Short Stories 

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The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist

Deirdre O'Connell

Overlook Press, $24.95/hardcover

Few know the story of Blind Tom, a musical prodigy born into slavery near the advent of the Civil War. Thomas Wiggins, who was blind from birth, most likely also had autism, which was never diagnosed because the condition was not named by doctors until the 1940s. Misunderstood and exploited by his handlers and contemporaries, Wiggins was labeled as an "invalid" until he started to play the piano as a toddler and confounded audiences with his performances. Though her sympathy for him sometimes borders on sentimentality, Deirdre O'Connell writes dynamically enough to fittingly illustrate Wiggins' beautiful and tragic story, from his youth spent entertaining plantation society with his "parlor tricks" to his later days, when he faded into the damning realm of vaudeville. Edie Adelstein

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The Domino Men

Jonathan Barnes

William Morrow, $24.99/hardcover

British author Jonathan Barnes released his first book, The Somnabulist, just one year ago. His latest release, The Domino Men, switches from a historical to a contemporary time period while keeping the same London location, and even some of the same characters. Henry Lamb, a file clerk, learns one day that his grandfather is a covert government agent of sorts. With the old man laying comatose in a hospital, Lamb is recruited into the secret underground by a man floating in a pod of amniotic fluid, and assigned the simple task of saving the world. Barnes' growth as a writer is evident: His plots are still fresh but smoother, and the final twists are unexpected, yet not jarring. Kudos to Barnes for another winner that is as funny as it is creepy, as thought-provoking as it is entertaining. Kirsten Akens

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Animals Make Us Human

Temple Grandin and Catherine Johnson

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26/hardcover

Temple Grandin, an associate professor at Colorado State University, teams up again with Catherine Johnson in this lively follow-up to Animals in Translation. Grandin's works have established her not only as a pioneer in creating more humane systems to handle livestock, but also as an expert in autism, a condition she has herself. Grandin says autism allows her to "think in pictures," which she finds similar to the way animals perceive the world. In this book, she identifies "core" emotions motivating animals (seeking, care, play, fear, panic, lust and rage) and explains how to trigger them to bring about desired behavior. Unexpected observations, backed by research, pepper chapters on animals from cats to cows to wildlife. Hers is an engaging and original voice direct, but empathetic and occasionally funny and always a pleasure to read. Jill Thomas

  • The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist; The Domino Men, Animals Make Us Human


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