Three Things About Elsie
Joanna Cannon's protagonist in Three Things About Elsie
is nearing the end of her life rather than coming-of-age, as the heroines in her debut novel, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
, were. But 84-year-old Florence is just as engaging, and her tale includes a mystery.
A resident of the Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly, "Flo" relies on Elsie. Her best friend since childhood, Elsie shares Flo's days, filling in memory gaps and fending off behavior that might result in a transfer to the dreaded Greenbank facility. Flo adores Elsie, who "always undid the stitches of other people's worrying and made them disappear." However, the novel opens with Flo alone, at 4:48 p.m., lying on her sitting-room floor awaiting discovery after a fall, practicing what she'll say to her rescuers and musing over what will eventually be revealed: "Everyone's life has a secret."
Ending hours later, at 11:12 p.m., the story covers decades, including a long-ago tragedy the women shared. This pivotal event has abruptly resurfaced in the form of Cherry Tree's newest resident: a man who looks exactly like the villain who died following that incident.
Elsie and Flo set out to unravel the mystery of the newcomer, and their sleuthing revives memories--although Flo's can be unreliable. Past and present intertwine as they uncover truths, some more surprising than the man's identity. Flo and Elsie are endearing, and Cannon's diverse characters at the home enrich this charming story. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon
, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: When mystery comes to the Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly, best friends Elsie and Flo uncover some surprising truths in their quest to solve it.
$26, hardcover, 384p., 9781501187384
Olive Grossman, a 60-something editor and writer, met Helen Weinstein at their Brooklyn high school and never quite recovered. Their friendship endured through college, when the antiwar movement reached fever pitch and the radicalized Helen came to regard Olive's commitment to nonviolence as gutless.
As Conscience opens, Olive's memories of Helen are revived when her husband, Griff, the principal of a high school for troubled kids, asks to borrow her copy of Bright Morning of Pain, a tawdry bestselling novel published in the 1980s. They both know that its author, Valerie Benevento, another childhood friend of Olive, based a central character on Helen. It's soon made clear that Valerie pilfered from other lives to fortify her novel and that Olive isn't being histrionic when she says of her long-ago four-year separation from Griff, "This book had been one of our problems."
Chapters that aren't narrated by Olive (with occasional perspective from Griff) are narrated by Jean Argos, the director of a New Haven agency dedicated to serving the homeless. Olive gets to know Jean--who may or may not be able to fill the vacancy Helen left in Olive's life--after the eternally high-minded Griff becomes president of the agency's board.
With her shatteringly incisive novel, Alice Mattison, whose previous books include When We Argued All Night
, again swaddles a political moment with both quotidian details and pitiless insights into human nature. Conscience
leaves the reader with the understanding that being conscientious and egotistical are hardly mutually exclusive. --Nell Beram
, author and freelance writer
Discover: A trashy old novel reopens a rift in a marriage between an editor and a high school principal, both of whom know that the book's author raided their lives for copy.
$25.95, hardcover, 368p., 9781681777894
Mystery & Thriller
Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding
Rhys Bowen, author of the Molly Murphy and Her Royal Spyness mystery series, returns to England with Lady Georgiana Rannoch in Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding. The 12th of Lady Georgiana's adventures, but easily read as a standalone, this takes place in 1930s England, on the eve of Georgie's marriage to impoverished Irish lord Darcy O'Mara.
Georgie, cousin of the king of England, has to renounce her place in the royal line in order to marry a Catholic, but she is happy to do so. She's less thrilled when the king and queen invite themselves to her wedding, and assume she's inviting half the royal houses of Europe as well. Since Georgie is just as poor as Darcy, with only her regal name and an empty pocketbook, she's at her wit's end, when her previous stepfather (one of her mother's many ex-husbands) offers her the chance to live for free at his estate, Eynsleigh.
Georgie jumps at the chance, only to discover shifty servants and strange activities, which make her extremely nervous. Trying to play lady of the manor, Georgie attempts to make the servants do what they ought, but she begins to suspect that sinister things are happening at Eynsleigh.
Fast-paced, funny and full of royal cameos, Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding
is a delightful historical mystery. Georgie and her no-nonsense approach to life, plus her hilarious schemes to stay afloat financially, will keep the readers chuckling as she follows her suspicions. --Jessica Howard
, bookseller at Bookmans, Tucson, Ariz.
Discover: In this historical romp, Lady Georgiana must simultaneously discover what sinister things her servants are up to and plan her lavish wedding.
$26, hardcover, 304p., 9780425283523
Don't Send Flowers
Martín Solares follows up The Black Minutes with Don't Send Flowers, another unpredictable descent into a region of Mexico teetering on the edge of complete lawlessness. It is reminiscent of Don Winslow's dark thrillers The Power of the Dog and The Cartel in its emphasis on the miseries wrought by the drug trade, but Solares's focus is firmly on the Mexican side of the border. His novel, translated from Spanish by Heather Cleary, centers on the all-too-common crime of kidnapping in the Gulf town of Ciudad Miel. In this case, the missing girl has a powerful father who convinces retired police detective Carlos Treviño to help find his daughter before it's too late.
Don't Send Flowers follows Treviño's painstaking investigation into the kidnapping. Treviño has a history with the local police that ended with his torture and desperate escape, so he has to dodge the cops as well as two cartels warring over territory. The scope of the story is complicated by surprising tangents and perspective shifts. Few characters seem untouched by what they refer to as "the trade": "Throw a rock and you'll hit someone living off the cartels, sometimes without even knowing it." Politicians, business owners, even the military are implicated. And Solares is unafraid to look through the eyes of borderline villainous characters, taking readers deep into the calculations and moral compromises they've made to stay alive or even prosper in what increasingly seems like a modern Wild West.
Revealing more would spoil the plot, but suffice to say that throughout the book's bold narrative choices, Solares maintains a deft touch for suspense. --Hank Stephenson
, bookseller, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C.
Discover: A retired cop investigates the kidnapping of a wealthy man's daughter in a Mexican town riddled with corruption and cartel violence.
$16, paperback, 288p., 9780802128157
Science Fiction & Fantasy
The People's Republic of Everything
Nick Mamatas (I Am Providence
) creates landscapes in The People's Republic of Everything
that are off-kilter yet disconcertingly familiar. This short story collection examines his recurring themes of "the body, technology, [and] materialism" with tales that span conventional narrative, science fiction and dystopian fantasy; dark themes abide, touched with a fair bit of humor.
The title story, "The People's Republic of Everything and Everywhere," introduces a narrator who is part of an anarchist scheme to steal the Q-chip: it breaks every code and cracks every password. "No walls, no doors" is the insurgents' motto. In "Arbeitskraft," factory workers are altered with prosthetic limb devices that repress an already downtrodden class. The main character, a rich man who fancies himself a liberal do-gooder, is used to "critique steampunk without creating an anti-steampunk story."
This collection also includes the preferred author edition of Under My Roof, a novel set in the near future when war is constant. A telepathic boy tells the very funny story of his father's homemade nuclear bomb and the reaction to his declaring their house a new country. Part Kurt Vonnegut and part The Mouse That Roared, it's a biting and relevant satire.
Mamatas adds author notes at the end of each story. The reader may come away with the feeling that it's a minor miracle that any of his unusual work sees print--and a very good thing that it does--because his underground aesthetic and slightly skewed imagination give adventurous readers a wild ride. --Cindy Pauldine
, bookseller, the river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y.
Discover: The People's Republic of Everything is a subversive and darkly humorous collection of stories showcasing author Nick Mamatas's ability to work across a variety of genres.
$15.95, paperback, 336p., 9781616963002
Biography & Memoir
I Should Have Honor: A Memoir of Hope and Pride in Pakistan
"Izzat mare, pen mare te maf" is a saying in Khalida Brohi's Pakistani tribe, translating as "Even if I have nothing, I should have honor." Born in a small village, Brohi understood the concept of honor was tied to her father. As his eldest daughter, she was the one who could dishonor him the most. Brohi's father, however, was exceptional. Rather than ascribing to centuries-old customs keeping women unempowered, he told her she would dishonor him the day she failed to bring home good grades. This freedom ("my father took the biggest weight from my shoulders and in its place attached two wings") and how it helped forge Brohi's life is the subject of I Should Have Honor.
Brohi's cousin was the victim of an honor killing at the age of 14. Brohi, herself just 16, was forever changed. Convinced education meant power, she began protesting and speaking out to local women. Facing resistance and threats, Brohi changed tack and formed the Sughar Empowerment Society, a nonprofit that helps women learn skills and earn income selling traditional embroidered products to the fashion industry.
Through Sughar, Brohi also educates women about gender equality and domestic violence, and her work has been recognized worldwide. Writing in natural, unadorned prose, Brohi captures the reader with her passion and indefatigability. Brohi's success, earned despite entrenched cultural obstacles ("Daughters are a blessing from God, but they are a tough gift to cherish. Everyone wants a piece of them. Always."), is a lesson in perseverance and familial courage. --Lauren O'Brien
of Malcolm Avenue Review
Discover: This is the memoir of a young social entrepreneur who, following the honor killing of her cousin, works to empower and educate Pakistani women.
$27, hardcover, 224p., 9780399588013
Pandemic 1918: Eyewitness Accounts from the Greatest Medical Holocaust in Modern History
Each year, up to 20% of the population will get the flu. Most individuals will recover with no complications. A small percentage will require hospitalization, and an even smaller percentage (usually the very young or the very old) will die. In 1918, at the end of World War I, this was not the case; more than one-third of the world's population caught the pandemic Spanish flu. Popular historian and journalist Catharine Arnold (Necropolis: London and Its Dead) follows the course of a virus that killed 25 million people in its first 25 weeks and more than 50 million people worldwide. Medical historians would call it the greatest medical holocaust in history--deadlier than the Great Plague.
Spanish flu struck down politicians and average Joes with equal intensity, differing from seasonal influenza by killing the young and healthy, rich as well as poor: "Indeed, by the end of the war, more Americans would have died from Spanish flu then perished in the war." Spanish flu made orphans out of 600 children in New York, caused a shortage of coffins and gravediggers in Philadelphia and turned Armistice Day into a protracted death march.
Arnold painstakingly reviews eyewitness accounts from survivors, diaries, newspaper reports and military and medical records. Spanish flu continued to haunt researchers nearly 80 years later, when tissue samples from excavated remains revealed it to be a form of avian flu, and when prospects of another epidemic loomed heavily on the horizon.
A 1918 London Times
quote sums up the impact of the Spanish flu: "Never since the Black Death had such a plague swept over the world; never, perhaps, has a plague been more stoically accepted." --Nancy Powell
, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: A popular historian traces the destructive path of the Spanish flu and the impact it continues to have 100 years later.
St. Martin's Press,
$27.99, hardcover, 368p., 9781250139436
Psychology & Self-Help
How Not to Fall Apart: Lessons Learned on the Road from Self-Harm to Self-Care
Maggy van Eijk
"The world in which depression and anxiety reign supreme is extremely lonely," writes Maggy van Eijk in the introduction to her book How Not to Fall Apart. "I wanted to write this book to reach out and say: 'Hey there, you're not alone, I'm right there with you.' " By documenting her own experiences living with mental illness--anxiety and depression, but also a variety of other co-existing diagnoses--van Eijk offers both community and advice to readers.
How Not to Fall Apart is full of lists: things to do to find comfort on a tough day; activities to consider instead of self-harm; a checklist for "when your brain is ready to jump to conclusions"; great places to cry it out. On their own, the lists could be seen as fluffy. Interjected throughout van Eijk's very personal account of struggling with anxiety, depression and self-harm, the lists become a window into one person's coping mechanisms, offered with a suggestion for personalization. (Note that readers who may be triggered by accounts of self-harm, sexual assault or other traumas may want to avoid this one, as van Eijk doesn't shy away from such details.)
That's the thing about mental health: it's incredibly personal, specific to the experiences of each individual. Books like How Not to Fall Apart
can't offer a one-size-fits-all solution to living with anxiety or depression. But they can offer a reminder that there is hope, even when it's hard to find, and that we are not alone in our struggles, no matter how exceptional they may be. --Kerry McHugh
, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: The author tells of her experiences living with anxiety and depression, and gives advice to others struggling with the same.
$16, paperback, 256p., 9780143133490
Arctic Solitaire: A Boat, a Bay and the Quest for the Perfect Bear
Paul Souders has been a wildlife and nature photographer for more than 30 years, yet he'd never captured a polar bear on film in its natural Arctic environment. Disinclined to join a tour group where his photographs would be the same as everyone else's, Souders bought a rubber dinghy and a wooden boat called C-Sick and went solo into Hudson Bay. Over the course of several summers, he traversed hazardous waterways in search of an iconic polar bear image.
is Souder's first book and is based on the notes he took while on these expeditions. He holds little back, sharing with readers his distinct lack of knowledge for reading the sea and the weather, as he was caught in one storm after another. Pack ice threatened to crush his boat, strong winds drove him onto submerged rocks and even the bears he came to photograph almost did him serious harm. But amid that desolation, he did capture numerous polar bears and other wildlife on film, all of which he describes in loving and lyrical tones. Interspersed with his personal narrative are reflections on the history of previous arctic explorers as well as commentaries on the native Inuit he encountered in the tiny, isolated villages he visited. Arctic Solitaire
is also filled with beautiful color images that mirror the story he tells. This is a great read about a harsh region of the world few get to see on their own. --Lee E. Cart
, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: A photographer sails alone in the Arctic in search of the perfect polar bear photograph.
$26.95, hardcover, 304p., 9781680511048
Children's & Young Adult
We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga
, illust. by Frané Lessac
Cherokee poet Traci Sorell makes her picture book debut with We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga, illustrated by the prolific Frané Lessac.
"Cherokee people say otsaliheliga to express gratitude. It is a reminder to celebrate our blessings and reflect on struggles--daily, throughout the year, and across the seasons." With seasonal chapter headings in both English and Tsalagi (Cherokee), Sorell takes the reader through a year in the life of contemporary citizens of the Cherokee Nation. Using the refrain "we say otsaliheliga" (pronounced oh-jah-LEE-hay-lee-gah), each season is given special joys, sorrows and celebrations both specific and generic, personal and communal.
In autumn (uligohvsdi), gratitude is voiced as shell shakers dance around the fire during the Great New Moon Ceremony; it is expressed as citizens of the Cherokee Nation clean their homes, don new clothes and feast to welcome the Cherokee New Year; it is communicated through acts of remembrance for "ancestors who suffered hardship and loss on the Trail of Tears." In winter (gola), "[a]s bears sleep deep and snow blankets the ground," the large, tightly knit community is thankful for the stories of elders and for traditional lullabies.
Lessac's folk art-style gouache illustrations depict the diversity of contemporary life experiences described in Sorell's text. On one spread, the family hugs a "clan relative" dressed in fatigues as he heads off "to serve our country"; on another, children play in a cornfield as "the crops mature and the sun scorches." In Sorell's author note, she says "Cherokee culture places a strong emphasis on expressing gratitude to unelanvhi... literally 'the one who provides all,' " as well as for "one another." An elegant representation of this concept, We Are Grateful
has the ability to resonate with any reader: "Otsaliheliga for all who came before us, those here now, and those yet to come." --Siân Gaetano
, children's and YA editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Traci Sorell and Frané Lessac's picture book explores the Cherokee word "otsaliheliga," meaning We Are Grateful.
$17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-7, 9781580897723
Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery
"Lacy's scream is loud enough to wake the Dead, and that is precisely what is happening." Sixteen-year-old Lacy Brink wakes, thoroughly confused, in Westminster Cemetery. Turns out, she's dead. She quickly learns that the afterlives of the cemetery's Dead are governed by strict rules, enforced by the unforgiving Mrs. Steele. Rule-breaking in Westminster has consequences--"[t]hree strikes and you become one of the Suppressed, which means you lose your aboveground privileges." (The cemetery's most famous resident, Edgar Allan Poe, is among the Suppressed.) Horrified Lacy tries to adapt to her afterlife with the help of earnest 17-year-old Civil War soldier Sam. Lacy is assigned to host an evening of entertainment and proposes an open mic night "to create a space for self-expression." The residents of Westminster crave a change from the monotony, but are they bold enough to accept Lacy's radical proposal, open up and risk Mrs. Steele Suppressing them all?
Mary Amato's inventive Open Mic Night at Westminster Cemetery
finds humor in the grave. Formatted as a play, with a helpful narrator occasionally chiming in, Open Mic Night
dares readers to laugh at the macabre. Even though the main cast is already dead, the threat of Suppression is serious enough to create notable tension, and the revealed secrets of a few characters are memorable and affecting. Additionally, Lacy's liberal use of profanity (she's particularly fond of yelling "F*ck!" in the quiet graveyard) allows the reader to feel as jarred by her presence as the Dead do. Open Mic Night
reinvents the afterlife in a way that's both mysterious and playful. --Kyla Paterno
, former YA and children's book buyer
Discover: A teenage girl, surprised to learn she's dead when she wakes up in the same cemetery as Edgar Allan Poe, decides to host an open mic night for the Dead residents.
$18.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 13-up, 9781512465310