Let Me Be Like Water
Let Me Be Like Water is a beautiful and heartbreaking story of young love and young loss. A meditation on grief and what could have been, S.K. Perry's debut offers glimpses of the sometimes magical ways the world works when life is shattered and we're left with nothing but the pieces.
Months after the sudden and unexpected death of her boyfriend, Holly leaves London, a city filled with memories of her lover, Sam, "our residue on pavements and seats of buses," for the seaside town of Brighton. The move gives Holly more than the space to think and heal, however. It brings her Frank, a retired magician who, in his lovingly odd way, "collects" lonely people. And she finds new friends and a cold sea, and "by the water it really does feel like things will be alright."
There are any number of novels about loss. But Let Me Be Like Water
is distinctive in its poetic and vivid language, which Perry uses to bring Holly's emotional roller-coaster to life on the page. Moreover, it focuses on the loss of a young
life in particular. Readers' hearts break not only for Holly's immediate loss, but for the loss of all that a future with Sam may have held: a marriage, possible children, any number of small moments of intimacy. In place of all the things that can't be known about that lost future, we get what is left: raw, unadulterated grief; desperate, clinging loneliness; and a small ray of hope in the form of good friends and good food. Perry is a voice to be watched--in this case, watched through blurred tears with a box of tissues at hand. --Kerry McHugh
, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: This is a beautiful tale of young love and young loss, and the magical powers of friendship to heal broken hearts.
$16.99, paperback, 224p., 9781612197265
The Fifth Woman
There's a particularly surreal quality to the lives of those in mourning. Along with pain and sorrow is the muscle memory of sleeping beside someone, seeing them in the morning, living in a shared world with the person who died. The Fifth Woman by Nona Caspers inhabits that surreal quality, showing how it informs, and is informed by, a felt grief. Spread out into 23 connected short stories, the book plots the shaky, sometimes strange, road to recovery.
After the death of her lover, Michelle, the narrator leaves their apartment in San Francisco for a smaller, cheaper one in a rundown building. Still grieving and unsure of how to recalibrate her life, she begins to curl into herself, dreaming or creating spaces where the magical occurs. There is a dog that exists only in shadow. The weather bursts through her walls and leaves her adrift in the snow while still indoors. Her ceiling opens wide, revealing the floor above and eventually, the sky. Each strange occurrence underscores how life without Michelle has become unmoored, all the while beginning to build towards a path to acceptance (though never real peace, that much is clear).
The Fifth Woman
is strange and sad, perfectly encapsulating the oddest aspects of grief through its images and events. But it doesn't wallow, nor does it attempt to pull the reader down into its sorrow. Instead, Caspers wants to open a window into the moments after a loved one has been lost, bringing out the essential, real humanity as she bends the rules of reality itself. --Noah Cruickshank
, adult engagement manager, the Field Museum, Chicago, Ill.
Discover: The Fifth Woman is a book of connected short stories that depicts the surreal aftermath of losing a loved one.
$15.95, paperback, 160p., 9781946448170
The Story of H
, trans. by Valerie Miles
When the atomic bomb was detonated over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, the narrator--an intersex individual known as H--was 13. All of a sudden, H's life was turned upside down, her family among the 200,000 victims annihilated, and her body transformed by the blast. Years later, in New York, she meets and falls in love with an American, Jim, who served in World War II, and their stories are intertwined with the search for a Japanese baby Jim cared for during the first five years of the child's life.
Marina Perezagua has written a haunting and strange tale that captures the reader from the get-go as she unveils tiny clues to the true nature of H's life and of the search she embarks on with Jim for the baby he tended. The story twists and meanders, providing insight into a life of duality experienced by some whose gender is not apparent at birth. There are also allusions to a murder, which isn't fully revealed until the end.
Recurring themes of parenthood, love and survivorship dominate this lyrical novel. Perezagua includes graphic details about the Hiroshima victims in the aftermath of the bombing, and she muses on the meaning of sex and sexual identity. While at times she is overly cryptic in her descriptions and slow with plot reveals, the overall effect is mesmerizing and beautiful. The Story of H
unfolds like the petals of a flower, exposing humanity at its center. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A Japanese woman and an American soldier search for a girl who went missing in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.
$26.99, hardcover, 304p., 9780062660718
Mystery & Thriller
Red, White, Blue
In her intriguing second novel, Red, White, Blue
, Lea Carpenter (Eleven Days
) tackles the enigmatic world of the CIA through the intertwined stories of two narrators.
Anna is recently married but also still mourning the death of her father, Noel, in a Swiss avalanche while skiing. She remembers him as a brilliant businessman and a devoted father who took care of her after her mother left. The two were very close, and his death, on the eve of her wedding day, was devastating.
On a delayed honeymoon to the south of France, Anna meets a mysterious man at the bar. She soon realizes this is not a chance encounter, as the man's stories about working for the Agency involve her father. Back home, she receives a package containing videos that provide further understanding (and confusion) about a part of her father's life she knew nothing about.
The novel alternates between Anna's life moving forward and the stories of the unnamed CIA case officer that gradually bring her father's past to light. The author uses an unusual narrative style, with short, clipped sentences and very brief chapters. It feels a bit jarring at first, but readers soon fall into the rhythm of the story as it slowly unfolds in both the past and the present. Small details take on great importance in this clever and complex spy story that provides insights into the workings of the CIA and this particular agent's life. --Suzan L. Jackson
, freelance writer and author of Book By Book
Discover: The story of a CIA spy gradually unfolds, narrated by both his daughter and a mysterious case officer.
$26.95, hardcover, 320p., 9781524732141
Biography & Memoir
Lisa Brennan-Jobs, daughter of late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs and artist Chrisann Brennan, was born when her (unmarried) parents were just 23 years old. Jobs publicly denied his paternity until a DNA test proved otherwise. When Lisa was two, her mother sued Jobs for child support and, after months of resisting, he hurriedly agreed to pay $500 a month. Four days later, Apple stock went public and Jobs was worth $200 million. Steve Jobs may have been many things, but paternal wasn't one of them. In fact, he's portrayed as thoughtless, self-absorbed, immature and withholding. "There was a thin line between civility and cruelty in him," Brennan-Jobs writes. But Small Fry is no Mommie Dearest hatchet job. This heartfelt, emotional and exceedingly well-written coming-of-age memoir is a warts-and-all portrait, laced with resilience and healing.
Life with her mother was often hardscrabble and rootless--they moved 13 times by the time Lisa was seven. While Jobs and Brennan never married, they were always entwined in each other's lives. When Lisa was 13, her father wed and started a family. His possessive nature wanted Lisa under his (aloof) roof. Maneuvering this shaky reunion was Job's newly discovered biological sister, author Mona Simpson--who later wrote the novel A Regular Guy about a Silicon Valley tycoon's distant relationship with his born-out-of-wedlock daughter.
Lisa and her college drop-out father became estranged when she went off to college against his wishes. Jobs's 2003 pancreatic cancer diagnosis finally brought a reconciliation, before his death in 2011. Brennan-Jobs is an outstanding storyteller, and her empowering tale of overcoming dysfunctional family relationships with haunt readers. --Kevin Howell
, independent reviewer and marketing consultant
Discover: The daughter of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs writes an emotional, cathartic and haunting coming-of-age tale of family dysfunction.
$26, hardcover, 400p., 9780802128232
Leadership: In Turbulent Times
Doris Kearns Goodwin
"They differed widely in temperament, appearance, and physical ability. They were endowed with a divergent range of qualities often ascribed to leadership--intelligence, energy, empathy, verbal and written gifts, and skills in dealing with people. They were united, however, by a fierce ambition, an inordinate drive to succeed... they all essentially made themselves leaders by enhancing and developing the qualities they were given."
Arrogance was a quality all four men had to learn to moderate. Lincoln once brought a fellow legislator to tears with his public mockery. Both Roosevelts had to overcome their entitled self-righteousness to learn how to listen and collaborate. Johnson was emotionally and physically exhausting to his students and staff, but balanced that with inspiring mentorship. All four men suffered severe setbacks and depression, and considered quitting politics before going on to become president. And "all took office at moments of uncertainty and dislocation in extremis."
Goodwin alternates chapters on each president within three major sections: their educations and early careers; "adversity and growth"; and their very different presidencies. Would-be leaders may find this a thoughtful introductory manual. For general readers it is a heartening reminder of what the best leadership can look like. --Sara Catterall
Discover: Presidential biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin examines the nature of leadership as demonstrated by the careers of four major U.S. presidents.
Simon & Schuster,
$30, hardcover, 496p., 9781476795928
Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist
With raw, uncomfortable frankness, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eli Saslow dissects the ideological transformation of a man once considered the "Great White Hope," the heir to the White Nationalist movement. Derek Roland Black grew up engulfed in white nationalism. His father, Don Black, was a prominent Klansman and founder of the racist Internet community Stormfront. His godfather is David Duke, the notorious Grand Wizard of the KKK. And his half-sisters are Duke's daughters--Derek's mother, Chloe, was married to Duke before Derek's father.
Drawing on years of interviews and research, Saslow paints a detailed picture of Derek's upbringing. A smart, perceptive child, Derek absorbs the theory, mythology and history embraced by his family and their friends. When the Florida public schools teach diversity and multiculturalism, Don and Chloe pull Derek out, opting to homeschool instead. For the first two decades of his life, a bubble of white nationalism encases Derek.
When Derek chooses to attend Florida's prestigious--and liberal--New College, that bubble bursts. He becomes friends with minority students and briefly dates a Jewish girl. However, when the campus learns of Derek's affiliation, pandemonium breaks out. But a small group of students accepts him and talks to him and exposes him to a way of thinking Derek has never experienced before. With patience and kindness, they change his life forever.
Saslow handles this delicate story with journalistic integrity. The hundreds of hours spent with his subject are evident in the portrayal of the intense internal conflict Derek and his girlfriend undergo. Rising Out of Hatred
is a powerful story of the damage hate is capable of, as well as the potential of faith and hope. --Jen Forbus
Discover: An up-and-coming White Nationalist sees the world in a different light when a diverse group of college students treats him with kindness and compassion.
$26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9780385542869
Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger
Most people are rightfully peeved when a scowling woman is prodded to smile; looking constantly pretty isn't expected of men, so they aren't routinely asked to turn that frown upside down. In Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women's Anger, media critic Soraya Chemaly champions a second reason to resent this double standard: a woman encouraged to smile is implicitly discouraged from showing anger. And anger, Chemaly argues, is a positive force for change.
"Anger remains the emotion that is least acceptable for girls and women because it is the first line of defense against injustice," Chemaly writes, and, boy, do women have a lot to fume about. The first chunk of Rage Becomes Her discusses the gender pay gap, sexual harassment and violence, and other topics that have been covered more exhaustively by other writers. It's in the second part of her book that Chemaly earns her subtitle: it was female anger, she explains, after Donald Trump's 2016 presidential win, that spurred historic numbers of women to run for office. Female anger also helped give birth to Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and other political movements.
Chemaly writes about injustice with vigor and flair, sharing her experiences as both a woman and the mother of daughters. She supports her conclusions with grim studies, most of them dispiritingly recent. "Is it possible to read a book about anger and not get mad?" she asks at one point. Not if it's Rage Becomes Her
. But as Chemaly shows, that's a good reason to read it. --Nell Beram
, author and freelance writer
Discover: In her look at the power of female rage, Soraya Chemaly argues that anger is the first step on the road to justice.
$27, hardcover, 416p., 9781501189555
Psychology & Self-Help
The Incurable Romantic: And Other Tales of Madness and Desire
British clinical psychologist Frank Tallis (Lovesick: Love as a Mental Illness) explores the intersection between love and mental health with a compassionate look at some of the most challenging and interesting cases of his career.
In an instant, a meek, conventional woman becomes passionately obsessed with her dentist, and no power on earth can convince her that he does not reciprocate her feelings of almost spiritual connection. A wealthy married man spends his fortune romancing more than 3,000 prostitutes, then jilting them once they fall for him. An elderly widow misses her husband's presence so strongly that she begins to hallucinate his ghost. A man who visits prostitutes insists a demon possesses him and causes his behavior. Over the course of Tallis's career, he watches love change and even destroy lives, often in ways that might make little sense to the casual observer. He also includes episodes from his own life, such as the time he and his ex-wife lived in a rural village where a neighbor ran afoul of a messianic evangelist suffering psychotic delusions.
Although his material could easily lend itself to a more gossipy treatment, Tallis treats each story with the utmost seriousness, by turns empathetic toward his former patients and fascinated by the conditions and obsessions that plague them. Though entertaining and written with wry good humor, The Incurable Romantic
digs deeply into the emotion of each situation and makes a case that a human experience as powerful as love can carry deep consequences. --Jaclyn Fulwood
, blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Frank Tallis, a British clinical psychologist and mystery writer, chooses 11 of his most interesting cases to illustrate the link between romantic turmoil and mental health.
$27, hardcover, 304p., 9781541617551
Readers either relish Eileen Myles's outrage and outrageously out-there writing or think the poet is a bit of a kook. Myles's inventive work and over-the-top persona don't allow for much in-between. Rich in vernacular and innovative line breaks, the poems in Evolution ask to be read out loud--like these lines from "St. Joseph Father of Whales": "I heard your/ Joseph Josephy/ songs in the whales/ last night/ giant round giggly organs/ tickling and mooing/ and diving calves, you're/ the oldest & the silliest/ Joe--need to keep/ you on my/ side."
Although Myles grew up in Cambridge Catholic schools and graduated from UMass Boston, Myles is a product of New York City through and through. A downtown denizen and self-described dyke, Myles is an alternative Patti Smith--complete with a 1980 Mapplethorpe photograph. As they describe in "Dear Adam": "Out of a/ conservative/ diaspora came I mongrel poet from Massachusetts/ to make my mark."
Myles crafts poems of personal nature. In very short lines, they are also reflective, contemporary, political, erotic and even aphoristic. "Each Day I Get Up," for example, starts with a bang: "I think I'm kind of Morrissey/ don't you/ though his sweatshirt/ wouldn't be so/ cheap/ though he'd/ probably wish/ that it/ was."
is a triumphant collection that manifests these words from Myles's prose poem "Notebook, 1981": "I called it poetry, but it was flesh and time and bread and friends frightened and free enough to want to have another day that way." --Bruce Jacobs
, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: In a bold collection of poems, Eileen Myles reinforces their justifiable fame as the unabashed voice of what's left of New York's downtown edginess.
$25, hardcover, 176p., 9780802128508
Children's & Young Adult
And the Ocean Was Our Sky
, illust. by Rovina Cai
Patrick Ness follows up his conceptual 2017 young adult novel, Release
, with the esoteric, artful And the Ocean Was Our Sky
, a (literal) upside-down retelling of Moby Dick
. "Call me Bathsheba," Ness's narrator begins, here to tell her tale of "the final hunt that ever was. The hunt for a legend, a myth, a devil."
When she was 16, Bathsheba was a hunter, a "lowly but eager Third Apprentice" to Captain Alexandra, "the best hunter in the sea." The Captain had a "short, rusted end of a man's harpoon... sticking from her great head," physical and painful proof of man's long war with whales. Bathsheba was, as she puts it, "ignorant" when she hunted with Captain Alexandra, their "sails catching the currents, the Abyss below [them], the ocean [their] sky." Bathsheba knew that man and whale were enemies, and that was all that mattered.
But then a routine hunt went awry, the man ship they sought found empty and adrift, its crew dead. All, that is, except one young man with a message: "He is uncatchable." Captain Alexandra had found the trail of Toby Wick--the whales' "devil," "monster," "myth"--and his white ship, and nothing would stop her from following it.
Bathsheba's story has heft, even though Ness's book is significantly shorter than Melville's. The questions she raises as she slowly sheds her ignorance are deep, the trauma faced by both man and whale brutal and wholly unnecessary. Rovina Cai's illustrations are detailed and dream-like, her gray-scale with splashes of color depictions of the fathomless world an additional source of intensity in this already fierce tale. Readers are likely to leave And the Ocean Was Our Sky
asking the same kinds of heavy questions as Bathsheba, primary among them, "who needs devils when you have men?" --Siân Gaetano
, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: In Patrick Ness's young adult retelling of Moby Dick, a whale hunts down the white ship of her man enemy.
$19.99, hardcover, 160p., ages 13-up, 9780062860729
Dactyl Hill Squad
Daniel José Older
Daniel José Older makes his middle-grade debut with Dactyl Hill Squad, a Civil War-era historical fantasy--with dinosaurs.
Twelve-year-old Magdalys Roca lives in the Colored Orphan Asylum in New York City. On this July 1863 evening, Magdalys and her fellow orphans Two Step, Mapper, Little Sabeen and Amaya head out on the orphanage's "huge old triceratops," Varney, to see a performance at the "only all-black Shakespearean company in New York." When the group is stopped mid-trip by the white Magistrate Riker, supposedly to make sure the children aren't "fugitive slaves," Magdalys's fear and anxiety make her wish Varney would take evasive maneuvers--which he immediately does. Magdalys, it turns out, can talk to dinos. And she learns this not a moment too soon.
The group escapes the Magistrate and arrives at the play--but hooded white folks on raptors are rioting, setting the city on fire and attacking black citizens. Unsurprisingly, the Magistrate is among the hooded rioters, no doubt working with the Kidnapping Club to steal free black children and sell them into slavery. Magdalys's newly discovered ability comes in handy when she steals a brachy from the fire brigade and brings it to the orphans' rescue.
They flee, ending up at a refuge in Dactyl Hill where adult men and women of color work together as a Vigilance Committee, fighting the Kidnapping Club and Magistrate Riker whenever they can. Magdalys and her fellow orphans soon become freedom fighters themselves.
Dactyl Hill Squad has everything a reader could possibly want in a middle-grade book: action, adventure, magic, humor and dinosaurs. Magdalys is the same kind of young, engaging and flawed protagonist as Philip Pullman's Lyra--a character readers can't help but love even when (especially because) she's frustrating. An entertaining and wholly fulfilling series opener. --Siân Gaetano, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Twelve-year-old Magdalys discovers she can talk to dinos in Daniel José Older's fantastical alternate history of New York during the Civil War.
Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic,
$16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781338268812