When Book Covers Came of Age

We take beautiful book covers for granted these days. Subtly or blatantly, they tell us so much about books’ content and mood. It’s hard to imagine browsing without them! But as Martin Salisbury explains in the introduction to his own beautiful book, The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920 to 1970, just published by Thames & Hudson, book covers were once simply protective wrappings, designed to be discarded.

Salisbury says, “It was not really until the 1920s that the jacket as we know it today became a familiar sight in bookshops and the art of book jacket design became an important branch of the applied arts and an area of opportunity for artists.” And what artists they were, from the Bloomsbury painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant to Milton Glaser, N.C. WyethRockwell Kent, Tomi Ungerer, and Edward Gorey.

We hope you’ll enjoy the following excerpt from The Illustrated Dust Jacket.

The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970

Introduction, by Martin Salisbury

In 1949, the then editor of Graphis, Charles Rosner, curated the first international exhibition of book jacket design at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Of around 8,000 jackets in the museum’s collection, 460 were selected that were “deemed to be worthy of hanging on the walls of a national museum.”  Presumably, such a statement addressed the possibility of the illustrated dust jacket’s aspirations to the status of art. The jacketed books in question were selected for the outstanding quality of the artwork that adorned them and the extent to which each one fulfilled its function in exciting interest in the book itself. The word “illustrated” of course embraces the use of a variety of forms of imagery, including photographic, hand drawn or painted. This book is particularly concerned with the last of these – the work of artists whose hand-rendered pictorial illustrations were reproduced on book jackets over a period of fifty years, from a time when publishers were beginning to see the possibilities of high-quality artwork in this context around 1920, to one when photography increasingly began to usurp the traditional artist’s skills at the end of the 1960s. The purely typographic tradition, exemplified by the work of Berthold Wolpe at Faber and Faber in these years, is also outside this book’s remit.

In Rosner’s later publication, The Growth of the Book Jacket (1949), he quotes from a deliciously pompous comment on the exhibition in the Observer newspaper by the essayist, caricaturist and general wit Sir Max Beerbohm. Writing from his home in Italy, Beerbohm pronounces:

I gather that to many other arts has now been added the art of the book-jacket, and that there is an exhibition of it in the Victoria and Albert Museum. I doubt whether, if I were in England, I would visit this, for I have in recent years seen many such exhibitions. To stand by any book-stall or to enter any book-shop is to witness a terrific sense of internecine warfare between the innumerable latest volumes, almost all of them violently vying with one another for one’s attention, fiercely striving to outdo the rest in crudity of design and color. It is rather like visiting the parrot-house in the Zoological Gardens, save that there one can at least stop one’s ears with one’s fingers, whereas here one merely wants to shut one’s eyes.

Beerbohm, by then in his late seventies, was of a generation that had seen the book jacket grow from its humble origins as a purely functional plain protective bookseller’s wrapping in the nineteenth century, to something closer to the illustrated jacket with which we are familiar today. Beerbohm was not alone in being somewhat underwhelmed by the virtues of this emerging area of the graphic arts. In his Dent Memorial Lecture in 1936, Richard de la Mare, a member of the board of Faber and Faber, commented that:

The history of the book jacket is a strange one. The wretched thing started as a piece of plain paper, wrapped round the book to protect it during its sojourn in the bookseller’s shop; but it has become this important, elaborate, not to say costly and embarrassing affair, that we know today, and of which we sometimes deplore the very existence. How much better might this mint of money, that is emptied on these ephemeral wrappers—little works of art though some of them may be—be spent upon improving the quality of the materials that are used in the making of the book itself!

Moby Dick illustrated by Rockwell Kent

Such skepticism about this nascent field of creative endeavor was clearly not uncommon despite the contribution of a number of outstanding artists, who were beginning to apply their talents in this direction. Among those doing so in the UK were Edward Bawden, John Piper, Barnett Freedman and Edward Ardizzone, while in the USA, jackets designed by N. C. Wyeth, Rockwell Kent, Arthur Hawkins, Jr. and Cleonike Damianakes were adorning some of the great works of literature. In fact, far from working to the “fallacious doctrine that the loudest shout brings in the most customers,” these and other artists were contributing to the development of a new art form that the Book Jacket Designers Guild defined in terms of “successful integration of concept with graphic means, taste in design and idea, and expression of the spirit of the book.” The Guild had been formed in New York in 1947 by a group of graphic artists who were applying their talent to this field. They were keen to raise its profile and to gain wider recognition for designers and illustrators who were creating something a little more subtle than a squawking parrot.

More generally, the illustrated dust jacket as an integral aspect of the hardback book has been variable and patchy in its evolution around the world. In many cultures, including China and Japan, the jacket seems to have been something of a rarity. In Japan, the obi, a wraparound paper band much smaller and narrower than a full jacket, is used to give most of the textual information about the book, and folds over the printed boards, or sometimes over a jacket. Within mainland Europe there has been variation too, with some countries tending towards the use of illustrated stiff-card wraps as part of the binding, extended to form flaps that fold in and contain further information. For many years in France, certainly until the mid-1930s, the ubiquitous yellow paper jacket printed with black letterpress type prevailed. In Eastern Europe, the richly inventive graphic traditions were often applied in the form of printed, paper-covered boards rather than the detachable jacket. An exception was during the Weimar Republic. In that period, Germany, and Berlin in particular, was at the epicenter of avant-garde experimentation in book art and design, with richly varied approaches, including photomontage, pictorial typography and painting.

There is thus an inevitable bias in this overview towards the English language book. Though even here there can be found differences between British and American developments, as greater emphasis was placed on formatted series with consistent visual identity in Europe, whereas US publishers tended towards a more individualist approach to commissioning jacket designs. From the illustrators’ perspective, the emergence of the dust jacket opened up a new source of freelance employment. It would be rare, however, for an artist to be seen as specializing in jacket design; most would need to work across many other areas of commercial art. Nonetheless, the critic Steven Heller has observed that jacket design in America in the late 1940s “was still practiced by a small tight-knit group.” He quotes Ben Feder, one of the founding members of the Book Jacket Designers Guild, as recalling that, “There were probably no more than thirty artists working on a regular basis.”

The Otterbury Incident illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

In view of its origins as a plain protection to be discarded on purchase, and the relatively recent acceptance of the detachable jacket as an integral part of the book and its identity, it is ironic that for today’s book collectors the jacket is key—the presence of an original jacket on a sought-after first edition now greatly adds to its value. And if the design of the jacket is by a highly acclaimed artist, then that value will often increase further, at a time when awareness and appreciation of the book as a designed artifact is growing.

Before attempting to trace a brief history of the dust jacket, it might first be advisable to untangle the terminology, which has become confusing. The first “jackets” were generally referred to as “dust wrappers” and were exactly that, plain paper wrappings that protected the booksellers’ wares from the dust and dirt of the city up until the point of purchase. At which time the buyer would immediately discard it in order to enjoy the often ornately decorated leather binding that it had protected. The term “jacket” specifically describes the detachable paper cover that wraps around the hardback book, extending beyond its overall length and folding in at either end.

These “flaps” hold the jacket in place and are usually printed with information relating to what the book is about. The jacket’s role as a protector has diminished over the years as it has become primarily a form of display and promotion, a mini-poster that gives a taste of the contents, catches the eye and, once picked up, leads us to a “blurb” about the author and perhaps advertisements for other titles from that author and/or the publisher. Although bookjacket would seem the more proper term now for this object, dust jacket has clung on tenaciously in everyday language, long after its role in protecting the book from dust and dirt has become redundant. And although opinions vary among scholars, bibliophiles and the general public as to whether the jacket should be seen as part of the book itself or as an entirely separate, ephemeral addition, it would seem clear that the jacket is a historically important indicator of, and contribution to, contemporary graphic style and visual culture.

Although the almost universal early tendency to discard the jacket has hampered later scholarly research, it used to be generally accepted that the first printed dust jacket was forThe Keepsake of 1833 for the publishers Longmans in London. Until 2009, this was considered to be the earliest surviving example of a designed wrapper printed front and back, with a title design on the front (including border and decorative fleurons) and text on the back advertising other titles in print. Then a librarian at Oxford’s Bodleian Library unearthed an example from 1830: a printed wrapper for a book called Friendship’s Offering. However, in general through the 19th century publishers were slow to see the possibilities of the jacket as a promotional tool. The jacket itself became an increasingly common phenomenon as leather bindings were gradually superseded by cloth-covered boards, but most of them continued to be in the form of plain paper. Occasionally, transparent glassine coverings were supplied, which allowed a view of a pictorial binding. Plain jackets were also produced with die-cut “windows,” giving a glimpse of what was underneath.

By the early 20th century jackets were becoming increasingly common but design tended to be limited to the addition of an image taken from the interior of the book or some form of random decoration. It was not really until the 1920s that the jacket as we know it today became a familiar sight in bookshops and the art of book-jacket design became an important branch of the applied arts and an area of opportunity for artists.

Dance of the Quick and the Dead illustrated by Barnet Freedman

The process of arriving at a design for a book’s jacket is and has always been a collaborative one. Those involved include some or all of publisher, designer, illustrator and printer. Once the brief for the work is agreed, accommodating whatever house/series style or other ingredients are required, the design begins. A jacket might be purely typographic or may combine typography and image, photographic or illustrative. As indicated, this book is concerned with the latter and aims to spotlight the high-quality pictorial art and design that adorned the jackets of books through much of the twentieth century and, more particularly, the contribution of the artists and illustrators who created that work. Terminology is again an issue here and, happily, for a considerable portion of the period under discussion, the words “artist” and “illustrator” were not quite as irreconcilable as they are today. Some of the leading gallery artists of the time engaged with the design of book jackets, particularly in the immediate postwar years, notably John Craxton, John Piper, Graham Sutherland and Keith Vaughan. In many instances “artist” and “designer” were one and the same person.

A well-designed jacket requires close synthesis between type and image. Some of the best designs therefore have been by artists who were comfortable working with type themselves, often in the form of hand-rendered lettering, or by artists with an empathy for type and able to consider the overall balance of the design  in relation to the ideas of the typographic designer. As Steven Heller has observed, “successful cover design requires the expertise of an artist, typographer, poster designer and logo maker,” For much of the period surveyed by this book, the artists also needed to have a thorough grasp of the reprographic processes by which their work would be transferred to paper if they were to achieve the best results. Understanding and exploiting the limitations of, for example, letterpress line-block separations or autolithography was a feature of the work of a number of artists who became particularly influential in Great Britain, notably John Minton, John Nash and Barnett Freedman.

The legendary American designer George Salter outlined some of the key skills of the pictorial jacket designer in his article The Book Jacket in 1950:

The question whether a jacket can be designed by one artist and lettered by another may be answered in various ways. As it is possible to use an old print or photograph for a certain function in a jacket it must also be possible to combine the work of two artists in one jacket. Both drawing and lettering are a means to an end: the jacket.

Salter goes on to make it clear that the design process must always come first and that lettering and image must be considered in harmony from the outset. Equally important is the artist’s sensitivity to the text. An ability to absorb fully a book’s meanings and “tone” is essential:

Two elements not necessarily interrelated establish today the basic requirements for the makings of a good book jacket: graphic interpretation of the book’s intrinsic character and the method by which the publisher wishes to promote the title.

And on the importance of reading the full manuscript rather than submitting to publishers’ instructions or designing on the basis of a plot synopsis, he is even more unequivocal:

It seems utterly paradoxical to think that a person who makes it his profession to promote reading should voluntarily claim exemption from it for himself.

Salter was the chairman of the Book Jacket Designers Guild and he and his fellow founders were keen to counter the rise in sensationalist and titillating pulp-fiction design. Salter’s writings in the catalogues of the annual exhibitions have a somewhat evangelical and at times puritanical tone, perhaps reflecting the ongoing battle to gain acceptance of their work as a serious area of creative endeavor. Eventually, however, the importance of maintaining a record for scholars was acknowledged by the Library of Congress in the USA in the form of an archive of almost every published example. In the UK, what is now called the British Library Dust Jacket Collection had been started in the 1920s, initially in the form of a selection of jackets that were chosen on the basis of being of particular artistic interest.

Phocas the Gardener illustrated by Edward Bawden

As in most areas of the commercial arts, the graphic style of dust jackets through the twentieth century generally mirrored the fashions and movements of the times, and some are outlined on the pages that immediately follow. However, in the case of the more pictorial, illustrative jackets featured in this book, an artist’s unique personal visual vocabulary could often transcend fashion and in some instances lead to a long career. Artists such as Boris Artzybasheff, Bawden and Victor Reinganum employed their instantly recognizable talents across many decades without needing to reinvent themselves artistically in order to accommodate changing graphic trends and motifs. But others came and went or cleverly developed multiple visual personalities that brought them commercial reward but perhaps less cultural, critical acclaim.

What was clear as the century wore on was that the pictorial design of dust jackets was becoming an increasingly appealing and prestigious area of employment for the illustrator. Having your name on the dust-jacket flap (or perhaps even a discreet signature on the front of the jacket) could mean considerable exposure for the artist and, on occasion, close association in the public’s mind with great works of literature. Conversely, for some authors it would be seen as a major boost to have the work of certain high-profile artists gracing their covers or jackets. Regrettably, many dust-jacket designs also appeared with no acknowledgment of the artist, with some publishers being more routinely guilty of this crime than others. Of course, ultimately, as the writer Jhumpa Lahiri observes in The Clothing of Books, “What is the perfect book jacket? It doesn’t exist. The great majority of covers, like our clothes, don’t last forever.” Nonetheless, I hope we can extend the lives of a few in this book.

Excerpted from The Illustrated Dust Jacket, 1920-1970© 2017, by Martin Salisbury 

Reproduced by permission of Thames & Hudson Inc.

By Sarah Harrison Smith, December 7, 2017, first appearing on Amazon Book Blog
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2017—This Year in Books: Amazon Charts

by Adrian Liang, December 13, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

This Year in Books - ChartsWant to know what your fellow readers are fascinated by?

Each week, Amazon Charts refreshes its Most Read and Most Sold lists, giving insight into which fiction and nonfiction books are flying into readers’ hands. Powered by the reading choices made by print book readers, Kindle book readers, and Audible audiobook listeners, Amazon Charts provides a rare glimpse into the real reading trends of thousands of book lovers.

Most Listened To

This week, however, Amazon Charts takes a wider view and looks back at the books that shaped the year in This Year in Books.

With colorful graphics and joyful facts, Charts highlights the 10 Most Read fiction books of 2017 and the 10 Most Read nonfiction books of 2017. (No spoilers here—take a guess and then go see for yourself.) Then learn which books were “unputdownable,” the most highlighted, and the most listened to on Alexa.

Golden Eyes

Take a journey back through the literary world of 2017, month by month, and then see which cover design trends caught readers’ eyes.

And, finally, be inspired to read more in 2018.

Isn’t that always a marvelous New Year’s resolution?

Best Books of the Year: Science and Nature

by Jon ForoDecember 08, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

A few of our selections for the best science and nature titles of 2017, along with some thoughts about why we liked them. See all 20 picks, or browse all of our Best Books of the Year across 15 categories.

BOTY-ApolloApollo 8: The Thrilling Story of the First Mission to the Moon by Jeffrey Kluger

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 50 years since NASA’s Apollo program first landed a man on the moon. Since passing decades tend to filter out everything save the highlights, that epic effort has been boiled down to a couple of missions: Apollo 11’s triumphant landing, and the near calamity of Apollo 13, which we might not remember were it not for Tom Hanks and Ron Howard. Lost is all (or most) of the daring preamble, when the United States and the Soviet Union repeatedly swapped positions in the Space Race, recklessly shooting manned aluminum cans – packed with all the computing power of a scientific calculator – into orbit. You won’t have to be a rocket scientist to enjoy Jeffrey Kluger’s Apollo 8 (though it’s pure candy for aficionados). Kluger – who previously documented the Apollo 13 crisis with Commander Jim Lovell, also the pilot aboard Apollo 8 – recounts the first manned mission to orbit the moon, marrying technological and historical perspectives with eyewitness accounts to spin a brisk, thrilling, and informative tale. Kluger writes, “The Saturn V engines had only one speed, which was full speed.” So does this book.


BOTY-Learn-Better.jpgLearn Better: Mastering the Skills for Success in Life, Business, and School, or, How to Become an Expert in Just About Anything by Ulrich Boser

I recently tested my family’s patience for weeks as I announced during dinner, “I discovered something today,” and then related a new technique for learning I’d read in Learn Better. What my family didn’t realize at the time was that by teaching them what I’d learned, I myself was absorbing the lesson better than I would have if I’d just reread it again. That was only one of dozens of methods I’d consumed in Learn Better to help me understand, retain, and connect information better than through the old (and less effective) systems of highlighting and rereading. Boser’s smart and approachable writing style engaged me at once as he laid out six methods for becoming an expert at whatever you like, whether it’s basketball, parenting, or quantum physics. Experiments, data, and anecdotes back up his techniques, but almost as important, he explains learning in such a clear way that aha! moments abound. “Learning does not have a comfort zone,” he says, following up later with: “To develop a skill, we’re going to be uncomfortable, strained, often feeling a little embattled.” He emphasizes that expertise is not the most important quality of an effective educator: “We need instructors that know their subject—and know ways to explain their subject.” Boser even puts himself of the spot, suggesting that readers should question whether they believe an author’s arguments in order to bring analytical thinking to a subject, which will cement that knowledge (or their rejection of the author’s thesis) deeper in their brains. There’s a lot to absorb here, but happily you have an expert teacher guiding you now on your own path toward effective learning. –Adrian Liang


BOTY-Upstream.jpgUpstream: Searching for Wild Salmon, from River to Table by Langdon Cook

A few years back, Langdon Cook wrote The Mushroom Hunters, an unusual book about the underground economy of fungi foraging and the weirdoes and outsiders who fuel it, which we leveraged for this little boondoggle. His latest, Upstream, does the same for salmon, following the paths of these essential fish from spawning grounds and hatcheries to the tables of exclusive restaurants – a voyage spanning history, culture, adventure, politics, and commerce. [Full disclosure: Lang is a former colleague who occasionally pulls Chris and me out to the river for some tortured attempts at fly fishing. It’s not that he’s a bad teacher.]


BOTY-Gene-Machine.jpgThe Gene Machine: How Genetic Technologies Are Changing the Way We Have Kids–and the Kids We Have by Bonnie Rochman

As the father of a preteen boy, I’ve seen enough Godzilla movies to understand that our capability often outpaces our foresight, and genetic manipulation opens the door to unimaginable possibilities. Where once parents could choose to know the gender of their unborn baby, our understanding the human genome can now forecast disabilities and predisposition for particular diseases later in life, including cancer. The science is complex and confusing, and the ethical dilemmas are self-evident. Bonnie Rochman has witnessed the advance of gene technology first-hand – as both a journalist and a mother – and her recent book, The Gene Machine, expertly unravels this brave new world of family engineering, from both scientific and human perspectives.


BOTY-Big-Chicken.jpgBig Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats by Maryn McKenna

Ever wonder where all the chicken is coming from? I do, and as I always suspected, I’m not sure I feel better knowing. In Big Chicken, McKenna – a journalist who who reports on public health and food policy – tracks the path of this most common fowl and food source from backyard coops to the (let’s face it, horrible) antibiotic-soaked “industry” that fuels our hunger for cheap wings and nuggets. Bwok-bwok.

The Best Romance Novels of 2017

by Adrian Liang,December 06, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

Best romances of the year 2017
In 2016, shelves and Kindles were stuffed to bursting with small-town romances. This year saw a slow shift from small-town to contemporary cowboy, at least as seen on the cover. (The stories inside remained fairly similar.) A larger switch was the surge in urban-based romances, signaling that readers and writers are looking to the big city for excitement. On the emotional side of things, angsty new adult started getting eclipsed by screwball comedy.

What will 2018 bring to romance readers? I can’t wait to find out!

Below are 10 of our favorite romances of 2017. You can find the list of all 20 here. From dukes to FBI agents, and from football coaches to librarians, we’ve got you covered.


Dating You / Hating You by Christina Lauren– The romantic geniuses behind the Beautiful and the Wild Seasons series deliver a standalone and standup-comic-funny contemporary tale of an office romance gone wrong. Really, really wrong. The accelerating romantic relationship of two talent agents in Hollywood hits the skids when a new boss tells them they have to compete for the same job. As Carter and Evie bounce between courtship and combat, this hilarious, sexy novel will make you gasp and giggle.

Getting Inside by Serena Bell – Female professional football coaches are rarer than political civility on Facebook, and this forbidden romance between a new linebacker coach and the Seattle Grizzlies’ top—but struggling—defensive linebacker had me glued to every word. Iona Thomas has to not only excel at her job but represent women in the professional league, and Ty Williams is the very last person she should be getting involved with. Both of them realize the stakes are too high for a relationship between them, but, hey, love can’t be denied. Tense, heart-scalding, and emotionally riveting, this had earned a spot on my best of the year list when it hit shelves in January.


The Undateable by Sarah Title – I think I snort-giggled all the way through Title’s contemporary romance set in the dating landscape of San Francisco. Wise, funny, and spot-on in its gleeful puncturing of male and female stereotypes, this tale of a librarian who unwittingly becomes the face of a “Disapproving librarian disapproves” meme will have you cheering Bertie on as she agrees to go on thirty dates in thirty days to prove to herself that she’s not undateable. Bertie is helped/hindered by Colin, a staff writer for locally based fashion magazine Glaze, who is sponsoring Bertie’s makeover as a publicity stunt. You might think that Bertie is being set up for a My Fair Ladyish ending, wherein conforming to society’s expectations of how a Woman Should Be/Look/Talk allows Bertie to Finally Find True Love. Pish. Though Colin has bro tendencies, he’s fairly enlightened and aware, making him Bertie’s perfect sparring partner as he briefs her and then debriefs her for her dates. It’ll be no surprise that eventually Bertie debriefs Colin as well, but it’s supremely satisfying.


A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran – For years, heiress Jane Mason has been at the mercy of her horrible uncle, who has been siphoning off her funds even as he strives for power in Parliament. The last person Jane expects to help her escape her situation is Crispin Burke, a handsome but morally blackened confederate of her uncle’s who appears to care only about ruthlessly accumulating power. Burke gives Jane the initial helping hand, but it’s his fall that will allow her the ultimate opportunity to seize her destiny. To say more would ruin a deliciously intriguing plot. Just trust in Duran to dig into the dark corners of this complex relationship between two stubborn people who will discover unwelcome truths about how far they will go to get what they want, even as they learn to rely on each other. Love blooms here in rocky ground, but it becomes all the stronger.


A Merciful Death by Kendra Elliot – Elliot is a master of romantic suspense, and her latest sets a rural community of preppers (people preparing for disaster) in the sights of a killer. Because large caches of guns were stolen from the victims’ homes, FBI agent Mercy Kilpatrick is sent from the Seattle office to investigate further. But Mercy herself has a fraught history with Eagle’s Nest, and it takes police chief Truman Daly patience and persistence to unstopper the secrets Mercy has kept packed deep inside. Elliot expertly interweaves the current murders with the damage that past crimes have done to Mercy and Truman’s souls, and she lays out convincing tracks to a number of possible culprits in Eagle’s Nest. Fascinating details about prepper lifestyle give extra flavor to this mystery, adding to its memorability.


On Broken Wings by Chanel Cleeton – Not too many people are tackling grieving widows in romances these days (widowers, yes—wives die off before the story opens as often as mothers die off before Disney’s princess movies), and Cleeton handles it with a beautiful slow build. Dani Peterson has always been the love of Alex’s life, but when she was married to his commanding officer, she was way off limits. Now, a year after Dani’s husband’s death in a training accident, Alex is still keeping Dani at arm’s length. What Dani needs, though, is arms wrapped around her. A graceful exploration of the devastation of a spouse’s early death, the remnants of grief, and the ways we can heal…plus a bunch of sizzle.


Wanted and Wired by Vivien Jackson – Ever since starting Rebecca Zanetti’s Scorpius Syndrome series, I’ve been keeping my eyes open for a romance novel that gleefully sets its hero and heroine in the near future and gives them a storyline that couldn’t work in any other setting. Wanted and Wired does all that, with sniper Mari Vallejo and her sometime business partner, Heron Farad. Texas has split off from the Union, mechs are built to be indistinguishable from humans, and it’s up to individuals to determine how organic or how tech they want their bodies to be via augmentation. When Mari is set up to take the fall for a murder, she and Heron go on the run, forcing them to figure out where to draw the line in their partnership…or if a line should be drawn at all. If your pulse rate accelerates at the thought of sexy sci-fi, give this action-filled romance a try.


The Woman Who Couldn’t Scream by Christina Dodd – Dodd concludes her Virtue Falls series by finally giving police chief Kateri Kwinault her own story even as she weaves in a perplexing mystery centered on a mute millionaire’s widow who brings death with her to the small coastal town. You don’t need to start the Virtue Falls series with Virtue Falls—each book stands strong on its own—but it was a special joy to watch Kateri overcome the mountain of obstacles thrown at her through four books and finally find peace with her own choices at the end.


The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare – Scarred in face, body, and heart by an explosion on the battlefield, the Duke of Ashbury has been a bit of gloomy gus since his return from war, but he still knows his duty: find a wife and make an heir. But with his ruined face, social events–and especially wooing–seem an insurmountable barrier. Luckily, down-on-her-luck seamstress Emma Gladstone comes straight to his house and pushes her way into his study to demand payment of the intricate (and awfully ugly) wedding gown she hand-sewed for his former fiancee. Ashbury’s marriage proposal seems a farce, but his persistence–and her imminent eviction–convince Emma to accept. So begins a delightful story of tiptoeing through emotional minefields toward true love that I think is among Dare’s best and at times made me laugh out loud. Perfect for readers of Megan Frampton, Julia Quinn, and Courtney Milan.


Dating-ish by Penny Reid – Those seeking a perfect friends-to-lovers story need look no further than Dating-ish. Marie and Matt’s first meeting could not be more inauspicious for the beginning of a friendship, but less a romance. Marie is expecting the good-looking guy she agreed to meet via an online dating site; instead she gets Matt, a nerdy scientist seeking data on what single women are looking for. When Marie decides to incorporate Matt’s study into a piece she’s writing about compassion and whether it can be outsourced, she (and the reader) starts to see past his awkward and literal-mindedness to the guy inside. Complex and smart, fueled by a fierce will-they-or-won’t-they? tension, Dating-ish might have a slow start for some but will delight all with its glorious finish.

The Best Comics of 2017

by Alex Carr, December 01, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

To me, my comics fans! 2017 was a banner year for the medium, and our editors assembled to forge a list that covers the best in illustrated fiction and non-fiction, with 20 graphic novels spanning memoirs, family dramas, superheroes (both hopeful and downtrodden), pets, and subjects that defy classification.

Below is a quick snapshot of three highlights, but please see our Best of the Year store for the full list.

Congratulations to Katie Green, as her debut memoir, Lighter Than My Shadow, is the editors’ pick for our 2017 Best in Comics and Graphic Novels. A harrowing study of a life gripped by eating disorders, Green’s story reveals itself as a narrative greater than one of abuse. Instead, this is the story of a life recaptured. Editor Adrian Liang had this to say last month when she celebrated it as a Best of the Month selection for October: “A vast number of thoughtful books about mental illness and eating disorders already exist, so it seems almost impossible that a new story could add anything more to the genus. But Katie Green does exactly that with her astonishing graphic memoir that reveals through every delicate squiggle the long-lingering anguish people in recovery live through while friends and family assume that everything is now A-OK…Artist and storyteller Green exposes buried-deep emotions through the slope of a shoulder or the slightly-too-big distance between her characters in a way that can’t be mimicked through words.”

Another startling debut, Emil Ferris’ graphic novel arrives in the form of a fictional diary—complete with faux notebook pages upon which she illustrates incredible land and mindscapes–detailing a murder mystery in the life of young Karen Reyes. Set in Chicago during the 1960s, Karen’s story is one of family and where reality and fantasy embrace. As she investigates the death of her upstairs neighbor, Karen uncovers truths about her own brother, mother, and the tenuous truths we cling to in order to cope with everyday madness. But Karen’s focus tends to wander, as she is fascinated with monster movies and pulp horror magazines, inserting creatures into the margins and, with loving detail by Ferris, as centerpieces into her journal (Karen portrays herself as an adorably fanged werewolf). It’s a singular vision with effortless humor and a brilliant form. My favorite thing is also monsters.

If any superhero ruled 2017, it’s Wonder Woman. Breaking box office records and becoming a rallying symbol in and outside of the genre, Wonder Woman stepped off of Themiscyra Island and into the zeitgeist. With 75 years of backstory to sift through, DC Comics offers new and old fans an easy entry point into her adventures with an origin story written by Greg Rucka and illustrated by Nicola Scott. The result feels a lot like her cinematic debut: full of action and charm. Here, Wonder Woman is hero with brains and brawn, discovering her powers as well as the modern world. Steve Trevor and Ares are both here, and although it is confusingly subtitled with a “Volume 2,” this can be read as a stand-alone adventure to complement the film, by Hera!

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of 2017

by Adrian Liang, November 30, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

Artificial intelligence, angels fallen to earth, Loki, murderbots, apocalyptic doom, and a leap in evolution are among the highlights of this year’s best science fiction and fantasy.

Every best-of list like this has its own criteria for a book’s inclusion, whether it be formally written out or lurking in the back of the editors’ minds. For my part, I wanted to put a spotlight on stories that were willing to stride down a less-beaten path while still thriving on the core values of heroism and derring-do that draw us to read science fiction or fantasy.

Every year it’s nearly impossible to winnow the list down to only 20. This year, thirteen of the 20 are either standalone books or start a new series, and the other seven books continue series that you’ll thank yourself for plunging into (but start with book one!). Three stories are self-labeled for teens or young adults, quite a few more straddle the “coming of age” space where so much adventure can happen, and even a handful of books revel in the hard-won wisdom that middle-age brings.

Below are 10 of the 20 best books of the year, focusing mostly on standalones or series starters.

To see the full list, go to our page that lists all 20 best science fiction and fantasy books of 2017.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden – Arden’s debut novel builds like a thunderstorm, with far-off disquieting rumblings that escalate into a clash between sprites and humans, ancient religions and new, honor and ambition. Set in the 14th century in the bitter north, a two-week ride from the rough city of Moscow, this mesmerizing tale centers on Vasya Petronova, a girl who barely survives birth and grows up with a secret affinity for the sprites and demons that live in and around her village. “A wild thing new-caught and just barely groomed into submission” is how her father imagines her, and he’s not wrong. As her family tries to harness her into the typical domestic life of a young noblewoman, Vasya spends more and more time among the sprites and soon gets caught between two old and powerful gods struggling for domination over her part of the world. And while I think there are only a dozen or so novels in this world that have a perfect ending, I would put The Bear and the Nightingale high on that list. Book two, The Girl in the Tower, hit shelves on December 5.

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells – A weapon-heavy security bot on a contract with surveyors sent to investigate a new planet, Murderbot (as it refers to itself) takes pains to conceal from the humans it’s guarding that there’s something different about it: Murderbot has disabled the function that requires it to obey any orders given or downloaded. All Murderbot wants is time to itself so that it can watch the thousands of hours of entertainment vids it’s downloaded on the sly, but the sudden, ominous silence from the surveyors’ sister camp knocks those plans awry. Tense action locks in step with Murderbot’s march toward owning its personhood, imbuing the android with more character than other, far larger novels ever manage to do. A tight space adventure with a deep core of humanity, All Systems Red has become one of my favorite books this year to press into the hands of my fellow SF readers.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman – Neil Gaiman putting his own fingerprints on the Norse myths? Cue the hyperventilation of delighted readers. That reaction is genuinely earned in this inventive retelling, as Gaiman darts between a Tolkienesque tone in the epic origin stories and his own bright wit in the tales centering on the adventures of Thor, Loki, and Odin. Those new to Norse mythology might be astonished by how bizarre some details are, while fans more well-versed in Norse myths should still appreciate the humor and spark that Gaiman infuses into the stories he has selected to retell, adding to the existing rich literature. Many who read Norse Mythology will make this volume their joyful leaping-off point into a strange and mesmerizing world of gods, giants, undead goats, betrayals, a slanderous squirrel, elves, dwarves, and Valkyries. And don’t forget that ship made of the finger- and toenails of the dead.

The Hundredth Queen by Emily R. King – This tale of young orphan girls who are trained to be devout warriors—and then, disturbingly, are given to benefactors as servants, concubines, or wives—is ultimately one of strength and sisterhood. Sickly but spirited 18-year-old Kalinda is chosen to be the rajah’s 100th and final queen, an “honor” she desperately does not want but to decline means death. A bubbling civil war and the deadly intrigues of the court complicate Kalinda’s choices further, and King dials up the tension as the date of Kalinda’s wedding grows closer. Powerful and innocent at once, this is a good pick for those who embraced the lessons of justice and generosity in Wonder Woman.

The Power by Naomi Alderman – Margaret Atwood calls this book “Electrifying!” and it’s not just because in The Power young women have developed the ability to electrocute people, overturning the power hierarchy of the world. Girls and boys are sent to segregated schools, and female public officials are required to go through testing to make sure they don’t have the ability because, oh my gosh, the world just might as well be over if women gain physical leverage over men. It would have been easy to write a strident and simplistic anti-man book—one that would be welcomed especially now, during a tsunami of sexual harassment scandals—but instead Alderman weaves more nuanced ideas into a thoughtful yet action-packed story, giving readers of The Power lots to consider and lots to thrill to.

The City of Brass by S. A. Chakraborty – George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones meets Naomi Novik’s Uprooted in this marvelous debut fantasy about a young con artist from 18th century Cairo who learns that her mysterious parentage—and her ability to work small magics—might be connected to the nearly forgotten legends of the djinn, Suleiman the Magnificent, and the mysterious brass city of Daevabad. When Nahri accidentally summons Dara, a djinn warrior with a long and bloody past, she plunges both of them into the brewing animosity among the ancient djinn tribes united only by their disdain for their half-human offspring, who have few rights in the djinn stronghold of Daevabad. But not all djinn think the half-humans should be persecuted. Alizayd, the djinn king’s second son, works in the shadows to right wrongs even as surging tensions birth battles in the streets. Deep and gorgeous world building plus the political plot corkscrews caused me to happily ruminate on this book and its characters weeks after I finished it. I have a few quibbles—Nahri doesn’t have as much to do in the second half as in the first—but Chakraborty’s heck of a finale was both a surprise and felt completely right…and left me quivering with anticipation for the second book in the trilogy.

Artemis by Andy Weir – As in The Martian (the book, not the film), Artemis‘s strengths are Weir’s plotting and the gee-whiz science facts leveraged to make survival more unlikely than guaranteed. Twenty-something Jazz has made a niche for herself as a reliable smuggler in the one and only small city on the Moon. When one of her clients offers her a sabotage job that will let her pay back an old debt, Jax pushes aside her misgivings…and the hijinx begin. For me, the weakness of Artemis is Jazz herself, who, like Mark Watney (in the book!), can come off sometimes as an infantile jerk. Still, there’s quite a lot to enjoy about Artemis as a clever heist-gone-wrong-on-the-Moon story.

The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard – The second book in the Dominion of the Fallen series is just as atmospheric as the first and shoves you right into the middle of the twisty political action in which fallen angels and dragons compete for people and power. De Bodard knows how to craft a deliciously tense story in which flawed characters with competing agendas keep you flipping the pages to find out what happens next—and her broken, dark Paris is the perfect setting. Fantasy and urban fantasy fans should start with The House of Shattered Wings with a happy confidence that book two is excellent as well.

Void Star by Zachary Mason – In this near-future SF suspense novel, Irene’s neural implant and her ability to talk with machines makes her a much-coveted and very expensive tech troubleshooter, but her meeting with billionaire Cromwell sets off all sorts of subconscious alarm bells, as does the frightening glimpse of a wild AI she’s never encountered before. Void Star utilizes a deliberate, predatory pace more common to the most exquisite horror novels. A buildup of tiny tells, headlong plunges into the sharp-as-glass memories saved in Irene’s implant, and eerie snapshots of the strange and inexplicable hammer the tension into a near-unbearable drumbeat. But even as Irene crisscrosses the planet—sometimes on the run, sometimes on the chase—it’s the essential role of memories that gives this novel its heft, coaxing us to consider what we keep and what we leave behind in our own daily world-building.

When the English Fall by David Williams – In this spare but tense novel, only the Amish have the skills and the food stores to survive after an unexplained event destroys most modern technology, causing planes to fall out of the sky and electricity to fail. Told through the diary entries of Amish farmer Jacob, the bubbling-up of anger and violence in the outside world slowly begins to affect the self-sufficient Amish, forcing them to rethink their relationships with the non-Amish and how they will stay true to their beliefs while under new pressure. A fascinating exploration of the corrosive effect of anger and the strength that can be found in holding true to one’s beliefs, even if it leads to the harder path.

Best Cookbooks of 2017

by Seira Wilson, November 22, 2017, first appearing on Omnivoracious

SmittenInterior200This year we saw favorite cookbook authors return, discovered bright debuts, and enjoyed some really terrific food writing.  All of this is reflected in our list of the Top 20 Best Cookbooks of 2017.  Below is a sort of mini-tasting menu of the overall list of the twenty books we thought stood out from the crowd this year.

Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Every Day is our pick for the number one cookbook of the year–you’ll see why below and check back for a recipe road test excerpt from the book.

See all the Best Cookbooks of the Year

Smitten Kitchen Every Day by Deb Perelman

This is Perelman’s follow-up to her debut cookbook Smitten Kitchen and it made the top of our list because this is a cookbook for anyone who appreciates a beautiful meal, simply prepared. Smitten Kitchen Every Day is accessible for the kitchen novice but her flavors and style will speak to the most professional of home cooks.

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden

After this debut cookbook, I look forward to seeing more from chef/farmer/author Joshua McFadden. Six Seasons takes the seasonal cookbook one step further with recipes for preparing vegetables to draw out their best at every growth stage–starting with the veggies at their naked best and moving into recipes that draw out changing flavors with different cooking methods and ingredients. Another must-have, this is a cookbook that you can give anyone and won’t want to be without.

Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat

This was our top cookbook for the first half of 2017 and it’s stayed on top all year. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is like going to culinary school through the pages of a book, learning from a really fun, smart, and brilliant teacher who imparts kitchen wisdom to last a lifetime.  Once you read this special cookbook, your confidence level in the kitchen will skyrocket…

Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook by Urvashi Pitre

I can’t tell you how many Instant Pot® cookbooks have crossed my desk, and many look more or less alike.  The Indian Instant Pot® Cookbook stands out from the crowd and makes a cuisine that many may find intimidating to cook at home as easy as the machine itself.

 

The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African American Culinary History in the Old South by Michael W. Twitty

Southern food is having a moment again, and it’s a diverse culinary landscape with roots that cross cultures.  In The Cooking Gene, Twitty traces his own ancestry in a unique memoir rich with history and food.  Soul food, barbecue–dishes we love and dishes that have come from times of hardship and plenty–Twitty shows us how through food we can find understanding and a new way of looking at why Southern food is so often the comfort we crave.