In this lush bedtime story, a gentle girl in a blue anorak, accompanied by her pup, assumes a sandman role for woodland creatures at dusk. Musical, romantic descriptions of the creatures honor their daytime activities as they’re lured toward sleep. The book’s lovely illustrations have a somnolent effect: as the girl runs through twilight settings, snow starts to fall; pinking skies peek through the dark branches, and adorable animals close their eyes to meet the quiet. Soon, it’s time for dreams to swirl.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (October 27, 2020)
The sleepy streets of a small Texas town bleed more than just Southern charm in The Bitterwine Oath, a feminist coming-of-age story with a supernatural twist.
Nat just wants to enjoy her last summer before she and her friends scatter for college. She wants to hang out with her best friend, Lindsey, and finally put her crush on Levi—the boy who kissed her once before breaking her heart with an ambivalent farewell letter—behind her. Though anxious about leaving the familiar faces of her small town behind, Nat looks forward to escaping the whispers and rumors of San Solano, where two heinous crimes amounting to twenty-four deaths remain unsolved.
A hundred years ago, Nat’s ancestor was part of a cult that was suspected of murdering twelve men using magic; fifty years ago, another similar crime occurred. With the next fifty-year anniversary approaching, strange occurrences begin to plague the town again. Nat discovers that the sisterhood—and their magic—is just as real as the mark that claims Levi as one of the next victims. But are the Wardens truly responsible for the crimes, or is something darker circling in the shadows of the woods?
Nat is engaging whether she’s wrestling against a blood oath or over analyzing her every move around Levi. Lindsey rises to co-captain much of the novel, stealing scenes with her determination and nimble replies to Nat’s snark. Their friendship emphasizes the larger theme of solidarity among women—“a candle burning on its own will get snuffed out”—and the two remain loyal to one another even when secrets threaten to tear them apart.
Witches and spells blend with everyday anxieties in this supernatural murder mystery centering on a powerful group of women who claim their strength.
DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (October 27, 2020)
A Distiller’s Journey into the Flavor of Place
Wine enthusiasts know the importance of terroir: environmental factors, and how grapes are grown, impact the flavor of the beverage. In The Terroir of Whiskey, Rob Arnold—a whiskey distiller with a PhD in plant genetics—explores how that same concept applies to a range of whiskeys. The result is a fascinating look at whiskey and the manner in which it is made, written in a knowledgeable but friendly tone that welcomes newcomers as well as whiskey aficionados.
The Terroir of Whiskey walks through the process by which whiskey acquires its flavor, from the roasting of malt to the barrel-aging process, describing how flavor is imparted at each step. It also describes the often overlooked importance of grain, which is selected for its quality, but not always for the regional flavors and notes that it can bring. The flavor development process is described in a style that mixes those of food and science writing, going through the taste profiles of specific varieties with descriptive language and breaking down the chemistry to show what compounds produce what smells and tastes.
Along with its thorough analysis of whiskey and its creation, The Terroir of Whiskey includes helpful suggestions for whiskey tastings, recommending a number of distilleries with tips for sampling the different terroirs discussed in the text. It has travelogue and history elements, too: Arnold visits wine country to talk with growers about terroir, interviews growers from different Texas farms about their crop rotations and varieties, and discusses how grains were cultivated through the years to become the forms grown today.
With standout information that’s both broad and deep, The Terroir of Whiskey considers bourbon, rye, and other popular whiskeys from all angles.
JEFF FLEISCHER (October 27, 2020)
A Novel of the AIDS Epidemic
Alan Rose’s literary novel As If Death Summoned is about grief and community in the time of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.
The book’s unnamed narrator has returned to the US from Australia, where he spent a decade with his partner, Gray, who died of AIDS. Because of his volunteer coordinating experience, a representative from the health department asks him to form and run an HIV testing and counseling clinic in Portland, Oregon. He begins from scratch, recruiting and training volunteers, securing funding, and approaching community outreach specialists. With a rag tag team composed most of HIV-positive gay men, and while still processing Gray’s death, he navigates the drama, relationships, and brutal truths that confound and challenge him.
The narrative moves through time, in part focused on the HIV-testing organization in 1994, with interspersed scenes from the narrator’s life with Gray in Australia, as well as scenes from a hospital waiting room in February of 1995. The narrator’s mindset as he works through his grief is handled with depth.
The book is heavy on dialogue, and the ways in which its characters speak complement their actions, reinforcing the truths they say about each other: that the narrator is afraid to get too close to people; that a middle age, straight volunteer, John, will be an essential part of the team once he adjusts; that John’s son has “a good inner core.” The ways in which these characters shift and change for the better over the course of the novel elevates them from a cast of diverse people to a community of fully formed, dynamic individuals.
As heartwarming and hope-giving as it is heartbreaking, As If Death Summoned showcases the best and worst aspects of the fight against HIV.
AIMEE JODOIN (October 27, 2020)
Sexuality, Fantasy, and the Superhero
The insightful essays of Supersex comment on the omnipresence—and official absence—of superheroes’ sexuality.
This collection acknowledges that comics have been a site of moral panic for generations. The superhero genre, in particular, “enables rebellions that are at once obvious and elusive, subversive and conservative,” it says. Because of superhero bodies’ hypervisibility and the graphic visuality of superhero media, “superhero sexuality is flagrantly present even when it is officially absent.” These essays excel at demonstrating the depth to which comic book heroes have penetrated culture, both in history and today. They range from explorations of Silver and Golden Age superhero comics to the Marvel Cinematic Universe and superhero television series.
Peppard’s introduction sets the tone, underpinning the collection and also contributing to it as a whole. It establishes an artistic and scholastic timeline for the development of modern comics and demonstrates the collections’ parameters, establishing both a core set of definitions and the scholarly lenses that are used to guide subsequent inquiries. The contributor list features a healthy balance of men and women, both straight and LGBTQ+ identified. Their work is enlightening and prioritizes intersectional and interdisciplinary approaches to grapple with the subtextual, explicit importance of superheroes’ sexuality. The essays are accompanied by useful illustrative materials and reproductions of rare source materials.
The rhetorical styles of these writers vary: some essayists use memoir as framework for their interrogations, while others stick to a more classical expository approach. On balance, Peppard’s assemblage shows just how varied and multivalent superhero media is, as well as highlighting the diversity of experiences and interpretations of it.
Supersex is a broad cultural survey of superheroes, with insights that are beguiling fuel for the critical imagination.
LETITIA MONTGOMERY-RODGERS (October 27, 2020)