America’s BoOK Review THE BEST IN NEW BOOKS Publisher Michael A. Zibart Associate publisher Julia Steele Editor Lynn L. Green Assistant EditorS MiChelle Jones Trisha Ping Contributing Editor Sukey Howard Contributor Roger Bishop Children’s books Allison Hammond Advertising Sales Julia Steele Angela J. Bowman
ON THE COVER
alexander mccall smith
5 Tori Spelling Motherhood in the spotlight
INTERVIEWS 7 Bob Barker Come on down for a memorable memoir from the TV legend
14 Sara Snow Living clean, fresh and green 27 Jane Hamilton Latest novel is soapy, sexy fun
FEATURES 5 Meet the Author Lisa Jackson, in her own words 6 Star Turns Memoirs from celebrities and artists 8 Feathered Friends Books for birders 29 Christian Living Easter inspiration for readers 32 Reason for Rhymes Notable poetry collections
Production Designer Karen Trotter Elley
39 Who’s on First? Baseball books for everyone
Customer Service Alice Fitzgibbon ONLINE SERVICES manager Scott Grissom
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35 Poetry Vital verse for young readers
Etta by Gerald Kolpan
36 Alison McGhee Finding happiness in fifth grade
American Rust by Philipp Meyer
Admission by Jean Hanff Korelitz
The Color of Lightning by Paulette Jiles
A Fortunate Age by Joanna Smith Rakoff
This Is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams
All the Living by C.E. Morgan
37 Chris Monroe Meet the author-illustrator
REVIEWS Fiction 8 The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips 8 How It Ended by Jay McInerney 10
Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
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6 Vanished Smile by R.A. Scotti 12 My Hope for Peace by Jehan Sadat 34
Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson
34 Sultana by Alan Huffman
DEPARTMENTS 3 Buzz Girl
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B O O K PAG E.C OM
4 The Sound of Freedom by Raymond Arsenault
28 Columbine by Dave Cullen
A DV E R T I S E
R E A D A LL O UR R E V I E W S AT
Nonfiction 4 The Sisters Antipodes by Jane Alison
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Celebrating book #10 in his #1 series
12 Well Read Jonathan Rabb’s Berlin mystery
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4 The Author Enablers 11 Whodunit?
Tips and tricks for making the most of your space
14 Cooking 26 Audio 30 Romance 31 Bestseller Watch 34 Book Clubs
buzz girl ➥ Our publishing
insider gets the skinny on tomorrow’s bestsellers The spring publishing season is heating up, but readers who want to stay ahead of the curve are looking ahead to these exciting new works.
➥ dear diane Oscar-winning actress Diane Keaton, who gives aging gracefully a good name, will share her life story with fans in a memoir to be published by Random House. The work will focus on Keaton’s relationship with her mother, Dorothy Keaton Hall, who suffered from Aldiane keaton zheimer’s for more than 15 years before passing away in 2008. The more than 90 journals Hall kept over her lifetime were a lifeline for Keaton during her mother’s illness, reminding her of their shared history and strong bond. The memoir is set for a 2012 release.
➥ no small potatoes Annie Barrows’ first adult novel, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, was something of a dark horse bestseller when it was released last fall. Co-written with her aunt, the late Mary Ann Shaffer, the novel was a charming historical story told in letters.
Barrows, who also writes a series of books for children, must have developed a taste for older audiences: she has signed a two-book deal with Dial Press for more adult fiction. The first novel, as yet untitled, will be based on Barrows’ own family history and stars an oddball rural family and an exotic boarder from the city who cross paths during the Depression.
➥ swarup’s 2nd act His first novel Q&A may not have been a bestseller, but Slumdog Millionaire, the Oscar-winning film it inspired, probably means that Indian diplomat Vikas Swarup can avoid the sophomore slump. His second novel, Six Suspects (Thomas Dunne) is a rich whodunit that once again focuses on Indian society: this time, the city is Delhi. The novel was released in the U.K. to good reviews last year, and film rights have already been optioned by British producer Paul Raphael’s Starfield Productions and BBC Films. Look for it stateside sometime this summer.
to a bookstore near you courtesy of HarperCollins. But instead of a tell-all memoir, this celeb has a novel in mind. She’s writing about being 40 in a youth-driven culture—something that’s probably been on her mind for a while, since she hit that milestone last year. No pub date has yet been set.
➥ patterson pen pal Prolific author James Patterson has added a new co-writer to his roster of collaborators. Swedish novelist Liza Marklund, a bestseller in her home country, will be working with Patterson on a new thriller set in Stockholm. The novel will be published in Sweden in 2009, and is currently being submitted to Patterson’s U.S. and U.K. publishers.
➥ latifah’s Lessons No doubt musician and entrepreneur Queen Latifah has learned a lot through the years—now she’s passing it on to fans through an inspirational book of life lessons. Grand Central will publish the book, which is not yet titled, in the spring of 2010.
➥ DFW Work
➥ krak is back
After his tragic suicide last year, David Foster Wallace Readers were disappointed left an unfinished novel. Little, when Jon Krakauer’s planned jon krakauer Brown has just announced book on Pat Tilman, that they plan to publish the the NFL player who became an Army Ranger and book, called The Pale King, in early 2010. died in Iraq, failed to appear Though the novel, set in the 1980s at a tax-processing center, is not complete, last fall as promised. Publishing is a small world, and Krakauer said at the time it is “several hundred thousand words” blurbing the works of fellow writers he wasn’t happy with the long, and the publisher will include notes has long been standard operating work, and no new release date and outlines to help readers understand procedure. What’s less common, was set—until now. Double- Wallace’s intentions for the book. though, is plugging another author’s yet-to-beday has announced that Where published novel in your own book—but that’s Men Win Glory: The Odyssey more on updike exactly what best-selling mystery writer Patricia of Pat Tilman will be pubCornwell did in Scarpetta (Putnam), published The books by and about the late John lished on September 22. last December. After their shared agent sent Updike keep coming. HarperCollins has her an advance copy of Philipp Meyer’s debut, announced that a biswayze’s story ography of the poet, American Rust (reviewed in this issue), Cornwell was so taken with the book that she portrayed a Actor Patrick Swayze is pub- novelist and critic will character reading it. lishing a memoir. The book will be published in 2011. Page 333 of Scarpetta finds Kay Scarpetta cover his childhood, career, mar- The author? Adam visiting a crime scene, where a police officer riage and current struggle with Begley, the books edguarding the apartment is waiting: stage four pancreatic cancer. itor of the New York His wife of 24 years, Lisa Niemi, Observer, who says He collected his jacket from the back of a will also recount her experience he seeks to “illumifolding chair, and a copy of Philipp Meyer’s dealing with Swayze’s illness. nate for the reader the ‘American Rust’ from the oak floor under it. Atria will publish the memoir nature of [Updike’s] john updike in 2009. No word yet on the character and of his Cornwell also praised Meyer on her website, amount of behind-the-scenes greatest accomplishments.” saying he “ought to win a Pulitzer.” Whether this info on Dirty Dancing, one of unprecedented promo will have an impact on our favorite guilty pleasures. sales is yet to be seen, but Meyer says he’s flatcorrections dept. tered by Cornwell’s support. As he told the New Though it was originally scheduled for York Times, “Then it started to occur to me that feeling 40 publication in May, Sara Gruen’s muchthis is going to be an actual book, not just someSpeaking of darlings of anticipated novel Ape House won’t be thing that exists on my computer.” 1980s cinema, lovable redhead ready until late 2009 or early 2010, says a
Molly Ringwald is also coming
#1 New York Times bestselling author
COMFORT FOOD Shortly before turning 50, TV cooking show personality Augusta “Gus” Simpson discovers that the network wants to boost her ratings by teaming her with a beautiful, young co-host. Now, with Oliver, the new culinary producer raising Gus’s temperature beyond the comfort zone, she might be able to rejuvenate more than just her career.
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Easter Sunday, 1939 By Ron Wynn Art’s ability to entertain is readily acknowledged, but its motivational and inspirational qualities aren’t always recognized. Those aspects are celebrated in award-winning author and historian Raymond Arsenault’s outstanding new book The Sound of Freedom: Marian Anderson, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Concert that Awakened America. This volume shows how reaction and response to one concert, Anderson’s historic Easter Sunday performance at the Lincoln Memorial 70 years ago, energized the movement against racism and injustice. Long before that, Anderson had spent the professional equivalent of a lifetime breaking barriers and shattering stereotypes. Though not the first black vocalist operating in the classical/operatic arena, Anderson’s thundering, spectacular contralto won praise from Europe’s toughest critics and finest conductors. Arsenault shows how she took techniques mastered in the black church to a different musical setting, proving equally masterful with opera and spirituals. But Anderson’s amazing 1939 concert is Arsenault’s primary focus here. The Daughters of the American Revolution was then among the nation’s foremost political and social organizations and its leaders had previously opposed The Sound of Anderson’s appearance at Constitution Hall because she Freedom was black. First lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the By Raymond Arsenault group in protest and convinced Secretary of the Interior Bloomsbury Press Harold Ickes to let Anderson perform at the Lincoln Me- $25, 320 pages morial. Anderson’s singing not only solidified her reputa- ISBN 9781596915787 tion, it electrified the 75,000 in attendance, and garnered the good will of people around the world. Arsenault equates this with subsequent milestones like Jackie Robinson’s integration of major league baseball and Rosa Parks’ refusal to move to the back of the bus. Anderson achieved other firsts, like breaking the Metropolitan Opera’s color bar in the 1950s. Still, for the generations who aren’t well acquainted with her career, The Sound of Freedom provides critical perspective on her most significant achievement. o Ron Wynn writes for the Nashville City Paper and other publications.
Caught in a real-life parent trap By Rebecca Steinitz In 1965, in Canberra, an Australian diplomat and his wife became fast friends with an American diplomat and his wife. Within months, the couples had split and recombined, the men leaving not just their wives, but also their daughters (two apiece, the older ones the same age, the younger exactly a year apart, their birthday shared), for the women of the other family. Novelist Jane Alison was the youngest of the four daughters, and The Sisters Antipodes is her stunning memoir of the enduring consequences of this familial rearrangement. Those consequences were particularly severe for her and her stepsister Jenny, whose same birthday and similar name were only the beginning of a long string of painful parallels. Endlessly competing for the love of their lost and shared fathers, seeking an ineffable sense of home in strings of diplomatic postings, the two girls struggled, together and apart, for decades. In prose both lush and precise, Alison tries to piece together what happened. Intensely self-aware, she captures the confusion of a child dislocated from everything she The Sisters knows save her mother and sister, the desire of a teenager Antipodes for the bad boy who only appears in the dark, and the disjunction of a college student who wins Latin prizes by By Jane Alison day and drinks herself into oblivion by night. She is also Houghton Mifflin Harcourt acutely observant of all that surrounds her, from moun- $23, 288 pages ISBN 9780151012800 tains and insects, to houses and apartments around the world, to life as a teenager in 1970s Washington, D.C., with its summer soundtrack of cicadas and racial tensions in the public schools. As she watches Jenny’s disintegration, Alison comes to understand that her perspective was not the only one, and that her parents—all four of them—tried to address the effects of their actions as best they could. Yet she does not settle for easy answers or rote forgiveness, remaining ever aware of the intransigent complexity of events and emotions. In the end, perhaps, the only conclusive outcome to her family’s story is this wise and beautiful book. o Rebecca Steinitz is a writer in Arlington, Massachusetts.
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THE AUTHOR ENABLERS Counting the days Dear Author Enablers, I have put together a children’s calendar and don’t know how to find a publisher for it. This is made even more difficult because it is a Christian calendar. Each day of the year has a highlighted Scripture and a related Scripture narrative. I include every book of the Bible with major characters and events, in chronological order. I’ve contacted Inspirio (the gift group of Zondervan Publishers) who told me that they’ve phased out that type of calendar, and Garborg’s, with no response. Should I get an agent? Pamela Fortner Yellville, Arkansas Dear Author Enablers, Over many years of travel, I have BY SAM BARRY & drawn more than 120 pen and ink sketches of buildings and scenes from KATHI KAMEN GOLDMARK all over the globe. I think some of them could be made into an attractive calendar. It might appeal to other travelers or those who wish they could travel. I have enough drawings to make several calendars. How can I find publishers who might be interested in doing this? Frank Orr Nashville, Tennessee Because we don’t know what day of the week it is when it comes to calendar publishing, we turned to an expert: Mikyla Bruder, publishing director at Chronicle Books (www.chroniclebooks.com). Here’s what Mikyla has to say: “Calendars have a short selling season and they need to be redone every year, so we look for calendar ideas that are clearly commercial and have the potential to be perennial. We rarely publish just a calendar, and many of our calendars are ancillary to best-selling books, like Worst-Case Scenario or What’s Your Poo Telling You. Other great calendars have big brands or much beloved characters behind them, like the Anne Taintor calendars. Don’t have a brand or a bestseller? Consider building yourself a super-popular website. Calendars with viral marketing potential are attractive, too.” That’s how it works, according to one of the pros. In Frank’s case, you might want to hook up with someone who writes or publishes travel guides, to see if there’s a need for your illustrations that goes beyond “just” calendars. Pamela, we think you should continue trying to sell the calendar yourself (with Mikyla’s advice in mind) before going the agent route. Also, there’s the question of which translation of the Bible you are using. The copyrights for some translations are still current, and you need permission to use these and must acknowledge them. Other translations are public domain. Or you can translate and rewrite your own version. And if you do wind up working with an agent, don’t forget to include her birthday among the holidays. Dear Author Enablers, I am outlining a novel and deliberating about the viewpoint of the narrator. There are scenes the narrator would have no knowledge of. For example, the narrator knows what is happening in the White House because he is part of the action, but he would not know what is taking place in Iraq because he is not there. I have a protagonist whose personality would enhance the story if he could tell the parts he knows. My question is: Is it kosher to use a narrator for parts of a novel and third person for those sections of which the narrator would have no knowledge? Teddy Bart Nashville, Tennessee It’s absolutely kosher to have a narrator with a limited point-of-view—at least as kosher as making a calendar out of Bible verses! First of all, this is art and there really are no rules, or none that haven’t been broken by some great master. But your question is a good one—readers appreciate consistency, clarity and credible storytelling (the famous Author Enablers’ “Three C’s,” which we made up just for you, Teddy). For realism, it is important to have this kind of narrator only know what he or she can know in the fictional world you’ve created. You can solve your problem by alternating the limited perspective of the narrator in the story with an omniscient thirdperson narrator to fill in the gaps for the reader; or you can create tension by staying with the limited voice and bring the reader along with you as discoveries are made, a method used in many detective novels. [Editor’s Note: Correspondent Teddy Bart apparently came up with a workable solution of his own to the narrator dilemma, since his new novel, A Particle of God (ISBN 9781846941726), has just been published by O Books. A popular radio and television host in Nashville, Bart describes his book as a metaphysical look at one man’s search for fame and fortune.] o Email your questions about writing and publishing to AuthorEnabler@aol.com.
Spelling shares her latest sTORI
By Pat H. Broeske s the daughter of one of TV’s most prolific producers, it figures that Tori Spelling would herself become a ubiquitous presence. Her father, Aaron Spelling, produced “Beverly Hills 90210,” the 1990s series that put her—and the rest of the cast—into the pop culture zeitgeist. But the press was especially cruel to Tori. “They said I was the ultimate example of nepotism, a lousy actor who nonetheless scored a lead role in her father’s hit TV show,” she wrote in her memoir. She’s worked hard to prove the naysayers wrong. There have been TV movies and a handful of films. And a sly career move: in the 2006 VH-1 series “So NoTORIous,” which she starred in and executive produced, she poked fun at herself and her persona. She followed it up with her 2008 autobiography, sTORI Telling. Spelling didn’t hold back. She offered up revelations about her cosmetic surgery (nose, breasts), her lavish first wedding (she wore a $50,000 Badgley Mischka crystal-beaded gown), the failure of that marriage and her privileged upbringing, and dished on “Beverly Hills 90210.” Now comes Mommywood, an account of TORI SPELLING Tori’s adventures in parenting. Husband/ actor Dean McDermott is her co-star (“It really helps to have a partner who is just as hands on, because then we’re both available at any given time”), along with their kids Liam, age two, and daughter Stella, who’s nearly one. The book taps into the public’s infatuation with Hollywood’s burgeoning mommy brigade. The playdates and school drop-offs and pick-ups of celeb tots like Apple, Kal-El, Zuma, Pax, Maddox, Shiloh, Harlow, Violet and Suri are the stuff of endless magazine spreads. It all looks idyllic from a distance. But as Tori knows, things aren’t always so picture-perfect for the kids of the rich and famous. Her own childhood, she’s admitted, “was really weird.” Born Victoria Davey Spelling 36 years ago, she grew up with her younger brother on the west side of Los Angeles in posh Holmby Hills. Her parents would later famously tear down Bing Crosby’s old house, and several others, to construct a 46,000-squarefoot French Chateau-style extravaganza with 123(!) rooms, including a single-lane bowling alley, 3 gift-wrap rooms, a doll museum, an entire floor of closets, a guards’ room, a staff dining room and a projection room. But then, they were Hollywood royalty. No TV producer before or since has equaled Aaron Spelling’s output of more than 140 TV movies and 70-plus weekly series, including “The Mod Squad,” “Dynasty,” “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Melrose Place,” “7th Heaven” and “Charmed.” And, of course, “Beverly Hills 90210.”
Taking on new roles Cast as virginal Donna Martin, Tori was perpetually singled out for being the boss’ daughter. She later vied for roles that took her beyond high school. “I begged casting directors to forget that Donna Martin ever existed,” she recalled. She has since become known for a string of movies that are Lifetime channel staples. She’s a college innocent lured into a Malibu escort service in Co-ed Call Girl; a former stripper hooked up with the mob in Deadly Pursuits; in Hush she’s a wife trying to protect her husband from an obsessive former girlfriend. Etc. It was during the making of 2006’s Mind Over Murder that she fell in love with co-star McDermott. Never mind Mommywood that both were already married. They eloped to Fiji for By Tori Spelling a barefoot ceremony less than a month after her divorce Simon Spotlight from writer-actor Charlie Shanian. “We didn’t want any- $25, 224 pages one to get hurt,” she later said. “But I’d found my soul- ISBN 9781416599104 Also available on audio mate. How could I deny that?” Candy Spelling wasn’t thrilled with her daughter’s actions. The mother-daughter angst and anger grew following the death of Aaron Spelling. The tabloids and media bloggers loved it. The two have since declared a truce. But Tori hasn’t shied away from her upfront ways. Ten helicopters hovered overhead, and TV cameras rolled, when she and McDermott held a garage sale in which the castoffs included memorabilia from her first marriage. Their own marriage has become a reality show—for three seasons—on the Oxygen network. And while she’s promoting Mommywood, Tori will doubtless be asked about reprising her role of Donna Martin on this season’s new “90210,” which airs on the CW. For someone who was for so long derided, she’s having the last laugh. o
A self-described workaholic, Lisa Jackson is the author of more than 75 novels, from medieval romance to bestselling thrillers. Malice (Kensington, $24, 432 pages, ISBN 9780758211842) begins when a New Orleans detective receives a hospital visit from a woman who looks just like his first wife—except that Jennifer died 12 years ago. Jackson lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family. APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
Artists and writers share the stories of their lives By Pat H. Broeske quartet of new memoirs provides an eclectic roadmap of personal journeys set in Hollywood, the Brooklyn projects, Philadelphia public housing, Oklahoma, Broadway and beyond. In Love Child: A Memoir of Family Lost and Found (Simon & Schuster, $26.95, 304 pages, ISBN 9781416551577), Allegra Huston comes to terms with the convoluted ties of one of Hollywood’s legendary families. “My family was made up of individual people who shared an accident of circumstance,” she explains. She was four when a car accident claimed the life of her mother, a former ballerina and fourth wife of iconic filmmaker John Huston. Sent to live at his Irish estate, she seldom saw him (he was making movies) or her much-older brother and sister. “I was living one of those stories where there aren’t any parents, and the children run free,” she writes. Today a director of a respected Taos writer’s program, Huston tells her story as it unfolded—recapturing the innocence and confusion of a child grappling with her place in an ever-shifting realm of family and logistics. Often packing her suitcase, she moves from Ireland to Long Island to live with her mother’s parents. At eight she’s off to California, to be with her father and his fifth wife (and a step-sibling). But even when sharing a house with her father, he remains distant and imposing. In a rare “ordinary” moment he reaches out to touch her feverish forehead. Similarly mythic is big sister Anjelica. A dozen years older and a glamorous model, she will go on to become a compelling actress and filmmaker. But when she takes her little sister under her wing, she is girlfriend to Jack—as in Nicholson. Later she’ll be with Ryan—as in O’Neal. Both men appear through young Allegra’s eyes (not those of a cineaste). Life becomes even dizzier when 12-year-old Allegra learns her real father is a British Lord with whom her mother had an extramarital affair. And what of her late mother? Allegra seeks to make her acquaintance through a scattering of letters and journal entries, but much remains an ethereal mystery in this beautifully written, haunting exploration.
Living for the City Nelson George grew up in very different surroundings, in the projects of Brownsville in Brooklyn, where he and his sister were raised in a single-parent household. City Kid: A Writer’s Memoir of Ghetto Life and Post-Soul Success (Viking, $25.95, 272 pages, ISBN 9780670020362) traces George’s ascent to influential journalist, author (books on hip-hop, Motown and more) and filmmaker (he is the writer-director of the HBO movie Life Support, based on his sister’s battle with HIV). In a direct but passionate writing style, George recounts what it was like to be young, black, poor—and driven. A voracious reader at nine, and an avid collector of Marvel Comics, at 14, George sent a dollar bill to the Literary Guild and was rewarded with volumes of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner and Wolfe. He wrote and filed away short stories, worked on the high school newspaper and escaped the projects, moving to a near-middle-class neighborhood. He was becoming a student of film (Sidney Poitier was a role model), but music was his passion. George credits the Motorola stereo in the family living room for early on becoming “my passport, not simply to records, but to the vast nation outside
New York that the music came from.” He listened and studied the credits of the Stax, Motown and Tamla records in his mother’s collection. While attending a local college he wrote for a black newspaper and was a Billboard stringer. He also climbed the freelance ladder, by bringing his cultural sensibility to articles on black artists and black sounds, including the explosive hiphop scene. City Kid puts the reader at the pulsating fault line of the seismic shakeup of black movies and music in the 1980s and 1990s. It also has quiet virtues—including the joy of discovery through reading and writing.
Life with father Pop culture critic Joe Queenan can get goofy: he once wrote about spending a day talking like Yoda; for a piece on becoming Mickey Rourke, he didn’t bathe for a week. Funny and fearless—and often vitriolic—Queenan reveals how he developed his thick skin in Closing Time (Viking, $26.95, 352 pages, ISBN 9780670020638), a dark story of emotional survival. His was an Irish-Catholic childhood, in a Philadelphia housing project in the 1960s. Poverty was a challenge, but Queenan’s father was the true nightmare. A man in perpetual rage, he went from job to job (13 in a single year) and drink to drink, and often came at his children with a belt. Even after they’d retreated to their beds, Queenan and his sisters endured sleepless nights—fearing their father’s destructive behavior would result in setting the house on fire. The public library and the bookmobile provided escape. Still, Queenan sought his father’s love and acceptance. A botched suicide attempt changed all that. Why, he wondered, had he tried so hard for approval from such a person? Queenan’s father went on to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and, in one of the group’s famous steps, sought to make amends. Though Queenan shook his father’s hand, he also wrote an opinion article for Newsweek entitled, “Too Late to Say ‘I’m Sorry.’” As anyone who reads Queenan’s writing knows, he’s not into clemency.
Fairy-tale ending Ready for some sunshine? In A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages (Touchstone, $25, 240 pages, ISBN 9781416580553), the petite, perfection-driven Kristin Chenoweth—known for starring in Broadway’s Wicked, and for appearances on TV shows including “The West Wing” and “Pushing Daisies”—shares her plus-size story of show business fame. Written with Joni Rodgers (herself a gifted memoirist), Chenoweth’s lively, chatty story reveals how faith and family have held her together, offers tips on succeeding in show business, lists the questions she plans to ask God when she meets him (including, “Who is the sadistic genius behind cellulite?”) and shares several shock-and-awe recipes, including one for her “No Calorie Left Behind Butterfinger Pie.” A sweet touch if ever there was one. o
The Da Vinci crime By Norah Piehl She has, quite possibly, the most famous face in the entire world. Just as beguiling as Mona Lisa’s smile, however, is her long and captivating history. Particularly notable is the two-year period when one of the world’s most valuable paintings . . . just disappeared. R.A. Scotti explores this fascinating incident in Vanished Smile: The Mysterious Theft of Mona Lisa, an engaging nonfiction study that’s as full of twists, turns and suspense as any mystery novel. Anyone who’s seen the painting behind bulletproof glass in its highsecurity room at the Louvre would be surprised at how lax the Paris museum’s security was in August 1911, when the painting seemed to simply vanish into thin air. When the theft was uncovered, however, virtually all of Paris was paralyzed; the museum shut down for a week so that police could mount a full investigation, and every newspaper was full of speculation on the painting’s whereabouts. Everyone was under suspicion, from the museum’s staff to the young upstart painter
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Vanished Smile By R.A. Scotti Knopf $24.95, 256 pages ISBN 9780307265807 Also available on audio
Pablo Picasso and his anti-establishment circle of friends. Despite the sensational nature of the crime, Scotti’s exploration of the theft of the painting would be fairly humdrum if it merely recounted events—especially since the details of the thief’s means and motives are still not fully understood today. Scotti skillfully heightens the suspense by frequently personifying the painting, almost as if it were a real kidnap victim or runaway: “Mona Lisa had been spotted crossing the border . . . and slinking out of France.” This approach will delight mystery lovers; of more interest to art history buffs, however, is the way Scotti positions the painting’s disappearance at the crossroads of tradition and modernity. The Parisian police force uses cutting-edge forensic science to find clues; the public’s fascination with the missing lady (even paying to stare at the empty hooks where she once hung) foreshadows the irreverence and self-commentary of modern art; the reproduction of the lady on countless souvenirs previews later 20th-century mass production of cultural artifacts. Placed in these contexts, the theft of the world’s most beloved painting makes the Mona Lisa’s story even more significant—and her smile even more alluring. o Norah Piehl is a writer and editor who lives near Boston.
Bob Barker fans, come on down! By Pat H. Broeske nyone who’s been near a television set during the past half-century has seen Bob Barker. For 35 years he hosted daytime’s “The Price Is Right”—the longest-running game show in North America. Before that, he spent 18 years hosting “Truth or Consequences.” No wonder Barker has been hailed as TV’s longest-running host. Barker, the recipient of 19 Emmy Awards, retired in 2007. But he hasn’t disappeared behind the curtain. At 86, he remains a tireless animal rights advocate—and is a fledgling author. His memoir, Priceless Memories (Center Street, $24.99, 256 pages, ISBN 9781599951355), written with Digby Diehl, provides a backstage pass to the shows that made him a household name. There are also vignettes of his surprising past—in-
A Ma Masterful Tale Greed, Deceit, of G ceit, Revenge, and Seduction Revenge duction
“We didn’t solve the world’s problems. But we hopefully helped you to forget your problems for just a while.” cluding his upbringing on the South Dakota Indian reservation where his mother was a teacher, his training as a Naval fighter pilot and the love story he shared with his high school sweetheart-turned-wife, Dorothy Jo. “We were a team,” Barker says of his wife, who died in 1981. “I couldn’t have done what I did if it weren’t for her.” Speaking by phone from the Hollywood home he shares with his dog and rabbits, Barker explains that he purposely kept the tone of his book upbeat and non-controversial—in the tradition of his TV shows. “We didn’t solve the world’s problems. But we hopefully helped you to forget your problems for just a while.” As to why “Price Is Right” has proven so durable, he offers, “Audience participation. That’s the key.” In fact, shows like “The Price Is Right” were originally called “audience participation shows.” Recalls Barker: “They were spontaneous and unrehearsed. No one was tested or coached before they went before the cameras.” Also, once the cameras rolled, they kept rolling—and whatever happened, happened. Barker got into television the old-fashioned way: via radio. He had a weekly show for Southern California Edison, the electric power company, which aired locally on CBS. With Dorothy Jo, who was his producer, he traveled to two cities a day to visit Edison’s “Electric Living Centers,” where he interviewed homemakers about the latest electrical wonders. “One day Ralph Edwards heard the show—and liked it. He was already considered a broadcasting pioneer, and a legend,” Barker recalls. In 1956 Barker became host of the Edwardscreated show “Truth or Consequences.” He was still doing “T or C” when, in 1972, he bounded in front of audiences for “The Price is Right.” For the next three years he did a juggling act—working both shows. When he opted to do only one, he couldn’t have guessed that he would spend more than three decades playing the straight man to contestants grappling with price tags. “The premise of ‘The Price is Right’ is simple—and powerful. Everyone identifies with pricing,” Barker says. “From cab drivers to executives, everyone’s interested in what things cost.” Under Barker, the program observed several milestones. In 1987, after years of fooling with hair dyes, he rebelled—becoming the first host to let his hair go au natural. “I was the only guy on TV with gray hair,” he says, adding, “I had to get approval from the head of daytime programming!” Baker also began signing off with what was literally a pet passion: “Help control the pet population. Have your pets spayed or neutered.” It was his late wife who enlightened him about the plight of animals. Following her cue, he became a vegetarian—and went on to convince producers of “The Price Is Right” to stop featuring furs and leather. Later, as the longtime emcee of the Miss USA and Miss Universe pageants, he sought to stop the contestants from parading in furs. When the show’s producer wouldn’t budge, Barker resigned—and the so-called “fur flap” became major news. “For the first time, many people understood about the cruelty to animals that resulted from the production of fur,” he says, adding, “Fur is no longer chic.” In memory of his wife and his mother Tilly, who was also devoted to animals, Barker established the DJ & T Foundation, which has contributed millions to spay/neuter programs. Barker, who never had children, is also leaving a legacy of university endowments for the study of animal rights, and is himself active in animal rights legislation. He may no longer be in front of the cameras, but Bob Barker hasn’t stopped working. o Journalist Pat H. Broeske has a menagerie of cats and dogs—all spayed or neutered.
Bob Barker and friend
ural Wisconsin, 1907. In the bitter cold, Ralph Truitt stands alone on the train platform anxiously awaiting the arrival of a visitor. The woman who arrives is not who he expects. This woman, this reliable wife, will decide whether Ralph Truitt lives or dies.
“Astonishing, complex, beautifully written, and brilliant.” —SARA GRUEN, author of Water for Elephants
“A sublime murder ballad that doesn’t turn out at all the way one might expect.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Read the ﬁrst chapter at www.algonquin.com/areliablewife. Available Wherever Books Are Sold A L G O N Q U I N B O O K S • W W W. A L G O N Q U I N . C O M
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Taking wing: books for bird lovers
Phillips’ fourth novel dazzles
BY DEANNA LARSON ird-watching is one of the fastest-growing outdoor activities in the country, and these new spring books will bring pleasure to millions of amateur and experienced birders alike. Identifying a bird fluttering away from the feeder, fence or branch is one of the most frustrating challenges of bird-watching. Birds of North America: The Complete Photographic Guide to Every Species (DK, $50, 744 pages, ISBN 9780756642723), edited by Francois Vuilleumier, is a massive, authoritative reference book that belongs in every birder’s library. Sections on the anatomy and flight, courtship and mating, nesting, migration and identification of birds are followed by the huge species guide, broken out by bird order and family and written by ornithologists from the American Museum of Natural History, which is currently organizing an ambitious program to reconstruct the “avian tree of life” using DNA technology. More than 650 common North American bird species (plus a chart of “vagrants” that occasionally take up temporary residence) are represented in a one-bird-per-page format illustrated with a large-scale annotated color picture. Each bird’s entry features common name, plumage variations, distinctive shapes and markings, a drawing of flight pattern and an illustration of the bird in flight, plus information on feeding, voice and behavior to help birders identify the flutterings and songs among species. Nesting and habitat facts and colorcoded maps that show the bird’s migration and summer and winter distributions, and insets with illustrations of similar species are extremely handy for differentiating birds with slight variations. Each bird’s status is also listed, to raise awareness about vulnerable and declining “oracle” species like the “sweet tinkling” Baird’s sparrow, heard on the mixed-grass prairie of the Northern Plains, but quickly losing its habitat to intensive agriculture and other environmental factors.
By Tasha Alexander To say that Arthur Phillips is a versatile novelist is understatement at its worst. Equally capable of penning contemporary and historical novels, gracefully moving from subject to subject, he’s the sort of author in whom readers can fearlessly place their faith. After dazzling us with last year’s Victorian Angelica, he’s back in modern times with his fourth book, The Song Is You. Set in New York, the story follows Julian Donahue as he navigates the shadowy, grief-filled world of a parent who has lost a child. A director—not of films, but television commercials—Julian did not take well to the role of husband until he became a father. Following the death of his two-year-old son, he manages to hack out a bleak existence, burying himself in music, while his estranged wife, Rachel, spirals through mourning. She longs to save the marriage; Julian wants to move on—a goal made easier after dropping into a Brooklyn club to use the restroom and staying to hear a raw performance from Irish singer Cait O’Dwyer. He’s consumed by her, but rather than introducing himself as another disposable fan, he becomes a faraway mentor and muse, setting himself on a course that will lead him from New York to Europe as Cait’s career begins to sky- The Song Is You rocket. The relationship itself is fascinating, as Julian and By Arthur Phillips Cait circle each other, gradually coming closer together. Random House In The Song Is You, Phillips has crafted some of the most $25, 272 pages memorable and affecting secondary characters in fiction, ISBN 9781400066469 from Julian’s one-legged father who was obsessed with Billie Holiday, to the protagonist’s brother, Aidan, a trivia genius whose eccentric existence has been irrevocably damaged by an offensively wrong answer that he gave during a “Jeopardy!” appearance. Here, Phillips has achieved what only the best novelists can—he’s written a book where the beauty of the prose is matched by the depth of characterization and the fluid movement of the plot. The Song Is You is complex and rhapsodic, heart-wrenching and satisfying, an absolute pleasure to read. o Tasha Alexander is the author of A Fatal Waltz.
Feathered friends Birds can be traced to prehistoric times, but their modern role as backyard companions is sweetly uncovered in The Armchair Birder: Discovering the Secret Lives of Familiar Birds (UNC Press, $25, 256 pages, ISBN 9780807832790). Writer and editor John Yow cites marvelous tidbits from Audubon, Arthur Cleveland Bent, Rachel Carson and other noted ornithologists and scientists, but gives equal weight to what he sees from his own vegetable patch or front porch in the Georgia countryside. When he raises his binoculars or turns the pages of a reference book in these short, illustrated essays, Yow lets his gentle ruminations and finely observed truths lull the reader toward a quiet adventure into the “ordinary” birds around them. Broken out by season, each essay highlights some behavior or habit of birds so common—is there anyone not familiar with the cardinal, the blue jay or chimney swift?—they become new again. Yow explores the pileated woodpecker’s role in the propagation of the magnolia tree, how the crimson cardinal got its name and the history of robins on the American dinner table. Often humble, droll and gently political with soft sarcasm pointed at policies that have decimated some species’ entire habitat, Yow is the ultimate gentleman birder, highlighting the omnipresent glory and understated miracle of these feathered friends.
Flying away Life List: A Woman’s Quest for the World’s Most Amazing Birds (Bloomsbury, $26, 352 pages, ISBN 9781596911697) is the story of Phoebe Snetsinger, a frustrated 1950s housewife who became one of the few women in the world to have observed almost 85 percent of all living birds in her lifetime. Award-winning journalist Olivia Gentile brings this achievement into sharp focus, starting when a neighbor invited 40something Snetsinger to watch the “pretty” birds in her backyard. Snetsinger blended life as a Midwestern wife and mother with that of amateur birdwatcher until she received a terminal cancer diagnosis. Traveling some of the planet’s most remote and dangerous areas, she defied the odds and spent the next 18 years adding to the nearly 8,400 species on her “life list,” a record that landed her in the Guinness Book of World Records and was only recently surpassed by two (male) British birders. While it may be difficult to relate to a woman with the financial resources (legendary Chicago ad man Leo Burnett was her father) and emotional detachment that allowed her to leave her husband and four children for months each year, Snetsinger emerges as dedicated and focused as the best—dare it be said—Ivy League male scientist, a generous leader of her fellow birdwatchers and an advocate who brought attention to the world’s glorious birds and their shrinking habitat. o Deanna Larson fills 10 bird feeders in her Nashville backyard.
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Jay McInerney’s tales of modern life By Harvey Freedenberg Whether it was Edith Wharton at the turn of the 20th century or John Cheever in the 1950s and ’60s, New York City has never lacked for chroniclers of its mores. Perhaps a century from now, cultural historians will plumb the works of Jay McInerney to discern what life was like there in the two decades between the explosion of Wall Street wealth and the grim aftermath of 9/11. His keen-eyed depiction of that period is generously displayed in How It Ended, his volume of 26 new and collected stories. Fans of McInerney novels like Bright Lights, Big City and Story of My Life (this collection contains the stories that evolved into those works, along with several of his others), will recognize classic McInerney characters in their natural habitats like TriBeCa and the Meatpacking District: they’re dabblers in drugs; they work at jobs whose sometimes glamorous trappings disguise their emptiness of purpose; and they drift through relationships. Few of the protagonists of these tales get what they want, but like Sabrina, whose surprise party for her husband in “Everything Is Lost” spawns a nasty surprise for their marriage, How It Ended most seem to get what they deserve. Not all of McInerney’s stories focus on his New York By Jay McInerney City archetypes. “In the North-West Frontier Province,” Knopf his first story and one that attracted the attention of $25.95, 352 pages 9780307268051 George Plimpton at The Paris Review, is the chilling tale ISBN Also available on audio of a botched drug deal on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. For anyone who wonders about the toxic blend of narcissism and recklessness that propelled former presidential candidate John Edwards into a career-wrecking affair, “Penelope on the Pond” will offer some useful insights. McInerney’s prose doesn’t mimic the spareness of two of his mentors, Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff, and the world he inhabits seems distant from the monochromatic milieu they describe. Still, his stark depiction of a slice of modern American life that may be passing away before our eyes, as the title of this volume ironically suggests, is no less perceptive and real. o
Don’t miss the New Novel from
“The best mystery Writer in the english-Speaking World.” —Time Ivor Tesham is a handsome, single, young member of Parliament whose political star is on the rise. When he meets a woman in a chance encounter—a beautiful, leggy, married woman named Hebe—the two become lovers obsessed with their trysts. But what is intended as mock-dangerous foreplay takes a dark turn and leads to murder. The Birthday Present is a deft, insightful, and compulsively readable exploration of obsessive desire—and the dark twists of fate that can shake the lives of even those most insulated by privilege, sophistication, and power.
“Unequivocally the most brilliant mystery writer of our time.” —Patricia Cornwell
“Surely one of the greatest novelists presently at work in our language.” —Scott Turow
“Those who haven’t read her books have missed something unique and wonderful.” —Tony Hillerman S h ay e a r e h e a rt bo ok S
WhaT iS yoUr favoriTe barbara vi Ne Novel? Tell us about it and win a basket of Barbara Vine books! Enter our contest by sending in your favorite book title online at bookpage.com. Contest ends 5/15/09. No purchase necessary. APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
A storyteller’s deadly charms lure Irish sisters By Kristy Kiernan In the opening pages of Darling Jim (Holt, $25, 304 pages, ISBN 9780805089479), the American debut from Danish writer Christian Moerk, three women are found horribly murdered in a house in Dublin, Ireland, and local police are left with more questions than answers. It appears that Moira Hegarty had imprisoned her nieces, Fiona and Roisin Walsh, and was slowly poisoning them to death. But from the shovel marks on Moira’s forehead, at least one of them fought back. Even more intriguing, it looks as though a third prisoner might have escaped. This gothic story-within-a-story is told through the diaries of the two dead girls and a third-person narrative following Niall, a young postman who’d prefer to be a comic book artist. After he discovers Fiona’s diary in the dead-letter bin, Niall feels compelled to find out what happened in that house. Fiona’s diary introduces us to Jim Quick, a traditional Irish storyteller or seanchaí, who roars into Fiona’s town on a vintage red motorcycle and proceeds to seduce half the inhabitants with his stories, and the other half with his good looks and slick moves. Unfortunately, some of the latter group have turned up dead, and the seduced and discarded Fiona is determined to figure out if Jim and his mysterious cohort, Tomo, are involved. When Jim sets his sights on Moira, a fragile and desperate woman, Fiona and her sisters, Roisin and Aiofe, are destined to become too involved to turn back. Once the sisters get too close to the truth, Jim turns his violent nature on Aiofe. When Niall’s obsession threatens his job, he decides to uncover the rest of the story in another diary, this one written by Roisin. Foiled in turn by a precocious student and her father bent on justice, and a cop eaten up with guilt, Niall finally gets his hands on the prize and the story continues as told by the second troubled Walsh sister. But what has become of the third? Thick with Irish atmosphere and colloquialisms and peopled with characters right out of the darkest of fables, Darling Jim is a page-turning tribute to the art, history and power of classic storytelling. o Kristy Kiernan is the author of Matters of Faith.
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It takes a village
McCall Smith’s mysteries evoke a kindler, gentler setting By Jay MacDonald here fictional private eyes are concerned, Precious Ramotswe, proprietress of Botswana’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, makes Jessica Fletcher of “Murder, She Wrote” look like Spenser for hire. In the 10 books of this gentlest of detective series, including the latest, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, Mma Ramotswe and her eccentric secretary Mma Makutsi spend far more time investigating “the full cupboard of life” (to borrow the title of book five) than actually solving mysteries. They are, in fact, more often the source than the solvers of intrigue as they kibitz and circumvent the kindly but clueless men in their lives—respectively, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, ace mechanic and owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and Mr. Phuti Radiphuti, proprietor of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop. Though a paying client may eventually receive satisfaction, it sometimes takes a detective to find an actual mystery in these utterly charming village tales. “The plots are entirely incidental,” admits Alexander McCall Smith from his home in Edinburgh, Scotland. “They are character studies, but with a very strong sense of place.” It’s a place the author knows well. Born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), Smith attended school near the Botswana border. After he earned his law degree in Scotland, he returned to Botswana to help establish a new law school at the university there. He went on to become professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh, where today he serves as Professor Emeritus. He returns to Botswana every year. Smith’s fondness for the country and its people shines through in the upbeat, optimistic tone of the series. While some critics praise him for the deceptively simple way he casually reveals human truths, others accuse him of portraying Africa through rose-colored glasses. “People say that I’m putting forth a saccharine view, which actually isn’t fair,” he says. “What I’m doing is talking about a side of reality that is definitely there but isn’t normally reported. There’s an awful lot of bad news that comes out of Africa, the failure of the political systems and rampant corruption and the resulting suffering of the people. All of that is there, but there is obviously another side.” To which his legion of readers might add, what’s wrong with gentle escapism? Whether it’s Ballykissangel or the Cheers bar in Boston, don’t we all want to go where everybody knows our name? “I think that people yearn for a sense of community,” Smith agrees. “The larger the world gets, the larger cities get, I think the more acutely people feel that need.” It’s the very day-to-day concerns of Mma Ramotswe and associates that help us forget our own. In the
delightfully titled Tea Time for the Traditionally Built, Mr. Molofololo, the wealthy owner of the Kalahari Swoopers soccer club, wants the agency to ferret out a slacker on the squad who has been intentionally throwing games. But more pressing matters must take priority: Mma Makutsi’s archrival Violet Sephotho has hired on to sell beds at Double Comfort in hopes of stealing Phuti’s affections, and Mma Ramotswe’s beloved white van, having finally given up the ghost, has been scrapped, then stolen. Clearly, Mr. Molofolo will have to wait. “We do have a sense of loss with the tiny white van; that mortality is there,” Smith says. “The van is a very important character in these books, and in fact, she will get that van back. There’s going to be a howl of protest from readers, but I think they’ll know that everything is going to work out, that it’s going to be rescued.” If we are all homesick to some degree for the simpler, slower pace of village life, we likely also miss the common courtesies that accompanied those gentler social interactions. Alexander It’s a longing that Smith deftly evokes mccall Smith in the touching formality of Botswana, where even husband and wife refer to each other as Mr. and Mrs. “Of course, I overstate it, but there is a certain formality in Botswana which is quite striking. People are considerate and formal in many of their dealings with people, which I find very refreshing and nice,” Smith says. “I think these books have quite a strong sense of loss in them. We’ve lost a certain consideration in our society. Somehow, we all know that we’ve lost some of the courtesies in highly utilitarian societies. We’re in this big rush, and therefore people addressing one another with consideration and courtesy is getting rarer.” With more than 60 books to his credit, the prolific Mr. Smith won’t be slowing down anytime soon. Still to come this year are new installments of his 44 Scotland Street, Isabel Dalhousie and Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, as well as continuing chapters in his new serial novel, Corduroy Mansions, for the Telegraph. In March, HBO aired the two-hour film pilot for the new “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” original series, starring Grammywinning singer Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe and Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) as Mma Makutsi. The film was directed by the late Anthony Minghella, the Academy Award-winning director of The English Patient. The series continues on Sunday nights on HBO. Smith caught “Sopranos” fever relatively recently, but hopes the “No. 1 Ladies” series, on which he serves as a consultant, catches the same zeitgeist. “It will be unlike anything that anybody has ever seen. It’s HBO going out on a limb and doing something really exciting, as they did with ‘The Sopranos.’ They’ve caught the place and they’ve respected the world of these books,” he says. In his spare time, Smith—called Sandy by his friends—and his physician-wife Elizabeth perform (on bassoon and horn respectively) with “The Really Terrible Orchestra,” an amateur group he founded against his better judgment. They make their American debut, coincidence or no, this April Fool’s Day at New York’s Town Hall. “We are seriously bad,” Smith says, with a warped sort of pride. “We are cacophonous. We’ve got a fairly broad repertoire, and it really is bad.” o Jay MacDonald writes from the savannahs of central Texas.
“The plots are entirely incidental. They are
character studies, but with
a very strong sense of place.”
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built By Alexander McCall Smith Pantheon, $23.95, 256 pages ISBN 9780375424496
WHODUNIT? Re-igniting a century-old debate
Mystery of the month
The creationists and the evolutionists are at it again, this time in the pages of Jane Haddam’s latest Gregor Demarkian novel, Living Witness (Minotaur, $25.95, 400 pages, ISBN 9780312380861). Demarkian is an Armenian-American private investigator based in Philadelphia, the retired head of the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit, and wealthy enough to pick and choose his cases. Summoned by the police chief of rural Snow Hill, Pennsylvania, to investigate the brutal beating of an elderly woman, he is only too happy to oblige—the case will give him a good reason to escape the flurry of activity surrounding his upcoming nuptials. Arriving in Snow Hill, he finds the town split into two camps: a) the liberal, newly arrived, college-educated and wellheeled evolutionists, and b) the inBY BRUCE TIERNEY sular, conservative and blue-collar creationist “townies.” A short time back, the creationists managed to insert a disclaimer into the curriculum suggesting that evolution is just a theory; the evolutionists, urged on by 91-year-old firebrand Annie Victoria Hadley, who now lies battered in a hospital bed, have filed suit to have the offending disclaimer stricken. The news sharks are circling, sensing a modern-day replay of the infamous Scopes trial. Haddam plays the two sides off one another brilliantly; so well, in fact, that it is difficult to tell where her own creation/evolution sentiments lie. If, after reading Living Witness, you find yourself a fan of Haddam, you’re in luck: there are 23 more Demarkian novels, and not a clinker in the bunch.
Veteran mystery readers, among whose ranks I count myself, devour each new Walter Mosley book within days of its release. Protagonist Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins took us on a first-person tour of the black communities of South Central L.A. in Devil With a Blue Dress, which begat A Red Death, which begat White Butterfly and Black Betty, and so on, until 2007’s Blonde Faith effectively drew the series to a close. Fast-forward to 2008, and head east until you run out of country, and you will meet Walter Mosley’s new P.I., New Yorker Leonid McGill, in his first outing, The Long Fall (Riverhead, $25.95, 320 pages, ISBN 9781594488580). Leonid McGill—it’s a hard name to wrap your brain around, especially when it is attached to a middle-aged black man, but he will elucidate if you corner him on it: “My father was a Communist. He tried to cut me from the same red cloth.” Once something of a shady character, McGill is in the process of trying to turn over a new leaf. The key word there is “trying”—unfortunately his past seems to dog him at every turn. There is no respite on the home front, either: McGill’s 16-year-old son is in the throes of a very troubling relationship with a borderline suicidal teenage girl, and her difficult circumstances provoke a violent side of his son that McGill has never seen before. The situation is complicated by the fact McGill would never have known about it had he not been cyber-eavesdropping on his son’s email account. How then to confront the boy without ’fessing up to his own sins? There are similarities between Easy Rawlins and Leonid McGill, to be sure: both are black, both are of a similar age (albeit displaced in time), both have families with underlying tensions and issues. Past that, however, the tracks diverge, and McGill has a very different sense of the world, and a very different voice as a storyteller. I haven’t chewed on this long enough to say definitively which one I like better, but I am definitely looking forward to the next installment of the Leonid McGill series. o —BRUCE TIERNEY
Breaking all the rules Barbara Vine is the nom-de-plume of British mystery doyenne Ruth Rendell. The pseudonym was never intended to obscure her true identity, but it allowed her to write using a different voice, or at least a different inflection. The characters are perhaps deeper, and not so overtly diabolical; quite often they are caught up in circumstances beyond their control, and their reactions precipitate dire consequences. Such is the case with Ivor Tesham, a debonair young Member of Parliament, whose clandestine involvement with a married woman spells disaster in Vine’s latest novel, The Birthday Present (Shaye Areheart, $25, 336 pages, ISBN 9780307451989). It starts out as an erotic game: Ivor’s girlfriend is to dress suggestively and go for a walk down a certain street at a certain time. She will be abducted and spirited away to Ivor’s den of iniquity for a night of bawdy revelry. That’s the plan, anyway. Before the night is over, though, two people will die needlessly and a third will suffer severe injuries. At first, it appears that Ivor’s involvement will escape notice. No such luck. As witnesses start to come out of the proverbial woodwork, Ivor can sense the imminent crash-and-burn of his well-ordered career, and indeed, his life as he knows it. The Birthday Present is something of a morality tale, a fable about the dangers of playing fast and loose with the social taboos that bring order to our lives. As always, Vine has given us a superbly crafted, elegantly written tale of suspense, the screws tightening with each passing page.
Imported mysteries For being the largest mystery reading market in the world, the U.S. can get short shrift when it comes to international authors: often we have to wait for writers to become successful in their home countries before we see their work on our bookstore shelves. Such is the case with British author Susan Hill, whose Simon Serrailler series took more than three years to cross the pond. The third Serrallier mystery, The Risk of Darkness (Overlook, $24.95, 384 pages, ISBN 9781585679270), has lost nothing of its immediacy despite the wait; it is, as I wrote about the first in the series, The Various Haunts of Men, “a cracking good yarn.” Protagonist Serrailler is a police inspector by profession and a successful artist by avocation. Something of an introvert, he makes a vivid impression on the women in his life, but he is very enigmatic in his responses. All that is about to change when Serrailler is strongly drawn to a feisty red-haired Anglican priest (no, Serrailler has not gone to bat for the opposing team; the Anglican church has female priests), the victim of a crazed widower’s obsession with his recently deceased wife. Although action and plot twists abound, The Risk of Darkness remains a characterdriven novel. Serrailler is a complicated and not always sympathetic protagonist who struggles with his peccadilloes along with the reader. I summed up my last review of a Hill novel by saying “Fans of P.D. James and Ruth Rendell can rest easy, knowing that those authors’ tradition of fine storytelling will move forward at least one more generation.” The Risk of Darkness does nothing to betray that sentiment. o
The trial that pushed him over the line. Twenty-five years ago Jaywalker accepted a case that has haunted him ever since. How do you prove the innocence of a man society has already deemed guilty?
Discover the truth… pick up your copy today!
APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
Well Read A cinematic mystery in Weimar Berlin Shadow and Light is Jonathan Rabb’s second historical crime novel—in a planned trilogy—featuring Berlin police chief inspector Nikolai Hoffner and set during the years between the two world wars. The first, the much-acclaimed Rosa, revolved around the 1919 killing of Communist revolutionary Rosa Luxemburg. Eight years later, Hoffner’s latest investigation takes him into the world of the German film industry and the high stakes race to produce a viable technology for “talkies.” It begins with a suspicious suicide at the city’s Ufa studios, where a film executive is found shot through the heart in a bathtub. A young starlet is missing. Not much to go on, but Hoffner is soon drawing connections between the death, the disappearance and a series of pornographic films he stumbles upon in the course of his investigation. The striking thing about the films is not their raw content, but the fact that they have sound. Stunned by this technological marvel, Hoffner cannot help but wonder why it has been tested on such distasteful material rather than a BY ROBERT legitimate studio-sanctioned movie. WEIBEZAHL Enter American Helen Coyle, a talent agent for MetroGoldwyn-Mayer, who in Berlin calls herself by the more Germanic “Leni.” She is also on the trail of the missing starlet, or so she claims. Leni is standard-issue noir leading lady, what a pulp fiction writer might call “a tall, cool drink of water,” fashioned in the Barbara Stanwyck/Veronica Lake/Lauren Bacall mode. She seduces Hoffner with her brains and beauty, and he succumbs completely, despite the fact that it is impossible to get a straight answer out of her. The dialogue between Hoffner and Leni is one of the highlights of the novel, crisp, elliptical and filled with delicious subtext. Soon Hoffner allows Leni to tag along as he investigates, perhaps a questionable judgment on the part of a seasoned policeman, but suspension of belief is an accepted convention of the crime novel.
Rabb’s second book in a planned trilogy of historical novels is a gripping, gritty noir tale. The protracted plot goes up many a blind alley and encounters its share of red herrings before reaching a lessthan-surprising conclusion (Hoffner seems to blunder to Shadow the bottom of things in spite of his investigative instincts and Light rather than because of them), but the mystery storyline at the heart of Shadow and Light is really just an excuse for By Jonathan Rabb Rabb to call on his true strengths as a writer, most notably Sarah Crichton Books 384 pages his atmospheric evocation of time and place. The city itself $26, ISBN 9780374261948 is an important character in the book, and Weimar Berlin is brilliantly portrayed in all its gritty decadence and postwar opportunism. It is the Berlin that Isherwood and Auden would later famously write about, where sexual depravity and underground jazz joints live cheek by jowl with staggering inflation and rising fascism. Hoffner clearly loves his hometown, which he affectionately refers to with the feminine pronoun, “she,” despite its endemic decay and its anti-Semitism. HalfJewish himself, the detective is decidedly unsettled by the rising National Socialist Workers Party, and dismayed to discover that his estranged son, Sascha, is an active member of the party and an aide to Joseph Goebbels. Sascha despises his father, holding him accountable for the death of his mother, and Hoffner’s wife, Martha. A second son, Georg, though only 16, is the linchpin trying to hold the family together. Hoffner’s tortured inadequacies as a father lend a welcome element to his character, a flawed humanity that makes him much more than an embattled German bureaucrat who can’t shape the world the way he would wish it. Shadow and Light features a supporting cast of “real” characters, including legendary filmmaker Fritz Lang; his Nazi-sympathizer wife, Thea von Harbou; and a young, then little-known actor named Peter Lorre. Undoubtedly the most fascinating character is Alby Pimm, a presumably fictional Berlin crime boss who somehow manages to be utterly charming even when he’s dispatching his henchman to kill. The give and take between him and Hoffner is worth the price of admission. Shadow and Light is an entertaining book that demands a bit more concentration than most books in the genre, but the effort pays off. Rabb is reportedly at work on the final leg of the trilogy, which will be set in 1936. The dates of the books are chosen to highlight key moments when Germany might have taken a different path. It seems safe to say a certain Austrian painter will play a role in the next one. o
APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
A Wild West heroine reborn By Arlene McKanic Readers who’ve seen the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid will remember Katherine Ross’ portrayal of Etta Place, Robert Redford’s pretty girlfriend. The real Etta Place turns out to be even more intriguing, for no one knows much about her—not even whether she was really Sundance’s girlfriend. In his rollicking debut novel, Gerald Kolpan imagines the life of this mystery woman, placing her in a time and place filled with colorful characters. Kolpan’s Etta is from Philadelphia, the motherless daughter of a swindler who dies owing too many people too much money. Because some of those people are shady, her father’s lawyer changes her name from Lorinda Reese Jameson to Etta Place and puts her on a train to Chicago. She moves on to Colorado, where she becomes one of the celebrated Harvey Girls and befriends the extremely taciturn Laura Bullion, one of Butch and Sundance’s gang. Bullion helps Etta escape after she blows away a rich psychopath who tries to rape her, and it’s in Wyoming territory, at a place called Hole-in-theWall, where Etta’s romance with Sundance begins. Kolpan clearly loves his wayward heroine, who’s incredibly beautiful, tall, smart and cultured. As with a number of works of new fiction, Kolpan’s Etta interacts with real Etta historical figures. Charlie Siringo of the Pinkertons is out to get her; she saves the life of Teddy Roosevelt while imper- By Gerald Kolpan sonating Annie Oakley (“A bully adventure!” he crows); the Ballantine $25, 336 pages president’s shy and insecure niece Eleanor becomes a friend. ISBN 9780345503688 Kolpan is also good at taking the reader back to the sights, Also available on audio sounds and smells of the early 20th century. He describes the vileness of pre-Harvey Girls railroad food, the threadbare carpet of a dingy brownstone, the flowery but sincere way one lady or gentleman addressed another. When Butch and Sundance finally buy the farm in Bolivia in 1909, the resourceful Etta fades from history, but doesn’t fade away. Like Rose in Titanic, she goes on to lead a rich and eventful life. Etta is indeed a bully adventure! o Arlene McKanic finds adventure in Jamaica, New York.
Sadat’s widow contemplates peace By Anne Bartlett Since the 1981 assassination of her husband, Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, Jehan Sadat has created a new identity as a university professor, lecturer and activist for peace and women’s rights. Dividing her time between Egypt and the United States, she has a valuable perspective on both countries—and she is dismayed by what she believes are the damaging misperceptions held by many Americans about her culture and religion. Sadat’s first book, the best-selling A Woman of Egypt, was the story of her life. Her new one, My Hope for Peace, timed for the 30th anniversary of the Egypt-Israel peace accord, is also personal in tone, but has a more varied mission. Writing for ordinary Americans not familiar with Islam and the Middle East, Sadat focuses on three themes: the imperative for a just, negotiated peace between Arabs and Israelis; the distinction between Islam as a worldwide faith and the horrific behavior of relatively few violent fundamentalists; and the search for peace within ourselves. Mixing the personal and the political, Sadat uses simple, direct language to explain the basic history and beliefs of Islam. She makes a particular argument that Islam does not oppress women and can be the framework for their education and economic self-reliance. And she drives home the My Hope point that the forces behind the 9/11 terror attacks also for Peace killed her husband, whom she describes as a believing Muslim devoted to peace and progress. He remains a hero to By Jehan Sadat his widow, who deplores the failure of both Arab and Israeli Free Press $25, 224 pages leaders to follow his example. ISBN 9781416592198 Certainly, Sadat sees the Arab-Israeli conflict through the eyes of an Egyptian committed to Palestinian rights. The reader will not find any criticism of the current Egyptian government, nor any friendly words for Ariel Sharon. Her approach is moderate and even-handed, always seeking a peaceful outcome for both sides. Sadat does not provide specific proscriptions, arguing instead that the most vital precursor for any real solution is the genuine intention of peace: “Lack of ideas is not the overwhelming hurdle, but rather the lack of political will and personal courage.” o Anne Bartlett is a journalist in Washington, D.C.
“An intensely lyrical, emotional debut.” —Publishers Weekly
Rachel Keener’s stunning first novel takes readers on an incredible journey through the life of Mercy Heron. A young woman with a strict upbringing, Mercy has never ventured beyond her rural surroundings. Then she meets Trout, a migrant worker who opens her eyes to the wider world. But when she tries to break free from the only life she’s known, the truth of her past may forever keep her home.
—Terry Kay, author of The Book of Marie
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“It has been years since I’ve read a book as profoundly dramatic in its examination of survival….Her writing in this debut novel is wonderful.”
Close to home: Sara Snow’s practical tips for greener living By Alison Hood ost of us had our share of candy, Coke and hot dogs when we were kids. Not so green lifestyle expert Sara Snow: her favorite snack was a whole wheat chappati chock-full of sprouts, hummus and sea kelp flakes. During my call to her home in Indianapolis, Snow spoke enthusiastically about the (dietary) quirks and graces of growing up green, her respect for family and her passion for a credo of organic living—a devotion that sparked her new book, Sara Snow’s Fresh Living: The Essential Room-by-Room Guide to a Greener, Healthier Family and Home (Bantam, $16, 288 pages, ISBN 9780553385960). How-to guides can be preachy, especially when addressing human morals and mores. Fresh Living is not: Snow’s approach is friendly, her information is accessible and the book’s “Green Bar Profiles,” brief cameos of “people from inside the natural products industry and green movement,” are inspiring. Snow walks readers through a typical American household, room by room, offering simple, easy and affordable ways to create a healthier, environmentally friendly home. “I didn’t want to advise people to go out and buy all the latest green gadgets, throw out everything in their houses and start over,” she says, “because that would do more damage than good.” Instead, Snow has produced a reasonably priced, useful guide that folks can take shopping and “scribble in the sara snow margins.” She wanted to reach everyone, wherever they were on their journey toward living a healthier, more eco-friendly life. From kitchen to living room, bathroom to bedroom (how to make “natural whoopie”), nursery (the ecology of diapering) to laundry room and beyond to the Great Outdoors, Fresh Living helps us rethink what we put in, on and around our bodies. Did you know that green grocery shopping happens on the store’s perimeter? That’s where all the veggies and fruits are stashed. Do you have a spider plant on your counter? If so, you’ll breathe easier. Do you know the top tips for greening your car? (First, check the air pressure on your tires.) Especially insightful are Snow’s clear explanations of often confusing food labeling, hazardous pesticide use and the dangers of plastics. Sara Snow’s definition of green—what she likes to call “fresh”—living (she thinks “green” is overused) is not only about making a healthier home environment, but also about living at a slower, more aware pace—much like the way she was raised. Daughter of Tim Redmond (a green movement pioneer and co-founder of Eden Foods) and mother Pattie, Snow grew up in a unique household where measured, low-impact living ruled
No more needless kneading Yes, the staff of life, your daily bread, that divine crusty loaf, can be made without kneading. In Kneadlessly Simple: Fabulous, Fuss-Free, No-Knead Breads (Wiley, $24.95, 224 pages, ISBN 9780470399866), baking expert, food journalist and award-winning cookbook author Nancy Baggett (a perfect name for a bread maker!) explains how her knead-less method works and how to use it to make artisan-quality, yeast-based treasures: savory, sweet, crunchy, comforting and tender. No gimmicks here, no mixer-manipulated dough: APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
Alison Hood recycles, re-uses and gardens organically in Marin County, California.
Kicking back with Australia’s Curtis Stone
It’s hard to keep track of all the popular TV cooking shows and all the chefs “poised to be the next big thing,” but Curtis Stone, star of TLC’s only cooking show, “Take Home Chef,” just might make it. Curtis is an Aussie and that, he claims, makes him naturally relaxed, born chilled-out. And he’s determined to pass on that enviable quality to his growing audience (too bad he can’t pass on his hunky good looks). Relaxed Cooking with Curtis Stone: Recipes to Put You in My Favorite Mood (Potter, $32.50, 272 pages, ISBN 9780307408747) is his good-natured, confidence-inducing debut cookbook. Each of the 124 recipes is designed to be simple and flavor-packed. There’s nothing radical or revolutionary (both concepts quite antithetical to relaxation) about Curtis’ cooking—he believes in using quality, seasonal ingredients BY SYBIL PRATT (well, who doesn’t nowadays) and prefers comfortable meals with his mates to fancy, five-star productions. What animates cuisine à la Curtis is his easy approach and his relaxed repertoire. With good header notes and detailed instructions, his recipes cover all the bases—breakfast, brunch and lunch, daily dinners, party pleasers, sides, sweets and some special “scrummy comfort food” to enjoy on the sofa. Skip the stress, keep it mellow.
supreme. “I was aware that we did things differently in our home,” she says, “and that we were part of a movement much bigger than our family. My dad and mom were involved in important work, and raised us in a very specific way.” Elders, too, played a crucial part in Snow’s life. Though her parents swept the whole family along on the exciting green movement tide, she credits her grandparents for many of her sensibilities. “My grandparents were ahead of their times,” she says. “They were environmentalists, but they weren’t uppity about it. They would sit down in the dirt and explain the difference between a pea shoot and a weed, where food comes from and why it was important to eat food that has life still in it.” Sadly, Snow believes that many kids today lack this basic knowledge and an understanding of the slower, more earth-connected way of life practiced by earlier generations. On a bright note, though, she says that many questions she answers and consultations she has are with parents, teachers and students who want access to programs, activities and curricula about eating well, establishing responsible carbon footprints and reducing environmental toxicity. Since 2005, Snow, helped by her previous experience as a televiPOLINA OSHEROV sion producer, has created TV programs emphasizing an aware, organic lifestyle. She now hosts “Get Fresh with Sara Snow,” carried by the Discovery Health channel, appears regularly on CNN and FitTV, and blogs at treehugger.com. She is an environmental activist who uses her platform to champion planet Earth. “I have a voice and I use that voice to positively encourage people who are trying to do some good. If we can simplify, buy less and start educating ourselves as consumers, we can help companies clean up their environmental practices,” she says. To make a difference, Snow believes people need to be aware of how their slightest actions can affect their well-being and the health of the environment. “It’s about making that one small change so that you can be a little bit healthier, a little bit more environmentally conscious. Once that change becomes habit, then you add something else. One day you’ll realize, hey, I’m living a really healthy life! And that’s something you can be proud of.” o
Nancy advocates the long, slow, cold-rise, a technique in which the dough actually kneads itself. This is not an improvised shortcut, but a carefully thought-out technique that eliminates the obstacles—inflexible time, mess (here it’s one bowl, one spoon), inexperience—to making fresh, wholesome, affordable bread in your kitchen. Nancy provides a thorough understanding of the method, plus troubleshooting tips. Make sure to read the steps through, plan the timing (many hours, all unattended, are involved) to fit your own schedule and you’re off, ready to fill your bread basket with boules, baguettes, cinnamon sticky buns, ciabatta, raisin pumpernickel, panettone, pain aux noix and streusel coffee cake, fill your home with their unbeatable aromas and your life with the wonder of no-fuss, no-knead bread.
Make it quick, keep it simple Never an aficionado of the frozen fast-fix, Diana Henry, food columnist for London’s Sunday Telegraph, had come up with many quick recipes for weekday dinners. But when she had a baby to care for as well as a demanding job, she needed to trade “quick” for “effortless.” And baby or no, we can all do with a few more effortless dishes in our everyday roster. Diana has collected more than 150 recipes and many of her no-cook or almost-no-cook ideas for super-quick starters and desserts, including flavored creams and jazzed-up tubs of good purchased ice cream, in Pure Simple Cooking: Effortless Meals for Every Day (Ten Speed Press, $21.95, 192 pages, ISBN 9781580089487). Chatty and companionable (the Brits are always so good at this), she offers serving suggestions and easily prepared variations for every course: with a shift of a few ingredients in the marinade, honey-glazed Pacific Lime Chicken takes on a Catalan accent; use tapenade instead of pistachios, raisins and Marsala to stuff a boneless leg of lamb and you’ve got two elegant entrées; roasted potatoes take on new life with the infused flavors of garlic and rosemary, balsamic vinegar and mushrooms, or orange juice and marmalade. From chops to fish, pasta, veggies and fruits, you’ll find that the simple can be memorable. o
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April BOOK CLUB
Time Is a River
by Mary Alice Monroe
Monroe writes richly textured stories that intimately portray the complex and emotional relationships we share with families, friends and the natural world.
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The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga This novel as compelling for its subject matter as it is for the voice of its narrator, who is amoral, cynical, unrepentant, yet deeply endearing.
Retail Price: $14 Discount Card: $12.60 Next month's selection: American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld AFRICAN AMERICAN
by Chris Cleave
We can't say much about this novel, other than once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. But please hold back! The magic is in how it unfolds.
Retail Price: $24 Discount Card: $21.60 Next month's selection: Bring on the Blessings by Beverly Jenkins
Wake by Lisa McMann For 17-year-old Janie, getting sucked into other people's dreams is getting old. Then she falls into a gruesome nightmare, one that chills her to the bone.
Retail Price: $8.99 Discount Card: $8.09 Next month's selection: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson
Fireflies in December
by Jennifer Erin Valenti
When her best friend, Gemma, loses her parents in a tragic fire, Jessilyn's father vows to care for her as one of his own, despite the fact that Gemma is black and prejudice is prevalent in their southern Virginia town.
Retail Price: $12.99 Discount Card: $11.69 Next month's selection: Shadows of Lancaster County by Mindy Starns Clark
Looking Forward by Franklin D. Roosevelt This classic outlines the problems facing America during the Great Depression and Roosevelt's plans for the New Deal that resonate sharply with our troubled times
Retail Price: $14 Discount Card: $12.60 Next month's selection: Little Heathens by Mildred Armstrong Kalish
shopBookClub online at booksamillion.com selections for April, or call or (800) 201-3550 in-store at booksamillion.com Please use code: 0458-bookclub
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How we live now Making the most of what we’ve got
By Linda Stankard ith the economy on everyone’s mind, do-it-yourself projects are more popular than ever this spring. Even if you don’t know a C-clamp from a screwdriver, this new lineup offers a bevy of home improvement projects—from fixing faucets to whole-house overhauls—sure to inspire your “can do” spirit. Norma Vally, the vivacious, confident host of Discovery Home Channel’s “Toolbelt Diva,” who demonstrates that femininity and fixing things go together beautifully, has two new books: Norma Vally’s Bathroom FixUps (Wiley, $24.99, 208 pages, ISBN 9780470251560) and Norma Vally’s Kitchen Fix-Ups (ISBN 9780470251577). They come with bonus DVDs for live-action instruction, and are aimed at female DIYers, but Vally’s step-by-step approach and clear, explanatory photos will be welcomed by anyone tackling a fix-up for the first time. Both books address scores of projects “that increase in degree of difficulty—simple to moderate to advanced—with the last part stepping outside how-to and into design.” Even if you aren’t ready to take on installing new cabinets or recessed lighting, think of the savings if you could just unclog your own sink or patch your own drywall! Vally prepares you for each project first, asking you to consider various options. She tells you what to have on hand, what to shut off, what obstacles you might encounter and how to bypass them, and what prep work is necessary before you start. Then she walks you through each step of the project, providing complementing photos or illustrations for extra clarity. Pair with a tool belt for a great DIYer gift!
Do it in tile While Vally’s books show how to install new tile or replace a cracked one, for a fully indulgent treatment of this versatile, durable material, Jen Renzi’s The Art of Tile (Clarkson Potter, $40, 320 pages, ISBN 9780307406910) is a must-have trove of information—and a feast for the eyes—with its catalog of more than 1,500 full-color tile choices. Renzi, a former senior editor at House & Garden and Interior Design, beckons you to “marvel at the breadth of materials at your disposal—from cement and concrete to cork and other eco-friendly options,” and to discover the versatility of a material like metal. On the practical side, Renzi also offers words for the wise, “cautionary tales, and helpful hints for achieving a beautiful installation.” From traditional uses around showers and sinks, to large-scale wall murals, to the concept of designing an entire home around tile, Renzi takes you through all the considerations involved: color, size, pattern, texture, function, and of course, resilience and beauty. She even takes you through the shopping process and codes her catalog so you can find the manufacturer or supplier of each tile shown.
Think small Libby Langdon, from HGTV’s hit show “Small Space, Big Style,”has a book that’s perfect for apartment dwellers or owners of small homes. Libby Langdon’s Small Space Solutions (Knack Books, $24.95, 192 pages, ISBN 9781599214245) offers her suggestions for, in the words of her subtitle, “making any room look elegant and feel spacious on any budget” and includes more than 300 color photos, floor layouts, before and after shots, and Langdon’s design “tricks of the trade.” After an overview chapter on “The Nitty-Gritty of Design,” Langdon devotes a chapter to solving space dilemmas in each room of a house (there’s even one on hallways) where she shows how limited size doesn’t have to mean limited effect. Forget “matchy-matchy,” Langdon says, and instead “use contrast in your space.” A furnished room will appear larger than an empty one, so “keep this in mind when you’re moving into a new space or looking to rent/buy a space,” she advises. And also contrary to what you might think, Langdon explains how a large piece of artwork can make a small room feel bigger. “If your artwork is light, paint the wall dark,” and vice versa, she suggests. The contrast will make the art “pop off the wall” for a striking, eye-catching effect. As this book proves: little things do mean a lot! In keeping with the growing trend toward smaller,
APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
more manageable homes (and payments), Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring Your Home for the Way You Really Live (Taunton, $32, 336 pages, ISBN 9781561588275) by smallhouse expert Sarah Susanka, shows dozens of ways to re-imagine space without changing or enlarging a home’s footprint. In fact, a “build better, not bigger” advocate, Susanka considers even a small addition a last-resort option; every possible idea is considered before even a bump-out is suggested. While economy is important, Susanka also gives high regard to the environment, function and beauty that add to a home’s sustainability and desirability. “Something that is beautiful tends to be well cared for by all its owners over time,” and will simply be “more appealing to all future residents,” she writes. With 350 full-color photos, 40 drawings and tempting sub-headings like “double-duty dining,” “where to put the TV?” and “study at the top of the stairs,” this book will quickly have you sketching out the rooms in your own home to test your creativity and flair for maximizing the space you have.
Take it outside No matter what size home you have, you can stretch your living area by taking advantage of its outdoor space. Backyards: A Sunset Design Guide (Sunset, $22.95, 224 pages, ISBN 9780376013484) by Bridget Biscotti Bradley is a lavish book with 400 sumptuous, inviting photos of outdoor and semi-outdoor backyard and landscaping ideas for relaxed living. Fire pits, courtyards, pools, ponds, patios and more—there’s a wide array of options for moving the fun outdoors—Bradley even offers advice for creating a regulation bocce court. She also demonstrates the importance of light and heat to a space and touches on other backyard topics such as pets, outdoor furniture, sheds and arbors and trellises. This book comes with a 3D Interactive Landscape Design DVD so you can create your own backyard and patio designs, then view them in 3D photographic realism from any angle. Whether you are dreaming of an outdoor spa, a play area for the kids, a quiet garden for contemplation or an intimate dining and entertaining spot, flipping through these pages will encourage you to spring into action on your project so you can start enjoying it this summer. Family and friends you invite over for a swim or a meal will certainly be glad you did! o Linda Stankard is a Realtor in Rockland County, New York.
That Mrs. Meyer really cleans up Once you’ve rejuvenated your living space into a picture-perfect comfort zone, the challenge becomes keeping it that way. Enter Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Home: No Nonsense Advice that Will Inspire You to Clean Like the Dickens (Wellness Central, $19.99, 240 pages, ISBN 9780446544597), full of practical, expert advice on how to keep your lived-in home looking lovely. Millions are already familiar with Mrs. Meyer from the line of Earth-gentle cleaning products developed by her daughter, and this book embodies that naturalistic philosophy. The mother of nine (now-grown) children, Thelma Meyer has distilled more than 50 years of oldfashioned know-how into one highly relevant green guide to eco-friendly house-and-its-environs-keeping. She promotes good-for-you cleaning solutions (baking soda, lemon juice and vinegar) and explains how to get sparkling results without harsh chemicals. Always thrifty, Meyer offers “Waste Not, Want Not” sidebars with money-saving ideas, such as making “Muskoe” (must-go) out of leftovers, installing an inexpensive low-flow shower head, and when it’s time to clean the fish tank, using the outgoing water on your plants—“it’s great for fertilizing.” For jobs large and small, from getting gum out of the carpet to gunk out of the gutters, Myers divulges her dynamo tactics for tackling tasks inside and out. Her easy-to-understand instructions on everything from canning tomatoes to cleaning a computer keyboard promote a lifestyle characterized by efficiency, self-sufficiency and economy. The family anecdotes she shares along the way lend a tender touch, a reminder that all this effort has a purpose higher than passing some white-glove test; it’s to make our dwellings habitable and hospitable, our homes into havens: organized, pleasant places to live, love, learn and grow. o —LINDA STANKARD
This month’s top publisher picks The Price of Sanctuary
More Than Words, Volume 5
Heather Graham, Candace Camp, Stephanie Bond, Brenda Jackson and Tara Taylor Quinn
“Heather Thomas takes us on a thrill ride through the wilds of Hollywood in this stiletto-sharp, wicked, adrenaline-rush of a debut.” —Gigi Levangie Grazer, author of The Starter Wife
Shelby Cervosier once led a life of privilege. Now she finds herself running for her life.
Take inspiration from the real-life heroines honored in this collection of novellas penned by bestselling authors. To nominate a real-life heroine for next year’s book, visit HarlequinMoreThanWords.com.
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Darwin’s Race Brian Ullmann In the remotest place on earth, the most ambitious adventure race ever attempted is about to begin. And something waits.
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Decision and Destiny
Mysterious World: Ireland
Ian Middleton and Douglas Elwell
The second book in the Duvoisin saga: After a tragic death, the family fights amongst themselves in a struggle for power, and for love. Avon
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Visit the mysterious side of Ireland with the next generation of travel guides. Full color, 776 pages, beautiful. Visit http://ireland. mysteriousworld.com, or call 1-800-247-6553.
PB 9780976082736 $29.95
Sleepwalking in Daylight Elizabeth Flock Flock perceptively reveals the inner workings of a modern marriage and the complicated mother-daughter relationship culminating in a crashing climax of turmoil, revelation and, ultimately, salvation. HC 9780778325130 $21.95
PB 9781434376633 $16.99
Anna Louise Lucia
Imagine a world where there are special dogs whose only task in life is to lead their masters back to the path of God’s love. The Guardians is such a story; it tells of two shelties named DJ and Maggie who have the ability to speak, but their unusual talent is a closely guarded secret. Visit www.lovingeyesarewatching.com
Marianne Forster was only spending time with a gorgeous man in the hot sun of Morocco—until she was kidnapped.
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THE SPOKEN WORD New York Times Bestselling Author LisA scottoLine
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“Her best novel.” —James Patterson
Look AgAin A searing and emotional thriller that will make you wonder, “what would I do?”
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“This satisfying novel will immediately draw readers in…and the unexpected twists will keep them hooked through to the bittersweet denouement.” —Publishers Weekly
APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
Two great chroniclers of America Toward the end of 2008 we lost Studs Terkel and, in the first month of 2009, John Updike. In their very different ways, they were both consummate chroniclers of life and society. Updike, one of our great modern writers, wrote fiction, essays, criticism and verse. But it’s his novels and short stories, with their lyric, burnished prose, that capture a half-century of American manners, mores and morality. He was a master of the carefully observed, of the details of our domestic bustle, and he has, as Adam Gopnik so eloquently put it, “set down, for readers still unborn, all the sweetness of our BY SUKEY HOWARD common life.” The 13 stories in The John Updike Audio Collection (Harper, $29.95, 6 hours unabridged, ISBN 9780060577216), all from The Early Stories, 1953-1975, are narrated by Jane Alexander, Edward Herrmann and, luckily for us, by Updike himself. Terkel, an effervescent, cigar-chomping, smokyvoiced Chicago radio personality, became a legendary oral historian who crisscrossed the country, talking with ordinary people about war, work, the Depression and more, weaving a proud patchwork history of America in the 20th century. Coming of Age: Growing up in the Twentieth Century (HighBridge Audio, $18.95, 3 hours abridged, ISBN 9781598878882), looks at the experience of aging and is now available on CD for the first time, with Terkel reading the introduction. It’s a classic, a wonderful example of the Terkel approach: letting people have their say in their own way.
Lucky Luciano This Luciano is no Mafiosi, not even a minor gangster. He’s an orphan, an urchin on the winding calles and canals of 15th-century Venice who’s plucked off the street to become an apprentice to the renowned chef of the doge, the titular head of the Most Serene Republic of Venice. Luciano is subject to a very Venetian lust to know everything, an insatiable curiosity that leads him into life-threatening peril and into realms of knowledge he’d never even dreamt of. He tells all in The Book of Unholy Mischief (Simon & Schuster Audio, $39.99, 12 hours unabridged, ISBN 9780743578042), Elle Newmark’s evocative, spirited tale of Renaissance intrigue, replete with vile, power-hungry politicians, avaricious fools and an unusual man dedicated to preserving and passing on uncensored knowledge. That man, the chef, Luciano’s mentor and maestro, is far more than a master of savory sauces, and his cookbook is far more than a repository of recipes. I can’t say more, but the truth will out as you listen to Raúl Esparza, whose fine performance and vigorous pacing adds much to the entertainment.
Sukey’s favorite Richard North Patterson is a master of legal pyrotechnics, of making arcane arguments into pulse-pounding suspense. Eclipse (Macmillan Audio, $39.95, 14 hours unabridged, ISBN 9781427206091), his latest, wonderfully performed by Peter Francis James with perfectly rendered accents galore, is not only a showcase for his intimate knowledge of lawyerly matters and thriller-diller plotting, but a convincing plea for us to find an alternative to our oil-guzzling way of life. Based loosely on the life and death of a courageous, nonviolent Nigerian human rights and environmental activist who was hanged in 1994, protagonist Bobby Otari is a gifted, internationally known novelist from the oilrich delta of Luanda (read Nigeria), who goes back to salvage his horrendously polluted land and its people held hostage by a brutal, tyrannical kleptocracy, supported by our fuel-frenzied government. There’s a backstory—a brilliant San Francisco lawyer with an overarching need to prosecute human rights violators, the woman he falls in love with who has committed herself to Otari and his cause, and her plea for help years later when Bobby is arrested. It’s a wild ride through vile human behavior, abject greed and disdain for justice that carries a profound message from the heart of darkness. o
Sex, lies and email Jane Hamilton takes a racy new course in ‘Masterpiece’
By Katherine Wyrick ans of Jane Hamilton, and there are many, know her for her provocative, heartbreaking dramas and her unique Midwestern sensibility. In novels like The Book of Ruth and Map of the World (both selections of Oprah’s Book Club), Hamilton plumbed the depths of the human psyche, creating haunting portraits of families in crisis. Were she not such a daring writer, her readers might be surprised by her latest work, a comedy of (bad) manners, entitled Laura Rider’s Masterpiece.
sode.” Fortunately, Laura Rider was at the end of it. When she wrote Laura Rider, Hamilton says that she was also taking care of her mother in assisted living, and “was in dire need of amusement. . . . It was a life saver.” The timing couldn’t be better considering that, collectively, we could all use a bit of amusement, and this novel delivers it. But the original inspiration for this book, aside for the need for some levity, was a Caribbean cruise where Hamilton taught a writing workshop. She’d never before been on a cruise and was, well, surprised—and aghast. “There were lovely people and interesting students, but I was freshly incredulous with this crowd; many of them seemed never to have read a book, or to be aware that there was a print culture, and yet were so earnest in their wish to be published and to write.” “I just got home and thought, what would that feel like, to want to do this thing that you actually have no preparation to do and you don’t know that you don’t have the preparation to do it.” Thus, the birth of Laura Rider, who fancies herself an emerging writer in an age where everyone thinks they’re artists. There’s a certain presumptuousness or over-confidence in that, proclaiming one’s self A frisky romp of a book, Laura Rider marks a definite departure a writer, which rankles Hamilton. Though the book is all in good fun, for this author. That’s not to say that her other books lack humorit does raise some interesting questions, namely what does it mean jane hamilton ous moments, but this one is a walk on the light side. to be an artist? Hamilton, citing a recent New York Times article, says, On a recent call to her Wisconsin home, where she lives in an “There are more people writing novels than reading them.” As Jenna 1870s farmhouse on an apple orchard with her husband, Hamilton laughs, “This one has says in the novel, quoting George Bernard Shaw, “Hell is filled with amateur musicians.” a more streamlined plot—it has a plot. I don’t think my other books have plots . . . so that In Laura’s defense, however, Hamilton does believe that we all have stories to tell. was a fun thing for me.” And of course, Hamilton tells hers exceedingly well. She has succeed in writing a bitThat plot goes something like this: Laura and Charlie Rider have been married for 12 ing—or perhaps in this case, ear-nibbling—satire that is a rollicking read. It is at once years. Together they operate Prairie Wind Farm, a nursery they built in picturesque Wis- acerbic and forgiving, though she admits, “This book feels a little snarky to me, but what consin. Although Charlie’s ardent libido and bedroom acrobatics have driven Laura to are you going to do?” She adds, “I wish I could write it all over again.” We wish we could swear off sex forever, they are happy enough—until Jenna Faroli, host of a popular radio read it all over again, too. o show and Laura’s idol, moves to the small town. Jenna and Charlie’s paths cross, and an Katherine Wyrick writes from Little Rock. email correspondence, and later an affair, ensues. All the while Laura not only encourages and monitors their intimate email dialogue but participates in it as she conducts “research” for the romance novel she hopes to write. Things quickly spiral out of control as bonds are formed and boundaries crossed. Much of the humor in the book lies in the flowery language of Jenna and Charlie’s (and Laura’s) courtship. In an email with the subject line “Dream come true?” Charlie writes, “Because I often imagine you walking along the grape arbor, I cannot be sure if it was you, or if I was tricking myself. Either way, vision or reality your presence is a joy to me.” How this almost childlike, unsophisticated man ends up wooing an intellectual giant like Jenna is part of the fun. As far as her own research goes when creating the character Jenna, Hamilton says, “I’ve been on a lot of radio shows through the years and in a lot of studios.” Jenna might resemble a cross between Terry Gross and Diane Rehm, but, Hamilton assures us the character isn’t based on anyone in particular. On the delicate task of writing about sex, and there’s plenty of it in this novel, Hamilton says, “Sex scenes are always hard. They have to reveal character; they can’t be over the top. An ideal love scene should be discreet yet revealing.” She manages to strike this balance with scenes that are alternately amusing and poignant. A harmonic convergence of sorts happened to bring Laura Rider into being. “More than anything that I’ve ever written, it truly wrote itself. I felt like I wrote it in 37-1/2 seconds,” she says. When we ask why she thinks that is, Hamilton responds, “It was a gift from . . . whatever.” Could it be from the Silver People, we wonder (the alien life forms that Charlie believes abducted him as a child; Charlie might have a certain charm, but he’s an odd one). Well, from somewhere beyond. Also, during the period between 2000 and 2004, Hamilton worked on a book she ended up having to abandon. “Maybe [Laura Rider] was just cosmic reparation for that harrowing experience,” she says. “2001 happened in there, and it just seemed like a frivolous thing to be writing a drawing room drama, a family drama, about people concerned about their own little worries.” Many writers and artists have, of course, struggled with this very issue, and responded in varying ways. Hamilton goes on, “I guess the embarrassing thing for me was that [the novel] was going to be dead on arrival.” She Laura Rider’s Masterpiece briefly entertained changing careers but By Jane Hamilton “decided I would Grand Central make it the best fail$22.99, 224 pages ure I could. . . . It was ISBN 9780446538954 a long, dreary epiAlso available on audio
“Sex scenes are always hard.
They have to reveal character; they can’t be over the top.”
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Journalist’s decade-long probe of the Columbine shootings BY EDWARD MORRIS The massacre at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999, followed the usual media trajectory: first a flurry of fact-starved news bulletins; then a procession of eye-witness interviews, crime-scene photos and somber analyses; and, finally, the crystallization of the tragedy into a few memorable mythic figures and events. To the degree that people remember Columbine at all, they are likely to recall
that the two students who did the killings in that Colorado community—Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold—were “outsiders” given to wearing black trench coats and intent on avenging themselves against those who had bullied them, particularly the school jocks. And they both suffered from bad parenting. None of this is true. Both boys were intelligent, industrious, socially involved, generally well liked and more apt to bully than be
bullied. They came from prosperous but not opulent two-parent homes, and their parents were attentive and supportive without being overly indulgent. The boys wore dusters, not trench coats, on the last day of their lives—not for dramatic effect but to conceal their weapons. Within a span of 49 minutes, the young assassins slaughtered 15 people, including themselves. It wasn’t an act committed in rage: they had planned the assault for months. Nor were there specific targets in mind. If Harris had had his way, he would have obliterated everyone in the school (and the world); Klebold simply wanted to die. Dave Cullen—whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon and other publications—began his coverage of the massacre the day it occurred. He’s stayed with the story ever since, fleshing out the actions and motives of the central characters, observing the effects the carnage had on the community, chronicling the ongoing failures of law enforcement and pinpointing flaws of the media. His writing has the immediacy and starkness of a documentary. Cullen was aided mightily in his research by the abundant detritus of hate Harris and Klebold left behind to make sure the world appreciated the depth of their discontent. They spoke from the grave through journals and videotapes that did not become available to the public until long after the furor had subsided. In addition, there are more than 30,000 pages of evidence compiled by the police. The one mystery Cullen fails to solve in Columbine—and he acknowledges as much—is why Harris and Klebold acted as they did. What was the source of Harris’ rage and Klebold’s despair? Cullen is convinced that Harris was a classic psychopath. But that only labels, it doesn’t explain. Cullen does demonstrate, however, that there were ample signs of Harris’ escalating malevolence that the police never acted on. For reasons both emotional and legal, neither set of parents has been open with the press, and the testimony they were finally persuaded to give in 2003 in private has been sealed by a judge until 2027. As full and as fascinating as it is, Columbine is a deeply unsettling book because it confirms our worst fear: that evil can arise without apparent cause and strike without provocation. o Edward Morris reviews from Nashville.
Columbine By Dave Cullen Twelve $26.99, 432 pages ISBN 9780446546935
Read thousands of reviews online at www.bookpage.com 28
APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
Reflections on the sacred mark the Easter season
By Howard Shirley he coming of spring has always been a sacred time, in the Christian faith as much as any other. For with spring comes Easter, the most sacred remembrance of Christianity, a time for reflection and renewal. This season, four new books arrive to explore these ideas and celebrate the savior who is their source. About a decade ago, Catholic priest Joseph F. Girzone pursued a radical idea: what if Jesus appeared in a small town in modern-day America? What would he do? What would he teach? The idea became the novel Joshua, which led to a book series and a feature film starring F. Murray Abraham. In his latest work, The Wisdom of His Compassion: Meditations on the Words and Actions of Jesus (Doubleday, $21.95, 224 pages, ISBN 9780385522434), Girzone turns to his original inspiration—the life of Jesus as told in the Gospels. Taking short passages from each Gospel, Girzone examines the words and actions of Jesus, finding inspiration, as well as observations and even social commentary that is still relevant today. The author challenges Christians to mimic the heart of Jesus, not only in words and prayers, but in daily life. Written in short, simple passages, The Wisdom of His Compassion makes a thought-provoking devotional book and spiritual guide. As economic turmoil brews uncertainty and fear, Girzone’s call to show love and compassion is a welcome reminder of what Jesus displayed—that life is meant to be lived with concern for others, not worry about ourselves.
Finding cultural context That lesson, of course, is at the heart of the Sermon on the Mount, given by Jesus on the shores of the Sea of Galilee nearly 2,000 years ago. What did his message mean to those who heard the wandering rabbi in the Judean countryside around 30 A.D.? What can we learn today about Jesus’ life and teachings through the culture in which he lived? Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith (Zondervan, $21.99, 256 pages, ISBN 9780310284222) explores the Jewish Jesus, placing his life, words and deeds in the context of Jewish culture as it was practiced during the time of his ministry. Ann Spangler, a best-selling Christian author, and Lois Tverberg, a former scientific researcher, join forces to examine everything from archeological discoveries to the origins of Jewish beliefs and traditions. Their efforts bring fresh insight into the beginnings of Christianity, in some cases exposing modern misunderstandings derived from cultural practices that came centuries later. Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus not only helps the reader understand Jesus’ culture, but also the deeper meanings within his teaching. Throughout, the authors encourage Christians to contemplate Jesus’ Jewish traditions within a modern faith, challenging believers to consider everything from how they pray to how they practice the concept of Sabbath. Engaging, powerful and thought-provoking, Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus calls the reader to discover Christ again, as if to see his life and hear his words for the first time—and from that discovery to renew one’s faith. Examining Jesus’ life means little if it does not bring us to examine our own. This is the message of Relearning Jesus: How Reading the Beatitudes One More Time
Enduring a crisis of faith Few things test faith more than war. War cuts through rituals, platitudes and traditions; what is left behind is naked and elemental. Surrounded by death and pain, the soldier inevitably asks: where is God? It is never an easy question. But it is hardest of all when the questioner himself is supposed to hold the answer. This was the fate of Roger Benimoff, a U.S. Army chaplain who served two tours in Iraq during the bloodiest days of the war and returned to find he was as wounded as the soldiers he counseled. Drawn from his journals, Faith Under Fire (Crown, $23.95, 288 pages, ISBN 9780307408815) is a riveting account of Benimoff’s experience in war, his return home and the crisis of faith that overwhelmed him. As a chaplain, he could not carry weapons, yet he was under threat from IEDs and sniper-fire. He counseled soldiers for grief, divorce, separation from families, or simply the thin edge of stress that a war zone brings. Soon Benimoff was stretched against his own thin edge— an edge that would cut into his family, his work and his faith. Journal entries from Roger and his wife Rebekah lend immediacy to the narrative, helping the reader share their feelings as Roger’s struggle strained their lives and marriage. Powerful and compelling, Faith Under Fire pulls the reader into Benimoff’s soul. His struggle leads the reader to ask questions as deep as the chaplain’s—and together find, if not an answer, the greater gift of grace. o —HOWARD SHIRLEY
Changed My Life (David C. Cook, $14.99, 244 pages, ISBN 9781434767943) by Matthew Paul Turner. Raised in a legalistic church (an experience he described in Churched: One Kid’s Journey Toward God Despite a Holy Mess), Turner discovered the gracious side of Christianity as a young man—an awakening that he is still pursuing. Relearning Jesus is the story of that pursuit, told as the author considers the meaning of faith, grace, mercy, forgiveness and love. Through personal encounters, confessions and experiences of God’s grace, Turner shares his growing understanding of who Christ is and who he calls his followers to be. As Turner recalls everything from his “witnessing” disasters to teenagers who harangue him about sex, he weaves between humor and soul-searching, creating a book that is both enjoyable and challenging.
A world of good Though Easter may be a holy time, holiness and reflection can be found anywhere—this is the theme of An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (HarperOne, $24.99, 240 pages, ISBN 9780061370465) by Barbara Brown Taylor. Beautiful and wise, An Altar in the World encourages the reader to see the holiness of the everyday—to find God in the act of living. In gentle, moving prose, the author unveils the sacred possibilities in actions as simple as cleaning the baseboards or as complicated as getting purposefully lost. Life is meant to be lived, and in the living of it we are to notice the presence of love, compassion, enjoyment, fulfillment, purpose and ultimately God. Taylor’s explorations are both mystical and down-to-earth, observing the power of blessings and the inexplicable wonder of digging up a sweet potato. Her stories are the ones we all experience—stories of life, illness, friendships, longings—but in which we sometimes journey too stunned or too fast to notice the presence of the Divine. “Stop and savor life,” is Taylor’s simple message—and An Altar in the World will make you want to. o Howard Shirley is a writer in Franklin, Tennessee.
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APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
No exit from Rust Belt By Carla Jean Whitley Buell, Pennsylvania, is a dying town. Though it was once home to a thriving steel industry, the mills have closed, the workers have been laid off and the remaining residents are just trying to get by. Or get out, in the case of Isaac English and Billy Poe. The young men missed their chance to leave after high school. Isaac, the smartest boy in town, was expected to follow his sister Lee’s footsteps to a prestigious college. He instead remained in Buell, caring for his disabled father. Poe is left languishing, jobless, after turning down offers to play college football. They seem unlikely friends—the brain and the jock—but in high school the boys were both the best at what they did. When Isaac decides he can’t take any more, he takes his father’s money and his friend on his way out of town. But an unintentional murder stops the boys and becomes the impetus for all that follows. In American Rust, debut novelist Philipp Meyer employs the voices of the boys and four others as narrators to reveal the ensuing action. It’s a tactic that has been used by novelists many times before, but it is amazingly effective here. Meyer captures personalities with each depiction; instead of merely stating that Isaac was the smartest American Rust kid in his grade, Meyer reveals Isaac’s intelligence in the By Philipp Meyer distinction between his words and Poe’s. Poe’s rambling, Spiegel & Grau run-on sentences capture the energy with which he must $24.95, 368 pages have played high school football. When the reality of the ISBN 9780385527514 murder sets in, Isaac’s narration becomes less coherent, dissolving into a frantic internal monologue. As the story unfolds, layers are revealed. These are unraveling lives in a town that’s long since unraveled as steel mills closed and industry left the valley. Meyer’s tale reminds us there’s so much more below the surface of what we see—more to the smart kid, the jock, the parents who raised them, the good cop and the little steel town. o Carla Jean Whitley writes from Birmingham, Alabama, a steel town that has adapted to include new industries.
Letting the right ones in By Amy Scribner Portia Nathan has been a college admissions officer for more than a decade. And not at just any school—she works behind the gilded gates of Princeton University. The life she’s made is comfortably predictable, down to which New England prep schools she visits to recruit the next freshman class. There are no surprises, which is just how Portia likes it. But there’s nothing predictable about what happens when her longtime boyfriend—a professor of English— leaves Portia for another woman. Suddenly, her intricately planned existence is gone, and during the busy “reading season” when thousands of applications pour into the nation’s colleges and universities, Portia is forced to confront the reason she lives solely to avoid the past. A one-time admissions officer at Princeton, author Jean Hanff Korelitz shows her first-hand experience in the details of this superb, beautifully moody novel. The kids so desperate to gain admission into the Ivy League don’t just send an application—they send home-baked goodies, first drafts of novels, recordings of their own musical compositions. At this moment in their young lives, nothing matters more than being accepted by a handful of elite schools. Admission Portia’s job is to convince the best and brightest students By Jean Hanff Korelitz in the nation to apply to Princeton, and then to turn down Grand Central thousands of hopefuls. And it’s a job she takes seriously. $24.99, 449 pages Where others might just see a stack of applications to wade ISBN 9780446540704 through, Portia sees a duty: “She stood for a long moment, merely looking . . . she was entirely alone, except for the kids in their thick and suppliant folders. She felt a kind of duty to them, but not only a duty. She truly preferred to be with them, these fleshless people, their best selves neatly in black and white on the two-dimensional paper and primly contained within each orange file.” By the time the newest Princeton freshman class has been selected, many thousands of orange files later, Portia makes a choice that will affect many people. Saying more would ruin the rich surprises this book holds, but Portia herself hints at it: “Admission. It’s what we let in, but it’s also what we let out.” o Amy Scribner writes from Olympia, Washington.
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ROMANCE Cowboys, SEALs and scandal April brings a deluge of romance in every variety, perfect for growing a garden of exciting and entertaining reading experiences. Linda Lael Miller wraps up the saga of three sexy brothers in Montana Creeds: Tyler (HQN, $7.99, 384 pages, ISBN 9780373773640). World-champion bronc rider Tyler Creed returns to Stillwater Springs, Montana, to figure out the man he might have been if he’d stayed in contact with his half-brothers, Logan and Dylan. They have their abusive father in common, but the memories of that man make it hard to go home. Looking for a distraction, Tyler is happy to discover that a past sweetheart, Lily Kenyon, has returned to Stillwater Springs to care for her ill father. Sparks fly when Tyler and Lily meet BY christie ridgway again, and they quickly find themselves in lust . . . and love. But the past needs to be faced and old mistakes must be forgiven before Tyler can commit to a life that includes family and before Lily can trust the man who once broke her heart. This is a sexy contemporary, cowboystyle, with a heartwarming reconciliation between three big men who find they need their brothers as much as their women.
Devilish fun In Every Demon Has His Day (Downtown Press, $15, 352 pages, ISBN 9781416550525) by Cara Lockwood, heroine Constance Plyd has a problem: her almost-ex is dead in her garage on the very day he was to sign divorce papers. Though innocent, Constance is the obvious murder suspect, but she has an even bigger challenge. She’s been anointed as the “Chosen One,” the human who can identify who the Devil should, um, do in order to conceive the antichrist. Demons (including one with a penchant for self-help books) track Constance’s every move, even as she gathers her own special force of helpers. There is the ghost of her former husband, Dead Jimmy; an English-speaking French bulldog and almost angel, Fred; her tarot-card reading mother; and the irresistible but incredulous local sheriff, Nathan Garrett. Constance has something of a history with the lawman, which doesn’t make it easier for her to convince him that otherworldly powers are at work. Fast-paced and peopled with weird but hilarious characters, Lockwood’s novel is full of fiendish laughs.
Military man Readers who look for heroes in the armed forces have SEALed with a Promise (Sourcebooks, $6.99, 384 pages, ISBN 9781402217630) by Mary Margret Daughtridge to enjoy this month. Navy SEAL Caleb “Do-Lord” Delaude is a member of his best friend’s wedding party. Raised poor and without a father, the highly intelligent Do-Lord has prepared himself for the fancy nuptials by studying a selection of etiquette books. Nothing, however, has prepared him for the maid of honor, academic Emmie Caddington. Her quiet ways and mousy looks somehow appeal to him and when he finds that she has connections to one Sen. Teague Calhoun, Do-Lord comes up with a plan. He’ll get close to Emmie and get close to the senator—the man he has sworn to kill. Emmie’s confused yet thrilled by Do-Lord’s attentions, and she uses that excitement to come out of her shell and fall for the sexy SEAL. But will his revenge plan get in the way of their growing feelings?
Notorious bargain Two of Regency London’s most famous bachelors make a scandalous bet in An Indecent Proposition (Signet, $6.99, 336 pages, ISBN 9780451227089) by Emma Wildes. They place a public wager on which is the most skilled lover, though it’s their eyebrows that rise when a woman offers to separately bed them both. Nicholas Manning, the Duke of Rothay, and Derek Drake, the Earl of Manderville, are shocked that respectable young widow Lady Caroline Wynn is inviting the salacious escapades. But after an abusive marriage, Caroline’s desperate to understand the pleasures denied her. So the duke whisks her away to teach her how a skilled man seduces a beautiful woman. After a week, they return to London, but neither can forget the other—and it looks as if the earl won’t get his chance in bed with Caroline, who now knows love, too. Sexually detailed, yet sweet as well as sensual, this is a story of awakenings—that of a woman’s body and also of two reluctant hearts. o Christie Ridgway writes contemporary romance from her home in Southern California.
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National Poetry Month: a sampling to celebrate By Diann Blakely ome of the finest titles to enjoy during National Poetry Month aren’t, strictly speaking, collections of verse. Instead, they’re biographical studies, letters and/or interviews with poets: Stanley Plumly’s Posthumous Keats, which swoops back and forth temporally like one of the poet’s odes; Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop’s correspondence, Words in Air, the loving story of poetic friendship that lasted 30 years; Letters of Ted Hughes, hailed as the best since those of the aforementioned Keats; and Stepping Stones, a hefty new collection of interviews with Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney by Dennis O’Driscoll.
Irish eyes Heaney is one of a long line of poets to graduate from—and teach at—Queens University in Belfast, and he might be called the grandfather of The New North (Wake Forest, $19.95, 301 pages, ISBN 9781930630352), an impressive anthology edited by Chris Agee and recently published by the premier house for Irish poetry in this country, Wake Forest University Press. The collection intersplices, with the work of younger poets, several “seniors,” from Heaney to his students Paul Muldoon and Medbh McGuckian, as well as Ciaran Carson, whose signature twining, long-lined narratives are continued in his collection For All We Know. Perhaps the most interesting and best known of the newer names
here is Nick Laird, the last poet in The New North and the author of this year’s On Purpose. Laird typifies these younger Northern Irish poets in that his work is less concerned with the “Troubles” that haunted the two previous generations; their poems, as Agee notes in his introduction, “are much more likely to be interested in new technology, ecology, Eastern Europe, or bilingualism.” Gaelic, anyone? J.D. McClatchy, the longtime editor of the Yale Review and the recently appointed president of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, has just brought out Mercury Dressing (Knopf, $25, 112 pages, ISBN 9780307270658). Quintessential McClatchy, the poems balance mandarin wit with enormous learning, a fully 21st-century sensibility and a deft use of the demotic: “At the second intermission of Manon / We were bored and on a third vodka. . . .”
Updike’s farewell There are comparisons to be drawn between McClatchy’s poems and those of the late John Updike, though the latter had a sometimes derided lighter touch. Endpoint and Other Poems (Knopf, $25, 112 pages, ISBN 9780307272867), assembled in the weeks immediately before his death, consists of the last eight years of Updike’s verse. In “Requiem,” one of the book’s last and darkest works, Updike laments that his age dictates that he will not
The pleasures of poetry— out loud Among our Poets Laureate, who has done—and continues to do—more to bring poetry to people, and people to poetry, than Robert Pinsky? Author of eight collections of verse himself, translator of the Inferno (a national bestseller), essayist, editor and critic, not only of poetry but of America itself, Pinsky has assembled a new anthology of poems to read aloud, Essential Pleasures (Norton, $29.95, 528 pages, ISBN 9780393066081). Accompanied by a CD on which Pinsky reads a brief selection, including Keats and the single heartbreaking poem left behind by Chidiock Tichbourne, this book brings home the message behind much that he has written earlier, including The Sounds of Poetry: what’s on the page is primarily an aural and oral art, fully enjoyed when we’re willing to use our ears as well as our eyes. Pinsky divides the book into seven modes of poems, preceding each selection with a succinct and helpful essay on what’s to come. Starting with “Short Lines, Frequent Rhymes,” he moves to “Ballads, Repetitions, Refrains,” where the reader will find one of the earliest and most beloved poems in the language, the anonymously written “Western Wind.” There’s a section of love poems, of course, and the book ends with “Parodies, Ripostes, Jokes, and Insults,” including C.D. Wright’s “Personals,” which opens, “Some nights I sleep with my dress on. My teeth / are small and even . . . Since 1971 or before, I have hunted a bench / where I could eat my pimento cheese in peace.” Essential Pleasures is a delight to keep at any bedside, on any desk or in any lunchbox. o —DIANN BLAKELY
The horrors after the war By Sarah E. White Britt Johnson, a newly freed slave at the end of the Civil War, moves with his family to the wild country of Texas, where he finds more dangers than the racism and violence of the Kentucky he left behind in Paulette Jiles’ gripping novel The Color of Lightning. The story hangs on what little is known of the real Johnson’s life, making the book feel as much a history as it is a novel. When his wife and children are abducted during an Indian raid, Johnson decides he must retrieve them, and in that action he becomes a player in the much larger story of the relations between white Americans and “America’s great other,” the Native Americans who want to keep the land they have always known as the government tries to corral them on reservations. A poet and author of two previous novels, including Enemy Women,
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The Color of Lightning By Paulette Jiles Morrow $25.99, 368 pages ISBN 9780061690440
die a prodigy; indeed, indifference or bewilderment that he hadn’t already died is more likely to greet his passing. Endpoint’s last three poems, however, strike a brighter note, in particular the final work, which celebrates his wife’s new vision after a cataract operation on her birthday, offering “A cake of love from your own / John.” Rita Dove, former poet laureate and longtime professor at the University of Virginia, mastered the formal narrative with her third verse collection, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Thomas and Beulah. She continues in that vein in Sonata Mulattica (Norton, $24.95, 240 pages, ISBN 9780393070088), the tragic, factbased story of a virtuosic violinist. Son of a white woman and “an African prince,” George Polgreen Bridgetower is possessed of fingers “agile as the monkeys from his father’s land” as they play the strings of his instrument. He travels to meet the young genius Beethoven, whose plans to dedicate a sonata to Bridgetower are incinerated by—guess what?— trouble over a woman.
Small wonders Many of the year’s best collections have been published by small publishing houses, which, along with university presses, comprise the backbone of poetry publication. For example, Graywolf’s Elizabeth Alexander wrote and read the inaugural poem, and Coffee House Press author Patricia Smith’s Blood Dazzler ($16, 90 pages, ISBN 9781566892186), a Category-5 sequence about Katrina, was a National Book Award nominee. Overlook has just issued a collection not-really-for children (unless their parents are willing to pay for years of therapy), Shut Up, You’re Fine ($14.95, 144 pages, ISBN 9781590201039), by Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-nominated author Andrew Hudgins with illustrations by the acclaimed Barry Moser; and BOA Editions recently issued one of the year’s most interesting books, The Heaven-Sent Leaf ($16, 72 pages, ISBN 9781934414156), a collection of parable-like poems about that seemingly most unpoetic of subjects, money, by former hedge-funder Katy Lederer. Finally, Copper Canyon’s 2008 list included C.D. Wright’s Rising Falling Hovering ($22, 100 pages, ISBN 9781556592737), whose singular mix of Ozarkiana, the avant-garde and social consciousness has made her one of today’s most interesting and admired poets. o Diann Blakely’s most recent poetry collection is Cities of Flesh and the Dead (Elixir Press).
Jiles is an adept and thoughtful storyteller who makes all of her characters sympathetic, allowing readers to see that there are no good answers to this historical conundrum. Her novel explores the feelings of settlers whose family members have been kidnapped; the Indians who took them; the captives themselves, some of whom have been with the Indians so long they starve themselves to death when returned to their original families; and the agents sent to deal with the Indian problem. Samuel Hammond, a Quaker Indian agent sent to oversee some of the most violent tribes on the southern Texas plains, beautifully illustrates the dilemma of religious Easterners charged with dealing with the tribes in a nonviolent way. The Color of Lightning offers no easy answers or safe conclusions about this dark era of American history. It shows that people act in their own self-interest, always doing what is best from their point of view. This engaging story ably illustrates the consequences of trying to shift other people, en masse, to a different point of view, while telling the smaller story of a family trying to recover from the horror of an Indian raid. o Sarah E. White writes from Arkansas.
Epic first novel captures the spirit of Generation X events of that day. Instead, we see her characters sit slack-jawed in front of the TV like so many of us did. As time passes, they go back to their desks, walk their children to the park—but these normal, everyday actions are infused with the notion that everything has changed. That Rakoff covers so much ground is at once the book’s blessing and its curse. At times the sheer number of characters and
Just Take My Heart By Mary Higgins Clark S&S, $25.95, ISBN 9781416570868
Gregg Aldrich is accused of killing his soon-to-be ex-wife—but the prosecutor doesn’t buy it.
Fatally Flaky By Diane Mott Davidson
Signet, $7.99, 9780451226693
Jove, $9.99, 9780515146059
Onyx, $7.99, 9780451412706
BESTSELLER WATCH Release dates for some of the guaranteed blockbusters hitting shelves in April:
their hangers-on can become overwhelming and, despite the length of the novel, the ending of the book seems to come quite abruptly. But these flaws are forgiven in favor of recognizing Rakoff’s successful portrayal of a generation coming of age in a period when the explosion of the Internet fundamentally changed the way we live and war changed the way we see ourselves in the world. o Kim Schmidt writes from Champaign, Illinois.
Ace, $7.99, 9780441017010
By Kim Schmidt The television show “Seinfeld” was famous for being a “show about nothing.” Joanna Smith Rakoff’s debut novel, on the other hand, is a book about everything. A Fortunate Age (Scribner, $26, 416 pages, ISBN 9781416590774) covers the gamut of life experience as her characters deal with everything from careers, children and marriage to mental illness and death. This epic novel follows six friends, each a freshly minted Oberlin graduate, starting adult lives in New York City: Sadie, who is rising through the ranks at her publishing house; Emily, a struggling actor who can’t afford to quit her day job; Tal, also an actor, but one who is successfully breaking into the movies; Dave, who is poised to trade one kind of musical success for another; Beth, an academic floating from one university to another as an adjunct; and Lil, a poetry scholar whose wedding opens the book. Put together, this mélange of stories is part of something larger. A Fortunate Age is about a generation finding its way at a certain time in a certain place—New York City in the years just before and after 9/11—and Rakoff has brilliantly captured the mood of the era and the energy of a city. Members of Generation X will enjoy picking out her many pop culture references. When the Twin Towers are attacked, Rakoff forgoes a dramatic recounting of the
From Dead to Worse The Sookie Stackhouse novels are the basis for the HBO® original series True Blood. After Hurricane Katrina and the explosion at the vampire summit, Sookie is safe, but her boyfriend is missing. In From Dead to Worse, Sookie faces danger, death, and once more, betrayal by someone she loves.
Curse the Dawn Cassie Palmer may be the world’s chief clairvoyant, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped trying to kill her. And now, the self-styled god Apollo, the source of Cassie’s power, is on the warpath—leaving her no choice but to face down her creator once and for all.
The Genius A tenant disappears in a New York slum, leaving behind strange, brilliant, original artwork. Ethan Muller displays the art in his gallery. But as it turns out, the subjects of the pictures look exactly like the victims in a murder case. Is the missing genius a link to a madman or the madman himself?
Guilty Kate White is a successful prosecutor in the Philadelphia DA’s office. She’s used to challenges, but none so terrifying as Mario Castellanos, the violent career criminal she’s been hired to convict. But Kate and Mario have already met— during one of the darkest periods of her past, and Mario knows her secret.
Bantam, $25, ISBN 9780553805130
This moving novel explores the bond among three sets of sisters.
Loitering with Intent By Stuart Woods Putnam, $25.95 ISBN 9780399155789
Stone Barrington heads to Key West for seafood, women and, oh yeah, a case in a new mystery.
The 8th Confession By James Patterson Little, Brown, $27.99 ISBN 9780316018760
San Fran’s wealthiest citizens are being stalked by a ruthless killer.
Jove, $7.99, 9780515146363
The Geometry of Sisters By Luanne Rice
Jove, $9.99, 9780515146035
Berkley, $7.99, 9780425226940
What’s worse, a bridezilla or a murderer? Goldy Schulz faces both in her latest adventure.
Berkley, $9.99, 9780425226957
Morrow, $25.99, ISBN 9780061348136
ROMANTIC SUSPENSE MYSTERY
Rewriting Monday Reporter Pepper Malone moved to Bailee, Texas, after a news story nearly got her killed. But when the newspaper’s staff is targeted by a madman with a grudge against the media, Pepper is drawn back into the public eye and into the arms of the paper’s handsome owner.
The Third Circle Leona Hewitt, a gifted crystal worker, isn’t the only one sneaking into Lord Delbridge’s private museum to recover a relic. Thaddeus Ware, a mesmerist with psychic gifts, is on a similar mission. When Thaddeus succumbs to Leona’s charms, both of their lives are threatened.
Tribute Nora Roberts, the #1 New York Times bestselling author, presents her latest blockbuster novel, the story of a bigscreen legend, a small-town scandal, and a young woman caught up in the secrets and shadows of both.“A captivating story with engaging characters . . . A must-read.” —Chicago Tribune
Winter Study Soon after Anna Pigeon joins the famed wolf study team of Isle Royale National Park, giant wolf prints are found. When a member of the team is savaged, Anna is convinced they are being stalked, and what was once an idyllic refuge becomes a place of unnatural occurrences and danger. APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
In search of a child whisperer By Angela Leeper Delayed language, tantrums, arm flapping, hyperactivity, incontinence—Rupert Isaacson’s son, Rowan, possessed all the signs associated with autism. Rather than helping, behavioral therapies, diet changes and special classrooms seemed to bring out the worst of the boy’s behaviors. Only when they were riding their neighbor’s mare, Betsy, across a Texas range did Rowan exhibit lucidity and calmness and his father feel some reprieve from his incessant grief and fatigue. Isaacson’s astonishing memoir, The Horse Boy, reveals how, inspired by these rare moments in the saddle, he began a quest through Mongolia to heal his five-year-old son. A travel writer, accomplished horse rider, and activist for the Bushmen of the Kalahari, Isaacson (The Healing Land) had witnessed the shamans’ indescribable healings and had even borrowed Rowan’s middle name, Besa, from a Bushman healer and good friend. He set his sights first on the shamans of the horse people of Mongolia and then on finding Ghoste, the most powerful shaman of the nomadic reindeer herders in Siberia. With intensity and candor, Issacson describes their travels by horseback, shamanistic rituals, Rowan’s small leaps forward and continuing setbacks, his own fears and wor- The Horse Boy ries after dragging his family across the world, and the miraculous transformations that eventually changed Rowan By Rupert Isaacson and brought peace to the family. There’s a reason extreme Little, Brown 368 pages locales are referred to as Outer Mongolia; the author weaves $24.99, ISBN 9780316008235 the flavor of this remote region into his story, from exotic Also available on audio foods that required him to overcome his gag reflex, to river crossings that put both horse and rider in danger. Isaacson’s journey to heal his son is just that, a healing, not a cure. But he wouldn’t want it any other way. While the author’s purpose was to draw Rowan out of his autism, he came to realize the overlooked gifts it entails. The Horse Boy will leave readers with a new appreciation for autism and the healing techniques of other cultures; like Rowan, they, too, will be changed forever. o Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
Disaster on the Mississippi River By Martin Brady The sinking of the steamboat Sultana in late April 1865 is an episode whose horrific importance has eluded wider coverage in Civil War history. The grotesquely overloaded ship—filled with businessmen, families, idle travelers and, most critically, nearly 2,000 Union troops recently discharged from Confederate prison camps—went down into the cold Mississippi north of Memphis after its boiler room exploded. Approximately the size of a smallish football field, Sultana took on the task of transporting the soldiers mainly because the army paid per head, but also because the war was over, and bedraggled, undernourished and sickly ex-POWs needed immediate care. When the crowded vessel caught fire early in the dark morning, chaos ensued and about 1,700 lost their lives, eclipsing the death count of Titanic 50 years later. Sultana is Mississippi-based journalist Alan Huffman’s account of the disaster, and his moment-to-moment description of desperation and death is totally riveting. But Huffman doesn’t get to the Sultana until the final third of his book, which up to that point is loosely focused on three soldiers and their service in the Civil War’s western theater, which led to their incarceration and eventual harrowing trip home as survivors of the ill-fated voyage. Huffman’s early narrative focuses on profiles of the trio—two Indiana Sultana farm boys, Romulus Tolbert and John Maddox, and also J. By Alan Huffman Walter Elliott, a man who later recorded his experiences of Collins/Smithsonian $26.99, 320 pages the river tragedy. More generally, Huffman describes the mental state of ISBN 9780061470547 humans while in battle mode or in extreme circumstances of self-protection, which serves as a kind of foreshadowing of the grim behaviors of the Sultana passengers. He draws upon the 1863 Battle of Chickamauga to set the stage for his conjecture—many of the soldiers aboard the boat had fought in that brutal campaign—and also details the conditions in Southern prison camps. More committed Civil War buffs won’t mind plowing through Huffman’s lengthy set-up, but the climactic events make for adventurous reading for anybody who loves a true-to-life disaster story. o
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Book clubs New paperbacks for reading groups The Painter From Shanghai By Jennifer Cody Epstein With this fictionalized account of the life of the famous painter Pan Yuliang, Epstein presents a lush, exquisitely detailed portrait of China during the early 1900s. An orphan who is forced into prostitution by her opium-smoking uncle, Yuliang suffers one hardship after another as a child. In the brothel where she works, she eventually becomes one of the most popular girls, attracting the eye of Pan Zanhua, a customs inspector. She soon becomes his concubine and leaves the brothel behind for Shanghai, where she takes classes at the Art Academy. As a painter, Yuliang proves a natural, and she wins a scholarship that enables her to study Norton in Europe. The time abroad inevitably changes her. When $14.95, 416 pages Yuliang comes back to China, she finds that the country is ISBN 9780393335316 on the brink of revolution, and that its officials disapprove of her nude paintings, which are viewed as pornographic. Conflicting political and artistic beliefs lead to trouble at an exhibit of Yuliang’s work in Shanghai, and she comes close to turning her back on the thing she loves most—her art. This is a remarkable novel, the dramatic story of a woman who is forced to choose between art and survival, passion and politics. Writing with authority about China’s turbulent history, Epstein clearly has a gift for bringing the past to life. A reading group guide is available online at wwnorton.com.
The God of War By Marisa Silver Silver, author of the novel No Direction Home, has crafted a moving narrative about a troubled young boy and his struggle to find himself. Set in 1978 in the desert of Southern California, the novel focuses on 12-year-old Ares Ramirez who lives with his mother, Laurel, and his mentally handicapped brother, Malcolm, in a small trailer. Laurel has an unorthodox view of parenting and seeks treatment for sevenyear-old Malcolm with some hesitation. Her noncommittal boyfriend is a sore point with Ares, who feels hemmed in and restless in the tiny trailer. Experiencing his first pangs Simon & Schuster of adolescent angst—feelings that soon develop into violent $14, 304 pages tendencies—Ares seeks a way to release his pent-up frus- ISBN 9781416563174 tration. When he befriends Kevin, the adopted son of Malcolm’s new speech therapist and a boy with problems of his own, Ares gets a taste of the real, grown-up world, which he is not quite mature enough to handle. After his destructive impulses come to a head, he is forced to make some overwhelming decisions—choices that will forever alter the course of his young life. Silver writes with wisdom and compassion about family ties and the difficulties of growing up. The California desert, barren yet beautiful, which she so vividly renders, provides a haunting backdrop for this unforgettable work of fiction. A reading group guide is included in the book.
The German Bride By Joanna Hershon Hershon’s third novel is a richly imagined work of historical fiction that takes place in the American West in the 1860s. After a scandal strikes her family, Eva Frank, a young German Jew, leaves Berlin with her new husband, Abraham, and his brother, Meyer, both thriving dry goods salesmen. Hoping to establish themselves in America, they travel to New Mexico and settle in Santa Fe. But once there, it becomes clear that Abraham has other plans—and other inclinations. A womanizer who is addicted to gambling, Abraham—an unlikely father—nevertheless insists that he wants to start Ballantine a family. But a series of miscarriages and the strangeness of $14, 336 pages ISBN 9780345468468 her surroundings drive Eva to despair. Relying on her dowry, she makes plans to leave Santa Fe and her husband and start a new life in San Francisco. This is easier said than done, thanks to volatile, unpredictable Abraham, who becomes a dangerous obstacle on Eva’s path to happiness. Hershon, author of Swimming and The Outside of August, brings the West into sharp focus in this compelling and lyrically written novel. With Eva, she offers readers a complex and strong-willed heroine, who is determined to make a place for herself in an unfamiliar world. A reading group guide is included in the book. o —JULIE HALE
CHILDREN’S BOOKS A turn for the verse: new poetry for kids
By Ellen Trachtenberg lfred, Lord Tennyson once famously wrote, “In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Well, this spring, he’ll have plenty of new poetry to inspire his quest, and just in time for National Poetry Month. There are poems for the young ladies, too, of course. As a matter of fact, there are haiku, elegies, limericks, sonnets and odes for young readers of all ages. The variety is wonderful, with new collections from favorites like Jack Prelutsky and Paul B. Janeczko, plus ear-catching innovations from fresh voices on the children’s poetry scene. Dinosaurs get rhythm, planets get pondered, and silliness gets celebrated. If parents and teachers start introducing a little rhyme-time now, they’re likely to have cultivated a few new versifiers by summer vacation. City I Love (Abrams, $16.95, 29 pages, ISBN 9780810983274) is the latest poetic tribute from children’s writer Lee Bennett Hopkins, and it’s as entertaining as any storybook adventure. The poems travel through urban centers, from Manhattan to Venice, Tokyo to San Francisco. The cities are not explicitly named, but brilliant illustrations by New Yorker artist Marcellus Hall make each abundantly clear. He’s also added a tour guide, in the form of a world-traveling, backpack-wearing dog, who appears in each picture—kids will love spotting him—making the book accessible to young preschoolers. The verses themselves are sharp and succinct, describing Paris from a perched pigeon’s perspective and Mexico City from the interior of a crowded subway car. Hopkins and Hall have collaborated on a gorgeous homage to the lyrical life of cities, perhaps best described by the first poem: “Sing a song of cities./ If you do. /Cities will sing back to you.” In 2006, Jack Prelutsky was named as our nation’s first Children’s Poet Laureate and the title is well deserved. He’s written more than 40 books of kid-pleasing poetry, including The New Kid on the Block and My Dog May Be a Genius. His newest, The Swamps of Sleethe: Poems From Beyond the Solar System (Knopf, $16.99, 40 pages, ISBN 9780375846748) is a blast. Here, Prelutsky stands science fiction on its head with his richly worded verse. It’s comical, of course, and you needn’t look further than the poems’ titles to see the wit. Take “The Savage Monarch of Zazorzz,” for example, or “The Monopods of Ogdofod.” Jimmy Pickering adds superb genre-bending illustrations to these fantastic cautionary tales that came from outer space. Karma Wilson knows her way around a rhyme scheme. She’s best recognized for the catchy rhythms of Bear Snores On and its lovable sequels. In What’s the Weather Inside? (McElderry, $17.99, 176 pages, ISBN 9781416900924) Wilson engages readers from the get-go with funny and sometimes naughty poems such as “What Your Dog Might Be Thinking” (“I love to munch what the garbage man missed. / I love to give my people kisses. / SLURP!”) and “Mom’s Diet” (“Whenever we go out to eat, she gets the diet size. / But at this rate she won’t lose weight. / My mom steals half my fries!”). Coupled with the simple comic drawings of Barry Blitt, What’s the Weather Inside? reveals the multidimensional talents of Wilson, a clearly seasoned writer. For today’s fans of children’s poetry, few names are more familiar than Paul B. Janeczko. He’s edited more than 20 award-winning anthologies that have bred a new generation of read-aloud fanatics. His latest, A Foot in the Mouth: Poems to Speak, Sing, and Shout (Candlewick, $17.99, 64 pages, ISBN 9780763606633), marks his third pairing with Caldecott Award-winning illustrator Chris Raschka. The latest collection combines classics like “Jabberwocky” by Lewis Carroll and “The Owl and the Pussy-Cat” by Edward Lear with newer delights such as “Good Hot Dogs” by Sandra Cisneros. Raschka’s paintings are as expressive as ever, and the grouping, like its predecessors, will likely inspire teachers and librarians to stage a few “Poetry Open Mic Nights” for the under-12 crowd. Stampede! Poems to Celebrate the Wild Side of School (Clarion, $16, 32 pages, ISBN 9780618914883) is heading your way. This is poetic energy at its best by the prolific and always topical Laura Purdie Salas. Stampede! includes 18 untamed poems from the classroom and schoolyard that will appeal to the wild child in everyone. The joys of jumping in puddles and swinging on jungle gym bars are set to rhythmic verse, and Steven Salerno’s mod illustrations provide a perfectly lively complement to poems such as “Swarm”: “I brought a kickball—want to play? / I wonder what’s for lunch today. / When the doors swing open wide, / we bumblebees all fly inside.”
You’d be hard-pressed to find a kid who isn’t instantly mega-charmed by Dinothesaurus: Prehistoric Poems and Paintings (Atheneum, $17.99, 56 pages, ISBN 9781416979784), the triumphant new book by Douglas Florian, author of mammalabilia and insectlopedia. Combine facts about dinosaurs with beguiling rhythmic verse and you have an instant classic. In this case, Florian’s smart art shares the spotlight with his dinorhymes. If T. rexes are fan favorites so, too, will be their ode, which ends this way: “Its jaws were horrific. / Its profile distinct. / I find it terrific / That it’s T-rex-tinct.” With a title like The Underwear Salesman: And Other Jobs for Better or Verse (Atheneum, $16.99, 64 pages, ISBN 9780689853258) you’re bound to attract more than a few curious literary onlookers and, perhaps, one or two young job seekers. This series of poems by J. Patrick Lewis (of Please Bury Me in the Library fame) focuses on career possibilities running the gamut from ice sculptor, belly dancer and banana picker to elevator operator, garbage collector, and highway line painter. And in a stroke of wellplaced wisdom, “Poet” lyrically describes the bard’s life: “I take a word, and then another, / Let them get to know each other.” Each poem is a joy and Serge Bloch’s snazzy illustrations add to the mirth of poems such as “Plumber”: “Here’s a job to call your own when you’re in the twoilet zone.” Falling Down the Page: A Book of List Poems (Roaring Brook, $16.95, 48 pages, ISBN 9781596432208) is a thoroughly entertaining and distinctive collection—it’s bound to resemble a vertical notepad—based on one of the most accessible of poetic forms. The book’s editor, Georgia Heard, notes her inspiration in the introduction: “Out for a walk in New York City I see: yellow cabs speeding down Broadway; people lounging in overstuffed chairs at a coffee shop; cars honking; a dog barking in the distance. As I walk along I make a list in my head of what I observe just like Walt Whitman did over one hundred years ago.” Surely, this overture will light a few bulbs in the minds of young writers who will realize that they don’t necessarily need to look further than their “To Do” list to create verse. Among the list-makers are superstar authors like Eileen Spinelli and Jane Yolen, but a standout is Avis Harvey’s “Booktime,” a poem that catalogs all of the places one can go to enjoy a good book. o Ellen Trachtenberg is the author of The Best Children’s Literature: A Parent’s Guide.
Poetic praise for the birds The Cuckoo’s Haiku: and Other Birding Poems (Candlewick, $17.99, 64 pages, ISBN 9780763630492) is a springtime feast for the eyes and mind. Michael J. Rosen, author of 75 books, is a poet and devoted birder with a crystal clear talent for imparting lyrical wisdom about our fine feathered friends. As Rosen puts it on the book’s jacket flap, “Haiku and bird-watching are kindred arts: the subject of both is often a fleeting impression—a snatched glimpse. Yet a long, steady look through the binoculars’ lenses can turn a familiar sight into something astonishing.” The Northern mockingbird, for instance: “the one-man bird band: / diva, choir, and orchestra / unbroken record.” The belted kingfisher: “the trapeze itself / kingfisher swings tree to tree / fish catch in his fall.” The book is divided into seasonal sections that salute the natural wonder of birds in their various habitats. Spring brings the Eastern bluebird, the Canada goose and the rubythroated hummingbird while winter’s chapter honors the blue jay, purple finch and wild turkey. The watercolor accompaniment by illustrator Stan Fellows is stunning; each page is a stand-alone work of art. All told, more than 20 common American birds are given uncommonly artful treatment; the volume bears the look of a perfected field journal. The thrill of bird-watching—the skill of correctly identifying each one—is contagious, and Rosen’s lovely and poised haikus are as graceful as flight. The book concludes with “Notes for Birdwatchers and Haiku Lovers,” but only after the black-billed cuckoo gets her tribute: “the cuckoo’s haiku / hidden like the chance of rain / its name repeating.” —ELLEN TRACHTENBERG APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
CHILDREN’S BOOKS A search for joy leads to unexpected places
“I just let the characters do whatever they do—it’s often a great surprise to me.” becoming a famous jazz trumpeter is quickly being dashed. Julia Gillian is a very serious young girl who never-in-a-million-years would lie to her parents, talk back to her teachers or fake her way Alison through trumpet lessons—until she does. McGhee McGhee captures Julia’s struggles with amazing dexterity, balancing the delicacy of the young girl while respecting the weight of her very mature worries. “I always try to honor the child of whatever age,” McGhee says from her home in Minneapolis. “Too often, adults dismiss the concerns of children—or they are terrified of them, especially teenagers—but children are wonderful, magical beings. They are young, but they have these incredible inner lives, and they are so tender. So I always keep that in mind when writing for children.” In retrospect, McGhee thinks she might have been a bit like Julia in her own childhood. “I was the oldest child and ultra responsible,” McGhee recalls. “There is some of that in Julia.” For the most part, however, Julia invented herself. “I created a goal for myself of writing a children’s book, set in my neighborhood, with a young girl who had a big dog,” the author says. “I just let the characters do whatever they do—it’s often a great surprise to me.” This particular character became an accomplished girl with an ever-expanding list
of achievements: Skilled in the Art of this, that, and the other. Oddly, she did not become Skilled in the Art of Reading. “I was surprised because I thought she would be like me and bury herself in books all the time,” McGhee says. The author’s own love of books started at an early age. “My earliest memories were of wanting to be an actor, then a ballerina, then a singer,” she says, “but then when I was six, I started writing stories and I decided I wanted to be a writer.” After graduating from Middlebury, McGhee spent her off hours writing, but it took six years to get her first short story published, and it was 13 years before Rainlight, her first novel for adults, was published. Her second novel, Shadow Baby, also for adults, became a Pulitzer Prize nominee and a Today Show Book Club selection. “By that time, at least I had an agent,” McGhee jokes. Her foray into children’s book writing, however, started quite by accident. “I kept a journal about each of my children for every year of their life,” recalls the mother of three. Her sister noticed that there were quite a few ideas for children’s books in the journals, and suggested that she start writing picture books. “It was a huge challenge for me,” she says, but she became skilled in the Art of Picture Book Writing, nonetheless. Her first attempt, Countdown to Kindergarten, won the 2003 Minnesota Book Award and became a Booksense 76 pick, among other accolades. After that, she delved into writing novels for children. “Whether I am writing picture books, children’s novels or short novels, I try to hold the same sense of honor and respect for children, their concerns and their amazing ideas.” Indeed, she seems to sympathize with children in a fresh and personal way through her books. In Quest for Joy, McGhee says, “I relate to the fact that she [Julia] is truly at sea and yet she continues to makes things hard for herself. That has been one of the lessons of life for me, too: sometimes it’s OK to ask for help.” Luckily for Julia Gillian, she learns this lesson as well, and in the end, she does succeed in her quest. As we learn in the book, joy comes in many forms—in the anticipation of new siblings, in freeing oneself from the entanglement of lies, and in the triumphant sounds from a challenging trumpet. For McGhee herself, joy comes in enjoying her children and her dogs, listening to music and reading a wonderful book. She should know. She is, after all, skilled in the Art of Writing Wonderful Books. o ©JEFFREY FARNHAM
By Heidi Henneman ulia Gillian is a master of many things. She is skilled in the Art of Papier-Mâché Making, she is skilled in the Art of Telepathic Human-Dog Communication, and she is skilled in the Art of Chopsticks. Unfortunately, she is not as skilled in the Art of the Trumpet, and even worse, she is learning to be skilled in the Art of Lying. In award-wining author Alison McGhee’s Julia Gillian (and the Quest for Joy) (Scholastic, $16.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9780545033503), the second title in her three-part series, we find our precocious and loveable heroine struggling to find herself—and happiness—in the fifth grade. Her best friend is treating her strangely, her favorite lunch lady has been replaced by a tyrannical lunch man, and her dream of
Dying to be thin
Remember Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny? That little gem of a book has reassured generations of children that their mothers will love them no matter what. John Carter Cash, only child of country music greats June Carter and Johnny Cash, has written down the comforting musings of his late mother with all the love of that earlier classic. In Momma Loves Her Little Son (Little Simon Inspirations, $16.99, 32 pages, ISBN 9781416959120) gentle rhyming couplets accompany Marc Burckhardt’s fullpage gouache illustrations that show a mother in various settings with her son. The mother’s words repeat her love, “From the top of the tallest skyscraper, and around the far side of the sun / all the way from east to west / Momma loves her precious one!” In any situation, from as far away as China and even to JOHN CARTER CASH the starry skies, June Carter described her deep love for her children, and we are lucky her youngest son has recalled her words. John Carter (which is what we in Nashville always call him) heard these words from his mother’s lips when he was a little boy and if you are familiar with her voice, it will be easy to picture the scene. June’s love of her children is well documented, and I can imagine her singing this lullaby to any of her children. Burckhardt’s paintings appear to have been created on planks of wood, giving the whole book a down-home, readme-at-bedtime feel. Every child needs to be reassured while falling asleep and this volume will remind the child—and his mother—of the joys of the parent-child bond. o —ROBIN SMITH
By Norah Piehl It’s been 10 years since Laurie Halse Anderson burst onto the literary scene with her powerful debut novel, Speak. Now Anderson is back with her fifth novel, one whose raw emotion, troubling subject matter and indelible images will further cement her reputation as one of the best young adult authors writing today. Although Anderson’s theme is eating disorders, Wintergirls is a far cry from the kind of popular “problem novels” about anorexia and bulimia that seem to flood bookstore shelves. Instead, Anderson simultaneously explores both the brutally isolating self-loathing experienced by those suffering from these diseases and the twisted “support” that girls with eating disorders offer each other, encouragement that often spirals into mutual self-destruction. At the center of Wintergirls is Lia, a high school senior who has already been hospitalized twice for anorexia. Now living with her father, stepmother and stepsister to avoid conflict with her overbearing mother, Lia has managed to keep her whole family in a state of denial. Inside, though, Lia is in crisis. Her longtime best friend, Cassie, died the night she called Lia 33 times, each voice Wintergirls mail more desperate than the last. Lia ignored every one By Laurie Halse Anderson and is now wracked with guilt. The two girls had a difficult $17.99, 288 pages relationship, both of them locked in a dangerous pact to Viking, ISBN 9780670011100 be the skinniest girl in school. Ages 12 and up Tear-jerker novels and books of pop psychology might lead many to believe that there are simple, straightforward reasons why girls develop eating disorders. In her typically thoughtful style, Laurie Halse Anderson reveals that, in many cases, the motivations are far more complex, nuanced and dangerous. With naked emotion, brutal honesty and a narrative that’s simultaneously captivating and claustrophobic, Wintergirls gives readers a haunting window into the disordered thinking behind eating disorders. o
© LAURA CASH
Sharing a mother’s love
APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
It all depends on how you look at it
MEET Chris Monroe
By Robin Smith You know when people refer to “a book for all ages?” That usually means they are speaking in clichés. But in the new picture book Duck! Rabbit!, the cliché proves true. I know—I met two fans of the book on a flight to Baltimore last weekend. I was wedged into the middle seat but wanted to get some work done, so I pulled out a copy of Duck! Rabbit! and began reading. I soon realized with joy that the engineering student to my left and the beefy salesman to my right were watching the pages turn and chuckling with delight. They actually wanted me to read it again! To get an idea of the book’s concept, think back to those pictures from your Psych 101 textbook, the ones that looked like an old hag or a young woman, depending on your perception. Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld have fashioned an utterly captivating riff on those pictures. Readers will see a duck or a rabbit, depending on where their head is. Duck! Rabbit! Thick black ink outlines the duck/rabbit and serves as a visual anchor for the story. The figure morphs as By Amy Krouse Rosenthal the animals are shown eating, drinking, running and Illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld flying, all while the duck/rabbit image holds steady in- Chronicle, $16.99, 40 pages side those thick black outlines. When I read the book ISBN 9780811868655 Ages 2 and up aloud, children giggled and gasped when they realized there was no right answer to the question of the character’s identity. This uncertainty makes the book wonderfully re-readable. The text is easy and accessible for the earliest reader, but the ideas are intellectually satisfying for the adults who want to join the fun. At the end of the story, the illustrator thanks Eric Rohmann, whose My Friend Rabbit is suggested here at many turns. That earlier book would make a lovely companion to this one. Hop (or swim) and find a Duck! Rabbit! of your very own! o Robin Smith reads books aloud to her second-graders in Nashville, and sometimes to perfect strangers on planes.
Piecing together a new life By Dean Schneider Nikki Giovanni defines poetry as “pure energy horizontally contained,” and that’s exactly what the best novels in verse offer: energy and immediacy in the voice of the narrator and poetic lines direct to the mind, heart and spirit of the characters. In Ann Burg’s fine novel in verse, Matt Pin is a refugee from the war in Vietnam. As he says of his new home in the United States, “There are no mines here, / no flames, no screams / no sounds of helicopters / or shouting guns. I am safe.” He is safe, but he is displaced and haunted by his past. His American father left him, his Vietnamese mother gave him away to American soldiers to airlift him out of Saigon, and he feels guilty for the little brother who was horribly injured by a landmine blast while in Matt’s care. Now he feels like a stranger in a strange land, the “Vietnamese kid, / the one who reminds everyone / of the place they all want to forget.” “My brother died / because of you,” whispers a boy at school. But gradually—with the help of Jeff, a vet who teaches Matt piano, a baseball coach with struggles of his own, a loving American family and the Veteran Voices meetings he attends—Matt begins to find a All the Broken place for himself, and his screaming nightmares give way to reflections and then to talking about his experiences, gain- Pieces ing acceptance even from the boy at school who calls him By Ann Burg frog-face. Scholastic Burg’s verse places readers into Matt’s mind as he begins $16.99, 224 pages to piece together a remembrance of his life in Vietnam out ISBN 9780545080927 Ages 10-14 of “a pocketful / of broken pieces.” Burg has a facility for the surprising image: “tanks lumbered / in the roads / like drunken elephants, / and bombs fell / from the sky / like dead crows.” When Matt plays catch with his American father in the evening, the ball goes “Back and forth / back and forth, / until dusk creeps in / and the ball / is just a swiftly / moving shadow / fading into darkness.” By the end of the novel, Matt has found an acceptance of who he is. He has forged wholeness out of all the broken pieces of his life; he likes his American family, his piano lessons, baseball and his American little brother, but he also is determined to someday find his Vietnamese brother. And readers feel reassured that Matt is going to be OK. o Dean Schneider teaches middle school English.
The resourceful primate Chico Bon Bon returns for another hilarious adventure in Monkey with a Tool Belt and the Noisy Problem (Carolrhoda, $16.95, 32 pages, ISBN 9780822592471), the third picture book by author-illustrator Chris Monroe, who lives in Duluth, Minnesota. Monroe also created the comic strip Violet Days. APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
The most dangerous games
Love’s promise and disappointments
By Jedediah Berry The story of This Is Not a Game is driven by a force located at the nexus between commercial marketing and geek culture: the alternate reality game, or ARG. Though the book is set in the near future, ARGs are being planned and played right now: these are the massive and complexly plotted entertainments that have driven millions to hunt for clues on hidden websites, deliver packages to secret locations and call studios where live actors impersonate characters from a carefully crafted fiction. The novel follows Dagmar Shaw, an architect of such games. In her role as “puppetmaster” she has cunningly led players through countless twists and revelations by carefully weaving elements of her dangerous virtual worlds into our own. But the real world has turned suddenly dangerous for her: stranded in Jakarta during a collapse of the national economy, she watches helplessly as riots tear the city apart. When Dagmar—with assistance from her friends and associates at the Great Big Idea company—alters her game in an attempt to summon the aid of its players, the novel takes on fascinating new dimensions and becomes a genuine page-turner. Spurred into action, the group mind of a milThis Is Not a Game lion and more gamers eagerly applies its problem-solving By Walter Jon Williams skills to the real-life crisis. But getting Dagmar out of Jakarta is only the beginning. Orbit Back in Los Angeles, another member of the company (and $24.99, 384 pages ISBN 9780316003155 one of Dagmar’s oldest friends) is gunned down in the parking lot by an assassin. The Russian mafia may be involved, and there are hints of an international finance conspiracy. Soon Dagmar is tracking down the killer while trying to keep the game going, even as outside influences alter the rules of her own creation. Walter Jon Williams begins with a knowing and sympathetic grasp of gamer culture, and proceeds through schemes and stratagems with a good deal of gamesmanship himself. This Is Not a Game is a tale every bit as engaging as one of the intrigues its characters might have dreamed up. o Jedediah Berry is the author of a novel, The Manual of Detection.
By Robert Weibezahl C.E. Morgan’s gossamer debut novel, All the Living, tells a simple story with a graceful, probing style that elevates it far above simplicity. Chronicling a young woman’s selfdiscovery through the promise of love and the inevitable disappointments that ensue, Morgan’s spare but intense narrative is a poetic meditation that burrows to our most basic human emotions. Now in her early 20s, Aloma was orphaned young and raised by an aunt and uncle before boarding at a settlement school in rural Kentucky. A raw piano prodigy, she has stayed on at the school to teach. Orren, a local farmer just a few years her senior, represents the possibility of something more. As the novel opens, Aloma arrives to take up residence with Orren on the hardscrabble tobacco farm he has inherited after the tragic death of his mother and brother. Although Aloma and Orren share a visceral love spurred by an undeniable sexual hunger, they are ill prepared for the pragmatic give-and-take of domesticity. Orren is buried deep within his grief, wholly immersing himself in the Sisyphean effort to keep the farm going on his own. Aloma encounters small frustrations—not least of all, the discovery that the neglected family piano Orren lured her with is out All the Living of tune and unplayable—along with new feelings of loneli- By C.E. Morgan ness and inadequacy. At Orren’s suggestion, she seeks a job Farrar, Straus as the piano player at a nearby church. There she begins an $23, 208 pages awkward friendship with its preacher, Bell, guarding the fact ISBN 9780374103620 Also available on audio that she is “living in sin.” Over the course of one droughtstricken summer, Aloma struggles with Orren’s brooding belligerence and her unexplored feelings for Bell—a struggle that will culminate in an unavoidably imperfect choice. While Morgan’s publisher rightly compares her to Marilynne Robinson and Annie Proulx, a more apt equation might be Annie Dillard, for this talented young writer can take a reader’s breath away with her clear, precise depiction of the natural world. In this elegant, impressive debut, Morgan deftly traverses the jagged fissures of love and seeks to locate the primal bonds between the human soul and the world it inhabits. o
Another pulse-pounding thriller from New York Times bestselling author
Death waits inside the blue smoke of salesmanship and the brutal truth of murder as Zach and Jill race to stay alive. Now in Paperback Avon An Imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers Join us at www.avonbooks.com for excerpts from upcoming releases and the behind-the-scenes scoop on all of our authors.
APRIL 2009 BOOKPAGE
ELLER IMES BESTS NEW YORK T
NT F INNOCE AUTHOR O
Bases loaded with books in time for the season’s first pitch By Martin Brady his season’s crop of new baseball books offers some revealing journalism that leads readers onto the sport’s less traveled basepaths. Meanwhile, notable bios in the lineup incorporate some of the game’s most compelling history into their pages.
Calling the shots Bruce Weber’s As They See ’Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires (Scribner, $26, 352 pages, ISBN 9780743294119) might be the most original piece of reportage on the baseball front in years. While so much of the baseball literature is invested in the achievements of the players, Weber goes another—and totally refreshing— route, getting the inside dope on the lives and careers of umpires. Seemingly taken for granted and tolerated as a necessary evil, umpires are a critical part of the game, yet the culture and economics of the profession, as Weber so keenly chronicles, are generally second-rate. While players routinely become millionaires, most umpires spend their lives in the minor leagues, with slim chances for advancement to the major leagues. They suffer years of unglamorous travel with no guarantee of financial payoff, all the while enduring verbal abuse from fans, players and managers, as well as the indifference of league executives who hire and fire them. The umpire’s life is a solitary one, and as part of his homework, Weber actually enrolls in a noted umpiring school, gains some hard-won expertise, and travels to Podunks across America watching his newfound brethren at work. Later, Weber pulls a Plimpton-like, fantasy-fulfillment stint as third-base ump at a major league exhibition game. Throughout, the author charts umpiring history, profiles some of the legendary practitioners, explains recent labor disputes and attempts to clarify some famous on-the-field incidents, whenever possible conducting firsthand interviews to get the stories behind the controversial calls.
Major stories from the minor leagues In a similar vein, Matt McCarthy’s Odd Man Out: A Year on the Mound with a Minor League Misfit (Viking, $25.95, 304 pages, ISBN 9780670020706) draws readers into the small-town world of baseball’s minor leagues, but comes at it from the POV of the struggling young player. In 2002, author McCarthy was a talented pitcher at Yale, good enough to enter the Anaheim Angels’ farm system. McCarthy winds up in a rookie league in Provo, Utah, surrounded by Mormons in the stands and, in the clubhouse, an eclectic collection of teammates, including coddled, high-priced bonus babies, blue-collar wannabes, colorful dudes with vague moral compasses and also Latin players who speak very little English. Heading up the team is veteran minor league manager Tom Kotchman, who emerges as a lovably eccentric baseball lifer on a par with some of the comical characters the world met in Jim Bouton’s classic Ball Four some 40 years ago. McCarthy only lasts the one season, then gets his walking papers for good at spring training 2003. McCarthy’s memoir was drawn from diary entries, and his recollections have been disputed by some the individuals he played with, but the entries are absorbing, including his encounters with a fair number of players who have since made the grade at the major league level.
the Navy—and seeing duty at the Normandy landings on D-Day—Berra eventually joined the New York Yankees in 1946 and began a spectacular Hall of Fame career as a catcher and outfielder. Journalist Allen Barra’s book is the first full-bodied accounting of Berra’s life, and, along the way, he essentially tells the story of the great Yankee teams of the 1950s and ’60s. He also covers Yogi’s managerial stints (which met with mixed results) and opines on his subject’s famous penchant for originating colorful aphorisms. Many archival photos cover every area of Yogi’s life.
An overlooked legend Michael D’Antonio’s Forever Blue: The True Story of Walter O’Malley, Baseball’s Most Controversial Owner, and the Dodgers of Brooklyn and Los Angeles (Riverhead, $25.95, 368 pages, ISBN 9781594488566) is a wellresearched book that covers the life of the late owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers and also recalls the pivotal events that led to his moving the team from Brooklyn to the West Coast in 1957. O’Malley is a key historical baseball figure, but heretofore not much has been known about him by the general reading public. A lawyer involved originally in the Dodgers’ finances, he took controlling ownership of the franchise in 1950, fielding some great teams, including the 1955 squad that defeated the Yankees in the World Series. O’Malley was vilified by Brooklynites with the move to Los Angeles, but D’Antonio’s account implies that O’Malley’s apparently sincere attempts to keep the team in Flatbush were thwarted by competing commercial interests and stodgy city officials, which eventually forced him to seek greener pastures for “Dem Bums.” D’Antonio writes consistently well, and his book fills an important gap in baseball history. o Martin Brady blogs about sports at Sports Media America.
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Life lessons Straw: Finding My Way (Ecco, $26.99, 256 pages, ISBN 9780061704208), co-authored with John Strausbaugh, tells the life story of former outfielder Darryl Strawberry, who, after excellent years with the Mets in the 1980s—including a World Series championship in 1986—eventually had to confront many demons. Son of an abusive alcoholic father, Strawberry traversed some very dark personal roads—drugs (all kinds), sex, paternity suits, chaotic marriages, run-ins with police—then watched physical injury take a toll on his baseball career. He attempted comebacks, and even had success in the ’90s with the Yankees, but not before he was stricken with colon cancer, which he has battled courageously. This book functions rather as Strawberry’s attempt to make his peace with friends, relatives and God, while working his way to a cathartically gained perspective on both his failures and his commitment to a more responsible life. Yogi Berra: Eternal Yankee (Norton, $27.95, 480 pages, ISBN 9780393062335) is a biography of another kind: that of a beloved baseball legend who conducted himself in exemplary fashion both on and off the field. Born into a modest Italian-American immigrant home in St. Louis in 1925, Berra showed promise early on but World War II interrupted his minor-league career. Serving in
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