, and, yes, the "daily, nasty, grinding, lethal work of war." His musings are candid, touching and funny, and will resonate with any parent. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Sourcebooks: Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World, and Become a Good Ancestor by Layla Saad


Algonquin Books: Big Girl, Small Town by Michelle Gallen


Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Daughter of Smoke & Bone: The Complete Gift Set by Laini Taylor


Seal Press: Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America by Ijeoma Oluo

In this Issue...

Reviews

This Old Dog

by Martha Brockenbrough

In this touching picture book, a senior dog finds a new friend who moves at just his pace.

Read this review >>

Ink & Sigil

by Kevin Hearne

Set in the same world as the Iron Druid Chronicles, Hearne's spin-off series opener introduces a new system of magic and an engagingly crotchety hero.

Read this review >>

Dead Girls

by Selva Almada

By highlighting three gruesome, unsolved murders of young women in the 1980s, Selva Almada creates an affecting, hybrid exposé of ongoing femicide in her native Argentina.

Read this review >>

Review by Subjects:

Fiction Mystery & Thriller Science Fiction & Fantasy History Political Science Health & Medicine Children's & Young Adult

Travelers' Tales Guides: French Like Moi: A Midwesterner in Paris by Scott Dominic Carpenter

Book Candy

100 Comon Misspellings

Assassination, for example. Mental Floss showcased "100 of the most commonly misspelled words in the English language."

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"Dictionary.com revises definitions to eliminate prejudiced language," the Guardian reported.

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Playbill shared "the play lover's glossary: 10 terms to know before opening the script."

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"All right, it's time for a puppy quiz," courtesy of Merriam-Webster.

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Atlas Obscura checked out Gladstone's Library in Wales, where "you can sleep among the books."

Piranesi

by Susanna Clarke

British author Susanna Clarke won a World Fantasy Award and legions of fans with her debut novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, a classic in its own time. Now, in her first novel in almost 16 years, Clarke introduces readers to a dreamlike new world and the charming, curious soul who lives in it and loves it. A bold blend of mystery-thriller and speculative fiction, this literary fantasia inspired by the etchings of 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi explores the resilience of the human spirit and challenges the concept of what it means to be lost.

In a vast, austere labyrinth of halls and stairs "like an infinite series of classical buildings knitted together" and filled with ocean tides, a lone occupant devotes his life to naming its statues, cataloging its nooks and crannies, and eking out a spartan existence from the fish and seaweed he harvests from its waves. "I have climbed up to the Upper Halls where Clouds move in slow procession and Statues appear suddenly out of the Mists. I have explored the Drowned Halls where the Dark Waters are carpeted with white water lilies," he records in his meticulously indexed journals. He believes that "since the World began it is certain that there have existed fifteen people," but 13 are skeletons he has found and watches over as a reverent caretaker. Currently he can only confirm that the world, which he calls the House, has two occupants: himself and an older man he calls the Other. This man is his colleague, he explains, and they are searching together for "a Great and Secret Knowledge" hidden somewhere in the House. The Other calls the narrator Piranesi, "which is strange because as far as I remember it is not my name," and visits every Tuesday and Friday for one hour. Piranesi enjoys spending time with his friend but also worries about the Other's welfare. The Other often turns up with supplies like notebooks, shoes and "shining devices," even though Piranesi has never found any similar objects in the House. Believing the House provides for its occupants, he assumes it provides these extra resources to make up for gaps in the Other's survival skills and appreciates the few objects the Other shares with him.  

Recently, the Other has begun to behave oddly, asking if Piranesi remembers "Batter-Sea," when no one can remember a made-up place. Their peculiar talks culminate in the astounding revelation that he and Piranesi are not the only living human beings in existence. When Piranesi greets the announcement with joy and dubs the newly discovered person "16," the Other cautions, "16 is my enemy. And so, by extension, yours too." He instructs Piranesi to avoid 16 at all costs or risk madness. Piranesi feels torn--he trusts the Other, but he longs to hear the voice of another person. Soon he finds his harsh but fulfilling existence challenged by secret messages, unfolding mysteries and odd discrepancies in his own writings. Why, he wonders, would he have dated his oldest journals with the random numbers 2011 and 2012? As the nature of the House and his presence there slowly come to light, the man called Piranesi must decide whom to trust if he wants to survive long enough to learn the whole truth.

Born into the shadow of fantasy titan Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Clarke's meditative mystery will face high expectations and, inevitably, the question of how it compares to its famous predecessor. Despite their common provenance, comparison is difficult, as they are distinct, and distinctly brilliant. Rather than sprawling baroque grandeur, this story and its setting share the essence of a real labyrinth, subtle yet unadorned, offering a path of contemplation and change. Clarke's narrator lends credence to Hamlet's famous assertion, "There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." The reader will realize within the first few pages that something is terribly off about Piranesi's circumstances, but in his innocence, he sees his spartan prison as an amalgamation of noble wilderness, holy temple and compassionate deity. His mantra "the Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite" seems dangerously naive at first, but between his facility at creating a life from its harsh conditions and sonorous descriptions of its bleak beauty, a portrait slowly forms of a person utterly whole and at home in his environment. The quintessential wise fool, he serves as a reminder that human needs are deeper and simpler than modern life suggests. 

Clarke's wry, masterful use of dramatic irony fuels both humor and suspense as the story builds to its climax with disciplined pacing. Though brief in length, it holds its secrets tightly until the right moments and leaves one with the sense of having glimpsed a boundless cosmos through a keyhole. Piranesi marks a sophisticated and triumphant return for one of the finest novelists of this era. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Bloomsbury Publishing, $27, hardcover, 272p., 9781635575637

The Joining of Three Tides

Susanna Clarke
(photo: Sarah Lee)

What follows is an excerpt from Susanna Clarke's novel Piranesi, to be published by Bloomsbury on September 15, 2020.

First came the Tide from the Far Eastern Halls. This Tide ascended the easternmost Staircase without violence. It had no colour to speak of and its Waters were no more than ankle deep. It spread a grey mirror across the Pavement, the surface of which was marbled with streaks of milky Foam.

Next came the Tide from the Western Halls. This Tide thundered up the westernmost Staircase and hit the Eastern Wall with a great Clap, making all the Statues tremble. Its Foam was the white of old fishbones, and its churning depths were pewter. Within seconds its Waters were as high as the Waists of the First Tier of Statues.

Last came the Tide from the Northern Halls. It hurled itself up the middle Staircase, filling the Vestibule with an explosion of glittering, ice-white Foam. I was drenched and blinded. When I could see again Waters were cascading down the Statues. It was then that I realised I had made a mistake in calculating the volumes of the Second and Third Tides. A towering Peak of Water swept up to where I crouched. A great Hand of Water reached out to pluck me from the Wall. I flung my arms around the Legs of the Woman carrying a Beehive and prayed to the House to protect me. The Waters covered me and for a moment I was surrounded by the strange silence that comes when the Sea sweeps over you and drowns its own sounds. I thought that I was going to die; or else that I would be swept away to Unknown Halls, far from the rush and thrum of Familiar Tides. I clung on.

Then, just as suddenly as it began, it was over. The Joined Tides swept on into surrounding Halls. I heard the thunder and crack as the Tides struck the Walls. The Waters in the Ninth Vestibule sank rapidly down until they barely covered the Plinths of the First Tier of Statues.

I realised that I was holding on to something. I opened my hand and found a marble Finger from some Faraway Statue that the Tides had placed there.

The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.

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I was often hungry.

Fear and hunger forced me to explore the House and I discovered that fish were plentiful in the Drowned Halls. Their Waters were still and I was not so afraid. The difficulty here was that the Drowned Halls were surrounded by Dereliction on all sides. To reach them it was necessary to go up to the Upper Halls and then descend by means of the Wreckage through the great Rents and Gashes in the Floor.

Once, when I had not eaten for two days, I determined to go to the Drowned Halls to find some food. I ascended to the Upper Halls. This in itself was not easy for someone in my enfeebled condition. The Staircases, though they vary in size, are mostly built on the same noble scale as the rest of the House and each Step is almost twice the height that is comfortable for me. (It is as though God had originally built the House intending to people it with Giants before inexplicably changing His Mind....

I had my Journal with me. Consulting it, I discovered that I had been in this Vicinity once before and had in fact made detailed notes of the Hall beyond this one; the Hall above the Twentieth Eastern Hall. I had described the character and condition of the Statues and had even made a sketch of one of them. But of this Hall--the Hall on whose Threshold I now stood, the Hall that was full of Clouds--of this Hall I had recorded nothing whatsoever.

Today I would consider it madness to journey through a Hall I cannot see properly and of which I have no record, but today I do not allow Myself to get as hungry as I was then.

Adjoining Halls usually share some characteristics. The Hall immediately to my rear was approximately 200 metres in length and 120 metres wide and so the chances were good that the Hall before me was the same. It did not seem an impossible distance; I was more concerned about the Statues. From what I could see, these depicted human or demi-human figures, all two or three times my own stature and all in the throes of violent action: men fighting, women and men being carried off by centaurs or satyrs, octopuses tearing people apart. In most Regions of the House the expressions of the Statues are joyful or tranquil or possessed of a distant calm; but here the Faces were distorted in screams of rage or anguish.

I resolved to go carefully. To bash oneself on an outstretched marble limb is painful.

I entered the Cloud and slowly made my way along the Northern Side of the Hall.... I took a step away from the Wall to circumvent [a Statue] and my foot met with...

...nothing.

© Susanna Clarke, 2020 Bloomsbury Publishing,
50 Bedford Square, London, WCIB 3DP, UK
 

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Running Press: Stir it up with cocktail and cooking gifts!

Great Reads

Rediscover: Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret.

In 1970, Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. introduced Margaret Simon, a sixth-grade girl whose struggles with religion, puberty and other adolescent issues became a classic work of young adult literature. Margaret is nearing 12 when her Jewish father and Christian mother move from New York City to New Jersey. Raised without religious practice, Margaret decides to study other people's faiths for a school project in hopes of resolving her own spiritual questions. Meanwhile, Margaret and three other girls create a secret club for the frank discussion of subjects like boys, menstruation, bras and sex. As the year progresses, Margaret grows increasingly concerned that she is not developing as fast as her peers. The book's title refers to the opening lines of Margaret's nightly prayers, conducted despite her lack of a specific religion. Blume's followup, Then Again, Maybe I Won't (1971) tells a similar story, with a male protagonist struggling through puberty, though the novel focuses more on class issues than religious uncertainty.

Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. has frequently been challenged for its open mentions of menstruation and sex and a perceived anti-Christian message. It ranked 60 on the American Library Association's list of 100 most challenged book of the 1990s, though it fell to number 99 in the 2000s. Today, Atheneum Books for Young Readers is publishing a 50th anniversary edition of Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret. with a new faux-leather embossed cover ($10.99, paperback). To read our interview with Judy Blume, click here. --Tobias Mutter

Incorgnito Publishing Press: All the Good Little Girls Keep Quiet by K Kibbee

Book Reviews

Fiction

The Awkward Black Man

by Walter Mosley

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In Walter Mosley's short story "Haunted," a publisher has sent a rejection letter to a dead man, about whom he complains, "He wrote all that genre stuff and tried to pretend it was literary." It's impossible to read this line as anything other than Mosley's wink at the reader: being seen as less than true artists is the bane of good writers known primarily for their genre fiction. If Mosley, best known for his beloved Easy Rawlins crime novels, feels undervalued, The Awkward Black Man, the charged, fleet and often funny 17-story collection in which "Haunted" appears, may redress the misunderstanding.

The Awkward Black Man features men who are, as Rufus Coombs, the naive and sweet-natured narrator of "Pet Fly," would put it, "one shade or other of brown." In "Pet Fly," Rufus, who is stuck working in a mail room at an insurance company despite having a political science degree, is accused of sexual harassment after he leaves gifts for a female colleague. In "Between Storms," a man's paranoia following Hurricane Laura compels him to skip work and hole up in his Manhattan apartment; his self-isolation becomes a news story, which leads to his misbegotten valorization as "a people's hero who was refusing to take one more step before the other side made changes."

Fifty-plus books into his career, Mosley hasn't run out of inspired plots, and his interest in social issues remains acute, although he editorializes with the lightest of touches. Leave it to a master of the crime novel like Mosley to give several stories a shocking final twist: a happy ending. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

Discover: This primo story collection by an author best known for his crime fiction reaffirms his place in the literary pantheon.

Grove Press, $26, hardcover, 336p., 9780802149565

Seal Press: Sometimes You Have to Lie: The Life and Times of Louise Fitzhugh, Renegade Author of Harriet the Spy by Leslie Brody

little scratch

by Rebecca Watson

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The debut work of experimental fiction by freelance writer Rebecca Watson, little scratch, is not an easy read. In fact, some might consider moving from one page to the next an outright chore. What awaits readers is a jumble of phrases and intersecting sentences that are neither poems nor paragraphs. Yet once audiences recognize the cadence of the narrator's traumatized thoughts, they might realize this novel is one of the most captivating books of the year.

The plot itself is nothing extraordinary: A young female assistant for a bigwig male media executive wakes up hung over. She goes to work, does her job, meets her boyfriend for a poetry reading and dinner, after which they return home and sleep together. The action takes place during a single day, and much of the actual content is dedicated to outlining mundane behaviors: cycling, typing, texting, spooning soup, checking e-mail, even using the restroom. We learn little of this assistant's background, nor her motivations--other than a desire to write that has since been lost. And for reasons that soon become clear, she can't stop scratching. It's an impulse, both pleasure and punishment, a coping mechanism for the horror she's processing: a horror that slowly reveals itself as rape.

The narrator is simple, ordinary, which is what makes her thoughts feel so unbearably intimate. She's an everywoman--she is us, the many who have suffered at the hands of those with power. Watson steers her protagonist with skill, leaving readers mournful and aching by the time she falls asleep. --Lauren Puckett, freelance writer

Discover: A revolutionary #MeToo tale focusing less on the act of trauma than the impossible task of healing, little scratch is a challenging work of experimental fiction.

Doubleday, $23.95, hardcover, 224p., 9780385545761

Book Industry Charitable Foundation: Double your donation!

The Death of Comrade President

by Alain Mabanckou , trans. by Helen Stevenson

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A nation faces political upheaval--and a boy who just wants to find his missing dog must make sense of it all--in Congo-born, Man Booker International Prize finalist Alain Mabanckou's cycle chronicling life in his home country's port city Pointe-Noire. Centered on the 1977 assassination of Marien Ngouabi, the Republic of Congo's Communist leader, The Death of Comrade President finds 13-year-old Michel still caught up with everyday concerns in a time of frightening uncertainty, even as he learns that his family is at risk of government violence.

Michel's breezy stream-of-conscious narration belies the menace around him, and Mabanckou's storytelling thrives in the gulf between the familiar kid troubles that preoccupy the protagonist and the dead-serious political danger. Here's a charming coming-of-age narrative, complete with crushes and innocent secrets kept from parents, artfully corrupted by the Communist propaganda Michel's been fed his whole life. His train of thought often barrels down tracks laid by government indoctrination, as lines he's had to recite in classrooms occur to him as if they were his own ideas. Sometimes, thrillingly, he challenges these thoughts.

The narrative loses momentum during a lengthy rundown of African revolutionary history as reported by Voice of America radio journalists, but that material is thematically rich. Michel must piece together his country's situation from U.S. reports of events that the Congolese media won't dare say, even as those U.S. reporters have their own propagandist agenda and know little of what life's like in Pointe-Noire. Mabanckou (with translator Helen Stevenson) vividly renders that life, that struggle and that split consciousness. --Alan Scherstuhl, freelance writer and editor

Discover: In this vivid fictional account, a boy tries making sense of--and surviving--Congo's political upheaval.

The New Press, $23.99, hardcover, 256p., 9781620976067

Little Brown and Company: Enter for a chance to win a James Patterson Prize Pack

The Book of Hidden Wonders

by Polly Crosby

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As Polly Crosby's enchanting debut, The Book of Hidden Wonders, opens, eight-year-old Romilly and her father arrive at an ancient Suffolk farmhouse surrounded by a slimy moat, far from Romilly's memories of their life in London. Why are they now isolated here? Where is Mum? How will they live? As she narrates the next nine years, Romilly's coming-of-age at Braër is magical, terrifying and mysterious.

Dad immerses himself in painting, and soon publishes a book illustrated with detailed pictures of Romilly and her cat, roaming in the lush countryside. Wildly successful, the book generates a legend: that clues to a buried treasure are hidden in its pages. Strangers encroach, and Romilly seeks refuge from "the double edge" of fame. Dad's sequels, imaginative stories and illustrations of a Romilly who never ages, add to the rumors of riches, as reality grows more sinister. Romilly is haunted by a mysterious child's voice, wonders at a ghostly woman in the books and fears a prowling panther she senses nearby. Her only friend is a girl who demands loyalty but drops in and out inexplicably. As the plot grows increasingly supernatural, mysteries resolve: the story of Romilly's Mum, the reason for Dad's eccentricities.

Tension mounts as the "treasure" is revealed: Dad created the "clues" to explain the family's secrets to his daughter. With Dad "a watercolor echo of his former self," the young adult Romilly struggles to sort myth from reality and build a life, leading to a climax that, while still mystical, offers hope. --Cheryl McKeon, bookseller, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y.

Discover: In this mystical coming-of-age novel, illustrated stories lead to rumors of hidden wealth, adding to the already complex lives of a painter and his young daughter.

Park Row, $27.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780778310006

Good Harbor Press: The Taste of Snow by Stephen V Masse

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett

by Annie Lyons

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U.K. author Annie Lyons's stories often veer toward the sunny side of life, depicting how human connections can become an equalizing force to ease loneliness and personal conflict. In The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett, she dips into darker territory, focusing on a world-weary 85-year-old Brit who wants to end her life on her own terms.

With no husband or children--"old and tired and alone," her body "winding down like an old clock"--Eudora contacts an organization in Switzerland willing to help fulfill her objective. That is, until new neighbors--the Trewidneys, a family from Cornwall expecting their second child--move in next door. When Rose, the Trewidneys' precious 10-year-old, meets Eudora and her lovable cat, Montgomery--and learns that Eudora swims at the leisure center--the unabashedly intrusive child pushes herself into Eudora's manageable routine and upends her plans.

Rose's presence, like a force of nature, unwittingly launches Eudora back into living, where the two meet Stanley Marcham, a widower who had been married for 60 years. The three kindred spirits, each undergoing readjustment in their lives, suddenly find unexpected companionship and joy. Amid shared outings and fun experiences, Eudora reconnects to life and also begins to reflect on her past--especially the tragic years during and post-World War II, when, at 10 years old, Eudora's sense of responsibility, duty and honor mapped and shaped the course of her future.

Lyons (The Happiness List) shows tender empathy and compassion for her well-drawn characters, offering a charming, thought-provoking story about the healing powers of friendship and love. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: In this tender story, a worn-out 85-year-old Brit longs to end her life, only to have it realigned by two local strangers.

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 384p., 9780063026063

Mystery & Thriller

Dead Girls

by Selva Almada , trans. by Annie McDermott

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"As a girl, I sensed that there wasn't really anywhere I was safe," Selva Almada (The Wind That Lays Waste) reveals in the chilling author's note about growing up in a provincial Argentinian town. By eight, Almada had already experienced verbal sexual abuse, accosted by a bicycling boy while walking. "Violence was normalised.... If you were raped, it was always your fault." Three gruesome murders loomed as she matured in the 1980s. Three decades later, she spent three years researching, then three months writing Dead Girls. Femicide, she adds, "was a violent, horrible introduction to adolescence. Being a woman meant being prey."

Between 1983 and 1988, 19-year-old Andrea Danne was stabbed at home while she slept; 15-year-old María Soledad Morales was raped, strangled and dumped on wasteland; 20-year-old Sarita Mundín's remains were found on the banks of a river. All three crimes remain unsolved. "I didn't know a woman could be killed simply for being a woman," Almada realized at 13. Yet the terror didn't end with death; victims continued to be "subjected to misogyny, abuse and contempt."

Originally published in 2016, Almada's spare, exposing memorial--part journalism, part history, part autobiography, part relentless nightmare--arrives in English, elegantly translated from Spanish by Annie McDermott. Where documents and interviews aren't enough, Almada turned to "the Señora, a medium, a line of connection to the dead girls." As she attempts to reconstruct, reimagine and restore Andrea, María and Sarita's lives, Almada repeatedly reminds readers this trio is hardly an anomaly: femicide continues to claim thousands. "I'm still alive," she challenges. "Purely a matter of luck." --Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon

Discover: By highlighting three gruesome, unsolved murders of young women in the 1980s, Selva Almada creates an affecting, hybrid exposé of ongoing femicide in her native Argentina.

Charco Press, $15.95, paperback, 170p., 9781916277847

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Ink & Sigil

by Kevin Hearne

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Kevin Hearne (A Plague of Giants; Scourged) introduces an unlikely hero, who practices a different brand of magic in this complex, crudely funny spin-off of his popular Iron Druid Chronicles.

Glaswegian sexagenarian Aloysius "Al" MacBharrais, one of the human world's five sigil agents, uses magical symbols drawn in potion-like inks to enforce a treaty that keeps the Fae out of the human world. He also lives under a curse: the sound of his voice leads the hearer to despise him intensely. Al's life grows more complicated when his apprentice, Gordie, chokes on a raisin scone, becoming his seventh tragically dead protégé. "Deid apprentices tend to tarnish a man's reputation after a while," he laments. Worse, in Gordie's office he finds a caged hobgoblin named Buck Foi, who tells him his late pupil had a second career trafficking Fae beings. With the help of mischievous, foul-mouthed Buck, deadly battle seer and top-notch office manager Nadia, and expert hacker Saxon Codpiece, Al uncovers a twisted scheme that threatens to shatter the treaty and the human world's protection from the Fae forever. Busting the bad guys will take a clever plan, all the magic Al can muster and one epic wizard van. 

Distinguished by its intricate and original magical system, charming dynamics among characters and strongly developed Scottish setting, Ink & Sigil places its irascible hero and memorable cast in a wide, fascinating world. Fans of urban fantasy series such as Jim Butcher's Dresden Files will revel in this compelling opener. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Set in the same world as the Iron Druid Chronicles, Hearne's spin-off series opener introduces a new system of magic and an engagingly crotchety hero.

Del Rey, $28, hardcover, 336p., 9781984821256

History

Black Spartacus: The Epic Life of Toussaint Louverture

by Sudhir Hazareesingh

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Sudhir Hazareesingh, author of In the Shadow of the General, acknowledges early on in his balanced biography of Toussaint Louverture that there have been many competing interpretations of Louverture's life and career since his death in 1803. As ideologies shifted and new historical approaches came into style, the revolutionary leader and founding father of Haiti has been criticized from the left and the right for his authoritarianism, racial politics and much more. Black Spartacus seeks to resurrect Louverture as a complicated, three-dimensional person, as well as one of the most remarkable figures of the Age of Revolution.

In the 1790s, Louverture, formerly enslaved, became a key leader of a slave insurrection in the French colony of Saint-Domingue. Hazareesingh shows that Louverture combined the ideals of the French Revolution with African and Caribbean traditions to form an ideological argument for racial equality. Black Spartacus does not shy away from Louverture's flaws, especially his increasing authoritarianism, but it also spotlights his admirable qualities: Louverture's political acumen, his incredible work ethic and attention to detail, and his largely self-taught military brilliance.

Black Spartacus also excels in explaining some of Louverture's most controversial policies as the product of limited options and the betrayals that made him more suspicious and isolated over time. For all Louverture's mistakes, the book never loses track of the outsized impact he made on the world, defeating multiple European colonial powers and leaving behind a revolutionary legacy that persists to this day. Black Spartacus is a fair-minded account of how a man became a legend. --Hank Stephenson, the Sun magazine, manuscript reader

Discover: Black Spartacus sorts through centuries of interpretations to arrive at a balanced, fair account of Toussaint Louverture, the remarkable revolutionary leader and founding father of Haiti.

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30, hardcover, 464p., 9780374112660

Political Science

The Violence Inside Us: A Brief History of an Ongoing American Tragedy

by Chris Murphy

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Chris Murphy is able to identify precisely the date his life changed forever. It was December 14, 2012, the day 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adults were slaughtered by gunfire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., a town in the congressional district he served, and was soon to represent as Connecticut's junior senator.

The Violence Inside Us: A Brief History of an Ongoing American Tragedy is the passionate and often deeply moving story of Murphy's personal transformation. It is a well-informed, thoughtful exploration of the causes and potential solutions for the United States' epidemic of gun violence--one that claims some 90 lives every day--even as it addresses that vexing problem in a broader context.

Buttressed by material from the sources catalogued in his book's 30 pages of notes, Murphy engages in a wide-ranging survey of the roots of American violence. He also devotes ample attention to the political battles that have consumed him since 2012. Murphy has become a tireless advocate for the two principal measures--universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons--he believes will have a positive effect in curbing the traffic in illegal firearms and at least limiting the ability of killers like the one at Sandy Hook to summon massive lethal power in seconds. However, he is without illusions about the effort that will be required to enact even these modest reforms. Whether one is already engaged in that fight or seeking information and inspiration to do so, The Violence Inside Us is essential reading. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Discover: Connecticut senator Chris Murphy surveys the causes of American violence and proposes solutions to reduce the country's gun deaths.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 384p., 9781984854575

Health & Medicine

White Hot Light: Twenty-Five Years in Emergency Medicine

by Frank Huyler

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"When they brought him in, he was almost alive.... He tried to save the boy.... So he acted, right then, without waiting for anything or anyone.... There was beauty in his ruthlessness.... Flesh parts to a scalpel effortlessly, like the wave of a hand." Frank Huyler has practiced emergency medicine in Albuquerque, N.Mex., for more than two decades (The Blood of Strangers). As he shows in White Hot Light, Huyler is also a poet, his prose as smooth and cutting as the aforementioned scalpel.

A selection of 30 essays, White Hot Light begins mercilessly with "The Boy," as the trauma team tries to save a teen gunshot victim. Huyler then pointedly flips his perspective to the other side of the lights in "Hail," contemplating the fetal heart monitor tracking the health of his wife and yet-to-be-firstborn child. Huyler's insightfulness paints his pieces, particularly as he ages, as a new generation joins the trauma unit and technology advances. In "The Machine," Huyler eschews the use of a chest compression machine that brutally breaks ribs in its mechanical attempt to restart a heart. In the end, he's wrong, but never shies from self-scrutiny, for better or worse.

Whether in a standalone piece or one of a theme--violence ("The Gun Show"), opioid abuse ("The Motorcycle"), nurses and other staff ("The Sunflower")--Huyler brings a beauty and thoughtfulness to crucial issues affecting medicine and society at large. Within the visceral brutality, the writing is thoughtful and self-reflective, the collection a study of caring. --Lauren O'Brien of Malcolm Avenue Review

Discover: A long-time trauma physician shares 30 insightful stories of the emergency room, particularly how they reflect and have an impact on life in and out of the hospital.

Harper Perennial, $16.99, paperback, 272p., 9780062937339

Children's & Young Adult

This Old Dog

by Martha Brockenbrough , illust. by Gabriel Alborozo

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An old dog makes a new friend in Martha Brockenbrough (Unpresidented; Love, Santa) and Gabriel Alborozo's adorable, heart-tugging dog-and-his-girl picture book.

The old dog's "bones are sore but his heart is strong," readers learn as the goofily grinning protagonist's tail wags in a bristled blur. Shaggy, long-eared and gray with oversized white polka dots, the venerable canine laments his accelerated pace of life "since the girl was born": his walks are now too quick for him to "hear the leaves" or "find a just-right rock." He wistfully longs for a friend to share his favorite leisurely pursuits. Just when he loses hope, the girl takes her first steps straight to the old dog's side. Soon he finds she loves rocks, smelling grass and rolling down hills as much as he does. He beams beatifically, with closed eyes and wide smile, as she places a haloed leaf on his head, a "crown of gold." Readers leave the inseparable duo romping in a twilight-purple shared dream, the dog prancing like a puppy, tongue flapping and tail waving joyously.

Augmented by digital techniques and lush watercolor washes in a variety of natural tones, Alborozo (The Mouse and the Moon) uses expressive pen-and-ink drawings to capture both the wobbly-kneed walk of a toddler and the buoyant spirit of a dog. Brockenbrough's lilting, subtle text clearly evokes the emotional life of a senior pet whose desire for companionship many children will likely recognize. Who's a good boy? This Old Dog. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at main branch, Dayton Metro Library

Discover: In this touching picture book, a senior dog finds a new friend who moves at just his pace.

Levine Querido, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781646140107

Never Look Back

by Lilliam Rivera

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What if fighting your personal demons meant fighting an actual demon? Lilliam Rivera's Never Look Back is a heart-stopping modern-day retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, taking on mental health struggles and cultural identity while also depicting first love and the power of trust.

Summer in the Bronx explodes into myth-level trials for Afro-Latinx 17-year-olds Pheus and Eury, a recent transplant from Puerto Rico. Pheus is a singer and occasional romantic player; Eury is a troubled teen who has been having surreal encounters with a spirit named Ato since her father left the family when she was small. Having survived Hurricane Maria, Eury is having trouble dispelling the guilt and PTSD that came along with it--she believes that it was Ato who caused the hurricane because he was angry Eury wouldn't go to "el Inframundo" (the underworld) with him. Love blooms when Eury and Pheus meet, and together they begin navigating Ato's effect on Eury's life. Pheus initially assumes the "spirit" is a manifestation of Eury's grief and anxiety, but soon the spirit world becomes all too clear to him.

What begins as a contemporary realistic novel shifts rapidly and thrillingly to a full-blown mythological fantasy as Pheus pursues Eury into el Inframundo. Chapters switch between Pheus's and Eury's viewpoints, describing phantasmagorical images of horned demon piglets playing guitar while Pheus sings for his--and Eury's--life, as well as the dreamy but menacing alternate universe in which Eury is partnered with Ato, the spirit of death. Rivera (The Education of Margot Sanchez; Dealing in Dreams) masterfully intertwines ancient and modern lore, leaving readers gasping for breath by the authentic but satisfying conclusion. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A gripping YA Afro-Latinx retelling of the Orpheus myth brings the story into the 21st century by weaving in mental health issues and a vivid New York setting.

Bloomsbury, $18.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 13-up, 9781547603732

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