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REVIEWS

t h e w o r l d’s t o u g h e s t b o o k c r i t i c s f o r mo r e t h a n 7 5 y e a rs fiction

nonfiction

children & teens

A hard-shelled, sporadically soft-hearted protagonist shines in Bernard Cornwell’s latest p. 230

Acclaimed novelist Rick Moody shows off his considerable gifts for parsing music p. 274

An abandoned bus becomes a flourishing urban community center in Bob Graham’s latest p. 294

in this issue: baseball books round-up kirkus q&a

featured indie

With crisp, graceful prose that elegantly captures the hidden lives of her subjects, Pulitzer winner Katherine Boo examines a slum outside Mumbai p. 268

Chris Mendius vividly portrays Chicago’s drug culture in the Clinton-era boom years p. 324

w w w. k i r k u s r e v i e w s . c o m


The Kirkus Star A star is awarded to books of remarkable merit, as determined by the impartial editors of Kirkus. Kirkus Online: Trust the toughest critics in the book industry to recommend the next great read. Visit KirkusReviews.com to discover exciting new books, authors, blogs and other dynamic content.

interactive e-books p. 221 fiction p. 227 mystery p. 242

science fiction & fantasy p. 250 nonfiction p. 253

children & teens p. 281 kirkus indie p. 317

Remembering Zorba the Greek 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 Editor E L A I N E S Z E WC Z Y K eszewczyk@kirkusreviews.com Managing/Nonfiction Editor E R I C L I E B E T R AU eliebetrau@kirkusreviews.com Features Editor M O L LY B RO W N molly.brown@kirkusreviews.com Children’s & YA Books VICKY SMITH vicky.smith@kirkusreviews.com Kirkus Indie Editor P E R RY C RO W E perry.crowe@kirkusreviews.com Mysteries Editor THOMAS LEITCH Assistant Indie Editor REBECCA CRAMER rebecca.cramer@kirkusreviews.com Editorial Coordinator CHELSEA LANGFORD clangford@kirkusreviews.com

In 1917, a 34-year-old writer, struggling to be published, decided to try his hand at other ways of making a living. He wasn’t much good at anything other than writing, so he hired a man named George Zorbas to sink a lignite mine in the rocky hills of the Peloponnese. Like an earlier effort to harvest timber from the slopes of Greece’s holiest of holy places, Mount Athos, the mine was a disaster, and Nikos Kazantzakis returned to writing. Two years later, he would find work of a different sort, relocating Greek refugees from the Caucasus who were fleeing from the advancing Soviet army. Zorbas was with him, dispensing rascally homespun wisdom and hatching wild plans, even as Kazantzakis was sinking deeper into apparently contradictory studies of Marxism on the one hand and religion on the other. He would travel throughout the Soviet Union, then wander throughout the Mediterranean before returning home. He settled on the island of Aegina, close enough to Athens that he could become an important part of the literary scene, distant enough that he could find the solitude he sought to write contemplative—and controversial—books such as The Odyssey: A Modern Sequel, The Last Temptation of Christ and The Life and Times of Alexis Zorbas. They were controversial indeed. Kazantzakis regularly came under fire for a range of sins that he did not intend. In Temptation, he dared imagine the human part of the triune Christ, a man tempted to renounce his divine role and live out a normal human life. The Orthodox Church in Greece sought to have him prosecuted for sacrilege, even though the book had not yet been published in Greek; the Catholic Church in Rome put all editions of the book on its index of prohibited literature. His tale of George Zorbas, now called Alexis Zorbas, published in English in 1953 as Zorba the Greek, also got him in trouble with conservatives who charged that the book portrayed Hellenes in a bad light, as schemers, idlers and ne’er-do-wells. Nikos Kazantzakis is not much read or remembered today, even though those books, and many others by him, are timeless. Princeton University Press has just issued a thick volume of his correspondence, The Selected Letters of Nikos Kazantzakis ($99.50, ISBN 978-0-691-14702-4), which deserves an audience beyond the specialist one. It reveals the writer as a man unafraid of following difficult paths to arrive at truths—and, contra those conservative critics, unafraid of hard work. The letters, taken from a period of nearly 60 years, also point to his development as a writer and thinker, from acolyte of Nietzsche and Marx to an original philosopher of the examined life. One of the last letters, written shortly before Kazantzakis’ death in 1957, is addressed to Zorbas’ son, a colonel in the army that would soon overthrow Greece’s democratic government. “Seldom have I loved and esteemed a human being as much as Zorba,” he writes, adding, “a high-level employee of the American embassy in Athens said that ever since he read Zorba he has felt like abandoning everything and following Zorba’s example.” A writer could ask for no better legacy—and neither could George Zorbas.

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This Issue’s Contributors Mark Athitakis • Joseph Barbato • Josh Bell • Sarah Bellezza • Amy Boaz • Will Boisvert • Lee E. Cart • Derek Charles Catsam • Kelli Daley • Dave DeChristopher • Gregory F. DeLaurier • David Delman • Kathleen Devereaux • Ryan Donovan • Daniel Dyer • Lisa Elliott • Gro Flatebo • Julie Foster • Peter Franck • Jeff Galipeaux • Bob Garber • Faith Giordano • Alan Goldsher • Christine Goodman • Anne Lawrence Guyon • Peter Heck • Sam Kerbel • Robert M. Knight • Paul Lamey • Kathryn Lawson • Louise Leetch • Judith Leitch • Peter Lewis • Elsbeth Lindner • Raina Lipsitz • Joe Maniscalco • Melissa A. Marsh • Don McLeese • Gregory McNamee • Sara Miller • Carole Moore • Clayton Moore • Chris Morris • Liza Nelson • Mike Newirth • John Noffsinger • Brandon Nolta • Mike Oppenheim • Jim Piechota • Christofer D. Pierson • Gary Presley • Karah Rempe • Lloyd Sachs • Bob Sanchez • Mihir Shah • Hannah Sheldon-Dean • William P. Shumaker • Alexandra Silverman • Arthur Smith • Wendy Smith • Margot E. Spangenberg • Andria Spencer • Claire Trazenfeld • Rodney Welch • Carol White • Chris White • Joan Wilentz • Melissa Wuske • Alex Zimmerman •


interactive e-books BUT WHAT DOES MOMMY DO AT NIGHT?

interactive e-books for children

Bilien, Lise Illus. by Baufine, Mathilde Nexemble $7.99 | Dec. 7, 2011 1.1; Dec. 17, 2011

ABC INTERACTIVE FLASH CARDS

A particularly odd mix of photographs, graphics and sound bites offers clues about what mommies do when they go out at night. The title of this app from France may raise a few eyebrows, but the raggedly translated text itself suggests that any dubious ideas or phrases may well be victims of language or cultural differences. Among other things, Mommy likes to “have a wild time with her friends,” confide in them about “her little belly that starts to sag” and chatter about everything from nail polish and shoes to concerns over being fat—all of which may resonate with American mothers, whether they’ll admit it or not. But Mommy also likes going to the theater, eating at a grownup restaurant or attending a groovy concert. This app gets high marks for originality and quirkiness, and the concept is solid. The text explains Mommy’s “after hours” activities and does a fair job articulating the five w’s: who, what, when, where and why. Some narration is hyperbolically dramatic, particularly the girlfriend party, where tapping each woman prompts dialogue that ranges from desperation to high-pitched fanatical gushing. Each screen is an arbitrary mashup of photo images, illustrations, unsophisticated animations and interactions that will alternately intrigue (at least initially) and baffle readers. At least it’s not boring. Probably best suited for eccentric folks and hipsters. (iPad storybook app. 5-10)

Alakmalak Alakmalak $1.99 | Dec. 9, 2011 1.0; Dec. 9, 2011

This straightforward ABC app includes a writing pad for little ones to learn and write their ABC’s. In this ABC book, each page features an upper- and lower-case letter, plus an accompanying word: apple for “A,” x-ray (yawn) for “X.” A terrific element of this app is a small drawing space on each page on which kids can use their finger to write or scribble in five different colors, providing an excellent tool for practicing their writing. For such an otherwise thoughtful app, unfortunately, the illustrations can only be described as awful clip-art. The pictures share no consistent style, and some of them have been stretched in alarming ways in a clear attempt to fit a predetermined shape and size. Each picture is slightly animated, but the effort would have been better used in creating (or at least finding) better art. The pleasant background design comes in a variety of colors on different pages to hold interest. Navigation is a very simple forward and back, which makes getting to a specific letter that might require more practice something of a chore. Well-engineered for practicing ABC’s, but marred by inelegant illustrations. (iPad ABC book app. 3-7)

DEAR ZOO

Campbell, Rod Illus. by Campbell, Rod Macmillan UK $2.99 | Dec. 7, 2011 1.0; Dec. 7, 2011 If you write to the zoo to send you a pet, you never know what you’ll get. Based on Campbell’s 1982 lift-theflap nursery favorite, this imagines what happens when you send the zoo a letter, asking for a pet. Page after page introduces a new pet that, once revealed, proves not to be quite right for a variety of reasons... until the perfect one arrives. The animation,

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“Plenty of solid visual and tactile stimulation for little would-be farmers.” from bizzy bear on the farm

BIZZY BEAR ON THE FARM

while simple, is well suited to the story, and the interactivity level is just right. Toddlers will especially love tapping the crates to reveal the animals one by one. Swipe the elephant, and it grows bigger on the page, trumpeting. The grumpy camel’s eye follows readers’ fingers as they move about, the snake slithers across the screen with a finger swipe and the monkey actually “grabs” onto readers’ fingers. Best of all, the story makes its way into the digital world with great intention, serving worn-out parents well. There is simply no guesswork. The “About This App” option on the title page provides detailed navigation tips for getting the most out of the story, and goes even further to indicate all the interactive elements for each animal. There is a matching game available from the title page as well, which aids in word/story retention. The illustrations, while a bit onedimensional, mirror the book. Overall, this pet is a keeper, an animal classic that improves in the digital age. (iPad storybook app. 2-5)

Davies, Benji Nosy Crow $3.99 | Dec. 14, 2011 1.0.1; Dec. 19, 2011

A bear visits Sunny Farm to help with the chores, but he’s pretty helpless without assistance from the toddlers and preschoolers who are “reading” the story. A bus drops Bizzy Bear off at Farmer Joe’s so he can spend the day helping out on the farm. Interactive elements are signaled by flashing blue dots, though most of the time they must be tapped two or more times to activate the feature. Still, there’s plenty of fun for eager little fingertips—turning on the hose to give the dog a drink, putting lambs in their pen, even controlling the gait of a horse and the direction she will go. Bizzy offers running commentary throughout, making constant observations about the scene or harping on what needs to be done: “That dog looks thirsty,” he says, or “Will you help me feed the pigs?” There’s nothing to signal that all of the interactive elements on the page have been found, leaving readers to assess when it’s time to move on. In read-by-myself mode, the amount of time the speech bubbles stay on the screen can be adjusted. Fans of Nosy Crow’s Cinderella (2011) will recognize the British children behind the voiceovers; their opening chant of “Bizzy Beah / Bizzy Beah” is cute but has major earworm potential. Plenty of solid visual and tactile stimulation for little would-be farmers. (iPad storybook app. 2-5)

THE WORST BOOK EVER!

Cypher, Maria Illus. by Marshall, Ray TwizzleTales $0.99 | Dec. 13, 2011 1.0.1; Dec. 18, 2011

Two unfortunate children are treated to a day of “fun.” This title offers ample opportunity to teach children the meaning of irony, or, as the author says, to appreciate “inappropriate humor.” The story begins with the female narrator (presumably their mother) asking brother and sister if they’re ready to have fun. She then proceeds to offer up potential activities. “Let’s go to Cousin Sally’s recital!” she says enthusiastically. Touch the twinkling starburst over Sally’s hands, and she begins to bang recklessly on the keyboard. Among other things, Mom suggests going to the doctor (“Maybe it’ll be shot day!”) and using stinky portable toilets (complete with tinkling and tooting sounds). Each page offers an interactive element that’s signaled by a starburst; among the oddest are tiny octopi that shower a healthy lunch. There are a few activities that parents may not want to associate with the concept of “worst.” For example, the very nature of the book puts visiting great-grandma, brushing and flossing teeth, putting on sunscreen and doing household chores on the same plane as pulling splinters out of your foot, getting a shot, going bra shopping with Mommy and listening to a baby scream his head off. Technologically and artistically juvenile, but still a taste of good cheeky fun. (iPad storybook app. 4-8)

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ROBINSON CRUSOE

Defoe, Daniel Bee Gang $0.99 | Dec. 15, 2011 1.0; Dec. 15, 2011

A drastically abbreviated and uncommonly inept version of the classic survival tale. Crusoe’s paraphrased narrative sweeps through the original’s major events up to the stranded traveler’s rescue—then on the last page suddenly cuts to a scene from Defoe’s lesser-known sequel for a one paragraph account of Friday’s death. The classic tale has been slashed to 15 screens of large text that is well-stocked with typos and interleaved with clumsy, sometimes irrelevant tilt- or touch-sensitive cartoon illustrations. Interactive effects include a “shooting gallery” in which the rifle points away from the moving pirate and a platter that inexplicably slides back and forth on the table in Crusoe’s shack. There are several screens on which foliage that can’t be completely moved aside covers parts of the text, and the superfluous firelit set of grimacing “cannibals” and flickable skulls have nothing whatsoever to do with the accompanying narrative. Furthermore, the menu’s index icon opens a tiny window |

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almost impossible to scroll, and (in this version) the changelanguage icon shows only an option for English. Readers themselves will be in need of rescue from this abominable adaptation. (iPad storybook app. 9-11)

when the text says, “Alpo slips and falls to the ground.” Jimmy happens to have a pink baby buggy strapped to the top of his jalopy, which becomes Alpo’s makeshift ambulance. On the way to the zoo to get medical care, Alpo asks several creatures to either “kiss his leg better” or put a plaster on it. Everyone declines except Alma, who has the magic lips that miraculously heal his boo-boo (leaving readers wondering if Alpo is either a shrewd ladykiller or a hypochondriac who craves attention). The best thing about the app is narrator Sean Connelly, who delivers a lively and entertaining reading of the pedestrian text. With a little more ingenuity, creativity, interactive depth and literary effort, this app could’ve peeked its head over the “average” bar. But as it is, Alpo is still doing the limbo. (iPad storybook app. 3-6)

IN FRONT OF MY HOUSE

Dubuc, Marianne Illus. by Dubuc, Marianne WingedChariot $2.99 | Nov. 16, 2011 1.0; Nov. 16, 2011

Just beyond your front door is an entire universe of imagination. This is one whale of an excursion, simply written and featuring childlike illustrations to transport readers from one new discovery to another. It is one of those rare books that, despite its 120-page girth, moves quickly from the narrator’s known world into familiar fairy tales, to the sea, around the zoo, to the far reaches of a child’s imagination. Young ones (pre-readers and readers alike) will be transfixed, wondering what’s around the next preposition. The voiced narration is both comforting and whimsical. Unfortunately, the technical deficiencies in the digital version of Debuc’s story have padlocked the door of the house. There are no cues to help readers know where to swipe the pages, and the swipe trigger itself is either too sensitive or not sensitive enough. There is no read-it-myself option, no page guide, no index and no sound effects whatsoever, save the music on the title page and at the end. The menu contains no help at all, other than an English/ French option. And the only real interactive offering here is the ability to move the pulsing objects around the page. So many digital opportunities lost: What is that green, furry hand sticking out of the closet? No way to find out. The family of rabbits, the extraterrestrial, the pirate, the teeny-weeny octopus—they should not be silent in an adventure like this. Simply put, this wonderful book deserves nothing less than a digital do-over. (iPad storybook app. 3-8)

A SPECIAL TREASURE

Loman, Sam Illus. by Loman, Sam Atmos BV $4.99 | Dec. 10, 2011 Series: Lisa & Lilly, 1.0; Dec. 10, 2011

This pleasantly illustrated story app is marred by lack of attention to detail and an ending that entreats the viewer to buy additional apps. Lisa and Lilly are apparently famous in Norway for their own stationery line. In this adventure, they head to the beach with their pets and follow a treasure map to find a treasure. The art is appealing and the story is solid, but there are some problems that drag this app down. Most importantly, there are background elements missing that only become clear in another download, Meet Lisa and Lilly (which, to be fair, is free). For instance, viewers will be confused when they are asked to look for Lucky (the “fairy cat” is never introduced), readers who don’t know that Dolly is a “cloud dog” will wonder how it is she can fly. The interactive elements don’t always work well, and without the info icon on each page they might never even be found. That said, there is a cute puzzle on one page and a suitcase activity on another. The optional English /Norwegian narration is quite agreeable, and navigation is smooth. The story ends with a shameless commercial appeal: “Hurry up Birdie and Lucky. We need to go to the app store,” says Dolly. “There are more Lisa and Lilly apps we can download!” Yuck. More care with details and less outright commercialism would raise this app out of the ordinary (iPad storybook app. 3-7)

ALPO FINDS ALMA

Lemmetty, Jukka Illus. by Lemmetty, Jukka Tapisodes $2.99 | Aug. 17, 2011 1.1; Aug. 25, 2011

After falling off the roof of his doghouse, Alpo enlists his friend Jimmy to help him find “first aid.” There’s not much in this app that justifies its presence on the iPad—a conventional book coupled with a willing narrator would accomplish almost as much. An airplane slides through the sky and a cow “chews” her cud; it doesn’t get much more exciting than that. Alpo sheds tears and rubs his leg after falling off the doghouse, but it would’ve been nice to see the action |

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“Unlikely friends Sparky and Dax both entertain and deliver a message disguised by humor and fun.” from sparky the shark

SPARKY THE SHARK A Frighteningly Funny Adventure

(“movement” that’s often reminiscent of a lenticular image) and a few subpar tap/tilt features. The background music, which might be equally effective at a silent movie, can be switched on or off, as can narration and sound effects. Language selections include English, Korean, Chinese and Japanese. Far from purr-fect, this app still offers a few redeeming qualities. Are they worth the price of admission? Probably not. (iPad storybook app. 3-7)

Mantle, Paula & Newell, Mark Illus. by Mantle, Paula & Newell, Mark Biscuit Interactive $1.99 | Nov. 30, 2011 1.1; Dec. 7, 2011

An interactive and silly adventure featuring Sparky, a shark, and his penguin buddy, Dax, and their quest to fit in on the beach. When the people of Magneto Island ban sharks from their beaches, Sparky the shark is heartbroken, especially as this new rule eliminates him from an upcoming sand-sculpture competition. Not to be deterred, the unlikely duo embarks on a shopping spree on land to find a “people-pleasing” disguise that will enable Sparky to compete. However, once at the competition, Sparky learns the best way to fit in at the beach is to just be himself. Each screen features bold and bright illustrations, which feature interactive, although not always obvious, elements that move and make a variety of zany noises when tapped. Adding to the interactivity is a read-to-me version done in an easy-to-follow Australian accent. Extras include an additional feature that lets users disguise Sparky by dragging and dropping silly wigs, wild variations of teeth and zany pairs of eyes onto a model with the option of easily saving a screen shot of their creation. Unlikely friends Sparky and Dax both entertain and deliver a message disguised by humor and fun. (iPad storybook app. 5-8)

PUNKY DUNK AND THE GOLD FISH

Moo Goo Media Moo Goo Media (11 pp.) $0.99 | Sep. 23, 2011 1.1.1; Dec. 3, 2011

A goldfish-stalking kitty learns to mind his own business in this low-tech, feebly told tale. Sometimes meter and rhyme coalesce into a unified force that tells an exceptionally creative story. Unfortunately, this narrative isn’t one of them. Throughout the app’s 11 pages, there are several instances where language and rhyme seem to have been commandeered to oblige the rhythm of the verse. “The fish globe round, he reached with a bound / And stood with his paws on the rim / Looking in with an air that was certain to scare / The fishes they looked at him.” The “touch and play” features are no more than basic. A ball floats, the kitty and fish sway and occasionally Punky bobs or falls. There is one inventive feature: When bubbles pop they produce an explosion of water droplets, complete with popping sound effects. Old-fashioned–looking illustrations are showcased on a blue background that’s watermarked with stenciled swirls. There’s a stop and play button on each page that controls narration, but voiceover and music can also be switched off entirely. The bonus game is briefly entertaining but altogether unchallenging. This app isn’t a train wreck by any means; just a perfunctory story told without much technological depth or literary imagination. (iPad storybook app. 3-6)

TOBY AND HIS DEAR FRIEND

Mariecat Graphics Centum Interactive $3.99 | Nov. 4, 2011 1.0.1; Nov. 16, 2011 A kitten observes his caterpillar pal’s transformation into a butterfly. Toby the kitten notices a caterpillar caught in a spider web. He rescues the green, wormlike creature and names him Plumpy, and they become best friends. Eventually Plumpy spins a cocoon and Toby thinks he’s dead, so he buries him. Later a swallowtail butterfly appears and—of course—is the new and improved Plumpy. The only solid appeal in this app lies in the artistic bonus features. It employs the requisite generic painting tools but also offers “Decalcomanie” (a deficient term to describe the function), which transfers mirror images from one side of the page to another. Creations can be saved and/or emailed. Colorful and sharp retro illustrations are initially visually appealing yet tiringly repetitive, and the lackluster story contains several clues (syntax, spelling) that English is a foreign language, at least to the South Korean development team. Interaction consists of prompting animal sounds, colorizing grayscale images, shuffling cats across the screen 224

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BITA’S MAGIC CIRCUS

Mr. Plot Mr. Plot $1.99 | Nov. 20, 2011 1.0; Nov. 20, 2011

A likable-enough new app series that takes place in a magical traveling circus still feels like it’s finding its (trapeze) footing. Available currently as a free introductory app and a second paid app, the stories are about tophat–wearing, red-mustache–bearing Bita and his crew of magical performers. Bita himself has a neat trick: He can produce an entire gigantic circus tent from a small bottle he carries in his coat pocket. The first app introduces such characters as the |

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“More a showcase for the possibilities technology, this intriguing app is stuffed with lively activities and eye-catching visuals.” from x is for x-ray

strongman Rudolfo, the magician Oto, a contortionist, a tightrope walker and a clown who can blow up his body. (No worries: It’s more like disassembled puzzle pieces and not at all bloody.) Unfortunately, it’s little more than colorful character sketches cleverly advertising the rest of the series. The second app shows an actual performance and tackles an occupational hazard: The exploding clown keeps falling apart whenever he sneezes. The stiff text reads as if translated by an amateur (“It was night and he needed to rest before beginning the work of his magic-and-stillmysterious circus, at least for those people”). But the illustrations are warm and beautifully colored, characterized by simple shapes and bold lines. The performers manage to stand out from stereotypical circus types with what are hinted to be magical powers. There’s lots of room for improvement, specifically in the storytelling (of which there is very little). But as an introduction to a potentially interesting new world, it’s worth a peek under the big top. (iPad storybook app. 3-6)

Toned down—the cat doesn’t kill but only captures the prey he presents to the king; the ogre-turned-mouse skittering about the screen vanishes instantly with a touch and a “Thank You”— and slightly shortened, the story comes with small illustrations (on most but not all screens) that will display minor animations or size changes in response to a touch or noise. These are keyed by instructions like “hold Puss [sic] hand to bring out the rabbit” or “knock the door [sic] according to the Morse code indicated” (said code being an inscrutable “S • • •”). There is no audio narration, and the unidentified recording of the “1812 Overture” that serves as background music throughout switches suddenly for the final wedding scene to a funky percussive beat. Page turns are triggered by pulling the whiskers of a cat at the top of each page, which is a nice touch. Amid the barrel full of Puss’ digital appearances, this one falls toward the bottom. (iPad storybook app. 7-9)

X IS FOR X-RAY

OLYMPIA’S TALES

Natale, Giulia Illus. by Gilardi, Valentina PaddyBooks Dec. 14, 2011 1.0; Dec. 14, 2011 Sunny illustrations and clever interactivity can’t save this poorly translated storybook about a 6-year-old girl. Things start off extremely badly in what appears to be the first of a series of apps. The first page reads, “Somewhere in the world, in a lively borough of a quiet town something extraordinary but normal is about to happen.” That something is the impending birth of a baby girl, Olympia. Readers next see her as a burping baby, then as a bespectacled young girl who loves to draw and play with her pet tortoise. There’s a dress-up game, a visit from an aunt bearing a present and a strange ending followed by “To be continued...” This would be frustrating if any tension had built up to it. The cozy, bright drawings are nice enough, but the writing and narration are so clunky that Olympia’s story never ingratiates itself with readers. It’s a pretty, hollow exercise in screen taps within a tale that never really goes anywhere. Perhaps Olympia’s tales will grow into something lovely, but this first installment lacks too much to spur further downloads. At least it’s brief. (iPad storybook app. 2-6)

PUSS IN BOOTS

Perrault, Charles Hex Studio $0.99 | Nov. 29, 2011 1.0; Nov. 29, 2011

Rosenthal, Paul Photos by Turvey, Hugh TouchPress $7.99 | Nov. 28, 2011 1.0.2; Dec. 6, 2011 More a showcase for the possibilities of iPad design than a primer on X-ray technology, this intriguing app is stuffed with lively activities and eye-catching visuals. As in previous show-stopping iPad apps from TouchPress, March of the Dinosaurs (2011) and Solar System (2010), education and reference are excuses to display gorgeous images that can be rotated and played within a variety of ways. In this case, the 26 A-to-Z objects are items that were X-ray photographed by Turvey, who in his study of everyday objects in the 1990s showed the fascinating inner workings of motorcycles, a human hand, a teakettle and other objects. This app collects them, pairing each object with a page of text (typically a history, assorted facts or, in the case of “Nuts,” a recipe for almond biscotti), a short set of couplets read by actor Kerry Shale and the X-ray view itself. This can be viewed by swiping downward on the object. A black top hat, for instance, reveals the ghostly image of a rabbit inside. The rhymes are lively (for “Engine”: “In an engine gas explodes. / Pistons jump like tiny toads”), and the text write-ups are fascinating, if a little wordy. While the haphazard nature of its subjects (“Drums,” “Jack-in-the-box,” “Whistle”) make it less useful than a guide to the universe or a dinosaur encyclopedia, this is still an excellent plaything, built by artists who clearly know how to design with an eye for delight on the iPad. (iPad informational app. 4-12)

An undistinguished edition of the familiar tale, pairing a standard, lightly edited 19th-century text to a scanty assortment of grainy public-domain pictures. |

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TREASURE ISLAND A Space Dog Book

Stevenson, Robert Louis Illus. by Cruickshank, Matthew Space Dog Books $7.99 | Dec. 15, 2011 1.2; Dec. 21, 2011

Atmospheric sound effects and robust illustrations give this lightly abridged version of the classic all the extra swash it can buckle. It opens with a wordless animated segment showing Billy Bones’ arrival at the Admiral Benbow Inn and ends with a final fade to black over slurred voices singing “Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum.” In between, Stevenson’s yarn of buried treasure and treachery gets plenty of apt enhancements. Along with creaking timbers, crying sea gulls and other background sounds, nearly all of the frequent full- or partial-screen illustrations bear interactions. Tattooed figures mutter or comment (“Ay, keep diggin’, ye lubbers”), and muskets fire with a tap; there are also tilt-sensitive ropes, signs and shipboard scenes. A pull of the ribbon at the top of each double-columned screen brings down icons for hints, a chapter index and a shortcut to the opening page. Though not the only seaworthy adaptation around, still a hearty swig of pirate adventure—just the ticket to entice young lubbers aboard. (iPad storybook app. 11-13)

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fiction CARRY THE ONE

ANY DAY NOW

Anshaw, Carol Simon & Schuster (288 pp.) $25.00 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-1-4516-3688-8

Bisson, Terry Overlook (288 pp.) $24.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-59020-709-3

From a 1983 wedding through Election Day 2008, Anshaw (Lucky in the Corner, 2002, etc.) tracks a Chicago family unsettled by a fatal accident. It’s no accident that the driver of the car that kills 10-year-old Casey Redman is the extremely stoned girlfriend of Nick, brother of the bride. Nick’s growing addiction is one of the subplots in a tender but often somber story centered on his family. His sister Carmen, whose marriage to Matt sets the plot in motion (and doesn’t last long), is a political activist, marginally more acceptable to their deeply conventional mother Loretta than sibling Alice, an artist and lesbian who suffers an agonizing passion for Matt’s sexually conflicted sister Maude. At least Carmen produces a child, while Alice has made the mistake of competing with their father Horace, an egocentric, domineering painter. Olivia, the stoned driver, goes to jail and straightens up; for a while after she gets out, it seems she’ll keep Nick in line, but he loves getting high too much. Nick, Alice and Carmen are all haunted by memories of the dead girl—Alice knows her series of paintings of Casey are her best work but refuses to show them—yet Anshaw doesn’t suggest the accident fundamentally changed the arcs of their lives; her understanding of human fallibility and existential contingency is too subtle for that kind of artistic determinism. Instead, she quietly follows her characters through the usual stuff of growing up and growing older: marriages, breakups, material success and spiritual uncertainty. Not since Roxana Robinson’s Cost (2008) has a novel so bluntly depicted the impact of addiction on a family, but that isn’t the whole story here. Loving but judgmental Carmen and skittish but fundamentally sound Alice have their own odysseys to pursue; Carmen’s evolving relationships with Gabe, son from her first marriage, and with Rob, the second husband who’s not at all what she thought she wanted, are particularly sensitively drawn. Sharply observed and warmly understanding—another fine piece of work from this talented author. (Agent: Joy Harris)

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Kentuckian Clay Bauer moves from an early infatuation with Beat poetry to radicalism in this coming-of-age novel set in the 1950s and ‘60s. When you’re interested in the writings Kerouac and Ginsberg—and the cool jazz of Brubeck and Jamal—but are growing up in Owensboro, Ky., life can be tough, for you’re bound to be out-of-sync with the prevailing cultural norms. Clay’s mother intends for him to go to Vanderbilt, but he never quite gets around to applying, so toward the end of the summer after his high-school graduation he hastily enrolls at Gideon, a small liberal-arts college in Minnesota. There he finds a few more simpatico friends than he had in Owensboro, but eventually even college feels confining, so Clay packs up for New York City, a place more congenial to his spirit. (He likes finding John Coltrane rather than Marty Robbins on the jukebox.) He digs life there (yes, he uses language like that) and hooks up with Mary Claire (aka EmCee), whose radicalism leads to her death as she’s making bombs in her upscale townhome. The explosion puts Clay at risk as well, so he goes on the lam to a commune in Colorado, where the inhabitants labor to make a geodesic dome. Although Bisson takes us through the political developments of the time period, he also creates a weird alternate history—in which Hubert Humphrey becomes president and Martin Luther King is thwarted from becoming vice-president—as a backdrop to the action of Clay and his countercultural cohorts. Bisson builds his story up in relatively small chunks of prose, and while we don’t lose the narrative thread, after a while the technique becomes tedious.

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“A funky little action comedy that whips enough social satire and ethical dilemmas on readers to enlighten while it entertains.” from lucky bastard

COUNTRY OF THE BAD WOLFES

Blake, James Carlos Cinco Puntos (368 pp.) $16.95 paperback | Jan. 10, 2012 978-1-935955-03-0 A rollicking, shaggy-doggish yarn of life in 19th and early-20th-century Mexico and the Wild West by prolific historical novelist Blake (The Pistoleer, 1995, etc.). The author concentrates on telling a tale that on its face is simple, but that acquires depth as it moves across generations and national boundaries. Based on family history, Blake’s story begins in New England, its chief characters, at the start, the twin sons of an adventurous ship’s captain long lost at sea—or so their mother tells them. In fact, papa is a rolling stone, and so, it seems, are all the Wolfes, who just can’t stay put. Pop, we learn, also had an establishing trait: “He was not tall but carried himself as a tall man.” And so, across the bloodlines, do the other Wolfes, stiff-necked in their pride, always ready for a scrap—and, for that matter, a dalliance of the sort that Blake describes in language that would earn a film version an R rating (“breasts upraised and nipples puckered and lean belly sloping to a rubric delta”). Blake doesn’t mind a boudoir, but his real strengths come in describing manly mayhem during a time of revolution, as well as death, which he portrays with uncommon poetry (“He felt his entire body constrict and he doubled over, hugging himself, breathless, his cry stoppered in his throat”). In such matters, Cormac McCarthy’s tutelary spirit is all over this book, but there are soupçons of García Márquez as well (“in the final days of 1910, some years after finally accepting that she was past all possibility of conception and at last acquiescing to sexual intercourse with Amos Bentley...”). We’re in McCarthy territory in much of Blake’s latest, but without the dazzling verbal pyrotechnics. That’s not to say that the book is derivative—merely that it keeps good company. Blake’s tale is involved and a touch too long, but full of wry humor and thoughtful writing.

LUCKY BASTARD

Browne, S.G. Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster (320 pp.) $23.00 | Apr. 17, 2012 978-1-4516-5719-7 A San Francisco private eye gets up to his ears in femme fatales, the Chinese mob and one hell of a run of bad luck. Proving that his wildly inventive debut Breathers (2009) was no flash-in-the-pan, satirical storyteller Browne (Fated, 2010, etc.) hits the funny bone hard with another supernaturally themed comedy. Following on the heels of zombie boyfriend Andy Warner and Fated’s beleaguered bureaucrat Fabio, this time Browne introduces P.I. Nick 228

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Monday. He’s a slave to routine who eats Lucky Charms every morning, has a thing for cute barista girls and spends his days in his shabby little office off Union Square. Except—there’s always an exception to reality in Browne’s twisted little fantasies—Nick is also one of the few hundred people in America who are able to poach luck, and then sell it on the black market. Nick explains, in his soft-boiled, noir-tinged prose: “But even though people pay good money to acquire it, for those who aren’t born with it, good luck can be unpredictable. Fickle. Which I suppose is why it’s frequently personified as a lady. And like the song says, sometimes it has a way of running out.” Nick’s trouble begins when a knockout named Tuesday Knight breezes in with an offer of $100,000 to recover her father’s stolen luck. Not long after, a Chinese crime boss named Tommy Wong tries to strong-arm Nick into poaching a particularly rare form of luck. Meanwhile, a couple of government agents are on Nick’s tail, and who knows what motivates the mysterious Scooter Girl orbiting around the whole scene. Like his previous works, Browne’s latest is smartly constructed fiction with a likable hero and a peculiar sense of humor that sets it apart from the crowd. Unpredictable plots and dapper dialogue tie the whole pretty package together. A funky little action comedy that whips enough social satire and ethical dilemmas on readers to enlighten while it entertains.

ARCTIC RISING

Buckell, Tobias S. Tor (304 pp.) $24.99 | Feb. 28, 2012 978-0-7653-1921-0 This fast-paced near-future thriller delivers a combination of geopolitical intrigue and technological speculation, only flagging as it reaches its jumbled conclusion. Buckell (Sly Mongoose, 2008, etc.) comes down to Earth from the outer-space settings of his earlier sci-fi novels, with a story set just a few decades in the future, as global warming has opened a whole new avenue for shipping and trade in the Arctic Circle. Rather than depicting an apocalyptic doomsday scenario along the lines of The Day After Tomorrow, Buckell envisions global warming as a slow process with far-reaching but gradually accumulating consequences. Thanks to the opening of the Northwest Passage, so-called “Arctic Tiger” countries, including Canada and Greenland, have emerged as new world powers. The novel’s protagonist is a Nigerian named Anika Duncan, who works for the United Nations Polar Guard, an international agency that polices the semi-lawless Arctic Circle region. When Anika’s airship is shot down by rogue seamen from the deck of a vessel carrying a nuclear device, she’s plunged into a conspiracy that involves secret agents, underworld figures and a seemingly benevolent green-energy corporation with a sinister agenda. Buckell focuses as much on action-thriller set pieces as he does on teasing out a plausible future, placing the novel somewhere around the intersection of Michael Crichton

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and William Gibson. That balance holds until the climax, which mixes awkward speechifying with breathless, confusing action sequences that seem to exist solely to increase the body count. The nuances of Buckell’s ideas about environmental policy also end up obliterated by the reveal of a megalomaniacal villain who holds the world hostage with what amounts to a high-tech death ray. Anika remains grounded and sympathetic throughout, though, and the author’s vision of the development of Arctic civilization is consistently fascinating. Buckell successfully draws the reader in with his characters and ideas, only to blow things up a little too thoroughly by the end. (Agents: Eddie Schneider and Joshua Bilmes)

SONOMA ROSE

Chiaverini, Jennifer Dutton (416 pp.) $27.50 | Feb. 21, 2012 978-0-525-95264-0 Chiaverini’s latest Elm Creek Quilts novel revisits Prohibition-era California. For Rosa Barclay, marriage to taciturn and occasionally violent postmaster John is hellish, despite the verdant Southern California valley where they live and farm. For reasons that are exhaustively (and needlessly for readers of a prequel, Quilter’s Homecoming) detailed in flashbacks, Rosa chose John over her true love, unreliable drunkard Lars, whose family owns the apricot orchards her own ancestors lost decades before. When her parents learn that Rosa’s first child, Marta, was actually Lars’, they disown her (although her mother visits secretly). Lars leaves town after a last tryst with Rosa. When she discovers valises crammed with cash in the barn, she wonders why John refuses to seek better medical treatment for a hereditary wasting disease (from John’s side of the family) afflicting their children Ana and Miguel. (Four other children died of the disease.) In fact, only Marta and 5-year-old Lupita are healthy, inflaming John’s suspicions about their paternity. His abuse of Rosa increases until a particularly savage beating forces Rosa and the children to flee. Equipped with some of John’s cash (proceeds of bootlegging, which leads to his arrest and imprisonment), Rosa rejoins a sober and penitent Lars. They consult a San Francisco specialist who correctly diagnoses the children’s condition. Under assumed names the fugitive family sets up housekeeping as hired hands at a Sonoma winery owned by the Cacchione clan. Like many vintners, the Cacchiones can’t wait out Prohibition without going bankrupt, unless they bootleg their wine. After a raid led by evil federal agent Crowell, and threatening letters sent by John from prison, Lars and Rosa “launder” John’s remaining cash by purchasing their own vineyard in Glen Ellen. How long before John, Crowell and the gangsters operating in Rosa’s own backyard close in? Choked by repetitive exposition, the novel wheezes to life in the last 75 pages, only to end too abruptly. Like an overgrown vine, this book could have benefited from extreme pruning. |

WIDE OPEN

Coates, Deborah Tor (320 pp.) $24.99 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-7653-2898-4 Coates’ debut novel scores from a reader’s point of view, despite the author’s repetitiveness and clunky writing style. Hallie Michaels has returned from the war in Afghanistan, but her arrival at the rural South Dakota ranch of her childhood isn’t cause for celebration: She has returned to help bury her older sister, Dell, who died in a fiery crash in what local law enforcement infers was a case of suicide. But Hallie knows that Dell didn’t kill herself, and even though she only has 10 days in which to prove her sister was murdered before returning to her Army post, the sergeant is determined to prove her theory. Of course, Hallie has a little supernatural help in the form of her sister’s ghost, a cold, silent presence that only she can see. While most would be put off when trailed by a ghost, Hallie takes it in stride because she’s also hauling around another ghost named Eddie, a friend killed in Afghanistan. Soon other ghosts join Hallie in her search for her sister’s killer, whose death she is certain is tied to a company owned by Martin Weber. And the ghosts aren’t her only allies because Hallie also finds herself working with a deputy named Boyd, who has secrets of his own. Unsure as to whether Boyd is friend or foe, Hallie circles him with care, while the stakes grow higher and the danger mounts. Eventually, though, Hallie must rely on her own sense of survival, especially when forces she can’t explain try to take her down. Peopled with taciturn characters that pull emotional punches, Coates’ book introduces a closeknit community that takes care of its own. However, the characters’ quirky shared propensities for uttering the same four-letter word no matter what the situation handicaps the dialogue. An interesting plot and compelling characters are dragged down by unwieldy dialogue and a climax in which the action is not adequately explained, suggesting there will be a sequel. (Agent: Caitlin Blasdell)

THE SECOND TIME WE MET

Cobo, Leila Grand Central Publishing (384 pp.) $13.99 paperback | Feb. 29, 2012 978-0-446-51938-0 A capable though lackluster second novel from Colombian-American novelist Cobo (Tell Me Something True, 2009) about an American man searching Bogotá for his birthmother. The book begins in Colombia during the era of guerrillas and paramilitary fighters and small towns that are captive to their power struggles. A quiet village is invaded by a group of

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guerrilla soldiers from the mountains, and their leader Gato has taken a shine to Rita Ortiz, a prim, studious girl. Armed and dangerous, Gato, or Lucas, is really just a boy himself, and the two teenagers sneak off for afternoon trysts. When his commanding officer discovers the affair, Lucas is sent back to their mountain camp as punishment. This could have been merely a bump in Rita’s well-planned life, but soon she discovers she’s pregnant and is sent away before she shames her strict family. She lives in an orphanage while pregnant and works at a flower farm, giving up her baby as soon as he is born. Despite having been a top student with dreams for a prosperous future, Rita stays away from her family and takes a job as a maid. Her baby is adopted by an American couple; two decades later, after a nearfatal car accident (one that ruins his future as a soccer player), Asher Stone goes to Colombia in search of his mother. Though he has caring parents, he asks the same questions many adopted children have: Who I am, I and where do I come from? How Rita Ortiz disappears and reemerges as Joanna López is a far more interesting story than Asher’s search for answers, and when the novel leaves Rita it slows to a halt with Asher’s musings about his origins. It is not clear why his brush with death has sent him halfway around the world. Instead of a focused urgency, his search holds a kind of vague desperation that loses the reader’s attention. The heart of the novel—about a young Colombian girl— shines, but the search for an adoptive mother feels uninspired.

DEATH OF KINGS

Cornwell, Bernard Harper/HarperCollins (336 pp.) $25.99 | Jan. 17, 2012 978-0-06-196965-2 It’s 898, and life in pre-England is messy, turbulent, quite likely to be short and vividly evoked in Cornwell’s masterful 46th novel (The Burning Land, 2010, etc.). “ ‘I hate peace,’ ” snarls old soldier Uhtred, who regards periods of relative tranquility—not that these abound in his embattled land—as opportunities for his enemies to mount conspiracies against him and, by extension, King Alfred of Wessex, to whom he has sworn allegiance. Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg: clever, resourceful, intemperate, charming, feared by most men and adored by too many women. In tribute to his generalship and the unparalleled success he’s had in repelling invasions through the years, the ever-marauding Danes refer to him bleakly as the Sword of the Saxons. It’s King Alfred’s cherished dream to reshape an unruly collection of tribes into a thing called England. He wants it to be Christian and cohesive enough to drive the Danes back into the sea once and for all. The Christian part is what Uhtred is out of sympathy with. In his view the new religion replaces joy with hypocrisy, a bad bargain, he thinks. Uhtred prefers the old ways when the proper blood sacrifice could propitiate essentially undemanding gods and tip a teetering battle toward victory. But now Alfred’s reign is in its final stages and no one, 230

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Uhtred included, can quite figure the geopolitical implications of the aftermath. All agree, however, that it will be unsettled. Worried about the succession, Alfred asks Uhtred to transfer his allegiance to his son Edward, and Uhtred agrees, albeit reluctantly—Edward is no Alfred. The great King dies, smoldering grudges ignite, alliances shift, armies clash and Uhtred is once again a happy warrior. The surprise is that Cornwell’s love scenes are as deft as his action scenes, though far fewer, of course—all driven by a hard-shelled, sporadically soft-hearted, always charismatic protagonist: George Clooney alert.

PERLA

De Robertis, Carolina Knopf (256 pp.) $25.95 | Mar. 30, 2012 978-0-307-59959-9 The ghost of Argentina’s Dirty War quite literally haunts a woman whose father supported the junta’s brutality. Perla, the narrator of the second novel by De Robertis (The Invisible Mountain, 2009), is a young university student who’s spent much of her life keeping a dark secret: Her father was a naval officer who during the late 1970s and early ‘80s helped round up the “disappeared,” dissidents who were arrested and executed by the military regime, often dropped into the Atlantic Ocean from airplanes. That dark history has shaped her friendships and complicated her romantic relationship with a journalist investigating the Dirty War. But that legacy becomes unavoidable to her when a man appears in Perla’s home, soaked and dank-smelling and constantly thirsty. He’s a ghost of one of the disappeared, but also quite real: The water that he can’t shake off soaks the apartment. His surreal presence unlocks a host of memories for Perla, and the novel alternates between her perspective, as she recalls her difficult relationship with her father, and the stranger’s perspective, as he recalls the horrific rapes and other abuses he suffered while in military custody. The tone is mournful, but the book is as much romance as tragedy: De Robertis favors long, luxurious sentences that help give the novel a sense of uplift. That style makes for a few fecund, overwritten passages, but on the whole the story is remarkably convincing: The ghost is an effective metaphor for the history Perla’s family can’t suppress, and De Robertis is clearly attuned to the afteraffects of the dictatorship on contemporary Argentina, where it still fills books, newspapers and TV reports. We are products of our times, she means to say, but past history isn’t necessarily our destiny. An elegantly written and affecting meditation on life in the wake of atrocity. (Author tour to Austin, Miami, New York and San Francisco)

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“A memorable evocation of the defiant thrill of jazz at a terrible time.” from half -blood blues

EGYPT

Drake, Nick Harper/HarperCollins (352 pp.) $24.99 | Dec. 1, 2011 978-0-06-076594-1 Ancient Egypt’s chief detective undertakes a secret mission away from home just as the government at Thebes is inconveniently in turmoil. A disturbing tide of violence in Thebes leaves chief detective Rahotep, who narrates in crisp first person, a bit disillusioned. The murder and decapitation of several Nubian boys have given him a severe case of insomnia. Rahotep also works occasionally as a bodyguard for his wealthy friend Nakht, who fails to lift him from his dark mood. Things go from bad to worse with the abrupt death of the young Pharaoh, King Tutankhamun. In her struggle to hold her newfound power, his widow, Queen Ankhesenamun, reminds Rahotep of his close bond with her mother and his promise of protection. She sends him on a secret mission north with Nakht to persuade Suppiluliuma, the King of the Hitties, to sanction the marriage of one of his sons to the Egyptian Queen. Rahotep’s daughters entreat him not to go, and with reason. The arduous trip involves nearly two weeks of daily northward travel. His adventure leads to the murder of one of his friends, who is a member of his caravan and, as the result of a papyrus left in the victim’s mouth, the discovery of a dangerous opium ring. Maps, a cast list and quotations from The Book of the Dead are welcome accouterments to Drake’s third Rahotep mystery (Tutankhamun: The Book of Shadows, 2010, etc.). It moves a bit slowly into the realm of mystery but offers a consistently fascinating and believable portrait of ancient Egypt.

HALF-BLOOD BLUES

Edugyan, Esi Picador (336 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Feb. 28, 2012 978-1-250-01270-8 In Edugyan’s second novel, finalist for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, some jazz musicians find their music and lives endangered in Nazi Germany and occupied Paris. Paris 1940. Nazis everywhere. The musicians are huddled in a shabby apartment. One of them, without papers, goes out on a reckless search for milk. Bam! He’s arrested and deported to a German camp. Edugyan (a Canadian of Ghanaian descent) has incorporated the novel’s climax in this taut opening. Just who are these guys? Two of them, the well-delineated Sid Griffiths and Chip Jones, are lifelong friends from Baltimore. Chip the drummer is black; Sid, the bass player and narrator, is fair enough to pass for white. (He refuses.) They arrived in swinging Berlin in the 1920’s and joined forces with three German players. Years |

later, one of the Germans discovered a jazz prodigy, Hieronymus Falk, the kid (he’s barely 20). Trumpeter Hiero fronts for the band and is the central character. He’s mixed race (African father, German mother), but it’s hard to remember he’s German when we only hear him use black American slang (overdone). He’s also a student of the classics and reads Herodotus. All this is a heavy burden for young shoulders, and it’s hard to locate the individual inside the mystique. That mystique, however, causes Louis Armstrong, in 1939, to summon Hiero and the band to Paris to cut a record. His emissary is the beautiful, light-skinned singer Delilah, with whom Sid falls disastrously in love. Another disaster ensues when he messes up at the recording session; but Hiero soars, leading Satchmo to call him Little Louis. There is some sag in the second (Parisian) half, as Sid stews in self-pity and jealousy of Hiero, before the latter’s deportation. A coda, awkwardly interpolated, finds Sid and Chip in Berlin in 1992, where shocking allegations in a documentary on Hiero test their friendship. A memorable evocation of the defiant thrill of jazz at a terrible time.

SAILOR

Epperson, Tom Forge (336 pp.) $24.99 | Mar. 27, 2012 978-0-7653-2892-2 A former mob wife whose testimony put her abusive ex in the slammer flees witness protection in Oklahoma when baddies, including a corrupt and bungling federal marshal, start killing people around her and her young son. To her rescue comes a reformed one-time mercenary in Los Angeles whose Zen outlook won’t prevent him from protecting mother and son at all costs. Few thrillers start as ultra-violently as this one, in which characters good and bad get shot, stabbed and set on fire before the hero, known only as Gray, is barely introduced. Epperson, who wrote the film One False Move with Billy Bob Thornton and the noir-ish Hollywood novel, The Kind One, gives us several sets of competing mobsters and hit men, most of them in the category of dumb or dumber. They all want to lay their hands on Gina, former wife of imprisoned Joey Cicala, and the stolen diamonds she has in her possession. Joey is fine with killing her but wants his son, whom other bad guys see as prime goods for the sex trade, returned to him. It takes Gina a while to trust Gray, but ultimately she welcomes his military skills and his surrogate-fathering abilities. The book is something of a cross between Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels and Elmore Leonard’s goon-filled crime books. Unfortunately, Gray couldn’t be a blander Reacher wannabe, and the book lacks Leonard’s economy. Two-thirds of the way through, a long and unnecessary sequence tells of Gray’s life-changing experiences on foreign soil, including the fictitious African nation of Kangari, where he was unable to save the love of his life. Possibly Epperson should have saved it for another novel.

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As a novel of pursuit, this one has more than enough plot and characters to keep things lively, but without a charismatic hero, it never rises to a proper level of excitement.

THE MERCURY FOUNTAIN

Factor, Eliza Akashic (280 pp.) $15.95 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-61775-036-6

In the early years of the 20th century, Owen Scraperton tries to establish a Utopian community around a Mercury mine in the hardscrabble landscape of southwest Texas, but his efforts, not surprisingly, wind up in failure. At first life seems good in Pristina, the aptly named community Owen labors to develop. He has his workers subscribe to a number of morally admirable principles involving Clarity, Unity and Purpose. The pragmatic results of these principles involve the dignity of labor, a ban on alcohol, gambling and tobacco, and perhaps more surprisingly a proscription against “Superstition” (or “Artificial Knowledge”), which includes all religions. Owen’s world revolves not just around his workers and the Pristina community but also around Victoria, his loving daughter, and Dolores, his not-quite-so-loving wife. Factor starts her narrative with the birth of Victoria and ends it 23 years later, at Owen’s death. In between we learn of the difficulties in mining mercury, of Victoria’s strong attachment both to her father and to the idea of Pristina, and of Dolores’ dissatisfaction with domesticity; she much prefers the gentility of urban life to the physical and cultural isolation of the great Southwest. While Owen is for obvious reasons a strong proponent for the “magical” qualities of mercury, eventually the market price drops, and, much to Victoria’s disgust, he finds himself forced to close one of the shafts and turn away from the principles Pristina was founded on. Factor develops her characters in entertaining ways while building a novel of social realism.

JANE VOWS VENGEANCE

Ford, Michael Thomas Ballantine (288 pp.) $15.00 paperback | $9.99 e-book Feb. 28, 2012 978-0-345-51367-0 978-0-345-52437-9 e-book

In the final installment of Ford’s trilogy (Jane Goes Batty, 2011, etc.), Jane Austen, vampire, prepares to wed her swain, architectural restorer Walter Fletcher, but complications keep arising. And arising. For one thing, Walter doesn’t even know that upstate New York bookseller Jane Fairfax is really an undead world-famous 232

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author. For another, his mother, Miriam Ellenberg, does know— and she’s a vampire hunter. Jane, who hasn’t even made it official with Walter, has only four more months to become pregnant before Miriam will go after her. And now Walter has decided it would be a nice idea to tie the knot during a European tour with members of the International Association of Historic Preservationists, along with Jane’s best friend Lucy, her rabbinical beau Ben Cohen and of course Miriam. There follows a whirlwind tour of important buildings in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Italy and Switzerland, punctuated by a murder for which Jane is the most likely suspect, a wedding ceremony that’s interrupted by Jane’s 200-year-old first husband and a great deal of chatter more waspish than witty. Will Jane ever find Crispin’s Needle, which allegedly has the power to turn vampires back into ordinary humans? If she does, will she give up her bloodsucking ways for Walter? Can she defeat her vampire nemesis Charlotte Brontë? And when will she vow vengeance? Fans will doubtless come running. But the dutiful cook’s tour of stately buildings and the joyless whodunit conventions combine to make this the most earthbound installment of the trilogy, even though it keeps jumping the shark. (Agent: Mitchell Waters)

THE RESURRECTION OF NAT TURNER, PART 2 The Testimony Foster, Sharon Ewell Howard Books/Simon & Schuster (432 pp.) $15.99 paperback | Feb. 7, 2012 978-1-4165-7812-3

In the second book of her series, Foster continues her examination of the famous slave uprising led by Nat Turner. In 1831, a slave of Ethiopian lineage inspired a rag-tag band to embark on an attempt to shake off the rules of their cruel masters and fight oppression. When they were finished, 50 whites had died and Turner entered the history books. Foster obviously feels a close bond with Turner and his followers. The novel traces his journey side-by-side with that of famed abolitionist and author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe. Foster touches on Turner’s roots, invoking his Ethiopian mother and grandmother, and writes of both the early and late days of his enslavement. The heartbreaking descriptions of slave life are vivid: stumbling on frozen feet, starving slaves gathered in cold, unheated shacks to comfort one another and pool what little food they had. Foster examines the lies surrounding Turner’s capture, trial, imprisonment and hanging; the stories of his accusers; and the moral and emotional journey taken by Stowe. She brings historical characters to life with a deft and sure hand. Her technique of switching points of view and zooming back and forth in time won’t appeal to those who prefer a more linear approach to storytelling, but even they will appreciate Foster’s attention to detail and her ability to evoke raw, authentic emotion.

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DANCING ON BROKEN GLASS

Foster uses her strong research skills and her skill at turning historical names into living, breathing humans to great advantage.

Hancock, Ka Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster (416 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Mar. 13, 2012 978-1-4516-3737-3

THE COWARD’S TALE

Gebbie, Vanessa Bloomsbury (384 pp.) $16.00 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-60819-772-9 After two collections of stories published in England, Wales native Gebbie sets her first, deceptively loose-limbed novel in a Welsh mining town whose present-day residents remain imprinted by a long-ago mining disaster. A 9-year-old boy named Laddy comes to town to stay with his grandmother while his parents hash out their divorce. Laddy befriends the local beggar-cum-storyteller Ianto Jenkins. The obvious framing device works because Laddy is so forlornly endearing as he threads through the lives of the townspeople whose stories Ianto tells. The shop teacher Icarus was saddled by his father with an impossible ambition he still pursues: to create a feather out of wood. Jimmy “Half ” Harris was born to an unwed mother and left by his grandmother to die outside in the cold; he survived but his more fortunate twin Matty, raised by the grandmother and now working at the bank, refuses to acknowledge they are brothers. Deputy librarian Factual Philips has spent his life avoiding play but finds comfort in detective stories. For the price of a coffee or a bit to eat, Ianto tells how a character, say Tutt the Undertaker or Baker Bowen the chiropodist, or Nathan the piano tuner, can trace his situation or idiosyncrasy back to the death of an ancestor during the Kindly Light mine disaster years before. But Ianto’s stories only go so far before the characters take over. Icarus builds a boat. Jimmy Half Harris wins back Matty’s love and support when he catches a fish. Factual uses his detective skills to help Tutt. Nathan learns how to love thanks to the pub keeper’s wife. Meanwhile Ianto slowly unspools his own tale of guilt; although a child new to mining at the time, he has always blamed himself for the mine’s collapse and for his adored younger brother’s death. With the hypnotic charm of her Welsh lilt, natural storyteller Gebbie whittles tales from a hard bone of loss to create a profoundly moving world.

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An unexpected pregnancy ratchets up the complications for a cancer survivor and her bipolar husband in a threehandkerchief family weepy. Heading off with the character of death on page one of her moral-dilemma debut, Hancock establishes from the outset that she is heading for the emotional jugular. Both her central characters carry genetic predispositions, teacher Lucy Houston to cancer and club-owner Mickey Chandler to mental illness. A multi-clause contract, which includes a ban on children, has safeguarded their 11-year marriage, which is why Lucy, who has had her tubes tied, has mixed feelings about her pregnancy. She has two sisters, childless Lily and bossy Priscilla, and has already survived one serious bout of the disease; Mickey, meanwhile, struggles daily with the risk of mania and has made several trips to the hospital when off his meds. What happens after Lucy is diagnosed with further medical complications is less a plot and more a sequence of character reconfigurations within this schematic scenario. Narrated alternately by Lucy and Mickey, the tale’s connective tissue consists of weeping, recriminations, pills, protestations and more weeping, concluding with a final wringing of the reader’s exhausted tear ducts via a trifecta of birth, death and Christmas Eve. A tidily crafted but treacly excavation of misery in the name of higher sentiments.

THE HOUSE OF THE WIND

Hardie, Titania Washington Square/Pocket (320 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Mar. 6, 2012 978-1-4165-8626-5 In a substantial, poignant, sometimes ponderous parallel-themed romance, a young lawyer in San Francisco emerges from tragedy to discover connections across time and geography. There are no shortcuts and little frivolity in this solid, female-centered epic, the second novel from Australian-born, U.K.-based Hardie (The Rose Labyrinth, 2008). Signs and portents, relics, histories, religious debates, lawsuits and voyages of personal discovery cram the convoluted, overextended pair of narrations linked by 21st-century American Madeline Moretti, whose life suddenly shifts tracks and sends her on a journey to an Italian inn, the site where, six centuries earlier, a traumatized, mute teenager is restored to voice by a fugitive who has endured terrors and is the subject of myth. In the present, Madeline is caught up in a human-rights case involving the

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“A forgotten novel—forgotten, by its author, for a reason—by Beat Generation icon Kerouac.” from the sea is my brother

employees of smooth, seductive businessman Pierce Gray, who seems to be pursuing her, as does the more elusive Danish architect she meets in Italy. In the past, crime, plague and banishment link the destinies of three strong women with healing talents. Hardie seems heavily in thrall to her research; while her twin tales eventually reach pat endings, they fall short of a fully meshed conclusion. (Agents: Andrew Nurnberg and Sarah Nundy)

THE SEA IS MY BROTHER The Lost Novel Kerouac, Jack Da Capo/Perseus (224 pp.) $23.00 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-306-82125-7

A forgotten novel—forgotten, by its author, for a reason—by Beat Generation icon Kerouac. Years before taking to the highway, Kerouac tried his hand at a Jack London– esque yarn. He had all the material he needed out on the open ocean, where he served a short hitch in the Merchant Marine during a dangerous time of prowling wolf packs of Nazi submarines—and it’s a sobering thought to realize that Kerouac first tried his hand at a novel fully 70 years ago, back on dry land. The result is a work that, well, reads in many ways as if written 70 years ago (“It was there he’d met that cute little colored girl who belonged to the Young Communists League”). The story concerns a young man, “just above average height, thin, with a hollow countenance notable for its prominence of chin and upper lip muscles, and expressive mouth…and a pair of level, sympathetic eyes”—a young man, that is, very much like the 20-year-old Kerouac—who finds himself on shore leave in New York, and there gets himself in all sorts of whiskey-soaked mischief. Though Kerouac myth has it that he sprang fully formed, like Athena, from America’s brow with On the Road, this antedates his masterwork by a full decade, and it shows every sign of being a first book (as when, early on, Kerouac has difficulty deciding whether the narrative is to be in the past or the present tense, mixing both). But the centerpiece of the story is a friendship, sometimes bordering on homoerotic, between two young men in a time of war and social stress, which, of course, would remain Kerouac’s grand theme for many books to follow. Not much happens in the book, which, for all its awkwardness, has promising moments. However, readers expecting the exuberance and poetry of the later Kerouac will come away unsatisfied. Of interest primarily to scholars and diehard Kerouackers; general readers ought to head to the far more memorable On the Road, The Subterraneans and The Dharma Bums.

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THE COINCIDENCE ENGINE Leith, Sam Crown (288 pp.) $23.99 | Feb. 7, 2012 978-0-307-71642-2

When a British student comes to possess a physics-bending device, all hell breaks loose on his journey across America. Former Telegraph editor Leith (Sod’s Law, 2009, etc.) spins a bewildering tale of cat-and-mouse, theoretical science and conspiracy theories in a novel that sometimes threatens to baffle its audience. A comic thriller whose characters are all deadly serious, the book shows much of the same imaginative verve as Steven Hall’s mind-bender The Raw Shark Texts (2007). The pursuers in the book are all chasing Alex Smart, a Cambridge post-grad who has impulsively flown to America to propose to his girlfriend in San Francisco. But strange happenings are afoot around Alex. The young man has inadvertently acquired a device dubbed The Coincidence Engine, which affects the way probability works and grows more powerful each time it works. This explosive effect has attracted the attention of the Directorate of the Extremely Improbable, a collection of Men (and Women) in Black led by the ambitious Red Queen. “Our job is to assess threats to national security that we don’t know exist, using methods that we don’t know work,” she says. “This produces results that we generally can’t recognize as results, and when we can recognize them as results, we don’t know how to interpret them.” We also get a satisfying back story about the engine’s mad creator, Nicolas Banacharski, who is loosely based on the reclusive mathematician Alexander Grothendieck. Trying to put things right, or at least turn them off, are Bree and Jones, a level-headed DEI agent and her psychotic partner. In Alex’s path, a 737 materializes out of a hurricane, traditional machinery malfunctions and the inevitable frogs fall from the sky. It’s a little Gravity’s Rainbow with a pinch of airport thriller and a dash of The X-Files, and a dizzying stir. Leith’s narrative runs mildly manic after a while, but the dichotomy between his unruffled prose and the mad events at hand ultimately foster a savvy comedic groove.

THE HOPE VENDETTA

Mariani, Scott Touchstone/Simon & Schuster (352 pp.) $25.00 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-1-4391-9347-1 On the brink of suicide following his wife’s death, one-time British special-forces operative Ben Hope is intent on putting his violent past behind him and studying religion at Oxford. But when a family friend’s daughter, a renowned biblical archaeologist, goes missing in Greece—and the young friend Ben sent to find her

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is killed in a bombing—Ben is forced to dust off his killing skills and spring back into action. The stakes are big in Mariani’s second Hope novel (The Mozart Conspiracy, 2011). Zoë Bradbury is abducted because she says she discovered an artifact that exposes as false the Book of Revelation and its ultimate promise of Rapture. This rankles an international conspiracy bent on using Revelation to orchestrate the destruction of Israel by Islamic forces. The discovery also upsets the plans of Clayton Cleaver, a popular TV evangelist in Georgia who has based his political hopes on the prophecies. Frustrated by Zoë’s amnesia, caused by a head injury, her abductors threaten to inject her with a newly invented truth serum that will reduce her to psychotic rubble. Ben’s pursuits take him to Savannah, where he learns that Zoë, an Amy Winehouse–like party girl, was blackmailing Cleaver. Rendered unconscious by the bad guys, Hope wakes up in Montana, where he has relatively little trouble dispatching the bad guys with the help of a smitten female CIA agent. The story takes us, finally, to Jerusalem, where Hope must thwart plans to blow up the Dome of the Rock. Mariani constructs the thriller with skill and intelligence, staging some good action scenes, and Hope is an appealing protagonist. However, the book’s premise is undercooked. There’s little threat of worldwide upheaval, or much of a threat to the principals. The book might well have been better off eschewing its Dan Brown Da Vincisms and turning up the tension on the more grounded elements of the story. A solid thriller that leaves you thinking it could have been much better.

THE JAGUAR

Parker, T. Jefferson Dutton (384 pp.) $26.95 | Jan. 10, 2012 978-0-525-95257-2 A Mexican drug dealer kidnaps the composer wife of an L.A. cop and holds her for a song. Well, not just an ordinary song, but a narcocorrido, a kind of folk ballad dedicated to making heroes out of villains: drug dealers, gun-runners, kidnappers and the like. True enough, there’s ransom money earning a mention somewhere along the line, but nobody really takes that seriously. It’s the music that counts. Benjamin Armenta is the leader of Mexico’s powerful Gulf Cartel, as ruthless a collection of rascals as ever battened on the border drug trade. But he sees himself as uncelebrated, as an unsung anti-hero, which in his view amounts to a miscarriage of justice, considering the nature and frequency of the crimes for which he’s become infamous. The kidnapping of Erin McKenna, songwriter of note, is meant to fix all that. Bradley Jones, Erin’s bent cop of a husband, gets 10 days to raise the cash while performing certain auxiliary tasks—no mention of music at this early stage—or Armenta will arrange to have his wife skinned alive, a threat to be taken literally. Erin is whisked away to Armenta’s secret castle-fortress, where she will play out an |

oddball version of Beauty and the Beast. Meanwhile, knowing how much he needs help, Bradley reluctantly appeals to Charlie Hood, series hero (The Border Lords, 2011, etc.) and sometime friend. It’s a classic love-hate relationship in the context of Charlie’s intense and enduring feeling for Erin. So he signs on, and they mount the quest to locate and rescue Erin, who, deep in the cheerless Yucatan jungle, fraught and beset, composes to save her life. Despite occasional affecting moments, the plot is essentially thin, unsustained by a cast of larger- than-life, empathy-proof characters. A rare misstep from the accomplished Parker. (Agent: Robert Gottlieb)

POISON FLOWER

Perry, Thomas Mysterious Press (288 pp.) $24.00 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-8021-2605-4 Jane Whitefield’s latest attempt to hide someone other people are looking for puts her in even more danger than usual, and that’s not easy. Jane has so little trouble breaking James Shelby, framed for murdering his wife, out of police custody at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles that you just know something’s going to go wrong. But the mishap this time is remarkably fast and unexpected: Three hard types who’ve been tracking Shelby go after Jane instead. Driving her to a remote desert location, they torture, her seeking information about her client, then realize that they can make a queen’s ransom by auctioning her off to one of the many criminals she’s outwitted by spiriting away their victims or enemies and settling them in new identities (Runner, 2009, etc.). Jane manages to escape and takes refuge in a battered women’s shelter in Las Vegas, where she acquires yet another fugitive who must be hidden away. (“I guess I have a knack for making friends” is her laconic comment.) It would be unfair to reveal more about a story whose appeal depends so completely on Perry’s ability to keep you from seeing a single inch around the next corner. Suffice it to say that both Jane and the fake cops will put a great many more miles on vehicles they’ve rented or stolen before Jane confronts the brains behind the frame-up of Shelby in the nation’s heartland in a satisfyingly one-dimensional showdown. A tour de force with no room for subtle characterization, complicated moral dilemmas or descriptions of anything that’s not instantly material to Jane’s job—just an hours-long jolt of pure, adrenaline-fueled plot. (Agent: Robert Lescher)

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THE WOLF GIFT

Rice, Anne Knopf (400 pp.) $25.95 | Feb. 14, 2012 978-0-307-59511-9 The “gift” of the title refers to a werewolf who acts more like Batman than like a bestial agent of disorder, for he goes about rescuing damsels (and guys) in distress and in the process killing the bad guys. Reuben Golding has everything going for him—good looks, a monied family, a girlfriend and a job as a reporter for the San Francisco Observer. He’s sent to do a story on a mysterious house north of the city, and there he meets the equally mysterious Marchent Nideck, an elegant older woman who hopes to sell the house now that her great-uncle Felix Nideck has (after a 20-year disappearance) finally been declared officially dead. Touring the house with Marchent, Reuben becomes equally enamored with both architecture and hostess. Shortly after an eruption of spontaneous lovemaking, Marchent is attacked and killed, and Reuben, also attacked, finds himself badly injured. It seems Reuben’s attackers were themselves set upon by a beast who bit Reuben and left him a “Chrism”—the power to transform to lupine status and concomitant power to sniff out evil (literally) and snuff out evil-doers. In the hour’s interlude between lovemaking and attack, Marchent has conveniently contacted her lawyers and willed the Nideck estate to Reuben. The house is filled with Gothic bric-a-brac like old manuscripts and cuneiform tablets that suggest a connection to the supposedly (but not actually?) dead Felix. In his wolfish form Reuben falls in love with the recently widowed Laura, and, mystified by what’s happening, he seeks the advice of his sage brother Jim, a Roman Catholic priest. One of the mysteries is that it doesn’t take a full moon to effect Reuben’s transformation. Despite some of the creakiness of the machinery, Rice finds new permutations in an old tale. (Author tour to Los Angeles, New York, San Diego and San Francisco)

THE ORCHID HOUSE

Riley, Lucinda Atria (320 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Feb. 14, 2012 978-1-4516-5578-0 An English country house connects the romantic destinies of several generations in a pleasantly undemanding double-decker debut. There’s no shortage of tragedy in Riley’s saga, which wraps a modern-day narrative around a World War II story and features drug addiction, imprisonment, sudden death and unhappy love as well as flavors of Madame Butterfly. The first heroine is Julia Forrester, “Britain’s most famous young concert pianist,” who is recovering from 236

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a personal crisis in Norfolk, England, near Wharton Park, the stately home where her grandparents served the Crawford family, her grandfather growing orchids in the hothouse. Julia encounters the new owner, Kit, whom she met before, when they were children. She also takes possession of a diary discovered in her grandparents’ cottage, which exposes the wartime events. Kit’s ancestor, Lord Harry, was married to the second heroine, Lady Olivia, but never truly loved her. Instead, while recuperating in Thailand after more than three hellish years as a prisoner of war, he meets Lidia, the third heroine, and falls passionately for her. Only one of these women will find longterm happiness, and a further sequence of half-expected yet credulity-stretching plot twists is required before she reaches it. A straightforward slab of ephemeral entertainment characterized by pedestrian but devoted storytelling. (Agent: Jonathan Lloyd)

ANATOMY OF MURDER

Robertson, Imogen Pamela Dorman/Viking (384 pp.) $26.95 | Feb. 16, 2012 978-0-670-02317-2 Spies, corpses, tarot cards and countertenors combine in this appealing if overextended adventure featuring a pair of amateur sleuths in 18th-century London. Although British novelist Robertson (Instruments of Darkness, 2011, etc.) has no difficulty resuming the engaging tone of her period series, this sequel, after its punchy prologue, has a noticeably slacker pace. Mrs. Harriet Westerman, one half of the detective duo, is preoccupied with the mental health of her naval captain husband James, wounded after capturing a French ship carrying a spy during the war with the American Rebels. Now Harriet and her forensic scientist friend Gabriel Crowther are invited by the British authorities to help trace the espionage links to London, starting with the examination of a body found floating in the Thames. These investigations, and the dark fears of a slum-dwelling fortune-teller, are the driving forces for some two-thirds of the story, and they’re not enough to sustain excitement, even when packed with atmospheric background and well-researched historical detail. More corpses follow, as well as a predictable, busy denouement, none of which diminishes the sense of a weakly plotted tale and a small cast of characters too conveniently connected. Background authenticity is a substitute for foreground thrills in a solid but less-enthralling follow-up. Book three is under way. (Agent: Annette Green)

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f i c t i o n

First Must-Read Crime Novels of the New Year B Y J. K IN G ST ON

PI ERC E

No sooner have we made it through 2011’s biggest book-buying and giving season than it’s time to think about next year’s crop of mystery and thriller fiction. Below are seven works I’m betting will be big sellers during the opening three months of 2012, plus a rundown of 14 other criminous yarns meriting serious attention. Did you read the Rap Sheet’s list of five favorite British crime novels from 2011? Defending Jacob, by William Landay (January): After debuting with Mission Flats in 2003, former New England assistant district attorney Landay delivers this fleet legal drama about a fictional ADA, Andy Barber, whose moody teenage son, Jacob, is charged with slaying a fellow student. Andy naturally believes his son innocent, but as the evidence against Jacob builds and his marriage collapses, he’s torn between familial devotion and a search for justice that will rake up his past and wreck his future. The Darkening Field, by William Ryan (January): Capt. Alexei Korolev, recognized for discretion within Moscow’s Stalinera Criminal Investigation Division, is dispatched to Odessa in 1937, where film production assistant Maria Alexandrovna Lenskaya has evidently committed suicide. Korolev must determine if she really killed herself, or was murdered, and prevent word of Lenskaya’s illicit affair with a senior Party director from leaking out. The sequel to last year’s The Holy Thief. Night Rounds, by Helene Tursten (February): Det. Insp. Irene Huss may be the mother of two girls, a jiu-jitsu champ and a member of the Violent Crimes Unit in Göteborg, Sweden, but she’s not up to the task of chasing ghosts. And that seems to be her assignment in this latest of four Englishtranslated procedurals. Following a blackout at a local hospital, one nurse is found dead while another has disappeared. The closest Huss can get to finding an eyewitness is an elderly caregiver who contends that she saw the spirit of a nurse who took her own life at the hospital six decades ago.

The Technologists, by Matthew Pearl (February): Set, like Pearl’s The Dante Club, in 1860s Boston, this novel focuses on the inaugural class of graduates from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and, particularly, a gifted subset of those scholars, who hope to use their scientific expertise to solve a succession of frightening local disturbances, including the sudden loss of instrument control among ships in Boston Harbor. The methods employed by these “technologists,” though, are vigorously opposed by the sensationalistic press, the “traditionalists” at rival Harvard and a diabolical agitator bent on bringing the city to its knees. The Comedy Is Finished, by Donald E. Westlake (February): Although Westlake penned this standalone novel in the late 1970s, he never published it, fearing its premise was too similar to that of The King of Comedy, Martin Scorsese’s 1983 film. That’s true only in the most general sense. The Comedy Is Finished finds an aging and famous comedian, Koo Davis, being kidnapped in 1977 by a waning militant group hoping to reignite its revolutionary cause. The Gods of Gotham, by Lyndsay Faye (March): Timothy Wilde isn’t sure which makes him less lucky—the 1845 Manhattan fire that left him disfigured, or his subsequent employment with the fledging New York police force. One night, while making his rounds near the notorious Five Points neighborhood, he encounters a young girl, covered in blood, who tells him there are dozens of bodies buried among the woods north of 23rd Street. That incredible yarn sends Wilde after a brutal killer, threatens to cost him his older brother and lands him in the middle of tensions surrounding recent Irish immigration. An American Spy, by Olen Steinhauer (March): Back for a third episode of espionage (after 2010’s The Nearest Exit) is Milo Weaver with the CIA’s supersecret arm, the Department of Tourism. His mission this time is to find Alan Drummond, the department’s director, who is believed to have gone off in pursuit of a Chinese spymaster responsible for the deaths of some of Weaver’s fellow “tourists.” In order to stop Drummond, though, and maybe |

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an american spy

Olen Steinhauer Minotaur Books (400 pp.) $25.99 | Mar. 13, 2012 prevent an international disaster, our hero must make deals with other spying entities that could provoke a different disaster. Also worth a look: Blindside, by Ed Gorman (January); What It Was, by George Pelecanos (January); Hanging Hill, by Mo Hayder (January); The Retribution, by Val McDermid (January); Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith (January); Wild Thing, by Josh Bazell (February); Archive 17, by Sam Eastland (February); Before the Poison, by Peter Robinson (February); Blues in the Night, by Dick Lochte (February); Death at the Jesus Hospital, by David Dickinson (March); The Piccadilly Plot, by Susanna Gregory (March); The Memory of Blood, by Christopher Fowler (March); Deception, by Adrian Magson (March); and Another Time, Another Life, by Leif G.W. Persson (March).

9 J. Kingston Pierce is both the editor of The Rap Sheet and the senior editor of January Magazine. |

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“An engrossing yarn about a man and his love of baseball.” from the might-have -been

THE BOOK OF LOST FRAGRANCES

Rose, M.J. Atria (416 pp.) $24.00 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-1-4516-2130-3

This addition to Rose’s Reincarnationist series of spiritualist romance thrillers (The Memoirist, 2008, etc.) takes on the power of scent as a gateway back to past lives. Jac and her younger brother Robbie L’Etoile are heirs to a family perfume empire that their Alzheimer’s-ridden father has brought to the brink of bankruptcy. Jac has lived in the States since she was 16, two years after her mother’s suicide and her resulting mental breakdown. An author and TV personality, she is an expert on uncovering the truth behind myths. Robbie, a Buddhist, has remained in France and is dedicated to saving the perfume business. Having found shards of an Egyptian perfume pot an ancestor brought home from Egypt in 1799, he convinces archaeologist Griffin, who happens to be Jac’s former lover, to translate the pot’s hieroglyphics. He believes they list the ingredients to a scent that releases memories of former lives and plans to give the information to the Dalai Lama to support the Buddhist belief in reincarnation. Meanwhile in China, art student Xie Ping has won permission to travel abroad with other students for their calligraphy exhibit. But Xie is no average art student. As a 6-year-old child lama, he was kidnapped from a Tibetan monastery by Chinese “protectors.” When Robbie goes missing along with the pottery shards, leaving a dead Chinese Mafioso asphyxiated in his workroom, Jac flies to Paris. Soon Griffin is helping her search for Robbie, whom they find in the tunnels of Paris protecting his Egyptian pot. Along the way Jac and Griffin rekindle their undying love despite his marriage and child. But Jac is suffering from hallucinations—or are they memories from previous incarnations? By the time the L’Etoiles turn up at Xie’s calligraphy exhibit, along with the Dalai Lama and members of the Chinese mafia, Jac’s a believer. Although cynics would say that the convoluted plot is built on coincidence, Rose’s characters repeatedly preach that coincidence does not exist; maybe not, but here’s proof that claptrap does. (Atria’s Great Mystery Bus tour: 12-city bus tour with M.J. Rose, John Connolly and Liza Marklund)

UPGUNNED

Schow, David J. Dunne/St. Martin’s (320 pp.) $25.99 | Feb. 14, 2012 978-0-312-57137-5 Forced at gunpoint to take blackmail shots of high-ranking L.A. cop Dominic Sharps and a prostitute in flagrante delicto—a shoot that requires some improvising since Sharps had a fatal heart 238

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attack on the way to the studio—postmodern-chic photographer Elias McCabe runs for his life. Good idea since everyone he knows, including the most beautiful girls, is being indifferently slit, stabbed and shot to death by his pursuers. A novelist (Internecine, 2010, etc.) and screenwriter (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), Schow applies the “splatterpunk” style he helped create to this sardonic L.A. noir. McCabe, who paid his dues working for publications like Wet ‘N Squishy and Nipplemania, has opened up his own studio in Los Angeles. He’s got money, girls and a reputation (one of his masterworks superimposes naked bodies on shooting-gallery targets). When we meet him, he’s climbing out of bed with the ex-wife of his mentor. Enter Chambers, a hit man working for an obese vegetarian who has been asked by powerful outside forces to ruin counterterrorism chief Sharps’ reputation before a visit by the president. Chambers threatens to shoot McCabe with his beloved Kimber Pro Tactical 1911 .45 ACP if he doesn’t accept an assignment that actually will pay the photographer $10,000 if he keeps his mouth shut. When not only words but also images of the evening’s misdeeds end up on the Internet, it’s off to the races for McCabe, who hopes to hide out working on a film with a director friend in New York. After suffering hideous injuries in his presence, Chambers is not about to let that happen. The book is told in alternating chapters by McCabe, who waxes cynical about Hollywood and theoretical about photography and sex, and Chambers, who delights in describing his adversary’s pantssoiling response to having a gun shoved in his face. Their differing accounts provide some neat narrative ripples. Schow is an acquired taste, to be sure. But as splatterpunk goes, this book won’t be outdone. It’s got more attitude than you can shake an AK-47 at.

THE MIGHT- HAVE-BEEN

Schuster, Joseph M. Ballantine (352 pp.) $25.00 | Mar. 20, 2012 978-0-345-53026-4 An engrossing yarn about a man and his love of baseball. Edward Everett Yates shows promise as a young ballplayer in the minor leagues. But can he make it to the Major Leagues? Perhaps talent is just one of the factors, although “Edward Everett” might make a marginal big leaguer at best. One day he gets to play for the Saint Louis Cardinals in a rain-soaked game. He’s having a good day until he leaps for a fly ball and changes the direction of his life in an instant. Face it, he is never going to be a Babe Ruth, but God knows he loves the game. For other young men, baseball is a phase of life, a skin they shed before going on to lives as truck drivers, salesmen or lawyers. But Edward Everett can never seem to leave the game for long, and after a brief stint as a flour salesman, he becomes manager of a single-A ball club. He is decent toward women, but his constant travel and assorted shortcomings make stable relationships tough. Nothing about

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his life’s arc screams “superstar,” but he is a usually considerate man whose character shows through in tough situations, like the suicide of one of his players. Throughout the novel, he tentatively tries to learn about a child—does he have a son?—who stays just barely out of his reach. Schuster paints in vivid detail the crappy ballparks and sometimes desperate wannabes who cannot admit that they should just move on from baseball. This is a terrific story that goes beyond the sport and deals with promise and aspirations, dreams and disappointments. No little boy would fantasize about being the next Edward Everett Yates, but readers will root for him. Like so many of us, he is an ordinary, flawed human being whose life is full of might-have-beens. Never mind whether you are a baseball fan. This is a damn fine read. (Agent: Amanda Urban)

BEYOND MOLASSES CREEK

Seitz, Nicole Thomas Nelson (336 pp.) $15.99 paperback | Jan. 31, 2012 978-1-59554-505-3

An affecting drama about the unmoored life of a woman whose infant was kidnapped 40 years ago. Ally Green has come back to her father’s house in North Carolina’s low country, but not soon enough to hear his deathbed wish that she settle down. Strange advice for a 60-yearold woman, but Ally has been running away for a long time. As a child she befriended Vesey Washington, the black boy who lived on the other side of the river. The two would fish together, swap secrets and dreams and comfortable silences. As Ally grew, she fell in love with Vesey; in the civil-rights–era South, those were dangerous feelings. She ran to college, and then to a career as a stewardess, and then when she had a child out of wedlock at the same time as Vesey and his wife, she flew with her baby to Kathmandu. There her baby was kidnapped, and Ally spends the next 38 years running away from the crushing heartache of that moment. It took her daddy’s death to bring her back to her childhood home, and to Vesey, now widowed across the river. Slid in between Ally’s story is Sunila’s journey. A blue-eyed Nepalese woman who has lived her whole life in debt bondage, she escapes the stone yard with a secret, and the book of drawings found with her as an infant. Sunila makes it to the American Embassy with an incredible story confessed by her adoptive mother: as a baby she was kidnapped from a young American in a café. The book was Ally’s journal, filled with sketches of Vesey. As Ally harbors vague romantic notions about Vesey, she also begins to recognize the holding pattern her life has been in, first for want of Vesey, and then her stolen daughter. Seitz allows her story to quietly unfold as the two women come together, guaranteeing a few tears, for the women and the reader. A nicely drawn study of two women whose lives are lost, then regained.

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BETRAYAL

Steel, Danielle Delacorte (336 pp.) $28.00 | Mar. 27, 2012 978-0-385-34319-0 Eccentric movie director falls prey to a sociopath sidekick and a feckless producer/lover in Steel’s methodical Hollywood morality tale. Though a wildly successful director of blockbusters, Tallie Jones is the opposite of glamorous: Most of the time she wears her uncombed blond hair in disheveled dreads, her wardrobe is shabby, not shabbychic, and she has an unfashionable, ill-advised tan. Her Bel Air mansion is functional, not lavish, and her live-in lover and business partner, Hunt, actually uses the high-end kitchen, preparing gourmet meals for Tallie after a long day of shooting. Tallie’s assistant and long-time best friend Brigitte, a trust-fund baby, monopolizes the glitz department: Rodeo Drive merchants happily bestow upon her free furs, jewelry and designer handbags. But Tallie’s close-knit support group is about to unravel. A potential investor in her next film wants to audit her books. Tallie’s accountant, 60ish Victor (whose plight with a gold-digging young wife provides a poignant subplot, sadly underdeveloped), complies. But how could meticulous Victor have overlooked monthly cash withdrawals of approximately $25,000 from Tallie’s accounts? Tallie’s bills are all handled (primarily by Brigitte) using checks or credit cards. Hunt and Brigitte are above suspicion—both have their own money and no overt motive to steal. Perplexed, Tallie hires a private eye, and soon her worst fears are confirmed: Hunt and Brigitte are not perfect. Not only was Hunt cheating on her with Brigitte for three years, for the last year he’s consorted with a new mistress, who’s now pregnant with his child. The FBI is called in, and handsome, down-toearth, widowed agent Jim Kingston uncovers the full horror. The plot thickens, but never quickens: As Tallie copes with betrayals, the narrative creeps along, slowed by the characters’ repetitious musings over what could, and then did, go wrong. Dodges drama at every turn.

GLOW

Tuccelli, Jessica Maria Viking (320 pp.) $25.95 | Mar. 19, 2012 978-0-670-02331-8 Tuccelli’s ambitious first novel offers a fictionalized history of race relations— slavery, the appropriation of Cherokees’ land, the rise of the KKK—encapsulated in the family history of the descendents of Solomon Bounds, an early-19th-century pioneer in rural north Georgia. In October 1941, Mia McGee, of Cherokee descent and married to her black childhood sweetheart Obidiah Bounds,

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is an NAACP activist in Washington, D.C. After receiving a violent threat, she attempts to protect her 11-year-old daughter Ella, sending her by bus to her brother in Hopewell, Ga. When Ella doesn’t show up, Mia rushes to Hopewell in an understandable panic, but readers know that Ella is safely ensconced with Willie Mae and Mary-Mary, two elderly black women who came to her rescue after rednecks attacked her. This slender branch of plot carries a lot of weight as Ella’s ancestors, of black, white, Cherokee blood, tell their stories. Readers will need the supplied family tree to keep names and dates straight: Mia, one-eighth Indian, recalls her depression era childhood and the Klan lynching of Obidiah’s father, as well as visits from the girl ghost Lovelady. Former slave Willie Mae recalls being sold by a white ancestor of Ella’s to Samuel Bounds. Willie Mae, who has “the glow” to attract spirits, is Mary-Mary’s lover but also happily married to Alger, the son of slave Lossie and Riddle Young, the overseer of Samuel’s farm. Riddle and his sister Emmaline, unhappily married to Samuel, are half Cherokee. Childless Emmaline commits suicide and becomes an unsettled spirit. In 1860 Riddle buys Lossie and Alger’s freedom and takes the family, including Willie Mae, back to his homestead. Alger dies while a volunteer in the Confederate Army. Lovelady, Willie Mae’s daughter, drowns escaping an attack by white racists during Reconstruction. The struggle between cruelty and goodness goes on and on. The surfeit of narratives about noble victims runs together into a heavy-handed treatise on racial injustices; and the awkward insertion of the supernatural only confuses. (Author events in New York and Atlanta)

A GOOD MAN

Vanderhaeghe, Guy Atlantic Monthly (480 pp.) $24.95 | Jan. 1, 2012 978-0-8021-2004-5 A sprawling Western, in just the way that some of Cormac McCarthy’s novels are Westerns, by prizewinning Canadian author Vanderhaeghe (The Last Crossing, 2004, etc.). The frontier, Canadian and American, was settled at least in part by children of privilege who rejected comfort for adventure. Wesley Case, the son of a timber baron, is one such chap: Not content to coast on the family’s millions (“So to hell with Father”), he’s joined the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to battle Irish Republican terrorists, French separatists and other enemies of order—not least of them unreconstructed Southerners bent on wreaking vengeful havoc on the Union, operating from Canadian sanctuaries. Wesley is of the Victorian age, but he’s a modern hero, doubtful and reserved, even as love interest Ada Tarr is surrounded by a shadow of hard-won wistfulness, “a sadness that looks back on the passing of things, the death of the very grass she walks on, the leaves withered on the bushes or tumbling along the ground in the breeze.” Most modernly, Ada is also married, which puts 240

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Wesley in a bind of the sort that Dudley Do-Right never imagined. Ada’s no Nell, but Wesley, no matter how conflicted, certainly is a force for the right. His journeys take him throughout the Canadian West and down into the wilds of Montana, where, not long before, George Custer’s command fell victim to Sitting Bull, who figures memorably in Vanderhaeghe’s closing pages. The book is sharply observed and rich in period details (“Hathaway is the only one in uniform, scarlet jacket and buff breeches, pillbox hat cocked on his head at a rakish angle”); moreover, it’s utterly believable while not being steeped in the orotund language or leisurely sentences of the time. If the story sometimes verges on the horse-operatic, it’s an entertaining and thoroughly well-written one. Do the Mounties always get their man? Read this satisfying novel and find out.

GUILT Stories

von Schirach, Ferdinand Translated by Janeway, Carol Brown Knopf (160 pp.) $24.00 | Jan. 31, 2012 978-0-307-59949-0 The second volume of unusual case histories by a German defense attorney with a literary flair. As a follow-up to Crime (2011), this very similar collection can’t offer the revelatory impact of its predecessor, nor the consistency (the reader suspects that the best stories were used in the earlier book). Yet its combination of legal experience and literary command will continue to find favor with those who appreciated the debut. These are compressed, matter-of-fact accounts which the author maintains are based on criminal cases in which he was involved, but often read like existential parables that probe the limits of the law in exploring the mysteries of the human heart and psyche. The opening “Funfair” details an inexplicable gang rape by “perfectly normal men” of a young victim who had consciously done nothing to turn these men into animals. “Later nobody could explain anything,” says the author, who was then a young lawyer, and for whom the case would provide a rite of passage, an initiation, when it became obvious that the law could do nothing, that “legal proceedings would end here and that guilt was another matter entirely” and that “we knew we’d lost our innocence and that this was irrelevant.” Though the narratives are often as terse as the best hard-boiled crime fiction, the most compelling tales have a philosophical dimension reminiscent of Kafka or Camus. In “The Other Man,” a narrative of random sex and its complications, the author writes of a woman who had never anticipated the consequences of desire. Other stories are slighter, with O. Henry twists, but they are also relatively short. These stories are specifically about crime and the law, but they more generally encompass the human condition.

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“A pop-culture send-up with a troubled material girl anti-heroine.” from white girl problems

WHITE GIRL PROBLEMS

Walker, Babe Hyperion (288 pp.) $13.99 paperback | Jan. 31, 2012 978-1-4013-2454-4 Poor little rich girl Babe Walker hits rock bottom during a Barneys shopping spree in this faux memoir based on a popular Twitter feed. In a town (Los Angeles, naturally) filled with the chronically self-absorbed, Babe stands out. The precocious only child of a wildly successful British entertainment lawyer and a long-absent mystery woman, Babe is raised for the most part by her Jamaican nanny, Mabinty. Mabinty smokes a lot of weed and speaks with an exaggerated patois—or at least she does in Babe’s point of view, which is none too reliable. Diagnosed with narcissistic personality disorder at the tender age of 7, Babe has serious boundary issues. As a sophomore, she plots to lose her virginity to her gay best friend Roman (while they are dressed as Danny and Sandy from Grease). In her teens she lobbies a series of befuddled plastic surgeons for a labiaplasty, insisting that her vagina needs to be “cute and chic-er and more…me.” She steals her file from her longtime therapist, Susan, and goes to five different colleges before deciding academia might not be her thing. And when she does meet a nice guy who actually likes her, she transforms into her alter ego Babette, a slutty stalker with an unfortunate taste for tacky chain restaurants. Showing some aptitude for fashion, Babe is understandably devastated when her line of high-end dashikis for African children fails, and soon after that another romantic disappointment triggers the mother of all retail binges. After spending a cool $246,893.50 at Barneys, she cops to needing some help and sends herself to Cirque Lodge, a Utah rehab facility. Once there, she resists actually changing but manages to bond with an alcoholic former model who might actually hold a key piece to the puzzle that is Babe. A pop-culture send-up with a troubled material girl antiheroine. Although wickedly funny at times, this odd debut takes a shallow, cavalier attitude toward mental illness, anorexia and addiction. (Author events in Los Angeles and New York)

THE PHILOSOPHER PRINCE

Waters, Paul Overlook (384 pp.) $15.95 paperback | Feb. 28, 2012 978-1-59020-718-5

A young man battles ideological rifts and barbarian hordes in the Roman Empire in the mid-fourth-century CE. This novel, the sequel to Cast Not the Day (2009), continues the adventures of narrator Drusus, a British noble who is drawn into a struggle against emperor Constantius—son of Constantine, who Christianized the Roman Empire. For Waters, the expansion of Christianity signaled a rise in corrupt leadership and |

shallow moral judgments: Various bishops and other members of the faithful come off as arrogant scolds, clowns or pathetically passive souls. Drusus has his own reasons to remain an adherent of the Roman pagan ways, not least because they don’t pass judgment on his love for Marcellus, a fellow noble. So he throws his lot in with Julian, the “philosopher prince” of the book’s title, who’s charged with handling the empire’s western provinces. As Drusus joins campaigns through Gaul and across the Rhine, Julian’s army pushes back German barbarians. But Waters’ battle scenes are brief and, for him, a little beside the point; he dwells much more often on the palace intrigue involving Constantius’ effort to undo Julian’s successes. Drusus routinely praises the rigor of Julian’s Athenian philosophical training as the wellspring of his greatness, but there’s hardly enough philosophy in the novel to justify the title; Julian’s talent is largely a capacity for high-flown oratory whenever morale threatens to sink. For a novel with the geographical and temporal expanse of this one—the story spans from Britain to Constantinople between 355 and 361 —it can feel dispiritingly flat-footed and talky, preferring to focus on byzantine power struggles over taxation and troop strength. In the midst of it, the romance between Drusus and Marcellus, positioned as the emotional workhorse of this tale, is neglected. I, Claudius this isn’t. Waters’ research is solid, but this would-be epic is dry and caricature-filled.

JACK HOLMES AND HIS FRIEND White, Edmund Bloomsbury (400 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 17, 2012 978-1-60819-703-3

Top-flight novelist White (City Boy, 2009, etc.) returns with a bittersweet story of the love that dared not speak its name until about the winter of 1963. The chronology is a little fuzzy, but the author situates the opening of his latest novel safely in the cozy prep-school world of the late 1950s. Jack Holmes is a glorious son of a Rust Belt then brilliantly agleam, tall and blonde and “with stomach muscles as hard as a turtle’s shell,” popular with everyone. It would be easy for him to coast, to live a superficial life, but Jack is a person of depth and complexity. So we learn when, after college, our Gatsby makes his way east and pitches his tent among the bohemians of Greenwich Village. His intelligence soon land him on the staff of a high-culture magazine where, “over-caffeinated, overdressed, and under-instructed,” he wrangles with an editor who’s smarter than Susan Sontag and more frustrated than Portnoy. At the same time, he enjoys an increasingly catholic diet of friends and bedmates, including, eventually, a promising young novelist named Will Wright—the name is suggestive—who emerges, over the chapters and decades, as Jack’s soul mate. This is not all to the good, for White’s story takes in not just the time of innocence and Camelot, but also the very first inklings of the “gay plague” that was first known as GRID, later as AIDS; Will’s final dedication to Jack reads, “Our libertine days are over.” So they are. White’s bookembraces a classic

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love story, but it is much more: It offers something of a cultural history of gay life in New York in the closeted era before Stonewall. In the sometimes facetious, sometimes mutually uncomprehending, sometimes blazingly intelligent interplay of people of all sorts of orientations, gay and straight and in between, and all sorts of backgrounds and nationalities, White’s narrative is sometimes reminiscent of Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories—which is no small praise. But White’s chief characters are all-American types, which one supposes is the point: Though Jack’s psychiatrist may scold him for “acting out,” and though they were subject to criminal prosecution in their day, his desires and passions are utterly normal. White’s writing, of course, is not. One of the best novelists at work today, White spins an entangling—and thoroughly entertaining—yarn.

THE DOG WHO DANCED

Wilson, Susan St. Martin’s (320 pp.) $24.99 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-312-67499-1

Love, loss and redemption are explored in Wilson’s (One Good Dog, 2010, etc.) latest mainstream fiction. As a young girl, Justine Meade lost her mother. Her father quickly married Adele, a stepmother who disliked and mistreated Justine. At 17, Justine left home. She found work in Brooklyn, married the boss’ son, but then divorced and began an itinerant life, always ready to move on. Wilson writes Justine in first person, with back story reflecting her never-quite-satisfied adulthood, one fractured by her teenage son’s recent resolution to live with his father. With her own estranged father battling cancer, Justine has been summoned home. Justine lives in Seattle, tends bar and has one maxed-out credit card. So she pays a regular patron $300 to hitch a ride in his long-haul rig, taking along Mack, her Sheltie and one source of unconditional love. On the road, the trucker assumes Justine is willing to share a bed, but Justine refuses. Frustrated, he strands her at an Ohio truck stop. Only when he reaches Massachusetts does the trucker discover Mack in the cab’s sleeper. He dumps the dog. In Ohio, Justine reluctantly accepts help from Mitch, a one-legged biker who, belying his gruff exterior, is a symphony violinist. Mitch could only chase the big rig for a short distance, which left Justine in a frantic and uncoordinated pursuit while simultaneously attempting to reach her father in New Bedford. Mitch appears near novel’s end, but his likable character deserves more. Meantime, Mack is rescued by Ed and Alice, a couple mired in a miasma of despair over the suicide of their daughter. Instinctively, Mack begins to heal the rift between them. While not detracting from the story, there is predictable anthropomorphism, and Wilson readily relies on a Sheltie’s nature and behavior to drive the emotion-packed story to its somewhat too-easy climax. As with Marley and Me and The Art of Racing in the Rain, it’s hard not to like a book where a dog is a major player.

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m ys t e r y DEATH OF A KINGFISHER

Beaton, M.C. Grand Central Publishing (256 pp.) $24.99 | Feb. 22, 2012 978-0-446-54736-9 An innovative plan to increase tourism in the Highland town of Braikie goes terribly wrong. Mary Leinster, a newcomer to Lochdubh, has turned the beautiful town property of Buchan’s Wood into a tourist attraction she’s dubbed “The Fairy Glen.” At first all goes well. Busloads of tourists swarm over the glen without bothering the nearest neighbor, wealthy, crotchety Mrs. Colchester. But things take a turn for the worse when a young boy almost drowns in the pool and the glorious and popular Kingfisher is found hanged. Lochdubh Constable Hamish Macbeth, called to investigate, is shunted to a minor role when first the bridge in the glen collapses and then Mrs. Colchester, propelled like a rocket through the glass dome of her house, falls to her death. Hamish, the victim of a long string of failed romances, naturally falls for the stunning Mary, who claims to be on the verge of divorce. Still, he must keep her on the suspect list when he learns that Mrs. Colchester left her money for upkeep on the glen at the expense of her hardpressed daughter and son-in-law, though they do get the house and its valuable contents and appear to have a sound alibi. Not so their two strange children, who have been busy making mischief while staying with their grandmother. Beaton combines an influx of quirky characters with her old favorites (Death of a Chimney Sweep, 2011, etc.), even though the plot this time is a wee bit far-fetched.

THE GOLDEN SCALES

Bilal, Parker Bloomsbury (416 pp.) $25.00 | Feb. 1, 2012 978-1-60819-794-1

A Sudanese detective climbs out of personal devastation in his new homeland and turns private eye. In 1981, British tourist Liz Markham, making an impulsive trip to Cairo with her young daughter Alice, loses her during a tumultuous night on its dark streets. Thirty years later, Makana, an émigré from Sudan (where he was a police inspector), has spent seven years in Egypt living a hand-to-mouth existence. But a possible lifeline comes with an unexpected summons from one of the country’s richest men, Saad Hanafi, whose past is checkered, to say the least. Hanafi owns an

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immensely successful soccer squad, Hanafi Dreem Team, whose popularity crosses national borders. Handsome Dreem Teem player Adil Romario, whose face adorns ads for everything from soft drinks to sports cars, has disappeared. The playboy simply may be blowing off steam, but Hanafi figures better safe than sorry. Hired to find Romario, Makana consults his friend Amin Medani, a human-rights lawyer, who explains Hanafi’s deep and perhaps dangerous political connections. When Makana encounters Liz Markham, she tells the sad story of her lost daughter, whose disappearance has left her still raw with pain. Moved in part by personal demons that make him especially receptive to Liz, Makana offers to help her as well. He develops an unlikely friendship with Hanafi’s pampered daughter Soraya, an unexpected aid with his search as well as his personal issues. Bilal’s portrait of a soulful, broken man dominates his series kickoff, both an accomplished genre caper and a fine example of literary fiction.

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HOUSE OF DOORS

Brenchley, Chaz Severn House (240 pp.) $28.95 | Feb. 1, 2012 978-0-7278-8089-5

A war story that leaves a nurse trapped in a house she’s convinced is possessed. War widow and nurse Ruth Taylor is driven to go to the front lines to provide care to soldiers and join her husband Peter in eternal rest. Instead of being sent to her first-choice posting, Ruth ends up at D’Espérance, a huge mansion in the middle of nowhere that’s been converted into an army hospital/training camp for the wounded. Ruth knows that war nurses should be made of strong stuff, but when she sees her husband’s face in the wood grain of the door of D’Espérance, she loses consciousness and falls to the floor. Even after recovering from her initial shock, Ruth is certain that something’s not right with the house. The soldiers are men

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“Dorsey’s 15th pits Serge against what may be the only folks as dysfunctional as he is: members of the international intelligence community.” from pineapple grenade

with skin pieced together like puzzles, all of them ravaged by war, but Major Black, the officer in charge, seems to have some future plan for them. When mysterious things begin happening throughout the house, Ruth is convinced she can figure out the truth if only she can get to the heart of what is happening behind D’Espérance’s closed doors. Brenchley (Desdaemona, as Ben Macallan, 2011, etc.) offers more questions than answers, creating a mysterious atmosphere without establishing a strong enough plot to make sense of it all.

MURDER OF THE BRIDE

Challinor, C.S. Midnight Ink/Llewellyn (240 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Mar. 8, 2012 978-0-7387-2335-8 Series: Rex Graves, 5 Why wouldn’t your wedding day be one of the happiest of your life? Because it’s your last. Amateur sleuth and Scottish barrister Rex Graves and his fiancée Helen are attending the nuptials of her former student in Derbyshire. The weather is miserable, the bride is heavily pregnant and the family members are bickering. Polly Newcombe is a wild child. Her groom, accountant Timmy Thorpe, is a sickly momma’s boy whose fraternal twin is a womanizer who neglects his wife and children. The reception is at the family home of Newcombe Court, a showcase for an amazing combination of architectural styles, where Polly and her mother still live after the disappearance of her father years before. When the bride, her mother and the vicar all suffer what appears to be a bad case of food poisoning, leaving Polly’s baby the only survivor, Rex is suspicious. Having prosecuted a case of arsenic poisoning once before, he recognizes the symptoms. The police are glad to have help from Rex, especially when a valuable collection of snuff boxes is stolen and Polly’s paternal aunt is found dead, pushed off the tower. Identifying still another corpse found at the train station as the missing Mr. Newcombe strongly suggests that someone has a grudge against the family. Rex must work through a large number of suspects in a limited time if he and Helen are to get on with their planned hiking trip. Rex’s fifth case (Murder on the Moor, 2011, etc.) is a derivative but pleasant classic English mystery.

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TAKEN

Crais, Robert Putnam (352 pp.) $26.95 | Jan. 24, 2012 978-0-399-15827-8 A kidnapping drops Elvis Cole and Joe Pike into the maelstrom of human smugglers. After L.A. college senior Krista Morales finds out the secret her boyfriend, USC dropout Jack Berman, has been hiding, she brings him out to the desert to reveal her own secret: the place where her mother Nita, who runs a highly successful business, was once brought into the country as an illegal alien. Unfortunately, the coyotes are still plying their customary trade at the very same spot, and Krista and Jack get swept up in a passing caravan. Convinced there’s something strange about a ransom demand of a measly $500 delivered over the phone by her daughter in a heavy Mexican accent, Nita calls in Elvis Cole, the World’s Greatest Detective. Working as usual with laconic Joe Pike, Cole soon ties the human-trafficking ring to the Double Dragon Korean gang and Syrian mastermind Ghazi al-Diri. But his attempt to infiltrate the ring as an unscrupulous capitalist who needs cheap labor backfires when he’s recognized and seized himself. Now Pike must enlist his mercenary buddy Jon Stone to help rescue Krista, Jack, Cole and maybe even the two dozen illegals with whom they’re being held in an undisclosed location. For some reason, the normally reliable Crais (The Sentry, 2011, etc.) doesn’t trust his story, loaded with the promise of vigilante heroics and nonstop violence, to deliver the goods. So he jazzes it by pulverizing it into sections that leap back and forth in time and among different points of view (e.g., “ELVIS COLE: four days before he is taken”). The result is to loosen the logical links that connect one set piece to another and recast the whole story as if it were a string of trailers for a dozen hellacious summer movies.

PINEAPPLE GRENADE

Dorsey, Tim Morrow/HarperCollins (352 pp.) $24.99 | Jan. 24, 2012 978-0-06-210073-3 Serge Storms (When Elves Attack, 2011, etc.) bumps it up a notch, joining a CIA operation so covert even the agency doesn’t know about it. Convinced that he may be wasting his considerable talent for mayhem by confining himself to killing bad guys one at a time, Serge decides to go global. A day after their flight from Tampa somehow never gets off the ground, he and perma-buzzed pal Coleman drive to Miami and check into the Royal Poinciana, whose crumbling aqua trim appeals to Serge’s sense of nostalgia. He gets himself a quick gig exporting cheap souvenirs to third-world countries. But he has his eyes on a bigger prize. He and Coleman visit the

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consulate of Costa Gorda and offer to spy on—well, whoever needs spying on. Security kicks them to the curb, convincing Serge that they’ve been hired. After a hasty visit to Mahoney, who’s retired from an FBI career dedicated mainly to stalking Serge, the newly minted secret agents set off on a surveillance tour of pretty much anyone involved in the upcoming Meeting of the Americas Conference. (Serge does take time out to dispatch several carjackers in bizarre and painful ways, since someone has to keep the predators in check.) It isn’t long before he attracts the attention of Lugar and Oxnart, rival CIA field supervisors, each of whom suspects that Serge is the other’s secret weapon. Don’t they realize that Serge belongs to no man, having dedicated himself wholly to Truth, Justice and Florida Trivia? Dorsey’s 15th pits Serge against what may be the only folks as dysfunctional as he is: members of the international intelligence community. (Author tour to Atlanta, Birmingham, Chicago, Dayton, Indianapolis, Lexington, Madison and Milwaukee. Florida regional author appearances)

PLUNDER

Evans, Mary Anna Poisoned Pen (306 pp.) $24.95 | paper $14.95 | Lg. Prt. $22.95 Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-59058-929-8 978-1-59058-931-1 paperback 978-1-59058-930-4 Lg. Prt. An archaeologist is racing to research sites that may soon be covered by a massive oil spill when she is sidetracked by

two murders. Faye Longchamp, her Native American husband Joe Wolf Mantooth, and their son Michael have set up shop in a small Louisiana gulf coast town. There they meet and befriend Amande Landreneau, a bright teen interested in archaeology, who has plans to lift herself out of poverty through education. Amande, who lives with her grandmother on a decrepit houseboat, is suddenly the center of unwanted attention when Steve, the husband of the mother who deserted her, shows up with a will claiming his share of her estate. Louisiana’s complex inheritance laws give Amande a share of the houseboat, some oil stocks and a very small island. First her mother’s half brother and then her grandmother are brutally murdered; then the small stock of treasure Amande has found is stolen. When Faye’s babysitter is injured, she takes Amande on to help out with Michael. She can’t help but get involved with Amande’s fight to keep herself out of the clutches of her greedy relatives, all trying to become her guardian in the hopes of getting control of her money. Faye agrees to act as an unpaid consultant to the local law, fully aware that her efforts to help Amande and uncover the killer may just be the death of her. In her delightfully erudite seventh (Strangers, 2010, etc.), Faye continues to weave archaeological tidbits and interesting people into soundly plotted mysteries.

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REDEMPTION

Flora, Kate Five Star (366 pp.) $25.95 | Feb. 15, 2012 978-1-59415-379-2 The discovery of a drowned corpse takes Portland’s Det. Sgt. Joe Burgess deep into the past he shared with the victim. Reginald Libby had fallen a long way since his glory days as a high-school athlete. First came Vietnam, then PTSD, then a doomed marriage to Claire Fontaine, the social-work student who took their son Joey and left him when she couldn’t rescue him. In more recent years Joe’s former teammate and comrade-in-arms has been known as Reggie the Can Man for the scavenging habits that helped give him subsistence. Now, however, there’s a rumor that he had another job, working for someone who owned a truck with an unidentifiable logo. Although Reggie was almost homeless—his most predictable domestic routine was meeting Maura O’Brien every Friday for sex—he wasn’t property-less, and everyone from self-identified witch Star Goodall to predatory developer Charlie Hazen seems to have been interested in his parcel of land. So maybe it’s no wonder that someone drowned him in a bathtub and then tried to make his death look like an accident, which Portland Police Chief Paul Cote is only too ready to accept. As he battles to keep his nurse lover Chris at arm’s length long enough to peer deeply and painfully into his old friend’s sad life, Joe (The Angel of Knowlton Park, 2008, etc.) is unaware that a shocking surprise is about to erupt in his own domestic affairs—one that will give him a great deal more empathy with Reggie, even if it doesn’t make this tangled case any easier to unravel. A sensitive, earnest and densely plotted tale in which pretty much everyone ends up being guilty of something.

CATCH ME

Gardner, Lisa Dutton (368 pp.) $26.95 | Feb. 7, 2012 978-0-525-95276-3 Like her fifth case (Love You More, 2011, etc.), Boston PD Det. Sgt. D.D. Warren’s sixth subordinates her to another woman just as strong as she is, and a lot more interesting. Back in high school, Randi Menke, Jackie Knowles and Charlene Rosalind Carter Grant were the Three Musketeers, inseparable buddies who’d do anything for each other. Now Randi and Jackie are dead, strangled a year apart on Jan. 21. So as this Jan. 21 approaches, Charlie is naturally terrified that her turn is coming. Accosting D.D. at a crime scene, she announces that she’s marked for death, describes how she’s gone on the run from her job as a small-town police dispatcher and begs her to solve her murder, still several days away.

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Underlining her peril is a note left at the scene: “Everyone has to die sometime. Be brave.” But something about Charlie’s story doesn’t add up. If she’s so scared that she’s pulled up stakes and high-tailed it to the big city, why hasn’t she changed her name? Instead of being a victim, could she be the vigilante killer of pedophiles D.D.’s squad has been hunting? Or is she both killer and victim? Alternating between the third-person narration of D.D.’s investigation and Charlie’s feverish first-person narrative, and throwing in more subplots showing abused women fighting their abusers, Gardner brings the ingredients to a rolling boil until she’s finally cut Charlie off from her police defenders, disarmed her and backed her into a corner awaiting her killer. Irresistible high-wire melodrama, though it’s easy to see why D.D. observes, “I think we just fell into a Lifetime movie.”

COOKING THE BOOKS

Greenwood, Kerry Poisoned Pen (280 pp.) $24.95 | paper $14.95 | Lg. Prt. $22.95 Mar. 6, 2012 978-1-59058-982-3 978-1-59058-984-7 paperback 978-1-59058-983-0 Lg. Prt. A baker’s holiday plans are thwarted by gentle blackmail and a series of mysteries. No more lazing around for zaftig Australian baker Corinna Chapman (Forbidden Fruit, 2010, etc.). Tommy, a schoolmate who’s now a caterer, forces her to do the baking for the cast and crew of a TV soap opera. Corinna’s assistant Jason is away surfing; her gorgeous Israeli lover Daniel is investigating the case of some missing bearer bonds; and her shop servers, Kylie and Goss, have achieved their ambitions by getting parts in the soap. Corinna herself goes back to the routine of rising early to bake bread and muffins. With some help from Tommy’s pastry chef Bernadette, she delivers the treats to the set and helps serve. The program is plagued by a number of annoying incidents, most of them directed at the star, aging prima donna Molly Atkins, whom almost everyone dislikes. Corinna has been helping Daniel, whose client, a chubby young woman bullied by her health-crazed bosses, had left the bonds in a phone booth, where they were picked up by a homeless man who’s now leaving nursery-rhyme clues to their whereabouts around Melbourne. In addition, Molly hires Daniel to find the baby she had given up for adoption as a young girl and the trickster who’s spiking her food with chili powder and such. To the usual delightfully quirky characters, lovingly detailed descriptions of food and surprising mystery, Greenwood adds several appended medieval recipes.

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AVAILABLE DARK

Hand, Elizabeth Minotaur (256 pp.) $23.99 | $10.99 e-book | Feb. 14, 2012 978-0-312-58594-5 978-1-4299-5041-1 e-book A moody loner heads to Helsinki and beyond, while murder and general creepiness follow. Photographer Cass Neary likes to live under the radar. Despite some early fame, she’d rather keep to her New York grunge corner, with periodic forays out to meet up with her longtime dealer (of drugs, not art). When Anton Bredahl, a collector of obscure art, contacts Cass to have her verify the authenticity of some prints, the job takes her all the way to Helsinki, where she meets with middleman and photographer Ilkka Kaltunnen to confirm that his product is the real deal. Ilkka doesn’t just have a set of prints to check, but a whole room full of mysterious and beautiful photos. These aren’t your standard point-and-shoots; they’re morbid and macabre scenes of death, almost like stills from a snuff film. Cass can appreciate them, but she starts to grow suspicious of why Anton might want to spend so much on these pictures. Instead of getting involved in what is clearly someone else’s problem, Cass hightails it to Reykjavik to locate her old love Quinn. Somehow, finding him enfolds her further in the creepy world she thought she left behind in Helsinki. Yet another author tries to capitalize on Stieg Larsson’s Scandinavian success. But this entry from Hand (Illyria, 2010, etc.) reads more like a grotesque fairy tale gone wrong. (Agent: Martha Millard)

DEADER HOMES & GARDENS

Hess, Joan Minotaur (320 pp.) $24.99 | Feb. 14, 2012 978-0-312-36362-8

Finding her dream house turns into a nightmare for Arkansas bookseller Claire Malloy (Damsels in Distress, 2007, etc.). Now that she and hunky deputy police chief Peter Rosen are back from their honeymoon in Egypt, Claire’s two-bedroom apartment seems a mite small to house both the happy couple and Claire’s daughter Caron. So rather than forcing the moody 17-year-old to move in with her bookish best friend Inez, Claire leaves the Book Depot in the hands of her earnest young clerk and goes off with real estate agent Angela Delmond to plow through Farberville’s meager housing stock. Just as Claire finds a beautiful restored Victorian backing onto a meadow, Angela disappears, stranding her client in her dream house. Worse yet, as she tries to complete the deal sans realtor, Claire finds the title to the house shrouded in conflict. Before his fatal plunge into the creek, Winston Hollow left it to his gay lover,

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Terry Kennedy. Naturally, the Hollow clan is disputing the will. Although his wife, flaky Pandora Butterfly Saraswati, couldn’t care less about material possessions, organic farmer Ethan Hollow sees Winston’s property as the Hollows’ birthright. Righteous Charles Finnelly, related by marriage to Ethan’s cousin Felicia, is less concerned with legacy than with losing the land to a godless pervert. Gentle Nattie is torn. She wants the family estate to stay intact but would love a neighbor like Claire to relieve the tedium of caring for her demented Uncle Moses. But it won’t be enough to win over the Hollows; in order to buy the house, Claire will need to solve a string of murders. In spite of Claire’s sardonic wit and the Hollows’ zaniness, Hess’ latest is all too predictable, bringing sad truth to Claire’s constant refrain: “if this were a mystery novel...”.

PARADISE FALLS

Jacobs, Jonnie Five Star (394 pp.) $25.95 | Feb. 15, 2012 978-1-59415-378-5

The abduction of a teenaged girl sends a happily blended family into a tailspin. It took hard work for widowed Grace Whittington to win the trust of her new husband Carl Peterson’s two children, awkward, bookish Adam and needy, unattractive Lucy. But now the two have come to rely on affectionate Grace, so different from their driven professional mother Mimi. They’ve also bonded with Grace’s daughter Caitlin, treating her as a true sibling. So when Caitlin disappears while waiting for her father, Jake, to pick her up from school, all the members of the household seem equally stricken. But as Rayna Godwin, the newcomer in Paradise Falls’ tiny detective force, starts to investigate, she finds evidence that Adam’s relationship with Caitlin may not have been so innocent—evidence that sets Grace at odds with Carl, who wants only to protect his son. Under pressure from local newspaper columnist Seth Robbins, who repeatedly questions her competence in print, Rayna struggles to connect Caitlin’s disappearance with the murder earlier that year of her schoolmate Karen Holiday. She also struggles with her memories of her own daughter’s murder and with her complicated relationship with Neal Cody, the FBI agent sent to help with what’s beginning to look like the work of a serial killer. Jacobs (The Next Victim, 2007, etc.) gives her story good bones, then swathes it in layers of brooding introspection and musing on family dynamics that muffle its punch.

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GEM OF A GHOST

Jaffarian, Sue Ann Midnight Ink/Llewellyn (336 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Feb. 8, 2012 978-0-7387-1381-6 A diamond engagement ring brings misfortune to its owners. Joanna Reid believes her first husband, action hero Max Naiman, is haunting her years after he sent his car hurtling off a cliff in Malibu. So who better to ask for help than her old friend Emma Whitecastle, host of The Whitecastle Report, a popular cable TV show about the paranormal? But before Emma (Ghost in the Polka Dot Bikini, 2011, etc.) can find out exactly what Max wants from his nowremarried widow, their daughter Lainey is hospitalized at a psychiatric facility following a series of attempts on her own life. Lainey blames her troubles either on her absent mother, now absorbed with her new hubby, business mogul Linwood Reid, or on her faltering engagement to pre-med student Keith Goldstein. Emma isn’t so sure. A visit to Keith finds him in bed with Lainey’s friend, Summer Perkins, who gets up and promptly plunges to her death from the condo’s balcony. But Emma catches a glimpse of a supernatural being on Lainey’s engagement ring, which Summer wore until just before her fall. And this spirit—unlike the ghost of Emma’s own Granny Apples, who’s generally helpful, although stubborn as a mule—seems bent on destruction. Tracing the ring’s history sends Emma on a cross-country jaunt to the rural Pennsylvania town of Mauch Chunk, lately reborn as tourist destination Jim Thorpe. She’s accompanied not only by the redoubtable Granny Apples, but by Quinn Keenan, adventurer and former guest on her TV show, whose Indiana Jones good looks and determined attentiveness spell trouble for Emma’s romance with rancher Phil Bowers. Emma’s third adventure takes the series from a quirky niche of its own right into the murky stew of mystery soaps. (Agent: Whitney Lee)

THE SILENCE

Jones, J. Sydney Severn House (240 pp.) $28.95 | Dec. 1, 2011 978-0-7278-8084-0 In turn-of-the-century Vienna, the disappearance of a wealthy heir is only the beginning of a complex case of government corruption and murder. When Councilman Reinhold Steinwitz, a protégé of Vienna’s charismatic Mayor Karl Lueger, is found dead in his office of a gunshot wound, an apparent suicide, his friend Karl Werthen, lawyer and sometime sleuth (Requiem in Vienna, 2010, etc.), is incredulous that Reinhold, who seemed untroubled, would have taken his own life. But his melancholy is temporarily eclipsed by the news

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“An enjoyable mix of mystery, thriller and romance that captures the harrowing experiences of life in war-torn London.” from mr. churchill’s secretary

of a valuable and, given the recent birth of his daughter Frieda, much needed commission. Werthen’s good friend, the artist Gustav Klimt, recommends him to his friend, wealthy Karl Wittgenstein, whose eldest son Hans has gone missing. (Hans’ ten-year-old brother Luki, youngest of the large family, will become famous years later as Ludwig Wittgenstein.) Though duty-bound to search, Karl, who assumes that his son is sowing wild oats, seems indifferent to his disappearance. Werthen gains a far different picture of Hans from other members of the family and classmates, who use the perhaps coded word “artistic” to describe him. Indeed, when he finds Hans, the circumstances might be characterized as compromising. Hans’ sexually ambiguous friend Henricus Praetor is the reporter who wrote a series of corruption stories about Steinwitz. When Praetor commits suicide, Werthen finds himself following a new mystery. Jones’ measured, stately prose is perfectly in tune with his period setting and his hero’s intense intellectual curiosity. Though sometimes he strains to shoehorn in period detail, his intricate plot unfolds with suspense and style. (Agent: John Talbot)

MR. CHURCHILL’S SECRETARY

MacNeal, Susan Elia Bantam (368 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Apr. 3, 2012 978-0-553-59361-7

Trying to sell your grandmother’s decaying Victorian house back in London can have unexpected consequences. Maggie Hope was born in England, but after her parents were killed in a car accident, her aunt, a college professor, took her along when she accepted a position in Boston. Unable now to sell her grandmother’s house, Maggie is forced to take in roommates to keep things going. Her degree in math from a prestigious college apparently means nothing when she applies for jobs that would use her considerable skills to aid Britain, now in the throes of World War II. Her friend David Greene, one of Winston Churchill’s private secretaries, prevails on Maggie to take on a secretarial post at 10 Downing Street, where her predecessor was murdered. She does her best with her job and enjoys a busy social life with her friends and roommates: Chuck, an Irish girl training to be a nurse; Paige, a Virginia debutante Maggie met in college; Annabelle and Clarabelle, “the Dumb-Belles”; and, most recently, Sarah, a ballerina. While the Luftwaffe is raining bombs on London, the IRA is doing its best to help Germany with sabotage and espionage. Maggie and her friends are caught up in the situation when it appears one of them may be aiding the IRA. In the midst of this intrigue, Maggie is shocked to learn that her father is still alive. Though she has little time to spare from her job, she’s determined to track him down. Brave, clever Maggie’s debut is an enjoyable mix of mystery, thriller and romance that captures the harrowing experiences of life in war-torn London. (Agent: Victoria Skurnick)

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UNWANTED

Ohlsson, Kristina Atria (320 pp.) $25.00 | Feb. 28, 2012 978-1-4391-9889-6 Ohlsson enters the crowded field of Swedish procedurals with the tale of a man bent on exacting a terrible revenge on errant mothers through their innocent children. Even after Sara Sebastiansson left the Gothenburg-Stockholm train for a moment to make a phone call and got separated from her sleeping daughter Lilian, 6, when the train pulled away, reuniting the two of them should have been routine. But a combination of bad luck, distractions and the uncannily precise planning of a determined kidnapper left Lilian’s seat empty and scores of potential witnesses unable to say what had become of her. The answer arrives in two horrible installments: first a parcel containing the little girl’s clothing and hair, then the discovery of her naked body in a hospital parking lot, the word “UNWANTED” written on her forehead. DCI Alex Recht’s special investigation team focuses on Sara’s estranged husband Gabriel, whose history of abuse, sudden disappearance and trail of lies mark him as well worth their attention. Inevitably, however, another child is abducted and killed, and the cops realize that they need to look outside Sara’s circle for suspects. The case, maintains Alex, is “a wild animal that had paralyzed his whole team,” and it’s easy to see why: Nothing and no one runs true to form, from Gabriel’s monstrous mother to philandering DI Peder Rydh and prickly team newcomer Fredrika Bergman. Connoisseurs of serial mayhem will solve the mystery long before Alex and his team, but Ohlsson’s knack for building surprises into the most routine scenes and people suggests that there’ll be plenty of material for the promised series.

CELEBRITY IN DEATH

Robb, J.D. Putnam (400 pp.) $27.95 | Feb. 21, 2012 978-0-399-15830-8

A Hollywood party at which Lt. Eve Dallas and Det. Delia Peabody get to spend quality time with the actresses playing them in a new movie is interrupted by what turns out to be only the latest in a long string of murders. Now that potty-mouthed journalist Nadine Furst has sold her book about still another of Eve’s innumerable triumphs (Treachery in Death, 2011, etc.) to Joel Steinburger’s Big Bang Productions, the cameras are rolling on Marlo Durn, playing Eve; K.T. Harris, playing Peabody; and Julian Cross, playing Eve’s husband Roarke, the world’s sexiest millionaire. But the onscreen mayhem is topped by the news that K.T. has stepped

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out of a dinner party bringing the lead actresses together with the two detectives they’re playing, gone upstairs for a smoke and ended up dead in a rooftop swimming pool. K.T. is soon unmasked as a conniving blackmailer who’ll be missed mainly by her bewildered parents back home. With so many potential victims of her craft—director Mason Roundtree, his wife Connie Burkette, publicist Valerie Xaviar, Marlo’s lover, actor Matthew Zank—literally in the same room, how can Eve and Peabody possibly spot a killer who’s already moved on by eliminating a potential witness? Only by getting a hunch to dig deeper into one suspect’s background and find a trail of homicide leading back from the future to the early 2020s. Their discovery leads to a long, long wrap-up—leaning on possible accomplices, inducing one of them to wear a wire, trapping the killer into another attempted murder, parading the array of evidence after a high-profile arrest—all of it eminently routine. Robb does all too little with the promising notion of doubling the cops with the actresses who play them, or indeed with any other elements of this futuristic, but surprisingly retro, closed-circle game of Hollywood squares.

THE DARKENING FIELD

Ryan, William Minotaur (336 pp.) $24.99 | Jan. 3, 2012 978-0-312-58651-5

In Stalinist Russia, a smart cop knows just how dangerous it is to be a smart cop. Alexei Karolev, senior detective in Moscow’s CID in 1937, has earned himself a reputation for competence and discretion he often wishes he hadn’t. The discretion part is what Karolev on his gloomy days—of which he has a fair share—views with particular alarm, since it’s earned him the attention of certain shivery personages high in the Communist Party. These are people to whom all publicity is bad publicity, and for whom Karolev has become the go-to guy whenever there’s a sticky situation like this one: On a movie set near Odessa, a young woman commits suicide, a young and beautiful party member famously connected to a super-powerful party member. Nikolai Ezhov, Commissar of State Security and head of the dreaded NKVD, has reason to believe that the young woman had help shuffling off her mortal coil. Ezhov wants Karolev to travel to Odessa to sort things out but without seeming to do so—that is, to catch a murderer without actually conducting an investigation. It’s a minefield of a mission, but, as Karolev knows full well, failure is never an option with the Ezhovs of the Party, their desk drawers brimming with one-way tickets to Siberia. Though he’s not quite as fully realized as Stuart Kaminsky’s Porfiry Rostnikov, the appealing Karolev in his second appearance (The Holy Thief, 2010) invites comparison to him. That’s high praise indeed. (First printing of 75,000)

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DEATH LEGACY

Seewald, Jacqueline Five Star (300 pp.) $25.95 | Apr. 11, 2012 978-1-4328-2573-7 A consultant and a psychiatrist are involved in a matter of life or death. Michelle Hallam, who has dual U.S. and U.K. citizenship, runs the consulting agency she inherited from her uncle, a former British spy, from both New York and Washington, D.C. After a meeting on the Riviera with Dr. Daniel Reiner sparks instant sexual attraction, the two meet again in New York when Michelle refers her client Nora Parker to him. Nora is suffering from depression after the mysterious disappearance of her husband James Parker, reportedly a suicide. The CIA, claiming that he was merely a clerk who ran off with another woman, refuses to give Michelle any information. Although Michelle pretends to be hard and cold to avoid any attachments, Daniel, warm and caring, refuses to give up. He becomes involved with both Mrs. Parker’s treatment and Michelle’s hunt for the truth. Parker’s friend, a professor who works for the CIA and the NSA, tells Michelle that James was an important spy. Michelle’s interest in the case provokes dangerous counter-interests. Not only is she harassed by both agencies, but she and Daniel are targeted for death by a dangerous Eastern European assassin. Michelle refuses to quit even when one of her assistants is killed. She and Daniel find themselves in a number of hair-raising situations before they can discover the truth. Veteran Seewald, who’s written a number of mysteries and thrillers (The Truth Sleuth, 2011, etc.), this time offers plenty of sex and not much else.

RESTLESS IN THE GRAVE

Stabenow, Dana Minotaur (384 pp.) $25.99 | Feb. 14, 2012 978-0-312-55913-7

Alaskan p.i. Kate Shugak goes undercover as a favor to her boyfriend, State Trooper Jim Chopin, and finds herself yet again in deep trouble. Jim’s friend, State Trooper Liam Campbell, is investigating a plane crash that he suspects is no accident. Although Finn Grant had almost as many enemies as the population of Newenham, the chief suspect is Liam’s wife Wy. Grant, who’d married into a famous Alaskan family, had recently been buying up every airtaxi service, lodge and plane he could get his hands on to build up his fixed base operation (FBO), located on a former air force base. When Kate and her half-wolf Mutt arrive in Newenham, she’s lucky to get both a job as waitress in the town’s most popular bar and an apartment over the garage of Tina Grant, Finn’s widow. Soon Kate and Mutt are attacked and thrown into a

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freezer in her apartment, presumably by someone looking for something. Trying a little breaking and entering herself, she searches the office in the main house and sneaks out to the airport office, where she hits the jackpot: a thumb drive containing information on Finn’s blackmail schemes. But she still has to figure out where he got the millions to invest, why his wife refuses to spend a penny of his money and what he was planning for the big cargo planes that were next on his buy list. Her hunt for answers puts her in danger, but she’s never one to give up. Stabenow offers Kate (Though Not Dead, 2011, etc.) and Liam (Better to Rest, 2002, etc.) a combination of fast and furious adventure and the beauty and complexity of Alaska. (Author tour to Alaska, Pacific Northwest, Phoenix and Houston)

RACING THE DEVIL

Terrell, Jaden Permanent Press (264 pp.) $28.00 | Jan. 1, 2012 978-1-57962-271-8 Who framed Jared McKean? Could’ve been anyone. After all, he’s an ex-cop. While he was a serving officer with the Nashville PD, Jared locked up plenty of bad guys. In fact, that’s where his mind flashes first when he realizes how jammed up he is. But then he decides that the frame’s just too seamless, too elaborate. Among those Jared’s jailed, there’s no one with that kind of ambition. For starters, Nashville PD actually has his voice on tape threatening the victim; there’s a mess of his fingerprints where they shouldn’t be, plus evidence bags full of DNA and other damning material. If Jared were still a cop, he’d cuff himself in a minute. Yet the truth is that he’d never even set eyes on Amanda Jean Hartwell, much less fired a lethal bullet into her. So if his nemesis isn’t a lowlife with a grudge, what’s behind the frame? Though that’s certainly the most pressing question, it’s not the only one Jared struggles to resolve. There’s the problem of how to be an ex-husband to a woman he can’t stop loving and how to let some other man be a proper father to his adored young son. And though he can’t solve either of these, Jared has to shove them to the back burner while he dervishes to figure out who he’s made so homicidally vengeful. Forgive the plot holes for the sake of a bright new talent feeling her way into a promising series. (Agent: Jill Marr)

NIGHT ROUNDS

Tursten, Helene Soho Crime (336 pp.) $25.00 | Feb. 7, 2012 978-1-61695-006-4

The most likely suspect in the strangling of a young Swedish night nurse seems to be the hospital ghost. Nurse Siv Persson knows what she saw shortly after a sudden power outage left banker Nils Peterzén dead in the ICU unit of Löwander Hospital, and what she saw was the easily recognizable figure of Tekla Olsson in her nurse’s uniform. The only thing that prevents Criminal Inspector Irene Huss, of Göteborg’s Violent Crime Unit, from arresting Nurse Tekla is that she’s been dead since her 1947 suicide, a year after she was dismissed by the founding father of Dr. Sverker Löwander, the Surgical Chief of Medicine. When the police follow Löwander to the body of Marianne Svärd, a nurse who was very much alive until a short time ago, they have no way of knowing that the carnage is just beginning. Two more inconvenient witnesses will soon die, leaving Huss (The Torso, 2006, etc.) and her squad to puzzle out just how the long-dead Nurse Tekla could have been on the scene—or who was pretending to be her. Peterzén’s regal widow Doris, an attractive former model? The surgeon’s second wife, fitness instructor Carina Löwander? A crazy homeless informant calling herself Mama Bird? Dr. Niklas Alexandersson, an ex–drag queen now shacked up with the former husband of a missing Löwander nurse? The investigation into the hospital’s past may unearth routine secrets, but the killer is well worth unmasking, and Huss’ home life, trying as ever (one of her twin daughters has become a militant vegetarian), is a welcome bonus.

science fiction and fantasy THE ISIS COLLAR

Adams, Cat Tor (384 pp.) $14.99 paperback | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-7653-2873-1 Another outing for fearless, supernaturally powered professional bodyguard Celia Graves (Demon Song, 2011, etc.). Warned by one of her most reliably psychic pals of an imminent magical incident at a local school, Celia bullies 250

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“Gripping, perfectly balanced and highly recommended.” from range of ghosts

the administration into evacuating the building—not quite soon enough. A magical device explodes in the basement, and Celia gets bitten by a child as she helps get the kids out. But the school’s still standing, there’s no real damage—so what actually happened? Celia finds she can’t remember, while her intuitive FBI contact Dom Rizzoli is baffled. As time passes, Celia’s unable to work because of persistent splitting headaches, and the bite turns out to have infected her with a strange magical ailment which, as kids too start to fall sick, turns out to be the first manifestations of a zombie plague. Worse for Celia, her viciously alcoholic mother has absconded from detox on Sirens’ island and is bent on making trouble. One of Celia’s boyfriends, the mage Bruno DeLuca, helps with investigating the bombing (it emerges that it was just one of many) while the other boyfriend, the mage John Creede, tries to discover exactly what’s ailing her—until he mysteriously disappears. Here, the furiously complicated backdrop—think L.A. noir with magic, supernatural beings, psychic powers, ghosts, warrior priests and modern technology—would benefit from a sense that any of it is grounded in ordinary reality; as has been remarked in another context, “when everybody’s special, nobody is.” Celia herself doesn’t even take center stage, being injured and forgetful and unable to work, and the final showdown fizzles. Bears all the hallmarks of a rush job—overcrowded, underpowered and noisy; still, series fans will keep reading.

RANGE OF GHOSTS

Bear, Elizabeth Tor (336 pp.) $25.99 | Mar. 27, 2012 978-0-7653-2754-3

Beginning of a new historical-fantasy trilogy, set in the same Mongol Khanate– style universe as the short novel Bone and Jewel Creatures (2010). Along the Celadon Highway, the empire of the Great Khagan is embroiled in civil war. A grandson, Temur, supported his defeated elder brother in terrible battles against his usurping uncle Qori Buqa. In the country of the Eternal Sky, a moon sails in the heavens for each of Mongke Khagan’s sons and grandsons. Once there were over a hundred, now less than a third remain, Temur’s Iron Moon among them. Though badly wounded, Temur survives, attaches himself to one of the wandering clans of the steppes and takes Edene as his woman. Meanwhile Qori Buqa allies himself with al-Sepehr, an ambitious renegade blood-sorcerer cultist of the Uthman Caliphate. Al-Sepehr raises an army of ghosts to kill Temur, but fails; instead the sorcerer snatches Edene and brings her to his stronghold of Al-Din. Meanwhile, Samarkar, a wizard of Tsarepheth in the Rasan Empire, where another, less bloody, power struggle is going on, learns of sorcerous doings in the city Qeshqer and travels to investigate. Here she meets Temur, who’s searching for Edene. They will be joined by Hrahima, a huge human-tiger Cho-tse, who has traveled from Ctesifon with more bad news. The Khagan Empire is |

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Temur’s to claim—if he can survive the plots of Qori Buqa. This lean, sinewy, visceral narrative, set forth in extraordinarily vivid prose full of telling detail, conveys a remarkable sense of time and place, where the characters belong to the landscape and whose personalities derive naturally from it. Though the book is not self-contained, Bear provides this opener with enough of a resolution to satisfy while whetting the appetite for more. Gripping, perfectly balanced and highly recommended. (Agent: Jennifer Jackson)

CITY OF DRAGONS

Hobb, Robin Harper Voyager (352 pp.) $27.99 | $12.99 e-book | Feb. 7, 2012 978-0-06-156163-4 978-0-06-210106-8 e-book Series: Rain Wilds, 3 The third book in the Rain Wilds Chronicles is a leisurely journey to nowhere, but its well-drawn characters and intriguing setting make it worth the trip. Set, as are many of fantasy maven Hobb’s (Dragon Haven, 2010, etc.) novels, in the Realm of the Elderlings, the story picks up as a group of dragons and their human keepers are settling in near the ancient city of Kelsingra. Once inhabited by dragons and Elderlings, a race of humans transformed to be dragon companions, Kelsingra lies dormant, waiting to be rediscovered by the fledgling dragons, who are still learning to fly. The keepers deal with a range of interpersonal dramas, while down the river from Kelsingra, various factions conspire to exploit the dragons and their ancestral home for financial and political gain. Hobb takes time to explore numerous characters in her sprawling cast, and thus the plot moves at a very slow pace, even though there are several important discoveries. Anyone hoping for resolution or significant advancement from the story will be disappointed, but Hobb tempers that frustration by delving deeply into her characters’ lives, using the rigid customs of the fantasy world to explore universal ideas about social pressures and romantic longing. The author is especially adept at examining the roles of women, whether through nervous teenage dragon-keeper Thymara’s trying to balance two jealous suitors or Elderling Malta’s struggles to bring a child to term. Their dilemmas are specific to the world of the novel, but the real-life resonance gives the story extra depth. The resurgence of the dragon species is vital, but no more so than men and women figuring out how to relate to one another. By the end, little has changed and few answers have been found, but the time spent with the characters never seems like a waste. Bring on the next installment. (Author appearances in Houston, Portland, Seattle and Tulsa. Agent: Ralph Vicananza)

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CHRYSANTHE

Meynard, Yves Tor (496 pp.) $15.99 paperback | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-7653-3026-0 Second English-language fantasy (The Book of Knights, 1998) from French-Canadian writer Meynard. In Chrysanthe, a world regulated by magical Rules, a magical book can, unbidden, write Heroes into reality. One such is King Edisthen, created to depose the incompetent previous monarch, Vaurd (a rather flimsy justification, all things considered). Vaurd’s son Evered—he’s prone to hysterical convulsions—burns for revenge. However, another rule decrees that anybody who knowingly harms the king dies. So Evered’s evil wizard, Casimir, traps Edisthen’s wizard and Hero, Orion, in a Made World, where reality is mutable, and destroys him, leaving only Orion’s apprentice, Melogian, to defend the realm. Next Casimir’s assistant, Mathellin, another evil wizard, abducts Edisthen’s young daughter Christine and conveys her deep into another Made World that resembles our own— except that, for some reason, the magical Rules still apply. Here, Christine all but forgets her origins. She does, though, have an invisible companion, actually a benevolent spell sent by Orion before he vanished. When Mathellin, or Uncle as Christine knows him, learns about the companion he sends Christine to a malevolently incompetent psychiatrist, who proceeds to “recover” impossible memories of childhood rape and abuse, a bogus therapy that all but destroys her. So, years later, when the Chrysanthe knight Sir Quentin shows up, Christine has great difficulty believing or trusting him. And even if Sir Quentin can successfully escort Christine back to Chrysanthe, Evered and his cohorts stand ready to plunge the world into a magical war. Meynard gradually fills in the back story, in convoluted fashion, and while there are many echoes of master fantasist Jack Vance, unfortunately they remain echoes, and neither the construct nor the characters ever come alive. Flashes of originality and gleams of insight aren’t enough to redeem this ponderously verbose and occasionally awkward effort.

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nonfiction WHY NATIONS FAIL The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty

THE WIDE LENS A New Strategy for Innovation

Acemoglu, Daron and Robinson, James Crown (544 pp.) $30.00 | Mar. 20, 2012 978-0-307-71921-8 Following up on their earlier collaboration (Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, 2005), two scholars examine why some nations thrive and others don’t. Neither geography, nor culture, nor mistaken policies explain the vast differences in prosperity among nations. The reasons for world inequality, write Acemoglu (Economics/MIT) and Robinson (Government/Harvard Univ.), are rooted in politics, in whether nations have developed inclusive political institutions and a sufficiently centralized state to lay the groundwork for economic institutions critical for growth. In turn, these economic institutions give citizens liberty to pursue work that suits their talents, a fairly enforced set of rules and incentives to pursue education and technological innovation. When these conditions are not met, write the authors, when the political and economic institutions are “extractive,” failure surely follows. It matters not if the Tsars or the Bolsheviks governed Russia, if the Qing dynasty or Mao ruled China, if Ferdinand and Isabella or General Franco reigned in Spain—all absolutism is the same, erecting historically predictable barriers to prosperity. The critical distinction between, say, North and South Korea, lies in the vastly different institutional legacies on either side, one open and responsive to the needs and aspirations of society, the other closed with power narrowly distributed for the benefit of a few. In their wide-ranging discussion, Acemoglu and Robinson address big-picture concepts like “critical junctures” in history—the Black Death, the discovery of the Americas, the Glorious Revolution—which disrupt the existing political and economic balance and can abruptly change the trajectory of nations for better or worse. They also offer a series of small but telling stories in support of their thesis: how the wealth of Bill Gates differs from the riches of Carlos Slim, why Queen Elizabeth I rejected a patent for a knitting machine, how the inmates took over the asylum in colonies like Jamestown and New South Wales and why the Ottoman Empire suppressed the printing press. For economics and political-science students, surely, but also for the general reader who will appreciate how gracefully the authors wear their erudition.

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Adner, Ron Portfolio (288 pp.) $29.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-59184-460-0

Adner (Strategy/Dartmouth Coll.) debuts with a valuable perspective on how to innovate successfully in an interdependent world. Even the finest new product fails when consumers don’t have a chance to choose it, a situation that occurs when a company’s partners—the distributors, retailers and salespeople who make up a company’s business ecosystem—do not adopt the innovation. The path to market, writes the author, is just as important as the new product itself. Examples abound: In the late 1990s, Michelin’s launch of an innovative run-flat tire failed when the company could not convince enough service stations to adopt its repair system. In the 1980s, Philips Electronics developed a great high-definition television with superior picture quality, but HDTV cameras and transmission standards had not yet arrived, leaving Philips with a $2.5 billion write-down. In each instance, the company’s focus on execution created a “blind spot” hiding key dependencies critical to success. By taking a broader view of their business ecosystem, companies can identify challenges that might undermine success and act to reconfigure the ecosystem in ways that eliminate problematic bottlenecks. In richly detailed stories, Adner shows how this was executed by Hollywood studios in introducing digital cinema and by Amazon in developing the market for e-readers. He also describes ongoing efforts by a fascinating new company named Better Place, which has been considering holistically the ecosystem of obstacles preventing the introduction of electric vehicles into the mainstream consumer market. The author pays close attention to Apple’s successes of the past decade, during which it reconfigured ecosystems to achieve success in three markets: music players, smartphones and digital tablets. Apple’s “hidden point of differentiation has not been in its elegant products but rather in its approach to leverage its advantage from one ecosystem into the next.” Essential reading for innovators.

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“An American journalist offers an elegant, deeply honest look at the failure of Jewish liberalism in forging Israel as a democratic state.” from the crisis of zionism

BETTER THAN NORMAL How What Makes You Different Can Make You Exceptional

Archer, Dale Crown Archetype (304 pp.) $25.00 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-307-88746-7 978-0-307-88747-4 e-book

A psychiatrist and CNN regular examines commonly held notions of mental-health disorders and their potentials for “normalcy.” Frustrated with today’s “overdiagnosed, overmedicated, and undertreated society,” Archer attempts to destigmatize eight common psychological ailments by quantifying the dominance level of their inherent traits. In uniquely defusing disorders ranging from ADHD and OCD to anxiety and schizophrenia, the author believes the mental-health industry has been somewhat “glamorized.” Throughout his chatty, anecdotal book, Archer convincingly argues that we can actually function normally with mildly influential characteristics of narcissism, social anxiety and bipolar disorder. When these traits are within the lower (harmless) end of the continuum and don’t become a “superdominant” mannerism, they can be seen as beneficial behavioral enhancements—e.g., high energy and enthusiasm doesn’t always mean a bipolar personality; sensitivity and deliberation shouldn’t equal social anxiety disorder. Archer’s creative redressing of these pathologically considered conditions is compelling and will definitely capture the attention of readers eager to “re-diagnose” themselves using his spectrum scale. The author, who admits to being a hyper-intuitive “world-class poker player,” does gamble a bit, however, with the free association of some of the more volatile psychological conditions in considering their lighter traits as derivatives of normalcy. Drawing heavily on his own experiences, Archer proudly advances his beliefs with episodes from his psychiatric practice, website queries and travels throughout the country. There are some fresh, modern and mildly amusing associations here; however, contrasting self-assessed symptoms of a disorder as significant as schizophrenia with the idiom of “magical thinking” will surely raise eyebrows. Optimistic and creatively inspired assessments that occasionally overreach.

THE IRISH WAY Becoming American in the Multiethnic City

Barrett, James R. Penguin Press (400 pp.) $29.95 | Mar. 5, 2012 978-1-59420-325-1

Barrett (History and African-American Studies/Univ. of Illinois; William Z. Foster and the Tragedy of American Radicalism, 2000, etc.) explores the influence of Irish immigrants on nearly every aspect of American society. 254

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Irish immigrants have always been a hardy group, particularly during the period of 1890-1930, when many of them led the country in politics, trade unions, the theater and the administration of the Catholic Church. The first wave struggled to make a life, vying with not only racism and discrimination, but also territorialism and infighting. However, they had the advantage of numbers and the ability to read and write English. They didn’t settle in small protective neighborhoods but dispersed throughout the cities, which made their presence more conducive to the acculturation of new arrivals than in the ethnic quarters. The author establishes a distinct difference between acculturation and assimilation, the former being a gradual process during which ideas and language are absorbed both from and by the neighborhood. The second generation strove for respect and acceptance by moving into the church and skilled trades. Despite priests and other church workers of different ethnic descent, particularly Italian and Polish, Irish priests and nuns controlled the church, and their native scrappiness made them leaders in the unions. By 1900, more than 95 percent of Irish Americans were literate, and they quickly learned that they could control neighborhoods simply by delivering for their neighbors, whether in jobs or protection, collecting social capital at every turn. Thus the Irish could build political machines, which were blindly followed by “simple-minded” immigrants. Barrett’s vast knowledge illuminates “America’s first ethnic group.”

THE CRISIS OF ZIONISM

Beinart, Peter Times/Henry Holt (304 pp.) $26.00 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8050-9412-1

An American journalist offers an elegant, deeply honest look at the failure of Jewish liberalism in forging Israel as a democratic state. Founded in the spirit of Jewish liberalism, Israel promised in its declaration of independence to ensure “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex.” Yet successive wars stripped not only rights but basic humanity from much of its population, namely the Palestinians, creating a terrible irony for Zionists, especially in America. Daily Beast senior political writer Beinart (Journalism and Political Science/City Univ. of New York; The Icarus Syndrome: A History of American Hubris, 2010, etc.) represents a liberal, nonOrthodox tradition among fairly young Jews for whom Judaism and social justice go hand in hand, and who no longer buy the line of Jewish “victimhood” that helped cohere their parents’ generation of postwar Holocaust survivors. Unlike their parents, who saw anti-Semitism lurking everywhere, younger liberal Jews recognize Jewish power and the need for ethical responsibility in exercising that power. Violence, occupation and racism have eroded the good Zionist soul, Beinart writes,

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yet the powerful Jewish organizations in America often deny these ills. For example, AIPAC, today’s most powerful Jewish lobby, did not find its financial legs until the elections of Menachem Begin and Ronald Reagan, using Israel’s entrenched sense of being a “victim-state” as its fundraising card. As these organizations moved away from their roots in civil liberties and turned toward a solipsistic tribalism, political pressure in Washington moved the same way, as evinced by the retreat by President Obama—whom Beinart considers a leader in the true Jewish liberal tradition—on West Bank settlements and Palestinian statehood. Is the occupation Israel’s fault, and should American Jews criticize Israel? Beinart delves into the hypocritical waffling and rhetorical absurdities. Straight talk by a clear-thinking intellectual with his heart in the right place.

RED BRICK, BLACK MOUNTAIN, WHITE CLAY Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival

Benfey, Christopher Penguin Press (288 pp.) $25.95 | Mar. 19, 2012 978-1-59420-326-8

From Benfey (English/Mount Holyoke Coll.; A Summer of Hummingbirds: Love, Art, and Scandal in the Intersecting Worlds of Emily Dickinson, Mark Twain, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Martin Johnson Heade, 2008, etc.), a lyrical but unsentimental family memoir, taking in art, memory and time. The circumstances of the author’s youth are not entirely rare: On one side, the bloodline extends far back into the American colonial past, on the other to just a few decades in the lives of refugees and exiles. Thus our narrator, as a boy, found himself at a basketball awards dinner where trophies were followed by a father-and-son game, his German-accented father dressed in coat and tie, awkward. “He could no more play basketball than fly to Mars,” writes Benfey. However, his American grandfather was a more practical sort, a bricklayer who once traveled from North Carolina to the Benfey home in Indiana just to lay in a mantelpiece, showing his grandson how to apply mortar, “spread with a pointed trowel like icing on a cake.” Disappointments gave way to understandings as the years passed. Forging links to a deeper past, the author looks at great naturalist William Bartram and explores the hidden past of his parents—he discovered, for instance, that his mother had been engaged to be married before meeting his father, a fact that would rattle any sensitive kid. Benfey’s account, as he puts it, is more geological than chronological, bound together by the clay worked by his artful ancestors and, in one extended section, by the against-the-grain teaching that took place at Black Mountain College in North Carolina courtesy of a small troupe of brilliant European exiles. “Black Mountain had seemed almost a mythical place during our upbringing, a tether linking our flat Midwestern childhood to |

the vivid summers of artistic innovation and adventure,” he writes—how many other childhood homes had a painting by Josef Albers in the dining room? Lively, intelligent and interesting—a look inside not just a single family, but also an entire artistic tradition now largely forgotten.

CARL VAN VECHTEN AND THE HARLEM RENAISSANCE A Portrait In Black and White

Bernard, Emily Yale Univ. (368 pp.) $30.00 | Feb. 28, 2012 978-0-300-12199-5

We tend to think of jazz as the center of the Harlem Renaissance, but music

was only a small part. In the great migration between the wars, when blacks fled poverty and racial violence in the South, a wealth of organizations sprang to life to foster social and political progress. The publishing industry took a lead role, and Carl Van Vechten (1880–1964) was the impetus that fostered the talents of so many, helping provide a voice to offset long-held stereotypes. Already a published author and close friend of the Knopfs, Van Vechten became a conduit for works of the men and women he met in Harlem, at his well-attended parties and through his work as a dance, theater and music critic. Indeed, Knopf came to rely almost exclusively on Van Vechten’s judgment of works submitted to them. Bernard (English and Ethnic Studies/Univ. of Vermont; Some of My Best Friends: Writings on Interracial Friendships, 2005, etc.), who has devoted years to the study of the Harlem Renaissance, delivers a semester’s worth of knowledge in a smooth, edifying narrative. The available documents and well-preserved correspondence in the James Weldon Johnson Collection at Yale University provided the author information for volumes of work on Van Vechten and the Renaissance he promoted. Bernard’s subject helped establish that collection and donated all his correspondence to it while he encouraged his friends to do the same. His own work, Negro Heaven (1925), was a bestseller and drew both raves and rants. Some referred to it as a black book written by a white man, while others saw it as an illustration of the power of language in the relation between race and art. The development of literature by and about AfricanAmericans owes its birth to Van Vechten, and Bernard ably brings him to life.

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“A fair, well-reasoned assessment of the many extraordinary claims made for yoga.” from the science of yoga

THE INVISIBLE ARAB The Promise and Peril of The Arab Revolutions Bishara, Marwan Nation Books/Perseus (256 pp.) $26.00 | Feb. 1, 2012 978-1-56858-708-0

Al-Jazeera English’s chief political analyst offers a keen, journalistic look at the making of the Arab Spring and its ramifications. Bishara (Palestine/Israel, 2001, etc.) characterizes the “invisible Arab” as the benumbed masses long brutalized under the military dictatorships of Hosni Mubarak, Muammar Gaddafi and others who finally found their voice in the Arab Spring uprisings. The corruption, oppression and sheer ineptitude of the Arab world’s autocratic rulers had long been acknowledged and monitored by U.S. officials (as revealed in recent WikiLeaks documents), yet the leaders had been propped up for “economic and strategic interests.” How have the once-mighty Arab people been kept down for so long? Bishara starts with the “humiliation” and “sadistic paternalism” caused by the arbitrary division of the Arab world by the imperialist powers, creating a corrupt, rapacious regime comprised of populist military leaders who consolidated power under the enabling complacency of the U.S. or Soviet leaders. A uniform ruling ideology kept their families and cronies in power, and democratic and Islamic movements in check. Yet the “miracle generation” has emerged with the information revolution, making the people “visible in public spaces” not through suicide bombings but by “the affirmation of life, dignity, and liberty through their protests.” From humble beginnings, community activists and coalition builders, marginalized, voiceless labor unions and women built the protest movement, from Tunisia to Egypt, and emboldened others. Bishara also looks at the negative role of the ayatollahs and Saudi Arabians and the positive role of Al-Jazeera and social media. Unlike John R. Bradley’s skeptical After the Arab Spring (2012), Bishara does not believe the Islamists are poised to co-opt the revolution, but sees more “creative thinking” in the Arab transformation.

AMERICA’S GREAT DEBATE Henry Clay, Stephen A. Douglas, and the Compromise that Preserved the Union Bordewich, Fergus M. Simon & Schuster (496 pp.) $30.00 | Apr. 17, 2012 978-1-4391-2460-4

Wholly enjoyable study of an earlier era of intense political partisanship. Historian Bordewich (Washington: The Making of an American Capital, 2008, etc.) recounts the amazing story of the cliffhanging 256

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compromise hammered out in both houses of Congress in 1850 that pitted the rival pro- and antislavery factions against each other and saved the country, temporarily, from dissolution. The war with Mexico four years before had added 1.2 million square miles to the western United States, while slavery, thanks to the cotton gin, had exploded exponentially. Would the new territories comprise slave states or free states? How to maintain the balance in the Senate and House of Representatives between them? Bordewich portrays a colorful cast of characters—Democrats, Whigs, Free Soilers and abolitionists—whose passionate rhetoric attained lyrical heights and brought the debate about America’s very identity to the forefront. Chief architect Henry Clay, in ill health and at the end of an eminent career, brandished a fragment of George Washington’s coffin and warned his colleagues of the dire consequences of disunion. Urging forbearance on both sides, Clay laid out the components of a plan accounting for the admission of California and New Mexico without restrictions (meaning they would decide themselves about slavery), resolving the disputed borders with Texas, abolishing the slave trade in Washington, D.C., and soothing Southerners’ concerns over fugitive slaves. Warring factions—on the South, led by senators John Calhoun and Jefferson Davis, and on the North, led by Daniel Webster and William Seward—threatened to defeat the omnibus bill, until the rhetorical arm-wringing by the “steam engine in britches” Stephen A. Douglas squeezed a compromise and the necessary passage. Acquiescence to the Fugitive Slave Law, however, would henceforth haunt the lawmakers. A thrilling history lesson filled with pistol waving in the Senate, “backroom confabulations,” the death of a president and old-fashioned oratorical efflorescence. (16-page insert of black-and-white photos)

THE SCIENCE OF YOGA The Myths and the Rewards Broad, William J. Simon & Schuster (320 pp.) $26.00 | Feb. 7, 2012 978-1-4516-4142-4

A fair, well-reasoned assessment of the many extraordinary claims made for yoga. Based on ancient ideas about the effect of body positions and breath control on mind and spirit, yoga first flowered in India as the centerpiece of Tantric cults that searched for enlightenment in sexual ecstasy. Its mostly male practitioners claimed the art endowed them with not only sexual prowess but also magical powers. One famous 19th-century yogi astonished his noble patron by seeming to come alive after being sealed for 40 days in a tomb with no food or water. Early-20th-century Indian rationalists proved many of those feats to be nothing more than magic tricks, but the art had a second flourishing in the West in the form of mostly low-impact exercise and meditation. Modern yogis and yoginis (their female counterparts) have continued to claim extraordinary powers for the new varieties of yoga, calling them miracle exercises that are completely safe

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and more aerobic and slimming than even running or swimming. New York Times senior writer Broad (The Oracle: The Lost Secrets and Hidden Messages of Ancient Delphi, 2006, etc.), who has practiced yoga since 1970, carefully pulls apart these claims, citing decades of scientific research and medical practice. Even the most energetic poses, such as the Salutation to the Sun, writes the author, are barely more aerobic and trimming than sitting and watching those poses performed on TV. The author also shows that yoga, far from being “completely safe,” can often result in serious injuries, including stroke, brain and nerve injury and even death. However, Broad makes a convincing argument, firmly rooted in science, for yoga’s powers to heighten concentration, inspire creativity, improve moods—even to cure some physical conditions like torn rotator cuffs. A fascinating, persuasive case for demythologizing yoga and recognizing its true value to mind and body.

THE FOX EFFECT How Roger Ailes Turned a Network into a Propaganda Machine

Brock, David & Rabin-Havt, Ari Anchor (288 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Feb. 21, 2012 978-0-307-27958-3 978-0-307-94768-0 e-book

A thorough catalogue of Fox News president Roger Ailes’ misdeeds as head of the controversial network. Brock, the founder and CEO of Media Matters, and RabinHavt, the organization’s executive vice president, have reason to despise the man at the center of their new book. In the epilogue, they detail the well-publicized and vicious personal smears Ailes authorized in retaliation for their organization’s critical coverage of Fox. According to a psychiatrist brought onto a Fox News talk show to assess his mental health, Brock is a “very dangerous man.” Brock and Rabin-Havt paint Ailes as a petty, vindictive right-wing ideologue whose ruthlessness is untempered by any sense of obligation to truth, fairness or basic human decency. Given that their book draws on years of research and includes comprehensive footnotes, unlike Fox News’ widely debunked on-air reporting, the authors’ damning portrait of Ailes is quite a bit more credible than the assertions of various Fox News personalities that Brock is “full of self-hatred” and President Obama attended a radical madrassa and may not have been born in the United States. While the majority of the book is well-documented enough to be convincing, Brock and RabinHavt occasionally draw on sources of questionable merit—e.g., Gawker. Their most devastating source is Fox News itself, a network that makes little secret of its own bias. Worth reading for anyone who suspects Fox News of distorting the truth and is eager to spend hours sifting through the evidence. For those observant and literate enough to have seen through Fox from the beginning, this book feels like an exhaustively researched exercise in stating the obvious. |

HAMAS From Resistance to Government

Caridi, Paola Translated by Teti, Andrea Seven Stories (432 pp.) $24.95 paperback | Mar. 13, 2012 978-1-60980-382-7 Historical survey rather than a polemical view of the problematic Islamist movement that has both sounded the Palestinians’ needs and plagued Israel since the group’s founding in 1987. In this capable, evenhanded work of research, proficiently translated from the Italian, journalist and historian Caridi carefully tracks the founding of Hamas from its offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood to its West-defining period of terrorism to its eventual, effectual embrace of political representation since 2006. With the de facto protectorate of Egypt over the Palestinian territories after Israel’s 1967 war, the Gaza Strip became the locus of the Islamic resistance movement that evolved from the Muslim Brotherhood, implementing social programs as well as political education in rebuilding the Palestinian identity. The First Intifada of 1987 ignited Hamas and prompted its fledgling leaders to the nettlesome Palestinian National Congress, calling for the elimination of Zionism, which has stuck in Israel’s craw ever since, proving nothing but an embarrassment to the movement. Caridi claims that the Charter’s “significance has in actual fact been overestimated,” and more or less supplanted by more conciliatory language once Hamas acquiesced to participate in elections in 2006, yet the anti-Israel phrasing was never revoked. Women make up a good half of its membership, although polygamy is accepted and the wearing of the hijab expected; terrorism in the form of suicide bombing was activated in retaliation for Baruch Goldstein’s shooting inside Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994, killing 29 Muslims; and the movement has stubbornly opposed the Oslo peace negotiations. Hamas’ relationship with Fatah (Yasser Arafat’s political organization) has been prickly, and its 2006 election victory has brought it to power as well as to grief. Somewhat densely plotted, this is nonetheless an intriguing study of Hamas’ tortuous movement from “pebbles to power…from terrorist attacks to ministries.”

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NINETY DAYS A Memoir of Recovery Clegg, Bill Little, Brown (208 pp.) $24.99 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-0-316-12252-8

A recovering crack addict traverses the slippery slopes of sobriety, only to find the possibility of relapse around every corner. Fresh out of rehab, Clegg (Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man, 2010) haunted the streets of his former hometown broke, busted and barely able to suppress his old cravings. Prior to his addiction, he was a hotshot literary agent. After, he was penned into a few blocks bounded by “trigger” zones his sponsor warned were absolutely off-limits. The desire to use again is omnipresent, and his story is littered with lies, betrayals and debauched sex. Eventually Clegg realized that the next step in his dismal descent was surely death. The author writes with astonishing honesty, infusing the intensely interior narrative with powerful imagery and penetrating insights. Even the short journeys to his daily support groups sound like heroic odysseys—though Clegg is no hero. The outcome is never assured, and there are casualties among the sharply drawn characters, most of whom the author seems to know as intimately as his own psyche. Three scant months may not seem like a long time, but for all involved it was an epic period of transformation. At turns cautionary and inspirational, Clegg’s saga embraces both the weaknesses and strengths of human nature, while only alluding to the possibility of salvation. A gritty, lyrical and potent portrait of what it really means to be addicted.

EYES RIGHT Confessions from a Woman Marine

Crow, Tracy Univ. of Nebraska (224 pp.) $24.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8032-3504-5 A frank account of a woman’s rapid rise and scandalous fall in the Marines during the Reagan era. Crow (Creative Writing/Eckerd Coll.) begins in an interrogation room where she was being questioned in preparation for a potential court-martial on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer. The author returns to this room, and that time period, intermittently throughout the book. Otherwise, the story progresses in roughly chronological order: Crow’s entrance into the Marines as a teenager seeking to escape alcoholism (her own and her father’s); her successful career as a military journalist; her personal struggles with marriage and motherhood. A particularly strong theme is the way the military was unable to see beyond her unmistakably feminine body: “Despite the personal challenges I had overcome—alcoholism, self-loathing, laziness—I could never defeat the signals my 258

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body sent the world.” Crow’s response to sexism and harassment was to starve herself to make weight and ignore a serious health problem in order to complete an assignment—a decision that had devastating consequences. By the end of the book, what seemed like shocking conduct at the beginning is placed in the context of the author’s drive for a life with purpose, and we see that the decision she made to resolve her situation is a true sacrifice on her part. At times the author’s prose is stilted, and she often relies too heavily on a few phrases (e.g., “hot blood,” “too-tight bra”). Honest and unsparing, though sometimes repetitive, this memoir is at its best when exploring the challenges faced, and sacrifices demanded, by women in the armed forces. (13 illustrations)

MODERN NEW YORK The Life and Economics of a City

David, Greg Palgrave Macmillan (256 pp.) $28.00 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-0-230-11510-1

Veteran Crain’s New York Business contributor David, who directs the business reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, profiles the longterm trends that have stimulated the city’s economic recovery. The author identifies financial services, tourism, film and TV production and higher education as the primary sectors that have helped turn the city around since its fiscal crisis in the 1970s. Contrary to expectations, David shows that the New York City’s economy is not as dependent on the ups and downs of Wall Street as the rest of the country; as evidence he cites the 2008 economic collapse and the 1982 recession, along with New York’s own deep recession in the ’70s, when more than 600,000 jobs were lost. One tendency remains clear: Manufacturing jobs have disappeared. After World War II, the city could count around 1 million workers in manufacturing, while in 2009 there were fewer than 100,000. Examining the tourism industry, David notes that the city greets 50 million tourists per year, with 10 million coming from abroad, and puts them up in 96,000 hotel rooms (double the capacity of the mid ’80s). The author also assesses the role of all the mayors of the city, singling out for special praise the economic policies of Ed Koch and Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg has provided the impetus for many innovative approaches, including a competitive effort to design a world-class graduateschool–level incubator for modern engineering businesses. However, with more than 190,000 jobs and an average yearly salary of more than $400,000, Wall Street provides 20 percent of the state’s finances and 13 percent of the city’s receipts (without considering property and sales taxes). Using data, interview and anecdote, David assembles a brief but interesting history of the country’s largest city—though he does not address whether Wall Street’s global financial position will be enough to keep the city moving forward.

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“That we live in a digital universe is indisputable; how we got there is a mesmerizing tale brilliantly told by science historian Dyson.” from turing’s cathedral

COLLEGE What It Was, Is, and Should Be

Delbanco, Andrew Princeton Univ. (240 pp.) $24.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-691-13073-6 Has the democratic ideal of a classical education, open to rich and poor alike, become a thing of the past? That’s the scenario proposed by esteemed literary scholar Delbanco (Humanities and American Studies/Columbia Univ.; Melville: His World and Work, 2005, etc.) in this engaging assessment of how American higher education has lost its way. He starts with the American ideal, dating back to the Puritans, of college as a place that trained the whole person, taught students “how to think and how to choose” and how to question received wisdom. The examined life, in essence; a process of “growing out of an embattled sense of self into a more generous view of life as continuous self-reflection in light of new experience, including the witnessed experience of others.” In modern America, that focus has shifted: Now it’s less about the eternal verities than chasing after dollars, more about filling seats than heads and more about science than the humanities. The research university is now regarded as “the most evolved species in the institutional chain of being.” The greater purpose founders, while “literature, history, philosophy, and the arts are becoming the stepchildren of our colleges.” Given his pedigree, Delbanco may sound like he’s protecting his own turf, but he makes a strong case that the purely materialist approach to education assures that the disparity between rich and poor students only widens, with “merit-based” financial aid and scholarships all going disproportionately to students from families with money. Scholarship reform, a classical curriculum, more real teaching (and less lecturing to crowded halls) are all in order. Although stronger on diagnosis than cure, this is an impassioned call for a corrupt system to heal itself.

TURN HERE SWEET CORN Organic Farming Works

Diffley, Atina Univ. of Minnesota (344 pp.) $24.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8166-7771-9

One family’s quest to build, maintain and protect their organic farm. “When people ask what I most cherish about farming, what comes is the depth of intimacy—with plants and nature, with coworkers in the field and at the stand, with produce buyers and customers,” writes Diffley, an organic vegetable farmer who founded, with her husband, the consulting business Organic Farming Works. Beginning with her work on her family’s farm, |

the author expresses a love for the soil and all that grows in it; she knows in her heart she is, and always will be, a farmer. She did a stint as a migrant farmer before settling down with her husband, raising children and creating an organic farm of their own. The journey has been rewarding but rarely easy or without complications. Diffley expresses the heartbreak and anguish of losing land to development and fighting to keep her Minnesota farm, Gardens of Eagan, from being overrun by a pipeline. She explains the importance of seeds, their roots and cultivating the soil to best nurture them. “I still think God can be in the form of raindrops, and it is fascinating to me that I can pray for or curse the same drops,” she writes, expressing the terror and benefits of a single storm. Through it all, the support of other organic farmers, neighbors and the people and co-ops that relied on her harvests kept Diffley and her family going and growing. An education on organic farming and its importance, as well as a heartfelt love letter to the land.

TURING’S CATHEDRAL The Origins of the Digital Universe Dyson, George Pantheon (432 pp.) $29.95 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-375-42277-5 978-0-307-90706-6 e-book

That we live in a digital universe is indisputable; how we got there is a mesmerizing tale brilliantly told by science historian Dyson (Project Orion: The Atomic Spaceship 1957–1965, 2002, etc.) The author establishes late 1945 as the birth date of the first stored-program machine, built at the Institute for Advanced Study, established in Princeton in 1932 as a haven for theoreticians. It happened under the watch of the brilliant mathematician John von Neumann, fresh from commutes to Los Alamos where the atom bomb had been built and the hydrogen bomb only a gleam in Edward Teller’s eye. Dyson makes clear that the motivation for some of the world’s greatest technological advances has always been to perfect instruments of war. Indeed, von Neumann’s colleagues included some who had been at Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where a dedicated-purpose computer, ENIAC, had been built to calculate firing tables for antiaircraft artillery. The IAS computer, MANIAC, was used to determine the parameters governing the fission of an atom device inside an H-bomb that would then ignite the fusion reaction. But for von Neumann and others, the MANIAC was also the embodiment of Alan Turing’s universal machine, an abstract invention in the ’30s by the mathematician who would go on to crack the Nazi’s infamous Enigma code in World War II. In addition to these stories, Dyson discusses climate and genetic-modeling projects programmed on the MANIAC. The use of wonderful quotes and pithy sketches of the brilliant cast of characters further enriches the text. Who knew that eccentric mathematician-logician Kurt Gödel had married a Viennese cabaret dancer?

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“Gritty, gripping, and often heartbreaking—an impressive piece of narrative nonfiction.” from beautiful thing

Meticulously researched and packed with not just technological details, but sociopolitical and cultural details as well—the definitive history of the computer. (16 pages of black-and-white illustrations)

BEAUTIFUL THING Inside the Secret World of Bombay’s Dance Bars

Faleiro, Sonia Black Cat/Grove (240 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-8021-7092-7 A harsh, cinematic look at the international sex trade. In 2005, Vogue contributing editor Faleiro (The Girl, 2008) met the beautiful, charismatic Leela, “the highest-paid bar dancer” in her Bombay suburb. Leela brought Faleiro into her world, an environment filled with sleazy Johns, frightening pimps and, of course, other exploited young women who were trapped in a life of stripping and/or prostitution. When Bombay’s strip-club scene crashed and almost burned, Faleiro followed Leela’s quest to rebuild her life. Leela was happy to let the author report on her adventures, and the result is a glimpse into a frightening subculture unlike anything that a typical American has ever experienced. Originally published in India in 2010, the book has become an international sensation; after only a few pages, it’s easy to understand why. With crackling prose, Faleiro provides an intense, disconcertingly entertaining glimpse into the shadowy corners of a foreign culture; the fast-paced narrative, while undeniably journalistic, reads like a thriller. But what ultimately gives the book its resonance is Faleiro’s empathy and love for her fully developed subjects. In lesser hands, these young people could have come off as clichés, but the author makes sure we care for them and root for them to survive a life that most will never understand. Gritty, gripping, and often heartbreaking—an impressive piece of narrative nonfiction.

TRINITY A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb Fetter-Vorm, Jonathan Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux (160 pp.) $22.00 | Jun. 12, 2012 978-0-8090-9468-4

Powerfully understated in both text and art, this matter-of-fact account of the atom bomb’s development renders scientific complexity intelligible. There is no preaching here, so readers must ponder the illustrations of apocalyptic devastation in order to process the full implications of nuclear warfare. The framing of the narrative begins with the invocation of Prometheus, who took fire 260

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from the gods and gave it to mankind (“knowledge for which we weren’t ready”), and ends with the ominous: “If radiation were somehow visible…we would see this power everywhere we looked. We would see it in the dirt, in our bones, in the air and the water…And we would remember that this atomic force is a force of nature. As innocent as an earthquake. As oblivious as the sun. It will outlast our dreams.” The artistry of Fetter-Vorm, who has graphically adapted Beowulf and Moby-Dick, among other works, complements his stark prophecy, as it details the bomb’s development from the discovery of radioactivity by Marie Curie through the Manhattan Project led by leftist physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, through the decision by President Harry Truman to employ Hiroshima as not only a military target but a “test site.” The narrative leaves readers with the sense that few of those involved in the development or deployment of the bomb had a sense of the almost unimaginable devastation that would result. The use of the weapon not only caused a rupture in the relationship between Oppenheimer and Truman, it opened a Pandora’s box of radiation aftereffects beyond the initial horrors of the bombings (powerfully rendered here). Succeeds as both a graphic primer and a philosophical meditation.

THE WOMAN WHO WASN’T THERE The True Story of an Incredible Deception

Fisher, Robin Gaby & Guglielmo Jr., Angelo J. Touchstone/Simon & Schuster (288 pp.) $26.00 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-1-4516-5208-6

The story of the startling disclosure of a 9/11 survivor who wasn’t actually there. Fisher (Narrative Journalism/Rutgers Univ.; After the Fire, 2008, etc.) and filmmaker Guglielmo team up to bring readers a pageturning account of Tania Head, a survivor of the World Trade Center attacks. Vivid details place readers at the scene of 9/11 during and after the attacks, which may be painful reading for some readers. Injured when one of the planes struck the 78th-floor sky lobby of the South Tower, Head not only survived this near-death experience but also bore the tragedy of losing her new husband in the collapse of the North Tower. She rose to acclaim in the years after 9/11 by starting the World Trade Center Survivors’ Network, where guilt-laden men and women could openly voice their distress about the events of that day. Head also helped lead the campaign to save the Survivor Stairway, “thirty-seven steps that had once connected the plaza outside the towers to the street below,” which was used by hundreds fleeing the buildings on 9/11. However, as the narrative progresses, readers begin to see small discrepancies in Head’s story, along with her terrible mood swings and violent physical reactions to reliving that fateful day. Under extreme pressure to conduct an interview with the New York Times in 2007, Head broke down, and her elaborate and fake story fully emerged. She soon disappeared. Members of the Survivors’ Network were left to wonder

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why someone would go to such lengths to gain notoriety, especially when it involved so many who had survived real damage on that day. A disquieting retelling of 9/11 by one survivor with a surprising twist.

DESCANSO FOR MY FATHER Fragments of a Life

Fletcher, Harrison Candelaria Univ. of Nebraska (168 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-8032-3839-8

A new dad strives to connect with the father he barely knew, through family lore, a small box of mementos and the investigations they inspire. Fletcher was raised by a single mother who imparted to her son a sense of curiosity and ritual by filling their New Mexico home with found objects, historical artifacts and folk art. Having stashed away all of her husband’s possessions, upon his death just before Fletcher’s second birthday, she unwittingly impelled her son to seek out and savor every possible sliver of insight into his familial roots. In his debut, Fletcher excavates his paternal origins through unearthed letters, uncaptioned old photos and fresh understanding borne of road trips to his father’s old haunts. The author’s patchwork sense of heritage and identity is mirrored in the unconventional structure of his writing, with poetic swaths of dialogue, emotion and imagery anchored by edifying, journalistic prose. “For most of my life, my father has been this to me: a silver-haired snapshot, a tarnished ashtray, a broken sword, and a jumble of anecdotes doled out by my mother to the five of us children,” he writes. Fletcher constructs an intimate amalgam of brutally honest personal moments, vivid dreams and reverently elicited recollections from his father’s contemporaries. An homage not only to his dad but to Harrison’s own boyhood joys, sorrows and searching, the book makes clear the author’s expansive literary sensibilities. A candid, intricate, painstakingly pieced-together family album. (18 photographs)

MIDNIGHT IN PEKING How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China

French, Paul Penguin (256 pp.) $26.00 | May 1, 2012 978-0-14-312100-8

A suspenseful murder mystery set on the eve of the Japanese invasion of old

Peking in 1937. In this deft reconstruction of events from newspaper and police reports, diaries and archives, Shanghai-based historian |

French (Through the Looking Glass: China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao, 2009, etc.) masterly portrays the graftridden milieu of pre–World War II China, where the arrogance of foreigners prevailed. The horribly mutilated body of a young woman, later identified as British schoolgirl Pamela Werner, was discovered at Fox Tower in Peking, on Jan. 8, 1937, to the shock of the foreign community. Initially, French pursues the official Chinese and British police angle, offering a grisly autopsy report and discussions of suspects such as Pamela’s father, ETC Werner, an old China hand and former British consul. Detectives discovered that Pamela had been ice-skating with her girlfriend the night before and failed to make it home on her bicycle by dinnertime, as she had promised her father and cook. Compelling details emerge about the attractive young woman. She was scheduled to leave her school and return to England soon because of untoward advances made by her professor, and she had been courted by several men her father had disapproved of. Still, the official inquest stalled, Peking fell to the Japanese and the case petered out, except that Pamela’s father doggedly took over, offering a reward and hiring his own detectives. Having long lived in Peking, Werner sensed that such a murder had not been committed by Chinese, but by the foreigners who congregated at the watering hole the Grand Hotel des Wagons Lits, and they were not telling the truth. French provides a wealth of historical detail about a vanished era in interwar Peking. A well-composed, engaging, lurid tale.

THE ARAB UPRISINGS What Everyone Needs to Know

Gelvin, James L. Oxford Univ. (208 pp.) $16.95 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-19-989177-1 A solid primer on the Arab Spring. While stressing that it is “still too early to gain the distance from events that historians need to render judgments,” Gelvin (Middle Eastern History/UCLA; The Modern Middle East, 2004, etc.) offers insights into the popular uprisings that have swept Tunisia, Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries since late 2010. His background on the Arab world will certainly help non-experts better understand the region. Most of the population consists of Arab-speaking Muslims. While lacking homogeneity, they share a sense of history; live in poor political, economic and social conditions; get news from a vastly expanded Arab-language media, such as the satellite TV channel Al-Jazeera; and generally oppose U.S. activities in the region, especially the invasion of Iraq and support for Israel. States, which control oil and other resources, are the main economic actors. During the Cold War, the U.S. supported strong, authoritarian regimes to hasten regional economic development and prevent the rise of communism. Using a Q&A format (the book is an installment in the publisher’s What Everyone Needs to Know series), Gelvin traces the various uprisings,

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“A provocative look at constraints on the modern presidency, not quite as imperial as we may have feared.” from power and constraint

beginning with Tunisia, noting that no one could have predicted the popular protests; that they had no single cause; and that the “true heroes of the uprisings” were the participants, who acted on their own and put their lives on the line. He writes it is not possible to pinpoint where the initial demands for democracy and human rights came from. “Certainly, the claim that the uprisings confirm the historical inevitability of democratic transformation worldwide reflects little more than wishful thinking,” he writes. Although Western media often called early protests a “Twitter Revolution,” social media only played a role. The region’s monarchs uniformly responded to the protests by distributing benefits (cash bonuses, jobs) and making promises for the future. It remains to be seen, writes Gelvin, whether the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt will mean the end of autocracy. A useful attempt to understand a still-unfolding story.

THE PATRON SAINT OF DREAMS Essays

Gerard, Philip Hub City Press (200 pp.) $17.95 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-891885-89-1 Mannered essays, written to the academic creative-nonfiction formula, on hurricanes, spirits, death and other such weighty matters. The formula: Start with a brief declaration; hint that the writer knows something the reader doesn’t; punctuate with a few one-sentence paragraphs, hortatory or expository; layer on a blend of arresting statistics and mundane observations. Thus, writes Gerard (Creative Writing/Univ. of North Carolina, Wilmington; Creative Nonfiction, 2004, etc.): “What they don’t tell you about hurricanes is the uncertainty”; “Her name is Maria”; “Some stories do not have an obvious, coherent narrative.” These are three representative opening sentences, all of which lead to tales about the capriciousness, sorrow and violence of life. Death is a constant, as are observations that death is just plain unfair; constant, too, are notes on the manifold ways in which people get caught up in events, yielding those hortatory and I-know-something-you-don’t turns—e.g., “Let me tell you about the daughter of another soldier…There is no need for you to know her name.” The best pieces in the book—and there are several very good ones here—are simple shaggy-dog stories involving government plots and ghosts, the sorts of things you might tell with cigars and scotch around a fire. The worst are workshop-esque exercises in philosophizing. One essay opens, for instance, with a yarn about James Dickey’s saying over lunch that “after the age of forty a man is responsible for his face,” an apercu that Dickey stole from George Orwell. That observation, repeated in a couple of variations, is really just an in-passing setup for a piece on scars, mortality and aging that struggles to get out from under its own commonplaceness. A mixed bag, with a fine piece about baseball at the apex but with otherwise too few memorable moments. 262

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POWER AND CONSTRAINT The Accountable Presidency After 9/11 Goldsmith, Jack Norton (288 pp.) $26.95 | Mar. 12, 2012 978-0-393-08133-6

Ten years into the war on Islamist terrorism, a Harvard Law professor offers an unconventional take on the growth of presidential power. From the beginning, the Bush administration viewed the 9/11 attacks not merely as a crime, but as an act of war, justifying the full deployment of the president’s powers as head of the U.S. military. From this increasingly controversial premise flowed a series of aggressive and much-criticized counterterrorism measures: the military detention of terror suspects and the device of military commissions to prosecute them, the unchecked discretion to choose among a variety of forums for trying terrorists, the construction of the so-called “black site” prisons around the world, the targeting and killing of enemy suspects, the liberal use of rendition, the increased surveillance at home and abroad and the enhanced interrogation techniques to elicit intelligence. How is it that three years into the succeeding administration virtually all talk about “shredding the Constitution” has vanished, that these bitterly decried practices have either been only marginally curtailed or even expanded? Goldsmith (The Terror Presidency: Law and Judgment Inside the Bush Administration, 2007, etc.), a former Bush Justice and Defense Department attorney, rejects the cynical explanation that it’s all politics, a case merely of the vocal left giving a pass to the Obama administration. Rather, he insists that our system of checks and balances is working just fine, if not precisely in the way the framers imagined, to curb the predictable wartime excesses of the executive branch. Yes, to some extent since 9/11, the congress, courts and establishment press have caught up, reining in the president, but Goldsmith points to something unprecedented in our history: the emergence of what he terms the “presidential synopticon,” the many watchers of the executive branch—lawyers, inspectors general, human-rights activists—aided by new information technologies and the Internet and empowered by law to limit unilateralism, require accountability, force reform and help generate a consensus about legitimate practices. A provocative look at constraints on the modern presidency, not quite as imperial as we may have feared.

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THE MAID AND THE QUEEN The Secret History of Joan of Arc

DEADLY VALENTINES The Story of Capone’s Henchman “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn and Louise Rolfe, His Blonde Alibi

Goldstone, Nancy Viking (304 pp.) $26.95 | Apr. 26, 2012 978-0-670-02333-2

A French noblewoman arranged Joan of Arc’s miraculous career. So argues popular historian Goldstone (The Lady Queen: The Notorious Reign of Joanna I, Queen of Naples, Jerusalem, and Sicily, 2009, etc.), who contends that Yolande of Aragon was deeply influenced by The Romance of Melusine, the story of a fairy aiding a young nobleman that she took as a blueprint for what needed to be done to goad France’s indecisive Charles VII into battle against English invaders. The author presents no hard evidence that Yolande even read the book, but Joan of Arc’s short life is nicely contextualized within the story of Yolande’s astute maneuvers among the shifting political currents of the Hundred Years War. It’s particularly valuable since there is no biography in English of this remarkable woman, thrown into the thick of European politics by her marriage to Louis II, a member of the French royal family who was also King of Sicily. Yolande administered her husband’s French possessions while he was consolidating his claim to Sicily, and she saw that her family’s security and prosperity depended on bolstering the resolve of Charles VII. Goldstone strongly suggests that Yolande was responsible for the prophecy that began to circulate around this time—”France, ruined by a woman, would be restored by a virgin from the marches of Lorraine”—though she’s too conscientious a historian to state outright that the prophecy prompted Joan’s hearing divine voices. It’s possible that Yolande smoothed Joan’s path to Charles and encouraged his acceptance of her as literally heaven-sent, though again there’s no hard proof. Nonetheless, Goldstone’s vivid retelling of Joan’s astounding victories and her capture and martyrdom by the English is as gripping as ever, and she brings Yolande back into the narrative following Joan’s death in 1431 to spur Charles to a truce with the powerful duke of Burgundy, which ultimately led to the French victory. Readers don’t have to buy the shaky premise to enjoy this knowledgeable and accessible account of a turning point in French history.

Gusfield, Jeffrey Chicago Review (352 pp.) $24.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-1-61374-092-7

Gusfield presents the short, brutal life of “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (1902–1936), born Vincent Gebardi, a gifted athlete who became notorious as Al Capone’s deadliest lieutenant and putative organizer of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929. In a parallel narrative, the author charts the dissolute history of Louise Rolfe, an archetypical jazz-baby flapper who, when liquored up behind the wheel, would prove nearly as fatal as her eventual paramour McGurn. Gusfield structures the book as the tale of the young lover’s ill-starred romance, but the story is heavily weighted toward McGurn, whose natural toughness, intelligence and physical grace quickly elevated him in the ranks of the Capone organization, where he earned a reputation as a meticulous planner and devastatingly effective assassin. Gusfield provides a lively, detailed history of gangland Chicago in the 1920s, deftly parsing the intricate chains of betrayal and murder that drove the city’s bootlegging trade and limning the era’s swinging style and heat. The author perhaps overly idealizes McGurn, endlessly praising his boyish good looks, athletic gifts, taciturn implacability and ruthless efficiency—a climactic passage in which McGurn’s dream of playing professional golf decisively collapses is rendered with the gravitas of Greek tragedy. Rolfe, portrayed here as essentially a spoiled, drunken nitwit, never resonates as a compelling character in her own right, making Gusfield’s emphasis on their short-lived and unremarkable romance puzzling and giving his otherwise cleanly propulsive account a somewhat lopsided shape. McGurn would never have stood for such sloppiness. Still, an engrossing look inside Al Capone’s murderous ranks and a chilling examination of a natural born killer. (50 black-and-white photos)

THE AUTISM REVOLUTION Whole-Body Strategies for Making Life All It Can Be

Herbert, Martha & Weintraub, Karen Ballantine (288 pp.) $26.00 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-345-52719-6 978-0-345-52721-9 e-book

A neurologist breaks with professional orthodoxy to shed new light on the diagnosis and treatment of autism. In her debut, Herbert (Neurology/Harvard Medical School) embraces a new framework that goes beyond her experience |

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“If only the ‘wrath of Michelle,’ as it’s known, is the worst thing the staffers have to face. It’s not, though, and Kantor’s fly-on-the-wall view makes illuminating reading for an election year.” from the obamas

as a physician and researcher to embrace the hard-won knowledge of patients and their families. She writes that she and her colleagues are now investigating “all sorts of brain and body indicators,” including brain scans, environmental factors, metabolism, etc. The author explains that the more she worked with patients the more she was faced with a choice— “ ‘to see what I believed’ or ‘believe what I see.’ ” Either she would accept traditional wisdom that autism was a genetically determined, incurable brain disorder or recognize “the extraordinary capabilities and changes [she] saw in her patients.” Taking the latter path, Herbert began to reject the view that autism is a primarily a genetically determined, neurological disorder. She reports anecdotal evidence of remarkable improvement in autistic children who appear to have digestive problems assimilating gluten or casein when these were eliminated from their diet. Herbert also notes that neurologists are “slowly recognizing the many crucial roles played by glial cells” in the brain. These make up 85 percent of the brain and play a critical role in the brain’s immune system and facilitate the functioning of neurons. The author speculates that autism may be caused when they malfunction rather than by neurological problems. Her message to caregivers is clear and simple: Autistic symptoms should be treated using a whole body approach—“go for the extraordinary.” An important book with broader implications than its specific subject.

THINKING SMALL The Long, Strange Trip of the Volkswagen Beetle Hiott, Andrea Ballantine (480 pp.) $26.00 | Jan. 17, 2012 978-0-345-52142-2 978-0-345-52144-6 e-book

The well-researched story of an iconic car. Translated from German, Volkswagen means “people’s car,” an ironic moniker considering that the company was founded in 1937 by the Nazi trade union. Nonetheless, the company’s signature product, the Beetle, became one of the most iconic autos in the United States. How? As Hiott writes, it was a felicitous combination of smart design, an affordable price point and savvy advertising and marketing. Even today, the company knows how to creatively raise brand awareness—the publication of this book was timed to coincide with the release of the newly designed Beetle. Hiott’s debut is an assured, enthusiastic account of a company that, oddly enough considering its rich, controversial history, has yet to receive such in-depth treatment. The author goes beyond the cars themselves, exploring why the Beetles of the 1960s and ’70s—certainly not the sexiest or most impressive automobiles—became hip. Since the majority of the action took place decades ago, there’s very little in the way of conversation in the narrative, but Hiott’s passionate authority makes for enjoyable 264

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reading. The sheer amount of detail may deter readers who have limited interest in the Beetle, but if you’re a fan of fahrvergnügen, this is essential stuff. A must-read for hardcore car buffs and a must-skim for casual drivers and general readers.

THE OBAMAS

Kantor, Jodi Little, Brown (352 pp.) $29.99 | Jan. 10, 2012 978-0-316-09875-5 A gossipy but mostly meaty look inside the Obama White House, a place less unified than one might expect—or hope. New York Times Washington correspondent Kantor graduated to that position from the Arts & Leisure section, and it shows in her fascination with First Lady Michelle Obama’s fashion sense, about which we read a great deal, good and bad— good that Mrs. Obama has a fashion sense, bad in the sense that expensive clothing in a time of economic hardship gives the president’s enemies more fodder for complaining. Thus, after the midterms, “she still wore plenty of expensive labels, including designer gowns to formal evening events, but during the day there were more dresses from chain stores.” No one could complain about a $34.95 dress, after all—though of course they could, since a vigorous anti-Obama contingent in Washington is doing all it can to keep the president from fulfilling his ambitions and finds fault in everything he does. Here Sen. Mitch McConnell becomes a notable heavy of the piece. The best parts of Kantor’s book depict a White House beleaguered and harassed, a leader frustrated at being kept from pursuing what he had hoped would be a “post-partisan” style of governance. The book has already made news for its depiction of Mrs. Obama as a tough manager with a reputation for frostiness and impatience: “My staff worries a lot more about what the first lady thinks than they worry about what I think,” she reports President Obama as saying by way of a lead-in to some memorable conflicts with the likes of Robert Gibbs and Rahm Emanuel. Yet, given both Michelle Obama’s misgivings about the toll of political life on her family and the siege-fortress mood of the White House, her protective and decisive demeanor seems entirely understandable, especially given the president’s complementary “elusive, introverted” manner. If only the “wrath of Michelle,” as it’s known, is the worst thing the staffers have to face. It’s not, though, and Kantor’s fly-on-the-wall view makes illuminating reading for an election year.

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HALF IN SHADE Family, Photography, and Fate

Kitchen, Judith Coffee House (214 pp.) $16.00 paperback | Apr. 3, 2012 978-1-56689-296-4 978-1-56689-306-0 e-book Essayist/novelist Kitchen (The House on Eccles Road, 2002, etc.) muses on memory, history and illness while rummaging through family photos. The author writes that photos capture a physical moment, while memory re-creates the entire atmosphere: how we felt, what sounds we heard, all those things that hover out of the camera’s range. As she looks at the disk containing scanned copies of boxes of family snapshots, she is as interested in what they don’t show as what they do. Did 23-year-old Aunt Margaret, “Paris, 1938,” know that war was imminent? Why on earth would her mother be sitting at a desk with a lampshade over her head, and can she be sure it is her mother? Slowly, from these fragmented snatches of essays (ranging from a single paragraph to 30 pages), a picture of Kitchen’s family emerges: GermanAmerican immigrants on her father’s side, impoverished farmers on her mother’s. Her father, a physicist, was so repulsed by the anti-German hysteria he saw as a boy during World War I that he was a conscientious objector during WWII; her mother may have had a serious romance while visiting Europe in the summer of 1930. The section centered on photos from that trip is the book’s longest and least appealing; the author’s attitude seems punitive, as she criticizes the banality of her mother’s travel diary and faults the young woman for being insufficiently unconventional. It’s also aggravating, though clearly intended by Kitchen, that facts must be teased out from an extremely elliptical narrative: Where was the house that suffered floods in three different decades? Her father seems to have died young, but when exactly? Still, there are enough intriguing insights to maintain interest, and three meditative passages on the author’s battle with breast cancer will incline most readers to cut her some slack. Elegantly written and intermittently perceptive, though slightly self-indulgent in form and tone.

ESSAYISTS ON THE ESSAY Montaigne to Our Time

Klaus, Carl H. & Stuckey-French, Ned Univ. of Iowa (256 pp.) $25.00 paperback | Mar. 15, 2012 978-1-60938-076-2 Should essays be light and playful, hard and serious, or both? Some 50 experts on the form, ranging across 400 years, tackle the question in this odd volume, edited by Klaus, founding director of University of |

Iowa’s Nonfiction Writing Program (The Made Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay, 2010, etc.), and Stuckey-French (English/ Florida State Univ.; The American Essay in the American Century, 2011). “A genuine essay,” writes Cynthia Ozick, “has no educational, polemical, or sociopolitical use; it is the movement of a free mind at play.” It is “science, minus the explicit proof ” (José Ortega y Gasset), “spontaneous and audacious” (Enrique Amberson Imbert), “a walk, an excursion, not a business trip” (Michael Hamburger). It is personal, “a piece of Autobiography” (Charles Lamb), but only to a point. “Never to be yourself and yet always—that is the problem,” writes Virginia Woolf. To essay means “to try but not to attempt,” writes William Carlos Williams; according to Jean Starobinski, it means to weigh. Not so, says André Belleau: “The essay is not a weighing, an evaluation of ideas; it is a swarm of idea-words.” Through the ages, the word has become a catchall for reviews, sermons and lectures, among other forms of expression. In the late 19th century, William Dean Howells bemoaned the day “when the essay began to confuse itself with the article, and to assume an obligation of constancy to premises and conclusions” Like a classic essay itself, this book approaches its neither-fish-nor-fowl subject from many angles; it bemoans the death of the form, salutes its hearty endurance and both inspires and alienates. A quirky, variegated salute to what Aldous Huxley called “a literary device for saying almost everything about almost anything.”

PLEASE GOD LET IT BE HERPES A Heartfelt Quest for Love and Companionship Kotkin, Carlos NAL/Berkley (304 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-451-23571-8

Love eludes a hapless serial dater desperate to replicate the sparks he experienced as a wide-eyed youngster. Not many young men would pack up and head for a farflung honeymoon retreat in the Pacific thinking it might be a good place to find single women. The author attempted it twice. The first time he tagged along with his parents; the second, with another guy in tow. Kotkin plays his stunning ineptitude for laughs, but the joke wears thin as it becomes painfully obvious that there will be no epiphanies in the offing. Instead, the author delivers a string of banal accounts involving mismatched women mostly met online. None of these encounters approaches anything that might be considered wacky or zany (as the title of the book suggests). Among them: dating a deaf woman and discovering that communication was difficult; finding the vapid girl dull; being scared by the angry girl; feeling smothered by the clingy girl. Still, Kotkin persisted with blind dates, speed dates and non-dates. “The one thing I discovered about doing nothing when it came to finding love was that in return nothing happened,” he writes. “Nothing begot nothing.

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“A grim but eager narrative that delivers vivid reading.” from city of scoundrels

BABYLON Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization

It kind of sucked.” Throughout, the author offers little in the way of self-reflection; instead, he resolved after each fruitless date to take yet another crack at it. The problem is never within, always without—even after one unsatisfied date blasted the author and his “vanilla stories.” A languid love potion best taken in limited doses.

CITY OF SCOUNDRELS The 12 Days of Disaster that Gave Birth to Modern Chicago Krist, Gary Crown (368 pp.) $26.00 | Apr. 17, 2012 978-0-307-45429-4 978-0-307-45431-7 e-book

Think you’ve had a rough couple of weeks? The author of The White Cascade: The Great Northern Railway Disaster and America’s Deadliest Avalanche (2007) returns with a tale of air disaster, race and ethnic riots, labor violence, child murder, political corruption and more—all in a Windy City fortnight in 1919. Employing a zigzag style throughout his entertaining, troubling narrative, Krist corrals several plot threads: the fiery, deadly crash of the blimp Wingfoot Express into a Loop bank building, the disappearance of and frantic search for a little (white) girl, a violent race riot that transformed the South Side into a war zone (it took the National Guard to restore order), a looming transit strike that threatened to put more angry people on the street, assorted ethnic clashes, the emergence of crisisoriented journalism and the vicious political struggle between Chicago Major Big Bill Thompson and Illinois Gov. Frank Lowden. Krist also includes regular commentary by a young woman diarist, Emily Frankenstein (whose father, incredibly, was named Victor—and was a doctor), who pops up too often to offer banalities about her life. The blimp crash seemed to ignite kindling that was already smoldering, and soon the city blazed with riot and fury. Snipers and hooligans abounded; cops struggled (though not enough, claimed some aggrieved black residents); politicians lied, changed the subject and tried to cover their asses. A suspect in the abduction waxed arrogant—at first; Ring Lardner, Carl Sandburg, Edna Ferber, H.L. Mencken and others weighed in. A grim but eager narrative that delivers vivid reading.

Kriwaczek, Paul Dunne/St. Martin’s (320 pp.) $27.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-1-250-00007-1 978-1-4299-4106-8 e-book

A sprightly overview of the rich, ancient civilizations that flourished in the land between the two rivers. The former head of Central Asian Affairs at the BBC’s World Service, Kriwaczek (Yiddish Civilizations, 2005, etc.) brings a contemporary fire to his treatment of the age-old regional flux still demanding world attention, namely in headlines daily from Iraq, Iran and Syria. The ancient simmering conflict of the Fertile Crescent boils down to the question: “Should the Tigris-Euphrates Valley be mastered from the west or the east”? The emerging communities that sprang up from farming hamlets, a mix of Semitic and nonSemitic cultures, produced the civilized life we recognize today mainly through the use of cuneiform writing. The need to organize systems of irrigation in Eridu, the first southern settlement, spawned an “urban revolution,” with the invention of cities and all that came with them: division of labor, social classes, engineering, the arts, education, numbers and law, to mention a few. Kriwaczek is constantly sifting through changing theories resulting from continuous excavations, such as what might have prompted the progression from godly worship to the establishment of kings, somewhere around 4,000 BCE, in the city of Uruk, Gilgamesh’s legendary kingdom. The author keeps close to biblical readings for comparative accounts of the Flood and the succession of kings of the city-states to the founder of the first true empire, Sargon. With Terah the Amorite’s move from Sumer to Babylon, a glorious kingdom developed, sowing seeds of science and music theory and offering a rich repository for the Jewish diaspora. Invasions by Hittites and Assyrians only spurred reinvention, and the civilization was rather more appropriated than eclipsed by Cyrus the Great of Persia in his invasion of 539 BCE. A pertinent, accessible study, more lively than scholarly.

IMAGINE How Creativity Works

Lehrer, Jonah Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (304 pp.) $26.00 | Mar. 20, 2012 978-0-547-38607-2 Think you’re not creative? Think again. The take-home message from this multifaceted inquiry is that creativity is hard-wired in the human brain and that we can enhance that quality in ourselves and in our society. 266

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“With an entertaining insider’s perspective, Littlefield transports readers back to a seemingly magical time when half the country would watch the same show.” from top of the rock

Wired and Wall Street Journal contributor Lehrer (How We Decide, 2009, etc.) explores creativity from the inside out, looking at the mechanics of the brain and the effects of mental states from sadness to depression to dementia. He takes readers to laboratories where neuroscientists and psychologists are conducting controlled experiments on creativity, and he gets inside the talented minds of songwriter Bob Dylan, graphic artist Milton Glaser, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and engineer/ inventor Arthur Fry. Lehrer examines how social interaction and collaboration promote creativity within a company, using Pixar studios as an example, and how these factors operate in communities, citing Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv as places that foster innovation by enabling people to interact, converse with strangers as well as colleagues and encounter new ideas. Shakespeare’s London was just such a place, and the author presents factors that made it so, such as a critical density of population and an explosion of literacy. Lehrer also explores what he calls the outsider factor, showing how newcomers to a field or people working in tangential areas generate new approaches to old problems. America, he writes, can increase its collective creativity if it so chooses. The author points out that our schools already do so with athletes, encouraging and rewarding them from a young age, and the same steps can be taken to nourish our brightest, most imaginative children, as demonstrated by the success of schools like the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts and San Diego’s High Tech High. Further, Lehrer argues for policy changes to enhance our nation’s creativity: immigration reform because immigrants account for a disproportionate number of patent applications in the United States, and patent reform, in order to reward and thereby promote innovation. Lehrer writes with verve, creating an informative, readable book that sparkles with ideas.

TRIP OF THE TONGUE Cross-Country Travels in Search of America’s Languages Little, Elizabeth Bloomsbury (320 pp.) $25.00 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-1-59691-656-2

A multiethnic cross-country trip with a smart and saucy pedant at the wheel. In this lively follow-up to her debut, Biting the Wax Tadpole: Confessions of a Language Fanatic (2007), Little tours a variety of cultures to see how well their native languages are holding up against the predominance of English. She starts by visiting a variety of Indian tribes—the Crow in Montana, the Navajo in Arizona, the Makah in Seattle—where a theme quickly takes hold: Languages don’t always die a natural death. Sometimes they’re victims of attempted murder, as people who assimilated into 19th- and early-20th-century American life (often against their will) found their language banished. Little also hunts the byways of New Orleans to sort |

out the roots of the mixed-race and mixed language known as Creole. In Charleston, S.C., she samples the salty English and African gumbo known as Gullah. She learns the unlearnable Basque language in Nevada and finds differences between Spanish spoken in New Mexico and elsewhere. Throughout, Little effectively employs humor, which takes the edge off her occasional root-and-branch disseminations on etymology. She ranks scenes of natural beauty by the number of times it makes her use the F-word; the view from a Seattle highway turns her “into a character from Glengarry Glen Ross”; a bite of lutefisk in North Dakota “seemed like something was decomposing in my mouth.” In a description you’ll never hear from Al Roker, the author describes the weather in Laredo, Texas, as “hotter than Satan’s sweaty ball sack.” An entertaining and enlightening book from a brainy, foul-mouthed and very funny tour guide.

TOP OF THE ROCK Inside the Rise and Fall of Must See TV

Littlefield, Warren & Pearson, T.R. Doubleday (336 pp.) $27.95 | May 1, 2012 978-0-385-53374-4

Frank oral history of a golden age of TV programming. With the assistance of novelist Pearson (Warwolf, 2011, etc.), former NBC president of entertainment Littlefield gathers candid comments from actors, executives and behind-the-scenes people responsible for some of the most successful TV shows of the 1990s. The subjects relate everything from their struggles to make it in the entertainment industry to dealing with the type of overnight fame that many of them eventually enjoyed. In particular, the book focuses on the cast and crew of Seinfeld and Friends, programs that dealt with early hardships before later enjoying unabashed success. Perhaps the most scandalous aspect of the book, however, is Littlefield’s willingness to throw his former boss Don Ohlmeyer under the bus. Ohlmeyer, who apparently understood very little about TV, arrived at NBC after Littlefield had been there for years and assumed a position above him in the corporate hierarchy. While his struggles with addiction and subsequent stint in rehab are a matter of public record, many of the interviews here shed light on the significance of the daily frustrations of Ohlmeyer’s battle with alcoholism. Interviews with Jerry Seinfeld, Paul Reiser and Lisa Kudrow, among others, are particularly interesting because they worked with NBC both in front of and behind the camera. None of the interviewees shy away from negative topics, including the letdowns of test-screening results and executives not realizing which shows would later become hits. With an entertaining insider’s perspective, Littlefield transports readers back to a seemingly magical time when half the country would watch the same show.

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k i r ku s q & a w i t h k at h e r i n e b o o Nearly five years ago, Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Katherine Boo discovered Annawadi, a twilight settlement buried in the heart of metropolitan Mumbai. There she found a rich universe, plagued by poverty, whose residents resolutely cling to their fragile aspirations. In her debut, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Boo presents their story with crisp, graceful prose that elegantly captures the hidden lives of her subjects. Q: What first drew you to Annawadi, and what made you feel this was the right setting for your first book? Behind the Beautiful Forevers

Katherine Boo Random House (288 pp.) $28.00 Feb. 7, 2012 978-1-4000-6755-8

A: When I read about a person or place being “representative” in narrative nonfiction, I tend to roll my eyes, and I’d never claim the same for Annawadi. But the slum did resemble India in its diversity. Residents came there from all over India, bringing with them myriad religious practices, belief systems, talents and personal ambitions. While the slum’s physical setting, in the shadow of five luxury hotels, was obviously striking, a striking setting is never enough to keep me going back to a given place. Initially, as I was reporting hard in other slums, the people of Annawadi drew me back there. There was Manju, a teenaged college student who was trying to figure out the plot of Mrs. Dalloway in a hut by a sewage lake, or Zehrunisa, a Muslim mother of nine whose diffident eldest son sorted and resold richer people’s garbage, and who did this stigmatized work so well that the family had a future more hopeful than that of any other family in the slum. I wanted to know what happened to them—whether they would realize their dreams and fulfill their potential in a city whose wealth and corruption seemed to be increasing in lockstep. Q: How is the Mumbai you describe in your book different than the one portrayed in films and fiction?

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A: There were many differences, and one was that I felt a little safer at night in Indian slums. The noir stories notwithstanding, there are thus far fewer guns in poor urban communities than their U.S. counterparts. The Indian criminal-justice system, on the other hand, is more blatantly corrupt than our own. There were commonalities, too, though, and one of them was that the unprecedented opportunities being provided to low-income people, officially, looked different when seen from the ground. Q: You often document using photographs and recordings. How do these artifacts help your writing? A: I started using a variety of recording devices in my work because it aided in fact-checking, and armored me when my stories went out in the world. Now, though, I find the video and audio camera to be essential writing tools as well. Although I’d like to think that after all these years I take pretty good written notes, recording often preserves more of a moment’s nuance and texture. Years later I can press a button and hear, say, the frenzy at Annawadi when a fake eunuch appears in a temple at midnight and starts predicting people’s futures, or the astonishment in the voice of a boy who has been sent to an infamous detention center where he encounters the first real teacher of his life. I can watch or listen again and again, picking up things I missed when an event was unfolding before my eyes. For me, good nonfiction writing begins with good reporting. The more thoroughly I document something, the more able I am to evoke it on the page. Q: How important is immediacy in capturing the stories of people like the Annawadians? A: I can’t overstate how much being there, or reporting incidents soon after they happened, mattered to chronicling the Annawadians’ lives with accuracy. Take the boy I just mentioned who was in detention. If you ask him now about his time in detention, or the dramatic and tragic events that preceded it, he prefers to remember himself as being cool and in control, not scared out of his wits. –By Clayton Moore

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p h oto © HE L EE N WE LVA A RT

A: The Mumbai of film and fiction is often a noir one, in which the average guy is a gangster, the average woman a concubine. My interest as a writer is in more ordinary low-income people, particularly women and children, and in seeing how their experiences over time illuminate the infrastructure of opportunity in their societies. A boy named Mirchi was always saying, “Why are you following boring people like us? People will fall asleep reading.” But one of the few things about which I feel confident in these weird days before my book is released is that it’s not full of boring people. It’s full of complex, amazing people—people perhaps less familiar to readers than those gangsters and concubines.

Q: How different was it reporting on poverty in India rather than America?


EATING BITTERNESS Stories from the Front Lines of China’s Great Urban Migration

Loyalka, Michelle Dammon Univ. of California (276 pp.) $29.95 | Mar. 5, 2012 978-0-520-26650-6

A vivid portrait of the migrant experience in the burgeoning western Chinese city of Xi’an, told through eight profiles of peasants who left their villages in search of a better life. In 2006 and 2007, Loyalka, a freelance journalist who has lived in China for years, interviewed and closely observed men and women who have endured great hardship with spirit and determination, a situation summed up by the Chinese word chiku, meaning “eating bitterness.” All live in the rapidly disappearing old village of Gan Jia Zhia, which is surrounded by the city and adjacent to the modern and expanding High-Tech Zone. Among Loyalka’s subjects are a family that spends long hours running a vegetable stand, an illiterate knife sharpener whose equipment is mounted on a bicycle that he pedals through neighborhoods in search of work, a live-in nanny who cares for a rich couple’s house and children in order to make a better life for her own, teenagers entering into the beauty industry and a young man working in the recycling business who lives atop a mound of old newspapers. Two women are depicted as inventive and industrious supporters of shiftless and incompetent husbands. The final profile is of a businessman who represents for Loyalka the future direction of China, for he has achieved material success and is directing his energies toward finding spiritual satisfaction in doing social good. The author brackets her eight up-close profiles with an introduction and an epilogue that give a broader picture of the plight of migrants who no longer fit into the farm life they have left behind yet lack the education and skills valued in city life, of the contribution they are making to the booming Chinese economy, and of the efforts that the Chinese government is making to deal with the problem of millions of peasants pouring into urban centers. An insightful look at the hard lives of real people caught in a cultural transition. (17 black-and-white photographs; 1 map)

THE ARAB UPRISING The Wave of Protest that Toppled the Status Quo and the Struggle for a New Middle East Lynch, Marc PublicAffairs (288 pp.) $26.99 | Mar. 27, 2012 978-1-61039-084-2

A Middle East scholar expertly puts the recent protests in historical context. Lynch (Political Science/George Washington Univ.; Voices of the New Arab Public, 2005, etc.), who has been following recent |

events closely (he suggests that he may have coined the term “Arab Spring” in a January 2011 article), reexamines important precedents in mass uprisings that took place in convulsive waves during the Arab Cold War of the 1950s, and were brutally suppressed. Before the 1967 Six-Day War ruptured Arab solidarity, the pan-Arab movement instigated by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser pushed for Arab unity, galvanizing mass demonstrations in the streets and helping to destabilize regimes in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, Yemen, Algeria and Tunisia. Yet Arab unity proved intractable, and the region was soon riddled by military coups and divided loyalties between the revolutionary and the counterrevolutionary—the latter being those nations aligned with the West. The result of popular mobilization, Lynch writes, was the establishment of a system of authoritarian controls that paralyzed the Arab populace for the next 40 years and that are only now unraveling: “The tight control over information, careful management of public political opinion, and massive ‘coupproof ’ security services were all designed to blunt the power of transnational radical appeals.” Moreover, lessons then gained about intervention in regional affairs should also be heeded as today’s interested observers—e.g., the United States and Saudi Arabia, among others—choose which nations to back. Lynch also examines the key role initially played by the Al-Jazeera network in coverage of the Tunisia uprising, keenly watched by the Egyptians in convincing them their own efforts could be successful. A timely survey of complex historical and current events.

GAMES PRIMATES PLAY An Undercover Investigation of the Evolution and Economics of Human Relationships Maestripieri, Dario Basic (288 pp.) $27.99 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-0-465-02078-2

Maestripieri (Evolutionary Biology/ Univ. of Chicago; Macachiavellian Intelligence: How Rhesus Macaques and Humans Have Conquered the World, 2007, etc.) rejects the notion that “natural selection has left its mark on human mental processes but not on contemporary human behavior.” Comparing human mental predispositions to computer algorithms, the author suggests that much of our social behavior is hardwired. He scoffs at the idea that recently evolved, uniquely human qualities such as “our new language abilities, our new ability to think and act morally, our new emotions and feelings, and our new cognitive ability” have revolutionized the way we act. Instead, Maestripieri believes that in most everyday social situations our default action is to rely on ancient solutions, shared with our primate ancestors, in dealing with problems. While not denying our “amazing artistic, scientific, and scholarly achievements,” the author writes that we “solve everyday social problems by resorting to the ancient, emotional, cognitive and behavioral algorithms that crowd our minds.” To

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make his radical claim plausible, Maestripieri recasts primitive society in the image of modern free-market ideology, using the analogy of cost-benefit-analysis to describe how primates trade grooming for sexual privileges. In the same vein, the author writes that dominance/submission relationships pervade our society and are in fact crucial to maintaining harmony in marriage as well as in the competitive public domain. He compares corruption in his native Italy, where nepotism is apparently key to social advancement in the army and academia, to kinship relationships among primates, and he describes a culture of cutthroat competition in American universities, where academics use peer review and tenure as weapons in the struggle for their own career advancement. The cynicism of the author’s message is made more palatable by his lively wit.

THE HOCKEY STICK AND THE CLIMATE WARS Dispatches from the Front Lines

Mann, Michael E. Columbia Univ. (352 pp.) $28.95 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-231-15254-9 978-0-231-52638-8 e-book From climate scientist Mann (Meteorology and Geosciences/Penn State Univ.; co-author: Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming, 2009, etc.), an important and disturbing account of the fossil-fuel industry’s well-funded publicrelations campaign to sow doubt about the validity of the science of climate change. The author was an originator of the “Hockey Stick,” a graph showing that average temperatures today are higher than they have been for at least the past 1,000 years, which became an icon of the “climate wars” when published in a 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. In 2009, he was among the scientists whose e-mails, hacked and posted online, gave rise to “Climategate.” As a target of critics who deny the reality of climate change, he has been subject to smear campaigns and accusations aimed at discrediting his work. In fact, the validity of his work has been affirmed many times by leading scientists. Despite personal anger, Mann offers a scientist’s factual chronicle of the evolution of the disinformation industry that has challenged climate science. He describes a “virtual Potemkin Village of pseudoscience institutions” including dozens of think tanks, such as the Advancement of Sound Science Center and the George C. Marshall Institute, many of them funded by Koch Industries and the Scaife Foundations, and all working to “introduce some measure of doubt into the public mindset.” Noting connections between the climatedisinformation campaign and past industry-funded efforts to deny the dangers of smoking and other health threats, Mann details the many tools used by deniers: misleading articles, questionable petitions, cherry-picking of documents and one-sided 270

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conferences featuring deniers. With their need for controversy, immediacy and “balance” in reporting, even respected media have often “parroted” deniers’ accusations and innuendo, giving credence to their claims. This blistering indictment of corporate-funded chicanery demands a wide audience.

RIVER IN RUIN The Story of the Carmel River

March, Ray A. Univ. of Nebraska (192 pp.) $24.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8032-3834-3

A meticulous history of an endangered waterway. Journalist March (Two Bites of the Cherry and Other Golf Stories, 2000, etc.) closely examines the primary water source for California’s Monterey Peninsula, the Carmel River. He chronicles events on this narrow water source from its discovery by the Spanish in 1603 to the major environmental problems it faces today. As exploration and development advanced on the peninsula, the need for water increased as homeowners, industries such as the sardine-canning business and golf courses drew their water from the small Carmel. One dam was built and then another, which altered the course of the river, resulting in bank erosion and flooding during the winter rains. Deep-water wells were drilled, and major pipelines were laid to quench the ever-increasing thirst of the residents in Monterey, Carmel and neighboring towns. With the natural flow of the river altered by humans, sediment filled in behind the dams and low water impeded the spawning of the river’s large steelhead fish population. Finally, pollution, dredging, droughts, forest fires and the near extinction of the steelhead forced land developers, politicians and environmentalists to reconsider the ways the river had been used and abused. Numerous analyses of the waterway have resulted in stricter legislation regarding watershed protection and have placed the steelhead on the endangered species list. Saturated with facts, March’s account of this threatened river forces readers to reconsider water as a commodity that requires protection. (14 illustrations; 1 map)

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DETROIT A Biography

Martelle, Scott Chicago Review (288 pp.) $24.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-1-56976-526-5

Former Detroit News journalist Martelle (The Fear Within: Spies, Commies and American Democracy on Trial, 2011, etc.) explores the troubled city where he once worked. The author shows how “no other American city has been gutted so deeply.” From its peak in 1950, Detroit has lost 60 percent of its population and many of its employment opportunities, a situation caused in part by auto-industry decline, racism and anti-unionism. The industry decentralized across the country before globalizing, and most of Detroit’s population, where it could, left for the suburbs. Now Mayor Dave Bing wants to raze abandoned neighborhoods and seal them off from the rest of the city. Martelle’s case study combines history, economic evaluation and firsthand accounts from individual Detroiters. The city was settled by the French about 75 years before the United States was founded and was a center of diversified industry before it became the heart of the auto economy between 1910 and 1929. It was also a center of industrial unionism during the New Deal and was synonymous with the “arsenal of democracy” in World War II. The city’s death warrant, writes Martelle, was signed when the industry converting back to auto production after the war failed to diversify. Now much of it is returning to meadows and pasture. A valuable biography sure to appeal to readers seeking to come to grips with important problems facing not just a city, but a country. (10 black-and-white photos)

SECRET HEROES Everyday Americans Who Shaped Our World

Martin, Paul Harper/HarperCollins (352 pp.) $13.99 paperback | Apr. 10, 2012 978-0-06-209604-3 Reverent character sketches of some unusually self-reliant Americans. The 30 men and women celebrated by National Geographic book and magazine editor Martin (Land of the Ascending Dragon: Rediscovering Vietnam, 1997, etc.) are all unique characters of diverse origins and stations in life—independent inventors, captains of industry, dogged scientists, simple humanitarians, adventurers and undercover agents. Among them: Jonathan Letterman, the father of battlefield medicine; Samuel “Golden Rule” Jones, the young farm hand who became president of the Acme Sucker Rod Company and mayor of Toledo; Kirk Bloodsworth, the first prisoner freed by DNA evidence; John Wallace |

Crawford, the prototypical cowboy-poet; Clarence Saunders, the founder of the first modern supermarket, Piggly Wiggly; Mary Bowser, the slave in the kitchen of Jefferson Davis who was a Yankee spy; Hercules Mulligan, Gen. George Washington’s secret agent-tailor; and Hugh Thompson, the brave pilot who exposed the massacre at My Lai. Though presented as woefully unsung heroes, at least some of the individuals may still be remembered: the Great White Hunter of the Museum of Natural History, Carl Akeley, for example, or the noble last Stone Age American, Ishi. Hedy Lamarr, the clever movie-star inventor, has been celebrated in two recent biographies—Stephen Michael Shearer’s Beautiful (2010) and Richard Rhodes’ Hedy’s Folly (2011). Martin—who has written for younger readers, an audience for whom this book will also be appropriate—taps a seemingly inexhaustible source of material; surely there are more hidden tales of independent, feisty Americans out there somewhere. Inspirational yarns of exceptional folks who made a difference—a bit corny but surprisingly entertaining.

WHY IT’S KICKING OFF EVERYWHERE The New Global Revolutions

Mason, Paul Verso (240 pp.) $19.95 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-84467-851-8

An astute early analysis of the revolutionary events of 2011 by an accomplished British journalist. In Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed (2009), Mason, economics editor of BBC’s Newsnight, tracked the ramifications of Lehman Brothers’ collapse, spelling the failure of globalization, which in turn prompted worldwide job losses, lowering of wages, elevation of food prices, bursting of the credit bubble and rise of the disgruntled “networked individual.” In this lively collection of essays and reportage expanded from his blog, Mason looks at the recent succession of public protests, including the early student outbreaks in Athens, Gaza, Tehran and UC-Santa Cruz, which set the template for last year’s Arab Spring, and how they all point toward the end of “capitalist realism.” Incredibly, writes the author, the failure by everyone to predict the revolutionary groundswell from Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria was the result of a “self-deluding” narrative the West has long entertained about the Arab world and which Mason, with a nod to Edward Said, calls a fatal “disorientation.” The complacency bred by the global corporate colossus was shaken in the economic downturn, and young people especially, rendered impotent from unemployment, poverty and disenfranchisement, found a sense of liberation in protests and occupations. Using social media, the protestors discovered a new power in “guerrilla newsgathering.” Drawing on observers as diverse as Marx and Glenn Beck, and pertinent historical analogies such as the Revolution of 1848, Mason looks at root economic causes of anomie and class struggle, which are creating “new forms of human

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“A surprising, sobering look at one of the deadliest terror networks in history, and the American spy agencies charged with bringing it down.” from the hunt for ksm

THE HUNT FOR KSM Inside the Pursuit and Takedown of the Real 9/11 Mastermind, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

behavior.” And while previous protest movements often ended in defeat, Mason believes that the combination of today’s technology and numbers just might prevail. A cogent, accessible analysis of the ongoing forces of global upheaval.

4 INGREDIENTS GLUTEN-FREE More than 400 New and Exciting Recipes All Made with 4 or Fewer Ingredients and All Gluten-free! McCosker, Kim & Bermingham, Rachael Atria (256 pp.) $15.00 paperback | Mar. 27, 2012 978-1-4516-3571-3

McCosker and Bermingham (4 Ingredients: More than 400 Quick, Easy, and Delicious Recipes Using 4 or Fewer Ingredients, 2011, etc.) apply their four-ingredient recipe format to gluten-free cooking. These are not gourmet meals, but quick, easy-to-assemble recipes for everything from dips to desserts. The fouringredient recipes often rely on shortcuts using processed foods, mixes and prepared sauces, but experienced cooks can improve on these recipes with a few more ingredients and creative spices. While the book is pitched to mothers and families, it will also serve the busy single person or empty nester. The authors begin with sections on food to avoid for gluten sensitivity, how to stock your cupboard and healthy food substitutions. The 400 recipes that follow are broken down by meals, and the recipes are simple but appetizing: lamb, rosemary and chorizo skewers; Tandoori salmon; peas with mint and garlic butter. Each recipe includes the serving size, the four (or fewer) ingredients and quick instructions. There are no photographs. The authors also include gluten-free recipes for children (BBQ chicken pizza, potato bake), lunch-box ideas and baby-food recipes. The back of the book is an odd mix of household tips (how to fix scratched CDs and keep hair dye from staining your skin), an excerpt of “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” and a good discussion of cooking oils and herbs. This book is not a go-to reference on gluten-free cooking, but it offers a list of websites and a bibliography of resources and gluten-free cookbooks. A basic cookbook that works for busy gluten-free families or those who are just embarking on a gluten-free diet.

McDermott, Terry & Meyer, Josh Little, Brown (352 pp.) $27.99 | Mar. 26, 2012 978-0-316-18659-9

Superlative storytelling and crackling reportage define a pulse-pounding narrative tracing the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. To this day, the bleary-eyed visage of the 9/11 mastermind being hauled off by authorities after a successful raid on his hideout in 2003 remains the most recognizable image of the hated international terrorist. McDermott (101 Theory Drive: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for Memory, 2010, etc.) and Los Angeles Times chief terrorism reporter Meyer explode that superficial frame with a taught, espionage-thriller–like narrative. The authors render characters on both sides of the law—the hunters and the hunted alike—in rich detail, ably evoking their clear motives and desires. While Osama bin Laden became the main symbol of America’s war on terror, it was actually KSM who tirelessly traveled the globe recruiting young Muslim men for his ongoing war on the West, directing their actions, outfitting their operations and setting them loose upon an unsuspecting populace. FBI Special Agent Frank Pellegrino was on his heels from the very beginning, when, in 1993, KSM tried to destroy the World Trade Center with a truck bomb left in a tower garage. During that time, write the authors, none of Pellegrino’s superiors seemed interested in his investigations, but ultimately, a decade-long game of cat-and-mouse ensued, marked largely by frustration, futility and missed opportunities. A surprising, sobering look at one of the deadliest terror networks in history, and the American spy agencies charged with bringing it down.

HOW TO PISS IN PUBLIC From Teenage Rebellion to the Hangover of Adulthood

McInnes, Gavin Scribner (288 pp.) $24.00 | Mar. 20, 2012 978-1-4516-1417-6

Calling all Tucker Max fans: McInnes (Street Boners: 1,764 Hipster Fashion Jokes, 2010, etc.) delivers a monumentally unfunny memoir of being a jerk. The author was born and raised in a boring town in Canada, the son of two “bombastic drunk Scots.” There he engaged in typical teenage hijinks like dropping acid and figuring out who could drive the drunkest. Seeing promise in such pursuits, he soon became a mainstay of the regional punk scene, forming 272

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the band Anal Chinook, and drinking, puking and having lots of sex. University led him to Montreal and his eventual founding of the magazine Vice. When the magazine became an international hit, McInnes sold it for a large sum of money. However, the book isn’t as much a linear narrative as a pastiche of the author’s many outrageous experiences. First and foremost is sex with “bitches”—or as McInnes writes, “[people] you jerk off into.” In one bit of debauchery he nearly pushed a woman’s head into the toilet while having sex with her. Then there’s the time he gave himself an STD by swallowing his own semen. Another time he pretended to be a “retard,” and people actually believed he was retarded and treated him with kindness. There are plenty of stories about drinking and fighting, and he even got beat up by a “faggot.” Occasionally there’s a story that is actually funny (the time his mother got stoned) or poignant (being in New York during 9/11). But while the author pictures himself a latter-day Hunter S. Thompson, there’s a thick line between Thompson’s inspired lunacy and the insipid callousness offered here. McInnes did eventually settle down, however, and got married; in marriage, he writes, “women become human beings for the first time ever.” Inspiring stuff. A humor book far more mean than funny.

THE WORDS I CHOSE A Memoir of Family and Poetry

McNair, Wesley Carnegie Mellon Univ. Press (192 pp.) $19.95 paperback | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-88748-557-2

A New England poet and teacher affectingly recalls finding his voice amid a rural New Hampshire childhood deeply scarred by divorce and discipline. McNair (Lovers of the Lost: New and Selected Poems, 2010, etc.) was born in 1941 to a young Missouri couple who migrated to find work in New Hampshire; soon after his father abandoned the young family, now with three young sons. In 1952, his mother remarried a French Canadian with horticulture aspirations. The children worked on a small West Claremont farm, observing their parents’ sense of strict discipline and scrimping and saving. After the novelty wore off, the three boys came to view their farm life as “an endless grind,” and the author especially was perceived as spacey and ill-focused, called a “hammerhead” and frequently whipped for infractions. McNair’s stepfather aimed to inculcate in the boys a sense of the meaning of work, yet the excessive punishments—e.g., being grounded for the summer for being late one evening walking a girl home—made the author only want to plot continually to run away from home. He did so after highschool graduation, making his way from one menial job to the next, all the while planning ways to progress in school. Steeped in the work of Cummings, Eliot and Dos Passos, he wanted to be a writer. Yet his big chance to attend graduate school at Vanderbilt learning poetry at the feet of John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate in the early 1960s was derailed when he fell for a divorcée with |

two children. For readers, who will root for the author’s young persona, his decision to hunker down and pay the bills marks a denouement that is stunning and bitter; after about 80 pages, the details of parental grief predominate. McNair went on to various degrees and teaching accomplishments, yet his memoir from then on tellingly dwells more on his family than on his own work. Sensibly wrought, without lyrical affectation.

CALLS BEYOND OUR HEARING Unlocking the Secrets of Animal Voices

Menino, Holly St. Martin’s (288 pp.) $25.99 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-0-312-58757-4 978-1-4299-4236-2 e-book

Suffering from a concussion and hearing loss in the aftermath of a serious fall from her horse, Smithsonian and National Geographic contributor Menino (Mr. Darwin’s Fox and My Coyote, 2008, etc.) was drawn to explore the fragility of perception. Reminded of a jazz workshop during which an improvisational singer was forced to compete with the loud sounds of a mockingbird, the author decided to track down the latest research on the vocal communication of a range of animals, from the croak of the lowly frog to bird songs and elephant calls. She hoped to find answers to “two big questions about the bird and human singer…Why sing? and What does the song mean?” She traveled to Panama, where behavioral ecologists were studying frog signals in an effort to determine how female frogs pick mates. Menino explains that a female’s apparently simple response is deceptive; it “is actually an elaborately wrought transaction involving the endocrine system, larynx and tympanic membranes, nerves, and brain.” In Puerto Rico, the author connected with researchers studying duets sung by birds. Bird songs appear to have many different functions, from attracting a mate to territorial defense. While males do most of the singing, as in human music, bird songs contain alternating, repetitive phrases and patterns. The male takes the lead and the female responds. However, writes Menino, the parallel with jazz improvisation stops here. If the female’s response is not right, the male will attack her. The duets appear to function as recognition signals and a kind of “social glue.” This is borne out in the complex social and vocal interactions of dolphins, elephants and primates, as well as in the role of music and language in human society. A charming meditation on the world of sound.

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“Thoughtful, heartfelt and frequently moving, like the best music.” from on celestial music

WE HEARD THE HEAVENS THEN A Memoir of Iran Minu-Sepehr, Aria Free Press (288 pp.) $25.00 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-1-4516-5218-5

Mournfully lyrical account of an evanescent privileged childhood on the eve of the Iranian Revolution. The son of an eminent general in the Imperial Iranian Air Force, Minu-Sepehr enjoyed a charmed childhood at the Iranian base of Isfahan and then briefly in Tehran, where the family moved after the fall of the shah in 1979. In this beautifully composed memoir of a vanished time, the author, now a teacher in Oregon and the founder of the Forum for Middle East Awareness, reconstructs the increasingly fraught last days before his family was forced to flee their homeland, finding refuge in London and then America. While his indefatigable, proud father, “Baba,” kept an eye on the Soviets, Minu-Sepehr enjoyed tormenting the servants, learning to drive, navigating both the old-world ways and the modern ones of his grandmothers and mother, learning about Western culture from the Americans living on the base and hanging out in the kitchen with his beloved nanny, Bubbi, who included the boy in the lives of the lower classes he normally would never know. “They were taught to be invisible,” he writes of these fascinating low-ranking laborers, “to blow in and out with a tea tray…I loved every second of their utterances.” When the author was in fifth grade, the ugly political events began to intrude on his life. Baba’s colleagues and friends were killed, their pictures splashed across the newspapers; rumors of corruption and heresy abounded; the TV broadcasted the torching of Cinema Rex and the corruption trials. While the author’s older brother was sent off to boarding school in America, the family moved to their grandmother’s house in Tehran, where MinuSepehr attended a tougher Iranian school and learned, for the first time, a “political hierarchy.” Soon after, the family was able to get out, but always expecting to return—never to happen. A touching tribute to a former national hero—the author’s father—and a homeland riven by contradictions.

ON CELESTIAL MUSIC And Other Adventures In Listening

Moody, Rick Back Bay/Little, Brown (384 pp.) $15.99 paperback | Mar. 21, 2012 978-0-316-10521-7

The acclaimed novelist shows off his considerable gifts for parsing music. Moody (The Four Fingers of Death, 2010, etc.) is also a musician of semi-pro status, with a couple of albums by his group the Wingdale Community Singers and a solo set under his belt. This collection 274

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of his writing about music for various journals is characterized by passion, inspired insight and a generous sampling of warm humor. The essays cover an astonishing amount of genre ground. Moody’s catholic tastes run the gamut from rock to left-field experimental sounds, and he’s a sensitive listener who almost always connects with the heart of the matter. He tackles the challenges of writing about the most fundamental of human emotions as he carves a playlist out of the Magnetic Fields’ 69 Love Songs; explores the expression of spirituality in the work of the evangelistic rock group the Danielson Famile; ponders what music in Heaven might sound like in the title story, which springs off a live recording by Otis Redding; muses on the affect of the Pogues’ music, viewed through the prism of lead singer Shane McGowan’s alcoholism; and excoriates the soullessness of modern European pop in a tart and frequently hilarious jeremiad about the drum machine. Some chapters are less satisfying: Moody’s account of two weeks at a New York music camp is essentially a journal entry, while a survey of the fin de siècle New York underground reads like exactly what it is: a chapter from an as-yet-unpublished textbook. But most of the writing is acute and intensely wrought. It’s often highly personal stuff— Moody weaves his parents’ divorce, his struggles with alcohol and his performance experiences into the mix—but it never succumbs to the solipsism so prevalent in much latter-day rock criticism. For Moody, music is most of all about rapture, and he communicates his feelings with an ardor and intelligence all too rare in these waning days of music criticism. Thoughtful, heartfelt and frequently moving, like the best music.

REVELATIONS Visions, Prophecy, and Politics In the Book of Revelation

Pagels, Elaine Viking (256 pp.) $27.95 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-670-02334-9

Multidimensional reading of “the strangest book in the Bible—and the most controversial.” The Book of Revelation, a dark and enigmatic account of an apocalyptic end-times vision populated by warring demons and many-headed beasts, has given rise to more competing interpretations than most of the rest of the Bible combined. Even its authorship is disputed, with specialists unsure of whether the John referenced in the text is the Apostle John or a separate individual. Pagels (Religion/Princeton Univ., Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity, 2007, etc.) explores Revelation’s outsized role in the development of Christian thought and places it in the context of its creation. Arguing that its language depicting battles in heaven and destruction on earth is a thinly veiled political screed against the pagan Roman Empire, Pagels identifies John as a Jewish refugee from Jerusalem following the destruction of the Temple. Viewing the

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Book through the prism of the Gnostic Gospels and the other accounts of prophetic visions that proliferated at the time, she advances the modern theory that Revelation is a Jewish Christian document fighting back against Paul’s mission to abrogate Jewish law and bring Christ’s message to the Gentiles. Pagels’ compelling, carefully researched analysis brings to life the multitude of factions that quickly arose in the nascent Christian community after the death of Jesus. The struggle to canonize Revelation was intensely controversial; to this day, believers fight over how to interpret the vision of John of Patmos, “reading their own social, political, and religious conflict into the cosmic war he so powerfully evokes.” Scholarly but widely accessible, the book provides a solid introduction to the one book of the New Testament that claims to be divinely inspired.

OUTLAW PLATOON Heroes, Renegades, Infidels, and the Brotherhood of War in Afghanistan

Parnell, Sean & Bruning, John Morrow/HarperCollins (400 pp.) $26.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-06-206639-8

Grim, gritty account of infantry combat on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, from a youthful lieutenant determined to act nobly amid violence and chaos. In 2006, Parnell was a neophyte Army Airborne Ranger with the storied 10th Mountain Division, assigned as a new platoon leader in Afghanistan, desperate to prove himself: “In combat, men measure up. Or fail. There are no second chances.” This honesty about emotional and sensory aspects of combat drives this narrative more than overt commentary on the Afghanistan mission. As it happened, Parnell received many opportunities to prove himself in battle. The narrative develops around several grueling set pieces, in which Parnell’s platoon was ambushed by an insurgent faction that unexpectedly turned out to be a skilled, disciplined and coldblooded fighting force, determined to win a propaganda victory by brutalizing an American platoon. These raw, controlled scenes of battle seemingly benefit from the authorial collaboration: Besides being a prolific author of military histories, Bruning (Chasing Shadows: A Special Agent’s Lifelong Hunt to Bring a Cold War Assassin to Justice, 2011, etc.) embedded himself with a combat unit in Afghanistan in 2010. The result is a carefully rendered account of Parnell’s tour, with verisimilitude provided by extensive specific details illustrating the sheer complexity of modern combat, as well as the frustrating officer politics on remote bases. Parnell focuses on the experiences of several platoon members, and he writes that it is brotherly love that bonds soldiers in combat, ensuring their survival. He also observes his comrades’ deep ambivalence toward their Pakistani allies and the Afghani people’s willingness to reform and defend their society. The |

book’s main flaw is a repetitiveness that becomes mawkish: Points about the soldiers’ personal burdens and the bond of brotherhood in combat are made so often that they become less rather than more effective. This flaw, however, may not bother the book’s intended audience. Well-told combat narrative that raises disturbing questions about America’s professionalized military and the post-9/11 objectives with which they’ve been tasked.

GROWING UP PATTON Reflections on Heroes, History, and Family Wisdom

Patton, Benjamin with Scruby, Jennifer Berkley Caliber (368 pp.) $26.95 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-425-24351-0

With the assistance of former Elle and Vogue contributor Scruby, the grandson of George S. Patton Jr. chronicles the relationship between his father and grandfather in this mélange of memoir, correspondence and biography. The book opens with the fascinating correspondence exchanged between Gen. Patton and his son, George Patton IV, then a new cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point. The selected letters highlight the close relationship between father and son. Straight from the battlefront, Patton’s letters are solicitous and enthusiastic about the daily concerns of a cadet, while his son’s letters express encouragement for his father’s battle campaign and an eagerness to begin his own military career. Documentary filmmaker Benjamin Patton continues with a series of character studies of a wide array of people who figured prominently in his father’s life, including his wife, his developmentally disabled son (the author’s brother), a commanding officer and a nun. One such significant figure is Manfred Rommel, son of Patton Jr.’s chief military rival during World War II, Erwin Rommel, who was executed by Hitler for alleged disloyalty. These two sons of military legends began a friendship later in life when George Patton IV was stationed in Germany, and their mutual admiration for their fathers served to cement their unlikely friendship. An attentive consideration of the deep affection between a military legend and his son, of particular interest to those already enthralled by Patton’s larger-than-life shadow.

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TO FORGIVE DESIGN Understanding Failure

Petroski, Henry Belknap/Harvard Univ. (408 pp.) $27.95 | Mar. 30, 2012 978-0-674-06584-0 978-0-674-06543-7 e-book Examination of the implications and consequences of engineering failures. “Near and outright failures have always been part of the human endeavor known as engineering and its collective achievements known as technology,” writes Petroski (Civil Engineering and History/Duke Univ.; An Engineer’s Alphabet, 2011, etc.) at the start of this authoritative text about the interrelationship between success and failure in the engineering enterprise. The limits of everything structural—height, weight, span, reach, range and capacity—are (at least temporarily) defined by failure. Some real-world failures can be traced to design errors, but Petroski’s forensic analyses just as often uncover neglected or misused designs. While engineers are generally responsible for conceiving, evaluating, comparing and recommending a structure’s concept, “[q]uestions relating to cost, risk, and other economic, social, and political considerations can dominate the decisionmaking process and push to the background technical details on which a project’s ultimate success or failure may truly depend.” Though such abuses and can make for some hot-under-thecollar reading, Petroski remains cool, his delivery relaxed, even when he presents compelling evidence of the ruinous disconnect between engineers and managers. Though he delves into the grit of engineering—risk assessment, the mechanics of bridge making, the role of controlled failure, the geometrical challenges of building cranes—Petroski’s most gripping passages are his Sherlockian dissections of engineering fiascos and the importance of learning from the vast archive of forensic analyses. Then he draws back to a synthesis of all the case studies, which “will eventually bring us to shift from a successreinforced paradigm to a failure-averse one.” A learned inquisition into engineering failures, and how we often fail again by ignoring them.

THE ACCIDENTAL CITY Improvising New Orleans

Powell, Lawrence N. Harvard Univ. (430 pp.) $29.95 | Mar. 30, 2012 978-0-674-05987-0

Powell (American Civilization/Tulane Univ.; Troubled Memory: Anne Levy, the Holocaust, and David Duke’s Louisiana, 2000, etc.) returns with a dense, complex history of a dense, complex settlement. The author knows well the geographical and geopolitical history of the city where he teaches, and the complexity 276

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of this story would daunt a faint-hearted historian—which Powell manifestly is not. He dives confidently into the murky bayou of the region’s story, and what a tangled tale he emerges to tell. The author begins with the explorers, provides geological history of the region and of the serpentine, intractable Mississippi River. Powell then narrates the stories of the French, Spanish, African slaves and British—all of whom settled, collided, mingled, married, reproduced and competed. The European colonial powers, especially France, attempted to impose on the area—a most unlikely spot for a settlement, as Powell continually reminds us—some sort of design, but the terrain, the weather and the unique human mixture imposed their own fluid economy and culture. After taking over, Spain found it more profitable to practice a more relaxed reign, especially with slaves, who enjoyed more freedom of movement, economic clout and opportunities for manumission than they did with the French, and than they would with the Americans. The author begins with initial settlements and ends with the War of 1812. Along the way he tells stories—sometimes too densely for general readers—of the well-known (John Law) and little known (an ineffectual Spanish governor, Don Antonio de Ulloa) and should-be-known (the organizers of New Orleans’ capable black militia). Powell is brilliant at elucidating the city’s intricate racial politics. Superior scholarship provides a sturdy foundation for a hefty narrative edifice that sometimes groans with the weight of detail.

GORDON RAMSAY’S HEALTHY APPETITE 125 Super-Fresh Recipes for a High-Energy Life

Ramsay, Gordon Sterling Epicure (256 pp.) $24.95 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-1-4027-9788-0

Balanced, healthy recipes, without the fuss, from celebrity chef Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay’s World Kitchen, 2010 etc.). No fan of fad diets, Ramsay advises choosing seasonal foods at their peak; cooking without adding excessive amounts of fat; and using balance and moderation when planning menus. Following a brief introduction, the author condenses his favorite cooking methods for capturing and retaining “the flavor and nutrients, without adding excessive amounts of fat.” Ramsay thankfully concedes that adding a small amount of butter or cream contributes to the flavor of most foods. He groups his recipes by meal rather than food group, moving through the day chronologically, and he also includes chapters for kids, entertaining, brunch and barbecues. The recipes are straightforward, generally requiring a minimum of ingredients and preparation. Ramsay plucks out several foods for special attention, including tomatoes, summer berries, leafy greens and oily fish; he discusses briefly why these merit attention and provides five easy ways to savor each item. Throughout the book, Ramsay

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“Opens interesting doors— it would be good to see more along this line.” from learning from the octopus

LEARNING FROM THE OCTOPUS How Secrets from Nature Can Help Us Fight Terrorist Attacks, Natural Disasters, and Disease

sprinkles healthy tips without overwhelming the reader with information. These short topics include energy, exercise, omega-3 boost, healthy snacks and how to avoid bad fats. A snappy, concise collection of satisfying, easy-to-prepare recipes for harried home cooks, locavores and everyday foodies.

ENCORE PERFORMANCE How One Woman’s Passion Helped a Town Tap into Happiness

Riordan, Vicki Grubic with Riordan, Brian S. Atria (272 pp.) $24.00 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-1-4516-4348-0

Riordan recounts her rediscovery of tap dancing, which allowed her to find balance in her turbulent life. The 60-something author, a divorcee and mother of two, spent much of her career as a secretary and office manager. Before she embarked on that life, however, she had a stint, right out of high school, as a dance instructor in her hometown of Steelton, Penn. As she struggled to understand her husband’s alcoholism and subsequent abusive behavior, she eventually conceded that she needed to leave him and strike out on her own. While looking for practical work, she was often drawn back to her role as a dance instructor. She had a particular passion for tap. When she began teaching on the side for extra money, the old steps began to come back to her. Creating programs aimed at older adult women, Riordan first taught a modest class of fewer than 20 students. After retiring from her day job and committing herself to teaching, she now has more than 500 students based in Harrisburg. Her “Tap Pups” are one of America’s largest adult tap-dancing organizations. In addition to the story of the Tap Pups, the author reflects on her simple beginnings and subsequent married life. From her father’s death as a teenager to the early courtship of her high-school sweetheart, Riordan draws readers in to her deceptively intriguing life. The struggles that the author and her dancers face, especially as older women facing retirement, are easily relatable, and her story is inspiring.

Sagarin, Rafe Basic (304 pp.) $26.99 | Apr. 2, 2012 978-0-465-02183-3

A marine ecologist looks at social problems from the perspective of natural science. Sagarin (Environmental Policy/Univ. of Arizona) identifies adaptability as the key to survival in an uncertain world. Improvised responses to threats—the “hillbilly armor” U.S. troops adopted to defend against roadside IEDs—are a clear example. A key point is that natural selection operates not just in the wild but in modern asymmetrical warfare, where lightly armed insurgents take on large professional armies. The high casualty rate among insurgents is a selective pressure; the stupid and incompetent are killed off, and those who survive are better equipped to fight on—as the Taliban has done in Afghanistan. The author argues that dedicated task forces are less effective at problem solving than independent groups seeking answers to a specific challenge. Redundant features, which efficiency experts hate, aid survival by preserving vital information, and cooperation and exchange of information among organisms in the same environment is a major tool for increased security. Sagarin cites cooperation among Middle East countries, bitter rivals in many ways, that helped slow the spread of H1N1 in 2009-10. Even the apparently irrational “sacred truths” of religious minorities can be turned to assets in the survival of larger groups, by such simple means as athletics. The author is sometimes too abstract in his approach. However, when gives real-life examples, either from nature or from human society, the points are usually convincing, and he provides plentiful documentation. Opens interesting doors—it would be good to see more along this line.

IN PURSUIT OF THE UNKNOWN 17 Equations that Changed the World

Stewart, Ian Basic (352 pp.) $26.99 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-465-02973-0

Stewart (Mathematics Emeritus/Warwick Univ.; The Mathematics of Life, 2011, etc.) unravels the secret history of equations that “have been pulling the strings of society, [t]ucked away behind the scenes.” The author shows how mathematics has played a crucial role in the “ascent of humanity,” but were merely steps in the |

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“Talbot takes the reader much deeper than cliché, exploring a San Francisco that tourists never discover.” from season of the witch

technological advances that followed. He begins with Pythagoras’ Theorem, the essence of which was discovered thousands of years before and laid the basis for navigation and astronomy. He ends with the Black-Scholes Equation, the mathematical formula that created the possibility for computerized derivatives trading and arguably the recent economic meltdown, and urges the need for more regulation of financial markets. Stewart provides clear, cogent explanations of how the equations work without burdening the reader with cumbersome derivations. Instead, he uses them to elaborate his thesis that mathematics, despite its pivotal influence, does not in itself change the world. He gives a fascinating explanation of how Newton’s laws, when extended to three-body problems, are still used by NASA to calculate the best route from Earth to Mars and have laid the basis for chaos theory. Throughout, Stewart’s style is felicitous and mostly accessible. While the early chapters of the book, which cover trigonometry, calculus and statistics, offer an excellent introduction, the late chapters, which cover quantum, information and chaos theory, require more scientific background to be fully understood. A readable but not simple mathematical guidebook to the labyrinth of mathematics.

LONE SURVIVORS How We Came to Be the Only Humans On Earth

Stringer, Chris Times/Henry Holt (320 pp.) $27.00 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-8050-8891-5 Not an overall history of human evolution but the story of the last million years, which began with three or four Homo species roaming the world but ended about 30,000 years ago with the disappearance of all but one. British paleoanthropologist Stringer (Homo Britannicus, 2006, etc.) points out that most scientists agree that our first hominid ancestors appeared in Africa 5 million years ago; many species evolved, and a few wandered north about 2 million years ago. Where Homo sapiens originated and how it came out on top remains a matter of intense debate, but Stringer marshals the latest evidence and concludes that his own opinion is correct: Modern humans appeared in a small area of Africa about 200,000 years ago and then moved across the world exchanging genes, tools and behavior with rival human species before supplanting them. Besides trying to make sense of headline-producing fossil and archeological discoveries, the author explains dazzling advances that have solved many problems: precise techniques for dating, DNA studies (we have the complete Neanderthal genome), isotope analysis to determine an ancient species’ diet and travels, CT scans to reveal hidden and even microscopic details and geometric morphometrics and stereolithography to re-create, manipulate and compare skulls and other structures. The book’s title remains a subject of controversy, but readers seeking to advance beyond the usual flamboyant 278

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field researchers will enjoy this intense, detailed account of what the world’s anthropologists are doing, thinking and quarreling about. (48 illustrations and maps)

SEASON OF THE WITCH Enchantment, Terror and Deliverance in the City of Love

Talbot, David Free Press (464 pp.) $28.00 | May 8, 2012 978-1-4391-0821-5 978-1-4391-2787-2 e-book

An ambitious, labor-of-love illumination of a city’s soul, celebrating the uniqueness of San Francisco without minimizing the price paid for the city’s free-spiritedness. “This is my love letter to San Francisco,” writes Salon founder and CEO Talbot (Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, 2007). “But if it’s a valentine, it’s a bloody valentine, filled with the raw truth as well as the glory about the city that has been my home for more than three decades now.” More than a retread of beatnik and hippie years or a series of chapters on colorful characters (has any city boasted more than San Francisco?), the author encompasses the city’s essence. He seeks to make sense of how San Francisco became a magnet for those who felt they didn’t fit elsewhere, how it sparked the “Summer of Love,” a race war, a murder of its mayor and his charismatic ally (in which the author finds the police department “deeply implicated”), radical bombings, a high-profile kidnapping and the most notorious mass suicide in human history (Jonestown, in exile from San Francisco, which the author says should more appropriately be considered a “slaughter”). Talbot loves his city deeply and knows it well, making the pieces of the puzzle fit together, letting the reader understand how a charismatic religious crackpot such as Jim Jones could wield such powerful political influence, how the Super Bowl victory of the San Francisco 49ers helped the city heal, how the conservative Italian Catholics who had long lived there wrestled with exotic newcomers for the soul of the city. “Cities, like people, have souls,” he writes. “And they can be broken by terrible events, but they can also be healed.” Though he’s a little too enamored with “angel-headed hipsters” and “fairy dust,” Talbot takes the reader much deeper than cliché, exploring a San Francisco that tourists never discover.

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TINDERBOX How the West Sparked the AIDS Epidemic and How the World Can Finally Overcome It

Timberg, Craig & Halperin, Daniel Penguin Press (430 pp.) $27.95 | Mar. 5, 2012 978-1-59420-327-5

Timberg, the former Johannesburg bureau chief for the Washington Post and current deputy national security editor, and Halperin, an epidemiologist and AIDS expert at Harvard, trace the history, growth and spread of HIV and present what will in the minds of many be a controversial approach to addressing the disease. Although the subtitle sounds vaguely conspiratorial, the authors crisply chronicle the origins of AIDS from chimpanzees in West Africa and follow the perhaps shockingly slow spread of HIV across the African continent and to the rest of the world. The key factor in the spread of the disease was the expansion of European colonialism in Africa, which took a virus that otherwise may well have died off and instead created the conditions by which, decades later, it would become a scourge in many parts of the world. But European colonial-era malfeasance is not the only issue at work in this book. In addition to a useful history of the disease, Timberg and Halperin examine how to confront it and develop more effective ways to fight it. If Western imperialism is to blame for the initial proliferation of HIV/AIDS, Western arrogance and the unintended consequences of good intentions may well have prevented adequate treatment. While Western health advocates have supported abstinence campaigns and condom use, the authors argue that homegrown initiatives hold more promise than many Westerners have been willing to acknowledge, and that new research on the importance of sexual behavior and male circumcision is central to developing a coherent approach going forward. Timberg and Halperin may ruffle feathers with some of their unorthodox views, but they present a forceful case with which future students of HIV and AIDS will have to reckon.

ENEMIES A History of the FBI

Weiner, Tim Random House (560 pp.) $30.00 | Feb. 14, 2012 978-1-4000-6748-0 978-0-679-64389-0 e-book Drawing on thousands of pages of recently declassified documents and oral histories, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Weiner (Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, 2008, etc.) delivers an authoritative and often frightening history of what has been, in effect, America’s secret police. |

The history of the FBI is easily divided into two periods: the J. Edgar Hoover period and after. In 1924, before he was 30, Hoover took over a tiny, tawdry Bureau and built it into a fearsome empire he ruled as a personal fiefdom until his death in 1972. The Bureau under Hoover did as it pleased and answered to no one. Illegal wiretapping, bugging, black-bag jobs—the organization did it all in the service of Hoover’s relentless pursuit of communist subversives real and imaginary. In the process he assembled files of devastating information on thousands of Americans from the presidents on down. Much of this scurrilous information was obtained on the direct orders of presidents and attorneys general, and was supplied to them for their own uses. After Hoover’s death, these abuses were reined in, but the Bureau has since endured a series of flawed directors who have proven unable to bring order to its sprawling and insular chaos or overcome a culture of rigidity and bureaucratic ineptitude. Weiner focuses on the FBI’s activities investigating and attempting to prevent subversion and terrorism and writes little about the Bureau’s pursuit of gangsters and white-collar criminals, which has taken up far fewer resources than the public supposes. A major theme is the difference between investigations intended to support criminal prosecutions and those intended to disrupt potential subversive activity. The former require strict adherence to constitutional safeguards; the latter, however necessary they seemed at the time, have all too often trampled on civil liberties. Striking an appropriate balance between liberty and security remains an ongoing challenge for the FBI. Weiner contributes much new, troubling and thoroughly substantiated information to any serious consideration of that issue. A sober, monumental and unflinchingly critical account of a problematic institution. (First printing of 55,000. Author tour to New York and Washington, D.C.)

HITLER

Wilson, A.N. Basic (240 pp.) $24.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-465-03128-3 The award-winning journalist, biographer and novelist offers a short, oftenpugnacious biography of the Führer. Wilson (Dante in Love, 2011, etc.)—who has written a novel about Hitler (Winnie and Wolf, 2008) and who in 2009 announced his return to the Christian faith he’d abandoned for atheism—finds in Hitler an avatar for a century that turned away from God and embraced Darwin. “He believed in a crude Darwinism,” writes the author, “as do nearly all scientists today, and as do almost all ‘sensible’ sociologists, political commentators and journalistic wiseacres.” Wilson concludes his otherwise sensible biography with the observation that Hitler was just like the rest of us—only more so. The author appears to attribute to atheists and “the liberal intelligentsia who control the West” most of the blame for World War II—and for the perils of today—though he never gets around to mentioning the wars and other horrors visited on people because of religion. His tendentiousness aside, he provides

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a useful, even entertaining, life of Hitler. He revisits the expected events—his rise, his incarceration, Mein Kampf, his vicious henchman, his anti-Semitism, his enormous prewar popularity (not just in Germany), his poor military judgment, his women, his fall and death—and adds some nasty details (he couldn’t control his farting; he was lazy and dressed oddly). He has few kind words for Churchill (crediting him with a “brutal mind”) and also takes some shots at Americans, noting that we named one climactic action the Battle of the Bulge because we didn’t bother to learn local place names. Wilson declares that Hitler’s greatest gift was his ability to dazzle and motivate crowds (and, of course, his mad ambition), and he traces our current fondness for political pageantry to the Nazis’ mass gatherings. The author’s salty certainty both enlivens and diminishes his work.

EVERYONE LOVES A GOOD TRAIN WRECK Why We Can’t Look Away

Wilson, Eric G. Sarah Crichton/Farrar, Straus and Giroux (200 pp.) $22.00 | Feb. 21, 2012 978-0-374-15033-4

A book posing questions that have obvious answers. Followers of pop culture pick up a copy of People to read about tawdry celebrity scandals. Most drivers rubberneck to get a better look at an accident on the highway. “The exploitation of a suicidal starlet; the assassination of a world leader; the hypnotic crush of a hurricane... whatever our attraction, we are drawn to doom.” So why are we so morbid? There are two fairly simple reasons: We’re sympathetic to the victim, and we’re glad it’s not happening to us. Wilson (English/Wake Forest Univ.; Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy, 2009) has a legitimate personal reason for wanting to explore this phenomenon--his emotional reaction to 9/11. It’s a poignant starting point for a book, but the sense of heartfelt emotion disappears quickly. Wilson lumps our fascination with films and TV shows like Dexter, Hostel and Saw with our curiosity about 9/11, a problem in that it trivializes the history and gives undue credit to what is often disposable material. The author might have been able to pull it off with a sense of intensity or consistently electric prose, but Wilson commits the crime of dullness. His tone drifts from pedantic to casual in what could be construed as an attempt to appeal to academics and non-academics alike, but this approach may be off-putting to both. While far from a train wreck, this odd little title is slight, rambling and trivial.

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children & teens STAR OF THE WEEK

Adderson, Caroline Illus. by Clanton, Ben Kids Can (128 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-55453-5781 Series: Jasper John Dooley, 1 Jasper, an early-elementary student, is finally Star of the Week, but his enthusiastic expectations may exceed the reality of all that accompanies the treasured position. Jasper’s best friend Ori has a new baby sister. Jasper thinks of her as “purple” because of the color of her face, since all she does is wail. Ori, who likes to begin sentences with “The thing is…,” is exhausted by the screaming-baby problem at his house. Still, Jasper—an only child—is a little jealous. Plum may be noisy, but she is more interesting than Earl, the wooden sibling Jasper builds, which he brings to school and imaginatively substitutes for a science experiment he forgot to create. His classmates are a bit nonplussed by his special Star of the Week show-and-tell item: A lint collection that includes the very rare father’s-belly-button stuff he likes to harvest. Lots of believable dialogue enhances the brief, largeprint presentation. Written for those who have just transitioned to chapter books, this series opener includes simple yet attractive black-and-white illustrations every few pages. Nothing major happens, but Jasper’s day-to-day concerns are charming and funny. Readers will identify with many of Jasper’s comical, age-appropriate issues as he navigates the sometimes confusing complications of early primary school. (Fiction. 5-8)

PERIMETER, AREA, AND VOLUME A Monster Book of Dimensions

Adler, David A. Illus. by Miller, Edward Holiday House (32 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-8234-2290-6

Adler’s workmanlike introduction to the three titular geometric concepts is straightforwardly instructive and without much whimsy, but Miller’s lively accompanying artwork adds interest in the form a busy motley group of monsters engaged in cinematic pursuits. |

Concepts are introduced in brisk succession: First, the various names given to dimensions of three-dimensional objects are introduced; then circumference (and its attendant dependence on pi) quickly follows perimeter; area and volume come speeding along. Direct address is partly successful—readers are invited to help measure the perimeter of the monsters’ yard and to figure out the area of a movie screen, for instance. But then there’s this kind of confounding text: “Look at the posters outside the movie theater…. Do the monsters in the posters look real?” Well, no— but the fact that they don’t isn’t just because the posters show pictures of the characters in the story. It’s because they are monsters, after all, and readers are seeing them in a two-dimensional picturebook illustration. The quick verbal and visual treatment of these concepts can appeal to math-oriented minds among preschool or primary-grade learners, but this effort misses the opportunity for an engagingly creative lure for the less math-minded. As an introduction to geometry it lacks important depth, simplicity and clarity in its visual approach. (Informational picture book. 6-10)

ILLUMINATE

Agresti, Aimee Harcourt (544 pp.) $17.99 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-547-62614-7 Series: Gilded Wings, 1 A shy, geeky girl finds herself fighting actual devils in this classy first installment in a new angel series. It may be a debut, but from the first paragraph readers will feel they are in the hands of a confident, professional writer. Though lengthy, the plot wastes no space. Out of the blue, Haven learns that she has won an internship at Chicago’s hottest new hotel, where she’ll go to live. With her best friend, Dante, and Lance, the third intern, Haven moves into the hotel on her 16th birthday. She works directly for ultra-glamorous Aurelia Brown, owner of the hotel, and Haven quickly discerns that something isn’t right. Eventually she’ll find out that Aurelia intends to steal souls, including Haven’s. Agresti builds suspicion deftly and slowly, keeping readers turning pages as her story grows. A mysterious book gives Haven strange instructions to follow, but why? How do angels become involved in the story? Who might be in danger? She falls for him, but can Haven trust Lucian, Aurelia’s assistant? The author draws her characters distinctly, making readers care about Dante even though he remains offstage for most of the book.

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Smart, well-crafted and sophisticated; without a doubt, this belongs on the top of the stack of the current crop of angel books. More, please! (Paranormal suspense. 12 & up)

PRAISE SONG FOR THE DAY A Poem for Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration

Alexander, Elizabeth Illus. by Diaz, David Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins (32 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-06-192663-1 A moving poem broadens its potential impact with evocative, dreamlike illustrations from Caldecott Medalist Diaz. Written for Barack Obama’s inauguration, Alexander’s poem uses sophisticated language and images both abstract and concrete to celebrate the diversity of the world we live in, the history that brought us to the day our first African-American president was sworn in and the hope that event inspired. The rhythmic language begins in the present, describing everyday activities. From there Alexander takes us to “dirt roads and highways” that lead both back in time to show the work and struggle that went into creating our world and forward into the hopeful future. Diaz finds ways to both reflect and explicate the complexity of Alexander’s work. His illustrations, focused primarily on a mother and child, create a sense of connection and should help to make the poem accessible to young listeners. By contrast, several double-page montages allow him to include multiple characters and situations in a single composition. Jewel-like colors, intricate patterns and the shifting intensity of light and dark combine beautifully to bring depth and texture to simple silhouettes of people, places and things. Even listeners who aren’t quite sure what some of the words mean will enjoy listening to their soothing, sonorous flow and poring over the pictures to find vivid glimpses of their own and others’ lives and dreams. (Picture book. 6 & up)

GOBLIN SECRETS

Alexander, William McElderry (240 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 6, 2012 978-1-4424-2726-6

Rownie’s search for his brother turns into an unlikely heroic quest. Lonely, young Rownie, with his toobig coat, ventures away from the gang of orphans who belong to the BabaYaga–like witch, Graba. Graba, who seems to operate outside of any authority, sports a pair of chicken-style gearwork legs, moves her house about and is able to cast her sight and thought into those of Rownie’s orphan housemates he thinks 282

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of as Grubs. Rownie’s riverside birthplace, the city of Zombay, is occupied by the Guard—a creepy gearwork security force in service of the Lord Mayor—and menaced by both floods and less worldly terrors. The coal energy for moving the gearwork comes from the hearts of creatures: fish, for some; people, for the Lord Mayor and others. Enticed by the hope of finding his missing older brother, last seen performing illegally in a masked play, Rownie runs away with a vagabond band of players, a troupe of Tamlin, known commonly as goblins, or the Changed. Alexander’s world, blending steampunk and witchy magic, is impressively convincing and evocative in its oddities. Though highly textured, it’s tightly woven and reassuringly seamless. The result is wryly humorous and bearably yet excitingly menacing: Even while much is left unexplained, Rownie’s triumph is both gripping and tantalizing. (Fantasy. 9-13)

IT’S MILKING TIME

Alsdurf, Phyllis Illus. by Johnson, Steve & Fancher, Lou Random House (40 pp.) $16.99 | PLB $19.99 | Apr. 24, 2012 978-0-375-86911-2 978-0-375-96911-9 PLB On a Midwestern dairy farm, a young girl helps her father with the daily milking chores, leading their Holsteins to the barn, feeding the calves, shoveling manure and washing up. The refrain, “Every morning, every night, / it’s milking time,” emphasizes the repetitive nature of dairy farm chores, done “Every day of the week, / every week of the month, / every month of the year.” In short lines set on full-bleed, double-page paintings, the narrator describes the process. These cows are milked serially with a single milking machine. Pail by pail, the foamy milk is poured into cans, which are set into a cooler and later trucked away. Paddles help carry off manure, but the feeding, straw-spreading and washing up are done by hand. This farm is not yet entirely mechanized. The subdued colors of Fancher and Johnson’s soft acrylics add to the sense of dreamy reminiscence. Though there are still small farms where milking happens like this, few children, today, have had a chance to drink their own fresh milk with morning pancakes, nor have their mothers skimmed off the cream for coffee. This fond memory from the author’s own childhood should find a place on shelves right next to Carole Foskett Cordsen’s The Milkman, illustrated by Douglas B. Jones (2005). It’s a lovely, poetic picture. (Picture book. 4-7)

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“...this is as much about how history is written as it is about Hoover and his times.” from master of deceit

MASTER OF DECEIT J. Edgar Hoover and America in the Age of Lies

Aronson, Marc Candlewick (240 pp.) $25.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-7636-5025-4

In fascinating detail, Aronson tells the story of America during J. Edgar Hoover’s reign as head of the FBI and “the nearly fifty years of criminal activity that was his legacy.” For today’s students, Communism and anti-Communism are “just terms that appear on tests, like the Whig, Greenback, or Know-Nothing parties,” but this volume brings alive the drama of the Cold War period and demonstrates its significance for readers now. Taking his title from Hoover’s 1958 work on the dangers of Communism, Aronson writes about the dangers of a “security at all costs” mentality during the Cold War and, by extension, our post-9/11 world. He covers a large slice of history—the Palmer raids of 1919, the gangster era, the Scottsboro case, World War II, the Rosenbergs, Joseph McCarthy, the civil rights movement and Watergate—but this is no mere recitation of the facts; it’s a masterpiece of historical narrative, with the momentum of a thrilling novel and the historical detail of the best nonfiction. With references as far-flung as Karl Marx, Stalin, Wordsworth, American Idol, The Hunger Games and The Lord of the Rings, this is as much about how history is written as it is about Hoover and his times. Extensive backmatter includes fascinating comments on the research, thorough source notes that are actually interesting to read and a lengthy bibliography. Written with the authority of a fine writer with an inquiring mind, this dramatic story is history writing at its best. (Nonfiction. 14 & up)

MARTIN ON THE MOON

Audet, Martine Translated by Quinn, Sarah Illus. by Melanson, Luc Owlkids Books (32 pp.) $15.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-1-92697-316-6

Daydreams on the first day of school lead to a happy ending thanks to a refreshingly responsive teacher. Suppressing anxiety, Martin’s mind goes a mile a minute, associations flowing freely. The teacher’s pink cheeks make him think of Mum Mum, a thought that leads the young boy to recall her beloved smile—”as wide as the river.” Water is fertile territory for a range of precisely described images and emotions, communicated with aurally pleasing words subtly constructed as free verse. Recalling the time his mother had borrowed his language about lightning for her own poem, he ponders her explanation that poetry helps “you put things into words that are painful or / wonderful or that you just don’t understand. / …they’re like |

kisses, tiny little / nothings that mean so much!” When the teacher interrupts his reverie by asking if he’s on the moon and whom he’s blowing kisses to, a pebble from the river gives him the courage to share his thoughts. The teachable moment involves the class drawing kisses (x’s) on the board along with the first letter of their names, the first step towards friendship. Large, round heads, recurring moons and a parting circular view underscore Martin’s marvelous interior world, as do the cheerfully surreal scenes of raining flowers and a smiling sky. No classroom clichés here. Rather, creativity and inspired teaching in full bloom. (Picture book. 4-7)

THE CLEVER LITTLE WITCH

Baeten, Lieve Illus. by Fossey, Wietse NorthSouth (32 pp.) $16.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-7358-4079-9

A little pink suitcase spells mischief for an adventurous young witch. Lizzy lives in a cozy tree house with her devoted striped cat. She’s just about ready for bed when a “CLUNK! PLUNK!” outside piques her curiosity. In front of her door she finds a shiny pink suitcase. She brings it in and tries to open it with a nifty spell. Instead, everything in her house—oven door, cabinets, cake tin—flies open; the suitcase remains firmly locked. Lizzy sets out on her broom to the Witch Hospital to unravel this mystery. She shows the suitcase to the Witch Doctor, but when she repeats her spell, everything in the hospital room goes flying. (Page flaps give readers two views of the room, before and after.) A visit to the Witch Train Station yields a similar result. Lizzy flies to an open field and, with her cat, thinks and thinks. What if she tries a spell to keep the case firmly closed? This proves to be the magic touch, leading to more flap surprises for readers and an invitation to Witch School, where Clever Lizzy can now hone her craft. Baeten’s magical adventure has a bit of savvy; it’s whimsical without being cloying. Fossey’s attractive illustrations seem bathed in moonlight, and the flaps and a variety of page layouts add more appeal. Beguiling. (Picture book. 5-8)

CHLOE AND THE LION

Barnett, Mac Illus. by Rex, Adam Disney Hyperion (48 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-1-4231-1334-8

This meta-picture book offers plenty of sly giggles (and knows it). On first read, the droll surprises in Barnett and Rex’s project are endearing. “This is me, Mac. I’m the author of this book,” explains a waving man, who next introduces “Adam…. the illustrator” and “Chloe…. the main character.” Conservatively dressed

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“The conclusion to Black’s brilliant and unusual Curse Workers trilogy lives up to its predecessors.” from black heart

Mac (collared shirt and tie under sweater) and hipster Adam (thick-rimmed glasses, big-cuffed, darkwash jeans) resemble stringless Plasticine marionettes. Chloe is more cartoony, with wide-leg pants, indigo pigtails and huge purple eyes under enormous glasses. Initially, Chloe’s plot is mild—a walk, a merry-goround. But Adam draws a dragon where Mac’s text specifies a lion, and, after a power struggle, Mac fires Adam. Mac hires a substitute, then makes the (badly-drawn-because-not-drawn-byAdam) lion swallow Adam. Without Adam, things go badly. Mac needs Chloe’s help. As cool as Chloe is, her arc’s mostly a vehicle for the Mac/Adam conflict and for excellent inter-media interactions such as a flatly drawn lion swallowing a 3-D–looking figure. Nobody explains why Chloe’s plot occurs on a theater stage, nor how new characters appear during a phase when—supposedly— nobody’s illustrating. One terrific scene echoes the old Looney Tunes cartoon about a cartoonist briskly altering Daffy Duck’s costumes and scenery, to Daffy’s great consternation. Clever and funny, though it’s possible that only a niche audience will want repeat readings. (Picture book. 4-8)

THE LEPRECHAUN UNDER THE BED

Bateman, Teresa Illus. by Meisel, Paul Holiday House (32 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 17, 2012 978-0-8234-2221-0

Mischief ensues when Sean, a human, accidentally builds his cottage over the home of Brian, a leprechaun. Brian awakens Sean nightly with his cobbling. Before the man can find him, Brian lulls him back to sleep saying, “Now don’t you be fretting your wee little head. It’s only a cat under the bed.” Good-natured Sean is not fooled, for “[h]is mother had always said that a leprechaun in the house was a fine piece of luck,” and he begins leaving food for Brian. The use of dialect lends flavor to the tale while the gentle cadence makes clear that the prank, while a test, is not malicious. Acrylic and watercolor illustrations in primary colors have the innocent feeling of children’s drawings and depict the growing alliance between the two. When hard times hit, Brian gives Sean first one, then another gold coin to buy food. Tongues wag about Sean’s rumored wealth, and, in an up-tick to the pace, robbers threaten Sean in his home. When they hear a noise, Sean tells them, “It’s only the cat under the bed.” With a bit of leprechaun magic, Brian has become a wildcat—and the image practically leaps off the page! At the satisfying conclusion of this original tale, the robbers run away leaving Sean and Brian, now friends for life, in peace. ‘Tis a grand thing. (Picture book. 4-8)

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THE GREAT SHEEP SHENANIGANS

Bently, Peter Illus. by Matsuoka, Mei Andersen Press USA (32 pp.) $16.95 | $12.95 e-book | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-7613-8990-3 978-0-7613-8991-0 e-book A self-deluded wolf is determined to catch a lamb for his supper. Lou Pine believes that he is wily and sly and much smarter than any sheep. When Rambo Ran blocks his initial foray into the pasture, insisting that he scram and vamoose, Lou decides that a “sheepy disguise” is the way to success. He tries stealing Ma Watson’s fluffy white gown, getting painted white by a roadmarking machine, covering himself in cotton candy and threatening Red Riding Hood’s granny into knitting him a sheep-like sweater. But all his attempts meet with dismal failure and a rather disgusting final reckoning. Bently employs rollicking rhyme at a breakneck pace to tell the goofy tale. The lines are of varying lengths and don’t always scan neatly, but the rhymes are mostly breezy and accessible to young readers. Word selection is quite slangy and might not sit well with adults, especially in Lou’s last adventure, in which he “land[s] kersplat in a big pile of poo!” Of course, little ones will delight in the grossness. The text weaves in and around Matsuoka’s textured, stylized cartoon illustrations, adding greatly to the hilarity. But, strangely, Lou doesn’t even remotely resemble a wolf and really looks like no recognizable animal. Feels like a TV cartoon with lots of silly action and no real point, but fun nonetheless. (Picture book. 4-9)

BLACK HEART

Black, Holly McElderry (304 pp.) $17.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-1-4424-0346-8 Series: The Curse Workers, 3 The conclusion to Black’s brilliant and unusual Curse Workers trilogy lives up to its predecessors. After everything he’s been through, it’s hard to believe Cassel has any more tricks up his sleeve: He’s figured out the truth about himself and signed on as a Fed-in-training, as has his charming and utterly unreliable older brother. But of course things don’t go as planned; there are a lot of long cons Cassel has set in play or disrupted whose ripples are still being felt. And there’s Lila, Cassel’s best friend and the love of his life, who is also the rising head of a crime family—and who hates Cassel’s guts. Black’s gotten the world of her novel down perfectly, a fascinating alternate Now in which the debate over curse workers (magic wielders) feels uncomfortably familiar (corrupt government, dispossessed citizens), and Cassel’s voice never falters. If this volume has a bit less punch than the previous two it’s only because readers

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know to expect the unexpected, not because the plotting is any less tight and twisty. And the conclusion, which is happier than might have been expected but not ideal and certainly not pat, is the perfect end to this gem of a trilogy. If you haven’t discovered this series yet, get going; if you’re already a fan, why are you even reading this review? (Urban fantasy/thriller. 14 & up)

MELTDOWN! The Nuclear Disaster in Japan and Our Energy Future

Bortz, Fred Twenty-First Century/Lerner (64 pp.) $23.95 e-book | PLB $31.93 | Mar. 1, 2012

A physicist examines the latest nuclear disaster and its ramifications for the world’s energy future. On March 11, 2011, at 2:46 p.m., the biggest earthquake in Japan’s history hit the Tohoku region, northeast of Tokyo. A wall of water as high as 128 feet and 110 miles wide surged onto the closest land, damaging or destroying more than 125,000 buildings. Thirty thousand people were killed, injured or missing, and more bad news was to come: Three nuclear reactors were about to undergo meltdowns. Using the disaster as a case study to examine how earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear reactors work, Bortz offers a clearly written volume, nicely embellished with photographs, maps and diagrams. All lead into the key question: “Why would any government take the risk of using nuclear power?” In a straightforward, dispassionate tone, he proceeds to answer his own question and lay out the potential of other energy options—hydroelectric, wind, geothermal and solar. Given the catastrophe that spawned this volume, the discussion is curiously non-alarmist, telling young readers that future energy decisions are theirs to make and that wise choices rooted in solid information will be crucial. Regardless of tone, this clear and wide-ranging introduction to essential energy issues has much to offer. (glossary, source notes, bibliography, further reading, websites, index, author’s note) (Nonfiction. 11-18)

SCOOTER IN THE OUTSIDE

Bowen, Anne Illus. by Carter, Abby Holiday House (32 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-8234-2326-2

A bouncy golden retriever named Scooter escapes his suburban home for a solo adventure in this amusing tale full of comical canine conversations. Scooter enjoys a close relationship with his owner, a little girl named Lucy. She walks Scooter regularly in their suburban neighborhood, but he longs to see the larger world past the |

corner of their street. When Lucy leaves the door open, Scooter scoots out to explore, finding unfamiliar territory a scary place with loud fire engines and garbage trucks. Lucy finds Scooter and leads him home to his safe and secure world with his favorite green dog bed. The brisk and cheerful text is full of sound effects spelled out in capital letters, such as Scooter’s sloppy kisses, his tail thumping against the floor or the loud siren noises. Scooters varied canine vocalizations are followed by translations in English to convey the dog’s exuberant emotions and innocent intentions. His winning personality is captured in loose watercolor-and-pencil illustrations in a pleasant palette of soft greens and golds. Scooter will win over any fans of big, friendly dogs, especially when his woofs, arfs and barks are rendered by a suitably enthusiastic reader. (Picture book. 3-6)

JACOB WONDERBAR FOR PRESIDENT OF THE UNIVERSE Bransford, Nathan Illus. by Jennings, C.S. Dial (224 pp.) $15.99 | Apr. 12, 2012 978-0-8037-3538-5 Series: Jacob Wonderbar, 2

What do you do after nearly breaking the universe? Run for president! Seventh-grader Jacob Wonderbar and his best friends Sarah and Dexter had one wild adventure across space and time last year (Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space KAPOW, 2011). Jacob discovered that his missing dad might be in space among the Astrals, but after he caused the great space kapow, the king of the universe sent the trio back to Earth. Now the king has nominated Jacob to run for president of the universe against Prince (and erstwhile space pirate) Mick Cracken, who hates Jacob. Jacob promises to clean up his act and avoid his signature pranks, but Mick promises corruption and lies. Both candidates must compete in three trials and make appearances and speeches across the cosmos. Jacob also has to dodge Mick’s “Earther”-hating soldiers from the planet Valkyrie. When Princess Catalina declares herself Jacob’s running mate and Sarah leaves Jacob’s campaign for Mick’s, it’s anyone’s game. Who will win? And will the Space Chimps ever get their bananas? Bransford’s second slapstick space saga is as much fun as the first. Couched in the space silliness is a surprisingly sharp satire of American electoral shenanigans, making the book especially timely. The final pages definitely set up volume three, so a sequel can’t be far... far away. (Science fiction/humor. 8-12)

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SPOTTY, STRIPY, SWIRLY What Are Patterns?

nature paintings, and young listeners are bound to enjoy guessing each animal’s identity and lifting the flaps. But the text, while minimal, is often uneven. And the inclusion of animals from different habitats all over the world is not only puzzling, but seems like a lost teaching opportunity. Though pretty and engaging, a miss. (Picture book. 3-6)

Brocket, Jane Photos by Brocket, Jane Millbrook/Lerner (32 pp.) $18.95 e-book | PLB $25.26 | Mar. 1, 2012 Patterning and ways of sorting are the focus of the third in Brocket’s four-part series, and, as with her color and texture entries, her brightly colored close-up photos truly make the book. Beginning with a definition, Brocket treats readers to a visual feast of patterns. Her up-close photos show a wide array of objects with their own distinctive patterns, from fabrics and architectural elements to food and plants. Simple arrangements of objects share a page with complex ones, and the familiar are mixed in with the new: a quilt, a candy-decorated cake, a garden full of lettuce, a dahlia, the shadow of a fence, a building’s windows, polka-dot socks. But Brocket does not stop there— she delves into the reasons for patterns. They help us identify plants, stay organized, decorate and plan, but, most of all, they are pleasing to the eye. While this entry lacks the great adjectives that made the first two in the series such standouts, the text does give children some words to help describe what they see—swirls, stripes, dots, zigzag. Brocket peppers the text with challenges that require children to identify the patterns, to look for more around them and to create their own, even pointing out how the same collection of rocks can be sorted in different ways to create different patterns. Another solid entry sure to attract the attention of art and math teachers alike. (Informational picture book. 4-8)

MONKEY’S FRIENDS

Brown, Ruth Illus. by Brown, Ruth Kane/Miller (28 pp.) $14.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-61067-045-6

Playful Monkey takes readers on a guessing game through a world of disparate animals. Six two-page spreads, lushly painted, find Monkey greeting a variety of creatures. Right-hand pages have an additional flap covering half the page; the identity of each of Monkey’s friends is thus partially obscured. His first encounter is with an animal that has a long gray tail, a very long front paw and a pair of eyes peeking out just above it. “Monkey said, ‘How are you?’ when he met the...” Kangaroo! (with a joey in her pouch). Next comes an elephant, then a crocodile, a snake, a chameleon and finally a bear cub, eating honey and leaning against a tree trunk. The pictures feature some extra animals, such as a blasé frog, some brightly colored tropical birds, a frightened koala, a swarm of bees and a treeful of butterflies. At the end of the day, it’s time for bed; Monkey rests against a tree, and under the flap on the right-hand page are all the previously introduced friends wishing him goodnight. Brown’s illustrations are beautiful, like 286

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STORYBOUND

Burt, Marissa Harper/HarperCollins (416 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-0-06-202052-9 A 12-year-old girl finds herself to be an illegitimate visitor to the land of Story in this debut middle-grade fantasy. While in the basement of her school library, foster child Una Fairchild stumbles into a tale all about herself and a world where people practice to be characters in books—hero, villain or sidekick. When Una discovers that she has only been “Written In” to their universe for some mysterious reason, making her very existence precarious, a tumult of clandestine and protective activity ensues. Along the way she befriends a compassionate boy named Peter and an erratic girl named Snow. Meanwhile, Talekeepers spy, Muses are stifled and the Enemy lurks. Books and their supporters are in danger at every turn. In this allegory told by an omniscient narrator, the proceedings are often heavy-handed, and the limited character development can make it challenging to care about the fates of all involved. Yet readers who love fantasy may see an opportunity to snuggle up with a cup of cocoa and unravel the plot, which twists and turns in on itself, with happy surprises. While the novel doesn’t reach the heights to which it clearly aspires—Harry Potter, Inkheart, A Wrinkle in Time—its high concept could have cinematic potential, with deeper character development and less contrivance. (Fantasy. 8-12)

BELLES

Calonita, Jen Poppy/Little, Brown (368 pp.) $17.99 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-0-316-09113-8 Series: Belles, 1 In the first book of a formulaic new series, a lower-class girl is introduced to Southern high society in all its catty glory. Isabelle Scott, better known as Izzie, lives in down-on-its-luck Harborside, spending time with best friend Kylie and crushing on cute Brayden Townsend. When her ailing grandmother is sent to a nursing home, Izzie goes to live in nearby, ritzy Emerald Cove with the family of Bill Monroe, a distant relation and state senator. For the weak-willed Mirabelle Monroe, nicknamed kirkusreviews.com

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“Transfixing artwork shows a boy’s imagination running wild on the potential ramifications of pet sitting.” from sophie’s fish

Mira, Izzie’s arrival is an unwanted upheaval that comes in the middle of her father’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. Due to Izzie’s background, everyone at Emerald Prep freezes her out, led by queen bee—and Mira’s best friend—Savannah Ingram. Predictably, Brayden is revealed to be Savannah’s boyfriend, inspiring Savannah to target Izzie for ostracism. When Mira gets dumped by Savannah for defending Izzie, Mira and Izzie develop a tentative friendship, one they’ll need when a family secret is revealed. Unnecessary complications arise with Lucas Hale, the campaign manager who threatens Izzie, and also a land deal by Savannah’s father that would destroy Izzie’s beloved Harborside Community Center. One-note characters act as you would expect in this generic, paint-by-numbers effort. (Fiction. 14 & up)

SOPHIE’S FISH

Cannon, A.E. Illus. by White, Lee Viking (32 pp.) $15.99 | Mar. 15, 2012 978-0-670-01291-6 Transfixing artwork shows a boy’s imagination running wild on the potential ramifications of pet sitting. When schoolmate Sophie asks Jake to care for her fish, Yo-Yo, for a weekend, he agrees, because “[h]ow hard can it be to babysit a fish?” But while waiting for Yo-Yo to arrive, Jake begins to worry. “What kind of snacks do fish like to eat?” he frets. White presents a massive Strawberry Worm Cake as a possible fish snack; standing atop the highest layer, Jake offers a slice to a laughing blue fish he finds sitting upright on a wire chair. The fish is as big as Jake. Next, Jake wonders, “[w]hat if Yo-Yo wants to play a game?” Here, the portrayed fish is several times Jake’s size, dressed as a pirate and riding an enormous rubber ducky. Watercolor dominates the mixed media, inventively complemented by collage and drawing. Lines dance playfully around the shapes they’re meant to outline, sometimes sliding off a shape’s edge, sometimes bleeding into the watercolor. Tidbits of collage, sometimes of patterned paper, are fascinating yet never loud. Jake’s shorts are watercolor, but his shirt is collaged plaid; the tissues the fish weeps into look like tiny cut-out photos; flower petals are delicate newsprint. Jake calms his fears just in time—well, just in time for the shocking Yo-Yo to arrive. Visually offbeat and beautiful. (Picture book. 3-6)

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ON THE FLIP SIDE

Carter, Nikki Dafina/Kensington (250 pp.) $9.95 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7582-7269-0 Series: Fab Life, 4 The fourth installment in Carter’s (Not a Good Look, 2010, etc.) Fab Life series sees R&B sensation Sunday Tolliver starting her first year at Spelman College. Enjoying her fame but staying levelheaded, Sunday quickly makes a new group of friends at college, including down-to-earth roommate Gia, elitist Meagan, and white former foster kid Piper. Characters from previous volumes reappear, including Sunday’s now–long-distance boyfriend Sam, her superstar mentor Mystique and her cousin Dreya, aka Drama. Upheaval, dubious marketing schemes and double-crosses abound at the record company that has signed the cousins to its label, and readers are treated to an insider’s view of the music industry through Sunday’s healthily skeptical eyes. Longtime readers of the series will notice that Sunday has grown subtly: Club Pyramids, once the domain of the adults in Sunday’s life, is now a few stops away on a local party bus, and a buildup of frustrations leads to a believable slip in Sunday’s normally even-keeled demeanor. Another hit for Sunday Tolliver. (Fiction. 12 & up)

A SECRET KEEPS

Chall, Marsha Wilson Illus. by Solomon, Heather Carolrhoda (32 pp.) $16.95 | $12.95 e-book | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-7613-5593-9 978-0-7613-8904-0 e-book Chall employs alliteration and rhyme to lyrically portray a young boy’s quiet adventure on his grandparents’ farm. After a car trip that lasts “two sleeps,” the boy is eager to find the secret his Grampa has promised in this bucolic landscape. He questions his grandparents and the animals during a campfire, a henhouse visit and a cornfield trek. At bedtime the moon inspires him to slip outside. Under the moonlight he fancies himself a pirate going aboard a galleon. “Where is the secret treasure?” “I find the ladder, / take a breath, / then climb up to the loft. / Shhhh, the pirate hushes. / Then something brushes, / something soft.” Astute readers will already know the answer from a foreshadowed “mew.” It is the interplay between the author’s poetic language and the lush illustrations Solomon provides that elevates the story from the usual new-pet fare. A mix of various paints and collage creates dreamy settings rooted with sharp details. On a pivotal spread, watery deep-blue barn planks bleed together while the finely detailed straw focuses readers’ attention (and the boy’s) to the destination of his surprise. “Finders, keepers” does apply. This sophisticated farmyard tale is sprinkled with gentle plays on words and is sure to spark discussion about secrets of all kinds—those to keep, discover and share. (Picture book. 4-7)

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“An ever-timely message, told in (two) primary colors.” from vote for me !

LOOK INTO MY EYES

that Clanton’s book threatens to do before its neat twist—in direct proportion to its sustenance on either the entertainment or intellectual front, as any 4-year-old will tell you. Read it with Eileen Christelow’s splendid Vote! (2003) if you want that 4-year-old to actually learn anything, though. An ever-timely message, told in (two) primary colors. (Picture book. 4-8)

Child, Lauren Candlewick (400 pp.) $16.99 | $16.99 e-book | Mar. 27, 2012 978-0-7636-5120-6 978-0-7636-5636-2 e-book Series: Ruby Redfort, 1 Ruby Redfort, the young sleuth in an imagined book series adored by Child’s already-established character Clarice Bean, begins her very own series with this lukewarm mystery. The daughter of two clueless but kind socialites, Ruby displays an uncanny talent for observation from an early age. When her family’s beloved housekeeper goes missing along with the entire contents of their house, and a likable but unlikely butler appears on the scene, Ruby suspects there is more to the situation than meets the eye. After being tapped by a spy agency called Spectrum to assist in an investigation, Ruby is pulled into the thick of a plot involving a museum exhibit her parents are staging. Character development is eschewed for quirkiness that can be charming, but it wears thin well before this offering winds itself down. Codes and puzzles featured throughout add some spark, and readers with a penchant for ciphers will enjoy working out the messages passed between Ruby and her best friend Clancy— and can visit a tie-in website for clues. However, the purposefully corny tone of Ruby’s narrative voice (“Did anyone ever tell you that you can be a royal pain in the derriere?”) falls flat. Fizzy style fails to buoy a slow-moving plot. Fans of Child’s other works, however, will likely still be interested in checking this one out. (Mystery. 9-14)

VOTE FOR ME!

Clanton, Ben Illus. by Clanton, Ben Kids Can (40 pp.) $18.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-1-55453-822-5

AN AWESOME BOOK!

Clayton, Dallas Illus. by Clayton, Dallas Harper/HarperCollins (64 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-06-211468-6 An earnest invitation to dream big, dude, and then bigger yet. Self-published in 2009 and gone viral in both print and free online versions, Clayton’s inspirational litany decries “unfantastical and practical” dreams in favor of those “that no one thought to wonder / dreams so big that they’ve got dreams and they’ve got dreams up under!” His hand lettered, all-uppercase lines caption equally emphatic full-bleed cartoon scenes that contrast views of slump-shouldered, Roz Chast–style underachievers with dizzying retro sprays of surreal exuberance. The art sometimes undermines the message—dreams that “scream,” “sing” and “shout,” for instance, are all represented by similarly bellowing monsters, while the supposedly drab dream of “buying a new hat” is expressed visually with a wild, full-page blizzard of different kinds of headgear. Moreover, the metrics are clumsy at best (“…remember what I said / ‘Close your eyes my child / and dream / that perfect dream / inside your head’ “), and those reading it aloud will have a very difficult time navigating the almost punctuation-free text. Nevertheless, it’s a worthy effort to prod children (and adults, for that matter) out of mental ruts. Or at least crank their aspirations up a notch. Share with your kid, or lay it on a new grad or parental unit for some literary feel-good action. (Picture book. 6-8, adult)

INTERRUPTED Life Beyond Words

What does it say that the nature and quality of our national political debate should be so baldly captured in a book

for 4-year-olds? Newcomer Clanton’s candidates are a donkey and an elephant, economically if emotively drawn on fields of blue and red. Yes, we know who these characters are, even more so when they start to address the reader, aka the potential voter. First come the soft sell, the loopy promises and idle boasts—”Do you like CANDY?” “I’m a SUPER CUTE elephant!”—then come the ad hominem attacks: “Well, you certainly do, you big, STINKY pooper scooper,” or, drawing from Spiro Agnew’s playbook, “belching beast of burden.” Finally, they sling enough mud that the electorate takes its business elsewhere. It is a painful point well made, that these candidates are laughable when not plain embarrassing. But even if the name-calling has a measure of low humor at first, it soon pales—something 288

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Coker, Rachel Zondervan (256 pp.) $15.99 | Feb. 14, 2012 978-0-310-72973-0

Teen author Coker’s blend of inspirational romance and historical fiction results in a predictable yet mostly satisfying debut. When not caring for her single, ill mother at their Tennessee home in 1939, 14-year-old Alcyone (named for a star in the Taurus constellation), or simply Allie, is followed longingly by classmate Sam. After her mother’s death, the teen moves to Maine, where she’s adopted by prim Miss Beatrice, a Christian woman fond of clichés. She refuses to consider

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Beatrice family or to follow her to church, since her Christian father abandoned her mother. Instead, she deals with her grief by turning to Emily Dickinson poems (which introduce each chapter), her journal and dreams of writing professionally. Except that Allie has become an even more bitter and reserved teenager, not much has changed when the text skips ahead to 1943. Only the surprise arrival of Sam at a garden party has the power to jolt Allie out of her ongoing mourning. Their playful banter, as Allie tries not to fall for Sam and Sam tries not to scare her off with his abiding love, is the highlight of the novel. A few lapses in accuracy and consistency don’t detract from Allie’s coming of age. While Sam enlists in the war, Allie rethinks (albeit too tidily) her relationships with God and Beatrice. A feel-good story for both heart and soul. (Christian fiction. 12-18)

ALL BY MYSELF!

Collet, Géraldine Translated by Quinn, Sarah Illus. by Saudo, Coralie Owlkids Books (32 pp.) $15.95 | $15.95 e-book | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-926973-12-8 978-1-926973-13-5 e-book When Mama’s brood is left alone, chick imaginations run wild. The wee narrator (identified with a little white arrow and the modest word “Me”) begins to cry when Mama leaves the coop to go pecking for grain. And so do siblings Ivan and Lily and Leonard and Shirley, all in a row. The worry soon escalates to a frantic speculation that she may never come back! (The page turns black, with only wings and eyes visible.) And what will they do if a fox comes?! (One chick becomes a caped crusader while the others hold up signs intended to scare the predator away.) A sudden noise sends them all into a frenzy! But it’s just Mama, back with dinner. She has special eating instructions for each of her babies, and readers learn that the narrator is called Anthony. He’s also apparently the youngest, because he wants to be just like his brothers and sisters, and eat very quickly, all by himself. Saudo’s stylish chicks look like golden M&Ms; their feet and wings are see-through and outlined in white. Her illustrations are full of quirky, mischievous touches sure to bring smiles. This superlatively cute look at the bond between mother and child takes a proud place next to Martin Waddell and Patrick Benson’s Owl Babies (1992). (Picture book. 3-5)

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HEIDI HECKELBECK HAS A SECRET

Coven, Wanda Illus. by Burris, Priscilla Little Simon/Simon & Schuster (128 pp.) $14.99 | paper $4.99 | Mar. 16, 2012 978-1-4424-4087-6 978-1-4424-3565-0 paperback Series: Heidi Heckelbeck, 1 Homeschooled Heidi Heckelbeck is about to be a brand-new second grader at Brewster Elementary, and she is none too happy about it. She would much prefer to continue learning at home with her younger brother Henry, where she doesn’t have to worry about whom she will sit next to at lunch or how she will find her way to the bathroom. Once at school, Heidi meets two girls. Lucy has a “warm fuzzy smile” and invites Heidi to play with her at recess, but Melanie says Heidi is smelly and scribbles on her picture during art. Though Burris’ line drawings add a nice layer of whimsy, for most of the book, Heidi seems to be just another ordinary kid dealing with the same humdrum, startinga-new-school issues as countless other ordinary kids in countless other books. Though there are hints at what Heidi’s “secret” might be—she has her own special book, and instead of wearing “friendly” colors like pink, Heidi opts for outfits that, according to Henry, look like Halloween costumes—they are too subtle and sporadic to convincingly plant the seed that there is more to Heidi than meets the eye, leaving readers to wait for the big reveal at the end and then continue on with the series. Heidi Heckelbeck may have a secret, but in the end it is too little, too late. (Fiction. 5-7)

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PUGS IN A BUG

Crimi, Carolyn Illus. by Buscema, Stephanie Dial (32 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 15, 2012 978-0-8037-3320-6 Six pugs in a lime-green Volkswagen Beetle take a trip through the countryside and into town, meeting other dogs and vehicles on the way in a confusing, frenetic effort that tries too hard to be clever and bubbly. In this cumulative verse, the dapper pug owner of the VW Bug picks up five more pugs on a journey that ends in town at a Pooch Parade. Short, rhyming text and busy, double-page spreads in brilliant shades present a variety of canines riding in cars and on motorcycles, bikes, sleds and skateboards. The beginning of the story, with the pugs being picked up one by one in different environments, holds promise, but once all the dogs descend into the streets for the parade, both the text and the illustrations veer off into confusing collisions of rhyme schemes and overcrowded pages. Additional textual asides in a larger typeface and a plethora of exclamation marks give the effect of a dog barking at readers to stir up excitement. |

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The pugs driving in the VW bug is a humorous concept, but these puppies needed a stronger plot and some traffic direction to make the story accessible to the intended audience. (Picture book. 3-6)

DOLPHIN BABY!

Davies, Nicola Illus. by Granström, Brita Candlewick (32 pp.) $15.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-7636-5548-8 Born tail first, a baby dolphin swims immediately to the surface to breathe, then follows his mother, nursing, learning her call, gradually exploring his world, playing, learning and developing his own personal whistle. Zoologist Davies has long experience writing about nature for young readers. Here, she describes the first six months of a bottlenose calf ’s life through the story of Dolphin and Mom. A sentence or two of narrative description appears on each page, with additional facts in a smaller, italic text. She chooses appropriate information—appearance, breathing, diving, feeding and communication—and constructs her story to demonstrate the calf ’s increasing independence. Her facts are accurate, and readers looking for specifics will appreciate the index and page numbers. An afterword identifies the particular species and reminds readers that caring for oceans will help ensure dolphin survival. Granström’s acrylic paintings are beautiful. Spreading across two pages, they emphasize the blues of the dolphin’s environment. The pink of their rostrums is occasionally and gloriously echoed in the sky. Although the author mentions that the calves lose their “folds and creases” in a few weeks, the illustrator hasn’t shown a newborn calf ’s characteristic stripes, but she has certainly captured its appeal. This introduction to dolphins is sure to win readers’ hearts. (Informational picture book. 3-8)

SON OF A GUN

de Graaf, Anne Eerdmans (125 pp.) $8.00 paperback | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8028-5406-3

permanently damaged, and they are joyfully reunited with their parents. De Graaf bases her episodic, present-tense narratives on interviews with Liberian children and adds an informational appendix with photos that not only lays out Liberia’s troubled history (up to 2006, when the original Dutch edition of the book was published) but also includes upbeat drawings and letters from young survivors. “I wonder if there’s a place for my story in your world,” writes Nopi. Stories like this at least help to ensure that there are. (map, websites) (Historical fiction. 11-13)

ANIMAL MASQUERADE

Dubuc, Marianne Translated by Ghione , Yvette Illus. by Dubuc, Marianne Kids Can (120 pp.) $17.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-55453-782-2

Animals everywhere, all in disguise! It’s time for the animal masquerade, and lion begins considering his costume. He settles on…an elephant. But what will the elephant be? A parrot. And which costume will the parrot choose? A turn of the page reveals all. Simple text, translated from French, accompanies inventive colored-pencil illustrations of an assortment of animals in and out of costume on white backgrounds. At times, the typography cleverly changes to reflect the costume (the word “bat” is upside down, and the letters in “ostrich” sink down under the margins). For the most part, each spread features an animal in disguise and then the actual animal pondering what his or her costume should be, though there are exceptions. A turtle dresses as Little Red Riding Hood, who in turn dresses as a chocolate cake, a dessert the bear loves, for instance. The text is clear but somewhat extraneous, existing primarily to provide a context for the illustrations. The choice of animals feels haphazard (gorilla, armadillo, chicken and unicorn, to name a few), and while this makes for quirky and amusing pictures, it takes away from the general coherence of the story, such as it is. That said, the pictures are colorful, appealing and childlike, and youngsters will enjoy the gentle humor of the images while considering which animal they’d like to be; the costumes themselves seem like they would be fairly easy to re-create. A good choice for imaginative animal lovers. (Picture book. 2-5)

Despite the flip title, a harsh picture of civil war in Liberia as seen through the eyes of two children. Marked by sudden violence and a pervasive sense of uncertainty, the alternating accounts of Nopi, 10 at the beginning, and her little brother Lucky, take both children through eight years of brutal treatment as the two are snatched out of school by soldiers and forced to fight. Ultimately the two survive, scarred by their experiences (and left deaf from a beating, in Nopi’s case) but perhaps not 290

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“The author gives readers a portrait of a tumultuous period in Cuban history and skillfully integrates island flora, fauna and mythology into Fefa’s first-person tale.” from the wild book

TRUE BLUE

Ellis, Deborah Pajama Press (236 pp.) $19.95 | Mar. 15, 2012 978-0-9869495-3-1 Known for powerful tales of social injustice in the developing world, Ellis here offers readers a flawed but gripping character study of teens in small-town Canada. Recognized as the best friend of Casey White, a girl who was tried for murder in a sensational case, waitress and narrator Jess decides to tell her story. As counselors at a summer camp, Jess and Casey supervised young campers, including troubled and troublesome Stephanie Glass. Casey was arrested after Stephanie was murdered and her favorite T-shirt turned up, bloodstained, in Casey’s duffle. Interwoven with Jess’s account are flashbacks to their long friendship. These recollections work against the framing narrative device, in which Jess addresses a putative customer. Jess, an outcast, longs to be someone’s best friend; her attraction to Casey makes sense. But what does Casey see in Jess? Casey has no interest in peer acceptance. With a lifelong passion for insects, she plans to become an entomologist. Aimless, lazy Jess has no ambition beyond securing Casey’s undivided attention and loyalty—that is, until Casey’s arrest gives her entrée to the popular crowd. Casey, whose misplaced loyalty indicates startling ignorance of her friend’s character, is a bore. Jess—sharply insightful, but selfish and entirely lacking in empathy—may be a piece of work, but she grabs readers’ attention and never lets it go. (Fiction. 12 & up)

THE WILD BOOK

Engle, Margarita Harcourt (144 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 20, 2012 978-0-547-58131-6

A young girl tackles a learning disability and the uncertainty of daily life in early-20th-century Cuba. Ten years old at the tale’s opening, Josefa “Fefa” de la Caridad Uría Peña lives with her parents and 10 siblings on their farm, Goatzacoalco. Diagnosed with “word blindness” (a misnomer for dyslexia), Fefa struggles at school and in a home rich with words, including the writings of Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. Discounting a doctor’s opinion that “Fefa will never be able / to read, or write, / or be happy / in school,” her mother gives her a blank diary: “Let the words sprout / like seedlings, / then relax and watch / as your wild diary / grows.” “Let the words sprout / like seedlings, / then relax and watch / as your wild diary / grows.” Basing her tale on the life of her maternal grandmother, Engle captures the frustrations, setbacks and triumphs of Fefa’s language development in this often lyrical free-verse novel. Her reading difficulties are heightened when |

bandits begin roving the countryside, kidnapping local children for ransom: “All I can think of / is learning how / to read / terrifying / ransom notes.” The author gives readers a portrait of a tumultuous period in Cuban history and skillfully integrates island flora, fauna and mythology into Fefa’s first-person tale. This canvas heightens Fefa’s determination to rise above the expectations of her siblings, peers and society. A beautiful tale of perseverance. (author’s note) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

WEDDING DRAMA

English, Karen Illus. by Freeman, Laura Clarion (112 pp.) $14.99 | Mar. 20, 2012 978-0-547-61564-6 Series: Nikki & Deja,

Third grade continues to be a series of ups and downs for best friends Nikki and Deja. Their beloved teacher, Ms. Shelby, is getting married. The excitement reaches a new high when she announces two last-minute guest cancellations and says she would like two students to attend. She draws names out of a hat, and Nikki and Deja are chosen “fair and square.” The rest of the class is jealous but soon moves on to invent a classroom contest to see which team can create the best imaginary wedding. Meanwhile, Nikki and her mother revel in finding a dress and the perfect panini press, while Deja worries about Auntie Dee’s new jobless status and fears what a homemade dress might look like. This entry in the series has a serious credibility problem: While wedding fever would certainly spread through a classroom, it’s hard to imagine a teacher actually choosing just two students to attend her wedding. Though English gets at some of the sniping that occurs in school, that ugliness threatens a hostile takeover of her story. When the girls finally get back together, it is too quickly resolved. Readers of this series will long for some character development; it would be nice to see the girls grow more empathetic along the way. (Fiction. 7-10)

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TAKE A BOW

Eulberg, Elizabeth Point/Scholastic (288 pp.) $17.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-545-33474-7 Four students at a high school for the performing arts find that sometimes life’s most important auditions happen off-stage. Told from the point of view of each of the four main characters, this narrative chronicles the unique situations affecting artists as well |

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“Useful and priced right.” from forced out

as the very familiar drama of high school. Emme, a talented songwriter, longs to be more than the behind-the-scenes talent. Carter, a former child star, is frustrated as the past he wants to put behind him keeps rearing its head. Sophie, a powerhouse singer, wants it all, even if it means alienating the very people she needs the most. Finally, Ethan cannot figure out how he can be so smart about music and so dumb about love. The story, based on the familiar premise of artsy teens, shows surprising depth as it tackles issues including emotional vulnerability, authenticity and betrayal. Realistic dialogue and a healthy dose of teen angst keep the pages turning. Unfortunately, Emme’s and Ethan’s stories quickly outpace Carter’s and Sophie’s, causing the story to lag even as it progresses. The ending, while predictable, is never cloying, managing to be both genuinely sweet and emotionally satisfying. Stage-worthy despite its missteps. (Fiction. 12-18)

FORCED OUT

Fehler, Gene Darby Creek (128 pp.) $7.95 paperback | $20.95 e-book PLB $27.93 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7613-8533-2 978-0-7613-8731-2 e-book 978-0-7613-8321-5 PLB Series: Travel Team This entry in the Travel Team series is totally focused on baseball and its intricacies. Second baseman Zack is ideally positioned to see the pitching, watch the fielding and support the Las Vegas Roadrunners, a team that is full of outstanding players looking to shine for scouts. There is diversity in ethnicity, sexual orientation and income. Zack has little money and is thrilled to be on the team, but he is wary about costs. Suddenly a new catcher appears, whose father’s wealth makes an expensive out-of-state tournament possible. Zack’s allegiance to buddy Nick, the previous catcher, tests his baseball savvy. While the players have lives off the field, this series is almost exclusively about the challenges of the game and the complexities of team play. Two other entries release simultaneously. Out of Control, by Rick Jasper, focuses on shortstop Trip, whose father is a famous singer. Trip also likes music and wonders if his father’s insistence that he be a great baseball player is worthwhile. In Power Hitter, M.G Higgins writes about Sammy, a right fielder struggling to switch from an aluminum bat to the wooden ones required for a special tournament. In each, the coaches play key roles as authority figures and decision makers who set up opportunities. Ideal for reluctant readers who know baseball as a complex and strategic sport; the books’ brevity and recurring characters will add appeal. Useful and priced right. (Fiction. 11-16)

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NO-NAME BABY

Flood, Nancy Bo Namelos (104 pp.) $18.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-60898-117-5

How does an almost-14-year-old girl handle the tragedy of her mother’s giving birth to one doomed preemie after another? Sophie feels personally responsible for a two-months-early delivery of a tiny baby boy, since she inadvertently caused the fall that started her mother’s labor too soon. Aunt Rae’s presence makes things more complicated when she comes to help, as she is ill-tempered, often angry and seems determined to make the girl’s life miserable. Aunt Rae is particularly opposed to Sophie’s tender, developing relationship with a neighbor boy, for reasons that at first seem incomprehensible. When she finally begins to reveal a few of the secrets of her unfortunate life, readers should be moved to care for her—as Sophie is—but she’s depicted so unpleasantly, albeit realistically, that they may find it hard to transition to a more empathetic perspective. The generally melancholy mood is lightened by the warm-hearted presence of Sophie’s ever-so-practical Italian grandmother. The rural, post–World War I setting is evocatively evoked, and strong character development drives the quiet plot toward a believable conclusion. With its authentic depiction of the hardships of early-20th-century life and well-rounded characters, this is an agreeable, ultimately optimistic tale of the strength of the human spirit. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

BERTHA AND THE FROG CHOIR

Foccroulle, Luc Translated by Touchburn, Sabina Illus. by Masson, Annick NorthSouth (32 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7358-4062-1 Rejected for the frog choir, two aspiring frog vocalists join forces to temporarily achieve their musical dreams in this amusing lesson in following your heart. Every frog dreams about being in a choir, and Bertha and her friend Lucy are no exceptions. Waiting in the audition line, Bertha knows Lucy has singing talent but wonders about her own ability. Unfortunately, choir leader Amadeus dismisses Lucy as “too little” without letting her sing a note and rejects Bertha for the “shocking sounds” she croaks despite her considerable girth. As a consolation, Bertha makes Lucy her delicious slug soup, fly broth and lily-pad stew to fatten her up, until Lucy cleverly suggests hiding in Bertha’s sizeable mouth and singing so everyone will think it’s Bertha. Their hoax proves so successful that the duped Amadeus arranges for Bertha (with Lucy tucked inside her mouth) to sing solo at the prince’s wedding—until

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Bertha realizes she doesn’t want to sing (or pretend to sing). She really wants to be a chef! Although somewhat disjointed, the story sends a strong message to follow your bliss, while soft, watercolor illustrations in various shades of frog green present detailed, comic vignettes of frogs of every shape and size humming, crooning and singing with glee. A medley of frog fun. (Picture book. 4-8)

THE MASTERMIND PLOT

Frazier, Angie Scholastic (240 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-545-20864-2

After assisting her uncle, Detective Bruce Snow, solve a mystery at the Rosemount Hotel in The Midnight Tunnel (2011), aspiring sleuth Suzanna Snow visits her paternal grandmother in Boston, where she’s immediately immersed in a perplexing case of arson and art theft. Arriving at her grandmother’s elegant townhouse, Zanna discovers Uncle Bruce still sees her as the “pesky eleven-year-old girl who’d undermined his case at the Rosemount and had made a fool of him.” To Uncle Bruce’s dismay, Zanna becomes involved in the Horne fires case when Adele Horne, her classmate at Miss Lydia Doucette’s Academy for Young Ladies, enlists her help to resolve a string of sinister warehouse fires. Adele’s wealthy father owns the burned warehouses, where he stored valuable works of art. As she tackles the complex case, Zanna’s pursued by a stranger who reveals himself as Matthew Leighton, her long-lost maternal grandfather, a master thief and Uncle Bruce’s chief suspect. Conflicted over her grandfather’s disturbing past, Zanna finds herself in a perilous position as she relies on her instincts to unravel the twisted case. Set among Boston’s staid brownstones in 1904, the suspenseful plot unfolds from Zanna’s first-person perspective, punctuated by her pithy observations. Fans of Suzanna Snow’s first mystery will cheer her latest adventure. (Historical mystery. 8-12)

But she soon becomes convinced from classroom gossip about Wendy’s last night that the murderer wasn’t a homeless vagrant but someone she knew. Wendy had a reputation for going after other girls’ boyfriends, and she’d openly announced on Facebook that attached bad boy Nico Phelps would be hers. Did he or his trust-fund girlfriend finally grow tired of her unwelcome advances? Rain is determined to find out, even if it means speaking up, something she rarely does because of a childhood speech impediment. Then a new piece of evidence challenges Rain’s initial conclusions, and she is terrified to discover that the murderer is closer than she imagined. Though Rain’s amateur investigation doesn’t start until the latter part of the novel, and the climax is a bit perfunctory, if gratifying, both Rain and Wendy emerge as fully rounded, flawed characters that teens will recognize and connect with. A satisfying whodunit with enough clues and red herrings to keep mystery fans happy. (Mystery. 14 & up)

THE GIRL IN THE PARK

Fredericks, Mariah Schwartz & Wade/Random (224 pp.) $16.99 | $10.99 e-book PLB $19.99 | Apr. 12, 2012 978-0-375-86843-6 978-0-375-89907-2 e-book 978-0-375-96843-3 PLB

FISH HAD A WISH

Garland, Michael Illus. by Garland, Michael Holiday House (24 pp.) $14.00 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8234-2394-1 Series: I Like to Read,

Take a conventional story, add a new art technique—and voilà, a striking picture book is born. Fish has a wish to be some creature other than what he is: a bird, so he can fly high in the sky; a turtle, so he can nap on a sunny rock; a skunk, so he can make a big stink; or a bobcat, a bee, a beaver, a butterfly or a snake. But when a mayfly lands on the water, Fish eats it in one bite and declares: “That was so good!… I wish to stay a fish.” Part of the publisher’s I Like to Read series, the book’s eye-catching artwork will fascinate young readers (and adults). The double-page spreads have wood-grain backgrounds that dramatically grab attention and appropriately evoke Fish’s woodland pond environment. Some of the “digi-wood” illustrations are more invigorating than others, but all of them are captivating. Striations and hashes of color create patterns and textures. This technique is new for Garland, and he has cast his net with vigor and aplomb. From the beaver’s coat to the tiger lily’s petals to the snakeskin, this fish tale is a keeper. (Picture book/early reader. 4-8)

“If Wendy could, she’d scream her killer’s name so the whole world heard her… But she can’t. Her killer took her voice away. So I have to use mine.” When shy Rain’s former friend, outgoing Wendy is found strangled to death in a New York City park, at first all Rain can do is grieve and feel regret about their failed friendship. |

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HANNAH’S WAY

being up to. Aiding the mood of merriment are Graham’s illustrations, with their sinewy black line work, delicate, peaches-andcream colors and loving depiction of all kinds of people. The destination sign on the bus reads “Heaven,” and just so, a little piece here on Earth. (Picture book. 3-8)

Glaser, Linda Illus. by Gustavson, Adam Kar-Ben (24 pp.) $7.95 paperback | PLB $17.95 Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7613-5138-2 978-0-7613-5137-5 PLB Sometimes the tiniest actions are the most heroic. In this book—based on a true story—the heroes are children. Illustrator Gustavson is very good at painting eyes. Even when the characters have their eyelids closed, it’s easy to read their expressions. Mostly they look nervous. Hannah is nervous because she might have to miss her class picnic. Her family won’t drive on the Jewish Sabbath; she’s the only Orthodox girl in a school in rural Minnesota. In every picture, Hannah looks nervous in a slightly different way: shy when she’s a new student, timid and regretful when she tells her father about the picnic. “Just because there are no other Jews…” he says, “doesn’t mean we forget the ways of our people.” Hannah thinks: “I don’t want to follow the ways of my people… I just want to go on my class picnic.” On the second-to-last page, she has to speak up in front of the entire class. Her eyes are pointed at her desk. “I—I can go if someone will walk with me,” she whispers. And in one brief, moving sentence, all the students raise their hands to volunteer. In this picture, their eyes are barely visible—they’re tiny scribbles of paint—but they seem to be filled with joy. The moment is a little miracle—nearly impossible to believe, but entirely convincing and true. (Picture book. 5-9)

A BUS CALLED HEAVEN

Graham, Bob Illus. by Graham, Bob Candlewick (40 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7636-5893-9

KOKOCAT INSIDE AND OUT

Graham-Barber, Lynda Illus. by Lane, Nancy Gryphon Press (24 pp.) $16.95 | Apr. 15, 2012 978-0-940719-12-5 Inside cat KokoCat finds the outside world dangerous and scary. KokoCat loves sunbeams and chattering with birds and squirrels—through the window screens. She’s good at naps and keeping clean, like every well-loved indoor kitty. One morning when the door stays open a bit too long, KokoCat makes a break for what she’s seen beyond her window, and no amount of calling from her human gives her pause. She’s not out long before a large orange tomcat attacks her. Though she escapes, she’s hungry. Birds are too fast, so she licks a hamburger wrapper and drinks from a stale puddle. The final insult and injury: a night of rainstorms. KokoCat curls up under a Dumpster, missing her home and her humans. When she hears a familiar voice in the morning, she runs to it, and, after a trip to the vet to attend to her wounds, she is an indoor cat forever. Graham-Barber’s simple tale of an inside cat on the run might not be a bedtime-story choice, but it is a solid informational title on pet care for young cat lovers. Lane’s beautiful, bright watercolors depict an amazing array of emotions on the face of the realistic protagonist. Young readers will definitely need help with the lengthy “Keeping Your Cat Safe” afterword, but it only serves to make this an even more valuable title. (Picture book. 4-8)

ALIEN INVESTIGATION Searching for the Truth about UFOs and Aliens

A city neighborhood takes shape around an abandoned school bus as JellO takes to a mold, in Graham’s tickling,

gladdening tale. A bus gets abandoned on a downtown street. At first it is just a curiosity piece, but a little girl senses some greater potential. Neighbors push and pull it into a side yard. They clean it out. Graffiti artists give it a coat of paint. The bus becomes a hub, a village green, a community center, a sanctuary enlivened by Graham’s multicultural throng: Sikh, Hasidim, sitar players, line dancers— we were all strangers once, so howdy, stranger. There comes the inevitable threat, which is neutralized by the wiles of youth. It is the lovely communality of the story—an ever-presence that is elegantly, softly presented—that will grab young readers, simply because the school bus is just so cool. It’s got birds nesting in the engine block, a Foosball table, music, all sorts of things going on and the usual joyful noise of people up to whatever it is they enjoy 294

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Halls, Kelly Millner Illus. by Spears, Rick C. Millbrook/Lerner (64 pp.) $15.95 e-book | PLB $20.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 Halls’ alien investigation is about as exciting as your neighbor’s vacation slides for the third time. Unidentified flying objects… really, what more do you need to send a thrill up your spine? A mysterious aircraft, colorful lights pulsing like mad, piloted by who knows what and on a mission to, at the very least, shock the pants off any witness here on Earth, why not be agog and aghast? Plus, there are lots of stories out there, lots of photographs, too, to keep even most skeptics scratching their heads. So why, then, does Halls fail to serve forth the goods? It’s another mystery, if not as compelling as Roswell or the Rendlesham Forest. Considering the slippery

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“This first sequel to Clarity (2011) delivers an even more involving, polished and downright nifty mystery.” from perception

nature of the subject, it is critical that the meatiest evidence be presented, and Halls’ use of archival photographs is particularly uninspiring. The accompanying text is likewise deflating. Typical of her enthusiasm is this close encounter with alien lights: “A squadron of F-94 fighters was scrambled (quickly sent up) to pursue them but was unsuccessful. ‘They’ve surrounded my plane,’ one pilot reported. ‘What should I do?’ “ This is considered unsuccessful? And what, pray, did the pilot do? A superbly provocative topic drained of all its color. (Nonfiction. 10-14)

LIBERATOR

Harland, Richard Simon & Schuster (496 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 17, 2012 978-1-4424-2333-6 The second of Harland’s steampunk series initially trades in action for romance but eventually regains its footing. After the Filthies revolted, Col Porpentine and his family were among the few swanks to stay aboard the juggernaut now called the Liberator. But the new regime has troubles galore: A saboteur stalks the halls, an anti-Swank zealot joins the Revolutionary Council and people are disappearing. It’s hard for Col to maintain a blossoming romance with revolutionary Filthy Riff in this atmosphere, and that’s before the imperial juggernauts of other nations converge upon the Liberator. Harland avoids subtlety, preferring instead to spell out every action. As a result the pace turns glacial when the writing turns to matters of the heart, but when the action gets going, it’s a breathless ride. Almost everyone here has stepped out of central casting, the mechanics of the world don’t entirely make sense (although it sounds cool) and the conflicts resolve too easily. Delightful moments abound, however, and the good guys always win, while the baddies are fun to hate and occasionally pity. The climactic fomenting of revolution aboard the Russian juggernaut is a win that leaves open the possibility of another volume. Despite the flaws, there are pleasures to be found here, primarily for fans of the first volume. (Steampunk. 11-14)

PERCEPTION

Harrington, Kim Point/Scholastic (288 pp.) $16.99 | $16.99 e-book | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-545-23053-7 978-0-545-39306-5 e-book

the book), but now she’s more interested in her new friend Mallory and the disappearance of a local girl. Her mom forbids her to help with the case, but Clare can’t stop herself from investigating. Mallory, a formerly shy girl who seems to be coming out of her shell, struggles to cope with events in their new friendship. Meanwhile, Clare worries that someone might be stalking her. The family’s psychic abilities, especially Clare’s ability to “read” objects, certainly play a part in the narrative, but Harrington more closely follows a standard mystery plot, tossing in some tasty red herrings, sprinkling clues throughout, building suspense and turning the tale at just the right time to keep readers involved. The supernatural element may entice some young readers to the book and then turn them into mystery fans. In any case, the believable characterizations, the suspense and the well-crafted plot twists score. A smart, paranormal mystery ride. (Paranormal mystery. 12 & up)

HERE COMES HORTENSE!

Hartt-Sussman, Heather Illus. by Graham, Georgia Tundra (32 pp.) $17.95 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-1-77049-221-9

With Nana, every trip is an adventure, and sometimes a lesson. Nana and her new husband, Bob, drive up in their bright orange van. They’re planning to take the unnamed young narrator to WonderWorld, where he rides the mild Teacups while Nana favors the Wild Mouse. Mostly, he just craves some time alone with Nana. But the duo has another surprise for him: Bob’s granddaughter Hortense, who is about his age and as adventurous as Nana. While Nana and Hortense ride the Landslide and the Mixmaster, the downcast lad mostly sits on a bench with Bob. “This is turning out to be the worst surprise ever!” Late that night, with Hortense and Nana in one room and him and Bob in another, he’s hoping that Bob will sing “Lavender’s Blue” to him like Nana does, but Bob falls quickly into a deep, snoring sleep. The next day starts on the same dark note but takes an abrupt turn when Hortense and the little boy begin talking, and she shares an identical disappointment at having little time with Bob. The two children forge a new friendship. Hartt-Sussman’s narrative touch is deft. Graham’s chalk pastels, a wacky delight from start to finish, bring appropriate lift to what could be a melancholy story. Her characters are uniquely quirky yet have a streak of photographic realism. Warm and offbeat. (Picture book. 4-7)

This first sequel to Clarity (2011) delivers an even more involving, polished and downright nifty mystery. Clare still lives at home with her family of psychics, but this episode emphasizes suspense more than the supernatural. She’s torn between ex-boyfriend Justin and hottie newcomer Gabriel (and will decide between them by the end of |

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“A Korean story from the late 19th century is the basis for this irresistible teaching tale about cooperation, respect for tools and sewing.” from lady hahn and her seven friends

SLIDE

Vs. series, Where the Wild Things Are and Calvin and Hobbes, and it is more apt to result in dismissive snickers than socialization. Straight didacticism, uninspired by its obvious influences and too thin to provide more than a pretense of concealment for its agenda. (Picture book. 3-6)

Hathaway, Jill Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins (256 pp.) $17.99 | Mar. 27, 2012 978-0-06-207790-5 Pink-haired, rebellious Vee isn’t really narcoleptic, as everyone believes; when she suddenly falls asleep, she “slides” into other people and sees through their eyes in this intriguing mystery. Vee’s unwanted paranormal ability becomes a serious problem when she witnesses a murder, but she doesn’t know through whose eyes she’s seeing. She does know that no one will believe her if she tries to explain, especially not her physician father. The police and everyone else believe the murder victim committed suicide. When yet another apparent suicide occurs, Vee begins to suspect two people she trusts, her best friend, Rollins, and her cool psychology teacher. Could either be the murderer? Rollins appears to back away from her when Vee falls for handsome newcomer Zane in the well-crafted romance subplot, and she worries that the teacher might be too close to his female students. High-school rivalries complicate the issue. Although the paranormal aspects of this book pale before its unfolding mystery and human drama, the mystery plot turns on Vee’s sliding ability. Alas, the solution seems to pop out of nowhere, but the back story to the mystery adds real depth. Hathaway guides readers through family turmoil, integrating it well with her murder mystery. She makes Vee’s unwanted ability seem quite real, but it is the history of family betrayal that finally takes center stage in this above-average mystery. An intriguing whodunit. (Paranormal mystery. 12 & up)

I SPEAK DINOSAUR

Henry, Jed Illus. by Henry, Jed Abrams (32 pp.) $14.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-1-4197-0233-4

Will loud roars, acting out and snatching toys away from younger sibs lead to friendly playtimes and happy parents, or being ejected from the house and shunned by the neighborhood? Take a wild guess. Stripped down to a few flat phrases—”Dinosaurs never say, ‘Thank you.’ They just say, MUCKUS, BRUCKUS!”—matched to washy watercolor images, a lad switches back and forth between obnoxious human and garish red dinosaur throughout the day. He scatters his playmates, angers his mother and startles the neighbors in boisterous dinosaur mode. Punishment ensues. In an abrupt and thoroughly unconvincing turnaround, he discovers that responding politely to a group of peers’ ohso-realistic “Hi! May we please play with you?” brings instant acceptance and that allowing little sister to join in will draw a smile from Mom. This clumsy exercise in parental wishful thinking looks and reads like a pastiche of Bob Shea’s Dinosaur 296

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LADY HAHN AND HER SEVEN FRIENDS

Heo, Yumi Illus. by Heo, Yumi Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt (32 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-0-8050-41327-9 A Korean story from the late 19th century is the basis for this irresistible teaching tale about cooperation, respect for tools and sewing. The first page will captivate young readers and listeners at once: “Long, long ago when tigers still smoked pipes…” The seamstress Lady Hahn’s seven friends are Mrs. Ruler, Newlywed Scissors, Young Bride Needle, Young Bride Red Thread, Old Lady Thimble, Young Lady Flatiron and Little Miss Iron. Each of the tools insists that she is the most important of all: Mrs. Ruler, because she can measure accurately; Old Lady Thimble, because she protects Lady Hahn’s thumb; and so on. Lady Hahn herself retires for a nap after reminding her friends that nothing happens without her hands. The seven go off in high dudgeon to hide, and Lady Hahn, upon awakening, finds she can do nothing without them. They return the next morning, softened by Lady Hahn’s tears, and all is well. Heo’s oil and pencil on thick paper make geometric shapes and sweet patterns. Each figure has her own hairstyle, costume and expression, and their body shapes reflect their capacities. Lady Hahn herself has a wonderful crown of braids, an orange silk shirt and a black patterned skirt. Delicate but strong imagery and a lighthearted touch with pattern and placement make the art of sewing and good cooperation quite enough to make a story. (Picture book. 4-7)

CRATER

Hickam, Homer Thomas Nelson (320 pp.) $14.99 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-1-59554-664-7 Series: Helium-3, 1 Long-haul trucking on the Moon… with raiders, romance and a secret mission. Teenage orphan Crater Trueblood was plucked from the Helium-3 mines by lunar kingpin Colonel Medaris because he’s an “honest man who was above suspicion and also easily manipulated.” Trueblood suddenly finds himself scouting for a convoy headed for Armstrong City and charged with picking up a mysterious package. In the course of an eventful trip, Crater survives numerous natural hazards out in the “big suck,” learns

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how to deal with rambunctious truckers (much like herding cats) and plays various high-speed low-gravity sports. He also hooks up with the Colonel’s mercurial granddaughter Maria and battles genetically altered superwarriors with help from a vacuum-suited horse and a Tribble-like supercomputer. Tongue planted pretty firmly in cheek, Hickam tucks in rough-andready characters with names like Nitro Ned and Unlisted Sally, along with ballads (“All I want is a moon dust girl, / Down in a crater waitin’ for love….”), sexist comments, running jokes and prayers to the “Big Miner.” As he leaves his protagonist at the brink of a war with Earth and determined to “keep his homeland safe,” sequels are plainly in the offing. High adventure on the space frontier. The horse is a nice touch. (Science fiction. 11-13)

pen-and-ink illustrations show her nervousness as she prepares for her first try at the gym, while simple text, closely aligned with the illustrations, describes the experience from a child’s point of view. As with others in the series, the story itself consists of an uncomplicated plot, short sentences, accessible vocabulary and generous repetition, making this a fine choice for beginning readers. Oddly, there are no teachers or coaches visible at the gym, but children will identify with the girl’s admiration for another gymnast who encourages her and inspires her to try again when she falls. The energetic, multicultural girls are lively and appealing, and the narrator’s initial attempts at gymnastics nicely mirror a young reader’s early efforts at reading, emphasize the necessity of perseverance and include the appropriate thank you. While the story itself is somewhat minimal, it is intentionally so, allowing new or struggling readers to focus on the basics and achieve success. This cheery selection will bring feelings of accomplishment and security to new readers and budding gymnasts alike. (Picture book/early reader. 2-5)

SILLY FRILLY GRANDMA TILLIE

Jacobs, Laurie A. Illus. by Jewett, Anne Flashlight Press (32 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-979974-68-7 Grandma Tillie feels old and just likes to sit and knit. Or does she? When Grandma Tillie comes to babysit Sophie and Chloe, she transforms herself into a series of frolicking companions, beginning with “The Tillie Vanilly Show.” She juggles and tells jokes at the same time; struts a conga line into the kitchen, where she serves up worm chili with glue gravy or frosted snake toes from Chef Silly Tillie’s Diner. At bedtime, Madame Frilly Tillie washes and soaps the girls with bubble make-up. All clean and ready for a story, the girls ask for the real Grandma Tillie to reappear, and she does. The whimsical illustrations of pencil on paper, digitally painted, finesse the exaggeration with colorful details: Grandma Tillie in her various disguises sports a fuchsia lampshade hat, chartreuse top, pink hair and rhinestone cat’s-eye glasses. A brown-and-white cat is part of the mischief in every scene. Told in first-person voice by older Sophie, the capricious tale will have young girls wishing for a silly grandma just like Tillie, especially if she can hang a spoon from her nose. (Picture book. 4-6)

I WILL TRY

Janovitz, Marilyn Illus. by Janovitz, Marilyn Holiday House (24 pp.) $14.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8234-2399-6 Series: I Like to Read, This girl is ready for a challenge! In this new addition to the I Like to Read picture-book series for emergent readers, a girl is determined to learn gymnastics. Colorful, digitally enhanced |

MEAL OF THE STARS Poems Up and Down

Jensen, Dana Illus. by Tusa, Tricia Houghton Mifflin (32 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 20, 2012 978-0-547-39007-9

Jensen’s debut yields 15 skinny poems, 10 of which are meant to be read from bottom to top. The untitled poems’ subjects range from the lofty—stars and rockets—to the mundane—a winter jacket’s zipper, a ladybug’s hike up a dandelion stem. Each line consists of just one word. Neither punctuation nor capitalization appears, rendering natural breaks tricky to discern. A waterfall poem reads “roaring / crashing / sparkling / and / white / oh / what / a / thunder / heaving / its / mighty / heart / the / waterfall / splashes / out / its / lovely / blue / music / on / the / slippery / rocks / below.” Poems soar, as in one about a kite, but they can also fall a bit flat, without rising from reportage to evocative engagement. Tusa’s quirky watercolor-and-ink illustrations invite browsing; black-and-white vignettes alternate with fullcolor pages. Rather than visually extending the poems, the pictures seem catapulted beyond them: A simple verse narrating an elevator ride appears against a double-page spread showing the narrator in a penthouse with a rooftop pool, a deck with a swing and a bike, an open-air bedroom and fruit trees. The choice to depict successive children throughout rather than to visually capture a consistent narrator seems a missed opportunity in a title that could have profited from more cohesion. Ambitious but flawed. (Picture book/poetry. 4-7)

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k i r ku s q & a w i t h p e t e r jo h n s on In The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr., aka Houdini, when the protagonist decides to write a book, it’s not to gain insight on his character or bring a sense of logic to his life. It’s to make money. After all, his parents are both exhausted from working too hard, and his older brother is fighting in Iraq—his family could use some extra income. But Houdini discovers more than a get-rich-quick scheme between the pages of his notebook. He learns about his friends, his parents, his brother, even himself. Peter Johnson shares what he thinks is important for kids to know and how he learned it in the first place. The Amazing Adventures of John Smith, Jr. AKA Houdini

Peter Johnson HarperCollins (176 pp.) $15.99 Jan. 24, 2012 978-0-06-198890-5

Q: In your book, the character, Houdini, is the one writing the novel—why did you choose this structure? A: At first I was going to parody the conventions I’ve been seeing—all these books coming out with lists—but then rather than approach it negatively, I realized that every kid would really love to write a book, and that with boys we don’t stress that enough. So, a writer visits a school and makes some suggestions on how to write a book. Houdini was smart enough to say OK, I’m going to follow this because I want to make money, but he couldn’t restrain himself from actually going beyond the lists. He can’t keep himself from letting the story take over. When you teach creative writing, all the students want to know is, how do I write a bestseller. You can give them some hints, but the bottom line is that your imagination takes over. Q: A few times in the book you write that writing novels changes you—how were you changed by writing this novel?

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Q: It’s interesting, I wrote my own teacher’s guide, and one of the questions I asked is, do you think Houdini and his friends handled the revenge against Angel in the right way? And then I asked the question, do you think girls would have handled it differently? A: That’s one thing I love about the move from poetry: When you’re a poet, everyone’s afraid to say something stupid, so there’s a lot of posturing, but you go into these classes and these kids tell you things about your books you never even thought of. I can’t wait to hear what kids say about this. Q: You have tough men in your book who are also sensitive and loving—why is it important for kids to read about these characters? A: It’s really, really important to me. I grew up around the steel plants in South Buffalo, in a really Irish Catholic macho neighborhood where if you messed around you got smacked. A lot of my work has been about running away from that, especially with raising two boys. The culture works against you. You can read all the books you want and come up with strategies, but the culture works against you. I really want to present characters who are tough in terms of they’re going to stand up for their ideals, and if they have to, they’ll stand up for themselves, but they’re decent. I like that word, I’ve always liked that word. It’s refreshing to read about kids with a sense of self-sufficiency. In my family we always joke—excuses are for losers. I don’t mean it in a harsh way. We’ve always tried to impress on our boys that no matter how bad things are you can do something about it. People will try to help you, but you’ll be the only one who can help yourself. At some point if things are going badly you have to get angry, but don’t spray paint a school or rob a liquor store—you can go down with your anger, or you can put it toward something. I did that in my own life. –By Andi Diehn

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p h oto © C OU RT E SY GE N EV IEV E A L L A IRE -J OHN S O N

A: Well, this book signaled a move from YA to middle-grade fiction. I didn’t think I could, but I was surprised by how easily I became a 13-year-old boy, though maybe my wife wasn’t so surprised. I really believe that writing or even reading a really good book can change you. I don’t like books where it’s clear there’s a message trying to be put forth, that authors are just using the characters to talk about cutting, or depression, or global warming, or whatever. The thing about 13-year-old boys is that they’re not the most introspective—everything’s kind of a blur. For me, and Houdini, writing the book makes things slow down a little. I can’t say it will make you a better person, but you’ll think about things, examine things; think about how much Houdini learns about his friends, about his father. I think anytime you have to explore anything and go inside yourself, you’re going to be changed in a significant way.

Kids are generally taught to deal with bullies in nonviolent ways, but Houdini and his friends get back at a bully with a plan that was pretty mean. I think the logic of the story went that way. They’re thinking, how are we going to get back at Angel, and they didn’t really want to hurt Angel, because you get the sense, after leaf raking, that he has a human side.


THE SMILEY BOOK OF COLORS

Kaiser, Ruth Photos by Kaiser, Ruth Golden Books/Random (32 pp.) $8.99 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-375-86983-9 A photographic collection of found faces smiles up at readers, while overly upbeat rhymes try to instill a positive attitude. Clever photos of everyday objects that reveal smiley faces hidden all around are the main focus, and they are almost enough to carry the book on their own. Two undone shirt buttons and the gap they leave form one smiley. Another is on the underside of a toy train. There is even a straight-mouthed face formed by the interplay between blue sky and heavy cloud cover. If nothing else, the photos are sure to get kids looking at the world around them in new ways. But this effort goes beyond, adding too much to too little and creating an unsuccessful hodgepodge. Her smileys are presented in color groups, but the pictures are so inherently interesting that their colors become secondary. Too, there is the problem that several of the smileys are difficult to see. However, it is in the rhyming text that the book finally falls flat. “Smile! Be happy! / You get to pick— / When something is icky, / Do you focus on ick? // Look all around / And notice the good! / Focus on that. / We think you should.” The message and its delivery are disappointingly out of sync. See the pictures without the treacly text and upload photo contributions to support Operation Smile at SpontaneousSmiley.com instead. (Picture book. 3-5)

SILLY GOOSE’S BIG STORY

Kasza, Keiko Illus. by Kasza, Keiko Putnam (32 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-399-25542-7

Goose’s friends beg him to tell them his wonderful stories, which they then act out when they play. The trouble is, Goose is always the hero. Text appears in an easy-to-read font for those who are taking their first steps toward independent reading. The gouache illustrations are big, colorful and uncluttered so youngsters immediately recognize Squirrel, Beaver and Porcupine’s increasing unhappiness at playing second-string all the time. In a scene right out of preschool, the trio confronts Goose: “You always play the hero. Why can’t we take turns?” A wolf overhears them arguing, and, in a shift that feels more like real-life stranger-danger than fairy-tale big bad wolf, he leaps out to eat them. Goose’s friends escape, but Goose is caught and must use his wits to stay alive. He comes up with his biggest tale ever about a Wem—Wolf-Eating Monster—which the trusted trio enacts, surprising even Goose. Branches shake and a voice bellows (represented in big balloon type), “YUM, YUM, I smell |

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a wolf …” Wolf bolts, and Goose is relieved to see his friends— true heroes—emerging from the trees. Children will relish the scene of the happy reunion with a grateful Goose, who begins a new story about his best friends. (Picture book. 3-6)

LOWER THE TRAP

Kerrin, Jessica Scott Kids Can (128 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-55453-576-7 Series: The Lobster Chronicles, 1 Kerrin, author of the Martin Bridge chapter-book series, aims for a slightly older audience in this first installment of a planned trilogy. Set in a fictional Nova Scotia fishing village, the books will examine, through the eyes of three separate boys, how their life changes with the capture of a gargantuan lobster. Graeme Swinimer’s father catches a gigantic lobster with antennae that resemble bicycle spokes. Later that day, obnoxious classmate Norris Fowler coerces Graeme into tracking down the person responsible for stealing their teacher’s prize cactus. In return, Norris promises that his father will pay top dollar for the behemoth, which will be auctioned to the highest bidder at the town’s annual lobster festival. Eager for the prize money, Graeme, a budding marine biologist, will finally be able to visit Big Fish Aquarium. When he discovers that 30 years ago another local lobsterman captured a huge lobster, Graeme wonders if it could be the same crustacean. Kerrin’s writing will appeal to those who enjoy a more thoughtful, less action-packed story. She conveys a believable plot with minimal text that’s driven by spot-on dialogue. Engaged readers will relate to Graeme’s inner struggle whether to let the crustacean be mounted or “lower the trap” to set it free. A cast of colorful characters and a satisfying ending will leave readers wondering whose story is next. (Fiction. 8-10)

LOSS

Kessler, Jackie Morse Graphia (272 pp.) $8.99 paperback | Mar. 20, 2012 978-0-547-71215-4 Series: Riders of the Apocalypse, 3 Bullied Billy Ballard must take Pestilence’s crown and ride with the Horsemen of the Apocalypse or let the world be destroyed, in this third book in the Riders of the Apocalypse Quartet. Haunted by his childhood promise to the disease-riddled Ice Cream Man (aka the White Rider/Pestilence/the Conqueror), 15-year-old Billy is nonetheless surprised when Death asks him to abandon his mortal life and assume apocalyptic |

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“[Eugene’s] energy and humor are contagious, and his dogged commitment to his superhero alter ego is enough to make anyone a believer.” from captain awesome to the rescue !

power. Given that Billy’s world is filled with bullies—whose motives are inadequately explained—a workaholic mother and a grandfather made alien and violent by Alzheimer’s, a new life seems preferable. Unlike War and Famine (in Rage, 2011, and Hunger, 2010), Billy has a choice: Defeat the Conqueror or convince him to ride forth and restore balance. Billy dreamwalks among Pestilence’s millennia of memories of suffering, only to have the White Rider return and try to save the world by sickening it—an illogical solution paralleled by other equally incoherent plot points. Issues of bullying and Alzheimer’s vie for attention, unsubtly and incongruously matched with a dark fantasy story about apocalyptic personifications. Flat characters—the horses have more pizzazz than the obligatory love interest, Marianne Bixby—undermine Billy’s epiphany of self-worth and social belonging. A book about “bullies and bruises and babysitting Gramps” with apocalyptic interludes—the End cannot come quickly enough. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

CAPTAIN AWESOME TO THE RESCUE!

Kirby, Stan Illus. by O’Connor, George Little Simon/Simon & Schuster (128 pp.) $14.99 | paper $5.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-1-4424-4090-6 978-1-4424-3561-12 paperback The town of Sunnyview got a little bit safer when 8-year-old Eugene McGil-

licudy moved in. Just like his comic-book mentor, Super Dude, Eugene, aka Captain Awesome, is on a one-man mission is to save the world from supervillains, like the nefarious “Queen Stinkypants from Planet Baby.” Just as Eugene suspected, plenty of new supervillains await him at Sunnyview Elementary. Are Meredith Mooney and the mind-reading Ms. Beasley secretly working together to try and force Eugene to reveal his secret identity? Will Principal Brick Foot succeed in throwing Captain Awesome into the “Dungeon of Detention?” Fortunately, Eugene isn’t forced to go it alone. Charlie Thomas Jones, fellow comic-book lover and Super Dude fan, stands ready and willing to help. When the class hamster goes missing, Captain Awesome must don his cape and, with the help of his new best friend, ride to the rescue. Kirby’s funny and engaging third-person narration and O’Connor’s hilarious illustrations make the book easily accessible and enormously appealing, particularly to readers who have recently graduated to chapter books. But it is the quirky, mischievous Eugene that really makes this book special. His energy and humor are contagious, and his dogged commitment to his superhero alter ego is enough to make anyone a believer. As Captain Awesome would say, this kid is “MI-TEE!” (Fiction. 5-8)

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STARFALL

Kolpak, Diana Photos by Finlay, Kathleen Red Deer Press (48 pp.) $19.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-88995-469-4 A story told in photographs that reads like a surreal theater piece for adults. The lead character is Meera, a clown, with one red eyebrow and one green, a red ball nose and a big smile. “There are no stars to hold up my dreams…,” she says. “I have to wake up the stars.” Instead of stars, it is snowing. She walks through the snowcovered landscape and finds a fortune-telling booth, which tells her to find the Dream Tree, who in turn tells her to “Believe,” “Be brave” and “Shine.” She opens a door, finds the Fire Juggler, outwits the Spinner and learns from the Dreamer that the stars are in her. Meera opens her arms and the stars break free of the ice and melt the winter away. Besides the obvious visual discordance between the lack of stars and the presence of snowflakes (huh? how are these related?), nothing adds up. Since part of the sales go toward “local [Canadian] therapeutic clown programs,” one can assume this is all a metaphor about overcoming illness or fear, but there is nothing but platitude on which to hang any sort of emotional response. The photographs are stark, with the figures placed against broad images of sky, snow, forest and water, illustrating but not illuminating the story. It is not aimed in any way at children but may find an audience among preteens and teens interested in theater and art photography. (Picture book. 10-14)

HOUSE HELD UP BY TREES

Kooser, Ted Illus. by Klassen, Jon Candlewick (32 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 27, 2012 978-0-7636-510-7 Poet Kooser explores the tension between the human predilection for taming nature and the triumph of the wild. A solitary house, its lawn bordered by thick woods, shelters a father, boy and girl. The children play in the woods while their father meticulously mows, plucking tree seedlings at every appearance. The children grow up and leave, and dad, yard work too much for him, follows. Unsold and unwanted, the house leaks and sags. Kooser describes the transformation: “Some of the seeds had sprouted along the foundation, where water ran off the roof… and these little trees were soon saplings, pressed against the side of the house.” Paradoxically, the rotting house, nails rusting and boards pulling away, is kept intact by the maturing trees. Kooser, his language plain yet rich, marvels quietly: “[A]s they grew bigger and stronger, they held it / together as if it was a bird’s nest in the fingers of their branches.” Klassen’s stylized pictures, in a muted palette of umber, brick red and green-gray, capture the isolation of both house and father. The

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lawn, that point of pride, isn’t lushly depicted. Rather, it’s a collection of fitful, pale strokes, suspended below a swirl of winged seeds. Double-page spreads show the shift from foundational support to that of the tight phalanx of trees. In the final spread, the house is seen from below, high in the trees’ sure embrace. Poignant and lovely. (Picture book. 4-9)

SADIE AND THE BIG MOUNTAIN

Korngold, Jamie Illus. by Fortenberry, Julie Kar-Ben (32 pp.) $7.95 paperback | PLB $17.95 Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7613-6494-8 978-0-7613-6492-4 PLB A week-long unit on the holiday of Shavuot has one preschool class excitedly anticipating a planned reenactment of the hike Moses took up Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Resourceful Sadie, of Sadie’s Sukkah Breakfast (2011), enjoys attending her temple preschool with its songs, play equipment and teacher, Morah Sarah. But when the idea of a hike is introduced as the culmination of the week’s focus, the Shavuot celebration, Sadie hates the idea. “Her hiking boots always hurt her feet. Her backpack was always too heavy. And there were never enough snacks.” As the week progresses, the children create their own walking sticks, learn about the Ten Commandments and make the traditional blintzes. Meanwhile, Sadie’s anxiety builds. She tells herself she will not have to hike if she comes down with chicken pox, contracts poison ivy or just catches the flu. However, Friday morning delivers a healthy but nervous Sadie, whose reluctance is finally assuaged by Rabbi Jamie with assurances that the small, easy-to-climb hill behind the temple grounds is the perfect place to recreate the symbolic hike. Detailed and colorful illustrations depicting a modern, female-led nursery program and a little girl’s fretful qualms artfully flesh out this reasonably intriguing story with its ultimate message of reaching God. There are not many books that treat with this holiday; how fortunate that this is such a strong one. (Picture book. 3-5)

GRAVE MERCY

LaFevers, Robin Houghton Mifflin (528 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-0-547-62834-9 Series: His Fair Assassin, 1 Fiction and history coalesce in a rich, ripping tale of assassinations, political intrigue and religion in 15th-century Brittany. When the pig farmer who paid three coins to wed Ismae sees the red scar across her back, he cracks her in the skull and hurls her into |

the root cellar until a priest can come “to burn you or drown you.” The scar shows that Ismae’s mother poisoned her in utero; Ismae’s survival of that poisoning proves her sire is Mortain, god of death. A hedge priest and herbwitch spirit Ismae to the convent of St. Mortain, where nuns teach her hundreds of ways to kill a man. “We are mere instruments of Mortain…. His handmaidens, if you will. We do not decide who to kill or why or when. It is all determined by the god.” After Ismae’s first two assassinations, the abbess sends her to Brittany’s high court to ferret out treason against the duchess and to kill anyone Mortain marks, even if it’s someone Ismae trusts—or loves. Brittany fights to remain independent from France, war looms and suitors vie nefariously for the duchess’ hand. Ismae’s narrative voice is fluid and solid, her spying and killing skills impeccable. LaFevers’ ambitious tapestry includes poison and treason and murder, valor and honor and slow love, suspense and sexuality and mercy. A page-turner—with grace. (map, list of characters) (Historical thriller. 14 & up)

RACHEL CARSON AND HER BOOK THAT CHANGED THE WORLD

Lawlor, Laurie Illus. by Beingessner, Laura Holiday House (32 pp.) $16.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8234-2370-5

Silent Spring did indeed change the world, but Rachel Carson’s story cannot be folded easily into 32 pages. By trying to pack so much of the complexity of the naturalist’s life and work into this compressed format, awkward construction and lack of clarity abound. Her family owned 65 acres of woods and fields, but her father struggled to support them as a traveling salesman. Her mother is described as “doting,” then “fiercely proud,” then “stern-faced” as Rachel goes off to college to study writing as well as the plants and animals she examined so closely as a child. At 28, Rachel had her whole extended family to support, and she did so as a full-time biologist at the Bureau of Fisheries. Her Silent Spring, which carefully documented the effects of insecticides such as DDT on bird and animal life and ultimately on people, launched a huge governmental effort to eliminate that threat. The story ends with her death, at age 56 in 1964, with details of the revolution she initiated only in the epilogue. Beingessner’s pictures are attractive and well-constructed, as Rachel grows and changes (her clothing elegantly reflecting each time period) beside the fields, forests, waters and oceans she loved and studied. Ultimately, too many unconnected facts are dropped in to the text to help children understand her life and accomplishments. (source notes) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)

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CIRCLE OF CRANES

LeBox, Annette Dial (352 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 12, 2012 978-0-8037-3443-2

The horror of sweatshop life is alleviated by a magical heritage. Suyin doesn’t want to go to America, but the people of her romanticized, 21stcentury Chinese village want someone who can send American dollars back to fund schools and electricity. Almost immediately, it becomes clear that the smuggler bringing her to Gold Mountain is a liar. She’s not traveling on a cruise ship with “first-class accommodations [and] twelve-course banquets” but on a “rickety rust bucket” too small for the passengers and unsafe for the open ocean. The perilous journey Suyin makes with her fellow passengers, mostly other girls, doesn’t end with safety. When they arrive in New York City, the girls spend 14-hour-days in an overheated sweatshop. Meanwhile, Suyin tries to be worthy of her crane ancestors, who tell her in visions and dreams that she is the last crane princess; without her help, the magical crane women are doomed. Can she be worthy of both the cranes, who need a savior to rescue their queen from the netherworld, and her fellow laborers, who need a leader to demand eight months of unpaid wages? The confusing worldbuilding is a mashup of careful details about some of China’s ethnic minorities combined willy-nilly with elements from other eras, other parts of China and vast oversimplifications. Inexplicably, Suyin’s magical heritage comes from a Japanese folk tale. The magical element doesn’t add much to this story of a low-key labor heroine, but it may draw in fantasy readers. (Fantasy. 10-13)

ZERO

Leveen, Tom Random House (304 pp.) $16.99 | $10.99 e-book PLB $19.99 | Apr. 24, 2012 978-0-375-86921-1 978-0-375-98932-2 e-book 978-0-375-96921-8 PLB Amanda, who signs all of her artwork “Zero,” planned to leave Phoenix in the fall to attend the School of the Art Insti-

low self-worth, occasionally breaking into her own narrative to clarify matters with “Here’s the thing.” Leveen smoothly depicts Amanda’s growing self-acceptance through dialogue, as Mike encourages her with his appreciation of her talent and his refusal to go along with her negative body image. Fitting quotations from Salvador Dalí, Amanda’s artistic idol, head each chapter and reflect the unfolding story. As the summer wears on, Amanda finds a new level of maturity as she grows through a battle of wills with her mother, moves toward reconciliation with Jenn and faces decisions about the direction of her relationship with Mike. Artful. (Fiction. 14 & up)

PRETTY CROOKED

Ludwig, Elisa Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins (368 pp.) $17.99 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-06-206606-0 This debut keeps readers zooming along as a formerly poor girl plays Robin Hood when she strikes it rich. When Willa’s artist mom makes some sudden, highly lucrative sales, the two move to a ritzy Arizona neighborhood, complete with a fancy private prep school where Willa worries that she won’t fit in. The opposite happens, however, when Willa meets Cherise, who inducts her into the popular “Glitterati” crowd on her first day. Willa revels in the attention and the expensive shopping trips to Neiman Marcus. However, her new friends bully the school’s poor scholarship girls to such an extent that it sickens Willa. She decides to even things up by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. She learns how to pick pockets and locks and then spends her ill-gotten gains on fancy new outfits that she delivers anonymously to the poor girls. But can she get away with her scheme without consequences? Meanwhile, even as Willa tries to avoid the rebellious, superrich, highly attractive Aidan, readers will suspect she’ll eventually succumb. Ludwig portrays the school and wealthy neighborhood convincingly. Her characterizations for the most part hit their target, although Willa comes across as smarter than the actions she takes. The story ends with a major mystery unsolved, opening the way for sequels. A solid debut. (Suspense. 12 & up)

tute of Chicago. A lack of funds and a rift between Amanda and her best friend, Jenn, has changed everything. Now fall looms, with nothing more than community college, her bickering parents and a sense that her art will never be good enough even to hang in the local coffee house. Then she meets Mike, a drummer in an up-and-coming band called Gothic Rainbow. Amanda’s snappy, consistent voice displays the tension between her conviction that she’s got what it takes to be an artist and her feelings of 302

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“The star of this appealing introduction to organic farming is a homeless cat that wandered into a northern California farm in 2005.” from molly ’s organic farm

KILL SWITCH

Lynch, Chris Simon & Schuster (176 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 17, 2012 978-1-4169-2702-0 An Alzheimer’s-fueled thriller fizzles. Daniel Cameron, better known as Young Man, is getting ready to leave home and head off to college, leaving behind his dementia-afflicted grandfather. His grandfather, Da, has begun making radical claims about trips he’s taken, cars he’s owned and espionage missions he’s carried out—things that aren’t usually included in the job description of a former agriculture-system analyst. After Da steals a car and is sent to the hospital for observation, Daniel breaks him out on an impromptu road trip in order to quell Da’s paranoia that shadowy figures are going to permanently silence him. Lynch’s characters and narrative never quite sync, leaving large gaps in motivation and personality that rattle about in the story. Daniel’s emotionally numb dialogue coupled with his near-infallible faith in his deteriorating grandfather cause him to become something of a puppet, both for his grandfather and for the author. The vaguely sinister government agents are such a generic plot device as to be forgotten, making Daniel’s ultimate confrontation with the agents simultaneously horrific and bland. Lynch’s normally exciting work is apparently deep under cover on this mission. (Thriller. 13 & up)

MOLLY’S ORGANIC FARM

Malnor, Carol L. & Hunner, Trina L. Illus. by Hunner, Trina L. Dawn Publications (32 pp.) $16.95 | paper $8.95 | Mar. 12, 2012 978-1-58469-166-2 978-1-58469-167-9 paperback A small orange cat finds a new home on an organic farm, where she explores the farm world, helps with pest control and spends her winter warm and dry at the home of one of the farmers, in this book based on a true story. The star of this appealing introduction to organic farming is a homeless cat that wandered into a northern California farm in 2005. She was adopted by the farmers and CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) participants and was sheltered by the illustrator for several winters. Realistic watercolors provide a cat’s-eye view of the farm with its big brown farmer boots, its sheltering leaves and its interesting animal life. A simple text describing what she sees accompanies the full-page illustrations. A separate narrative, in rhymed couplets, is set on insets with close-ups of the green-eyed cat, sometimes zoomed in on a nose or tongue. The backmatter is frankly educational, providing further explanation of the major points: healthy soil and compost, beneficial bugs, companion planting, crop rotation, animal helpers, buying locally, community connections and, incidentally, city farms. There are additional descriptions of |

plant parts, life cycles and some further reading and teaching suggestions, as well as the story of the real-life Molly. Pair this with Deborah Hodge and Brian Harris’ Up We Grow (2010) for two different visions of modern environmentally conscious farm life. (Informational picture book. 4-7)

ZOO AH-CHOOOO

Mandel, Peter Illus. by Smith, Elwood Holiday House (32 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-8234-2317-0

There’s an outbreak at the zoo! (Of germs, that is.) A sleepy Sunday is suddenly shattered by a loud sneeze. It’s a “Zoo Ah-chooOO!” The snow leopard can’t help himself. Trashcans, hats and flamingos go flying. Then the African elephant feels a tickle. (An elephant sneeze is much, much worse.) She slowly lifts her trunk and lets out a “RRRrrr-eeeEEE-ahh- / PHOOOO!!!” Trees are uprooted and the fence is blown flat. How can they stop this ah-choo from spreading before the whole zoo is destroyed? Luckily, a vet comes to the rescue with “a SUPERFIZZY sneeze solution”—but not before volcanoes of mud and geysers of water are sprayed everywhere. The narrative may be old hat, but gusty splatters and loud, boisterous sneezes can’t lose with the preschool set. Smith’s frenetic illustrations and wind-strewn aftermath provide an extra jolt of energy to the tale. However, Mandel does throw a twist in the end; the snow leopard starts another contagious chain of events—this time one that readers may not be able to resist as well. Break out the earplugs, not the tissues, for this ahchoo–filled read aloud. (Picture book. 3-6)

FROI OF THE EXILES

Marchetta, Melina Candlewick (608 pp.) $18.99 | $18.99 e-book | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-7636-4759-9 978-0-7636-5966-0 e-book Series: The Lumatere Chronicles, 2 With this, the second of the Lumatere Chronicles, fans will be delighted to learn more about this fantasy world and their favorite characters from Finni-

kin of the Rock (2010). Set three years after Lumatere was freed from the Charynite occupation, the story revolves around Queen Isaboe’s decision to send Froi to assassinate the infamous king of Charyn. Froi, petty thief and former slave from the land of Sarnak, has developed (beyond all expectations) into a skilled fighter, farmer and pupil of history and language. The quick-start plot grabs attention right off, and the steady build-up of tension—fueled by abductions, political machinations, regicide and political chaos—will

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“Filling his story with fully realized secondary characters and a sumptuous Botswanan setting, McCall Smith creates the same warm community in this series that his adult readers appreciate.” from the great cake mystery

keep people reading through this long book. Characters, always Marchetta’s strength, grow and develop as the story progresses, while the land of Charyn, portrayed with telling details, cleverly supports the tale’s suspense. An epilogue reveals that there’s much more to come. For fans, this is a must-read; newcomers to Lumatere’s story will dive in with enthusiasm. This epic has everything readers can ask for: great characters and a truly spectacular plot filled with romance, suspense, friendship and betrayal. (Fantasy. 14 & up)

THE GREAT CAKE MYSTERY Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case

McCall Smith, Alexander Illus. by McIntosh, Iain Anchor (80 pp.) $12.99 | paper $6.99 | $6.99 e-book PLB $13.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-0-307-94944-8 978-0-307-74389-3 paperback 978-0-307-74390-9 e-book 978-0-307-94945-5 PLB How did Precious Ramotswe, the detective in the bestselling The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, get her start? McCall Smith has penned the story of Precious’ very first case, taken on when she was just a schoolgirl. Someone has been stealing bread and sweets from the children’s lunches and one round boy, Poloko, is accused of the crime. Precious has a knack for people, and she trusts Poloko’s story, even when his sticky fingers point to guilt. Filling his story with fully realized secondary characters and a sumptuous Botswanan setting, McCall Smith creates the same warm community in this series that his adult readers appreciate. Readers see Precious’ understanding of human nature and powers of observation. The stunning artwork in this chapter book has the look of woodcuts and oldtime three-color separation illustration. It extends the story, immersing readers in the village life of Botswana. When a new character is introduced, McIntosh explores either the actual name or its pronunciation in bold red capital letters. A compelling plot and interesting secondary characters, especially classmates who are quick to make unfounded accusations and their teacher, who provides wisdom just when it is needed, will leave readers wanting more. One case where an adaptation from an adult book is as much fun to read as the original. (Mystery. 7-12)

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LATE NATE IN A RACE

McCully, Emily Arnold Illus. by McCully, Emily Arnold Holiday House (32 pp.) $14.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-8234-2421-4 McCully’s beginning reader demonstrates that it takes more than words to make a story. This is a tale of good intentions. Both the artwork, with its wobbly pen lines and disarming characterizations, and a measure of the wordplay speak volumes about welcoming new readers. The words are accessible, the rhymes provide flow and the near-rhymes—”‘Eat up, Nate,’ say Jane and Jake”—are one of those little delights that snag the reader’s ear. But there is also atonality reminiscent of Dick, Jane and Sally. “The race is today. Mom, Dad, Jake, and Jane are here. Nate is not. He is slow. / It is late. Nate is still not here.” Storywise, okay, Nate the mouse is slow, and so be it. He even has a Thoreauvian moment when, as his mother prods him to enter the race, he says, “No. I like to go slow.” But he is never allowed to beat that drum, as his mother pushes him to the starting line. Nate, who has shown not a wink of flash, blows by everyone and wins the race by yards. What gives? Did a cat unexpectedly enter the precincts? Did fear give him sudden instincts of skill? Was it steroids? No reason is forthcoming. Once readers have tackled the words, this story deflates with alarming celerity. (Picture book/early reader. 4-8)

WILL PRINCESS ISABEL EVER SAY PLEASE?

Metzger, Steve Illus. by Haley, Amanda Holiday House (32 pp.) $16.95 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-8234-2323-1

What can you say when even the jacket blurb calls it “a lighthearted lesson in humility”? First of all, it isn’t. Humility is not what is going on, just bad manners and a dose of fractured fairy tale. Isabel is perfect in every way, but she won’t say “please.” When Isabel leaves a tiny shoe at the prince’s ball and is about to put her tiny toes into it, the prince says, “Say ‘please,’ “ but she won’t. He goes off to meet Cinderella. Isabel’s stepmother (who is really not attractive at all) offers her the poisoned apple, but since Isabel won’t say please, Isabel remains without a prince. And when Isabel drops her golden ball into the frog’s pond, she won’t say please to get it back. But walking lost in a forest, she screams for help and says “please” to the prince who happens by to rescue her, and he is so taken by “her humility and fine manners” that he falls in love. Haley’s cartoon characters have googly eyes, squiggly limbs and a sense of humor (see the Groucho glasses on the stepmother), and Isabel’s pasteland-rosebud look is right for the story. It’s hard to know what

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to make of this. Saying “please” makes the prince appear and propose? Manners make the princess? If silliness is what was aimed for, it sort of succeeds— but, if so, it is not silly enough. (Picture book. 5-7)

THE SPRINGSWEET

Mitchell, Saundra Harcourt (288 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 17, 2012 978-0-547-60842-6

A lovely historical romance takes readers back to the 1890 Oklahoma territory. In this sequel to The Vespertine (2011), Zora decides to escape from her life in Baltimore when she can’t get over the death of her true love. In despair, she travels to live in her aunt’s sod house on the parched prairie. There she discovers that she has a supernatural ability to find water. She also finds that two men want her affections: Theo, a wealthy man she met over Edgar Allan Poe’s grave in Baltimore, and Emerson, an attractive young man who might have some paranormal abilities of his own. Zora starts her adventure by surviving a stagecoach robbery, and subsequently learns that she can’t fetch water while wearing her corset. When she tries to make desperately needed money with her water-finding ability, though, she runs into trouble. Throughout, the author conjures a convincing picture of life on the Oklahoma prairie, painting an absorbing portrait of the landscape and of the people there. Paranormal abilities aside, this is an effective historical novel. Mitchell includes a barn raising and dance, a prairie fire and a town founded and run by blacks, demonstrating solid research. Writing, story and romance maintain interest throughout. A high-quality, absorbing drama. (Paranormal historical romance. 12 & up)

STAY The True Story of Ten Dogs

Muntean, Michaela Photos by Bailey, K. C. & Kazmierski, Stephen Scholastic (40 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-545-23497-9

What’s more fun than bread and circuses? Dogs and circuses—or so young readers will learn from this sweet book about the bond between man and canine and just letting a dog do what a dog’s gotta do. After a serious fall ended his acrobatic career, long-time circus performer Luciano Anastasini devised a new act that combined his love of circuses and dogs. But these were no purebreds or pet-shop animals. Understanding that a dog act would give his own career a second chance, Luciano decided |

to give a new lease on life as well to dogs that no one else wanted. Taking in shelter animals, he observed them closely and then trained them to perform stunts that allowed the dogs’ own natural instincts and talents to come to the fore. In so doing, Anastasini created a show that reflected his love and respect for the dogs and their traits and inherent skills. The animals have repaid Luciano with affection, trust, obedience and remarkable showmanship. The excellent photographs show off these dogs at their frisky, shaggy, twinkly-eyed best and reveal born performers. Readers would be hard-pressed to find a cuter, more diverse group of pooches anywhere and are guaranteed to smile throughout. Charming; four (or, in this case, 40) paws up, way up. (introduction by Kate DiCamillo, letter to readers from Luciano) (Informational picture book. 4-8)

FAIR COIN

Myers, E.C. Pyr/Prometheus Books (290 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-61614-609-2 A spin through parallel universes schools a teenager in the hazards of making wishes. Ephraim comes home one day to find his troubled mother in the midst of a suicide attempt—having just, she claims, viewed his body in the morgue. More puzzling still, among the corpse’s effects is a strange-looking quarter. When prompted by a mysterious note in his school locker, he tries making a wish on it, and, to his amazement, his mother is suddenly out of the hospital with no memory of the day before. Complications ensue as further wishes hook him up with classmate Jena but also ring in other, unexpected and increasingly disturbing changes. Horrified to learn at last that the coin is actually a mentally controlled part of a device for traveling among alternate realities, that each “quantum shift” he makes forcibly switches him with an analog of himself and that the rest of the device is in the hands of a casually violent version of (in his universe) his best friend Nathan, Ephraim sets out to make amends. Ephraim’s strategy of returning all of his displaced analogs to their original planes simply by retracing his travels doesn’t hold water (you can’t go home again when every change from quantum events up spawns a new reality), but by the end he’s earned the self-confidence to make fresh starts with both mother and girlfriend. The frequent shifts make it hard to keep track of who’s where in this dizzying debut, but Ephraim’s ability to see past the temptations of power despite an active teen libido provides him with a sturdy moral base. (Science fiction. 13-16)

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WHAT LITTLE BOYS ARE MADE OF

Neubecker, Robert Illus. by Neubecker, Robert Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins (32 pp.) $14.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-06-202355-1 “What are little boys made of?” In Neubecker’s hands, the answer is a whole lot of fun! From “Moons and stars and rockets to Mars” to “Wings and tails and dragons with scales,” this rhyme’s half-pint hero imagines his way through most boys’ obsessions. Astronaut, sports star, knight, dinosaur-tamer—they’re all there, presented in action-packed, energetic illustrations. Done in pen or pencil, then digitally colored, the artwork has a raw freshness as spontaneous as the lad’s revelry. Neubecker skillfully uses the text and compositions to build upon each other. Each verse begins with the boy and his toys in a plain and simple environment. But in resolving the verse (“That’s what little boys are made of ”), gorgeous, visually complex, full spreads are offered, giving readers insight into the boy’s rollicking fantasies. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition—the density of the imagined merriment on one spread after such a sparse one—reinforcing the innocence of the child’s real-life play. The illustrator also pays homage to a certain visual aesthetic for each of the youth’s adventures. As a pirate, readers may recall old naval illustrations; as a dragonslayer, illuminated manuscripts; and as a jungle explorer, the wild things of Maurice Sendak. To complete the picture, the author also shows the quiet and loving side of boys, as they are also made of “A kiss and a hug, a snuggle and LOVE.” One romping celebration of boyhood to read again and again. (Picture book. 3-8)

A SWEET PASSOVER

Newman, Lesléa Illus. by Slonim, David Abrams (40 pp.) $16.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-8109-9737-0

A week of eating matzah has one little girl ready to swear off the bland, unleavened cracker for good, until a sweet, time-honored staple slowly changes her mind. Miriam observes Passover with parents, grandparents, aunt and uncle each consecutive day with different foods added to her matzah. She happily eats her unleavened bread with butter, jelly, tuna salad, egg salad, cream cheese, cottage cheese, almond and apple butter and jam. But after eating plain matzah, egg matzah, whole-wheat matzah and chocolate-covered matzah, Miriam awakens on the eighth day of the holiday completely “sick, sick, sick of matzah” and refuses to eat another bite. Perplexed and amused, Grandpa entices Miriam with the prospect of a breakfast of Passover French toast, otherwise known as matzah brei, a pancake-type creation from pieces of matzah soaked in egg 306

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and milk, pan-fried in butter and topped with sugar, cinnamon or maple syrup. Large amiable cartoon characters drawn in acrylic and charcoal portray a loving and cheerful family. They recount the Passover saga through Newman’s dialogue-driven text, into which she subtly weaves some interpretive messages for today. “Matzah goes with everything,” says Grandpa. “And that reminds us that we should get along with everyone, too.” Convinced Miriam completes the holiday with the sweetened meal she cooked with her culinary savvy Grandpa. Deliciously traditional. (recipe, author’s note) (Picture book/religion. 5-7)

PLUNKED

Northrop, Michael Scholastic (256 pp.) $16.99 | $16.99 e-book | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-545-29714-1 978-0-545-39307-2 e-book It’s April, baseball is in the air and sixth-grader Jack Mogens is nervous about the making the Little League team. Jack does make the team and gets a starting spot in left field, but in the very first game, the opposing pitcher is wild and Jack gets plunked by an unintentional beanball. He’s down for the count and taken to the hospital. The doctor says it’s perhaps a minor concussion, but he’ll be fine. Except he’s not fine. Now Jack’s afraid of inside pitches, and he either bails out on anything inside or stands at the plate like a statue, frozen by fear of being hit again. He has nightmares and decides he can’t play baseball anymore. But a baseball team is a community, and eventually his teammates rally around Jack. When he tells his best friend what’s been going on, his friend offers sensitive and profound advice: “GET OVER IT.” Readers will appreciate this down-to-earth sports story that stays within its game, offering no theatrics and special effects, just a realistic story rooted in the writer’s knowledge of the game and what it means to its young players. Jack Mogens is a likable young player, and readers will empathize with him and cheer him on. (Fiction. 8-12)

DEAD IS A BATTLEFIELD

Perez, Marlene Graphia (240 pp.) $7.99 paperback | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-547-60734-4 Series: Dead Is…, 6

A high-school freshman learns that she’s one of a group of women who fight evil beasties in her supernatural town of Nightshade, Calif. In this sixth installment of the Dead Is… series, Jessica discovers to her dismay that she’s a “virago,” a woman warrior destined to fight paranormal baddies. Jessica worries, too, about

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“Sweet’s rich colors and collages incorporating reproduced photos, maps and postcards add humor, dimension and nuance to the story.” from mrs. harkness and the panda

her very best friend in the whole world, Eva, who’s been acting strangely since she discovered a new perfume from the town’s brand-new business establishment. Jessica also finds herself attracted to Dominic, the hot new singer in the hot new band, who’s really, really cute, while she’s juggling dates with Connor, who really seems to like her. Meanwhile, Eva joins the groupies hanging around creepy Edgar and becomes ever more hostile toward Jessica, even trying to bite her. It seems that Edgar’s perfume turns girls into zombies. Now Jessica has to find a cure and drive Edgar out of town. Stuffed with enough characters to sink a boat, this outing will please established fans, and new readers should be able to figure it out. Perez keeps things super simple by throwing declarative sentences onto the page, but she manages a light tone and some comedy. It all has a decidedly middle-school feel, but it can also appeal to older readers, with its breezy style and comic-book plot. Fun for the right audience. (Paranormal suspense. 10-16)

MRS. HARKNESS AND THE PANDA

Potter, Alicia Illus. by Sweet, Melissa Knopf (40 pp.) $16.99 | PLB $19.99 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-375-84448-5 978-0-375-94448-2 PLB An unlikely American explorer brings the first panda to the West. When New York socialite Ruth Harkness set off in 1936 to fulfill her deceased husband’s goal of finding and capturing a panda in China, her friends tried in vain to discourage her. Potter’s frugal narrative focuses on Harkness’ apparently fearless embrace of the adventure—including meeting her guide, the young explorer Quentin Young, outfitting her expedition and tailoring her husband’s equipment (including boots) for her use and journeying up the Yangtze River. The expedition was fairly short, as Harkness found an unattended baby panda just a few weeks into the journey. Her return to the United States with the cuddly-looking Su Lin made the headlines for days. Sweet’s rich colors and collages incorporating reproduced photos, maps and postcards add humor, dimension and nuance to the story. Delicate Chinese-watercolor–style illustrations depict the expedition’s progress. Potter eliminates details that might have intrigued readers, including Young’s Chinese-American connection and the fact that Su Lin may have been named for Young’s sister-in-law, an explorer in her own right. But she deals diplomatically with Harkness’ relationship with Young, saying only that Harkness bestowed her wedding band on him “for his fiancée,” as she departed from China. A timeline reveals that Su Lin lived only 14 months after coming to live at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago. Fascinating—and pandas, too. (author’s note, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 4-10)

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BOY21

Quick, Matthew Little, Brown (256 pp.) $17.99 | Mar. 5, 2012 978-0-316-12797-4 In a town partially controlled by the Irish mob, a quiet friendship develops between two basketball players. Finley doesn’t say much, and his basketball teammates fondly call him White Rabbit, both for his quiet demeanor and for being the only white player on his high school team. He is surprised but willing when his coach introduces him to Russ Washington and asks Finley to look after him. Russ, a nationally recognized athlete, is experiencing post-traumatic stress after the murder of his parents. While there are hints that something in Finley’s own past makes this assignment particularly relevant, Finley quietly but firmly refuses to discuss his own history with other characters or with readers. Instead, they see the friendship among the two boys and Finley’s girlfriend, Erin, gently unfold and the mysteries surrounding Russ deepen. Does Russ want to play basketball or not? Does he really believe he is an alien called Boy21? The answers here are satisfying but never simple, and the setting, a working-class town where asking too many questions can have deadly consequences, is a bleak, haunting foil to the boys’ comfortable silence. Family relationships are well-drawn, and foreshadowing is effective without being predictable. A story that, like Finley, expresses a lot in relatively few words. (Fiction. 12 & up)

IVA HONEYSUCKLE DISCOVERS THE WORLD —Well, her part of Virginia, anyway Ransom, Candice Illus. by Ross, Heather Disney Hyperion (160 pp.) $14.99 | Apr. 10, 2012 978-1-4231-3173-1

Eight-year-old Iva Honeycutt dreams of being a discoverer—and she’s sure her great-grandfather Ludwell’s treasure map, if not her unreliable dog Sweetlips, will help make that wish come true. Iva considers herself to be “interesting, different”—even by the standards of Uncertain, Va., and its eccentric cast of characters, from taxidermist and tax man Mr. Priddy to her mouth-breathing cousin Heaven. Iva can’t stand Heaven—she tattles, prays out loud and even steals her best friend. Iva’s evolving relationship with this long-dreaded cousin and her obsession with finding the gold General Braddock buried during the French and Indian War propel the pleasantly rambling story, but the real treasure here is the fresh, quirky characterization of Iva and the comical reflection of a Southern family that embraces Johnny Cash, Korea, and streaking… and that’s

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“If you have to ask why a dinosaur has taken a plane to Israel, this isn’t the book for you.” from dinosaur goes to israel

just at breakfast. Though crayon colors are contemporary, the excessively applied figurative language feels old-fashioned, with expressions like “one red cent” and “hotter than smoke from a locomotive.” Expressions like “marks” (vs. grades) and “a fat lot” even add a curiously English flair to the goings-on. Ross’ expressive, cartoonish black-and-white sketches are just goofy enough to fit the story’s exuberance. A breezy, wide-open window into the turbulent heart of a dramatic third-grade adventurer and her small-town Virginia community. (Fiction. 9-11)

DINOSAUR GOES TO ISRAEL

Rauchwerger, Diane Levin Illus. by Wolff, Jason Kar-Ben (24 pp.) $7.95 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7613-5134-4 Dinosaur-loving Middle-Eastern tourists may be a small demographic, but this book targets them perfectly. There’s a theory that any book can be improved by putting a dinosaur in it. You may have a child in your family who believes that “Hansel and Gretel and Stegosaurus” would be ten times better than the original. And so we have a travel guide about a dinosaur who goes to the Holy Land. Sample verse: “I ride up Mt. Masada. / Dino hikes the snakey path. / We cool off at the Dead Sea. / He enjoys a warm mud bath.” The other verses don’t scan any better. The book does provide an authentic Israeli experience, of sorts: falafel, the Western Wall, souvenir shopping at a shuk. Readers will learn half-a-dozen Hebrew words and find out that a shuk is a marketplace. But there’s a very inauthentic dinosaur on every page. This may be a test of character. If you have to ask why a dinosaur has taken a plane to Israel, this isn’t the book for you. If your child points to the cover and tells you the name of the dinosaur on the front, you may need to purchase this book. Otherwise, you can buy a dinosaur toy and a travel book and safely keep them separate. (Picture book. 3-7)

CASTLE OF SHADOWS

Renner, Ellen Houghton Mifflin (400 pp.) $15.99 | Mar. 20, 2012 978-0-547-74446-9

British author Renner kicks off a new series with smart writing that combines mystery, historical fantasy and a touch of steampunk. Her mother disappeared five years ago, and her loony father consumes his days with building playing-card towers. As a consequence, 11-year-old Princess Charlotte Augusta Joanna Hortense—aka 308

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Charlie—of Quale, an imaginary country in a Victorian-like time, has not been treated as royalty. She has endured near starvation and strict discipline at the hands of the castle caretaker. When she overhears whispers of revolution and finds a lost letter written by her mother, plucky Charlie begins to question her surroundings and dares to hope for her mother’s return. This well-crafted tale focuses on storytelling over a formulaic plot as Charlie wonders whom to trust with her mother’s letter: Mr. Moleglass, the basement-dwelling butler; Alistair Windlass, the young, charismatic prime minister; Tobias, the 12-year-old gardener’s boy with a skill for picking locks; or the revolutionaries she’s joined forces with. Possible double agents and nonstop twists and turns keep readers guessing as Charlie seems to raise more questions than answers concerning her mother’s disappearance and also her likely ties to a secret weapon against a warring, neighboring nation. Atmospheric trains, pneumatic tubes and other burgeoning technology of the time add a fantastical element to the old-fashioned setting. Readers will also delight in Charlie’s transformation from hotheaded victim to shrewd leader—and friend. (Fantasy. 9-12)

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DOGS

Robbins, Trina Illus. by Page, Tyler Graphic Universe (64 pp.) $6.95 paperback | $21.95 e-book PLB $29.27 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7613-5637-0 978-0-7613-7956-0 e-book 978-0-7613-4616-6 PLB Series: Chicagoland Detective Agency, 3 It may not sound like a compliment, but the talking dog isn’t nearly the oddest thing in this gloriously odd mystery book. Anyone watching American television would have to conclude that being a detective is the easiest job in the world. People are always solving crimes in their spare time: Mystery writers, doctors and the occasional district attorney solve murders when they come home from work. In that tradition, Robbins offers two kid detectives, Megan and Raf, and Raf ’s talking dog, Bradley. Megan is a poet. Raf invents toys. And Bradley, of course, is the smartest of them all. As unlikely as the plot may seem—it involves a missing puppy, a robot squirrel and a pack of dogs that appears only at the full moon—it’s hugely entertaining. Every non sequitur makes the story funnier, and the squirrel is hilarious. (His packaging says, “He picks up peanuts with his little robot paws!”) There’s only one serious flaw: Megan writes haiku. Several literary magazines refuse to publish haiku, and this comic proves them all right. The best poem reads: “O moon, where’d you go? / You never write, never phone. / At least, a postcard?” But the plot is gripping even at its goofiest, and there are a few genuine surprises. No story can justify the presence of haiku, but this comic book comes remarkably close. (Graphic mystery. 9-14)

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HUFF & PUFF Can You Blow Down the Houses of the Three Little Pigs?

Rueda, Claudia Illus. by Rueda, Claudia abramsappleseed (32 pp.) $12.95 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-4197-0170-2

This sweet little bare-bones version of “The Three Pigs” places readers in an active role. The opening spread looks plain and ordinary: “First pig building a house,” says the text, as a pig builds a modest thatched hut. Black pen lines give shading and texture to pale watercolors, surrounded by calming white space. Soon the pig’s inside the hut, gazing happily out the window. But spread three brings an invitation. The left-hand page says, merely, “One wolf huffing and puffing,” and the book’s subtitle is the key here— for there’s no wolf to be seen. The right-hand page says “HUFF & PUFF” in lined block letters, and the ampersand’s lower circle is a cut-out hole. When the reader blows through the hole, the reward is a sad and perturbed pig with loose straw floating down through the air. The reader/wolf blew down the hut! The second pig suffers the same fate. Tradition prevails as the third house, made of brick, is too strong to succumb to air. Does the reader/wolf end up defeated? Nope—Rueda introduces a new result of blowing, one familiar to many toddlers and connected to gustatory joy all around. A good chance for youngsters to relish enacting the wicked role while still getting a (not particularly logical, but who cares) friendly reconciliation at the end. (Picture book. 1-3)

FIGHT FOR FREEDOM

Scarrow, Simon Disney Hyperion (272 pp.) Apr. 24, 2012 988-1-4231-5101-2 Series: Gladiator, 1

When his father, a former Roman centurion, is murdered, 10-year-old Marcus Cornelius Primus is enslaved and forced into training as a gladiator, and his mother, a former slave, is returned to slavery. “The Gods will play their games,” Aulus Tullius Taurus, his chief training instructor, tells him, reflecting on Marcus’ declining fortunes. Marcus’ dream is to survive gladiator school and one day earn his freedom. But his path will not be easy. Gladiator training is harsh enough, but he must also face a bully in the form of Ferax, a Celt bent on his destruction. But Marcus develops a friendship with Brixus, a slave in the kitchen who had once been a lieutenant to Spartacus, and Brixus discovers a secret about Marcus that will alter Marcus’ destiny. When Marcus is forced to face wolves in an early gladiator challenge and ends up saving the life of Portia, the niece of Gaius Julius |

Caesar, his life takes a turn, as Caesar brings Marcus to Rome to be Portia’s bodyguard. It’s an exciting, well-told adventure that deserves a readership…if young readers can get past the corny cover and untangle all the names that end in -us. Marcus’ exciting journey as a Roman slave and the unfolding of secrets and fortunes will have readers racing through the pages and eagerly anticipating the sequel, Street Fighter. (Historical adventure. 10-14)

MONKEY AND ELEPHANT

Schaefer, Carole Lexa Illus. by Bernstein, Galia Candlewick (48 pp.) $14.99 | Mar. 27, 2012 978-0-7636-4840-4

Odd couples abound in early readers (see Mo Willems’ Gerald and Piggie, Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad, Wong Herbert Yee’s Mouse and Mole, to name a few), but there’s room for Monkey and Elephant, too. The eponymous characters try “to rest under the afternoon sun,” but it’s too hot, so they go in search of shade. Over the course of a journey initially fraught with bickering, they quickly resolve problems and even end up cheerily singing together. In chapter three, they mistake a distant group of wild cats for a cluster of shade trees, but Elephant handily defends Monkey when they say they want to eat her. “How about…you guys have DUST CAKE for snack today?” he responds, scuffing up the ground. Accompanying digital art shows the striped cats sitting stunned into submission, their eyes looking upward to an offstage Elephant—though dust clouds are absent, diminishing the drama. There’s a Horton-esque quality about Bernstein’s Elephant throughout, and both he and Monkey exude personality. This achievement in visual characterization is matched by Schaefer’s text, which employs controlled word choices and embeds careful repetition in support of the emerging reader. A welcome addition to the early-reader shelf. (Early reader. 5-7)

NUTZ!

Schwartz, Virginia Frances Illus. by Leist, Christina Tradewind Books (144 pp.) $12.95 paperback | Feb. 15, 2012 978-1-896580-87-6 A fat feline faces a depressing diet and the addition of a tail-less squirrel to his household. What’s a cat to do? Amos, a former alley cat, knows he lives the good life. He has (or had) a boy, Tyler, who loves him, a diet previously overabundant with yummy chicken gizzards and very little responsibility. All he needs to do is to watch out for the big, bad next-door dog, Bruno, and to warn Tyler and his mom if the landlord, Stinky Feet, is on his

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“Immediate and compelling, this moving refugee story deserves a wide audience.” from last airlift

way over to collect the overdue rent. After Bruno savages a baby squirrel, Nutz, and Tyler takes it in, the little tyke makes a noticeable change in the household. He scatters nuts everywhere, steals Amos’ toys and generally acts as a severe annoyance to a cat comfortably set in his ways. More compelling issues, such as whether Tyler and his mom can find the money for the rent and whether the landlord will discover the new pet squirrel, add a mild level of suspense to the cat’s first-person, appropriately self-focused narrative. After all, how many cats aren’t self-absorbed? Amusing, quirky pen-and-ink illustrations offer a cat’s-eye view of Amos’ life as he gradually develops a more empathetic understanding of the challenges the orphaned, disabled squirrel faces. A sometimes-funny animal tale with an appropriately feel-good ending, sure to please feline fanciers. (Fiction. 8-12)

ROBOT ZOMBIE FRANKENSTEIN!

Simon, Annette Illus. by Simon, Annette Candlewick (40 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-7636-5124-4

Competitive pals get into a war of escalating ridiculousness in this amusing if visually stunted tale. Two robots introduce themselves to readers, then one zips away and back to reintroduce itself as “Robot ZOMBIE!” Not to be outdone, its companion dons a costume of its own, now appearing as “Robot Zombie Frankenstein!” And up the ante goes. With each change, the robots pile on more and more visual elements (a Frankenstein scar, Groucho glasses, etc.). When the robots both appear as “Robot zombie Frankenstein pirate superhero-in-disguise outer space invader chef,” one robot produces a tasty cherry pie and the two dig in, rivalry forgotten and buddies once more. The endpapers display the full roster of shapes that make up each costume. While the effect is novel and the chaos sure to prove hilarious to young readers, there is something oddly static about the digital art itself. In its attempt to simplify the visuals down to their most essential shapes, the story is drained of the vitality and charisma normally associated with Simon’s work. Thanks to the use of shapes, this book may work best with craft programs more than anything else. Yet in an era in which electronics are always one-upping one another in the global market, it’s nice to see a picturebook equivalent that ends with the consumption of delicious desserts. Apple and PC, take note. (Picture book. 4-8)

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LAST AIRLIFT A Vietnamese Orphan’s Rescue from War Skrypuch, Marsha Forchuk Pajama Press (120 pp.) $17.95 | Mar. 15, 2012 978-0-9869495-4-8

As Saigon was falling to the North Vietnamese in April 1975, those who were caring for babies and children orphaned by the war worried about the fate of their charges. A series of evacuation flights called “Operation Babylift” carried several thousand young children to other countries around the world. Skrypuch (Daughter of War, 2008) tells the story of the last Canadian airlift through the memories of one child, Son Thi Anh Tuyet. Nearly 8 years old, the sad-eyed girl on the cover had lived nearly all her life in a Catholic orphanage. With no warning, she and a number of the institution babies were taken away, placed on an airplane and flown to a new world. Tuyet’s memories provide poignant, specific details. The nuns expected her to be useful; she helped with the babies. Naturally, she assumed that John and Dorothy Morris had chosen her to help with their three children; instead, she had acquired a family. In an afterword, the author describes her research, including personal interviews and newspaper accounts from the time. But Tuyet’s experience is her focus. It personalizes the babylift without sensationalizing it. The author has researched carefully and reported accurately, except where South Vietnam’s soldiers are called Viet Cong. Immediate and compelling, this moving refugee story deserves a wide audience. (historical note, resources, index) (Nonfiction. 10-15)

IMMORTAL CITY

Speer, Scott Razorbill/Penguin (384 pp.) $17.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-1-59514-506-2 A world that worships not angelic Hollywood stars but actual angels proves familiar. Guardian Angels exist, but they only help people with enough money to pay for their exorbitantly expensive contracts. They lead the lives of the glitterati in Angel City, the Hollywood of this celestial-infested world. Jackson Godspeed is Angel City’s favorite, a hunky 18-year-old A-lister whose every date is featured on the celebrity programming of both A! and the Angel News Network. When Jacks and his Ferrari wind up in hiding (from the cops, from his ex-girlfriend, from the media) in a scruffy diner in a bad part of town, he meets Maddy, a gruff, high-school student and waitress. The connection between Maddy and Jacks is electric and inevitable. Through the rest of their adventure—running from serial killers, fighting demons,

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posing for cameras, discovering corruption among the ranks of the Guardian Angels, learning the truth about old murders— they dance around each other, admitting then denying their sexual tension. Maddy’s early commentary on the classist structures making up her world are entirely subsumed in the sensual reveling in celebrity: brand names and sports cars; powerful male Angel leaders and sexy female Angel models. The necessary revelation of Maddy’s deep, dark secret (no everyday girl, she) will surprise no one. An overfull crossover between paranormal romances, hardboiled–detective stories and Gossip Girl novels. (Fantasy. 13-15)

BUGS GALORE

Stein, Peter Illus. by Staake, Bob Candlewick (32 pp.) $15.99 | Mar. 13, 2012 978-0-7636-4754-4 A veritable swarm of adjectives, opposites and, ew, bugs. The author/illustrator duo behind Cars Galore (2011) turns its attention to creepy-crawly, multi-legged friends. With a jaunty lilt and playful exaggeration, the rhythmic text contains plenty of fun: “Spider creeping … / scary. Gross. / Lurking … leaping! / Don’t get close!” Bees, lice, beetles and bedbugs all get their due; even that weird, unidentifiable bug (“Hairy, scary— / what was THAT bug?”) has a turn to shine. Staake’s familiar, rotund characters are surrounded by bugs of all colors, shapes, patterns and sizes. The frenetic insect-and-arachnid infestation sometimes overwhelms the design, but it pairs well with the jumbling, tumbling bounce of the text. Besides seeking out individual critters described on each page, readers will have no shortage of other creepy-crawlies to find and examine. (The extras are a peak into Staake’s imagination—checkered thoraxes, striped, pointed noses, and oh, so many legs.) Stein ends the menagerie on a contemplative note: “Bug, so secret / are you wise? / Gazing out through / all those eyes? / What exactly / do you see? / I see you … // Do you see me?” Wistful, yet not likely to prevent the next squish. Squirmy and educational. (Picture book. 3-6)

EEP!

van Leeuwen, Joke Translated by Nagelkerke, Bill Illus. by van Leeuwen, Joke Gecko Press (151 pp.) $7.95 paperback | Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-8775-7907-3 Celebrated Dutch children’s author van Leeuwen brings her enigmatic recent classic to an American audience. One day, avid bird watcher Warren finds a strange creature under a bush. “This was a bird in the |

shape of a little girl. Or a little girl in the shape of a bird. Or something in between.” He takes the bird-girl home to his reclusive wife, Tina, and the couple, who always hoped for children, form an immediate attachment to the creature they name Beedy, after its mispronunciation of “Birdy.” When Beedy flies away one day without a good-bye, Warren and Tina, in a fashion much like Alice’s chase after the white rabbit, begin to search for their birdgirl. On their quest, they meet a host of equally downtrodden individuals, including Lottie, whose single father often leaves her alone while traveling for work, a depressed rescue worker and a boy obsessed with spirits and ghosts. Together, they not only look for Beedy but form a fierce bond of friendship and love. Van Leeuwen’s quiet prose beautifully describes the characters’ sentiments as each also finds wonder along the way. Her line drawings, quirky by American standards, add a playful nuance to the already layered story. Adults will better understand Beedy’s need for freedom and a parent’s difficulty in letting go. Willing readers of all ages will delight in the story’s unusual surprises. (Fiction. 9-12)

ROCK ON A Story of Guitars, Gigs, Girls and a Brother (Not Necessarily in that Order)

Vega, Denise Little, Brown (304 pp.) $17.99 | Mar. 5, 2012 978-0-316-13310-4

Self-conscious Orion “Ori” Taylor is the front man for a promising, but nameless band in this teen drama. Encouraged by some good local press, The Band to Be Named Later enters itself in a Battle of the Bands and subsequently auditions bass players while Ori works at strengthening his nerves. Confounding this process is the presence of his older brother, Del, who was once Ori’s idol—until Del failed to keep up his grades while on a lacrosse scholarship at college. Humiliated to be back at home, Del takes his frustrations out on Ori. When a girl Ori is crushing on seems to throw him over for his brother, tensions run even higher. Vega has imbued her tale with well-developed characters—Ori’s first-person voice is sympathetic, especially coming to life when he’s singing and playing guitar. For all that, the tone seems unusually sweet, given that the novel’s focus is a high-school rock band: How many 16-year-old boys confine themselves using phrases like, “What the heck…” in a peer-only environment? Moreover, as the strife between the brothers draws out, its protraction may lead readers to expect a twist or a more of a revelation than what actually manifests. Nevertheless, readers will appreciate Ori’s gently selfdeprecating humor and the lively Web postings and texts woven throughout that help tell the story. (Fiction. 12-16)

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“This riveting exploration of physical appearance and the status it confers opens a cultural conversation that’s needed to happen for a long time.” from the list

THE SECRET LIFE OF MONEY A Kid’s Guide to Cash

four-time “ugliest” winner, tries to relish the notoriety. Margo’s title should make her the slam-dunk choice for homecoming queen, but will it? Whether clued in or clueless to the intricate social complexities, boyfriends reinforce the status quo, while moms carry scars of their own past physical insecurities. The issue is seldom front and center in books for teens, but Vivian refuses to falsify or avoid the uncomfortable realities that looks alone confer status, and their power is greatest when obscured by the pretense that “looks don’t matter.” (Fiction. 12 & up)

Vermond, Kira Illus. by Hanmer, Clayton Owlkids Books (160 pp.) $19.95 | paper $13.95 | $13.95 e-book Mar. 1, 2012 978-1-926973-19-7 978-1-926973-18-0 paperback 978-1-926973-20-3 e-book This chatty guide to money works to make the subject appealing to middle-schoolers but is regrettably short on sourcing. Vermond first defines what money is: More than just dollars and cents, money is “an agreement between people in an economy.” Since we can’t steal the things we need, she explains, there are multiple ways to make money. Money can be earned by jobs that reward workers for their time and special skills. Alternatively, you could be an entrepreneur and take on the risk and rewards of starting your own business. Of course, there’s also imaginary money, aka credit, and its associated perils of debt and interest. The importance of saving is highlighted, from simple self-control and delayed gratification to investing and the advantage of compound interest. The text zips along, accompanied by two-color line art and frequent sidebars, with information on such topics as ancient money and interviews with financial experts. The author has a talent for explaining finance in an enthusiastic, easy-to-understand manner, yet with no works cited or references listed, there are questions about where these facts and figures come from. A good guide for beginners and browsers, but not suitable for research. (glossary, index) (Nonfiction. 10-14)

THE LIST

Vivian, Siobhan Scholastic (336 pp.) $17.99 | Apr. 1, 2012 978-0-545-16917-2 This riveting exploration of physical appearance and the status it confers opens a cultural conversation that’s needed to happen for a long time. Every year during homecoming week, a list is posted anonymously at Mount Washington High naming the prettiest and ugliest girls in each class. Abby, who finds it easier to get credit for her looks than hard work, and Danielle, whose swimmer’s physique gets her labeled “ugly,” are this year’s freshman duo. The list confers instant status, transforming formerly homeschooled sophomore Lauren from geeky to hot while consigning her counterpart, pretty-but-mean Candace, to pariah. But what the label mainly confers is anxiety. Prettiest junior Bridget despairs that she’ll ever be thin enough to merit her title; Sarah takes refuge in anger, vowing to earn her ugly label big-time. Jennifer, 312

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MY FAMILY FOR THE WAR

Voorhoeve, Anne C. Translated by Reichel, Tammi Dial (412 pp.) $17.99 | Feb. 1, 2012 978-0-8037-3360-2

When her father is arrested on November 9, 1938 (Kristallnacht), and sent to a concentration camp, 10-year-old Franziska Mangold, raised Protestant though of Jewish ancestry, gets a coveted spot on the Kindertransport, which carries her from Berlin to London, where she is taken in by a kind-hearted Orthodox Jewish family. Voorhoeve empathetically explores the effects of Ziska’s abrupt separation from her home, family and best friend, Rebekka Liebich, with whom she roamed the neighborhood, in this engaging and often moving coming-of-age story, originally published in Germany. In England she has to adjust to a new language, culture, school, religion and family (Dr. and Mrs. Shepard and their 18-year-old son, Gary). She is even given a new name, Frances. Ziska’s story is divided into three books: “Survival Plan 1938-1939,” “Blackout 1939-1940,” in which Frances is evacuated to the country when Germany invades Poland on September 1, 1939, and “Returning Home 1941-1945,” in which there is tragedy, danger, romance, the end of the war and complicated reunions. Throughout, the author skillfully weaves in important aspects of the Kinder experience. Ziska tries desperately to find a sponsor for her parents, experiennces confusion over her identity and religious beliefs as she bonds with her adopted family, feels guilt for those left behind, especially Bekka. An ongoing thread about Jewish ritual and law, especially as it relates to fertility, contains some inaccuracies, which is regrettable, given the context. A glossary would have been helpful. Though occasionally convoluted, it is ultimately a poignant, thoughtful work. (afterword) (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

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ELLRAY JAKES WALKS THE PLANK

Warner, Sally Illus. by Harper, Jamie Viking (128 pp.) $14.99 | Mar. 15, 2012 978-0-670-06306-2 Series: EllRay Jakes,

The third installment in this series about third-grader with a penchant for “messing up” (EllRay Jakes Is Not a Chicken, 2011, etc.) revisits an unfortunately evergreen theme from the first book: bullying. This time, EllRay’s misguided, although goodhearted, decision to allow his 4-year-old sister, Alfie, to help take care of the class fish that he’s housing over spring break results in Zip’s death, and troubles cascade from there. Distracted, EllRay forgets to bring in Treasure Island, the class read-aloud he’s borrowed, and his classmates begin to get angry. To make matters worse, mean girl Cynthia Harbison continually tries to pin her transgressions (cheating at a playground game; a classroom shoving match) on EllRay, since “You’re already the kid in our class who messes up.” With some subtle support from Ms. Sanchez and the principal, EllRay manages to deliver the message to Cynthia that he won’t be a patsy. As in previous series entries, EllRay is likable and his problems believable; again, the ending is a bit pat but satisfying nonetheless. Drama about Alfie’s friendship woes in preschool parallels the main story but is less successful; Alfie’s voice is unrealistically mature for a 4-year-old. The EllRay Jakes stories are just right for his real-life peers; short enough to be read by kids getting comfortable with chapter booksand also enjoyable and authentic. (Fiction. 6-8)

VAMPIRE’S KISS

Wolff, Veronica New American Library (304 pp.) $9.99 paperback | Mar. 6, 2012 978-0-451-23572-5 Series: The Watchers, An atmosphere of tension rescues this imaginative but otherwise thin addition to the vampire-fiction craze. In this second installment of the Watchers series, 17 year-old Drew has won a fight to the death to become the girl most likely to succeed on the Isle of Night, off the coast of Scotland. There, Drew competes in a school that trains students to aid a clan of ancient vampires. Super-smart Drew has drawn the attention of a dangerous vampire, Master Alcántara, who chooses her for a secret mission. Before earning that chance, however, Drew must fend off jealous older students who are both intent on killing her and allowed to do so if they can. Characterizations tend toward the shallow, but Wolff manages to make her protagonists interesting nonetheless. She maintained tension by highlighting the constant danger |

that threatens Drew and by throwing in frequent action scenes. Worldbuilding is adequate, although more description would aid new readers. The plot, however, grows ever more preposterous. Drew’s secret mission flies by far too quickly, as its main purpose appears to be setting up the next sequel. Nevertheless, what otherwise would be only a B-level effort comes across as a B+ due to the successful suspense and the intriguing vampire world. Entertaining but underdeveloped. (Paranormal suspense. 12 & up)

NEVERSINK

Wolverton, Barry Illus. by Nielson, Sam Walden Pond Press/HarperCollins (304 pp.) $15.99 | PLB $16.89 | Mar. 27, 2012 978-0-06-202791-7 978-0-06-202792-4 PLB When his family and colony are threatened by usurping owls and an unpredictable sea goddess, a plucky puffin learns about injustice and leadership by embarking on a perilous “spirit journey.” Lockley Puffin and his wife Lucy live in Auk’s Landing, on Neversink, an island in the Arctic Circle and an independent colony of Tytonia. Auks typically avoid making waves, and Lockely’s a bit of a troublemaker, hanging out with officious walrus Egbert, and Ruby, a sassy hummingbird. Trouble ensues when Egbert invites Tytonia’s owls to a party where Lucy serves delicious fish smidgens. Tytonia’s new king, Rozbell, a tiny, power-crazed owl, sees smidgens as a way to control Tytonia by imposing a tax on all fish the auks catch, to be paid with Lucy’s fish smidgens. The insatiable demand for smidgens triggers sea goddess Sedna’s wrath. She withholds the fish, jeopardizing Neversink’s survival. Forced to make some huge waves, Lockley undertakes a harrowing quest to appease Sedna. With history and myths reminiscent of Norse sagas, Neversink and its feathered denizens impart lessons in power, leadership and the role of “stories” in the guise of a fantasy adventure. Black-and-white illustrations highlight the avian theme. An unexpected hero and his amusing, devoted helpers entertain and inspire. (map) (Animal fantasy. 8-12)

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k i r k u s r o u n d- u p baseball picture books WHEN JACKIE AND HANK MET

Fishman, Cathy Goldberg Illus. by Elliott, Mark Marshall Cavendish (40 pp.) $17.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-7614-6140-1 Two baseball heroes who battled hatred and prejudice met for the first time in an on-field collision. Jackie Robinson and Hank Greenberg were both determined to play baseball, and they both served in the armed forces in World War II. But dealing with racial and religious bigotry was the true common thread that wove through their lives. They faced restrictions on their freedom to live in certain neighborhoods, stay in hotels or join clubs. They heard threatening epithets and had objects thrown at them. When they collided at first base, the crowd shouted for them to fight, but they just got on with the game, and Greenberg had some words of sympathetic encouragement for Robinson. In their retirement years, they remained friendly, and both worked for equal rights in and out of baseball. Employing a matter-of-fact, conversational tone, Fishman tells the stories of their lives in tandem, stating the physical distances that separated them while emphasizing the similarities of their parallel struggles. History is contextualized in language and syntax that is accessible and straightforward. Elliott’s acrylics, softly tinted and framed in white, variously depict the two lives separately or in a split-screen format that complements not only the action, but the spirit of the work. A gentle and loving reminder that baseball mirrors society and can also transcend it. (biographical information, websites, bibliography) (Picture book/biography. 7-10)

POEM RUNS Baseball Poems and Painting

Florian, Douglas Illus. by Florian, Douglas Houghton Mifflin (32 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-0-547-68838-1

umpire has his moment. The 15 verses vary in length from eight to 16 lines, and all have strong rhythms that beg to be read with a bouncing lilt. Florian also plays with shapes and patterns of words, spacing “stretch” so it appears to do just that, and placing “leaps,” “climbs” and “plummets” in their appropriate orientations. He creates some delightful phrases in “Pitcher,” who is “the starter of slumps,” and “the strikeout collector.” But he also misses the mark with several rhymes and images that seem forced and clumsy. There’s little new or surprising here, but the poems generally capture the joy of boys and girls playing just for the love of the game. The introductory poems that begin the season share a page opening, while each subsequent poem has its own double-page spread with an exaggerated, elongated figure on the greens and sands of a baseball field. Rendered in a mix of gouache watercolors, oil pastels, colored pencils and pine tar (how apt!) on primed paper bags, the illustrations appear textured and touchable, with a childlike quality. A lighthearted reminder of why we love the game. (Picture book/ poetry. 6-9)

ABCS OF BASEBALL

Golenbock, Peter Illus. by Andreasen, Dan Dial (48 pp.) $16.99 | Feb. 2, 2012 978-0-8037-3711-2

Words and phrases associated with the national pastime are explained for young fans. What does a pinch hitter do? What does it mean when a player’s number is retired? What should you do during SeventhInning Stretch? All these and many other terms are explained clearly and concisely in Golenbeck’s beginning dictionary of baseball. The focus is on a young fan’s first experiences as a spectator at a professional game, including what will be seen, heard and tasted. So there is information about the green grass, whether natural or artificial, the hot dogs, peanuts and Crackerjacks and the calls of the umpires. The entries, varying in number depending on the letter, are set on a background of faint pinstripes. Each upper-case letter, resembling the stitching on uniforms, appears above the entries in dark royal blue on a field of white and is encircled in red. Andreasen variably depicts the action, the accoutrements and the fans’ activities and reactions in large-scale drawings employing soft earth tones contrasted with a few touches of brighter hues. A section of “fun facts” follows the dictionary and presents a great deal of further information with the same clarity and accessibility. Golenbeck definitely conveys more than the facts. An entry for J says it all: “Joy: What you feel watching the game.” (Informational picture book. 5-9)

Warm up and get in training for a full season of baseball poems. Each verse focuses on one element of the game, from the baseball itself to the position players and hitters. Even the 314

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“It’s over-the-top baseball fantasy, but there’s also friendship and loving selflessness.” from clorinda plays baseball !

CLORINDA PLAYS BASEBALL!

Kinerk, Robert Illus. by Kellogg, Steven Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster (40 pp.) $16.99 | Feb. 21, 2012 978-0-689-86865-8 Clorinda’s dreams always push the envelope of ordinary, cud-chewing existence. Having been a ballerina and a pilot in previous outings, Clorinda, a very determined and talented cow, sets her sights on playing big-league baseball. Her friends build a grandstand and create a field, and several of them join the game. Along comes Deke, a boy with tremendous talent, and Clorinda becomes his mentor, putting her own dreams on hold. When he gets to the big leagues with the “Bosstown Red Hats,” he cannot do without her, so she joins the team as his coach. Deke becomes the star player, leading the Red Hats to the World Series. A freak storm blows in, and Deke is blinded by sand. Guess who saves the day with a tremendous home run? Kinerk’s easy, breezy verse, with some wonderfully inventive rhymes, moves the story along at a breathless pace, with one madcap event after another. See a home run that knocks a storm out of the park, and be amazed at a cow that pilots a helicopter. It’s over-the-top baseball fantasy, but there’s also friendship and loving selflessness. Kellogg’s signature cartoon watercolors and text placement vary pleasingly in layout. As always, they not only match the plot but add layers of details and special effects. Hilarious and joyful; hooray, Clorinda. (Picture book. 3-9)

HOMER

Rotner, Shelley Illus. by DeGroat, Diane Scholastic (32 pp.) $15.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-545-33272-9 Alex and Homer live, breathe and dream baseball. But this is Homer’s story. There’s a big game tonight, one that will decide the league champion. Homer’s team is down by three runs in the bottom of the ninth. Some nice hitting loads the bases, and needless to say Homer hits a grand slam. It’s just a typical baseball tale. But the teams are the Hounds and the Doggers, and all the players are dogs of many breeds, as are the umpires, spectators and the announcer. The story is told with the briefest of simple phrases and sentences, some in speech or thought bubbles, and illustrated with double-page spreads and album-like panels of digitally collaged photographs. The format is everything here. The digital art supplies the uniforms, banners and other odds and ends, while the dogs have been photographed in myriad head poses and body positions. A few might have been digitally enhanced, but if so, they are seamless. Young readers will surely giggle at puns like, “It’s going to be a ruff game!” There’s also a distracting squirrel and a well-placed |

fire hydrant. Alex wakes to find Homer in his usual place, but there’s an autographed ball on the rug…. Even the endpapers are part of the fun, taking the form of doggie baseball cards. A howlingly good time. (Picture book. 4-8)

LUCKY LUIS

Soto, Gary Illus. by Montijo, Rhode Putnam (32 pp.) $16.99 | Mar. 1, 2012 978-0-399-25404-6 A young Latino rabbit must overcome a snack-based superstition in this baseball-centered picture book. Luis, anxious about his Little League tryouts, is encouraged by his father, who reminisces about the strange things he and his fellow teammates did for luck. At the supermarket, Luis visits Mrs. Garza, the bear with the food samples he and the other kids call “tryouts.” After enjoying his chorizo pizza, he manages to play well enough to make the team and stops for a sample on the way to the team’s first practice. After another great performance, he connects his baseball abilities with his pre-practice supermarket snacking. Unfortunately, various forces keep Luis from his “tryouts,” and his playing suffers. A couple of conversations with his father help him overcome his superstitious behavior in time for the big game, and he celebrates the victory with his extended family. Montijo’s exuberant animal characters and bright acrylics will appeal to readers but may not be enough to make up for Soto’s lackluster, wordy text. While baseball fans will be eager to enter Luis’ world, others may find the abrupt scene changes jarring and the plot difficult to follow. The inclusion of Latino names and occasional Spanish words will make the book especially appealing to younger Latinos interested in the sport. The great illustrations would have benefited from simpler text. (Picture book. 4-7)

THERE GOES TED WILLIAMS The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived Tavares, Matt Illus. by Tavares, Matt Candlewick (40 pp.) $16.99 | Feb. 14, 2012 978-0-7636-2789-8

Ted Williams’ goal was, as the subtitle suggests, to be the greatest hitter who ever lived. His career was legendary, even though, for several seasons at the peak of his abilities, it was interrupted by military service in World War II and Korea. He was able to capitalize on dramatic moments; he hit home runs in his first game upon returning from World War II, in his last game before reporting for duty in Korea and again when he returned. And of course he

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hit one for his last major league at-bat. Williams was a complex and difficult personality, but Tavares chooses to focus on these larger-than-life heroics, telling of Williams’ desire to be the best at everything he attempted and the joy he felt when he accomplished his goals. The language is rich in imagery, with short, action-packed sentences. The free-verse text is either separated on a sepia background framed in red, or laid over the illustrations. Commanding watercolor, gouache and pencil illustrations depict Williams in action as a boy, a major-leaguer and a Navy pilot. Tavares captures him well in his Red Sox uniform, with his unique swing and home-run trot. A baseball hero and an American hero, the last player to hit over .400 in a season; here, Ted Williams is introduced to a new generation of baseball fans. (author’s note, statistics, bibliography) (Picture book/ biography. 6-10)

RANDY RILEY’S REALLY BIG HIT

Van Dusen, Chris Illus. by Van Dusen, Chris Candlewick (32 pp.) $15.99 | Feb. 14, 2012 978-0-7636-4946-3 Randy’s first and only home run saves his town from disaster. Thinking about gravity and probability generally prevents Randy from hitting the ball. He likes baseball, but his real love is science. He researches information about planets, calculates light years, studies the night sky and has a collection of robots. One night he sees the glimmer of a huge fireball headed straight for Earth. He plots its trajectory and realizes that it will hit his own town in 19 days. No one believes his warnings, so he contrives a plan that utilizes all his scientific and mathematical skills. He constructs a giant robot, precisely times the entry of fireball and, whoosh, the robot swings his smokestack bat and hits the fireball back into space. Told briskly in the rhyme scheme and cadence of “Casey at the Bat,” Van Dusen’s tale is inventive and humorous. Randy is a lovably nerdy genius who is admired for his brains and is part of a team that doesn’t seem to mind his poor batting average. Gouache paintings use clean crisp lines and sharp, bright colors in a variety of perspectives. Everything from the cars in the driveways to the living-room décor places the events in precomputer, mid-20th-century America. A cunning twist on the heroic home run that wins the game. (Picture book. 5-9)

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BROTHERS AT BAT The True Story of an Amazing All-Brother Baseball Team

Vernick, Audrey Illus. by Salerno, Steven Clarion (40 pp.) $16.99 | Apr. 3, 2012 978-0-547-38557-0

At a time when local baseball was part of the American landscape, one family fielded its own team. The Acerra family numbered 16 children, 12 of whom were brothers who all loved to play baseball. The boys played in high school and later formed their own semi-pro team. They played wherever they could get a good game and were known as highly skilled players and crowd pleasers. They shared a special closeness and loyalty, joking and teasing, but always looking out for one another. That loyalty extended to a love of country as six of them fought in World War II, which was the first time they had been separated. After the war they continued to play in local leagues, with younger brothers taking over when big brothers aged out. In 1997 they were recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame as the all-time longest playing allbrother team. Employing descriptive, conversational language in a matter-of-fact tone that doesn’t sentimentalize, Vernick tells of a remarkable family, part of what has come to be known as “the greatest generation.” Salerno’s lively drawings, rendered in black crayon, gouache, watercolor and pastel with digital color added, complement the action, striking a balance between detail and expansiveness. A family’s love and devotion to each other and to the game of baseball, depicted lovingly. (author’s note; artist’s note) (Picture book/biography. 5-10)

This Issue’s Contributors # Samantha Angerame • Elizabeth Bird • Marcie Bovetz • Louise Brueggemann • Timothy Capehart • Louise Capizzo • Julie Cummins • GraceAnne A. DeCandido • Dave DeChristopher • Elise DeGuiseppi • Lisa Dennis • Carol Edwards • Brooke Faulkner • Laurie Flynn • Diane B. Foote • Omar Gallaga • Judith Gire • Carol Goldman • Lynne Heffley • Lyndsay Hemphill • Heather L. Hepler • Megan Honig • Jennifer Hubert • Kathleen T. Isaacs • Laura Jenkins • Betsy Judkins • Deborah Kaplan • Robin Fogle Kurz • Megan Lambert • Angela Leeper • Peter Lewis • Ellen Loughran • Lori Low • Wendy Lukehart • Lauren Maggio • Joan Malewitz • Jeanne McDermott • Kathie Meizner • Daniel Meyer • Lisa Moore • R. Moore • John Edward Peters • Melissa Rabey • Rebecca Rabinowitz • Kristy Raffensberger • Nancy Thalia Reynolds • Melissa Riddle Chalos • Ronnie Rom • Leslie L. Rounds • Dean Schneider • Chris Shoemaker • Karyn N. Silverman • Paula Singer • Robin Smith • Karin Snelson • Rita Soltan • Tara Spicer • Shelley Sutherland • Monica D. Wyatt • Melissa Yurechko •

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PROMETHIA’S FIRE

Bisseux, Ylli Xlibris (257 pp.) $19.99 paperback | Jan. 3, 2011 978-1456842536 Fast-paced Balkan adventure starring an engaging academician/action hero reminiscent of Indiana Jones. When Luk Begovic leaves his stagnating university career behind to join Promethia Risk Group, he is soon embroiled in political intrigue and criminal manipulations beyond his imaginings. Promethia, a private company devoted to increasing worldwide gender equality in order to enhance peace and stability, is targeting sex slave trafficking in the war-torn Balkans. Luk and the group quickly link up with a humanitarian organization providing treatment to the former sex slaves. Central to this organization’s success is Dr. Fatmire “Mili” Bektashi, a dedicated woman with a tragic, mysterious past. As the two groups cooperate to confront human trafficking, Luk and Mili find themselves getting closer to each other on a personal level. Together they confront revenge killings, shadowy international alliances, U.N. corruption, mass executions, hidden family relationships and paramilitary maneuvering. Debut author Bisseux writes with a gritty, raw-edged realism that will keep readers turning pages for the next surprising plot twist. These twists continue up until the conclusion, but Bisseux avoids the trap of sacrificing depth for action. The narrative effectively portrays the ravages of the ethnic conflict, sometimes in scenes that are almost painfully graphic. The human costs of both war-making and peace-building are evocatively conveyed. The setting is intimately linked to the plot, and Bisseux seems to capture cultural nuances well. In contrast, the dialogue is somewhat wooden and disappointing; many of the characters speak with the same voice and use the same expressions. Though some of the last-minute rescues and coincidental happenings are unrealistic, the suspension of disbelief required is no more than is typical for this genre. Repeated spelling errors (“were” is often “where,” for example) distract a bit but are forgivable in a book of this quality. Alternately brutal and touching, a triumphant novel not to be missed.

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“Denny’s drama, both jaunty and frightening, is engaging and well-paced.” from deep into the heart of a rose

DEEP INTO THE HEART OF A ROSE

PANDORA’S KEY Book I The Key Trilogy

Denny, G.T. Night Watch (458 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Dec. 14, 2011 978-0615451558 A romantic fantasy, ambitious as any Tolkien-inspired work, earnestly and thoughtfully delivered. Denny’s novel, his first and the opener in his Book of Broken Bindings series, begins in the Vale, a quaint and simple place, with Mr. Edward T. Cozzlebottom recalling a fragmented dream on a sunny morning during a quickly descending autumn season. Descending, it will be learned, with unnatural rapidity through dark and mysterious intent. At this auspicious moment, unconventionally wise sometimes-adventurer Cozzlebottom (Cozy to his friends) embraces his feelings for his neighbor, the sweetly hermetic roseenthusiast Ezmerelda Wimbish, and writes her a letter confessing his affection. The eve after it is written, Mizz Wimbish is overcome by a desire to travel, and departs, and the letter is stolen by an Iron Rider traveling in shadow on a metal steed. Discovering his love vanished without explanation, Cozy enlists his friend Eddy to secure her safety and both parties venture in different directions into the uncertainty of the Outlands, the Western Hills and the Great Dorianic Forest, all encircled by the high peaks of the Bruste Mountains—Denny wisely includes a map with his text—where they find the stuff of myths and children’s stories to be more fact than fable and discover themselves figures in “a battle for light and time itself.” Denny’s drama, both jaunty and frightening, is engaging and well-paced, and his characters are wholesome archetypes: deeply lovable, easily feared or anything in between. His airy writing style and sense of whimsy complement the book’s heavy mythology. There’s nearly always allegorical meaning to be drawn from the myriad encounters of his sojourners, and lessons learned are tempered not with irony or snark, but with the contentment that knowledge gained is relational, and particular to the peculiar men and women that populate Denny’s epic landscape. Some symbols, characters and scenarios are a little too familiar, and the book’s triumphs may seem forgone conclusions, but engaged readers will be charmed and entertained. Those who appreciate fanciful adventure fiction sincerely told will enjoy Denny’s work and look forward to the next installment.

Fischer, Nancy Richardson CreateSpace (292 pp.) $7.50 paperback | $0.99 e-book Nov. 20, 2011 978-1467966535 The first book in a trilogy about Pandora’s Box in the modern world and how Pandora’s descendent holds the key but is only just beginning to understand her power. On the morning of her 16th birthday, Evangeline Theopolis’ mother places an ancient key on a chain around her neck. It’s a family heirloom, though her mother has no idea what the key unlocks. Later, Evangeline returns home from school to find her mother has collapsed and, at the hospital, Evangeline is forced to admit that her mom has been suffering delusions. The doctors reveal the reason is a terrible brain tumor. Running parallel to this story in alternating chapters is Malledy’s story, a young man who is also diagnosed with a fatal disease. Malledy is an archivist determined to find ancient artifacts of great power, including Pandora’s Box, which he believes may contain his cure. Evangeline soon finds out that she is the descendent of Pandora when she is kidnapped by a sect of women devoted to protecting Pandora’s Box. Her newly bequeathed key unlocks the actual Pandora’s Box from Greek mythology, which still contains a fifth Fury of Annihilation. As Pandora’s descendent, Evangeline also has powers originally bestowed by the other Greek gods. Her world collides with Malledy’s once he becomes determined to use her to become godlike himself. Fischer’s fast pacing and numerous plot twists are sure to keep the reader turning the pages to find out not only if Malledy will succeed, but if Evangeline will succumb to her curiosity about the box. Though the prose can sometimes be clunky, Fischer’s characters are well fleshed-out and sympathetic, and some have hidden alliances that serve to make Evangeline’s plight seem all the more realistic. With this fresh, intriguing novel, Fischer is clearly laying the groundwork for a trilogy that will successfully continue to bring ancient mythology forward into a modern tale of self discovery. With vivid imagery, compelling characters and plenty bursts of action, this first novel weaving mythology and contemporary teenage troubles is thrillingly memorable.

THE MOONHAWKER

Fox, George A. iUniverse (621 pp.) $41.95 | paper $31.95 | $3.99 e-book Oct. 20, 2011 978-1462046492 978-1462046485 paperback

When ever-resilient, stubborn Atticus Gunner teams up with Butch Gorpon to uncover the mystery behind the deaths in an island community, the duo discovers that something far greater is in the works. 318

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Atticus Gunner is offered $310,000 in addition to a 32-foot sailing sloop, the Moonhawk, as compensation for assuming the role of school administrator and police officer on Washington Island. On his way to the island, he encounters a boat full of drunkards, who later try to shoot at the Moonhawk. From his arrival on the island, Atticus has his hands full. In fact, his first full day culminates in a barroom brawl with the Cline boys, an event that foreshadows the no-nonsense attitude that Gunner will enforce throughout the story. The potential sabotage of his boat and his meeting with local psychic, Cynthia, who anoints him the warrior that will fight off the darkness, put an intriguing twist in the plot. Perhaps the book’s most compelling element is the author’s ability to weave character relationships, especially the budding friendship between Atticus and Butch, the school board president. Nevertheless, Atticus’ relationship with his two daughters, Stacie and Inger, is beautifully portrayed, particularly the scenes on the Moonhawk where readers realize that Atticus is an individual of substance—he will not let anyone harm his family or friends. As the deaths of several island boys confirm, those that harm Atticus’ family or friends will face retribution. The novel shines with engaging dialogue, seamless transitions and kinetic plot development, making the story flow smoothly. When seemingly ordinary individuals start dying in extraordinary ways, Gunner puts everything aside and dives into the situation. This attitude, despite placing him in far too many precarious situations, will undoubtedly endear him to readers. With reckless abandon, and his administrative duties in jeopardy, Gunner teams with the FBI and CIA in an attempt to reveal the true identity of the island’s so-called “good guys.” Gunner fails to realize, however, that he may have taken on more than he can handle; with a history of bloodshed, the assassins are coming for Atticus full force. Unfortunately for them, that makes little difference to Atticus. Fox fuses tantalizing action, adventure and memorable characters with nearly three decades of real-life experience to deliver an addictive page-turner with blistering intensity.

THE KNIGHT & THE SERPENT A Legend of Medieval Normandy Gabourel, John R. John Gabourel (318 pp.) $12.99 paperback | Nov. 13, 2011 978-0984134427

A squire pursues fortune, fame and the woman he loves—at any cost. Gabourel’s medieval tale follows the adventures of Gaspard, who serves the up-and-coming Lord Fulk from the Castle de Hambie in Normandy. The two grow up more like close friends than as lord and squire; indeed, Gaspard’s esteem proves much higher than the average man of his rank. Despite numerous opportunities to rise in stature, Gaspard stays by Lord Fulk—that is, until the latter takes the beautiful Gisla as his wife, prompting Gaspard to jealousy. Growing increasingly antagonistic toward Lord Fulk, |

Gaspard eventually betrays him in a moment of critical political importance. His deeds haunt him, and those he loves, throughout the remainder of the novel. Beyond its inclusion of the mainstay themes of medieval literature, Gabourel’s tale maintains an overall healthy balance of action and reflection. Gaspard does not come across as a clichéd relic of times past; his complexity holds the novel together at its weakest points. In particular, for all the depth Gaspard’s character has, the novel does not adequately depict his transition from admiration to animus toward Lord Fulk. On the contrary, one comes away wishing that the plot spent more time building up toward the fateful climax. Beside issues of plot, the dialogue often comes off as too self-aware, not as authentic medieval speak but rather as imitation. These instances tend to stultify the action, particularly because a few scenes try much harder than others to ape medieval dialect. These criticisms aside, any reader looking for a quick, easy read brimming with violence and romance will be satisfied with Gabourel’s work. While this novel does not contain many surprises, its eagerness and heart rewards its audience in the end. A legend of the Middle Ages bound to please most readers.

RAJA Story of a Racehorse

Hambleton, Anne Illus. by Kauffman, Margaret Old Bow (261 pp.) $14.95 paperback | Dec. 1, 2011 978-0615540290 An outstanding debut novel for young people by retired amateur steeplechase jockey Hambleton, who uses her knowledge of horses and the equestrian world to tell of the tragedies and triumphs that befall a thoroughbred racehorse—from the horse’s point of view. Reminiscent of Anna Sewell’s 19th-century classic, Black Beauty, in its deeply felt narrative as voiced by a thoroughbred racehorse, this first-time novel for ages 11 and up is written with empathy and a vivid sense of drama by Hambleton, a lifelong equestrian and former amateur steeplechase jockey. Raja, a promising foal of distinguished lineage, bears the “Mark of the Chieftain” on his forehead. Bedouin legend has it that such a mark predicts either “great glory” or “great despair” for a horse, and Raja assumes that his road to glory is assured after triumphs on the track as a 2-year-old lead to early Kentucky Derby buzz. But the world of racing has a dark side. An injury, sparked by Raja’s fear of thunderstorms, drops the sensitive horse into obscurity and worse. What follows is a colorful succession of owners and riders (good and bad), a brush with horse drugging and the ugly reality of “kill buyers,” who purchase former racehorses for their meat. Friends and enemies, both human and equine, appear and reappear in Raja’s life as fate takes him far from his pampered youth. Along the way, the elegant horse learns dressage, Cossack trick riding, the exhilarating art of steeplechase—and the depth of his own courage. Hambleton’s compelling prose—deftly interwoven with technical

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“What unfolds is a poignant, seamlessly executed reflection on time and mortality that will stir even the most stoic reader.” from lucky

realities and the emotional investment inherent in horse training, racing, care and ridership—is accompanied by a glossary of horse-world terms and evocative pencil drawings by Margaret Kauffman, a professional sculptor and horsewoman. Lifelong equestrian Hambleton makes an impressive outing as a first-time author of juvenile fiction, weaving her knowledge and love of horses, horsemanship and the world of competitive racing into a moving narrative that will keep fellow horse-loving readers of any age enthralled.

LUCKY The Tale of a Tree

Hawkins, Richard C. Illus. by Hoeffner, Deb Worldways Productions (39 pp.) $14.95 | Dec. 1, 2011 978-0578090894 A young tree experiences the magic, and fleeting nature, of the Christmas season. Every so often, a life lesson comes along disguised as a children’s book. Former UCLA professor Hawkins’ chronicle of a young tree is just such a tale. “Tree” lives in a forest yearning for adventures outside of his clearing—an existence more thrilling than his own. When a father and son questing for the perfect Christmas tree declare Tree to be “the best one” they’ve seen, Tree’s wish comes true. He is uprooted from his forest and brought to a new home where “Scraggly”—a ragged backyard-dwelling fir—deems Tree “Lucky.” And so Lucky’s new life begins. Despite Scraggly’s cautionary admonitions about Lucky’s newfound fate, the prideful young tree is jubilant. Bedecked in ornaments and tinsel, praised for his perfection and topped with a golden star, Lucky foresees a full, rich life. From here most readers will know where Hawkins’ tale is headed. With the passing of the holiday season comes Lucky’s gradual (at times heart-wrenching) realization that Christmas is fleeting—a parallel to life that’s not lost on the astute reader. What unfolds is a poignant, seamlessly executed reflection on time and mortality that will stir even the most stoic reader. It’s certainly not uncommon for children’s writers to thread their narratives with deeper adult themes, a tactic Hawkins executes with panache; there are no tried clichés, heavy-handed moral overtones or forced attempts to elicit emotion. Adding to the story’s depth is a dedication to Shirley, Hawkins’ late wife who—before losing her battle with cancer—requested that he write this book in honor of a beloved, withering porch tree. Paired with Hoeffner’s meticulous, delicate pencil renderings, Lucky is one promise readers will be glad Hawkins kept. A tender tale worth adding to your holiday library. (Picture book. 5-9)

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SETTING THE HOOK A Diver’s Return to the Andrea Doria

Hunt, Peter M. CreateSpace (276 pp.) $15.99 paperback | Dec. 14, 2011 978-1453734209 A deep-sea diver explores shipwrecks and his own character in this gripping scuba memoir. Hunt (Angles of Attack: An A-6 Intruder Pilot’s War, 2002) revisits 30 years of shipwreck dives, a pastime whose lugubrious allure is only heightened by his vivid descriptions of the dangers. Chief among these are the hulks themselves, full of ensnaring electrical cables and silt, all of which becomes an impenetrable, disorienting cloud at the kick of a fin; one wrong turn in these pitch-black labyrinths, and a diver can be trapped in a watery tomb. Then there’s the sheer physiological challenge of penetrating an alien environment where breathing itself is a high-tech feat rife with fatal glitches. Carbon dioxide can build up to asphyxiating levels; nitrogen first intoxicates and then bubbles out of the blood to cause the bends; even oxygen becomes toxic and induces convulsions. Hunt’s well-paced narrative is full of underwater panics, nervewracking escapes and rescues that sometimes end in failure and death. He structures it around his dives to the wreck of the Italian cruise ship Andrea Doria, which sank in 240 feet of water off Nantucket in 1956—he includes a riveting account of the disaster and the blunders that caused it—and remains a magnet to divers because of its difficulty and wealth of fine china and other loot. Along the way he presents a lucid, engrossing study of the art of diving, introducing readers to the arcane gear, the constant attention to breathing, buoyancy and “situational awareness” the sport demands and the complex decompression routines that make surfacing take twice as long as the dive. Hunt’s three decades of Andrea Doria excursions also frame an affecting story of maturation and limits, as he ages from a strapping, reckless youth to a more cautious man in physical decline—a transformation that prepares him for the onset of Parkinson’s disease with the knowledge that “dying slowly is hard work.” Hunt’s taut scenes and meticulous prose will have readers holding their breath, but his saga probes hidden depths as well.

ENERGY EXPLAINED Volume 1: Conventional Energy

Janardhan, Vikram & Fesmire, Bob Rowman & Littlefield (271 pp.) $99.95 | Sep. 1, 2010 978-1442203723 Trying to understand all the issues involved in energy policy and production can be like drinking from a fire hose, but the authors of this introductory work— split into two volumes—do solid work in controlling the flow with good humor and a sensible approach.

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In this first volume, energy-industry veterans Janardhan and Fesmire wisely limit their focus in the first volume to fossil fuels. They quickly discuss how it’s found and extracted, the various fuels made from oil and their uses and the associated political and environmental issues that have sprung up around it. In the later sections, the authors explore electricity, the ways it’s generated and transported across the national grid and energy policy at the federal and international levels, examining both the historical basis for many of the relevant laws and the newest technologies that are transforming policies and practices. Mostly avoiding dry, academic prose, the authors leaven the narrative with visual aids, well-chosen metaphors and, most importantly, a witty style that uses pop-culture references and a gently snarky tone to keep the prose informative but light. Many of these issues are serious, particularly in their long-term repercussions for humanity’s survival, but the authors carefully maintain a tone that acknowledges the gravity of many issues without losing their optimism and goodnatured outlook. Although some readers may wish for a deeper examination of many of the book’s subjects, the authors succeed in providing an introductory primer to the complex and highstakes world of energy production. Well-suited for academic studies and most general readers, the first volume of this work sets a high standard for other books on the subject.

THE EMPEROR OF TIME

King, Gregory Illus. by Wood, Holly Weston & Wright (56 pp.) $21.95 | $2.99 e-book | Oct. 15, 2011 978-0965693226 After squandering almost all of his time, 10-year-old Alto Quack sets off on a desperate journey to find the Emperor of Time and beg for some more in this inventive children’s story. Alto, “the biggest time-waster in the 463-year history of the village of Nonesuch,” receives a painful wake-up call one morning when a mysterious old man informs him that he only has three hours left to live. The man, who introduces himself as the Keeper of Time, tells Alto that since he has “squandered millions of seconds, hundreds of thousands of hours, and untold moments on foolish trifles and frivolous vanities,” his time will soon run out and he will be given no more. When Alto tries to put some of the blame onto his parents, he’s reminded that they warned him repeatedly of the dangers of time wasted. Forced to accept responsibility for his mistakes, Alto leaves home in search of the Emperor of Time, who is the only one capable of giving Alto more time. With each second ticking away, Alto enters the Forbidden Forest where he meets an odd assortment of characters, including a dying man who tries to trade gold for time and a crowd of ghosts who teach Alto that the real cost of material things isn’t money, but time. Alto’s guide through the forest, a young girl named Tallulah, explains the origins of the piranhalike creatures that inhabit the area. The creatures are “minute munchers” and “hour devourers” that feed on wasted time. “To my little darlings,” |

Tallulah says, “wasted time smells like toasted marshmallows.” King’s well-thought-out story is filled with memorable characters and clever dialogue. Wood’s detailed illustrations nicely complement the story, especially when Tallulah describes the River Un; the river, she explains, is made up of “millions of things undone, because the time in which to do them was wasted.” Wood’s illustration shows a foreboding stream of achievements unachieved and memories unlived. Gloom and sadness permeate the story, fittingly, given the seriousness of the subject, but never overwhelm it thanks to Alto’s hopefulness and the unconditional love that his parents show him up until the story’s ambiguous ending. One of life’s most important lessons is at the heart of this refreshingly original story; adults as well as elementary-age children will benefit from Alto’s journey to find time.

AMERICAN EPITAPH

Laabs, James First American (264 pp.) $5.95 paperback | $2.99 e-book Feb. 1, 2012 978-0976759959 A grim 2025 comes to life in Laabs’s timely dystopian thriller. Just over a decade into the future, the United States of America has succumbed to rule by a tiny, extremely wealthy fraction of the population. After winning the election in the fall of 2012, America’s elite turned their chosen politicians into little more than puppets. Elections are rigged, states are fractured, homosexuals are institutionalized and the vast nonelite is divided between government wage-slaves and unemployed squatters. Patrick, the book’s hero, ekes out a living growing vegetables in his backyard. When Jimmy, a hard-nosed Vietnam veteran, enlists Patrick in a mission to aid his small rebel faction, Patrick finds himself becoming a leader in the increasingly powerful rebellion. Laabs’s eerily plausible shadow-America is an engaging environment for any reader to explore (especially one who shares Laabs’s liberal politics). The plot tracks the rebellion’s progression from a ragtag band to an actual threat to the elite, and the story’s clever twists and turns are exciting throughout. There’s even a delightfully sadistic villain named Nefario, who is prone to bouts of melancholy and dreams of dictatorship and nuclear weapons. Most of the characters, though, are closer to two-dimensional caricatures than fully realized people. Early on, Patrick expresses ambivalence about killing his opponents, but as the book focuses more on the rebellion’s development, such examples of introspection and emotion fall by the wayside. Clunky exposition is a problem too; one 20something, who presumably lived through the country’s transformation herself, actually says to Jimmy: “How did things become the way they are now?” Similarly, the plot is unnaturally tidy: complicated missions routinely go off without a hitch and key characters come to exactly the right realizations at exactly the right times. But despite this book’s drawbacks, it boasts a propulsive plot, a creepy-cool setting and a sense of genuinely high stakes.

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“Nuckel’s open, direct prose...lends itself to a nicely spooky, metronomic portentousness.” from the vig

THE VIG

Laabs offers an imaginative, well-oiled machine of a story, with just enough connection to current tensions to keep readers involved and anxious.

Nuckel, John M. CreateSpace (198 pp.) $13.95 paperback | $3.54 e-book Dec. 10, 2011 978-1466385344

FOUR D

Morrison, Gregory CreateSpace (180 pp.) $8.53 paperbackNov. 23, 2011 978-1463792664 Confused people with hazy longings confront mysterious forces in this collection of four enigmatic stories. Morrison’s characters, often nameless and adrift in undefined settings without social referents, are the playthings of spectral entities that ensnare them in Kafka-esque conundrums. The anonymous protagonist of “Space” notices that people, objects and buildings have suddenly started disappearing and feels that “I myself am probably nobody anymore.” He’s not unhappy with the prospect, until the strange power behind the disappearances starts manipulating his relationships with his lover and best friend. In “Four Rooms,” a woman with multiple personality disorder awakens to find herself imprisoned in a labyrinth of rooms, and her search for a way out forces her to confront her devastating divorce and the bickering voices in her head. In “Guest,” an unnamed man in an unfamiliar city invites a beautiful woman into his hotel room; she seems to embody the bounty of nature—or the even greater promise of death. The collection’s most conventional tale, “The Principle of Luidgi,” features a callow young man who works hard to accumulate a satisfying job, good friends and a fiancée—only to decide that everything bores him, so he lets loose with a spree of sexual vandalism. Morrison’s storytelling has a dreamlike quality as it glides past logical non sequiturs and resonant symbolism—”She immediately opened her mouth broadly, and I saw her pull a pair out of it…‘See, I can bear fruit too’ “—with deadpan equanimity. The foggy narratives and cryptic dialogue make the stories as puzzling and eerie—and sometimes as tedious—as dreams can be. Still, Morrison’s poetic imagery (“[b]ig, brown sweet cherries started to fall out of her dark eyes”) and off-kilter japes (“he was going to drop by the market to get some tomatoes…he’d buy them, put them in the kitchen and start hypnotizing them to make them talk”) give his surrealist prose considerable charm. A grab-bag of fables that baffle but also beguile.

In this debut thriller, a New York options trader finds himself in even a greater mess than the financial market. Nuckel, who was a floor trader at the American Stock Exchange of the 1990s, brings an insider’s intimacy to this tale of seriously nasty doings in a market clearing company. The story features Frank McGinley, a 38-year-old—and getting older every minute—options trader who is on a slick downward spiral that will end in his very own delisting. The aftershocks of 9/11, drink, his antiquated status as a trader and his general revulsion at the financial-market life finds him at the end of his tether when a little hush money comes his way. Despite Nuckel’s open, direct prose—which lends itself to a nicely spooky, metronomic portentousness— it’s not wholly clear whether or not Frank might be willing to cash the check, but it doesn’t matter. Before he has a chance to bank it, he gets swept up in a Justice Department/Securities Exchange Commission sting—Nuckel is good with detailing the mechanics of skimming, not to mention pungent when it comes to overdrinking: “He felt himself sinking…The falling feeling was his companion”—that finds him on the wrong side of Harrison Heywood, a vicious hustler and ringleader of the scam. Harrison, in turn, introduces Carla Pugliese, an assassin who has been buzzing various troublemakers involved with the scam, into the story. Carla is both damaged goods and superwoman, and too diaphanous a character for her earthy presence, but serves to highlight the richness of character Nuckel has given Frank and Brogan, a natty Fed. The overall story has a good tempo, keeping events pleasingly off balance, but it’s the conclusion, which is spread over dozens of pages, that shines brightest, with snappy twists and credible surprises. A taut thriller that cruises through the New York financial market, with all its blind curves and bumpy roadways, like a sports car.

DESERT ANGELS

Simpson, Patrick CreateSpace (443 pp.) $17.99 paperbackNov. 11, 2011 978-1466444942 Simpson (Whither Thou Goest, 2001, etc.) weaves a female-driven work of historical fiction focusing on the Bannock War of 1878 in the American Northwest. The novel takes place as tensions between Native Americans and the U.S. Government (and the westward-moving whites) are reaching a breaking point. The story opens with the lone westward journey by Eva Beardsley,

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who is based on Simpson’s real-life ancestor. Along the way, Eva meets and falls hastily in love with Sgt. Jim Adams, and she begins to see the reality of the conflict around expansion. During his first meeting with Eva, Adams is nearly killed by the Native American prisoner he’s transporting. The speed and intensity of Eva and Sgt. Adam’s romance is jarring, but it is characteristic of the novel’s other relationships that grow so quickly there is an almostmelodramatic feel. From these connections, Simpson weaves an intriguing story of war, hunger, religious and racial division, loss and the difficulty of victory—an expansiveness befitting a historical novel. Eva meets Sarah Winnemucca, the granddaughter of the chief of the Paiute nation. The power of their partnership becomes the heart of the book. Readers first find Sarah wandering alone in the wilderness deserted by her own people and by whites. Out of her disillusionment, she harnesses the power of her education and spirit, working with white people to secure safety for her people. She and Eva also work alongside U.S. soldiers to bring down the aggressive chiefs of other Indian nations, creating a tentative, demoralized peace in the area. Simpson details the two major battles of the war: Silver Creek and Birch Creek. At times the action feels stiff, and the interspersed narration, back story and interior monologue can feel pedantic and intrusive. The book ends with a warm, reminiscent look at the friendship between Eva and Sarah and a glimpse at Sarah’s continued, heartfelt work to bring justice for her people. Though in need of polishing, Simpson’s tale uses admirable characters to enmesh readers in a little-known piece of American history.

ALL THINGS NEW Understanding the Book of Revelation

Snider, Tim WestBow/Thomas Nelson (329 pp.) $39.95 | paper $24.95 | $3.99 e-book Oct. 4, 2011 978-1449725341 978-1449725334 paperback A verse-by-verse study of the biblical book of Revelation—without the scary undertones. The book of Revelation has widely been associated with the last days of the world, complete with monsters, bizarre imagery and hair-raising prophecy. But in this concise, well-written study, Snider reveals the true nature of Revelation—a message of hope for God’s people. Snider breaks down Revelation verse by verse, offering commentary couched in solid, biblical evidence as well as incorporating conclusions drawn by noted theologians. From the Seven Seals and the Trumpet Judgments to the Beast and the False Prophet, Snider unwraps the myth and hysteria our culture has attached to each prophecy and the author explains these elements in simple, easy-to-understand terms and nonthreatening language. Footnotes on each page as well as a comprehensive bibliography and index assist in further study. From the beginning, Snider makes it clear that this is a Christian study not for scholars but for the average believer and nonbeliever alike. His prose is |

entertaining and conversational and thankfully lacks boring academic language. What truly sets this study apart from others in the field is the compassion that Snider infuses into each page. He seeks to restore Revelation back to the Apostle John’s intended purpose instead of the terrifying tome overzealous believers have turned it into. But it is Snider’s unshakeable faith in Jesus Christ that is at the heart of this study. He takes the time to reveal why he is a believer, and his reasons address some of the more common objections to Christianity. Snider doesn’t wish to shroud any of the prophecies of Revelation but instead wants them to be understood just as Jesus Christ is to be believed. After reading this study, readers will undoubtedly be filled more with peace than with anxiety for the coming End Days.

HILL OF BEANS Coming of Age in the Last Days of the Old South

Snyder, John Smith/Kerr Associates (215 pp.) $24.00 paperback | Sep. 15, 2011 978-0983062202 Turgenev meets Mark Twain in these lyrical, acutely observed recollections wherein the author narrates his Carolina past, unearthing mountains of memories and ties that bind. Snyder is a crack observer, and this debut memoir is at once a reverie of rural life, an ode to men’s crafts and boyhood’s treasures and a cool refraction of the full-blooded Carolinians who hunted, fished and farmed their patch under the final sunset of the Old South. Snyder spent his early years in the cabin his father built on Cedar Mountain, N.C., where quail roamed and trout peppered the streams. In 1939, his father built a resort inn that bustled for one glorious summer, then fell to an arsonist’s match. John and a brother were soon sent to live with two maiden aunts in Greenville, S.C., for school, but learned more about needlepoint, roosters and bigotry. When the family purchased a sharecropper farm in Walhalla, S.C., in 1943, adventures in hoeing and animals began in earnest. John’s father, Ted, was a man for all seasons, adept with a poem as well as a gun and a saw, and the narrative sparkles with his vernacular—the winsomely meaningless “consnoggerating” is a term only a 1940s father could invent. Young John tried to live up to his father’s polymathic example with tools and inventions of his own, while simultaneously adoring a succession of lovely teachers and studying his world with a fine boy’s eye. The result is this book of miniatures, crafted with care and delivered with candor and heart. Each set piece—a burgling collie, a woman who lost her face to the wind, a most unfortunately ill-timed bowel movement—lends gravitas to the author’s spectacle of family and humanity below the MasonDixon Line. Snyder is hardly the first Southerner to have wondered aloud: Who are my people? But his answer is rich and original. Or as his father might have said—big as the moon and deft as a cat. A finely detailed tableau of the lost Carolinas and a book for the boy in all of us.

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k i r ku s q & a w i t h c h r i s m e n d i u s In Spoonful, Chris Mendius tells an engrossing tale of drug-dealing, the junkie lifestyle and the seductive perils of heroin, set in Chicago of the ’90s. The evocative work earned the book a Kirkus star. Here he talks to us about the levels of addiction, the tension of gentrification and his route to publication. Q: Spoonful is one of the most vivid portraits of the drug culture I’ve ever read. Was your research, um, personal?

SPOONFUL

Chris Mendius Anything Goes (322 pp.) $14.95 paperback February 8, 2012 978-0578095417

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Q: Your protagonist Michael and his friend Sal are pretty likable for druggie lowlifes. What did you draw on to create them? A: I knew guys like that, so it wasn’t a stretch. There are a lot of scumbag junkies out there, but there are also more complicated, interesting dope fiends. They’re not trying to hurt anybody; they’re just trying to get what they need—which requires them to work outside the law and civilized society. Q: You set the story in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood during the Clinton-era boom, a place that’s hipster central but is also full of tension, with gentrification and new money coming in while people like Michael and Sal get pushed out. A: I hung out there in the late ’90s, and the area was dripping with atmosphere and tension; on every block places were being bought up and turned into condos. Sal copes with all that high-flying real estate and stock-market mania by ripping off the people that are making easy money, but Michael tries to get into the game. Q: Some of your most heartwarming characters are Michael and Sal’s connection, a family that runs a ghetto narcotics business: they’re trying to get ahead, move to a better neighborhood and send their kid to college. Are you trying to push back against the demonization of the drug trade?

A: She sees Michael, a guy who’s getting high and feeling really good, and wants that for herself; he doesn’t let her see him retching when he’s an hour late with his fix. And she’s not afraid to take risks or defy social judgments. Putting herself out there as an artist is a risk, and she pays the rent by stripping—and doesn’t feel like she should be judged for that. I respect the choice that she makes, but she’s not immune to what flows from that. Q: Everybody in the novel is hooked on something—heroin, cocaine, weed, booze; even Michael’s mom has a prescription pain-killer habit—and looks down on everyone else’s drugs. Are there moral distinctions between different addictions? A: The book’s title comes from an old blues tune by Willy Dixon; the song’s point is that everyone needs something to get through this world, and will do whatever it takes to get it. I don’t draw moral distinctions, but, practically speaking, the particular drug you’re hooked on does make a big difference. Alcoholics can go to a tavern or liquor store, but dope fiends gotta score, they gotta find a spot, they’re breaking the law and risking their lives. A [heroin] habit, with its physical dependency, is the ultimate tyranny, and getting out from under it is a big deal. Going from that to cocaine frees you from a set of shackles that, in my opinion, are the hardest to break. Q: You’re bringing out Spoonful through your own company, Anything Goes Publishing. Why do it that way? A: I sent it out to a few bigger publishers and agents. Then I kind of moved on, but Jayne, my wife and editor, wanted to start a venture to put the book out ourselves; that feels better than just sending out letters [to publishers], never to hear back. When we started Anything Goes, we went through the novel with a finer editorial comb and the writing is much better than it was at first—maybe that’s why nobody called me back! –By Jim Franklin

A: Not intentionally. I used to score from a family just like that. They were nice people; they had a son who was recruited by a Big Ten school as a fullback. Not everyone in the drug trade is like that, but they were part of my experience.

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A: I leaned on my experiences in high school and college in the early ’90s; right now I live less than a mile from the West Side of Chicago, where I used to score. I wasn’t as heavily into [the drug scene] as my characters, but heavy enough to see where it was going: no matter how well you cope for a while, it comes back to get you.

Q: Michael’s lover, Lila, a talented and self-possessed artist, is drawn to trying heroin and almost willfully becomes addicted. What’s the attraction for her?

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“Wiener artfully weaves the raw emotion of her childhood suffering with the cultural experience of the United States during the 1960s and ’70s.” from riding the cyclone

FROM AFRICANUS A Young Man’s Quest to Save the Last Roman

Storm, Matthew Jordan CreateSpace (262 pp.) $9.99 paperback | $4.99 e-book Dec. 7, 2011 978-1466479821 Storm’s dazzlingly researched evocation of the Constantinople of Justinian and Theodora, the first in a proposed series, struggles to find a dramatically satisfying role for its young hero. In 514 CE, a few years before the reign of the Roman Emperor Justinian, Valentinian Scipio Constans is born in the sleepy Greek fishing village of Volerus. His father is a humble rope maker, and his mother has died while giving birth. Nonetheless, it seems Valentinian has been marked for greatness, and his father enlists tutors to teach the boy everything from soldiering to philosophy. Valentinian is secretly descended from a noble Roman lineage. Centuries before, Scipio Africanus (foe of Hannibal and subjugator of Carthage) fathered an illegitimate child who was Valentinian’s ancestor on his mother’s side. After telling his son of his heritage, Valentinian’s father sends him to make a name for himself in Constantinople. Luckily, his tutor Leo is a friend of General Belisarius’ soon-to-be sister-in-law, a connection that quickly places Valentinian in the company of the illustrious. During this middle portion of the novel, Constantinople is described, and its history relayed, through characters’ conversations and storytelling, and the narrative momentum noticeably slackens. When the Nika riots break out during Belisarius’ wedding dinner, the story finds its pacing again as Valentinian plays a role in helping the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church escape an angry mob. Storm relates a thorough history of these riots, which nearly brought Justinian’s reign to a premature end, complete with the maneuverings of the Senate and the Imperial court. Storm uses muscular prose to pack these passages with his digested research, and they are both immediate and instructive. From a dramatic standpoint, however, the main character has little more than a peripheral role in the key events, leading to an abundance of scenes that are interesting without being exciting. Promisingly for future volumes, by novels’ end Valentinian is well placed to be on the frontlines of Justinian and Belisarius’ campaigns to reconquer the lost provinces of the Western Roman Empire. A historical novel richly detailed enough that it manages to be engrossing even though its hero is frequently just an observer of events.

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RIDING THE CYCLONE Growing Up Feral in the ’60s Wiener, Lauren Ruth CreateSpace (312 pp.) $12.99 paperback | $8.99 e-book Dec. 2, 2011 978-1468011364

Wiener is anything but subtle in this gripping memoir of her turbulent upbringing in the New York City suburbs. When Wiener loses her mother tragically at the age of 6, rather than attempting to help his young daughter grieve, Wiener’s inattentive father hires a surly and often extremely violent nanny to raise his children. Though he ensures his children are materially cared for, Wiener’s father is neglectful of his feisty daughter’s emotional needs as she matures. In an attempt to avoid day-to-day family life, he sends them on international trips at every opportunity. To her peers, Wiener’s life must have seemed privileged and exotic with summers in Europe and extravagant ski trips; however, Wiener reveals the lifelong psychological turmoil caused by growing up with little parental supervision or nurturing. At times, Wiener’s accounts of the physical abuse she suffered at the hands of a clearly unstable nanny are so vividly intense that it’s difficult to imagine how she endured. Wiener is continually unsuccessful at her attempts to win attention or support from her father (even as he witnesses firsthand an abusive episode by the nanny) and is relieved to enter boarding school in Vermont for high school. Boarding school, however, fails to provide the acceptance she has been seeking as she struggles to fit in with peers who come from more harmonious families and backgrounds. Eventually, Wiener accepts her isolation and with the help of recreational drugs and music, she bides her time making knowingly bad decisions until she can begin her post-graduation life. A skillful writer, Wiener artfully weaves the raw emotion of her childhood suffering with the cultural experience of the United States during the 1960s and ’70s. The music and political events of the time create a strong backdrop framing Wiener’s memories and feelings without overpowering the private nature of her story. Intimate and absorbing, Wiener’s tale successfully captures the feelings of a spirited yet lost young child growing up in a tumultuous period in American history.

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February 1, 2012: Volume LXXX, No 3  

A hard-shelled, sporadically soft-hearted protagonist shines in Bernard Cornwell’s latest; acclaimed novelist Rick Moody shows off his consi...

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