Calling America in 3 Books

This is America at the beginning of the 21st century: Women are being elected to office in increasingly large numbers; terrorism continues to be a larger threat than foreign invasion or war; and race relations between the police and minorities are becoming increasingly tense. To explore these topics, here are two true stories and one novel.

SeeSee Jane Win: The Inspiring Story of the Women Changing American Politics
Caitlin Moscatello
Hardback, $28

On Street: August 27 / Dutton

Since Donald Trump took office, Kamala Harris and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have become household names. This is their story, along with a baker’s dozen of first-time female candidates inspired by the 2016 election to strive for change. Journalist Moscatello focuses mainly on four candidates:

  • Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA agent and mother of three young girls.
    • Challenged Tea Party favorite Dave Brat in Virginia.
  • Catalina Cruz, a Columbian immigrant and Dreamer.
    • Bid for the New York State Assembly.
  • London Lamar, a young African-American woman.
    • Ran for the Tennessee State House in one of the only Democratic, Black-majority areas of a largely conservative state.
  • Anna Eskamani, an Iranian-American concerned about her mother’s health-care struggles and the Parkland shootings.
    • Ran for state office in Florida.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

In the words of the author, without more women in office, women’s rights will continue to be in jeopardy. And in the words of Dr, Phil, you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. Prior to Donald Trump’s election, white men made up less than a third of the US, but held 80% of Congressional seats, and a vast majority everywhere else. This book looks back at the tidal wave of pink that rushed over the country after 2016 to see how Jane won. Then it acts as a primer and a clarion call for women for the 2020 election and beyond. The book’s dedication is “To all the young girls looking up.”

LifeLife Undercover: Coming of Age in the CIA
Amaryllis Fox
Hardback, $27.95
On Street: October 15, 2019 / Knopf

Finding a secret note taped to the toilet tank in a restaurant in Burma that says “Order the French fries.” (They come with chopsticks and a side of hot sauce.) Passing a poster praising “the security of the veil” while being tailed in Karachi by a man who resembles Mr. Ed. Ordering beryllium from a lab in the former USSR. It sound like a movie, but this was the author’s life. An expert on coding and an Oxford graduate, Amaryllis Fox spent eight years hunting the world’s most dangerous terrorists in 16 countries, then quit the CIA and worked as a journalist for global news outlets like the BBC and Al Jazeera. In 2018 she married Robert Kennedy III and had a daughter. Now she lectures on the topic of peacemaking.

Recruiting spies is like proposing marriage, she says–you have to test the waters and drop hints first. And speaking of marriage, has she ever had to pretend to be a newlywed like the do in the movies? You bet.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • The author grew up in “the Company”, having  travelled with her American father and English mother around the world, growing up “as a gypsy child” and “running feral through the streets of London and St. Petersburg”.
  • Dad’s code word for signaling the kids not to talk about something was Narnia, referring to Mr. Tumnis telling Lucy that the White Witch has spies everywhere. Mom read to them from Joan Aiken’s childhood classic The Wolves of Willowby Chase. How awesome is that?

Your HouseYour House Will Pay: A Novel
Steph Cha
Hardback $26.99
On Street:  October 15, 2019 / Ecco (Harper Collins)

L.A., the city Grace Park and Shawn Matthews call home, is on edge after the police shooting of a black teen. Sheltered Grace is largely oblivious, working long hours in her Korean immigrant parents’ pharmacy. She’s more worried about the fact that her sister has not spoken to their mother in two years, for reasons unknown.

Shawn has problems of his own, after an act of violence shattered his family years ago. Now, he just wants to be left alone. But when another shocking crime hits L.A., both families are forced to face down their history together–as there is an unexpected connection between them–while navigating the tumult of a city on the brink of violence.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • Crisp, clean writing style with sharp dialogue
  • The author is the Noir editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books
  • Plus, she and her husband have two basset hounds




ARCs, Uncategorized

3 Kick Butt Books About Women

Today I want to share some mouth-watering ARCs I picked up recently in Auntie’s freight room. Unfortunately, none of them are fiction.

Women and the World, 2019 Edition

BeneathBeneath the Tamarind Tree: A Story of Courage, Family, and the Lost Schoolgirls of Boko Haram by Isha Sesay
Hardback, $27.99
On Street July 9 / Dey Street (an imprint of William Morrow)
Do you remember the morning of April 14, 2014? Most Americans don’t. In the wee hours in Chibok, Nigeria, Islamic militants kidnapped 276 young schoolgirls. Although the horrific act and those that followed sparked global outrage and the #BringBackOurGirls movement, it was quickly buried by America’s 24-hour news cycle and forgotten.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • As an award-winning female journalist from Sierra Leone, this author’s perspective is unique. She also led CNN’s Africa reporting for over a decade.
  • The book is told in the only way that readers can transcend macro events and empathize with the victims: through their personal stories on a micro level.
  • The focus of the book is on how one person can make a difference, including the one who is telling the story.

Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant by Anne Gardiner PerkinsYale
Hardcover, $25.99

On Street: September 10 / Sourcebooks
Summer, 1969. Girls and women all across America begin sending their applications to Yale University for the first time since the Ivy League school was founded in 1701. Originally dedicated to graduating “One thousand (male) leaders per annum”, this landmark policy reversal seems to be a huge step forward. But is it? Many of the first girls at Yale find themselves isolated, treated as oddities and/or sex objects, and barred from many of the privileges an elite education is supposed to offer.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • While unflinching, this account is ultimately inspiring as it focuses on strength, resilience, and courage
  • Again, this female author has an insider’s view of how chauvinism not only looks, but feels. She received her undergrad degree from Yale in 1977, something the first female students made possible. She received her PhD from U Mass, Boston, at 52.

MotherhoodMotherhood So White: A Memoir of Race, Gender & Parenting in America
by Nefertiti Austin
Hardback, $25.99 
On street: September 24 / Sourcebooks
Imagine you’re a single American woman and you want to adopt a Black baby from the foster care system. Now imagine that people are asking you why you would bother with a “crack baby” and telling you that you can’t handle a Black son on your own. And you are Black. This honest and raw memoir tells Nefertiti’s story of having to fight to create the family she always knew she was meant to have.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

The secret of a great memoir, dating all the way back to the philosopher Montaigne’s 1592 Essais, is to take a highly personal story and craft it into something universal. Although as a white, married woman who never wanted children I am far from this book’s target audience, I was still drawn in by the global questions of how we surmount racial divides in this country, how we overcome obstacles when people repeatedly say we can’t, and how kind people of goodwill can create their own non-blood-tie family groups based solely on love.

And there you have it: three fascinating books about women, by women. May your reading empower you!



3 Books 4 Readers 8 to 13

I love middle readers. These are the books for kids between the ages of eight and thirteen. While they may have adult themes, you won’t find adult issues being presented in an edgy way–those are teen books. Many of my favorite childhood classics are middle readers: The Witch of Blackbird Pond, Bunnicula, and The Wolves of Willowby Chase. That’s why I’m happy to see today’s authors keep coming out with compelling novels to give kids the magical adventures I was lucky to enjoy. And, who am I kidding, grown-ups still read them too!

Pages.jpegPages and Co.: The Bookwanderers
Anna James
Paperback, $16
On Street: September 24, 2019  /Philomel (Penguin RH Kids)

At first glance, 11-year-old Tilly Pages’ life looks perfect. Her grandmother owns a wonderful bookshop called Pages & Company and Tilly can indulge in her favorite stories whenever she likes. But there is pain in Tilly’s life too–many years ago now, her mother disappeared. When some of Tilly’s fictional friends show up at the shop–literary characters like Anne Shirley and Alice from Wonderland–Tilly’s adventures become very real. It seems she has a magical ability to “bookwander” into the real world of any story, and danger could be lurking on the very next page…

Note: Paola Escobar’s cover art for this book alone will make you want to grab it. It promises magic, adventure, and wish fulfillment all at once.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • The illustrations! The charming illustrations…
  • What bibliophile of any age wouldn’t love to have the ability Tilly does? Much better than mere invisibility or being able to fly.
  • The author feels we are all made of books.
  • For adult fans of Jaasper Fforde’s Thursday Next series.

Lisa Howorth
Hardback, $22.95
On Street: August 6, 2019 / Doubleday

Summer 1959. Washington, D.C. Behind every door you will find a Nazi sympathizer, a foreign diplomat’s family, Holocaust refugees, or even a Russian spy. At least that’s what young John and his friends Ivan, Beatriz and Max think. The kids are convinced that the inexplicable spider infestation is evidence of “insect warfare” by the Soviet Union and are determined to capture a rare, poisonous vinegaroonfor their own purposes. At a party in John’s grandparents’ backyard, the boys doctor the punch with Brazilian rum causing the adults to let down their defenses. Finally, John’s Aunt Elena–who already raises eyebrows due to her Ukrainian birth, swinging social life, and outspokenness on behalf of refugees–roars off with a stranger on his motorcycle. Held together with Bazooka bubblegum and Cold War paranoia, this story is gorgeously written, sweet, and ultimately heartbreaking.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Julia Claiborne Johnson, the author of Be Frank With Me, says “Summerlings is the To Kill a Mockingbird of the Cold War generation.”
  • Of special interest is the way the author chose to play out global issues in the small street of one neighborhood
  • Lisa Howorth is a librarian and bookseller, having founded Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1979.

CurseThe Curse of the Werepenguin
Hillan Woodrow
Hardback, $17.99
On Street: August 13, 2019 / Viking (Penguin RH Kids)

“This book is full of lies and slander. Do not read it or I will hang you from a flagpole by your armpit hairs and raise you up and down for a week!”   –Baron Chordata

Orphan Bolt Wattle dreams of finding his true family. But once he has accepted a mysterious Baron’s invitation to far-off Brugaria, the locals warn him that he’s in terrible danger, scream at him, and threaten to hit him with a stale loaf of bread–and that’s just within the first five minutes. The road to the Baron’s manor takes Bolt through a dark forest filled with ruthless but extremely tidy bandits. And everywhere Bolt goes, he can hear the distant, eerie barking of penguins. Then things get worse. Much, much worse.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • If the reverse psychology of Baron Chordata’s threats sound happily familiar to you Lemony Snicket fans, then this book is for you. Ditto you readers who love Eva Ibbotson, Dav Pilkey, and The Princess Bride by William Goldstein.
  • Also for those who love jokes about fish sticks.






3 Mysteries That Thrill

I can’t decide whether these gripping novels are mysteries that thrill or thrillers that mystify. However, they all look like they will deliver a satisfying brain teaser in an interesting setting with a non-stereo-typical detective. Enjoy.

Heaven, My HomeHeaven
Attica Locke
Hardcover, $27
On Street September 17, 2019 / Mulholland Books

Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is on the hunt for a missing 9 year old boy. Did I mention that the lawman is African- American, and the boy’s family are white supremacists? Levi King knew he should have gone home sooner, instead of dawdling in the way of small boys–now he is alone in the dark on Caddo Lake, and his boat’s motor has just died. Meanwhile, the one man who can help him (Matthews) must avoid his own mother’s emotional blackmail and rely on people from a small town up Highway 59 for help–a town where the racial attitudes of the antebellum era are alive and well.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • The author has a large list of credits behind her name: A former writer for the TV show Empire, her first mystery, Bluebird, Bluebird,  won a 2018 Edgar Award. Her novel Pleasantville won a 2016 Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction.
  • The novel’s subplot could be ripped from today’s headlines as Matthews battles suspicions and prejudices that are centuries old as well as new threats reignited in today’s political climate.

BodyThe Body Lies: A Novel
Jo Baker
Hardback, $25.95
On Street: 19 June, 2019 / Knopf

When a young writer accepts a job at a university in the remote English countryside, escaping the scene of a violent assault, she has no idea of what she is in for. One of her students starts turning in chapters that blur the line between fiction and reality. Magical realism  is one thing; recognizing yourself as the main character in your student’s book is quite another. And the student has written his professor a horrific fate. Can she stop life from imitating art before it’s too late?

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • This timely, riveting novel of psychological suspense explores the question of how we live as women in the world when the stakes are dangerously high.
  • Are you a fellow Anglophile? Then nothing more needs to be said.

ValleyIn the Valley of the Devil: A Mystery
Hank Early
Hardcover, $26.99
On Street: July 10, 2019 / Crooked Lane

This ain’t Earl Marcus’s first rodeo in the North Georgia mountains. The PI has encountered the dark abyss of depravity before–for example, when confronting the unspeakable evil unleashed by his father’s fundamentalist Church of the Holy Flame. Unfortunately, that is just the beginning. Tasked with what appears to be a routine job, Earl stumbles into a mysterious cornfield where an old mountain legend appears to have been awakened. And just as he starts hearing rumors of a creepy place in the woods behind the cornfield–a place where a killer collects skulls–Earl’s partner Mary  Hawkins vanishes. Now, on an old train trestle over a river at the cornfield’s, Earl must confront his worst fears, or lose Mary forever.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • For those who like harrowing mysteries that make you sweat as you race through the pages, as desperate as the detective (or more) to solve the mystery
  • You know the author has a sense of humor because his bio states that he “spent much of his youth in the mountains of North Georgia, but never held a snake or got struck by lightning.”



Feel Good Fiction Times 2

There is nothing like reading a novel that shows you a good time and then leaves you feeling good about life. The kind where you finish the last page and flip to page one again. Well, this is that:

WhoWho Are You, Calvin Bledsoe? A Novel
Brock Clarke
Hardback, $26.95
On Street: August 27, 2019  / Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill

Meet Calvin, a 49-year-old adult child living in his parents’ home. His ex won’t stop badgering him; he just became an orphan, and he soon discovers a mysterious aunt. Bravely abandoning his job blogging for the pellet stove industry, he embarks on the journey of a lifetime. Calvin Bledsoe will never be the same.

Why its Worth Choosing

  • If you are drawn to the quirky, the comic, and the unpredictable as I am
  • If you enjoy allegory, and the blending of the absurd and the profound
  • For fans of John Irvin and the director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tennenbaums, Grand Budapest Hotel)

And new from February, I also love:

ObjectThe Object of Your Affections: A Novel
Falguni Kothari
Paperback, $16.99
On Street: February 19, 2019 / Graydon House (Harper Collins)

Paris and Naira are best friends. When Naira leaves Mumbai after her husband’s death, she knows Paris will help her make a fresh start in New York City. There’s nothing they wouldn’t do for each other. But Naira wasn’t expecting to be asked to be a surrogate mother for Paris and her husband. Does their friendship have what it takes to defy society, their families, and even their own biology?

Why its Worth Choosing

  • One of the joys of reading fiction is that sometimes, it delivers a powerful, validating message in a way that non-fiction can’t. This novel’s message is that when you forge your own path, magic can happen.
  • The author is a self-described writer of “unconventional love stories and kick-ass fantasy tales”, who is also an award-winning Indian classical, Latin, and ballroom dancer.




Of Slime and Minimum Wage

Of Slime and Minimum Wage, to Say Nothing of How the Brain Lost its Mind.

(With apologies to Jerome K. Jerome.)

Slime.jpgSlime: How Algae Created Us, Plague Us, and Just Might Save Us
Ruth Kassinger
Hardback, $26
On Street: June 11, 2019 / HMH Books

When I lie awake at 3 a.m. worrying about my life, I can’t say that algae has ever “plagued” me. It isn’t on my gratitude list either. But maybe it should be. Algae is not just the gunk in your fish tank or the slimy leaf wrapped around your Japanese rice cracker. It’s actually a multi-billion dollar industry, with algae innovators working toward a sustainable future. According to this author, algae are responsible for Earth’s:

  • abundant oceans
  • beer
  • chocolate milk
  • coral reefs
  • crude oil
  • oxygen-rich atmosphere
  • paint
  • sushi
  • toothpaste and shampoo

On to the future: The men and women innovating with algae are South Korean seaweed farmers; entrepreneurs like Canadian-educated Paul Woods who founded a company to bring algae fuel and plastic to market; and scientists in Florida using algae in an effort to save the coral reefs.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Slime Candy.jpgThe author takes what could be a dull subject and makes it just as fascinating to you as it is to her.
  • For those who love Susan Orlean, Mary Roach, and Michael Pollan.
  • Seriously, who doesn’t love a nice package of slime? (Ironically, note that this product is being marketed as “toxic waste”, when algae at least is kind of the opposite.)

On ClockOn the Clock: What Low Wage Work Did to Me and How it Drives America Insane
Emily Guendelsberger
Hardback, $28

July 16, 2019 /  Little, Brown

Content Warning: This memoir contains scenes of condiment violence. As in, the author working at a San Francisco McDonald’s where vengeful customers pelted her with condiments. She also worked in an Amazon fulfillment center near Louisville, Kentucky, where the vending machines were stocked with…painkillers. In her job at a North Carolina call center, her bathroom breaks were timed to the second. Forced to these desperate measures after the local newspaper folded, this reporter takes a good hard look at the lengths that half the country will go to in order to earn a living. But it’s not all laughs–she also offers surprising solutions to make the America workplace more humane.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • The author obviously has a good sense of the absurd, having worked as a staff writer for The Onion–as well as the sense of social  criticism that comes from reporting for the Washington Post and other heavy hitters.
  • Like all good comedy, the tales of low-wage work woes are much more entertaining to read about than to suffer through.
  • Like any decent reporter, the author knows that you never pose a question without at least proposing possible solutions.
  • For fans of Barbara Ehrenreich, Stephanie Land and Matthew Desmond.

How Brain

How the Brain Lost its Mind: Sex, Hysteria and the Riddle of Mental Illness
Allan H. Ropper, MD and Brian David Burrell
Hardback $27
On Street: August 20, 2019 / Avery Books

These two authors look at how syphilis and hysteria shaped our current misunderstanding of brain disease and mental illness.

  • 1882: Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot establishes a neurology clinic in Paris, where he struggles to tell the difference between brain disease and disordered psyches.
    • Eventually Charcot brings hypnotism into his clinic to treat “female hysterics”, abandoning a biologically-based approach to mental illness.
  • Sigmund Freud brings sex and neurosis onto the analyst’s couch, splitting the human psyche into mind/brain.
  • Today, neurology and psychiatry are separate branches of medical science. But should they be?

Dr. Ropper and Mr. Burrell explore the ways and means by which the two specialties may converge.

Why Its Worth Choosing

  • They know what they’re talking about.
    • Dr. Ropper is Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, a deputy editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, and the main  author of the textbook Principles of Neurology, now in its 11th edition.
    • Mr. Burrell is on the mathematics faculty at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He is an authority on elite brain collections (whatever that means), and has written several books, including Postcards From the Brain Museum.
  • The text, which could have been fairly dry, is larded with juicy anecdotes from the lives of real patients (names changed for privacy, of course).

Note: If you enjoy this book, check out Reaching Down the Rabbit Hole, co-written by the same two authors.


3 Beach Reads

What is a beach read, anyway? A gracious book, that will probably incite pleasure. A delightful, relatively risk-free story. Reading that encourages you to indulge in escapist fantasies, preferably of island life. While several authors ponder the meaning of the term over at our friends’ electric lit blog, I will present 3 books I think are promising beach reads.

MeetMeet Me in Monaco: A Novel
Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
Paperback, $16.99
On Street: July 2019 / William Morrow (Harper Collins)

Movie stars and paparazzi flocked to Cannes for the glamorous film festival. But Grace Kelly, the biggest star of all, just wanted to escape the flashbulbs. When struggling perfumer Sophie Duval sheltered Miss Kelly in her boutique, fending off persistent British press photographer James Henderson, a bond was forged between the two women, who quickly become life friends.

But James hasn’t been able to forget about Sophie. Despite his guilt about leaving his daughter, he finds himself sailing with Grace Kelly’s wedding party on the USS Constitution from New York. In Monaco, James and Sophie–much like Princess Grace–must ultimately decide what they are prepared to give up for love.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • There are times when two heads are better than one at writing a book, and this is definitely one of these times. Both women are best-selling authors in their own right.
  • One of the authors lives in Ireland with her husband and children, and one lives in New England with her family and “one feisty bunny”.  Aw.

Electric HotelThe Electric Hotel
Dominic Smith
Hardback, $27
June 4, 2019 / Farrar, Straus and Giroux 

In the spring, a person’s thoughts allegedly turn toward love–in the summer, they may turn toward entertainment. Like the first novel featured in today’s blog, this book is a work of historical fiction centered around the film industry. This time the protagonist is a French silent-film pioneer. The book deals with his relationship to his muse and the masterpiece film that upends their lives.

There are cameo encounters with celebrities, like Marilyn Monroe who meets Claude in an elevator, but remembers him as a mushroom hunter. Claude remembers the time Elvis recorded “Love Me Tender” in Room 1016, and the seance Houdini’s window held on the rooftop of the Knickerbocker Hotel.

So sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Metaphors like “Claude felt his mind slacken and go blank, as if someone had lowered an awning over his thoughts”.  And “A director once said that her voice sounded like a burglar creeping down an old wooden staircase.”
  • Quirky characters like Susan Berg, the famous silent film actress who whispers a lot and makes “treacherous soups”.  And the Knickerbocker Hotel, itself a quirky character that contributes to a sharply-honed sense of place
  • The writing is delicious!

CarnegieCarnegie Hill: A Novel
Jonathan Vatner
Hardback, $27.99
On Street: August 20, 2019 / $27.99

Deception is just another day in the lives of the elite. In an elegant Upper East Side neighborhood, Penelope “Pepper” Bradford is having second thoughts about her financier fiancé. As Pepper casts about her building for advice, she learns about the secret lives of the other wealthy residents and the staff that serve them–as they suffer, deceive each other, and fumble their way to honesty. This richly-imagined story has been described as charming and hilarious.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

Sometimes I feel like the glowing blurbs on books’ back covers are the equivalent of Shakespearian teacup storms: full of sycophancy and bluster, signifying nothing. Not for this book.

  • “You won’t envy these people for a second, but you’ll have a great time watching them undo and fix themselves,” says Joan Silber.
  • “A shrewd comic tale of old lovers, young lovers, and the blanket of privilege that both warms and binds them all,” adds Jonathan Dee. Sign me up!









Ebony and Ivory on 3 Pages

All three of these books tackle the topic of race relations between blacks and whites in America. There are two novels and one work of non-fiction.

BlackBlack Card
Chris L. Terry
Hardcover $25
On Street: August 13, 2019 / Catapult 

For fans of the hilarious TV series Black-ish: Race is fake. Race is real. Well, in Africa they say all stories are true. This is what I thought about when I first grabbed a copy of Terry’s novel, Black Card. Like the painfully self-effacing girl in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, this young, biracial narrator is never named. Symbolism intended. The offspring of an African American dad and a white mom, our hero loses his “Black Card” when he fails to speak up during aa racist incident. The rest of the novel is him trying to get it back, winding up entangled with a white police officer after the narrator’s black female coworker is attacked.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Because when a book is listed as “wickedly funny” on the dust jacket, I can’t wait to rip into it. Although the phrase “daringly smart” doesn’t hurt either.
  • The author’s debut novel, Zero Fade, was named a Best Book of the Year by Slate and Kirkus Reviews so you know the man can write.

LinesThe Lines Between Us: 2 families & a Quest to Cross Baltimore’s Racial Divide
Lawrence Lanahan
Hardback: $28.99
On Street: May 2019 / The New Press

Mark is a devout white Christian man who sells his suburban home to move to Baltimore’s inner city. Nicole is a black mother determined to leave West Baltimore for the suburbs Mark has just elected to vacate. As the two pack up their lives and change paces, award-winning journalist Lanahan examines the enormous disparities created by race in access to safe housing, good education, and decent jobs.

Lanahan asks the tough question of what it will take to save our cities: Do we put money into poor segregated neighborhoods? Or do we try to move families out into areas with more opportunity?

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • The author is not only a recipient of the Carey Institute’s Logana Nonfiction Fellowship, and the Columbia University duPont Award, but he lives and works in Baltimore.
  • As a journalist for NPR’s Morning Edition, Lanahan knows how to capture and hold a listener’s interest. And that is to tell a large story through a tiny lens.
  • For folks who are drawn to popular social science books like Evicted, Just Mercy, and The Master Plan (also by a Baltimore native).

And Last, But Definitely Not Least

DifferentA Different Drummer
William Melvin Kelley
Paperback: $16
On Street: June 4, 2019 / Anchor Books 

The New Yorker calls this classic “a lost giant of American literature”. In print since 1962, the fierce and imaginative novel enjoyed a recent rediscovery by the reading public after the author’s death. The plot: In the Deep South, a young black farmer named Tucker Caliban decides to burn down his house, salt his fields, shoot his horse and head north with his wife and child. This departure sets off an exodus of the state’s entire black population, throwing the state’s white residents into confused disarray.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Even though this is a first novel, it got comparisons to James Baldwin, William Faulkner, and James Joyce.
  • The tone is ultimately both sympathetic and sorrowful; blistering and spirited.
  • The alternative world of this book is complex and imaginative, like that of Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, or Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines.




3 Book Unicorns

We talk about finding that rare soulmate as a “unicorn”; in The Color of Love, author Marra B. Gad writes of herself as a “mixed-race Jewish unicorn”. I don’t think the two novels in this blog truly fit the category, since a wonderful new book is hardly rare, but these sparkle nonetheless.

The Color of Love
Marra B. Gad
Paperback, $17
On Street: November 12, 2019 / Bolden

In 1970, Marra’s mother was a single, Jewish white girl. Her father was black. At three days old, the baby was adopted by a white Jewish couple living in Chicago. But the world wasn’t ready for a family like hers–in black spaces Marra wasn’t “black enough”. In Jewish spaces she was mistaken for the help, asked to leave, or worse. Marra’s parents cut out those relatives who couldn’t accept the color of their daughter’s skin, including the once-beloved, glamorous, worldly Aunt Nette. After an estrangement of 15 years, Nette gets Alzheimers, and ironically Marra is the only one in the family able and willing to care for her. When the disease unexpectedly erases the older woman’s racism, she and Marra develop a relationship that was never possible before.


What Book Should I Read Next?

Girl Power: The Primal Roar

This post contains two novels and the memoir of Ani DiFranco, a Grammy-award-winning musical artist and feminist icon. The primal roar of the latter is probably self-explanatory. I grouped the two novels with this title because The Whisper Network deals with feminism and the #MeToo movement: Man of the Year reveals the heart of darkness lurking inside some of our most prominent citizens.

No WallsNo Walls and the Recurring Dream
Ani DiFranco
Hardback, $28 
On Street: May 7, 2019 / Viking (Penguin RH)

You may know Ani DiFranco as a political activist, philanthropist, entrepreneur or as “the Little Folksinger”. She has definitely forged her own way, paying her dues by appearing at small clubs and festivals. After releasing her first album at the age of 18, she rejected the mainstream recording industry and created her own label, “Righteous Babe Records”. It wasn’t easy. As an emancipated minor, she recalls having to sleep in a bus station in Buffalo, New York, and her fierce independence has antagonized some people. But through it all, DiFranco has followed her dreams.

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Girl power
  • Who could possibly be a better storyteller than a folksinger?
  • This memoir of her life so far is told in Ani DiFranco’s voice: Funny, frank, passionate, and raw.

WhisperThe Whisper Network
Chandler Baker
Hardback, $26.99
On Street: July 2, 2019 / Flatiron Books (Little Brown UK)

On this blog, I usually don’t quote from the book, even after publication. So what compelled me to open up this hardback and harvest a quote? This author is the young Julie Andrews of writing–she can easily span four octaves, sounding gorgeous in every register. The book opens with a group narrator:

“Before that day, our lives raced along an invisible roller coaster track, a cart fastened to the rails, through engineering and forces we couldn’t wholly grasp, despite our superabundance of academic degrees. We moved with a sense of controlled chaos.

“We were connoisseurs of dry shampoo brands. It took us four days to watch a complete episode of The Bachelor on our DVRs. We fell asleep with the heat of laptops burning our thighs. We took two-hour breaks to read bedtime stories to toddlers and tried not to calculate the total number of hours spent working as mothers and employees, confused as to which came first. We were overqualified and underutilized, bossy and always right. We had firm handshakes and hefty credit card balances. We forgot our lunches on the kitchen countertops.

Each day was the same. Until it wasn’t. ”

Why it’s Worth Choosing

  • Finding out you’re not the only feminist who belongs to Bachelor Nation.
  • For those who adore a smart whodunnit–this one’s been described as “furiously funny and just plain furious”.
  • In her day job, Chandler Baker kicks butt as a corporate attorney, so she is an expert on corporate law.

Man YearMan of the Year
Caroline Louise Walker
Hardback, $26
On Street: June 11, 2019 / Simon and Shuster

Recently I joined a Facebook discussion about Time magazine’s “Man of the Year”, as someone was outraged that Adolph Hitler was chosen in 1938. According to Time, this is not an honor. Instead, it spotlights the person who most influences world events–for better or for worse.*  (The magazine has since changed the name of this selection to “Person of the Year”, by the way.)

This novel tips its hat to the spirit of Time‘s award, as Dr. Robert Hart–Sag Harbor’s Man of the Year–begins a desperate downward spiral, destroying the lives that stand in his way. Only the women in his life can clearly see the truth: his devoted office manager, his friend, and his beautiful new wife. The trouble is that Nick, the troubled college roommate of Robert’s son and a current houseguest, starts getting a little too close to the good doctor’s wife…and the lies Robert tells start slipping out of control.

*To drive this point home, the 1938 cover artist depicted Hitler as a tiny little man with his back to the reader, playing a massive organ with his murdered victims spinning on a St. Catherine’s Wheel. Underneath the stark illustration ran the cutline, “From the unholy organist, a hymn of hate.”