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america’s book review
TANA FRENCH The dark secrets of a Dublin family come to light
NEW REVIEWS JUST FOR YOU
4th of july Three new books take another look at America’s founders page 18
7 books for your escape
w w w. B o o k Pa g e . c o m
04 to kill a mockingbird The 50th anniversary of a beloved classic Bringing Dublin’s characters to life
14 thomas french
Cover illustration © 2010 by Jon J Muth, from City Dog, Country Frog, written by Mo Willems, published by Hyperion Books for Children, an imprint of Disney Book Group.
Learning about animals, and people too Inspired by real estate dreams
18 fourth of july The truth about the American Revolution
19 women of mystery Finding a balance between gritty and light
19 larry doyle Meet the author of Go, Mutants!
22 adam ross Husbands, wives—and murder
28 mitali perkins A different kind of coming-of-age story
31 Emily arnold mccully Meet the author-illustrator of Wonder Horse
departments 03 buzz girl 03 Bestseller watch 05 05 06 07 07 08 08 10
well read author enablers whodunit lifestyles cooking book clubs audio romance
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Summer breezes, a glass of lemonade, ocean waves lapping at your feet: Whether you’re on vacation or just dreaming of one, we’ve got the perfect books to take you away.
12 tana french
15 janelle Brown
reviews 20 Fiction
The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman a l s o r e v i e w e d : The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst; The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin; Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman; Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross; Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst; Lucy by Laurence Gonzales; 29 by Adena Halpern; The Quickening by Michelle Hoover; A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron; Leaving the World by Douglas Kennedy
25 NonFiction top pick:
Breath by Martha Mason a l s o r e v i e w e d : Blind Descent by James M. Tabor; Twilight at the World of Tomorrow by James Mauro; Nine Lives by William Dalrymple; Long for This World by Jonathan Weiner; Four Fish by Paul Greenberg; Fur, Fortune, and Empire by Eric Jay Dolin; Now I See the Moon by Elaine Hall; No Way Down by Graham Bowley
29 Children’s top pick:
City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems a l s o r e v i e w e d : Princess Says Goodnight by Naomi Howland; The Village Garage by G. Brian Karas; What the Ladybug Heard by Julia Donaldson; My Life as a Book by Janet Tashjian; Tumbleweed Skies by Valerie Sherrard; Countdown by Deborah Wiles; The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman; X Isle by Steve Augarde; Bruiser by Neal Shusterman
a m e r i c a ’ s b o o k r e v i e w
Michael A. Zibart
ASSISTANT WEB editor
Karen Trotter Elley
Lynn L. Green
Elizabeth Grace Herbert
BookPage is a selection guide for new books. Our editors evaluate and select for review the best books published each month in a variety of categories. Only books we highly recommend are featured.
Angela J. Bowman
BookPage is editorially independent and never accepts payment for editorial coverage.
departments krauss’ house
Our publishing insider gets the skinny on tomorrow’s bestsellers
four more from weiner Best-selling author Jennifer Weiner is on a roll. Her latest novel, Fly Away Home, goes on sale this month, and Atria, Weiner’s longtime publisher, recently announced a new four-book deal with the popular women’s fiction author. They will release one book each year for the next four years. Weiner is known for bestsellers like Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, and we can’t wait to see what subjects she’ll tackle in her next books.
bestseller watch Release dates for some of the guaranteed blockbusters hitting shelves in July:
6 the search
By Nora Roberts Penguin, $26.95, ISBN 9780399156571 The reigning queen of romance is back with a riveting novel in which a canine search-and-rescue volunteer finds danger and love in the Pacific Northwest wilderness.
13 live to tell
By Lisa Gardner Bantam, $26, ISBN 9780553807240 A Boston family is brutally murdered and the last man standing, dear old Dad, is suspected of the crime in Gardner’s latest thriller.
By Maggie Stiefvater Scholastic, $17.99 ISBN 9780545123280 The highly anticipated followup to Stiefvater’s girl-meetswerewolf YA love story, Shiver.
Though she was recently named one of the “20 Under 40” fiction writers to watch by The New Yorker, we haven’t heard much lately from Nicole Krauss, author of The History of Love and Man Walks Into a Room. But that’s about to change. On October 4, Norton will publish Great House, a novel that explores the effects of the Holocaust and the Jewish Diaspora, though its scope encompasses other acts of erasure, like Pinochet’s Chile. It centers on “a stolen desk that contains the secrets, and becomes the obsession, of the lives it passes through.” In the lives of Krauss’ four narrators, krauss the desk comes to represent all that they have lost and all that has been forgotten in the chaos of life.
earth’s children One of the biggest deals of 2010 was announced at Book Expo America this year: Jean M. Auel, author of the Earth’s Children series, will release her sixth and final book with Crown in late March 2011. The Earth’s Children series has been capturing the imaginations of millions since 1980, but the books have been published sporadically, with the last being 2002’s The Shelters of Stone. The final book, The Land of Painted Caves, continues the story of Ayla and Jondalar with a remarkable recreation of the way life was lived more than 25,000 years ago.
life after seabiscuit
This November, nearly 10 years after the release of dark-horse bestseller (sorry, we can’t resist) Seabiscuit, Random House is publishing Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken, the story of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic athlete who endured incredible hardships during World War II. Hillenbrand came up with the idea during her research for Seabiscuit. She says, “While studying a newspaper clipping about the racehorse, I happened to turn to the back of the page, where an article on Zamperini caught my eye. I began to read, and was immediately enthralled. After finishing my book, I wrote Louie a letter. He wrote back to tell me of his youthful days as a
Buzz Girl runner, holding the inspiring image of Seabiscuit in his mind as he ran. With every exchange, I was drawn more deeply into his story and its phenomenally abundant narrative possibilities.” Unbroken was written with the full participation of Zamperini, who is now 93—though he told his own story in 2003’s Devil at My Heels.
a new look at adam & eve Sena Jeter Naslund is not the type of author who does the same thing twice. She’s told the story of Moby Dick from the woman’s point of view (Ahab’s Wife); portrayed race relations in the Civil Rights-era South (Four Spirits); and channeled a queen to tell Marie Antoinette’s tragic tale (Abundance). Her new book, Adam & Eve, on sale September 28 from Morrow, is another departure. Set in the near future, it tells the story of Lucy, a young widow whose astrophysicist husband has entrusted her with a major secret: There is life in outer space, and just before Thom died he had come up with the evidence to prove it. Lucy is the only one who knows, and the repercussions from this knowledge ripple out, affecting three religions and endangering Lucy’s own life, as Naslund explores the explosive intersection of religion, tolerance and science.
twain on twain Exciting news for Mark Twain fans: When he died in 1910, the author left behind hundreds of pages of an autobiography, complete with a stipulation that the book’s publication be held until 100 years after his death. Well, it’s 2010, and on November 15 the University of California Press is releasing book one in the three-part series: Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume I: The Complete and Authoritative twain Edition. Here’s a bit more from the publisher: “The strict instruction that these texts remain unpublished for 100 years meant that when they came out, he would be ‘dead, and unaware, and indifferent’ and therefore free to speak his ‘whole frank mind.’” And what a mind it was.
ANNIVERSARY by lacey galbraith
A seminal novel turns 50
arper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird is more than a literary classic; it’s a 50-year testament to the ways a well-told story can inspire readers and impact a culture. Oprah Winfrey has called it America’s “national novel,” and Tom Brokaw remembers the “electrifying effect” it had on the country the year it debuted. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1961, and in 1962 a movie adaptation garnered three Academy Awards (having been nominated for eight). Today, this treasured gem has sold more than 30 million copies. To Kill a Mockingbird was first published in the summer of 1960 when its author, Nelle Harper Lee, was 35 years old. Living in a cold-water flat in New York City’s
Yorkville neighborhood, she had been supporting herself with a series of odd jobs, from sales clerk in a bookstore to ticket agent for Eastern Airlines. For years, her ambition had been to become a writer. Her childhood friend Truman Capote (who appears in the book as the character Dill) had done it, but for Lee, any future literary success was contingent upon her ability to carve out time in the evenings after work to write. Those close to Lee, like best friends Joy and Michael Martin Brown, believed in her though,
and on Christmas Day, 1956, they presented Lee with an envelope. Inside was a note reading, “You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas.” Free to devote herself full time to her writing, Lee produced a bestseller. To honor Lee’s achievement and celebrate the novel’s 50 years of enduring popularity, publisher HarperCollins is organizing events across the country—from readings to live re-enactments—and publishing several new editions of the classic. There’s an elegance to the To Kill a Mockingbird slipcased edition (HarperCollins, $35, ISBN 9780061205699), while the 50thanniversary hardcover (Harper, $25, ISBN 9780061743528) is especially lovely with its vintage reproduction of the original book jacket. Also available is a mass market paperback (Grand Central, $7.99, ISBN 9780446310789). Paying tribute to the novel’s lasting legacy is Mary McDonagh Murphy’s Scout, Atticus & Boo (Harper, $24.99, 224 pages, ISBN
9780061924071), a collection of 26 interviews with mostly wellknown Americans reflecting on how the book has touched their lives. Included are Anna Quindlen, Jon Meacham, Allan Gurganus, Mary Badham (the actress who played Scout in the movie) and even Lee’s sister, Alice Lee. Gaining a million more readers every year, To Kill a Mockingbird’s enduring success can be traced both to the novel’s subjects— Scout’s coming-of-age, the trial of Tom Robinson—and to Lee’s storytelling. The book tackles the injustice of racism, takes a stand for what is right, yet thankfully lacks any tone of self-righteousness or high-minded piety. Lee’s characters are wonderfully crafted, so vivid and alive. Her prose is beautifully languid, her descriptions sharpeyed and her humor smart. Harper Lee accomplished something great with To Kill a Mockingbird, and with every passing decade, another generation of readers is wholly, and completely, captivated by its magic.
New This Summer from Oxford University Press
“Moye…inject(s) a first-person, insider feel into his exhaustive study of the Tuskegee program.” —Dallas Morning News
“ This is great history—a fascinating story told by a masterful storyteller.” —David Nasaw, author of Andrew Carnegie and The Chief: The Life of William Randolph Hearst
Now available wherever books are sold www.oup.com/us
column by robert Weibezahl
column by kathi kamen goldmark & Sam Barry
david mitchell explores JAPAN’S Hidden TREASURES
Practical advice on writing and publishing for aspiring authors
A versatile and imaginative writer, David Mitchell has earned a devoted following for his virtuosic novels, two of which have been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. With his sumptuous new novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, Mitchell eschews the postmodern razzle-dazzle of Cloud Atlas and Number9Dream for a more straightforward, albeit exquisitely detailed, historical romance about a Dutch outpost in Nagasaki harbor at the turn of the 19th century and Japan’s reluctant passage from isolation to trading partner of the West. Dejima was an artificial island off the coast of Nagasaki that contained the warehouses and employee lodgings of the Dutch East Indies Company. Joined to the mainland by a short bridge, the island was off-limits to most Japanese, and likewise the Dutch were, with few exceptions, not permitted to cross over into Nagasaki. The young clerk Jacob de Zoet arrives there in 1799 on a five-year contract, hoping to earn his fortune and return to Zeeland to marry his beloved. The pious son of a pastor, Jacob is a diligent, intelligent and inquisitive clerk, more open than many of his compatriots to the cultural curiosity that is Japan. The only women permitted to breach the isolation of Dejima are common prostitutes and the courtesans that serve as the “wives” of the company officers, so Jacob is startled when he meets a young woman who is neither. Aibagawa Orito, an accomplished midwife and the facially scarred daughter of an eminent doctor, has obtained special dispensation to study under the island’s Dutch physician, Lucas Marinus. Jacob falls in love with Orito from afar, but such a union faces seemingly insurmountable hurdles. He solicits the help of his translator, Ogawa Uzaemon, to intervene on his behalf, unaware that Uzaemon himself has long loved Orito and had hoped to marry her himself until his father declared the match unsuitable. Mere hopelessness turns to outright despair when Orito’s father dies and she is sold into a Shinto nunnery in payment for his debts. For the middle third of the novel, the story moves primarily
KITTEH CAN HAS BOOK
to the Mount Shiranui Shrine, where Orito is unwillingly incarcerated as part of a sinister ritual involving the birth and dispatch of infants. A bit of Kurosawalike samurai adventure surrounds Uzaemon’s attempt to rescue her from this virtual prison. In the last part of the story, Jacob again takes center stage, as a British frigate arrives in the harbor and attempts to usurp the Dutch stranglehold on Japanese trade. Far removed from the power shift in Napoleonic Europe, the residents of Dejima have been unknowingly cut loose, and it will fall to the Dutch clerk—who until that moment has been professionally hampered by his honesty—to lead the ragtag remnants of the now-defunct trading company to an honorable peace with both the English and the Japanese. Mitchell paints an intricate and sensitive portrait of late feudal Japan, and he deftly conveys the backstories and inner lives of the Europeans. For all its impressive historical accuracy and well-played adventure, though, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet is at heart a series of love stories. Mitchell deftly ties together his trifurcated narrative with a through line drawn from longing and unfulfilled love: Jacob’s love for his Dutch fiancée and for Orito, Orito’s for both Uzaemon and Jacob, Uzaemon’s for Orito, and in the final section, the British ship captain’s for his deceased wife. The novel’s deceptively matterof-fact ending has an undeniable poignancy, wrapped in a quiet bereavement for the inevitable pain of broken intimacies that comes with expanding horizons.
The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet By David Mitchell Random House $26, 496 pages ISBN 9781400065455 Also available on audio
Dear Author Enablers, I’ve written a fun and exciting novel about a growing kitten that has superpowers, crazy but helpful friends and a bad nemesis. His pet parents slowly unravel his secret while running a cat shelter. I have sent this manuscript to friends and family (ages 13-76) and have received an overwhelming positive response. I want to send a query letter to an agent, but I can’t determine which one to contact because I don’t know if my book is young adult or mystery/comedy. Roxanne Henderson Buckeye, Arizona Why, that sounds like our kitten, Scruffy, who’s flying around the room right now reading our minds! No . . . just kidding; kittens can’t fly. That’s Bert, our psychic canary! Based on your description, we think your book fits snugly in the Young Adult (YA) category, with the potential to appeal to some adults. (People will assume it’s geared to a young audience the second they see the words “kitten with superpowers.”) As you know, YA is a popular category, so don’t get too hung up on the idea that you’re losing something by not publishing for adults.
THE LAST SHALL BE FIRST Dear Author Enablers, I’ve decided to enter a writing contest. Is it best to mail my entry early, before the judges are inundated, or is it better to mail my entry right before the final deadline? (I’ve heard that judges tend to remember what they’ve read last—as opposed to first—so it stands to reason that if your entry is in the last pile, it will be remembered above those entries that were received earlier.) S. R. Anzalone Bronx, New York You’re overthinking this. You can’t control the judging process, which varies from contest to contest and judge to judge. Make sure you understand and adhere to all the submission guidelines. Most important: Your writing must be presented at its absolute best. If your story is memorable, the judges will remember it whenever it is read. We
have judged writing contests, and it is the great writing that stands out—not the order in which it is received. Most writers enter contests with the hope of getting acknowledgment and a career break. That may happen, but the exercise of going through the process itself provides great experience in writing and submitting your work for publication. Write the best piece you can, follow the submission guidelines and move on to new challenges.
A LITERARY INHERITANCE Dear Author Enablers, I have the completed manuscript of a novel written by my grandfather sometime in the 1940s or ’50s that was never published. I’m transferring it into electronic form and editing as I go. I think it is a great story and a fascinating view of the time (just prior to and during World War II). I would love to see it finally get published, and I hope to submit the manuscript to an agent. Since I am not the author, and he is now deceased, how do I go about it? Michael Hunsicker Lexington, Massachusetts There is no literary or publishing reason why you shouldn’t do this. However, we are not attorneys and can’t respond from the perspective of legal ownership. Are there any other heirs who might claim rights to the property? Were wishes expressed in your grandfather’s will? We’re sure a lawyer could think of a lot more “what ifs” than we can. A current example of a similar coauthorship is The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Mary Ann Shaffer, the original author, died in 2008 and Annie Barrows, her niece, completed the novel, which became a bestseller. When you contact agents, we think it’d be smart to mention this book as one of your comparison titles. Email questions for Kathi and Sam to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and hometown.
column by Bruce Tierney
Friends (and enemies) in high places In Meg Gardiner’s latest thriller, The Liar’s Lullaby (Dutton, $25.95, 368 pages, ISBN 9780525951728), forensic pathologist Jo Beckett is called upon to consult on what must be the highest-profile case in recent memory: the decidedly suspicious death of the ex-wife of the president of the United States. Tasia McFarland, the feisty first wife of sitting President Robert McFarland, is a down-but-by-nomeans-out country singer, on the comeback trail thanks to “The Liar’s Lullaby,” a self-penned and politically charged anthem seemingly directed at her ex. Then, in front of 30,000 cheering concertgoers, Tasia is struck down by a bullet to the neck, as stage pyrotechnics backlight the bloody and horrific scene. Did the bullet come from Tasia’s own prop gun, a stuntman’s trick gone le-
thally awry? Or are there forces in the government who wanted Tasia McFarland silenced before she could embarrass (or even torpedo) the president, and by extension, his powerful political allies? Gardiner, true to form, has delivered an original premise, developed it to a tee and populated it with believable and morally complex characters. Jo Beckett, a well-drawn protagonist in her own right, is aided by a strong supporting cast: wisecracking cop Amy Tang; hunky boyfriend Gabe Quintana; and, for a bit of comic relief, neighbor Ferd the nerd, with his pet monkey, the
A grieving mother and a relentless reporter pursue the perfect killer... .
Good girl gone bad Pray for Silence (Minotaur, $24.99, 320 pages, ISBN 9780312374983), Linda Castillo’s highly anticipated follow-up to her best-selling Sworn to Silence, once again features lapsed Amish police chief Kate Burkholder, holding down the fort in rural Painter’s Mill, Ohio. An Amish family of seven has been found brutally murdered, evidently the victims of ritual (and graphically described) torture. The two teenage daughters, in particular, met with a gruesome end, their battered bodies dangling from the roof beams of the family barn, a sickening tableau not soon to be forgotten by the investigating officers (nor, for that matter, by the reader). As awful as this seems, it is but the beginning. As the investigation progresses, it becomes apparent that one of the girls has lived a secret life, well away from the strict plainness of Amish culture: She had been the perhaps unwilling star of a series of fetishistic Internet porn films, and at the time of her death, she was several months pregnant. Driving Burkholder inexorably forward in her investigation is a series of strange parallels to a much earlier case that has never entirely released her from its tenacious grip. Pray for Silence is a troubling novel, violent and earthy, and completely impossible to put down.
Taking a wrong turn
On sale now! Visit www.RickMofina.com to read the first book in the series for FREE!
mischievously riotous Mr. Peebles.
In Tess Gerritsen’s latest chiller, Ice Cold (Ballantine, $26, 336 pages, ISBN 9780345515483), pathologist Maura Isles is out of her Beantown element, half a country away in rural Wyoming. Attending a medical conference, she hooks up with an old college classmate and, on a whim, embarks on an impromptu trip into the mountains with a group of his friends. Their GPS prompts them to take a wrong turn, and they wind up getting stuck on a snowy road, basically miles from nowhere, as night is closing in. In the valley below, they spot a small gathering of houses, and make their way toward it. There, in a scene reminiscent of a Stephen King novel, they find the village has been hastily abandoned: cars still parked in the garages, half-eaten meals on the kitchen tables, but not a soul in sight. And there is no help on the horizon, to say the least. Stir
in a bizarre polygamous religious cult, an unhealthy amount of toxic waste, a bent cop or two, a feral wolf-boy and a violently libertarian rancher, and you have a convolutedly compelling storyline, a seamless melding of an Old West tale and a thoroughly modern thriller.
Mystery of the month Fans of Karin Slaughter’s Jeffrey Tolliver/Sara Linton series need to queue up now at their local bookstores in anticipation of Broken, the best Slaughter novel since her groundbreaking Beyond Reach. GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation) Special Agent Will Trent is summoned to rural Grant County, Sara Linton’s stomping grounds, ostensibly to investigate the suspicious death of a homicide suspect incarcerated in the county jail. The police force wants to write it off as the suicide of a remorseful killer, thus closing two cases neatly. Trent, with only minimal scratching of the surface, is convinced that a) slowwitted Tommy Braham would have been a very unlikely murderer, and b) there is a good chance that his so-called confession was coerced. Quickly Trent becomes embroiled in the ages-old dirty politics of the small-town police force and the intense animosity between two women he admires for markedly different reasons: medical examiner Sara Linton and policewoman Lena Adams. There are secrets inside secrets in Grant County, and unearthing some of them can be lethal, even if you carry a badge. Broken is superbly crafted, relentlessly plotdriven and populated with admirably flawed characters; it is perhaps the best of the series thus far, and that is high praise indeed!
Broken By Karin Slaughter Delacorte $26, 416 pages ISBN 9780385341974 Also available on audio
c o l u m n b y j o a n n a b r i c h e tt o
BUILDING MEMORIES With Handy Dad (Chronicle, $24.95, 168 pages, ISBN 9780811869584), Todd Davis—father of two and former HGTV host—constructs summer fun with a dual purpose: quality time with Dad, plus hands-on creativity and problem-solving skills in the real world. Lest this sound too didactic, listen to some of the 25 primo projects on offer: water balloon launcher, slingshot, climbing wall, zip line, lava lamp, dollhouse and water-pressurized rocket. Just how handy does a dad have to be? The presence of power tools is a good indicator: If he owns them, he’s fine. Basic skills will suffice for most projects, some of which are designed so the kid can do part of the work anyway. For more elaborate goals like the BMX ramp, half-pipe and rope bridge, the handy level is ratcheted up considerably. Ever wary of gender bias, I am pleased to report the photos show both boys and girls at work and play, making a clear statement that this is not just a book for fathers and sons. And even if Mom is the handy one in the family, no Dad will be able to resist playing with this stuff once it’s built.
MOD-GIRL SURVIVAL KIT It should be no surprise that The Modern Girl’s Guide to Sticky Situations (Avon, $19.99, 368 pages, ISBN 9780061776359) is sized to stash in a purse, because author Jane Buckingham (The Modern Girl’s Guide to Life) thinks of everything, and she knows a survival kit should be perfectly portable. She designed this chunky compendium of quick-fixes “for the deserving gal with the best intentions who gets caught in sticky situations,” or in other words, pretty much all of us. Whether advising readers on how to deal with a ripped hem or an IRS audit, a clogged toilet or a drunk date, she offers the sanest options with efficiency and flair. The range is appropriately vast (and
column by sybil PRATT
THE FRANKIES’ FINEST vastly appropriate), given the frequency of fixes in which the Modern Girl finds herself: Included are all manner of faux pas (except the titular one of confusing “girl” for “woman”), mistakes, accidents, wardrobe malfunctions, misunderstandings, physical ailments and quandaries of even the most sensitive nature. All are organized by situation—love, weddings, home, family, parties, beauty/ fashion/shopping, money, work and “on the go”—and indexed to be blessedly searchable in the privacy of one’s own home (or handbag).
TOP PICK FOR LIFESTYLES Gardening is its own reward, right? Playing in the dirt, coaxing new life from seed, setting out flowers to craft our own little paradise. But what do we usually get for our efforts? Maybe one flush of color in the spring or summer, when nursery-grown flats easily please the eye. What if, however, our yards, borders and curbs could be thoughtfully planned with an easy-to-maintain mix of annuals, perennials, shrubs, trees and even fruits and vegetables, and structured so that every season swells with color, form, texture and scent? Paradise, indeed, but humanly possible with Stephanie Cohen and Jennifer Benner’s guidance in The Nonstop Garden. The authors reveal basic design strategies, detailed plant portraits and 10 simple plans, plus advice on ornamentation, containers, structure, zones and seasonal interest. The photographs are gorgeous and inspirational: further evidence that more diversity and forethought can make a garden lovely—and manageable—all year ’round.
The Nonstop Garden By Stephanie Cohen and Jennifer Benner Timber Press $19.95, 248 pages ISBN 9780881929515
Not many cookbook authors would sub-subtitle their debut “An Illustrated Guide to ‘Simply the Finest,’ ” but the Frankies— Falcinelli and Castronovo—are New Yorkers, and therefore entitled to the smart, hip attitude that makes their food, their restaurants and their book, The Frankies Spuntino Kitchen Companion & Cooking Manual (Artisan, $24.95, 272 pages, ISBN 9781579654153), written with Peter Meehan, a delight. Friends from childhood, the Frankies grew up eating excellent Italian-American food, then took the haute French road to professional culinary careers. Eighteen years later, tired of fancy ingredients and calculated chic, they decided to return to their roots, using their decades of cooking experience to lighten up and expand on the comforting cuisine of their youth. The result is “dead simple,” noflourish food that can feed a crowd or keep you and your mate surfeited for days. Starting with Tomato Sauce, the basic of tutti basics, the frankly frank Frankies amble through their greatest hits from antipasti to dessert, with tips galore, a few tutorials, advice on wine and cheese, equipment and pantry, and totally supportive explanations and instructions for both newbies and seasoned cooks. Mangia bene.
GOING ORGANIC As summer simmers and local fruits and veggies glimmer, going organic gets more appealing and easier. If you want a little encouragement or a handy reference, Cathy Thomas is here to help with her latest, Melissa’s Everyday Cooking with Organic Produce (Wiley, $29.95, 336 pages, ISBN 9780470371053). Arranged alphabetically from apples to turnips (zucchini hangs out with the other squash), the book gives you all the specific info you need on buying, storing, prep and availability, plus a seasonal chart and nutritional content for 56 commonly available varieties. Then select a recipe from the more than 225 offered to showcase what you’ve harvested or chosen at the market. With corn coming into its
own, try the Spicy Grilled Corn on the Cob with Parmesan, then gather as many heirloom tomatoes as you can and feast on a salad made with mangoes and blue cheese. When plump red cherries show up, use them in a savory Relish with Grilled Pork Tenderloin. And there are plenty of recipes for year-round organics like Roasted Red Radishes, Broccoli Mac’n’Cheese and spicy Potato and Turnip Curry.
COOKBOOK OF THE MONTH If you’ve been waiting for the barbecue book of the season, it’s here and it’s a wow, as expected. Steven Raichlen, grand guru of the grill and bold baron of barbecue, serves up his most ambitious, enticing and comprehensive take yet (quite a feat after The Barbecue! Bible) on cooking with fire and smoke. Planet Barbecue! is a sweeping tour of the best live-fire-cooked food from 60 countries on six continents, from Australia to Azerbaijan, Cambodia to Colombia, South Africa to South Korea, with 309 recipes, more than 600 color photos, short essays on each country and profiles of grill masters, all spiced with fiery fervor. Starters, salads, breads, a wide mélange of meats and poultry, fish and shellfish, veggies and desserts all get the Raichlen treatment: detailed instructions, many with step-bystep photos, plus grilling needs, headers that set the scene and sidebars that give you the scoop on these sizzling sensations. Right on, Raichlen, you’ve done it again!
Planet Barbecue! By Steven Raichlen Workman $22.95, 656 pages ISBN 9780761148012
New paperback releases for reading groups
WHAT SHE DID FOR LOVE Coming to a theater near you in August, the film version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love (Penguin, $16, 352 pages, ISBN 9780143118428) will renew interest in this 2006 bestseller, now available in a new movie tie-in edition. The adventure-filled memoir chronicles Gilbert’s 12-month solo journey—a trip she takes in the wake of a painful divorce, hoping to regain her inner equilibrium. Over the course of her travels, she makes some surprising discoveries about herself and what she wants from life. Italy with its rich cuisine reawakens her sense of pleasure, while India provides much-needed spiritual solace. Gilbert consults shamans, yogis and other wise figures in hopes of connecting with the divine. In an unexpected turn of events that’s sure to make the reader cheer, she finally finds her Prince Charming. A companionable narrator with a shrewd eye for detail, Gilbert infuses the travelogue form with new spirit.
ON THE RUN
Spanning five decades, John Irving’s majestic novel, Last Night in Twisted River (Ballantine, $17, 592 pages, ISBN 9780345479730), provides ample evidence of the author’s enduring narrative gifts. The year is 1954, and widower Dominic Baciagalupo is working as a cook at a New Hampshire logging settlement called Twisted River, where he lives with his son Danny. When a tragedy at the camp turns father and son into outlaws, they leave their old lives behind and begin an itinerant existence, wandering through New England and up into Canada. Along the way, Danny
column by julie hale
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passes through various schools, and Dominic makes ends meet as a chef. All the while, they’re pursued by an unstoppable constable from Twisted River who’s convinced they’re responsible for a death at the camp. Detailed and expansive, Irving’s 12th novel covers plenty of ground, chronicling Danny’s eventual career as a writer and the birth of his son, Joe. The book’s resolution is trademark Irving—unexpected, moving and provocative. Broad in conception, compellingly plotted, this is an unforgettable work from a master storyteller.
TOP PICK FOR BOOK CLUBS In Her Fearful Symmetry, a follow-up to the bestseller The TimeTraveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger offers a contemporary ghost story that’s sure to satisfy her many fans. Elspeth Noblin has died from cancer, leaving her London flat to the twin daughters of her twin sister. Raised in the Chicago suburbs, the two girls, Julia and Valentina, are 20 years old and very close. They never knew their aunt, but they take over her flat—which is located near London’s Highgate Cemetery—with enthusiasm. The girls soon befriend Elspeth’s old neighbors, including Robert, her former boyfriend, and Martin, who suffers from obsessivecompulsive disorder. Hovering over the scene is the ghost of Elspeth herself, who can’t seem to quit her old life. When Julia becomes jealous of her sister’s new relationship with Robert, Elspeth’s ghost intervenes. Niffenegger writes with persuasiveness and originality about matters of the heart and matters of the afterlife. Her poetic prose adds an extra, delightful layer to this imaginative tale.
Her Fearful Symmetry By Audrey Niffenegger Scribner $15, 406 pages ISBN 9781439169018
BEFORE AND AFTER There’s always a sense of before and after as we move through the days and decades of our lives, marked by major or minor events. But when a cataclysm strikes, life is forever divided. “Before” becomes a fairy tale of ordinary happiness and “after” a hell to be achingly endured, filled with anguish over what might have been. Mary Beth Latham, a loving wife and devoted mother of three very different teenagers, is the narrator and protagonist of Every Last One (Simon & Schuster Audio, $39.99, 9.5 hours unabridged, ISBN 9781442334007), Anna Quindlen’s latest, intensely affecting novel. Always an eloquent, empathetic observer of the daily domestic simmer and the complexities of being a mother, she gives a bravura performance here, movingly mirrored by Hope Davis’ fine reading. The Lathams are a believable family with fairly predictable problems— a brush with anorexia, one twin a super-athlete, the other engulfed in adolescent alienation—offset by their closeness, laughter and love. When the unimaginable happens, Quindlen evokes what it feels like to find that the fullness of time might be empty, and to go on anyway.
voices of THE CITY OF LIGHT Summer, with its heat waves and waves of tourists, may not be the best time to hang out in Paris, but it’s a perfect time to luxuriate in a shady spot and let yourself be taken on an anecdotal audio excursion through its history and streets. In Parisians: An Adventure History of Paris (Tantor Media, $34.99, 14 hours unabridged, ISBN 9781400117109), prize-winning biographer, historian and fervent Francophile Graham Robb gives us charmingly nonsequential, wonderfully etched portraits-in-time of this fabulous, fabled city as it grew from an island in the Seine into a sprawling European capital. Paris is revealed through a “mini-Human Comedy,” recounted by many dif-
ferent voices, all brought to life by Simon Vance’s quintessentially elegant voice, from the young Napoleon as he loses his virginity at the Palais Royale in 1787 to Baron Haussmann, Madame Zola, Vidocq, Proust, de Gaulle, Nicolas Sarkozy, the newer immigrants who live in the poor, unsightly, outlying quartiers and many more. The “adventures” here make history vital, witty and entertaining.
AUDIO OF THE MONTH I’m a big fan of Richard North Patterson; he never shies away from taking on major issues and weaving them into taut legal thrillers. His courtroom scenes, with their edgy retorts and rebuttals, showcase the immediacy and emotional force of a good audio performance. That force is front and center as John Bedford Lloyd skillfully narrates In the Name of Honor, Patterson’s newest and one of his best. Honor, specifically the military variety, is under scrutiny, but so is PTSD and its devastating effects on our combat forces. Lt. Brian McCarran, son of the current army chief of staff, recently back from a harrowing tour in Iraq, shoots his commanding officer, a man married to his lifelong friend. Capt. Paul Terry, a brilliant young JAG lawyer, is called in to defend Brian in a high-profile court-martial, with Brian’s older sister, a lawyer, equally brilliant— and beautiful—as co-counsel. As Terry searches for the truth, piecing intricate interrelationships together, “honor” becomes suffused with ambiguity, secrets surface, and we’re in for a doozy of a denouement.
In the Name of Honor By Richard North Patterson Macmillan Audio $39.99, 13.5 hours unabridged ISBN 9781427209474
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OT FICTION, COOL PRICES The Strain By Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan $9.99, 9780061558245 At New York’s JFK Airport an arriving Boeing 777 has suddenly stopped dead on the runway, and all of the communication channels have mysteriously gone quiet. Dr. Eph Goodweather, head of a CDC rapid-response team investigating biological threats, boards the darkened plane and what he finds makes his blood run cold. A terrifying contagion has come to the unsuspecting city, an unstoppable plague that will spread like an all-consuming wildfire—lethal, merciless, hungry . . . vampiric.
My Dangerous Duke By Gaelen Foley $7.99, 9780061733970 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Gaelen Foley invites you to reenter London’s infamous, scandalous Inferno Club in My Dangerous Duke—the story of a haunted aristocrat sworn to a secret, noble cause and the abducted beauty who thaws his icy heart. Historical romance superstar Julia Quinn calls Gaelen Foley, “Always fabulous,” and My Dangerous Duke once again proves it so.
Pray for Dawn By Jocelynn Drake $7.99, 9780061851803 As Mira, the enforcer of the nightwalker coven, wrestles with the ghosts of her dark past—the dawn of chaos has come. The naturi have broken free of their eternal prison to feed on the defenseless inhabitants of an unprepared Earth. Mira and Danaus—vampire and vampire slayer—must unite to prevent the annihilation of their separate races. But Danaus must also fight the bori who covets his soul, and Mira—whose power is the Earth’s last hope—is rapidly going insane.
Intent to Kill By James Grippando $7.99, 9780061628696 Ryan James’ promising baseball career was derailed when a hit-and-run driver killed his wife, Chelsea, and left Ryan alone to care for their little girl. Now, three years later, he’s a popular sports radio host, still haunted by the unsolved crime. When Ryan receives a chilling message from an anonymous tipster who says, “I know who did it,” the shocking revelation sets Ryan on a twisted path toward a shattering truth that threatens him, his daughter, and everyone around them.
romance c o l u m n b y c h r i s t i e r i d g way
Time for summer lovin’ Once again, we have stories that will take you away . . . so put up your bare feet and dive right in! Start with a trip to 14th-century Scotland in Amanda Scott’s Tempted by a Warrior (Forever, $6.99, 432 pages, ISBN 9780446561327). With her abusive husband missing, Lady Fiona Jardine must answer to Sir Richard Seyton. At first she fears for herself and her infant, but Richard is unlike other men she’s known. While he’s all warrior, he’s also kind and understanding, and Fiona can see herself trusting him. Still, she’s tormented by the nagging fear that she might have had something to do with her husband’s disappearance. Fiona has no memory of that night and wonders what she might have done—and chosen to forget. Once Richard learns of Fiona’s apprehension, it only makes him more protective of this beautiful woman. As they grow closer, he finds it more imperative to discover what happened to her husband—because now he wants her for himself. With the intriguing murder mystery and a backdrop of Border skirmishes, this story has action, passion and peril.
Evil ways Blind Spot (Zebra, $6.99, 384 pages, ISBN 9781420103410), Nancy Bush’s atmospheric romantic thriller, is sure to cause shivers. When an unidentified, pregnant young woman is found catatonic and her male companion stabbed to death, authorities— both legal and medical—are stymied. “Jane Doe” is sent to a private mental hospital, where she comes under the care of Dr. Claire Norris, a woman reeling from a frightening episode some months before. Though one of her patients killed his girlfriend before her very eyes and then tried to kill Claire, she is still determined to help her latest patient. That brings her into contact with cop Langdon Stone—
the brother of the young woman slain by her schizophrenic patient. Bitter about his sister’s death, Lang distrusts Claire’s motivations, and as they proceed into the investigation, they encounter sinister rumors of cults, witches and dark gifts. Despite his doubts about Claire and his questions about this latest murder, Lang finds himself drawn to the lovely doctor. Readers will worry over Lang and Claire’s newfound love—and their lives—in this gritty and suspenseful tale.
Romance of the month Robyn Carr writes with heart and soul in her latest contemporary, a women’s fiction/romance hybrid, A Summer in Sonoma. As four girlfriends approach 30, they also face crises in their lives. Cassie gives up looking for her soulmate after one frightening evening; Julie doesn’t know if she and her husband Billy, her first-and-forever love, can keep their life together under mounting debt; Marty’s marriage to firefighter Joe is unraveling; and ob-gyn Beth is keeping a secret from her pals. The characters are warm and real and the dilemmas they face authentic. Can Cassie give the biker who rescued her that fateful night a chance at her heart? Will Julie and Billy remain the happiest couple they know? Might Marty and Joe reclaim that caring feeling they once had? Is it possible for Beth to keep that clinical distance that she thinks keeps her sane? Readers will cry and laugh along with the four friends and sigh over the good men that come into their lives. A satisfying, sweet and sexy read.
A Summer in Sonoma By Robyn Carr Mira $7.99, 416 pages ISBN 9780778328704
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YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN eaders who have already met some of the indelible characters in Irish author Tana French’s earlier thrillers, In the Woods and The Likeness, greeted the news of her third novel with excitement, perhaps hoping to see some familiar faces.
Although neither Rob Ryan nor Cassie Maddox—protagonists of the first two books—appears in Faithful Place, the story does revolve around a character introduced in the previous novel: Frank Mackey, a cop on Dublin’s Undercover Squad, who turned up as Cassie’s former boss in The Likeness. French didn’t always intend to write about Frank next, but while working on The Likeness, she found herself becoming interested in him. “He had a very odd moral sense,” she says during a phone call to her home in Dublin. “And I was kind of interested in how you would turn into that kind of person, and then what would happen if you really got pushed to the far edge of that question: Will you do anything to yourself and to the people you love best to get your man?” Frank is certainly pushed to the edge of reason in Faithful Place when, against his better judgment, he returns to the family he left more than 20 years earlier. In December 1985, he was 19 years old, desperate to escape his miserable home life and madly in love with Rosie Daly. He and Rosie made plans to run away to Britain together, but on the night that they were supposed
to meet at Number 16, Faithful Place—the abandoned building at the top of their street—Rosie never showed up. Frank left anyway, heartbroken but determined never to go home again. He eventually joined the Dublin police force and married smart, sharp Olivia, with whom he now has a daughter, Holly, and an uneasy post-divorce relationship. But when Rosie’s suitcase turns up 22 years later, hidden behind a wall at Number 16, Frank has no choice but to wade back into the mess of his family and his old neighborhood if he wants to find out what happened to her. Complicating matters is the fact that there’s no love lost between the neighborhood—the Liberties, one of the oldest parts of Dublin—and the police. Frank’s family sees no reason why they should trust him, and the neighbors would rather keep their secrets than expose them to the light of an official investigation. French isn’t from the Liberties, but her husband is, which helped her to feel that she could write about it with some degree of accuracy. “I don’t pretend that I understand it from outside,” she says. “I think you would probably have to
be born and brought up there and come from four generations there to really get the hang of the Liberties. But I had good insight, and I had a real insider vetting it for me to make sure I didn’t do anything stupid.” The Liberties is an area rich with its own culture and history, French explains. “The same families have lived there for hundreds of years. Now recently it has started changing—it got kind of yuppified over the last 20 years. But you still get families who show up in the 1911 census, who have been there for hundreds and hundreds of years. It was never a rich area—right up into my husband’s day, it was tenement flats with outside toilets, but with a very strong community ethic which it still has, and with the nosiness that comes with people being very jammed together.” The close, almost suffocating atmosphere of the Liberties is mirrored in Frank’s family, who still exert the same pressure on him as on the day he left. “Families are fascinating, the way they interact, and the way your family can get to you with a speed and an efficiency that no one else in the world can quite do,” French says. “That’s what
I was interested in: the huge intense power of family, and what would happen if you came back into the zone of that power after having resisted it for so long. Because I think even if you do leave your family for 20 years, like Frank does, it’s not that the pull of that magnet ever goes away. It’s just that you get far enough that it weakens. And when you come back within its reach, it’s going to snap you straight back in.” Frank’s family is full of the memorable characters that French writes so well, from naïve and upwardly mobile Kevin to “dark and wiry and restless” Shay, who still lives upstairs from their parents and has never forgiven Frank for escaping his fair share of their alcoholic father’s abuse. Frank’s younger sister Jackie is the only one he’s kept in contact with over the years—but it turns out she’s been keeping a secret from him. Trained as an actress at Trinity College, French has had years of experience on the stage, which helps her to create these fully fleshed-out characters and to inhabit so completely the mind of her narrator. “I write like an actor,” she says of her first-person narrative style. “If you write third person, you have to be able to see things from everybody’s viewpoint equally and simultaneously, whereas writing first person, it’s a lot more like playing one character in a play, in that you see all the action through the filter of this character’s perceptions and preconceptions and needs and biases. “I think the fact that I start from character, not from plot, is also a very actor thing. I start out with a premise and the narrator, and I just hope to God there’s a plot in there somewhere that I’ll figure out as I go along.” Clearly French has done well in that regard. Her first novel, In the Woods, debuted to tremendous acclaim in 2007, winning such major awards as the Edgar, Anthony and Macavity, and both that book and 2008’s The Likeness landed on the New York Times bestseller list. Faithful Place, with its haunting plot and gorgeous prose, should be poised for similar success. Some of the book’s best passages are flashbacks to 1985, when Ireland was in the grip of a major recession. French vividly brings the period to life, contrasting it with Ireland’s later economic boom, which was nearing its end in December 2007.
She very deliberately set the book in this time just before the crash, which has hit Ireland particularly hard. “We were riding so high on the wave of the economic boom that it shaped the entire national consciousness, and this crash is doing the same thing,” she says. In one memorable scene, Frank must explain to nine-year-old Holly that his family is poor—an idea she finds shameful, having grown up thinking of poor people as stupid and lazy. One of French’s goals in Faithful Place is to set the record straight: “I think that a big part of what happened in the economic boom was that it began to be seen as somehow irresponsible to be poor, no matter why; you were not contributing to the economy, you were a lesser person for not having a lot of money. And conversely, having a load of status symbols somehow implied that you were a more worthy “I have this person. And I feeling that thought that mystery was something fiction, almost that Frank would probmore than ably feel very any other passionately genre, is really about; in this very fraught rooted in the relationship society where between his past and his it is set.” present, that would be one of the things that he’d want to salvage from the past, the idea that your bank account isn’t necessarily a measure of your moral worth.” Although French’s family was living abroad during much of the 1980s recession, she still remembers what it was like to spend those summers in Ireland. “Anybody who’s old enough to remember it is shaped by it, by the kind of thing that Frank describes. There’s a generation who [grew up] during the economic boom times [to whom] ‘broke’ meant you could only go on one holiday this year, whereas ‘broke,’ when we were teenagers, meant I can’t meet up for coffee because I don’t have the bus fare to get into town.” French’s deftness with both character and setting make the world of Faithful Place pulse with life. It’s no accident that her novels all take place in Dublin, where—despite an itinerant childhood—she has lived
since she was 17. “Dublin is the only place I really know, the only place I can call home, where I know the little things, like what connotations a certain accent has, and what’s a shortcut from A to B. I have this feeling that mystery fiction, almost more than any other genre, is really rooted in the society where it’s set, because crimes are shaped by the society they come out of. You have to have a strong sense of the underlying tensions within a society in order to set the kind of stuff I’m interested in writing there.” As for her characters, readers of Faithful Place will enjoy guessing which one will become the protagonist of French’s fourth book, which she is writing now. “The reason I skip from narrator to narrator is usually because it’s hard to come up with more than one story that’s that crucial to any one person’s life. There aren’t that many turning points in any given person’s life, and I kind of don’t want to write about anything that’s less than crucial.” Though she has yet to repeat a narrator, she says she would like to
write about Frank and his family again: “I hope there’s a book there someday! It’s funny, I still haven’t reached the point where I can take this for granted. A part of me is still going, oh God, I hope I don’t just drop everything and smash it.” With Faithful Place, which may be French’s best novel yet, she has nothing to fear.
By Tana French, Viking, $25.95, 416 pages, ISBN 9780670021871, also available on audio
#1 New York Times bEst-sElling Author JAnEt EvAnovich dEbuts hEr first grAphic novEl!
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THOMAS french interview By alden mudge
IT’S ALL HAPPENING AT THE ZOO
ow does a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter overcome a lifelong fear of animals? By writing a captivating newspaper series about Tampa Bay’s Lowry Park Zoo, to begin with. Then by transforming that series into a remarkable book about life and work inside a zoo and the difficult questions zoos raise about how humans relate to nature.
“I had some bad experiences as a paperboy and I never really got over them,” says Thomas French, discussing the origins of his animal angst. “But I had to get over them because to do this project I was going to be spending a lot of time around a lot of animals. The animals were so interesting and their keepers were so wonderfully open in allowing me into this world that I really grew. This project was one of the most exhilarating experiences I’ve had as a journalist.” That’s saying a lot. French spent three decades as a reporter at the St. Petersburg Times, winning his Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 1997, and a host of other awards along the way. He recently accepted a buyout offer and now teaches at the journalism school at Indiana University, flying to Bloomington to teach classes in narrative journalism midweek, then returning home to “St. Pete” for the weekends. “I empathize with the George Clooney character in Up in the Air,” French says. “Not with his disengagement from humanity, but with his tips on how to like working on a plane and how to deal with all the travel.” French’s wife, Kelley Benham, is enterprise editor at the St. Petersburg Times and part of a team that was a Pulitzer finalist this year. French’s
sons, a high school senior and a college junior, are both interested in playwriting. “Yeah,” French says, “we’re a family of writers.” And it is a writer, rather than some therapeutic urge, that French credits with inspiring what became his marvelous book Zoo Story. “I read Yann Martel’s Life of Pi in the summer of 2003, and I was totally enchanted by that book. I was drawn as a reporter to a passage where the narrator talks about the misconceptions people have about life inside a zoo. It wasn’t the heart of what the book was about, but it drew me because as a narrative reporter I’ve spent a lot of time reporting inside other institutions— courthouses, police stations, public schools—and when I read that passage, I realized I’d never read a detailed, in-depth look inside the institution of the zoo. I sent the passage to Lowry Park Zoo and asked if that is what it’s really like. They emailed me saying it was actually more complicated than that.” Complicated indeed. French began his reporting as Lowry Park Zoo was embroiled in a controversial effort to import 11 elephants from Swaziland. Elephants, as French shows so clearly, are remarkable animals, intelligent, highly sensitive to their environs and perhaps
even self-aware. But their habitat is shrinking and, like humans, they “have the ability to alter their surrounding ecosystem.” This leaves Africa’s nature parks and game reserves with hard choices—cull the herds or transport the animals elsewhere. But moving elephants, especially long distances, has its own complex set of issues. In French’s remarkable narration, the story of moving and settling these elephants—one of the through lines of Zoo Story—is filled with drama and surprise. “That’s what narrative reporting is,” French says. “You look for what a friend of mine calls fault lines, where good intentions clash with other aspects of reality. Or where the need to make a profit runs up against other questions, such as the issue of conservation. This is really a story that takes place at the intersection of conservation and commerce.” Thus another side of French’s Zoo Story is the tale of the zoo as an organization of management and staff. Management in this case is Lex Salisbury, Lowry Park’s CEO and an alpha among alphas. “Lex is an interesting guy to write about,” French says. “He’s very A zoo is a admirable in many ways. laboratory He’s a visionnot just for ary. He brings the study of a lot of joy and animals but passion to this But for the study enterprise. he’s very, very of the human complicated. The arc of his animal. ambition and his passion gets tangled up with his leadership style. There are a lot of people who do not like him.” Some of the people who do not like Salisbury are current and former staff. “Lowry Park for a long time has not paid their keepers very much money,” French says. “Part of the calculus is that this is a job that many, many people long to do. People love to work with animals. So realistically, they don’t have to pay their keepers very much money. No zoo does. But it’s a physically demanding job, it requires a lot of expertise, and it is dangerous.” The conflict between a passionate, knowledgeable, underpaid staff and an equally passionate, dictatorial boss creates an explosive situa-
tion. And it is a drama that continued to unfold beyond the printing of the book’s first galleys. “I’ve been reporting on that and revising until much later than is healthy, just trying to keep up with the story,” French says. Still, the primary focus of Zoo Story is on the animals. French has done a considerable amount of research and writes interestingly on animals ranging from orangutans to dart frogs and on issues ranging from the Machiavellian behavior of chimpanzees to Lowry Park’s groundbreaking efforts to save endangered manatees. He writes with passion and sympathy about a regal Sumatran tiger called Enshalla and a tragically mixed-up chimpanzee named Herman. But in writing so well about these animals in the zoo, French raises fundamental questions. “From the very beginning I had in mind this question of freedom. What does freedom mean to humans? What does it mean to other species? What are the limits of freedom in a world that is so crowded that many species are becoming extinct every year?” French says. “A zoo is one of the frontiers where we confront these issues, . . . where we see the fault line between wildness and civilization. Just watch people standing in front of tigers, the way they behave confronting an animal with such lethal potential. It’s stunning. It brings something out in people. “Zoos are here,” French says. “They’ve been a part of human culture for centuries. A zoo is a laboratory not just for the study of animals but for the study of the human animal. As time went on, I felt I was learning as much about people as about any other species.” In Zoo Story, French opens a window on the inner workings of a zoo, and it turns out to be a mirror in which we see something new about ourselves.
zoo story By Thomas French Hyperion $24.99, 304 pages ISBN 9781401323462
Behind the Book
hen I sold my first novel, in early 2007, my agent asked me if I had a second book in the works, just in case a publisher was interested in a two-book deal. “Not exactly,” I said, “but I’ve always wanted to do something about real estate and relationships.” Within a matter of days, this fragment of an idea—not even a complete sentence —would become my new marching orders: “Janelle Brown will deliver a novel about real estate and relationships by October 1, 2009,” my contract instructed me. No pressure. Fortunately, I had lots to say on the subject, since 2007 was the apex of the real estate boom in Los Angeles. I was watching my friends and acquaintances buy and sell houses in a frenzy, mortgaging their lives away for a tiny Spanish casita or a sprawling mid-century ranch or a modernist duplex. A real estate junkie myself—by the time I was 30 years old I’d already bought a home, sold it, and bought another one—I was fascinated with the passion that people invest in the homes that they buy (or just lust after): The lure of home ownership somehow trumps all other rational thought, becoming in the process a sinkhole for dreams and expectations, selfidentity and a whole lot of delusion. The real estate insanity in Los Angeles was breathtaking—I watched as my own home increased in value almost 30 percent in three years. As the cost of a modest two-bedroom, 1,200-square-foot home in central Los Angeles approached a million dollars, I observed how much people were investing—both financially and emotionally—into even the most rudimentary home. And that, in turn, put incredible pressure on the couples who were buying them:
This Is Where We Live By Janelle Brown Spiegel & Grau $25, 336 pages ISBN 9780385524032 Also available on audio
With so much on the table, even a solid-seeming marriage could quickly show the strain. I began my book thinking that I would write about a couple attempting— and failing—to buy a house in this environment. But by the time I’d written 50 pages, the real estate crash was visible on the horizon; 100 pages in, and the stock market went into freefall. Instead of obsessing over the homes they wanted to buy, the people I knew were starting to worry about how The lure to save their of home homes (not ownership to mention their jobs). somehow It became trumps all clear to me other rational that the more interesting thought. story to write would be about a couple trying to hang on to their home—and everything that it represents to them, all that hope and identity and delusion. (After all, there’s a lot more plot to be wrung from dreams realized and lost than from dreams that are never realized at all). So I threw away almost everything I’d done up to that point, and started again. I live in Los Feliz, a Los Angeles neighborhood packed with both successful and aspiring writers, directors, musicians and other creatives. For the newly refocused novel, I drew heavily on the stories I was hearing every day. This Is Where We Live ended up being the story of Claudia and Jeremy, an artsy married couple who purchase their first home at the apex of the boom, only to be threatened by foreclosure when their adjustablerate mortgage unexpectedly adjusts. The recession hits them hard. Claudia, an aspiring director, watches her first film fail; Jeremy toils at a no-growth job at a t-shirt
company in order to finance his stalling music career. Their threatened home—a bungalow in Mount Washington whose modest size belies the inflated price they paid for it—suddenly comes to represent everything they desire and fear. For Jeremy, who has been revisited by his wild (and wildly successful) artist ex-girlfriend, the house is an anchor, tethering him to a responsible adulthood he no longer finds particularly appealing. And for Claudia, the home embodies everything that she has struggled to achieve—namely, love and success and stability—and that now seems about to disappear at any minute. As the couple works to save their home, they realize that the foundation of their marriage is in no better shape than their bank account. It’s a challenge to write about the moment that the world is currently living—you don’t yet have the context that an author writing 10 or 20 or 50 years down the line might have. But what you do have is the immediacy of experience, the
ability to really document things as they happen. Verisimilitude. I like to think of This Is Where We Live as a record of a particular moment in time. And, hopefully, a rollicking good read to boot. This Is Where We Live is the second novel by Janelle Brown, a former senior writer for Salon whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Vogue, Wired and Self. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and daughter.
Great Summer Reading from
Secrets Buried Alive Never Die 978-1-60260-512-1 / $12.99
DREAMS LOST IN THE HOUSING BUST
BY janelle brown
Gracie Temple inherited her uncle’s house—and his secret. She now has two weeks to uncover the truth… and decide what’s most important in life.
Can love overcome evil in the Mennonite Town of Harmony, Kansas?
AvAilA wherever ble boo Are sold ks !
summer reading As Husbands Go By Susan Isaacs Scribner $25, 352 pages ISBN 9781416573012 Also available on audio
hard look at the sometimes impenetrable, often absurd social politics of upscale New York. Susie is a winning heroine: wry, smart and self-deprecating. Fast-paced and immensely satisfying, As Husbands Go is a novel about a woman trying to prove that her charmed life was no fairy tale, and in the process learning a lot about herself. —Amy Scribner
SELECTIONS FOR the sultry season
eading in the summertime has a different pace. Life slows down as the weather heats up, leaving readers with more time to savor a special book. Whether you’re heading to the beach, cooling off in the mountains or simply relaxing at home, add one of these recommendations to your summer reading list. The Devil Amongst the Lawyers By Sharyn McCrumb Thomas Dunne $24.99, 336 pages ISBN 9780312558161 Also available on audio
Author Sharyn McCrumb has forged a successful career by dipping her pen into the inkwell of Appalachian culture and conveying the region’s stories to the rest of the world. A resident of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains herself, McCrumb has the unique ability to paint mythic portraits from the past and present of the people who call this region home. Her latest offering, The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, skewers folks who distort the truth, notably big-city journalists who have arrived in 1930s rural Virginia to cover a murder trial. The case makes headlines only because it contains sensational elements sure to sell papers: A beautiful, educated young teacher is on trial for killing her coal-miner father. McCrumb introduces two veteran
journalists, Rose Hanelon and Henry Jernigan, as well as their accompanying photographer Shade Baker, as the vultures that promptly descend upon Wise County as soon as the accused, Erma Morton, is booked for the crime. Instead of communicating the facts, these three will relay whatever headlines are most likely to increase the paper’s circulation. In Rose’s own words: “What you emphasized and what you omitted told the viewers what they ought to think of the subject.” There is one honest, fledgling writer in the ranks of gawkers as the court case unfolds. Newbie reporter Carl Jenkins struggles with separating fact from opinion as he tries to make a name for himself. Readers may recognize Jenkins’ young cousin, mountain psychic Nora Bonesteel—introduced in McCrumb’s beloved Appalachian Ballad books—who arrives at Carl’s urging to help forecast the trial’s outcome. McCrumb demonstrates her usual mastery of historical detail and pointed description of place in The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, a finely spun tale where neither guilt nor innocence is evident until the final page is turned. —Lizza Connor Bowen
Does anyone create more likeable characters than best-selling author Susan Isaacs? I thought my favorite Isaacs heroine was a toss-up between feisty Amy Lincoln, the investigative reporter in Any Place I Hang My Hat, and suburban amateur detective Judith Singer of Compromising Positions and Long Time No See. But now, after reading Isaacs’ latest, As Husbands Go, there’s a new contender. Susie B. Anthony Rabinowitz Gersten lives on Long Island with her four-year-old triplets and husband Jonah, a successful plastic surgeon, doting father and devoted husband—which makes it kind of strange when he turns up murdered in the apartment of Manhattan call girl Dorinda Dillon, stabbed in The wife of a the chest with slain plastic a pair of scissors. surgeon tries Anxious to salvage the to solve the pieces of her high-profile once charmed case, detectives quickly life in Isaacs’ determine entertaining that Dorinda New York is the culprit. She’s arrested mystery tour. and charged, but Susie can’t shake the feeling that everyone—police, prosecutors, her own family—is missing some piece of the puzzle. To make matters worse, her highsociety mother-in-law has suddenly become Susie’s biggest critic, accusing her of pressuring Jonah to work too hard to maintain their comfortable lifestyle. And neighbors are gleefully (but not subtly) whispering about this unexpected turn of events for what seemed like the perfect family. With her usual keen eye for detail and humor, Isaacs takes a
Five Days Apart By Chris Binchy Harper $24.99, 272 pages ISBN 9780061704352
If nice guys always finish last, then David, the hero of Chris Binchy’s American debut, Five Days Apart, is doomed from the start. Sweet and unassuming, he has navigated his college social life by hiding behind his gregarious friend, Alex, an immature heartbreaker who never seems to take anything seriously. Then, at a party just before graduation, David is struck by a woman in a way he never has been before, and he turns to Alex for romantic help. But Alex is as smooth as David is awkward, so he inevitably moves in on Camille himself, leaving David devastated. David graduates from college and outwardly does everything he should—he gets a job in a bank, earns praise from his superiors and becomes a grown-up. But he can’t forget Camille, and eschews any attempt to get over her or meet anyone else. Meanwhile, Alex and Camille have moved in together, though Alex is sputtering through his stalled college career and can’t seem to make any real commitment either to her or to himself. David isolates himself, from the world and particularly from Alex, and the demise of their lifelong friendship and David’s staggering loneliness is detailed with particular insight. Binchy—a bestseller in Ireland and the nephew of beloved author Maeve Binchy—tackles the age-old issues of love, friendship, loneliness and ambition with a surprisingly nuanced hand. There are some flaws here—the story is so simple
summer reading and timeless that it doesn’t always feel completely fresh, and David’s total social paralysis undermines his narrative sympathy at times. But where Binchy excels is his subtle commentary on this new generation, clearly stunted by an unparalleled amount of choice. The ways in which David and Alex treat their freedom—and friendship—is fascinating, far beyond their conflict with Camille, and their dilemma makes this perceptive debut stand out from America’s lackluster lad lit scene. —Rebecca Shapiro
A story all tied up in a pretty bow? No, but you’ll find several real love stories from the past and present smoothly braided together in this light, dreamy read. —Dee Ann Grand
How Did You Get This Number By Sloane Crosley Riverhead $25.95, 288 pages ISBN 9781594487590
Looking for a Love Story By Louise Shaffer Ballantine $15, 320 pages ISBN 9780345502100
Francesca, Louise Shaffer’s heroine in Looking for a Love Story, won the publishing jackpot. Yesterday she was an unheard-of writer. Today she is a best-selling author. Now the publisher is panting for a sequel, but when Fran cesca fires up her laptop, she is met with radio silence. For months. And as that sound of silence becomes all-consuming, her very handsome husband moves out (or on). The only thing sticking by her side is her dutiful dog, Annie, and the few extra pounds inertia brings to someone frozen in fear of failure. And it is Annie who jumpstarts this tale. After all, a dog that lives in a Manhattan condo must be walked. And fed. So income must come from somewhere, even if the dog’s owner has writer’s block. After several ill-fated attempts, Francesca finally lands a freelance writing assignment with “Chicky,” an old woman who wants to tell the story of her 1920s vaudevillian forebears. To Francesca, it sounds a bit lame, but a job is a job. Then for some inexplicable reason the characters start to get into Francesca’s blood. Words flow effortlessly onto the page. But Chicky holds a mighty big secret that sets the stage for life lessons that will smack Francesca right between the eyes and, to her delight, squelch that radio silence.
last one, should be taken on trains and planes, read on the beach, shared and enjoyed. Crosley is going to be around for awhile; best to get on board now and say you knew her back when she bought furniture off the black market and played charades with Portuguese circus clowns in Lisbon.
By Rob Sheffield Dutton $25.95, 288 pages ISBN 9780525951568
Fly Away Home
Jennifer Weiner’s Fly Away Home opens with a scandal: a philandering senator caught with a muchyounger mistress. But after the familiar headlines fade, a broken family flounders in their wake. Weiner creates realistic characters in the senator’s wife, Sylvie, and daughters Lizzie and Diana, all central to this story of unraveling and rebuilding relationships. Sylvie, who has long abandoned her personal ambitions to buoy her husband’s political aspirations, faces her newfound independence with a mix of joy and trepidation. She finally has the opportunity to pursue interests like cooking, dating and mothering the daughters she overlooked while trying to be the perfect politician’s wife, but she finds that freedom isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Meanwhile, Lizzie and Diana are dealing with their own set of problems: Lizzie, a recovering addict, tries to prove to her family that she’s not a lifetime screw-up. However, she gets herself into a predicament that could grease the hinges for a relapse. Diana, a successful doctor, wife and mother, struggles to maintain a pristine exterior while her own loveless marriage deteriorates. While the subject matter is heavy, Fly Away Home isn’t a downer. Weiner’s light touch, especially evident in Diana’s sarcastic dialogue as well as with the amusing Selma, Sylvie’s Jewish, feminist mother who never lacks an opinion, makes this a quick and engaging summer read.
In 1995, Nick Hornby gave a gift to music geeks everywhere with High Fidelity, a charming novel with a hero who somehow knew all the same obscure B-sides that they did. In 2007, music journalist Rob Sheffield picked up where Hornby left off with his heartbreaking memoir, Love is a Mix Tape, about, in equal parts, Nirvana and the crippling loss of his young wife, Renee. Now Sheffield is back with the same encyclopedic knowledge of pop music and touching, resonant prose in Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, this time tackling two profoundly painful topics—adolescence and the 1980s. Growing up a nerdy Catholic boy in a Boston suburb, Sheffield turned to music for the same reasons as everyone else: to fit in, and to be able to talk to girls. He doesn’t really achieve either goal, as a hilariously awkward conversation with one potential conquest attests—she assures him that while he is sadly destined to remain a geek for life, thus giving him no chance with her, one day he will meet “others like him.” It’s an oddly poignant moment, and pinpoints what’s so special about Sheffield’s writing—sheer recognition, for anyone who has ever felt a little bit different. Amid Sheffield’s adolescent angst, too, is incredible, almost stream-of-consciousness commentary on 1980s music, from total one-hit wonders to the phenomena of David Bowie, Boy George and, of course, Duran Duran. The minutiae of his musical mantras can feel overwrought at times, overwhelming the seemingly effortless charm of his childhood stories, from an idyllic summer job as an ice-cream man to his awe for and helplessness in the face of three younger sisters. But fans will appreciate his total nerddom and value his impressive knowledge of and, above all, raw emotional response to music.
—Lizza Connor Bowen
By Jennifer Weiner Atria $26.99, 368 pages ISBN 9780743294270 Also available on audio
No one would call Sloane Crosley’s first essay collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, juvenile, but her second effort, How Did You Get This Number, is decidedly more grown-up. It matures, say, from a fabric scrunchie to a sleek hair clasp without losing any of the canyou-believe-this-is-actually-happening-to-me moments. Crosley, who lives in New York City and is developing her first book as an HBO series, writes like your enviably witty, completely chic friend who also swears like a sailor when relaying a story. Crosley begins her essays with captivating leads, the first sentences telling stories of their own. In “Light Pollution,” a small anecdote flourishes and crescendos, taking the reader from an Alaskan car-trip musing to a baby bear’s shocking mercy killing. “An Abbreviated Catalog of Tongues” details her family’s escapades with pets—from a stingray named Herb to a blind bichon frise to a series of birds that died mysterious deaths. And finally, the collection’s title comes from “Off the Back of a Truck,” in which Crosley has a perfect working relationship with a dishonest furniture store worker and a not-so-perfect relationship with a handsome writer named Ben. Crosley writes like a student of literature, figuring out along the way which techniques work, which words are funny and how seemingly separate storylines parallel. She seems to unravel the morals to her own stories aloud, while the reader almost embarrassingly listens in. Her stories are joyful and nostalgic, but above all, they are really funny. Her new essay collection, like the
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran
4th of july By edward morris
THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION REVISITED
merica’s Revolutionary War is so encrusted in myth and preconceptions that there always seems room for another angle. Three new histories take only sidelong glances at the war itself, instead examining such aspects as motivation, political maneuvering and the significant people who never achieved the status of “Founding Fathers.”
FROM THE GROUND UP T.H. Breen’s American Insurgents, American Patriots (Hill & Wang, $27, 352 pages, ISBN 9780809075881) argues that without the anti-royalist groundswell that occurred throughout the colonies following Parliament’s passage of the Coercive Acts in 1774, the men now acknowledged as our Founding Fathers would have constituted no more than a debating society. The Coercive Acts were Britain’s tough response to the Boston Tea Party. In showing its willingness to punish the people of Boston indis-
criminately, Britain simultaneously revealed the danger it posed to the freedoms of all colonials. Responding to that perceived danger, towns and villages from New Hampshire to Georgia began forming militias and “committees of safety” to resist imperial heavy-handedness. They used newspapers and pamphlets to advance their arguments and keep abreast of each other’s activities. Their collective pressure, Breen notes, made the First Continental Congress, which convened in Philadelphia in September 1774, far more radical in its outlook than it
our world of quality books The Great Ignorance
9786054092147 $13.95 Bulent Kuyumcu tries to answer the same question that Bernard Lewis posed about the Muslim World: What went wrong? The answer is clear: Islam, as it has been imposed on Muslims by the clerical and ruling classes for the past 1,400 years.
Birds of a Feather
Albert Lawrence tells the story of his rise and crashing fall from Fifth Avenue penthouse grace, when he returns home from prison and lands a doormans job at his former home.
9780692007402 $24.95 An inspiring and instructive business biography that teaches and advocates for a different way to conduct our professional lives, with the hope that we can enhance productivity at the workplace and create a more satisfying and rewarding life in general.
The Businessman 9789944070928 $8.95
Yakup Almelek reformulates the dilemma of health or wealth in a contemporary setting. Aydin Tuna notices that money and power are of no use without health. In his desperation, he starts to reorder his life on his own terms.
Available at your favorite bookstore, online at atlasbooks.com or by calling 1-800-BOOKLOG.
otherwise would have been. These local resistance units were manned by volunteers in the months leading up to the war; but as other histories have shown, volunteerism waned dangerously as the war progressed. Filled with anecdotes about citizen hyperactivity, Breen’s book is a valuable addition to Revolutionary War scholarship.
OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE Jack Rakove’s Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America (HMH, $30, 496 pages, ISBN 9780618267460) delineates the political realities Americans faced from just before the war began until the ascent of George Washington to the presidency. He does so by chronicling the political evolution and interactions of dozens of activists, among them the firebrands John and Samuel Adams; the moderates John Dickinson, Robert Morris, James Duane and John Jay; Washington as a military leader; Tom Paine as the supreme propagandist; George Mason as a constitutional theorist; and Henry and John Laurens as ambivalent anti-slavers. In the post-war period, Rakove dissects the uneven contributions of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison (“the greatest lawgiver of modernity”) and Alexander Hamilton. While Rakove’s research
traverses well-worn territory, he presents an excellent overview of intricate Revolutionary politics and the role personality played in shaping them.
TRUTHS AND MYTHS William Hogeland’s Declaration (Simon & Schuster, $26, 288 pages, ISBN 9781416584094) takes the reader inside the nine weeks of wheeling and dealing—May 1 to July 4, 1776—that culminated in the passage and signing of what is now called the Declaration of Independence. (Originally, it had no title.) Although America was fully embroiled in war at that time, sentiments still ran high in some of the colonies—particularly in Pennsylvania, where the Second Continental Congress was meeting—to reach a resolution with England that did not involve actual separation from the mother country. Hogeland describes how Samuel Adams and his faction, which burned for independence, conspired successfully with working-class radicals to turn Pennsylvania around. The author also shreds some myths about the Declaration, noting, for example, that it isn’t a legal document but an explanatory one; that it didn’t flow fully formed from Thomas Jefferson’s pen but was picked apart by other delegates before it was agreed on; and that it was not signed by the delegates on the day of passage (July 2, not July 4) but over a period of six months. Declaration is immensely readable and entertaining—almost like being there.
LADIES OF THE NIGHT By Bruce Tierney
THE DISTAFF SIDE OF MYSTERY
ince the days of Agatha Christie, women writers have been in the vanguard of suspense fiction. Dorothy L. Sayers, Josephine Tey and Ngaio Marsh, to name but a few, paved the way for writers like Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, S.J. Rozan and countless others.
The nagging question has long been (at least among male mystery readers like me): Do female-penned novels offer up enough grittiness, or do they favor sweetness, light and romance? Let’s have a look at the latest efforts by three women of mystery.
Reacher’s twin sister When somebody with the reputation of Lee Child refers to your protagonist as “Reacher’s long-lost twin,” you must be doing something right. Such is the case with Alex Kava, whose FBI profiler, Maggie O’Dell is back for her seventh encore in Damaged (Doubleday, $24.95, 272 pages, ISBN 9780385531993). This time she will team up with Colonel Benjamin Platt, an infectious disease physician (who also happens to be her boyfriend), and Coast Guard rescue veteran Liz Bailey in a two-pronged investigation: first, a grisly discovery amid the wreckage of a boat just moments ahead of the landfall of a destructive hurricane; second, trying to get a handle on an insidious bacteria that seems to target only soldiers. Grittiness index: No shortage of grit. Romance factor: No shortage of romance, either. Sweetness and light: Not much of either.
In captivity The much-heralded debut of author Chevy Stevens, Still Missing (St. Martin’s, $24.99, 352 pages, ISBN 9780312595678), finds Annie O’Sullivan, a 30-something real estate agent, closing down an open house when a prospective client arrives. Genial enough at first, he turns out to be a kidnapper and rapist. Annie is imprisoned for almost a year before making her daring escape; now she is in therapy,
recounting her tale to the sympathetic shrink, trying to ease her entry back into a world where she feels as if she is “still missing.” This is a vein that has been well-mined, but Stevens gives it a fresh spin, writing from the perspective of a ravaged but optimistic protagonist. The final twist is a bit improbable, but Stevens’ storytelling ability carries the day. Still Missing may be a first novel, but it sure doesn’t read like one. Grittiness index: Is an axe in the head gritty enough for you? Romance factor: Downplayed. Sweetness and light: Nary an ounce.
meet LARRY DOYLE
Q: W hat’s the title of your new book?
Q: H ow would you describe the book?
Q: W hat’s scarier and why: being a high school student or being an alien?
Q: If you could give advice to yourself as as teen, what would it be?
Q: What’s the best thing someone wrote in your yearbook?
Deep, dark secrets Sophie Hannah made the unusual transition from poetry to genre fiction with her debut novel Little Face, a quirky tale about a woman who believes that her infant daughter has been replaced with another child. This time out, Hannah returns with The Dead Lie Down (Penguin, $15, 480 pages, ISBN 9780143117490), in which a man, in the arms of his bride-to-be, confesses to a long-ago homicide. Problem is, the woman he supposedly killed is quite alive, and eager to make trouble for him—which she does in novel and inventive ways. Perhaps it is time to rectify his earlier error? Hannah’s books are always thoroughly original, convoluted in the “Olde English Gothic Parlour Mysterie” vein, yet nonetheless completely modern police procedurals. Grittiness index: Not so much. Romance factor: There is definitely romance, but it’s kinda weird. Sweetness and light: Just a dash, but in a good way.
Q: I f you could pick one of the futuristic conveniences from
Go, Mutants! to enjoy in your daily life, what would it be?
Q: If you were an arriving alien, what message would you bring to Earthlings?
GO, MUTANTS! Formerly a writer and producer for “The Simpsons,” Larry Doyle is the author of the novel I Love You, Beth Cooper, which won the Thurber Prize for American Humor and was made into a movie. He goes back to high school in his hilarious new sci-fi spoof, Go, Mutants! (Ecco, $23.99, 368 pages, ISBN 9780061686559). Doyle lives in Baltimore with his wife and three children.
reviews The Cookbook Collector
LOVE AMONG THE DOT-COM RUINS Review by Lauren Bufferd
Allegra Goodman is often described as a 21st-century Jane Austen. Like Austen, she writes subtle and engaging social comedies that focus on love, betrayal and familial loyalty. But Goodman’s settings, from the Orthodox Jewish community of Kaaterskill Falls to the cancer labs of Intuition, make her work distinct, rich in contemporary ideas and modern circumstances. In The Cookbook Collector, Goodman looks hard at two disparate worlds—antiquarian book collecting and the dot-com business—and finds interesting connections between the two. At the core of the novel are 20-something sisters Emily and Jessamine Bach. Emily is the CEO of Veritech, a thriving computer data storage lab in Silicon Valley. Her younger sister, Jessamine, an eternal grad student living frugally in Berkeley, works at an antiquarian bookstore. Where Emily is thorough and ambitious, Jessamine is dreamy and disorganized. By Allegra Goodman, Dial , $26 Emily’s boyfriend, Jonathan, also owns a flourishing web start-up, 416 pages, ISBN 9780385340854 though its location on the opposite coast adds strain to their relationship. Jessamine is involved with a manipulative yet charismatic leader of the Tree Savers, an eco-group dedicated to saving the redwoods. She is also drawn to her boss George, a wealthy refugee from Microsoft who has turned his fortune into an extremely comfortable lifestyle and a successful career as a book dealer. When Jessamine negotiates the purchase of a cookbook collection from a reluctant seller, her relationship with George intensifies. The Cookbook Collector is set in the late 1990s, and the reader has the benefit of ironic distance. We can foresee not just the end of the dot-com boom that burst the financial bubble of Silicon Valley, but the events of September 2001, which changed so much politically and personally. As Emily and Jessamine search for love and fulfillment amid economic disaster and tragedy, the reader is grateful for a skilled guide like Allegra Goodman.
the nobodies album By Carolyn Parkhurst Doubleday $25.95, 320 pages ISBN 9780385527699 Also available on audio
In life, there are no do-overs. Forever moving forward, the past is fixed and unyielding; only the future has the potential for change. Unless, of course, you happen to be Octavia Frost, the central character in Carolyn Parkhurst’s latest novel, The Nobodies Album. Octavia has more than a few regrets, not least of which involve her works of published fiction and the unassailable rift they have driven between herself and her son, Milo. In a daring and unprecedented move, Octavia prepares a work for her publisher inspired by Milo; entitled The Nobodies Album, this is a piece of fiction like no other, consisting solely of final chapters of every book she has ever published, all of
them rewritten so as to cast each novel in a new light. Tragically, as she prepares to submit the book, she receives news that Milo has been arrested for the murder of his live-in girlfriend. Desperate, Octavia drops everything to be by his side, praying that her son is innocent and that she can finally be the mother he deserves, the mother she has never managed to be. The Nobodies Album is a family drama, psychological inquiry and literary mystery, offering something for every reader. As Parkhurst unfurls Octavia and Milo’s story, she scatters Octavia’s original and rewritten chapters throughout the novel, each one providing new insight into the duo’s turbulent dynamic. Those looking for a conventional mystery may feel somewhat underwhelmed by the murder storyline, but, in some ways, the mother-son relationship is a mystery in its own right, as Parkhurst explores the ineffable bond between parent and child. Parkhurst has an uncanny knack for truly inhabiting her characters, laying their inner workings bare, yet here she cleverly uses this introspection to question the extent to which we can
ever truly know another human being, even one bound to us through blood. The Nobodies Album opens with the audacious first line, “There are some stories no one wants to hear,” but when Parkhurst’s stories are the ones in question, nothing could be further from the truth. — S t e p h e n i e H a rr i s o n
The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives By Lola Shoneyin Morrow $23.99, 288 pages ISBN 9780061946370
Some choose hobbits, some choose Harry Potter, but the most interesting of all fantastical cultures to read about may be the ones that actually exist—across deserts or oceans or continents. In The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives, the title character’s family (to this American reader, at least) is a good example of the possibilities of strangeness that
abound in the real world. Baba Segi, rather endearing with all his boastfulness and digestive problems, is a Nigerian businessman who sells construction materials and prides himself on his four wives and seven children. Greedy Iya Segi, timid Iya Tope and malicious Iya Femi, all known only in reference to their oldest children, have been married to Baba for many years, and they are not happy when he brings home his fourth wife, Bolande—who is, startlingly, a university graduate. This prestige complicates her life, not just doubling the wives’ resentment but also restricting her husband’s options when it comes to discipline. (As an acquaintance asks, “Who would dare to drag a graduate” by her hair?) After two years of marriage, Bolande still has secrets, but she is not the only one. Each of the other wives, speaking unmistakably in separate chapters but without formal identification, reveals that not a one is exactly as she presents herself. Though he does not know it at the time, neither is Baba Segi. When Iya Segi finally takes action to deal with the interloper, all goes tragically wrong, and the lesson learned too late for this generation is passed on to the oldest son: “Take one wife and one wife alone.” Lola Shoneyin lived in Scotland as a teenager, returning to her home country to teach English and drama. She was a fellow of the Iowa International Writer’s Program and has published both poetry and fiction. Her message in this book is clear: In the end, polygamy in Nigeria, and no doubt elsewhere, is a tricky row to hoe. —Maude McDaniel
red HooK road By Ayelet Waldman Doubleday $25.95, 352 pages ISBN 9780385517867 Also available on audio
Red Hook Road, the latest novel from Ayelet Waldman (Love and Other Impossible Pursuits), begins with an almost unimaginable tragedy—the death of a young couple in
FICTION a fiery automobile accident barely an hour after their wedding ceremony—and, in its aftermath over the course of four summers in a small town in coastal Maine, weaves a tale of equally profound redemption and grace. After Becca Copaken and John Tetherly perish on Red Hook Road, the tensions between their families, centering on the relations between the two matriarchs, quickly bubble to the surface. Iris Copaken is a professor of comparative literature, the daughter of Emil Kimmelbrod, an eminent violinist who escaped
the fate of his family in the Holocaust. Though she’s descended from solid Maine stock on her mother’s side and has summered there her entire life, Iris is still considered one of those “from away” in the eyes of Jane Tetherly, who runs a cleaning service and whose family’s humble past and troubled present contrast with the Copakens’ more genteel existence. The devastating double loss ripples outward through a diverse and generally sympathetic cast of characters, and Waldman displays a sure hand in portraying the subtly
different effect those deaths have on each one. Becca’s sister and John’s brother, Ruthie and Matt, increasingly attracted to each other, struggle to decide whether to abandon promising academic careers to realize their older siblings’ dream of reconditioning a classic wooden yacht to start a Caribbean charter service. Mr. Kimmelbrod becomes a mentor to Samantha, a Cambodian girl adopted by Jane’s sister and a violin prodigy. Iris and her husband Daniel must confront the fault lines in their long marriage. No one touched by such terrible loss
can emerge from the experience unscathed, and the faltering steps taken by Waldman’s characters feel organic, not shoehorned into any prepackaged notion of grief’s unfolding and resolution. Enhancing the drama at the story’s core, and delivered with unfussy erudition, are insights into the craft of yacht building, the music of Bach and the unchanging rhythms of summer life along the Maine coast. These elements coalesce to create a palpably realistic world. The danger facing any novelist wrestling with the subject of
Be careful what you wish for
ashville writer Adam Ross cracks open the shell of Mr. Peanut, a novel that’s being hailed as one of the summer’s top debuts.
The premise of the book—a woman’s death at the hands of a peanut—is both absurdly comic and extremely tragic. Where did the idea come from? In 1995, my father told me about the suspicious death of my second cousin, who was morbidly obese, struggled epically with depression, and also suffered from lethal nut allergies. According to her husband—who was, conveniently, the only witness to her “suicide”—he came home from work to find her sitting at the kitchen table with a plate of peanuts before her. They had an argument, which she interrupted by taking a fistful of nuts in her hand and eating them. I was stunned when I heard this story—I was sure she’d been murdered—and immediately afterward wrote three chapters in one sitting that closely resemble those that begin the novel now. Few, if any, of your characters are objectively likeable, yet Mr. Peanut is almost compulsively readable. Do you find your characters likeable, and if not, how do you bring enough humanity to make them real? I find them terribly and, at times, hysterically recognizable, and I’d like to think that’s what makes the novel so readable. Couples have told me that they’ve thought the very things these characters have about their spouses but were afraid to admit it; that, and their marriages have been through versions of the same situations, both the ruts and redemptions. I think that part of what we’re drawn to when we read fiction is whether or not the characters bring us news about our world—spiritual, emotional, literal or otherwise. So it’s not, I think, a question of bringing enough humanity to make them real as much as what Keats demands: beauty and truth, no matter how dark. Mr. Peanut incorporates the Sam Sheppard murder case into its narrative. Was it always
reviews unfathomable grief lies in allowing honest emotions to spill over into excessive sentimentality. In telling a story charged throughout with intense emotion, Waldman navigates that boundary with confidence and empathy. —Harvey Freedenberg
mr. peanut By Adam Ross Knopf $25.95, 352 pages ISBN 9780307270702
your intent to fictionalize this event, and how did you negotiate the “cold facts” with your imagining of what occurred? No, he appeared several years into drafting, again a gift from my father. After my dad and I watched The Fugitive, he told me a brief history of the case, so I read about it and, bingo, there’s my guy. What I found so captivating about the Sheppard case was its mystery and muck, what with Sheppard’s serial womanizing, his narcissism and the way his relationship with his wife anticipated so many moral hazards of the sexual revolution, not to mention the fact that his guilt or innocence remains in question. The cold facts are directly incorporated into the novel because you can’t get around them. They’re out there, and so I used them as the plot’s scaffolding. What do you hope readers will take away from this book? Husbands and wives of America: Do good housekeeping! Take care of your spouse! Nurture your marriage and be very careful what you wish for when it comes to things like, oh, freedom from it: You might just get it, and the attendant tragedy, loneliness and guilt that come with it are potentially horrible. We have to ask: What does your wife think of all of this? She read it for the first time last year and hasn’t spoken to me since. No, seriously, she was very moved by it because she hung tough while I labored to finish it and recognizes moments in it from our marriage that make us both happy. And sometimes she wants to kill me too.
Mr. Peanut, Adam Ross’ stunningly dark debut, is, on its surface, a compelling thriller, and at its core, a grisly psychological and postmodern probe, a story that takes as its forebears both Scott Turow and Italo Calvino. Through three men’s interlocking though asymmetrical narratives, Mr. Peanut tells the story of all marital strife—with an emphasis on the ugly side, replete with violence, pain, inertia, manipulation, sexual longing and destruction. The first husband, video-game designer David Pepin, is both terrified of and obsessed with his morbidly obese wife’s death—imagining her in any number of creatively fatal scenarios. That is, until she actually turns up dead, from a reaction to a severe peanut allergy, and David becomes the prime suspect. The second is the detective assigned to Pepin’s case, Ward Hastroll—no stranger to fantasies of uxoricide himself—whose world turns upside down when his once complacent and loving wife becomes voluntarily, irrationally and then defiantly bedridden. And the final, Hastroll’s partner, is the infamous Sam Sheppard (from the real-life 1950s case which inspired The Fugitive), convicted of killing his wife and then exonerated 10 years later. All three stories are gripping–– from Alice Pepin’s perverse weight gain and loss, to an imagined retelling of the days leading up to Marilyn Sheppard’s murder––but all ultimately inconclusive. After all, Ross seems to say, when it comes to culpability in a marriage, how can there be objective truth?
FICTION To say this is a thematically rich book is hardly to do Mr. Peanut justice. For with every theme Ross presents—the Hitchcockian fallen hero (the Pepins met in a seminar on the great filmmaker), the classic “wrong man” trope, the Möbius strips and Escher imagery that emerge again and again, lest we forget the unending nature of marriage, love and murder––there is a way in which this too-clever-tobe-neat story resists such thematics, indeed calls into question the expectation/fulfillment nature of storytelling itself. And yet Ross cleaves closely to all the pleasures of the genre: mystery, suspense, romance, surprise. And in this sense, Mr. Peanut is highly unique—a disturbingly funny and remarkably poignant novel from one of the year’s most promising new voices. —J i l l i a n Q u i n t
spies of the balkans By Alan Furst Random House $26, 288 pages ISBN 9781400066032 Also available on audio
Except for John le Carré, there is really no worthy competitor for the master of the historical spy novel, Alan Furst. Like his other espionage novels, Spies of the Balkans is rich with historical detail; this time, Furst’s setting is the port city of Salonika, Macedonia, at the time Greece was at war with Mussolini. Costa Zannis, a senior police official, is our protagonist, and he doesn’t disappoint. Although not the stereotypical hero, he is charismatic, smart and humorous when the time is ripe. Despite a less than perfect appearance, Zannis has a romantic streak, and occasionally falls into passionate trysts with Demetria, an incredibly beautiful woman he cannot have. Less interesting to him is Roxanne, who turns out to be a double agent. The one girl he can always count on is Melissa, his faithful, soulful dog. Even spies need nurturing, especially when Zannis is called up for a brief period of active duty to protect his people from the Germans. Zannis risks his life many
— D e n n i s Ly t h g o E
lucy By Laurence Gonzales Knopf $24.95, 320 pages ISBN 9780307272607 Also available on audio
Let’s get the point of Laurence Gonzales’ novel out of the way right now: Lucy is about a girl who’s half human and half bonobo. Bonobos are a species of great apes, sometimes referred to as pygmy chimpanzees. Theoretically, they’re close enough relatives to humans to be able to interbreed, like horses and donkeys. Lucy’s biological father, a primatologist, was aware of this and after some ghastly experimentation managed to create her using a bonobo he’d named Leda. This after he’d tinkered with Leda’s genetics to make it more likely that her misbegotten pregnancy would come to term. Now that we’ve got that matter settled, your reviewer is happy to report that Lucy is a compelling book, neither as macabre nor as kinky as one would fear. I’ve always figured that creatures with human intelligence coupled with an enraged chimpanzee’s lack of restraint would have turned the planet into radioactive rubble a long time ago, but Gonzales’ Lucy is an improbably delightful young lady: physically
beautiful as well as loving, compassionate and highly intelligent. Yes, she barks at escalators until she learns better, violent rainstorms make her lose control, and she can pick up a grown man and toss him across the room, but other than that she’s human-normal. Indeed, one of the novel’s leitmotifs is Tom Petty’s “American Girl.” Lucy is brought to America by Jenny Lowe, one of her father’s colleagues, after he and her mother, and much of her bonobo family, are murdered in the Congolese war. Lucy is fortunate not only to be adopted by Jenny, but to be surrounded by folks such as bubbly and steadfast Amanda, Harry— Jenny’s love interest—and even a wealthy couple who loan them their ranch when they have to go on the run from the inevitable, Mengelelevel baddies. Lucy pulls the reader in because of the sweet girl at its center, but the novel also makes one think about what it means to be human, and how love can be a bridge to understanding and acceptance. —Arlene McKanic
29 By Adena Halpern Touchstone $14.99, 288 pages ISBN 9781439171127
At the drop of a party hat, 75-year-old Ellie Jerome gets a birthday wish come true—the opportunity to re-experience youth . . . as a 29-year-old living in the present day. Her flippant mental itch to be young again turns into reality when she wakes up the morning after her birthday party without the familiar wrinkles, aches and dietary concerns of her former self. She is astonished to realize she now inhabits the thin, beautiful body of her younger self. And she is also ecstatic for the chance to spend some carefree “peer” time with her 25-year-old granddaughter, Lucy. Ellie quickly adapts to her enjoyable routine of shopping for formflattering clothes, eating without regard to cholesterol and flirting with handsome “younger men.” But
August 2010 $7.99
times to help rescue a sliver of Germany’s Jewish population, and in the course of the novel, at least 40 individuals who otherwise would have been tortured and killed are saved. Zannis’ police role makes him instantly recognizable to most people, whether friend or foe, but he keeps his ego in check. Mostly, his life is lonely, though it is always filled with danger and foreboding. Besides the tragedies of war, he deals with everyday police matters, and he frequently travels to achieve small miracles for people at the expense of his personal life. He is one of the more likeable spy characters created by the talented Furst, and Spies of the Balkans is another fastmoving, nuanced novel that will keep you up at night.
D A R K F A N TASY MEETS M O D E R N F AIRY T ALE I N E R I N K ELLISON ’ S S T U N N I N G D E B UT SERIES . . . July 2010 $7.99
A riveting fusion of dark fantasy, science fiction, horror, mythology and paranormal romantic suspense.
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reviews by day’s end, the initial thrill has worn off, and Ellie feels the strain of occupying a young body with the mind and memories of a grandmother. She’s confronted with her past and forced to see her present through new eyes, giving focus to a lifetime of relationships and regrets. Though tempted to forgo her own history for a chance at a new future, she is unable to neglect what made her into the 75-year-old woman she was—and is on the inside. A seasoned journalist, Adena Halpern demonstrates a realistic and humorous understanding of her subject matter. Her research shows in the way she makes generational observations while maintaining a consciously comedic and light-hearted tone. While the plot line is fantastical, the poignant commentaries on age, agelessness and family are far from it. If 50 is the new 40, and 40 is the new 30, the story of 29 offers a relatable and relevant look at the age-old search for the fountain of youth. —Cory Bordonaro
the quickening By Michelle Hoover Other Press $14.95, 224 pages ISBN 9781590513460
FICTION piano and attend services at the nearby chapel. Different as they are, the two women bond, if only to have another voice to help stave off their isolation. Eddie suffers two miscarriages, and when she next feels a quickening, she doesn’t want to admit it, afraid she will lose another baby. But she gives birth to twins, Donny and Adaline, whose lives become inextricably tied to Mary’s youngest boy, Kyle. As the twins grow, the farms suffer their worst years, with alternating drought and floods, a drop in crop prices and the raising of mortgages caused by the Depression. Misfortune drives a wedge between the families, culminating in a tragedy that severs the neighborly ties for good. Hoover writes with such emotional clarity about these two women, their fierce maternal instincts and their determination to survive in spite of impossible hardships that the reader can almost feel their presence. Hoover is the granddaughter of four generations-old farming families, so perhaps this empathy is in her genes, resulting in a captivating and heartfelt first novel. —Deborah Donovan
A dog’s purpose By W. Bruce Cameron Forge $22.99, 320 pages ISBN 9780765326263 Also available on audio
Michelle Hoover’s debut novel is a haunting, beautifully told story that explores the hardships of the Great Depression by focusing on two families—neighbors who are in many ways complete opposites of one another. The Quickening unfolds gradually, beginning in 1913, and is told in alternating chapters by the family matriarchs, Enidina (Eddie) Current and Mary Morrow. Eddie is a large, down-to-earth woman who throws herself into even the dirtiest farm jobs and is devoted to her hard-working husband Frank, with whom she moved to a farm “a day’s wagon ride” away from the family farm where she grew up. The Morrow family, she says, were “a worry to ours from day one.” Mary Morrow, raised in a city, distances herself from the rigors of farm work, preferring to play the
Touching and amusing in equal measure, W. Bruce Cameron’s A Dog’s Purpose examines the love shared by canines and their people from the canine’s point of view. Cameron’s puppy protagonist takes readers on a journey through his life—or rather, lives, because this very special dog lives and dies several times, searching always for his life’s purpose. Starting off as a pup in a stray’s litter, the young dog has his first interaction with humans in a dog hoarder’s yard. There he learns to love people, but after Animal Control arrives, he suffers the sad fate of dogs deemed “unadoptable.” After being euthanized, he awakes
in a new litter with a new life ahead of him, becoming Bailey, the beloved pet of eight-year-old Ethan. Embarking on the most pivotal period of his existence, he learns the satisfaction of being a “good dog” and experiences the most pure, joyful relationship he will have with a human. Bailey not only adores Ethan, he risks his life to protect him, and after years of devotion to his boy, he is sure he has fulfilled his purpose. But when he awakes again in a new—female—canine body, she finds that her journey is not yet finished, and she has more to learn than she realized. Cameron’s exploration of the world through the eyes of a dog is clever in its humorous touches— Bailey’s conclusions that cats cannot be trusted and horses are completely unreliable are hilarious—and poignant in its depiction of a dog’s innate desire to please humans. The novel is bound to make readers reflect fondly on pets from their pasts, but the book’s greater triumph may lie in changing the way readers think about their current pets. Having read Cameron’s wonderful book, I’m seeing my little Chloe (a ferret) in the more pure, equal way I looked at animals when I was a child, rather than in the detached fashion that I’m sad to realize has become my habit as an adult. What a gift. A Dog’s Purpose is a beautiful celebration of our four-footed friends’ big hearts. —Sheri Bodoh
leaving the world By Douglas Kennedy Atria $16, 512 pages ISBN 9781439180785
If you read only one book this summer, make sure it’s Douglas Kennedy’s Leaving the World. This riveting, poignant page-turner explores how our childhoods affect the choices we make in life, how we make sense of life when tragedy strikes and the randomness of destiny. Kennedy dexterously combines a fast-paced plot with complex characters, provocative themes
and difficult moral questions about family, love, loss, betrayal and the impact of the past upon the future. Jane Howard, the protagonist and narrator, is looking back on her life as the story begins, reflecting on her 13th birthday—a day that will haunt her for the rest of her life. Her parents are vehemently arguing at a Manhattan restaurant, drawing attention to themselves. When they finally pause, Jane tells her father that she’s never getting married and never having children. To her mother’s dismay, she adds, “No one is really happy.” When Jane wakes up the next day, her father is gone. So begins the downward trajectory of Jane’s life. Her mother blames her daughter for her lot in life. Her father abandons and exploits her. Jane finds temporary happiness in a clandestine, adulterous affair with her Ph.D. mentor that ends tragically. Then she falls in love with Theo, who is erratic, unfaithful and exploitative, just like her father. A child results from their relationship—the one happy consequence of an otherwise disastrous affair. But when a random accident kills her beloved daughter, Jane leaves her world, fleeing her job, home and friends for a small town in Northwest Canada where no one knows her. Only the disappearance of a young girl gradually draws Jane back into life. Kennedy explores grief and tragedy with unrelenting intensity, and while the novel’s ending is not quite a happy one, it is nonetheless satisfying. There are no simplistic answers to life’s random tragedies; while Jane temporarily leaves the world, she re-enters it knowing she has no other choice but to do so. Kennedy has been a staple on international bestseller lists for years, and his books have sold millions of copies worldwide. But Kennedy didn’t have an American publisher—until now. Time magazine said, “[Kennedy] may be the most successful American novelist America doesn’t know.” The publication of Leaving the World should no doubt change that. —Susan Schwartzman
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NONFICTION TWILIGHT AT THE WORLD OF TOMORROW
By James Mauro Ballantine $28, 432 pages ISBN 9780345512147
LIVING ABOVE HER LIMITS
REVIEW BY HEATHER SEGGEL
Martha Mason grew up in the tiny village of Lattimore, North Carolina, with doting parents and a beloved brother who died at 13. Graduating first in her high school class, and later from Wake Forest University, Mason followed her dream to become a writer, then put those dreams on hold when her father became ill. She threw lavish dinner parties, hosted book club meetings and took care of her mother, whose Alzheimer’s disease turned her from sweet to abusive and frightening. If that’s all there was to know about Martha Mason, this would still be a memoir worth reading. But from age 10 until her death in 2009 at 71, “home” for Mason was not just Lattimore, but the intimate confines of an iron lung. While she was sick with the polio that killed her brother Gaston, a doctor told her parents, and Mason herself, that she would not live for more than a year. Their determination to “live above” her paralysis and depenBy Martha Mason, Bloomsbury, $16, dence on machinery is astounding. From attending classes via intercom 368 pages, ISBN 9781608191192 while dictating homework to her mother, to reading hundreds of books with the help of page-turners both human and machine, Mason turned what could have been a tragedy into an opportunity to adapt and grow. Voice-activated computer software enabled her to expand her intellectual salon through email and also to write this memoir, first published by a small regional press in North Carolina. This new edition includes a foreword by Anne Rivers Siddons, who calls Mason “a born writer.” Despite her handicap, Mason finds humor in her surroundings; being hand-fed by attendants sometimes leads to a nostril full of potato salad, and the attendants themselves are characters in every sense. The book’s strength is in tying those vignettes together with observations like this: “I’m committed to the concept of compensation. When lovely blossoms disappear from an orchard, we get apples. Life too sometimes loses its bloom, but usually we find luscious fruits waiting. All we have to do is accept them.” Fascinating, inspirational and brave, Breath is a testament to the luscious fruits of Martha Mason’s writing, and a life lived fully and well.
Blind Descent By James M. Tabor Random House $26, 304 pages ISBN 9781400067671 Also available on audio
Magellan, Amundsen, Armstrong: If the mere mention of these names ignites your passion for exploration, discovery and adventure, James M. Tabor’s latest book will indulge you on all counts and then some. Blind Descent chronicles the deadly dangerous, awe-inspiring quest to reach the Earth’s core and the race to get there first by two fiercely competitive men of polar-opposite personalities—the quiet, self-effacing Ukrainian, Alexander Klimchouk, and Bill Stone, the brash, commanding (and sometimes controversial) American. Far beyond the relative tameness of commercial caves or even the
daunting challenges of spelunking, this mission takes the men and their teams “thousands of feet deep and many miles long” into the uncharted subterranean mysteries of the supercave. Danger is ever-present; falling, flooding, asphyxiation, hurricane-force winds, hypothermia and the “particularly insidious derangement called The Rapture” (to name just a few of the many hazards) pose ongoing threats to life and limb. Compounding the tension and peril is the added menace of living and maneuvering in unrelenting, unnerving darkness. Tabor’s you-are-there style captures the excitement of these expeditions with the immediacy of an Indiana Jones movie, and the ensuing human dramas which unfold—deaths, divorces, liaisons and love affairs—are equally compelling. He also deftly handles the science involved, explaining how these endeavors offer important insight into subjects ranging from pandemic prevention to new petroleum preserves. And then there’s the everevolving equipment angle, like the dogged, problem-solving Bill Stone’s
invention of the MK1 rebreather, the breakthrough technology that first thrilled divers in 1987 when Stone stayed underwater an incredible 24 hours. The device now allows cavers to get past the formidable underground rivers and lakes that previously blocked their passage to greater depths. “Caves are scientific cornucopias,” Tabor writes, but “only quite recently have sophisticated batteries and digital recording technology made it possible to take cameras far down into supercaves,” bringing these expeditions the kind of attention their “mountaineering, aquanaut, and astronaut counterparts” have long enjoyed. In Blind Descent, Tabor’s access to actual video footage and photographs (some stunning examples are included) as well as logs and journals enhance his exhilarating prose. A former contributing editor to Outside magazine and Ski magazine, and the writer and host of the popular PBS series “The Great Outdoors,” Tabor’s many talents culminate in this risk-it-all tale of tragedy and triumph. — L i n d a S ta n k ar d
Few epic celebrations have predated more dire events than the 1939 New York World’s Fair, nicknamed “The World of Tomorrow.” Its futuristic exhibits and architecture were designed to divert global attention from the Great Depression’s economic devastation and the sense of impending doom signaled by the rise of Nazi Germany. Instead, as James Mauro’s invigorating and enjoyable new volume Twilight at the World of Tomorrow reveals, the Fair proved a preamble to natural disasters and human failures on a grand scale. Mauro uses four main figures to symbolize the era’s sensibility and events. Undoubtedly the most colorful was the remarkable genius Albert Einstein, who increasingly came to distrust government and ultimately question the development of a weapon he once championed, the atomic bomb. Einstein hated conflict and warfare, yet he mistakenly felt building this weapon would frighten the world into abandoning armed conflict as a solution to its problems. Instead, it simply became another tool in the military arsenal. While its use ended World War II, Einstein never forgave himself for endorsing its creation. The book pays equal attention to World’s Fair President Grover Whalen, a master salesman who got egotistical dictators Mussolini and Stalin to contribute pavilions for the fair. Sadly, Hitler’s European conquests destroyed any sense of international cooperation and joy these exhibits conveyed, while shattering Whalen’s optimism and exposing his hypocrisy and pretension. Mauro also details the behindthe-scenes deals and machinations of New York politicians, particularly Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and Parks Commissioner Robert Moses, whose actions were self-serving and often embarrassing. Finally, he spotlights detectives
reviews Joe Lynch and Freddy Socha, who made the ultimate sacrifice while investigating a wave of bomb threats and explosions. Their lives are prime examples of underpaid, exhausted and overworked civil servants determined to discover the truth, even as others, including their superiors, are more interested in personal profit and status. Twilight at the World of Tomorrow smartly mixes political, cultural, historical and mystery elements, giving readers a thorough, gripping account of a key period that changed the nation and the world forever. —RON WYNN
Nine Lives By William Dalrymple Knopf $26.95, 304 pages ISBN 9780307272829
Since at least the 1960s—when millions of college students carried a copy of Hermann Hesse’s classic tale of Buddhist spirituality, Siddhartha, in their back pockets— Western society has often turned to the East in search of ancient wisdom associated with Indian religious traditions and religious practices as diverse as yoga, tantric sex and meditation. Although attention to these Indian religions suddenly flourished, very few of their admirers thought of them as dynamic, evolving spiritual traditions, capable of adapting to the changing needs of a rapidly developing society. Now, in Nine Lives—a kind of follow-up to his stunning From the Holy Mountain—William Dalrymple brilliantly narrates the lives of nine people, from a prison warden to a Jain nun to a prostitute, to offer us a portrait of the ways in which India’s religious identity—far from being a deep well of unchanging wisdom—is closely tied to specific social groups, caste practices and father-to-son lineages, all of which are changing rapidly as Indian society transforms itself at lightning speed. In Kannur, for example, Dalrymple meets Hari Das, a prison
NONFICTION warden and well-digger. For nine months of the year, Das—whose job places him among the dalits, or “untouchables”—polices inmates; but for three months, between December and March, during the theyyam dancing season, the caste system is turned upside down as an untouchable turns into a Brahmin, or priest. Das transforms into the god Vishnu (the role he plays in these annual religious rituals), and everything in his life changes as he brings blessings to the villagers and exorcises evil spirits. In a number of other compelling stories, Dalrymple’s first-rate book pulls back the curtain on modern Indian society and reveals how deeply the spiritual is etched in people’s lives and the creative ways in which these people are adapting their religious practices to momentous and rapid social changes. — H e nry L . C a rr i g a n J r .
Long for This World By Jonathan Weiner Ecco $27.99, 320 pages ISBN 9780060765361
Pulitzer Prize-winning The Beak of the Finch. Weiner teaches science writing at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, and he brings that same direct style to his books. In Long for This World, Weiner explains mankind’s long fascination with immortality. He draws on the works of Dante, Shakespeare and Darwin, among others, to establish a historical foundation for the subject. He also interviews some of the top scientists in the field, most notably Aubrey David Nicholas Jasper de Grey, a British author and researcher who thinks of aging as a disease and is seeking a cure to stop the aging process. Even apart from his intriguing area of study, de Grey is a particularly colorful character: “When he stands up, his beard reaches a surprising distance toward his waist. . . . He looks like Methuselah before the Flood. Father Time before his hair turned gray. Timothy Leary Unbound.” It’s that kind of colorful, descriptive writing that makes Long for This World so readable—just as it should be for a book that celebrates mankind’s imagination, inventiveness and inspiration. — J ohn T . S l a n i a
When we consider the concept of immortality, we often think of famous people like Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth, or the late baseball legend Ted Williams, who asked that his body be cryogenically frozen in the hope that science would someday find a “cure” for death. Yes, immortality is a strange and mysterious subject. And in the hands of a gifted writer like Jonathan Weiner, man’s quest for immortality becomes illuminating and inspiring. Weiner’s Long for This World poses the questions: Could we live forever? And if we could, would we want to? Long for This World explores these questions from both a historical context and a contemporary point of view. It is a science book, but one written with verve and vitality. It examines complicated concepts, but it does so with clear and creative writing. We’ve come to expect this from Weiner, the author of numerous books on science, including the
By Paul Greenberg Penguin Press $25.95, 304 pages ISBN 9781594202568 Also available on audio
What appears on our national and global dinner plates has come under intense scrutiny in the last decade, as many of the world’s food production practices are devastating the natural abundance and health of planet Earth. In the wake of such eye-opening books as Mark Kurlansky’s Cod and, more recently, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals comes journalist Paul Greenberg’s excellent investigation into global fisheries and fishing practices, Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food. Admittedly, Greenberg is a fish guy. As a youngster he avidly fished for bass, first in a pristine pond near his Connecticut home; then,
as a teenager, he took to the sea in a beat-up aluminum boat. “I thought of the sea,” he writes, “as a vessel of desires and mystery, a place of abundance I did not need to question.” But boys grow up, and other interests crowd out childhood passions. The allure of fishing faded until Greenberg decided to revive the habit in the early 2000s. Returning to his former fishing grounds, he found that the flounder, blackfish and mackerel that he used to catch in abundance had moved on, dwindled or disappeared. He traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard and down into Florida, “fishing all the way” and meeting many fisherman, all of whom had the same complaint: “Smaller fish, fewer of them, shorter fishing windows . . . fewer species to catch.” Visiting fish markets (another childhood habit), Greenberg noted that “four varieties of fish consistently appeared that had little to do with the waters adjacent to the fish market in question: salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna.” Over the next decade, he determined to find out why “this peculiarly consistent flow of four fish from the different waters of the globe” was ending up on our dinner plate. What follows is an extraordinarily attentive, witty, sensitive and commonsense narrative about salmon, sea bass, cod and tuna that covers their origination, life cycles and the ever-evolving saga of their exploitation by humans. Backed by rigorous research and enlivened by Greenberg’s man-on-the-spot reportage, the book charts the history and rise of the world’s appetite for these four fish, the industrial fishing practices and the “epochal shifts” in these fish populations—from habitat damage and overfishing of the last wild stocks to the often dubious farming and aquaculture enterprises that now dominate the fish production marketplace. While Greenberg believes that we need the oceans’ harvest to feed an ever-increasing human population, he acknowledges that a “primitive” human greed has helped land us in an ecological tangle. But this inspiring book doesn’t just diagnose the problem; Greenberg puts forth an ameliorating set of principles that can help us to live in better balance with the “wild oceans” that sustain us. — Al i son H oo d
NONFICTION Fur, Fortune, and Empire By Eric Jay Dolin Norton $29.95, 464 pages ISBN 9780393067101 Also available on audio
and negative, for an absorbing and comprehensive ride through the trade’s history. —Anne Bartlett
Now I See the Moon By Elaine Hall HarperStudio $19.99, 304 pages ISBN 9780061743801
Benjamin Franklin famously mused that the turkey might be a good symbol for the United States; we opted for the eagle instead. But a compelling case could be made for the beaver. In a sense, we owe the European settlement of the North American continent to that intrepid engineer of the animal world. Or, viewed from another angle, we owe it to the beaver hat. Spurred by the hat’s rise in popularity, beaver fur traders and trappers forged ever westward from the Atlantic seaboard, always the vanguard of European penetration. The trade had to keep moving because it wiped out the beaver population of each successive region. Eric Jay Dolin, who explored the history of whaling in Leviathan, brings together all the exhilarating and tragic aspects of that trade through the 19th century in Fur, Fortune, and Empire. While he concentrates on the beaver, he includes strong chapters on the similarly intense quests for sea otter and buffalo. The dramatic heart of the book is its chapter on the founding of Astoria, John Jacob Astor’s trading post in what is now Oregon. Astor was the Bill Gates of his day, a dominant force in his industry. But everything went tragically wrong with his Astoria dream. The pattern of the fur trade was often grim. The animals were hunted to near-extinction; Native American tribes that initially prospered by providing furs were severely damaged by the alcohol sold to them by contemptuous traders. Still, we might not have had an American Revolution if traders hadn’t fueled anger at the British ban on western settlement. They were the pioneers of the China Trade and the Oregon and Santa Fe trails. And the litany of American cities that started as fur trading posts is astonishing— New York, Pittsburgh, Detroit and St. Louis are just a few. Dolin pulls together all those strands, positive
Now I See the Moon is an amazing story written by an indomitable woman and an important book for anyone wanting to nurture and appreciate the special gifts of autistic children. — S u sa n D e G r a n e
From New York Times and USA Today bestselling author
STEPHANIE LAURENS The Black Cobra Quartet As the shipwrecked and wounded Lewis Monteith risks all to pursue his mission . . . he discovers a partner as daring and brazen as he.
No Way Down By Graham Bowley Harper $25.99, 288 pages ISBN 9780061834783
In attempting to reach her autistic son, Elaine Hall developed imaginative new ways to connect with other autistic children. These miracle breakthroughs, as well as a performing arts program she started for autistic children, were the subject of an award-winning HBO documentary, Autism: The Musical. Hall relates this incredible journey in her heartwarming memoir, Now I See the Moon. Once a highly successful film and television acting coach for children, Hall consistently distinguishes herself by employing creative approaches to motherhood. When she learns that Neal, the two-year-old boy she adopted from a Russian orphanage, is autistic, she recalls a Chinese proverb: “Barn’s burnt down—now I see the moon.” And here is where the hero quest of a devoted mother begins. Hall enters her son’s world, flapping her hands, crawling under tables and spinning as Neal does in order to understand his heightened sensory perceptions, his difficulty with communicating through speech and his remarkable gifts. She witnesses his protectiveness toward other children, his occasional psychic ability and his high intelligence, and she learns to empathize with the physical pain and panic he experiences when subjected to loud noises. Hall writes unflinchingly about the strains and sacrifices of parenting an autistic child, yet more importantly, her work encourages parents to accept their child’s uniqueness, to question and rethink what is best regardless of established practices, and to appreciate the miracles that come with never giving up on developing pathways to communication.
No Way Down: Life and Death on K2 begins ominously, as two members of the 2008 American team attempting to scale the legendary— and legendarily dangerous—Himalayan peak turn back from their summit attempt, convinced that a late start and trail conditions make it unsafe to continue. As they wait in camp, their worries come true on the mountain above. A day envisioned as the thrilling culmination of months of effort turns into 48 hours of disaster from which many climbers never return. Journalist Graham Bowley takes readers right onto the mountain, narrating the harrowing events on K2 as they unfold, with each chapter told from the perspective of a different climber. These chapters alternate with accounts of previous attempts to scale the mountain, which is 780 feet shorter than Everest but significantly more challenging. As avalanches shear away ropes, darkness falls and rescue attempts succeed and fail, the book becomes impossible to put down. Though No Way Down shows the mountain’s appeal, as well as the strength of the climbing community, it also reveals a level of selfishness, greed and loss that brings the whole endeavor into question. Some of Bowley’s authorial decisions are also questionable, like detailing the thoughts of climbers he didn’t interview and not mentioning disputes over some of the events he recounts until the epilogue. Nevertheless, the vivid story will captivate readers. No Way Down doesn’t just tell a harrowing adventure story—it will also make you think. —Rebecca Steinitz
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Imagine a world where special dogs lead their masters back to the path of God’s love.
The Guardians is such a story; it tells of two shelties who have the ability to speak, but their unusual talent is a closely guarded secret. AuthorHouse • 9781434376633 • $12.99
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Moving between cultures
uerilla warfare, child soldiers and landmines: What do these ripped-from-the-headlines terms have to do with a coming-of-age story for young readers? As it turns out, quite a bit.
While displacement camps and military maneuvers are not the trappings of your standard touchyfeely “do the right thing” tale, they bring a sense of hard-edged reality to Mitali Perkins’ Bamboo People, an intriguing and insightful story about two boys learning how to become men in the midst of chaos. The award-winning author of such internationally diverse books as Monsoon Summer, The Not-SoStar-Spangled Life of Sunita Sen, Secret Keeper and Rickshaw Girl takes us, this time, to the border between Burma and Thailand—and into the eye-opening lives of children in the midst of a war zone. Bamboo People follows two boys caught in the crossfire of the ongoing border fight—a cultural and land battle that has been waged for decades, but in recent years has escalated dramatically through the forced enlistment of child soldiers. Chiko, a scholarly and quiet Burmese teen whose father has been imprisoned for having antigovernment sympathies, longs to be a teacher and avoids conflict at all costs. In an unexpected turn of events, Chiko is forced to enlist in the Burmese army, where he learns that education is more than the stuff of books. On the other side of the lines is Tu Reh, a member of the Karenni ethnic group displaced by the fighting, who would give anything to prove he is man enough to carry a gun. Tu Reh and his
Interview by Heidi Henneman
family have lost their homes, their loved ones and much of their sense of community during the many years of fighting, and his prejudice against everything Burmese runs deep. When Chiko is injured behind enemy lines, it is up to Tu Reh to decide whether this boy, his supposed mortal enemy, lives or dies. It’s a decision that changes both their lives. Perkins was inspired to write the story during the three years she and her husband, a Presbyterian A globetrotter minister, spent from an early on a missionary assignment age, Mitali near the BurPerkins is on mese border in northern Thaia mission to land. Here, Pershare stories kins witnessed from around firsthand the hardships, the world. tenacity and hope of those affected by war. “These people are in conditions that seem nearly unbearable: They have been hunted, forced into labor, lost their homes, and many are hiding in the jungle,” Perkins explains. “You see them trying to perpetuate nationhood, trying to teach civility to a younger generation, trying to keep a hold on their culture and language. It’s fascinating and sad, but amazing to hear their stories.” She also learned that war is never
black and white. “When you think about the Burmese army from the Karenni point of view, it’s easy to think about them as evil. But Burma used to have one of the highest literacy rates in the world, and now it has the most child soldiers. So you have all of these soldiers who are really young and uneducated. They are trying to send money back to their families, trying to make ends meet, and they are desperate. It’s not always clear who are the good guys or the bad guys.” Having traveled the world from an early age, Perkins knows a little about how diverse the world can be. Her father, a civil engineer who developed shipping ports, took the family from their home in India to live in such places as Cameroon, Ghana, Mexico and London. But it wasn’t until she landed in America that she felt a culture shock. “I was often between cultures,” Perkins recalls. To find refuge, she would sneak onto her family’s New York City fire escape—and there she also found her passion for writing. “I used to take my Sweet Tart candies, a pen and my journal and go out there to write,” she remembers. “It was in between the world of home and the world outside, and even today the fire escape metaphor really works for me.” Indeed, Perkins has a blog called Fire Escape where she invites her readers to join her for chats, discussions and a place to “explore hopes, dreams, and fears.” Her own sense of being in between cultures is also why she is so interested in sharing stories from around the world with her readers. “I like opening the eyes of children,” Perkins says. “They are much more open-hearted and aware than many adults believe them to be.” “I think there is a lack of respect for what children do and want to know,” the author says. “They understand the human experience much more than they are sometimes given credit for.”
Bamboo People By Mitali Perkins Charlesbridge $16.95, 272 pages ISBN 9781580893282 Ages 9 to 12
City Dog, Country Frog
UNLIKELY PALS ON LIFE’S JOURNEY review by alice cary
Fans of Mo Willems’ best-selling, laugh-out-loud Pigeon and Knuffle Bunny books may be surprised by the quiet tone of his new picture book, City Dog, Country Frog, in which a dog and a frog befriend one another. Their relationship is sweet and heartfelt, much like that of Arnold Lobel’s beloved Frog and Toad series, without any of Frog and Toad’s misunderstandings. The duo meets in spring, on City Dog’s “first day in the country.” They romp and explore exuberantly, basking in each other’s company. When summer arrives, City Dog teaches Frog some of his favorite games, which include “sniffing and fetching and barking.” By fall, however, Frog is too By Mo Willems, illustrated by Jon J Muth, Hyperion, $17.99, 64 pages, ISBN 9781423103004, ages 4 to 8 tired to play, and come winter, he is gone, leaving City Dog lonely and bereft over the loss of his friend. The next spring, City Dog finds a new companion (Country Chipmunk), but he never forgets dear Frog. In a beautifully understated way, City Dog, Country Frog tackles the essential issues of friendship, change, loss and death. It’s also the sort of book that can be absorbed at many levels. Some children will simply enjoy the surface-level story, while others might be ready for more profound discussions suggested by the tale. While Willems’ text is appropriately spare, Jon J Muth’s watercolor illustrations are gorgeous, showing the changing soft palette of each successive season—from the brilliant greens of spring and summer to the soft purple, blue and yellow tones of a beautiful winter day. Muth’s renditions of Dog and Frog are cute but never trite, and he paints these animals with a wide range of heartfelt expressions. Writing and illustrating such a lovely, simple, yet meaningful book is no easy feat, and Muth and Willems have once again proven themselves masters.
Princess Says Goodnight By Naomi Howland Illustrated by David Small Harper $16.99, 32 pages ISBN 9780061455254 Ages 4 to 7
The heroine of Princess Says Goodnight is an average young lady in an average family, with a mom, dad, older brother and sis, a cat and a dog, all of whom relax in their family room one evening and slump on their green plaid couch. But ah, the transformative powers of imagination! As the tired and yawning parents escort their youngest to bed, she radiates energy in her pink tutu and socks, ready to dance the night away. She curtsies in the mirror, sees a gold crown atop her red locks and imagines herself “At the palace in the nighttime,” leaving the ball. Naomi Howland’s simple, rhyming text transforms the little girl’s nightly ritual into something grand: “Will she hold a candelabra / while climbing up the stairs / and have a
frothy glass of milk / with chocolate cream eclairs?” This is every little girl’s dream come true, and David Small’s always delightful illustrations show the princess’ now-majestic bedroom, containing a four-poster gold bed with a purple canopy and bedspread. This princess’ entire family is also transformed; they are suddenly decked in royal attire. Look closely, and notice how the brother’s red-checkered pajamas transform so nicely into a jester’s outfit as he takes his sister’s lovely slippers away on a tray. The house is, of course, completely changed into a fairy-tale castle, as the princess gazes out of one of its turreted towers. Who wouldn’t love a bathtub in the shape of a giant golden swan, with different towels for each toe? The royal treatment continues, with a lullaby and story, but at the end of the evening, our princess is in need of one thing only: a kiss from her very own mom and dad, back in her own bed. Nothing is more comforting than that, after all. Princess Says Goodnight is a sweet read for young princesses everywhere waiting to be tucked in. — ALICE CARY
The Village Garage By G. Brian Karas Holt $16.99, 32 pages ISBN 9780805087161 Ages 5 to 9
In The Village Garage, author/ illustrator G. Brian Karas depicts an often overlooked but integral part of every community. A boy and his dog follow a diverse work crew around town, beginning in spring as they clean up debris from winter storms. Summer, their busiest season, has potholes to be patched and bridges and phone lines to be mended after a thunderstorm. Autumn is all about gathering leaves. (“And they fall. EVERYWHERE.”) Winter brings a little time to relax and play a card game until a snowstorm moves in, and then it’s off to plow the roads. Karas’ energetic gouache and acrylic paintings with pencil lend humor to the hard-working crew, from the “accidental” spraying during a truck wash to the appear-
ance of the boss’ signature cowboy hat on a snowman. Young readers will delight in the range of machines represented—wood chipper, steamroller, backhoe, snow plow, road striping machine, elephant truck (“That’s what they call the big machine that sucks up the leaves.”) and more—all in vibrant yellows, oranges and reds. Karas puts a new spin on the seasonal picture book with this entertaining and original title. Children will find a diligent crew that works together (and plays together when time allows) to help the village run more smoothly. And they get to do it all on those cool trucks, too! — A N G ELA LEE P ER
What the Ladybug Heard By Julia Donaldson Illustrated by Lydia Monks Holt $16.99, 32 pages ISBN 9780805090284 Ages 4 to 8
While the hen, horse, goose, dog and other animals on the farm are quick to cluck, neigh, hiss and woof, the ladybug never says a word as she silently goes about her business. In the charming new picture book What the Ladybug Heard, the ladybug’s demeanor changes when she overhears two robbers’ plan to steal the farmer’s fine prize cow. Julia Donaldson’s rhythmic verse, perfect for story times, describes the ladybug’s humorous counter plan to foil the robbers. With the help of her barnyard friends, the diminutive heroine saves the cow by leading the robbers away from its shed and right into the duck’s pond. After a round of cheers, the ladybug returns to her typically reticent behavior. Lydia Monks’ jovial and vibrant collage illustrations, rendered in acrylic paints, colored pencil and patterned fabrics, lend many funny flourishes to the story, from the robbers’ coffee-stained map of the farm to their slapstick stomp through manure. Children will also delight in comparing the first and last double-page spreads of the farm, which offer a before-andafter bird’s-eye perspective. They can follow the path the robbers took (leaving a trampled garden and dirty footprints along the way)
children’s books and imagine where the barnyard animals hid as they conducted their parts of the sabotage. Although the little ladybug doesn’t appear in these larger illustrations, young readers will still feel her strong, quiet presence. What the Ladybug Heard is an excellent pairing of story and pictures and a reminder that even the smallest and least assuming among us can use her unique skills to save the day. —ANGELA LEEPER
My Life as a Book By Janet Tashjian Illustrated by Jake Tashjian Holt $16.99, 224 pages ISBN 9780805089035 Ages 7 to 12
Open up My Life as a Book, and you’ll immediately be drawn in, whether you’re 9 or 90. Young Derek Fallon, the narrator, has a breezy style and lots of things going on in his life. The good news: It’s summer. The bad news: Derek hates to read, and he’s got a summer reading list. He’s been labeled a “reluctant reader,” and that’s an understatement. He likes to draw, however, and he enjoys making stick-figure drawings to illustrate vocabulary words. These fun drawings appear throughout the book, created by author Janet Tashjian’s 14-year-old son, Jake. At the heart of Derek’s summer is a mystery: He encounters an old newspaper clipping about a teenage girl who drowned on Martha’s Vineyard while she was babysitting Derek. Derek was just a toddler and remembers nothing, and he naturally wants to know more. His mother doesn’t want to discuss it, so Derek becomes a detective, leading to a series of discoveries and adventures. By the end of the summer, Derek has barely read one of his three assigned books, but he has learned many lessons. As he explains to his teacher, he learns that “we all mess up sometimes and struggle with things that are difficult. That even if reading is hard, everyone needs stories. I didn’t want to read the books on the list, but I wound up
surrounded by stories anyway.” My Life as a Book is a fabulous, fast-paced choice for reluctant and avid readers alike. —ALICE CARY
Tumbleweed Skies By Valerie Sherrard Fitzhenry & Whiteside $11.95, 153 pages ISBN 9781554551132 Ages 8 to 12
Ten-year-old Ellie Stewart knows she’s in for a hard time when she’s forced to spend the summer of 1954 with her taciturn Grandma Acklebee, whom she’s never known, in her home on the prairie of Western Canada while her struggling single father travels the countryside selling Marvelous Cookware. Ellie tries to please her grandmother, but the hardened woman blames the lonely girl for every fault, including the death of Ellie’s mother, who died the day Ellie was born. Gradually, the girl manages to find relief from the monotony of farm life and her grandmother’s harsh judgments. New acquaintance Marcy and her know-it-all antics show Ellie how friends are not supposed to act and, in contrast, prove Ellie’s levelheadedness and respect to her grandmother. Uncle Roger, burned after saving his cows from a barn fire, brings fun to the household and helps Ellie see how Grandma has closed herself off from any emotions. Ellie’s greatest enjoyment, however, comes from Sammy, an injured magpie, which she nurses back to health. Reminiscent of Sarah, Plain and Tall, this heartfelt story chronicles a prairie family adjusting to grief and change. As she explores the familial relationships, author Valerie Sherrard also provides fascinating descriptions of life in rural Canada. The return of Ellie’s father leads to a bittersweet transition. Although her prayers are finally answered, the girl’s goodbyes to her uncle and grandmother are harder than expected. In the process of learning to see and appreciate one another, this new family has also found love. —ANGELA LEEPER
COUNTDOWN By Deborah Wiles Scholastic $17.99, 400 pages ISBN 9780545106054 Ages 9 to 13
Here’s something new in the world of children’s literature—a documentary novel, in which the narrator’s fictional story set in 1962 is interwoven with photographs, newspaper headlines, song lyrics and ads. The narrative, however, is not stuck in one particular era; it extends back in time through Uncle Otts’ stories of World War I, and forward through the author’s expository pieces on such topics as John F. Kennedy and the later Civil Rights movement. It’s an effective way to demonstrate how our lives are wrapped up in our times, affected by the past and shaping the future. Franny Chapman is 11 years old and in fifth grade, trying to balance her home life, school life and all of the bad news about the state of the world. TV reports about Vietnam and the Cuban Missile Crisis and duck-and-cover-drills at school make her confused and fearful. She composes a letter to Khrushchev, keeps up with her school work and helps around the house, but she’s convinced she’s “a goner, a kid who stays up half the night trying to figure out the horror of the world and trying to survive it.” She has to survive fifth grade, too—a new awareness of boys, a first boy-girl party, a friend who becomes not so friendly and an older sister who doesn’t seem to have time for her anymore. Franny rings true, her voice pitchperfect, as an intelligent and earnest young girl just trying to get along. She does survive and even becomes a hero, loses a friend and regains her, and finds a sense of herself in the larger scheme of things. By the end of this innovative and finely wrought novel, Franny sees the sense of her older sister’s advice: “There are always scary things happening in the world. There are always wonderful things happening. And it’s up to you to decide how you’re going to approach the world
. . . how you’re going to live in it, and what you’re going to do.” Countdown is a sure contender for this year’s Newbery Medal. —DEAN SCHNEIDER
The GRIMM LEGACY By Polly Shulman Putnam $16.99, 336 pages ISBN 9780399250965 Ages 10 and up
Elizabeth Rew has just been offered a dream job. Working as a page in the New-York Circulating Material Repository doesn’t just mean fetching Marie Antoinette’s wigs for various curators; it might also net her some friends, which have been in short supply since she started at her new school. The Repository has collections that inspired the work of H.G. Wells and William Gibson, among others, but its mysterious Grimm Collection has been the victim of theft, and it falls to Elizabeth and her fellow pages to solve the crime. It doesn’t help matters that the items are magic, or that one of her co-workers has been borrowing some of them without permission. The magic in The Grimm Legacy is sometimes dazzling (flying carpets, a giant bird who might be the thief) and sometimes played for laughs (winged sandals that are harder to drive than a stick-shift, a magic mirror with sarcasm to spare); there’s a funny discussion among the kids about how outmoded some of the items are compared to modern technology. The Repository still uses a system of pneumatic tubes to shuttle messages around, an old-school technology that becomes new again when the tubes are used to transport shrunken people. Don’t let all the bells and whistles fool you, though. One of the great charms wrapped up in this mystery is the story of burgeoning friendships among a multi-ethnic cast of characters, each of whom has reason to distrust the others. The Grimm Legacy is terrific fun for tweens and teens, and not to be missed. — H ea t her S eggel
meet EMILY ARNOLD McCULLY
X isle By Steve Augarde David Fickling/ Random House $17.99, 480 pages ISBN 9780385751933 Ages 12 and up
A few years ago, Baz was a normal boy living with his family in England—until a cataclysmic event drowned the world. Now just about everything, including food, is submerged below inky, polluted water. Like many of the survivors, Baz and his father are starving. Only the Eck brothers and their sinister father, Preacher John, manage to profit off the desperate. Living on X Isle, they dredge up canned food from submerged supermarkets. The Eck family lures young, male workers to the island by promising three meals a day in exchange for labor. When Baz and another boy are selected to go to X Isle, they cannot believe their good fortune, until they meet a battered group of boys led by two abusive captains. The work is hard, but the treatment is worse. News of the harsh conditions has never reached the mainland, and Baz knows why: Those selected to come to X Isle never leave alive. X Isle is a dark and harrowing dystopia reminiscent of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games or William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. Steve Augarde, who is also an acclaimed illustrator, uses his artistic insight to skillfully detail Baz’s new and dangerous world, and then heightens the boys’ urgency for escape when Preacher John suddenly forces them to construct an altar for religious sacrifices. When the Eck brothers bring two teenage girls to the island, Baz wonders if they will be next to die. The violence, which is never excessive, is crucial to understanding the desperation that pushes the boys to make a harrowing decision, even as Baz struggles to cope with the impending consequences. With the death toll rising and the balance of humanity shifting, Augarde’s compelling novel begs the question: Is it ever okay to kill? — K i m b e r ly G i a r r a t a n o
By Neal Shusterman Harper Teen $16.99, 336 pages ISBN 9780061134081 Ages 14 and up
Because of his hulking size and antisocial behavior, Brewster Rawlins, voted “Most Likely to Receive the Death Penalty,” has been nicknamed Bruiser by his high school peers in this unique story by Neal Shusterman. When lacrosse star Tennyson Sternberger hears that his twin sister Brontë is going on a date with Brewster, he follows the boy home. He softens, however, after observing Brewster covered in bruises and the possibly abusive uncle who has cared for him and his brother since their mother’s death. As Tennyson and Brontë befriend Brewster, they begin to notice that their aches and pains disappear quickly, while Brewster develops new injuries at an alarming rate. Alternating points of view reflect each sibling’s discovery of Brewster’s strange healing powers and Brewster’s own constant struggle between wanting friends—and Brontë—and knowing the hurt it will eventually bring him. Sailing through rough lacrosse matches, relationship woes and their parents’ potential divorce with ease, Tennyson and Brontë wonder if their new, less painful lives are fair to Brewster. In usual Shusterman style, Bruiser is a gripping novel full of exquisite language that explores the boundaries of love, happiness, pain, secrets and responsibility. The author balances these moral dilemmas with dark humor and chapter titles that incorporate “power words” from Tennyson and Brontë’s parents, who work as professors of literature. Only Brewster’s chapters are written in poetic forms, further emphasizing the duality between his inner beauty and the façade he presents to the outside world. The thought-provoking ending will haunt readers as they consider the characters’ futures and wonder what they would do as givers or receivers of enduring pain. —Angela Leeper
WONDER HORSE In a career that spans five decades, Caldecott Medal winner Emily Arnold McCully has written and/or illustrated more than 100 books, many about real-life figures. Her latest is Wonder Horse: The True Story of the World’s Smartest Horse (Holt, $16.99, 32 pages, ISBN 9780805087932). McCully divides her time between New York City and a home in the country.
By the editors of Merriam-Webster
FIRE IN THE SKY Dear Editor: Recently I was watching a documentary on military history that mentioned something called a foo fighter, which was related to UFOs. What exactly is a foo fighter, and how did it get that name? W. B. Alexandria, Kentucky The term foo fighter was first used during World War II to refer to a type of unidentified flying object that was spotted on more than one occasion in the skies over northern Germany. According to various reports, the object in question, which resembled a ball of light, would trail Allied aircraft for brief moments before quickly darting out of sight. No explanation for the presence of these objects was ever given. While it is not known who coined the term foo fighter, it is believed that foo originated as a corruption of the French word feu, meaning “fire,” perhaps in reference to the craft’s glowing appearance. A
number of sources further attribute the name to a popular mid-century American comic strip called “Smoky Stover,” drawn by Bill Holman. The main character of this strip was a firefighter whose catchphrase was “Where there’s foo there’s fire!”
NAME OF THE GAME Dear Editor: I’m curious about the word lacrosse. I read once that the game was invented by the American Indians, but the word lacrosse sounds French. Can you explain? T. M. New Bedford, Massachusetts The game of lacrosse was indeed invented by Native Americans, but they called it baggataway, and it was a little different from the modern sport. It involved more players (sometimes thousands), was played over a larger area (goals could be miles apart) and tended to be very rough (one of its purposes was to prepare warriors for battle). The basic idea, however, was the same:
to score goals by using a long-handled implement to catch, carry and pass a ball. When French settlers in Canada saw the game, they thought the sticks resembled bishops’ crosiers, and so they called the game la crosse, literally “the crosier.”
A QUESTION OF DEGREE Dear Editor: I wonder if you could tell me the origin of the term bachelor’s degree for four years of college and master’s degree for advanced work. J. P. Arab, Alabama Bachelor (from Old French bacheler) is thought to have derived from Latin baccalaria, a word for a division of land. A worker of the land, an impoverished tenant farmer, was a baccalarius; baccalaria, in turn, may even go back to bacca, the Late Latin word for “cow.” In English, the earliest bachelor was a young knight, either too poor or too inexperienced to fight under his own banner. In Britain today, the rank of knight bachelor is still
conferred as the lowest-ranking (but most ancient) order of knighthood. The “novice” sense was carried over to the medieval system of guilds. The bachelor was at the lowest level; in the university, he was one who had completed merely the first stage of his education. A master was one who had achieved proficiency in his area of study or his trade and was qualified to teach students or apprentices. The oldest sense of master (from Latin magister) was that of “teacher” or “tutor.” Doctor also originally meant “teacher” (from Latin docere, “to teach”). In some universities, the degree of doctor was equivalent to the master’s degree, each being conferred as the highest level of learning in certain subjects. Professors in the faculties of law and medicine tended to be called doctors; in the arts, they were masters.
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EVERYTHING LITERARY Reprinted from The Everything Literary Crosswords Book by Charles Timmerman, published by Adams Media, an F+W Media, Inc. Co. Copyright ©2007, F+W Media, Inc.
ROMANTIC NOVELS AT THE MOVIES ACROSS 1. Upper-crust 5. “___ Mountain,” novel made into a movie 9. Blowout 13. Serve in the capacity of 15. Locale 16. Football’s Karras 17. Puts back in 18. Swedish import 19. Title role for Peter Fond 20. Novel by William Styron made into a movie starring Meryl Streep 23. NYSE debut crossword solution
24. Fed. medical agency 25. Uncle Tom’s wife 28. Roman goddess of wisdom 31. Narrative 33. Printemps time 34. Petition 35. Suffix with clown or brown 36. Isak Dinesen memoir made into a movie 40. Restroom, for short 42. One-eighty 43. ___-80 (old computer) 44. Wash 47. Hit the spot 51. Grimy 52. Biol., e.g. 53. Foot part 54. Colleen McCullough novel made into a mini series 59. “The ___ of Living Dangerously,” novel made into a movie 61. Hercules’ love 62. Author Blyton and others 63. Nevada’s second-largest county 64. “___ Story,” novel made into a movie
65. Flood barrier 66. Plebeian 67. Barbara of “I Dream of Jeannie” 68. Sun. speeches DOWN 1. Here and there 2. Squid relatives 3. Walk over 4. “Hell ___ no fury...” 5. Medicinal shrub 6. Spinachlike plant 7. Jacob’s wife 8. Actress Maryam 9. South American cowboy 10. Word of praise 11. Attorney F. ___ Bailey 12. Bunyan’s tool 14. Fed. stipend 21. Full of envy 22. Defunct Trucker Control Org. 26. Walk-__: bit parts 27. Afr. nation 29. Grounded bird
30. Stool pigeon 31. “___ Wiedersehen” 32. Confident 34. Pronounce 36. Pass 37. Payment 38. N.Y.C. subway line 39. Hit CBS drama 40. Calculator feature, briefly 41. Bard of boxing 45. Pulsating 46. Comic Louis
47. Hide 48. Make a big effort 49. Raw material 50. Approvals 52. Work out 55. Bit of mosaic 56. Engine cover 57. ___ canto (singing style) 58. Supermodel Sastre 59. “Sho ‘nuff” 60. Angular shape