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.”





One Oregon Standoff, 2 Books

You know how Hollywood simultaneously launches “twin movies”? Think:

  • Tombstone vs. Wyatt Earp
  • Mirror Mirror vs Snow White & the Huntsman
  • The Prestige vs. The Illusionist 

Well, the book industry is no different. Late June/early July 2019 heralds the release of two different takes on recent Pacific Northwest history. The blurbs on the back seem to indicate that one is a more serious, scholarly and in-depth examination of the events and the other is its sexier, more dramatic (possibly overdramatic) good-times twin. I will let you decide which you think is which. They both look interesting:

ShadowlandsTales of the Bundy Family

Shadowlands: Fear and Freedom at the Oregon Standoff
A Western Tale of America in Crisis
Anthony McCann
On street: July 2 / Hardback, $19.49

“In 2016, a group of armed, divinely inspired right-wing protestors led by Ammon Bundy occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in the high desert of eastern Oregon. Encamped in the shadowlands of the republic, insisting that the federal government had no right to own public land, the occupiers were seen by a divided country as either dangerous extremists dressed up as cowboys, or heroes insisting on restoring the rule of the Constitution.”

Anthony McCann is a resident of the Mojave Desert and teaches creative writing at the University of California, Riverside and at the California Institute of the Arts.

Up.jpgUp in Arms: How the Bundy Family Hijacked Public Lands, Outfoxed the Federal Government, and Ignited America’s Patriot Militia Movement
John Temple
On street: June 25 / Hardback, $24.95

“’It’s time! They have my cattle, and now they have one of my boys. Range war begins tomorrow at Bundy Ranch.’”

“These words, pounded out on a laptop at Cliven Bundy’s besieged Nevada ranch on April 6, 2014, ignited a new American revolution. Across the country, a certain type of citizen snapped to attention: this was the flashpoint they’d been waiting for, a chance to help a fellow American stand up to a tyrannical and corrupt federal government.”

John Temple is the author of American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America’s Deadliest Drug Epidemic. He is also a journalism professor at West Virginia University.


The Dog Days of Reading

Today’s featured ARCs come from HMH (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and Forge Books (Macmillan).

WhereWhere the Lost Dogs Go
by Susannah Charleson
Hardback, $27
On street: June 4, 2019 / HMH Books

One in six dogs will go missing during his or her lifetime. Of course their human companions feel heartbroken and helpless. Meet Ace,  a plucky Maltese who wound up in a shelter after wandering around lost for months, an experience he barely survived. After the author and her senior search and rescue dog Puzzle adopt Ace, he and Susannah begin searching for lost pets. Ace seems to have a nose for it.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

*****For dog lovers, it’s heartwarming, hopeful, and instructive.

*****The author moves easily from the personal to the universal, delving into animal behavior, search and rescue tactics, social media strategies to use when looking for a beloved pet, and the psychology of loss.

*****The story packs an extra punch when a tornado threatens the Rowlett/Garnet area of Texas where the author’s mother lives–and refuses to evacuate without her four cats, who have run away. It is one thing to do what you do, but quite another to have to do it for family.

Note: The author’s first memoir, The Scent of Memory talks about how she got into the search and rescue field after the Oklahoma City bombing when she saw one of the rescuers crying into his dog’s fur at the end of an exhausting day. She is a pilot who now trains search and detection K9s, service dogs for the disabled, and comfort dogs that serve the community. Her fur and leather menagerie at home includes a paralyzed pup on wheels named Ruff Draft.

HeartHeart of Barkness
Spencer Quinn
Hardback, $25.99
On Street:  July 2, 2019 / Forge Books

Mystery Series
Chet the mutt and his human, Bernie the PI, both love a good steak. They also love music, so when an old-school country singer turns up at a local bar, they drive out to catch her act. Bernie’s surprised to see someone who was once so big performing in such a dive, and drops a C-note the Little Detective Agency can’t afford to part with into the tip jar. The C-note is stolen right from under their noses – even from under Chet’s, the nose that misses nothing – and before the night is over, it’s stolen again. Soon Chet and Bernie find themselves sucked into a real-life murder ballad where there is no one to trust but each other.

Why it’s Worth Choosing
*****The narration. While Janet Evanovich’s Bob provides comic relief for Stephanie Plum and police officer/love interest Joe Morelli, Spencer Quinn’s Chet tells every story from his point of view. Not only is this endearing, charming, and funny, it can have a positive effect on the reader’s psyche. After I finished the first book, I had Chet’s voice in my head so strongly that I found myself seeing the world less like an anxiety-ridden human and more like a “what a great day!” dog.

******The series is mostly light detective fun in the cozy detective tradition of Agatha Christie and Elizabeth Peters. So for those of you who do not enjoy edgy thrillers with lots of blood and gore, you are barking up the right tree here.

For more books like these, check out the biography and mystery sections at indie bookstores like Aunties!


Non-Fiction Lovers Click Here

Let’s take a look at deer, food, and a constitutional cult, though not in the same book. This blog contains a memoir by a man from a hunting family, a look ahead at what we will eat in a bigger, smarter, hotter world, and the thin line between constitutional fidelity and fundamentalism.

DeerDeer Camp: A Memoir of a Father, a Family, and the Land that Healed Them
Dean Kuipers
Hardback, $28
On Street: May, 2019 / Bloomsbury

Bruce Kuipers was good at hunting and fishing, but bad at family life. Distant, angry, and a serial cheater, he destroyed his relationship with his wife, alienating his three sons. He distrusted people and clung to rural America as a place to hide. So when Bruce purchased a 100-acre hunting property as a way to reconnect with his sons, they resisted. The land was the perfect bait for the younger Kuipers: Joe, a brilliant but troubled fisherman; Brett, a crack woodsman; and even Dean, a journalist.

But reconciliation doesn’t just happen–it takes work. And none of the men knew how to be together as a family. Conflict arose over whether the land should be left alone or actively restored to its prior state as a farm. After a decade-long impasse, Bruce agreed to let his sons proceed with their restoration plan. What happened next was surprising, heartwarming and profound.

Why It’s Worth Choosing

  • The author has written extensively about the field of environmental politics and the human-nature relationship for decades in other contexts.
  • The man can write: His clips include pieces in the Los Angeles Times, Outside, Rolling Stone, and Men’s Journal.
  • This beautiful story about the restorative power of nature on a family in desperate need of healing will leave you feeling good.

FateThe Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World
Amanda Little
Hardback, $27
On Street: June, 2019 / Harmony Books

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that the Earth is predicted to have 9 billion humans living on it by the middle of this century. With global crop production declining due to drought, heat, and flooding, and water supplies shrinking, how can we feed everyone? We are failing to feed all the people we have now, after all.

Vanderbilt University professor Amanda Little spent three years traveling through 12 countries and 12 US states in search of answers. The race to re-invent the global food system is on: We must solve the existing problems of industrial agriculture while also preparing for the pressures ahead.

In this fascinating and timely book, Little meets all kinds of players:

  • small permaculture farmers
  • “Big Food” executives
  • botanists studying ancient superfoods
  • Kenyan farmers growing the country’s first GMO corn
  • engineers at a California sewage plant
  • military personnel at a US Army research lab
  • experts studying a monsoon cloud above Mumbai

Why It’s Worth Choosing

Little treats her subject–and her readers with respect. Unafraid to ask the tough questions, she nonetheless manages to avoid giving you a “doom and gloom” outlook. The book balances nicely between presenting the threats posed by climate change honestly and providing a real sense of the author’s awe and optimism about the lessons of our past and the scope of human ingenuity.

CultCult of the Constitution
Mary Anne Franks
Hardback, $26
On Street: May 2019 / Stanford University Press

Does the US Constitution serve white male supremacy? This author thinks so, and is prepared to show you why, citing deep strains of fundamentalism in both conservative and liberal American thought. She further states that just as religious fundamentalists pick and choose from their sacred scriptures to further their agendas, so do constitutional fundamentalists read the Constitutions selectively and self-servingly. She cites:

  • the conservative fetish for the Second Amendment
    • enforced by groups like the NRA
  • the liberal fetish for the First Amendment
    • enforced by groups like the ACLU

And much, much more.  Franks, a law professor at the University of Miami , argues that the promise of equal protection found in the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits selective interpretation (and application) of the constitution. Guaranteed to provoke an argument around your Thanksgiving dinner table.

Why it’s Worth Choosing
Because who couldn’t use a little legal backup in their Facebook arguments? For liberals, conservatives and moderates.