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2020 Book Concierge: Highlights From The Arts Desk


The NPR Book Concierge is a collection of nearly 400 new book recommendations by NPR staff, critics and reviewers. Every weekend this December, we'll feature a few books our esteemed colleagues liked. Here are four from some of the fine people who work at NPR's Arts Desk.


PETRA MAYER, BYLINE: Hey, this is Petra with NPR Books. And one of my picks for the concierge this year is "Raybearer" by Jordan Ifueko. This is a gorgeous African-influenced fantasy novel about a young girl. And she's being raised in isolation by strict tutors and a mysterious mother. And she's being trained to go to the capital city and compete to become one of the Crown Prince's Council, who are a group of people all linked by a mysterious force known as the Ray. But her mother has put a compulsion on her. She has to gain the Crown Prince's trust and kill him, which is a pretty great setup for a story. And her mother, of course, like all the best big bads in fantasy, has a really compelling backstory. And, in fact, pretty much everybody in this book is very three-dimensional. You will care about all of them. It's not just a hero's journey. And the world is gorgeous, beautifully built, colorful, fresh, interesting. So that is "Raybearer" by Jordan Ifueko.

NINA GREGORY, BYLINE: I'm senior editor Nina Gregory. And one of my picks for NPR's 2020 Book Concierge is the revised and updated version of "The Apple Lover's Cookbook.' It's by Amy Traverso and was first published a decade ago. It has both sweet and savory recipes. A standout is the apple and chestnut-stuffed pork loin with cider sauce served with the book's cider-glazed root vegetables, or for breakfast, Vermont apple-cider doughnuts or baked apple French toast with hazelnut crumb topping. The part of the book I really love is its handy guide to 70 great apple varieties. It includes a portrait of each one, as well as notes on its origin, flavor and best use. Varieties include Hudson's Golden Gem, the Spencer and Winter Banana. Yes, that's an apple. For those who love an apple a day or even an occasional bite of the forbidden fruit, this book offers inspired ideas.


ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: My name is Andrew Limbong. I'm a reporter at NPR's Arts Desk. And the book I picked was "The Jakarta Method" by Vincent Bevins. It's basically about the United States using disinformation and propaganda to spur, quote, unquote, "anti-communist" violence in Indonesia that led to the deaths of anywhere between half a million to a million people. I'm putting air quotes around anti-communist because anyone who was even considered of being a communist or related to one or was even vaguely friendly to the cause was ostracized, tortured or, you know, just killed. This was at the height of the Cold War. And the U.S. considered it a pretty big success. So they used the same playbook in other countries around the world.

It's funny. My folks are Indonesian. And we're also extremely Protestant in that we don't really talk about our feelings and, you know, deep things. So I never heard much about these killings growing up. And the way Bevins zooms in on how U.S. foreign policies hurt students, grandmas, workers across the globe who were just trying to live their life was really affecting.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: My name is Neda Ulaby. I'm an arts correspondent for the Arts Desk. And the book I'm recommending is "Ten Ways To Hear Snow," written by Cathy Camper and illustrated beautifully by Kenard Pak. This book really spoke to me. It's about a little girl named Lina who is going to visit her grandmother, who she calls Sitti, to make grape leaves, which is a traditional Arab dish. But the book is really about her journey through the snow in an unnamed American town to visit her grandmother and this incredibly deep sensory experience she has listening to the sound of the shovels and the quiet and the wind against the trees when it's snowing.

As a radio person, there's something so wonderful in children's books about hearing sound described so that people can read it to little kids. The sound that a little kid's boots make as they clump through the snow - it's like snik (ph), snik, snik - or the scrap (ph), scrip (ph), scrap of a shovel as it's shoveling snow - these are great just words. And it's a book that makes winter magical, which is something that I think we need right now.


SIMON: That was Neda Ulaby talking about "Ten Ways To Hear Snow." We also heard Andrew Limbong, who recommended "The Jakarta Method," Nina Gregory recommending "The Apple Lover's Cookbook" and Petra Mayer recommending "Raybearer." For the full list from the NPR Book Concierge, check out NPR.org/bestbooks.

(SOUNDBITE OF KOLOTO'S "LIFE IN CLAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.