Linda M. Castellitto

How do you like your horror? Perhaps you’re a fan of creeping dread, or gory goings-on are more your speed? The White Guy Dies First: 13 Scary Stories of Fear and Power, editor Terry J. Benton-Walker’s anthology featuring authors of color, explores a variety of tropes for readers who enjoy disturbing, thought-provoking fare.

Despite their varied approaches, settings and baddies, all the ominously entertaining stories in The White Guy Dies First have two things in common: They center people of color and, per the book’s title, the white guy indeed dies first. Also evident throughout is an appreciation for horror. As Benton-Walker—author of the bestselling Blood Debts and Alex Wise series—notes, “The genre has always been a medium to deliver terror that’s most often intertwined with a deeper message, which can be far more horrifying than any superficial scare.”

Chloe Gong’s blood-spattered slasher, “Docile Girls,” features Adelaide Hu, head of the prom committee that includes her ex Jake Stewart and his snide friends. Jake had relegated her to “an exotic smiling accessory,” but on the fateful night before the big dance, Adelaide is anything but docile. And in Mark Oshiro’s suspenseful home invasion story, “Wasps,” Nina Ortiz defends her Abuela Carmen’s Brooklyn house from a gentrifier who wants to take their home—despite not knowing just how dark things can get in the Ortiz family’s basement.

There’s body horror (Naseem Jamnia’s “Break Through Our Skin”) and occult magic (Lamar Giles’ “The Protégé”), too. And an angry, hilariously profane haunted house narrates Benton-Walker’s own contribution, “The Road to Hell,” in which a Florida manse that spent centuries wanting love from occupants who “abandoned me, deeming me unlovable, unworthy . . . haunted” pulls out all the terrifying stops in an effort to make its current residents stay put.

Readers won’t want to put down The White Guy Dies First until they turn the last spooky page of this creative and creepy collection in which expectations are subverted and underrepresented groups claim their power from ghouls and demons both real and supernatural.

 

Readers won’t want to put down The White Guy Dies First, a creative and creepy collection in which expectations are subverted and underrepresented groups claim their power from ghouls and demons both real and supernatural.

Brandon Keim’s thought-provoking, beautifully written Meet the Neighbors: Animal Minds and Life in a More-Than-Human World is perfect for those who love to read al fresco, surrounded by the very creatures the author urges us to view with curiosity, compassion and kinship.

From adorable bumblebees to fearsome grizzly bears and everything—well, everyone—in between, Keim is a staunch advocate for viewing animals as fellows, and not just those we’ve brought into our homes: “Even as we recognize our beloved pets as thinking, feeling beings with a first-person experience of life, and grapple—however inconsistently—with the selfhood of animals used for food and research, that’s not how we’re socialized to regard wild animals.”

So what if, in addition to cats and dogs plus “a select few stars, such as chimpanzees and dolphins,” we acknowledge that raccoons, coyotes and salamanders are just as capable of thinking and feeling as we are? There’s plenty of scientific evidence that wild creatures are self-aware and think strategically, Keim explains, even if it’s not always in a form we recognize. To wit, earthworms can distinguish between soil displaced by their own slithering and the push of a shovel, coyotes can invent games, and starlings are more relaxed after having bathed—just like us!

In addition to translating copious scientific revelations with reverence and aplomb, Meet the Neighbors sheds light on damaging biases in conventional wisdom, such as the value of instinct. ’Tis true, humans are encouraged to follow their instincts to boost awareness, safety or success. However, Keim notes, “When applied to animals, it’s used dismissively. Then instinctive means thoughtless, the opposite of reasoned, a lesser form of intelligence than our own.”

The journalist and author of 2017’s The Eye of the Sandpiper also delves into animal rights philosophy, hunting regulations, wildlife management and more. Through it all, Keim exhorts readers to consider: “How might an awareness of animal minds shape the ways we understand them and, ultimately, how we live with them on this shared, precious planet?” Meet the Neighbors offers an edifying, awe-inspiring start.

Brandon Keim’s awe-inspiring Meet the Neighbors exhorts us to consider that all animals, from dolphins to salamanders, are just as capable of thinking and feeling as we are.

Young children courageously face their fears in Dare to Be Daring, a funny and reassuring tale told in upbeat, singsongy rhyme that provides an excellent mantra for situations when a little extra motivation is needed: “Today, I will dare to be daring.”

As author Chelsea Lin Wallace acknowledges in straightforward, witty prose, trying something for the first time is daunting, indeed. But what if taking risks can lead to wonderful things, like a little boy’s feelings of elation and relief after conquering his fear of the dentist? He happily discovers, “That paste tastes like candy! / This suck tool is handy! / A trip to the toy bin, woo-hoo!”

In a variety of scenarios depicting a relatable mix of physical, social and emotional challenges, children throw caution to the wind in gym class, try a new food, ask to join a group of others playing a game and more. Their initial trepidation and ultimate exuberance is expertly depicted by illustrator Lian Cho, who conjures up expressive characters that are a delight to behold, including the comically huge grimace and widened eyes of a skeptical girl bracing herself for a meal of pea and beef stew (“It’s GREEN and it’s GRIMY”).

Cho’s gouache and colored pencil art is rendered in a cheery mix of patterns and textures. There’s a splattery Pollock-esque painting, a furry Bernese mountain dog and the gaping dark maw of the unlit basement—the latter of which will have readers cringing and giggling as a little girl tries, again and again, to take that first step down the stairs.

Dare to Be Daring makes a sweetly supportive case for mustering up the courage to try new things—and remembering you don’t have to do it alone, perfectly or all at once. After all, as Wallace shows us, “It’s our light that we shine that is daring. / It glows when we set our fears free.”

Dare to Be Daring makes a sweetly supportive case for mustering up the courage to try new things—and remembering you don’t have to do it alone, perfectly or all at once.

For so many of us, the refrigerator is an appliance we’ve interacted with daily for as long as we can remember. It’s also one we take for granted, rather than viewing it as emblematic of the world-changing innovation Nicola Twilley explores in Frostbite: How Refrigeration Changed Our Food, Our Planet, and Ourselves. As readers will learn from Twilley’s extensively researched, impressively wide-ranging ride along the “cold-chain,” artificial cold is much more than a convenience, thanks to its effects on what we eat, how we feel and the future of our planet.

You note in Frostbite that your interest in the cold-chain began 15 years ago when farm-to-table eating was becoming increasingly popular, and you “got stuck on the conjunction. What about the to?” Why do you think that space between, so to speak, captured your curiosity and sparked a yearslong drive to learn more?

Back in 2009, when I first started writing about food, I loved the way Michael Pollan took me to a Kansas feedlot in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. He made the places a steer travels through on its way from farm to slaughterhouse real and tangible, so I could picture them, as well as understand why they matter. I decided that I wanted to do the same for the spaces we’ve built for our food to live in. I suspected (correctly, it turned out!) they might be equally fascinating and equally important in terms of transforming our diet, health, economy and environment.

Book jacket image for Frostbite by Nicola TwilleyYour first book was 2021’s Until Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine, which you co-wrote with your husband and fellow writer Geoff Manaugh. And you co-host the podcast Gastropod with Cynthia Graber. What was it like to move away from your (clearly, wonderfully strong and productive) partnerships and take the helm of Frostbite solo?

Nerve-wracking! Having an extra brain and an extra perspective to draw on is often essential and always a bonus. Fortunately, I still did: Although it’s just my name on the cover, Geoff still read every word in the book many times. His edits—and his encouragement, enthusiasm and patience as I tacked on visits to refrigeration landmarks on vacations and family trips—were essential. (He also came up with the title!) That said, it is undoubtedly lonelier to work solo, which makes me all the more excited to talk about the ideas and stories in the book with readers.

Of course, as per your extensive acknowledgements section and the wealth of experts and sources you introduce throughout, a global village of cold enthusiasts provided information and insight on refrigeration’s past, present and future. Will you share a bit about how you decided what to explore, who to interview, where to go and what to include in your book?

When I began the research that inspired Frostbite, there hadn’t been a book about refrigeration (that wasn’t a textbook for HVAC technicians) published since the 1950s, so I really had to just follow my curiosity, cold call banana-ripening facilities and scour industry publications for clues. Because I quickly became obsessed with the subject and talked about it at every opportunity, friends started sending everything refrigerated my way: My friend Kevin Slavin introduced me to Kipp Bradford, for example, who helped me build a fridge in order to understand how cold is made; my friend Alexis Madrigal tipped me off about the refrigerated warehouse’s appearance in Tom Wolfe’s A Man in Full. Then, after I wrote about China’s race to refrigerate for the New York Times Magazine, people inside the cold-chain industry reached out to share their stories, and those connections led me to working in a refrigerated warehouse myself as well as traveling to Rwanda to see what the future of refrigeration might look like.

One of the things I love the most about the kind of writing I do is the opportunity to peek inside weird, fascinating places that are otherwise off-limits.

Speaking of “where,” you traveled around the world and did loads of experiential research, including exploring underground cheese storage caves in Missouri, wearing a safety harness on a crane high in the air at the 12-story NewCold warehouse in England, and venturing to the Arctic to visit the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. What was the most exciting, wow-inducing place you visited?

One of the things I love the most about the kind of writing I do is the opportunity to peek inside weird, fascinating places that are otherwise off-limits. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I loved the gigantic, subterranean cheese cave in Missouri—a former mine where Kraft stores our national reserve of Cheez Whiz and Kraft Singles—and the juice tanks at the Port of Wilmington, Delaware, where most OJ drunk in the Northeast spends months or even years, stripped of flavor molecules and stirred slowly under a blanket of nitrogen, before it making its way onto shelves as “fresh” orange juice.

You drew from novels like The Mosquito Coast, East of Eden and The Great Gatsby as you wrote Frostbite. What was refrigeration’s role in these works of fiction?

Given refrigeration’s importance, and my love of fiction, it was surprising and disappointing to realize how few appearances the cold-chain makes in novels, or theater or film for that matter. (I truly believe that a cold-storage warehouse would make a great setting for a movie or TV show—call me, Hollywood!) One thing that’s interesting is that, in both The Mosquito Coast and East of Eden, ice-making is a project of flawed idealists—characters whose visionary zeal exceeds their grasp on reality. Artificial cold itself is seen as both progress and corruption, as beneficent yet dangerous, which is how I ended up seeing it too.

Frostbite was created over a 10-year period in your life. How has your work, your life as a writer (including your regular contributions to The New Yorker), evolved over that decade? 

It’s possible that Ann Godoff, my wonderful editor at Penguin Press, might feel differently about the wait for me to deliver my manuscript(!), but I think Frostbite is definitely richer for everything I’ve learned over the past decade. Being edited by Leo Carey at The New Yorker, in particular, has been a masterclass in how to tell stories both beautifully and economically, and I am a much better writer for that training. Meanwhile, my reporting for Gastropod, on everything from Native American cuisine to cocktails, has expanded my perspective on so many aspects of food. Refrigeration is one of those topics that touches everything—flavor, popular culture, technology, public health, climate change—and so, the more context I was able to bring to it, the better the book became.

Cheers to you for having a “date-ready fridge,” according to “the world’s first and only refrigerator dating expert”! Will you share what you learned about “fridge compatibility” and why you assert “It is the humble fridge that offers a window onto the twenty-first century soul”? And also: Please tell us more about your fabulous fridge and its French doors.

Although I was pleased (and surprised) that my fridge was rated so favorably, and I will happily admit to judging people based on their fridge contents, I actually believe that fridge-peeping offers more value as a collective self-portrait, rather than as a guide to an individual’s character.* The size of American fridges as opposed to European ones reflects the form of our cities; the amount of junk stuck onto a fridge door correlates directly with female stress levels; the wilting salad leaves are a testament to our aspirational goals and dietary reality!

*At least, I hope so: My own fridge is full of far too many curious condiments, a somewhat concerning quantity of beer and wine, and enough neatly stacked grain-, bean- and roasted veg-filled Tupperware to warm the most anal-retentive heart. The overall effect is a confusing mix of adventurous, fun-loving and uptight. Hmm, maybe there is something to this fridge-dating business after all . . .

Regarding use-by, sell-by and other such dates, you note that in today’s world “freshness is a belief system.” How does that relate to food waste, and how might we more effectively counteract it?

Before the refrigeration time machine was invented, no one would have expected a fresh peach or milk to last more than a few days, unless they turned it into jam or cheese—fresh food was by definition ephemeral. Today, the cold-chain, including our home fridges, does such a marvelous job of slowing time that food can stay good for ages. That’s fantastic, but it does have a couple of downsides. First of all, it seems to encourage us to buy more perishables than we can eat, or assume they’ll be fine for another day if we don’t feel like cooking that evening—and, because the fridge can’t actually confer immortality, they do eventually go bad and we throw them away. Secondly, refrigeration has almost erased more traditional ways of sensing whether food is good or not. The risks and lack of transparency built into a refrigeration-extended supply chain lead many of us to trust a sell-by-date over our own judgment. And, because we no longer have any idea how old produce is, metabolically speaking, when it gets to us, it doesn’t matter if we know roughly how long to expect, say, a cucumber to last after it’s been harvested; we don’t have enough insight into the supply chain to use that expertise, even if we still have it.

Refrigeration improved people’s lives in so many ways, but it’s also had numerous unintended consequences on our health and environment. What are, say, the top three things we should be thinking about when we consider purchasing and consuming refrigerated and/or frozen food?

I’m definitely not in the business of telling people what to eat, but I can say from personal experience that minimizing your refrigerated footprint can lead to a more delicious, more nutrient-rich diet. It’s easier to do this in California than most places on Earth, I’ll admit, but, given what I discovered while writing this book, I rarely eat fruit and vegetables that are out of season or shipped from another continent anymore. I love apples, but, in June, I’d rather not eat an apple that’s been stored for nine months when I can buy locally grown berries or cherries that have more flavor and more nutrients. (Of course, unless I’m planning on eating them that day, I put them in my fridge after I’ve bought them—but at least they haven’t traveled halfway around the world through the cold-chain, losing flavor and vitamins en route.) And, after realizing how much of our pre-refrigerated diet would have consisted of fermented food, as well as talking to researchers about the emerging science of the gut microbiome, I eat more miso, sauerkraut and yogurt than before. Finally, I’ve tried to become better about not stockpiling perishables, so that I rarely have to throw food out.

Realizing that radical change is quite possible makes me feel much more optimistic about our shared future

As you explain, the advent of refrigeration has caused us to become disconnected from the seasons, from nature’s rhythms and from the Earth itself. You note that “reducing our dependence on refrigeration might also allow us to rebuild our relationship with food.” What might individuals want to do first to set themselves on that path?

As Natalia Falagán, one of the refrigeration experts I spent time with in the book, has discovered, there’s nothing like growing fruit and vegetables to understand what freshness really is and how to value it. You don’t need a backyard—you can volunteer at a community garden, which has the side benefit of being a lot of fun. With meat, fish and milk, if you eat animal products (which I do), the scale encouraged by refrigeration has allowed inhumane, ecologically disastrous practices to become the norm, while the distance enabled by refrigeration has made it easier to turn a blind eye to them; being conscious of those implications can’t help but lead to making choices that are healthier for both yourself and the planet. But also, as with climate change, individuals aren’t and can’t be responsible for transforming our entire food system. Right now, a lot of money and effort is being thrown at building cold-chains in the developing world by both institutions like the United Nations and megarich philanthropists like Bill Gates. I would love for policymakers and funders to read my book and consider how they can learn from the unintended side effects and less desirable impacts of refrigeration that I tease out in Frostbite, so that the rest of the world doesn’t make the same mistakes we have—at even larger scale and with disastrous consequences for all of us.

What were you most hoping to convey or accomplish with Frostbite? And what’s up next for you?

Mostly, I want readers to share my sense of fascination while exploring this utterly essential but mostly invisible world. But I would love readers to share the sense that I developed that, given how recent and transformative and somewhat arbitrary our embrace of refrigeration was, our food system is clearly a lot more amenable to change than it seems. That’s important, because today’s food system is damaging our health and our planet, as well as contributing to inequality. Realizing that radical change is quite possible makes me feel much more optimistic about our shared future—I hope readers come away feeling that way, too. I would also love to inspire a new generation of inventors to think creatively about how to keep food fresh and stop it from going bad. Ice cream needs to be cold, but meat doesn’t necessarily, and refrigeration needn’t be humanity’s final answer to the problem of preservation. As far as what’s next: I would like to take a very long nap, but, in fact, I have a couple of new New Yorker stories in the works, and Gastropod never stops! I’m also starting to tinker at the edges of what I think will be my next book-length projects—I have an idea for another nonfiction book but also the start of what might become a novel. I’ve never written any publishable fiction, so who knows whether I can pull it off, but I’m excited to give it a go.

Read our starred review of ‘Frostbite’ by Nicola Twilley.

Photo of Nicola Twilley by Rebecca Fishman.

 

The Gastropod host's adventurous Frostbite takes readers into cheese caves, ice cream warehouses and the world of “refrigerator dating."

When Daniel Lohr’s and Leah Auerbach’s eyes meet as they wait to board the SS Raffaello, their connection is instant and electric. The year is 1939, and they’ve both booked first-class passage on a weekslong journey from Trieste, Italy, to Shanghai. But while the cruise liner is massive in size and gorgeous in design, its opulence stands in sharp contrast to what the vessel really is to Daniel, Leah and their fellow Jewish passengers: a veritable lifeboat carrying them away from the horrors of Nazism in Europe to the great unknown (at least, for them) of the Far East.

In his fascinating and elegantly written new crime thriller, Shanghai, Joseph Kanon once again whisks readers back to World War II—as he did in previous bestselling novels including Alibi, The Good German and Leaving Berlin—immersing them in a pivotal time and place he describes as a “wonderful open window” offering the possibility of survival for those hoping to make a new start even as the world they knew crumbled around them.

“I thought, what would be more embarrassing than a publisher who can’t write? So I never told anybody that I was doing it . . .”

As the author explains in a call with BookPage from the upper Manhattan home he shares with his wife, “for about a year, Shanghai was the one place in the world that anybody could go without a visa, and it was a lifesaver” for approximately 20,000 European Jews, many of them hailing from Germany, like Daniel, and Austria, like Leah and her mother. 

Kanon learned about prewar Shanghai’s unique role in world history on a 2019 vacation to China. “I hadn’t known about, or if I did I just marginally knew about, the Jewish refugees who came from Europe after Kristallnacht [in 1938]. What an extraordinary story! I don’t know that it’s as well-known as it might be.” 

His fans are sure to spread the word: The internationally bestselling author’s books have been published in more than 24 languages. That massive readership originated with his first book, 1997’s Los Alamos, a New York Times bestseller and winner of the 1998 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

While his writerly career certainly got off to a rollicking start, it isn’t something Kanon had pined for. Rather, the former publishing executive (he held top positions at both Houghton Mifflin and E.P. Dutton) says, “I never wrote when I was working as a publisher. I didn’t have manuscripts secretly in drawers or anything like that. I enjoyed publishing and enjoyed what I was doing, and I didn’t really anticipate this life change.” 

But then came the summer of 1995. “I was with my wife in the Southwest, just as a tourist . . . . I’d always been interested in World War II and we were so near Los Alamos that I said, let’s go and see it. And I was absolutely floored by it and so intrigued: This was once the most secret place on the Earth, in the world, and you can go there.” As the site’s history and mystery sank in, he says, “I thought, gee, what would’ve happened if there had been a crime? How would they go about solving that, since it’s a place that technically doesn’t exist?”

Book jacket image for Shanghai by Joseph Kanon

With his publisher hat still firmly in place, Kanon says, “I thought, this is actually a neat idea. Who can I give it to?” Fortuitously, there were no takers—and he couldn’t shake his fascination with the notion of a crime occurring at such an extraordinary place in such an extraordinary time. “It just got me hooked, and I decided I would write the book. I’d never written anything, and I thought, what would be more embarrassing than a publisher who can’t write? So I never told anybody that I was doing it, and it became my secret book.”

Of course, word eventually got out in what he describes as “a sort of Cinderella ending, because the book worked and I discovered that I loved doing it. And so I was a poster child for career change: I was 50 when I started writing.” When asked what winning the Edgar Award meant to him, Kanon says, “Oh, it’s great, I won’t pretend otherwise. It’s fantastic! And you think, well, gosh, I guess I really am a writer.” 

As evidenced by the 10 subsequent novels he’s written, Kanon has fully immersed himself in his surprise second career. “To do anything creative and live inside your head, which writing requires, is a special luxury and I’m so grateful it’s happened,” he says. “I enjoy the process.” 

That process has reliably begun with “some spark of interest, usually in a place” because “I like stories that could not have taken place anywhere else, where the place is actually determinative.” Intensive research that includes books, news media, maps, photos, etc., about and from the time and location in question is de rigueur, as well as bouts of on-the-ground “location scouting,” as he puts it. 

Kanon says that, as he crafted Shanghai, it was top of mind that “here we have these people who have literally escaped with their lives. . . . No passport, no citizenship, no money, no language and nowhere to go . . . and I thought, now what do you do? How did people survive? Of course, that led to looking at the city that they had docked in as a port of last resort.” It was a place that became, he adds, “a byword for vice, like Chicago in the 1920s or Weimar Berlin, filled with gangsters and brothels and gambling clubs and jazz clubs with chorus lines.” 

“I like stories that could not have taken place anywhere else . . .”

And 1930s Shanghai was, Kanon says, “obviously a place where you can sink really fast, and morally you’re going to be compromised almost from the get-go. I wanted to combine both those worlds: I wanted to write about the nightclubs and the vice, the sort of seedy glamour of it, and how it’s glamorous on the one hand and terrible on the other. There were people who would die in the streets of hunger; it was a really extreme kind of situation.” 

Despite the tragic circumstances of the Jewish refugees who did not survive their stay in the city, Kanon says, “most people did make a life for themselves. There were community organizations that were formed, there were soccer teams and some attempt to have a normal life to get through this period.” Shanghai “constituted a kind of refuge because the Japanese just didn’t take over. They just let it be,” thus rendering the city largely self-governing in practice. 

In this volatile place, characterized by a “mixture of crime and politics and gang warfare,” the SS Raffaello passengers must forge a new life. After the ship docks at the mouth of the Yangtze River, Daniel and Leah emerge from the romantic, staving-off-reality bubble they’d inhabited while on the high seas and go their separate ways on unfamiliar terra firma. “We’re all going over the edge,” Leah frets, “and there’s nothing we can do.”

Leah and her mother are taken to refugee shelters called “heime” (German for “homes”) established by charitable organizations, while Daniel enters his uncle Nathan’s domain in the Shanghai underworld. Additional characters to watch include Florence Burke, an American whose vivacious exterior belies hidden depths, and the ever-calculating Colonel Yamada, a member of the Japanese Kempeitai (or as Daniel puts it, “their Gestapo”).

And then there’s Uncle Nathan who, in Kanon’s deft hands, is at once appealing and appalling. He bankrolled Daniel’s passage and offers him a well-paying job in Shanghai, a place where so many are penniless—but he also has no compunction about putting Daniel in danger via dealings with Chinese gangsters and other unsavory sorts. 

Read our starred review of ‘Shanghai’ by Joseph Kanon.

This type of tantalizing push-pull resonates through Shanghai, building tension and suspense via Leah’s determination to maintain her dignity despite moral concessions she makes in order to eke out a living, and Daniel’s conflicted feelings about the last remaining member of his family. Kanon says, “What I tried to do in this [book] is to show the duality, the good and bad sides at once. Uncle Nathan on one level can be charming, and he’s certainly loving, and I think he very much wants to be a father figure to Daniel,” in the absence of Daniel’s father, Eli, a decorated veteran and judge who died in Sachsenhausen concentration camp. 

“There’s a lot about [Nathan] that’s appealing in the same way there’s a lot about Tony Soprano that’s appealing; he’s a mensch in some ways,” Kanon explains. “On the other hand, I wanted to make perfectly clear that he’s also involved in running brothels and is obviously destroying the lives of the people who are in them. . . . And for Daniel to see that there are two sides to this coin, and one of them may be marginally appealing, but the other sure isn’t.” Daniel is deciding what he’ll do both out of duty to Nathan and in keeping with his own desire to build a not-yet-imagined future, Kanon says. “If it means getting involved in crime, if it means getting involved in really morally compromised positions, he’s going to do it. But how long is he going to do it, and how far will he go?”

By twisted necessity, Daniel’s new existence does trade in danger—both threatened and actual—that affects him and those he cares about. Although it may have its own dark logic, Daniel doesn’t take it lightly. Rather, he muses after he witnesses a violent altercation, “the bullet didn’t stop. It kept on going, into all the lives that surrounded it, tearing through one after another, so that you never killed just one person. The bullet didn’t stop.” 

Kanon says that as he sifts through history, unearthing stories and creating his own, he strives to emphasize that we shouldn’t lose sight of the “chain reaction,” the seemingly endless reverberation of violence and war. 

” . . . every book has the right to bring up questions, and I would be pleased to think that my books made people think . . .”

And that, he says, is what draws him time and again to the questions at the heart of his body of work. He notes, “In [2012’s] Istanbul Passage, one of the characters said, ‘What do you do when there’s no right thing to do? Just the wrong thing,’ and I think we’re confronted with decisions like that every day in our lives. To be able to highlight that in a dramatic way is one of the things books can do. And I think they should. It’s one of their roles.”

Of course, he says, that’s “a lot of freight for a thriller to carry, and I’m not trying to suggest that each of these books is War and Peace. But I think that every book has the right to bring up questions, and I would be pleased to think that my books made people think, one way or another.”

Regarding Shanghai in particular, he says, “I would love people to take away how hard it was for these people, but also how easy it is to slide, how we need to be alert to the moral aspects of what we’re doing.” 

But, he adds with a laugh, “when I say that, it sounds so sobering. I also want people to have a good time reading this! To me, the most fascinating part of the book is crime and politics being flip sides of the same coin . . . and ultimately, you really want people to take away a sense of the characters. Did these people live for you during the period when you were spending time with them? That’s what it’s about.”

Photo of Joseph Kanon by Chad Griffith.

The author’s latest thriller takes place in the titular city in the 1930s, when it was a volatile hotbed of crime—and a sanctuary for Jewish refugees.

Bestselling author Ellery Lloyd has become deliciously adept at drawing readers into the world of the wealthy: redolent of privilege and glamour, and tainted by darkness and deceit.

In their third thriller, The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby, Lloyd (a pseudonym for married British authors Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos) builds upon the contemporary social commentary that marked their previous books, People Like Her and The Club, by homing in on the past. 

In 1930s Paris, Juliette Willoughby is an up-and-coming British surrealist painter who’s fled her moneyed and terrible family, and is now living with her lover, fellow surrealist Oskar Erlich. Tragically, the two died in a fire shortly after their participation alongside Dali, Picasso, Man Ray, et al. in the 1938 International Surrealist Exhibition (a real event which Lloyd describes in fascinating historical detail). Juliette’s mesmerizing painting Self-Portrait as Sphinx was destroyed by the flames, too.

Or was it? In 1991 Cambridge, art history students Caroline Cooper and Patrick Lambert are encouraged by their advisor to include Self-Portrait as Sphinx in their dissertation research. After all, Juliette’s Egyptologist father curated a collection of art and artifacts that might prove useful, and Patrick’s family has strong ties to the Willoughbys. As the duo grow closer—and more fascinated by the Willoughby family’s strange history, including rumors of a curse—they make some amazing discoveries. Chief among them is Juliette’s journal, the contents of which suggest that the fire that killed her was no accident.

In the present day, Caroline is now the foremost Juliette Willoughby expert and has traveled to Dubai to authenticate Self-Portrait as Sphinx, which seems to have resurfaced after all these years and is about to go on auction. Alas, Patrick—her ex-husband, now a gallery owner—is arrested for murder as decades-old mysteries bubble up to the surface. Is he guilty? Is the formerly lost painting authentic? Was the Willoughby curse real, or just an excuse for horrendous misdeeds? Is there more to Juliette’s story?

Readers will enjoy unraveling the threads of history and mystery alongside Caroline and Patrick as they soak up art-world atmosphere and intrigue across the decades. The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby is a twisty and compelling exploration of power and obsession, secrecy and surrealism, artifice and art.

The Final Act of Juliette Willoughby is a twisty and compelling exploration of power and obsession, secrecy and surrealism, artifice and art.

It’s been 40 years since synchronized swimming was accepted as an Olympic discipline, and Vicki Valosik’s Swimming Pretty: The Untold Story of Women in Water is an excellent way to celebrate the anniversary. 

In her introduction, the author—a masters synchronized swimmer herself—recounts her own history with the sport. Curiosity drew her to a class at her local pool, and there she found swimmers several decades her senior who “were all as graceful as mermaids and generously set about teaching me, the beginner, the foundational body positions and propulsion techniques of synchronized swimming.” As her lung capacity increased, her confidence grew and the central question of Swimming Pretty surfaced: “Are we athletes first or are we performers? Is what we are doing a sport or is it entertainment?” 

Esther Williams may have been the best known synchronized swimmer thanks to her groundbreaking Hollywood career, but in this captivating, multifaceted book, Valosik reveals that Williams was preceded (and followed) by a long line of skilled and talented women. Together, these women helped to change everything from safety practices to swimsuit design, embodying women’s strength and artistry along the way.

Just a couple centuries ago, Valosik explains, swimming was only for men, including Benjamin Franklin, who practiced “scientific swimming” in the early 1700s. In the 1800s, women were permitted to join the water scene when “ornamental swimming” in tanks became popular entertainment. Australian swimming champion and stuntwoman Annette Kellerman became famous in early 1900s American vaudeville and has often been called “the mother of synchronized swimming.” 

Interest in the sport remained strong through the decades, surging after exhibitions in various 1930s world’s fairs and Williams’ midcentury “aquamusicals.” When synchronized swimming debuted at the Los Angeles Summer Olympics in 1984, it was a cause for celebration and, competitors hoped, a turning point. Valosik writes, “they had finally made it and were eager to show the world not what synchronized swimming once was, but what it had become.” 

Although the sport has since gone global, areas of debate remain, including its 2017 name change to “artistic swimming” and the addition of male competitors in 2024. Thanks to Valosik’s extensive research and gift for illustrating the ways in which her titular women in water have influenced history, culture and athletics, readers surely will be inspired to view synchronized swimming in a new light—and perhaps even attempt a “rocket split bent knee twirl hybrid” themselves.  

Vicki Valosik’s captivating Swimming Pretty charts the evolution of women’s swimming and aquatic performance.

A lone green apple on a tree full of vibrant reds is the only one left behind after picking season begins in Linda Liu’s stylish Sour Apple

The dejected little apple sits alone in the orchard and wonders what failings could have caused the rejection. It utters laments in clever rhyming couplets that are at once plaintive and amusing, rife as they are with allusions to popular apple-centric figures and sayings that will appeal to kids and adults alike. “Am I too ordinary to make or break your day? / Or not extraordinary enough to keep the doctor away?” the distraught fruit muses as it imagines plopping on Sir Isaac Newton’s head, being offered by the Evil Queen to the Seven Dwarfs, and uncomfortably wending its way through the human digestive system. Vivid watercolor-and-digital paintings add to the fun thanks to striking geometric shapes, finely rendered patterns and texture, and Liu’s knack for clever composition and expressive humor.

Sadly, the apple’s distress sinks it so low that it frustratedly offers itself to ravenous insects, who carry it off into underground darkness. But what if that’s not the end for the apple? What if there’s something waiting just around the corner that’s even more amazing than getting picked? Is it possible there’s joy to be found in not being like everyapple else?

As in her sparkling debut, Hidden Gem, Liu has created a charming and emotional protagonist to whom readers of all ages will relate: After all, recognizing and appreciating our own unique potential is an ongoing process. It’s a delight to follow along as this apple’s outlook changes from sour to sweet, eventually undergoing an astonishing transformation that celebrates the wonder of a new perspective and a hopeful future.

As in her sparkling debut, Hidden Gem, Linda Liu has created a charming and emotional protagonist to whom readers of all ages will relate. After all, recognizing and appreciating our own unique potential is an ongoing process.

Internationally bestselling author and Edgar Award-winner Joseph Kanon is known for his elegantly written, impressively immersive World War II thrillers, and Shanghai is no exception. 

In his fascinating and tautly suspenseful 11th novel, the author transports readers to 1939 Shanghai, where his characters, still reeling from Kristallnacht, are seeking safety in the only port city that doesn’t require a visa (and which ultimately offered a haven to some 20,000 European Jewish refugees during WWII).

As the story begins, Daniel Lohr, a German Jew, is traveling first class on the SS Raffaello, a luxury liner departing from Italy. So is Leah Auerbach, as well as hundreds of other Jewish passengers seeking a new start after the world they knew crumbled around them. When the ship first left shore, “For a second [Daniel] felt a stab of panic, no country, no money, but then as the boat began to slide away relief swept through him. Europe was going to destroy itself and he’d escaped.” 


Joseph Kanon didn’t tell anyone he was writing his first book.

While at sea, Daniel and Leah disappear into a passionate love affair that helps them push aside their pain and grief. But reality knocks in the form of their menacing fellow passenger Colonel Yamada, a higher-up in the Nazi-allied Japanese military police occupying Shanghai, as well as Leah’s conviction that survival in the metropolis is not assured. Daniel’s fate is more assured than most, though: His uncle Nathan, a jazz club and casino owner, has guaranteed him work and lodging in his new city. 

Alas, while Nathan is charming and clever, he’s also heavily involved in the criminal underworld, and Daniel soon finds himself contending with gang violence and wrestling with his uneasy moral compass. As he gains power in Shanghai, is he losing himself? Sure, as Uncle Nathan says, “The first rule was to survive,” but at what cost? 

Kanon conjures up the city’s veneer of glamour, and the danger and desperation festering beneath, with his trademark skill and verve. Shanghai artfully balances violence, romance and edgy suspense in a layered and compelling tale of an extraordinary place and time in human history.

Joseph Kanon’s artful and compelling new thriller transports readers to 1930s Shanghai, the only city to let in Jewish refugees without a visa.

A group of cheerful walruses, friendly birds and an inquisitive cat are living their best lives on an island where everyone says “YES!” It’s a happy existence: The walruses play sand volleyball (aka “Walrus Ball”), wear stylish hats and enjoy delicious treats from Café Donutto. Sure, only saying yes “was not so great when someone asked you to wear an itchy shirt or get a haircut,” but overall, the island’s culture of mutual agreement is working well for everyone.

Then, the Kid shows up. He breezily refuses to consider others’ requests, responding with a shocking “NO.” He even cuts the donut shop line and leaves with a bunch of pastries he didn’t pay for. The proprietor said yes, so what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a big problem for the walruses. They can’t play Walrus Ball because the Kid’s boat is sitting in their net. There are no more donuts to eat (he won’t share, of course). And it hurts when he bounces on the narrator walrus’s back and yanks their whiskers. Alas, things get even worse when more Kids arrive and gleefully wreak havoc on the once peaceful island.

Things can’t go on this way, so the walruses decide to teach each other how to say no. It’s a struggle at first: “I tried to say the new word,” the narrating walrus shares. “But my tries came out see-through like glass, light as dandelion puffs. They blew away in the wind.” But it’s the only way to protect their home. Will their new approach work?

The Island Before No is a super fun read, a visual treat and an excellent conversation starter all in one. Hudson Christie’s art perfectly complements Christina Uss’ engaging and uplifting tale, thanks to its appealing claymation-esque style, skillfully employed pastel colors and energy that bursts from every page. The walruses’ efforts to establish and enforce boundaries will resonate with readers of all ages, from their initial hesitance to their realization that practice makes close to perfect—especially if there are donuts involved. The Island Before No is a quirky gem of a tale that’s sure to elicit giggles even as it inspires confidence.

The Island Before No is a quirky gem of a tale that’s sure to elicit giggles even as it inspires confidence.

When the farm-to-table concept became widely popular 15 years ago, Nicola Twilley “got stuck on the conjunction. What about the to?” Her deeply researched and highly engaging second book, Frostbite: How Refrigeration Changed Our Food, Our Planet, and Ourselves, invites the reader on a quest to understand “what happen[s] between the farms and the tables.”

Twilley—co-author of Proven Safe: The History and Future of Quarantine, regular contributor to The New Yorker and co-host of the award-winning Gastropod podcast—spent a decade tracing the history and contemplating the future of artificial cold. In Frostbite, she considers how we got where we are today: enjoying whatever food we want when we want it, but with unintended consequences for our health and environment.

Twilley notes that “Artificial, or mechanical, cooling . . . wasn’t achieved until the mid-1700s, it wasn’t commercialized until the late 1800s, and it wasn’t domesticated until the 1920s.” Now, the “cold chain” is so ingrained in our way of life that we take it for granted. From hard science to fascinating history, major machinery to quirky theories, Frostbite explores seemingly every aspect of our refrigeration-dependent existence as the author visits banana-ripening rooms in New York City and cheese caves in Missouri; travels to China to learn about its booming pork industry; has coffee in California with “the world’s first and only refrigerator dating expert” and much more.

While refrigeration reduced dependence on salt as a preservative, Twilley notes, it reduced consumption of fermented foods and “everyday exposure to microbes,” too, thus increasing gut inflammation. It has also increased food waste, released toxic substances into the environment and altered our connection to the natural world. She contends that “refrigeration was implemented, for the most part, in order to optimize markets rather than human and environmental health.”

What’s a concerned refrigerator-user to do? After all, the appliance is “an underappreciated engineering marvel . . . a reliable, relatively simple box that, without fuss or fanfare, harnesses the powers of nature to supernatural effect, performing the daily miracle of delaying matter’s inevitable decomposition and death.” Frostbite, a decidedly interesting and insightful book by an impressively intrepid reporter, offers compelling food for thought about the role of cold in our lives, for better or worse, now and in the future.

Interesting, insightful and impressively intrepid, Frostbite offers compelling food for thought about the role of cold in our lives.

In her eerie and engrossing debut, The Wilderness of Girls, author Madeline Claire Franklin invites readers to ponder the sometimes blurry line between belief and delusion, and to consider what it means to be free.

Sixteen-year-old Rhiannon Chase is barely hanging on. Her financier father is neglectful and angry, and her stepmother’s cruelty has led to Rhi’s decade-long eating disorder. But suddenly, salvation: Her father is arrested for numerous crimes, her stepmother flees and Rhi is taken in by her late mother’s brother, Uncle Jimmy. She barely knows him, but he’s attentive and kind, and even secures her a part-time job at the Happy Valley Wildlife Preserve. 

Rhi feels at home and alive as she rambles through the woods. But when she encounters four wild young girls surrounded by a pack of protective wolves, she doesn’t know what to think. As for what she feels? “She understands their pain, their grief, their loss, even though she knows nothing about them. Her throat aches to join them.”

Franklin reveals the girls’ astonishing story one tantalizing layer at a time via rotating perspectives, flashbacks, news articles and other narrative moves. She deftly builds tension as the girls warily contend with a host of strange new experiences, from eating with utensils to being placed with foster families. Rhi steadfastly helps care for the girls as her fascination with their strange past grows. Was Mother, the man who raised them, a kidnapper and brainwasher or a mystical prophet? Could Rhi be the sister in Mother’s mantra, “When the heavens meet the Earth and your fifth sister has arrived, you will return to Leutheria and save your kingdoms”?   

Magic, folklore and contemporary society collide in The Wilderness of Girls as it sensitively explores the pain of trauma, the beauty of found family and the possibility that “There is room for the unknown, the undefined. There is room for magic, and wildness. There is room for so much more than any of us had ever dared to imagine.”

Magic, folklore and contemporary society collide in The Wilderness of Girls as it sensitively explores the pain of trauma, the beauty of found family and the possibility of magic.

Dr. Rahul Jandial spends a great deal of time delving into the human brain—both literally, as a neurosurgeon, and figuratively, as a researcher, professor and author of the international bestseller Life Lessons From a Brain Surgeon and the memoir, Life on a Knife’s Edge.

In his engaging and information-packed new book, This Is Why You Dream: What Your Sleeping Brain Reveals About Your Waking Life, Jandial enthusiastically explores the slumberous state, offering tips to help readers use dreams to reach their full potential around the clock. “By interpreting your dreams,” he asserts, “you can make sense of your experience and explore your emotional life in new and profound ways.”

Understanding the sleeping brain’s whimsy isn’t as simple as consulting a dream dictionary—which, by the way, Jandial does not recommend. That’s because dream dictionaries “cleverly offer a mix of vagueness and specificity that make it easy to shape your personal circumstances to fit any of [their] interpretations.” Rather, “Your dreams are the product of your brain at this particular moment in your life, and they change with the seasons of your life. To expect them to fall in line with others because they share the same central narrative, or the same visual element, is simply not realistic.”

We bring our unique experiences to the hours when the brain’s Executive Network, “responsible for logic, order, and reality testing,” turns off and the unfettered, judgment-free Imagination Network kicks in. But Jandial also reveals that surveys conducted 50 years apart in four different countries found that broader concerns (e.g., being chased, sexual experiences, school or studying) remained consistent in dreams across time and geography. This is evidence, he believes, that “the characteristics and contents of dreams are baked into our DNA, as a function of our neurobiology and evolution.”

For those in pursuit of personal evolution, Jandial says we can turn to dreams for harbingers of health challenges, including worsening symptoms of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, addiction and depression. Creativity can be boosted by training ourselves to remember dreams and “focusing outward when we awaken.” And advanced dream-wranglers will revel in two chapters devoted to lucid dreaming, another way in which Jandial believes readers can gain self-awareness, boost happiness and make our dreams even, well, dreamier. This Is Why You Dream is a fascinating, eye-opening dispatch from the world of neuroscience.

Rahul Jandial’s This Is Why You Dream is an engaging, eye-opening dispatch from the world of neuroscience.

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