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march 2014

america’s book review

discover your next great book



Helen Oyeyemi’s sinister fairy tale puts a midcentury twist on the story of Snow White


68 new





paperback picks PENGUIN.COM

Thankless in Death Jerry bludgeoned his parents almost beyond recognition. With the money he’s stolen from them and a long list of grievances, he intends to finally make his mark on the world. Lieutenant Eve Dallas and her team already know the who, how, and why of this murder. What they need to pinpoint is where Jerry’s going to strike next. 9780515154139 • $7.99

The Striker Isaac Bell, only two years out of his apprenticeship at the Van Dorn Detective Agency, has been given one week to prove his new case. He quickly finds himself pitted against two of the most ruthless opponents he has ever known—men of staggering ambition and cold-bloodedness who are not about to let some wet-behind-the-ears detective stand in their way. 9780425264683 • $9.99

Loyalty Patriarch Carl Ludlow wants things resolved without police, but the deeper his daughter Fina digs in the disappearance of her sister-in-law, the more impossible that seems. As she unearths more dirt, the demands of family loyalty intensify. But she is after the truth—no matter where it lies… 9780425268520 • $9.99

Believing the Lie At the request of the wealthy and influential Bernard Fairclough, Inspector Thomas Lynley is investigating the death of Fairclough’s nephew, Ian Cresswell. As the investigation escalates, the Fairclough family’s veneer cracks, with deception and self-delusion threatening to destroy everyone from the patriarch to the troubled son Ian left behind. 9780451465498 • $7.99

Dark Lover First in the #1 New York Times bestselling Black Dagger Brotherhood series—now featuring a brand-new package! Beth Randall is helpless against the dangerously sexy man who comes to her at night. His tales of the Brotherhood and blood frighten her. Yet his touch ignites a hunger that threatens to consume them both. 9780451468109 • $7.99

The Broken Places Tibbehah County sheriff Quinn Colson has his work cut out for him when a pardoned killer returns to Jericho. But he doesn’t count on a tornado that causes havoc just as the manhunt heats up. Communications are down, the roads are impassable—and the rule of law is just about to snap.

Willing Sacrifice Though Grace’s mind is devoid of any memory of her love with Theronai warrior Torr, she is inexplicably drawn to him. As they team up to stop the invasion that threatens the people Grace now considers family, her memories slowly start resurfacing. But sometimes the past is best forgotten—a lesson that Torr may learn too late… 9780451241115 • $7.99

Hank Greenberg: The Hero of Heroes Throughout his baseball career, Hank Greenberg heard cheers along with anti-Semitic taunts. The abuse drove him to legendary feats that put him in the company of the greatest sluggers of the day, including Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. This intimate account of Greenberg’s life is a story of integrity and triumph over adversity and a portrait of one of the greatest baseball players of the 20th century. 9780451416025 • $16.00

9780425267752 • $16.00

“Erika Robuck brings the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay to life in all her beauty and insatiability.”* Upstate New York, 1928. Laura Kelley and the man she loves sneak away from their judgmental town to attend a performance of the scandalous Ziegfeld Follies. But the dark consequences of their night of daring and delight reach far into the future. That same evening, Bohemian poet Edna St. Vincent Millay and her husband hold a wild party in their remote mountain estate, hoping to inspire her muse. Millay declares her wish for a new lover who will take her to unparalleled heights of passion and poetry, but for the first time, the man who responds will not bend completely to her will. Two years later, Laura, an unwed seamstress struggling to support her daughter, and Millay, a woman fighting the passage of time, work together secretly to create costumes for Millay’s next grand tour. As their complex, often uneasy friendship develops amid growing local condemnation, each woman is forced to confront what it means to be a fallen woman and to decide for herself what price she is willing to pay to live a full life. “An electrifying read, one that crackles with passion on every page.” —*Alyson Richman, national bestselling author of The Lost Wife


9780451418906 • $16.00


MARCH 2014 B O O K PA G E . C O M



11 C.J. BOX

The wicked stepmother gets a fair shake in Boy, Snow, Bird, the fifth novel from this gifted young author.

Meet the author of Stone Cold

13 NICKOLAS BUTLER Homesickness inspires a warm debut

16 CHRISTIAN FICTION Five stories of grace in a harsh world

17 WOMEN’S HISTORY Amazing real women who blazed the trail for change

21 LOUIS BAYARD Enter the Amazon with Teddy Roosevelt and his troubled son

27 CAROL WALL A gardener’s unexpected wisdom

28 LOIS EHLERT The beloved illustrator inspires young artists with a unique memoir

31 SPRINGTIME PICTURE BOOKS Little readers will cheer for the change in seasons

31 JOHN HIMMELMAN Meet the author-illustrator of Duck to the Rescue


Cover illustration ©

reviews 18 FICTION

top pick:

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

also reviewed:

The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed The Weight of Blood by Laura McHugh A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger The Wives of Los Alamos by TaraShea Nesbit All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu Visible City by Tova Mirvis The Troop by Nick Cutter


top pick:

Clever Girl by Tessa Hadley The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger Gemini by Carol Cassella Byrd by Kim Church Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li Mannequin Girl by Ellen Litman While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O’Neal

Blood Will Out by Walter Kirn

also reviewed:

Astoria by Peter Stark Cathedral of the Wild by Boyd Varty Trapped Under the Sea by Neil Swidey The Splendid Things We Planned by Blake Bailey The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier

How Paris Became Paris by Joan DeJean The Ogallala Road by Julene Bair Stokely by Peniel E. Joseph Mother of God by Paul Rosolie You Must Remember This by Robert J. Wagner Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening by Carol Wall



top pick:

top pick:

also reviewed:

also reviewed:

Threatened by Eliot Schrefer

Where’s Mommy? by Beverly Donofrio Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders by Brandon Mull Screaming at the Ump by Audrey Vernick




Julia Steele

Allison Hammond



Lynn L. Green

Roger Bishop



Trisha Ping

Penny Childress



Joelle Herr

Elizabeth Grace Herbert



Cat Acree

Angela J. Bowman



Hilli Levin

Mary Claire Zibart

“Haunting.” —Joseph Olshan


—anna Jean Mayhew —Jim Kokoris




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Kensington Publishing Corp. America’s Independent Publisher Begin reading at ON SALE NOW


04 04 05 06 07 08 08 11

Helen Oyeyemi

A poignant and powerful debut novel about unlikely friendships amidst the turbulent 1960s.







Boys will be boys


A classic reimagined


Not unlike Frankenstein, that other Gothic masterwork of the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde—originally published in 1886—is a surprisingly slight book whose enduring impact has far outstripped its original ambitions. At barely a hundred pages, it is a quickly read novella, as noteworthy for what is left unsaid as for what is portrayed. This classic good vs. evil fable has provided the template and inspiration for an array of adaptations and interpretations over the last century and a quarter. The latest is Hyde, Daniel Levine’s ambitious and imaginative literary debut. Touted as the first time the story has been retold from Hyde’s Hyde invites point of view—a readers into claim that might be impossible the confused to prove—Hyde is a far more mind of psychologically Dr. Jekyll’s probing work fascinating than the original. Levine has alter ego. made a shrewd narrative choice crafting the story in the first person, which invites readers directly into the confused and conflicted mind of Dr. Jekyll’s fascinating alter ego. Stevenson’s story was born of a dream he had, and as Levine writes with post-Jungian insight in an introduction to the original tale—which the publisher has thoughtfully included in its entirety at the end of the volume—“Dreams span universal across human consciousness, evoking the primal fantasies and neuroses that define our peculiar species. Jekyll and Hyde’s extraordinary success can be linked not so much to its clever artistry as to its conjuration of our most nightmarish fascination: the horror of self-transformation. . . . The story is a veil masquerading as truth, stiffened into a simplified metaphor of human duality. But the dream lives behind it, complex and primeval, the untold tale of the inner man, the sociopath, the other I.” Taking the parameters of Stevenson’s story, but deepening and extending the details, Levine allows us to view Hyde not merely as the venal incarnation of Jekyll’s soul, but as a fully fledged character in his own right—and, in many ways, a

sympathetic one as well, as the unwitting end product, or victim if you will, of Jekyll’s violation of nature. The violence and the murders are here, but seen from Hyde’s perspective, they are often explainable in ways that Stevenson’s readers could not have imagined. Indeed, Levine answers many questions that Stevenson left unexplored. In the process, Hyde is offered up as a misunderstood outsider, a man who is riled by injustice and feels the pain of the mistreated. So, when he becomes the target of hatred and the quarry of a mysterious vigilante, we come to understand that guilt, if there is any, should be laid at the feet of Jekyll, not Hyde. Levine is quite adept at lending his narrative a Victorian flavor. Hyde reads less like a historical novel written in our century than a work of its age, with one reservation, of course: Levine has the benefit of post-Freudian hindsight, and even as Hyde struggles to understand his own motivations, his self-knowledge is perhaps a bit “modern,” even if we allow for the fact that his host mind belongs to the “alienist” Dr. Jekyll. This is a visually dark and viscerally brooding tale that avails itself of a cinematic style of storytelling that, of course, Stevenson could never have imagined. And given the lean narrative skeleton Stevenson’s original provides, Levine at times tries to layer on too much skin. Still, Hyde is an entertaining and intriguing work, as much a meditation on and extrapolation of Stevenson’s original intentions as a freestanding work of popular fiction. With compelling intensity, Levine makes a noteworthy literary debut.

HYDE By Daniel Levine

HMH $24, 416 pages ISBN 9780544191181 eBook available


Mark Billingham is hardly a new kid on the crime fiction block—his books have sold more than 3 million copies worldwide. But he and his main man, Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, are new to me and to audio, and I’m delighted to meet them both, if one is allowed to be “delighted” by intense police procedurals, serial killers and tautly twisted plots. Scaredy Cat (HighBridge, $34.95, 11.5 hours, ISBN 9781622312900), narrated by the always-spot-on Simon Prebble, is the second in a series that’s now in the double digits and is a great way to get to know the thorny, edgy, driven detective. When

couple memoir, told and read in their decidedly distinct voices, answers my question, for the most part. Early on, their marriage was called a sham, a publicity stunt, but it’s lasted. As the book’s subtitle reveals, the union has produced two beloved daughters and endured a life-changing move to New Orleans. Matalin and Carville’s thoughts on politics and marriage are truly entertaining and prove, once again, that love can conquer all.


two women are strangled in the same way, on the same day, Thorne and his quirky London-based team assume they’re looking for a serial killer. As the body count rises, they realize they’re dealing with a deadly duo for whom murder is a grisly team sport. This is not a whodunit in the classic sense, and that makes it all the more intriguing. We get the killers’ adolescent backstory, but neither we nor Thorne can put an adult face on the warped teenager who started this murder spree years ago and is still its mastermind—until the jolting denouement. Luckily, more Tom Thorne audios are in the works and on their way.

A MIRACULOUS MARRIAGE I don’t know how they do it. “They” are the quintessential Republican Mary Matalin, key campaign strategist for Poppy Bush in 1992, assistant to W and prime protégé of Dick Cheney, and James Carville, the quintessential Democrat and Clinton’s brilliant campaign manager in ’92 who’s gone on to become a sought-after international political consultant. “It” is a long marriage that’s weathered the political tsunamis of the last two decades. And Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home (Penguin, $39.95, 10.5 hours, ISBN 9781611762389), their joint power-

Nickolas Butler’s debut novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, is an indie ode to male friendship with its complex mix of testosterone and tenderness, to the women who stand by their men or don’t, to small-town connectedness and to Midwestern grit, goodness and grace. Henry, Lee, Ronnie, Kip and Beth—who grew up together in Little Wing, Wisconsin—unfold their intertwined stories in their own very different voices, fully brought to life by five compelling readers. Lee has become a celebrity singer/songwriter with platinum records galore; Kip made a bundle as a commodities trader; Ronnie rode the rodeo until it broke him; and Henry stayed on the farm and married Beth. Going forward and back in time, punctuated by four weddings and one divorce, they let us see the ties that bind (and, sometimes, chafe), the pull of home and the pull to get away. Butler has a good ear and a lyric understanding of the heart and the heartland.

Read our interview with Nickolas Butler on page 13.


Macmillan Audio $39.99, 10 hours ISBN 9781427236357


Selected from nominations made by library staff across the country, here are the 10 books that librarians can’t wait to share with readers in March.

Take our Reader Survey for your chance to win.


THE WEIGHT OF BLOOD by Laura McHugh Spiegel & Grau, $26, ISBN 9780812995206

In this masterful debut, Lucy Dane seeks the truth behind two disappearances that haunt a small community in the Ozark Mountains. BookPage review on page 18.

THE ACCIDENT by Chris Pavone

Crown, $26, ISBN 9780385348454 In the second novel from the Edgar Award-winning author of The Expats, an anonymous manuscript is set to expose the most dangerous secrets of the CIA.


Crown, $25, ISBN 9780804137447 Cleverly told through emails and office memos, this hilarious debut finds a young criminal law associate faced with her firm’s most important divorce case. BookPage review on page 21.

THE OUTCAST DEAD by Elly Griffiths

HMH, $27, ISBN 9780547792774 In the newest Ruth Galloway mystery, the intrepid forensic archaeologist becomes the new star of a British documentary series called “Women Who Kill” after she unearths the body of notorious Victorian murderer Mother Hook.

PANIC by Lauren Oliver

Harper, $17.99, ISBN 9780062014559 Every summer in the dead-end town of Carp, fearless graduating seniors risk everything to compete in the game called Panic. The stakes can be life or death, but the prize may be worth it.


$100 gift card, 25th anniversary BookPage tote bag, plus FREE books for an entire year

SECOND PLACE: $50 gift card, 25th anniversary BookPage tote bag, plus FREE books

A CIRCLE OF WIVES by Alice LaPlante

Atlantic Monthly, $25, ISBN 9780802122346 In the second psychological thriller from the author of Turn of Mind, a dead man’s secrets come to light when his three unsuspecting wives show up at his funeral.


BookPage tote bag, plus FREE books

GEMINI by Carol Cassella

Simon & Schuster, $25.99, ISBN 9781451627930 An unidentified coma patient forces Dr. Charlotte Reese to consider unanswerable questions about the nature of life and the pursuit of her own happiness. BookPage review on page 22.

PRECIOUS THING by Colette McBeth

KILL FEE by Owen Laukkanen

Putnam, $26.95, ISBN 9780399165528 The assassination of a billionaire leads state investigator Kirk Stevens and FBI special agent Carla Windermere on a crosscountry journey to catch the killer. On sale March 20.

SHOW YOUR WORK! by Austin Kleon

Workman, $11.95, ISBN 9780761178972 The best-selling author of Steal Like an Artist provides clever advice on how to get your work discovered. BookPage review on page 8. LibraryReads is a recommendation program that highlights librarians’ favorite books published this month. For more information, visit

We Love our Readers ENTER TODAY! 12 WINNERS IN ALL


Minotaur, $24.99, ISBN 9781250041197 Rachel and Clara were childhood best friends, and even though their friendship now feels strained, they are still bound by something unspoken. But then Clara goes missing.

Go to to participate.




our Readers

Want to win this?





A slippery situation in the Gulf Black Horizon (Harper, $25.99, 384 pages, ISBN 9780062109880), the 11th book in James Grippando’s popular series featuring Florida attorney Jack Swyteck, opens with the two most important words of the lawyer’s life: “I do.” (Ha, ha—you thought I was going to say, “Not guilty.”) The beach wedding in scenic Key Largo goes wildly awry when an epic storm arises in the Gulf, launching manifold repercussions for Swyteck and his new bride. One of the victims of the storm is a young Cuban oil rig worker whose wife emigrated to the U.S. ahead of him. He had planned to follow, but the deadly combination of high winds and an explosive oil spill have put paid to those plans forever. Now his wife would like Swyteck to file a wrongful death suit against the Chinese/ Russian/Venezuelan/ Cuban consortium that owns the oil rig. This is no easy feat, since the rig is in Cuban waters, and the only tenuous tie to the U.S. legal system is the wife’s residency in Key West. The situation is volatile; the adversaries are lethal; and the backdrop is a toxic oil slick poised to slime the Florida coast. Black ­Horizon is timely, relentlessly paced and a thrill ride of the first order.


See Page 12 for more details.


Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency stories calved a new genre, splitting the difference between hardboiled detective novels and cozies. Martin Walker nails it precisely with his latest Bruno, Chief of Police novel, The Resistance Man (Knopf, $25.95, 336 pages, ISBN 9780385349543). This time out, Bruno investigates the death of a veteran of the French Resistance and discovers papers linking the man to a famous WWII train robbery. Detective fiction is often plot-driven, but the Bruno books are character-driven and, perhaps even more so, locale-driven. Set in the fictional village of St. Denis in the Perigord region of France, The Resistance Man evokes all the history, culture, romance and fine food and drink you might expect of French village life, and yet there is still the opportunity for a heinous crime or

two to spice things up from time to time. The series is endlessly charming, funny, warm and clever, with a hero evocative of John Mortimer’s Rumpole or Colin Cotterill’s Dr. Siri. The Resistance Man is sure to satiate Walker’s many fans and win him lots more in the bargain.

ICE-COLD CASE Leif GW Persson’s Free Falling, As If in a Dream (Pantheon, $27.95, ISBN 9780307377470), the final volume in his acclaimed Story of a Crime trilogy, requires a certain

amount of commitment on the part of the reader. For starters, it comes in at a whopping 608 pages. Also, it would make sense to read the two preceding volumes beforehand. That said, these books will be among the most fascinating 1,600odd pages of Scandinavian crime fiction you will likely ever read. Persson borrows little from his Midnight Sun compatriots (Larsson, Nesbø, et al.) in terms of style; his novels read rather like a documentary, perhaps even more so because the storyline follows a 2007 investigation into the 1986 murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme, a real-life crime that, to date, has not been solved. Lead investigator Lars Martin Johansson, soon to retire, would like to cap off his career with a win. Self-described as “allergic to unsolved cases,” he directs his team through thousands of pages of text and testimony in search of a thread that might begin to unravel the two-decade cold case. As you might imagine with a work of this magnitude, subplots, double dealings and red herrings abound, so be prepared to form and reform opinions again and again. This is a fine wrap-up to a highly regarded series.

TOP PICK IN MYSTERY I have been a huge Kem Nunn

fan since his 1984 debut novel, Tapping the Source, essentially established a whole new genre of crime fiction, “Surf Noir,” a genre he last revisited in 2004’s Tijuana Straits. However, there are no sun-dappled waves in his latest novel, Chance. It is instead an ink-dark psychological thriller about a Bay Area neuropsychiatrist and his beautiful, damaged patient, a woman with secrets powerful enough to destroy both their lives. Their chemistry is fascinating to observe: She apparently suffers from dissociative disorder, fragmenting into personalities— either composed or overtly sexual—to suit her interpretation of the situation; he is in the process of a divorce, at times thoroughly professional, at other times lonely and at loose ends. It is only a matter of time until “lonely” collides with “sexual,” and the sparks begin to fly. Add a jealous husband (a cop!), some shady Romanian thugs, an elderly antiques dealer and his sociopath assistant, and you have a recipe for mayhem and murder. A small spoiler alert: Many suspense novels offer up a denouement, after which loose ends are wrapped up tidily. Not so with Chance. That satisfying moment does not arrive until the very last sentence. It won’t help to page ahead to the end, though; the sentence is meaningless without every other sentence preceding it. It has been 10 years since Nunn’s last novel, and Chance was well worth the wait.

CHANCE By Kem Nunn

Scribner $26, 336 pages ISBN 9780743289245 Audio, eBook available



New paperback releases for reading groups

ADVICE FOR UP-AND-COMERS In his ingenious third novel, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (Riverhead, $16, 240 pages, ISBN 9781594632334), Mohsin Hamid spoofs the self-help business guides that are all the rage among Asia’s would-be entrepreneurs. Throughout the narrative, he writes from the second-person point of view, employing “you” to refer to his anonymous protagonist, a poor young man from a provincial part of Asia, who, armed with a little educa-

from an ItalianAmerican family, has a feisty spirit and an unpredictable disposition. With her moodiness, her endless need for drugs and her taste for drama, she’s an unforgettable character, and Ruta does a wonderful job of bringing out the paradoxes in her mother’s personality. Ruta’s own struggle with addiction is part of the story, and she writes about it with unflinching honesty. She depicts her unorthodox upbringing with dark humor and lucid prose, making her relationship with Kathi come alive on the page.


tion and a lot of ambition, seeks opportunities in the big city. He tries his hand at various enterprises and eventually becomes rich through a (somewhat sketchy) bottled-water business. His big dream, though, involves a woman whose fortunes have run a similar course. Composed of 12 chapters, each of which bears a scrap of advice as a title— Work for Yourself; Have an Exit Strategy—this masterfully crafted story captures the manners and mores of contemporary Asia, but also serves as a shrewd commentary on the desires that drive us all. This is a remarkably inventive novel from a writer who isn’t afraid to take risks.

In her vividly realized memoir, With or Without You (Spiegel & Grau, $16, 240 pages, ISBN 9780812983401), Domenica Ruta looks back on the turbulent childhood she experienced with her drug-addicted mother, Kathi. Raised in Danvers, Massachusetts, she grows up in a household where poverty and mayhem are the order of the day, overseen by a mom who’s often dysfunctional. Money is always short. The time Ruta spends with her father in his comfortable, suburban neighborhood only heightens the sense of deprivation she feels at home. Kathi, who comes


AMERICANAH By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Anchor $15.95, 608 pages ISBN 9780307455925


A captivating debut novel in the tradition of Lisa See and Amy Tan “An intoxicating story of family, ambition and the risks we take for love.” —Tara Conklin, New York Times bestselling author of The House Girl

A novel about two sisters, their mother and the secrets and lies that define them. “Loaded with emotion, laughter, surprise and ultimately the message of the fragility of life, Two Sisters will burn through the sisterhood of book clubs like a fever.” —Adriana Trigiani, bestselling author of The Shoemaker’s Wife From New York Times bestselling author Deborah Crombie comes the newest mystery featuring London detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James “Sound of Broken Glass is a real gem.” —Ventura County Star The irresistible, blazing-hot sequel to New York Times bestselling author Molly McAdams’s Forgiving Lies Rachel is supposed to be planning her wedding to Kash, the love of her life. But there’s something else waiting— something threatening to tear them apart.



William Morrow Paperbacks

Book Club Girl



Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s hypnotic third novel, Americanah, tells the story of Ifemelu, a confident, beautiful Nigerian who immigrates to America. In her new home, Ifemelu struggles to adapt and to survive financially. But she makes it through college, starts an acclaimed blog about race, and wins a fellowship to Princeton. All the while she’s haunted by memories of her former boyfriend, Obinze. Soft-spoken and introverted, Obinze immigrates to London where he ekes out an uncertain existence before being deported. Back home, he becomes wealthy as a property developer. When Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, her old feelings for him are revived, and the pair find themselves in the grip of passion. Both are forced to make difficult decisions about the future. Adichie’s dramatic, sweeping narrative functions as an emotionally riveting love story, as a profound meditation on race and as a revealing exploration of the immigrant experience. It succeeds—beautifully—on every level.

Fresh Fiction New in Paperback






In stitches

Mangia la verdura! Italians love their veggies and have learned over centuries to use their creative kitchen magic to transform readily available produce into a super selection of antipasti, crostini, panini, soups and sides, veggie-rich risottos, sauces and stews, and dolce for a sweet finale. The Italian Vegetable Cookbook (Rux Martin/HMH, $30, 336 pages, ISBN 9780547909165) is awardwinning cookbook author and food expert Michele Scicolone’s tantalizing tribute to this mostly meatless (you’ll find a few anchovies, some pancetta, bacon or guanciale used

to amp up the flavor, but you can easily omit them) aspect of la cucina Italiana. Scicolone has collected more than 200 recipes, from a very simple, one-pot supper entrée like Orecchiette with Potatoes and Arugula to a more elaborate Easter Swiss Chard and Ricotta Pie with a tender olive-oil crust. None of these dishes are very complicated, and all invite you to vary ingredients, using the fruits and vegetables that look best at the moment, as any good Italian cook would do. Scicolone is a warm, friendly kitchen companion, sharing the stories behind the recipes in her chatty header notes. R E A D M O R E AT B O O K PA G E . C O M



Alexe van Beuren loves Water Valley, a small town not too far from Oxford, Mississippi, that had seen better days before she restored a landmark building on Main Street, saving it from demolition in 2010. She turned it into the B.T.C. OldFashioned Grocery, a general store, and became part of the Southern town’s revival. When Dixie Grimes, a pro chef with an impressive background, came on the scene, she made the B.T.C. kitchen sing, and that song got national attention. Van Beuren tells the story charmingly in The B.T.C. Old-Fashioned Grocery Cookbook (Clarkson Potter, $29.99, 240 pages, ISBN 9780385345002),

and Grimes adds 120 recipes from her superb Southern repertoire— from Skillet Biscuits with gravies galore (even chocolate gravy for the kids) for breakfast to four-star lunches that feature Shrimp and Sweet Corn Chowder, Sriracha Coleslaw, Sweet Potato and Green Chile Casserole, Honey Pecan Fish or Fried Apple Pies. Creative comfort at its best.

TOP PICK IN COOKBOOKS A few years ago, the food world wonks proclaimed that Spain was the new France. Luckily, Spain remained Spain in all its rich regional splendor, its culinary soul intact. Now, Jeff Koehler—a longtime Barcelona resident and aficionado of Spanish food and the diverse, beautiful, bountiful landscapes reflected in that food—offers a beautiful, bountiful celebration in recipes and photographs in Spain: Recipes and Traditions from the Verdant Hills of the Basque Country to the Coastal Waters of Andalucía. If you read the wonderfully informed recipe intros and the delightful asides on iconic ingredients—like saffron, pimentón, olive oil and anchovies—and on traditions and special holidays, you’ll find yourself in the hands of an expert guide. And, when you start cooking from the 200 recipes featured, you’ll begin to understand the strong Spanish connection to the land in the many unfussy dishes that originated as country fare. But, most of all, you’ll be turning out authentic, flavor-loaded wonders like Monkfish Steaks with Saffron or Chicken with Shallots and Orange and Cinnamon Sauce, as satisfying in Sioux City as they are in Salamanca.

SPAIN By Jeff Koehler

Chronicle $40, 352 pages ISBN 9780811875011


Crochet: The Complete Stepby-Step Guide (DK, $40, 320 pages, ISBN 9781465415912) is so comprehensive—covering every essential technique and laying out instructions and step-by-step photography for more than 50 projects—I was actually beginning to get crotchety leafing through it, trying to find one darned thing (so to speak) that the magisterial committee of author-experts might possibly have neglected to mention. However, it’s all there, the whole kit and caboodle: hook, line and slipknot, every yarn completely spun and

new vision of creativity, a manifesto for the imagination’s quest to reach fellow human beings. At a crucial turn in this fabulous little wallop of a book comes the simple directive, “Share something small every day.” That “something” oughtn’t be your Instagrammed latte or a selfie, but something “useful or interesting” about your work. Put enough somethings out there, and a lone artist or entrepreneur can soon be a productive part of a creative community.


beautifully illustrated. With everything you’ve always wanted to know about patterns and embellishments, anything you’ve never even thought to wonder about openwork or popcorn textures, you’ll be ready to get going on dozens of gift ideas, from the practical (socks, hoodies) to the whimsical (teddy bears, finger puppets). It’s all here, one stitch at a time, all ready to save nine.

DARE TO SHARE It’s not often that I find myself reviewing a book that I can say has already changed my life. The transformation is not earth-shattering, nor has it resulted in any measurable realignment of the cosmos. On the contrary, the whole point Austin Kleon makes so brilliantly in Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (Workman, $11.95, 224 pages, ISBN 9780761178972) is that the best ways to affect a dramatic change in your life—so that people will notice the really cool things you’re up to—are small. Ingeniously modest. Eminently doable. Quotidian. Cumulative. And ultimately irresistible. In one concise chapter after another, Kleon takes on the entire range of assumptions artful people tend to make about their own art-making, launching a good-natured assault on fruitless myths, gently dismantling bootless neuroses and finally offering something that adds up to a

As a civilizing principle, gardens have always been places where we have dominion, where nature bows to our will. But thanks to a growing eco-consciousness, the worm is literally turning. What might a garden look like that welcomes as many living things as possible, that not only admits wildlife, but beckons it? That is the question answered in spades (I couldn’t resist) by author Tammi Hartung in The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature. Through a fertile counterpoint of facts, anecdotes and delightful hand-colored drawings by Holly Ward Bimba, Hartung makes us more mindful of every stage of the process through which our garden vegetables flourish in the presence of the wild. Lovingly, sweetly, intelligently, the book opens up new physical and spiritual ground, on which our gardens will grow best on account of the presence of insects and animals, not in spite of them. From the management of manure to proper protection from real pests, no garden stone is left unturned.

THE WILDLIFE-FRIENDLY VEGETABLE GARDENER By Tammi Hartung Storey $16.95, 144 pages ISBN 9781612120553 eBook available




Desperate times call for daring measures.

Just how far are people willing to go to keep their secrets? From New York Times bestselling author

B. J. DANIELS From New York Times bestselling author

comes a brand-new series where passion and scandal collide, leaving four sisters determined to rescue themselves from ruin…. Go to and download your FREE extended excerpt of

“A well-written, Western-themed romantic suspense novel that will keep readers guessing throughout.” —RT Book Reviews on Forsaken

The Trouble with Honor

Find out February 25,

Arriving February 25 in print and ebook.

available in print and ebook!

Connect with Julia at




Undercover lover In Shana Galen’s Sapphires Are an Earl’s Best Friend (Casablanca, $7.99, 352 pages, ISBN 9781402269790), Lily Dawson, the celebrated “Countess of Charm,” is known as a beautiful and experienced courtesan. In reality, she works for the Crown, tasked with uncovering the identity of the person behind a plot to an assassinate Britain’s most talented spies. Lily’s mission takes her to the household of a duke, and she’s willing to do what she must to learn his secrets . . . until the duke’s son, Andrew Booth-Payne, the Earl of Darlington,

gets in her way. Lily loves Andrew, but he’s always been interested in her best friend. Now in close proximity to the intriguing and mysterious Lily, Andrew finds he can’t resist her. As he begins to suspect she isn’t the practiced lover she pretends to be, he wonders about her true agenda. When he discovers the truth, he feels betrayed. But will they survive in order to deal with it? Complex characters and tender emotion round out an action-filled story.


the title of your new book? Q: What’s  would you describe the book Q: How  in one sentence?

hat makes your character, Joe Pickett, especially well-suited for Q: W his job as a game warden?

TOP PICK IN ROMANCE In Virginia Kantra’s Carolina Man, Marine Luke Fletcher is in Afghanistan when he learns that he has a 10-year-old daughter, Taylor. The girl’s mother—Luke’s high school girlfriend—has just passed away, so Luke has been granted custody, despite the protests of the girl’s maternal grandparents. His deployment over, Luke returns to his family home on Dare Island to become a father to his daughter. Though unsure in his new role, Luke is certain about his attraction to lawyer Kate Dolan. Kate feels drawn to Luke, but as the child of an abusive father who was also a Marine, she’s wary of getting emotionally attached to anyone, let alone a military man. Still, it’s hard to turn away from the strong warrior with good intentions, and before long, Kate finds herself falling for him and Taylor, too. But can the three of them truly come together as a family when Luke’s military career will bring lengthy separations? Filled with tender moments and sexy, sparkling exchanges, Kantra’s latest Dare Island romance is satisfying and sigh-worthy. Kate and Luke must learn to trust and let go of their guilt in order to find happiness together. A shivery, sensual and sensational read.

ot counting Yellowstone, what are your three favorite things Q: Nabout Wyoming?

Q: What is one book you love that might surprise your fans?

Q: When (if ever) do you take off your cowboy hat?

owboys are said to live by the “Code of the West.” How would Q: Cyou summarize your own personal code?


Berkley $7.99, 304 pages ISBN 9780425268872 eBook available


The critically acclaimed Joe Pickett mystery series by Wyoming native C.J. Box has garnered a host of awards since its debut in 2001, including the Edgar Award, the Anthony Award and the Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Award. The latest installment, Stone Cold (Putnam, $26.95, 384 pages, ISBN 9780399160769), takes Pickett to a remote part of Wyoming on the trail of a mysterious stranger. Box and his wife Laurie live outside Cheyenne.


Kate Brady offers a tale of chilling romantic suspense in Where Evil Waits (Forever, $8, 432 pages, ISBN 9781455502066). Special prosecutor Kara Chandler fears for her life and that of her son, leading her to hire cartel assassin Luke Varón to keep them safe. Luke is startled by the request—Kara has every reason to despise him. But when he learns that she’s begun looking into her husband’s “accidental” death and that the people she talks to about it are turning up dead, Luke’s not only curious—he’s worried. Her investigation might put his own at risk. Actually an FBI agent, Luke’s in the middle of a covert operation. Not only can he not afford the distraction of guarding beautiful Kara, but his investigation is also bound up in

the criminal enterprise of her late husband. Still, he can’t say no to the smart and sexy woman. After Luke reveals his true identity, they get romantically involved and realize they’ve been looking in the wrong direction for the bad guy. A creepy villain, great chemistry and a compelling plot make this a standout story.

meet  C.J. BOX




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Friends in small places


wanted to write about Wisconsin,” Nickolas Butler says of the genesis of his soulful first novel, Shotgun Lovesongs, which gave voice to his homesickness.

“My first semester at the [Iowa] Writers Workshop, I was down there alone. I was sleeping in this terrible apartment,” Butler says. Picture a fire-engine-red lower section of a bunk bed borrowed from his brother-in-law, a white table borrowed from his mother-in-law, and a folding chair, the only furnishings in the Iowa City apartment where Butler lived from Monday to Thursday before returning to his family. “I missed my wife; I missed my son; I was just overcome by loneliness and homesickness,” he recalls. “I was sitting at that table, thinking about my hometown, and I started writing. The first 35 pages came basically in one sitting.” Those opening pages are told from the point of view of Henry “Hank” Brown, who, with his wife Beth and their two young children, struggles to maintain a family farm on the outskirts of a tiny Wisconsin town named Little Wing. Hank’s is one of five voices that tell this story of contemporary small-town Wisconsin life and of close friendships disrupted by the passage of time. “There’s a little bit of me in every character,” Butler says during a call that reaches him at his home in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, a hamlet outside of Eau Claire, where he grew up. “Hank is probably the moral, ethical side of me. He’s got this strong moral



thinking about its landscape, he was a really nice way to get into all of that.” Still, Butler says there’s much more of himself than Vernon in the character of Lee. “The story of Lee’s first album is a lot about the pressure I felt with this book. I was nearing the end of grad school. I’d had a string of terrible jobs that never paid any money at all and were at times dangerous, and I didn’t want to go back to that. I had a young kid, and I just wanted to be something more. So I felt a great pressure and urgency to write the book.” Through Lee’s and Hank’s difficulties with each other, Shotgun Lovesongs vividly portrays the tensions that sometimes develop in male friendships as people grow away from high school and college and into adulthood. “I’m hitting a point in my life when some of the easy friendships are becoming more difficult because of all the different real-world pressures: money, marriage, kids and jobs,” Butler says. “All of a sudden friends begin wondering why it’s so easy for somebody and so difficult for somebody else to make money. Why is it easy for couple A to have kids when couple B can’t? Something happens when these sorts of jealousies get overlaid on long-term friendships. I was experiencing a little bit of that in my life and was wondering why.” Butler’s novel also voices an emphatic love song to what he calls “my place on earth,” and to smalltown life in general. Not that Butler is unaware of the difficulties and of the changing nature of America’s small towns. Several characters in the novel end up leaving for greater

opportunities in Chicago or Minneapolis. Lee for a while lives in a rural boarding house with Mexican laborers. “I don’t think it’s offensive to say, but a lot of the work being done around here is not being done by natural-born American citizens. It’s being done by really hardworking Mexican people, and that’s not something I’ve seen in literature. For me it was important to say, hey, this is the face of small-town America right now. It’s not what you think.” For a number of years while he made his weekly trips to Iowa, Butler and his wife, an attorney and “a voracious reader,” and their son lived in the Twin Cities area. As he was revising the novel, the couple had a second child. Butler says they had been saving for years to return to the Eau Claire area, where his wife had also grown up. With the sale of the novel, last August they bought their house and 16 acres of land in Fall Creek. “My kids have all four grandparents within a 10-minute drive,” Butler says. “You can’t beat that.” And despite the fact that it is 18 below zero outside when we begin our conversation, Butler says, “This world that I inhabit is important to me. It is beautiful to me. . . . I feel extremely fortunate now. I do feel like I’m kind of living inside a dream.”


By Nickolas Butler

Thomas Dunne, $25.99, 320 pages ISBN 9781250039811, audio, eBook available

compass. He’s the most boring character in the book for me, frankly. Because basically he’s not going to do anything wrong, and that’s not super exciting.” Most readers won’t actually agree with Butler’s assessment of Hank’s boredom factor. Hank is the novel’s true north, an intelligent, observant exemplar of the best of Midwestern values. He is in many ways a far better man than his close childhood friend, turned not-so-close friend, Leland “Lee” Sutton, who under the nom de musique Corvus has become an Small-town international Wisconsin rock star. Lee’s roots link first album— five longtime “Shotgun Lovesongs”— friends in was recorded Butler’s in a converted lyrical novel. chicken coop outside of Little Wing and gives the novel its title. Lee’s ill-advised confession to Hank leads to one of the bigger disruptions among boyhood friends in Little Wing. The character of Leland has also already brought some national media attention to Shotgun Lovesongs because of Butler’s real-life relationship with Justin Vernon, founder of the Grammy-winning band Bon Iver. Butler went to high school with Vernon, so some early readers have assumed that Leland is a thinly veiled representation of Vernon. Butler says he hasn’t spoken to Vernon in 18 years. “You have to understand that in this community there was no template for artistic success before him. Justin gave a lot of us this sense of confidence that we could go out and do something different. So the character Leland is inspired by him, but he’s obviously not based on him. Justin has never been shot in the leg, and I don’t think he’s even ever been married. One thing that sets him apart from so many other people is that he went away, gained success, and then came home. He’s really involved in the community. Being homesick for Eau Claire and




cover story



A talented young author pens a fractured fairy tale


ere’s the first thing you should know about Helen Oyeyemi: She’s got a soft spot for twisted fairy tales. Her widely acclaimed first novel, The Icarus Girl, drew from both African and Western mythology to tell the story of a biracial 8-year-old and her wicked secret friend.

Her next two books, The Opposite House and White Is for Witching, address Cuban mysticism and Gothic horror, respectively. Mr. Fox, which she penned in 2011, recasts the classic Bluebeard folktale as a story about an English writer with a nasty habit of murdering his female characters. Here’s the second thing to know about Helen Oyeyemi: She wrote all four of those books before the age of 27. The award-winning British novelist (and daughter of Nigerian immigrants) shows no signs of slowing down, having just published her fifth book, Boy, Snow, Bird, a sly retelling of Snow White. “I never really set out to rewrite fairy tales,” she told BookPage during a recent telephone conversation from her home in Prague (where she moved last year on a whim). “I just get really interested in them. Perhaps it’s because there’s something about the retelling that exposes the teller. You have this very




By Helen Oyeyemi

Riverhead, $27.95, 320 pages ISBN 9781594631399, eBook available


old frame that’s been used by various other storytellers through the generations—an anchor, if you will. But there’s also room to show your own thoughts and feelings, to insert yourself into the narrative.” Oyeyemi certainly brought her own experience and wild imagination to bear in Boy, Snow, Bird, which examines the trope of the notorious evil stepmother—but with a racial twist. The novel begins in 1953 when the beautiful, troubled Boy Novak leaves her abusive father (a snarling, wild-eyed “rat-catcher”) for a small town in Massachusetts. There, she meets and marries a handsome widower, Arturo Whitman, whose daughter Snow is indisputably beautiful—the fairest in the land, if you will. As if Snow’s looks weren’t trouble enough, Boy soon gives birth to her own daughter, Bird, who is shockingly dark-skinned. Thus is uncovered the Whitmans’ deep, dark secret: They are a family of light-skinned blacks desperately trying to pass as white. Once this shame has been revealed, Boy banishes one child, while embracing the other—and all three characters are forced to confront their own identities. What’s interesting though, is how unfixed the concept of identity becomes over the course of the book. Not only are characters repeatedly miscategorized (by race, by gender) and misnamed (“Boy” is a girl, the Whitmans are not “white men”), some of them aren’t even positive they actually exist. How else could Snow and Bird explain the fact that they generally don’t show up in mirrors? Or the fact that neither can recall meeting the other in person? Even Boy’s father, the abusive ratcatcher, isn’t what he initially seems, revealing himself to be neither com-

pletely bad, nor exactly Boy’s father. If all this sounds confusing, fear not. As with her earlier novels, Oyeyemi’s prose can be cyclical and demanding—she’ll never be the type to spoon-feed takeaways or wrap things up in a pretty bow— but she’s also never out to full-on befuddle. If anything, she aims to please. “I just want readers to care enough to turn the page,” she admits. In other words, she writes characters who may be complex, but are both relatable and sympathetic. Oyeyemi has particular sympathy for one type of literary scapegoat: the archetypical wicked stepmother, whom she firmly believes gets an unfairly bad rap. “Wicked stepmothers disrupt the values of a story in a way that interests me,” she says. “They disrupt the notion that a woman should be dutiful or beautiful or sweetly tempered, and in that way, they become real

people. In fact, the fairy-tale villain or wicked stepmother has a spark for life that a character like Snow White just will never have.” OK, you might concede, so maybe Snow White is a little boring. But surely Oyeyemi can’t deny her fundamental goodness, right? Wrong. “To be honest,” she says, “I’ve always found Snow White to be quite menacing. She was always so placid and just accepted everything terrible that happened without any anger. I mean, she’s been thrown out of her home. She’s frightened. She has to go and live with these weird dwarves. And yet . . . she’s just this complacent blank slate. I find that much more terrifying than her wicked stepmother.” Such irreverence is fundamental to Boy, Snow, Bird which, it’s worth noting, is often surreally funny; Even the nastiest characters have moments of levity (the rat-catcher certainly plays for laughs), and particularly harrowing scenes are




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tinged with lightness—as when a thick clump of hair is found in the cranberry sauce during an emotionally fraught Thanksgiving dinner. But overall, Oyeyemi’s irreverence serves to disrupt fairy-tale convention, which typically relies on strict black-and-white dichotomy. No character, she seems to say, can be defined by race or gender, let alone moral good or evil. “Sure, it’s easier if you stick to absolutes,” she admits. “This is a man. This is a woman. This is what a white person does. This is what a black person does. This is what a black person looks like. This is what a white person looks like. And Oyeyemi has so on. But what particular I wanted to do was create sympathy characters who for one type connect on other levels, who of literary overcome the scapegoat: obstacles that the wicked might otherwise make them stepmother, enemies.” whom she Another absobelieves gets lute that drives Oyeyemi crazy a bad rap. is the concept of “happily ever after” or “closure,” both of which she resists in Boy, Snow, Bird. “What does ‘closure’ even mean?” she demands, laughing. “I don’t know if I should confess this, but I’ve been obsessed with this TV show called ‘Pretty Little Liars,’ and every episode it seems like somebody needs ‘closure.’ What psychobabble!” Then, with a hint of mischief: “The only real closure is death, right?” This interplay between the funny and the grim, the refreshing banal and the fantastically unknowable is perhaps what makes Oyeyemi so likeable—both as a person and as a writer. She’s wise beyond her years, but never pompous or intimidating. She gushes about Lydia Davis’ new short story collection, but also admits to crying during trashy airplane movies. And then of course there’s her fiction, which is at times difficult and dense, but always full of humor, joy and good old-fashioned plotting. About this balance, Oyeyemi is remarkably humble. “The things I write are so disobedient. I never know what they’ll turn out to be.” OK, fine. But in that case: She’s one darn good disciplinarian.




Forging ahead, finding your faith


ailure and sin, redemption and healing form the backbone of these five novels, much as they do in the Bible that inspires writers of Christian fiction. From thrilling mystery and longed-for relationships to tests of will and heart, these works of fiction highlight God’s grace to man—who desperately needs it.

In Billy Coffey’s The Devil Walks in Mattingly (Thomas Nelson, $15.99, 400 pages, ISBN 9781401688226), past misdeeds haunt a husband and wife in a way that blurs the line between the real world and something beyond. The sleepy town of Mattingly, Virginia, recalls Flannery O’Connor with its glimpses of the grotesque and supernatural. In this small town—prone to gossip and an inability to let bygones be bygones—the past and the present collide when heinous crimes are committed and an evil is let loose. Coffey introduces his readers to Jake and Kate Barnett and their shared demons, centered on a boy named Philip McBride. A third party, a shadowy figure named Taylor, emerges broken from the backwoods that have borne witness to the whole shameful story. Soon the events of 20 years ago press their weight on Kate, Jake and Taylor, and sweep new victims into the arc of pain. The story unwinds slowly and with a convincing voice that draws the reader deep into the unexplainable. The evil that wreaks havoc on Mattingly shakes many out of their stupor and awakens them to the possibility of forgiveness. Extricating themselves from the darkness of the past will mean bravely forging headlong into it.




“It’s Andersonville. Men die for no meaning.” Such is the overwhelming impression felt while reading Tracy Groot’s The Sentinels of Andersonville (Tyndale House, $24.99, 368 pages, ISBN 9781414359489), which focuses on the evils both within and without the infamous Civil War prison. Yankee soldiers died by the thousands in squalid conditions that Groot describes with a deft accuracy, interspersed with historical accounts and journal entries from men who died and men who lived. A privileged but well-meaning Southern belle named Violet Stiles discovers the shocking abuses at Andersonville. Aided by a possible suitor named Dance Pickett and a

Rebel soldier named Emery Jones, who had to deliver his newfound Yankee friend to the prison, they form a society to bring the horrors to light. Their hometown of Americus, Georgia, is not far from Andersonville, but its residents wish to remain removed from the goings-on there, even when confronted with the sad reality. Groot ably captures the despair of prisoners and soldiers alike, as well as the divided emotions of the Southern townsfolk, who have lost sons to the cause and hate the Yankees but want to be “good Christians.” When told of the appalling cesspool that is Andersonville, many won’t believe, others believe but won’t act, and still more focus only on the technicalities and red tape involved. Groot truthfully renders the struggle between patriotism and Christ’s call to help the suffering regardless of their affiliation.

THE CALL OF THE PRAIRIE As in her previous “prairie romances,” Janette Oke highlights the timidity as well as the growing perseverance of a young protagonist making her way in the rough world. For Where Courage Calls (Bethany House, $14.99, 336 pages, ISBN 9780764212314), Oke shares the authorial role with her daughter, Laurel Oke Logan, and the two relate a tale that is as much about family relationships (those born and those made) as it is about faith. Elizabeth “Beth” Thatcher has embarked on a journey to teach school in the Canadian mining town of Coal Valley, far from the shelter and comfort of her family home. The story reads like Beth’s journal as she encounters obstacles in her new community—having all her belongings stolen at the train station, being treated as an outsider, struggling with illness and uncovering the threat hidden in the woods around her new home. Her growing love for the children she teaches as well as the town’s maligned Italian immigrant workers fuels her to meet the many challenges of frontier life. Eventually her mistakes give

way to truly following the call of Christ as she endeavors to improve her pupils’ lives. Readers of Oke’s previous books, which include the best-selling Love Comes Softly series, will find much to enjoy in this new novel, filled with her familiar balance of just the right amount of romance and mystery.

VIRTUAL SEDUCTION What if you could create your perfect friend? One who literally was always available? That’s the driving question behind John Faubion’s suspenseful tale of the seductive power of technology, Friend Me (Howard Books, $14.99, 368 pages, ISBN 9781476738727). The fictional Virtual Friend Me software takes email or social networking sites and goes one better: allowing users to create the friend or companion they seek. Scott and Rachel Douglas, parents of two, succumb to the software’s promise. Given her husband’s long hours at work, Rachel needs someone she can talk to, so she re-creates the best friend she lost to cancer. Scott sees what the intriguing new software offers his wife, and, in a lifealtering decision, chooses to create a female friend. Unsurprisingly, things take an intimate turn. Little do Rachel and Scott know that Melissa Montalvo, the woman behind the cutting-edge software, has taken a personal interest in the couple. Convinced that Scott is the perfect man for her, the unhinged Melissa begins a systematic effort to break them up by any means. The twists here are numerous, and the revealed details of Melissa’s backstory grow more disturbing. Though the characters are somewhat sketchily drawn, their dissatisfaction and mistakes lead them plausibly down a very wrong road. Will they be able to change course before it’s too late?

NO SIMPLE DEATH Amber Wright runs the Amish Artisan Village in Middlebury, Indiana, a collection of shops where people come to admire a simpler way of life, buy handicrafts and enjoy the unique culture, charm and cooking. It is not a place where people die mysteriously. Yet as Murder Simply Brewed (Zondervan, $15.99, 368 pages, ISBN 9780310326168) opens, one of her store owners, Ethan, dies in a way that is ruled natural at first. Until, that is, odd and threatening events occur and curious clues start piling up. Prophetic verses from the book of Daniel are found scrawled in blood-red paint, along with other offerings meant to frighten. To uncover the truth, Amber and her begrudging, widowed neighbor, Tate, follow the trail. Soon, everyone from the man’s wife to his co-workers and mentally unstable sister becomes a suspect. Vannetta Chapman keeps the action suspenseful, and the who-done-it mostly unpredictable as her Amish and English characters work together to solve the mystery. Out of even such dreadful circumstances come moments of grace: between Amber and her Amish employee Hannah and between Amber and Tate, who had each given up on love.


Celebrating the accomplishments of fearless females


he past is packed with remarkable women whose achievements deserve special recognition. Just in time for Women’s History Month, three new books provide in-depth looks at a few of the courageous, far-sighted women who served as early champions of change. Inspiring narratives about friendship, kinship and the quest for equality, these compelling books salute a group of winning women who were ahead of their time. Frederick Douglass). With the assistance of millionaire magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt, Tennie’s reputed lover, the sisters launched the first female-owned brokerage firm. Their taste for controversy and ultra-pro-

FEMINIST FAMILY TIES Diane Jacobs explores an intriguing facet of a famous family in Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Two Remarkable Sisters (Ballantine, $28, 528 pages, ISBN 9780345465061). In this artful biography, Jacobs spotlights the friendship that existed between Abigail Adams, wife of President John Adams, and her sisters, Mary Cranch and Elizabeth Shaw Peabody, with whom she shared progressive ideas regarding education and gender. The sisters came of age in the mid1700s in Weymouth, Massachusetts, raised by a minister father and a book-loving mother. They were a tightly bound bunch until marriage parted them. Avid letter writers, over the years they produced a correspondence that was polished and insightful, filled with wit and commentary on current events. Drawing on their letters and other archival materials, Jacobs has created a well-rounded, thoroughly readable biography of the threesome. Each sister shines in her own way: Mary, the eldest sibling, served as mayor of her small hamlet, while Elizabeth, the youngest and an ambitious writer, established the second coeducational school in America with the help of her husband. Middle sister Abigail took charge of the Adams farm while her husband forged a path to the presidency. The sisters’ independence, integrity and spunk shine through Jacobs’ expertly crafted narrative, which also provides a fresh look at life in colonial-era America.


indomitable will made her an early model of change for women. Bright, well read and remarkably beautiful, Elizabeth Patterson— known as Betsy—came from a wellto-do Baltimore family. When the dashing Jérôme Bonaparte, Napoleon’s spoiled younger brother, arrived in Baltimore and made her acquaintance, he was smitten. The pair wed in 1803, and their union drew the attention of the American government while scandalizing Napoleon, who blocked Betsy’s entry at ports throughout Europe. To Jérôme, the French emperor issued an ultimatum: Give up Betsy or relinquish the Bonaparte fortune. Jérôme, of course, caved. Betsy, who bore him a son, took a defiant stance in the wake of his betrayal, forging a life for herself that did not include the refuge of another marriage. Thanks to her beauty and intellect, she shone in Mathew Brady portraits of free-thinking sisters Victoria Woodhull (left) and Tennessee European society and spent many years overseas. She also “Tennie” Claflin, who never shied away from challenging the conventions of their era. set herself up handsomely through investments and profits from Baltimore real estate. gressive attitudes (tenacious Tennie Woodhull and Tennessee “Tennie” Through it all, she remained proud Claflin, free-thinking feminist sisters proposed that women be trained of the Bonaparte name. for army combat) were frowned who took New York City by storm in Berkin, a historian and the acupon by more reserved feminists, the 1860s by fearlessly addressing claimed author of Revolutionary but they remained steadfast in their the taboos of the time. They were Mothers and Civil War Wives, brings desire for reform. MacPherson, an proponents of free love, suffrage, sex education and labor reform, and award-winning journalist, takes they stumped for their causes brave- a theatrical approach to these radical proceedings. She provides ly. Originally from rural Ohio, where a cast of characters and unfolds their father, a snake-oil salesman, used them in his act, the sisters were the sisters’ story over the course of five irresistible “acts.” This is a a canny and intelligent pair, both grand tale presented on a grand strikingly handsome and unfazed scale. by public scrutiny. They never shied from a scandal. Their accusations A SAVVY SISTER-IN-LAW of infidelity against minister Henry Ward Beecher nearly trumped the Carol Berkin’s Wondrous Civil War for press coverage. Beauty: The Life and Adventures The duo’s accomplishments of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte are astonishing: Victoria was the (Knopf, $27.95, 256 pages, ISBN first woman to make a bid for the 9780307592781) features a heroine presidency (her running mate was whose fierce independence and Sensational in every sense of the word, The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age (Twelve, $28, 432 pages, ISBN 9780446570237) by Myra MacPherson looks at the lives of Victoria

a fascinating chapter of feminist history to life in a narrative that’s brisk and vivid.




Lonely souls finding their way REVIEW BY MEGAN FISHMANN


Alice Hoffman’s latest novel has the word “extraordinary” in the title for good reason: The best-selling author of The Dovekeepers has served up another historical novel that will dazzle readers until the last page. Set in New York City in the early 1900s, The Museum of Extraordinary Things veers from the extravagant mansions dotting the Upper West Side to the foul conditions of the overcrowded tenements on the Lower East Side to the seaside apartments stretched across Coney Island to tell the interwoven stories of Coralie Sardie and Eddie Cohen. Coralie is the only child of a once-famous French magician who now runs The Museum of Extraordinary Things on Coney Island’s Surf Avenue. His curiosity show—packed with acts performed by so-called “freaks and oddities” like the Wolfman and Butterfly Girl—is being threatened by competing attractions that are being built nearby. Coralie was born with webbed hands, and unbeknownst to her, her father has been preparing her to one day become part of the museum. Nightly, Coralie is submerged By Alice Hoffman in ice cold baths and forced to swim in the Atlantic Ocean in order to Scribner, $27.99, 384 pages build up her tolerance to the cold and increase the strength of her lungs ISBN 9781451693560, audio, eBook available for holding her breath underwater. HISTORICAL FICTION On the Lower East Side, Eddie Cohen—a young Orthodox Jewish man who emigrated from Russia—has abandoned his job as a tailor, along with his father and his faith, to pursue a career in photography. Eddie spends his time photographing the crime beat for newspapers. As he is working the devastating Triangle Shirtwaist fire (which killed more than 100 young female laborers), Eddie is approached by a despondent father looking for his daughter. Despite his reluctance to get involved, Eddie finds himself agreeing to track her down. His investigation leads him to cross paths with Coralie, and both their lives are forever changed. In The Museum of Extraordinary Things, both characters are searching for something. Coralie is desperate to escape from her father’s obsessive and abusive watch. Meanwhile, Eddie is attempting to make peace with himself and the fact that he abandoned not only his father, but also his God. As the two narratives gradually intertwine, Coralie and Eddie’s faith in both each other and themselves will be tested numerous times, only to come to an explosive head at the end of this powerful novel.



By Nadifa Mohamed


FSG $26, 352 pages ISBN 9780374209148 eBook available


Hargeisa, Somalia, was balanced on a fragile precipice in the fall of 1987—held in the grip of a powerful dictatorship, with signs of revolution emerging with ever-increasing frequency. Nadifa Mohamed’s moving, thought-provoking second novel, following Black Mamba Boy (2010), focuses on three female characters caught up in the maelstrom whose lives intersect in unforgettable ways.

Deqo is a young orphan girl who has come to Hargeisa from the local refugee camp. She is drawn to the relative safety of the city, where she sleeps in a barrel under a bridge, thus escaping the notice of the Guddi, the neighborhood watch group that supports the regime. The clothes she wears she has “grabbed from the wind . . . items that ghosts have left behind.” In return for her first pair of shoes, she signs up to dance in a pro-government rally to be held in Hargeisa’s stadium. Also at the stadium that day is Kawsar, a widow in her late 50s who comes to the rally with friends— all forced to attend by the Guddi, though none supports the regime. When Kawsar sees Deqo being punished for not following the Guddi’s precise directions, she steps in to defend the girl—and their wrath then turns on her. Deqo manages

Mohamed and her family left Somalia in 1986, the year before the outbreak of the civil war about which she writes so eloquently. The story she has fashioned around these three resilient characters and how they survive is one that will resonate with readers for a long time.

to escape, but Kawsar is hauled off to the police station and placed in a group cell. Instead of being released after a brief interrogation, as she anticipates, Kawsar has the misfortune of confronting Filsan, a fervent young female soldier relocated to Hargeisa from Mogadishu to help suppress the growing rebellion. Filsan takes out her dissatisfaction on Kawsar, whom she first questions, then savagely beats “like a disobedient donkey.” With a broken hip and pelvis, Kawsar is confined to her bed, unable to join her friends, who are preparing to leave the country before war breaks out. Deqo is still in hiding nearby and Filsan, who has become disillusioned with the military and its tactics, looks for a chance to escape the disintegration of her world that she know is fast approaching.


Spiegel & Grau $26, 320 pages ISBN 9780812995206 eBook available


Let’s get one thing straight: With The Weight of Blood, it’s clear that Laura McHugh is more than a pretender to the throne of the “rural noir” genre. If her dazzling and disturbing debut novel is anything to go by, she’s got her eye on the crown and has more than the necessary talent and skills to nab it for herself. Daniel Woodrell had better watch his back. Lucy Dane has lived in Henbane all 17 years of her life, but she is ostracized by many of the town’s locals because of malicious rumors surrounding her mother, an exotic and bewitching outsider who disappeared without a trace when Lucy was just a baby. So when Lucy’s friend, Cheri, is found murdered, Lucy finds that the loss dredges up many of the long-buried questions about the day her mother wandered into Old Scratch Cavern with a pistol in hand and was never seen again. As Lucy digs deeper into what happened to Cheri, she begins uprooting the tenuous foundation of her own life—and discovers that some things may be better left lost. The Weight of Blood is a tense, taut novel and a truly remarkable debut. McHugh, who moved to the Ozarks with her family as a preteen, elegantly interweaves the stories of Lucy and her mother, Lila, shifting between narratives to delicately ratchet up the tension and ensnare her audience, like a sly spider crafting a beautiful but deadly web. The pacing is swift, the writing redolent, and McHugh is not afraid to burrow

FICTION into some very dark territory—readers will gasp in a mixture of surprise, horror and delight as pieces of her gruesome puzzle begin to slide into place. The Weight of Blood rewards its readers with a suspenseful thrill ride that satisfies in all the right ways. —STEPHENIE HARRISON

 Visit for a Q&A with Laura McHugh.

A BURNABLE BOOK By Bruce Holsinger

Morrow $25.99, 464 pages ISBN 9780062240323 Audio, eBook available




Bloomsbury $25, 240 pages ISBN 9781620405031 Audio, eBook available


in the harsh climate and secretive environment of Los Alamos. The Wives of Los Alamos is written in the first person plural (“we”), a surprisingly effective choice by Nesbit. It helps paint the picture of a generation of women who, while diverse in many ways, were still products of their time, following their husbands virtually without question. “What did we think our husbands were doing in the lab?” Nesbit writes. “We suspected, because the military was involved, that they were building a communication device, a rocket, or a new weapon. We ruled out submarines because we were in the desert—but we closely considered types of code breaking.” The conditions were stark: a dusty, windy, mysterious military base where food was rationed and showers were a luxury. Some families buckled under the harsh conditions. Yet Nesbit shows that the women found ways to adapt and even have fun, with morning neighborhood coffees and evening dances giving shape to their social lives. “We felt the freedom of living in isolation,” she writes, “and so, on the weekends, fenced in as we were, we celebrated and square-danced, we let go. We often work the next morning with no water and spent the day reeking of rum, and our lungs burned from smoking so many cigarettes. We wanted what we could many times not have: coffee, a shower.” Nesbit made use of oral histories and archival documents to detail for the first time the lives of these young women who until now were forgotten in the history books. It is a stunningly original and thoughtprovoking debut novel.

R eADS from

Avon Romance


The term “Middle Ages” contains a prejudice: that the era was merely an unremarkable void straddling antiquity and modernity. Recent scholarship has eroded this perception. The era produced Dante, Chaucer and Boccaccio as well as significant leaps in mathematics and even algorithms and cryptography. It was, moreover, a time when the lust for life was great and the powerful had lust aplenty. Bruce Holsinger’s captivating historical novel A Burnable Book is testimony to this more accurate view of a fascinating period. The scene is London in 1385. Reigning over England is Richard II, later to adorn one of Shakespeare’s plays. The church is divided between Rome and Avignon while England hangs in the balance. A book, the “burnable” one of the title, appears, allegedly written during the reign of William the Conqueror. The book prophesies in historically accurate terms the death of every English king from William to Richard. Thus it falls to the book’s many temporary owners to decipher that prophecy and save, or not save, the reigning monarch. But the true authorship of the book remains mysterious. Is it Chaucer, soon to write his Canterbury Tales? Is it Lollius, to whom the Roman poet Horace addressed one of his odes? Or is it the son of the novel’s narrator, who chews the fat

with Chaucer and does some sleuthing of his own, even slinking into the brothels to ask prostitutes pointed questions? Thus the novel careens from court to academia, from house of God to house of ill repute, with scandalous overlap between the latter two. The novel’s action proceeds at a steady clip and has the stench of authenticity, detailing everything from methods of torture to the happy custom of throwing refuse into the street. Its prose is erudite and focused, reading more like an academic thriller than a frilly period piece: John Grisham meets Umberto Eco. And Holsinger has clearly ventured to imbue his writing with the earthy English words that Orwell, among others, favored over their highfalutin’ Latinate counterparts. The language is also often bawdy, as befits a novel about bawds. In his own book about England, Paul Theroux argued that England had been written about perhaps more than any other country, but the England he meant was likely that of Dickens, Austen or Hardy. About medieval England we know almost nil. This clever novel, as contemporary as it is distant, helps illuminate an England consigned for ages to a stagnant darkness.



The women came from all over the nation—even the world—with little or no idea why they were moving to a remote New Mexico town with only a post office box for an address. They were the wives of scientists working at a secret research laboratory to build the first atomic bomb. The Manhattan Project is a storied chapter in American history, its products used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Less well recorded are the voices of the women who lived there in the early 1940s, raising families and struggling to build a community

ALL OUR NAMES By Dinaw Mengestu

Knopf $25.95, 272 pages ISBN 9780385349987 eBook available


Dinaw Mengestu’s third novel skillfully blends two disparate narratives—the account of an African





revolution and the story of a survivor’s new life in America—to create a moving portrait of the dilemma of identity. All Our Names is set in the 1970s, in the early days of Idi Amin’s repressive reign in Uganda. An unnamed narrator, a young man who dreams of becoming a writer, crosses the border from his native Ethiopia and meets Isaac, his contemporary from the slums of Kampala. The two “became friends the way two stray dogs find themselves linked by treading the same path every day in search of food and companionship.” They spend their days at the capital’s university campus and watch as what begin as almost playful protests, chief among them what the narrator calls their “paper revolution,” spark brutal retaliation from government thugs. Soon, the idealism of the uprising curdles into violence, with Isaac assuming a prominent role in the anti-government force. In chapters that alternate with that account, Helen, a social Mengestu worker in a small Midwestexposes our ern college very human town, provides inability to the novel’s other narrative truly know voice. The man even those she knows as closest to us. Isaac has escaped from the African turmoil, bearing scars both physical and psychic. Helen quickly is transformed from his “chaperone into Middle America” into his lover, but the bigotry of the times compels them to conceal their interracial relationship. Despite their intimacy, Helen is haunted by her inability to penetrate to the core of Isaac’s being. That unease is only one manifestation of the conflicting impulses that seem to define these characters. How is Isaac transformed from prankster to hardened revolutionary, someone “trying to end the nightmare this nation has become”? The narrator, who “came for the writers and stayed for the war” finds “the difference wasn’t as great as I would have thought,” and yet he vacillates between detachment and active, if reluctant, participation in the revolt. Helen, who still lives with her mother at age 30, struggles to resolve the tension between her small-town roots and the exoti-

FICTION cism of her affair with a man from an alien culture whose past is veiled from her. In each instance, Mengestu’s unadorned prose hints at, rather than discloses, the secrets each of his characters harbors. But it’s in their mystery that he exposes a persistent fact of our existence—our inability to truly know even those closest to us. —HARVEY FREEDENBERG


HMH $24, 256 pages ISBN 9780544047747 Audio, ebook available


If we’re all stars in the stories of our own lives, then the people we pass on the street, in the elevator or in the park are extras. And when those stories are lived out in the apartments, coffee shops and streets of New York City, there are an awful lot of extras. Although New York residents often feel anonymous among the city’s millions, proximity means their lives repeatedly brush against one another’s. That proves to be the case in Visible City, the charming new novel by best-selling writer Tova Mirvis (The Ladies Auxiliary, The Outside World). Nina, a mother of two and a former attorney, often checks out of her own story and into those of others by observing a couple whose apartment is visible from her own Upper West Side flat. The older couple’s calm interactions enchant her—until one evening she spots a quarrelsome young couple in their place. Who are these people? How do they relate? Nina’s curiosity is satiated after she meets the male half of the older couple at a neighborhood Starbucks. And as she continues to encounter Leon around the neighborhood, her veil of anonymity slips away. “[I]f you kept talking to strangers,” Leon realizes, “eventually they became friends.” That friendship gradually reveals parallels between these two families on opposite sides of the street. Leon’s wife, Claudia, an art professor, has

lost the motivating thirst for her work, just as Nina has. But therapist Leon and attorney Jeremy, Nina’s husband, continue to hide themselves away in their occupations. Meanwhile, Leon’s daughter Emma, who is half of the young couple Nina spotted, begins to babysit for Nina’s children. As the neighbors’ paths continue to cross, the metaphorical walls behind which they hide fall away. “Even in this city of so many people, there was no escape from the expanding web of intersections,” Leon realizes. In Visible City, Mirvis steps away from the Orthodox Jewish society that has populated her previous work to explore these entanglements of big-city life. As the lives of Mirvis’ three couples become increasingly intertwined, readers’ curiosity will be piqued, just as Nina’s was when these neighbors were merely strangers. —CARLA JEAN WHITLEY

THE TROOP By Nick Cutter

Gallery $26, 368 pages ISBN 9781476717715 eBook available


thing more dangerous, deadly and contagious than he could have ever imagined. And so begins the terrifying thrill ride that is Nick Cutter’s The Troop. Cutter’s decision to alternate perspectives between chapters is a wise one. Not only does it allow readers to get to know each character (and their backstories), but it also keeps us guessing as to who—if anyone— is going to make it through the ordeal. They’re a ragtag but close-knit group: Kent, the arrogant jock, most popular guy in school; Ephraim “Eff,” the troubled, anger-prone youth; Eff’s best friend, Max, earnest and loyal; Newton, overweight and socially awkward; and Shelley, a loner with some unsavory interests. Reminiscent of Scott Smith’s The Ruins and with shades of William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Stephen King’s “The Body” (on which the film Stand by Me was based), The Troop is brutally visceral, pulling readers right into the action, tapping into our most primal fears: isolation, hunger, survival. Cutter is at his best when describing the ooey-gooeyness of infection—the stench, the sounds, the texture—and in articulating the abject and utter terror of the characters unlucky enough to witness, or experience, these ooey-gooey happenings. The book isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re intrigued by what you’ve read so far, then chances are you’ll enjoy succumbing to the thrills of this highly entertaining page-turner. —J O E L L E H E R R

It is a cool October night on Falstaff Island, about nine miles off of Prince Edward Island, and Scoutmaster Tim Riggs is enjoying a sip of scotch. He can hear his five 14-yearold scouts talking and laughing in the next room, most likely telling ghost stories before they fall asleep. All six are completely unaware of the horrifying turn their annual camping trip is about to take. The familiar comfort of their night is interrupted by the sound of a motorboat approaching the island. The boat’s sole passenger is a grotesquely gaunt, obviously very ill man who’s so frantic with voracious hunger that he’ll eat anything, even a moth-eaten chesterfield sofa. Tim, a small-town doctor, at first tries to help the man—and keep him away from the naturally curious boys. Tim soon discovers, however, that the stranger is infected with some-

CLEVER GIRL By Tessa Hadley

Harper $25.99, 272 pages ISBN 9780062270399 eBook available


Is there anyone who hasn’t wondered which actions and incidents most gave shape to their lives? In Tessa Hadley’s Clever Girl, Stella is the author of her own life, recounting her story in a series of gracefully drawn but honestly expressed episodes starting in the 1960s and running to the present day.




Crown $25, 480 pages ISBN 9780804137447 Audio, eBook available


An epistolary tale told through emails, interoffice memos, legal documents and handwritten notes, The Divorce Papers is a witty and engaging first novel from author Susan Rieger. As is obvious from the title, the book features a divorce at its center. However, Rieger makes it about much more as she covers topics ranging from childhood trauma and fresh romances to office politics and literary theory. Sophie Diehl is a criminal law associate living in New England and apprehensively approaching her 30th birthday. She is horrified when her boss hands her a divorce case on a week when the firm’s experienced divorce lawyers are away; she prefers the minimal-contact work she specializes in and, as a child of divorce herself, wants nothing to do with handling one. But when her efforts to extricate herself from the case fail, she finds herself immersed in the extremely bitter marriage dissolution of Mia Meiklejohn (her client) and her wealthy oncologist husband, Dr. Daniel Durkheim. The case involves not only infidelity and dramatic clashes, but also a troubled 10-year-old daughter. While this plot might sound like an overwrought soap opera with a chick-lit slant, the execution is funny and intelligent. Rieger herself went to Columbia Law School and has worked as an attorney and university administrator, and her prose—peppered with literary, historical and philosophical references—is whip smart. And although there is no traditional narration, the reader becomes well acquainted with Sophie and her inner world, particularly through emails sent to her best friend Maggie, her new boyfriend, her parents and her charmingly erudite boss, David Greaves. The narrative flow does stumble at times, particularly when several pages of full legal documents are presented; while Rieger obviously


Into the wild


ouis Bayard blends historical narrative and otherworldly mystery in his reimagining of Theodore and Kermit Roosevelt’s 1914 Amazon expedition. What was your initial inspiration for Roosevelt’s Beast? That’s a bit shrouded in mystery. All I can remember is standing in a Borders—that’s how long ago this was—and thinking, “Wait, didn’t Teddy Roosevelt go on some crazy journey through the Amazon jungle?” At that point, I hadn’t yet read Candice Millard’s The River of Doubt, so I didn’t know how close Roosevelt came to death or how harrowing that journey really was—backbreaking labor, disease, starvation, drowning. The only thing I had, really, was a question. What would that experience have done to Roosevelt’s mind—or, to be metaphysical about it, his soul? The rest of the book just flowed from there. Did you get the chance to see the Rio Roosevelt for yourself? If there’s one thing I’ve learned from writing historical novels, it’s how elusive the past can be. You can go to Paris, you can go to London, and I’ve done that, but if you want to reconstruct Napoleonic Paris or Victorian London, you have to head to the library. And that’s what I did. I immersed myself in primary sources until I had the clearest possible picture of Teddy Roosevelt’s jungle. (Plus I’m fortunate to live in a city that gets pretty damned tropical in the summer.) What made you decide to focus your novel on Kermit instead of his much more famous father, Theodore Roosevelt? I’m always looking for the blanks in the historical canvas—the people and things that nobody really knows about. Here was this gifted, courageous, accomplished young man who should have had a golden career—a golden life—and instead he lost his way. And to this day, nobody can say why. Even his own family didn’t know why. So this book is an effort to figure

out, at both the psychological and symbolic levels, what happened. You have written extensively about your experience with depression: Do you identify with Kermit, who was also diagnosed? Yeah, that part of the book required zero research on my part. And it makes perfect sense to me, by the way, that he would have medicated himself with alcohol because, in those days, what else was there? You begin to understand why alcohol was such a force in American life—far more than it is today. Many of your novels have dealt with complicated father-son relationships. What attracts you to this dynamic? I do keep coming back to that theme, and I’m not sure why. Maybe because being a father is always kicking my ass. It’s the one job I never seem to master. On the page, maybe I can get it right. Do you have a favorite fatherson relationship in literature? It’s hard to pick just one. The Road was pretty damn beautiful. The Brothers Karamazov. Seize the Day. Gloucester and Edgar in King Lear. If I can pluck from the film medium, Vittorio de Sica’s The Bicycle Thief has a father-son relationship that will destroy you. What are you working on next? I’m writing a young-adult novel, also historical, with a teenaged female protagonist. A daughter this time! I can’t wait.


Holt $27, 320 pages ISBN 9780805090703 Audio, eBook available



We first encounter Stella as a 10-year-old girl living with her mother in a small apartment in Bristol on the west coast of England. Though her mother alleges she is a widow, Stella comes to other conclusions about her absent father’s real whereabouts. A bright and dreamy girl, she spends time reading and riding at the local stables. When her mother remarries, Stella finds herself chafing against her stepfather’s conventional household, drawn instead to the freedoms Told in a promised series of by the more perfectly permissive 1970s and the observed opportunities moments, brought by a Clever Girl scholarship to a prestigious is not about school. what you Clever Girl is less about what want your you want your life to be, life to be than but what what you do with what life you do with hands you. By what life the time she is hands you. in her early 20s, Stella is a single mother with two children. School is an impossibility, and she makes ends meet by keeping house for an English professor and later working in an art gallery. Stella reveals her story as a series of moments, almost like a picaresque novel. The connecting thread is her cleverness, here translated as intellectual capabilities as well as curiosity about life. Though at one point she feels as though books “have let her down,” it is still her acumen that allows her to provide the links between one incident and the next. Hadley is a consummate writer who excels at the kind of honest material details that fully round every scene. As someone who was born at roughly the same time as Stella, I can assure you Hadley’s recreation of the decades from 1960 to 2000 is deliciously accurate. Clever Girl is an elegant and accomplished novel that will entertain but also make you contemplate the trajectory of your own life.



reviews has a great enthusiasm for the intricacies of the law, some readers might find these sections tough to slog through. But overall, The Divorce Papers is a sharp read and an impressive debut. —REBECCA STROPOLI

GEMINI By Carol Cassella

Simon & Schuster $25.99, 352 pages ISBN 9781451627930 eBook available


FICTION world interconnected, she must have family; she must have someone who misses her. Cleverly but incrementally, Cassella—a practicing physician as well as an author—puts together the pieces of Jane Doe’s mystery even as she ponders, through Charlotte, the Big Questions. What is life, anyway? Is it simply one’s genetics? Does it have a purpose? What’s the best way to find love, happiness, peace? Is Jane Doe still in there somewhere, in her ruined, swollen, already decaying body? As for the mystery’s solution: It explains much, but that’s all you’ll learn from this review!




If you’re very observant and know a little something about the wilder shores of human genetics, then you may be able to figure out the big mystery of Carol Cassella’s new novel by, oh, page 260 or so. Oh yes, the title also gives one a hint as to what’s going on with one of the book’s well-drawn characters. But we should start at the beginning. Gemini concerns a dedicated and humane doctor, Charlotte Reese, who comes to be the physician for an anonymous woman who is medevaced in from an impoverished Washington town to Dr. Reese’s Seattle hospital in the middle of the night. The Jane Doe is apparently a hit-and-run victim. Conscious when she was first found lying in a ditch by a road, she slips into a coma on the operating table after a fat embolism breaks loose from one of her broken bones and lodges in her brain. Part of the story concerns Charlotte’s struggle over whether to keep Jane Doe alive, or to let her pass on with some kind of dignity. The other part of the story has to do with Charlotte’s boyfriend of three years, a writer who’s working on a book about genetics. He’s one of the folks in this book whose DNA doesn’t work the way it should. Having inherited neurofibromatosis, as a child he was subject to seizures and later developed benign brain tumors—yes, more than one. Charlotte, who’s desperate to have a child, doesn’t know if Eric’s a good prospect for fatherhood, as the risk of him passing down his affliction is almost a certainty. But there’s still the problem of Jane Doe. Surely, with the whole

BYRD By Kim Church

their meetings results in a pregnancy that Addie will keep secret, something she regrets deeply. The book is interspersed with poignant unsent letters from Addie to the child she gave up, whom she calls Byrd. Will Roland, Addie and Byrd reunite? The reader comes to know the characters in Byrd extraordinarily well. Through this knowledge, we come to care deeply about their successes and failures. —DAVID W. SCHWEID


Random House $26, 336 pages ISBN 9781400068142 Audio, eBook available


Dzanc Books $14.95, 228 pages ISBN 9781938604522


Kim Church has created an unforgettable and gripping tale about a young woman’s passage to adulthood in a small town in North Carolina in her excellent debut novel, Byrd. There are books we like to read because they provide a window to a world wholly unfamiliar, but there are others like Byrd that give insight into our own lives: our hopes and dreams, what we’ve done right, opportunities missed. The simple fact is few of us live the lives we dreamed of when we were young, or as the young heroine Addie says, “I have learned it is possible to become satisfied with your life too soon.” She falls in love early, not realizing it will not last forever. Throughout the book Addie is looking to recapture the intensity of that first love, “the deep down panic of real love, the jolt she felt with Roland.” The intensity of first love compared to the pleasures of mature love is one of the abiding themes of the book. How do these forms of love compare? Which is real, which lasts—and can the earlier intensity ever be recaptured? Years after their original love affair, Addie and Roland fumble their way back toward each other. One of

Chinese-American Li, who was born in Beijing and moved to the U.S. in 1996, is a MacArthur Fellow and was named one of the New Yorker’s top 20 writers under 40. Her new novel is penetrating and emotionally tasking, but there’s something compulsive about it—something that hooks a nerve and tugs again and again. Kinder Than Solitude promises a mystery at its heart, but solving the crime is far from this story’s point. It’s about forcing memory to the surface, making it relevant and no longer an element of history as forgotten as an old Chinese dynasty. The greatest reprieve from all this repression and melancholy is the subdued prose, which unfolds the tale with immense grace and astonishing insight. This is an intense and elegant book, a dark tale with great reverence for the depth of the human heart. —CAT ACREE

The death that launches Yiyun Li’s second novel, Kinder Than Solitude, has been a long time coming. Twenty years before, Shaoai was mysteriously poisoned by someone close to her, leaving her crippled and diminished. Her death comes as a great relief for the novel’s three main characters, Moran, Ruyu and Boyang—once childhood friends in China, but now estranged. But with that sigh of relief comes the truth. The story unfolds in flashes of past and present, dipping between the storylines of the three distant friends to reveal how they have been transformed by the poisoning of Shaoai. Orphan Ruyu, who “defied being known” and avoids interpersonal connections, now lives in California and works as a glorified assistant for a local woman. Moran, who now lives in Wisconsin, goes from relishing life’s ideal moments to removing herself from all moments, past or present. Solitude is clarity; connection is clutter. But it is a tenuous insouciance, and news of Shaoai’s death, immediately followed by her ex-husband’s own terminal illness, sends her out of the shadows. “Sugar daddy” Boyang, who is the only one still living in Beijing, cared for Shaoai up until the end. He is the only one able to recognize the existence of the past, but even then, its recollection is lacking in nostalgia.


Norton $25.95, 352 pages ISBN 9780393069280 eBook available


Ellen Litman gives a new twist to the familiar coming of age/boarding school story (think A Separate Peace, Prep, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie) in her second novel, Mannequin Girl. Set in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, it features the precocious daughter of two teachers whose life is radically changed when she receives a diagnosis of scoliosis. The story begins just before 7-year-old Kat Knopman is due to start first grade at the Moscow day school where her parents are teachers. Bright and just a little bit spoiled, Kat worships her parents, the beautiful but imperious Anechka and softhearted Misha. Young Jewish intellectuals, they are involved in the arts and dabble at the fringes of radical politics. But Kat’s dream of being their star pupil ends when she is sent to a boarding school on the outskirts of the city for children with spinal ailments. Kat proves to be tougher

FICTION than even her formidable teachers, unsympathetic peers and grueling medical regimens, but the consuming disappointment of not being the healthy golden child she thinks her parents want proves more restrictive than any back brace. As she matures, Kat gradually comes to accept the flaws inherent in her parents, just as she begins to outgrow the debilitating disease. Mannequin Girl is set just at the beginning of perestroika and what became the gradual dissolution of the Soviet system. This brought more freedom, but it also revealed an ugly rise in Nationalism and anti-Semitism, which curtails Kat’s opportunities as well as those of her friends and family. Litman, who was born in Moscow, was herself diagnosed with scoliosis and spent many years attending a similar school/sanatorium. She writes sympathetically of the shifting alliances and friendships within a boarding school, as well as the gritty details of an adolescence spent in a full-body brace. In Mannequin Girl, she has written a sharp and occasionally tender novel with a prickly protagonist readers can’t help but care for. —LAUREN BUFFERD

WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT By Elizabeth Blackwell

Putnam/Amy Einhorn $25.95, 432 pages ISBN 9780399166235 Audio, eBook available


memory of the real story of Sleeping Beauty has long been buried in her mind. One night, hearing her great-grandchild tell the fantastical version of the tale, the tale of a princess who slept for a hundred years, Elise decides it’s finally time to tell the real story: the story of a queen desperate for a daughter, a treacherous aunt and the curse she brought to the palace, a war, a plague, a king striving to save his heir. Elise was at the center of it all, protecting her queen, her princess and her own chance at survival. Blackwell succeeds at deftly weaving her own elements into a classic story without ever doing either a disservice, but there’s perhaps a more important balancing act she pulls off that makes the novel even more rewarding: the balance between Elise’s place in the fairy tale, and her own personal journey. This is not Sleeping Beauty’s story, though she is vital to it. This is Elise’s story, and not as a supporting character. It’s the story of her love life, her fears, her hopes, her mysterious past and her determination, and Blackwell makes sure it matters by rendering Elise as a powerful, vulnerable and inviting voice. The strength of Elise as a character is the reason this novel works. Fans of novels like Wicked and lovers of fairy tales will no doubt find something new to love in While Beauty Slept, as will anyone who enjoys a layered drama rich with juicy palace intrigue. —MATTHEW JACKSON





Bantam $15, 400 pages ISBN 9780345536860 Audio, eBook available


Diana Morgan has focused her career as a philologist (one who engages in the study of literary text and written records), on the Amazons, the legendary warrior women of ancient Greece—and with good reason. They’re rooted in her own family history. Before disappearing without a trace, Diana’s

When Lavender sends out invitations to her 85th birthday bash, it’s more than just a celebration. One of the guests might be lucky enough to inherit the Lavender Honey Farm

she has so laboriously carved out of her family land, and in which her nephews are not interested. With that in mind she invites three fellow food bloggers (they call themselves the “Foodie Four”) to visit and celebrate the special occasion, and each responds from the center of a complicated life. All of the Foodie Four are smarting from the dings and arrows of inadvertent fortune. Lavender writes a three-times-a-week food blog to express her love of the land and as a forum for organic farming and animal husbandry. What she does not tell her readers is that she has begun to see ghosts of dead friends and favorite dogs among Unexpected the old trees, love rears its beehives and fragrant lavenattractive der fields that are so much a head on a part of her life’s weekend accomplishretreat. ment. Ruby is 21 and pregnant by a husband she no longer loves, and Ginny is escaping the careless cruelty of a husband who has left her behind for years. (Unlike the famous Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, she never wants to go back to Kansas!) Valerie, a widowed balletdancer, and her teenage daughter, Hannah, are still mourning the loss of the rest of their family in a plane crash. Barbara O’Neal, who also writes as Ruth Wind and Barbara Samuel, has won six RITA awards for earlier books. (She’s also a former BookPage columnist.) In The All You Can Dream Buffet, O’Neal touches on such subjects as the honorable way to deal with food animals in a meateating civilization, and healthy vegetable consumption. Portions of the Foodies’ food blogs also appear, including a few recipes. And, as usual, in a top-notch romance, the men are first-rate: handsome, bright guys whom any woman would be proud to attract. Unexpected love rears its attractive head as the weekend progresses and lives are changed in the pace of a few days, but maybe the blue moon has something to do with that. A quick, satisfying read is in store for all who pick up this book for a fun time and a foodie fling. —MAUDE MCDANIEL


Reimagining a well-trodden fairy tale is tricky business. Rely too much on the tropes of the original story, and the plot becomes wooden, predictable and dull. Drift too far, and it’s easy to lose the point of the exercise. Few writers can pull off this balance, but with While Beauty Slept, Elizabeth Blackwell proves she’s one of them. For her take on the Sleeping Beauty story, Blackwell—a former journalist—shifts focus from the titular Beauty to Elise, an attendant to the queen when the Beauty, a girl named Rose, is born. When we first meet Elise, she’s an old woman with great-grandchildren, and the

Ballantine $27, 608 pages ISBN 9780345536228 Audio, eBook available

grandmother used to regale her with stories about the lost tribe of warrior women. Her grandmother even went as far as to suggest that she was an Amazon herself, leading the rest of the family to doubt her mental capacity. Diana’s scholarly work at Oxford University centers on the discovery and dissection of the Amazon race; however, other professors warn her that she is committing career suicide if she continues to focus on a part of history that most regard as completely fantastical. Enter a well-financed, shadowy foundation that makes Diana an offer to travel to North Africa to study her beloved Amazons. It’s perfect timing for our suffering academic, who has just ended a relationship. While working with a mysterious guide, Nick Barran, Diana begins to slowly uncover the real history of the Amazons. She discovers the name of the first Amazon queen, Myrina, and learns of her epic journey to save her kidnapped sisters long ago. The rest of the novel intertwines Diana’s story with that of Myrina, seamlessly floating between past and present. Anne Fortier, whose previous novel, Juliet, was also a historical tale based on a familiar story, weaves the quests of Myrina and Diana together to ultimately show the reader that both women are pursuing the same goal: to keep the Amazons from disappearing forever. The Lost Sisterhood is a gorgeous journey from England to North Africa to Greece, thrilling readers with beautiful settings, courageous women and breathtaking adventure.



NONFICTION side, and his outdoor-writing bona fides are put to excellent use here. Astoria brings to life a harrowing era of American exploration. —AMY SCRIBNER


Under the spell of a con man

By Boyd Varty

R E V I E W B Y J O H N T. S L A N I A

Walter Kirn has penned a number of imaginative novels, including Up in the Air and Thumbsucker, which were both made into movies. But nothing in the pages of those books could match the bizarre, real-life experiences Kirn relates in his new memoir, Blood Will Out. Here is the Hollywood elevator pitch: Kirn befriends a con artist who passes himself off as an aristocrat, but turns out to be a murderer. Over a 15-year friendship, Kirn discovers he has more in common with this charlatan than he cares to acknowledge. Thus, Blood Will Out is as much a psychological thriller as it is a true crime tale. The story is full of surprises and strange twists from the beginning, where we find Kirn a promising young author living in Montana with his very young wife, Maggie. He is 34; she is 19. She also happens to be the daughter of actress Margot Kidder and novelist Thomas McGuane. Kirn is struggling as a writer, popping Ritalin to complete a project, then Ambien By Walter Kirn to induce sleep. Maggie is pregnant and working in an animal shelter. A Liveright, $25.95, 272 pages disabled shelter dog is in need of a home, and a man identifying himself ISBN 9780871404510, audio, eBook available as Clark Rockefeller agrees to the adoption and will pay a generous fee to the person who delivers the crippled canine to New York City. So Kirn TRUE CRIME seizes the opportunity to drive the dog, incontinent and confined to a wheelchair, to meet this supposed scion of the wealthy East Coast family. Charmed by this dilettante, Kirn ignores all the warning signs throughout more than a decade of correspondence, phone calls and visits with Clark Rockefeller, who turns out to be Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a German immigrant wanted in the murder of a California man and the disappearance of his wife. On one level, Blood Will Out is a murder mystery. But Kirn drills deeper, channeling his inner Fitzgerald to probe his own psyche. Kirn likens himself to a modern-day Nick Carraway, with Clark Rockefeller a later-day Jay Gatsby, who passes himself off as wealthy and erudite. Then Kirn wonders whether he is any better. Like Fitzgerald, Kirn was a naïve boy from Minnesota who ended up at Princeton. There, he developed an edgy persona, fueled by drugs and alcohol, to gain popularity as a writer, becoming a con man in his own way. Blood Will Out is equally dark, edgy, humorous and philosophical. Ultimately, it is a book that proves truth is stranger than fiction.



By Peter Stark


Ecco $27.99, 384 pages ISBN 9780062218292 Audio, eBook available


The damp practically floats off the pages in Astoria, the sweeping tale of John Jacob Astor’s attempt to settle the remote Pacific Northwest coast in 1810. Astor’s vast wealth enabled him to send two expeditions: one over land and one by ship. His plan was to set up a fur trade, the first on this particularly harsh stretch of the West Coast. Whoever could settle the area would lay claim to a vast area

rich with sea otter and beaver fur, salmon and other seafood. It’s hard to decide which party had the rougher journey. The overland party climbed snowy mountains, nearly starved and was attacked by Native Americans. The seafarers didn’t do much better, a motley crew of Americans and Scots who encountered rogue waves, endured water shortages and squabbled their way around Cape Horn to the rocky coastline where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Author Peter Stark retraces the journey in spellbinding detail, making use of journals to get inside the minds of these explorers who set out just two years after Lewis and Clark successfully crossed the continent. “We climbed mountains so high that I could hardly believe our horses would get over them,” wrote Wilson Price Hunt, whom Astor chose


to lead the overland party. “We could advance only with the greatest difficulty because of the sharp rocks, and the precipices plunge to the very banks of the river.” Almost half of the 140 travelers died before ever laying eyes on Astoria. Those who did straggle in to the muddy settlement found something other than paradise awaiting them. “[I]magine the rude shock of arrival in the coastal winter or early spring,” Stark writes. “It’s cold, it’s raining—as it is nearly two hundred days a year at the mouth of the Columbia—the infinite gray coastline stretches away backed by the thick, dark rainforest—soggy, choked with rotting cedar logs, prehistoric sword ferns, and the dark columns of towering fir and spruce whose outstretched limbs are draped with lichen in giant, ghostly cobwebs.” Stark is a correspondent for Out-

Random House $27, 304 pages ISBN 9781400069859 Audio, eBook available


It’s hard to know whether to call Boyd Varty’s Cathedral of the Wild a memoir, a true adventure story or a self-help book. All I know is that it made me cry with its hard-won truths about human and animal nature, distilled by Varty from his experiences living on Londolozi, the game reserve his family runs in South Africa. Londolozi began in 1926 when Varty’s great-grandfather bought the land to use as a hunting destination; when the land passed to Varty’s father and uncle, they began transforming it into a game conservation area. During South Africa’s apartheid era, Londolozi stood out as a place of unity and respect for all people, and it was where Nelson Mandela went to recuperate in 1990 after his imprisonment. It continues to operate today as a safari destination. The campfire stories Varty recounts of a childhood in the bush are by turns hilarious and harrowing. There’s the deadly black mamba snake slithering over young Boyd’s legs; he’s pounced on by an overenthusiastic young lion; he learns to drive a Land Rover at age 10 while his Uncle John shoots video footage of a charging elephant: experiences that taught Boyd how to keep calm and carry on in a crisis. The biggest threat to Varty’s family, however, comes not from wild animals but from desperate humans. A violent home invasion in Johannesburg traumatizes the family profoundly and prompts 18-yearold Boyd to leave Africa in search of healing. His quest takes him from Australia to India to the South American rain forest and finally, to a Native-American healing ceremony in Arizona. There he reconnects with

NONFICTION his family’s core work: bringing urbanized and hurting people back to a relationship with animals and nature. Returning to Africa is a journey home for Varty, a path he continues to walk today with his family at the Londolozi game reserve. Reading this book takes the reader on a similar journey, reminding us that our true home is in nature. Both funny and deeply moving, this book belongs on the shelf of everyone who seeks healing in wilderness. —CATHERINE HOLLIS


Crown $26, 432 pages ISBN 9780307886729 eBook available




Norton $25.95, 272 pages ISBN 9780393239577 Audio, eBook available


several years. His mother dotes on her oldest boy, ever faithful that he’d turn back into the son she knew. “She missed Scott and wanted to talk about him, simple as that—to speculate about his motives, to retrace our steps to the exact point in time when everything went blooey.” Anyone who has lived with someone similarly ill will find this book painfully accurate when it comes to the mental gymnastics and survivor’s guilt involved. The family as a whole is an eccentric bunch, and Marlies, Scott’s mother, keeps her dignity and a sense of humor while buying a pistol to defend herself against her son. If The Splendid Things We Planned is a damning portrait of mental illness, it’s also an unforgettable look at a family doing its best in the most trying of circumstances, those where no good outcome exists. —HEATHER SEGGEL


Blake Bailey has written notable biographies of authors John Cheever and Richard Yates, both difficult and brilliant men. While he was sifting through their lives, he was also reflecting on his own. The Splendid Things We Planned is the resulting portrait, a story of mental illness and addiction and the difficult orbits they force upon the healthy. It’s also a tribute to one family’s best efforts and inevitable failings. Bailey’s older brother, Scott, was born while his parents were still in college. Re-established in Vinita, Oklahoma, their father parlayed his law school education into everincreasing job responsibility while their mother followed her intellectual bliss and turned their home into a mini-salon for foreign exchange students and witty gay men. Young Blake took in scenes of infidelity and drug use, but his attention was generally on Scott, a handsome bully whose seemingly limitless potential gradually collapsed under relentless drug use and delusional thinking. Bailey tells a difficult story with spare language that allows for some dry humor. His father remarries a woman who despises both sons equally, so he largely checks out where they’re concerned for

Harmony $25, 304 pages ISBN 9780307956675 Audio, eBook available


got so fed up that they briefly moved in with their father. In the end, Ethan became a motivated SAT student who got into college, besting his mom in math, and even scoring better than she did on the essay. Stier improved her own scores, and while math remained a thorn in her side, on one test she scored an 800 in writing, and on another scored a 760 in reading. Stier discovered that long hard work is the only ticket to SAT success, starting with a solid foundation in math, grammar, reading and writing. Her top piece of advice: “Taking full, timed practice SATs using College Board material (only) is an essential ingredient for success on the SAT.” And by taking these practice tests, she means taking them many times. Along the way, she found some well-known, free online resources to be a waste of time, and was ultimately impressed by a high-priced tutoring company that she had earlier resisted. Good news: She also found some worthwhile free resources, including some you’ve probably never heard of. Stier’s chronicle of her obsession is full of self-deprecating humor and meaty sidebars analyzing everything from test prep books to SAT grammar and math tips. This is an invaluable resource to read and re-read during the college testing journey. —ALICE CARY

Debbie Stier faced a crisis. The oldest of her two children was approaching college age, and she hadn’t saved for tuition. What’s more, Ethan was, in her words: “a boy who was ‘happy getting B’s’ and had gotten an awful lot of them.” He was neither an honors student nor an extracurricular overachiever. When Stier read that high SAT scores can translate to merit scholarships, she hoped this might be Ethan’s ticket. The former publishing executive decided to explore test prep options to see which might prove best for her son, but her idea soon took on a life of its own. This 48-year-old mother ended up taking the SAT seven times, hoping to achieve a perfect score that would motivate Ethan. Never fear, Stier doesn’t come off as a pushy Tiger Mom in The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT. However, it’s fair to say that things didn’t always go smoothly. At one point her children


Bloomsbury $30, 320 pages ISBN 9781608195916 Audio, eBook available


Dreaming of April in Paris? In How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City, astute cultural observer Joan DeJean argues that Paris has been a modern, alluring city far longer than we usually imagine. Although we tend to think of 19th-century Paris as the bustling epitome of “la vie moderne,” the roots of all we know and love about Paris today actually came into being in the 17th century. While DeJean’s depth and scope of research are impressive, this


On July 21, 1999, a crane lowered experienced construction diver DJ Gillis and four other men down a 420-foot shaft to the opening of an almost 10-mile tunnel beneath Deer Island in Boston Harbor. At the end of the day, only three men would return alive. In a compelling tale of corporate and public mismanagement, Boston Globe Magazine writer Neil Swidey tells the gripping stories of courage, deceit and devastating loss that emerged from the Deer Island debacle in Trapped Under the Sea. After Boston Harbor was rated one of the most polluted in the nation, public officials launched a $300 million project in the early 1990s to pipe wastewater through a tunnel to the ocean. In spite of significant early progress, work on the tunnel eventually bogged down. By the time Gillis and his co-workers were hired to unplug a series of smaller pipes, the companies that built the tunnel had all but abandoned it, raising many questions. “How could this idea of sending divers to a place as remote as the moon, asking them to entrust their lives to an improvised, untested breathing system, have ever made sense to sensible people?” Swidey asks. “The answer,” he points out, “lies in the dangerous cocktail of time, money, stubbornness, and frustration near the end of the over-budget, long delayed job.”

Drawing on hundreds of interviews and thousands of documents, Swidey pulls us into the lives of the divers and the aftermath of the perfect storm of forces that led to the deaths of two of them. He chronicles the psychological trauma into which the three surviving divers spiral, emphasizing that no matter how the tunnel project was successfully completed, “no one came out of this feeling like a winner.” In this compelling page-turner, Swidey grabs us as soon as we enter that narrow elevator shaft and never lets up as we accompany the men on their sad and frightening journey.


reviews fascinating portrait is anything but a dry history. Like its subject, DeJean’s biography of Paris emanates charm and wit. She builds her argument for the 17th-century origins of modern Paris piece by piece, unraveling the stories of how the city’s architectural elements helped to shape its urban landscape to make it “the capital of the universe.” She begins with the oldest bridge in Paris—the Pont Neuf—which served as the 17th century’s equivalent to the Eiffel Tower (which wasn’t erected until 1889). Created by Henry IV as a center for his new capital, the Pont Neuf ushered in the concept of modern street life, including a sidewalk for promenading and street vendors. DeJean unveils fascinating details about other aspects of the emerging city, covering the Place des Vosges, the enchanted oasis of Ile Saint-Louis and the city’s great boulevards and parks. What makes DeJean’s analysis so intriguing is her capacity to weave strands of history together. She shows, for example, how the freedom women achieved by walking along the Pont Neuf and the city’s boulevards translated into other areas of social discourse. With such rich context, How Paris Became Paris is more than a history: It’s the best kind of travel guidebook. —DEBORAH HOPKINSON


NONFICTION to her family’s farm for a visit and meets Ward, a rancher from nearby Smoky Valley. Lonely in middle age, she is thrilled to have a man in her life again, as well as a role model for Jake. Together she and Ward dream about building a life together and working the land Bair has inherited from her parents. From the beginning, however, Bair knows that Ward does not share her passion for land preservation. She begins to wrestle with her family’s part in draining the Ogallala Aquifer, which provides the only source of water for the Western Plains. Eventually, she supports more sustainable use of this precious water source—even as she realizes that her actions will drive a wedge between her and Ward. Bair’s memoir is a moving and honest account of a woman trying to reconcile parts of herself that seem irreconcilable—daughter, mother, lover, landowner, environmental advocate. In searching for unity within herself, she discovers what she truly values. —MARIANNE PETERS

STOKELY By Peniel E. Joseph Basic Civitas $29.99, 424 pages ISBN 9780465013630 eBook available


By Julene Bair

Viking $26.95, 288 pages ISBN 9780670786046 Audio, eBook available




In her memoir, The Ogallala Road, Julene Bair chronicles the last days of her family’s Kansas farm, as well as the bittersweet love affair that feeds her hope of saving the place her folks called home. She makes the case that modern farming practices are inexorably eroding the vast resources her ancestors took for granted, and she mourns the unraveling of the tapestry that once bound together her family, their history and the land they shared. Twice divorced and worried about her teenage son, Jake, Bair returns

On a humid night in Greenwood, Mississippi, on June 16, 1966, 24-year-old Stokely Carmichael exhorted his audience of 600 to start proclaiming “Black Power.” “All we’ve been doing is begging the federal government. The only thing we can do is take over,” he told the crowd. After several years of organizing sit-ins, demonstrations and voter registration drives, Carmichael had come to believe that African Americans would never achieve justice until they had the capacity to rule their own lives. His speech and the reaction to it significantly changed the course of the modern Civil Rights movement. Between 1966 and 1968, Carmichael was more vilified than Malcolm X (who was killed in 1965) had been. The FBI trailed him; politicians accused him of treason; and

the Justice Department came close to charging him with sedition. Carmichael’s complex life and legacy are the subject of Civil Rights historian Peniel E. Joseph’s engrossing and enlightening biography Stokely: A Life. The author makes a strong case that his controversial subject, more than any other activist of his generation, shaped the contours of Civil Rights and Black Power activism. Carmichael’s extraordinary journey took him from involvement in early nonviolent sit-ins to serving as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, from which he was eventually expelled, to his role as honorary prime minister of the Black Panther Party, from which he resigned. Carmichael also became an outspoken critic of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and in 1969, he left America for permanent residence in Guinea. There, he changed his name to Kwame Ture and became an ideologue for a revolutionary pan-Africanist movement. Joseph makes us keenly aware that despite his historic successes, Carmichael made serious errors in judgment and had numerous large and small political failures. He admired both Malcolm X, with whose ideas he identified, and Martin Luther King Jr., who became a good friend. The morning after Carmichael’s Black Power speech, King urged the younger man to stop using that slogan, but was rebuffed. This nuanced biography helps us understand a key player in the Civil Rights movement and illuminates the different approaches to social justice within the movement. —ROGER BISHOP

MOTHER OF GOD By Paul Rosolie

Harper $25.99, 320 pages ISBN 9780062259516 eBook available


Because he seldom cites specific dates or alludes to what’s happening in the outside world as he’s prowling through the jungle in Peru, Paul Rosolie’s Mother of God: An Extraordinary Journey into the Un-

charted Tributaries of the Western Amazon has a breathless, dreamlike quality—a tone one might find in the journals of a relentlessly eager and factually retentive Boy Scout. And that’s as it should be since Rosolie brings a romantic, rather than a scientific, sensibility to his travels—at least initially. At the beginning, he’s out for adventure, pure and simple, not for such pedestrian pursuits as discovering rare ore or cataloging medicinal plants. Early on, though, he’s quick to spot the encroachments of “civilization” on his newfound paradise—poachers, miners, loggers and road builders. “What is it about our species,” he asks incredulously, “that allows us to watch sitcoms and argue over sports while cultures and creatures and those things meek and green and good are chopped, shot, and burned from the world for a buck?” An indifferent student, Rosolie was always a lover of the outdoors. He made his first foray into the Amazon in 2006, when he was 18, and instantly felt a part of that exotic environment. This book, his first, chronicles his many journeys into the jungle and his side trips to India, where he meets the woman he’ll marry. Not surprisingly, they bond over their mutual love of snakes. Rosolie is a gripping storyteller who takes us along as he wrestles giant anacondas, stares closely into the eyes of a wounded jaguar and, on a solitary journey into the deepest reaches of the jungle, encounters what may have been a previously undiscovered tribe (from which he prudently runs away). Rosolie’s enthusiasm for the wilderness and his ability to convey it poetically makes him an exceedingly persuasive advocate for conserving what’s left of the natural world. —EDWARD MORRIS

YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS By Robert J. Wagner with Scott Eyman

Viking $27.95, 272 pages ISBN 9780670026098 Audio, eBook available


One of those guys seemingly born to wear a tux, Robert Wagner


At first, Carol Wall’s memoir, Mr. Owita’s Guide to Gardening, sounds like a book you might have read before: An unlikely friendship develops between two people who appear to have nothing in common. Giles Owita is an immigrant from Kenya who works part-time as a gardener. Wall is a high school English teacher and writer whose work has graced the pages of magazines like Southern Living. But things are not as they seem. In time, Wall will regard Owita as the greatest professor she has ever had. And you will be convinced she is right. Their relationship begins predictably. Wall asks Owita to help her reclaim her lawn, an eyesore that is becoming the worst looking yard on the block. He helps her plant a few beds, tend to the grass and (memorably) prune a tree. But soon the relationship veers off script. We see some of the depth that is to come in a letter Owita sends to Wall shortly after viewing her lawn. “I took the liberty of stopping by your compound today, even though your vehicle was not in the driveway. . . . You have a lovely yard. Of particular beauty are the azaleas.” His eloquence impresses the English teacher in Wall, who muses, “Compound. It sounded elegant. Exotic.” It is the beginning of a rich conversation. Despite their differences in race and background, both Owita and Wall carry family and health burdens that will be lightened by sharing them. Through their friendship, both truly help each other—in real tangible ways that change each other and their community. I couldn’t put this book down. I found myself liking the principal characters from the opening pages, and my affection for them never wavered. If you enjoy inspirational memoirs or gardening books (or both), this moving account of a lifechanging friendship is for you.


— K E L LY B L E W E T T

By Carol Wall

Amy Einhorn $25.95, 304 pages ISBN 9780399157981 eBook available



Growing together


hen Carol Wall hired a neighbor’s gardener to improve her longneglected yard, she never imagined that the Kenyan immigrant would transform her outlook on life as well. In Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening, Wall reflects on what she learned from their special friendship.

What did you like best about Giles Owita? Giles was always optimistic. He always had a smile on his face. He had a deep knowledge of all things horticultural. And I always admired and envied how he was able to fully immerse himself in the work that he loved. He always seemed to give everyone and everything his full attention. And he had a way of explaining complicated concepts with elegance and simplicity. He was a teacher at heart. He taught me to have faith. You initially resisted some of his ideas for your lawn. How did he teach you to love flowers? Oh, how I wish he were here to answer that question himself! When I first told Giles I didn’t want flowers, he somehow managed to answer me with an affirmative response. I now understand that since he was so stubborn, this was merely his way of acknowledging my request while at the same time not acting upon it at all. When the flowers appeared that spring, they led me to examine a lot of what I’d been keeping under layers of protective covering: my childhood, my parents, my family and my illness. This probably wasn’t Giles’ intention (though who knows, he was always smarter than all of us) but that’s what happened.  This was originally a book about breast cancer, but your son recommended that you refocus it to include your friendship with Mr. Owita. How did including the friendship change and enrich your manuscript? I was really struggling with writing this as a memoir about surviving breast cancer. For some reason I couldn’t bring myself to write in the first person, believe it or not. Introducing Giles helped

me focus the narrative. His character took some of the pressure off, strangely, and made me more comfortable with sharing my experience. It’s poetic in a way—our friendship helped me embrace and accept life, and his spirit has helped me explore and accept my true feelings.  You write that he was the best professor of your life. Yet that wasn’t what you expected when you first met him. Why not? I expected that he might simply help to improve my shabbylooking yard. I thought of him as a hard-working gardener, but assumed that we had very different life experiences. Little did I know! What were some of the things that drew you together? On the face of it we were as different as two people could possibly be. But it turns out we had so much in common: the unexpected similarities in our life experiences, the need to adjust to a “plan B,” the importance of faith and family, the desire to learn and to teach. This is a book about so much— gardening, life, illness, transitions. What were some of the major life changes that you and Mr. Owita walked through together? We both had experienced events that involved loss, fear, guilt and shame. Our friendship allowed us to share and process our experiences without fear of judgment. What do you hope readers will take away from this story? Giles taught me so many things that changed my life. He embraced and accepted life’s afflictions, something that took me a while to come around to. (His cane in my study reminds me of that.) In the end, I guess it’s that sometimes the loveliest secrets and treasures appear where we least expect them.


proves an expert tour guide in the sometimes dishy, always perceptive You Must Remember This: Life and Style in Hollywood’s Golden Age. In recent years, Wagner has come to be known for small screen roles on “Two and a Half Men” and “NCIS”—as well as deadpan appearances in the “Austin Powers” film franchise. He was married to the luminous Natalie Wood (for the second time) at the time of her stillpuzzling 1981 death. But Wagner also enjoyed movie stardom in the ’50s and early ’60s. And he has long mingled with the rich and famous, having grown up in swanky Bel Air. And so, with historian-critic Scott Eyman, R.J., as he’s known, has written what he calls “a mosaic of memory.” The book was inspired, in part, by the wacky 2002 wedding of Liza Minnelli and David Gest. Though “not exactly a Fellini movie, it was close,” Wagner says, recounting how Liz Taylor kept a church filled with guests waiting, because she didn’t like her shoes; when the ceremony at last concluded, Gest “tried to suck the lips off Liza’s face.” (“Ewww, gross,” whispered actress Jill St. John, Wagner’s wife since 1990.) To document a lifestyle “that has vanished as surely as birch bark canoes,” Wagner gives us a mix of history and I-was-there recollections. Like the dinner party at Clifton Webb’s home, where guest Judy Garland gave an impromptu serenade at the piano—for nearly an hour—as 15 other attendees gathered ’round. Once a caddy for Fred Astaire, Wagner went on to become a regular golfing buddy; he played softball with John Ford’s “group,” which included Duke Wayne and Ward Bond; and he spent New Year’s Eves at Frank Sinatra’s famed Palm Springs digs. Wagner tells us about favorite decorators (the gay Billy Haines ruled), fashion trendsetters (the Duke of Windsor), the liveliest and even most unlikely night spots (including how Don the Beachcomber’s came to be), all the while dropping yummy nuggets. (Sinatra’s aftershave was witch hazel, or Yardley’s English Lavender.) Wagner does it all with grace— never taking overt shots at today’s Hollywood, but making one thing clear: The so-called golden age was no cinematic fantasy.







t’s a frigid day in Milwaukee when I call author-illustrator Lois Ehlert to talk about her newest book, The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life. Not surprisingly, she is inspired.

“It is these gray winter days that stir my creativity,” Ehlert says. “I am so happy to stay in and work. I am sitting here right now with a bag of scraps on my drawing board. I have green paint underneath my fingernails. I am as happy as a clam.” It is this abundant creativity we have to thank for Ehlert’s long list of distinctive picture books for children in a career that has spanned decades and which once began with the study of graphic design. Ehlert’s signature collage illustra-

yet never cloying bits of wisdom for young, aspiring artists. There is a real energy and spontaneity in Ehlert’s work, and the book captures that with style. “It isn’t the kind of book you do when you are 21 years old,” Ehlert says. “I am not a formal person that likes to do a biography. That is not my world.” The book was entirely her idea, not an editor’s or agent’s. “You have thoughts like this as you get older,” Ehlert explains. “I wanted to share.


From The Scraps Book, reprinted with permission.



A life filled with picture books

tions, which celebrate color, shape and form, immediately attract the curious eyes of the youngest of readers. In 1989, she received the Caldecott Honor for Color Zoo, and in 2006 the inventive Leaf Man, a story told with real autumn leaves, was awarded a Boston-Globe Horn Book Award. Early in her career, Ehlert illustrated the perennially best-selling Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, written by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault. The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life is an autobiographical picture book, filled with old family photos, bits of art, Ehlert’s inspirations, early sketches and book dummies. It is a splendid book, telling the story of Ehlert’s childhood and subsequent career as an illustrator, while also dispensing earnest

I do a lot of workshops with children at the art museum here. I delight in it. I need to set it down while I still have my marbles.” Ehlert also shares photos of her personal collections in the book, everything from multicolored fabrics to folk art to ice fishing decoys. “There are a lot of things that call out to me, ‘Lois, buy me,’ ” she jokes, adding that it’s been frequent travels over her lifetime that have generated so many rich and diverse collections. “The world is full of such interesting things. I have Indian moccasins, textiles from all over the world. I have African masks, and I have pre-Columbian pots and a lot of books. I like fabric, so I have a lot of textiles with embroidery and stitching. I have pieces of clothing, children’s dresses from India, lovely

things that probably will not exist in this world any longer. [They are from] a different time when people spent more time doing handwork.” The Scraps Book is not only an affirmation of art, color and creativity, but it also serves as a touching tribute to Ehlert’s family. Raised by parents who encouraged her art—“I was lucky; I grew up with parents who made things by their hands”—she always had art supplies and tools at the ready. One spread features photos of her dad’s brush and her mother’s pinking shears. “It is another example of recycling,” Ehlert says. “It is [about] growing up with not much money—but a lot of spirit. I think that is also what I am trying to say. If you look at some of my books, [you see that] you do not have to go to the art supply store for everything. Look into nature. “I asked my mother one time if she really knew what she was doing for me,” Ehlert adds. “She said no, that they just knew I was interested in [art]. Isn’t it wonderful that a parent is that perceptive?” Nor did her parents discourage her from art school. “You would think they might, because I was the oldest of three children. How was I going to make a living, and how was it going to work out? You just have to follow your instincts. I have had other jobs, but if you love to do something, do it as well as you can.” Find a spot for creating art, get comfortable and begin, Ehlert advises aspiring artists in the book. Oh, and don’t forget to get messy. Given that her tools are often as simple as scissors, construction paper and glue, it’s far from an intimidating

notion for children, rich or poor. It’s empowering as well, one of many qualities that make this book special. “My wish,” Ehlert says, “is that there will be little kids like I was, who read that and say, ‘Well, if she can do it, I can do it.’ It may take them 20 years. I was a relatively late bloomer.” And it all began, as noted on the first page of The Scraps Book, with a young girl who read all the books on the library shelves and thought maybe someday she could make a book. When I point out to Ehlert how much I love that opening, she says, “I had no clue how to do [it]. It is kind of funny, but look what happened.” Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.


By Lois Ehlert

Beach Lane, $17.99, 72 pages ISBN 9781442435711, eBook available, ages 5 to 10





Somewhere deep within the African jungles of Gabon, a young street boy searches for a family, a home and a purpose beyond simply fighting for survival. While Threatened is the account of his learning to survive in the wild, it’s also the tale of his learning to trust and accept others, even if they don’t share the same genus and species. Luc—an AIDS-orphaned child of the slums who’s only vaguely aware of his own age—was sold to a local debt collector as an indentured servant to pay off his mother’s hospital bills for her unsuccessful care. Barely scraping by, Luc one day befriends an Arab professor and researcher from the National Geographic Society who appears at the bar where Luc works illegally for pocket change. The “Prof,” as Luc calls him, has traveled to Gabon—home of the largest concentration of chimpanzees in the world—in hopes of becoming the next Jane Goodall and bringing more national attention to the chimps’ fragile existence. By Eliot Schrefer Scholastic, $17.99, 288 pages Prof uses cunning and deceit to procure Luc from the debt collector ISBN 9780545551434, eBook available as his research assistant. Prof, Omar (his pet vervet monkey) and Luc set Ages 12 and up up camp in the middle of the rainforest and fortuitously stumble upon a small family of chimpanzees. As Luc observes the wild beasts that once FICTION haunted his nightmares, he learns firsthand of their humanity—from their ferocity as much as from their kindness and personalities—and develops better relationships with them than he ever has with people. But with hunters and far worse dangers surrounding them, Luc must constantly put his life on the line to protect this blended family he’s come to love. Author Eliot Schrefer, whose novel Endangered was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award, combines his interest in conservation and education in Threatened—his eighth novel overall and the second in his Great Ape Quartet—to draw his readers ever nearer to the edge of this primitive, natural world. He asks us to jump with him into the unencumbered jungle to see all the beauty and mystery that only the wild can offer.


Knopf $16.99, 384 pages ISBN 9780385752862 Audio, eBook available Ages 12 and up




FSG $16.99, 240 pages ISBN 9780374327712 eBook available Ages 12 and up


“Your father doesn’t have any enemies. He’s an accountant.” Daniel Pratzer’s mom couldn’t be more wrong about her mild-mannered, potbellied husband. Mr. Pratzer’s secret past begins to unravel quite by accident. Struggling freshman Daniel has joined the chess club because . . . well, he isn’t great at sports. When two popular seniors invite him to participate in a father-son chess tournament, he laughs. After all, he’s just a beginner, and his father doesn’t even play. But the seniors have done some re-


HALF BAD By Sally Green

Viking $18.99, 416 pages ISBN 9780670016785 eBook available Ages 12 and up


If Lily Potter and Voldemort had a love child, he would be Nathan Byrn. Born out of an illicit love affair between a White Witch and a Black Witch, Nathan is an abomination, a Half Code. His father, Marcus, is the vilest Black Witch in all of Great Britain. His White Witch mother committed suicide in shame. Two years before Nathan’s 17th birthday—when he will receive his inherent magical powers—the Council of White Witches imposes harsh regulations on him: He’s not allowed to leave his home without permission; he can’t be in the same room with White Witches; and he can’t be with the girl he loves without the threat of death. The Council kidnaps him and takes him to Scotland, where he is caged, studied and trained as a weapon to kill his father. But Nathan is not a killer—yet. The first in a trilogy, Half Bad is a fast-paced, compelling story about the many shades of good and evil. The White Witches are considered to be the good guys, but the Council spends much of its resources seeking out Black Witches for torture and death. Nefarious characters and a cliffhanger ending will entice readers and leave them wanting more. — K I M B E R LY G I A R R A T A N O


The Mirk and Midnight Hour blends historical romance, suspense and the paranormal into a novel that’s a Southern Gothic tale at heart. Violet Dancey is left to mind Scuppernong Farm in Mississippi while her father fights the Yankees. Already heartbroken by the death of her twin brother, Violet is beginning to question whether the Confederacy is in the right when she finds a wounded Union soldier named Thomas in her old childhood hideout. Their relationship turns into a

romance, but it’s risky business in more ways than one. Author Jane Nickerson juggles a large and complex cast here, and there’s voodoo, violence, mayhem, laudanum addiction and telepathic communication with bees to keep the players busy, yet the book maintains an easy pace. There’s a scary climactic scene when Violet must come between Thomas and the people who have been treating his injuries, but most of the action here is slow-burning suspense. The contrast between a community bazaar and the war roiling in the distance adds to the eerie sense of a world on the brink of big changes. Violet’s awakening to the politics of slavery after a lifetime of friendship with people her family owned is touching and handled gracefully, giving The Mirk and Midnight Hour extra depth and something to ponder after the thrills have worn off. It’s an exciting story—juicy, romantic and at times quite chilling.

search: Morris W. Pratzer was ranked a grandmaster of chess. Mr. Pratzer reluctantly agrees to attend the tournament, but as the weekend unfolds, Daniel starts to understand the complex reasons why his father left the game: Competitive chess almost killed him, and he has an enemy who understands the depth of his weaknesses. Grandmaster is a page-turning read, full of authentic details that offer a fascinating glimpse into tournament chess. It’s also a compassionate look at the choices we make, and how difficult situations bring families closer in unexpected ways.





When Lucy’s family moves to an old house on a New Hampshire lake, she must adjust to new surroundings and new friends—all without her father, a professional photographer, who is gone on yet another extended business trip. While she admires her father’s talents, the tween is also eager to show him that she, too, has an eye for photography and capturing stories through the camera lens. She gets her chance when she learns her father is judging a photo contest and secretly decides to enter. She quickly makes friends with Nate, the boy next door, and his family, including his charming Grandma Lilah. They ask her to join their “loon patrol” trips to monitor the loons on the lake. Eager to document the lake, the loons and the mountains, Lucy brings her camera—but photographs, full of dimension and truth, don’t lie. One image Lucy takes—a poignant but piercing picture of Grandma Lilah—is all too real and painful, divulging a story and a future no one wants to admit. By Cynthia Lord In Half a Chance, Newbery Honor winner Cynthia Lord (Rules) Scholastic, $16.99, 224 pages creatively weaves a touching story and tackles important issues for this ISBN 9780545035330, eBook available age group, including isolation and the complexities of friendship. It also Ages 8 to 12 introduces Alzheimer’s disease in an understated and uniquely underMIDDLE GRADE standable way. During an unforgettable summer in New Hampshire, set against the backdrop of the photography contest, Lucy learns about the roots of family, the ties of loyalty, the power of storytelling and what it means to be a true friend.

WHERE’S MOMMY? By Beverly Donofrio Illustrated by Barbara McClintock Schwartz & Wade $17.99, 32 pages ISBN 9780375844232 eBook available Ages 3 to 7




There’s something enchanting and timeless about the art of Barbara McClintock. Where’s Mommy? is a lovely follow-up to Mary and the Mouse, the Mouse and Mary, her previous collaboration with writer Beverly Donofrio. In the first book, Mary formed a friendship with a mouse; now, Mary’s daughter Maria has a secret bond with Mouse Mouse, unbeknownst to their moms. This happy coexistence comes alive in McClintock’s illustrations, brimming with exquisite details and creative parallels between the two worlds. The mouse dwelling brings to mind The Borrowers: A colorful sock becomes a rug; clothespins form a bed frame; and a thimble serves as a teacup.

There’s a crisis at hand, however. Maria’s mother seems to have disappeared, just as Mouse Mouse’s mom is nowhere to be found. Donofrio’s spot-on text moves the story along with increasing urgency, and preschoolers will delight in the frenzied search for these two moms and the reassuring twist at the end. Where’s Mommy? manages to straddle the best of two worlds, serving up a bounty of old-fashioned treats infused with just the right touch of modernity. Here’s hoping this won’t be the last of Mouse Mouse and Maria’s lively adventures. —ALICE CARY


Aladdin $16.99, 432 pages ISBN 9781442497009 Audio, eBook available Ages 8 to 12


It was only supposed to be a haunted house. When Cole skipped

trick-or-treating on Halloween night to go with Dalton and Jenna to the new haunted house in town, they didn’t know what to expect. What happened, however, was beyond any of their wildest imaginations. In Sky Raiders, the first book in the new Five Kingdoms series by Brandon Mull, Dalton and Jenna are kidnapped from the basement of the haunted house and taken through a mysterious tunnel. Cole pursues them and finds himself in a place like nowhere else on Earth. In fact, Cole and his friends are no longer on Earth—they are in the Outskirts, a collection of five kingdoms that exists between reality and imagination. After a failed escape/ rescue, Cole and his friends are separated. Dalton and Jenna are sent to the High King, while Cole is sold to the Sky Raiders, where new slaves have a life expectancy of two weeks. While working for the Sky Raiders, Cole meets Mira, an unusual girl with a big secret, and helps her escape. But this is only the beginning of the dangers they will face. Like Mull’s Fablehaven and Beyonders series, Five Kingdoms: Sky Raiders is fast-paced and exciting from the first page, drawing in read-

ers with multifaceted, strong characters and keeping them enthralled with an intricate and fascinating story. Sky Raiders will be enjoyed by Mull’s many fans, or anyone looking for imaginative worlds and nonstop action. —KEVIN DELECKI

SCREAMING AT THE UMP By Audrey Vernick Clarion $16.99, 256 pages ISBN 9780544252080 eBook available Ages 10 to 14


Casey Snowden lives for baseball, almost literally—his dad and granddad run a school for umpires, where Casey and his best friend Zeke spend all their time. It helps Casey forget his absent mother, who keeps calling to re-establish visitation, and provides inspiration for his future career as an award-winning sportswriter. Author Audrey Vernick (Water Balloon) brings joy and good humor to a story with some tough realities at its core. The novel culminates in a day when the town comes out to heckle the students while they call a game, to give them a taste of what their jobs will entail. By then, Casey’s faith in his favorite player, his own objectivity and his assessment of his mother have all been challenged, yet he’s resilient. The economic downturn has slowed attendance at the family’s school, but when his grandfather asks if Casey wants to stay, he doesn’t miss a beat: “That’s like asking if I think my blood will always be part of my body.” A subplot involving Zeke’s reality TV obsession is funny and dovetails with the main storyline in a surprising way. The story Casey decides to write for his school paper leads him to realize he’s not as objective as he’d previously thought, but he takes his lumps with humility. The umpire’s need to confidently make a call in the heat of the moment is something we could all stand to work on. Screaming at the Ump will be a hit with baseball fans, but this nonfan found it smart, funny, compassionate and a wise look at ethics and integrity in sports and daily life. —HEATHER SEGGEL



The bugs and the birds


ven if the weather is still cold, it’s time to start thinking about the change in seasons. Springtime means new beginnings and the chance to play outside and appreciate nature. Preschoolers and their parents and teachers will love these three new picture books that celebrate the joys of nature.

A BUG’S WORLD Some Bugs (Beach Lane, $17.99, 32 pages, ISBN 9781442458802, ages 4 to 8), written by Angela DiTerlizzi and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel, is another fine book for the very youngest reader. Bugs—insects and spiders alike—are endlessly fascinating, aren’t they? With the sim-

plest of text and effortless rhyme, DiTerlizzi tells a lot: “Some bugs sting. Some bugs bite. Some bugs stink.” Turn the page for the kicker: “And some bugs fight!” The collage, crayon and paint illustrations show bugs in their natural environments and are sure to bring a chuckle to the reader, no matter how old. Each insect is shown with exaggerated bug eyes (pun intended), often looking directly at the reader. The final page reveals a marvelous surprise: The previous spreads have been close-ups of the child’s backyard, which is now shown in its entirety. Delightful!

GROWING UP Seeds live in the soil and are reluctant to make their way to the surface in Rooting for You (Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, 32 pages, ISBN 9781423152309, ages 3 to 5), written by Susan Hood and illustrated by Matthew Cordell. One little green seed (a pea?) is NOT coming out of the earth. Alone with the earthworms and cicadas, he seems nervous and worried. Just like teachers and parents cheer for children, all the little earthy critters cheer on our little pea as he sticks out one little root—and then a shoot, and so on. The book works regardless of whether young readers recognize the seed as a symbol for new experiences, so it’s no big deal if the message goes unnoticed. Whether your little one is heading for preschool or for college, let her know that you are rooting for her!

DUCK TO THE RESCUE John Himmelman has written and illustrated more than 60 children’s books. The animals on the Greenstalk farm love solving problems (er, trying to). This time, it’s Duck to the Rescue (Holt, $16.99, 32 pages, ISBN 9780805094855). Himmelman lives in Connecticut with his family.


Jennifer Ward teams up with master paper artist Steve Jenkins in Mama Built a Little Nest (Beach Lane, $17.99, 40 pages, ISBN 9781442421165, ages 4 to 8). From the title page, where a cactus is used as a wren’s nest, to the final spreads where the reader realizes that a bed is a nest for a person, the young lap listener can celebrate nests of all sorts. The gently rhyming text (which can be sung to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb”) is easy to follow and is presented in a generous typeface. Smaller type follows later, and this is where the author presents the book’s more scientific information. Budding bird lovers will find lots to appreciate, from woodpeckers and hummingbirds to cowbirds and penguins. Jenkins’ cut-paper collages, so familiar in many other nature books, are stunning and make excellent use of white space. Ward’s light humor makes these short poems unforgettable: “Daddy built a little nest— / now don’t gross out—with spit. / Who would have thought that spit would make / the perfect place to sit?”





Dear Editor: Is kangaroo an aboriginal Australian word? I’ve heard a story that it literally means “I don’t know.” R. A. St. Louis, Missouri On an expedition to Australia in 1770, Captain James Cook recorded several words from aboriginal Australians who spoke a language now called Guugu Yimidhirr. Among these words was kangaroo, which became the English name for the Australian marsupial. Eighteen years later, colonists settled in Australia and heard a completely different Aboriginal word for the animal. The colonists, who had settled nearly 2,000 miles from the area where Cook had heard the word, didn’t realize that over 200 different languages were spoken by Aborigines across the continent. But the real controversy was yet to begin. In 1820, Captain P. P. King visited the same area Cook had explored—and could not find the kangaroo word. This further fed the notion that Cook had been mistak-

en. The suggestion was made that a Guugu Yimidhirr speaker, when asked for the name of the animal, had answered with the equivalent of “I don’t know,” and that this reply had been recorded as kangaroo. The mystery should have come to an end in 1898 when an ethnologist successfully elicited the word from Guugu Yimidhirr speakers and reported this to an Australian newspaper. Unfortunately, the spurious “I don’t know” story continued to circulate. Then in 1972, the anthropologist John Haviland, conducting the first thorough linguistic study of Guugu Yimidhirr, again elicited the word as the name for a large, dark species of kangaroo.


Dear Editor: Can you tell me where the word panache comes from? E. V. New Providence, New Jersey Pinnaculum, a derivative of Latin pinna (meaning “feather,” “wing,” or “battlement”), was a Late Latin word meaning “small wing” or “gable.” The

Italian outcome of pinnaculum was pennachio, which alluded to a plume of feathers decorating a warrior’s helmet. This word was borrowed into 16th-century French as pennache and later altered to panache. The figurative sense of French panache developed from the verve and swagger associated with anyone bold enough to wear such a distinctive mark as a colorful plume both in battle and among the ranks of polite society. This meaning of the French word apparently first appeared in English at the end of the 19th century in translations of Edmond Rostrand’s popular play Cyrano de Bergerac, Cyrano himself being the perfect example of panache.


Dear Editor: A friend and I were discussing how a word that begins with ambi- usually means “both,” as in ambidextrous and ambivalent. But what about the word ambition? Does it somehow include the meaning of “both”? W. C. Thornton, Colorado

You’re right that the Latin prefix ambi- connotes “both” in many words. Like other affixes, however, it has more than one meaning. Ambi- can also mean “around,” and that is the meaning it carries in the word ambition. We must look to the word’s origins in ancient Rome for an explanation. When candidates for public office in ancient Rome wanted to be elected, they had to make the rounds of their districts urging citizens to vote for them, just as modern political candidates must do. The Latin word for this effort was ambitio, which came from ambire, a verb meaning literally “to go around,” from ambi, “around,” and ire, “to go.” Because the act of canvassing votes was motivated by a desire for honor or power, the word came to denote this desire itself. Ambitio entered French and English as ambition in the late Middle Ages.

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