KIRKUS V O L . L X X X , N O.
CHILDREN’S & TEEN
Fifty Cents and a Dream
by Jabari Asim and illustrated by Bryan Collier A spectacular peek at an undersung African-American leader. p. 2366
A Cornucopia of Surprises: A conversation with graphic artist Chris Ware p. 2308
Also In This Issue
by Salman Rushdie The frightening, illuminating and disturbing memoir by the author of The Satanic Verses p. 2354
Gina Keating on the epic battle for America's eyeballs p . 2346
Judith Viorst is NOT having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day p. 2382
by Alice Munro The author explores the meaning of life p. 2315
Self-portrait by Chris Ware
Appreciations: Bram Stoker and Dracula B Y G RE G O RY MC NA M EE
Chairman H E R B E RT S I M O N # President & Publisher M A RC W I N K E L M A N Chief Operating Officer M E G L A B O R D E KU E H N email@example.com
You don’t need to be a poulterer to know that chickens, as they must, eventually come home to roost. When they do, if they’re the right kind of chickens, they can be of fearsome visage. Consider, for instance, all those people who are wandering the streets of America without green cards or documentation, causing the likes of Michelle Malkin and Pat Buchanan to fear for the ability of the republic to endure. What are they if not specimens of the zombie plague or, traveling back a few decades, the body snatchers that threatened to replace ordinary, God-fearing, law-abiding Americans with, well, something other than all that? A Communist under every bed in the 1950s, an indocumentado in the 2010s—whatever the character, that roosting critter is the same. When Britons of the late Victorian era wanted to scare themselves silly, they imagined a cozy old Blighty overrun by mummies escaped from the British Museum or savage dogs let loose upon the moors. It took an Irish novelist named Abraham Stoker, resident of London, to find another scary creature by way of Eastern Europe, a region that had mostly managed to refuse the blandishments of the British Empire, to introduce to England’s green and pleasant shores. That creature was, of course, the vampire, in the memorable personage of a fellow borrowed from Romanian history, a nasty piece of work named Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula. Now, Stoker was not the first Western European novelist to put a vampire to work in a story, but he caught exactly the right zeitgeist: There was no scarier creature in the pea-soup fog of a Thameside night, unless you were working the streets that Jack the Ripper haunted, than an illegal immigrant who wanted nothing more than to remove every ounce of blood from your true-blue British veins. When Dracula was first published 115 years ago, in 1897, it caught on instantly. We know it, of course, mostly through its film adaptations, particularly the iconic 1931 version with Bela Lugosi as the bloodsucking count from Transylvania, filmed to realistic specification on a Hollywood
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soundstage. That film and its descendants take a few liberties with Stoker’s original, but it could not have been helped; the original is an epistolary tale, after all, that stretches long and elaborate, with plenty of dialect to provide local color and Stoker-ian humor: “ ’Ittin of them over the ’ead with a pole is one way; scratching of their hears is another, when gents as is flush wants a bit of a show-orf to their gals.”
In Memory of David Delman (1924-2012) #
Despite its longueurs and, well, dead stretches, though,it was a hit. It scared Britain silly in the way that Jaws kept Americans out of the ocean 40 years ago. What effects it had on British-Balkans relations we can only guess, but Bram Stoker was not so fortunate as his book, which, of course, has spawned a legion of books and films about the undead. He died following a series of strokes 100 years ago, in 1912. His widow would publish a collection of his partially finished vampire stories two years later, but most of Stoker’s other works—including the strange Lair of the White Worm—faded into obscurity. Kindly spare a thought for the man and his book on this Halloween.
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This Issue’s Contributors
Maude Adjarian • Mark Athitakis • Michael Autrey • Joseph Barbato • Amy Boaz • Lee E. Cart • Derek Charles Catsam • Marnie Colton • Dave DeChristopher • Gregory F. DeLaurier • Kathleen Devereaux • Bobbi Dumas • Daniel Dyer • Lisa Elliott • Gro Flatebo • Julie Foster • Peter Franck • Faith Giordano • Amy Goldschlager • Robert M. Knight • Christina M. Kratzner • Paul Lamey • Louise Leetch • Judith Leitch • Peter Lewis • Elsbeth Lindner • Raina Lipsitz • Joe Maniscalco • Don McLeese • Gregory McNamee • Brett Milano • Carole Moore • Clayton Moore • Liza Nelson • Mike Newirth • John Noffsinger • Mike Oppenheim • Jim Piechota • William E. Pike • Gary Presley • David Rapp • Lloyd Sachs • Sandra Sanchez • William P. Shumaker • Rosanne Simeone • Clea Simon • Elaine Sioufi • Wendy Smith • Margot E. Spangenberg • Susan Spano • Andria Spencer • Sarah Suksiri • Matthew Tiffany • Claire Trazenfeld • Steve Weinberg • Rodney Welch • Carol White • Chris White
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contents fiction Index to Starred Reviews..................................................p. 2299 REVIEWS.......................................................................................p. 2299 Q&A WITH Chris WAre............................................................ p. 2308
The Kirkus Star is awarded to books of remarkable merit, as determined by the impartial editors of Kirkus.
Mystery...................................................................................... p. 2325 Science Fiction & Fantasy.................................................. p. 2329
nonfiction Index to Starred Reviews...................................................p. 2331 REVIEWS........................................................................................p. 2331 Q&A WITH Gina Keating........................................................p. 2346
childrenâ€™s & teen Index to Starred Reviews..................................................p. 2365 REVIEWS.......................................................................................p. 2365 Q&A WITH Judith Viorst....................................................... p. 2382 interactive e-books.............................................................p. 2389 continuing series................................................................ p. 2394
indie Index to Starred Reviews...................................................p. 2395 REVIEWS........................................................................................p. 2395 christopher Meeks: how i did it...................................... p. 2400
Alice Munro explores the meaning of life See the review on page p. 2315.
| kirkus.com | contents | 15 october 2012 | 2297
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w w w. k i r k u s r e v i e w s . c o m / b l o g s Kirkus’ online content attempts to bring readers closer to the books they love on a daily basis. Here, a few highlights from our recent web coverage. With Halloween right around the corner, be sure to check out columnist Andrew Liptak’s recent piece, “The Brief History of the Vampire Novel.” Vampires have captured our imagination for centuries. Béla Lugosi’s portrayal of Dracula has defined the appearance of the creature in all manner of media, while more recent works in film and literature have updated the undead bloodsuckers to something more modern while retaining the same level of complication and deadliness. Dracula, however, wasn’t the first vampire novel, even if it is widely considered to be the most definitive. Liptak takes a look at the most influential and popular entries in the genre. Over the course of more than 40 years in show business, Penny Marshall has starred as an iconic sitcom character (Laverne of Laverne & Shirley) and directed Oscar-nominated movies (although she has not been nominated for an Oscar herself). And while she was at it, she set a record as the first female director to have two movies gross more than $100 million: Big (1988) and A League of Their Own (1992). Now 68 and recovered from a battle with cancer, Marshall’s just written her first book, a memoir entitled My Mother Was Nuts that our reviewer described as “bold and irrepressibly sassy.” She recently spoke to Kirkus about her family, her career and her tendency to mumble.
One of the most highly anticipated and critically lauded books of the fall was J.R. Moehringer’s Sutton. Our writer Clayton Moore recently gave Moehringer the Kirkus Q&A treatment and found out what went into making this genre-bending novel about bank robber Willie Sutton soar so high. As our starred review remarked, this is “a ‘non-fiction novel’ that takes us far beyond Willie Sutton’s clever one-liners about banks and deeply into his life...a captivating and absorbing read.” Find out more about the title that everyone’s talking about. And, finally, don’t forget to check out our Indie publishing series featuring some of today’s top self-publishing authors, including Barbra Annino and E. Van Lowe, as well as signed authors like Douglas Nicholas. Each week, we feature authors’ exclusive personal essays on how they achieved their success in publishing. It’s a must-read resource for any aspiring author interested in getting their books out there. For the latest news releases every day, please go online to Kirkusreviews. com. It’s where our editors and contributing blog partners bring you the best in science fiction, mysteries and thrillers, literary fiction and nonfiction, teen books and children’s books, Indie publishing and more.
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fiction These titles earned the Kirkus Star: MY LAST EMPRESS by Da Chen................................................. p. 2303 TRUTH IN ADVERTISING by John Kenney................................. p. 2313 THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND by Jennifer McMahon..................... p. 2314 DEAR LIFE by Alice Munro.......................................................... p. 2315 TENTH OF DECEMBER by George Saunders............................. p. 2319 THE VALLEY OF UNKNOWING by Philip Sington................... p. 2320 THE HISTORY OF US by Leah Stewart...................................... p. 2322 BRONZE SUMMER by Stephen Baxter....................................... p. 2329
TENTH OF DECEMBER Stories
Saunders, George Random House (272 pp.) $26.00 Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-8129-9380-6
Anonymous Amazon/New Harvest (304 pp.) $25.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-547-94207-0 Written anonymously (by an insider?), this thinly veiled account of American Idol’s first season with Steven Tyler and JLo is a hilarious tour into the world of reality divas. Sasha King is a recent college grad working on her Novel of Immense Profundity. While struggling on the second paragraph, she takes a position at the Rabbit Network as an assistant’s assistant, but when her boss, Bill, becomes injured, Sasha (known as the new Bill to everyone on set) becomes the acting assistant producer of Project Icon. Since the flaky judge disappeared and the mean judge, Nigel Crowther, left to start his own talent competition, Project Icon is in the hot seat; ratings have been down, and they need to find two judges before Rabbit’s owner, Sir Harold Killoch, cuts the show. After the kind of surreal demands only the most childish humans—stars—can negotiate, rock icon Joey Lovecraft and actress-singer-merchandiser Bibi Vasquez come on board. The novel’s impersonation of Steven Tyler’s verbal gymnastics is so dead-on, so charmingly nutty, kudos are in order. Bibi Vasquez (the JLo stand-in) comes off less attractively—as a driven, foulmouthed hunter, out for blood, even if she’s not sure why. The most sneering portrait is reserved for the show’s host, Wayne Shoreline, a workaholic sociopath who is sexually neutral and whose culinary tastes are satisfied at the pet store. Occasionally, Sasha has a few moments to devote to a personal life: trying to reconnect with her stoner boyfriend in Hawaii, working on her novel (which consists of deleting most of the first paragraph) and even finding happiness tentatively with an LA guy, found by her nosy Russian landlord. But of course, even Sasha knows her life pales under the starlight of the Icon universe, what with the drugs, the sex and the scandal lurking at every turn. Anyone who has ever watched American Idol, and that will be almost everyone, will have the immense satisfaction of the “inside scoop,” real or not.
| kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2299
“Lush, inspired and provocative.” from the marlowe papers
A HISTORY OF THE PRESENT ILLNESS
Aronson, Louise Bloomsbury (272 pp.) $24.00 | Jan. 22, 2013 978-1-60819-830-6
First-time author Aronson calls on her experience as a professor of medicine for this collection of short stories, which take place in and around a San Francisco hospital. But the stories are less concerned with medical details than with the inner lives of the characters and the psychological toll that health issues take on caregivers, patients and their families. The best story here, “Becoming a Doctor,” is about an internship; its brief episodes give glimpses of the life-changing experiences a young doctor might encounter, from impulsive love affairs to the first sighting of medical horrors. Call it a less cute, more truthful version of Grey’s Anatomy. In “Giving Good Death,” a doctor serves prison time for malpractice, and Aronson focuses on his failed connection with the psychiatrist handling his case. “Vital Signs Stable” concerns a 98-year-old patient who does not die during the story; but the effect of her illness on her family makes the story haunting. At times, Aronson tweaks the narrative format to make a point: In “Blurred Boundary Disorder,” the footnotes overwhelm the main text, illustrating the condition of the title. Some of these stories are stronger than others, and a few could use a more compelling plot: In “Heart Failure,” a workaholic doctor fails to respond to her neglected daughter’s increasingly urgent outbursts, but the final outcome feels anticlimactic. It’s the tense atmospheres that Aronson creates, and her empathy for her characters, that make this a promising debut.
HIKIKOMORI AND THE RENTAL SISTER
Backhaus, Jeff Algonquin (256 pp.) $23.95 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-61620-137-1
A debut novel of grief and its pornfantasy resolution. The hikikomori of the title is Thomas Tessler. He has lived locked in a room in his Manhattan apartment for three years, while his wife, Silke, goes on with her life next door in their former bedroom. Thomas leaves the apartment on rare occasions, at night, to stock up on supplies—TV dinners, canned food, coffee—while Silke sleeps. At her wit’s end, Silke finds a young Japanese woman, Megumi, the rental sister of the title, to lure Thomas out of his room. Thomas has locked himself in because he cannot get over the death of his son, for which he feels overwhelming guilt. What the patient and loving 2300 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
Silke cannot accomplish, Megumi pulls off in a matter of weeks. Megumi’s brother was also hikikomori in Japan, where apparently the phenomenon is more common, the hikikomori having a cultural identity or dignity unavailable in the States—and this qualifies her to visit the American stranger. As we learn more about Megumi—she sold her panties for shopping money and then her body to spirit her brother out of the country—one of the most egregious stereotypes emerges from this chrysalis: the hooker with a heart of gold. Of course Megumi falls for Thomas. He is the strong, silent type after all. Thomas’ lair turns out to be the perfect place to carry on an affair, and Silke seems to accept, if not welcome it—she contracted for it. A handful of taut moments explore the dramatic potential of this ménage à trois. A conflagration heralds a conclusion consistent with conventional expectations. Occasional moments of fine writing cannot salvage this unpromising debut.
THE MARLOWE PAPERS
Barber, Ros St. Martin’s (480 pp.) $24.99 | Jan. 29, 2013 978-1-250-01717-8
What if Kit Marlowe wasn’t really killed in a tavern brawl? What if he escaped and became the secret scribe of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets? Ros Barber (Material, 2008, etc.) cunningly uses her own poetic skills to craft this startling chronicle of Marlowe’s life in verse—mostly blank verse. Winner of the 2011 Hoffman Prize, this debut novel adds a rich new voice to the conversation about Christopher Marlowe’s life and work, including the possibility that some or all of Shakespeare’s works belong instead to Marlowe. Barber’s Marlowe is a smart, witty, struggling, bisexual playwright. Through his friendship with Tom Watson, he is drawn into service, becoming an intelligencer, a spy for the queen. The dangers of espionage vie with the jealousies of the other playwrights, and Marlowe must deftly avoid not only detection, but also giving offense. Although Marlowe learns that the most dangerous secrets are hidden in plain sight, he resists seeing that his own professed atheism may be more hazardous than the queen’s secrets or his own talents. To save his life, his death must be faked. Worse, he must erase his own name from history, giving his plays and sonnets to a dull man named Shakespeare. With the force of fate, his dual lives as deceiver and dramatist entwine to deprive him of true self and true story. At points, the poetry gets in the way of the story, becoming cumbersome rather than nimble. Yet, telling the tale in verse is a clever choice, and Barber’s poetry is often rich with imagery, evoking the beauty of Marlowe’s own artistry as well as the mysterious, often ominous, world of shadowy political machinations. A spy’s code, the poetry allows Marlowe to tell his true story, reclaiming his own name. Lush, inspired and provocative, this spellbinding dossier conjures up a bewitching Marlowe.
THE INGREDIENTS OF LOVE
Barreau, Nicolas St. Martin’s Griffin (256 pp.) $14.99 paperback | $9.99 e-book Dec. 24, 2012 978-1-250-00670-7 978-1-250-02088-8 e-book
A frothy exposé of the perils of book packaging, seasoned with a soupçon of culinary courtship. In French-German author Barreau’s American debut, lovers of Paris and voyeurs of the French publishing scene will find much to relish. However, aficionados of tightly plotted romantic comedies will find considerably less. After being unceremoniously dumped by Claude, her boyfriend of two years, Aurélie Bredin, chef/owner of a charming restaurant on the Rue Princesse, drifts into an Île Saint-Louis bookstore to elude a nice gendarme who thought she was about to leap into the Seine. She espies a novel entitled The Smiles of Women, in French translation, by an English author, Robert Miller. Amazingly enough, the novel portrays a beautiful woman resembling Aurélie, and much of the action unfolds at Le Temps des Cerises—her restaurant. Her new infatuation with Robert Miller supplants her despair over Claude, and she resolves to meet the author, which poses a problem for Miller’s editor, André Chabanais, of Éditions Opale. Urged by his boss to scout and commission an “Englishman in Paris” project, André finds it easier just to write the thing himself. Collaborating with a British literary agent, Adam Goldberg, André invents a stereotypical English writer, an ink-stained, country-dwelling recluse. Adam’s dentist brother, Sam, agrees to pose for Robert Miller’s book-jacket photo, but now Opale’s marketing department is clamoring for Miller, who’s selling books in France like Ladurée sells macaroons, to make a Paris appearance for press interviews and a book signing. Worse, when Aurélie comes to his office in pursuit of Miller, André is smitten. To prevent exposure of his hoax, André, while trying to woo Aurélie himself, must answer her fan letters to Miller. But, what will happen when Miller, as impersonated by Sam, finally comes to town? The enjoyment of the deception is somewhat mitigated by the many talky scenes that pad the plot. The English translation exacerbates the ennui with flabby phrasing. A romp which, too soon, slows to a crawl.
THE MAN ON THE THIRD FLOOR
Bernays, Anne Permanent Press (184 pp.) $26.00 | Nov. 15, 2012 978-1-57962-285-5
The love story of a kept man told from the perspective of his ardent, married, male keeper. The man on the third floor is Barry Rogers, part-time driver and full-time
lover of Walter Samson, who lives with his wife, Phyllis, and two children, Henry and Kate, in the lower floors of a spacious house on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The secret, hinted at in the title and revealed in the first paragraph, is really no secret: We read to learn whether Walter outs himself or is outed. Walter tells his story: childhood; sexual initiation; marriage; a stay in D.C. during World War II; and professional success in publishing. Installing Barry in a small room next to the cook and the maid, Walter relies on his wealth and status to hide the love of his life within easy reach and in plain sight. The influence that prejudice exercises on all the characters is pernicious. Only Walter seems to think his secret can be kept. Walter is, unsurprisingly, profoundly ambivalent as he learns who has known and for how long. Though Walter is a compelling character, this is a lackluster effort.
Biaggio, Maryka Doubleday (352 pp.) $25.95 | Jan. 22, 2013 978-0-385-53622-6
The author traces the life of May Dugas, who schemes, thieves, claws, charms, swindles and whores her way to economic success. One of the tragedies of May’s life is that she grew up in Menominee, Wis., and aspired to so much more. The dull Midwest couldn’t contain her vaulting ambition and grand sense of self-destiny. The novel alternates between her trial for fraud in 1917 and flashbacks into her life as con artist, “lady of leisure” and manipulator extraordinaire. The lawsuit has been brought against her by Frank Shaver, a woman who had been May’s close friend as well as her lover. Even more interesting than the trial is the pattern of behavior that led May to jack up her social status—so at one level, the narrative line fulfills the American myth of the selfmade woman, whose pluck and courage lead her to economic and social success. Her pursuit of wealth—and occasional need to escape the law, especially in the form of the relentless Reed Dougherty, a Pinkerton detective who tracks her for years— leads her to Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, Shanghai, London, Amsterdam and other places, both exotic and non-. She eventually marries Rudolph de Vries, a Dutch baron, and this allows her the liberty to style herself a baroness. Along the way, she accrues lovers of both sexes, makes extravagant purchases of jewelry and engages in sordid business schemes promising huge rates of return through questionable means. When the judge rules that May owes Frank over $57,000, she makes one last attempt to escape her past as well as to shake off Dougherty’s dogged pursuit. Based on a true story, Biaggio’s narrative provides an engaging glimpse into a character who categorically eludes our attempts to define her. (Agent: Stephanie Cabot)
| kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2301
FAREWELL TO FREEDOM
Blaedel, Sara Pegasus Crime (384 pp.) $25.00 | Dec. 4, 2012 978-1-60598-453-7
A low-voltage police thriller with predictable twists and turns riffs off the current rage for Scandinavian-based noir crime fiction. Blaedel continues the adventures of Copenhagen police detective Louise Rick in this tepid installment centering on the overlapping worlds of prostitution and human trafficking. Rick, assigned to investigate the killing of a young woman believed to be an Eastern European prostitute found with her throat slashed in a city alleyway, gets a taste of what life on the streets is like for the hundreds of young women who make their ways to her city from places like Serbia and Croatia. Meanwhile, as Louise settles into the investigation, her best friend since high school, Camilla Lind, a crack reporter for a top newspaper, receives a call from her son that he and a friend of his have found a tiny baby in a church. Camilla rushes over to the church and assists police with the baby, then pitches her editor a story on Louise’s murder case. Although her editor is less impressed with the murder than the baby’s discovery, he reluctantly gives the go-ahead and soon Camilla, too, is deeply invested in the case of the dead young woman. Between Louise and Camilla, they enter a shadowy world where women are brought to Denmark and turned into sex slaves against their wills, working for pimps who abuse and sometimes kill them. As the two women discover, there is more than meets the eye in this case and the people they meet during the course of the investigation; things grow dangerous and Camilla finds herself inadvertently thrust into harm’s way. Hampered by a clunky translation, both the novel and the investigation are slow paced and populated with uninspiring characters that make the book a dull read. Fans of the genre will not find this stripped-down, by-thenumbers plot and its shallow characters very mesmerizing.
THE RUNAWAY PRINCESS
Browne, Hester Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster (448 pp.) $16.00 paperback | Oct. 2, 2012 978-1-4391-6885-1
When a good-hearted gardener finds love with a royal, romance may sprout thorns. Amy Wilde is more comfortable with a spade in her hand than a tiara on her head. When she meets the dashing Leo Wolfsburg, who fancies more than her roses, that’s a plus. And when the charming banker is revealed to be the millionaire Prince Leopold, the world’s ninth most eligible royal, Amy finds she can deal with 2302 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
the supermodel mom and the sprawling familial castle. Amy, better known for her prize marrow than her beauty or poise, can even manage the idea of Leo landing his helicopter on the local cricket pitch, a plus when he not only wins over her hardluck parents, but also gets their permission to propose. In fact, all seems, well, rosy, until a family scandal catapults Leo into the position of heir to the throne of Nirona—and Amy’s family troubles and her own unthinking missteps threaten to derail not only his father’s coronation, but their wedding. Amy, a “stroppy Yorkshire” girl, finds herself wondering, “I loved Leo, but was I really going to be able to do this?” Not to worry. Of course she is, although Browne (Swept Off Her Feet, 2011, etc.) throws in more than the usual obstacles along the way. She also plumps out this straightforward girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy romance with enough detail—about London, European society, even gardening—to dissuade some looking for a quicker read. But her breezy writing and likable characters—even Leo’s ne’erdo-well brother Rolf is sympathetic—will keep the right kind of reader engaged. Traditional in outlook, despite the very contemporary fashion references, this thick novel delivers a solid, almost believable fantasy with just enough glitz and glamour to catch the eye of chick-lit fans. An in-depth fairy tale by a master of the genre, delivering old-fashioned satisfaction with some up-to-date sparkle.
THE FOLLY OF THE WORLD
Bullington, Jesse Orbit/Little, Brown (528 pp.) $15.99 paperback | Dec. 18, 2012 978-0-316-19035-0
Bullington (The Enterprise of Death, 2011, etc.) delivers another dark historical tale, this time set in 15th-century Holland. In the 1420s, a few years after a catastrophic flood caused widespread devastation, the deeply unpleasant Jan has a plan to recover a special ring bearing a family crest so that he can claim his noble title and the riches that go along with it. But there’s a problem: The ring is inside a house which has been deeply submerged by the flood. So, Jan sets forth on a mission to retrieve it, with his recently purchased servant Jolanda, and his lover, Sander, an escaped criminal. Betrayal and violence quickly ensue, leaving one of the three dead and leading to a yearslong masquerade among the noble classes. The plot takes a particularly dark turn, however, when the body of a murdered child is discovered. Bullington has clearly done plenty of research on the early history of the Netherlands, and he includes an extensive bibliography at the end of the book. It’s a time and a place that rarely appears in historical fiction, but it serves as the setting of a very long and, at times, oppressively grim novel. While Bullington does have an unusual and original voice, his maximalist style and exceedingly slow pacing may limit the book’s audience. It also seems likely that the novel’s unsympathetic characters, brutal violence, graphic sex, unrelenting profanity and frequent descriptions of bodily fluids will
not be to every reader’s taste, to say the least. That said, it will certainly appeal to fans of Bullington’s previous work. An ambitious but rather harrowing novel.
MY LAST EMPRESS
Chen, Da Crown (320 pp.) $25.00 | Oct. 2, 2012 978-0-307-38130-9
Nabokov meets Dream of the Red Chamber. Chen (Brothers, 2006, etc.), a Chineseborn writer and now resident of New York’s Hudson Valley, has a profoundly developed feel for the sweep of history—though here, unlike in Brothers, he compresses what might have been a saga into 300 pages. His story has an epic feel all the same: Samuel Pickens, a Yankee born into wealth and privilege, falls into head-swooning love with the daughter of a New England
missionary who has spent her youth in China. Alas, their young love is fleeting, but events pull Samuel across the ocean and into a web of mystery, not least the fact that, years later, Samuel comes into contact with a young woman in the imperial court who looks very strangely like his lost love. The discovery turns Samuel’s world upside down, of course. Chen is a master of suggestion by telling detail: Of the man who teaches Samuel Chinese, for example, he writes, “No one had taught us more with less,” while Samuel’s plans first come a cropper with a potential employer’s being “choked to death by butterflies in his throat”—a neat allusion to Madama Butterfly there, perhaps. Chen sets up the enigma that Samuel must decipher before the first act closes, and though the solution isn’t deeply buried, he takes his time in uncovering it elegantly. For those with an eye for such things, Chen also does a nice job of serving up literary erotica of a sort to do Colette proud: “Then she rode with gentleness, as if the horse beneath her was trotting on a soft path; her rosebud breasts heaved and her hair tossed with each motion.” A lyrical tale of crossed borders, boundaries and destinies, expertly told. (Author events in New York)
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THE BLACK BOX
Connelly, Michael Little, Brown (416 pp.) $27.99 | Nov. 26, 2012 978-0-316-06943-4 Harry Bosch (The Drop, 2011, etc.) returns to yet another cold case—one that was taken out of his hand 20 years ago when it was still red hot. Assigned to an emergency rotation in South-Central LA during the Rodney King riots, Harry’s sent out to an alley off Crenshaw Boulevard, where National Guard troops have found a body. The victim turns out to be Copenhagen journalist Anneke Jespersen, executed by a bullet to the head. With the city in the throes of a violent crisis, there’s no time to work this case or any other, and the death gets tossed into the deep freeze till it’s defrosted 20 years later by the LAPD’s Open-Unsolved Unit. Now, however, some remarkable developments are waiting to be discovered. The Beretta handgun used in the crime has been traced to long-imprisoned gangbanger Rufus Coleman, whose brief off-the-record statement allows Harry to link the gun to at least two other murders in the intervening years. If the search for information about the weapon, mostly carried out by Harry’s long-suffering partner David Chu, seems almost too easy, the questions that stymied Harry back in 1992—what brought a Danish reporter to America, to riot-torn LA and to the alley where she met her death, and why was she killed?— prove just as hard to answer, especially since Harry’s new boss, Lt. Cliff O’Toole, makes it clear that on the 20th anniversary of the LAPD’s darkest hour, he doesn’t want the only case from that sorry chapter cleared to be the one that involved a white woman. Harry naturally meets O’Toole’s opposition by raising the stakes. The resulting tension lifts this sturdy but uninspired procedural above most of its competition, though nowhere close to the top of Connelly’s own storied output.
THE WRATH OF ANGELS
Connolly, John Emily Bestler/Atria (416 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 1, 2013 978-1-4767-0302-2
Connolly’s antihero, former cop turned private detective Charlie Parker, continues his fight against the forces of darkness in this supernatural thriller. Parker isn’t so much a man on a mission as one whose missions find him, much like a stray dog following home a schoolboy. And although he doesn’t go looking for trouble, he’s not averse to taking it on, even if it comes to the Backers, a shadowy group that supports what Parker and his confederates believe to be a movement of fallen angels expelled from the heavens and capable of evil 2304 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
in unimaginable proportions. The former angels take on many forms and corrupt the corruptible among men by promising their hearts’ desires, foremost of which are success and power. Parker becomes entangled with these forces one more time when two individuals at a local bar offer a strange tale about a plane crashed deep in the Maine woods, a bizarre and frightening child that haunts it, and a list of names that might shine a light on some of the dark forces moving about. Parker soon finds himself searching for the rest of that list with the help, and hindrance, of an unlikely ally, as well as a frightening competitor who is contemplating putting Parker and his sweetly homicidal buddies, Louis and Angel, on his to-do list. Add in a once beautiful but now ruined woman with a heart as black as the woods and a child that isn’t a child, and the author sets the stage for another one of Parker’s adventures into otherworldly events. Connolly’s Parker is wry, and the writing is particularly engaging when he brings Louis and Angel into the picture. This story inspires both a shudder or 20 and the vaguely realized idea that as far out as Connolly’s stories can sometimes be, there is always the possibility that he could be onto something. And, if he is, then we’re all in a whole lot of trouble. Connolly’s Parker remains an interesting character, but Connolly’s books are infinitely more enjoyable when he refrains from political moralizing.
THE BONE BED
Cornwell, Patricia Putnam (512 pp.) $28.95 | Oct. 16, 2012 978-0-399-15756-1 Having survived brushes with ruthless killers, human monsters and treacherous colleagues of every stripe (Red Mist, 2011, etc.), forensic pathologist Dr. Kay Scarpetta limps into her 20th case to encounter more of the same. Scarpetta’s latest casts her as Zeno trying to overtake the tortoise. Before she can track the provenance of the video that’s been emailed to her—a video apparently featuring footage of missing University of Alberta paleontologist Emma Shubert’s severed ear—she has to testify, however unwillingly, for the defense in Channing Lott’s trial for the murder of his vanished wife. Before she can leave for court, she has to examine the mummified remains of an unidentified woman who’s been spotted in Boston Harbor—an examination that has to begin instantly, before the deterioration delayed by the corpse’s long period of climate-controlled storage resumes at top speed. But before Scarpetta can get the corpse on a slab, it’ll have to be gently cut loose from the leatherback turtle who’s gotten tangled up with it, an animal whose endangered species status gives it priority over a mere human cadaver. The first half of this sprawling, ambitious tale may make the reader feel like Zeno as well, constantly struggling to catch up to what Scarpetta already knows about the latest round of traumas posed by her husband, Benton Wesley, her niece, Lucy Farinelli, and her investigator,
“This book is constantly on the move.” from poseidon’s arrow
Pete Marino. It’s not till the second half, when Cornwell hunkers down to tie all these cases together, that excitement rises even as disbelief creeps in. An ingenious murder method, more hours in the mortuary and forensics lab than usual, an uncharacteristically muffled killer, and all the trademark battles among the regulars and every potential ally who gets in their way.
Cussler, Clive; Cussler, Dirk Putnam (528 pp.) $28.95 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-399-16292-3
The United States is on the brink of approving the fastest, most powerful attack submarine ever when its designer is killed and his plans are stolen. In his efforts to recover a crucial piece of the prototype, superseaman Dirk Pitt faces a series of violent encounters on land and water. In his 22nd adventure (Crescent Dawn, 2010, etc.), Pitt, director of the National Underwater and Marine Agency, is matched with Austrian baddie Edward Bolcke. A grudge-bearing villain out of James Bond who made his fortune in mining in Colombia and Panama, he has been adroitly manipulating the Chinese by selling them their own rare earth elements. The magnetic properties of the minerals are vital to the development of weapons systems and other computer-based properties—which may explain why ships transporting the materials have been disappearing and bodies have been found burnt to a crisp by irradiation. Teaming with the attractive and dangerously impulsive NCIS agent Ann Bennett—as well as his oceanographer daughter Summer and marine engineer son Dirk Jr.—Pitt applies all his skills as an ex-Air Force man to outsmarting and, in some cases, outrunning Bolcke’s henchmen. The action scenes can be predictable, the dialogue wooden. But to their credit, the Cusslers (collaborating for the fifth time) overcome the factory aspect of these novels with bursts of energy and efficient storytelling. They also sustain a level of intelligence not always found in mass-market adventure fiction. Ranging from Panama and Mexico to Idaho and Washington, D.C., this book is constantly on the move—one reason it avoids dull spots so well.
THE BEST OF YOUTH
Dahlie, Michael Norton (288 pp.) $25.95 | Jan. 28, 2013 978-0-393-08185-5
Every young writer can probably tell stories about the chaos and romance of their first year as a working scribe. But Henry Lang, the hero of this novel by Dahlie (A Gentleman’s Guide To Graceful Living, 2008), has juicier tales than most. Henry’s often humiliating, but eventually triumphant, year includes a failed romance with a fourth cousin, a hellish gig ghostwriting for a famous actor and a disastrous run-in with a flock of priceless goats. This is, at heart, a timeless story about a nerd trying to fit in with the cool kids. Henry is born a multimillionaire thanks to family holdings, but that doesn’t help his social status in bohemian, present-day New York. He falls in with the editors of a dodgy literary magazine, who reject his
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stories after his check clears. His cousin Abby, an up-and-coming rock performer, shoots down his polite romantic advances. And he stumbles into a situation that lands him with a short jail sentence. Harry’s cluelessness is at first a bit frustrating, especially after the goat episode, but he grows up fast when actor Jonathan Kipling hires him to ghostwrite an inspirational novel. This plays like the movie My Favorite Year but far less romanticized. Will Henry stay muzzled by the nondisclosure agreement he’s signed as a ghostwriter, or will he follow his conscience and put everything at risk? Stay tuned. An engaging novel.
POSTCARDS FROM CEDAR KEY
DuLong, Terri Kensington (352 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Oct. 30, 2012 978-0-7582-6866-2
After her mother dies, Berkley Whitmore moves to Cedar Key, Fla., to open a chocolate shop, hoping to find the answers to a family mystery she’s uncovered; along the way, she’ll find the home she’s always dreamed of, with a new community of friends and the possibility of true love. Berkley’s lived her 40-something years in New England, working with her mother and grandmother in the family chocolate business. After her mother dies, she finds a stack of postcards that lead her to the small island community of Cedar Key, where her mother apparently spent a number of months without Berkley, who was 5 at the time. Convinced the mystery has some significance and will help her overcome some of her ambivalence toward her mother, she begins to ask questions of the friendly, close-knit community. The move and the quest bring her closer to an aunt she’s never really known, the other business owners in Cedar Key and to a local author she feels she can fall in love with. She’s happier than she’s ever been, and her chocolates seem to be having a positive influence on the town too. Despite its intriguing premise, a cozy, small-town backdrop, and even the hint of some magic, this book fails to rise to its potential. The narrative tells rather than shows nearly every emotional element of the plot, and what could be an interesting unveiling of the mystery at the center of the story is so poorly handled that the answers are dumped together in an amateurish way, as well as blunted by the awkward and ham-fisted “climax” scene. The internal and external dialogue is often generic and unrealistic, and the characters are simplistic and two-dimensional. Even the core romance lacks tension, either emotional or sexual, and there doesn’t seem to be much in the way of conflict throughout most of the book, other than The Mystery, which the main character makes no real progress on until near the end of the book, when suddenly all the pieces fall into place, though, it’s not completely clear why some of those same pieces couldn’t have assembled themselvesmore than 100 pages earlier.
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Lackluster writing and storytelling, as well as inconsistent plot elements, diminish the book’s impact, but many romance and DuLong fans will find this sweet story, set in a friendly community with some unique, texturizing details, enough to keep them interested.
Ellis, Warren Mulholland Books/Little, Brown (320 pp.) $25.99 | Jan. 1, 2013 978-0-316-18740-4 Manhattan’s Native American past and seedy present merge in an inventive police procedural by graphic novelist and screenwriter Ellis (Crooked Little Vein, 2007, etc.). John Tallow is a demoralized NYPD cop, who in this book’s opening sequence, has good reason to check out entirely: His partner is shot dead when they respond to a call to investigate a naked gunman in a run-down tenement. Worse, Tallow discovers a massive cache of guns in the apartment that turn out to be connected to dozens of homicides, some dating back decades. With a massive stack of newly reopened cold cases now attached to his name, Tallow is persona non grata at the precinct. But his newfound survival instinct pushes him to uncover the perpetrator and recover his good name. This book is thick with some familiar types: the brilliant but socially inept officers who help Tallow conduct his investigation, the corrupt top brass, the cocksure CEO standing between Tallow and the truth, the trophy wife hiding an important secret. But Ellis is entertainingly fixated on showing how one of the centers of civilization can’t tame its wildness. The “hunter” responsible for the murders is a sociopath consumed by double visions of the city, past and present; his cache of guns was arranged in a wampum pattern, and much of the climactic action focuses on Werpoes, a former Native American settlement in what’s now lower Manhattan. As serial-killer rationalizations and behaviors go, the hunter’s is complicated, but Ellis’ prose couldn’t be more clean: His hero is a deep well of noirish bons mots, and sequences featuring police radio reports of humanity’s daily degradations give the novel a grim but surprisingly poetic lift. The high concept doesn’t entirely cohere, but more crime fiction could stand to overreach like this. (Author appearances in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago)
THE HUSBAND LIST
Evanovich, Janet; Kelly, Dorien St. Martin’s (320 pp.) $27.99 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-312-65132-9 Will a young woman defy her mother and all society to be with the man she loves? Although Caroline Maxwell’s meddling mother has created a list of socially desirable (read: those with money) potential suitors for her eldest daughter, free-spirited Caroline is equally certain that she’d rather have adventures of her own. In pursuit of that goal, she sneaks around in search of education, an act her mother would doubtless want to hide from Amelia and Helen, Caroline’s younger twin sisters. Besides, Caroline’s heart is set on her brother Eddie’s childhood friend, roguish Jack Culhane, though she knows her mother would certainly never approve. What matters more to Caroline is whether Jack returns her affections, a question she’s on the cusp of answering when Lord Bremerton enters the picture. Renowned as one of England’s most eligible bachelors, Lord Bremerton seems keen to be caught by a net that Caroline’s reluctant to cast. She feels creeped out when he’s around and suspects that, in spite of his gentlemanly title, he’s anything but. Since Harriet Vandermeulen has set her sights on a winter wedding with Jack—even though she may have failed to mention it to him—Caroline knows the time to choose is running out. Will she do her family proud and marry a man who can bring a title to the Maxwells, or will she follow her dream and convince Jack once and for all that his heart belongs to her? Though details such as Caroline’s fondness for chocolate cake may endear her to hungry readers, the characters aren’t meaty or distinctive enough to dig into, leaving Evanovich and Kelly (Love in a Nutshell, 2012) on safe but familiar ground.
A POSSIBLE LIFE
Faulks, Sebastian Henry Holt (304 pp.) $25.00 | Dec. 11, 2012 978-0-8050-9730-6
Faulks explores five “possible lives” in a work that’s billed as a novel but reads far more like five separate novellas. The pieces range across time (1822 to 2029) and space (France to England to Los Angeles in the 1970s), and each is named after its central character. The first story, “Geoffrey,” takes us into the life of Geoffrey Talbot, who becomes a schoolteacher, a soldier, a prisoner of war and finally (again) a schoolteacher. Talbot’s facility with French causes him to fly some missions into occupied France, but he’s captured and sent to a concentration camp, where he struggles to maintain his
humanity. After the war, he’s institutionalized for a while as he tries to recover a feeling life. The next story is set in Victorian England and introduces us to Billy Webb, a young boy whose family gives him up to the union workhouse. He winds up making a life for himself, eventually marrying, but when his wife, Alice, is sent to an asylum, Billy takes up with his wife’s sister. They have a child together, and all goes well until Alice miraculously recovers and is released. “Elena” has to do with a dreamy young girl whose childhood is interrupted by the appearance of Bruno, an orphan taken in by her parents. Eventually, Elena and Bruno become soul mates and lovers...and then she discovers that Bruno is her half brother, the child of a previous affair of their father. The next story, “Jeanne,” concerns an ignorant young girl in 19th-century France, an orphan who (we find out toward the end of the story) had become enamored of a monk. The final story, “Anya,” is set in counterculture America in the early 1970s and focuses on an affair between the title character, an astonishingly talented and original singer/songwriter, and a record producer. Delicately crafted stories.
THREE GOOD THINGS
Francis, Wendy Simon & Schuster (256 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Jan. 1, 2013 978-1-4516-6634-2 A work of fiction about characters who could be your next-door neighbors. The third-person narrative is straightforward and conversational, almost like gossip over morning coffee in the kitchen. Ellen and Lanie are sisters who lost their wise and loving mother, a baker, when Ellen was 16 and Lanie was 6. Their father, a librarian, drifted into his own world of grief and literature, while Ellen raised Lanie. After a miscarriage, Ellen’s marriage to the handsome, seductive Max falls apart, and they divorce. She opens a bakery and offers daily baking tips as well as grammar lessons to her customers. Lanie, meanwhile, goes to law school and represents both wealthy clients in divorce actions and poor clients seeking restraining orders against abusive partners. She needs to make money to contribute to a comfortable lifestyle with her architect husband, but she wants to help poor women. When she gives birth to her son Benjamin, both her marriage and her career are stressed to near breaking points. Both women miss their mother but remember her sage advice, “at the end of every day you can always find three good things that happened,” and they love, support and advise each other. When Ellen finds romance with a charming customer, she invites her sister and brother-in-law to vacation with them on the island of Nantucket, and the healing energy reaches out both ways. Despite a heartbreaking discovery for both Ellen and her new beau, there is a happy ending. Like Ellen’s pastries described in mouthwatering detail, the book is warm and comforting. (Agent: Meg Ruley)
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k i r ku s q & a w i t h c h r i s wa r e Over the last quarter-century, Chris Ware has built a sterling reputation as a maker of graphic novels, some borrowing from their comic-book sources and some looking ahead into the museum galleries of the future, all working with themes of urban alienation. Small wonder that his new masterwork, Building Stories, finds Ware visiting a world of sometimes bewildered, sometimes unhappy people living in an overstuffed apartment building on the edge of downtown Chicago. All strive, but all endure. Recently, Kirkus caught up with Ware to ask him a few questions about his new book. BUILDING STORIES
Ware, Chris Pantheon (260 pp.) $50.00 Oct. 2, 2012 978-0-375-42433-5
Q: How did you hit on the idea of the multiple-format presentation within the box of goodies that is Building Stories? A: A box of books was something I’ve been wanting to do since 1987, when I suggested it as the second project to the publisher of my first comic book—a request which was justifiably rejected (I was only 19, and my work was barely publishable). I tried out the idea at least three times in small edition and art school one-off projects, but it wasn’t until the whole idea of Building Stories started to come together for me in 2003 that I built up the courage to suggest it to Chip Kidd and Andy Hughes at Pantheon two years later. Amazingly, and maybe due to the perceived fear that publishing is somehow atrophying, they accepted it, and Andy figured out a way to make it affordable without sacrificing any of my original ideas. Some inspirations included Joseph Cornell’s boxes, Marcel Duchamp’s museum in a box, various toys and boxed sets of children’s books, Taschen’s Kubrick Napoleon book, a series of amazing 1930s British detective books called Herewith the Clues that contained real clues, and almost everything McSweeney’s has done. (I have a congenial—I think—aesthetic give-and-take with McSweeney’s, having designed and edited one of their quarterlies and having worked on some of their other projects. They’re really at the forefront of all of this stuff; when the histories of the collapse of publishing are written, McSweeney’s is going to be one of the reasons that there won’t have been much of a collapse to write about.)
A: One of the most important aspects of the book is that there’s no place to start and no beginning or end, so yes, definitely. Without sounding too pretentious, 2308 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
Q: There have been other big books and lavish productions in the graphic-novel world before Building Stories, but somehow it seems that your book, among other things, heralds a kind of “new normal.” Where do you see the graphic novel, in terms of look and feel, three or four years down the line? A: The hardcover comic book is already a pretty strange and potentially beautiful object (which makes it all the stranger that so many of them seem to be so thoughtlessly designed; a shelf of graphic novels— unless they’re published by Drawn and Quarterly or NoBrow or PictureBox or Fantagraphics—almost always looks embarrassing. I frequently have to make new jackets or spines for my books just so I can live with them). As for a direct answer to your very direct question, I doubt whether graphic novels will start coming out as boxes of books or will suddenly have to sport gimmicks or tricks to attract attention, at least I hope not. Though I do hope that cartoonists continue to think more and more about how the materials they employ fit together and express their story, rather than simply making a nice-looking “package” (a horrible word) for their efforts. However pretentious it sounds, a book is a sort of site-specific installation of an idea, and as an artist, one can choose to ignore that, but one should probably have a good reason as to why. –By Gregory McNamee
For the complete interview, visit our website at kirkus.com.
p hoto by ma r n ie wa r e
Q: There’s no proper beginning to the book, no real end, it seems; all of Building Stories is an in media res sort of affair. Are we missing a piece of the puzzle by thinking that? Is there someplace where you’d like us to begin exploring, that is to say, or are we better to pursue it on our own without any such helpful hints?
I’m aiming for something along the lines of the first, disorganized thoughts one might have when waking up; i.e., I doubt very much anyone has ever taken a deep breath, stretched, and said, “once upon a time….” I guess in some way I’m reversing what I normally do, which is to collect disparate periodicals and stories, but here, they remain all broken up. It is important how the pieces are formatted, because I’ve tried, however awkwardly, to emulate how I think our brains edit and start to fit memories together as the experiences which created them grow more distant; we construct beautiful explanations for things that may actually have little basis in reality. Not that this approach is in any way new, though I think the idea of constructing a piece of readable visual art around the idea is hopefully mildly interesting and maybe even slightly moving, though I suppose that’s hoping for a lot.
Ginder, Grant Simon & Schuster (320 pp.) $25.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-4391-8735-7
Ginder (This Is How It Starts, 2009), in his second novel, enlists three generations of an American family to illustrate the way myth and fantasy penetrate everyday lives. The patriarch, Alistair McPhee, a structural engineer working on bridges, used to live in a Hudson Valley town with his wife, Lucy, and only child, Colin. In 1956, when Colin was 8, the family would watch movies every week at the newly opened Avalon Cinema, but within a year, Lucy died of breast cancer; Colin’s father started disappearing on long road trips; and Colin practically lived at the cinema. At 16 he started work at the concession stand with a girl called Clare; he also tracked his father to a neighborhood bar and listened
to him entertain a skeptical audience as he recalled fantastical exploits on the road. Eventually, Colin moved to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter; he sold one screenplay, which was a hit but after that, terminal writer’s block. By chance he met Clare again; they married, had a son, Finn, and then Clare split. The awkwardly constructed novel begins in 2010. Finn is a young man in New York City, editing reality TV shows. His grandfather, Alistair, has had a stroke and is being looked after by Colin in San Francisco. (Finn and Colin alternate as narrators.) Finn gets a call from his granddad: Drive my battered old car across the country and retrieve my memories. The mission is urgent, though much diluted by the flashbacks. Finn motors west with his camcorder and a new buddy. As he admits at the end, he’s an unreliable narrator, so he’s layering a new set of fictions on top of the old. This might be intriguing, or at least good fun, if there was some passion behind the inventions; but only once, in Chicago, ringing the changes on a baseball story, is there a sign of that. Tall tales need larger-than-life characters; Alistair and Finn are on the small side. (Agent: Richard Pine)
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“A brief, charming tale of one boy’s Christmas.” from christmas at eagle pond
VICTORY AT YORKTOWN
Gingrich, Newt; Forstchen, William R. Dunne/St. Martin’s (352 pp.) $27.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-312-60707-4 Gingrich and Forstchen (Valley Forge, 2010, etc.) continue their series on the American Revolution by following Washington and the Continental Army to Yorktown. Washington is little understood as a man, perhaps because his widow burned decades of their correspondence. Thus, the authors have undertaken to “enrich and broaden our knowledge of the past” through fiction. In that quest, much of the narrative filters through the perspectives of the fictional Peter Wellsley and Allen Van Dorn, New Jersey childhood friends who pledged allegiance to opposite sides. It is fall, 1780. Wellsley serves at West Point on Washington’s staff. Van Dorn, a Loyalist, serves the British Gen. Clinton in Manhattan. The friends meet at opportune times during the narrative. The success at Yorktown begins when Washington dispatches Gen. Nathanial Greene to the Carolinas to right the bumbling of Gen. Gates. With Wellsley on staff, Greene bleeds Cornwallis in the Carolinas. Cornwallis maneuvers toward Virginia, dragging a train of casualties. Contemptuous of colonials at heart, Britain’s passive Clinton lingers on Manhattan behind impregnable fortifications, with the less-than-audacious British fleet securely anchored around Staten Island. Ably supported by French Gen. Rochambeau, Washington receives word the French can also come to his aid with de Grasse’s Caribbean fleet, blockading Chesapeake Bay and pinning Cornwallis at Yorktown. Washington realizes he can take half his northern army and 4,000 of Rochambeau’s allied French forces and spring a trap, one that will cost the British their mid-Atlantic forces while simultaneously undercutting peace initiatives from “sunshine patriots” in Philadelphia. Wellsley and Van Dorn, meanwhile, gather intelligence behind enemy lines. Augmented with character sketches of lesser-known patriots, the book brings Washington to life as a resolute and bold general. The authors shine brightly in describing the depth of his emotion flowing from the victory at Yorktown.
CHRISTMAS AT EAGLE POND
Hall, Donald Illus. by Azarian, Mary Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (96 pp.) $14.95 | Nov. 20, 2012 978-0-547-58148-4
A brief, charming tale of one boy’s Christmas. The book takes place in 1940, before Christmas garnered such modern-day angst, and former poet laureate Hall (The Back Chamber, 2011, etc.) imagines a five-day holiday at his grandparents’ farm at Eagle Pond, N.H. Lush descriptions of his grandmother 2310 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
preparing home-cooked meals on a woodstove, listening to his grandfather recite poetry while milking cows in the frigid barn and making popcorn balls to hang on the church Christmas tree mingle with scenes of family and friends gathered to celebrate the holiday. Far from home and his ill mother, little Donnie thrives in the love and warmth that radiates from his extended family members as they share tales of their own youths or listen to the radio. Although a flush toilet and bathroom are installed next to the dining room, most use the five-hole outhouse when there’s company. Hot-water bottles at the end of the bed are a must to drive away the deep cold. The church Christmas pageant is full of hymns, recitations and the reenactment of the birth of Jesus in the stable. These events connect Donnie to his mother and her memories of the same experiences. Christmas morning brings hand-knitted mittens, a scarf and a prized book of poetry. And yet, even in that simpler time, Donnie longs for even older days, when horses and sleighs ruled the snow-covered roads. The time flies by, and all too soon, Donnie must board the train back to his life in Connecticut. But will a Christmas storm make traveling to the train station impossible? The sweet remembrances of a time gone by when life was a bit slower and Christmas was not so stressful. (15 b/w images)
THE CHRISTMAS KID And Other Brooklyn Stories Hamill, Pete Little, Brown (288 pp.) $25.99 | Oct. 30, 2012 978-0-316-23273-9
Little slices of decades-old melancholy from Hamill (Tabloid City, 2011, etc.). This collection of 36 short stories is largely culled from a series called Tales of New York that ran in the New York Daily News in the early ’80s. Like most of Hamill’s fiction, it’s a mix of nostalgia and cynicism. As the author explains in an elegant foreword, this is the world, “without personal computers, cell phones, tweets, digital cameras, or iPads. A world where ‘friend’ was not yet a verb.” And yet, the stories remain surprisingly timeless, full of regular joes, gangsters, lost souls and the cold, cold rain. There’s plenty of nostalgia, remembrances of that awe-inspiring feeling of the world being new, but also the harsh reminders of New York’s hard times, not least the wave of heroin and crack that swept the city in that time. From the title story, which finds the neighborhood teens forming a protective circle around a Holocaust survivor who is their age, to “The Book Signing,” the tale of an elderly writer returning home, the message is the same. As the writer explains: “I’ve never really left. Or, to be more exact: those streets have never left me.” In addition to that lovely last story, don’t miss the other anomaly, “The Men in Black Raincoats,” a noir story that feels right at home among its companions in this fine collection. Lost treasures from a time gone by, brimming with affection for old New York.
REUNION AT RED PAINT BAY
Harrar, George Other Press (288 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Jan. 29, 2013 978-1-59051-545-7
A therapist who treats rape victims finds out she’s married to a man who might be a rapist. Simon Howe has returned to his hometown of Red Paint, Maine, to edit the local paper, one that is almost routinely devoid of news. At the beginning of the novel, he has hired Dave Rigero, a rapist recently released from prison, as a pressman, much to the disgust of Simon’s wife, Amy. Although Simon makes an effort to justify giving Dave a job and thus reintroducing him into society, Amy firmly identifies with the victims in her therapy practice and feels that Simon should make no concessions to heinous offenders. Soon after, Simon begins to receive anonymous postcards, mysterious and mildly threatening, and he tries to think of anyone from his past who could have an animus against him. And then, even more creepiness begins to assert itself into Simon’s life, mainly involving his son, Davey, who’s spooked by a mysterious person hanging around the house and who has an odd conversation with a stranger at a carnival. It turns out this sinister man is Paul Chambers, a former high school classmate of Simon’s whose wife, Jean, had taken her life a few weeks before. Chambers is convinced that Simon is responsible because, 25 years before, he had had sex with Jean on the night of their high school graduation—but was it rape? Chambers shows up for “therapy” at Amy’s office, primarily to throw hints to her about Simon’s past. Eventually, Simon feels so threatened by Chambers that he shoves him into the bay and believes he’s drowned—so now Simon might be responsible not only for Jean’s rape and eventual suicide but for her husband’s murder as well. Harrar skillfully echoes Alfred Hitchcock’s theme about how a seemingly innocent man can be sucked into a disturbing vortex of forces that lie just below the surface of “normal” life. (Author tour to New England, New York and Washington, D.C.)
A GIFT FROM TIFFANY’S
Hill, Melissa St. Martin’s Griffin (416 pp.) $14.99 paperback | Oct. 16, 2012 978-1-250-02022-2 Two men find themselves buying gifts at Tiffany’s on Fifth Avenue on Christmas Eve, but when there’s an accident, packages are rearranged and lives changed by a few simple twists of fate. London widower Ethan Greene plans to propose to his girlfriend, Vanessa, on a special trip to New York and takes his daughter Daisy with him to shop for
the perfect ring from the perfect store. Daisy knows that gifts from Tiffany’s are magic, especially at Christmas. Her mother, a New York native, told her so before she died. So, when she and her father stop to help a man who’s been in an accident and the diamond ring gets mixed up with a simple silver charm bracelet, clearly something is amiss, and Daisy is convinced her mother’s responsible. Rachel Conti hopes that a romantic Christmas vacation with her boyfriend, Gary Knowles, will bring them closer together, but she never expects to come back to Dublin engaged. Wrapped up in the magic of the moment, she’s blind to Gary’s surprise when the ring appears, but back at home, even she can’t avoid the reality that something’s up. Everyone around her is acting downright cagey, and Ethan Greene seems to be underfoot all the time, all the way from London. Could Gary’s good Samaritan have something else in mind? Ethan is handsome and kind, and his daughter is adorable. Having him around makes Rachel reevaluate her relationship with Gary and what she wants out of a marriage, but when the truth comes out and all the cards are on the table, Rachel and Ethan will both find they have some surprises in store. Hill is an acclaimed Irish author, and this is the American release of a European best-seller. The story is generally a nice, gentle read, with good characters and a vaguely meandering plot—a little long through the middle—that will keep most of the target audience engaged, since romance readers are vested in a “happy-ever-after,” which arrives in an unexpected way, despite some unsubtle red herrings designed to lead one in the wrong direction. Nothing electric or spectacular, but a nice, sweet Christmas romance wrapped up in a pretty robin’s egg blue box.
’TWAS THE NIGHT AFTER CHRISTMAS
Jeffries, Sabrina Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster (368 pp.) $19.99 | Oct. 30, 2012 978-1-4516-4246-9
When a meddling but warmhearted lady’s companion tries to force a reconciliation between a dowager countess and her son, no one can guess at the resentment and betrayals that will be unearthed; but Christmas is the season for forgiveness and new beginnings—and possibly a little romance? The Earl of Devonmont is quite clear on two things in his life: He wants nothing, ever, to do with his mother, and he’s determined to never marry. So, even he is surprised when, after receiving a letter from Camilla Stuart, his mother’s companion, indicating the dowager is on death’s door, he high-tails it to his country estate where his mother lives simply in the Dowager House. And he’s even more surprised when, upon seeing evidence of the lady’s good health, he allows his intended immediate departure to be delayed by the intriguing employee. One day flows into many, and while he and his mother move into a more civil relationship than they’ve had since she abandoned | kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2311
him as a child, all three of them realize they must get to the heart of the matter—the truth behind the abandonment and the secrets of the Dowager’s past—before real peace and understanding can be achieved. Meanwhile, Camilla and the earl grow ever closer, and for the first time, Devonmont considers marriage, though Camilla knows a match between them is unacceptable. She’s a foundling widow with a young child, and he’s, well, an earl. Jeffries’ latest historical romance is an enchanting holiday charmer with a complex and captivating plot; characters that interact with emotional authenticity; and a rich set of conflicted, heart-tugging obstacles—all of which combine to provide a satisfying happily-ever-after set against a fun holiday backdrop. Skillful writing and storytelling, compelling sexual and emotional tension, and a cast of realistic, vulnerable characters contribute to a lovely, spirited Christmas winner.
Kaplan, Hester Perennial/HarperCollins (352 pp.) $14.99 paperback | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-06-218402-3 A stranger comes to town, upsetting the heretofore placid lives of a couple. Providence, R.I., is the setting for what at first blush appears to be a standard tale of two yuppies struggling to maintain their bourgeois bonhomie against an increasingly unforgiving urban landscape. Owen, 40, and his wife of six years, Mira, live in the house where she grew up, which became hers when her parents were killed in a car accident. Mira runs a private art school which is perennially short of cash. Owen teaches in a doomed public school and tries to instill hope in his students. When Wilton, a former sitcom star, moves into the adjacent house, his first act is to hijack Owen’s and Mira’s daily routine. Soon, contributing gourmet staples bought with his Hollywood wealth, he’s sharing most meals with the couple. He’s moved from LA to Providence hoping to bond with his longestranged daughter, Anya. All three principals harbor a secret shame. Thanks to Owen’s cowardice, his girlfriend was killed in a restaurant shooting. Mira’s father was having an affair with her mother’s best friend. Wilton came close to crashing his car with toddler Anya in it. Wilton’s advent sparks a strange triangulation, sowing distrust between Mira and Owen as to whose friend he really is. Mira and Wilton start spending evenings at the casino. Wilton and Owen trade confidences. Minor characters play out the themes of disconnection and attachment, New England style, including Owen’s father, a recluse who lives on a pond with several cats until he’s rescued by a condo-dwelling matriarch. Mira’s gambling, predictably, becomes an addiction. As Anya circumspectly approaches Wilton, discord between Mira and Owen escalates until, too abruptly, Owen is contemplating violent solutions to his soured relationships. Although the prose is competent enough, it often serves more as atmospheric filler than as a vehicle for elucidating the characters’ 2312 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
myriad dilemmas. The action, instead of building to a satisfying conclusion, merely unravels. An initially intriguing but ultimately disappointing effort.
Kauffman, Donna Brava/Kensington (336 pp.) $14.00 paperback | Oct. 30, 2012 978-0-7582-8050-3 Kit and Morgan each come to Sugarberry Island for a fresh start, and despite some major valid reasons as to why they should keep their distance, they simply can’t get over the feeling that their new lives go together like frosting on a cupcake. When Kit Bellamy’s sister and brother-in-law blindside her and sell the family company and home out from under her, she knows she needs a new start. A friend sends her in the direction of Sugarberry Island and a job with its local, expanding cupcake empire. Immediately embraced by the women who run the company and their friends (from Kauffman’s ongoing romance series, The Cupcake Club), Kit is swept into the friendly island community, finding friendship and new purpose. She also finds a new romantic interest in the handsome lawyer who’s recently moved to the island himself as the guardian of his orphaned niece. Trouble is, he’s a Westlake, of the wealthy, cutthroat family who strategized the legal battle that caused her to lose her family’s company. It quickly becomes clear that Morgan isn’t a “typical” Westlake, and his protective devotion to his ward is heart-melting, especially when it means standing up to the Westlake family in order to give Lilly a more normal childhood. Kit knows getting involved with a Westlake, any Westlake, is a bad idea, but Morgan believes their attraction is a once-ina-lifetime phenomenon, and he’ll do anything in his power to convince Kit to risk everything again—with him. Throw in a sweet 5-year-old orphan’s obsession with sea turtles and the affectionate, not-so-subtle pressure of the Cupcake Club, and Kit may be up against a tide that’s simply too strong to fight. Kauffman has penned a sweet story that combines a number of engaging elements that give texture and emotional density to the story. While the book lacks breathtaking sexual tension or conversational zing—at times the pacing is sluggish; there are moments we are told of, more than shown, emotional intensity; and some of the characters lack cohesion or dimension (though, to be fair, the cast is large for the story’s length)—overall, it is touching and satisfying in a gentle, heartwarming way. Despite some flaws, this is a sweet, romantic confection that will have readers rooting for Sugarberry Island and all of its inhabitants but especially for the star-crossed Kit and Morgan, little Lilly and her turtle friends. (Agent: Karen Solem)
“An outstanding debut.” from truth in advertising
TRUTH IN ADVERTISING
Kenney, John Touchstone/Simon & Schuster (320 pp.) $24.99 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-4516-7554-2
The dilemma of the storyteller powerless to shape his own story gets a beautiful new spin in this first novel about an adman facing a family crisis. Welcome to the shoot. It’s a TV commercial for Snugglies, the world’s biggest diaper brand. The producer’s just learned that Gwyneth (yes! Paltrow!) is leaving a day early, upending the schedule, and they’ve been using the wrong diapers (wasted film, wasted dollars). Those hiccups and baby puke aside, really, everything’s fine. The narrator of this hilarious opening is protagonist Finbar Dolan, 39-yearold senior copywriter at a top-tier New York agency. (Kenney himself is a veteran copywriter.) Fin is Boston Irish, the youngest of four siblings. Their father was an abusive cop; he left them when Fin was 12. Their mother committed suicide. The children went their separate ways. Fin found an escape in advertising; he enjoyed writing the false narratives that commercials demand. He tried to write his own narrative, asking a sweet-natured woman to marry him, but his heart wasn’t in it, and he broke off the engagement eight months ago. Now, his oldest brother, Eddie, is calling to say their father, unseen for 25 years, is in the hospital, a heart attack. Reluctantly, Fin goes to the Cape, and we temporarily leave the crazy roller coaster of the ad world for Fin’s family. The Dolans are frozen in time, as haunted as an O’Neill family. A late revelation (Kenney peels the onion with care) shows why Fin is the most traumatized of the four. But this is not a bleak novel. Kenney is marvelous on workplace camaraderie. Fin’s two best friends are co-workers. One of them he’s in love with, but the dummy only realizes this when it’s almost too late. With wry humor, always on point, Kenney guides us through the maze of work, family, love (elusive) and friendship (a lifesaver). This is an outstanding debut. (Agent: David Kuhn)
THE COLOUR OF MILK
Leyshon, Nell Ecco/HarperCollins (176 pp.) $21.99 | Dec. 26, 2012 978-0-06-219207-3 A cameo brooch of a novel from British playwright and novelist Leyshon (Devotion, 2008, etc.), under 200 pages, set in 19th-century England and narrated in the quixotic voice (including no capital letters and odd verb emphasis, among other contrivances) of a barely literate farm girl. Fourteen-year-old Mary’s entire world consists of the farm
where she lives with her parents, three older sisters and beloved invalid grandfather with whom she shares a caustic sense of humor. Despite a malformed leg that causes her to limp, she toils as hard as her three older sisters under the despotic eye of her father, who despairs/resents that he has no boys to help him. One Easter sunrise, the sisters share their secret wishes: devout Beatrice to meet the Lord, Hope to live in comfort and Violet to be a teacher in a school, although she cannot read. Mary, usually never one to mince words, skips her turn. She has no wishes formed in her head, no vista she dreams of exploring. Her world may be harsh, but she has no desire to venture further. She resists when her father sends her away to work in the vicarage to help the vicar Mr. Graham’s ailing wife. It doesn’t matter that the gentle invalid takes an immediate fancy to Mary or that life is much easier. She misses the farm and does not see her new, more comfortable situation as an opportunity or adventure. No fool, she refuses to flirt with Ralph, the vicar’s caddish adolescent son, who has already seduced Violet and pays scant attention to his adoring mother. After Ralph leaves for Oxford, Mrs. Graham weakens and dies. Mr. Graham, who has begun to teach Mary to read, asks her to continue in his employ. But the price of literacy turns out to be too high for Mary. The collision of sexual desire with the British class system leads to violent tragedy. What begins as a refreshingly unromanticized miniature of rural 19th-century Britain slips at the end into standard melodrama.
Maurois, Andre Translated by Hunter, Adriana Other Press (400 pp.) $15.95 paperback | Dec. 4, 2012 978-1-590-51538-9 In a new translation of the 20thcentury French classic, wealthy Philippe Marcenat makes two attempts to find the perfect partner and fails both times. Distinguished French writer Maurois (1885-1967) drew partly on personal experience in his 1928 novel devoted to the balance of affection within a marriage. Philippe has high romantic ideals and believes he has found their personification in his first love, Odile, a dreamy young woman with exquisite taste and looks whom he meets while on holiday in Florence in 1909. But once married, the scales slowly fall from the devoted husband’s eyes as he encounters Odile’s stubbornness on the subject of male friends. Besotted and jealous, Philippe stands helplessly by as events spiral out of control. The second part of Philippe’s sentimental education is narrated by wife number two, Isabelle, with whom the relationship is a mirror image of the first marriage. Now it is Isabelle who loves most fondly and Philippe who is bored by the intensity of affection. Once again, tragedy can’t be avoided. Stripped of its period shading, this is a sad and timeless tale of women on pedestals and the pain of loving not wisely, but too well. | kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2313
THE PRODIGAL SON
McCullough, Colleen Simon & Schuster (320 pp.) $26.00 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-1-4516-6875-9 Connecticut detective Carmine Delmonico (Naked Cruelty, 2010, etc.) is flummoxed by a string of murders that just might involve his biochemist cousin. While her prospective Nobel laureate husband Jim’s been penning A Helical God, the book that could do for DNA what A Brief History of Time did for the cosmos, Chubb University professor Millie Hunter’s a little worried. Since tetrodotoxin is really expensive to buy commercially, she’s been extracting it herself from blowfish just in case she wants some for her lab. Now, someone seems to have pinched the deadly stuff from the unlocked refrigerator where she kept it. Millie tells her dad, medical examiner Patrick O’Donnell, to be on the lookout for anyone who might have been killed by the rare toxin, which paralyzes its victims within minutes of exposure. And sure enough, at a dinner party hosted by publishing mogul Max Tunbull and his Russian second wife, Davina, Jim and Millie’s old friend John Hall, one of the few close friends of the interracial couple, keels over with all the classic tetrodotoxin symptoms. Since John is Max’s long-lost son, suspicion initially centers on the Tunbulls. After all, Max’s brother Ivan and nephew Val, not to mention the hysterically possessive Davina, mother of Max’s infant son, would all stand to lose if John had wanted a share of Max’s fortune. But the next to die is Chubb University Press’ Head Scholar Thomas Tinkerman, a sanctimonious theologian looking to obstruct the publication of Jim’s masterpiece. Now the Hunters are suspects, too. So when he’s not dining on the delectables his wife, Desdemona, dishes up as she recovers from postpartum depression, Delmonico has the thankless task of investigating who may have pushed his cousin’s research a step too far. The fourth entry in McCullough’s cockamamie series takes the do-it-yourself spirit to new and distasteful extremes.
THE ONE I LEFT BEHIND
McMahon, Jennifer Morrow/HarperCollins (432 pp.) $14.99 paperback | $9.99 e-book Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-06-212255-1 978-0-06-212256-8 e-book Although the title seems irrelevant to the plot, McMahon scores a solid touchdown in this creepy but engrossing thriller. Reggie returns to her hometown of Brighton Falls when her aunt Lorraine calls to tell her that Reggie’s mom is in the hospital after spending a couple of years in a homeless shelter. Both Reggie and her mother’s sister are 2314 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
astounded that Vera has surfaced since they, along with the police and the entire town, assumed Vera died years ago after being kidnapped by a serial killer known only as Neptune. The serial killer, so named because of a tendency to always feed the condemned victim a meal of fresh lobster and drawn butter right before death, murdered three young women. All three were found nude and posed in prominent areas of town, but five days prior to each death, Neptune delivered a milk carton holding the victim’s right hand to the police department’s steps. After Vera disappeared, her right hand was also found, but her body never turned up. Young Reggie and her friends Tara and Charlie spent a frantic few days looking for Vera after she vanished but found little evidence of her whereabouts. Now, Reggie has come back only to face her dotty aunt and one-handed mother in their crumbling stone home. Tara, the brittle, oddball friend she hasn’t seen in years, has become a nurse and has been hired by Lorraine to stay with Vera, who has been diagnosed with a deadly cancer. Who was Neptune? Everyone is hoping that Vera can tell, but she’s not talking or at least not making any sense when she does talk. And Brighton Falls’ nightmare seems to be in full swing again, much to Reggie’s horror. If McMahon has one sin where this novel is concerned, it’s that she allows the adult Reggie to occasionally behave like the teenager in one of those horror flicks who ventures down into the basement because she heard a noise. Readers will find themselves unable to turn the pages fast enough in this perfectly penned thriller. (Author events in New England, Boston and New York. Agent: Daniel Lazar)
Michaels, Fern Kensington (320 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Sep. 25, 2012 9780-7582-6606-4 Four women in their golden years— a mother of a grown daughter and her lifelong friends, aka The Godmothers— experience new romantic and professional adventures, finding strength, courage and companionship in their bonds. This is the newest addition to Michaels’ recent Godmothers series. It follows a group of women in their slightly-pastmiddle-age years who’ve been friends since childhood. Toots Loudenberry has moved to Charleston, S.C., to make sure her housekeeper, Bernice, isn’t doing any housekeeping—since she nearly died from a massive heart attack and needs to take it easy. Toots’ three longtime friends have also moved in temporarily to help. Toots is blessed with more money than she knows what to do with, which is a good thing, since she’s recently been able to help her friends start innovative businesses that are thriving, which has given them all a chance at new, prosperous lives. And romance is on the horizon for all of them it seems, particularly Toots, who has “the hots” for Bernice’s cardiologist. Toots also recently bought the gossip rag her daughter, Abby, has been working for in LA, allowing Abby to take over as editor.
“A revelation, from the most accomplished and acclaimed of contemporary short story writers.” from dear life
Unfortunately, the circumstances that allowed the purchase created some unknown enemies that will come back to haunt Abby and Toots, putting the daughter in danger and showcasing the mother’s feisty, grizzly mama side when something threatens her cub. The premise, storyline and characters show great promise, but getting to the end of the book is a struggle. The older female characters are crass and mean-spirited, so much so that one wonders why they remain friends, except that the author keeps telling us that they are teasing or offers a number of other reasons, via the narrator, that are never actually reflected in characters’ dialogue or actions—an enormous weakness that bleeds into every aspect of the book. Information about the present and the past is dumped so awkwardly that even details that should have been interesting are blunted, and the dialogue is too often either unrealistic or a transparent avenue to making sure An Important Piece of Information is delivered. Disappointing. (Agent: Martin Friedman)
THE BOOK OF WHY
Montemarano, Nicholas Little, Brown (320 pp.) $24.99 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-316-18847-0
DEAR LIFE Stories
Munro, Alice Knopf (336 pp.) $26.95 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-307-59688-8 A revelation, from the most accomplished and acclaimed of contemporary short story writers. It’s no surprise that every story in the latest collection by Canada’s Munro (Too Much Happiness, 2009, etc.) is rewarding and that the best are stunning. They leave the reader wondering how the writer manages to invoke the deepest, most difficult truths of human existence in the most plainspoken language. But the real bombshell, typically understated and matter-of-fact, comes before the last pieces, which the author has labeled “Finale” and written in explanation: “The final four works in this book are not quite stories. They form a separate unit, one that is autobiographical
An author of self-help books discovers that the easy solutions he gives others are of little help in resolving Big Life Issues. Eric Newborn—yes, the name is symbolic—writes books on “Everyday Miracles” and gives cheery pep talks at Celebrate Life conferences, dispensing nostrums such as, “We really do get what we’re thinking about” and “Every one of you has the potential to heal. You are all miracle workers.” But he finds it difficult to take his own advice when his beloved wife dies. He winds up living a reclusive life on Martha’s Vineyard, his days filled with memories both of his wife and of his childhood—filled with magic, wonder and fear—in Queens, and he walks his dog, Ralph. One day, a woman named Sam has a car accident near Eric’s home, and he does what he can to aid her, all the while hiding his identity. And then Eric himself has an accident, and Sam in turn nurses him. She finds out who he is— Sam’s a big fan, and neither one truly believes in what seem to be random and capricious life events. (In fact, Eric’s last book is There Are No Accidents.) Eric allows himself to engage in a series of deep memories about life with his wife, their inability to conceive and the couple’s eventually becoming foster parents. He also allows himself to imagine alternative endings to their life together, the “might-have-beens” that could have structured their future. Eric’s poignant loss reminds us all of the fragility of relationships and of the hard truths we find difficult to face.
| kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2315
in feeling, though not, sometimes, entirely so in fact. I believe they are the first and last—and the closest—things I have to say about my own life.” The “first” comes as a surprise, because her collection The View from Castle Rock (2006) was so commonly considered atypically autobiographical (albeit drawing more from family legacy than personal memory). And the “last”? When a writer in her early 80s declares that these are the last things she has to say about her life, they put both the life and the stories in fresh perspective. Almost all of them have an older character remembering her perspective from decades earlier, sometimes amused, more often baffled, at what happened and how things turned out. Most pivot on some sort of romantic involvement, but the partners are unknowable, opaque, often even to themselves. In “Train,” a character remarks, “Now I have got a real understanding of it and it was nobody’s fault. It was the fault of human sex in a tragic situation.” In “Leaving Maverley,” she writes of “the waste of time, the waste of life, by people all scrambling for excitement and paying no attention to anything that mattered.” The author knows what matters, and the stories pay attention to it.
Nugent, Benjamin Scribner (224 pp.) $23.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-4391-3659-1 Can a childhood crush survive a 13-year separation? The answer’s a long time coming in this unfocused first novel from the author of American Nerd (2008). Josh and Khadijah, 15-year-old classmates in central Massachusetts in 1994, spy on his dad and her mom smooching in the candy aisle of the supermarket. Their furtive observation draws them together, and narrator Josh, whose story this is, happily goes along with Khadijah’s suggestion that they sign a solemn vow they will never cheat in their future relationships. Khadijah (a white American girl, despite her exotic name) follows up by throwing a rock at a bank window; this act of rebellion triggers a family crisis, and soon enough, two happy homes have broken up, Khadijah has been whisked away to Cambridge, and Josh has lost his potential high school sweetheart. The story lurches forward. A year later, the two adulterous parents, Linus and Nancy, have broken up themselves, and flaky Linus already has a new girlfriend with a superrich daddy. That’s just as well, for Linus has quit his teaching job and has no visible means of support. Another lurch forward, and it’s 2006. Josh, an NYU dropout who has spent six years playing bass with a recently defunct Los Angeles rock band, meets Julie, well-paid host of an animal show on cable. She’s an Armenian/Persian mix; Josh is “JudeoHibernian.” He becomes a freeloader like his dad, but at least he’s kept his “no cheating” vow. Then Khadijah appears out of the blue, the fiancee of a music journalist. The climax is no more believable than its antecedents. 2316 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
A novel that badly wants to be cool but is rarely more than sophomoric.
THE MISSING ROSE
Özkan, Serdar Tarcher/Penguin (242 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Dec. 27, 2012 978-0-399-16230-5 A young heiress, carrying out her mother’s deathbed wish, searches for her twin sister. Özkan’s heroine, Diana, scion of a wealthy Rio de Janiero family of hoteliers, was named after the Roman goddess of the hunt. Twenty-four years ago, her beloved mother tells her, Diana’s father left, taking with him Diana’s twin, Mary, who was named after the Virgin. Before she dies, Diana’s mother instructs her to find Mary and gives her four envelopes containing letters from her sister. Diana does not really wish to embark on this quest. Her life has become a round of drinking with shallow friends, who fawn over her and call her Goddess. Bored with the gifts and accolades she receives every day, Diana goes walking in a seaside park, where a mischievous old beggar hints that Mary is actually very close to her. An artist, Mathias, captures her attention, and he thinks Diana is his soul mate. He can only be sure if he leaves Rio after their coffee date. (This is one of many pseudo-mystical koans seeded throughout.) When Mary’s letters reveal that, like St. Exupery’s Little Prince, she left her comfortable surroundings to take “responsibility for a rose,” Diana resolves to alter her own life. She’s off to Istanbul where Zeynep Hanim, a wise woman who inhabits a mysterious garden, promises to teach her, just as she had taught Mary before her, how to listen to roses. After Zeynep imparts contradictory advice, e.g., always be on time, but don’t hesitate to knock after midnight, Diana is ready for enlightenment. Soon, she’s listening raptly as two roses named Artemis (Greek counterpart of Diana) and Miriam debate the true meaning of holiness. But not until she returns to Rio will Diana solve the puzzle of Mary’s whereabouts. The message— that definition by others is no match for self-realization—is obvious. However, in failing to depict the depths of Diana’s pre-enlightened existence, Özkan minimizes the stakes that any novel of redemption requires. A formulaic allegory.
Preston, Douglas; Child, Lincoln Grand Central Publishing (480 pp.) $26.99 | Dec. 11, 2012 978-0-446-55499-2 Preston and Child’s (Cold Vengeance, 2011, etc.) thriller completes the Helen trilogy featuring the weird and unworldly Aloysius Pendergast, special agent for the FBI. The conclusion opens with Pendergast called to meet Helen, the wife he presumed dead, in New York City’s Central Park. There’s a touching, tentative reunion, and then Der Bund strikes again, kidnapping Helen and leaving Pendergast wounded. Pendergast offers a treatise on detection perfection, tracing Helen from hither and yon to Sonora, Mexico. There’s another shootout. Helen’s killed, and principal bad guy, Wulf Konrad Fischer, escapes. Pendergast retreats to his Dakota apartment in New York City and into a grief-and-guilt-driven drug addiction. Friends intervene. Lt. D’Agosta, city police detective, pleads for Pendergast to help search for a serial killer. Corrie Swanson, criminal justice student, is in danger after stumbling on a Nazi safe house in her quest to help Pendergast. With Pendergast’s aid, Corrie takes refuge with her estranged father, only to find him framed for a bank robbery. Psychiatrist Dr. John Felder discovers the institutionalized Constance Greene may truly be a century and a half old. Pendergast, intrigued by the bizarre serial murders, applies DNA analysis, which leads him to think the murderer is his brother Diogenes, a villain supposedly dead in a Sicilian volcano. Further analysis reveals truths even more grotesque. The most simplistic of the narratives follows Corrie clearing her father; the most gothic follows Felder seeking proof of Greene’s age; and the most violent follows Pendergast as he uncovers secrets about Helen and then takes revenge by breaching a Nazi refuge in Brazil. Pendergast’s narrative offers angst and ample bloodletting in gothic locales and confrontations with the issue of Mengele’s twins experiments mated with quantum mechanics and genetic manipulation. If Preston and Child fans haven’t read the first two volumes in the Helen trilogy, confusion will reign. Pendergast—an always-black-clad pale blond polymath, gaunt yet physically deadly, an FBI agent operating without supervision or reprimand—lurks at the dark, sharp edge of crime fiction protagonists.
Roberts, Michèle Bloomsbury (240 pp.) $25.00 | Jan. 22, 2013 978-1-60819-771-2 This is a taut, unsentimental story of poverty and prejudice: two girls, one Catholic and the other a convert, grow up in a small town in Catholic France in the period before World War II. The war divides them from each other and their values. Roberts (The Secret Gospel of Mary Magdalene, 2007, etc.), Emeritus Professor of Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia, was made Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres by the French government. She has written works in multiple genres. In her latest novel, Jeanne and Marie-Angèle attend the convent school in Ste. Madeleine. Marie-Angèle is Catholic and daughter of a local shopkeeper. Jeanne is Jewish and poor. Her mother is a laundress. Though her mother converted, the change made no difference in their circumstances. The style is terse, clipped and idiosyncratic. The mind has almost no place in these characters’ hard lives, except in the rudimentary plans for survival, and even these plans are directed towards body modification: The Jews dye their hair blond before preparing to flee. Surreal moments of great power arise from the crushing force the world exerts on characters unprepared, because it is impossible to be completely prepared. The forces of history are relentless, the conditions of poverty grinding. A worthy novel unusual for its tough-minded, unsparing story and the restrained method of its telling.
LORD GRAY’S LIST
Robinson, Maggie Brava/Kensington (352 pp.) $14.00 paperback | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-7582-6909-6 Tired of London’s most infamous tabloid reporting his every vagary, Baron Benton Gray sets out to buy the paper in order to shut it down, but his plans are foiled, and his passions piqued, when he learns the brains behind the paper belong to none other than his first love, Evangeline Ramsey. What’s a gentleman to do? All of London is laughing behind his back—and much of it straight to his face—since that wretched paper, the London List, started relentlessly reporting on his wayward ways. Determined to shut the rag down by buying it outright, Ben’s best laid plans are checked and mated when the editor turns out to be the woman he fell in love with years ago who’d unceremoniously dumped him and who is now determined to save her beloved paper. Focused only on the surface gossipmongering of the List, Ben misses the important behind-the-scenes services the paper provides, like romantic and professional matchmaking. Realizing how devoted Evie is | kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2317
to every aspect of the paper, but especially to helping those in danger and need, Ben reconsiders—particularly given the facts that the paper is actually a profitable business venture and that he finds he enjoys the intellectual and physical stimulation of running a press. Little by little, Evie softens to his charm, while Ben distances himself from his rakish ways, and the two just might find a happy forever in the middle. Lord Gray’s List, the first in Robinson’s new series The London List, is a sexy Regency charmer, with unique, intriguing characters and the refreshingly original backdrop of the List. The romance is sensual and conflicted, with tight sexual tension and snappy, vivid dialogue. Subplots add hints of dangerous intrigue and offer a host of well-developed, engaging secondary characters. Notably, Evie’s penchant for dressing in men’s clothing and passing herself off as the male editor of the London List leads to some amusing—if slightly outlandish—Victor/Victoria situations. A charming, fun Regency romp that combines an innovative, compelling plot with characters that jump off the page and a hot, captivating romance that will tug at heartstrings. (Agent: Laura Bradford)
THE MAN WHO TURNED BOTH CHEEKS
Royes, Gillian Atria (464 pp.) $16.00 paperback | Dec. 4, 2012 978-1-4516-2743-5
Royes (The Goat Woman of Largo Bay, 2011) brings back Shad Myers, bartender and unofficial investigator, to interpret Jamaican culture and the denizens of Largo through fiction. Traditional fishing no longer supports Largo. Youngsters head off to Kingston or into fantasies about becoming famous DJs. But good news arrives. Simone, the American woman who sought solace in the ruins of a hurricane-ravaged hotel, contacts Eric, owner of the bar where Shad works. Her brother knows an investor who will join Eric in rebuilding the resort hotel. The destroyed hotel had been Eric’s lifelong dream, his retirement Shangri-La. Undecided but near bankrupt, Eric calls his estranged son, Joseph, to write a business plan, promising payment when the prospective investor agrees to financing. Joseph’s unemployed and willing. Also returning to Largo is Janna, beautiful daughter of Lambert, a prosperous contractor. Janna left a copy-editing job in Miami for graphic design school. Now, she’s also job-seeking. Joseph and Janna seem a beautiful-people match, but rumors circulate in Largo that Joseph is homosexual, a “batty man.” That’s based on an earlier visit when Joseph arrived accompanied by effeminate male friends. Shad knows “Jamaica, because it all fallen backward into all the Old Testament malice,” is a dangerous place for gays, especially gay men. However, Joseph and Janna begin a romance that turns into a passionate love affair. Royes is brilliant in bringing Jamaican sun and sea, people and places to life. She’s equally adept with characters: Joseph, proud, uncertain, angry with his neglectful 2318 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
father; Janna, on the cusp of true womanhood, spoiled, lacking direction; Eric, burned out, lonely, frustrated; Shad, ambitious, weighted down with responsibilities; Winston, a fatherless boy blossoming with Shad’s help; and Pastor McClelen, the Typhoid Mary infecting Largo with homophobia. The gentle narrative sails along until Raheem, an attractive male model and Joseph’s lover, flies from the U.S. for a visit. All that’s loathsome in Largo then springs from the shadows dragging a lynching noose. A cozy mystery as social commentary.
RAISED FROM THE GROUND
Saramago, José Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (384 pp.) $26.00 | Dec. 4, 2012 978-0-15-101325-8
An early, epic novel by the late Nobel Prize winner, for completists steeped in knowledge of the author’s work and his native Portugal. Though this novel won the City of Lisbon Prize upon publication in 1980 and has since been praised as both seminal stylistically and deeply personal, this translation represents its first publication in English, more than three decades later. And even fans of the fables and parables of Saramago (Blindness, 1998, etc.) will likely find the novel a mixed bag, with flashes of brilliance offset by stretches of tedium, amid oblique references to Portuguese politics and culture that brief footnotes can barely illuminate. The novel encompasses three generations of the agrarian peasant Mau Tempo family, treated little better than cattle by the landowners who employ them. “These men and women were born to work, like good to average livestock,” writes the author, whose own family origins were similar. At times, the narrative slips into first-person from different characters, at other times, it offers the perspective of an ant, and yet other times, the distinction between the ant’s view and a human’s might be obliterated. Similarly, the authorial presence is very much in evidence throughout, with a droll tone, though the lack of any progress over the course of decades and generations seems tragic. “[W]e’re so used to laughter turning into tears or a howl of rage so loud it could be heard in heaven, not that there is any heaven,” he writes, of a conspiratorial exploitation that finds the church and government in league with each other, supporting the status quo, exercising power over the powerless. Even the natural order can’t provide solace, since “nature displays remarkable callousness when creating her various creatures.” As in the American naturalism of Frank Norris and Stephen Crane more than a century ago, the characters are but cogs in a big, cold machine, born to die but supplying their own replacements before they do. A novel that offers insight into the renowned author and his native land.
“Nobody writes quite like Saunders.” from tenth of december
TENTH OF DECEMBER Stories
Saunders, George Random House (272 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-8129-9380-6
A new story collection from the most playful postmodernist since Donald Barthelme, with narratives that can be enjoyed on a number of different levels. Literature that takes the sort of chances that Saunders does is rarely as much fun as his is. Even when he is subverting convention, letting the reader know throughout that there is an authorial presence pulling the strings, that these characters and their lives don’t exist beyond words, he seduces the reader with his warmth, humor and storytelling command. And these are very much stories of these times, filled with economic struggles and class envy, with war and its effects, with drugs that serve as a substitute for deeper emotions (like love) and perhaps a cure (at least temporary) for what one of the stories calls “a sort of vast existential nausea.” On the surface, many of these stories are genre exercises. “Escape from Spiderhead” has all the trappings of science fiction, yet culminates in a profound meditation on free will and personal responsibility. One story is cast as a manager’s memo; another takes the form of a very strange diary. Perhaps the funniest and potentially the grimmest is “Home,” which is sort of a Raymond Carver working-class gothic send-up. A veteran returns home from war, likely suffering from post-traumatic stress. His foulmouthed mother and her new boyfriend are on the verge of eviction. His wife and family are now shacking up with a new guy. His sister has crossed the class divide. Things aren’t likely to end well. The opening story, “Victory Lap,” conjures a provisional, conditional reality, based on choices of the author and his characters. “Is life fun or scary?” it asks. “Are people good or bad?” The closing title story, the most ambitious here, has already been anthologized in a couple of “best of ” annuals: It moves between the consciousness of a young boy and an older man, who develop a lifesaving relationship. Nobody writes quite like Saunders.
Seidman, Robert J. Overlook (384 pp.) $26.95 | Oct. 25, 2012 978-1-4683-0048-2
The 19th-century, San Franciscobased photographer Edward Muybridge is the subject of Seidman’s (One Smart Indian, 1977, etc.) sweeping historical novel. Seidman maintains some facts of Muybridge’s life—he was an inventor, a pioneer of motion photography and an eccentric—but most of the story is fiction. The story begins with a turning point
in Muybridge’s life: While training his camera on a newly built railroad, he witnesses a violent train robbery and manages to photograph the perpetrators. He also has a fateful meeting with a train passenger, Holly Hughes, a famous dancer and early feminist (this Holly Hughes is fictional, but it’s curious that she shares her name with a present-day feminist performance artist). Muybridge and Hughes begin an intense romance that fills the first third of the book, but serious complications are on the way. After enraging an audience by speaking out against corseting, Hughes accepts a dubious offer to do research by posing as a Chinatown prostitute. Muybridge enters a business deal with former Governor Leland Stanford, who may have shady connections. Meanwhile, one of Hughes’ former lovers has arrived from France—and as anyone familiar with Muybridge’s actual biography can guess, the lover’s story will not end well. Seidman is at his best with meaty plot twists, and the tale gets more gripping in the second half when the crimes and betrayals begin piling up. Yet the romance at the core of the book never quite resonates, as both Muybridge and Hughes come off as stock characters—he’s brilliant and impulsive, she’s outspoken and sexually free—and the sex scenes are a bit clumsy (she’s a “warm pleasure-giving, pleasure-taking vessel filled to the brim”). If Seidman had better connected with 19th-century bohemia, this could have been a true historical epic instead of an enjoyable soap opera.
RESCUE MY HEART
Shalvis, Jill Berkley Sensation (304 pp.) $7.99 paperback | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-425-25581-0 When Adam, an emotionally wounded veteran, decides to help Holly— the woman he left behind 10 years ago when he enlisted after a local tragedy and found himself in Afghanistan—he opens the door to a future he’s convinced he doesn’t deserve. Adam Connelly really just wants to be left alone. Still nursing emotional wounds he suffered in battle, as well as guilt over the fatal accident which led him to enlist, the last thing he needs is Holly Reid—the only girl he ever loved and whom he abandoned for her own good—demanding his help to find her father. But, they both know that Holly wouldn’t ask if she weren’t desperate, since she’s made it pretty clear she can’t stand the sight of him after what he did to her. She’s married now, to the guy she hooked up with almost as soon as he left her, so reentering her orbit won’t be particularly risky. Will it? Of course, Holly has her own secrets, and neither time, distance nor antipathy seem to have dulled the raging attraction between the ex-lovers. Holly and Adam must lay themselves bare to one another before they can overcome the emotional ghosts of their individual and shared pasts. Shalvis’ book, the third in her Animal Magnetism series (Animal Attraction, 2011, etc.), contains many of the things Shalvis is known for: great dialogue, smooth | kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2319
writing and compelling pacing. However, something goes awry in this book. Adam’s emotional arc is fickle. The character tells himself he doesn’t want to get involved, that he’ll only wind up hurting Holly—but then seduces her with a sweet wistfulness that seems at odds with his professed intentions and his angry, wounded persona. Holly claims strength as a guiding principal but represents the quality in unsettling, implausible ways. Intentions and motivations continually shift; at times they seem inauthentic, at other times simply unconvincing. Despite great pacing and well-executed emotional high notes, Shalvis misses the mark in creating authentic, cohesive main characters, undermining the overall success of the book.
THE VALLEY OF UNKNOWING
Sington, Philip Norton (304 pp.) $25.95 | Dec. 3, 2012 978-0-393-23933-1 Amadeus meets The Lives of Others in a compelling story of jealousy and betrayal behind the Iron Curtain. Political and personal limitations shape this subtle novel, by English writer Sington (Zoia’s Gold, 2005, etc.), which balances serious and menacing questions of moral compromise with ironic comments on Actually Existing Socialism. Bruno Krug, author of The Orphans of Neustadt, has followed up that international best-seller with “twenty years of mediocrity,” but when his publisher hands him an untitled manuscript to read, he encounters the brilliantly subversive sequel he never wrote. This work, by arrogant young Wolfgang Richter, arouses not only Krug’s admiration, but also his envy, and he passes on his rival’s name to his secret police “handlers.” Soon, Richter is dead, apparently of meningitis. Krug, meanwhile, has fallen in love with Theresa, a young Austrian musician who knew Richter too. Theresa and Krug become lovers; then she finds the manuscript and assumes Krug wrote it. Unable to destroy the brilliant book, Krug allows Theresa to smuggle it into the West, where it is published under her name and is massively successful. Finally, a crisis of guilt forces Krug to make a thrillerlike attempt to set the record straight. Atmospheric, poignant, witty, but mournful too, Sington’s novel cleverly considers what might have been the back story to real-life tragedies.
2320 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
OUT OF WARRANTY
Smith, Haywood St. Martin’s (352 pp.) $25.99 | Jan. 22, 2013 978-1-250-00352-2
Can a middle-age woman with a chronic fungal condition find love, or at least decent medical coverage? She might find both in this unlikely winner from the best-selling Haywood Smith. Since the death of her devoted Tom a year ago, Cassie has been keeping up a brave front. But with years of undiagnosed health problems and a dwindling bank account, something has got to improve. She gives a new doctor a try and in the waiting room meets Jack, a sloppy curmudgeon who looks even worse than she does—he’s missing a leg and has blue lips, a clear sign of COPD. Jack is rude, but no matter, Cassie’s visit with this doctor is a revelation: Finally she has a diagnosis and a plan. She has a genetic deficiency leaving her with a severe allergy to fungus. A new diet and a glass house would be best, but the mold-remediation specialists guarantee her an improved environment when they’re done emptying out her bank account. At her next appointment, Jack is there again, with the same diagnosis and the same directive. Only, as he doesn’t have a hundred grand for a mold-free house, Cassie volunteers to help him clean. When she gets to his farmhouse outside of Atlanta, she thinks she’s stepped into an episode of Hoarders. No wonder Jack is dying. As payment for her help, he begins setting up her online dating accounts. She’s humiliated but reluctantly acknowledges she needs better medical insurance, so of course, a new husband. When dating doesn’t work out—one handsome archaeologist literally had skeletons in his closet—Jack and Cassie hatch a plan. He moves into her expensively sanitized home, and she gets to marry him for his excellent benefits. Whether this is a marriage made in hell or heaven depends on whether they can stick to the long list of rules and whether they can admit their growing fondness. In Smith’s sure hands, this funny tale of unlovable misfits is a gentle, romantic surprise.
Stavans, Ilan; Sheinkin, Steve Basic (208 pp.) $24.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-465-03257-0 What do you get when you cross a Mexican-born Jewish intellectual with the creator of the Rabbi Harvey comics? Surprise—it’s a most unusual conspiracy thriller. Stavans (Latin American and Latino Culture, Amherst College; Return to Centro Historico: A Mexican Jew Looks for His Roots, 2012, etc.) manages to shoehorn in a host of influences in his latest graphic novel, with spare, nearly amateurish illustrations
by textbook author and illustrator Sheinkin (Bomb: The Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, 2012, etc.). This murder-mystery digs into the history of the crypto-Jews of New Mexico, who went into hiding after their expulsion by King Ferdinand of Spain in 1492. The story opens with the death of disgraced seminary student Rolando Pérez outside Santa Fe, N.M. Professor Stavans plays himself in this shadowy plot, having just arrived in the city to give a brief lecture, followed by a joyful evening at the famous Santa Fe Opera House. He’s lured into the story by Irina Rodriguez, the cousin of deceased Rolando, and she’s sure her cousin’s death was no accident. There’s a great deal of intellectual theory here—early on, Stavans muses, “The real history of crypto-Jews isn’t in what we know, but in what we don’t. They were members of a club whose existence they would swear didn’t exist,” and so on. But somehow it carries on, from Sheinkin’s almost rudimentary depictions of Santa Fe’s desert austerity, to Stavans’ winking ridicule of his advocacy for Spanglish and self-mocking references to what is a fairly rich and impenetrable religious mystery. “I suppose you’ll turn the whole murky mystery into some preposterous page-turner. The Da Vinci Code, with matzo and salsa picante,” says one rival. Not nearly that blunt, nor as vivid as some readers may wish. Another bold, if gratuitous, experiment from an academic with impeccable credentials and a keen sense of the secrets we hold most dear.
“Cowboys,” a woman deals with the decision to take her father off life support but doesn’t want to bear the responsibility, and thus the guilt, of making the decision on her own. Terse and angry, introspective and raw, Steinberg’s experimental writing style will not appeal to everyone. Her focus is on the emotion rather than on the character or action; the author hits the reader head-on with candid language and uncomfortable themes, and she does this well. Modern fiction aficionados will most likely embrace Steinberg’s technique and vision; lovers of traditional short stories may find her writing difficult to follow.
Steinberg, Susan Graywolf (160 pp.) $14.00 paperback | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-55597-631-6 An unconventional approach to storytelling makes this third compilation of short tales by Steinberg (Hydroplane, 2006, etc.) difficult to navigate. Utilizing repetitive phrasing and a free-flow writing style paired with violent undertones and psychosexual themes, these 12 interconnected pieces explore a multitude of negative sensations that are emotionally draining. How we cope with guilt, anger and loss or commit actions that damage our own lives and relationships are some of the recurring themes that bind these tales together. In one story, a woman goes hiking with a man she likes, and they are accompanied by his friend, a stranger whom she doesn’t like, and she ends up having a sexual encounter with the stranger. Steinberg challenges our ideals of femininity and masculinity as she writes about a young woman, seething with anger and jealousy, who steals her boyfriend’s car radio and smashes it, only to discover that the act of revenge doesn’t have the satisfying effect she anticipated. When an acquaintance dies in an explosive plane crash in the title story, the narrator struggles with her own complex feelings, including resentment toward her father, who wouldn’t allow her to study abroad. And in | kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2321
“A mayhem-rich view of the world through the eyes of mummies and villains, and a lot of fun.” from the labyrinth of osiris
THE HISTORY OF US
Stewart, Leah Touchstone/Simon & Schuster (384 pp.) $24.99 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-4516-7262-6 A professor who raised her late sister’s three children grapples with the long-term consequences. At 28, Eloise is a rising star in Harvard’s history department, having just published a much acclaimed book. She’s prepared for a fulfilling academic career but not for the phone call she receives from her 11-year-old niece, Theo, telling her that she and siblings Josh, 9, and Claire, 2, need her to return home to Cincinnati immediately. The children’s vacationing parents have perished in a helicopter crash, and their grandmother, Francine, is lying in bed, unable to cope or even phone Eloise about the tragedy. Seventeen years later, the makeshift family is at a turning point. In less-than-free-wheeling Cincinnati, Eloise is loath to come out as a lesbian, although her lover is pressuring her for a commitment. She’s had to settle for a less prestigious position at a local college in order to raise her nephew and nieces in their preferred domicile, Francine’s large, crumbling Cincinnati home. (The narcissistic oldster has long since departed for Sewanee, where she makes trouble from a distance.) Josh was once a near-famous rock star before giving up music to please a manipulative girlfriend, who has since dumped him. Theo, now 28, has followed her aunt into academe but is stalled in her dissertation and her love life. Ballet prodigy Claire, 19, the only one to achieve escape velocity from Cincinnati, has left for NYC… until by chance, Theo spots her on the street, Cincinnati being not all that big a town. Francine has complicated matters by reneging on her promise to sign the house over to Eloise. Now, the Machiavellian matriarch insists that she’ll give it to whoever marries first. This hook is not as gimmicky as it seems. Rather, it forces Eloise and her charges to fully examine their connection to each other and to the world. With a playwright’s precise, sometimes excoriating dialogue and an insightful novelist’s judicious use of interior monologue, Stewart crafts a tearful yet unsentimental family coming-of-age story. (Agent: Gail Hochman)
THE LABYRINTH OF OSIRIS
Sussman, Paul Atlantic Monthly (560 pp.) $26.00 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-8021-2041-0
Taut, entertaining archaeological murder mystery–meets-spy thriller by genre-meister Sussman (The Hidden Oasis, 2009, etc.). Unless you’re a Minotaur, you’re intrigued by labyrinths. Unless you’re 2322 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
way high up in the Illuminati or the Trilateral Commission, you harbor an endless fascination with the question of who really rules the world. Just don’t ask too many questions, or you’ll wind up like Rivka Kleinberg, silenced for getting a little too close to the answer to what the pharaohs of old have to do with latter-day powerbrokers of international finance and petroleum. If you’ve got to have bad guys, the Russian Mafia do nicely. As for the good ones, there are Sussman’s stalwarts, Jerusalem cop Arieh Ben-Roi and his Egyptian pal and counterpart, Yusuf Khalifa, an unlikely pair of heroes. Both deliver results, though, Khalifa on his side of the line, and Ben-Roi on his (“OK, maybe he didn’t always play things by the book, was a bit too free with his fists and a bit too loose in his interpretation of what was strictly permissible in the name of law enforcement”). Yeah, but that’s Chinatown—er, the souk, that is. Sussman’s story is not without its longueurs, but it moves along well enough, and there’s some good thrills-and-spills stuff along the way. Moreover, there are at least three big pluses to the story: First, while unlikely cop pairings are old hat (see Hans Hellmut Kirst’s 1963 novel The Night of the Generals, for one), it’s good to see a nonhackneyed collaboration between Arabs and Israelis. Second, while Sussman’s setup leaves wide openings for all the clichés of the whodunit genre, he doesn’t indulge. And Sussman, a trained archaeologist, knows his stuff—and how to make a reader jump, too. A mayhem-rich view of the world through the eyes of mummies and villains, and a lot of fun. (Agent: Laura Susijn)
ME AND THE DEVIL
Tosches, Nick Little, Brown (400 pp.) $26.99 | Dec. 4, 2012 978-0-316-12097-5
The longtime chronicler of pop music’s shadowy corners explores New York’s dark side in this rambling, at times grotesque tale. The narrator of Tosches’ fourth novel (In the Hand of Dante, 2002, etc.), like the author himself, is an aging author named Nick with an abiding love for art and music. (Rock icons Keith Richards and Peter Wolf have brief cameos.) But likening the novel’s Nick too much to the author Tosches would be pushing it, or at least the reader would hope: Our hero is a sexual reprobate prone to racist utterances who’s consumed with an unseemly fetish for women’s blood, and in his obsessive fog he may have wound up committing murder. The two main relationships in his life are at least consensual: He picks up one woman in a bar during an attempt to quit drinking, while another woman is a young S&M enthusiast who haunts the same AA meetings he does. The transgressive sex scenes owe a good deal to Dennis Cooper, who’s long reveled in this material, but while Tosches intentionally pushes the boundaries of good taste—provocateurs like Hubert Selby Jr. and Charles Bukowski are other obvious touchstones—it’s the looseness of the narrative that’s
more exhausting. Nick is prone to longueurs on getting sober (he spends a good deal of time locating a drug that allegedly cures alcoholism), sex, Greek and Latin etymology, Manhattan gentrification and the fate of the publishing industry. The plot between the riffs is sketchy at best, though Tosches’ streetwise-professor tone keeps the book from derailing entirely, and Nick’s confrontation with the devil of the title is an entertainingly blackhearted look at one man’s narcissism. Grim, oversexed, arrogant, intense—Tosches’ protagonist has dumped out his id for all to see, narrative integrity be damned.
Tucker, Pat Strebor/Simon & Schuster (336 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Nov. 13, 2012 978-1-59309-404-1 Parker Redman (and other familiar characters from 2010’s Daddy By Default) must deal with the positive and negative aftermath of his legal battle over paternity issues and father’s rights. Five years after a devastating legal battle that turned his life upside down, Parker Redman has started a nonprofit organization that advocates for father’s rights. However, his struggles aren’t over. Someone holds a grudge and has some pretty powerful leverage over him; information that will upend his life once again and threaten his good name, his new career and his family’s hard-won equilibrium. In the midst of fighting for his own reputation, Parker must also guide a young, famous basketball player in dealing with complicated past and present relationships and the financial obligations he has to children he’s likely fathered. Meanwhile, Lachez—the woman who went to jail for fraud in Parker’s case— is out and learning to navigate life as a convicted felon while trying to save her 17-year-old son from his cougar girlfriend. Tucker’s sequel to Daddy By Default continues her sharp-eyed look at a legal and social system that leaves men vulnerable in paternity issues but also spotlights a mercenary, vengeful facet to some of the women involved. With smooth writing, strong, effective characterization and a plot that is generally credible— if occasionally jaw-dropping and at times irritating as we watch characters make really bad, yet believable, choices—Tucker does a good job of using story to examine problematic true-tolife circumstances. Certain character choices are questionable, like Lachez’s 17-year-old son preparing to marry a much older woman—statutory rape issues? This likely wouldn’t make it in if the minor were a girl—or the sheer self-centered vindictiveness of the main protagonist. But while these aspects make the book difficult to endure at times, it’s not clear that they detract from the work as a whole, particularly when viewed from the perspective of a gritty realism. An abrupt ending may be a segue to another sequel, but it does leave an unfinished air to the work.
Despite some flaws, this book offers a well-executed, dramatic storyline that highlights problematic issues in our social and legal systems, balanced by an honorable main character dedicated to doing the right thing.
Wade, Christine Atria (352 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Jan. 1, 2013 978-1-4516-7470-5 As the Revolutionary War looms, a colonial wife struggles to survive after her husband wanders away. The unnamed principal narrator of Wade’s first novel was born into privilege, the daughter of a wealthy merchant and shipbuilder. Her mistake is her marriage to a feckless man who uses her dowry to buy a remote farm at the foot of the Catskills. After fathering two children, a son (also unnamed) and a daughter, Judith (a secondary narrator), the husband grows increasingly recalcitrant and balks at doing any work. The wife takes up the slack with her Dutch work ethic, but her nagging (the local townsfolk will gossip) finally drives the husband off. Leaving one day in a huff with his dog, Wolf, the husband disappears into the vast wilderness surrounding the settlement. The dog returns alone, and a search by neighbors proves fruitless. Finding that she is pregnant, the woman enters the woods to seek an abortion remedy from Indian women. For the next seven years, she works and manages the farm with only her two children as helpers. She trades butter and cheese at the village market, but no one buys her sausage. Gradually, her children learn the reason she is ostracized by the village: Not only is she a reputed shrew, she is rumored to have murdered her husband and ground him into wurst. Judith, eager for knowledge, is the protégée of the local schoolmaster, while her brother grows increasingly withdrawn. When war comes, the small family scatters in three directions. The last section of the novel, narrated by Judith, who has been far more fortunate in her marriage, skirts direct revelation of what befell her father. According to Wade’s afternote, the narrative is the back story of certain Washington Irving tales. Her decision, however, to substitute Judith’s generalized observations on mythmaking and legend for a detailed explanation of the father’s disappearance, is unfortunate. Still, a spellbinding depiction of the hardships faced by a woman fighting her own war of independence. (Author appearances in New York. Agent: Eleanor Jackson)
| kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2323
HABITS OF THE HOUSE
Weldon, Fay St. Martin’s (320 pp.) $25.99 | $12.99 e-book | Jan. 15, 2013 978-1-250-02662-0 978-1-250-02663-7 e-book Prolific Weldon borrows heavily from both Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs in her first in a series of three novels about Edwardian Britain, all to come out within the next year. Weldon begins her novel over 10 years earlier than the two TV series, but the dramatic elements are the same: a wealthy family and its servants (although they get short shrift here) reacting to social, economic and political changes. In 1899, Victoria is an aging queen, her son the Prince of Wales is a philandering gambler, and the second Boer War is about to break out in southern Africa. At 17 Belgrave Square, Robert Hedleigh, the Earl of Dilberne, has an unexpected visit from his Jewish banker, Mr. Baum. Mr. Baum has lent the earl quite a bit of money, but Lady Isobel balks at extending a social invitation to Mrs. Baum in return. Now, Mr. Baum explains that the Boer situation has ruined the earl’s African mining investments. The family faces a potential financial crisis that is unlikely to be solved by the earl’s gambling forays with the Prince of Wales. Since suffragette daughter Rosina seems unmarriageable, Lady Isobel—well aware that the earl married her for her father’s money—sets out to find a rich wife for son Arthur, whose current love interests are his steam-engine automobile and the buxom blonde whose rent he pays, unaware that she was kept by his father before him. With the aid of lady’s maid Grace, who has her own romantic history with Arthur, Lady Isobel turns up Minnie O’Brien, a meatpacking heiress from Chicago recently arrived in London with her loudly American mother. Minnie is charming as well as rich; even Grace finds herself won over. But Minnie has her own secrets. Will love and Minnie’s money combine to save the household or will scandal wreak havoc? If this all sounds more than a little familiar, it is.
THE START OF EVERYTHING
Winslow, Emily Delacorte (272 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-385-34290-2
The discovery of the body of a young woman sets a strange chain of events in motion in Winslow’s second thriller set in Britain (The Whole World, 2010). Police Inspector Chloe Frohmann and her partner, Morris Keene, are assigned to investigate how an unidentified young woman ended up in a marshy area in the English countryside. Morris has been out on medical leave inspired by an injury he received when completing a solo interview. Chloe knows her fellow officers 2324 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
hold her responsible for his injuries since she didn’t accompany her partner to the scene, and she believes they resent her recent promotion to detective inspector. She’s also in a difficult position with her boss, who has requested that Chloe appraise him on whether Morris is fit for the job. Meanwhile, a very disturbed young woman named Mathilde Oliver is trying to find a student named Katja. The daughter of Cambridge mathematics professor Tobias Oliver, Mathilde tracks down the identities of students and campus personnel when mail is received that cannot be delivered to them. While looking for Katja, Mathilde finds herself in the middle of something she didn’t expect, leaving her to fend for herself in this odd and often confusing story. The book is told in turn by different characters. The author weaves back and forth between the past and future, connecting both the body in the marsh and Mathilde’s quest and eventual fate, while the investigation hiccups along. Each character’s unique point of view impacts the case, but the technique sometimes makes the story difficult to follow. Winslow writes interesting, evocative fiction, although her American roots shine through, and the characters sound more like cast members on an episode of Law & Order than the Brits they are supposed to be. If the book has one central flaw, it’s that the characters are uniformly difficult to like, particularly the female police officer Chloe, and their actions don’t always make sense in the context of the plot. Although a promising writer, Winslow introduces so many voices, plotlines and characters that readers may need a cheat sheet in order to keep track of the action. (Agent: Cameron McClure)
Wolf, Dick Morrow/HarperCollins (400 pp.) $26.99 | Jan. 2, 2013 978-0-06-206483-7 Moving from homicides and sex crimes to Islamic terrorism in his first novel, Law & Order creator Wolf introduces NYPD intelligence officer Jeremy Fisk, who must unravel a tricky bombing plot cooked up by Osama bin Laden
before his death. Fisk, who speaks Arabic and honed his anti-terrorism skills in the Middle East and Europe, works for a post-9/11 agency that functions like a mini-CIA within the police department. He is routinely at odds with the FBI, who in 2009 let an armed Afghan terrorist they were tracking disappear in Manhattan instead of taking him down right away (a sniper’s bullet closed the argument). Two years later, a few days before a Fourth of July gala at the new Freedom Tower building at ground zero, five airline passengers and a female flight attendant overcome what appears to be a lone terrorist aiming to crash their plane in New York. Fisk determines the bomber actually acted as a decoy for a Saudi nationalist on the plane who goes missing. A timid American woman who converted to Islam is involved in the lethal scheme, as is a baddie hiding in plain sight. Like
“A quick, enjoyable romance.” from badlands bride
Law & Order, this book unfolds crisply and intelligently, with a nice mixture of suspense and social observation. Wolf has fun satirizing the celebrity trappings that greet “The Six,” as the five Americans and handsome Swede who thwarted the hijacking are known. Even as they are trotted out for the media as heroes (Matt Lauer interviews them on Today), they are denied their freedom. Wolf has a tendency to telescope the investigative process—Fisk’s conclusions come in sudden flurries—and Fisk’s budding romance with fourth-generation cop Krina Gersten is undercooked. But Wolf otherwise does a shrewd job of setting the stage for his protagonist’s next appearance. Storytelling pro Wolf knows how to ratchet up tension and sustain it until the end. (Author appearances in Los Angeles and New York)
Wood, Adrianne Pocket (384 pp.) $7.99 paperback | Nov. 27, 2012 978-1-4516-9824-4 When Lily, an exiled Bostonian heiress, and Mason, a frontier journalist suffering major writer’s block, meet on her grandfather’s dinosaur dig, sparks fly and secrets are unearthed—but as mysteries unfold, Mason and Lily realize they may have to choose between love and truth. Mason Donnelly was considered one of the best writers on the frontier, but he’s burned out and apathetic. When he makes his way to the Colorado excavation of Charles Highfill, a business magnate with an interest in paleontology, Mason isn’t really looking for a story. He just hopes to find a place to stay for a little while, and a tent on the site is as good as any. Welcomed, surprisingly, with open arms by Highfill and his righthand man, Dickon, Mason settles into the dig community. He tries to ignore his attraction to the rich man’s granddaughter, Lily, as well as her lap-dog attitude toward Cecil St. John, the stuffy, condescending New England bones expert who is clearly the front-runner for Lily’s hand in marriage. Lily concocts a plan to make Cecil more aware of her by flirting with Mason, which backfires when Cecil still ignores her and she realizes her growing yet unwelcome attraction to Mason—a very unsuitable suitor. Meanwhile, Dickon discovers raw sapphires on the site, and Highfill orders his inner circle—consisting of Dickon, Lily and Cecil—to keep the find a secret, especially from Mason. Of course, the hint of a mystery sets off Mason’s journalistic instincts, and the stage is set for an investigation that will uncover long-buried family secrets, new crimes and scandals, and a scorching passion that just may burn Mason and Lily when the path to truth drives them apart. The novel, originally published as an e-book, offers a sensual, emotionally satisfying romance, smooth writing and dialogue, and a plot sophisticated enough to keep readers engaged and invested. A hint of intrigue adds tension, and a few unexpected twists deepen the complexity and texture of the plot.
A quick, enjoyable romance that will satisfy the intended audience.
WAYS OF GOING HOME
Zambra, Alejandro Translated by McDowell, Megan Farrar, Straus and Giroux (160 pp.) $24.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-3742-8664-4 How does the experience of dictatorship impact the children, and what is the relationship between writers and their material, asks a noted Chilean novelist. Listed among Granta’s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists, Zambra (The Private Lives of Trees, 2010, etc.) divides his third novel into two strands: a story of the Pinochet years narrated from a child’s perspective; and a meditation by the author of that story on how novelists draw ideas from their own experiences. The unnamed hero of the first element is a 9-year-old boy living in Maipu, near Santiago, in 1985. The night an earthquake hits, he meets Claudia, who asks him to spy on a neighbor, Raúl. Twenty years later, when the dictatorship is over, the narrator finds Claudia again, and they become lovers. He also learns that Raúl was her father, a political activist who lived apart to protect his family. The author’s sections of the book expose the weaving of fragments, reminiscences and relationships into fiction. Writing and writers are discussed, while meanwhile, the author is struggling to mend his marriage to Eme, whose background informs the novel. But when Eme reads the book, she resents the appropriation of her own story, and the relationship founders. Nevertheless, the “necessary and insufficient trade: to spend life watching, writing” continues. A metafictional layer cake of political, technical and poetic reflection—short, deft and striking.
m ys t e r y LETHAL INVESTMENTS
Dahl, K.O. Translated by Bartlett, Don Minotaur (352 pp.) $26.99 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-312-37572-0
The fourth dour appearance for Norwegian cops Gunnarstranda and Frølich. When the Oslo police are called to the crime scene, pretty Reidun Rosendal doesn’t look so pretty any more. Blood seeps out of numerous stab wounds. Nor does her apartment look its best. It’s obviously been tossed, the door | kirkus.com | fiction | 15 october 2012 | 2325
ajar but the front gate lock smashed. What happened to the lively saleswoman for Software Partners? The neighbor across the way has a few ideas generated by a stash of porn magazines, a chair angled to peer directly into Reidun’s flat and a pair of heavy-duty binoculars to put her love life into focus. He insists that the ponytailed man who spent the night must have done her in. But did he? Inspector Gunnarstranda and his second-in-command, Frølich (The Fourth Man, 2008, etc.), aren’t so sure. They take their time exploring every possibility, including Reidun’s occasional recreational sessions with her company’s managing director, her cool relationship with his wife and the criminal proclivities of the chief owner, who’s now working a fraud involving partnership deals that will enrich him at the expense of the firm. There’s a second breakin at Reidun’s place and another at Software Partners. Even more disconcertingly, the ponytailed lover winds up beheaded, and the porn-addicted neighbor who suspected him succumbs after a slide into the river. More stolid police work separates the financial from the supercharged emotional shenanigans, culminating in a spate of overkill. Proficient but slow-going, leaving readers worrying that the rain will never let up, until ennui runneth over.
DiSilverio, Laura Minotaur (304 pp.) $24.99 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-312-62381-4 Odd-couple female investigators take on an equally odd case when they’re hired to look into the disappearance of the man who used to be married to one of them. The convoluted tale of how Georgia “Gigi” Goldman ended up an employee of her ex- husband’s paramour is rooted in Charlie Swift’s fanny. Way back when, Charlie founded Swift Investigations with silent partner Les Goldman. When good-for-nothing Les ran off to Costa Rica with home-wrecker Heather-Anne, he left Gigi with a pile of nothing but the partnership in Swift. The most recent of the twosome’s adventures (Swift Edge, 2011, etc.) has left Charlie recovering from a bullet in the bottom. The pain in the butt doesn’t bother Charlie half as much as having Gigi in charge, especially when Gigi announces that HeatherAnne has hired them to investigate the whereabouts of one Les Goldman—quite an ironic turn of events, as Gigi clearly wasn’t keeping very close track of him during their marriage. Though Gigi’s certain she won’t be buying whatever Les is peddling if she does run into him again, she thinks her two charming children, brat Kendall and taciturn Dexter, are entitled to a return address for their child support, should Les ever get around to paying it. Though the action grinds to a painful halt when Charlie pairs off with her potential love interests, anything can happen when Gigi’s at the helm. (Agent: Paige Wheeler)
2326 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
VALLEY OF THE SHADOW
Dunn, Carola Minotaur (320 pp.) $24.99 | Dec. 11, 2012 978-0-312-60067-9
A Cornish cliff walk involves some impromptu investigators in a life-anddeath situation. Aunt Nell (née Eleanor Trewynn), her dog Teazle, her niece DS Megan Pencarrow and their artist friend Nick Gresham have taken advantage of a lovely day to walk near a rocky beach when they spot a body floating in the water. Nell goes for help while Megan and Nick struggle to get the barely living man out of the water. Unexpected help arrives in the form of young hikers Chaz and Julia. The half-drowned Indian just manages to tell Megan that his family is trapped in a cave before he passes out and is sent off to the hospital. Nell, who lived in many remote areas before retiring, guesses that the family must be refugees from East Africa. Most Indians who lived there are being turfed out in an Africanization plan. Despite carrying British passports, they’ve been refused entry to Britain. A desperate search is launched to discover which of the many caves in the area is hiding the family, who seem to have been smuggled in and then left to die. Aunt Nell’s charity work in the area gives her an in with so many locals that she manages to learn about several possibilities, and Megan’s boss, DI Scumble, is so determined to catch the smugglers that he grudgingly accepts Nell’s help. As it turns out, the things they learn put them in danger that they can’t foresee. Dunn’s third Cornish adventure (Manna From Hades, 2009, etc.) offers strong female characters, a double helping of tension and the revival of some largely forgotten history.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
Gregson, J.M. Severn House (208 pp.) $27.95 | Dec. 1, 2012 978-0-7278-8198-4
Chief Superintendent Lambert and Sgt. Bert Hook (Die Happy, 2011, etc.) investigate the death of a National Trust curator. Living at Westbourne Park suits Dennis Cooper down to the ground. He loves being in charge of the gardeners, like young Jim Hartley, whose qualifications for such a prestigious horticultural post were a little thin, but who’s proved himself a steady, dependable fellow. He also loves supervising the restaurant, where hundreds of tourists enjoy top-notch meals every day under the direction of Hugo Wilkinson, despite the head chef ’s tendency to fly off the handle and hurl racial epithets at the busboys. And directing the volunteers is enjoyable, even though sharp-tongued spinster Lorna Green does have a regrettable habit of correcting him in public. He
even likes mentoring young interns like Alex Fraser, who finds Westbourne a lifeline out of the hardscrabble world of Glasgow. Too bad Cooper’s wife, Alison, sees life at Westbourne as so dull and isolated that she’s moved to take up an affair with shady Peter Nayland. Is that illicit affair the reason Cooper turns up dead in a pond at Westbourne’s outer edge? Or is there another grudge, real or imagined, that prompts someone to put paid to Cooper’s country idyll? Once again, Lambert and Hook tread ground already better trod by DCI Percy Peach in Gregson’s alternative, slightly edgier series.
DEATH IN THE 12TH HOUSE Where Neptune Rules
Lewis, Mitchell Scott Poisoned Pen (236 pp.) $24.95 | $14.95 paperback $22.95 Lg. Prt. | Nov. 6, 2012 978-1-4642-0058-8 978-1-4642-0060-1 paperback 978-1-4642-0059-5 Lg. Prt.
Old rock stars never die. Oh, wait, maybe they do. Freddie Finger, lead singer of legendary ’70s band Rocket Fire, stumbles drunkenly out of Cantaloupe’s Restaurant in Manhattan and into the path of an unnamed acquaintance, who puts him into the back of a car for one last ride. Freddie’s is the third rock ’n’ roll killing in recent memory, and the NYPD’s Lt. Roland takes the unusual step of putting the latest victim’s daughter, Vivian Younger, in touch with his friend, private detective and famed astrologer David Lowell (Murder in the 11th House, 2011). Aided by Sarah, a brisk girl Friday, Lowell proceeds methodically, first interviewing Freddie’s former band mates and then his multiple ex-wives before comparing notes with Roland. It’s clear that Freddie had no dearth of enemies, a list made even longer by his decades of substance abuse. Interestingly, Freddie’s unexpected death is likely to boost sales of an upcoming album. Lowell also checks in regularly with Vivian, and there’s definite chemistry between client and sleuth. The reader also gets a glimpse into Lowell’s knowledge of astrology, which informs his insights on the case. One afternoon, when Sarah’s out of the office, Lowell receives an anonymous tip with a request for a rendezvous in SoHo. Could this be the piece of evidence that breaks the case, or is it an ambush? Lowell’s second case lays out a traditional whodunit in a direct and well-balanced manner. But Lewis’ prose needs a little less starch and a little more style.
Mims, Lee Midnight Ink/Llewellyn (264 pp.) $14.99 paperback | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-7387-3423-1 A plucky geologist and her deerhound almost lose their lives in North Carolina. Cleo Cooper has everything in place to secure the $4 million bank loan needed to cover the mining of a granite deposit on her elderly friend Gladys’ land. Gladys has agreed to lease the acreage to her, and she’s lined up a site crew to collect data, core samples and so forth. But then, bad luck strikes. A rattler takes over her car’s back seat. A rifle shot fells Tulip, her trusty deerhound. Cleo falls into a well and lands on a wrapped and roped dead body. Wait, there’s more. Not only does Gladys disappear, but her loathsome adult children, Robert Earle and Shirley, insist that she’s given them a power of attorney leaving them in possession of the rights to all that valuable granite. When core samples are stolen and a bridge collapses, delaying any site work, Cleo whiles away her time by bedding handsome former geologist Nash Finley and ignoring her ex-husband Bud’s attempts to seduce her. The local sheriff identifies the dead body. Cleo’s banker tells her of another group’s plans for quarrying the granite at her site. Robert Earle succumbs to fatal stabbing by yucca plant. Shirley elopes with a scoundrel. Cleo will be confined in a root cellar and finally followed on a harrowing boat excursion before most everything turns out okay. Mims, a former field geologist who clearly knows mining protocol, equipment and land resources, seasons Cleo’s debut with too many Perils-of-Pauline impediments and too much romantic folderol.
CAT BEARING GIFTS
Murphy, Shirley Rousseau Morrow/HarperCollins (320 pp.) $19.99 | Nov. 20, 2012 978-0-06-180694-0 Molena Point’s ever-growing cadre of talking cats is on the job when vagabonds threaten the felines’ human companions. Joe Grey (Cat Coming Home, 2010, etc.), the original speaking cat, now has lots of company. Old yellow tom Misto survived his long journey from the north. Misto’s son Pan soon joined his father, keeping watch over forlorn Tessa Kraft, whose mother leaves her alone in the house to go shoplifting. Dulcie, obsessed with computers, writes poems while her human housemates sleep. That leaves the work of detecting to Kit, who’s with Pedric and Lucinda Greenlaw when their Lincoln Town Car is stolen by homeless Vic Amson and Birely Miller, who’d been holed up on the property Birely’s sister Sammie left to Emmylou Warren. Birely insisted that Sammie had hidden | kirkus.com | mystery | 15 october 2012 | 2327
“A treat for fans of the puzzle-box mystery.” from death lies beneath
lots of loot on the property, all given to her by their bank-bandit grandpa. What Vic and Birely don’t know is that the Lincoln, which they grab from the Greenlaws after a landslide pushes the elderly couple off the road, is also chock-full of treasure. Not only do the trunk and back seat hold priceless antiques the couple bought in San Francisco, but inside the door panels are caches of jewels their friend Kate Osborne brought back from the Netherworld. With the help of Clyde and Ryan Damen, Kit sneaks into the hospital to visit the injured Pedric and Lucinda. But it’s her ability to creep across Molena Point’s rooftops that gives Kit the advantage she needs to crack the case. Despite their gift of gab, Murphy’s sleuths continue to be decidedly feline in her 18th saga of Molena Point.
EXERCISE IS MURDER
Patterson, Janis Five Star (300 pp.) $25.95 | Nov. 14, 2012 978-1-4328-2636-9
An exclusive Dallas apartment complex seems an unlikely spot for a series of brutal murders. Rebecca Cloudwebb became an antiques dealer after being invalided out of the Dallas Police Department. Her partner was killed, and her lover, who turned out to be the dirty cop behind the whole mess, vanished. Asked by antique jewelry collector Flora Melkiot to deliver a pair of earrings to her exercise class at Madame Norina’s Temple of Health, an exclusive studio in the even more exclusive Olympus House condominium, Rebecca stumbles into a murder. The newest member of the class, Laura Tyler, is killed when she drinks a glass of mineral water laced with drain cleaner. Laura, who dreamed of entering the Dallas social scene, seems an unlikely victim, since she’s just moved in and knows none of the Olympus House tenants. Each member of the exercise class has her own colored glass to drink from; Laura had chosen hers only the morning of her last drink. Flora, who fancies herself an amateur sleuth, has so little faith in the police detective sent to solve the case that she drags Rebecca into her investigation. Going on the assumption that the poison must have been meant for one of the other ladies, the salt-and-pepper duo take up the hunt, with Flora pulling her weight by supplying helpful inside information. Rebecca, who’s been considering herself a cripple and letting life pass her by, wonders if this case may just be the start of a new life. Though mystery mavens will be quick to spot the pivotal clue needed to solve the case, the first in Patterson’s planned series offers distinct possibilities for developing several interesting characters.
2328 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
BIRDS OF WINTER
Roby, Kinley Five Star (378 pp.) $25.95 | Nov. 14, 2012 978-1-4328-2599-7
Steamy Southwest Florida provides the backdrop for more dangerous dealings. Harry Brock is a private investigator and game warden rolled into one. When wealthy Gregory Breckenridge arrives at Harry’s home on Bartram’s Hammock looking for help in finding his missing wife, Afton, it doesn’t sound like a difficult job. Breckenridge, preoccupied with fears that his wife’s disappearance will upset the investors in his hedge fund, neglects to mention his involvement with another woman and the fact that his wife has money in her own right and a dual passport. Agreeing to take the case, Harry hires skip tracer Caedmon Rivers to hunt down hidden information about Afton. But the information that pops up isn’t at all what he’s looking for. A letter arrives from Afton saying that if she’s missing, her husband has killed her. The news that Afton or someone else is cleaning out her bank accounts and erasing every trace of her life clearly gives greater urgency to the search. Harry, whose checkered past with women (Death’s Long Shadow, 2011, etc.) doesn’t keep him from falling for the stunning Caedmon, is traumatized when she’s beaten, raped and left to die on the side of the road. He hopes the peace and beauty of the Hammock will ease her recovery. But when Afton turns up alive with a story about why she went missing, the pair must come up with a way to disentangle themselves from the case before they’re killed. Harry’s adventures continue to provide physical dangers, Florida lore and an endless supply of women for him to fall in love with. This installment, more thriller than mystery, grips you from beginning to end.
DEATH LIES BENEATH
Rowson, Pauline Severn House (224 pp.) $28.95 | Dec. 1, 2012 978-0-7278-8202-8
A convict’s death triggers an everexpanding investigation for DI Andy Horton (A Killing Coast, 2012, etc.) of the Portsmouth CID. If she had her way, sour, temperamental DCI Bliss would tie up every minute of Horton’s time looking for the thieves who’ve been swiping metal plaques and fittings from all along the harbor. But DS Uckfield of the Major Crime Team outranks Bliss, and he wants Horton to help find whoever assaulted Daryl Woodley just months after his release from Parkhurst Prison on the Isle of Wight. Or, who drove him out to the marshes after he checked out of the hospital three days later, leaving him to die there. Woodley is just a lowlife who’d spent his life in petty crime. But, he was in Parkhurst
after attacking a fellow inmate in Swansea Prison, and Marty Stapleton is a big enough player to attract the attention of both British Intelligence and Interpol. They send, respectively, DCS Sawyer and a Dutch agent named Eames. Sawyer’s a pain, but Eames, a crack investigator, is a sexy British expat who makes Horton’s heart skip a beat. She helps with the house to house, accompanies Horton to Swansea and tracks down the mourners at Woodley’s funeral, as well as at old Amelia Willard’s, the same day. But one mourner—who shows up in photos in chic outfit and large-brimmed hat—is nowhere to be found until her body shows up on a salvage wreck in Tipner Quay. Eames is just as game as Horton at pressing the tough waterfront types for answers, even when a second body turns up lodged under the wreck. How to make the pieces scattered along the Solent—dead ex-con, missing mourners, elderly widow, ancient corpse—into a watertight case is a challenge for the new team. Horton’s 10th is a treat for fans of the puzzle-box mystery.
A DOOR IN THE RIVER
Wolfe, Inger Ash Pegasus Crime (400 pp.) $25.95 | Nov. 15, 2012 978-1-60598-420-9
The apparently accidental death of an inoffensive man everyone in Kehoe Glenn loved begins Ontario DI Hazel Micallef ’s latest odyssey of crime. The coroner’s report shows that hardware store owner Henry Wiest died of anaphylactic shock after being stung by a wasp in the parking lot of the Eagle Smoke and Souvenir shop. But why had Henry, a nonsmoker, parked there in the first place, and what was a wasp doing up at 11:00 p.m.? Perennially prickly Hazel (The Taken, 2010, etc.) isn’t satisfied with the official explanation, and she doesn’t care who knows it. In short order, the acting commanding officer of the Port Dundas Police Department has gone head-to-head with pathologist Calvin Brett, Cmdr. Ileanna LeJeune of the Queesik Bay Police Service and Superintendent Ray Greene, her former deputy and future boss. Between the colleagues who are determined to shut down her investigation or wrestle it away from her and her thankless attempts to get her even more irascible mother, Emily, proper medical care, Hazel is stretched so thin that DC James Wingate, packed off on a week’s enforced vacation, returns after two days and insists on working the case. And it’s a good thing he does, because Henry’s death is only the tip of the iceberg. Shortly after, his wife, Cathy, is attacked by the same person who killed Henry and who is on the way to wreak summary vengeance on a Gilchrist schoolteacher. A house painter who sometimes worked for Henry will follow him to the grave. And Wingate, gone undercover in a tribal casino on LeJeune’s territory, will follow a trail that will lead him directly to a door to hell. Darkens steadily from its deceptively quiet opening to its wild and woolly climax. But it’s only the shocking epilogue that reveals Wolfe’s true subject as the murder of innocence.
science fiction and fantasy BRONZE SUMMER
Baxter, Stephen ROC/Penguin (512 pp.) $26.95 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-451-46479-8
The saga of Northland, a sophisticated hunter-gatherer civilization thriving behind a vast wall shielding it from the invading waters of the North Sea (Stone Spring, 2011), continues in a tumultuous alternate 1159 B.C. Drought and famine grip Europe and Asia. The eruption of an Icelandic volcano spreads ash through the atmosphere, chilling the air and further damaging the ecosphere. The Northland’s trade with the Americas has gained them both maize and the potato and thus may hold the key to staving off starvation. A deposed but extraordinarily charismatic Hatti (Hittite) queen and her lover (actually owner), an ambitious Trojan scavenger, seek access to these foodstuffs, while political infighting in Etxelur (the region closest to the Wall) about whether to grant such access has already led to murder. This is worldbuilding at its very finest. Baxter’s research of ancient cultures and natural history (detailed in a helpful afterword) and his extrapolation of what Northland societal structure might be like create an utterly real-seeming physical, political and economic landscape. His understanding of the human heart and its frailties paint convincing and powerful character portraits, particularly when exploring the various ways in which people will behave when pushed to the absolute end of their emotional endurance. Gripping, well researched and sharply intelligent.
Bertin, Joanne Tor (432 pp.) $25.99 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-312-87370-7 The long-awaited follow-up to The Last Dragonlord (1998) and Dragon and Phoenix (1999) does not, actually, have very much to do with dragons or Dragonlords until the climax. Folk of all sorts—lords, peasants, merchants, nobles and Dragonlords—are gathered for the famous Balyaranna Horse Fair. One attendee is haughty, angry Master Bard Leet, whose beloved kinsman Arnath died when sociopathic Lord Tirael thrust the boy onto the vicious stallion
| kirkus.com | science fiction and fantasy | 15 october 2012 | 2329
“One of Hamilton’s better outings.” from great north road
Summer Lightning. Determined to revenge himself on the horse and the lord, and as a bonus, hurt his erstwhile rival in love, Bard Otter, Leet uses an evil-haunted harp to enchant a boy into poisoning the horse and Otter’s beloved great-nephew Raven into murdering Tirael. Can Raven’s childhood friend Maurynna and her fellow Dragonlords uncover the true perpetrator before the apparently guilty suffer for their crimes? Bertin spends most of the book ratcheting up the tension, dotting it with threatening little incidents, before anything of note actually occurs. Ultimately, the plot structure resembles a magical cross between Columbo and Law & Order: We know from the outset who the perpetrator is; we’re just waiting for Our Heroes to find him and prove his guilt during some extremely dramatic courtroom scenes. While minor characters are slightly more well-rounded, the two villains are almost cartoonishly bad people. Readers will rejoice at evil Tirael’s (admittedly creepy) death, but it’s too bad that Bertin won’t allow readers to sympathize with Leet, a man who feels he’s lost everything he ever valued and is driven to drastic measures to heal his pain. But Leet’s cruel, bigoted, selfish and just all-around unpleasant; there’s simply nothing redeeming about him. A little more moral nuance and even pacing would have enhanced this otherwise welcome return to epic fantasy. (Agent: Shawna McCarthy)
GREAT NORTH ROAD
Hamilton, Peter F. Del Rey/Ballantine (976 pp.) $30.00 | Dec. 26, 2012 978-0-345-52666-3 Part murder mystery, part alien-contact thriller, Hamilton’s latest doorstopper (The Evolutionary Void, 2010, etc.) takes place in the early 23rd century when, thanks to the invention of wormhole technology, distant planets have been discovered and colonized. On St. Libra, a world of advanced plants but curiously no animals, not even insects, huge “bioil” farms produce the gasoline that, pumped via wormhole to Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in northeast England, feeds Earth’s insatiable appetite for petroleum products. Instrumental in all this is the powerful North family, three generations of clones whose original three clone brothers have developed a friendly rivalry. Predictably, then, when the corpse of a North is found floating in the River Tyne, the Norths and other powers that be take a strong and immediate interest. Capable detective Sidney Hurst doesn’t want the case—he can’t stand the politics, and this figures to be nothing but. Yet, there are intriguing aspects: The North cannot be identified, and nobody admits to having mislaid one; and the murder method is—almost unique. Twenty years ago on St. Libra, another North clone and his entire household were slaughtered by the same grisly means. The convicted murderer, Angela Tramelo, who was working in the house as a prostitute, protested her innocence. Problem was, she claimed the killer 2330 | 15 october 2012 | fiction | kirkus.com |
was an alien monster. So now, Sidney confronts the possibility that a monster is loose in his city. Meanwhile, a military expedition is hurriedly organized and sent to St. Libra with Angela (who’s by no means as innocent as she seems) aboard, but it runs into terrifying complications. Hamilton’s development proceeds in familiar fashion: complicated but well-articulated plotting, life-sized main characters, intriguing extrapolation, plenty of crisp action and padding—via barely relevant subplots, long chunks of scene-setting and bizarrely verbose introductions to bit players that even regulars will skim or skip. One of Hamilton’s better outings, caveats and all.
nonfiction These titles earned the Kirkus Star: A LITTLE HISTORY OF SCIENCE by William Bynum................p. 2335 THE WORLD UNTIL YESTERDAY by Jared Diamond............... p. 2338 ENGINEERS OF VICTORY by Paul Kennedy.............................. p. 2345 GOOD PROSE by Tracy Kidder & Richard Todd........................ p. 2347 THE PATRIARCH by David Nasaw............................................ p. 2352 JOHN KEATS by Nicholas Roe..................................................... p. 2354 JOSEPH ANTON by Salman Rushdie.......................................... p. 2354 THE VIOLIN by David Schoenbaum............................................ p. 2356 THE UNIVERSE WITHIN by Neil Shubin....................................p. 2357 FAREWELL, FRED VOODOO by Amy Wilentz.......................... p. 2361
JOSEPH ANTON A Memoir
Rushdie, Salman Random House (656 pp.) $30.00 | Sep. 18, 2012 978-0-8129-9278-6 978-0-679-64388-3 e-book
GAMES WITHOUT RULES The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan
Ansary, Tamim PublicAffairs (336 pp.) $27.99 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-1-61039-094-1
A breezy, accessible overview of centuries of messy Afghan history, including the present military quagmire. Ansary has previously written history from “Islamic eyes” (Destiny Destroyed, 2009, etc.); here, he casts the perplexing trajectory of Afghanistan as a kind of chaotic but nonetheless functioning scrimmage interrupted periodically by foreign invaders bent on their own “great game.” First united under the neo-Persian young leader Ahmad Shah, the various Pushtoon tribes first grew into a national awareness of “Afghanistan” by the mid 18th century. All the while, they remained wary of the Europeans, specifically the British and the Russians. Repeated invasions helped coalesce the Afghan state, firm up its borders and establish the capital at Kabul, as well as helping “unleash the unruly energy of Afghan tribal society.” As a native of Kabul, Ansary lends precious insight into the makeup of the typical Afghan village, with its tidy, selfsufficient, patriarchal hierarchy and need to keep the nomads at bay. The loss of Peshawar, institutionalized in the arbitrary Durand line drawn up by the eponymous British diplomat in 1893, continued to be a thorn in the Afghanis’ side until the present. The modernizing period ushered in by Amir Amanullah in the 1920s sidestepped Shariah and fostered a brief period of reform, followed by 40 years of royal family–run government that was fairly indulgent, even modern and enterprising, thanks to Western cash for development projects such as the Helmand Valley Authority. The Cold War again placed the country in a tug of war, this time between the Soviets and Americans, resulting in one morass after the other—and it’s still ongoing, exacerbated by the Taliban, al-Qaida, refugees, drugs, corruption and discoveries of mineral wealth. Lively instruction on how Afghanistan has coped, and continues to cope, with being a strategic flash point.
| kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2331
“A friendly, well-written approach to enjoying wine, full of low-stress recommendations to help avoid wine anxiety.” from how to love wine
THE BEST AMERICAN SCIENCE AND NATURE WRITING 2012
Ariely, Dan--Ed. Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (352 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Oct. 2, 2012 978-0-547-79953-7
Ariely (Psychology and Behavioral Economics/Duke Univ.; The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone— Especially Ourselves, 2012, etc.) presents a smorgasbord of top-notch science writing covering everything from the 1,000 species in the human gut to efforts to reverseevolve a chicken into a dinosaur. The two dozen pieces reflect the conclusion that “we are extraordinary yet flawed and predictably irrational creatures.” This is certainly the case in John Seabrook’s account of crowd disasters, including the 2008 “Black Friday” crush at a Wal-Mart in Valley Stream, Long Island, and in Jason Daley’s exploration of our human tendency in gauging risk to “focus on the onein-a-million bogeyman while virtually ignoring the true risks that inhabit our world.” The many other topics include allergies, marauder ants, lab-grown meat, airborne contaminants, the adolescent brain, the intelligence of octopuses and the sequencing of the Neanderthal genome. Most of the essays combine lucid summaries of current research with vivid descriptions of the lives and goals of scientists from molecular biologists to paleontologists. The fact that many pieces come from nonspecialist magazines underscores the extent to which science now informs all aspects of modern life. Especially intriguing: Michael Roberts’ report from Outside on a young biologist’s efforts to spur increased conservation efforts by building on the calming effects many people feel in the presence of the ocean and Brian Christian’s revealing Atlantic account of the Turing Test and an annual event at which humans compete with artificial intelligence programs. Other contributors include Jerome Groopman, Rivka Galchen and Elizabeth Kolbert. A showcase for clean, plain-English science and nature writing and a treat for readers.
HOW TO LOVE WINE A Memoir and Manifesto
Asimov, Eric Morrow/HarperCollins (256 pp.) $24.99 | $14.99 e-book | Oct. 16, 2012 978-0-06-180252-2 978-0-06-219935-5 e-book A wine expert who finds fault with tasting notes, wine scores and blind tasting claims that “what’s missing in many people’s experience of wine is a simple sense of ease.” We live in a golden age of wine drinking, writes New York Times chief wine critic Asimov, and he wants readers to experience “the pleasure of enjoying the wine, then the pleasure of 2332 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
learning about it.” The author offers up his own unlikely path to falling in love with wine by way of Austin, Chicago and New York City. Asimov discusses American wine culture and its shortcomings, many of which contribute to the wine anxiety of fledgling oenophiles. “American wine culture,” he writes, “ignores the simple emotional relationship with wine that is the basis for a lifelong attachment.” To further your wine education, Asimov recommends finding a good wine shop and asking a salesperson to select a mixed case of 12 different wines in the $15 to $20 range. Sit down and linger over these bottles, he writes, enjoy them with meals and friends and record your experiences. Order another case informed by your own notes. Once you have narrowed your focus, Asimov advises reading books and maybe taking a class to help organize your thoughts. The author considers wine an expression of culture, giving hints of the nature and meaning of the wine and the region. He has a soft spot in his heart for smaller, older vineyards that still embody perseverance, tradition and the local culture. “[A] great wine can be so expressive of its origins,” he writes, “of where the grapes are grown, and of the people who grew them and turned those grapes into wine.” A friendly, well-written approach to enjoying wine, full of low-stress recommendations to help avoid wine anxiety. (Author appearances in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Seattle)
SEX CHANGES A Memoir of Marriage, Gender, and Moving On Benvenuto, Christine St. Martin’s (304 pp.) $25.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-312-64950-0
The brave, often funny account of how a woman came to terms with her husband’s decision to become female. When Benvenuto discovered that Tracey, her husband of 20 years, wanted to live as a woman, she was shocked. Suddenly, their shared closet became filled with women’s clothes ranging from “tarty and juvenile [to] conservative and middle aged.” The author watched with a mixture of sadness, amusement and horror as her husband began shaving his body hair and taking the hormones that would cause him to lose weight and permanently complain of “fatigue, stomach ailments and dizziness.” As difficult as it was for her to see Tracey’s transformations, it was even more confusing for her two young daughters and her pre-adolescent son. Was Daddy a man, a woman or, as her toddler asked, a “guy-woman”? Friends (especially female ones), therapists and even the members of a Jewish community group to which the pair belonged all seemed to side with Tracey and his struggles. Few understood Benvenuto’s own awkward position as a “transwidow” or the fact that she was unwilling to rewrite her past life with him so that Tracey could become “she.” The author finally divorced Tracey. Even in the aftermath, however, neighbors and strangers in the hometown she calls “the Valley of the
Politically Correct” still display a voyeuristic delight in inquiring whether Tracey had taken the last surgical step toward attaining womanhood. In an unexpected twist, Benvenuto found fulfillment with another man. The personal and moral complications in this book are many, but all make for thoughtprovoking reading. A refreshingly gutsy narrative that offers a compelling view of sexual maturity and a sexual coming-of-age at midlife.
INVISIBLE ARMIES An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present Boot, Max Liveright/Norton (784 pp.) $35.00 | Jan. 21, 2013 978-0-87140-424-4
Wall Street Journal contributor and Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Boot (War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History: 1500 to Today, 2006, etc.) follows the long, quirky history of insurgency, from Bar Kokhba to Bin Laden. The slippery definition of guerrillas (Spanish for “little wars”) underscores the challenging task faced by the author. In this systematic though not always chronological study, Boot examines how guerrilla forces have always “employ[ed] stealth, surprise and rapid movement to harass, ambush, massacre, and
| kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2333
terrorize their enemies while trying to minimize their own casualties through rapid retreat,” tactics that have proven highly effective throughout history, especially as the fight moved into the realm of winning public opinion. The author divides his narrative into various epochs, beginning in Mesopotamia and continuing through the long-running struggle against the Roman Empire, warfare in China around the time of Sun Tzu, the centuries of battles between England and Scotland, the Haitian and Greek wars for independence, the struggle for Italian unification, the ascent of Mao Zedong and present-day battles with terrorist organizations. He also examines the many examples of guerrilla warfare in America, including the revolution against Britain, the “forest wars” of the eastern U.S., the battles of the Ku Klux Klan and civil rights agitators. The creation of the “guerrilla mystique” in the 1960s and ’70s, thanks to Castro, Guevara and Arafat, emphasized radical ideology as the guerrilla motivation, paving the way for the next deadly wave by parties of God, jihadists and suicide bombers. An expansive nuts-and-bolts historical survey from a keen military mind. (70 illustrations; 8 maps)
THE SECOND NUCLEAR AGE Strategy, Danger, and the New Power Politics
Bracken, Paul Times/Henry Holt (320 pp.) $28.00 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-8050-9430-5
Defense Department consultant Bracken (Fire in the East: The Rise of Asian Military Power and the Second Nuclear Age, 1999, etc.) writes that the nuclear genie is truly out of the bottle, and current efforts at nuclear disarmament ignore geopolitical realities. “The U.S. desire for a nonnuclear world,” writes the author, “gives America’s opponents a reason to manipulate developments in the other direction…and to shift competition to areas where they feel they have greater advantage.” Thus, when the U.S. disengages from Afghanistan and Iraq, there will still be a nuclear China to contend with—and, if trends continue, a nuclear Iran. In the days of the Cold War, Bracken writes, things were easy; the superpowers subscribed to the theory of mutually assured destruction, and no one was going to pull the trigger knowing that would be the end of it all. Now, he argues, the dynamics have taken “an ominous new turn,” and the idea of mutually assured destruction has seen its day. Besides, he notes, the superpowers found that a nuclear arsenal was a “most useful weapon,” and if it was good enough for the U.S. and the Soviet Union, then why not for Pakistan, Iran and North Korea as well? Bracken notes that though Iran and Pakistan present opportunities for worry, nearby India is more heavily armed, if happily a democracy. He urges multilateralism in any future weapons accords—and, he suggests, the old treaties need reworking—adding that it might make a refreshing change to see an arms control initiative that does not originate with the U.S., which “has led to a bland, uninspiring agenda.” 2334 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
Bracken’s prescriptions on how to deal with an increasingly nuclear world are surely debatable, but to gauge by this well-tempered essay, it’s a debate worth holding. (8-10 b/w illustrations)
THE KING YEARS Historic Moments in the Civil Rights Movement
Branch, Taylor Simon & Schuster (256 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 1, 2013 978-1-4516-7897-0
The quick-read version of the author’s three-volume America in the King Years, focusing more on dramatic high points than narrative context. The best that can be said of this slim, digestible book is that Pulitzer winner Branch (The Cartel: Inside the Rise and Imminent Fall of the NCAA, 2011, etc.) was in charge, and he knows where to cut and how to stitch. As the title suggests, this is a series of scenes from the civil rights struggle, drawn from the three volumes of Branch’s massive trilogy: Parting the Waters (1988), Pillar of Fire (1998) and At Canaan’s Edge (2006). For students new to the subject (or readers in a hurry), this book gives a solid sense of how the civil rights movement grew under Martin Luther King Jr., from the day he was drafted to lead the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 to his assassination on the steps of a Memphis motel in 1968. The chapters along the way hit all the watershed events: the Freedom Rides, the 1964 March on Washington, the murders of civil rights workers in Mississippi, the polarizing effect of the civil rights bill on the Republican and Democratic political conventions, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s poisonous campaign against King, the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, and the way a defiantly nonviolent movement splintered into more radical groups under Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. Branch seamlessly weaves together different parts from separate volumes to provide a coherent story in each chapter, and the stories are well-told but occasionally frustrating—readers will often want more. Though no substitute for the larger epic, the book is a reliable gloss on a troubling era.
BUILDING A NEW JERUSALEM John Davenport, a Puritan in Three Worlds
Bremer, Francis J. Yale Univ. (432 pp.) $40.00 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-300-17913-2
A specialist in Puritan New England submits a biography of the clergyman who founded New Haven.
“A brief but panoramic account of science from Hippocrates to Crick.” from a little history of science
Through the singular life of the Coventry-born, Oxfordeducated John Davenport (1597–1670), Bremer (History Emeritus/Millersville Univ.; John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding Father, 2003, etc.) supplies general readers with a solid primer about the much-misunderstood Puritans and the religious issues that preoccupied this reform movement within the Church of England during the 17th century. By 1625, Davenport’s reputation for learning, industry, devotion and brilliant preaching made him an important London voice for Protestant unity. But demands from the crown and the bishops to conform to church practice increasingly conflicted with parishioners’ calls for purification, for removing all vestiges of Catholicism from their religious practice. Davenport wrestled with doctrinal questions that will strike many modern readers as absurd, but for him, they were deadly serious matters of conscience, where a deviation from God’s will amounted to sin. Driven to emigrate, seeking a place to enjoy the liberty of all God’s ordinances, “all in purity,” Davenport founded the New Haven colony, modeling its physical layout on Solomon’s Temple, establishing civil and church institutions designed to promote godliness. By 1667, alarmed by religious divisions that parted the colony from its founding principles, Davenport accepted a call to Boston’s First Church. Even while the minister’s private life remains tantalizingly remote (did he, indeed, suffer from venereal disease?), Bremer nicely situates Davenport’s story within the larger English world of the Protectorate and Restoration, among his better-known colonial contemporaries like John Winthrop, Anne Hutchinson and John Cotton, and around enduring theological controversies that Davenport, despite his tireless appeals for moderation, never quite escaped. A knowledgeable appraisal of an overlooked but important figure in our colonial history.
MY AWESOME PLACE The Autobiography of Cheryl B
Burke, Cheryl Topside Press (208 pp.) $25.95 | paper $15.95 | Oct. 23, 2012 978-0-9832422-4-6 978-0-9832422-5-3 paperback A posthumously published autobiography from New York-based poet, journalist, performer and playwright Burke (known professionally as Cheryl B), who died last year at age 38. The author first became well-known as part of the New York spoken-word performance scene of the 1990s, and she remained a vital voice in the downtown literary world, contributing to many magazines and journals such as Bust and Go Magazine, as well as several anthologies. After her death in 2011, her partner, Kelli Dunham, and members of Burke’s writing group helped put together Burke’s working draft of her autobiography. Born in 1972 and raised in New Jersey, Burke had a difficult childhood, dealing with obesity and her psychologically and, in her father’s case, physically abusive parents. Her escape to New York to attend NYU allowed her to blossom into an artist—reading
poetry onstage helped her access her “awesome place”—but her new freedom came with other problems, including drug abuse, a series of unhealthy relationships with women and men, and later, a severe alcohol problem. Burke eventually got sober and regained a handle on her life. In a touching afterword, Dunham describes Burke finally finding stability in a relationship, only to be blindsided by a diagnosis of Hodgkin lymphoma in 2010. A rare and unchecked complication of her treatment irreversibly damaged her lungs, leading to her death the following year. While this memoir gives readers a rounded picture of Burke’s emotional life, as well as a nuanced portrait of her dysfunctional family, her art gets relatively short shrift. Barely any of her poetry appears in the text, and she writes almost nothing about her creative process or her views on her own art or that of others. Bracingly honest and insightful throughout, particularly about family relationships and what it felt like to be young in NYC in the ’90s.
A LITTLE HISTORY OF SCIENCE
Bynum, William Yale Univ. (288 pp.) $25.00 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0300136593
A brief but panoramic account of science from Hippocrates to Crick. Bynum (History of Medicine Emeritus/University College London; The History of Medicine: A Very Short Introduction, 2008, etc.) begins with ancient priests, who surveyed land and measured distances to learn about the world, and concludes with modern scientists attempting to explain the Big Bang and the human genome. Stressing that “at any moment of history, the science has been a product of that particular moment,” the author devotes each essaylike chapter to the achievements of a different significant period. In the ancient world, Aristotle tried to make scientific sense of things, and Galen, doctor to the gladiators, diagnosed disease by feeling his patients’ pulses. In the 19th century, British fossil hunters Mary Anning and Gideon Mantell revealed a prehistoric world, and Michael Faraday experimented endlessly with electricity and magnetism. In modern times, scientists have discovered penicillin and other wonder drugs and have counted human genes by using DNA sequencing. In each instance, Bynum offers bright, accessible descriptions of the scientists (the cranky Newton, the contrary Galileo) and the underlying science that earned them a place in this chronology. The author’s conversational style makes his readable history all the more engaging and disguises his considerable scholarly authority. One of the book’s pleasures is to realize the astonishment with which people greeted many of these moments, including the first dissection of human bodies, the introduction of X-rays and Einstein’s thinking about the universe. Nonscientists especially will applaud Bynum’s lively narrative, which certainly delivers on his opening line: “Science is special.” | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2335
MARTIN’S DREAM My Journey and the Legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
Carson, Clayborne Palgrave Macmillan (304 pp.) $27.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-230-62169-5
The founding director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Research and Education Institute (Stanford Univ.) reviews his own life, tells how he became involved with the publication of King’s papers and charts the complicated choreography of his relationship with the King family. Carson, who has edited numerous titles related to King and 1960s civil unrest (The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., 1998, etc.), begins at the 1963 March on Washington when he witnessed King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The author ends with the 2011 opening of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, a project in which he was initially involved. In between these memorial moments are the stories of his own life—growing up in Los Alamos, moving to California, getting involved with student protests, meeting the woman he would marry, rising in academe—and of the day in 1985 when he received a call from Coretta Scott King asking if he would edit her late husband’s papers. Some complicated negotiations ensued and essentially never stopped. His relationship with King’s widow was complex, but with the son Dexter (and his siblings), it resembled something out of a very long Victorian novel. The relationships among the Kings were tricky, too—internecine even—and Carson treads softly on toes, even sort of siding with Dexter’s contention that James Earl Ray was innocent. Carson proceeded to begin publishing King’s papers and to get into print all sorts of other King-related collections. The author sometimes reveals a thin skin and cavils about his hurt feelings concerning things said or not said. A chapter about a Palestinian production of his play Passages of Martin Luther King features backstage spats and wounded egos. Compelling aspects of memoir and cultural history mixed with laments and self-defense. (8-page glossy b/w photo insert. First printing of 50,000)
BOOM, BUST, BOOM A Story About Copper, the Metal that Runs the World Carter, Bill Scribner (288 pp.) $26.00 | Oct. 16, 2012 978-1-4391-3644-7
A journalist/activist’s investigation into the history, science and politics of copper, a metal essential to modern civilization but one whose extraction is
enormously polluting. Carter (Red Summer: The Danger, Madness, and Exaltation of 2336 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
Salmon Fishing in a Remote Alaskan Village, 2008, etc.) begins his story in his backyard in the old copper-mining town of Bisbee, Ariz., where he discovered that the soil in his garden had been poisoned by toxins created by years of mining and smelting. The question of whether the open pit mine on the edge of town might reopen led the author to consider what that would mean for his young family’s quality of life and to examine how and why that might come about. He educated himself about the copper market, researched the largest mining companies, toured working mines, and traveled to Bristol Bay, Alaska, where a battle is under way over the possible development of one of the world’s largest copper mines close to the home of the world’s largest sockeye salmon runs. Carter also visited a nearly defunct mining town where a new job-producing copper mine is planned. In his travels, the author chatted with locals, mine workers and mine company personnel. Although he was unable to visit them, he paints a vivid and truly horrific picture of mining operations in Africa and Indonesia, and he delineates the growing impact on the worldwide copper market of burgeoning economies such as those of China, Brazil and India. Carter’s scope is large, but his storytelling technique is up-close and personal. In the end, the author decided to move his family out of his beloved Bisbee to escape the threat of a reopened copper mine, but he makes it abundantly clear that there is, for our modern society, no escape from dependence on copper. A well-told, fact-filled story written with a touch of fury and a dash of regret.
ON EXTINCTION How We Became Estranged from Nature
Challenger, Melanie Counterpoint (330 pp.) $27.00 | Dec. 11, 2012 978-1-61902-018-4
A deep look at the human capacity for extinction twined with roamings to the far ends of the earth, from poet and fledgling natural historian Challenger (Galatea, 2006, etc.). Spurred by her lack of belonging to a particular place and her sense of alarm over her ignorance of the natural world, the author struck out to investigate how such a mindset could lead to extinction of both creatures and cultures. She has a rangy curiosity that extends well past ignorance and alienation as the sole agents of the man-made extinction. As she travels from abandoned whaling stations on South Georgia Island to the wildness of Bird Island to the fraught lifestyle changes afoot in Nunavut, she examines such ideas as nostalgia being a trigger for extinction; the effects of a Hobbesian industry of survival; a grief-stricken burying of the past in a headlong rush that devastates nature; the notion, from early Christianity to Locke, of dominion; the rise of industrialization and globalization, in the process squashing the intimate and particular relationship with a place, that feeling of safety and confederacy with the land. She faces the elemental question of exactly what is natural, when all
“Another terrific give-and-take that will appeal especially to younger seekers.” from power systems
is in flux to the turbulent, indefatigable forces of change. What rises so pungently from her travels and ruminations are the vanishing cultures, the ways of life that capture the idiosyncrasy of place, how “[t]his move from distinctive cultural knowledge born of the varied attributes of landscapes to the universal cultural knowledge of technologies available worldwide is akin to the disappearance of diversity in nature.” A formidable inquiry into why the marvels of nature and the distinctiveness of cultures are constantly imperiled.
MAKE YOUR BRAIN SMARTER An Easy Plan to Increase Your Creativity, Energy, and Focus
Chapman, Sandra Bond with Kirkland, Shelly Free Press (320 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 1, 2013 978-1-4516-6547-5
The founder of the Center for BrainHealth reviews recent research in brain studies and techniques to keep brains in peak condition. Conventional wisdom says that doing crossword puzzles, word searches, cryptograms and other exercises help preserve brain function and lessen the effects of illnesses associated with elders, including Alzheimer’s. Chapman (Behavioral and Brain Sciences/Univ. of Texas, Dallas) founded and directs the Center for BrainHealth, and this book could serve as an introduction, outline and future-developments map for the center. Distilling a vast amount of research, the author reinforces some conventional wisdom while poking holes in other ideas about brain function. Intelligence, long thought to be innate, is becoming recognized as a more complex function of various environmental and genetic influences, not least of which is the approach we take to teaching and learning. Society’s tendency toward adding more stimuli to every activity, from listening to music while doing homework, to the office with a TV always tuned to 24-hour news, is wearing away at our brain function. Chapman sees the Internet and its wealth of information as both a boon and hazard, as we become more likely to continually seek out more information rather than moderate our intake and give our minds time to digest what we’re learning. The writing dips too often into jargon—e.g., “integrated reasoning capacity” and “dynamic fluid thinking capacity”—but, to be fair, it may stretch readers’ minds to incorporate the ideas in new forms, no doubt boosting brainpower. A decent cross section of research and practical ideas about exercising and maintaining brain function.
POWER SYSTEMS Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
Chomsky, Noam with Barsamian, David Metropolitan/Henry Holt (224 pp.) $16.00 paperback | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-8050-9615-6 These conversations with the longtime MIT linguist and “wild-eyed radical” offer lively insights on war, inequality and dissent. Editor Barsamian (Alternate Radio) has collaborated with Chomsky (Making the Future, 2011, etc.) on two previous books; this question-and-answer book provides a useful entree into the formidable academic’s nonconformist, iconoclastic mindset. There is no introduction, just a vigorous discussion: What has happened to America’s historical memory since the Vietnam War? Chomsky frequently laments our “historical amnesia,” reminding us in several places that this is the anniversary of President Kennedy’s little-discussed bombing campaign of South Vietnam in 1962. Chomsky casts a jaundiced eye over America’s military involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan, decries everywhere the squeeze on human rights, and otherwise asserts that “power systems” such as government and financial and marketing institutions are jealous of power, keeping people feeling helpless by splintering society. Chomsky fervently derides the gulf of inequality these power systems continue to cultivate; they often create a “class war.” In brief chapters, the author flits in and out of these themes, examining, among other topics, the practical steps the Occupy movements have taken to engage the country in questions of inequality; the right-wing “propaganda” against responsible environmental efforts; and the social and political doctrines we often take for granted, such as the benign nature of American democracy. Moreover, Chomsky worries that new media might encourage the trend toward “atomization” and away from the thoughtful reflection and reading he is so famous for. He also gives an update on his research in language acquisition. Another terrific give-and-take that will appeal especially to younger seekers.
BABYLON CONFIDENTIAL A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Addiction Christian, Claudia with Buchanan, Morgan Grant BenBella (336 pp.) $16.95 paperback | Nov. 6, 2012 978-1-937856-06-9
Soap-operatic memoir of a minor screen and TV star’s slow descent into booze-fueled hell and her long, slow road back to recovery. | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2337
“A supple and engaged journey into traditional societies and an exploration of their ways of life, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel.” from the world until yesterday
The specter of alcohol and addiction always seemed to dog Babylon 5 actress Christian. Her grandfather had been an alcoholic, and her father was a man who recognized, and walked away from, his penchant for drink. When the author was only 8 years old, her brother was killed by a drunk driver. Fifteen years later, as a young actress living in a Los Angeles apartment, she landed the role of a cocaine addict in the 1988 film Clean and Sober. Christian was not then hooked on either drugs or alcohol, but she was living life in the “Hollywood fast lane,” doing “blow,” drinking and having indiscriminate sex with both men and women. Until her early 30s, Christian was primarily a recreational drinker. However, after becoming entangled in an emotionally destructive affair with Braveheart actor Angus Macfadyen in 1996, she “drank to escape.” Another bad relationship followed, as did longer and longer stretches of unemployment. By 2002, she had sunk deeply enough into alcoholism that she could no longer control her urges to drink. Neither stints in rehab nor AA meetings helped. On the verge of giving up, she discovered a low-cost alternative treatment, the Sinclair Method, with “an 80 [percent] success rate.” Amazingly, Christian never blames her childhood—which included rape by a neighbor and troubled relationships with her parents—for any of her later mishaps. But neither is she at a loss to tout her “glory days” as a B-list actress or to serve up occasionally entertaining but at times overdone Hollywood dish. A National Enquirer–esque peep show of a book partially redeemed by its underlying mission to cultivate awareness about a little-known method of alcohol detoxification.
BIBLIODEATH My Archives (with Life in Footnotes)
Codrescu, Andrei ANTIBOOKCLUB (168 pp.) $25.00 paperback | Nov. 29, 2012 978-0-9838683-3-0 978-0-9838683-4-7 e-book
Poet, essayist and novelist Codrescu (Whatever Gets You through the Night: A Story of Sheherezade and the Arabian Entertainments, 2011, etc.) examines the oft-sensationalized “death of print” and redefines its place in the bigger picture of literary history. Part cultural critique, part portrait of the artist as a young literary revolutionary, the author’s latest is a mature look at the rise of e-printing from the vantage point of someone who has already experienced, and survived, a number of technological revolutions. Codrescu recounts his growth as a writer, from his childhood in Romania to his tenure as a professor at LSU, tracing his journey through the “archives” of his life, which frequently spill over into footnotes. These footnotes go on for pages, offering insight into autobiographical and historical information that literally surrounds the primary body of text. Readers may ruminate on the footnotes as a simultaneous representation of old-fashioned marginalia at its finest and a Wikipedia-like informational hall of mirrors. Or, thin on patience, 2338 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
they may ignore them altogether. Codrescu’s self-proclaimed “referential injoking” may try that same patience, but what elevates the author’s argument is his understanding that what technology has actually defeated isn’t writing or publishing (if anything, there’s more of both of them than ever); it’s “the flaws, the failures, the typos, the sweat, the traces of the human on the material,” the works and remnants that ground a text in a real, flawed world. The pixelated kingdom, Codrescu observes, is highly ordered and smudge-free, occupying neither space nor time, like a virtual vapor that leaves no sensual trace for future generations of scholars and readers to study and treasure. Longtime fans will naturally savor Codrescu’s idiosyncratic ambling and real-life reflections. New readers will find philosophical nuggets after some digging.
THE WORLD UNTIL YESTERDAY What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?
Diamond, Jared Viking (512 pp.) $36.00 | Dec. 31, 2012 978-0-670-02481-0
A supple and engaged journey into traditional societies and an exploration of their ways of life, from the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Guns, Germs, and Steel (1997). As Diamond writes (Geography/UCLA; Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, 2004, etc.), traditional societies— those that retain features of how our ancestors lived for tens of thousands of years, with low population densities in small groups, subsisting on hunting-gathering, farming or herding, with little transformative contact with industrial societies—hold a fascination to many of us. They provide a window into how society used to be fashioned and how we have found, or not, solutions to human problems. Diamond’s investigation of a selection of traditional societies, and within them a selection of how they contend with various issues—dispute resolution, child rearing, treatment of the elderly, alertness to dangers, etc.—is leisurely but not complacent, informed but not claiming omniscience. As he notes, the range and complexity of traditional societies does not permit easy generalizations. The author compares these societies with our “state” societies to see where their attributes shine more favorably. He is unafraid of making some sweeping suggestions— “Increases in political centralization and social stratification were driven by increases in human population densities, driven in turn by the rise and intensification of food production (agriculture and herding)”—while also examining the dozens of other factors involved. Diamond’s experience with traditional societies has opened him to certain aspects that we might adopt to our benefit, including multilingualism, the importance of lifelong social bonds, nursing and physical contact with children, constructive paranoia and the significance of the aged. A symphonic yet unromantic portrait of traditional societies and the often stirring lessons they offer.
OBAMA’S AMERICA Unmaking the American Dream
D’Souza, Dinesh Regnery (400 pp.) $27.95 | Aug. 13, 2012 978-1-59698-778-4
Conservative writer D’Souza (Godforsaken, 2012, etc.) further explores why he considers President Barack Obama “[t]he most dangerous man in America.” The president of King’s College in New York City and a former policy advisor to President Reagan, D’Souza co-wrote and -directed the financially successful 2012 documentary 2016: Obama’s America, which painted Obama as being driven by an anti-American and anti-colonialist ideology. In this book, which expands on the author’s The Roots of Obama’s Rage (2010), D’Souza continues this line of attack, claiming that this ideology has made Obama “the architect of American decline” who “wants America to be downsized.” The younger Obama, asserts the author, absorbed this virulent anti-colonialist worldview from his (largely absent) Kenyan father, as well as his Indonesian stepfather, both of whom D’Souza describes as “Third World, anti-American guy[s].” (He also portrays Obama’s American mother as prone to “sexual adventuring.”) The author plays up the influence of such familiar Chicago figures as the Reverend Jeremiah Wright and former Weatherman Bill Ayers, whom D’Souza terms “Obama’s terrorist pal.” All of these influences, writes the author, have shaped Obama’s policies profoundly, particularly in energy and foreign affairs. Unfortunately, the author does not provide any solid evidence for his arguments, instead trafficking largely in guilt-by-association and apocalyptic predictions of “America’s decline and fall.” D’Souza has been criticized by liberals and mainstream conservatives for his strident theories; it seems highly unlikely that any minds will be changed by his latest book or by such statements as, “If Obama were white, he would have virtually no chance of being re-elected.” Shallow and speculative at best, paranoid at worst.
TEN-GALLON WAR The NFL’s Cowboys, the AFL’s Texans, and the Feud for Dallas’s Pro Football Future Eisenberg, John Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (320 pp.) $27.00 | Oct. 2, 2012 978-0-547-43550-3
The tale of a time when it was unclear if Dallas was big enough for one professional football team, much less two. Prior to the 1960s, Texas was a football state, and Dallas was a football town, but the high school and college games prevailed in the Lone Star State. Lamar Hunt, Dallas native, scion of an
oil baron and a former football player at Southern Methodist University, wanted to bring professional football, which had come and gone in an epic flameout in the early 1950s, to Dallas. However, the National Football League seemed to have little interest in accommodating Hunt, who instead came up with the idea of a new league to challenge the NFL. The American Football League brought a free-wheeling, exciting brand of football to a number of American cities that did not have a professional football team, and to a few that did. Hunt’s new league also allowed him finally to own a team based in Dallas, but his Texans would not, in fact, enjoy a monopoly over the burgeoning city. Once plans for the AFL came to fruition, the NFL chose to expand into the Dallas area with the establishment of the Cowboys, whose owner, Clint Murchison, was another from Texas’ seemingly inexhaustible supply of rich oil men. Veteran sports journalist Eisenberg (That First Season: How Vince Lombardi Took the Worst Team in the NFL and Set It on the Path to Glory, 2009, etc.) tells the story of the competition for fans that the Texans and Cowboys waged through much of the 1960s, until Hunt picked up and left for Kansas City to found the Chiefs. The narrative is mostly engaging, but the author’s overuse of clichés and exclamation points becomes grating. (8-page b/w insert. Author appearances in Texas)
THE LOST CARVING A Journey to the Heart of Making
Esterly, David Viking (288 pp.) $27.95 | Dec. 27, 2012 978-0670023806
Woodcarver Esterly (Grinling Gibbons and the Art of Carving, 1999) chronicles the year he spent at Hampton Court replacing a 17th-century masterpiece
destroyed by fire. The fire was in 1986, and the author arrived three years later. From the detailed diary he kept at the time, he has crafted a gripping account of the political maneuverings involved in a major restoration project and an intimate meditation on the nature and meaning of carving. In 1974, when Esterly first saw a limewood carving by English master Grinling Gibbons, he was at loose ends and tired of a life oscillating between ultraintellectual pursuits and exhausting manual labor. Gazing on Gibbons’ intricately wrought rendering of flowers and foliage, he writes, “somehow I was taking in the thing with mind and body at once.” It was the promise of a unified existence that led him to take up chisels to emulate Gibbons’ craft, and it was the expertise he’d acquired by 1989 that led to his commission to create a replacement for the Gibbons overdoor drop reduced to ashes, even though a faction within the Historic Royal Palaces agency argued that a British carver should be hired. Esterly would have more run-ins with turf-guarding bureaucrats who disdained his idea of a Gibbons exhibition (it took him eight years to get one at the Victoria and Albert Museum) and ignored his pleas to | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2339
leave all the restored wood in the light, unvarnished state the artist had intended. These scuffles give the book its narrative drive. Its heart lies in Esterly’s moving ruminations about the spiritual value inherent in fine craftsmanship and technique; trendy conceptual artist Jeff Koons gets some hard knocks for being blind to both. Photos of Gibbons’ magnificent works enhance this romantic, lyrical prose portrait of “making and seeing… entwined together.”
SHADOWBOSSES Government Unions Control America and Rob Taxpayers Blind Factor, Mallory with Factor, Elizabeth Center Street/Hachette (336 pp.) $24.99 | Aug. 21, 2012 978-1-4555-2274-3
An errant stab at vilifying government-employee unions as an elemental cause behind national woes. Those unions, write the Factors, are controlled by “shadowbosses,” a nefarious cabal seeking to bloat the government bureaucracy and milk the working stiff of “forcibly collected” dues (and, by extension, the taxpayer footing the bills) in order to buy off politicians, who then in turn, cast a favorable eye on union needs and activities. This all sounds like the Supreme Court’s recent campaign finance “reform,” or more broadly, American politics since Jackson. Certainly, there are many questions, charges even, that could be leveled at today’s unions: racketeering, extortion, pension fraud, cronyism and embezzlement. But the authors see a much darker scenario, nothing less than a shadow government (à la Dick Cheney, though the authors certainly wouldn’t use that example) bent on national domination. The Factors make valid points about critical-service workers—TSA, nurses, police, firemen and the military— holding some serious aces up their collective-bargaining sleeves. However, when they take teachers to task for poor performance without addressing neighborhood poverty or lament the iniquity of union workers getting paid more than nonunion (which is kind of the point) or those halcyon days when public-minded government servants took pride in their work (“that service meant sacrifice in terms of pay”), then pass the salt. When the authors begin trotting out Sean Hannity, Charles Krauthammer, the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, the heading has been set. One thing is for sure, and it goes begging here: Nothing has even been given to the American worker without a fight, sometimes a bloody one. A squandered opportunity to make a trenchant, constructive critique of U.S. unions.
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TIGER HEAD, SNAKE TAILS China Today, How It Got There, and Where It is Heading Fenby, Jonathan Overlook (432 pp.) $32.50 | Nov. 8, 2012 978-1-4683-0341-4
Former editor of the Observer and the South China Morning Post, Fenby (The General: Charles De Gaulle and the France He Saved, 2012, etc.) offers extensive analyses of today’s China and where the future may take it. China, writes the author, is “a nation on speed,” having become the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter in just a few short decades. This remarkable growth has, of course, been a boon to China, but it also masks the many contradictions that may question the notion that China “can simply succeed if it wants to.” Fenby leaves very little out of his examination of China, exploring everything from regional development to the plight of migrant workers, from leadership struggles to the restless demands of an increasingly diverse society, from foreign policy to the role of the military. The author looks closely at the recent growth of manufacturing in China’s heretoforestagnant hinterland, as well as at the cradle of China’s economic growth along its coastal urban centers. He explores the role of the government and the Chinese Communist Party in setting and implementing economic policy, especially the Party’s “control ethos,” in which “dissidence is equivalent to treason.” Fenby finds this to be China’s central problem: Without a liberalization of politics and the legal system able to address the problems of corruption, environmental devastation and inequality, China has no choice but to continue headlong into growth, exacerbating such contradictions. The author writes gracefully, but he may be taking on too much here with long exegeses on ancient and modern history, detailed biographies of leaders past and present, and in-depth accounts of Taiwan and Hong Kong— all of interest, but a bit overwhelming. Ambitious, demanding (for readers) look at China and all its complexities.
WHY JURY DUTY MATTERS A Citizen’s Guide to Constitutional Action Ferguson, Andrew Guthrie New York Univ. (224 pp.) $16.95 paperback | Jan. 1, 2013 978-0-8147-2903-8
An investigation and celebration of what we so often rue: jury duty. Former public defender Ferguson (Law/Univ. of the District of Columbia) takes jury duty seriously but not in an admonitory, finger-wagging sense. He wants readers to
“A solid chronicle of the Iraq War, emphasizing military maneuvers and Iraqi participation at all levels.” from the endgame
appreciate the brilliance of the jury process as civic engagement, an act of public virtue, due process and accountability. Ferguson witnesses the process daily, and he serves it forth here to readers with enthusiasm: “I watch as constitutional ideals such as civic participation, deliberation, fairness, equality, liberty, accountability, freedom of conscience, and the common good come alive through the practice of ordinary citizens.” In each chapter, the author takes a constitutionally grounded principal and shows how it applies to jury duty. Jury participation teaches the skills required for democratic self-governance, it acquaints jurors with the rule of law and it promotes the equality of ideas. Ferguson is an artful booster for community involvement and social connection and an advocate for the ability to challenge any perceived infringement of rights; a copy of the Constitution is always ready at his hand. This is a book that makes you feel good about a system that requires this type of participation, in which we must reflect with clarity on the guilt or innocence of an individual. A genuine encouragement that speaks to the role juries play in our constitutional structure.
DIVIDED WE FAIL The Story of an African American Community that Ended the Era of School Desegregation
Garland, Sarah Beacon (256 pp.) $26.95 | $26.95 e-book | Jan. 29, 2013 978-0-8070-0177-6 978-0-8070-0178-3 e-book
A freelance journalist from Louisville, Ky., returns home to chronicle litigation that would end public school desegregation—a lawsuit filed by African-American parents on behalf of their children. Hechinger Report staff writer Garland thought it confusing at first that African-Americans would sue if the result would mean a return to all-black schools in predominantly black neighborhoods. Eventually, the author realized that longdistance busing of African-American children into Caucasian neighborhood schools did not always benefit those students, and it also often ripped the fabric of African-American neighborhoods. During the Jim Crow era, Central High School was all black and had a proud academic tradition. Because of courtordered busing based on racial-enrollment quotas, Central ended up with a significant white student presence. Yet not all the white students desired the opportunity, and numerous black students who wanted to attend Central were denied the opportunity. Garland’s narrative is filled with interesting individuals, including the previously nearly anonymous Caucasian lawyer who represented the African-American plaintiffs and the Republican-appointed Caucasian judge who defied stereotypes as he considered the complicated arguments. The author occasionally loses the narrative thread as she jumps from the Louisville situation to a broad history of school-desegregation
policy. Garland also discusses her personal educational experiences in Louisville, during which she left her mostly Caucasian neighborhood each day for a long ride to a mostly AfricanAmerican neighborhood. The author’s back story gives the book added resonance. A useful journalistic examination of a troubling societal phenomenon.
THE ENDGAME The Inside Story of the Struggle for Iraq, from George W. Bush to Barack Obama
Gordon, Michael R. and Trainor, Bernard E. Pantheon (640 pp.) $35.00 | Sep. 25, 2012 978-0-307-37722-7
A solid chronicle of the Iraq War, emphasizing military maneuvers and Iraqi participation at all levels. Co-authors of previous military histories (Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq, 2006, etc.), chief military correspondent Gordon and former Marine Corps lieutenant general Trainor fashion a meticulous record of the nine years of conflict between the “inside-out” versus “outside-in” strategies of the U.S. government in dealing with Iraqi intransigence and conversion to democracy. The authors build a deliberate, chronological construction of events. From 2003, when President George W. Bush’s administration embraced the invasion of Iraq as part of a multipronged “freedom agenda,” to 2011, when President Barack Obama resolved to extricate the U.S. from the unpopular military exigencies, the government grappled with balancing the urgency for stability by military means and the need to bolster the Iraqis’ own system of government and security. Despite the wealth of resources, materiel and advisers injected into the invasion effort, the provisional government that Jerry Bremer III put in place was not functioning within a few weeks and an insurgency was gaining hold, often killing American troops. The authors take great pains to delineate the makeup of the Iraqi government in the prickly transition to sovereignty. For generals from Casey to Petraeus, one fixer to the next, “the specter of Vietnam had haunted the American military for so long that it was hard to imagine that anything good might have come out of the war.” The authors, with their combined military experience, try to find those salvaging glimmers. A straightforward, evenhanded account of the nineyear slog that began as a “war of choice” and became “a war of necessity.” (16 pages of photos. First printing of 75,000)
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GREAT EXPECTATIONS The Sons and Daughters of Charles Dickens Gottlieb, Robert Farrar, Straus and Giroux (256 pp.) $25.00 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-374-29880-7
A look into the lives of Charles Dickens’ family, particularly the children, from former New Yorker and Knopf editor Gottlieb (Lives and Letters, 2012, etc.). Structured in a straightforward manner, this examination of Dickens’ children is a collection of 11 narratives split into two parts. In the first part, the author examines life in and around the Dickens household through Dickens’ death. Gottlieb describes Dickens’ marriage to Catherine Hogarth, the inclusion of two of her sisters in their home, the end of the marriage and the children’s stories. Each of the 10 children receives his or her own chapter, in which the author explores their lives from birth through school. In the second part, Gottlieb picks up after Dickens’ death and follows each of the children, again in their own sections, through their often-tumultuous adult lives. Ellen Ternan plays a necessary role, prompting the removal of the children from their mother, but Gottlieb gracefully avoids making Ternan or the controversy a central focus. The author consistently betrays a desire to impress upon readers how unfairly many of his subjects were treated by their father and by history, and he makes a clear effort to showcase successes and minimize failures. However, his argument is so well put together that it’s easy to agree with him about the tremendous pressure on Dickens’ family members and how they might have fared without a famous father. Each section fits into the larger story of the Dickens family, and Gottlieb’s writing is warm and engaging throughout. A great choice for anyone who has ever wondered what life is like for the families who surround, support and are overshadowed by great historical figures.
DENISE LEVERTOV A Poet’s Life
Greene, Dana Univ. of Illinois (360 pp.) $35.00 | Sep. 30, 2012 978-0-252-03710-8
A major poet of the 20th century receives her first biography. One of a mere handful of women to appear in Donald Allen’s anthology, New American Poetry, 1945-1960, Denise Levertov (1923–1997) remains an influential and controversial figure in American poetry, both for her art and her politics. While perhaps less well-known than her confessional female contemporaries Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton, Levertov pursued a variety of techniques over the span of five decades, alternately 2342 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
crafting lyrical love poems, anti-war diatribes and spiritual odes. Her 1948 arrival in the United States from her native England heralded a major breakthrough, as she received the support of established poets like William Carlos Williams, Kenneth Rexroth and Robert Duncan. Although American poetry operated as a sort of boys’ club at that time, Levertov earned a hardwon place in the journals, anthologies and publishing houses that brought her to prominence. Greene (Dean Emerita/Oxford College of Emory Univ.; The Living of Maisie Ward, 1997, etc.) shows, however, that personal relationships often fractured under the intensity of Levertov’s personality. Her 25-year correspondence with Duncan ended on a sour note when he claimed that her vehement protest against the Vietnam War was making her poetry shrill and didactic. When that war, along with Levertov’s unhappy marriage, finally ended in 1975, she began writing more contemplative poems that engaged with the natural world as well as with the divine mystery that had imbued her childhood. Influenced by her father’s Hasidic Judaism and his conversion to Christianity, Levertov had always felt a dual spiritual-sensual connection with her environment. While her emotional life continued to be tumultuous up until her death, her poems gradually gained the mastery that her earliest work had prophesied. This compelling study deftly blends personal details with consideration of the poet’s craft. (10 b/w photos)
FOODOPOLY The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America Hauter, Wenonah New Press (240 pp.) $26.95 | Dec. 11, 2012 978-1-59558-790-9 978-1-59558-794-7 e-book
A forceful argument about our dysfunctional food system. Hauter, the executive director of Food & Water Watch, has gathered statistics and stories to back her argument that the United States is in a food crisis, caused by government deregulation and by consolidation and control of the food supply by a small number of powerful corporations. Inadequate regulation of the food industry, she writes, has led to the poisoning of people and the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in animals. After a bit of history on farm policy, Hauter examines the consolidation of the food chain from crop seeds to retail stores, dotting the text with bold graphics that depict the extent of the power of leading corporations. To inform readers of the direness of the situation and to arouse their indignation, she reveals the cruelty to animals and the pollution of the environment that is part and parcel of the factory farming of cattle, hogs and chickens; she challenges the biotechnology advances that have led to the genetic modification of food crops; and she exposes largecompany practices that are changing the organic food industry. She calls for the mobilization of a grass-roots movement to
bring about the changes that she argues are essential to making the country’s food system economically and ecologically sound. Hauter urges the movement that has been promoting local, sustainable food production to expand, to join with other progressives, and to become political activists and fight for the reinstatement and enforcement of antitrust laws that will enable midsize farms to once again flourish. While the text can be wordy and repetitive, the author’s message is clear, and the graphics pack a punch that hammers it home.
CIVIL WAR DYNASTY The Ewing Family of Ohio Heineman, Kenneth J. New York Univ. (384 pp.) $35.00 | Jan. 1, 2013 978-0-8147-7301-7
A thorough, revealing history of an important political and military family from Ohio during the Civil War. Rising from an impoverished family, Thomas Ewing Sr. (1789–1871) became a man of wealth and connections, a lawyer, a senator, a wise international political mind (he counseled Lincoln not to antagonize Britain as the Civil War loomed), a real estate developer and secretary of the Treasury and Interior. In a state riven by the debate over abolition, he took a middle road in hopes of saving the Union. He finally hewed to the North, as did his sons, all of whom became key military figures and one a chief justice. The family was certainly a dynasty, and Heineman (History/Angelo State Univ.; Put Your Bodies Upon the Wheels: Student Revolt in the 1960s, 2001, etc.) examines it with a low-key, intimate touch, graceful but unvarnished and with a nose for honesty. The author ably captures this momentous time in American history, drawing the big picture with a practiced ease, particularly the military activities on the battlefield and the political maneuvering on the slavery question in the territories and in Washington. He also handles the more personal details related to Ewing and his children. His daughter married William Tecumseh Sherman (who was Ewing’s foster child, and whom he groomed to generalhood); his son Hugh was a free spirit (not to mention a general) who saved Sherman from charges of insanity; Charles was another war hero (and another general); and Thomas Jr. was yet another general, though he was besmirched by an early episode of ethnic cleansing (forced removal) of Southerners from Missouri. As warm and enticing as an oral history, with lots more footnotes.
Hesson, Frosty with Spiegelman, Ian Zola Books (300 pp.) $11.99 e-book | Oct. 10, 2012 978-1-939126-00-9 A companion piece to the movie about surfing legend Rick “Frosty” Hesson’s life. Hesson’s fearless love of water developed early in 1950s San Francisco; he loved the “motion and speed” of the ocean and the fact that “it was alive.” Tempering this exhilaration was life with a mother plagued by chronic digestive maladies and a frustrated, hard-drinking father overburdened with family financial responsibilities. As a teenager, Hesson expressed an interest in surfing, and soon, prefab board at his side, he began a trial-and-error ocean education at the beach and at school swim meets with a dedicated coach. Adulthood brought increased familial responsibilities and varied roadblocks as he flunked out of college, narrowly avoided the draft, processed
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“A delicious anthology of the best American food writing from 2012.” from best food writing 2012
his mother’s heart-wrenching suicide and rushed into marriage. At 26, “Frosty” (nicknamed for his whitish blond hair) revisited the surf at Hawaii’s Waimea Bay and, eventually, returned to Northern California’s Half Moon Bay, where the nation’s pro surfers often stay in the winter to be close to the notoriously mammoth “Mavericks” wave swells. Hesson enthusiastically describes his experiences riding the “Mavs” and his intensive mentorship with burgeoning surfer Jay Moriarity, a relationship that began when the boy, a quick learner, was 12. This pairing of wise experience with eager novice dominates the final third of the author’s autobiography. After years of Hesson’s mindful tutelage, Moriarity, at 16, fearlessly braved the risky Mavericks and emerged as prime sports-media fodder. Sadly, his time with the boy ended tragically when Moriarity drowned while free diving. Throughout, the author comes across as a decent man with great wisdom and compassion. Hesson ably captures the enchantment and inherent dangers of surfing in this distinctive memoir.
THE HORROR OF LOVE Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski in Paris and London
Hilton, Lisa Pegasus (336 pp.) $25.95 | Dec. 18, 2012 978-1-60598-392-9
Hilton (Queens Consort: England’s Medieval Queens, 2009, etc.) provides a sensationalistic, fast-paced account of the decades-long affair between the British novelist/biographer/socialite Nancy Mitford and Gaston Palewski, a colonel of the Free French Forces. The author ably captures life for members of her protagonists’ respective social strata as they cycled through rural England, London, Paris, Bilbao, Rome and Versailles in the years of and between the world wars. Hilton packs the narrative with such a dizzying array of people and places that readers will be constantly stimulated, if slightly bewildered. The author brings the notoriously viperous Mitford to life more effectively than she does the womanizing Palewski, whose romantic exploits, while recounted with admirable thoroughness, conjure only a vague impression of their executor. Perhaps this is the inevitable consequence of Mitford’s greater fame. Hilton’s prose is energetic and entertaining, though her speculation about Mitford’s feelings at various points in her life can come across as strained. It is the duty of writers of historical nonfiction to theorize about their subjects’ states of mind—a dry recitation of the facts of a person’s life hardly makes for good reading. However, as Hilton acknowledges, “[Mitford’s] true feelings can only be a matter of conjecture.” It seems no less presumptuous to insist that Mitford was a model of sophistication and restraint who accepted her lover’s philandering with understanding and equanimity than it is to insist she was a pathetically passive victim of male faithlessness. Those who adhere rigidly to either view are probably mistaken, at least in some respects. 2344 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
Worthwhile reading for lovers of historical romance and the ever-engrossing Mitfords.
BEST FOOD WRITING 2012
Hughes, Holly--Ed. Da Capo/Perseus (336 pp.) $16.00 paperback | Nov. 1, 2012 978-0-7382-1603-4
A delicious anthology of the best American food writing from 2012. Hughes once again pulls together the year’s tastiest examples from the growing field of food writing. The editor has chosen wisely from an abundance of blogs, magazine articles and books, and this collection presents an eclectic mix of food experiences. In an era of celebrity chefs and much-hyped restaurants, this collection is thankfully absent the pretentious musings of restaurateurs and TV stars. It’s the unexpected approaches to the genre of food writing that are the most appealing. Take, for instance, Rowan Jacobsen’s “Gumbo Chronicles,” about searching for the ingredients to make gumbo in post–oil spill Gulf waters. In “A Matter of Taste,” Barry Estabrook exposes readers to the fascinating world of tomato cultivation. “Still Life with Mayonnaise,” by Greg Atkinson, is an ode to the ubiquitous yet rarely appreciated condiment. In “On Killing,” Hank Shaw presents a meditation on hunting, and John Birdsall explores the production of pastrami as a lost (and very expensive) art form. Kevin Pang’s “A Chef ’s Painful Road to Rehab” gives readers a disturbing taste of the darker side of being a professional chef. Some of the best essays explore the emotional connections between food and memory. Elissa Altman ruminates on family relationships in her short but powerful “Angry Breakfast Eggs,” and in one of the most moving essays, “They Don’t Have Tacos in the Suck,” Katharine Shilcutt layers a visit to taco trucks in Houston over a visit with a long-lost friend, an explosives expert stationed in Afghanistan. A collection of strong writing on fascinating topics that will appeal to foodies and essay lovers alike.
DOING CAPITALISM IN THE INNOVATION ECONOMY Markets, Speculation and the State
Janeway, William H. Cambridge Univ. (320 pp.) $32.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-1-107-03125-8
A rewarding memoir about the learning, training and life experience required to achieve mastery in the venture economy. Warburg Pincus senior advisor Janeway debuts with this account of the implications of relatively less-discussed aspects of the economic theories of John Maynard Keynes, including
his interest in investment and speculation and views of the fallibility of human judgment. The author reviews several main strands in the development of contemporary economic theory and shows where their advocates have gone off the rails or worse. His frame is provided by what he calls “three sets of continuous, reciprocal, interdependent games played between the state, the market economy and financial capitalism.” Janeway asserts that modern market orthodoxies are absolutely wrong, that there is no such thing as a hedge for any investments, that bubbles have beneficial effects as well as unpleasant ones, and that “cash and control,” not debt, are key at all levels to offset the dangers of illiquidity crises. The author’s own career provides the context for a much broader discussion of the history of scientific and technological innovation in relation to the development of market-based economies. He shows that only the state can sponsor the outcome-independent commitment to basic science that makes economic innovation possible, but which also requires investment best mobilized through stock markets. Interestingly, Janeway argues that what became known in the 19th century as the “American System,” associated with Alexander Hamilton, remains the most effective political organization for the three-player game. A well-written, occasionally humorous book most appropriate for specialists but useful for general readers as well.
BIRTHRIGHT People and Nature in the Modern World
Kellert, Stephen R. Yale Univ. (288 pp.) $32.50 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-300-17654-4
An exploration of the specific ways in which a connection with the natural world affects the well-being of humankind. Kellert (Forestry and Environmental Studies Emeritus/ Yale Univ.; Borrowed Knowledge: Chaos Theory and the Challenge of Learning across Disciplines, 2008) has established bona fides in studies of the many ways humans interact with, and are deeply impacted by, the natural world. Building on his prior work in biophilia (“the inherent inclination to affiliate with the natural world instrumental to people’s physical and mental health, productivity, and well being”), the author moves beyond the ancillary effects into how deeply rooted our connections to nature are and the effects on our individual and cultural lives of disconnection from that world. Pulling from a multitude of disciplines, including psychology, spirituality and design, Kellert combines theories and practical applications for changing our relation to nature in a range of settings. Interludes provide anecdotal stories—some fiction, others not—to illustrate the ideas. Some of the interludes fall flat, reading as flimsy fiction working too hard to “prove” an idea. Others succeed—e.g., incorporating E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan into the discussion brings the chapter on symbolism into clear focus. Beyond purely
aesthetic appeal, the author gives due consideration to our urge for dominion, an amplified spirituality that places humans in the context of something greater than ourselves and a simultaneous scientific urge to extract understanding of life. Kellert isn’t advocating for a Luddite existence, but he argues convincingly for an increased understanding of our place as part of nature rather than just conquerors of it.
ENGINEERS OF VICTORY The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War Kennedy, Paul Random House (224 pp.) $30.00 | Jan. 15, 2013 978-1-4000-6761-9
Kennedy (The Parliament of Man: The Past, Present and Future of the United Nations, 2006, etc.) presents what he calls “a new way of treating that epic conflict,” World War II. The author begins with the agenda and priorities of the 1943 Casablanca Conference, and his inquiry traces the interrelationships among strategic decision-making, the accomplishment of the five major tasks identified by conference attendees, and the capacities and weapons systems that made the achievement of the goals possible. The aim was to overcome obstacles to the successful invasion of Western Europe, with five ranked top priorities: winning the battle against U-boats in the North Atlantic, securing control of the airspace over Europe, developing ways to counter the Nazi blitzkrieg, learning how to coordinate landings and establish secure beachheads on enemy-held coastlines, and mastering the technology and skills required to coordinate and fight combined arms warfare over thousands of miles. Kennedy’s fine-grained analysis and suspicion of any one single cause—like cipher cracking, intelligence and deception operations, or specific weapons systems, like the Soviet T-34 tank—permit him to persuasively array his supporting facts. He discusses key elements in each of the five areas and the commonalities among the different global theaters of war. The succession of accomplishments highlights the special importance of control of the air. Kennedy rebuts those who argue that the second front could have been opened in 1943, by showing what was learned from the succession of amphibious landings and their impact on the D-Day preparations and ultimate success. The author introduces many individuals whose inventions and capacities contributed profoundly. An absorbing new approach to a well-worked field. (B/W photographs)
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k i r ku s q & a w i t h g i n a k e at i n g
NETFLIXED: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs
Keating, Gina Portfolio (288 pp.) Oct. 11, 2012 978-1-59184-478-5
Journalist and author Gina Keating often writes about media and the financial world, but she really loves people and “watching what they’re going to do next.” Not surprisingly, two rather intriguing individuals lie at the heart of Keating’s first book, Netflixed: The Epic Battle for America’s Eyeballs. Kirkus talked to the investigative journalist turned author on the South Texas coast where she’s already deep into research for her next book. Here, she touches on those two aforementioned individuals and how the company they launched has so profoundly impacted the movieand TV-watching public. Says Keating, “They’re controversial. And always have been.” Q: Who are Netflix’s biggest enemies: its competitors or its founders? A: The biggest enemy to Netflix right now is [CEO] Reed Hastings’ sense that he can do everything. He is a very brilliant guy, and he is the one who is responsible for scaling that company and giving it the focus it has to transform home entertainment. But the idea and customer-facing focus was created entirely by [co-founder] Marc Randolph and his team. Humans are very messy. They don’t make a lot of sense—especially consumers. They don’t evolve along a timeline you can really describe. And I think that’s very frustrating to Reed Hastings because he’s a mathematician, and he wants things to develop along a particular time frame. When he became impatient with the ways things were developing with his customer base, he started to make mistakes. And that’s what I tried to point out in my book. He did one thing extremely well, his partner did something equally well—both were polar opposites. But each of them was extremely necessary for the success of that company. Q: What makes Netflix such a polarizing enterprise?
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Q: What kind of challenges did you face as a short-form journalist writing your first full-length book? A: I was pretty terrified about it, especially since I’d been a wire-service reporter for eight years. And I really did not know how to do story structure. Thank God, I knew I didn’t know how to do it. So, I actually went to UCLA and found a writing professor named Stacie Chaiken, and I worked with her on the story structure. I wanted it to have well-developed characters because I felt that was critical to the book. That was everything that I saw in the story of Netflix. Q: In what ways has Netflix changed the way visual entertainment is consumed? A: The first thing was, you don’t go to the video store. You sit at your computer, order a DVD and then wait for it. It’s going to come to you, and it’s okay if it sits on your TV because you can keep it as long as you want. That was the first change in behavior. The second was not going for the firstrun title, but going for the back-end title. There were lots of articles about people ordering DVDs and having them sit on their television because they were scared. They ordered what they thought was good for them instead of what they wanted to see. And that was another behavior that was interesting. Your movies became almost like an educational experience or something that was edifying for your intellect. And that was something that Netflix created also. Then you have streaming. And not only are you streaming to your TV, you’re also seeing stuff on your laptop, on your Game Boy, on your phone. I remember when they launched the streaming service and you couldn’t get it through the television. And everyone was saying, “No one is going to watch a movie on a hand-held device. It’s just not going to happen.” Absolutely wrong. And that’s all due to Netflix. —By Joe Maniscalco
9 For the full interview, please visit kirkus.com.
p hoto c ou rt e sy of au t ho r
A: It’s a model that should not have worked. You sit home, you order a DVD online and then you wait for it to come. It just goes against everything that people have been saying about what consumers want: instant gratification, the ability to hold the product and touch it and emotionally bond with it. I mean, it just wasn’t supposed to work. And everything that they have done has been pretty counterintuitive. People are now all upset about the idea that they don’t have first-run movies on the streaming service. But Netflix has never been about going out and getting the latest titles. That was a Blockbuster thing. Seventy percent of Netflix’s business has always been back-catalog titles. And the emotional journey of
Netflix—which other industry people and Wall Street didn’t understand—was that you could sort of wander around in this enormous catalog and that algorithm would show you what you liked. And that was a very cool experience for people because they were finding stuff that they didn’t know about and didn’t know they wanted. Netflix has always been a law unto itself, and that makes people very nervous.
“Other writing guides have more nuts-and-bolts advice, but few combine the verve and plainspokenness of this book, which exemplifies its title.” from good prose
GOOD PROSE The Art of Nonfiction Kidder, Tracy; Todd, Richard Random House (224 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-4000-6975-0 978-0-679-60472-3 e-book
Legendary literary journalist Kidder (Strength in What Remains, 2009, etc.) and his longtime editor trade war stories and advice for the ambitious nonfiction writer. “Let’s face it, this fellow can’t write,” an Atlantic editor told Todd about Kidder, who had been constantly revising his first feature in 1973. The authors tell this story upfront as an inspirational anecdote for young writers: Great writing is less often the product of flashes of genius than it is dogged persistence as a researcher and rewriter. The book is largely an entertaining handbook on matters of reporting (do lots of it, much more than you think you need) and style (simpler is better), but Kidder and Todd are not prescriptive the way Strunk & White and its inheritors are, and they allow greater leeway for writers. Throughout, they implore writers to shrug off the shackles of “journalese” and blog-y posturing and strive for creative, essayistic approaches. They’re also forgiving, to a degree, of the imperfect memories that propel many memoirs. Outright fabrications (see James Frey) are out of line for them, but they appreciate that no memoirs “that strive to dramatize moments in the past can be wholly faithful to knowable fact.” After the practical matters are settled, the two indulge in “Being Edited and Editor,” a lengthy chapter in which they recall their contentious relationship tussling over paragraphs. Even here, though, the memories are studded with practical tips and memorable aphorisms—“Something is always wrong with a draft,” in particular, should hang over every writer’s desk. The authors also offer fine recommendations for further reading, from Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time (1967) to Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers (2012). Other writing guides have more nuts-and-bolts advice, but few combine the verve and plainspokenness of this book, which exemplifies its title.
FOOL ME TWICE Obama’s Shocking Plans for the Next Four Years Exposed
Klein, Aaron; Elliott, Brenda J. WND Books (290 pp.) $25.95 | Aug. 7, 2012 978-193648857-5
Move over, Mao Zedong. There’s a big, bad, black sheriff in town who’s coming to claim your title as Head Commie by overseeing “the progressive socialist takeover of our country.” Note the “our country” bit. That’s because Barack Hussein
Obama is, of course, from Kenya, or Indonesia or somewhere else. He’s not homegrown, like the much-adored George Bush, who provides the title of this screed through one memorable bout with the English language that Klein and Elliott (coauthors: The Manchurian President, 2010) seem to have drawn the wrong lessons from. The two serve up the stuff that, back in the olden days, you’d have to draw down from the weakest of shortwave-radio transmissions generated from some bunker out in the desert: Obama wants to open the Mexican border so that illegals can come streaming across and get documented so they can vote up in el Norte, which is just one of many nefarious tactics meant to ensure the dominance of the Democrats. Well, if Karl Rove had a game plan to ensure Republican rule for generations to come, it stands to reason that the Democratic Party might have one, too—save that the Dems, of course, will pull this off by weakening America’s military and sending the Army off to fight not al-Qaida but global warming. Gas guzzlers may now wish to tremble in terror, but it will do them no good: The military will be under U.N. command, anyway, thanks to Obama’s love of big one-world government. This book is alternately slipshod and stupid, citing the moral equivalent of Cliff ’s Notes as an authority while ignoring some pretty heavy realities—such as the fact that the Mexican border is in fact more tightly controlled than under Bush and that the foreign-policy weakling Obama did actually end Osama bin Laden’s tenure on the planet. A book that is comfortable to live in its own sphere of fact, evidenced by the mere datum that it takes Ann Coulter as a reputable source.
BITTER BREW The Rise and Fall of Anheuser-Busch and America’s Kings of Beer Knoedelseder, William Harper Business (416 pp.) $27.99 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-06-200926-5
Knoedelseder (I’m Dying Up Here: Heartbreak and High Times in Stand-up Comedy’s Golden Era, 2009, etc.) peels away the ubiquitous Budweiser label to reveal an American family dynasty drunk on wealth, power and privilege. Beginning just after the all-American Anheuser-Busch brand was sold to the conglomerate InBev in 2008, the author examines the company’s golden years. The company began in the mid 19th century when the son of a well-to-do German wine merchant first landed in St. Louis and set about building a brewing empire. Just how that same empire would one day manifest itself in the comic visage of Spuds MacKenzie is at once astounding and abhorrent. Indelible tag lines like “This Bud’s For You” and “Bring Out Your Best” were only Budweiser’s public calling cards. As the author adroitly points out, the real architects behind “The King of Beers” were far less palatable figures. Self-absorbed A-B leaders like “Gussie” Busch and his | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2347
heir, August III, may have produced millions of barrels of beer in their time, but they left a lot to be desired in the humanity department. Knoedelseder’s detailed portraits of each man, as well as August IV, are vivid, and their combined histories are enough to outshock even the most scandalous TV drama. No less captivating, however, are the stories behind Budweiser’s phenomenally successful advertising campaigns, most notably its tooth-and-nail ad war with Miller Lite in the mid-1970s. For years, Budweiser waged some of its toughest battles across America’s TV screens, but it was their largely unseen, interfamily fighting that cost them the most. This comprehensive, fastpaced history adeptly handles both threads. An engrossing behind-the-scenes look at one of America’s most successful and familiar brands. (8-page b/w photo insert)
A ROAD BACK FROM SCHIZOPHRENIA A Memoir
Lauveng, Arnhild Translated by Osttveit, Stine Skarpnes Skyhorse Publishing (208 pp.) $22.95 | Dec. 1, 2012 978-1-61608-871-2
A “former schizophrenic” now working as a clinical psychologist describes her experiences and treatment. A danger inherent in any memoir about overcoming schizophrenia lies in the delicate balance of providing insight into the illness without misleading readers into thinking that this narrative represents a universal experience of the illness. Pains are usually taken to be clear that one person’s subjective experience might not match up with another person’s, but many people turn to this sort of book to find commonalities, to gain strength from knowing someone else has had the same experience. Lauveng addresses this duality at length in her memoir of living with schizophrenia, drawing on her own terrifying experiences to address the carefully constructed definitions and understandings of the disorder. She challenges some entrenched ideas about schizophrenia, especially the idea that she had to live with her condition for her entire life, and she deconstructs and examines in different combinations the ideas of how it affects different individuals. Her own hallucinations involved wolves, a “Captain” that gave her instructions and two large rats. Medical professionals were sometimes helpful, but more often not. “I don’t believe that my story is anything more than my own story,” she writes. “But it is a different story than what people first diagnosed with schizophrenia may be told; therefore, I find it important to share.” Emphasizing a personal approach to clients is not unique to Lauveng, but this chronicle of her specific experiences carries extra weight.
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JOHN BROWN’S SPY The Adventurous Life and Tragic Confession of John E. Cook
Lubet, Steven Yale Univ. (256 pp.) $28.00 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-300-18049-7
For 10 days, this unlikely spy was “among the most wanted fugitives in the history of the United States.” The son of prosperous Connecticut parents, John Cook tried his hand at law, clerking and sales before attaching himself, more out of romance than principle, to the abolitionist movement. He fought under the notorious militia of Capt. John Brown in Bloody Kansas. In 1858, Brown dispatched Cook to Harper’s Ferry to gather information crucial to the plan to seize the federal arsenal, liberate slaves and take slave owners hostage. Following his capture after the failed raid and throughout the course of his trial, Cook’s betrayal of the locals (he fathered a child and married during his time in town) earned him an enmity exceeding even that felt toward Brown. When it became clear that he would repudiate Brown and name the old man’s “aiders or abettors” to save himself, Cook lost any support he might have received from Northern sympathizers. In this first full biography of any of Brown’s followers, Lubet (Law/ Northwestern Univ.; Fugitive Justice: Runaways, Rescuers, and Slavery on Trial, 2010, etc.) is especially effective at capturing the courtroom drama surrounding Brown, Cook and their captured confederates. With sharp portraits of the lawyers, clear explanations of their various machinations and evocative descriptions of the legal proceedings, he brings to life the charges of treason and murder, the pleas for mercy and the poignancy of Cook’s pathetic confessions, insufficient for the prosecution, too little for the purposes of his defense, too shameless for Cook to maintain dignity, too detailed for Brown’s idolaters to bear. At age 30, the reckless Cook was hanged, mourned only by his wife and still-loving sisters. A crisply told tale fleshing out one of American history’s more intriguing footnotes.
INVENTING WINE A New History of One of the World’s Most Ancient Pleasures Lukacs, Paul Norton (400 pp.) $28.95 | Dec. 3, 2012 978-0-393-06452-0
Noted American oenophile Lukacs (English/Loyola Univ. Maryland; The Great Wines of America: The Top Forty Vintners, Vineyards, and Vintages, 2005, etc.) tells the story of wine over eight millenniums and around the globe.
“A tidy introduction to basic philosophies and their relation to how we view our happiness.” from the happy life
This encyclopedic history arrives in what the author calls the great golden age of wine, with its popularity skyrocketing and quality unmatched. But it was not always so, a thesis that motivated Lukacs to track the dramatic changes that have shaped wine production and consumption over time. He begins in the ancient world, where wine played a role in religious rites but soured quickly and tasted “dense and unctuous.” The secularization of wine in the Christian era and nutritional benefits in the Middle Ages (when it was safer to drink than water) made vin ordinaire widely popular, though it was still adulterated with additives and generally sour. Wine competed with beer and distilled spirits until the advent of the content-stabilizing glass bottle and vin fin from heralded viticulture regions like Burgundy and Bordeaux. A first, brief golden age followed in the mid 19th century with the rise of the wine-drinking bourgeoisie and fabled terroirs. However, vine disease and two world wars emptied cellars and left barren a quarter of the vineyards in France alone. Wine’s gradual rebirth brought the introduction of appellation controls, new viticulture regions like Australia and California, and stylistic innovations emphasizing grape type over terroir. Themes of interest to oenophiles, from wine’s longtime disrepute in North America to England’s love affair with Bordeaux, and fascinating details—for instance, the unearthing of 26 casks of wine in King Tut’s tomb—heighten the pleasure of this engrossing narrative. A richly readable and authoritative addition to the literature of wine.
FROM THE FOREST A Search for the Hidden Roots of our Fairytales Maitland, Sara Photos by Lee, Adam Counterpoint (288 pp.) $28.00 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-1619020146
An imaginative study examining both the vital role forests play in fairy stories and their vanishing significance
from modern life. For Maitland (A Book of Silence, 2009), employing both research and her own personal study of forests throughout the United Kingdom, the untamed wild is both a powerful symbol of hidden dangers and a challenge to personal responsibility. While modern children are raised to stay inside where life is orderly and presumably safer, the stories of “Hansel and Gretel” and “Little Red Riding Hood” present a world with different rules that require new “coping strategies.” “To know about woods you have to go into the woods,” she writes. “So if we want healthy children in healthy forests we need to get the children out into the forests, and to do that, we need to see the forests as friendly, generous places, but also as tough and determined.” Maitland is at her best when she is most personal; she writes with smooth, often poetic, clarity about where stories come from, and she has a sensitivity to the mystery and excitement
of the natural world that Thoreau would have appreciated. Her passion for preservation, alas, tends to get the better of her; the book is at its driest when she is rambling on about pollarding and coppicing and cover husbandry. Also, the structure of the book works against her, as every chapter comes with a clumsy, full-length, supposedly cheeky alternative telling of a popular story. None of these add to the book. Flaws aside, the author provides a pensive, often-invigorating blend of cultural anthropology and walking tour.
THE HAPPY LIFE The Search for Contentment in the Modern World Malouf, David Pantheon (112 pp.) $20.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-0-307-90771-4 978-0-307-90782-0 e-book
A slim volume of meditations on the conundrum that is happiness. Early on in the book, Malouf (Ransom, 2010, etc.) reflects on the unique position we find ourselves in with regard to the idea of “unrest,” noting that something seemingly in opposition to a broad idea of happiness has undergone a reversal of sorts. Smartphones, Facebook, Twitter, constant news updates, etc.—the situation maintains a state of unrest, without which we’re faced with unendurable inactivity, stillness and quiet. The author notes that it’s likely that a majority of people reading this book would, when asked if they are happy, report that they “can’t complain”—even though the opposite is often true, with disgruntlement about politicians, the pace of modern life and other issues leading to a too-common base line of unrest. Malouf bounces among ideas throughout this short book, calling on a who’s-who of philosophers and writers for historical perspective on the winding path happiness has taken through the milleniums. Perhaps the world’s interconnectedness in the digital age has led to an increased feeling of insignificance; perhaps not, but Malouf takes these theories and mines Seneca, Thomas Jefferson and others to shed light on both the ideas and their naysayers. At certain points, the author comes off as crotchety and out-of-touch with current realities, but the majority of the text is engaging. A tidy introduction to basic philosophies and their relation to how we view our happiness.
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“The author’s solid research and use of newly available material exposes the truth of the Potato Famine, the barbaric policies that exacerbated it and the incredible will of the Irish people.” from all standing
MAKE YOUR STORY A MOVIE Adapting Your Book or Idea for Hollywood Marlow, John Robert St. Martin’s Griffin (320 pp.) $14.99 paperback | Dec. 11, 2012 978-1-250-00183-2
A book about writing or adapting for the screen that doesn’t seem to fit its title. The target readership for this Hollywood how-to guide would seem to be readers who already have a script in hand (or at least a very strong idea) and a chance of beating the astronomical odds for a newcomer to see her vision realized on the screen. “[T] his book will lay down the ground rules,” writes Marlow (Nano, 2004), “explaining what Hollywood looks for in source material and in screenplays, what’s involved in creating a good—or great—adaptation, and how to find help, or strike out on your own.” In the process, the author offers standard screenwriting advice such as “classically structured films have three major acts and seven plot points.” Yet there are many books already available for the aspiring screenwriter, and this book aims to distinguish itself by shifting the focus to adaptation, thus introducing a whole set of complications and challenges that the novice will be ill-equipped to handle. Unless the writer is adapting her own source material, there are all sorts of negotiations over rights and credits, along with advice that won’t be of much help to an outsider. Yes, you’ll improve your chances by packaging your adaptation with a proven director and a bankable star, but what are the odds of that? Yes, having well-connected representation might help, but, the author suggests, “Hollywood ‘reps’ (meaning agents and managers) are notoriously hard to land. In fact, if getting a book agent is the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest, then finding a good manager is something akin to, say, a journey to the moon—and landing an agent more like a mission to Mars.” Good luck with that. Despite interesting insights from Paul Haggis, Walter Kirn, Rex Pickett, Vikas Swarup and others, this disjointed, often-repetitive book fails to find its purpose or focus.
ALL STANDING The True Story of Hunger, Rebellion, and Survival Aboard the Jeanie Johnston Miles, Kathryn Free Press (256 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-4516-1013-0
Miles (Environmental Writing/Unity Coll.) builds her story around the Jeanie Johnston, the only ship fleeing the Irish Potato Famine with a 100 percent survival rate in its many Atlantic crossings. The author does not spare the British Empire in the death of over 1 million Irish. They may not have murdered them, but 2350 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
the export of grain out of the starving country, evictions, minimal relief, a providential attitude and the death traps that were called “coffin ships” were the direct result of British colonial policy. Miles shows the flicker of hope in the nightmare of emigration that was the Jeanie Johnston. Her captain, James Attridge, his crew and the ship’s physician, Richard Blennerhassett, guided the purpose-built ship across the Atlantic Ocean determined to prevent cholera and typhus from decimating their passengers. They insisted on hygienic living, frequent walks on deck for passengers and weekly airing of bedding. The author’s vivid description of the barbaric crowding on other ships during the two-month trip will make many readers wonder how anyone survived. The food, less than a pound of oatmeal per day, was barely enough to sustain life. Even those who survived the crossing met desperate conditions when they finally reached their destination, including a lack of work, quarantine and more disease. Miles provides a host of intriguing profiles of the many passengers—including Nicholas Reilly, who was born aboard the ship—as they left their home behind to seek a new life. The author’s solid research and use of newly available material exposes the truth of the Potato Famine, the barbaric policies that exacerbated it and the incredible will of the Irish people.
THE FIDDLER ON PANTICO RUN An African Warrior, His White Descendants, Our Search for Family Mozingo, Joe Free Press (320 pp.) $25.99 | Oct. 9, 2012 978-1-4516-2748-0
One man’s search for the origins of his name. Mozingo is a white reporter for the Los Angeles Times whose family name often puzzled him. He had heard a range of stories about its origins, but most of them were shrouded in mystery. The author embarked on a journey for answers, resulting in this wide-ranging quest through archives and libraries and across the world to places such as Jamestown, Va., and the West African nation of Cameroon. Jamestown evokes the foundation of what would become the United States, while Cameroon and the coast of West Africa evoke the stain of American slavery. Mozingo discovered that his surname is not Italian or Basque or any of a dozen other possibilities that floated around family lore. The author is a descendent of Edward Mozingo, a former slave from West Africa who sued for his freedom in a court in Virginia in the late 1600s and emerged victorious. This book follows Mozingo as he solves as much of the mystery as the record, frail human memory and oral tradition allowed. Although his prose can run purple and his history occasionally potted, the author, a dogged reporter, largely makes his personal history come alive. He successfully places his family’s tale in the larger context of the tortuous history of race in America, connecting
his personal genealogy to the tides of American history during the era of slavery. Mozingo sought answers about his name, and therefore his identity, that had long vexed him. This book provides the response to that inquiry and much more.
MONSIEUR PROUST’S LIBRARY
Muhlstein, Anka Other Press (256 pp.) $19.95 | Oct. 30, 2012 978-1-59051-566-2
An amusing, albeit too tightly condensed look at clues to Proust’s treatment of style, memory and homosexuality. Literary biographer Muhlstein, whose previous work charmingly explored how Balzac used food in his novels (Balzac’s Omelette, 2011), mines the territory of Proust’s literary influences, such as Racine and Anatole France. In Racine’s audacious grammar, Muhlstein notes, Proust learned that “an original writer was entitled to stray from strict rules of syntax but was bound to respect scrupulously the precise meanings of words.” Proust acknowledged that he gleaned the idea of the evocative madeleine from a passage in Francois de Chateaubriand’s Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, in which the narrator is roused by the “magic sound” of the warbling thrush to recall the estate of his father. Muhlstein also emphasizes Proust’s debt to Anglo-Saxon writers, especially Ruskin, whom Proust apparently spent nine years studying and translating, largely thanks to his mother, who was fluent in English. Proust admired Ruskin’s “exquisitely minute descriptions” and a kind of organic order that helped Proust understand how to give a proper form to his own towering novelistic structure. In his character Baron de Charlus, the homosexual aristocrat, Proust consolidated much of his reading in Balzac, Saint-Simon and Madame de Sevigne, while Proust imbued his character Bergotte, the writer, with his young-adult adulation for novelist France. Muhlstein has evidently read and absorbed Proust and his influences deeply, but some readers may wonder why she does not employ Lydia Davis’ fresh new translation of Proust’s work rather than the dated Moncrieff-Kilmartin edition. A mostly stimulating study that should deepen readers’ appreciation of Proust and draw them back to the original “underpinning.”
WHAT MATTERS IN JANE AUSTEN? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved Mullan, John Bloomsbury (352 pp.) $30.00 | Jan. 29, 2013 978-1-62040-041-8
Austen enthusiast and Guardian columnist Mullan (English/Univ. College London; Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature, 2008, etc.) poses and answers 20 questions about Austen’s novels and her technique. Not all the questions are “crucial,” but most are interesting. The author begins by wondering if Austen knew how good she was and quickly reveals his great admiration for her work. Then, off he sails toward his 20 islands, each of which he explores in conventional fashion: introductory paragraph(s) followed by paragraphs of literary proof (quotations, incidents), virtually
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“Exhaustive yet accessible, Nasaw’s book illuminates.” from the patriarch
all featuring a topic sentence. Conventions aside, Mullan returns from his voyages with some “novel” insights. He notes the significance of the ages of her characters (the women in the books are invariably younger than their screen counterparts), the rarity of a woman’s using a man’s first name in conversation, the rarity of death, the seductions of the seaside, the significance of weather, and why some characters talk a lot and some are silent altogether. We learn about games characters play (Austen herself liked cards) in a chapter Mullan slyly follows with one about sex (yes, there is some in Austen; no, it’s not very obvious). He examines the relevance of money (who talks about it and why?) and the significance of blunders (Emma is the queen of them, as he notes) and illness and even blushing. “Austen requires her readers,” writes Mullan, “to be interpreters of blushes.” Near the end (as in an Austen novel), marriage becomes a focus, and the last two chapters deal with Austen as a technical innovator. Mullan notes how she rarely intrudes in the narration (unlike Thackeray and Trollope) and how she pioneered the “free indirect style.” A box of 20 literary chocolates for Austen fans to savor.
THE PATRIARCH The Remarkable Life and Turbulent Times of Joseph P. Kennedy Nasaw, David Penguin Press (896 pp.) $40.00 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-1594203763
Sprawling, highly readable biography of the dynast and larger-than-life figure whose presence still haunts American
political life. Working from his subject’s extensive archives, Nasaw (Andrew Carnegie, 2006, etc.) pieces together a sometimes-sympathetic, sometimes-critical view of Joseph P. Kennedy (1888– 1969), father of John F. Kennedy and most definitely a man of parts. Born into wealth, he learned the ropes in the banking business before heading to Hollywood to try his hand at filmmaking. In the last pursuit, he charted only some successes, but he made great use of the perks of the job in bedding starlets, notably Gloria Swanson. Kennedy left Hollywood to return to finance, moving among several palatial homes in Florida, New York and Massachusetts and building a massive fortune thanks to what Nasaw calls “an almost uncanny knack for being in the right stock.” His children, including future politicians John, Robert and Edward, grew up surrounded by opulence, though the patriarch took care that they not become spoiled by too much too soon. Yet, by Nasaw’s account, when the Depression hit and reduced his fortune along with everyone else’s, Kennedy’s mood seemed to turn, and he spent the rest of his long life in brooding and contrarian turns, courting plenty of trouble along the way. Accused, as Nasaw notes, of various crimes and moral failings, ranging from bootlegging to anti-Semitism, Kennedy nevertheless instilled in his family a sense of dedication 2352 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
to service and of the necessity of hard work. As he writes, Jack Kennedy recognized that despite the advantages of wealth, he had obstacles to overcome that were at least due in part to his father: “If I were governor of a large state, Protestant and 55,” he said, “I could sit back and let it come to me.” It did not, and nothing came easy to any of the Kennedys, that tragic clan, who continue to fascinate. Exhaustive yet accessible, Nasaw’s book illuminates.
ROLL ME UP AND SMOKE ME WHEN I DIE Musings from the Road
Nelson, Willie Morrow/HarperCollins (192 pp.) $22.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-06-219364-3
Legendary musician Nelson and his friends share a year’s worth of stories, lyrics, riffs and dirty jokes. At age 79, the prolific Nelson (A Tale Out of Luck, 2008, etc.) shows no signs of slowing down as he continues to travel the world with his “band of gypsies.” This funny, heartwarming collection doesn’t quite capture the experience of being on the road with the circus, but Nelson’s unmistakable voice shines through. The songwriter shares tales from the road, thoughts of the day, early memories, classic lyrics, and recollections of people like Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, among a host of lesser-known collaborators. Sister Bobbie Nelson and various children also chime in, while Kinky Friedman offers an affectionate foreword and Nelson’s son Micah contributes some terrific portraits of everyone from Ray Charles to Django Reinhardt. There are some semi-serious moments, but the best characteristic about the book is its sense of being mostly unplanned. Page by page, you might get a list of the best pickers Willie has ever heard, the lyrics and the inspiration for “Shotgun Willie,” or musings on golf, addiction, biodiesel, Farm Aid or the Occupy movement. However, it is neither as immaterial as The Tao of Willie (2006) nor as essential as his autobiography. Like another collection, The Facts of Life and Other Dirty Jokes (2001), how closely readers follow Nelson’s meandering path may largely depend on their own lucidity at the time. Just one volume in Nelson’s long story that remains much like its author: funny, inspirational and bawdy, with a well-honed sense of humor.
FREEDOM NATIONAL The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865 Oakes, James Norton (384 pp.) $27.95 | Dec. 10, 2012 978-0-393-06531-2
A finely argued book about how the destruction of slavery involved much more than Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Oakes (History/CUNY Graduate Center; The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics, 2007, etc.) returns to the notion that slavery, rather than states’ rights or “an outbreak of hysteria, irrationality and paranoia,” was truly the origin of the Civil War. In order to challenge the Constitutional consensus on slavery, the anti-slavery activists had to appeal to the broad principles of “natural law,” to which the Framers had implicitly referred. Also, opponents of slavery had to make the convincing argument that slaves were in fact not property, using the Somersett case in England as a legal benchmark. In addition to the Emancipation Proclamation, Oakes reveals the many smaller but significant victories for the opponents of slavery— e.g., New York’s 1799 emancipation law and John Quincy Adams’ eloquent defense of the slave ship Amistad’s rebels before the Supreme Court. Proponents of the Liberty Party asserted that slavery was not a national institution, but peculiar to certain states and suitable to be “cordoned off,” thus underscoring the importance of the border states during the Civil War as “containment” of the slave contagion; on the other hand, freedom, they believed, was national and not able to be restricted locally. Oakes wades through extremely nuanced arguments that evolved over time in the North and South, in Congress, in the military and in the mind of Lincoln. However, only 13 percent of the 4 million slaves living in the South were freed by the end of the war, prompting the necessity for a 13th Amendment to ensure Southern tractability. A useful contribution to the literature about slavery and the Civil War. (8 pages of illustrations)
DREAM MORE Celebrate the Dreamer in You
Parton, Dolly Putnam (128 pp.) $19.95 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-399-16248-0
Country music’s spunky doyenne presents an inspirational, feel-good stocking stuffer. Parton channels her years of downhome sensibilities and showbiz wisdom to fans needing a life-affirming pep talk, expanding on material delivered during a commencement speech highlighting what she
considers to be the eternal rewards of dreaming, learning and caring. She fondly, if fleetingly, reminisces on being raised with 11 other siblings in a “shack at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains” and touches on her school days distracted by boys, being spoon-fed Bible chapters and rebelliously applying makeup even after being warned that it was “sinful.” Parton gets personal when writing of her 46-year marriage to Carl Dean and discusses what were initially considered as ill-conceived decisions to leave The Porter Wagoner Show to branch out into pop music then conceptualize the Dollywood theme park (she admits to knowing little about its daily operations). At the heart of Parton’s brief book are positive empowerment and a refreshing work ethic that support her travel-heavy livelihood singing, acting and fulfilling philanthropic endeavors like the Dollywood Foundation and the Imagination Library, which delivers free books to children. The author credits her boundless energy level to a minimalistic need for sleep (though she takes power naps) and true happiness surrounded by friends, family and a blessed life. Parton’s kooky, boobcentric sense of humor gels nicely with pages of song lyrics, anecdotes and countrified witticisms (“I look so totally artificial, but am so totally real”). A pocket-sized pick-me-up for fans and dreamers.
FIFTY WRITERS ON FIFTY SHADES OF GREY
Perkins, Lori--Ed. Smart Pop/BenBella (304 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Nov. 20, 2012 978-1-937856-42-7
A collection of essays from a variety of perspectives on the best-selling erotic romance series. The Fifty Shades trilogy, just like the Twilight series that inspired it, has created demand for books with similar themes. This book, edited by veteran erotica editor Perkins, is clearly an attempt to capitalize on this new, robust market. Several of the contributors make this shift in the publishing industry a theme of their essays: Louise Fury writes that E.L. James has “helped pave the way” for existing writers of erotica and erotic romance and that “new voices [will] emerge and follow in her formidable, trailblazing footsteps.” Though there is general agreement that these books have created a space for new audiences and authors, there is disagreement on the representation of BDSM in the books. Jennifer Armintrout persuasively argues that the violent sex, though problematic, is less disturbing than Christian Grey’s controlling and stalking behavior. Yet Susan Wright points out that critics of BDSM forget that “everyone in America is free to sky dive, rock climb and play football, which cause far more harm than BDSM.” Perhaps the most novel perspectives come from Cecilia Tan’s, Mala Bhattacharjee’s and Anne Jamison’s essays on the Twilight fan-fiction origins of Fifty Shades and Tish Beaty’s account of discovering and editing the manuscript. Some of the essays appear to be hastily written personal reflections with a sentence or two about Fifty Shades thrown in; the “Fifty | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2353
“The frightening, illuminating and disturbing memoir by the author of The Satanic Verses, the book that provoked a death sentence from the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1989.” from joseph anton
Writers” gimmick may have prompted the inclusion of some filler. However, the more thoughtful essays will provide food for thought for readers eager to learn more about the series and the lifestyle it depicts. Other contributors include M.J. Rose, Judith Regan and Rakesh Satyal. Gimmicks aside, the essays are mostly informative and intelligent.
CONSTANTINE THE EMPEROR
Potter, David Oxford Univ. (368 pp.) $34.95 | Dec. 10, 2012 978-0-19-975586-8
Scholarly biography of the legendary Roman emperor “best known as the [man] who converted to Christianity and in so doing made it possible for Christianity to become a world religion.” With Diocletian’s abdication in A.D. 305, Constantine’s troops acclaimed him as caesar. He preserved the idea of territorial caesars who spoke and acted in his name, but only he was supreme emperor. Here, halfway into the book, Potter (Greek and Roman History/Univ. of Michigan; The Victor’s Crown: A History of Ancient Sport from Homer to Byzantium, 2011, etc.) finally begins the history of the man and his great governing successes. Constantine protected Romans in their concerns for fairness, marriage stability and personal standing, and he promoted efficiency throughout the empire. He had no use for patronage and abuse of the poor by the wealthy, and his decision to move the capital to Byzantium was as much a military decision as it was a reflection of his desire to establish his own eponymous shrine. It’s unclear when Constantine converted from Roman deities to one God, but it’s certain he ruled as a Christian emperor even though he was not baptized until he was on his deathbed. His First Council of bishops at Nicea cleverly united Christians through an administrative, not theological, process. That council’s accomplishments are still felt today; it addressed the controversy over consubstantiation, defined the date for Easter and provided the Nicene Creed, which is still in use today. A good fit for academics and students of Roman history. General readers will need to work to keep the players and locations straight and patiently wait for the main attraction. (40 b/w halftones; 5 b/w illustrations)
2354 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
JOHN KEATS A New Life
Roe, Nicholas Yale Univ. (384 pp.) $32.50 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-300-12465-1 Roe (English/Univ. of St. Andrews; Fiery Heart: The First Life of Leigh Hunt, 2005, etc.) delivers a tightly focused and highly useful biography of the great English Romantic. Born to a family with a history of health problems, fatherless at an early age and trained for a career in medicine, John Keats (1795–1821) pursued poetry with a faith in his own genius and a well-founded fear that he would not live long enough to fulfill it. He was ambitious from the beginning, modeling himself on Spenser and Shakespeare, testing himself with lengthy epics like Endymion, and fully aware that the competition was fierce, with all of the High Romantic poets writing at the same time. Roe’s Keats is both sensitive and hotheaded, naturally gifted but also constantly pushing himself to the next level. He was a frustrated young man too: by what he hadn’t experienced, by his unconsummated passion for his fiancee, and by the slow, wasting deterioration of his final years. Roe quotes and examines the poetry at length, and he is especially attentive to determining how a talented but immature poet blossomed into a great one. He also ventures an intriguing analysis of why Keats’ poetry received such harsh criticism in its day: The vernacular style represented by the so-called “Cockney School of Poetry” was a threat not just to the classical style, but the social order. Roe’s biography acutely displays the intensity, anguish and triumph of a great life for whom the clock was always ticking.
JOSEPH ANTON A Memoir
Rushdie, Salman Random House (656 pp.) $30.00 | Sep. 18, 2012 978-0-8129-9278-6 978-0-679-64388-3 e-book The frightening, illuminating and disturbing memoir by the author of The Satanic Verses, the book that provoked a death sentence from the Ayatollah Kho-
meini in 1989. Rushdie (Luka and the Fire of Life, 2008, etc.) chose for his cover name (and for the title) the first names of Conrad and Chekhov—appropriate, for the author seemed caught in a tangled novel filled with ominous (and some cowardly) characters driven by an inscrutable fate toward a probable sanguinary climax. The author uses “you” throughout, a decision that allows him a novelist’s distance but denies some of the intimacy of the first person. Perhaps he viewed himself during those 13 years (the duration of his protection by British security forces) more as a character than a free agent. He returns continually to
an image from Hitchcock’s The Birds: the black birds gradually filling up a jungle gym on a school playground (these represent the threats to personal freedom presented by fundamentalists). Rushdie also includes unmailed letters to actual people (Tony Blair) and to ideas (the millennium). The organization is unremarkable: The author begins with his learning of the fatwa, retreats to tell about his life before 1989, then marches steadily toward the present with only a few returns (a section about his mother’s love life). Bluntly, he tells about his wives, divorces, affairs, successes and failures of pen and heart and character; his various security guards; and, very affectingly, about his two sons. He tells about his travels, many awards and celebrity friends. Emerging as heroic is the United States, where Rushdie realized he could live more freely than anywhere else. Aspects of a spy novel, a writer’s autobiography and a victim’s affidavit pulsing with resentment and fear combine to reveal a man’s dawning awareness of the primacy of freedom.
THE INVENTION OF THE LAND OF ISRAEL From Holy Land to Homeland
demonstrate that, unlike many of his prominent Zionist critics, he has some skin in the game. Will appeal primarily to specialists or to general readers with an abiding interest in Israel’s future.
MISMATCH How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended To Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It
Sander, Richard H. and Taylor Jr., Stuart Basic (368 pp.) $28.99 | Oct. 9, 2012 978-0-465-02996-9
Sure-to-be-controversial take on race-based considerations of student need and institutional diversity.
Sand, Shlomo Verso (304 pp.) $29.95 | Nov. 11, 2012 978-1-84467-946-1
A Jewish scholar harshly criticizes the founding narrative of the State of Israel. The concept of “homeland” is a relatively new historical construct, “one of the more surprising, and perhaps the most destructive creations, of the modern era,” writes Sand (Contemporary History/Univ. of Tel Aviv; The Words and the Land: Israeli Intellectuals and the Nationalist Myth, 2011, etc.). From this general perspective and from the argument made in his highly controversial book, The Invention of the Jewish People (2010), which disputed the idea that Jews “belong to an ancient race-based people,” the author doubles down with an attack on the whole notion of an ancestral home for the world’s Jews. The idea of a Jewish homeland, he insists, is a turnof-the-century Zionist invention (given urgency by the Holocaust), a political construct designed to lend moral legitimacy to the seizing of territory to which the Jews have no historical right. He accuses Zionists of getting not only the history wrong, but the religion too. Properly understood, he writes, the Holy Land is an allegorical, intangible expression of the faithful. Well aware of the incendiary implications of his argument and knowing that it will likely be willfully misunderstood both by anti-Semites and zealous nationalists, Sand maintains that his deconstruction of the mythology at the heart of Israel’s founding is a necessary prerequisite to a “pragmatic and realistic” resolution of the current conflict with Palestinians. The author attempts, but does not fully succeed, in lightening the relentlessly professorial prose with a few personal anecdotes—his placid complicity in the murder of a Palestinian, a great-grandfather buried on the Mount of Olives, the uncommemorated Arab village that once occupied the site of the Israeli university where he teaches. However, these | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2355
Affirmative action is one of those subjects, write Sander (Law/UCLA) and National Journal contributor Taylor (coauthor: Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case, 2007), that often cannot be raised without provoking shouting on one side, the other, or both. By their account, the practice of affirmative action— a form of preferential admission of minority candidates into institutions that receive federal funding, particularly colleges, as a means of combatting institutional segregation whether knowingly or unconsciously practiced—is harmful by virtue of purely unintended consequences. The “mismatch” of the title refers to an important one of those consequences: namely, the disorienting effect on the student of taking him or her from an underprivileged setting and making that student compete with students who have had all the advantages. The authors write that African-Americans from the lower-income brackets are more likely to enter college than are whites of the same socioeconomic level, thanks at least in some measure to affirmative action, but are far more likely to earn low grades, “rank toward the bottom of the class, and far more often drop out.” The authors offer extensive data in support of their conclusions that the present system is not serving those students well, though they might have performed far better had they gone to nonelite schools. This information will be argued over all the same, but the authors’ evenhanded suggestion that what might be a better strategy is to raise educational attainment by investing more in elementary and secondary education for lower-income students—“targeting economic need before racial identity,” as they put it—seems unobjectionable on the face. The subject may be hard to talk about, but it must be, and this is a valuable contribution to opening that needed discussion.
INTO GREAT SILENCE A Memoir of Discovery and Loss Among Vanishing Orcas Saulitis, Eva Beacon (272 pp.) $26.95 | $26.95 e-book | Jan. 15, 2013 978-0-8070-1435-6 978-0-8070-1436-3 e-book
An evocative meditation on shifting boundaries and the kinship we feel to other species. In 1986, fresh out of college with a degree in fish and wildlife biology, Saulitis (Many Ways to Say It, 2012, etc.) took a job in an Alaskan fish hatchery. There, she experienced a lifechanging moment when she saw a female orca, and thus began a lifelong fascination with these extraordinary creatures. The author connected with a nearby scientific group of whale watchers in Prince William Sound who were studying a population of local orcas made up of “transients” (mammal eaters) and “residents” (fish eaters). After two years of working as a volunteer, she entered a doctorate program. For her thesis, she analyzed the calls of a pod of 22 local transient orcas. During 2356 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
her field sessions, Saulitis recorded more than 6,000 calls, and she was able to separate them into 14 discrete call types. She then attempted to correlate these with specific behaviors— e.g., quiet calls when hunting, clicking noises to orient themselves, etc. (The author accepts that these interpretations are subjective and therefore speculative.) In 1989, the author’s Alaskan idyll was shattered by the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Since then, she and her co-workers have been involved in documenting the damage to the local whale population. The group of transients she studied has been reduced by half and is no longer able to reproduce. She herself suffered a potentially life-threatening bout with cancer in 2010, but she remains optimistic. The Sound, to which she returns every year, is once again a functioning (though transformed) ecosystem. A vivid, moving depiction of a way of life tragically becoming increasingly endangered.
THE VIOLIN A Social History of the World’s Most Versatile Instrument Schoenbaum, David Norton (672 pp.) $39.95 | Dec. 10, 2012 978-0-393-08440-5
Schoenbaum (The United States and the State of Israel, 1993, etc.) writes fondly and expansively about the instrument he
plays for pleasure. Another subtitle for this massive exposition might well be: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about the Violin—and More. In four sections, the author covers the creation and evolution of the instrument, its marketing and manufacture (from the 16th century), the biographies and skills of many notable players and, finally, how the violin has appeared in art, literature and films. The scope of Schoenbaum’s research is astonishing. He’s seemingly listened to every recording, read every biography and history of every major (and many minor) player and symphony orchestra and chamber group, read every novel with a significant violin presence and seen every TV show and film featuring a violin. He focuses principally on classical players; although he mentions Charlie Daniels, he does not write much about country music, jazz or other popular musical genres—though he does not neglect them entirely, either. He performs an important service to general readers by discussing makers other than Antonio Stradivari, and he enlivens his prose with occasional puns, colorful similes (“other quartets renewed themselves like deciduous trees”), sharp details (Dorothy DeLay had an “elegantly manicured right hand” and unexpected descriptions (he compares the salaries of members of the Cleveland Indians and the Cleveland Symphony). The literary summaries are somewhat excessive, and the many names and details may overwhelm some nonmusical readers. A long and richly textured love letter to an instrument, a tradition and an art. (16 pages of illustrations)
“In a follow-up to Your Inner Fish, Shubin delivers an equally engrossing history of life’s connections to everything else.” from the universe within
THE UNIVERSE WITHIN Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People
Shubin, Neil Pantheon (240 pp.) $25.95 | Jan. 15, 2013 978-0307378439
In a follow-up to Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body (2008), Shubin (Biological Sciences/Univ. of Chicago) delivers an equally engrossing history of life’s connections to everything else. The author begins with the most common element in the human body, hydrogen, which also makes up 90 percent of the universe. All hydrogen existed along with helium and a trace of lithium when everything began 13.7 billion years ago. Heavier elements were made later inside stars, some of which end their lives violently. Cosmic dust that condensed to form the sun 5 billion years ago also made the planets. Microorganisms appeared soon after the Earth cooled enough to support liquid water—so soon that many scientists believe that life is not a rare accident, but inevitable under the right circumstances. Shubin recounts the subsequent 4 billion years of changes in both life and its surroundings. Oxygen, absent at first, slowly accumulated as photosynthetic plants multiplied. The Earth’s rocky crust shifted, eroded and cracked, leaking volcanic gases from the interior. Continents formed and split, expanding and shrinking the oceans; the resulting mountains, shifting ocean currents and migrating landmasses carried life across the planet, forcing it to adapt to the changing environment or nearly wiping it out. The sun is 30 percent hotter than when life began; in another billion years, it will make the Earth too warm to support life. An intelligent, eloquent account of our relations with the inanimate universe.
SOLO A Memoir of Hope
Solo, Hope with Killion, Ann Harper/HarperCollins (304 pp.) $24.99 | Aug. 14, 2012 978-0-06-213674-9
The unflinching account of U.S. women’s soccer team member Solo’s life on and off the field. Born in Richland, Wash., a plutonium-producing town “created in the dark shadows of the American dream,” Solo came from a family that “[didn’t] do happy endings.” Her father was a philandering con man who married her mother while still serving a prison sentence for embezzlement. When Solo was 7, he kidnapped her and her brother Marcus from their mother; after he was arrested, she did not see him again for many years. But the damage had already been done. Her home life was fraught
with tension that manifested as fights between Solo and her brother and alcoholism in her mother. She found refuge in sports and excelled as a soccer player. By the time she was a high school junior, she had caught the eye of college coaches across the country. Solo chose the University of Washington, where she lived a double life as a respected college athlete and a national soccer team member while gradually rebuilding a relationship with her now-homeless father. Dreaming of World Cup glory, Solo then played for professional teams in the U.S., Sweden and France while continuing to train with the American national team. Never one to hold back, she speaks with great honesty about the difficulty of living in the shadow of the 1999 World Cup championship team. She also reflects thoughtfully on her infamous benching at the 2007 World Cup competition and how the misunderstanding it caused nearly ruined her reputation and professional standing. Through heartache, setbacks and career-threatening injuries, Solo demonstrates not only a fierce determination to overcome, but also the grace of a true champion. A readable, inspiring memoir about staying true to dreams and principles in a world that too often forces personal compromise.
DINNER WITH CHURCHILL Policy-Making at the Dinner Table Stelzer, Cita Pegasus (336 pp.) $26.95 | Jan. 16, 2013 978-1-60598-401-8
An amusing, informative look at Winston Churchill’s ample dinner diplomacy. Stelzer finds in Churchill’s lifelong use of elaborate dinner parties and intimate postprandial drinking sessions an effective strategy at persuasion, pontificating and policymaking, especially when courting leaders like President Roosevelt during World War II. Churchill had a famous appetite for good food, drink and cigars, and he believed fervently that world leaders were more malleable over a well-stocked table. “If only I could dine with Stalin once a week, there would be no trouble at all,” he declared. The venues varied over the years—including his country house in Chartwell; the Pinafore Room at his private club, the Other Club; aboard the Prince of Wales, where he entertained Roosevelt for the first time in 1941; the basement dining room at Downing Street, where he debriefed the king on Tuesdays during the war; or the dining room at Chequers, where he happened to be entertaining the American ambassador and staff when news arrived of the Japanese attack—but each meal was planned with meticulous care and with an eye toward wartime rations. Churchill seemed equally at home dining alfresco on the battlefields of Africa, savoring sandwiches as long as there was mustard. Stelzer has admirably researched some of the fateful dinners of Churchill’s diplomacy, such as at the White House and in Moscow, Tehran, Yalta, Potsdam and Bermuda, | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2357
but readers will truly relish the menus. The author considers his tippler’s reputation and decides the man was rarely drunk, but rather had a constitution of steel. An enjoyable work that nicely rounds out our already-full portrait of the great leader. (80 b/w illustrations and photographs)
THE FORGOTTEN WRITINGS OF BRAM STOKER
Stoker, Bram Browning, John Edgar—Ed. Palgrave Macmillan (240 pp.) $30.00 | Dec. 24, 2012 978-1-137-27722-0
A curious collection of miscellaneous writing by the author of Dracula. Editor Browning digs into obscure archives for lost works by Stoker (1847– 1912), who maintained a rich writing life while serving a 30-year tenure as business manager for the actor Sir Henry Irving, based at the Lyceum Theatre in London. Much of Stoker’s work has, “until now eluded bibliographers,” perhaps because it’s not terribly memorable—for example, many early novels and stories that appeared largely in serial form in British and American periodicals starting with Under the Sunset in 1881. (Browning reports definitively that Dracula was first serialized in the Charlotte Daily Observer from July 16, 1899 to December 10, 1899, much earlier than previously thought.) The tales included here display some of Stoker’s weirdly meandering plots and mischievous humor, such as in “Old Hoggen: A Mystery,” narrated by a comfortably well-off husband who is sent out to scour the seacoast of Charmouth for crabs for his mother-in-law and “her daughter” and ends up stumbling literally upon the remains of an old vanished rich denizen by the name of Jabez Hoggen. (One gruesome detail involves several large crabs “walking out of the body,” and which the expedient narrator pockets.) Unsurprisingly, many of the selections reflect Stoker’s close working relationship with the British theatrical company, as in “What They Confessed: A Low Comedian’s Story,” as well as glowing appreciations of actors Irving and Ellen Terry. Also included is a fascinating catalog of the items for sale at the 1913 auction of Stoker’s property, especially his library, full of books by his friend Walt Whitman. A dogged but uneven work of literary excavation of most interest to literary scholars.
PAUL AND JESUS How the Apostle Transformed Christianity Tabor, James D. Simon & Schuster (320 pp.) $26.00 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-1-4391-2331-7
Another entry in the guess-whoPaul-really-was contest. The Apostle Paul has long been a controversial figure to modern Christians, but in recent years, his life and writings have spawned a plethora of books dedicated to reevaluating his role in the Christian faith. Tabor (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina, Charlotte; The Jesus Dynasty: The Hidden History of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity, 2006, etc.) throws his hat into the ring, attempting to define Paul and his version of Jesus Christ against that of the original Jerusalem church, headed by James. The author stresses that the traditional view—that Paul was in harmony with the original apostles, ministering to the gentiles while they ministered to Jews—is a complete fabrication. Instead, he believes that Paul was in direct conflict with James, Peter and the rest of the original Christian church. This conflict was based not just on personality or approach; it spoke to Paul’s fundamental understanding of the identity of Jesus Christ, which differed from that taught by the original apostles. It is Paul’s understanding of Jesus, Tabor avers, that won the day, coming down to us in Scripture and doctrine. The author blames this historical legacy on a conscious effort by Paul’s followers to minimize the influence of James and the Jerusalem church, while promoting Paul’s theology. Books of the Bible such as Acts, he explains, were written specifically to present a Paul-focused version of emerging Christianity. Tabor tends to sensationalize tenets of Christian doctrine to highlight his view that Paul’s ideas were radical, while also pushing the conspiracy theories (e.g., “process of mythmaking”) about New Testament Scriptures that have been covered by such authors as Bart Ehrman. His ultimate claim that Paul saw himself as a second Messiah seems like an inflated reading of the Pauline letters, and it will prove controversial with most Christians.
THE OUTPOST An Untold Story of American Valor Tapper, Jake Little, Brown (688 pp.) $29.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-316-18539-4
An ABC News senior White House correspondent chronicles the short life of a doomed American Army outpost. Combat Outpost Keating, located in northeast Afghanistan, was built in 2006 and hastily evacuated in October 2009; American bombers immediately pounded 2358 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
“This is no hagiography. Utley presents the culture, upbringing and external forces that made Geronimo the man he became, warts and all.” from geronimo
it to rubble. Intended to serve as a base for the promotion of infrastructure-development projects and the interdiction of insurgents from Pakistan, Keating was near the border but far from American air support. It was clear from the outset that the outpost was poorly located—surrounded by three mountains, on the edge of a road that proved too fragile to support Humvee traffic. Tapper (Down and Dirty: The Plot to Steal the Presidency, 2001, etc.) introduces the men of the three successive American cavalry squadrons who served there, gradually revealing their backgrounds, problems and aspirations, and wives and girlfriends, then describing in detail what insurgent bullets did to their flesh and bone. This is a story of men who were ordered to occupy a remote corner of Afghanistan and unquestioningly did so to the best of their abilities—or some, at the cost of their lives. It also reflects the entire Afghan war in microcosm: too few men holding hostile territory with insufficient support, for goals no one can clearly articulate. This is a narrative, not a polemic, and Tapper patiently lays out the history of what happened at Keating in a gripping, forceful style, describing the daily life of soldiers and the experience of combat. In the process, there also emerges the folly of committing military forces to a poorly defined task in a location that could not be adequately defended or logistically supported. Whatever may have been the merits of the original intervention in Afghanistan, this unadorned, powerful account challenges the purposes and wisdom of America’s ongoing military presence there. A timely indictment of a thoughtless waste of young American lives. (65 b/w photos; 4 maps. Author tour to New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Washington, D.C.)
JEFFERSON’S SHADOW The Story of His Science
Thomson, Keith Yale Univ. (288 pp.) $30.00 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-300-18403-7
A bright, brisk assessment of the scientific interests and contributions of the Sage of Monticello. Thomson (Natural History/Univ. of Oxford; The Young Charles Darwin, 2009, etc.) begins in an unsurprising place—the 1962 White House dinner honoring America’s Nobel laureates (where JFK uttered that celebrated “when Jefferson dined alone” comment)—but he swiftly moves into less familiar terrain. The author establishes the scholarly conflict between the Comte de Buffon, who wrote more like a buffoon about the natural history of America (his conclusions were uncluttered by any visits) and Jefferson, whose Notes on the State of Virginia largely exposed the Frenchman’s ignorance. Thomson reminds us repeatedly of Jefferson’s eclectic intellectual interests—portraits of Bacon, Newton and Locke hung in Monticello—and of his massive personal library of some 6,500 works. The author also examines the significant influence of teacher William Small and of the future president’s obsession to own the most recent scientific equipment—from
thermometers to telescopes. (All of these scholarly pursuits contributed to Jefferson’s great financial indebtedness.) Thomson is inexplicably wry about Jefferson’s relations with his slave Sally Hemings, but he is clear and precise about Jefferson’s science, noting how his devout belief in the Genesis Creation story limited his potential understandings of fossils and extinction. Later, Jefferson focused on mechanical devices, some of which are on display at Monticello. Thomson properly credits Jefferson for the scientific achievements of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and he tells the story of how Clement C. Moore (“A Visit from Saint Nicholas”) accused Jefferson of atheism. He ends with a discussion of those Jeffersonian scientific ideas and discoveries that have endured. Lucid and concise descriptions and analyses of an active, creative mind fully engaged with the natural world.
Utley, Robert M. Yale Univ. (376 pp.) $30.00 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-300-12638-9 In addition to a biography of the great Native-American warrior, Utley (Little Bighorn Battlefield and Custer’s Last Stand, 2011) takes readers on a tour of southern Arizona, New Mexico and Mexico. The author examines the relevant geography, but he also provides a better understanding of how the legendary Geronimo became a brutal reservation Apache. The author’s long career as a Western American historian, his association with the National Park Service and his close attention to the topographic detail of the Apache homeland guarantee a true picture of the man who was neither hero nor thug. Geronimo was never a chief, but he had a mysterious, surreal power that left his people in awe, and often in fear, of him. The Apache people were trained from birth to survive in the treacherous mountains of the Southwest, to live off the land and to plunder. It was a way of life Geronimo excelled at, with his shamanlike ability to foresee trouble for his small band of loyal followers. Raiding and plunder were an integral part of their culture, as was breaking out of the reservation on a regular basis. Geronimo’s attacks in Mexico, where his first wife and children were massacred, were invariably brutal. The Apache nation had a number of true leaders, most of whom wished to live peacefully. Cochise is well-known to us, but the greatest of all chiefs and Geronimo’s mentor, Mangas Coloradas, has been decidedly unfamiliar to most of us until now. This is no hagiography. Utley presents the culture, upbringing and external forces that made Geronimo the man he became, warts and all.
| kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2359
THE FEMINIST AND THE COWBOY An Unlikely Love Story
Valdes, Alisa Gotham Books (336 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 7, 2013 978-1-592-40790-3
A big-city girl finds loves where she least expects it and re-examines her life in the process. Valdes (Puta, 2012, etc.) details her unexpected relationship with a conservative New Mexico cowboy. The author was recovering from a failed marriage and a stalled career when she reluctantly agreed to go on a first date with “The Cowboy.” What follows are the dramatic ups and downs of their passionate relationship. This memoir will appeal to Valdes’ fans, who will appreciate its self-deprecating, conversational tone and the tension between the two lovers. The Cowboy resembles a romance-novel stereotype: strong and handsome, self-sufficient and controlling. That Valdes fell passionately in love with this manly man won’t surprise many readers, but it worried the author, especially since the Cowboy insisted that she submit to him in various activities, like driving, ranching and sex. These worries led Valdes into therapy and a re-examination of the events of her childhood and the political beliefs of her family. Rather than just chalking it up to the irrational power of love, Valdes felt the need to justify this new relationship and her submissiveness with pop gender studies. She arrived at a dismissal of the early feminist theories that she was (sort of) raised with. Unfortunately, these sections divert readers from the more titillating story of the city girl/country boy romance. Much of Valdes’ research is undocumented, and the lack of a bibliography is troubling. It will no doubt, however, work to attract attention to and controversy for what would otherwise be a sweet but forgettable memoir. A memoir for chick-lit fans who can stomach a bit of politics along with their romance.
BABYSITTING GEORGE A Memoir
Walden, Celia Bloomsbury (272 pp.) $16.00 paperback | Dec. 11, 2012 978-1-60819-942-6 Unusual and affecting reflection on the toxic combination of achievement, addiction and celebrity culture, as embodied by the decline of one-time soccer champion George Best (1946–2005). In 2003, as a neophyte reporter, Daily Telegraph feature writer Walden (Harm’s Way, 2008) received an unusual assignment: to “babysit” Best on behalf of their mutual employer, the newspaper that published Best’s ghostwritten column. Sometimes referred to as the “Fifth Beatle” for his youthful charisma 2360 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
in his prime, Best’s fortunes had suffered due to a severe alcohol dependency and a failed marriage that played out in the tabloids. After tracking Best down in Malta, Walden and her subject developed a strange friendship, with Walden playing a combination of minder and earnest conscience, as Best’s marriage faltered and he attempted to quit drinking at an expensive spa, only to give in further to it. Walden observes that Best “felt for alcohol what the glutton feels for food: it hijacked every one of his senses.” The author portrays the milieu of British celebrity journalism as fueled by mindless competitive aggression, upon which Best provides wry commentary. The grim narrative spectacle of his decline is leavened by the pair’s irreverent exchanges (Best appreciated her tart honesty) and Walden’s prose, which is often observant and strikingly original. Despite his frequently boorish behavior, including hitting his wife (the offense that finally cost him the newspaper column and its much-needed income), Walden captures Best in sympathetic, nuanced fashion. He was a bright, charismatic sportsman whose early achievements led to a confused life of excess, always in the public eye. Will have strong appeal for soccer fans and observers of celebrity culture, though such readers may not enjoy the questions Walden’s tale implicitly raises.
ANTARCTICA An Intimate Portrait of a Mysterious Continent
Walker, Gabrielle Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (288 pp.) $27.00 | Jan. 15, 2013 978-0-15-101520-7 Scientist Walker (An Ocean of Air: Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere, 2007, etc.) pens a riveting “natural history of the only continent on Earth that has virtually no human history.” The author’s fascination with Antarctica began more than two decades ago, and it has inspired five visits. Larger than the continental United States, yet home to only 49 temporary bases, the continent is composed of two giant ice sheets. During the summer, 3,000 scientists conduct experiments, and 30,000 tourists drop in for short visits. Only 1,000 intrepid souls spend the winter on the continent. Due to an international treaty, the entire continent is dedicated to “peace and science,” and officially, the land “belongs to nobody.” Walker divides the narrative into three sections, delving into the historical and scientific sagas of the different areas of the continent. She begins with the coastal stations on the East Antarctic ice sheet, an area containing a zone so like outer space, it sports the nickname “Mars on Earth.” Walker then chronicles her journey to the interior of the continent, visiting astronomers deciphering data gathered from giant high-altitude telescopes. The author also helped scientists wrestling with the mystery of ice cores and what they can tell us about our ancient climate. In “the most conventionally beautiful place in Antarctica,” the far West, Walker chronicles
“An extraordinarily frank cultural study/memoir that eschews platitudes of both tragedy and hope.” from farewell, fred voodoo
the effects of contemporary and historical human activity on this strange and wonderful environment. The author adeptly clarifies the technical aspects of the science, decodes the intimate stories of reticent interviewees and weaves in the astounding and heartbreaking stories of the great explorers Amundsen, Scott and Shackleton. A rollicking good read for science buffs, armchair adventurers and readers curious about the natural world at its most extreme. (2 maps)
ACCESS ALL AREAS Selected Writings 1990-2010
Wheeler, Sara North Point/Farrar, Straus and Giroux (336 pp.) $16.00 paperback | Jan. 22, 2013 978-0-86547-877-0
An assortment of essays, reviews, and excerpts from British travel writer and biographer Wheeler (The Magnetic North: Notes from the Arctic Circle, 2012, etc.). Spanning 20 years (1990–2010), the pieces are loosely organized around a number of different themes, such as recollections from her earliest travels (most notably as a 20-year-old in Poland in 1981) and her first excursions into the polar regions (an interest that has spawned two travel books, a biography and a children’s book). She has a number of short biographical essays on others, including reviews of biographies of travel writers she admired. Wheeler also examines some much more mundane adventures, including learning to belly dance in a gym near her apartment and climbing into bed with a catalog from Argos, the U.K. department-store chain, which she claims is one of only a few activities that “guarantee pleasure.” While this collection has its high points—for example, her early travel writing—it also has the unfortunate effect of highlighting the problems with Wheeler’s work. For example, she falls backs on the phrase “tweed-skirted Victorian[s]” to describe two different 19th-century travel writers, Mary Kingsley and Isabella Bird, in two different essays published five years apart. In the introduction, she asks, “Don’t you sometimes find daily life almost unbearably poetic?” Unfortunately, most of her prose is flat and declamatory, lacking the poetic details she claims to love. At the same time, her brief biographies of other travel writers often serve to drive home the point that there are much more interesting travel writers out there. Uneven and mostly bland.
FAREWELL, FRED VOODOO A Letter from Haiti
Wilentz, Amy Simon & Schuster (352 pp.) $27.00 | Jan. 8, 2013 978-1-4516-4397-8 A veteran journalist captures the functioning chaos of Haiti. New Yorker writer Wilentz has been covering shattering events in Haiti since the Duvalier dynasty fell in 1986, culminating in her book The Rainy Season. Now based in Los Angeles, the author again felt the fatal pull of the country after the recent natural-disaster devastation and returned repeatedly in order to record the uneven progress in reconstruction and humanitarian aid as well as interview many of the so-called (in politically incorrect parlance) Fred Voodoos, or Everymen on the street, for a reality check. Describing herself as “a naïve person, and a romantic,” she has grown enormously wary of the good intentions heaped on the country from one crisis to another and is frequently cynical after many years of her “Haitian education.” Since its very inception as the first (and last) slave revolution in history, Haiti has been victimized, plunged into poverty, denuded of resources and patronized by rich white neighbors bent on a “salvation fantasy” that has never lifted the country out of poverty. After the hurricane, suddenly whites appeared everywhere to help out. While Wilentz does chronicle some extremely good work being done—by the indefatigable infectious-disease specialist Dr. Megan Coffee and by actor Sean Penn in setting up a workable refugee camp—much of what the journalist witnessed remained a familiar profound malaise and dysfunction. Seeking out her old acquaintances and former protégés of President Aristide, the author found drugged-out zombies, many living in permanent refugee camps without proper sanitation and little or no literacy. She learned that nothing is as it seems in Haiti. Like voodoo ceremonies, society runs on “artifice and duplicity,” and its government (a kleptocracy) has been organized “to be porous and incompetent, to allow for corruption.” An extraordinarily frank cultural study/memoir that eschews platitudes of both tragedy and hope.
EXPOSURE Inside the Olympus Scandal: How I Went from CEO to Whistleblower
Woodford, Michael Portfolio (320 pp.) $27.95 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-1-59184-575-1
How one man faced down some of Japan’s top corporate leadership and exposed massive fraud and corruption. The announcement that Woodford would become the next president of Olympus was headline news. He was one of only a | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2361
few Westerners to penetrate the heights of the Japanese corporate structure. He had worked his way up the ranks, beginning as a salesman 30 years earlier in what was then a British-owned medical-supply company. In this page turner, he gives a personal account of the enormous gap between his expectations in taking on the job and the stressful, sometimes frightening reality. In March 2011, shortly after he assumed his new position, a small Japanese financial journal published an article detailing how Olympus had acquired three corporations that carried suspicious losses in the range of $1.7 billion. The article suggested money laundering and suspicious criminal connections. As corporate president, the author bore fiduciary responsibility. He immediately asked for clarification about the acquisitions but was met with evasiveness from the former president and his cronies. In response, he returned to the U.K. and hired British auditors to review the suspicious transactions, which had been handled through British banks. Just six months after he had assumed his new position, the Olympus board of directors fired Woodford. After the story became headline news in Western media, the Japanese also conducted an investigation, and the corporate officers involved were charged with fraud and corruption. What was revealed was not money laundering but a deep flaw in the unregulated Japanese corporate structure. Woodford traces the problem back to the 1985 Plaza Accord, which had forced devaluation of the yen by a significant percentage. Export-driven corporations sought to cover up spiraling losses with speculation and financial manipulation of off-balancesheet liabilities. A gripping chronicle by a corporate whistle-blower who achieved a stunning victory.
THE PRICE OF POLITICS
Woodward, Bob Simon & Schuster (448 pp.) $30.00 | Sep. 11, 2012 978-1-4516-5110-2
A reconstruction of how Republican brinkmanship threatened to bring down the global economy by forcing a U.S. debt default. Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post editor Woodward (Obama’s Wars, 2010, etc.) chronicles how Republicans used a previously routine vote on increasing the debt ceiling to blackmail President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party. Emboldened by their midterm victory in 2010, the Republicans aimed to force the president to accept major cuts to the budget and entitlements while holding the line on taxes. In explaining this display of brinkmanship, Woodward explains that for the U.S. president, default was not an option and could in fact bring down the entire global economy. The action takes place in the summer of 2011, beginning with a failed attempt by the White House to craft a workable deal in negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner. When these negotiations collapsed, the entire political leadership of both parties was brought in, leading to 2362 | 15 october 2012 | nonfiction | kirkus.com |
recriminations on all sides. The debt ceiling was raised but at the cost of a January fiscal cliffhanger. Although the author faults both Boehner and the president for their “fixed partisan convictions and dogmas,” his main purpose appears to be to discredit Obama. He compares him unfavorably to former Presidents Reagan and Clinton, both of whom handled similar crises. Although admitting that “Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition,” Woodward faults him for being both arrogant and inept at building political consensus. An occasionally intriguing look into political grappling at the highest level but mostly an exercise in excruciating detail, most of which boils down to trivial political gossip.
TOMBSTONE The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 Yang Jisheng Translated by Mosher, Stacy & Guo Jian Farrar, Straus and Giroux (656 pp.) $35.00 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-374-27793-2
The harrowing account of China’s Great Famine. When he was a young boy in the countryside, writes Yang Jisheng, a classmate insisted that Chairman Mao “has been enthroned”—that is, following an old pattern in Chinese history, had overthrown the old emperor to become the new one. Mao Zedong wasn’t exactly an emperor— he complained bitterly about being lied to, something the first emperor in China, Shi Huangdi, would have dealt with by mass beheading—but he had the requisite aloofness to stand aside while, by the author’s account, millions of his compatriots starved to death in a four-year famine that was partly the fault of the weather, partly the fault of overpopulation, but mostly the fault of politics. “The basic reason why tens of millions of people in China starved to death was totalitarianism,” writes the author. In a book that may eventually be thought of as a Chinese analog to Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago, Yang offers a numbing inventory of the myriad dead and the statistics surrounding their demise: “One of the hospital’s so-called doctors was an accountant, and one of the two nursing attendants was an eleven-year-old orphan. The smell of the wards was so horrendous that the nursing attendants couldn’t bear to enter them”; “The figures on grain yield and pig farming quoted in the Anhui Daily report on Mao’s visit were preposterous. . . . Once the lies were reproduced in People’s Daily, cadres all over China felt compelled to spew out similar falsehoods.” And the deaths were not just of the living, writes the author, all 36 million of them, but also of the imagined unborn, another 32 million who would have entered the world had there been no famine. The toll is astounding, and this book is important for many reasons—difficult to stomach, but important all the same.
“Not the revelation that was Keith Richards’ Life, but an entertaining and mostly well-written journey into the past, if light on rock ’n’ roll.” from waging heavy peace
HOW TO RETIRE THE CHEAPSKATE WAY The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Guide to a Better, Earlier, Happier Retirement Yeager, Jeff Three Rivers/Crown (320 pp.) $14.00 paperback | Dec. 26, 2012 978-0-307-95642-2
Retirement may be a long way off for many, but according to Yeager (The Ultimate Cheapskate’s Road Map to True Riches, 2007, etc.), there is never a better time to start thinking and preparing for that moment than the present. Full of practical advice and numerous stories of “cheapskates” who have retired early, this book prompts readers to reexamine how they spend their money. Believing that it’s not how much money you make, but how you spend what you do have that makes the difference between an early retirement, free of debt, or a later one, full of money woes, the author gives simple and sound advice on how to live frugally. Covering topics such as health insurance, Medicaid and investing, Yeager hammers home the need to spend less and save more, whether by packing a bag lunch or forgoing that new car. On Social Security, he writes that readers should “NEVER PLAN to retire on your Social Security benefit alone—it’s only designed to replace 30-40 percent of most people’s preretirement income.” Checklists help determine what makes a person happy, whether items can be sold or donated to charity, and what health risks older people encounter and how to prevent them. For those who want to continue to work past retirement, Yeager offers a long inventory of self-employment ideas. The ultimate goal is to determine what a person “really, really wants” out of life and then work toward that goal without faltering. Much of this information is not new, but by gathering it in one place, the author makes it much easier to step down from work debt-free. Useful information on frugality and retirement.
rooms on his rambling California ranch full of them. “I saw David [Crosby] looking at one of my train rooms full of rolling stock and stealing a glance at Graham [Nash] that said, This guy is cuckoo. He’s gone nuts. Look at this obsession. I shrugged it off. I need it. For me it is a road back,” he writes. Trains return often in the narrative, as do dusty roads, old cars and tractors. But Young, author of “Trans” and other weird outings that once got him sued by his own record label for delivering music “uncharacteristic of Neil Young,” is also a technogeek extraordinaire, particularly when it comes to sound; he often mentions the digital format that he’s been tinkering with in his mad-scientist lab. He asserts that because it preserves so little—5 percent, by his reckoning—of the actual sound of a recording, “[i]t is not offensive to me that the MP3-quality sound is traded around.” Along the way, Young discusses guitars and bands, revealing a now-improbable wish to reconvene Buffalo Springfield, which never lived up to its promise, and Crazy Horse. Sometimes he’s even a little jokey about music in general (on America’s song “A Horse with No Name”: “Hey, wait a minute! Was that me? Okay. Fine. I am back now. That was close!”). Not the revelation that was Keith Richards’ Life, but an entertaining and mostly well-written journey into the past, if light on rock ’n’ roll.
WAGING HEAVY PEACE A Hippie Dream Young, Neil Blue Rider Press (500 pp.) $30.00 | Sep. 25, 2012 978-0-399-15946-6
The long-awaited memoir from the legendary rocker. Readers will learn few of the secrets of Young’s art of songwriting, save that “Ohio” came in a flash in response to the bad news from Kent State, and he didn’t play a note on “Teach Your Children.” Neither, apart from a visit to the clinic here and there, will they learn much about musicians’ hedonistic ways. Instead, Young writes of electric trains. He loves them so much that he bought a stake in Lionel, and he has barns and | kirkus.com | nonfiction | 15 october 2012 | 2363
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children’s & teen GOLDILOCKS ON CCTV
These titles earned the Kirkus Star:
Agard, John Illus. by Kitamura, Satoshi Frances Lincoln (64 pp.) $19.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-84780-183-8
FIFTY CENTS AND A DREAM by Jabari Asim; illus. by Bryan Collier................................................................... p. 2366 AN ILLUSTRATED TREASURY OF SCOTTISH FOLK AND FAIRY TALES by Theresa Breslin; illus. by Kate Leiper.......................... p. 2367 FACES FROM THE PAST by James M. Deem..............................p. 2371 WILD HORSE SCIENTISTS by Kay Frydenborg..........................p. 2373 LEAH & THE OWL by Cori Doerrfeld ........................................ p. 2389 FRANKLIN FROG by Emma Tranter; illus. by Barry Tranter.... p. 2393
FACES FROM THE PAST Forgotten People of North America
Deem, James M. Houghton Mifflin (160 pp.) $18.99 Nov. 20, 2012 978-0-547-37024-8
From Puss in Boots’ swaggering descendant “Puss-in-Trainers” to the titular break-and-enter artist caught on security cameras, Agard lays urbaninflected modern twists on 29 folkloric characters. Written in rhyme or free verse with hip-hop cadences, the poems are nearly all in first person and range in tone from funny or acid (“Bring on your shining armour, dude. / I’ll be your damsel in distress with attitude”), to dark, even threatening. Many offer fresh approaches to the familiar, such as quick portraits of Cinderella in biker leathers and Iron Jack as an emotionally vulnerable Gulf War vet. An apple and a magic mirror provide unusual points of view about their assigned roles, as do “Two Ugly Sisters” who defiantly declare that they “won’t be face-down in no make-up kit / We give the thumbs-up to hair in the armpit,” but end with a sobering “Never mind the eye, we enchant the ear / From our ugly mouths come song, come prayer.” The poems are printed in a variety of typefaces, and Kitamura’s heavily inked black-and-white cartoons or silhouettes likewise change looks while adding appropriately dark, angular, energetic visual notes. Considerably more edgy satire than Happily Ever After here; a bracing take for teens. (Poetry. 12-16)
JULIE ANDREWS’ TREASURY FOR ALL SEASONS Poems and Songs to Celebrate the Year
Andrews, Julie; Hamilton, Emma Walton Illus. by Priceman, Marjorie Little, Brown (192 pp.) $19.99 | Oct. 2, 2012 978-0-316-04051-8
From this well-known mother-and-daughter anthologist duo (Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs, and Lullabies, 2009, etc.) comes another rich compendium of occasional poems loosely chronicling the months and holidays. The 100-plus favorite poems and song lyrics expressing more or less seasonal themes are surrounded here by ravishing illustrations from Caldecott honoree Priceman (Hot Air, 2005, | kirkus.com | children ’s
teen | 15 october 2012 | 2365
etc.). Visually, one couldn’t ask for more: The exuberance of color and line in these spirited gouache spreads radiates warmth, vibrancy, and fun. The sophisticated collection espouses a celebration of multicultural diversity and includes gems by the likes of Emily Dickinson, John Updike, E.B. White, Jenny Whitehead, Cole Porter and many others. Andrews and Hamilton ferret out both age-old favorites marking religious and public holidays as well as timeless works simply capturing a change of season, like Sara Teasdale’s tense “April.” The recurrent themes of cultural awareness and inclusivity especially come across in Andrews’ own poems, such as “Flags,” in which she rhetorically asks: “Why do we salute a flag, / A vibrant, colorful piece of rag? […] Why not celebrate the globe, / Become a flag, and wear a robe / Of purest crimson? Convey to the world / We are all flags—and fly unfurled.” Given this celebration of inclusion, it’s a pity that the frontispiece, an abridged version of Longfellow’s “The Day Is Done,” concludes with a simile that, sadly, draws on 19th-century stereotypes of Arabs. Opening oversight aside, a thoughtful and visually arresting trove of seasonal verse. (Poetry. 6 & up)
Arnold, Elana K. Delacorte (368 pp.) $17.99 | $10.99 e-book | PLB $20.99 Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-385-74211-5 978-0-307-97414-3 e-book 978-0-375-99042-7 PLB Scarlett’s peaceful life on Catalina Island bifurcated last spring into the time Before Ronny Died and her miserable present. With the death of her brother, all the life seemed to go out of her family, too: Her mother has retreated into a pill-enhanced haze of grief, while her father gardens ineffectually. Scarlett copes by riding her beloved mare and slowly starving herself. When she meets a beautiful young man with startling green eyes on the trail, he seems to have been looking for her: Why? Green-eyed Will Cohen then turns up in school, which provokes obnoxious possessiveness in her boyfriend. But Scarlett can’t deny her attraction, and it seems to be mutual….Arnold stuffs way too much into this novel, piling dating violence onto cutting onto anorexia onto depression. And that’s just the first half. The second half swerves out of realistic problem-novel territory into mysticism, as Scarlett begins to study the Kabbalah under the tutelage of Will’s rabbi/theology professor father—it turns out Will is more than just gorgeous, he is a modern-day incarnation of extreme Jewish holiness. Although Arnold achieves the occasional fresh turn of phrase—Scarlett shreds a note from her contrite boyfriend into “a nice little pile of apology confetti”—too often she settles for cliché, with yearning skin, fluttering hearts and searing glances aplenty bundled into sentences that seem to go on forever. Schlock. (Paranormal romance. 13-16)
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FIFTY CENTS AND A DREAM Young Booker T. Washington
Asim, Jabari Illus. by Collier, Bryan Little, Brown (48 pp.) $16.99 | Dec. 4, 2012 978-0-316-08657-8
A former slave fulfills his quest for an education and much more in this superbly designed tribute to an oft-maligned African-American educator and author. The young Washington, who learned his letters from a spelling book his mother gave to him, hears about Hampton College in Virginia, over 500 miles away. With the help of neighbors who share their precious coins, he travels, mostly on foot, from West Virginia with hunger, cold and weariness as constant companions. Asim’s lyrical text transforms the journey into a spiritual awakening for a young man who had “a dream in his soul.” Collier is in brilliant Caldecott Honor style, using his signature watercolor paintings and cut-paper collage to incorporate elements from Booker’s life and visions into each illustration. A map route is a design on his shirt, and letters and words from the speller he cherished decorate the pages. Each tableau is beautifully composed and balanced with textured colors and patterns. The cover display type and the endpapers, which are taken from Webster’s American Spelling Book, embellish this ode to book learning. Washington’s was not a life filled with anger and fiery oratory. Rather, Asim and Collier laud his steadfast determination and lifelong dedication to learning. An outstanding achievement and a life worthy of note. (additional facts, author’s note, illustrator’s note, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 4-8)
THE WIZARD OF OZ
Baum, L. Frank Illus. by Caldwell, Ben Sterling (128 pp.) $7.95 paperback | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-4027-3153-2 Series: All-Action Classic, 4 This new version of an oft-adapted work brings little to the table. Like many classics, The Wizard of Oz has been repeatedly adapted into various graphic formats, among others. With the myriad choices available, each new iteration absolutely must offer something special in order to rise above its predecessors yet still honor its source. Unfortunately, this version has little excitement, falling flat in obvious places where the juxtaposition of narrative and illustration should shine. Dorothy’s arrival in Oz, for instance, is the perfect moment to audaciously burst forth from the drab grays and earth tones of Kansas into a vivid explosion of color. Caldwell’s adaptation misses this pivotal moment entirely,
teen | kirkus.com |
“Some familiar tales and some that are less so make up this elegantly designed and produced collection with Scottish roots and branches.” from an illustrated treasury of scottish folk and fairy tales
only mildly tweaking its dishwater palette. Many of the iconic conventions that define this well-loved story are also conspicuously absent: Dorothy’s pigtails, for example, are now long, lank blonde locks held back with a kerchief, more closely resembling Disney’s cartoon Alice (of Wonderland fame) than the more familiar likenesses of Dorothy in the original and film versions. With so much imagination behind it, Baum’s work should easily lend itself to this format; however, this take is sadly bland, lacking the visual fireworks that should be there in concert with Munchkins, flying monkeys and enchanted shoes. Regrettably mediocre. (Graphic classic. 8-12)
MISS FORTUNE COOKIE
Bjorkman, Lauren Henry Holt (288 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-8050-8951-6
This lighthearted romp set in San Francisco’s Chinatown offers a thoughtful take on cultural identity and friendship encased in a far-fetched plot. Back in eighth grade, Mei uninvited Irish-American Erin from a sleepover on the grounds that she wouldn’t “fit in” with the Chinese-American girls. The pair’s mutual friend Linny helped paper over the rift, but Erin still hurts. She feels Chinese inside. China was her birthplace and home for years; she loves its language, literature, food and traditional medicine—she’s even dyed her hair black. She blogs her Chinese-American inner self via her alter ego, Miss Fortune Cookie, dispensing “Confucius says” advice to the perplexed. While UC Berkeley–bound Linny organizes protests against bigotry, Mei and Erin wait to hear from the Ivy League. Darren, Mei’s true love, is staying in California, but Mei’s hardworking single mother insists she attend Harvard; Stanford just won’t do. (Not every reader will identify with the agony of choosing among top-ranked private colleges.) Fearing the couple might elope, Erin enlists Linny and handsome Weyland to dissuade them; a frantic but repetitive chase ensues. Erin’s ruefully self-aware obsession over her fractured friendships rings touchingly true, but the relentless madcap hijinks and nonstop action work against depth, leaving promising subject matter unresolved. It’s fun, but it could’ve been so much more. (glossary, pronunciation guide, author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)
AN ILLUSTRATED TREASURY OF SCOTTISH FOLK AND FAIRY TALES
Breslin, Theresa Illus. by Leiper, Kate Floris (158 pp.) $24.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-0-8631-5907-7
Some familiar tales and some that are less so make up this elegantly designed and produced collection with Scottish roots and branches. The volume sits nice and flat when opened, the type is large and clear, and the soft, evocative pictures range from full doublepage spreads to tiny, exquisite images around the page numbers (a tuft of grass, a sprig of berries and a turnip, among other designs). Each of the 11 stories opens with a page of muted color on the left on which some lines from the coming tale are inscribed in a paler version of the hue. On the right, the name of the tale and a brief description of its source are framed in an image that carries and echoes through the pages. “The Wee Bannock” recalls “The Gingerbread Man,” and “Whuppity Stourie” brings to mind “Rumpelstiltskin,” but the rhythms and much of the detail reflect their Scottish sources. There’s a lovely, brief story from Sir Walter Scott, “The Goshawk and the Brave Lady,” that touches on the enmity between England and Scotland and in which the heroine rescues herself for her own true love. Breslin supplies a selkie story. Most of the Scots words are clear in context, but there is a strikingly informative glossary as well. A genuinely beautiful collection that begs to be read aloud—or told—again and again. (Folk tales. 7-12)
THE FILTH LICKER
Burne, Cristy Illus. by Siku Frances Lincoln (208 pp.) $17.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-84780-136-4 Series: Takeshita Demons , 2 A trio of whirling weasel assassin spirits with Freddy Krueger–style claws ambush a Japanese-British child on an abandoned farm. Whoo-hoo! Having dealt with a monster with a detachable head in the opening episode (Takeshita Demons, 2010), Miku is alert to the presence of other Japanese spirits who have followed her transplanted family overseas. These turn out to be dismayingly common, as a school camping trip becomes a nonstop series of encounters with supernatural creatures. These range from the comical one of the title—an “aka-na-me,” who delights in cleaning bathrooms and like places with its tongue (“Disgusting, but useful,” Miku notes)—to a malign shape-shifting fox who first orchestrates a campfire storytelling rite (Hyaku Monogatari) to create a nest of Sickle Weasels (kama itachi) then leads Miku
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“The best reason to pick up this book is that every story has one more detail than is necessary.” from bodyguards!
into their midst. Salting her tale not only with Japanese folklore, but sickening odors, an abrupt power failure, classmates behaving oddly and other suspense-building elements, Burne sets up an exciting if clumsily choreographed extended battle. In it, Miku, with unexpected help from eldritch allies, vanquishes her attackers while ending up covered in soot and slime (she avoids being licked clean, but a classmate is not so lucky). A lightweight, spooky adventure with an unusually exotic cast. (Light horror. 9-11)
BODYGUARDS! From Gladiators to the Secret Service
Butts, Ed Illus. by Plumbe, Scott Annick Press (128 pp.) $24.95 | paper $14.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-55451-437-3 978-1-55451-436-6 paperback
It would be easy to say: “This book includes all the information you need to become a bodyguard.” But the real value of the book is that it contains information you don’t need at all. According to Chapter 1, it was almost impossible to speak to the pharaoh of Egypt. One needed, Butts writes, “to make an appointment to see the priests’ secretary, to make an appointment to see the priests, to make an appointment to see the pharaoh.” Some authors would have ended the story there, but he lets it keep building: “First, the priests made you take a bath— maybe two or three of them.” The best reason to pick up this book is that every story has one more detail than is necessary. Chapter 6 mentions that geese, donkeys and llamas make good early warning systems because of their sensitive hearing. The next sentence points out that ostriches, emus and kangaroos are also effective. The comic strips that appear in each chapter, on the other hand, add nothing of value. They simply repeat facts from the pages around them, and the characters have such limited facial expression that the story is difficult to follow from panel to panel. Aside from ancient Egyptian priests and animals, other types of bodyguards mentioned include, among others, the Vatican’s Swiss Guard, Abraham Lincoln’s tippling police guard and Elvis’ Memphis Mafia. This book includes a lengthy training guide from experienced bodyguards, but it may be the emus that children remember most. (glossary, chronology, bibliography, index) (Nonfiction. 9-12)
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Cann, Kate Stoke Books (80 pp.) $16.95 | paper $6.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-78112-122-1 978-1-78112-121-4 paperback From a press that specializes in middle-grade–and-above–interest–level books written at a low reading level, a story both simple and simplistic about a teen finding herself. Lily is tormented by the mean girls at school, but the principal chooses not to do anything, ascribing it to Lily’s sensitivity. Lily’s mom, with 10-year-old boy twins, wants to believe all is OK, but Lily is obsessed with hiding herself, particularly her breasts and belly, feeling that she is fat and unattractive. Coming home from school through the woods, she discovers a crow looking at her fiercely, and she begins to bring scraps to the crows that then come at her call. She stops eating sweets after school so she can get to the crows, who make her feel scared and powerful at once. Her grandmother teaches her to stand properly and buys her bras that fit, so subtly, Lily’s appearance is transformed. She attends a Halloween party dressed as a crow, effectively scaring some people and wowing some others, and gets back at the clique in a not-very-nice but satisfying way. Everything happens in lightly sketched outline, and it is all telling, not showing. Perhaps because it is all meant to be empowering and full of good advice, with a generous dash of crow magic, there is very little character development. The beautiful black-on-blue cut-paper–designed cover is perhaps the most attractive thing about it. (Fiction. 10-18)
MY BIG SISTER / MI HERMANA MAYOR
Caraballo, Samuel Illus. by Muraida, Thelma Piñata Books/Arté Público (32 pp.) $16.95 | Nov. 30, 2012 978-1-55885-750-6
This bilingual tale captures the loving relationship of two latchkey siblings. In a first-person narration, Pablito describes how his sister Anita takes care of him while his parents work in a factory to “sew jeans for the whole world.” After Anita wakes him up, Pablito brushes his teeth, dresses for school and ties his own shoes. In the kitchen, he eats the oatmeal his sister has made, and then the two walk down the street to the bus stop. Pablito picks some flowers for Anita along the way then boards the bus for school. The story skips ahead to the end of Pablito’s school day, with his sister meeting him at his bus and the pair returning to their house, where Anita helps her brother with homework. A friendly soccer game with two boys follows, before the siblings eat reheated leftovers for dinner. Pablito showers and asks his sister for a bedtime story and a song. After he falls asleep, his
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parents return and thank Anita for the wonderful care she has given to Pablito. Caraballo’s narrative is well-paced, although the flow is marred by occasionally awkward onomatopoeia. English text precedes the Spanish translation, often complemented by small illustrations highlighting Muraida’s artwork on the facing pages. A charming, if idealized tale highlighting a situation familiar to many children. (Picture book. 3-7)
TIME TO SHINE
Carter, Nikki Dafina/Kensington (240 pp.) $9.95 paperback | Oct. 30, 2012 978-0-7582-7270-6 Series: Fab Life, 5 The fifth installment in Carter’s Fab Life series revisits some familiar territory but still delivers its proven mix of musicindustry insiderdom, interpersonal drama and solid, affirming friendships. As in the previous titles, practical, self-possessed Sunday Tolliver narrates. Now a consistently successful recording artist and songwriter as well as a student at Spelman College, Sunday is juggling her career, her new set of college friends and her academic work. In this volume, Sunday attends the wedding of her mentor Mystique, makes amends with her cousin and rival recording artist Dreya, and attends the Grammy Awards as a nominee. Romantic tension provides the biggest arc in
Fall Favorites from Sleeping Bear Press
New York Times bestselling author Sandra Dallas crafts a spellbinding story about a family’s journey as they travel west by wagon train on the Overland Trail.
Sprinkled with animal idioms such as “snug as a bug in a rug” comes a tale of a young boy named Stu who loves the zoo and all the animal sounds that are music to his ears.
An amusing visual riff on the frequent refrain “nothing ever happens to me.” Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review) —May 2012
A companion title to My Teacher Likes to Say.
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the book. After finding out that her one-time boyfriend Sam lied about his involvement with another girl, Sunday has broken off their relationship. It is clear, however, that both parties miss each other, and Sunday’s stubborn insistence that Sam did wrong, despite some evidence to the contrary, can be exasperating at times. Although the plot is more modest than in some of the earlier books, new and returning characters are developed, and the door is left open for music tours and family drama in future installments. A solid entry in a successful series. (Fiction. 12-16)
THE POET UPSTAIRS
Cofer, Judith Ortiz Illus. by Ortiz, Oscar Piñata Books/Arté Público (32 pp.) $16.95 | Nov. 30, 2012 978-1-55885-704-9 With help from her imagination and the poet upstairs, a young Latina escapes a dreary winter in the city. Out sick from school, Juliana sees a woman move into the apartment above her own. Readers discover that the woman is “a famous poet” who “lived on an island,” as Juliana’s mother once had. Falling asleep to the sound of the woman typing upstairs, Juliana dreams of a beautiful Caribbean island (presumably Cofer’s native Puerto Rico). After awakening, she begins to imagine everything that the poet is doing above her and creates drawings of this dream island. Juliana slips these drawings under the poet’s apartment door and is rewarded the next day with a pictogram message from the poet, inviting her to visit. Together, the nameless poet and Juliana write a poem about a river and escape into a lush land of tropical birds, flowers and sunshine. Although the poem ends and the two return to the cold reality of the city, the poet assures Juliana that she can use poetry as a way to journey to other places. This advice keeps Juliana from being lonely, even after the poet moves away. In his debut picture book, Ortiz adds depth to the fanciful, lengthy narrative with his colorful mixed-media artwork. This interesting-enough, though obvious tale is made remarkable by its illustrations. (Picture book. 5-9)
THE JOURNEY BACK
Cummings, Priscilla Dutton (256 pp.) $16.99 | Dec. 1, 2012 978-0-525-42362-1
Sentenced to a juvenile detention camp and eager to escape, Digger has a plan that sends him on a journey that is both a survival story and a lesson in trust. Introduced as the culprit in a prank gone wrong in Red Kayak (2004), Digger is angry yet determined to help his mother and siblings, 2370 | 15 october 2012 | children ’s
who have long been abused by his father. Though seemingly anxious for their safety, Digger is derailed surprisingly easily once on the outside, as he tries to evade authorities and fend for himself as best he can. He develops a whole new persona as Gerry, the baby sitter for a kid with reading difficulties and a gambling father, and gets a job as a stable hand for a nearby horse-rescue farm. Some of the survival techniques he uses are both unlawful and unlikely, but Digger’s strong narrative voice and the basic decency beneath his stupidity help readers overcome these flaws. A surplus of action keeps the plot moving forward and obscures questions of logic that might emerge if readers had an opportunity to stop and think. The trope of the underdog who survives and wins a better future due to kindness in the world and in his heart is fairly standard fare, and this is no exception. It’s a satisfying one, though, and it rises above the genre via gritty language and secondary characters with lives of their own. (map) (Fiction. 12-16)
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Davies, Nicola Illus. by Boutavant, Marc Candlewick (24 pp.) $9.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-7636-6264-6 Series: Flip the Flap & Find Out, A smartly designed lift-the-flap book reveals surprises in the animal kingdom. A hungry chameleon spies a juicy grasshopper. Turn the halfpage. His long tongue shoots out to catch it. Going on, Davies presents other unexpected animal behaviors. A beaver swims underwater into its cozy, dry den. A peacock displays his tail and screeches at a female. A bee dances to tell others in her hive about a patch of flowers. Chimps catch termites with a stick. The final spread in this sequencing exercise offers a matching game to remind young viewers of the actions described. Boutavant’s bright digital art spreads across the pages, the flaps matching and smoothly revealing each different scene. There is much for pre-readers to look at and enjoy in his busy natural world. Also in the Flip the Flap & Find Out series, Who Lives There? introduces animal biomes by hiding the answer to the titular question under one of four tabs. A jungle, a freshwater pond, a grassland, a coral reef and the Arctic offer distinctly varied habitats for the 20 different species introduced. The final spread asks youngsters to group the species. While these paper flaps last, they’re sure to get plenty of flipping. Entertainment and education in a pleasing package. (Informational picture book. 3-7)
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“…Deem’s straightforward prose and consistently precise and respectful approach make this exceptionally readable as history as well as science” from faces from the past
BEWARE, BEWARE OF THE BIG BAD BEAR!
de Las Casas, Dianne Illus. by Gentry, Marita Pelican (32 pp.) $16.99 | Sep. 15, 2012 978-1-4556-1690-9
The classic Appalachian folktale “Sody Sallyraytus” loses its flavor in this retelling. This cumulative tale has long been a favorite of storytellers who savored the dialect of Richard Chase’s version in Grandfather Tales (1948). A family in need of sody sallyraytus, or baking soda, for biscuits is done in by a hungry bear and saved by their pet squirrel. Paw Paw, brother, sister and finally Maw Maw each, in turn, head off to the store and on their return, run afoul of a very hungry bear under a bridge. Finally, the squirrel saves them and the baking soda. Chase included a tailor-made refrain that demands audience participation. De Las Casas’ version is unfortunately too wordy, and her refrain doesn’t scan comfortably. Putting a “big bad bear” in the title and repeating the phrase on almost every page unnecessarily adds a scary element and elevates the bear in importance over the squirrel. Gentry’s watercolor illustrations are too washed-out to have any visual impact. Her bear, oddly blue, would be a better fit in a version of “The Three Billy Goats Gruff.” A recipe for buttery biscuits is included. Readers would be advised to look elsewhere for more entertaining editions. (Picture book/folk tale. 4-7)
FACES FROM THE PAST Forgotten People of North America
Deem, James M. Houghton Mifflin (160 pp.) $18.99 | Nov. 20, 2012 978-0-547-37024-8
An absorbing introduction to anthropological facial reconstruction. Deem introduces five particular individuals and four other specific burial sites in North America where remains and archaeological contexts offer clues to the identities of the dead. He explores how people who were poor or enslaved or at war lost their lives in ways that left them forgotten or unknown. Seeing their faces reconstructed from the skull remains is compelling and moving in and of itself and provides a vehicle for us to understand more deeply who they might have been when alive. From the remains of Nevada’s Spirit Cave Man, discovered in the 1940s (and in the 1990s realized to be 10,500 years old) to the burial grounds of poor and enslaved people in New York and immigrant Chinese miners in Wyoming, Deem’s straightforward prose and consistently precise and respectful approach make this exceptionally readable as history as well as science. The photos, especially of the skulls, casts, masks and diagrams used in the work of reconstruction, are clear and sharp. Diagrams and archival photos are also provided. Sidebars
offer additional information and sometimes serve as segues to historical accounts that expand on the narratives, though the book’s design means that readers must occasionally jump past this supplementary material over a page turn in order to follow the narrative. Extensive, comprehensive backmatter includes detailed acknowledgments as well as footnotes and sources for further inquiry. Impressive and fascinating. (Nonfiction. 11-15)
ANIMALS DON’T, SO I WON’T!
Derrick Jr., David G. Illus. by Derrick Jr., David G. Immedium (36 pp.) $15.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-59702-029-9
A knowledgeable mother turns the tables on her balky son by pointing out what animals DO. As the appealing cover shows, animal-loving Ben likes to pretend he’s wild himself. He won’t clean his room until his mother reminds him that as a beetle, he’ll have to clean up elephant dung. He pretends to be a penguin that won’t eat his lasagna until his mother pretends to barf up fish for him. And so forth. The animals and their actions are well-chosen for child appeal. Pen-and-ink drawings with watercolor wash combine realistic images with the fantasy of this parent-child game. Both the people and the creatures in Derrick’s art have plenty of attitude. The pace of storytelling varies. Most episodes take two double-page spreads, but others conclude more quickly. Although the narrative threatens to end predictably, with baby chimps rocking in their bedtime nests, there’s a surprise: Dawn comes early for roosters. The parent-child dialogue is indicated by different typefaces, and the illustrations include irresistible animal noises from Bzztt! to Oohh Eee Ooh, just asking for repeat listeners to chime in. The clever premise of this well-worked-out story is likely to appeal as much to adults as to the children they get to share it with. (Picture book. 4-7)
TABBY MCTAT, THE MUSICAL CAT
Donaldson, Julia Illus. by Scheffler, Axel Levine/Scholastic (32 pp.) $16.99 | Dec. 1, 2012 978-0-545-45168-0
A musical cat—what’s better than that? “Tabby McTat was a busker’s cat / With a meow that was loud and strong. / The two of them sang of this and that, / And people threw coins in an old checked hat.” One day, Tabby goes for a walk while Fred, the busker, eats his lunch, and Tabby meets a pretty, black kitty. When he returns, Fred is gone, so Sock, his
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“A manifesto advocating local microfarming as an ecological necessity in today’s changing world is chock-full of fascinating information.” from my messy body
new friend, gets her owners to take Tabby in. He loves his new situation, especially after kittens come along, but he misses Fred. Once the kitties are grown, Tabby sets off to find Fred, unknowingly tailed by his strong-voiced son, Samuel Sprat. Fred’s happy to see his buddy—but Tabby, ever the finicky feline, now misses Sock. What could the solution be? Gruffalo creators Donaldson and Scheffler join forces once again for this lighthearted tale of friendship and music. Donaldson’s lyrical verse reads like a song. Oldsters may see where the tale is headed, but young fans will be happily surprised. Scheffler’s round-eyed characters and bright colors in full-bleed and inset illustrations extend the story. Young listeners will enjoy spotting Samuel in the background as Tabby searches for Fred. “MEEE-EW and the old guitar, / How PURRRR-fectly happy we are.” Sounds like a hit. (Picture book. 2-7)
WHY THE POSSUM HAS A LARGE GRIN
Downing, Johnette--Adapt. Illus. by Wald, Christina Pelican (32 pp.) $16.99 | Sep. 15, 2012 978-1-4556-1639-8
Possum convinces hungry Deer to bang his head into a tree full of ripe persimmons, a sight that amuses the trickster so much that his grin sticks forever. Downing (Why the Crawfish Lives in the Mud, 2009) adapts this Choctaw legend, extending the narrative and adding an embellishment. Not only does Possum get a grin, the bumps that rise on Deer’s battered head grow into antlers—two origin stories in one. The author begins her tale in a traditional storyteller’s manner: “Sometime past, there was one long, long, very long dry season north of Lake Pontchartrain in Louisiana.” Hints of dialect continue—“go to the top of that there hill”; “hit this here persimmon tree so hard”; and so forth—but, surprisingly given the experience of the writer, a longtime children’s musician and entertainer, her narrative feels forced. It doesn’t flow smoothly as a read-aloud, and the story arc is flat. Wald’s lifelike acrylic paintings focus on the two main characters, often placed against a plain background. They show well. But this Possum has little personality. For a possum pourquoi tale with real child appeal, choose Colleen Salley’s Why Epossumondas Has No Hair on His Tail, illustrated by Janet Stevens (2004). Finally, the title lacks the customary background and source information usually provided about traditional material. Nothing to smile about. (Picture book. 4-8)
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Dunrea, Olivier Illus. by Dunrea, Olivier Philomel (32 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-399-24235-9 Two lonely bears find each other and form a deep bond. Little Cub and Old Bear live in the same deep forest, but neither knows the other exists. White-bearded Old Bear survives on skills learned over a lifetime; he is well-fed and warm, but he hates his solitary existence. Little Cub is barely surviving; he is hungry and cold, and his fears threaten to overwhelm him. Their first meeting results in an instant connection. Old Bear takes Little Cub home, tucks him in bed and tells him a story that promises a life together that will alleviate hunger and fear and loneliness. The tale alternates page by page between the two bears, matching morning, afternoon and evening activities and emphasizing their emotional parallels. When they come together, the earlier concerns are repeated, addressed and resolved. Large-print text is centered on a solid white page and is set in the charmingly named Zapf Humanist typeface. On facing pages, illustrations are rendered in pencil and gouache in shades of browns, oranges and greens that softly wash into white backgrounds. The forest is beautiful, and the bears’ physical and emotional place in it is carefully indicated through perspective and body language. The universal need for love and companionship is conveyed sweetly and poignantly. Comforting and uplifting. (Picture book. 3-8)
POTATOES ON ROOFTOPS Farming in the City
Dyer, Hadley Annick Press (84 pp.) $24.95 | paper $14.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-55451-425-0 978-1-55451-424-3 paperback A manifesto advocating local microfarming as an ecological necessity in today’s changing world is chock-full of fascinating information. The first part presents a reasoned, organized explanation for increasing the availability of food for the ever-growing populations of cities around the world. Much of this food, especially fruits and vegetables, can be grown, at least in part, within or near the city in individual plots, community gardens or repurposed larger-scaled venues, leaving traditional rural farms for grains and grasses that need large tracts of land. Subsequent sections discuss ways and means by which people can create their own gardens. Dyer employs a conversational, accessible tone that speaks directly to her readers and includes practical, real-life examples that can be implemented at home, school or in the community. Facts and data come thick and fast, copiously illustrated with photographs, maps and drawings and enhanced with captions, sidebars and appropriate quotes. Boldfaced
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headings are worded with flair, and illustrative material is visually appealing, colorful and varied. Most young readers will probably not read it from cover to cover in one sitting but will scan it, stopping as something catches their interest. They might even decide to get out there and start digging. A work bound to provide food for thought and perhaps for the table. (preface, glossary, online resources, index) (Nonfiction. 9-12)
THE STEAM MOLE
Freer, Dave Pyr/Prometheus Books (300 pp.) $16.95 | Dec. 4, 2012 978-1-61614-692-4 In 1953, on an alternate Earth still powered by steam, high-level political intrigue and racism in the Outback threaten Clara Calland and her family. Clara and her scientist mother fled Duke Malcolm, brother to the king of the British-German Empire, with the secret to manufacturing ammonia. His men chased them to the wild desert of Westralia, the one place the Empire didn’t care to own. Their steamsub Cuttlefish needs repairs, and that will cost her crew money. While they hire themselves out to various railroad companies, Clara and her mother try to convince the Westralian government to purchase their secret...but Clara’s mother falls ill. Clara seeks the help of her beau, Tim, of the Cuttlefish’s crew, in deciding what to do about her mother and perhaps finding her father in jail in Eastern Australia. Duke Malcolm has plans for the secret of ammonia synthesis and the rich mines of Westralia; Clara and her family are in his sights. Adult author Freer’s second for a younger audience is set in a sharply imagined alternate world, but readers will need to either be familiar with the first or read the extensive backmatter to keep their heads above the desert sands. Action sags in the middle as the various characters, split by circumstance, reconnect. Diverting, if not riveting fare for fans. (Steampunk. 11-15)
to several scientists involved in this work, principally Dr. Jay Kirkpatrick, who first studied horse herds in Montana and pioneered the use of PZP at Assateague National Seashore; Allison Turner, who observes Assateague horses on a daily basis and helps deliver the vaccine (with a rifle adapted to shoot darts); and Dr. Ronald Keiper, who developed the wild horse observation methods and record-keeping system still in use there today. Along the way are chapters on horse ancestry and the history of wild horses in this country, as well as information about color and size and other research and researchers. Underlying these particular stories are important concepts, lucidly conveyed: Scientists work together to solve problems, solutions can be a long time coming and sometimes approaches fail. The attractive design makes the most of the Maryland and Montana scenery and includes plentiful photographs of horses in the wild and scientists at work. A science title with wide potential appeal. (glossary, where to see, how to help, resources, index) (Nonfiction. 12 & up)
WILD HORSE SCIENTISTS
Frydenborg, Kay Houghton Mifflin (80 pp.) $18.99 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-547-51831-2 Series: Scientists in the Field Over years of observation and experimentation on Western ranges and an Atlantic barrier island, scientists have found and implemented a successful method to stabilize wild horse populations. This latest title in the consistently interesting Scientists in the Field series focuses on research leading to the use of porcine zona pellucida vaccine on wild horses for reliable, reversible birth control. Frydenborg introduces her readers | kirkus.com | children ’s
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THE DISCOVERY OF LONGITUDE
Galat, Joan Marie Illus. by Lowe, Wes Pelican (32 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-4556-1637-4
A glancing shot at the story of inventing a watch to compute longitude aboard the great sailing ships. Only 300 years ago it was impossible to accurately compute longitude. As Galat clearly explains, one could find latitude using a sextant and direction using a compass, but longitude required a clock. Actually, two clocks: one telling the time at the prime meridian and another telling the shipboard time. The British government’s Board of Longitude offered a reward equal to $3 million in today’s currency to the inventor who could build such a clock, one that could thwart the pendulum problem and the degradation of a timepiece at the mercy of seawater spray. Enter John Harrison, carpenter and clockmaker, who toiled for over 40 years to make just such a clock and who got shafted by the board for his troubles (the king finally got him paid). Galat tells the story with verve and historical accuracy to a point, but she falls short of explaining how Harrison’s clock worked, how it overcame the conditions and how captains—this one looking suspiciously like Russell Crowe—knew when to set the clock forward or backward, all of which are the crux of the tale. Lowe’s artwork is handsome, though his tendency to place precise objects in the foreground against blurry backgrounds is not altogether successful (perhaps he is reaching for a metaphor). A hearty tale, but the workings of longitude’s conqueror remain elusive. (Informational picture book. 8-12)
MEET ME AT THE ART MUSEUM A Whimsical Look Behind the Scenes
Goldin, David Illus. by Goldin, David Abrams (40 pp.) $18.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-4197-0187-0
True to the subtitle, this book’s cover delivers an amusing yet informative tour of an art museum. Once inside, endpapers reveal a museum floor plan complete with iconic signage to both orient youngsters and welcome them to a lively behind-the-scenes tour of an imagined museum. The guides are an old-school–style, green-paper entry ticket named Stub and a pink-and-white “Hello my name is” sticker called Daisy, the museum docent’s helper. Daisy takes Stub on a wonderful wander from the coat check through storage, galleries and more. Security and art protection are pleasingly detailed by the anthropomorphized museum security badge (Badge), even as the two continue to 2374 | 15 october 2012 | children ’s
check out the museum’s kid-pleasing innards: temperature and climate controls, the cafe, water fountains, escalators, museum shop—even the art library. But when Stub wanders off into the conservation lab, a fan blows him into a freshly varnished collage (a humorous takeoff on Matisse’s Dancers). Stub gets his wish. Firmly fixed on canvas, Stub is now part of the museum’s permanent collection. Author, illustrator and fine artist Goldin collages in a number of iconic, favorite works of art and cleverly enlivens the collection with his own appealing and marvelously amusing sculptural assemblages. An engaging and enlivening introduction for kids and adults alike. (“Who’s Who at the Museum,” glossary, list of works) (Picture book. 4-8)
BAD HAIR DAY
Harris, Carrie Delacorte (240 pp.) $17.99 | $10.99 e-book | PLB $20.99 Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-385-74215-3 978-0-307-97419-8 e-book 978-0-375-99044-1 PLB Kate Grable can’t catch a break. You’d think that a girl who’d invented a cure for the zombie virus less than a year ago would have earned the right to relax and enjoy her senior year, but there’s no rest for this self-professed “semireformed nerd” and celebrity. This campy, often laugh-outloud-funny follow-up to Bad Taste in Boys (2011) finds Kate once again in the position of having to save her friends, her high school and her town from a big, hairy someone (or something) that is on a kid-killing spree. Sure, it would be nice to enjoy some quiet time with her adorable jock boyfriend, but it’s hard to ignore the bodies piling up in the morgue, where Kate is shadowing the town medical examiner as part of the Future Doctors of America program. When Dr. Burr is arrested for the murders and her best friend’s boyfriend becomes a target, Kate uses her supersmarts to crack the case. Readers will get a kick out of this book that reads like a Wes Craven movie. The plot may be a little far-fetched, but the ride is so much fun it doesn’t much matter. When characters respond to the possibility of a werewolf preying on their town with lines like “You don’t understand.…I’m Team Edward!” what’s not to love? (Horror humor. 13 & up)
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“The third installment of the Midnight Dragonfly series barrels along at breakneck speed, a paranormal thrill ride from start to finish.” from fragile darkness
DARWEN ARKWRIGHT AND THE INSIDIOUS BLECK
Hartley, A.J. Razorbill/Penguin (448 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 21, 2012 978-1-59514-410-2 Series: Darwen Arkwright, 2
A class trip thrusts Darwen and his friends into world-hopping danger. Eleven-year-old Darwen Arkwright, recently transplanted to Atlanta from England, found out last semester that he’s a mirroculist: He can travel to the fantastical (and dangerous) world of Silbrica through mirrors. With friends Rich and Alex, he saved Hillside Academy by foiling the schemes of the powerful Greyling. Now, when he witnesses a boy’s abduction in the jungle while on a trip through the mirrors, Darwen wants to help. His mentor, Mr. Peregrine, now a teacher at Darwen’s school, sets up a class trip to Costa Rica (the likely location of the portal Darwen visited). Once there, Darwen wants to find the missing boy, but Mr. Peregrine has other orders from the Silbrican Council. Everyone seems to be working against Darwen, and he’s haunted by a vision from his past of a laughing clown. Can he mend fences with his friends and save the boy before a nasty developer takes possession of the area and the Insidious Bleck snatches more children? Hartley hits a sophomore slump with his sequel to Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact (2011). Endless and pointless bickering among the principle characters and a monster that sounds more Dr. Seuss refugee than fearsome beast hobble an already-sluggish adventure. Neither a whiz-bang finish nor a tacked-on environmental message can save Darwen’s second adventure; hopefully his third will reignite the series. (Fantasy. 8-12)
Hocking, Amanda St. Martin’s Griffin (256 pp.) $17.99 | Nov. 27, 2012 978-1-250-00565-6 Series: Watersong, 2 To feed or not to feed; that is the question that plagues Gemma as she attempts to make peace with her decision to live alongside her siren sisters while denying the more monstrous temptations that come part and parcel with the tail and the scales. Though confident in her decision to protect the ones she loves by leaving them behind, Gemma is increasingly unsure that she will be able to resist the powerful urge to kill in order to survive. Back on the homefront, Gemma’s boyfriend, Alex, her older sister Harper, and Harper’s boyfriend, Daniel, are doing everything in their power to find Gemma and figure out a way to get rid of the sirens—for good. Fortunately, the trio manages to rescue Gemma and bring her home to her ecstatic
father. Unfortunately, none of them have a clue what they will do when a vengeful Penn, Lexi and Thea return to claim their “sister.” The second installment of the Watersong series will likely satisfy fans of the first. There’s considerably more action throughout this time around, and Hocking does a better job differentiating among the sirens and allowing each to become a more rounded, distinct character. Thea in particular intrigues as it becomes clear that, like Gemma, she too is a somewhat reluctant siren. That said, this second outing is unlikely to win new fans to the series. (Paranormal romance. 14 & up)
James, Ellie St. Martin’s Griffin (352 pp.) $9.99 paperback | Nov. 27, 2012 978-0-312-64704-9 Series: Midnight Dragonfly, 3 The third installment of the Midnight Dragonfly series barrels along at breakneck speed, a paranormal thrill ride from start to finish. Gifted teenage psychic Trinity Monsour is still reeling from the death of her boyfriend at the hands of a clairvoyant psychopath and finds that the emotional trauma has blocked her premonitions. She has feelings of impending doom connected to a boy named Will, but try as she might, she can’t get the fully formed vision that might help her protect him. When Trinity faces threats and assaults from someone who clearly doesn’t want her digging into the matter, she finds herself rescued yet again by the enigmatic Dylan Fourcade. While she struggles to sort out her complicated feelings for him, the two work to unblock Trinity’s visions and get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding Will. Moving along at a breathless pace, this installment in the series exists almost entirely in the realm of visions, psychic connections and neardeath experiences, forsaking much of the firm grounding in the ordinary and the character development that made the initial volumes so engrossing. Nonetheless, fans of the series will devour this offering and look forward to the promise of additional titles, perhaps ones that crank up the paranormal factor even higher as the powers of other characters are increasingly revealed and explored. (Paranormal mystery. 12 & up)
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THE MOOSE BELONGS TO ME
Jeffers, Oliver Illus. by Jeffers, Oliver Philomel (32 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-399-16103-2
Moose are not necessarily the best pets—except when it really matters. &
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“Santa and his reindeer get lost in a blizzard, but the U.S. military comes to the rescue in this ingenious parody of ‘The Night Before Christmas.’ ” from the night santa got lost
Wilfred carefully teaches his moose, whom he names Marcel, all the rules for being a good pet. Marcel follows some of them. He knows to be quiet when Wilfred is listening to music, for example, but sometimes he roams too far from home. Still, Marcel is a good companion, providing shelter in the rain and reaching high into trees for fruit. Then calamity strikes. Wilfred discovers that Marcel actually belongs to another, causing Wilfred to run home in anger and get lost. To the rescue comes Marcel the moose, strutting nobly on his four thin but strong legs. The boy learns a valuable lesson about wild animals: “[P]erhaps…he’d never really owned the moose anyway.” Jeffers has set his cautionary tale in the beautiful Rocky Mountains using “a mishmash of oil painting onto old linotype and painted landscapes and a bit of technical wizardry thrown into the mix.” The result is an eye-catching and imaginative book with illustrations that vary from close-ups of the imposing moose against a white background to landscapes of the moose standing tall in his very own Albert Bierstadt painting. Pet lovers and nature lovers alike will enjoy this offbeat and entertaining tale. (Picture book. 4-7)
John, Antony Dial (320 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 21, 2012 978-0-8037-3682-5 The lost colony of Roanoke Island meets Captain Kidd. Sixteen-year-old Thomas lives on Hatteras Island in a colony protected by the Guardians, a group of elders with magical powers fueled by the elements: water, fire, wind and water. Their children have inherited their special gifts—except for Thomas. His deaf younger brother, Griffin, however, is a seer who has visions of the future that are sometimes horrific and cause him to have seizures. The Guardians moved the colony to Hatteras to escape a plague that wiped out all other human life on the mainland. Now the colony is under siege by pirates who have kidnapped everyone but Thomas, Griffin and three other kids. John’s post-apocalyptic alternate history starts off with a whine, but the pace and the mystery pick up once the adults are captured and the kids are left on their own. Characterizations don’t dip too far below the surface, except when G-rated sparks flicker between Thomas and one of the teen girls stranded with him. Enter Captain Dare, the cutthroat leader of the pirates who attacked the colony. His presence, along with some old maps and paper fragments with the name “Virginia” scrawled on them point to a sequel. Readers may not catch all the loose historical connections, but they’ll like the action in this occasionally exciting story of survival. (Post-apocalyptic adventure. 12-16)
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THE LOST PRINCE
Kagawa, Julie Harlequin Teen (384 pp.) $9.99 paperback | Nov. 1, 2012 978-0-373-21057-2 Series: The Iron Fey—Call of the Forgotten, 1 Iron Queen Meghan Chase’s baby brother Ethan has grown into a broody bad boy. Ethan Chase wants nothing more than to keep his head down and avoid notice. He hates the fey, as they torment him and interfere with his life on a regular basis because he can see them. He ably fills the teen-literature trope of the bad boy with a heart of gold who pushes people away for their own protection by behaving like a jerk. But fresh from a fey-caused school expulsion, Ethan finds two new classmates who refuse to leave him alone—half-fey Todd, desperate for Ethan’s help with a magical threat, and the rich, popular, attractive and above all, persistent school reporter, Kenzie. When Todd goes missing, Ethan surprises himself by plunging into Faery to try to save him from shadowy glamour-eating fey, a threat that may ring familiar to those who have read The Iron Knight (2011). Kenzie is caught in the crossfire. While unraveling the truth about this shadowy threat to Todd and other missing half-breeds and exiles, Ethan encounters various beloved Iron Fey characters in guest appearances and is joined by a simultaneously mysterious and familiar fey named Keirran. The danger accompanies multiple romantic plots. Kagawa’s fans will enjoy this expansion of her world. (Fantasy. 12-15)
THE NIGHT SANTA GOT LOST How NORAD Saved Christmas
Keane, Michael Illus. by Garland, Michael Regnery (40 pp.) $14.95 | Oct. 22, 2012 978-1-59698-810-1
Santa and his reindeer get lost in a blizzard, but the U.S. military comes to the rescue in this ingenious parody of “The Night Before Christmas.” The cleverly rhymed text uses the basic structure of the familiar poem and places it into a modern setting at the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the military agency charged with monitoring all air traffic. When Santa’s sleigh disappears from NORAD’s radar, the supervising general notifies the commander-in-chief of the U.S., who scrambles fighter jets and Special Forces to assist in finding Santa, and then all the military’s resources are deployed around the world to get the presents delivered. Military lingo is embedded in the text (“Now march away! Fly away! Sail away, all!”), and fighter jets, ships, jeeps and Special Ops forces in uniform all help Santa on his way. Digitally produced illustrations have a cinematic
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quality with a 3-D effect that makes the characters stand out, augmented by dramatic lighting and varied perspectives. Children with parents serving in the armed forces will be especially fond of this version of the beloved poem. (Picture book. 4-8)
IN STONE A Grotesque Faerie Tale King, Jeremy Jordan Bold Strokes Books (141 pp.) $11.95 paperback | Nov. 13, 2012 978-1-60282-761-5
In a disjointed and needlessly morose tale, a gargoylelike creature protects a mopey 20-something from gay bashers. Jeremy is a recent college graduate miserably selling hot dogs in New York. On New Year’s Eve, he is beaten on 26th Street by assailants spewing anti-gay slurs. After the attack, he is helped up by someone who identifies himself as Jeremy’s Guardian and later reveals himself to be a stone creature called a grotesque (“Gargoyles are drain pipes”). As Jeremy slowly recovers physically and emotionally from his attack, he learns more of Garth the Guardian’s history. Meanwhile, Garth enacts vigilante justice against actual and suspected gay bashers, and Jeremy schemes to attract a fellow food-service worker who already has a boyfriend in a manipulative way that goes sadly unacknowledged in the text. Both Jeremy’s and Garth’s stories are delivered in plodding, tortuous prose (“Each word and strike were precious treasures I’d dropped, treasures that would help pay my way through the processing of the assault”). One of Garth’s protective acts leaves a dead body in Jeremy’s apartment, and although there is some concern that the police may look askance at this turn of events, the book ends before the situation is truly addressed. A tedious, poorly plotted slog with very little resolution. (Urban fantasy. 14-18)
Kinsey-Warnock, Natalie Knopf (256 pp.) $15.99 | $10.99 e-book | PLB $18.99 Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-375-86099-7 978-0-375-89706-1 e-book 978-0-375-96099-4 PLB In the summer of 1952, 10-year-old Blue finds that her “real mama” isn’t the one who abandoned her when she was 2 days old, but the strong woman who raised her on a farm in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. Kinsey-Warnock returns to the world she has lovingly described earlier in such titles as From Dawn Till Dusk (2002).
On Hannah’s old-fashioned farm, milking and haying are done by hand. Tourists at the nearby lake find farming tasks “relaxing,” but Blue and Hannah, now in her 70s, consider them plain hard work. The book opens with Blue waiting not only for her “real mother,” but also for the return of her best friend, a regular summer visitor named Nadine. But Nadine, nearly 12, has developed new interests and an unfamiliar mean streak. She even makes fun of Raleigh, a brain-damaged adult who does odd jobs around their supportive small town. Nadine’s family, which Blue had once envied, is falling apart. For Blue, the summer brings a new understanding of what it means to be family and an appreciation for her own life, as well as answers to some mysterious disappearances—both animals and people—and the development of a talent for writing. Blue’s first-person voice is believable and her growth convincing in this satisfying family and friendship story— with a perfect cover to boot. (Historical fiction. 9-12)
IF WE SURVIVE
Klavan, Andrew Thomas Nelson (352 pp.) $14.99 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-1-59554-795-8 “We came to Costa Verdes to build a wall. I just wish I could tell you that all of us made it home alive.” Members of a church-group mission to rebuild a school in a Central American nation find their flight home delayed by a violent revolution sweeping the countryside. Teenage Everyman Will Peterson narrates a struggle for survival alongside several stock characters (such as a sweet but shallow pretty girl, a well-meaning but out-of-touch youth pastor and an intellectual, professorial America-blaming idealist, Jim). Socialist-sympathizing Jim contrasts with pragmatic former U.S. Marine action hero Palmer. The transparency of Klavan’s political agenda is in part mitigated by an increasing focus on the emotional and spiritual lives of the more fleshed-out characters on their journey though jungles and captivity. Will, when he’s not trying too hard to be a typical teen so readers can identify with him, is thoughtful and self-possessed. Through a blooming mentor-mentee relationship, he learns the meaning of heroism. Background on the political situation between the rebels and the government (plus history of Cold War CIA involvement) is deployed as necessary, keeping the narration personal and immediate. The resolution suffers from a disappointing lack of denouement, especially considering how far the characters have come. Fast-paced with multiple threats, genuine tension and lots of machine guns. (Adventure. 12-17)
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BLUE AUTUMN CRUISE
Kline, Lisa Williams Zonderkidz (224 pp.) $10.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-0-310-72617-3 Series: Sisters in All Seasons, 3 A multigenerational Caribbean cruise provides the setting for the latest entry in this series about two stepsisters who bond through the endangered wildlife they encounter. Diana, 15, struggling with a mood disorder, feels pressganged into joining the family cruise in honor of her stepdad’s mother, especially when she learns she and new stepsister Stephanie, 14, must share their stateroom with Stephanie’s bossy cousin Lauren. Also 14, Lauren records whatever’s in her vicinity on her video camera. Diana’s refusal to hang out in the teen nightclub with them and the boys they meet threatens to destroy the festive mood, while timid Stephanie wants everyone to feel included but is unsure how to fix things. Luckily, finding an endangered baby blue iguana gives Diana a focus. Embodying the gentle religious subtext (an inclusive one, stressing behavior over belief), Stephanie’s aware she’s been blessed by an easygoing temperament, likability and good looks, and she feels these gifts confer responsibilities. One major element throws the narrative off balance: the sisters’ vocabulary, naïveté and social interactions feel like those of children three or more years younger. Only Lauren, an adolescent questioning parental authority, seems developmentally on track. The blandly commercial setting muffles the author’s usually acute observations, but when Iggy the iguana enters the picture, pacing and energy pick up. (Fiction. 9-12)
Kluver, Cayla Harlequin Teen (448 pp.) $9.99 paperback | Nov. 1, 2012 978-0-373-21044-2 Series: Legacy Trilogy, 3 A historical fantasy seamlessly intertwines the love stories of Alera and Shaselle, two young but incredibly strong teenage women, and their personal struggles to restore their medieval-esque kingdom, Hytanica, to grace. This final installment in the Legacy trilogy picks up with the citizens of Hytanica recently conquered by their sworn enemies, the Cokyrians but determined to reclaim their nation. Chapters alternate between the fresh voices of Alera and Shaselle, providing readers a view of the struggle from behind the palace walls via Alera and on the city streets through Shaselle. Once Hytanica’s queen but now appointed Grand Provost, Alera is challenged with rebuilding Hytanica under Cokyrian rule, which she soon learns includes reconstructing not only 2378 | 15 october 2012 | children ’s
buildings, but also the pride of her people. Feisty and more comfortable with horses than suitors, Shaselle scoffs at her role as a lady and insinuates herself into the plans of the Hytanican freedom fighters. Similar in their love of Hytanica, these two women are also linked by painful choices between the love of a man or the glory of their country. Although true to its roots as a Harlequin novel, this tale rises above genre by including thought-provoking elements that examine the role of women, family allegiances and the damaging nature of prejudice. (Fantasy. 13-17)
PIRATES DON’T SAY PLEASE!
Knowlton, Laurie Lazzaro Illus. by Tans, Adrian Pelican (32 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-58980-982-6
In an obvious and clumsy remake of Where the Wild Things Are, a rude young “pirate” is consigned to his room until he learns better manners. Dressed in a store-bought pirate outfit and waving a toy cutlass, Billy’s obnoxious “Back away from me bounty, poppet” to his mother—visible in Tans’ bland, literal paintings only from the neck down—results in lunchtime banishment to his bedroom. It is soon transformed into a succession of ships and nautical settings. The author’s attempt to sidestep potential controversy by having Billy sing out “Yo, ho, ho, and a bottle of scum!” really only calls attention to the original’s reference to alcohol, and his stuffed parrot’s cries of “Booty! Booty!” will definitely induce giggles in modern audiences, for whom the word has a meaning that is likely not what was intended. Waking up hungry to the scent of “a dinner fit for a prince,” Billy finally makes a quick change to another (also plainly store-bought) costume for a grand re-entrance: “Dear Queen, your prince has arrived with hands washed. Many thanks for the banquet.” At least he was let out of his room. (Picture book. 6-8)
LOVE YOU WHEN...
Kranz, Linda Illus. by Kranz, Linda Taylor Trade (32 pp.) $12.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-58979-703-1
This love letter of a book from parent to child includes lovely photographs of carefully arranged and painted rocks, but an uninspired text falls short of its original artistic conceit. An absence of story hinders the book, which excludes character depictions, though an opening shot of a big, red, heartshaped rock beside a smaller one suggests a parent and child. This picture is followed by a parental voice describing the everyday moments that inspire love, juxtaposed with painted and arranged rock tableaux. For example, a stone painted like
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“Rasmussen’s comic-book-style illustrations burst across the pages in a medley of vibrant hues.” from crazy about soccer!
the sun precedes text on the next page that says that the parent loves the child when “the first rays of sun light up the early morning sky.” Although the child’s voice had previously asked, “Do you think of me during the day?” it’s unclear whether the child and parent are together or separate at this point, and at many others, throughout the book. The message of parental love is sweet and heartfelt, and the pictures are quite pretty. The sum of the parts, though, ultimately seems less like a picture book to be shared by the sort of parent and child whose voices emerge in the text and more like a gift book or a catalog of photographs to inspire readers to paint and arrange their own rocks. Artistically inspirational, if not inspired itself. (Picture book. 3-8)
REALLY, REALLY BIG QUESTIONS ABOUT ME AND MY BODY
Law, Stephen Illus. by Aspinall, Marc Kingfisher (64 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-0-7534-6892-0 Series: Really, Really Big Questions About... In the third of a series of Really, Really Big Question books, Law delves again into philosophy for children. The title might imply that this is going to be yet another anatomy-and-physiology-for-children effort. To a certain extent, it is. Discussing cells and atoms and providing some attention to a few body parts—eyes and brains especially—it meanders about, briefly spotlighting a topic and just as quickly heading off in another direction. While it delves into philosophical questions that have haunted deep thinkers for eons—“How do I know that the world is real?” for example—it also fails to name “the tube into your stomach” or “the different tube into your lungs,” with the apparent supposition that these long words might stump readers. In answering “Why do I catch colds?” the author incorrectly reports that the virus is transmitted this way: “You might touch a doorknob that someone with the virus has used and then touch the food you are eating.” Actually, stomach acid destroys cold viruses, which spread through the air. Aspinall’s quirky, disproportionate people scamper across the brightly colored, sometimes hard-to-read pages, helpfully distracting readers from the watered-down deep thought. This shotgun approach to anatomy and philosophy does justice to neither topic; better works are abundant. A really, really big and more pertinent question is: Who is the audience for this unnecessary effort? (Nonfiction. 9-12)
CRAZY ABOUT SOCCER!
Lesynski, Loris Illus. by Rasmussen, Gerry Annick Press (48 pp.) $22.95 | paper $12.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-55451-422-9 978-1-55451-421-2 paperback Lesynski’s rollicking collection celebrates the sport of soccer. This ebullient compilation of more than 50 poems will inspire and entertain soccer enthusiasts, whether they are novice or expert players. From the commiseration offered to players who must persevere through squalls in “Rain Game” to the whimsical “Turf Burn,” which comically describes the perils of artificial grass, Lesynski’s verse explores the gamut of soccer experiences. The format varies, with verses that range from brief and succinct, such as the sole line comprising “The Concussion Discussion,” to the lengthier “How to Be a Referee,” which pays homage to the dedication of game officials. In “Over,” Lesynski declares that “Remembering the fun we had / will last... / and last…”—delivering an apt reminder for young athletes to enjoy playing the game, regardless of who wins or loses. Rasmussen’s comic-book–style illustrations burst across the pages in a medley of vibrant hues. His humorous vignettes complement the playful poems. Together, art and verse adeptly capture the appeal of this popular sport. (Poetry. 6-10)
HANG GLIDER & MUD MASK
McMullen, Brian Illus. by Jägel, Jason McSweeney’s McMullens (40 pp.) $14.95 | Nov. 15, 2012 978-1-936365-83-8
Geometric shapes, matte colors and agitated line create energy and movement in this surreal kind-of love story that is possibly not aimed at children at all. The small, square volume is bound dos-à-dos, two stories that meet and climax in the middle, with two front covers. Mud Mask is a girl wearing, well, a mud mask and cucumber slices over her eyes in a classic spa image. “To reach the legs” she sees floating above, she leaves her underground place via stairs, ladder and rope until she emerges from a hole. “To reach the arms” he sees held out to him, Hang Glider leaps from the cliff of his building, flying down on a glider that changes color—blue, yellow, green, gold—and lands in Mud Mask’s arms. One of her hands is bandaged in this meeting, though not in the one from her perspective. This might be a metaphor of love and salvation or a dream sequence the creators could not resist. Readers can start from either beginning and end up at the same rescue. Younger readers may be befuddled, or they may take the few words and the dramatic shape of the images and create their own landscape of story. Unusual not so much in its binding (there have been others) as in its willful but engaging opacity. (Picture book. 7-12)
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“Meng playfully expands and exaggerates children’s efforts to put off the inevitable lights-out and turns a universal tug of war into a hilarious tour de force…” from bedtime is canceled
LOVELY, DARK AND DEEP
McNamara, Amy Simon & Schuster (352 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-1-4424-3435-6
Everything changed for Wren when her boyfriend was killed in an automobile accident that she survived. Readers meet Wren in the fall; she should be at Amherst, but after a period of elective mutism following the accident, she decided to take refuge with her artist father at his home in Downeast Maine. There she meets Cal, also on the lam from life; he has multiple sclerosis and has temporarily dropped out of his architecture program at Cornell. Her father, anxious to give her something to do, sets her up with a “job” helping Cal that turns into romance. Refreshingly, Cal is not the agent of her healing; equally wounded, he needs her help as well. McNamara makes the most of the stark setting, taking readers and Wren on long runs through woods and along the coastal rocks. Wren’s first-person, present-tense narration is convincingly self-hating and claustrophobic; her emotional journey lurches through her numbness and denial toward self-acceptance. While the debut author has total command over Wren’s agonizing present, she has a harder time with her back story, in particular with an inconsistency in her relationship with her parents that does not seem entirely justified by her psychic myopia. An overreliance on simile grows tiresome, though many succeed beautifully: Wren’s father’s cheery intern is “like an ice cream sundae in work clothes.” Despite minor flaws, Wren’s quiet emergence from despair rings true. (Fiction. 14 & up)
BEDTIME IS CANCELED
Meng, Cece Illus. by Neyret, Aurélie Clarion (32 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-547-63668-9
A bedtime prank goes viral, resulting in giggle-inspiring consequences. Maggie and her brother write a note to their parents announcing the cancellation of bedtime. Of course their parents don’t believe it and throw the note in the trash. The note flies out the window, lands on a reporter’s desk, becoming headline news in print and on television and in endlessly forwarded emails. Now bedtime really is canceled, and chaos ensues. The children stay up all night playing, snacking and watching TV, with this scenario repeated all over town. Morning brings exhausted adults who can’t function, though children seem remarkably unaffected. The next note takes pity and, to every parent’s delight, revokes the disastrous change and reinstates the natural order of things. All these notes work so well that Maggie and her brother try a new message….Meng playfully expands and exaggerates children’s efforts to put off the 2380 | 15 october 2012 | children ’s
inevitable lights-out and turns a universal tug of war into a hilarious tour de force, with the children decidedly in charge and loving it. Neyret’s digital illustrations have a mangalike sensibility, depicting very modern settings with wide-eyed, expressive characters, joyfully enhancing the goofy proceedings and adding a few sly touches of her own. Suspend all disbelief and enjoy. (Picture book. 4-8)
LEAVE YOUR SLEEP A Collection of Classic Children’s Poetry
Merchant, Natalie--Ed. Illus. by McClintock, Barbara Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux (48 pp.) $24.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-374-34368-2
An American singer-songwriter’s two-CD album becomes a children’s poetry collection. For her 2010 hit album with the same title, Merchant composed music for 30 19th- and 20th-century British and American poems, some written for children and some written about childhood. For this volume, she’s selected 19 of those poems (18 from the CD set and one other), describing them as “representing the long conversation I had with my daughter during the first six years of her life.” Both traditional and modern in style, they range widely in subject and mood. There are examples of wordplay by Prelutsky and Nash, nursery rhymes, verses by Stevenson and Lear, poems by cummings and Graves and more. Not all the texts, nor their authors, will be familiar. Not really “classic,” but classy, what they have in common is splendid language and McClintock’s engaging illustrations. Done with pen and ink and gently colored (except for a flamboyantly dressed giantess resting against a red velvet curtain), these detailed drawings add to the old-fashioned look. They vary from tiny vignettes and character sketches to scenes stretching across a spread. The end matter includes black-and-white photographs of the poets as well as music credits for the special-edition CD that will be included. A musical treat for parents as well as their children. (Poetry/CD. 5 & up)
MEANT TO BE
Morrill, Lauren Delacorte (304 pp.) $17.99 | $10.99 e-book | PLB $20.99 Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-385-74177-4 978-0-375-98711-3 e-book 978-0-375-99023-6 PLB A paint-by-numbers romantic comedy of errors. Ultraorganized, rule-following scholar/ swimmer Julia’s dreams of a perfect English-lit class trip to London
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are dashed when she is assigned to uber-immature slacker Jason as buddy for the entire time. Jason couldn’t possibly be any further from Mark, Julia’s Meant To Be back home, in looks, brains or character. Surprise, surprise: Numerous pratfalls, fights, mix-ups and unexpectedly revelatory conversations, and one awesome kiss later, it turns out that if not her, then at least the plot’s MTB is, gasp, Jason. Julie’s heart follows a well-trodden path that only readers who have never encountered the genre before will find at all astonishing. What those who do know the formula will find striking is the doggedness with which sweet-at-heart Jason pursues bitchy Julia. Morrill drops plenty of clues for discerning readers that indicate Jason’s basic decency and attraction to Julia. Julia, meanwhile, ignores all of them and maintains such an unbending attitude of intellectual superiority that she becomes profoundly unlikable, despite many narrative attempts to mitigate this with episodes of clumsiness and cluelessness. The author has a good ear for comic dialogue—“I’m just saying there are other fish in the sea, Julia,” her best friend counsels via Skype. “Big fish. Tasty fish. Tuna fish!”—that bodes well for future, less formulaic outings. Physical comedy, particularly as presented in Julia’s present-tense voice, is far less successful. For neophytes only. (Comic romance. 13-17)
HOME FRONT GIRL A Diary of Love, Literature, and Growing Up in Wartime America Morrison, Joan Wehlen Chicago Review (272 pp.) $19.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-61374-457-4
Chicago schoolgirl Joan Wehlen was known for her writing skills—quite correctly, as her always-entertaining 1937-
1942 diary proves. Fourteen when she began recording her thoughts and day-today activities in her diary, Joan had an eye for detail and an intelligent sense of the importance of events that were occurring in the world around her. Her entries, while often funny and frequently self-deprecating, presage the inevitably coming war: “We are no different: every generation has been burdened with war…It is just that this is my generation.” Fear of the impending war is a common theme in her life; it haunts Joan’s dreams. But in spite of those concerns, she remains upbeat and enthusiastic. The diary reveals her amusement at wearing “a horrid but glamorous” color of lipstick, mild flirtations with “B.B.B. in B.,” the “Beautiful Blue-eyed Boy in Biology,” and her efforts to manage homework at the kitchen table. She tries to sort out her feelings on religion and the inevitability of death but chuckles over repeatedly counting the steps—“Onetwo-three-four, one-two-one-two”—during an awkward dance. In sum, readers will likely be surprised by just how much like them Joan is, in spite of her having written her work 75 years ago. A fine, insightful and sometimes moving journal composed by a wholly likable young woman—better than fiction. (period photographs, editor’s note) (Nonfiction. 11-18)
Noël, Alyson St. Martin’s Griffin (352 pp.) $18.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-312-66487-9 Series: Soul Seekers, 2 Far more romance than paranormal, this second installment of the Soul Seekers series finds its supernaturally endowed young couple struggling to gain enough strength to defeat their demonic foe. Daire loves Dace, despite the fact that Dace is the twin of the completely evil Cade. Dace qualifies as a love interest because his soul is the polar opposite of his brother’s. Daire’s grandmother continues to teach her how to be a paranormal Seeker; now that Daire and Dace are 16, their powers are emerging. Together and separately they fight, usually losing, against Cade, who is corrupting the Lowerworld, where spirit animals live. As Cade has the ability to transform into a fearsome demon that Daire and Dace insist on fighting before they are remotely strong enough to win, the Lowerworld seems doomed. Despite the paranormal window dressing, this is a full-on romance novel, utilizing standard conventions of the genre. Virtually every character possesses an odd name. Sex scenes steam. Emotional hyperbole runs rampant. Noël’s sentence fragments and oneline paragraphs stand out most, rendering her writing clichéd to an eye-rolling extent. When written in common English usage, however, the narrative flows. Noël uses her New Mexico setting to weave in Native American mythology such as spirit animals and skinwalking. An intriguing story, but for confirmed romance fans only. (Paranormal romance. 14 & up)
SWEET BABY FEET
O’Hair, Margaret Illus. by Dockray, Tracy Farrar, Straus and Giroux (32 pp.) $14.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-374-37348-1 So sweet it just might make your teeth hurt, though there’s not much to chew on. O’Hair and Dockray’s day-in-the-toddler-life collaboration follows Baby’s busy day with rhyming text that preserves meter by locking readers into a singsong rhythm. “Mama’s there. / Never misses / When she gives / Baby kisses.” Mama is exhausted by day’s end, but Baby (now clad in pajamas) is raring to go. Perhaps Mama is so tired because she’s been alone with her rambunctious child all day: A father appears in an early picture, reading the newspaper, dressed for work, briefcase by his side and looking aghast as Baby makes a mess at her highchair while Mama sweetly smiles. Unmentioned in the text, the only other time he appears is in a washed-out family portrait hanging on the wall. Illustrations also add unmentioned pets but otherwise stay tied to the text without elevating or extending it.
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k i r ku s q & a w i t h ju d i t h v i o r s t
LULU WALKS THE DOGS
Viorst, Judith Illus. by Smith, Lane Atheneum (160 pp.) Sept. 4, 2012 978-1-4424-3579-7
Author Judith Viorst is a staggeringly busy person. She not only writes books for both children and adults, she is also a poet, newspaper journalist, psychoanalytic researcher, playwright and probably lots more that I’m missing. For this reason, I’m amazed and grateful that I could take 30 minutes of her time to chat with her about what she’s up to these days. Viorst, who in 1972 penned the classic and much beloved picture book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, just saw the release earlier this month of her second chapter book about Lulu, a very spoiled and petulant little girl who knows exactly what she wants and knows how to throw a fit to get it. Lulu Walks the Dogs— the very funny story of Lulu’s attempts to earn some cash, which introduces the hilarious character Fleischman—is the follow-up to 2010’s wellreceived Lulu and the Brontosaurus, both illustrated by Lane Smith. In October, Judith will visit my stompin’ grounds to speak at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, Tenn. This wonderful festival, scheduled October 12 to 14 this year, celebrates books and the joy of reading and is free to the public. And I look forward to meeting Judith in person then. In the interim, let’s find out what she’s up to at the moment. Q: Will your visit to the Southern Festival of Books in October be your first visit to Nashville? A: I’ve visited Nashville before (and seen the movie Nashville at least five times—does that count?), but I’ve never been to the Southern Festival of Books, so this will be an exciting first for me. I’ll be reading from my second Lulu book, Lulu Walks the Dogs, and talking a bit about my vast admiration for writers like Sendak and Silverstein, who appreciate and give voice to children’s nonsweetie-pie selves—to their wicked thoughts, wild dreams and untamed feelings. I, too, like to write about fresh, fierce kids, who maybe, probably, bear some resemblance to my own three sons and seven grandchildren—and to the little girl I once was. Q: Tell me how the character Lulu came to you. Will there be more Lulu books?
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Q: Many people have great love for Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. The book is undoubtedly a classic of children’s literature, and the phrase “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad...” even has its own Internet meme. Does any of this surprise you? A: Since Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible... was turned down by the first publisher I sent it to, all the good things that have subsequently happened to this book have been a huge surprise and delight. I am still getting letters—delicious, hilarious and sometimes quite touching letters—from kids who want to tell me or Alexander about their own terrible times: “Dear Alex: In my life, EVERY day is a bad day.” Or to offer advice on how to handle these terrible times: “Dear Alexander: Blame your brothers.” I also have a fat file folder of clippings about the various people—from presidents to tennis stars, from Hedda Gabler to Hillary Clinton—who have been said to have had a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.” And I must confess to being tickled that this phrase has become so popular. –By Julie Danielson
9 For the full interview, please visit kirkus.com. p h oto © M ilto n V io rs t
A: Lulu arrived one rainy morning in Maine when I was desperately trying to entertain two of my grandsons with stories, and this ferocious, difficult girl captured my heart. Yes, she is spoiled and stubborn, and she wants what she wants when she wants it. And, as her dog-walking partner Fleischman points out, she
certainly isn’t the nicest girl in the world (which is fine with Lulu, who thinks that nice is boring.) Anyway, just because she isn’t all that easy to like doesn’t mean, I hope, that kids won’t learn to like her. I certainly can’t let go of her and have, as a matter of fact, just this minute finished writing a third Lulu book. I would also like to talk worshipfully about Lane Smith, whose illustrations for the two Lulu books are beyond perfect. The girl leaps off the page in all her peevishness and outrageousness; the dinosaur is a model of elegant dignity; and the impossibly goody-good Fleischman and the three dogs in the second Lulu just crack me up. Children’s book writers sometimes wish that they knew how to draw, so the pictures on the page could look exactly, exactly, how they wished they would look. Lane’s glorious drawings are beyond anything I was even capable of wishing for, and I am awash with gratitude.
Worse yet, the cover art sadly presents an awkwardly rendered depiction of the all-important “sweet baby feet,” which here look out of proportion and poorly drawn, especially compared to other picture-book paeans to feet—Kiyomi Konagaya and Masamitsu Saito’s Beach Feet (2012), and C.W. Bowie and Fred Willingham’s Busy Toes (1998), to name just a pair. Step on by this one—similar, better books abound. (Picture book. 6 mos.-3)
Olswanger, Anna Illus. by Nerlove, Miriam Junebug/NewSouth (48 pp.) $17.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-58838-235-1 In 1946, a young survivor of the concentration camps comes to America from Poland with nothing but a mysterious box that never leaves his possession. Daniel is one of a group of boys who have lost their parents in the Holocaust and have been brought to live and study in a yeshiva in New York City. Daniel is overwhelmed by past horrors and finds adjustment to his present circumstances difficult in the extreme. He is befriended by Aaron, who tries to ease his way into this new life. Many of the boys at school are not exactly kind and considerate; they mercilessly tease Aaron for stuttering, and they keep pushing at Daniel to reveal the contents of the box. They force the issue by taking the box from him and opening it. What they find stuns them, as do Daniel’s heartbreaking reasons for keeping the object. Based on a true story, the narrative is told in Aaron’s voice, with copious use of dialogue to further the plot. Nerlove’s softly hued, full-page illustrations mostly depict quiet, calm moments, making the depiction of the attack on Daniel more startling. Olswanger’s deceptively simple tale can jumpstart a discussion of the Holocaust, as well as the repercussions for those who survived and, indeed, for all humanity. A book to be read by adult and child together. (afterword, glossary) (Historical fiction. 10-14)
NEW YORK CITY HISTORY FOR KIDS From New Amsterdam to the Big Apple
Panchyk, Richard Chicago Review (144 pp.) $16.95 paperback | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-883052-93-5 Series: For Kids
The story of New York City from the Ice Age to the Freedom Tower makes for an adventure packed with memorable events and people. Here is Peter Stuyvesant, who ruled New Amsterdam with an iron hand until he was forced to surrender to the English. Here
is a city of many religious sects, all able to flourish in a spirit of tolerance (or perhaps indifference). Occupied by the British in the Revolution, the site of the infamous Civil War draft riots, and constantly buffeted by economic highs and lows, the city is always reinventing itself. The richest and poorest people live in uneasy juxtaposition, displaying the best and worst of humanity. Disasters and triumphs abound, and the city survives it all. Organizing the subject chronologically in eight chapters, Panchyk manages to work several centuries of history into a manageable account that reads like an action thriller. Each section is given a clear and straightforward title, is written in equally clear and concise language, and contains several informative sidebars. Copious illustrations in the form of historical photographs, maps, diagrams and drawings are appropriate, though not in color. There are also 21 activities that purport to enhance understanding but are quite complicated and call for many, often expensive, materials. A compelling history of the city that never sleeps (just skip the activities). (timeline, bibliography, places to visit) (Nonfiction. 10-14)
Phelan, James Kensington (256 pp.) $9.95 paperback | Oct. 30, 2012 978-0-7582-8066-4 Series: Alone, 1 Four teens struggle to survive in a post-apocalyptic New York City. After Jesse, Dave, Anna and Mini, 16-year-old youth ambassadors for the United Nations, are tossed around in a massive subway explosion, they emerge on the streets of the city to see people drinking from fire hydrants and rivers—and bodies. The teens take refuge in the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center, using the high vantage point to survey the remnants of Manhattan and plot their escape from the zombielike people they call Chasers. As Jesse scouts the bridges and tunnels, he learns that perhaps the Chasers are not as inhuman as they appear. Phelan, an Australian like narrator Jesse, uses slang judiciously, with minimal impact on the book’s overall readability. Jesse’s perceptions of New York City seem to come from a different era, with gangs and graffiti, though the author deserves credit for accurate geography. Secondary characters are given rough outlines, but they lack the nuance to add much to the narrative. In attempting to deviate from the normal zombie arc, Phelan fails to develop the Chasers as satisfyingly scary, making them awkward at best. Additional content includes both a discussion guide and an author question-and-answer section. Overall, unlikely to satisfy any real thirst for adventure. (Adventure. 12-14)
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Pike, Christopher Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster (528 pp.) $17.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-1-4424-3028-0 Jessica Ralle expected her graduation trip to Las Vegas to go smoothly—a little bit of drinking, some entertainment and a smidge of gambling before going off to UCLA—but…. The plan derails when she meets Russ, a dangerous man who shows her the arts of blackjack and of a mysterious new card game, 22. After blacking out when she is locked in a freezer, Jessie wakes up in the morgue and discovers she is in a different world, one in which she has special abilities built into her genetic sequence. When Jessie learns a sinister organization has kidnapped the daughter she bore in the alternate world, she embarks on a mission of vengeance to recover her child. Pike’s knack for melodrama is in evidence, but the worldbuilding never takes off here. Jessica adapts to her dual nature much too easily and adjusts to her role as mother with little disconnect. The main villain, a holdover from the Roman Empire, is laughably evil, and readers will find her Achilles’ heel to be utterly banal. Underdeveloped characters, a dull plot with high page count and hollow moralizing make for very little to recommend. (Thriller. 14 & up)
PUSS IN BOOTS
Pinkney, Jerry Illus. by Pinkney, Jerry Dial (40 pp.) $17.99 | Nov. 13, 2012 978-0-8037-1642-1
Pryor, Katherine Illus. by Raff, Anna Readers to Eaters (32 pp.) $15.95 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-9836615-1-1 A young spinach hater becomes a spinach lover after she has to grow her own in a class garden. Unable to trade away the seed packet she gets from her teacher for tomatoes, cukes or anything else more palatable, Sylvia reluctantly plants and nurtures a pot of the despised veggie then transplants it outside in early spring. By the end of school, only the plot’s lettuce, radishes and spinach are actually ready to eat (talk about a badly designed class project!)—and Sylvia, once she nerves herself to take a nibble, discovers that the stuff is “not bad.” She brings home an armful and enjoys it from then on in every dish: “And that was the summer Sylvia Spivens said yes to spinach.” Raff uses unlined brushwork to give her simple cartoon illustrations a pleasantly freehand, airy look, and though Pryor skips over the (literally, for spinach) gritty details in both the story and an afterword, she does cover gardening basics in a simple and encouraging way. Very young gardeners will need more information, but for certain picky eaters, the suggested strategy just might work. (Picture book. 5-7)
THE DARING ESCAPE OF THE MISFIT MENAGERIE
A retold but intact version of the familiar tale, given the customary early-18th-century setting in illustrations crowded with figures and period detail. Pinkney retells the tale in plain, measured language: “ ‘Have some boots made for me,’ [the cat] said, ‘and give me a strong sack with a drawstring. I just might be able to help you find your fortune.’ ” With a few minor changes or additions (the ogre, for instance, is a “rich and evil sorcerer” depicted as human), the story puts passive young Benjamin into the paws of a feline impresario who orchestrates his rise to fame, fortune and a royal wedding to the equally inert Princess Daniella. Identified in the author’s afterword as a “black-and-white silver-tabby British shorthair,” the cat cuts a properly self-confident, swashbuckling figure as he inserts himself into a claustrophobically populous royal entourage bursting with sumptuously patterned silks, floating ribbons, airy plumage and ruffles. He goes on to trick the sorcerer in a confrontation (depicted in part in an awkwardly placed gatefold) and to become prime minister. Nor are his adventures over, as a nautical scene on the rear endpaper hints. 2384 | 15 october 2012 | children ’s
Handsomely turned out, as can be expected…but Pinkney himself notes that he studied over 20 illustrated editions of the story before producing one of his own, and he offers nothing particularly fresh. (Picture book/folk tale. 7-10)
Resnick, Jacqueline Illus. by Cook, Matthew Razorbill/Penguin (320 pp.) $16.99 | Dec. 6, 2012 978-1-59514-588-8
Years ago, stories of boys running away from home to join the circus were popular. This tale turns tail as an indentured boy and “misfit” animals try to run
away from the circus. The title sets up the plot, so readers know what will eventually happen. The misfits are Bertie, 11; Smalls, a long-tongued honey bear; Rigby, a moplike white Komondor dog; Tilda, a white Angora rabbit; and Wombat, a hairy-nosed wombat who’s in love with Tilda. They were acquired by hook and crook by Bertie’s villainous Uncle Claude, the epitome of mean, who gulps cocoa by the urn-full, abuses all of the animals and wants to sell the circus. His two right-hand but wrong-headed men, twins Loyd and Lloyd, cower at every command. There’s even romance, as Bertie is smitten by Susan, who performs a cruelly hand-blistering rope
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“…‘most vivid character’ honors go to the setting, whose tall evergreens and babbling brooks, shadowed by brooding mountains, enhance the sturdy plot.” from the ghost runner
act. Each animal has a distinct personality, and they talk to one another but not to the humans. Even though the “lifer” animals (elephant, lions, monkey, zebra) resent them when the misfits begin to perform, they aid in the fiery finale and escape. Pure melodrama with stereotypical villains in a circus setting; the appeal of talking animals with dabs of humor from the twin twits make for a good old-fashioned story. (Animal fantasy. 9-11)
THE GHOST RUNNER
Richmond, Blair Ashland Creek Press (268 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Nov. 15, 2012 978-1-61822-017-2 Series: Lithia Trilogy, 2 Vegan vampires, Shakespearean actors, food–co-op aficionados and serious runners face off against old-school bloodsuckers and rapacious, forestdevouring builders in this follow-up to Out of Breath (2011) set in—where else?—Lithia (Ashland in disguise), Ore. When not serving road warriors at Lithia Runners, Kat’s dating fellow vegan environmentalist Alex and only occasionally obsessing over actor Roman. He loves her but refuses to abandon his carnivorous ways—a deal breaker, since, like Alex, he’s a vampire. Sending Roman away, Kat enrolls in college, where she’s talked into auditioning for a role in the Bard’s Measure for Measure. Aware someone’s tracking her, Kat’s on edge. Running keeps her sane, though the woods are full of spirits—not just vampires, but ghosts. One appears to have something to tell her. Her post-alcoholic, ne’er-do-well father’s arrival and gainful employment cheers her. Good luck piles on: landing the role of Isabella then a staggering inheritance. Before she can enjoy any of it, Kat’s in big trouble, targeted by enemies—supernatural and all too human—and in danger of losing everything. Spunky Kat is good company; Alex and Roman are better defined this time around, but “most vivid character” honors go to the setting, whose tall evergreens and babbling brooks, shadowed by brooding mountains, enhance the sturdy plot. Thoroughly entertaining. (Paranormal romance. 12 & up)
FRANK ’N’ STAN
Robertson, M.P. Illus. by Robertson, M.P. Frances Lincoln (32 pp.) $17.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-84780-130-2 A heartwarming tale of a boy and his robot. Young Franklin P. Shelley often asks his mother for a younger sibling; her response is always, “We’ll see” (his father’s eyes pop in alarm behind his newspaper).
Industrious Frank decides to take matters into his own hands and sets out to build one. Frank works hard at his drafting table on the plans, scours Byron’s Scrap Metal for parts, and slowly but surely (“nut by bolt, sprocket by socket”) puts Stan together. Frank charges up the battery, and the light in Stan’s chest begins to glow: “Stan was ALIVE!” Mum and Dad find Stan a bit...different, but his household industry wins them over. One day, Mum surprises Frank with a cute baby girl, and the boy begins to spend more time with his sister, Mary, and less with Stan. One snowy evening, Stan leaves. It doesn’t take long for him to freeze or for the family to miss him. A big hug convinces the big mechanical lug to return, which seems to please Mary most of all. The realism in Robertson’s pen-and-watercolor illustrations highlights the mechanical paraphernalia even as it wordlessly tracks Mum’s expanding belly, adding a sci-fi dimension to this warm tale of family and friendship. Appealing both to the eye and the heart, and even though children are unlikely to catch the literary references, their parents will chuckle over them. (Picture book. 5-8)
DIVIDE AND CONQUER
Ryan, Carrie Scholastic (192 pp.) $12.99 | $12.99 e-book | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-545-38697-5 978-0-545-47395-8 e-book Series: Infinity Ring, 2 Vikings and time machines, together again. “History is broken,” a character said, back in the first Infinity Ring title (A Mutiny in Time, 2012). He might have said that spelling is broken. The main characters in the series are named Riq, Sera and Dak, and they work with the Hystorians to fix the timeline. Like all good fantasy series, these books come with a vocabulary list. The time travelers have to look out for the Breaks, the Remnants and the SQ. Readers who skipped the first book may never make sense of the jargon, but they really need to know only one fact: The SQ is an evil organization. It wants to take over the world. In fact, it wants to have taken over the world millennia ago. Now, in Volume 2, the best way for our heroes to defeat the SQ is to join a Viking war. They jump into the fight without being certain they’re on the right side. This is typical of the logic in the book, and readers may enjoy the story just because it makes them feel smarter than the main characters. The book is a perfectly competent adventure story. It’s hard to go wrong with Vikings. But if you asked a classroom full of students to write about a Viking and a time machine, most of them would come up with something more inventive. (Science fiction. 8-12)
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“The book is peppered with allusions to figures historical, magical and literary…” from magicalamity
Saunders, Kate Delacorte (288 pp.) $16.99 | PLB $10.99 | Dec. 11, 2012 978-0-385-74077-7 978-0-375-98968-1 PLB
are amusing. The cartoon-style illustrations are a bit washedout, particularly Santa’s suit, which is painted in a muted burgundy that looks almost purple. Not a complete turkey, but close. (Picture book. 4-8)
Tom Harding is a polite, innocent, blue-eyed English boy. Look again: He is also a demisprite (half fairy, half mortal) who must rescue his father from a 21stcentury fairyland that is not “a pink, sug-
ary kind of place.” “Tom had a moment of unreality. This time yesterday he’d been watching television in the kitchen at home, listening to Mum and Dad chatting and laughing downstairs while they closed up the deli. Now his mother had vanished and his father was living undercover as a bat.” Lively humor and zany plot twists persuade readers to join Tom, his clumsy cousin Pindar and his three larger-than-life fairy godmothers in a lighthearted romp to the realm of Fairy and back to London. The book is peppered with allusions to figures historical, magical and literary—and contains amusing amalgams. (Who would have guessed that Coco Chanel and Joseph Stalin were both demisprites?) Occasional potty humor is balanced by understatements such as “When you’ve just been told you might be about to disintegrate, it’s hard to concentrate on anything else.” Saunders entertains readers of all ages with such escapades as a glass-coffin heist (think “Snow White” meets The Wizard of Oz). Despite oft-repeated threats, violence is always offstage or silly—as in spells that turn bad guys into dung beetles. Good fantasy fun, British style. (Fantasy. 9-12)
Silvano, Wendi Illus. by Harper, Lee Amazon Children’s Publishing (32 pp.) $16.99 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0761462392 In this sequel to Turkey Trouble (2009), a comical turkey again avoids being the main dish at a holiday dinner. This time, Turkey decides to travel to the North Pole to deliver his Christmas wish to Santa in person. Turkey’s wish? A heartfelt plea that he not be eaten for Christmas dinner. On arrival at the North Pole, Turkey is prevented from seeing Santa by some protective elves, so the clever bird tries various disguises to get past the elf gatekeepers. He dresses up like a Christmas tree, a reindeer, a candy cane and Mrs. Claus, but the elves catch on to Turkey’s minimal disguises every time. Finally, Turkey hides inside a Christmas package and manages to talk to Santa, who provides Turkey with a Santa suit of his own. Santa delivers Turkey back to his farm, and Turkey delivers pizza, cookies and candy canes to his farm family on Christmas Eve. The plot is only mildly humorous, and the jokes are rather lame, although Turkey’s earnest, geeky personality and silly costumes 2386 | 15 october 2012 | children ’s
Skuse, C.J. Chicken House/Scholastic (368 pp.) $18.99 | $18.99 e-book | Nov. 1, 2012 978-0-545-42960-3 978-0-545-47004-9 e-book The consequences of unintentionally kidnapping her rock-star hero reverberate through a misfit English teen’s life. Grieving for her life-and-soul-of-theparty grandfather, Jody waits all day in line at the Cardiff Arena, desperate for a chance to interact with Jackson Gatlin, the dramatic lead singer of her favorite band, The Regulators. When they meet backstage, Jody is horrified to see the mask of stardom slip away, revealing a miserable, lost soul rather than the assured, sexy star she worships. Jackson, high and hallucinating, mistakes a shiny candy wrapper for a knife, leading Jody to bundle him off home in her best friend Mac’s car. Once Jackson realizes that he’s in what amounts to a secret location, he refuses to leave: Sick of fame, terrified of his sadistic manager and wanting to get sober at last, he’s ready for a normal life. Skuse lets readers see the entitled, selfcentered and self-loathing side of international superstardom, slowly forcing Jody to face the reality that famous people are just...people. Jody and Jackson embark on an increasingly stable friendship, while Jody begins to see Mac—supposedly gay but secretly pining for her—as a true love interest. A bit of over-thetop silliness with a very determined local journalist and the cartoonish nastiness of Jackson’s manager are credulity-straining limitations, but these are minor flaws. Overall, this engaging, surprisingly serious caper is rock-solid. (Fiction. 13-16)
PIGS IN PAJAMAS
Smith, Maggie Illus. by Smith, Maggie Knopf (32 pp.) $15.99 | Dec. 11, 2012 978-0-375-84817-9
Presenting a precious piggy pajama party. Penelope Pig is having a sleepover party with all of her pig friends. Everyone arrives in their pajamas (one each dressed in paisley, plaid, patchwork, pink, pinstripe, polka-dot and posy print). “Pigs come with presents of all shapes and sizes— / peppermints, posies, a peach lollipop. // Penelope’s ready with punch, pies, and pudding; / there’s pasta and pizza with pickles on top!” They pig out and play pin the tail on the donkey. They prance to songs from the piano and make a piggy pile in the
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middle of the floor. Finally, when pooped, they plump pillows and drift off to sleep. Author and illustrator Smith’s paean to the 16th letter of the alphabet is a pleasing porcine romp that only occasionally stretches for the rhyme. The watercolor-andcollage illustrations, all full bleed, are packed with P’s, most of which are listed on the last page (in order of appearance); perfect for turning subsequent readings into seek-and-find games. Even the piggy proclamations appearing in the illustrations are replete with P’s. Practicable if not peerless practice for picking up plosives. (Picture book. 2-5)
IT’S NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE Multiracial Youth Speak Out
St. Stephen’s Community House Annick Press (120 pp.) $12.95 paperback | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-55451-380-2
Rawly provocative, this anthology reflects its authors’ complex racial backgrounds and experiences. Like a photo mosaic, each piece stands alone while contributing to a bigger picture. Originating with a Toronto community-center youth group, the project includes interviews of older, multiracial individuals offering historical perspective. Edgy layout, artwork and photos enhance stories and poems, amplifying the powerful emotions behind them. The assumption that racial heritage should be visible to all provokes pain and exasperation, as in Janine Berridge’s sassy poem about a hair stylist’s discomfort when confronted with hair she can’t “place.” Elizabeth Jennifer Hollo, Hungarian/Guyanese, eloquently describes how her father’s death severed her only connection to her European identity. Andrew Ernest Brankley presents a lively dialogue between his black and white selves. Native/Métis Montana Baerg wanted to dye her long dark hair but was afraid, she told her boss, that no one would know she was Native. The reply resonates: “What you look like doesn’t determine who you are. If you have purple or red hair, it doesn’t make you any less Native.” Navigating a racially essentialist world is especially challenging for multiracial teens, complicating developmental tasks like constructing identity beyond home and family. Whether visibly or invisibly multiracial (each has challenges), too often they’re labeled, stereotyped and sorted into categories determined by others. This book’s empowering message is that how we identify and express our racial heritage belongs to us. (Anthology. 12 & up)
DAYS OF BLOOD AND STARLIGHT
Taylor, Laini Little, Brown (528 pp.) $18.99 | Nov. 6, 2012 978-0-316-13397-5
In this emotionally intense if loosely woven sequel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone (2011), Taylor puts Karou, a chimaera resurrected into the body of a blue-haired human teenager, through severe tests of both heart and soul. Sundered from her seraphic lover Akiva by rage, guilt and a huge blood debt, Karou has led charismatic chimaera leader Thiago, the White Wolf, to a refuge in the Atlas Mountains. With her magical skills, she provides him with a band of reanimated warriors to protect the remaining chimaera back in the world of Eretz. But Thiago is more bent on vengeance—even at the cost of seeing his people exterminated in reprisals. On Eretz, Akiva is driven by abhorrence of the general slaughter to plot an attempt on his cruel emperor’s life. And meanwhile on Earth, to no evident purpose beyond comic relief (“What?…I was starving and our hostess was passed out on the bed with a hot monster boy”), Karou’s street-performer friends Zuzana and Mik show up suddenly, having tracked her to North Africa. Ultimately violent events, revelations and no few contrivances drive both the war and the central romance (“As ever when their eyes meet, it is like a lit fuse searing a path through the air between them”) into new phases. Mostly about licking wounds in the wake of the opener’s savage inner and outer conflicts, but well-endowed with memorable characters and turns of phrase. (Fantasy. 14 & up)
THE EXPEDITIONERS And the Treasure of Drowned Man’s Canyon Taylor, S.S. Illus. by Roy, Katherine McSweeney’s McMullens (384 pp.) $19.95 | Dec. 11, 2012 978-1-938073-06-9
Can three orphaned siblings with half a map beat an oppressive government to a secret, gold-filled canyon? Set in a future where the hacking of computers and depletion of natural resources has caused a return to steam and clockwork engines, Taylor’s novel crosses dystopian and steampunk genres in this fast-paced, plot-driven tale. An Explorer with a clockwork hand smuggles an old book to Kit, the book’s narrator. With his two siblings, brave Zander and preteen inventor M.K., he forms the Expeditioners, breaking the code hidden in the book and finding half a map from their late father, Alexander West, an Explorer of the Realm. Off they go to find the other half of the map and follow it, facing giant green slugs,
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“An enjoyable romance that eschews smutty for sweet.” from kiss me again
huge birds and evil government agents. The black-and-white cartoon-style illustrations and the portrayal of wrench-wielding, smart-mouthed, fearless M.K. lighten the tone of the lengthy text and its underlying message of mistreatment of natural resources and indigenous peoples. The premise that there are undiscovered places, that “[a] map of the world isn’t a fixed thing. We know only what we can see,” is an intriguing one. Full of kid power, clues, codes and maps, this will appeal to sophisticated readers who appreciate their adventure served with heaping helpings of cleverness. (Fantasy. 10-14)
Tolman, Marije; Tolman, Ronald Lemniscaat USA (32 pp.) $17.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-935954-19-4 The Tolmans (The Tree House, 2010) take readers on another wordless adventure as their polar bear protagonist journeys to a place of wonderment and peace. A polar bear descends from a cloud to observe a puffin colony. Far in the distance is a sun-shaped structure to which he swims; first, through a stunning reinterpretation of Hokusai’s The Wave, then through gentle waters, in whose depths dolphins play. At each destination, another calls in the distance, beckoning the genial bear forth. Lush, little islands, tropical trees and the lyrical silhouettes of roughly hewn structures invite exploration and new encounters. These whimsical, mixed-media illustrations fill the senses with gorgeous moments of joy and quietude. Together, this father-anddaughter team uses a complex visual vocabulary to create a deep visual narrative. Skill has been applied to the paintings, with their wide swaths of color, reminiscent of a Rothko color-field, and loose, deliberate drawings. But much like Rothko’s work, this tale’s ability to reach viewers is extremely subjective. Some may think it pleasant but simplistic, while others may project deep meaning onto it. Either way, the bear takes his journey, never knowing where it will lead or how the dots will connect. But readers will be left with a feeling of dreamy serenity, as the bear and his newfound soul mate gaze into an infinite starry sky, their island aglow in a sea of darkness. Elegantly understated. (Picture book. 3 & up)
KISS ME AGAIN
Vail, Rachel Harper/HarperCollins (256 pp.) $17.99 | $9.99 e-book | Dec. 26, 2012 978-0-06-194717-9 978-0-06-220288-8 e-book Middle-class girls in early adolescence will love this book—as will their mothers. Ninth-grader Charlie Collins has lived with her mother, a divorced 2388 | 15 october 2012 | children ’s
Harvard professor, for many years. Now Mom’s new husband, Joe, has moved into the spacious house, along with his sweet 9-year-old daughter, Samantha, and his notoriously flirtatious ninth-grade son, Kevin. From the first page, readers are sucked into a story both angst-y and funny, as Charlie copes with a mutual crush on Kevin; an increasingly tenuous relationship with her best friend, Tess; her first paying job; and other trials and triumphs of growing up. The theme of adjustment to stepfamilies is integrated into every facet of the story, including homework: “There was no way I could settle down enough to read about Hamlet’s scheming stepfather and how awkward it was for Hamlet to deal with a blended family. Uh, no.” Charlie tells her story in the past tense, but the vivid, awkward conversations and Charlie’s constant editorializing—both wittily humorous and earnestly serious—make it clear that the events are in the recent past and that Charlie’s tale will continue to unfold. Vail shows emotional development in the characters introduced in If We Kiss (2005) and liberally sprinkles their lives with such contemporary activities as texting, while sheltering them in a world where French-kissing and finger-lacing are their limits of sexual intimacy. An enjoyable romance that eschews smutty for sweet. (Fiction. 12-16)
THE BAR CODE PROPHECY
Weyn, Suzanne Scholastic (208 pp.) $17.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-0-545-42529-2 Series: Bar Code, 3
The third installment of this series about bar-coded humans, set in the near future, gets off to a strong start, but flimsy characterization and slipshod storytelling sink the promising high concept. Grace can’t wait to get her bar-code tattoo when she turns 17 in two days, but Eric, her crush at the climbing gym, has doubts. He suspects the manufacturer, genetics arm of megacorporation Global-1, may still be releasing malicious nanobots with the tattoos. Grace is sure he’s wrong—her dad works for Global-1, and besides, it’s convenient to have all that encrypted personal information tattooed on your wrist. She learns otherwise when she runs into her father’s colleague Dr. Harriman. Alarmed to see her new tattoo, he tells her to go home immediately, where she finds her family gone and her home invaded by well-armed Global-1 security police. Soon Grace herself lands in the hands of Decode, an underground group opposed to Global-1. This is promising material, but worldbuilding is superficial, and the generic characters are nearly indistinguishable. Substituting action for substance, the frenetic plot serves up dollops of underdeveloped rubber science and vaguely Hopi and Navajo mysticism without investing the effort needed to bring it all to life. Appetizing flashes of wit and occasional vivid moments leave readers hungry for a real meal. (Science fiction. 12-16)
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“The interactions are toddler-simple: turning off a light switch here, nonthreatening, tap-activated sounds and movements there.” from leah & the owl
THE VELVETEEN RABBIT
Struggling or reluctant readers may be perplexed, but the gripping, if violent, teen content will keep them engaged. Guaranteed to generate lively discussion. (Science fiction. 13 & up)
Williams, Margery Translated by Kaneko, Yuki Illus. by Sakai, Komako Enchanted Lion Books (40 pp.) $17.95 | Nov. 2, 2012 978-1-59270-128-5
LEVEL UP / PASO DE NIVEL
A lightly massaged version of the classic tale, with atmospherically combed and rubbed oil-pencil pictures. Recasting Williams’ original text into shorter sentences and simpler language (through a translator), Sakai subtly sweetens the overall tone: The Nursery Fairy’s “I take care of all the playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn out and the children don’t need them any more, then I come and take them away with me and turn them into Real,” is here, “I take care of the toys that the children have truly loved. When their time comes and they have to say goodbye, I come for them and make them Real.” The muted, grainy illustrations add further touches of sentiment, not only in the antique, period flavor of the boy’s clothing and toys, but in the rabbit itself, which has a plump and very soft-looking body, large green eyes (still green after its transformation at the end) and a blue neck ribbon that gradually loses color to underscore the wear and tear of constant use. No replacement for the original, but a particularly tender variant. (Picture book. 6-9)
Wooding, Chris Stoke Books (67 pp.) $16.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 978-1-7811-2092-7 The Lazarus serum allows people with the right blood type to survive death, but in this minimalist dystopia, death may be preferable to the grim future that awaits the resurrected. The serum has side effects. Pales, the resurrected, don’t breathe, their hearts stop beating, and they never age; skin, hair and eye pupils turn ghostly white. Jed’s community hates the Pales, confining them to the Graveyard, a decayed ghetto. His lawyer dad specializes in denying Pales post-mortem legal rights. Not long after Jed and his brutal friend Kyle beat up a Pale, Jed dies in a car accident, and his distraught girlfriend, Sadie, asks first responders to give him the serum. Now that Jed’s a Pale, his father can’t bear to see him; his friends, even Sadie, reject him. Good genre fiction offers readers a fresh, unique perspective on their world. This rare science-fiction hi-lo for teens (a category largely confined to urban realism) by a British fantasy author raises tough, intriguing questions about insiders and outcasts, gangs, loyalty and what makes life worth living. However, the exceptionally tight word count limits their exploration. This frustratingly vague world cries out for detail and context.
Zepeda, Gwendolyn Illus. by Torrecilla, Pablo Piñata Books/Arté Público (32 pp.) $16.95 | Nov. 30, 2012 978-1-55885-747-6
A boy reluctantly joins his friends outside for some competitive sports when his fascination with video games is unexpectedly interrupted after his device stops functioning. Unfazed by invitations from friends to play outside, this slightly heavyset, glassy-eyed gamer is consumed with desire to reach each new level as he scores more and more points, munching candy and snack foods as he does. Only when the game player breaks can David even consider listening to his companions and go outside. He finally agrees to learn how to skateboard, play basketball and ride a dirt bike, taking the healthy foods his friends offer when he realizes he’s left his junk food at home. The importance of outdoor play that encourages physical movement with a dose of socialization comes through clearly. It is told through a first-person bilingual narrative complemented by clean, sleek digital-style cartoon art. As the boy’s rounded, sedentary look slims to a leaner, more engaged physique, readers see the value of exercise. David understands this improvement through the lens of a video game: At first, he’s on “Level 1 of skateboarding,” but pretty soon he moves up to Level 12. This agreeably didactic tale clearly makes the point; it might be most useful as an introductive resource for classroom discussion followed by active participation. (Picture book. 6-9)
interactive e-books LEAH & THE OWL
Doerrfeld, Cori Illus. by Doerrfeld, Cori Playtend $1.99 | 1.0; Aug. 7, 2012
Pulling a full range of toddler emotions out of a simple fantasy with very little text and fewer than 20 pages, this adorable app is the coziest of bedtime stories. Narrated by the title character in short bursts of action (“I am reading.” “I am crabby.” “I am Nakee!” she says before bathtime), the story of a typical night becomes magical when an owl enters Leah’s dark room.
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Terrified at first, she becomes curious and finally soars away in the owl’s talons. Leah visits dolphins, jumps atop the heads of crocodiles, swings with monkeys and slides down an elephant’s trunk before getting sleepy and returning home. The painted illustrations are simple but beautiful, conveying a wide range of emotion on Leah’s face on every page. The presentation is aided greatly by the narrator who plays Leah, a child voice actor who makes everything the character does sound convincing. The interactions are toddler-simple: turning off a light switch here, nonthreatening, tap-activated sounds and movements there. There’s nothing revolutionary about the app, technologically speaking, but it hits all the right notes in its underplayed visuals and musical score, as well as with its incredibly cute protagonist. Leah’s adventure with the owl is a lovely dream, and so is this whimsical app, which makes the magic feel effortless. (iPad storybook app. 2-6)
THE SWEET SONG OF THE WORLD
Dutruch, Cathy Translated by Fechtmann, Amy C. Illus. by Allegue, Farrah La Souris Qui Raconte $1.99 | Aug. 3, 2012 1.0.1; Aug. 13, 2012
A lovely ode to sailing your ship to the poetry within you that nonetheless manages to subvert itself. This is a simple app, one that doesn’t brook any fancy-pants interaction, but tells its story with spare visual imagery and text rendered in cursive, either with or without a fluty spoken narrative. The story follows Victor from birth to elementary school, as he engages with the world. Victor is blessed with a poetical heart that “uses words with parsimony,” one that finds its greatest expression in his love of birds and all they represent: song and flight, bright color and freedom. Of course, such a sensibility doesn’t find it easy in the artless, soulless precincts of school and the always-looming future of the workplace—where one learns to “take your revenge on the little freedom hidden between the lines or even between your toes.” Victor and his supportive parents heed the music in their heads and live to it, as visually realized through Allegue’s smoothly animated, lush, stained-glass artwork. The app provides its own curious counterpoints. The first is the music, a melancholy—”wistful” if you are being very generous—vulnerable bath of piano and wind instrument. The second is the curious absence of any typical app interaction with the screen. This would be an ideal venue for readers to pick and choose how to experience the story— to be their own readers, working their destiny—thus involving themselves with the tale’s leitmotif. A celebration of untamed individualism that founders for a lack of musical swing and interactive immersion. (iPad storybook app. 8-12)
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SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Jekolab Jekolab $3.99 | Aug. 7, 2012 1.0; Aug. 7, 2012
A serviceable retelling of “Snow White.” The story is mildly enhanced by some interactive features in this justaverage app. It is told simply, in just 11 panels. The cartoon illustrations are passable, although Snow White herself has a manga look, which doesn’t quite match the backgrounds and other visual elements. An icon of a life preserver in the upperleft-hand corner is available to help viewers find the interactive features on each screen. The most compelling features are on the screens in which the witch consults her magic mirror. There are candelabras that light up and fade out, the witch’s face disappears from the mirror and is replaced by Snow White’s, and viewers can hand the queen a cloak and hat to turn her into the old witch. An entertaining gem-matching game can be found on the screen where the dwarfs are working in the mine. It may take some viewers a bit of trial and error to learn that they need to “color” in the screen to make the prince appear when he kisses Snow White and she awakens. All-screen navigation is available on each page. Written text and optional narration can be Italian, French or English, and the music can be turned on or off. The narration, music and sound effects are adequate. There is also a voice recording option that works well. Solid but ultimately undistinguished. (iPad storybook app. 4-7)
Kim, Sun; Kim, Moon 2Lux Media Jul. 30, 2012 A dry, verbose attempt to drum up interest in nanotechnology. Nanotechnology is involved with structures and crystals at the atomic level, with the construction of teenyweeny things that have a big impact in the everyday world, from running shoes to cancer research. Problems start cropping up from the get-go: In attempting to explain the wee nature of the nano—pictured here as a sort of atomic marble in musketeer gloves and boots—the authors go overboard. After one explanation: “That’s still pretty hard to picture, though, so let’s try this.” Then, a couple paragraphs later, “Let’s try explaining Nano’s size in another way.” Let’s not; we get the picture. Really small. The text is relentless and endless, and hopes that enhancements—few and far between—will come to the rescue are thwarted with mostly meaningless animated clips, though high marks are given for reproductions from electron and scanning-probe microscopes. Then comes a short visit with Richard Feynman that fails to explore his quirkiness or why he thought
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small was the wave of the future, and next a long litany of how nanoscience will affect everything from medical research to hockey sticks and cosmetics. But when you have to write to your audience, “I don’t know about you, but I think the idea of using magnetism to focus a beam of electrons on an atom is really cool,” that’s what is known as dead in the water. For so little a subject, such a crushing weight of words. (Nonfiction enhanced e-book. 12 & up)
Manning, Dorothy Thurgood Illus. by Manning, Dorothy Thurgood 33 Loretta Kids Books $2.99 | Jul. 14, 2012 1.0; Jul. 14, 2012 An unappealing, pedantic sibling story features two tiger sisters. Delilah’s big sister, Sophie, can do many things: ride the bus by herself, fly a kite and ride a two-wheeler. Delilah still has accidents and has a stuffy snout that leaks and makes her breathe too loud. She generally annoys her big sister and gets in her way until they have a catfight and end up getting tiger timeouts. But when Delilah really needs her—to stand up to some neighborhood bullies or get her down from a tree—big sister steps up and helps her out. The story ends with Delilah declaring “She loves me! She’s my big sister!” There’s nothing new here, and the mediocre graphics, sound effects, animations and features offer little to lift this app out of the ordinary. The narration is particularly subpar, with frequent pauses between words. Navigation is simple page-forward and -back, with no way to choose a page or return to a page from the home page. There is a Spanish-language option, and the text is interactive, so when a word is touched, it is highlighted and the narrator reads it. This story is nothing to roar about. (iPad storybook app. 2-4)
Puspa, Dessy LooLooChoo $1.99 | Jul. 31, 2012 1.0; Jul. 31, 21012
An adaptation of an Indonesian folk tale with dreamlike storytelling and ripe animation that grows on you. A childless couple wishes desperately for a child and is granted this wish by a horrifying ogre, who gives them a cucumber seed to plant. The catch? On her eighth birthday, the child must be turned back over to the monster. Unperturbed by this bum adoption plan, the couple plants the seed, and the beautiful, kind daughter it produces is named Timun Mas, or “Golden Cucumber.” The ogre, of course, does return, but a wise man has given the family four items (including
needles and shrimp paste) to help the girl fight him off. What follows is a chase sequence in which Timun Mas doesn’t outwit or outfight her attempted captor, but instead drops the items behind her as she runs until the ogre is overcome, thus combining the tale’s obvious Rapunzel motifs with Baba Yaga ones. While the story doesn’t exactly hold together and the text is flat (“Realizing that he had been fooled, the Ogre became angry”), the production is gorgeous. Clean, subtly colored and animated pages breathe more than enough life into the old story. It also doesn’t hurt that navigation is nearly perfect, the narration is excellent, and the Ogre is rendered scarily enough to make for a tense pursuit. Not all of the story makes sense or is told in a convincing way, but the package so skillfully balances whimsy with danger that it stays with readers. (iPad storybook app. 3-8)
THE GRUMBLE NOISE
Raj, Erik X. Illus. by Raj, Erik X. Erik X. Raj Aug. 9, 2012 1.0; Aug. 9, 2012
In this all-too-predictable story of scary noises in the night, a young boy’s imagination pushes him toward bravery...
and a midnight snack. Myriad books exist to comfort children into a fear-free bedtime. This latest enters the fray with a story of a little brother awakened in his top bunk by things that go grumble in the night. Charmingly illustrated in a retro, ’60s-animation style and easy to navigate, the story is entertaining enough, if the other, better options have all been exhausted or if one of your children has (see title) digestive issues. Otherwise, the clunky story is saddled with less-than-interesting narration, music and sound effects. The stars twinkle with a bell sound, but so does little brother’s trembling, and the grumble effect itself is too one-dimensional to convincingly spawn the young boy’s terrified imaginings. (Besides, given that the two children have been sharing a bedroom for some time, surely this isn’t the first time little brother has noticed older brother’s stomach noises?) Of all the literary explanations for all the terrible noises of the night, this one needs a bit more than the plate of cookies at the end to make it worth the read. Unless, of course, it’s still a free download. (iPad storybook app. 4-9)
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“Keep an eye on this kid; one can only hope he’ll sneak his way into another story or two.” from sneaky sam
BE A BUDDY, NOT A BULLY
Scotto, Michael Illus. by The Ink Circle Midlandia Press $0.99 | Aug. 16, 2012 0.9; Aug. 16, 2012
A well-meaning but weak story about dealing with bullies. Bullying is certainly a timely topic to cover with kids, and this app gets props for tackling it. A farmer named Harvest finds Buck the banker digging for treasure on his property. When Harvest protests, Buck responds by calling him names, threatening to slander him and pelting him with ears of corn. Harvest takes Buck to arbitration with Chief Tatupu, who gives Harvest’s journal to Buck so he’ll understand Harvest’s feelings and see the error of his ways. Predictably, Buck is enlightened, repents and the two become the best of friends. Telling a person in authority about a problem is an important step, but the resolution in this story is wildly idealistic. In reality, getting a bully to understand one’s feelings rarely results in a cessation of mistreatment, which begs the question, what is one to do when the bully doesn’t care at all about the pain he or she is inflicting? In terms of interaction and animation, there are a few standard bells and whistles—falling leaves, animals that are hiding, a “game” that helps Harvest dodge the corn—but most tactile elements are rudimentary and lackluster. The affordable price of this app makes it a low-risk investment, and parents may find the story helpful in stimulating conversation about bullying. But they’ll likely need to fill in a lot of holes. (iPad storybook app. 4-8)
PIXEL AND PARKER
Spinlight Studio Spinlight $1.99 | Aug. 16, 2012 1.1; Aug. 16, 2012
When a boy’s cat goes missing, a world of possibilities opens up, all at the spin of a wheel. With their new tale, Spinlight Studios have set out to reimagine the way a children’s story works in digital form, not by the swipe of the digital page, but by making the story itself a spinning game. When Parker, who apparently loves to change T-shirts, sets out to find his butterfly-chasing cat Pixel, readers spin the wheel to see where the search will take him. And as if it were a digital version of the board game Life, the number on the wheel determines how far and where Parker searches, as well as what happens along the way. Providing vivid though unsubtle digital illustrations, an original soundtrack, spot-on narration and 30 actions/possibilities for readers to explore, Spinlight achieves its game objective. But not without a few misses. There is no way for readers to get inside information on Pixel’s whereabouts to help Parker on his quest, which significantly blunts the challenge. The T-shirt changes along the 2392 | 15 october 2012 | children ’s
way are more repetitive than exciting. And, perhaps the biggest missing element: a read-to-yourself option or even a highlightthe-text option to help young readers engage on a reading level. With a longer shelf life than your average iPad storybook, this will nevertheless keep readers spinning for more. (iPad storybook app. 4-9)
Stewart, Josh Illus. by Talib, Binny Sneaky Sam Productions $2.99 | Aug. 10, 2012 1.0.1; Aug. 10, 2012 A brief but endearing tale about a mischievous little boy. This app proves the notion that an interactive storybook need not be super slick or brimming with tricks to leap the “average” bar. The story’s focus, of course, is Sam’s sneakiness, which is demonstrated in profoundly simple ways: He hides from his mother; he rides his scooter through a flock of pigeons; he turns the hose on the family cat; and at night, he sneaks into his parents’ bed to grab “a good night cuddle” (which they lovingly provide). Talib’s trichromatic illustrations are brimming with primitive creativity, from the characters’ hair to the wide variety of flowers and objects that decorate the book’s pages. Interactive features are minimal and basic, but when combined with the stimulating illustrations and the clear-cut, well-written storyline, all three add up to a satisfying reading experience. Bonus features include a miniature matching game, a virtual sticker book and a “Find Sam” activity that finds him hiding in a different place every time it’s played. While Sam could easily be dubbed a ne’er-do-well, readers are left with the impression that he’s simply a harmless boy who, for the most part, enjoys stirring up a little unconventional fun. Keep an eye on this kid; one can only hope he’ll sneak his way into another story or two. (iPad storybook app. 2-5)
TOWER DEAREST A Kind Russian Fairy Tale TerryLab TerryLab $2.99 | Aug. 3, 2012 1.0; Aug. 3, 2012
Lively, brightly colored illustrations featuring a full kit of touch-activated details infuse this traditional cumulative tale with infectious cheer. The titular “tower” is really only a tree-stump house with a bell hanging outside to ring, a colorfully decorated window to fling open, and enough room to accommodate not only Burrow Mouse, but Treesong Frog, Runaround Rabbit, Foxy Fox and Greyside Wolf too as each comes along. Not, alas, Bigpaw Bear
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though, whose weight causes the whole house to collapse with a mighty crash. Undeterred, the happy housemates instantly build a new and bigger dwelling to share. The animals, dressed in comfy country duds, gesture and identify themselves at a tap on (nearly) every screen. Along with panning and zooming for a 3-D effect, the cartoon scenes also include touch- and tilt-sensitive items, from dandelion puffs to a sun/moon toggle. Though the English or Russian text/audio narrative tracks can only be selected at the beginning, an icon on each screen allows readers to switch the audio and sprightly background music on or off, and the overlaid cartouches of small type text can be minimized with a tap to leave the art unobstructed. Hard not to smile at this, whether it’s read as a tribute to communal living or a simple bit of rustic foolery. (iPad storybook app. 5-7)
Tranter, Emma Illus. by Tranter, Barry Nosy Crow $4.99 | Aug. 8, 2012 Series: Rounds 1.0.1; Aug. 8, 2012
Three generations of frogs demonstrate the circle of life. This first installment in Nosy Crow’s new Rounds series of biology apps for preschoolers is actually a hybrid of sorts. The story offers plenty of frog facts (though perhaps not the “100’s” listed on the developer’s website), but there’s also fictional banter that gives the frogs a bit of character. The story begins with Franklin’s journey across land and through pond. Tap him, and he’ll say things like “Frogs like to live in damp places,” and “I don’t like to be too hot or too cold.” Readers can help him jump into the water, swim, catch food and find a place to hibernate, and they can even tag along as he finds a mate and procreates (though the latter is implied, not explicit). When Franklin’s mate lays eggs, little fingers can swipe predators away and even help hatch a tadpole. The same story repeats twice—in its entirety—featuring two of Franklin’s descendants. The soothing background music and the crisply British narration/dramatization are nearly identical to the developer’s previous offerings, and sound effects are both plentiful and charming. In keeping with the clever concept of the series title, the simple illustrations are comprised completely of circles or portions of circles. A winner. (iPad informational app. 2-5)
THE MAN IN THE TRENCH COAT
Trueba Interactive App Treuba Interactive Apps $0.99 | Aug. 2, 2012 1.0; Aug. 2, 2012
A deliberate and shimmeringly creepy cautionary app that taps a hoary old folktale as it delivers the goods. James is 9 and loves football as much as he suffers school. One afternoon after practice, as he walks home—to drill with his math tutor, for goodness sake—a sinister character in a trench coat, very Addams Family–esque, dangles a temptation before him: a cheat sheet for the next day’s math test. It doesn’t take long for James to scour his moral referents. He slips the cheat sheet into his dungarees. The setting is as bright as a box of crayons, and by pecking at the screen, readers can activate elements of the screen to lend to the whole affair the pleasurable engagement of a treasure hunt. (A narrator will guide those in pre-reading circumstances.) The Man in the Trench Coat has other goodies up his sleeve (which can usually be tapped to reveal all: a get-out-of-cleaning-your-room card, a sonic football that will make James a star). But with each false step, James looks in the mirror and sees a transformation: His nose is growing, his fingers getting long and pointy, his eyes sinking—he is becoming a carbon copy of the Man in the Trench Coat. James blanches, James considers, James confesses. Good and spooky visuals—a spindly hand emerging from James’ mother’s purse, flapping a 20: “She has more. She won’t mind”—paint a moral texture over the ill-doing. An elementary karate chop to those temptations that undermine our integrity. (iPad storybook app. 8-12)
Wee Society Wee Society $2.99 | Aug. 6, 2012 1.0; Aug. 6, 2012 An engaging ABC book camouflages the letters of the alphabet within critters. When the hidden letter in the animal on each page of this ABC book is touched, it turns orange, along with all the other iterations of the letter on the page. The sharp, crisply designed illustrations offer just the right level of challenge and will appeal to little ones. (A lowercase “i” forms a stripe on the nose of the impala, for instance.) The cadence and rhyming patterns mostly work: “Sidney the squirrel smells snapdragons and sneezes, / while Tobias the turtle giggles and teases,” although there are some strained moments. There is also an animation on each screen, although it’s not always easy to discover how to get it to work. A screen at the end of the app encourages little ones to choose letters and trace them, which affords excellent practice in a critical early literacy skill. The app provides
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some tips under the settings button for ways that adults can enhance kids’ learning experience. It is a pity that the music cannot be turned off without also losing narration and sound effects. Another issue is that there is no way to navigate other than page-forward and -back. An additional feature that would greatly improve this app would be to have the narrator speak the letter itself when it is touched. An appealing, developmentally appropriate effort that could be enhanced by a few tweaks. (iPad alphabet app. 3-6)
continuing series JUSTINE MCKEEN, POOPER SCOOPER Justine McKeen, #3
THE QUICK FIX Sequel to: The Big Splash
Ferraiolo, Jack D. Amulet/Abrams (208 pp.) $15.95 | Oct. 1, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-8109-9725-7 (Fiction. 9-13)
TOOTHIANA, QUEEN OF THE TOOTH FAIRY ARMIES Guardians, #3
Joyce, William Illus. by the author Atheneum (240 pp.) $14.99 | Oct. 2, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-4424-3052-5 (Fantasy. 7-11)
Brouwer, Sigmund Illus. by Whamond, Dave Orca (64 pp.) paper $6.95 | Nov. 1, 2012 ISBN: 978-1-55469-931-5 (Fiction. 7-9)
BITTER BLOOD The Morganville Vampires, #13 Caine, Rachel New American Library (352 pp.) $17.99 | Nov. 6, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-451-23811-5 (Paranormal romance. 14 & up)
GRANPA’S MONSTER MOVIES Deadtime Stories, #6
Cascone, Annette; Cascone, Gina Starscape (224 pp.) $14.99 | Nov. 1, 2012 ISBN: 978-0-7653-3070-3 (Horror. 8-12)
This Issue’s Contributors # Kim Becnel • Marcie Bovetz • Sophie Brookover • Alexis Burling • Connie Burns • Timothy Capehart • Ann Childs • Julie Cummins • GraceAnne A. DeCandido • Dave DeChristopher • Carol Edwards • Laurie Flynn • Omar Gallaga • Laurel Gardner • Barbara A. Genco • Megan Honig • Kathleen T. Isaacs • Laura Jenkins • Robin Fogle Kurz • Megan Lambert • Peter Lewis • Lori Low • Lauren Maggio • Joan Malewitz • Hillias J. Martin • Kathie Meizner • Daniel Meyer • John Edward Peters • Susan Pine • Nancy Thalia Reynolds • Melissa Riddle Chalos • Erika Rohrbach • Leslie L. Rounds • Ann Marie Sammataro • Chris Shoemaker • Rita Soltan • Shelley Sutherland • Jennifer Sweeney • Monica Wyatt
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teen | kirkus.com |
indie These titles earned the Kirkus Star: BLACKHEART’S LEGACY by Sally Copus................................. p. 2397 THE CHESTERFIELD HOURS by Gwyn Parry.......................... p. 2402 THE WATER THIEF by Nicholas Lamar Soutter...................... p. 2404
To our subscribers: It has come to our attention that a book reviewed and starred in our July 15, 2012, issue has been plagiarized. The book is Bear Story: Just a Silly Man Who Wears a Fur Coat and Needsa a Shave, by Liz Scott and illustrated by Marju Rose. We are deeply distressed by any act of plagiarism. Kirkus is as committed to intellectual honesty as we are to excellence in literature and would never knowingly promote a plagiarized book. We will comment more thoroughly in our November 1, 2012, issue and online at kirkus.com. —The editors BLACKHEART’S LEGACY Book 1 of The Odyssey of Jon Sinclair
Copus, Sally CreateSpace (330 pp.) $12.95 paperback Jun. 23, 2010 978-1450534420
THE LAST GUARDIAN OF MAGIC
Andrews, Randall iUniverse (448 pp.) $23.95 paperback | $3.99 e-book Feb. 18, 2008 978-0595473458 Megalomaniac Ramius King is poised to conquer the world, with only a broken magician, a traumatized fortuneteller and two teenagers standing in his way. Seventeen-year-old Kyle Adams doesn’t understand a lot of things: why he dreams of fighting legions of soldiers with magical weapons, why he never fits in, why he has been wrenched from his foster home in Chicago and sent to this backwoods burgh. But he’s happy to discover an affinity with classmate Lily Goodshepherd, who has her own secret—she can perform magic. Across town, Ramius King, the “Tall Man,” has turned an abandoned mill into a monster factory as part of his quest to implant magical skills in his minions, as opposed to relying on his previous tactic of finding humans with organic powers and turning them toward his nefarious ends. In Miami, Rosa Sanchez wakes from a premonitory dream of a mugging and embarks on a path that will lead her to Michael Galladin, a traumatized Guardian of Magic who may be the only obstacle to King’s goal of world domination, especially since King murdered every other Guardian in the world. Fortunately, the Guardians managed to find Kyle and begin his magical path. Andrews’ debut fantasy thriller gets off to a slow start, switching among three plot threads until gathering the protagonists in an obscure northern Michigan town for an explosive climax. The book has a few weaknesses—several characters, like the high school principal and the sinister assassin, are given too much back story for their ultimate importance, and there’s too much explanation of characters’ emotions and reactions instead of letting the actions speak for themselves. Furthermore, the nature of magic in this world is unsatisfyingly vague, as are King’s motives and plans in his unoriginal pursuit of world domination. In many ways, Mason Stone, King’s second-in-command, is the most compelling character in the novel, with his mixed loyalties in shades of gray. A few quibbles, but nonetheless an enjoyable read with the potential for an even better sequel.
| kirkus.com | indie | 15 october 2012 | 2395
FUNDAMENTALS OF ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT FINANCE Second Edition
Bischak, Susan Giles Giles & Company Strategic Business Consultants (240 pp.) $44.95 paperback | Aug. 10, 2011 978-0615517247 A comprehensive guide to the basics of funding and finance for development projects. In this useful reference for community development professionals, particularly those with limited exposure to finance and related concepts, an industry consultant provides a broad overview of strategic planning and startup financing for projects that serve the public good, from housing and health care to retail and infrastructure. The book is divided into chapters that follow the essential steps of the development process, from idea generation and corporate structure through business planning and funding acquisition. Each chapter concludes with case-study exercises drawn from a hypothetical urban-redevelopment process. MBAs are not the target audience. Instead, the text is pitched at an appropriate level for nonprofit staffers and community leaders who are passionate about local growth and development but unfamiliar with its mechanics. Advice is offered on the advantages and disadvantages of sole proprietorships, corporations and partnerships; the methods of calculating cash flow, internal rate of return and other standard metrics; and available funding vehicles. In addition to walking the reader through the steps of strategic planning and market analysis, the book provides several examples of the financial statements that are a critical part of any application for funding. It also offers an overview of the information necessary for funding solicitations of all types, from grant applications to bond issue proposals, with detailed resources. While the guide draws most often on examples of public-private partnerships designed for local housing and commercial development, its substance is broadly applicable, making the book a useful tool for those pursuing everything from soliciting foundation support for an afterschool science program to issuing municipal bonds to fund the construction of a new performance venue. An understandable, highly informative guide for nonfinancial professionals engaged in development work and community improvement.
2396 | 15 october 2012 | indie | kirkus.com |
KIDS R US Excerpts from the 1999-2000 Harry Singer Foundation National High School Essay Contest Bohannon-Kaplan, Margaret—Ed. Wellington Publications (247 pp.) $12.00 paperback | Jun. 15, 2000 978-0915915392
Editor Bohannon-Kaplan offers an anthology of excerpts from high school essay contest winners from across the nation. Adolescents and teenagers want a place and purpose in the world, yet they’re often cast aside as “too young” or “too inexperienced” to contribute much of value to society—a gross underestimation, says this group of authors and essay winners These teens want nothing more than to find a way to change this paradigm and offer young adults a way to contribute to the world. Approaches are varied, but the editor smartly begins this collection with a series of excerpts dealing with causes of the problem. Why is it that adolescents are ignored, handed “dumbed down” material to read and ingest, and given “pats on the back” just for showing up and doing the right thing? Why aren’t they challenged? Some essayists remark that the fault lies with the parents and their tendency to devote too much time to the workplace and not enough time to challenging and raising fulfilled, ambitious children. Others cite the media and a lack of parental guidance, which can lead teenagers to witness and absorb irresponsible habits. One insightful student remarks that teenagers are urged to grow up too fast, as they’re bombarded with images of celebrities on television. From here, the book moves away from the problem and toward a solution: Readers will find hopeful, creative responses from a wide array of teenagers who seem to take responsibility for their generation’s purported lack of focus. Writers offer specific advice, from teenagers creating their own volunteer opportunities, to special classes dedicated to adolescents learning who they are. Throughout, there’s a constant call for help—that is, a call for adults to help these young students facilitate change, find themselves and find valuable roles they can play within their community. Of particular note is the diversity of voices and opinions. Some students seem to take matters into their own hands, focusing on what they can do moving forward. Others isolate the reasons why they’ve been stunted, unmotivated or even discouraged. Combined, these voices create an enjoyable, important book that represents a cross-section of young people ready for change. A valuable read for teachers, parents and adolescents concerned with the teenage hopes and dreams.
“Scar’s mutinous, scurvy-inflicted crew never feels unbelievable, and one character’s just-in-the-knick-of-time appearance adds an element of urgency to an already deliciously thrilling finale.” from blackheart’s legacy
Bonds, Parris Afton Self (289 pp.) $5.99 e-book | Jul. 10, 2012 A married socialite finds passion in the arms of a Native American shaman in this historical love story from a veteran romance writer. Set in the 1920s, this novel follows Alessandra O’Quinn, who turns her life upside down when faced with a terminal case of tuberculosis. Alessandra’s doctor encourages her to leave Washington, D.C., for a sanitarium in New Mexico, in hopes that her lungs will “dry out” by spending a year breathing in the desert air. Her husband decides to stay behind for fear that such a long stay away from D.C. would destroy his career. In her new home, Alessandra meets an alluring Native American shaman, Manuel Mondragon. The two become intertwined in each other’s lives, as Manuel tries to heal Alessandra and she fights political players to protect the American Indians’ holy shrine, Blue Lake. With the addition of the Blue Lake plot, Bonds attempts to make a larger statement about society: Diversity must be celebrated and respected. Bonds’ latest work is strengthened by her vividly descriptive prose and brisk pacing. The tale of star-crossed lovers from two different social stratums has been done time and time again, yet in Bonds’ capable hands, the relationship is enchanting. As in many traditional romance novels, Bonds’ male love interest is over 6-feet tall, with dark hair, a “chiseled” face and “overwhelming masculinity.” While these descriptions may seem cliché, they’re still enticing, especially in the romance-novel staple—the love scene. Readers will be captivated by the heat that radiates from Alessandra and Manuel’s most intimate encounters. Appealing for fans of Bonds’ established romantic style, this time with a message of diversity against an oldtime, desert backdrop.
SELLING TO CHINA Doing Business in China for Small and Medium-sized Companies Chao, Stanley iUniverse (206 pp.) $18.95 paperback | Nov. 15, 2012 978-1-4759-1178-7
Chao, a Chinese-American who’s worked and consulted in China for years, offers common-sense tips and offbeat takes on doing business in the world’s most populous country. Though China’s startling growth attracts swarms of foreign capitalists, prospering in China is no easy feat. As elsewhere, success requires plenty of preparation. Owners of the small and medium-sized businesses this book targets must scope out the market warily: “Don’t ever follow your gut instinct in China. It
will lead to indigestion.” Laws in China are in constant flux and subject to selective enforcement; contracts are considered gestures of goodwill rather than legal binders, and corruption is rampant. Despite the caveats, Chao sees ample opportunity for those willing to work hard and be careful, so he offers detailed instructions on how to find good markets and partners, avoid problems with competitors and succeed at the ancient Chinese art of haggling—“an emotional roller-coaster ride of anger, ridicule, disappointment, grief, and then finally confusion.” It all boils down to one essential rule: Trust no one, which is probably good advice in any land. Chao bolsters the book’s lessons with colorful examples of Chinese partners absconding with foreigners’ funds and other deals with laowai (foreigners) gone awry. Checking out a list of supposed business references by phone, he hears “babies crying or grandmas screaming that dinner was ready.” Short executive summaries cap each chapter, along with a final list of “13 Rules for Doing Business in China,” which includes “Sweat the Details” and “Never Do Joint Ventures.” The book takes a refreshingly nuanced stance on oft-repeated platitudes about Chinese cultural traits such as guanxi—connections—and mianzi, or face. An occasional cliché mars the prose—“as they say, ignorance is bliss”— but overall, this is a tightly written, sometimes even entertaining account of real-world business tactics and strategy, rather than just another boring business book. A broad, worthy compendium of business tips to succeed in China.
BLACKHEART’S LEGACY Book 1 of The Odyssey of Jon Sinclair
Copus, Sally CreateSpace (330 pp.) $12.95 paperback | Jun. 23, 2010 978-1450534420 In the first book of debut author Copus’ planned series, a boy and his grandmother travel back in time to hobnob with marauding pirates in search of hidden treasure. Clearly familiar with what should constitute the building blocks of a kid-friendly adventure story, Copus begins the book with a seemingly foolproof plan gone disastrously awry. Alistair and Kathryn (Grammy) Sinclair—12-year-old Jon’s grandparents and full-time guardians following the mysterious deaths of his parents in a plane crash—are gearing up to send Jon to 1776 Philadelphia to witness the signing of the Declaration of Independence. While retired NASA employee Alistair won’t be joining them in the silver time-travel capsule Carousel this time around, Grammy goes along for the ride to prevent any mishaps. But with a loud whirl and a classic sci-fi jolt, the ship’s malfunctioning navigation device instead sends them crashing to the shores of 1692 Port Royal, Jamaica, kicking their journey into high gear. Soon, Jon is kidnapped by the crew of the Black Opal, led by the notorious Captain BlackHeart. Grammy—disguised as a boy named Gramm—gains passage as a cook on the ship of | kirkus.com | indie | 15 october 2012 | 2397
BlackHeart’s conniving rival, Shark Scar, in hopes of somehow crossing paths with Jon. As the novel picks up speed, so too do the cleverly hidden surprises. BlackHeart isn’t as nasty as he initially seems; it’s easy to root for him and his devoted crew during treasure dives and explosive battles with warring buccaneers, especially since he’s taken the ever-trusting Jon under his wing. Gramm’s grandmotherly resourcefulness in winning over Shark Scar’s mutinous, scurvy-inflicted crew never feels unbelievable, and one character’s just-in-the-knick-of-time appearance adds an element of urgency to an already deliciously thrilling finale. The cliffhanger ending foreshadows an exciting voyage to the lost city of Atlantis. Middle-grade readers (boys especially): Don’t dillydally; grab this nearly flawless book.
del Mara, K.M. Pensive Pony Media (188 pp.) Sep. 24, 2012 A young girl of mysterious but significant parentage joins Scotland’s medieval rebellion against the English in this lively YA historical novel. At the dawn of the 14th century, fetching teen aristocrat Isobel MacDuff and dashing nobleman Rob—destined to become Scottish national hero Robert the Bruce—deposit their love child for safekeeping on the remote Isle of Arran. Little Pippa’s true identity must be kept secret, even from herself, lest she run afoul of ruthless enemies, including Isobel’s sadistic estranged husband and England’s King Edward, who would love to get his gauntlets on the rebel Bruce’s kin. Unaware of these intrigues, Pippa grows up a redheaded spitfire doted on by a foster mother, an awkward but stouthearted village lad named Tom and a parade of handsome lairds. The author ensconces Pippa in captivating, slightly magical medieval Scotland, where figures from Celtic legend—including a blind centenarian soothsayer who knows the secret of Pippa’s heritage—live and mingle. But as Pippa approaches adolescence, the grim realities of war intrude on her idyll, bringing terror and grief; she duly revolts by smuggling silver for the Scottish cause, spying on the English army and strategizing about how to rescue poor Isobel from the cage where she’s been hung for two years while peasants pelt her with manure. Loosely basing the story on real events, del Mara adroitly mines a rich historical setting for colorful material, which she enhances with rousing action scenes and a pinch of fairy-tale glamour. She crafts all this into a coming-of-age yarn with genuine substance and pathos. As Pippa gets entangled in her family’s struggle against the English, she’s appalled by the violence and misery her father sets in motion, but she also starts to understand the harsh necessity that drives him. She’s a feisty, appealing heroine, and her quest to discover her identity and capture her destiny makes for an absorbing read. An entertaining period adventure for tweens.
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Fadden, Mark Booktango (226 pp.) $0.99 e-book | May 5, 2012 Dallas Police chief Scott Turner investigates the murders of presidential candidates while caring for his dying mother in this taut political thriller. Dallas, Texas. Dealey Plaza. A promising presidential candidate and an assassin. No, it’s not 1963, but present-day Dallas, the candidate is an Independent, the murder weapon is a bomb, and investigating the whole mess is Scott Turner, the youngest police chief in Dallas history. Is it terrorism? A murder disguised as assassination? Or—after two more candidates are killed—some kind of conspiracy? As Dallas’ mayor, the FBI and Homeland Security get involved, Turner must navigate a complex landscape of competing interests and rich men’s secrets. Already stressed by caring for his beloved mother, who is dying of cancer, the police chief must decide whom to trust among figures close to the investigation: longtime mentor Mo, ex-fiancée and now DHS agent Jessica, his old friend Mayor Tommy Archer. Finding the truth will test all of Turner’s boldness and ingenuity. Fadden (The Brink, 2010, etc.) has created an appealing narrator in Turner. Far from being a macho Texassized boaster, he realizes he might be in over his head: “Military devices. Black markets. This had international incident written all over it. And here I was just shy of five years of experience as a police chief, three of which were in a town of 700 millionaires where my biggest investigation was a stolen Rolls Royce replica golf cart.” Turner’s sense of humor, his friendships and his integrity are, refreshingly, more important to his crime-solving than guns and ammo. The scenes with his mother are genuinely moving. That said, there’s plenty of action and plenty of scope for Turner to come down hard on the bad guys. The dialogue is lively and natural, minor characters are well-drawn and interesting, and a well-structured plot unfolds the truth in just the right doses at the right times. Exciting and fast-paced, this is a satisfying political thriller with heart.
THE CONCRETE KISS
Grace, David Wildside Press $7.99 paperback | $4.95 e-book Aug. 27, 2012 978-1434441133 Set in the modern day, this straightforward, fast-paced detective novel cages a truly twisted villain. Detective Ned Danes, an honest cop and all-American family man, just made a startling discovery: A high profile murder case has been rigged—evidence was intentionally misplaced—to secure a
“A football game is played with metal batons, truncheons and Tasers; and drone zombies drop their pants in service to an enormous half-human, half-bee, egg-laying zombie queen.” from the necromancers or love zombies of san diego
conviction. The reader is thrust into a page-turning, clever narrative that continually morphs from police procedural, thriller, courtroom drama, and gritty evaluation of a serial rapist and killer. Blue-collar and committed to justice, instantly likable Danes finds himself at odds with the DA as well as his peers for introducing the suspect’s defense lawyer to the misplaced evidence—a tape showing the defendant buying pornography at roughly the same time the murder took place. In a surprisingly realistic courtroom dialogue, Danes presses on, resulting in the defendant’s release but also in Danes’ demotion to the head of the cold case department. Danes’ friend in the FBI, the noble but complex Phillip Abbott, assures him that he won’t be forgotten. It’s when Walter Plackman is introduced that the novel really takes form. Plackman, who calls himself HDP (“hunt, dominate, possess”), spends his time befriending young girls on Facebook and scanning their information for clues as to their whereabouts, his activities disturbingly similar to those of a detective. He’s on the “hunt” for Amy, whom he promptly finds and abducts. In a compelling twist, a full year passes after this event, showing the often horrific consequences of crime. When the novel reforms, the heroes are different people with unfamiliar lives, and the victim for whom they want justice is unalterably changed. To be fair, though, there are some rough patches in the novel: It’s cluttered with inconsequential ancillary characters, dialogue can sound wooden and the relentless pace allows for little introspection. Still, Grace relishes the accurate and disturbing details, providing top-quality entertainment that overcomes its faults with a relentless story. Well-written, engaging and sure to keep you up.
THE NECROMANCERS OR LOVE ZOMBIES OF SAN DIEGO Graves, E.Z. Amazon Digital Services (117 pp.) $2.99 e-book | Jun. 26, 2012
When a mysterious zombie virus threatens the world, it’s up to teenage “love zombies” to stop it. San Diego teenager Josh is a dead “love zombie” who kills bad zombies; he also quotes Jesus, Nietzsche and Jung. In his first-person narrative with hints of pedantry, Josh surmises that the zombie virus spread quickly because the no-taxes government shredded the social safety net, leading to “open class warfare.” “[T]he dead virus was the ultimate catastrophe to hit us in our dens of poverty,” he says. Greedy agribusinesses, pollution, genetic engineering, the Iraq War, Mexican drug cartels, a mad scientist and a love zombie Bill of Rights mix into the tale of the walking dead. When it comes to gross-out, graphic violence, Musgrave supplies enough jugular-ripping, entrails-feasting carnage to satisfy any fan of the genre. There are ample weaponry details, too, from kosher slaughtering knives to a sword “modeled after the ancient falcata used by Iberian mercenaries.” Yet there’s also leavening humor, as well as unexpectedly resonant, emotional moments:
When Josh drives a car and feels the steering wheel “smooth in my hands,” he says, “You don’t know what it means for us undead to be able to do something so human. I felt like I was one step closer, as Pinocchio would say, to being a real boy.” In this humorous, at times overdone gorefest for young adults, less could be more: A football game is played with metal batons, truncheons and Tasers; and drone zombies drop their pants in service to an enormous half-human, half-bee, egg-laying zombie queen. The professorial tone can also be an intermittent distraction: Do readers need to be told that Frank Baum was the author of The Wizard of Oz and that he called a La Jolla sea cave “Sunny Jim” after “a cartoon mascot” for a 1920s-era cereal? Still, the love zombies’ satisfying triumph reaches icky levels of bloodletting that fans of the genre will appreciate. A vampire sequel looms on the horizon. Overstuffed—just how some fans like it.
HOW TO LIVE IN ITALY Essays on the charms and complications of living in paradise Helm-Ropelato, Rebecca CreateSpace (146 pp.) $6.50 paperback | $2.99 e-book Jul. 4, 2012 978-1478100539
A collection of short essays on the author’s experiences living as an American expat in Italy. Helm-Ropelato divides her collection into three sections: Learning Curves; Food, Glorious, Food; and Observing Italians. The first section discusses everything from learning the Italian language to a book review. The second features restaurant review–style essays and stories of the author’s own cooking experiences; many of these essays include recipes, too. The final section revolves around Italian culture and customs as well as profiles of different Italians the author has met. The essays, only loosely connected, don’t tell any overarching story; some are original to this collection, while others were previously published in newspapers and on the author’s own blog. The articles’ extremely short lengths make the book a quick read, which also means Helm-Ropelato only has time to scratch the surface of an idea before she moves on to a new topic. Though she’s writing about her own life, the work doesn’t have the feel of a memoir because her tone is carefully guarded. “Franco and our friends, a married couple, are passionate and veteran mountain walkers,” she writes in “The Art of Seeing in Cortina,” which is about as personal as any of the essays get. She writes about the arduous trek through the mountains and the blisters she gets on her feet, but there’s very little about her husband or the unnamed friends. This lack of detail, coupled with brevity, prevents the essay from having much real power. Though there are some humorous touches, the practice of keeping the reader at arm’s length means that these touches will likely only produce a small smile and not a guffaw. The book works well as a classically | kirkus.com | indie | 15 october 2012 | 2399
Christopher Meeks: The Best-selling Author on ‘How I Did It’ b y
c h r i sto pher
To paraphrase former President Bill Clinton, how I did it depends on the definition of “it.” I’m a writer first and an accidental publisher second. What drove me to do either is that I wanted meaning in my life. The other night, my wife, Ann, and I zipped over to the Hollywood Bowl, invited at the last minute by a friend with extra tickets. It felt like destiny. I witnessed for my first time cellist Yo-Yo Ma play and Gustavo Dudamel conduct—both brilliant, both passionate, both leading me to ponder what it took for them and any one of the orchestra members to get there. A sellout crowd of 17,000 was focused on classical music. Yo-Yo Ma often played with his eyes closed, his face incredibly expressive, as if the music were telling a story and he was finding surprise and amazement in every twist and turn. He seemed near tears in delicate parts, his lone cello a voice in the woods. Conductor Gustavo Dudamel looked like a young man surprised at a treasure he stumbled upon. He was ecstatic to unleash the kettle drums, the trumpets and the full orchestra as a signal call to a final offensive stand, his baton and hair leaping in the air. There are times when I write that I feel the same way. I’m emotionally wrought at sad parts, laughing at funny parts, on the edge when danger flings itself at my protagonist. What it took me to get there were the hundreds of stories that I wrote when I was younger that just didn’t work, but each story brought me closer to writing a better one. I took writing classes in college and beyond, and I was pushed. Reading great works such as Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried showed me what could be. I never thought of what I did as “work.” As Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers reveals, you have to put in the hours. To get where I am took more than reading, practice and classes. I also looked for ways to immerse myself in story. I became a book reviewer in grad school for two Los Angeles newspapers before reviewing live theater for Daily Variety for eight years.
At the time, I was also writing plays. Theater demonstrated how to reveal character through action and dialogue, and the constant critiquing led me to question why certain scenes or plays worked or not. I’d ask the same questions of my own stories. I wrote on tight deadlines, which whipped away any idea of writer’s block. Later, when I started teaching creative writing and English, I could critique student work too, remaining sensitive to not blow out any flames of creativity. For my first job out of grad school, I was the senior editor for a small publisher in Los Angeles. There, I experienced firsthand the obsessive nature it takes to create a finely crafted book, starting with the text but also following through in book design, publicity and marketing. When my first agent in 2005 did not want to represent my collection of previously published short fiction, I started my own imprint, White Whisker Books. I knew what to do. When my very first review for my first book, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea, appeared in the Los Angeles Times in January 2006, I spit the cereal I was eating all over the table. My heart began racing. I assumed I’d be excoriated in front of millions of people as had happened with my first produced play, Suburban Anger. But no, the reviewer provided clear insights, and she celebrated the book. I don’t write for the reviewers, but good reviews help in being discovered in a crowded marketplace. Sending your books out for review is critical. This I learned when I worked for a publisher. I call myself the accidental publisher because White Whisker Books was conceived simply for my short fiction. Later, I published my novels when my enthusiastic agent, Jim McCarthy at Dystel and Goderich, found roadblocks. For Love At Absolute Zero, he landed three interested editors whose marketing departments then vetoed the book. Apparently love and quantum physics was a leap. Undeterred, I published it through White Whisker. It landed on a critic’s Top Ten Best Novels list of 2011, and it earned three awards, including
2400 | 15 october 2012 | indie | kirkus.com |
being a ForeWord Reviews Best Book Finalist. Small victories like these help. White Whisker Books has grown as I can fit in time for it. I’m publishing three other authors now whom I know and respect. I hire editors, proofreaders and book designers. I make advance reader’s copies for reviewers as I did recently for The Fiction Writer’s Handbook by Shelly Lowenkopf. I create flawless e-book versions of the books in multiple formats. I use social media, write emails and blogs, speak at conferences and colleges, and, if I’m lucky, I write articles such as this for Kirkus. For those people who want to know, “How do I do it so I can get rich?” all I know is you don’t get any success if your heart isn’t in the work. In the arts, you compete with people who have passion for what they do, the Dudamels and Mas. Much of success is persistence. That’s not everything, though. It’s not like the Hollywood movies where if you’re dogged and passionate, you’ll win. There are plenty of conductors, cellists and writers who are extraordinarily talented, but they are not recognized. Are you still willing to push ahead if fame or fortune is not guaranteed? If so, the arts may be for you. “How to make it?” That’s something you might learn along the way. Christopher Meeks began as a playwright and has had three plays produced. His short stories have been published in a number of journals and are available in two collections, The Middle-Aged Man and the Sea and Months and Seasons. During the last five years, he’s focused on novels. The Brightest Moon of the Century is a story that Marc Schuster of Small Press Reviews describes as “a great and truly humane novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens and John Irving.” His new comic novel, Love At Absolute Zero, is about a physicist who uses the tools of science to find his soul mate—and he has just three days. Critic Grady Harp calls the book “a gift.” Christopher Meeks also runs White Whisker Books. Visit him online at Red Room, Facebook, Twitter, and www. chrismeeks.com.
“While many books that deal with Alzheimer’s accept the medical orthodoxy, this revolutionary patient-centered approach gives both patients and caregivers an arsenal of techniques to cope with MCI and Alzheimer’s disease.” from alzheimer’s, memory loss, and mci
styled travelogue, and the descriptions of off-the-beaten-path travel destinations and new dining experiences will be appreciated by travelers seeking an Italian adventure that goes beyond the traditional guidebooks. The clear, if somewhat dry, writing style will appeal to readers planning their own Italian excursion.
HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN MALE Henry, Chuck Amazon Digital Services (53 pp.) $2.99 e-book | Jan. 13, 2012
A roller-coaster ride through the sexand thrills-addled brain of the young, modern, American man. Brian Fry is your average middleclass, college-educated, perpetually dissatisfied, 25-year-old male. He thinks an awful lot about booze, boobs and Bertrand Russell, and he defines his emotional growth relative to his bouts with intense sexual desire, jealousy and fistfights. His discovery of—and subsequent addiction to—the wonders of the Internet further fuels both his lust and discontent. On his travels to Scotland, New York, Los Angeles, Cancun and Canada, Brian muses about evolution and sociology, as he compares the relative assets of strippers and girlfriends. Slowly growing up, he finds that trading some immediate pleasures for long-term gratification may contain rewards that extend beyond the thrill of a lap dance. But can this pleasure-seeker’s shallow philosophizing ever lead to true happiness? Henry free-associates throughout his protagonist’s life, connecting the vivid description of a night of drinking to F. Scott Fitzgerald and a tale of lost virginity to Genghis Khan and the Minnesota Vikings. Although Henry’s style tends to tell rather than show, Brian’s psyche tells of a striking array of brain waves: Sexual freedom runs parallel to fear about diseases and pregnancy, and displays of wealth bump up against extreme economic hardship. The unvarnished portrait is studded with facts—historical, scientific, zoological and, for more than a few, dubious. While some readers may find Brian’s simultaneous worship and disdain for women distressing, the narrative’s candid revelations make for a riveting read. An honest, funny and occasionally troubling look at socially bewildered masculinity in the 21st century.
ALZHEIMER’S, MEMORY LOSS, AND MCI The Latest Science for Prevention and Treatment Leonardi, David; Daley, Nathan CreateSpace (192 pp.) $15.79 paperback | Jul. 16, 2012 978-1470030476
Two authorities in longevity medicine provide a breakthrough approach to treating Alzheimer’s disease. The philosophy underlying our inefficient and failing health care system is itself flawed. Formulated to deal with acute conditions through the application of “magic bullet” solutions, contemporary medicine fails to understand and effectively treat chronic conditions like Alzheimer’s disease. So argue doctors Leonardi and Daley, who offer a thorough six-step approach to the disease that, they say, can prevent or treat both Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s. Leonardi and Daley use simple metaphors to explain the disease; they compare the brain’s overload of amyloid protein (one of the causes of Alzheimer’s) to “a sink with the faucet running and the drain blocked.” The doctors have obviously put much thought into how to talk to patients and caregivers clearly and compassionately. “The purpose of this book,” the authors write, “is to teach you what we teach our patients.” Their discussion of their treatment philosophy is also simple, but their methodology shows an expert’s understanding of this complex condition. Reduction of oxidants, “rustproofing,” improving genetic predisposition through food supplements, protecting and defending the brain, maintaining healthy hormone levels, engaging in “brain aerobics,” meditation and sound sleep: These are some of the topics covered to arm patients and caregivers with a multipronged approach. While many books that deal with Alzheimer’s accept the medical orthodoxy, this revolutionary patient-centered approach gives both patients and caregivers an arsenal of techniques to cope with MCI and Alzheimer’s disease. Written with clarity and precision, this book can provide a positive framework for patients, family and treatment specialists who are open to this thoughtful program. A soundly researched, well-written approach to Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment.
AMAZONS A Love Story
Levy, E.J. University of Missouri (200 pp.) $24.95 | Jun. 25, 2012 978-0826219756 In a beautifully written memoir looking back after years spent in Brazil, a woman explores both her own comingof-age and the ecology of the rain forest. Levy, a relatively sheltered 21-yearold, leaves her studies at Yale for a Rotary Club fellowship in | kirkus.com | indie | 15 october 2012 | 2401
“The only unsatisfying feature of Parry’s debut is that it ends.” from the chesterfield hours
K i rk us M e di a L L C # President M A RC W I N K E L M A N Chief Operating Officer K i rk M Eus G LM Ae B di O RaD L EL C KU E H N # Chief Financial PresidentOfficer J ames M A RC W I NH Kull ELMA N SVP, SVP,Marketing Finance M ike HHejny J ames ull SVP, Online SVP, Marketing Paul H offman M ike H ejny # SVP, Online Copyright by Kirkus Paul H2012 offman Media LLC. KIRKUS # REVIEWS (ISSN 0042 6598) is published semiCopyright 2011 by Kirkus monthly by Kirkus Media Media LLC. KIRKUS LLC, 6411 Burleson Road, REVIEWS (ISSN 0042 Austin, TX 78744. 6598) is published semiSubscription prices are: monthly by Kirkus Media Digital & PrintRoad, LLC, 6411 Burleson Subscription (U.S.) Austin, TX 78744. - 13 Months ($199.00) Subscription prices are Digital & Print $169 for professionals ($199 Subscription (International) International) and $129 - 13 Months ($229.00) ($169 International) for Digital Only Subscription individual consumers (home 13 Months ($169.00) address required). Single copy: copy:Single $25.00. All$25.00. other rates All other on request. onrates request. POSTMASTER: POSTMASTER: Send address address changes changes to to Send Kirkus Reviews, Reviews, PO PO Box Box Kirkus 3601, Northbrook, IL 3601, Northbrook, IL 60065-3601. 60065-3601. Periodicals Postage Postage Paid Paid Periodicals at Austin, Austin, TX TX 78710 78710 and and at at at additional mailing offices. additional mailing offices.
Bahia, in northern Brazil, although she intends to spend as little time there as possible before heading for the Amazon. Further isolated by her less-than-stellar Portuguese, she finds herself spending months in the city of Salvador, where trouble greets her: In one of several melodramatic episodes that occasionally mar an otherwise polished narrative, she’s robbed and then poisoned. Eventually, she meets three women who will be her closest friends: Barbara, a sophisticated American who introduces her to capoeira, a Brazilian martial art; and Isa and Nelci, roommates who illustrate what it means to be a true Bahian. Finally reaching the Amazon, Levy tags along with and attempts to please the researchers she originally hoped to work with; she’d soon like to have a project of her own. Amid flashes forward to the person she eventually becomes, she looks back in disdain at her younger self, although the self-loathing is at last eased when she accepts herself as an intelligent, forthright lesbian who has much more to offer than she ever thought possible. Levy’s time in the rain forest covers only about a third of the book, and her 15 “Amazon Snapshots” will be of particular importance for anyone interested in the work of the National Institute for Amazonian Research. However, readers searching for the love story of the subtitle may be less satisfied. Levy seems too wrapped up in worrying about doing the right thing and being the right person to truly love someone or anything. Yet her self-involvement makes for a compelling feminist narrative about personal exploration, especially since she’s such a talented writer. A strong coming-of-age story from an exotic land.
THE CHESTERFIELD HOURS
Parry, Gwyn Manuscript (283 pp.) This lighthearted, sparkling novel presents the adventures, romantic and otherwise, of a man, his dog, his mother’s ghost and other assorted characters. Schoolteacher Chesterfield is a man satisfied with life: His parents and his dog are “in super fettle,” his sixth-graders are doing well and he’s happily married. Or so he thinks, until the “one rummy morning” his wife, Deborah, (having grown impatient of Chesterfield’s low pay and despairing of his ever inheriting the perhaps-mythical
2402 | 15 october 2012 | indie | kirkus.com |
family fortune) leaves him for newly rich Benedict Hoepplewhite, “mortgage broker, wife-stealer and cur.” This sets in motion a series of events including an aborted revenge attempt, tenure struggles at Chesterfield’s school, wrongdoings at a fitness club, a new romance with a pretty kindergarten teacher and not a little heroism. Then there’s his mother’s death and reappearance as a ghost, her arrival signaled by the tinkling of ice cubes in her ever-present drink. In these adventures, Chesterfield is joined by “the smashingest girl ever, name of Carrie Hahn, and the stellar dog Daisy, who sniffs out villains a mile away, and the lioness-hearted ‘gym-chick’ Jeanine, who carried the day when I fell wounded, and who made a man of my gormless pal Larry.” Chesterfield—whose American father was “the fightingest blood and guts Marine of his day”—talks like someone out of P.G. Wodehouse. It’s because, he says, his father was always out of the country, while his British mother “spoke the language and ethic that I breathed in: ‘There never was a time like good King Edward’s, dear. For fun, for peace, and for talk. It was Shakespeare and Elizabeth with proper drains and no bear-baiting.’ ” Even in Britain, Chesterfield’s what-ho slang would probably be out of date, but no matter; it’s fun. Chesterfield’s gentlemanly ethic includes not initiating his divorce (“only a swine” would do that) and declining to entrap Hoepplewhite, finally wishing him no harm: “I sensed approval by the good old Anglican deity who made dogs and trout streams, has humour, and stands like a Gentleman mostly out of the way.” Literate, funny and romantic, with amusing comments on American culture, this novel has its heart in the right place. The only unsatisfying feature of Parry’s debut is that it ends.
THOROUGHBREDS AND TRAILER TRASH Pettersen, Bev Westerhall (284 pp.) $13.99 paperback May 12, 2012 978-0987671783
From Golden Heart finalist Pettersen (Fillies and Females, 2011, etc.) comes the story of a poverty-stricken horse masseuse and the brash, wealthy new boss she falls in love with. Jenna Murphy’s life is turned upside down once Derek Burke comes to town. Although she’s far from financially well-off, her job as a horse masseuse at the Three Brooks Equine Center
provides her with just enough income. But when out-of-towner Derek buys out the Center, Jenna’s job and heart are both at risk. Derek decides to make some big changes, including the removal of anyone who drains company resources. Between Jenna’s lack of formal education and the lies she tells to cover her tracks, it’s little wonder she feels unnerved. It’s curious, though, that she’s willing to accept the man who could possibly ruin her life. Even though she hesitates to fall in love, she welcomes his sexual advances. Her physical attraction is understandable, but letting someone so disruptive into her bed seems like a disaster waiting to happen. Raised by an abusive father and a mother who obsessed over him, Jenna has a strong desire to keep herself from falling in love and thereby repeating her mother’s mistakes. This background makes Jenna a believable character whom readers will hope can be happy; it also makes her dependency on Derek slightly odd. Falling for Derek would be a bit more understandable if he were more developed: He’s little more than a cookie-cutter hero, the handsome yet ruthless businessman who has a soft spot for the heroine. Moreover, the jump from attraction to love happens rather quickly, making it difficult to track the buildup of emotions. Fortunately, the rest of the book’s pacing is spot-on. The harder Jenna tries to hide the truth about her background and her after-hours use of the Center’s facilities, the more the reader anticipates a big conflict on the couple’s road to happiness. There are also plenty of clues to suggest that danger is lurking around the bend for the Center, and the resolution doesn’t disappoint. Not quite an award-winning stallion, but the plot gallops along at a steady pace, making for an entertaining light read.
THE VIRGIN MISSILE CRISIS Riley, Dan The Nobby Works (280 pp.) $14.95 paperback | $8.95 e-book May 26, 2012 978-0615648712
A central question arises in this sweet comedy that pairs the typical teen condition with the Cuban missile crisis: Is there time to lose your virginity before the bomb drops? Teenager Marty LaRosa has problems: Not only does he have to reconcile his sexual desire with the Catholic definition of sin, but he has to reconcile his feelings for his less-interested girlfriend, all while managing an election for class president and a tumultuous home life. Like Kissinger, Marty doesn’t have time for another crisis, but there’s one more: potential nuclear war between JFK’s America and Khrushchev’s USSR. Riley plays this situation for realistic laughs, grounding the comedy in recognizable situations and persons, from a martinet vice principal who drops golf balls down boys’ pants to make sure they (the pants) are regulation size, to the family’s incredibly messy drawer full of junk. Maintaining a brisk pace throughout the novel, Riley liberally sprinkles in humorous phrases, as when Marty, rather than play the accordion badly, only pretends to
press the keys “without depressing them, or the audience.” The narrative occasionally leaves Marty to focus on JFK, where the sex comedy is replaced by international relations. While Riley interjects some humor into these sections—for instance, by comparing warmongering Sen. Russell with Marty’s girlfriend’s leg-humping dog—the connection between Marty’s and JFK’s predicaments sometimes seems strained. The strangest narrative choice comes in the final chapter, which advances several years and swaps out comedy grounded in the human condition—wanting sex, wanting to avoid thinking about parents having sex—for political anger over the recent “Worst President Ever,” aka Nixon. However, humor still flashes in the story of Marty’s rise to the presidency: Reversing expectations, Marty’s opposition presents a parade of people who declare that they did not have sexual relations with that man. Bumpy because of a few odd narrative choices, but this charming coming-of-age comedy has enough laughs to keep its footing.
THE BELL OF GIRARDIUS Roberts, Warren Mean Streets Press (328 pp.) $9.99 paperback | $3.99 e-book Jun. 1, 2012 978-0957027121
An action-packed adventure with the interminably charming and witty Joe Milo and his Jamaican sidekick Jonah. With his sophomore effort, Roberts (Kill City USA, 2012) pens another exciting mystery with a healthy serving of the supernatural. Milo is hired by a Russian woman named Olga to find her sister Avril, who is said to have special psychic powers and to dabble in séances and a bit of black magic. Avril has connections with Grigory Zeltin, a dangerous, powerful Satanist. In an ironic twist, Avril is found dead in Paris—though Milo is privy to the specifics, he’s not talking. His hopes of ditching Olga fade when she insists he continue gathering intel on Zeltin, whom she blames for Avril’s death and who is planning something very dark. In true Milo fashion, he raises the stakes exponentially by falling for one of Zeltin’s daughters, earning him a place at the top of Zeltin’s hit list; and, the fact that Jay—the original Kill City USA damsel in distress—is mixed up in it all ensures Milo’s full attention. Written with great delineation and range, Roberts’ cast of diverse characters continues to jump off the page. Milo and the intimidating but softhearted Jonah are a dynamic duo. While Jonah volleys easily between lovable and hard-as-nails, Milo stays true, armed with a sharp wit, endless charm and a penchant for finding trouble. In addition to amusing dialogue and witty observations, Roberts manages to find ways to include his apparent love for movies, sprinkling mentions of his favorites along the way. Similar to his first book, where history on the Mafia was provided, this time the author edifies on all things satanic and includes an interesting history lesson on the Knights Templar. Another successful Joe Milo experience.
| kirkus.com | indie | 15 october 2012 | 2403
“Soutter’s debut novel is a scathing, ceaselessly engaging examination of capitalism and corporatism.” from the water thief
Shadow, Allen Manuscript (589 pp.) $0.99 e-book In this mystery, Shadow brings to life the fear of terrorism in a big city. Jack Oldham, a soon-to-be ex-member of the Joint Terrorism Task Force, scans the crowd on New Year’s Eve, weary from constant high alerts and threats that lead to nothing. During the festivities, his concerns change after a bomb scare over a bag that contains the belongings of a college student named Jessica. Jack’s worried she’s missing. Preoccupied by the bag and the missing girl, Jack searches for her throughout the city, sifting block by block through its history while trying to keep its citizens safe. The hunt turns out to be for naught: Jack tracks down Jessica’s mother and then Jessica, who is safe at home. But things don’t add up: Jessica wasn’t anywhere near the neighborhood where the bag was found on New Year’s Eve, and the photo on her ID isn’t hers. Jack realizes this isn’t about a missing person; it’s about the safety of the city he loves. The bag has something to do with a larger plot and the terrorists who, after the death of Osama bin Laden, are more ready than ever to strike another blow against America. Shadow has crafted an entertaining mystery that borrows from the best in mystery and noir, while adding a heavy dose of modern paranoia. Jack Oldham, the compelling detective, is riddled with doubts and scars, and rather than being a standard cardboard cutout, he feels vivid and believable as a protagonist. Shadow deftly evokes the constant high alert in a modern security state, as if there’s always conspiracy around the corner. His language can feel clunky at times, though, and he sometimes drops in eyebrowraising sex metaphors, although they’re usually just spirited jolts in this thrilling lookout for the bad guys’ next move. A striking story that will leave readers looking around the corner in fear.
THE WATER THIEF
Soutter, Nicholas Lamar CreateSpace (248 pp.) $11.24 paperback | $5.99 e-book Apr. 23, 2012 978-1467972277 In a world ruled by capitalism, an empathetic corporate worker questions the principles upon which the society functions. Soutter’s debut novel is a scathing, ceaselessly engaging examination of capitalism and corporatism. At Ackerman Brothers Securities Corporation, Charles Thatcher works as a perception manager; his job is to process and deflect any negativity regarding the corporation. Now that the government has crumbled, capitalism is the new regime, 2404 | 15 october 2012 | indie | kirkus.com |
with constant demands for profitable information, either substantiated or speculative. Charles hopes for higher compensation by spinning the story of a woman stealing rainwater, but soon after his ploy, he begins to mull over the consequences and regret his actions. A meeting with Kate, a friend of the woman, leaves Charles reassessing the value of a civilization run by the rich, as he wonders how long capitalism can sustain itself. The story intimates that men and their actions—not just an immaterial idea—are the essential cause of immorality, but it centers on the undesirable fallout of money as the corollary source of power. Soutter’s vision of capitalistic supremacy is gleefully absurd: A simple elevator ride costs five cents per floor and information is only conveyed for a price. Societal classes are now purchasable contracts, and the poor reside in LowSec (Low Security); a citizen’s lot in life, like all commodities, is bought and paid for. There are also welcome dashes of satire derived from characters unable, or unwilling, to acknowledge irony: a perception manager writing a report on an unflattering anti– perception management story; Linus, Charles’ higher-ranking colleague, offers an alternative moral regarding mendacity (he’s not against lying, but rather against telling the same lie more than once). Charles has many lengthy discussions with Kate over now-archaic standards (to them), like people electing other people into power, but their talks are never tedious or repetitive. Their conversations also lead to one of the book’s most potent lines: “The single best indicator of where you end up in life is where you start, no matter what the capitalists tell you.” Profound, provocative and sure to spark a reaction.
ESCAPE FROM COOLVILLE Sutherland, Sherman Platen Press (302 pp.) $14.95 paperback | $8.99 e-book Jun. 7, 2012 978-0985750107
For L.J. Davenport, call-center wage slave of Sutherland’s amusing coming-ofage novel, slacking is part of the job. Young, suspended from college and in the trenches as a phone psychic, L.J. more or less drifts through his days, hoping to get back into school, find a higher paying job that isn’t quite as soul-sucking and—just maybe—find a way into the heart of his sexy new coworker, Tanha. Too bad fate isn’t ready to let L.J. float away just yet. Between the mysterious campaign that management has taken against him, the presence of an angry lesbian called Chewbacca, the holy grail of weed bags he just can’t find, and the arrival of Marpa, the karmic policeman, L.J. will be lucky to keep his job, his sanity and maybe even his life. Sutherland sure-handedly details L.J.’s adventures with a firm grasp on absurdity, capturing the peculiar rhythms of corporate America without too much winking at the audience. L.J. is both pathetic and endearing, and despite the zaniness creeping up to near-ridiculous heights toward the end, the voices of L.J. and his fellow travelers stay constant and believable throughout. Anyone who’s worked in a call
center or “cube farm” environment will both chuckle and shudder at how well the author nails the details, including the often inane morale-boosting events and the gallows humor many workers adopt to get through the day. Although the narrative shows signs of exhaustion and strained credibility in the last 50 pages or so—Chewbacca drives a mobile meth lab—the author manages to wrap things up in an ending that’s illuminating and hopeful, without a Pollyanna spin. The sad truth is that a dead-end job can often lead to a dead-end life, but in this brightly colored, skewed universe, there might just be a way out. Strong characterizations and a fine sense of absurdity make for an enjoyable tour of corporate hell.
SOLDIERS’ FIELD A Novel of Postwar Germany Weinstein, Raymond M. Self (633 pp.) $0.99 e-book | Apr. 19, 2012
In this memoirlike novel, 19-year-old David Streiber, a Jew, is shipped out on assignment to Germany in 1959, although he doesn’t know that the months spent in what was formerly enemy territory will teach him who he is as a man. David considers himself lucky—he could have been sent to Korea to serve out his duty in a hut. He’s doubly lucky when he finagles his way into metropolitan Nuremberg, rather than the East German border. He’s conflicted upon arrival: He knows what the Germans did to his people in the recent war, but he thinks it’s unfair to blame the youth of that nation for what their parents did. Also, as much as he knows it would kill his mother, he’s a young man, and he’s eager to see what the frauleins are like. Still in his teens, he joined the Army because he found himself at a crossroads. Not long after his enlistment, though, he realized he wanted to go to college and get out of his working-class Coney Island neighborhood, so he’s determined to keep his nose clean and finish his military service as quickly as possible. His Jewish heritage fits prominently into the story, as it shapes his relationship with his Army peers, his supervisors, the women he commingles with along the way and the landsmen he meets at synagogue and on a trip to Israel. At times, the novel reads like a memoir or travelogue, but it’s not truly either. It is, however, a sharp look at what an enlistee in the peacetime Army might suffer in his last year of service. David, who narrates, is a smart, likable and fairly identifiable tour guide. As a Jewish kid, he knows what it’s like to be an outsider. He generally gets along with the white compatriots in his outfit, but he can also relate to the African-American soldiers—at least while they’re on base. The more time he spends off base, though, the more David defines himself by his unique, personal heritage. David’s is a quieter tale, not one full of adventure and battle. It’s rooted in reality, which can sometimes border on tedium. David’s interactions with women and with his Army compatriots often seem repetitive, and he rarely seems to learn from his experiences. And yet, although he’s not jumping into foxholes
or performing acts of heroism, it’s enjoyable spending time with him. The strongest scenes follow David as he travels around the rest of 1950s Europe and Israel, allowing readers to experience these places through the eyes of a Jewish kid from Brooklyn. A unique view of an overlooked era in postwar Germany.
THE MAN WHO CREATED HALLOWEEN Yablans, Irwin CreateSpace (272 pp.) $16.95 paperback | Aug. 9, 2012 978-1478105268
An account of Halloween creator Yablans’ rise from a hardscrabble childhood in Brooklyn to the upper echelons of the studio system in Hollywood where he would help change the way movies are made. During World War II, Yablans grew up in roach-infested, cramped apartments in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which was largely inhabited by second-generation Jews escaping the teeming ghettos of the Lower East Side. It was a close-knit community by necessity and Yablans, like so many of his background, was encouraged not to have high expectations. Working in the garment district and then in backbreaking labor at the Navy Yard, he escaped the hellish monotony by joining the Army, and upon discharge, took up an offer to work in sales at Warner Brothers. Yablans had a learning disability that had confounded his teachers because he was innately bright, so he dropped out of high school. Given a chance at Warner, he committed himself wholeheartedly to work. Moving through the ranks at the studio, he eventually wound up in Los Angeles with his brother, Frank, following. Frank would become president of Paramount Pictures and a golden child for a time, and Irwin would eventually shake up the studio system and forge ahead with independent films, pioneering his own studio. With Halloween, he helped launch the career of John Carpenter and created a horror classic. Yablans shows us the film industry from the business end, where the point is the bottom line and where shark-infested political dealings are routine. He paints a portrait of a cutthroat but exciting world of unimaginable wealth, struggle and movie stars where dreams are the product sold to the world at large. Although there are many poignant moments beneath the nuts-and-bolts insights into the business of movies, Yablans also can be brutally frank, noting a “bulbous nose” or character flaw, and is as much a player as anyone. When the film The Message resulted in 149 people being held as hostages by black Muslim extremists and several deaths, Yablans rode the crest by increasing the film’s circulation in theaters across the country. Essentially, it is an entertaining and captivating story of a spirited man of humble roots who attained even his most unimaginable dreams, including a stint as a competitive cowboy, and helped usher in a new era of films. The fascinating memoir of a true Hollywood mogul that traces his life from Brooklyn to Warner Brothers. (27 pages of b/w photographs) | kirkus.com | indie | 15 october 2012 | 2405