Issuu on Google+

KIRKUS v o l. l x x i x, n o. 1 6

|

1 september 2011

REVIEWS

t h e nat i o n ’s p r e m i e r b o o k r e v i e w j o u r na l f o r mo r e t h a n 7 5 y e a rs

fiction

nonfiction

children & teens

★ Irish Americans from South Boston take the stage in Edward J. Delaney’s superb novel p. 1517

★ James Wolcott celebrates 1970s New York in a fine memoir filled with memorable lines p. 1577

★ Ann Cameron, along with Lauren Castillo, gives kids the stories Spunky (the dog) tells p. 1582

★ Ha Jin delivers a historical novel about the brutality of war that makes a profound impact p. 1517

★ Acclaimed novelist Margaret Atwood examines the sci-fi genre in a treat for her fans p. 1538

★ A hapless beaver finds his magnum opus mangled in Fiona Robinsons’s hysterical tale p. 1603

★ A love affair and Ireland’s financial collapse overlap in Anne Enright’s impressive latest p. 1517

★ Jonathan Lethem gathers his nonfiction in a collection displaying a strong sense of purpose p. 1560

★ The legend of the kelpie receives a haunting, thrilling update from Maggie Stiefvater p. 1607

i n t h i s i s s u e : c h i l d r e n ’s c h r i s t m a s & h a n u k k a h — r o u n d- u p

Terese Svoboda goes bohemian; Lydia Millet sees ghosts; Charles Frazier heads deep into the woods; J.D. Robb travels from New York to Dallas; Philippa Gregory talks about the War of the Roses; Ali Smith introduces an offbeat character; and much, much more v i s i t k i rku sre vi e ws. com f or f ull versions of f eatures, q & as and thou sa n ds of archived reviews


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. 1509 fiction p. 1515 mystery p. 1529

science fiction & fantasy p. 1535 nonfiction p. 1537

children & teens p. 1579 kirkus indie p. 1632

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

Absolutely True Tales of Censorship

Features Editor M O L LY B RO W N molly.brown@kirkusreviews.com

B Y G RE G O RY MC NA M EE

Editorial Coordinator REBECCA CRAMER rebecca.cramer@kirkusreviews.com

The impulse to ban books is as old as the impulse to read them, but lately it’s taken some curious twists. Consider the case of Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (Little, Brown, 2007), the noted American Indian novelist and poet’s first effort at writing for teenage readers. The book is unsparing in its depiction of life on an impoverished reservation in the Pacific Northwest, with alcohol and despair forming a backdrop as persistent as gray skies and rain. Things don’t get much better for the novel’s protagonist, a bookish young man named Junior, when he transfers to an off-reservation school and has to endure peckerwoodish racism. And yet Alexie also offers hope, for Junior prevails, drawing on his native intelligence and on all the books he has read to give him a view of the best path to take in life. In this, it seems, Junior is recapitulating Alexie’s own youth, for, the author tells us, when he was Junior’s age, “I read anything that had words and paragraphs. I read with equal parts joy and desperation. I loved those books, but I also knew that love had only one purpose. I was trying to save my life.” There are lives to be saved out there—and men and women determined, it would appear, to keep many other lives as unexamined as possible. Consider the board of the Richland, Wash., School District, which banned Alexie’s book—a winner of the National Book Award for literature for young readers—last June, citing concerns over mature themes and language. To be fair, not everyone in Richland shared those concerns: Two of the board’s five members voted against the ban, while, according to American Libraries magazine, all 10 copies of the book in the Richland Library were checked out—and, not only that, all 10 had holds upon their return. The ban was injurious. To add insult to it, the board learned on revisiting the matter in July that members of the district’s committee charged with reviewing instructional materials, from which the move to expel the book originally came, had not actually read the book. Neither had some of the board members who voted for the ban. Two of them reversed their votes after doing so, one saying that he found Alexie’s book “outstanding.” Alexie’s True Diary, ironic title and all, is now safe in Richland, at least for the moment. But, as we are reminded each year during the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week, in every corner of the country, books are under assault. Most recently, a professor at Missouri State University—who apparently has not heard of the academic ideal of the free exchange of ideas—has successfully persuaded the school board of Republic, Mo., to remove Kurt Vonnegut’s now-classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five from the curriculum and the library shelves, its crime being words that, the professor charges, “would make a sailor blush with shame.” Proponents of free speech are likely to be turning red for other reasons—and, as the culture wars heat up anew, these two cases are likely to be only the start of skirmishes to come.

for more re vi e ws and f eatures, vi si t u s on li n e at k irkusreviews.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

Lifestyles Editor KAREN CALABRIA kcalabria@kirkusreviews.com Contributing Editor G REG ORY Mc NAME E # for customer service or subscription questions, please call 877-441-3010 Kirkus Reviews Online www.kirkusreviews.com Print indexes: www.kirkusreviews.com/ book-reviews/print-indexes Kirkus Blog: www.kirkusreviews.com/blog Advertising Opportunities: www.kirkusreviews.com/about/ advertising-opportunities Submission Guidelines: www.kirkusreviews.com/about/ submission-guidlines Subscriptions: www.kirkusreviews.com/ subscription Newsletters: www.kirkusreviews.com/ subscription/newsletter/add This Issue’s Contributors

Maude Adjarian • Mark Athitakis • Sheldon Baker • Joseph Barbato • Gerald Bartell • Michael Beeman • Josh Bell • Antonia Lynn Blair • Amy Boaz • Will Boisvert • Julie Buffaloe-Yoder • Lee E. Cart • Derek Charles Catsam • Marnie Colton • Kelli Daley • Dave DeChristopher • Gregory F. DeLaurier • David Delman • Kathleen Devereaux • Daniel Dyer • Lisa Elliott • Julie Foster • Peter Franck • Bob Garber • Sean Gibson • Amy Goldschlager • Ian Griffin • Michael Griffith • Jeff Hoffman • Sam Kerbel • Robert M. Knight • Barb Kundanis • Paul Lamey • Rebecca Schumejda • Judith Leitch • Angela Leroux-Lindsey • Peter Lewis • Elsbeth Lindner • Raina Lipsitz • Andrew Liptak • Swapna Lovin • Joe Maniscalco • Don McLeese • Gregory McNamee • Clayton Moore • Liza Nelson • Mike Newirth • John Noffsinger • Courtney E. Nolen • Mike Oppenheim • Hyacinth Persad • Jim Piechota • Gary Presley • John T. Rather • Karah Rempe • Karen Rigby • Erika Rohrbach • Michael Sandlin • Susan Sebanc • Melissa Shaw • William P. Shumaker • Barry Silverstein • Arthur Smith • Wendy Smith • Margot E. Spangenberg • Andria Spencer • Claire Trazenfeld • Steve Weinberg • Rodney Welch • Carol White • Chris White • Joan Wilentz • Laura H. Wimberley


interactive e-books BLUE HAT, GREEN HAT

interactive e-books for children

Boynton, Sandra Illustrator: Boynton, Sandra Developer: Loud Crow Interactive $3.99 | June 30, 2011 Series: Boynton Moo Media

THE UGLY DUCKLING

Four characters put on a winning fashion show that teaches words and colors to early readers. Boynton’s classic board book, featuring her signature goofy animal characters and repetitive text, translates perfectly to an interactive format. An endearing cast of color-coordinated characters shows off shirts, shorts, socks and hats with a charming chorus of grunts, squishes and “oops-es!” Mr. Turkey never puts anything on in the right place, providing chuckles for parents and little ones alike. The background music is a simple, plucked melody (reminiscent of an old-fashioned Jack-in-the-Box) and combines well with Billy J. Kramer’s understated narration to enhance the fun of the experience. The photographic background of a suitcase full of clothes frames the white background of the book’s pages without distracting from the book itself at center stage. Kids can play with the words and animals on every page and then really go to town on the second-to-last page, where they can “dress” the turkey from a dresser full of clothes. The satisfying ending includes a bounding dive into a cool, blue pool. Simple in the best sense of the word and as entertaining as any runway event out there. (iPad storybook app. 2-4)

Andersen, Hans Christian Reteller: Lang, Andrew Illustrator: Zainagova, Rimma Developer: XIMAD Free | June 14, 2011 Pretty, idyllic country scenes across which touch- or tilt-sensitive figures glide give this unabridged version of the tale a cozy, slightly antique look. Though still a bit long and deliberately paced for modern audiences with short attention spans, Andrew Lang’s century-old rendition of the Andersen fable is at least less bedizened with precious verbiage than the Danish original and its many more exact translations. The newly created art is bright and naturalistic, with sweet touches like bonnets for the mother ducks and— despite a reference to his “long naked neck”—a uniform covering of silky down on the gracefully posed new hatchling. Though text so nearly fills the 28 screens that often the opaque waterfowl and other animal characters cover large portions, the obstructions can be temporarily moved aside or even offstage easily enough with a fingertip or tilt. There is no audio narration, but along with a short loop of piano-led orchestral music (which can be switched off when it becomes tedious) and some automatic sound effects, tapping many of the figures sets off volleys of chirps, squawks, quacks, giggles and, for the swans, chimes. Well suited for a sustained read-aloud, it is neither stiffly formal nor as mannered or cartoony as the flock of other online editions. A mention of the author and translator somewhere would have been nice, though. (iPad storybook app. 6-9)

UG A Prehistoric Adventure

Buss, Patrick Illustrator: Buss, Kate Developer: Ice Cream Fine Storybooks $0.99 | January 18, 2011

Cave boy Ug run off rather than go school. He get lost, get big sad, turn over new leaf when reunited with Mamug and Papug. Written in “cave-speak prose,” according to the description in the App Store, that has clear links to stereotypical “Injun Talk” (“He really no be big chief,” observes the narrator. “What big fool be me!” Ug concurs ruefully), this plodding epic is read nearly in a monotone by the author. The story is minimal. The skin-clad lad rejects parental orders, invents the spear (though |

kirkusreviews.com

|

interactive e-books

|

1 september 2011

|

1509


MR. WALRUS

strangers with spears show up later on), recruits a saber-tooth tiger and other animals to start a short-lived school of his own and then loses track of where “hole sweet home” is. Nearly every one of the no fewer than 49 splashy (think Robert Andrew Parker) watercolor pictures has to pan, scroll or ricochet wildly over several screens before any text appears—which not only makes the pacing snailish even with the audio switched off, but prevents quick paging back or forth. Signaled by an intrusive flashing “Tap to explore!” icon, a few screens feature a draggable figure, a snatch of drumbeat-driven dance music or other touchactivated feature. An oddly shaped tab (perhaps an animal pelt?) at the top of every screen pulls down a thumbnail menu, though the images are so small and, in many cases, so similar to one another, it is no real aid to navigation. Too long, too slow, written in a prose idiom that is, at best, questionable. Ugh. (iPad storybook app. 7-9)

Derrick, Patricia Developer: US Design Dynamics $2.99 | June 14, 2011 Series: Animalations A day in the lives of animal friends who are on a very tight schedule. In 2007, author/educator Derrick launched the Animalations book series, which uses rhyming verse and songs to help preschool children prepare to read. This iPad app is an extension of those efforts (there are no plans to print more books; Derrick is moving toward an all-digital format). Mr. Walrus and his animal friends are cruising around town in a big yellow school bus, and it’s a very full day. They visit the zoo, the county fair and grandma’s house—and it’s not even noon yet! A major hook in the story/song finds passengers pleading with Mr. Walrus to keep driving so they won’t be late to anything. At one point, Walrus’ friends tell him not to drive so slowly because they’re in a hurry to get to the next destination, begging the question, is this really a positive message for kids? Illustrations are taken from the book, the verse suffers from forced scansion and the only real interactive feature is touching animals and objects to elicit audio cues. A frenzied clock makes frequent appearances (though often it doesn’t reflect the correct time), and in a delicious twist of irony the audio got two pages ahead of the story when the app was closed and reopened in “play-for-me” mode. A harried tale that never quite catches up with itself. (iPad storybook app. 2-6)

MARS COLONY

Cutting, Robert Illustrator: Dhamindra, Jeevan Developer: Skyreader Media $4.99 | June 6, 2011 A spare assortment of sound effects and animations do little to improve a sketchy 2006 tale of alien contact. Hardly has teenager Jenny Chang joined the century old Mars Colony than she falls into a canyon and is rescued by green, almond-eyed “Kaerians” who explain that they have been living underground since their planet’s surface became uninhabitable millennia ago. Why they have decided to reveal themselves just then remains anybody’s guess, as does the reasoning behind Jenny’s instant appointment as humanity’s ambassador. In the paper edition, this bare bones fictional plotline, presented in graphic panels, is framed by pages and full spreads of factual information about Mars. Here, many of these are hidden behind icons oddly dubbed “Time Out”; others arbitrarily split because the app is locked into portrait orientation. Viewing options for the story portion include full auto, a nearly static silent mode and a slightly more active manual advance with primitive animations (such as a spaceship that blasts off in a cloud of exhaust despite its “magnetic drive”) and an overacted multi-voiced audio. The informational pages have a single narrator who not only can’t be switched off but continues on even when the reader swipes to a different page. A clumsy adaptation of a fact/fiction hybrid that was itself a nonstarter. (iPad graphic app. 7-9)

1510

|

1 september 2011

|

interactive e-books

THIS IS MY STORY ... AND I’M STICKING TO IT Developer: Gramercy Consultants $0.99 | May 3, 2011

A kind of visual Mad Libs app, this one doesn’t have a narrative or even consistent characters. But its very simple design and easy-to-grasp (both literally and figuratively) stickers make it fun nevertheless. A title screen that has a hand-drawn look offers the options of “Make Up Your Own Story,” “Match a Sticker Story,” “Sticker Page Fun” and “Read a Saved Story” as big, box icons. The first option offers a scrolling rail at the bottom of the screen with 30 items ranging from “The Cupcake” to “The Kite” to “The Pig.” Selecting an object’s icon and sliding it into a blank, transparent box places it in a fill-in-the-blank story page (for instance, “The Spider said hello to The Flower”). This setup continues for eight pages, and then the story can be played back with narration or saved to be read again later. The “Match” game offers outlines of the objects, leaving the reader to scroll through the animals, |

kirkusreviews.com

|


“Skip the app and spend the $2.99 on crayons and paper…” from animals in the jungle

ANIMALS IN THE JUNGLE

clothes and other items to fill in the right shape. And “Sticker Page Fun” is a set of backgrounds on which to place stickers in a more free-form way. The rigid structure of the “Make Up” section doesn’t exactly feel like it’ll make anyone’s imagination gallop at full pace, but the app is solidly built, supremely easy to navigate and filled with charmingly low-fi (but still effective) art. It’s a shame there aren’t more options available—to customize the story skeleton, record a reader’s voice or even color the sticker pages, for instance. While it could have been stronger with a few more surprises and features, the app’s simplicity and novelty are nearly enough to make up for that. (iPad storybook app. 3-6)

Developer: Innopage $2.99 | June 27, 2011

A rudimentary and lackluster “safari” through the jungle. Based on the description text and screenshots in the iTunes store, this app appears to be a stimulating and exciting way to spend quality time with young children. Heralded as a “fully animated book” with “sounds and voices” and “fun interactions and puzzles” it would be easy to assume that it’s just the ticket for a rainy day or long afternoon. But it’s not--by a long shot. The “book” contains only seven pages, each offering one interactive element, namely moving bushes, trees or branches around to reveal animals (placement never varies, so they’re always hiding in the same place behind the same shrubbery). “Full animation” means that the same two birds fly across each page in the exact same places. The only text asks where the animals are (“Where are the monkeys?”), and the sounds and voices consist of a continual drum loop in the background, an audio icon that triggers a reading of the text and a “well done” when the animals are revealed. The iTunes store lists nine languages in the product description, but there’s no menu or settings function that might aid in finding them. The developer promises continuing improvements and enhancements, but they are not yet in evidence. Skip the app and spend the $2.99 on crayons and paper; the kids will likely come up with something more exciting and creative than this jungle dud. (iPad storybook app. 2-4)

MUCHAVKA AND THE GIANT

Grivina, Oksana Illustrator: Grivina, Oksana Developer: Art. Lebedev Studio $2.99 | July 4, 2011 A magical (and at times bizarre) examination of opposites through the lens of an unlikely friendship. Muchavka is a cute little elf-like girl who has become good friends with a giant. The story chronicles their differences; for example, he’s large and she’s small. He is from the country, and she’s a city girl (which readers might have guessed from the tattoo on her half-clad belly). The animation and interactive elements are breathtaking, and Grivina’s wonderfully peculiar illustrations provide an enchanting plethora of interactive surprises. There are, however, a few confusing and/or disconcerting dimensions to this app. Some of the binary opposites are either odd (fluffy/thorny; noodly/watermelony) or less than optimal representations of polarity (brave/prudent; aquatic/terrestrial). On a few occasions the illustrations actively conflict with the text: The heavy giant is carried away by balloons, or the child is dressed like a grownup. Speaking of age difference, some parents may object to the fact that a grown man and a young girl are “good friends,” especially when they picnic in the wilderness alone and both relieve themselves within the same vicinity to demonstrate the difference between boys and girls. With a redefinition of relationships to remove the creepy undertones and revision of semantic mishaps, this app would warrant an A+. Here’s hoping Grivina will keep at it and get some help with the story next time. (iPad storybook app. 3-8)

|

kirkusreviews.com

I DON’T LIKE PINK

Jones, Brooks Illustrator: Jones, Brooks Developer: PicPocket Books $1.99 | April 25, 2011 Gabi is excited to receive a surprise present from her grandmother, but, once unwrapped, the gift box reveals

a pink T-shirt. (See title.) Akin to waving a red cape at a bull, the very pinkness of the T-shirt enrages Gabi, and she unleashes her ire on her unsuspecting friend, Ben. Fighting the stereotype that all girls like pink, Gabi details her hatred of pink and affinity for blue. Fortunately Ben is fast on his feet and swaps his blue T-shirt for the offending pink gift. The author, who has a soft twang, narrates at a moderate pace and attempts to infuse emotion into an otherwise flat dialogue, which is only slightly enhanced by vocal exclamation and varying type sizes and colors. A few animated elements, such as tissue paper flying from the gift box, notwithstanding, the iPad platform is not leveraged. Navigation is standard, with a simple finger swipe to turn pages; at the |

interactive e-books

|

1 september 2011

|

1511


“Miss the bear’s mouth, and he seems a bit dejected. Get it closer, and the bear chomps down.” from a bear ate all the brussels sprouts

story’s conclusion, however, there is no easy way to return to the title page—instead readers are subjected to advertising for other apps from the publisher. The text’s final pages feature several story-related questions that attempt to connect the text’s themes to the reader’s own experiences. In all, Gabi’s ferocity comes across as pretty limp. Pass. (iPad storybook app. 4-6)

to try to turn weeds into flowers. When an unusual seed blows in on a gust of wind, Witchemina desperately tries to grow it into a flower. Discovering that sunshine is the only thing that will help, Witchemina moves to a sunny field near the swamp and builds her dream home and garden. The graphics are solid, although the bursts of colorful magic contrast jarringly with the background. The author’s voiced narration only serves to enhance the overly sweet tone of the story. The writing is awkward, and the story is predictable and too good to be true. There are a few interactive “achievements” scattered on the pages for busy fingers, and puzzles are a nice addition (although there is no satisfying click or indicator when a piece is put into the right place). Clunky text and jarring effects in this cloying tale may have readers rooting for the weeds. (iPad storybook app. 5-9)

PRINCESS BABY

Katz, Karen Illustrator: Katz, Karen Developer: Random House Digital $1.99 | June 30, 2011 An interactive toddler book for those with a penchant for princesses, this offers something between a picture book and a play date (complete with naptime). On the home screen, readers can choose from four ethnically diverse princesses to “play with.” The chosen princess coaches readers through playtime, with lots of encouragement and giggling as they manipulate toys such as blocks, a ball, teddy bear with bottle and even a cat to pat. Speaking with a baby voice directly to viewers, she says things like, “You are fun to play with,” and asks the user to “touch my nose,” etc., responding appropriately each time. This direct interaction from the main character and the lack of printed text make it feel more like a game than a book. An introduction for the youngest, firsttime iPad users, this app features simple interactions designed to develop motor skills for the touch screen, offering gentle prompts when needed. Katz’s signature sweet, simple illustrations feature nearly perpetually beaming faces, and a constantly slipping crown adds a bit of personality. Whether parents are comfortable with the pervasive princess theme for girls is, well, in their court. (iPad storybook app. 2-5)

A BEAR ATE ALL THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS

Kriel, Charles Illustrator: Nesbitt, Harry Developer: Bite Studio Ltd $2.99 | July 4, 2011

A boy makes up fanciful tales about what happened to his unappetizing dinner items in this distinctly designed, playful app. When Timmy’s mother gives him a series of items to eat, including parsnip bake, radish tart and the titular Brussels sprouts, he invents a series of imaginary animals that come in and devour the food so he doesn’t have to. Told in rhyme (“A leopard ate my liver pie / Garnished with a tsetse fly. / Honest, Mom, I don’t know why / That leopard ate my liver pie!”) and illustrated by sleek, well-animated art, the story is one readers will relate to, given some of the items Timmy tries to pass off to his made-up menagerie. His mom, of course, catches on and tells him about the delicious desserts he’ll miss due to similar pseudo circumstances. The interactive elements of the app are even cleverer than they seem; on one of the first pages, Timmy (and readers) flicks Brussels sprouts into the mouth of a hungry bear. Miss the bear’s mouth, and he seems a bit dejected. Get it closer, and the bear chomps down. The illustrative style makes the app stand out from more cartoonish apps; Timmy’s indoor winter wear, the heavy wood and concrete surfaces and even the hairstyles suggest a Scandinavian setting. Older readers may begin to wonder, with all the talk of hungry animals and the unusual menu, if Timmy is being raised by former IKEA designers gone survivalist-rogue. The menus, navigation buttons (more blocks of wood in the shape of arrows) and the narration are all effective. But it’s the app’s distinctive art style and the playful, hungry animals that make it worth a look. (iPad storybook app. 2-6)

WITCHEMINA

Keeme, Allison Illustrator: Keeme, Allison Developer: My Black Dog Books $2.99 | July 2, 2011 A good little witch leaves her spooky family to find happiness in this saccharine

picture-book app. Gentle Witchemina lives with her four spooky sisters in a gloomy swamp populated with odd creatures and menacing bare trees. She “thinks differently, acts differently and has much different interests than her sisters,” including baking cookies, drawing portraits of her friends and using good magic 1512

|

1 september 2011

|

interactive e-books

|

kirkusreviews.com

|


FOUR LITTLE PIGS

young children with a sense of both surprise and accomplishment. The lack of instructions for the mini games means that parents will likely need to play along for the first round, even for independent readers. It’s little hardship, though, because the illustrations evoke an appealing classic storybook style. Lightweight narrative aside, from illustration and animation to sound effects and interactivity, this is a good bet for young children. (iPad storybook app. 3-7)

Nye, Kimara Illustrator: Bruchnalski, Marcin Developer: Maverick Arts Publishing Ltd $7.99 | June 14, 2011 After complaining that a common fairy tale is boring and predictable, Tom is “spelled” into the story by his witch-grandmother. Granny Mag is a witch--not the wart-covered, child-eating kind; she’s what Samantha Stephens of Bewitched fame might have been like as a senior citizen. When her grandson Tom balks at “The Three Little Pigs” as a bedtime story, Granny Mag picks up her wand, gives him a snout and casts a spell that drops him in to the story. Tom immediately sets out to warn the pigs of their impending doom, and each time the wolf shows up, Tom saves the day by outsmarting him. Interactive features are plentiful-a growling wolf, a melodic guitar, chuckling pigs, to name just a few--but when a touch accidentally becomes a minor swipe, it turns the page prematurely (annoying, but avoidable with practice). Bold colors and sharp illustrations make visual engagement easy, and characters are well drawn--both in a literary and an artistic sense. The wolf even elicits a little sympathy, as he’s clearly disoriented and frustrated by the fourth pig (Tom). There are auto-play and read-it-myself options, but an added bonus is that readers can opt for narration on a page-by-page basis. The app price ($7.99 at the time of review) may make you squeal, but still it’s a creative and charming alternative to standard swine fare. (iPad storybook app. 5-9)

MR. MARTIN AND THE BIRDS / EL SEÑOR MARTÍN Y LOS PÁJAROS Susti, Maroe Illustrator: Susti, Maroe $1.99 | June 28, 2011

An avian effort featuring concurrent English and Spanish versions of a story about a man and his feathered friends fails to take flight, despite some nice design touches. Mr. Martin, an old man who has befriended groups of birds at the park, is puzzled when a crow tries to tell him something. Mr. Martin can speak to sparrows, blue jays and robins, “[b]ut what of other birds? Like eagles, or swans? Cockatoos, or crows? Not a word of their squeaks could he interpret!” As it turns out, the crow warned of rain, a turn of events so inspiring, Mr. Martin resolves to go home and write about it for his grandkids. While its hand-drawn illustrations and modest bits of animation work well (mostly birds flying across the screen or engaging in small bits of word-balloon dialogue), the story is slight, and the translation is rough. In Spanish, Mr. Martin’s story is a lovely, rhythmic slice of life, but the English text, which also appears on each page, is riddled with unnecessary punctuation, at least one major misspelling (“though” instead of “thought”). There are no real options beyond page turns, and if there’s a way to get back to the main menu once the story begins, it’s very effectively hidden. It’s a shame, because the pages themselves are beautifully designed. The app ends with a page that lists the birds’ English and Spanish names, though none are mentioned that way in the story proper. The app itself is an odd bird that could use some updating, especially for the English version. (iPad storybook app. 5-8)

A DAY AT THE CIRCUS

Illustrator: Rosenqvist, Malin Developer: Wombi Apps $2.99 | June 14, 2011

An enjoyable app that’s light on story and heavy on interaction for toddlers and preschoolers; its showmanship would make even Bar-

num and Bailey proud. Simply put, this “big tent” experience is highly rewarding, with curious sound effects at every turn, whimsical illustrations and animation and a super-high level of interactivity. The circus has five different acts—snakes, lions, clowns, dogs and elephants—the “Information” guide says, and each act begins with a challenge to solve before moving on to the next. Once readers solve the challenge, a four-line verse appears along with touch-activated gateways to even more interactive games, puzzles and activities. Readers can juggle, help a clown stand on his head, solve a jigsaw puzzle while snoring lions begin to stir, draw a face on an audience member, roll a ball through a maze, feed the elephant and more—all by tilting the iPad left and right or swiping the object. Each game is simple and amusing, leaving |

kirkusreviews.com

HILDEGARD SINGS

Wharton, Thomas Illustrator: Wharton, Thomas Developer: One Hundred Robots $0.99 | June 23, 2011 A harmonious hippo gets her big break as an opera singer, but tragedy strikes when she loses her voice. Hildegard Rhineheffer desperately wants to become an opera star, but she |

interactive e-books

|

1 september 2011

|

1513


“Fans will love that Mr. Yankovic himself provides the optional narration and all sound effects (including all gorilla grunts and snail cheers), injecting just a bit of the ‘Weird’ that is missing from the print version back into the mix.” from when i grow up

can only dream about it while she’s paying her dues (she works as a singing waitress and an opera-chorus member). On the day of a very special performance, Hildegard is asked to step in as the lead, but when she loses her voice, a very unconventional “gift” brings restoration. This iPad adaptation of Wharton’s 1991 tree-book sports the original illustrations, but they’ve been cleverly enhanced to provide a highly interactive reading experience. Among other things, readers can raise the stage curtain, feed Hildegard and throw rotten tomatoes or flowers at her. There’s also some tilt-action and a host of other inventive “popup” features that are sure to entice little fingers. Music abounds, from the hum of a tuning orchestra to the soprano’s soaring high note. There are multiple ways to hop from page to page or from story to “extras” without losing your place in the book, and there’s even an epilogue that reveals what a diva Hildegard has become, complete with a rundown of her starring roles. A superb marriage of children’s literature and digital technology, Hildegard’s resurrected tale is an excellent way to introduce kids to the opera. Brava! (iPad storybook app. 3-8)

WHEN I GROW UP

Yankovic, Al Illustrator: Hargis, Wes Developer: Bean Creative Harper/HarperCollins $3.99 | June 14, 2011 Voiced in rhymed couplets with a conscious tip of the hat to Seuss and Silverstein, this adaptation of the recently published book adds even more elements to an already overstuffed story--with unexpectedly good results. The interactive features merge well with Hargis’ comedic illustrations and serve to create an opportunity for the reader to slow down and enjoy the silliness in 8-year-old Billy’s otherwise frenetic show-and-tell presentation. Games embedded in the app allow readers to try out some of his career choices, like snail trainer and gorilla masseuse. Tarantula shaving is by far the best of the three currently available games (two more are “coming soon”). Many of the interactions don’t work easily, and some technical fixes are a must. Kids can make Billy chase the spotlight around the room or tap Mrs. Krupp to make bugs fly out of her hair. They can even write their name on a paper fish, tape it to the wall and see it appear throughout the rest of the book. Fans will love that Mr. Yankovic himself provides the optional narration and all sound effects (including all gorilla grunts and snail cheers), injecting just a bit of the “Weird” that is missing from the print version back into the mix. (iPad storybook app. 4-8)

1514

|

1 september 2011

|

interactive e-books

|

kirkusreviews.com

|


fiction THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS 2011

LIVES OTHER THAN MY OWN

Bechdel, Alison Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (352 pp.) $25.00 | October 4, 2011 978-0-547-33362-5 Another annual cornucopia of graphic narrative (and comic strips). Whether comics were ever striving for cultural legitimacy, they are now struggling with it—even resisting it—though this year’s collection suggests that the range of subject, tone and technique continues to expand. Perhaps no other graphic memoirist has achieved greater acclaim than this year’s guest editor Bechdel (Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, 2006, etc.), who not only contributes an illustrated introduction (which comments on the imbalance of men over women among the artists, in this as well as previous years, and the absence of African-Americans), and shows a feminist perspective in both the sequencing and selection. Among the developments highlighted by the anthology are “webcomics” (a natural extension of the indie and self-publishing of comics, and the punk-rock, DIY spirit the form shares) and “metacomics” (which use comics to comment on the making and essence of comics). Highlights include Gabrielle Bell’s opening “Manifestation,” where she imagines critical acclaim and world renown for her adaptation of The S.C.U.M. Manifesto, by Valerie Solanas (who attempted to kill Andy Warhol), and “Pet Cat” by Joey Alison Sayers, who follows a strip through the publishing industry’s various permutations. While much of this work is at the cutting edge of contemporary culture, there is a historical perspective to some of the more ambitious pieces, as Joe Sacco’s excerpts from Footnotes in Gaza, the longest selection, explores the unreliability of human memory in recalling a mid’50s Mideast massacre by Israeli soldiers, while “Little House in the Big City,” by Sabrina Jones, frames a love letter to New York with the battle over urban renewal between Robert Moses and Jane Jacobs. The extended, wordless visual epiphany in “Winter” is stunning (adapted by artist Danica Novgorodoff from a Benjamin Percy short story and its screenplay). David Lasky shows the greatest range, with both the most formally complex selection (“Soixante Neuf ”) and the most elemental (the single-page closer, “The Ultimate Graphic Novel”). As always, Chris Ware’s inevitable selection is brilliant. The state of an art that has yet to reach stasis.

|

Carrère, Emmanuel Translator: Coverdale, Linda Metropolitan/Henry Holt (256 pp.) $26.00 | September 13, 2011 978-0-8050-9261-5 The latest from French writer/filmmaker Carrère (My Life as a Russian Novel, 2010, etc.) is an awkward but intermittently touching hybrid of novel and

autobiography. The book begins in Sri Lanka with the tsunami of 2004—a horror the author saw firsthand, and the aftermath of which he describes powerfully. Carrère and his partner, Hélène, then return to Paris—and do so with a mutual devotion that’s been renewed and deepened by all they’ve witnessed. Back in France, Hélène’s sister Juliette, a magistrate and mother of three small daughters, has suffered a recurrence of the cancer that crippled her in adolescence. After her death, Carrère decides to write an oblique tribute and an investigation into the ravages of grief. He focuses first on Juliette’s colleague and intimate friend Étienne, himself an amputee and survivor of childhood cancer, and a man in whose talkativeness and strength Carrère sees parallels to himself (“He liked to talk about himself. It’s my way, he said, of talking to and about others, and he remarked astutely that it was my way, too”). Étienne is a perceptive, dignified person and a loyal, loving friend, and Carrère’s portrait of him—including an unexpectedly fascinating foray into Étienne and Juliette’s chief professional accomplishment, which was to tap the new European courts for help in overturning longtime French precedents that advantaged credit-card companies over small borrowers—is impressive. Less successful is Carrère’s account of Juliette’s widower, Patrice, an unworldly cartoonist whom he admires for his fortitude but seems to consider something of a simpleton. Now and again, especially in the Étienne sections, Carrère’s meditations pay off in fresh, pungent insights, and his account of Juliette’s last days and of the aftermath (especially for her daughters) is quietly harrowing. When it’s about other people, this book often soars, but the somewhat self-satisfied autobiographical “I” keeps dragging it back down.

kirkusreviews.com

|

fiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1515


DEAR CREATURE

Case, Jonathan Tor (192 pp.) $15.99 paperback | October 1, 2011 978-0-7653-3111-3 paperback A mutant submariner pines for a surface girl trapped in a prison of her own making. There are a hell of a lot of weird things in the world of graphic novels, ranging from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy to, well, anything touched by Alan Moore. But every once in a while you get a beautiful anomaly like this black-and-white graphic novel by Portland-based artist and writer Case. A throwback and tribute to both The Bard and the monster movies of the 1960s, the book opens on a morosely giggly other-than-human creature, Grue, and his Greek chorus of crab friends. “It’s a damn shame you broke yer bauble, sure. But dead cheerleaders will always nourish better than dead playwrits! Agreed?” says the lead crab. It turns out that Grue, a mutant critter with a taste for human flesh (apparently you can lure frisky teens with a six-pack), has been reading the plays of Shakespeare, tossed into the sea in soda bottles. He has, henceforth, adopted iambic pentameter as his chosen idiom, and sets out in search of the source. In the world above, Grue finds Giulietta, an agoraphobe whom Grue presumes to free, before finding out about her plight. Much chaos ensues, including a hotblooded chase by the local police and the capture of Grue by those who would punish the sea monster for his sins. This is not your typical funny book, even compared to oddities like Fables or Sweet Tooth, but it is marvelously entertaining and a weird side-door entry into both Shakespeare and graphic literature. Be sure not to miss the coda, “An Invertebrate’s Guide to Iambic Pentameter,” in which our crabby hosts try to explain our hero’s lingo, via the selfexplanatory phrasing, “Ba-donk A-donk A-Donk A-donk A-donk!” A funny, bizarre, unexpected pleasure that gives a creature from the depths heart and soul as well as a happy ending.

ALEPH

Coelho, Paulo Knopf (288 pp.) $24.95 | September 27, 2011 978-0-307-70018-6 The latest spirituality-lite novel from Coelho (The Winner Stands Alone, 2009, etc.). The narrative focuses on a character named Paulo who has had a wildly successful novel (The Alchemist, 1993) and who is embarking on a book-signing binge on the Trans-Siberian railway, stopping at various spots from Moscow to Vladivostock. Paulo, it seems, is in the midst of a spiritual crisis, for life has lost its savor. His spiritual guru, cryptically named J., advises him to reconnect to his life by getting into the present moment, a mystic space called the Aleph. Paulo agrees, for after all he claims that, “To live is to 1516

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

experience things, not sit around pondering the meaning of life”—as though any good could come out of that sort of reflective activity. Paulo’s wife is all in favor of having him take this journey—or perhaps she’s interested merely in getting him out of the house for a while. Just before the journey begins, Paulo meets Hilal, a violinist who can bring him to tears with the beauty of her playing. She seems familiar to Paulo, however, and it turns out that he’s known her before—roughly 500 years before, when he had been a monk and she had come before the Inquisition for having had sexual relations with Satan. They’ve both been given another opportunity together in the present so Paulo can make amends, both to Hilal and to several other women he’d mistreated in cosmic time. While he finds himself sexually attracted to Hilal, he remains technically chaste—well, kind of, though it’s possible his wife might not see it that way. For readers who admire books filled with goofy yet endearing spiritual clichés such as, “Death is just a door into another dimension.” (First printing 150,000)

PRACTICAL JEAN

Cole, Trevor HarperCollins (304 pp.) $13.99 paperback | October 18, 2011 978-0-06-208250-3 paperback A mourning suburban daughter takes out her grief via murder. Canadian novelist Cole (The Fearsome Particles, 2006, etc.) generates a bleak satire in his third outing, which falls somewhere between Heathers and The Stepford Wives on the vicious meter. “Everything began when Jean Vale Horemarsh had to look after her mother, Marjorie, who was dying of a terrible cancer in one of the soft organs,” writes Cole in the clinical, eccentric style that characterizes the novel. It seems that the experience of looking after her dying mother has taught suburban potter Jean the true meaning of mercy, after a fashion. And oh how strange the woman’s head can get. She almost pathologically ignores the failings of her marriage to her milquetoast husband Milt, who turns out to be having an affair with a friend, in her quest to ensure that her friends never suffer the indignities of old age. For starters, Jean takes her slutty friend Dorothy out for a night of drinking, skinny-dipping and fooling around with the local lads, before chopping her head off with a dull shovel. No less bizarre is Jean’s lesbian liaison (“a little unexpected”) with a college chum, ending with a poison-inducing back rub. For all its gruesomeness, there are reasons behind Jean’s obsession, and the creepiest scenes are in fact outclassed by the book’s more disquieting pauses. Among these disturbances is a flashback to Jean’s childhood, during which she methodically drowns all of her stuffed animals in response to her mother’s euthanasia of a litter of puppies, and a quiet interlude at a park where Jean shuffles her friends’ names about on slips of paper, trying to elect her first victim based on her affections. A shudder-inducing satire that meditates more on the dysfunctions of the living than on the tragedies of the dead.

kirkusreviews.com

|


“Delaney keeps all of the incipient tragedy beautifully and heartbreakingly balanced through artful plotting and an unadorned but graceful prose style.” from broken irish

BROKEN IRISH

Delaney, Edward J. Turtle Point (400 pp.) $18.50 paperback | October 1, 2011 978-1-933527-50-5 paperback Broken Irish Americans from South Boston, that is—and there’s plenty of brokenness to go around at the turn of the 21st century. Delaney plots his narrative through parallel story lines, all of which elegantly converge at the end of the novel. Jimmy Gilbride has been an alcoholic for about 20 of his 32 years, and after untold binges—and a recent auto accident—he gets a job helping to ghostwrite the memoirs of Terrance Walsh Rafferty, an entrepreneur from Southie who made good and is now worth millions. Ironically, Jimmy has given up drinking (for the most part) so he can do this job, but it’s just the moment when all those years of abuse are beginning to disclose problems with his liver. We also learn of the unhappy life of Colleen Coogan and her estranged 13-year-old son Christopher, who drops out of school and wanders around town, most days ending up in the library where he can indulge his passion in reading about medieval legends. In the evenings Christopher shadows Jeanmarie, a 16-year-old who’s also left school to live with her egregious boyfriend Bobby, a loser who smuggles beer home to their squalid apartment from his job at the Liquor Mart. She has dreams of making it big as a model, dreams fed by slimy Marty, who takes pornographic pictures and encourages her to think he’s going to make her a star. Finally, we learn of Father John, a soon-to-retire whiskey priest of dubious morality whom Colleen hopes will serve as a spiritual adviser to help her with Christopher. It turns out Father John has his own family secrets to bear. Delaney keeps all of the incipient tragedy beautifully and heartbreakingly balanced through artful plotting and an unadorned but graceful prose style. (Agent: Ann Rittenberg)

NANJING REQUIEM

Ha Jin Pantheon (320 pp.) $25.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-307-37976-4

A historical novel with a timeless theme—the inhumanly human brutality of war and the attempt to sustain a life of compassion and grace in response to it. There’s a real person and a real atrocity at the heart of the latest fiction by the award-winning Ha Jin (A Free Life, 2007, etc.). The atrocity is the late 1930s occupation of China by Japan, a period during which, says the novel’s narrator, “[t]hey meant to destroy China’s potential for resistance and to terrify us into obedience.” Such terror took the form of rampant rape (in what has become |

notorious as “the rape of Nanking”) and indiscriminate murder. The novel’s real-life protagonist, whose diaries and correspondence served as source material, is Minnie Vautrin, an American missionary who turned the women’s college where she was dean into a refuge for some 10,000 Chinese women and children. Her story is told through the eyes and voice of Anling Gao, Vautrin’s assistant who serves as her “unofficial proxy” as a Chinese-speaking citizen. In the novel’s early stages, the narrative strategy seems limiting, for Anling is neither particularly eloquent nor psychologically astute. She tells what she sees, and she has a good eye for detail, but shows no deep insight into the qualities that elevate Vautrin into sainthood among so many of those she saved, or to Vautrin’s resistance to such lofty regard. “I hate to see them confuse humanity with divinity,” the narrator quotes the protagonist. “It’s not right to be called a goddess while I’m doing mission work.” Yet the novelist’s subtle mastery enriches the work, as Angling shifts from the role of witness to an integral position in the plot, and the complexities of relations among Americans, Chinese, Japanese (and eventually Germans, Russians and others) continue to multiply. Ultimately, Vautrin’s resistance to her deification proves well warranted, though the novel presents her as an indelible figure worthy of its celebration. A matter-of-fact, plainspoken narrative that has a profound impact.

THE FORGOTTEN WALTZ

Enright, Anne Norton (288 pp.) $25.95 | October 3, 2011 978-0-393-07255-6 An adulterous love affair and Ireland’s financial collapse overlap in the consistently impressive latest from the Man Booker Prize winner. Real estate, materialism and family ties form the background to the story of an intense physical liaison between Gina Moynihan and Sean Vallely, narrated by Gina in a voice simultaneously smart and cynical, wry and all too conscious of the impact of their actions. With exquisite perception, Enright (Yesterday’s Weather, 2008, etc.) lifts a conventional story of infidelity into a larger study of connection, catastrophe and anguish, leavened by dark humor. What begins as a casual, clandestine sequence of encounters in hotel rooms between two married individuals slowly gathers momentum and, as her mother dies and the property market implodes, Gina’s drift away from the husband she has loved becomes complete. The lovers end up living in Gina’s mother’s old home, previously valued at “two and a bit” but now worth nothing as no one will buy. Not so much a love story, more a consideration of female bonds and choices—men, work, children—and the unruly depths of human emotions, Enright’s book once again brings melancholy lyricism to a domestic scenario and lifts it into another dimension.

kirkusreviews.com

|

fiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1517


RIVER OF SMOKE

In rueful, witty, unpredictable and compassionate prose, Enright gives expression to subtle, affecting shades of human interaction. (Author tour to New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Boston, Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego. Agent: Gill Coleridge)

NIGHTWOODS

Frazier, Charles Random (272 pp.) $26.00 | October 4, 2011 978-1-4000-6709-1 A Southern gothic narrative that’s strong on characters and backwoods atmosphere but undermined by literary affectation. Though the third novel by Frazier (Thirteen Moons, 2006, etc.) makes occasional reference to Thunder Road, it could inspire a movie as gripping as another with Robert Mitchum, The Night of the Hunter, which also finds two small children fleeing from a dangerous man with a murky past. In this novel, set a half-century ago, the children are orphaned by the murder of their mother and are sent to live with her sister, once the beauty of a small Southern town, now squatting on the grounds of an abandoned lodge at the edge of the mountains. The man in pursuit of the children is Bud, their stepfather and likely their mother’s murderer, though he was acquitted of the crime. He knows that the children saw something and might have something he wants, maybe a lot of money. But they don’t talk. Or won’t talk. Or can’t talk. They’re almost feral (and certainly pyromaniacs) as well as mute, discovers Luce, their aunt and now their caretaker, who “didn’t even really like the children, much less love them. But she loved Lily [her murdered sister] and would raise the children and not be trash.” While generally staying within the minds of the characters, the prose occasionally takes literary flight to jarring effect: “Lifeless as these woods are now, all the blood must flow in summertime, whereas Jesus’s blood covers the world every day of the year.” Or, in Luce’s impressions of a sunset: “Expressed as art, the colors would lay on canvas entirely unnatural and sentimental, and yet they were a genuine manifestation of place many evenings in fall.” Frazier’s characters aren’t as likely to think like that as the novelist is. When he tempers his tendency toward filigree and lets his bare-boned, hard-boiled plot progress, the novel packs a devastating punch. Where his debut (Cold Mountain, 1997) won the literary lottery as an award-winning popular blockbuster, this suggests that Frazier is more than a one-hit wonder.

1518

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

Ghosh, Amitav Farrar, Straus and Giroux (528 pp.) $28.00 | October 5, 2011 978-0-374-17423-1 Ghosh sets the second volume of his Ibis trilogy in 1838, appropriately enough, because at heart he’s a 19th-century novelist with a sweeping vision of character and culture. At the center of the novel is Bahram Modi, whose humble origins in India belie his current status as a shipper of opium. But Ghosh threads multiple plots through his narrative, most of them having to do with the consequences of a severe storm in the Indian Ocean. Not only does this storm disrupt Bahram’s shipment of opium on the Anahita, it also threatens the Ibis, a ship whose “cargo” includes indentured servants, criminals, a French orphan (who later helps horticulturist Fitcher Penrose identify exotic plants in China) and a pair of lovers, Deeti and Kalua. When we’re not at sea trying to survive this monstrous storm, Ghosh takes us to Canton, China, the center of commerce, intrigue and corruption. Every character is on a quest for something: a valuable plant, a romance or a fortune. As with Dickens, Ghosh gives us an anatomy of the social world from the highest levels to the lowest, from the emperor of China to the river rats haunting the harbor of Canton, and his amazing ear finds a language—from pidgin English to Cornish dialect—appropriate for each character. Along the way we meet businessmen such as Bahram, whose judgment is perhaps clouded by a surfeit of opium. Ghosh triumphs both through the clarity of his style and the sweep of his vision, and he leaves the reader eager for volume three.

THE LADY OF THE RIVERS

Gregory, Philippa Touchstone/Simon & Schuster (448 pp.) $27.99 | October 11, 2011 978-1-4165-6370-9 A duchess endowed with second sight is caught up in the War of the Roses, in another installment of Gregory’s Cousins’ War series (The Red Queen, 2010). The story opens as Jacquetta, a young princess of Luxembourg, befriends Joan of Arc. Jacquetta’s great aunt, the powerful Demoiselle, takes Joan into her household while the French and English decide the fate of the warrior maid. Near death, the Demoiselle informs Jacquetta that she is a true heiress to the powers conferred on certain women of her family by their ancestor, the water goddess Melusina. Teenage Jacquetta is noticed by the English regent of France, the Duke of Bedford, who demands her hand in marriage. Horrified at first (Bedford engineers the execution of Joan as a witch), Jacquetta soon learns that, rather than consummate

kirkusreviews.com

|


their marriage, Bedford wants to employ her occult talents and her virginity in his quest for the Philosopher’s Stone. Bedford’s squire, Richard Woodville, worships the new Duchess from afar. After Bedford dies, Jacquetta risks her status as Dowager Duchess and heiress to a great fortune to marry Richard, her less-thanblue-blooded true love. The two attempt to retire to an English country house but are soon summoned to attend to Lancastrian King Henry VI and his volatile Queen, Margaret of Anjou. Richard is made a baron and given command of the English garrison at Calais. As two factions of English nobility, the Lancasters and Yorks, vie for control of the unstable realm, hard-won English territories in France are lost, further undermining Henry’s sway. Then Henry lapses into a catatonic state, during which Margaret needs Jacquetta’s help to keep the Yorks at bay. However, Jacquetta, who despite Richard’s frequent absences has birthed at least 11 children (readers will lose count), resists exploiting gifts that some may see as witchcraft. Although the complexity of the historical and political events threatens to overwhelm Jacquetta’s story, the suspenseful pace never flags, although it’s clear that Jacquetta has allied herself—at least for now—with the losing side.

PUSHCART PRIZE XXXVI Best of the Small Presses

Editor: Henderson, Bill Editor: Pushcart Prize editors Pushcart (600 pp.) $16.95 paperback | $35.00 November 15, 2011 978-1-888889-63-5 paperback 978-1-888889-64-2

The annual Pushcart Prize anthology hits three dozen with characteristic heft and customary good taste. Volume editor Henderson’s introductory essays have always been part of the charm of his annuals, prizeworthy in their own right, and this one is no exception: In the space of a few pages, he dedicates the enterprise to Reynolds Price, a founding editor and master of contemporary literature, contemplates E.F. Schumacher’s “small is beautiful” ethic as it applies to the small-press world, snarks against e-books and reckons, quoting his poetry editor, that the business of being a Pushcart judge is “an impossible job.” Granted, but the impossibility yields some very good work in this case. A standout on the poetry front is Douglas Goetsch’s odd lyric “Black People Can’t Swim,” its controversy-begging title unfolding a complex tale of ethnic relations in a supposedly post-racial America. Meanwhile, stalwart Paul Zimmer, writing in the Gettysburg Review (which, small-press literature being an incestuous enterprise, Goetsch edits), turns in a lively short story, “Brief Lives,” that becomes a bittersweet meditation on how age divides us, with anyone old enough to remember C.P. Snow’s two-cultures division suspect in this brave new world. Never mind that Zimmer’s contentious cuss remembers Snow’s thesis as “a good shtick for a while and he cleaned up with some best sellers.” Whether there are any bestsellers here remains to be seen, but a few trends can |

be spotted, including a growing obsession, it would seem, with food: “Today, for no good reason, I ate two slices of toasted cinnamon/raisin bread at 9:30 a.m., a mere two hours since breakfast.” “We waited for the meal to be cooked when we had food, but when we didn’t, we waited for the trucks to bring food.” If these concerns seem Carveresque, see editor Gerry Howard’s fine disquisition on how privileged MFA students ape the working class when not despising it, then turn to Anis Shivani’s essay “The MFA/Creative Writing System Is a Closed, Undemocratic Medieval Guild That Represses Good Writing,” whose title says it all—and then ponder how many of these contributors participate in that system. As ever, there are a few misfires and humdrummeries, but the Pushcart anthology remains essential for players in the writing game.

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY

Jacobson, Howard Bloomsbury (272 pp.) $16.00 paperback October 1, 2011 978-1-60819-687-6 paperback

Man Booker Prize winner Jacobson (The Finkler Question, 2010, etc.) delivers a cross-the-pond rejoinder to Philip Roth in this entertaining, sexually laden picaresque. Frank Ritz, 50, gets paid for sitting around all day and watching television—literally. A prizewinning critic, he is surrounded by top-drawer media-consumer technology, his study a vision of “winking red and green lights…digitized allknowingness, like the cabin of a jumbo jet.” The trouble is, his wife is firmly committed to the homespun life—anything to oppose Frank, it seems. Melissa writes what he calls “feministical-erotic novels” longhand; when she’s not doing so, she snipes at him for his choice of profession, even though, Frank fumes, “without his watching that crap all day she couldn’t afford the luxury of writing a hundred words a month.” Frank finds himself thrust outside the door, shed of his cocoon. And what’s a poor boy to do without his TV? Why, start chasing women of every description. “What a mystery girls were,” Frank ponders. “You just never knew what you were going to find. No wonder there were some men who never stopped.” Frank is relentless in his non-stopping, embarking on a sexual odyssey to do Molly Bloom proud, even as Jacobson fills in the background with sad and sordid tales of early misadventures with Scandinavian exchange students and flower children. The arrangements get a little complex at times, including one particularly odd and acrobatic threesome toward the end of the tale, eventually leading Frank more or less full circle. Will he find happiness? We can never quite be sure, but Frank is exuberant in his midlife freedom. Jacobson’s writing perfectly matches that mood, exemplified by a long passage, the literary equivalent of a filmic single-tracking shot, describing a walk along Oxford Street, “eyeballing policemen, postmen, traffic

kirkusreviews.com

|

fiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1519


“Where so much experimental fiction seems pessimistic or even cynical about its possibilities, this novel sustains a spirit of innocence and wonder.” from luminous airplanes

LUMINOUS AIRPLANES

wardens, bus drivers, cab drivers, van drivers, street-sweepers,” and on and on, embracing the whole of humanity. A lovely, lively novel for all its sometimes bitter view of the war between the sexes; impeccably written, and without a false note. (Reading group guide online)

NORTHWEST ANGLE

Krueger, William Kent Atria Books (368 pp.) $24.99 | August 30, 2011 978-1-4391-5395-6

The Minnesota lake is lovely and tranquil, the houseboat commodious and comfortable, the family pleasant, but then Cork O’Connor (Vermillion Drift, 2010, etc.) discovers just how deep and deadly still waters can run. A pleasing family vacation in a remote, almost idyllic spot comes to an end when the derecho hits. The derecho, a hurricane on steroids, separates Cork and his daughter Jenny from the rest of the O’Connors, almost kills them and lands them on a seemingly deserted island, and smack in the middle of a blood-soaked mystery. In an old, abandoned trappers’ cabin they find a girl, a teenager, murdered. They also find her baby very much alive—howling and hungry. Cork asks the obvious questions—who, how and why?—but Jenny’s response is markedly different. She’s drawn to the now motherless little boy, a reaction so intense that it startles even her. She will serve and protect the child from all threats and dangers, no matter what forms they take. They arrive, soon enough, in the form of a gunman, stalking them. Is he the murderer returning to the scene of his crime? Is he trying to rid the world of all possible witnesses? Or—to Jenny the thought could hardly be more terrifying— does he want the baby? But first things first. Cork, weaponless, must now invent a strategy for coping with an armed predator who makes no secret of his unequivocal enmity, and then— Cork being Cork—he must find his way back to who, how and why, though he senses almost from the outset that the answers will have unintended, unwelcome consequences. Dependable Krueger has another all-out go at good versus evil, but in this, the 12th of his much-respected series, the straight-arrow, exemplary O’Connors might strike readers as a shade too exemplary. (Agent: Danielle Egan-Miller)

LaFarge, Paul Farrar, Straus and Giroux (256 pp.) $25.00 | October 4, 2011 978-0-374-19431-4

An open-ended, postmodern fable that somehow delivers the satisfaction of the novelistic conventions it subverts. For a narrative that defies the usual notions of plausibility, cause and effect, beginning and end—and leaves readers wondering what the title might have to do with the plot until the conclusion (or lack thereof)—the latest from LaFarge (The Artist of the Missing, 1999, etc.) is a page-turning pleasure. Here is what the novel is “about”: The narrator is a San Francisco computer programmer in his 30s, who refers to twin sisters (named Marie Celeste and Celeste Marie) as his mothers, who never knew his late father but must reconcile conflicting stories about him, and who travels to upstate New York following the death of his grandfather to sort through the estate. While there, he becomes reunited with a Turkish brother and sister whose neighboring ski lodge sparked a family feud, and he resumes his infatuation with the sister. He describes her as like “a fictional character or really like several fictional characters, none of whom could know anything about the others.” Before embracing the future of computers, the narrator was a graduate student in history, specializing in an apocalyptic sect from the mid 19th century, leaving Stanford without finishing his doctoral dissertation because he’d lost faith in history’s meaning or purpose. As one of his mothers tells him, “It was the kind of story you wouldn’t understand until it was finished, which was, she said, true of all stories.” Yet by the time readers reaches the point where the narrator is composing this narrative—a past that is very much present—the book has achieved a momentum that extends beyond its conclusion (and continues at luminousairplanes.com, which refers to the text as a “hyperromance”). Where so much experimental fiction seems pessimistic or even cynical about its possibilities, this novel sustains a spirit of innocence and wonder.

BLACK LIGHT

Melton, Patrick Dunstan, Marcus Romano, Stephen Mulholland Books/Little, Brown (336 pp.) $25.99 | October 5, 2011 978-0-316-19671-0 Buck Carlsbad is a private investigator, a medium and an exorcist. Romano joins Melton and Dunstan, creators of the Saw film franchise, to pen a fantasy crime, or crime as fantasy, novel. The book opens with Buck exorcising

1520

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

kirkusreviews.com

|


the ghost of a child murderer haunting the New Orleans residence of his widow. The authors offer bits of Buck’s back story as he cruises home to Texas. As a child, Buck was abandoned in Carlsbad, N.M., and sent to an orphanage. As a teen, his gift becomes evident when he sees a ghost plaguing an attendant. The Pull draws that evil woman into Buck, and he experiences the Black Light—“the vision of the dead”—before ridding himself of the tortured soul by vomiting her evil plasma onto her gravesite. Home from his New Orleans Pull, Buck is enlisted by industrialist Sidney Jaeger. The billionaire has built a highspeed bullet train to run from Los Angeles to Las Vegas. It will travel at 400-mph-plus across the California desert through an area triangulated by former sites of three maximum-security prisons, grounds where uncounted evil ghosts lurk. Carrying a crowd of celebrities and one very important politician, the super train breaks records rocketing from L.A. to Vegas while Buck rides along battling rogue government agents, backstabbing friends and the evil shades of “Blackjack Nine,” whose leader killed Buck’s parents. The authors are fond of overwrought descriptive language—“bringing the spirit in with a gutterspewing thunder that feels like a toilet flush tremor bolting to the core of the Earth”—random clichés and capitalletter bold statements as they unpack the action and dish out eye-gouging marital-arts battles, dislocated pinkies, shootouts and gut-retching exorcisms. Buck on the screen will require major CGI skills. Not for Potter or Twilight fans. It’s Ghostbusters with bloody mayhem on steroids, few laughs and a dash of Bruce Lee theatrics.

TRACKERS

Meyer, Deon Atlantic Monthly (480 pp.) $24.00 | September 1, 2011 978-0-8021-1993-3 Oh, what a tangled web those rhinos weave: South African mystery maven Meyers returns with a complex tale of intrigue and mayhem most satisfying. Lemmer, the taciturn Afrikaner bodyguard whom we last saw in Blood Safari (2009), has a cardinal rule: Don’t get mixed up in things. He might have known better, then, when he allows himself to get caught up in a snarled plot to smuggle black rhinos out of Zimbabwe, where they will be slaughtered so that their horns can go to make human-male-enhancing products for the Asian market. It’s a noble enterprise, but as Lemmer well knows, no good deed goes unpunished, and no sooner does the operation embark than do things begin to unravel. Meanwhile, back in South Africa, a 40-something woman named Milla Strachan discovers, finally, that her husband is a right bastard, a “covert racist, bemoaning his lot in front of his son: ‘Now we have to come home to a bloody black.’ ” The bloody black in question would be the maid who now tends to husband and offspring, since Milla has had enough of their abuse and has found a new |

home—and, more important, a new job working as an analyst for a shadowy government organization. Shift the focus a touch, and players in a cat-and-mouse game of terrorism and counterterrorism enter into the picture: al-Qaeda operatives on one hand, bureaucrats fearful of being made redundant in a downsizing of the post-apartheid security forces on the other. Meyer’s carefully plotted narrative is multilayered and rich in detail, and it’s to his credit that he is able to pull these separate, seemingly unrelated threads into an a-ha conclusion. In the end, it’s about smuggling, killing, and other crimes, but also about the quotidian sins of racism, fear, aloofness, self-interest and mistreatment of others—in short, the ordinary human failings as well as their spectacular transgressions. A first-rate thriller; a touch slow to get going, but hard to apply the brakes to once it gets rolling. (Author tour to New York, St. Louis, Houston, Phoenix. Agent: Richard Pine)

GHOST LIGHTS

Millet, Lydia Norton (256 pp.) $24.95 | October 15, 2011 978-0-393-08171-8 Millet’s latest opens with T (How the Dead Dream, 2009, etc.) gone missing on the Monkey River. Thomas Stern, who prefers to be called T, was in Belize on business. Now he’s been out of touch for weeks. Susan, dedicated assistant to the young mogul, is worried, as is Casey, her paraplegic daughter. Hal Lindley, husband and father, cares little. Hal thinks mostly about Casey’s happiness, at least when he isn’t plagued by angst over the accident that paralyzed her. Drifting and remote, Hal considers himself as “comfortable in the background.” He’s soon launched out of his ennui when he discovers shaky evidence Susan is having an affair with Robert, her office’s paralegal. As Hal fumbles for proof, Susan decides to hire an investigator to find T. Hal volunteers, suggesting his profession as an IRS agent provides the experience to trace a person’s whereabouts. Susan is shocked and confused. Casey, platonically devoted to T, thinks her father heroic. In Belize, Hal languishes, missing the “the security of known formulations and structures.” Fleeing the circumstances of his cuckolding, Hal isn’t especially eager to find T. Then he meets a vacationing German couple, Hans and Gretel, who push him into action. Hans, in fact, has military contacts and uses them to arrange a Coast Guard search party. Millet is a gifted writer, often dropping droll and sardonic throw-away lines of surprisingly insightful humor. The narrative moves smartly, and the dialogue is believable, as is Hal’s existential internal monologue. Flailing about attempting to find T, Hal becomes a sympathetic protagonist. While Susan is not deeply imagined, Millet’s narrative of Hal breaking free of an emotional cage is strikingly well done. Millet also deserves recognition for her perceptive treatment of Casey’s disability and how it resonates in the family and in the world. Literary fiction with a deep vein of wry social commentary.

kirkusreviews.com

|

fiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1521


THE REVISIONISTS

Mullen, Thomas Mulholland Books/Little, Brown (448 pp.) $25.99 | September 28, 2011 978-0-316-17672-9 Mullen (The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers, 2010, etc.) ventures into espionage for his creaky, overly ambitious third novel. You might think Zed is a light-skinned black guy. In fact he’s from a future world in which race, ethnicity and the attendant conflicts have been eliminated. He’s time-traveled back to our post-9/11 world to blend in with the “contemps” and execute his mission. Zed’s job is to stop other time travelers (“hags,” or historical agitators) from revising history. He will protect the Events that lead to the terrible but inevitable Great Conflagration. This is all very portentous, but you don’t have to take it seriously. Eventually Mullen tires of straddling two worlds, the hags fade away and he focuses more on the contemps and a very conventional tale of corporate machinations. The opening finds Zed in Washington, at a parking lot near the Potomac. He takes out two hags who are trying to prevent the abduction of an investigative reporter. From here on the story takes baby steps. The reporter’s disappearance will not surface in the media until the halfway point, and the identity of his abductors will only be revealed at the end. Besides Zed, Mullen introduces three other protagonists. Leo, ex CIA, is a spy with a conscience, tracking WikiLeakstype subversives for a shadowy corporate outfit. Tasha is a corporate lawyer determined to ferret out the circumstances of her brother’s death in combat overseas. And Sari is a virtual slave, an Indonesian maid for a Korean diplomat and his abusive wife. The four will bump up against each other. Along the way there will be misunderstandings, tailings and more abductions. Mullen’s novel has attracted, magnet-like, all the clichés of the genre.

CITY OF WHISPERS

Muller, Marcia Grand Central Publishing (288 pp.) $25.99 | October 26, 2011 978-0-446-57333-7 Sharon McCone’s 29th case is a search for her half brother. McCone, who has two dysfunctional families to deal with—three if you count the father she recently located—receives an e-mail asking for help from her half brother Darcy Blackhawk, a druggie and petty thief who’s been in and out of trouble all his life. To soothe Saskia, their birth mother, McCone asks her private-investigation agency’s techno-nerd Mick Savage to troll San Francisco Internet cafes and see whether Darcy can be found. The trail focuses on a 1522

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

remark Darcy made about Gaby and a coral tree in a cemetery. Gaby, it turns out, has been dead two years, possibly a suicide but more probably a murder victim. Someone who’s stashed Darcy away keeps sticking hyper-drug doses in his arms when he can’t tell where some secret tapes have gone. McCone and Mick, hot on the trail, locate Gaby’s legal guardian, now in sole charge of her inherited millions. They also identify The Four Musketeers, a group Gaby was involved with while doing volunteer work at a shelter, and learn that, slowly but surely, the quartet is being killed off. Mick will be attacked, McCone will be shot at and Hy Ripinsky, McCone’s husband, will thwart a ransom demand before Darcy is once more settled in a comfy psych ward for detoxing. A glib but neatly plotted adventure from an author whose heroine has almost as many relatives (Coming Back, 2010, etc.) as fans.

MR. FOX

Oyeyemi, Helen Riverhead (336 pp.) $25.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-59448-807-8 Postmodernist, meta-fictional riffs on classic tales, especially fairy tales, in which women die violently in the name of love, from Nigerian/British wunderkind Oyeyemi (The Icarus Girl, 2005, etc.). The Mr. Fox of the title (and there are plenty of other Mr. Foxes here) is a novelist who kills off his heroines. He is living in 1930s New York with his younger wife Daphne, whom he tends to neglect while creating his fiction—a neglect akin to adultery since he is visited with increasing frequency by his imaginary but alluring muse Mary. Mary is dissatisfied with Mr. Fox’s treatment of women and challenges him, very vaguely, to a contest. Soon stories are appearing—it is never quite clear whether composed by Mr. Fox or by Mary—in which the roles of Lover/ Murderer and Beloved/Victim go through a host of variations which bring to mind bits and pieces (as in body parts, pun intended) of various classic tales of misogyny. The serial killer Bluebeard casts a long shadow, as do the Grimm Brothers’ sorcerer Fitcher and the French fox Reynardine, as well as less familiar characters from Yoruba folktales. In the first, simplest story, a man chops off his wife’s head, thinking he can reattach it; he does but with problematic results. In more complex stories, women named Mary and men named Fox sometimes love each other but often commit gruesome acts of violence, physical and emotional. In the story “The Training At Madame de Silentio’s,” roles are somewhat reversed as young boys are schooled to become perfect husbands. Mingled among the titled stories are snatches of the growing marital crisis between Mr. Fox and Daphne, who is understandably jealous of Mr. Fox’s devotion to his muse. The language is crystalline and the images startling, but forget any resemblance to linear logic in what is

kirkusreviews.com

|


“A brisk, stylish supernatural thriller.” from the dark glamour

THE DARK GLAMOUR

ultimately a treatise on love (with a clever borrowing from Cappelanus’ 12th century The Art of Courtly Love), on male subjugation of women and on the creative experience.

SCENES FROM VILLAGE LIFE

Oz, Amos Translator: de Lange, Nicholas Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (192 pp.) $22.00 | October 20, 2011 978-0-547-48336-8 Mysteries bedevil the inhabitants of an Israeli village in this slim story collection, the 14th work of fiction from the renowned Israeli (Rhyming Life and Death,

2009, etc.). The village of Tel Ilan was founded by farmers at the start of the 20th century. A century later, the village is gentrifying as wealthy outsiders discover its charms. That’s a problem, but the locals are wrestling with less obvious disturbances. In the longest story (“Digging”), an 86-year-old man, a former Knesset member and unpleasant misanthrope, is being cared for by his middle-aged daughter; their handyman, an Arab university student, also lives on the property. The old man complains of mysterious digging sounds under the house at night. Imaginings. But then the Arab hears them, and finally so does the daughter. Whether a metaphor for an unhappy house or something else, the puzzle fails to intrigue. Yossi Sasson, the realtor in “Lost,” is troubled by the feeling he must do something, but exactly what he doesn’t know. If his unease is existential, how to explain his sighting of an Alpine hiker in the middle of town? The popular mayor, Benny Avni, is looking for his wife after receiving a cryptic message from her (“Waiting”). Like Yossi, he must make a decision; if only he knew about what. A third character troubled by an undefined mission is the unnamed narrator of “Singing.” He’s a guest at a communal singing event, a successful evocation of village life by Oz. The hosts are a couple whose only child committed suicide. That memory triggers the narrator’s own “despair”; but despair over what? He’s a mystery man. There are yet more unresolved mysteries in “Heirs” and “Relations.” In the former, a man living with his ancient mother is visited by a predatory lawyer claiming kinship. But why does the bedridden old woman fondle this obnoxious intruder? In “Relations,” a doctor is disturbed by the non-appearance of her beloved, absent-minded nephew. All the dead ends make for an unsatisfying collection.

Pierce, Gabriella Morrow/HarperCollins (304 pp.) $13.99 paperback | September 1, 2011 978-0-06-1434907 paperback In this follow-up to series opener 666 Park Avenue (2011), Pierce’s heroine is still puzzling over whether her Park Avenue playboy husband is in league with the devil. Fledgling witch Jane Doran, née Boyle, hiding from her evil mother-in-law Lynne in a Manhattan fleabag, thinks there’s a chance Malcolm Doran, whom she married in Book One, might be a good person. Although in all likelihood he murdered her grandmother, Malcolm has left Jane with the key to a safe-deposit box chock-full of cash, not to mention access to a bank account that replenishes whatever she withdraws. (The box also contains a glass unicorn, a memento of Annette, Malcolm’s sister, who drowned at age six.) Jane moves into much nicer digs west of Washington Square and invites Dee, a Wiccan pastry chef who’s also on the lam from Lynne, to room with her. Jane’s only hope of calling off Lynne’s vengeful dogs is to find Annette, Malcolm’s sister, who is the true heiress to Lynne’s witchly dynasty. In 666, Lynne plotted the disastrous marriage of Malcolm and Jane in hopes of producing a descendant to replace Annette. However, since Malcolm has now disappeared, the prospect of progeny seems unlikely, and Jane isn’t so sure she wants to continue the marriage in any case. Using the unicorn as a trigger, Jane inhabits Annette’s mind long enough to learn that Annette is indeed alive, but living in squalor. The vision dissipates when the unicorn shatters, and now Jane’s mission is to once again gain access to Lynne’s opulent Park Avenue lair to find more Annette memorabilia. The only way to avoid detection by Lynne is to cast a spell, courtesy of Jane’s Wiccan trainers, which transforms blond Jane into sultry brunette Ella, a Brazilian baroness, for one month. Complications ensue when André Dalcascu and his sister, scions of a Romanian witch clan, seek an alliance with the Dorans. Ella’s attraction to André is as immediate as it is counterproductive. A brisk, stylish supernatural thriller.

THE TRAIN OF SMALL MERCIES

Rowell, David Putnam (272 pp.) $24.95 | October 13, 2011 978-0-399-15728-8 Washington Post editor Rowell locates his journalistic first novel at the intersection between private lives and national events, in this case Robert Kennedy’s death. As the train carries Kennedy’s body from New York to D.C., Rowell cuts in and out among a cross section of Americans who live along the route, or in one case are

|

kirkusreviews.com

|

fiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1523


k i r ku s q & a w i t h t om p e r r o t ta THE LEFTOVERS

Tom Perrotta St. Martin’s (368 pp.) $25.99 Aug. 30, 2011 978-0312358341

Tom Perrot ta has expanded his audience through film adaptations of his novels (Little Children, Election), but The Leftovers, the novel that Kirkus called “his most ambitious book to date,” merits a popular breakthrough before it inspires a movie. As he’s done before, Perrotta treats his characters with empathy, illuminating the human dimension of issues that often prove polarizing. Here, he focuses on those left behind by “the Rapture” after the predicted ascension comes true and leaves big holes in the characters’ lives as they struggle to deal with the ineffable. Q: How would you compare this novel to Little Children and The Abstinence Teacher? A: The Leftovers shares some similarities with my two previous books—the suburban setting will certainly be familiar—but it felt to me like a big departure. Partly, this a function of genre—the book is both dystopian and mildly futuristic—and partly a function of the Rapture-like event at the heart of the story. Basically, every character in the book is traumatized to one degree or another; the town of Mapleton is suffering from an epidemic of grief and uncertainty. At the same time, once readers get over the initial shock of the premise, I think they’ll find themselves in surprisingly familiar fictional territory—a down-to-earth story about parents and children, broken marriages and fragile romances. This isn’t a post-apocalyptic novel in which the civilized world has been destroyed. The physical world is essentially unchanged. Only the psychology of the characters has been altered.

of not knowing. To me, that’s the essential human condition—we don’t know why we’re here, and we don’t know where we’re going. One of the functions of religion in general, and End Times theology in particular, is to insist that it all will make sense someday—Jesus will return, the faithful will be lavishly rewarded, the unbelievers eternally punished, etc. But in The Leftovers, even the apocalypse doesn’t clear things up. Q: Why do you think the whole idea of the Rapture resonates so strongly within contemporary culture. A: I can’t speak for the culture as a whole, but my own fascination with the subject is both personal and political. On the personal front, I think there’s a natural tendency to think about mortality as we get older and to egotistically conflate the end of one’s life with the end of the world. Also, the Rapture feels like a great metaphor for getting older and thinking about all the people who are no longer with us. They were there and now they’re gone. It’s possible to think of life as a slowmotion Rapture. On the political side, I think there’s been a definite turn toward the apocalyptic in American culture. There’s a sense that we can no longer see our future— will America as we know it exist 50 years down the road? Or will we collapse under the weight of debt and demographics and global warming or whatever? Of course, even the most superficial study of the subject will reveal that people have been predicting the end of the world since the beginning of history. But someday someone’s going to be right, right?

Q: The very first paragraph of this novel describes a central character who “hadn’t been raised to believe in much of anything, except the foolishness of belief itself.” What role does faith play in the novel?

Q: Some predicted that the world would end on May 21. Did you breathe a sigh of relief that you would still have a readership when it didn’t? A: Even if the Rapture had occurred on May 21, I suspect that a good portion of my readership would have been left behind.

Q: Why did you decide to offer no explanation for what had happened and focus solely on those left behind? A: The main reason I didn’t explain the cause of the Sudden Departure is that the book is about the experience 1524

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

kirkusreviews.com

–By Don McLeese |

P HOTO BY MA RC OS TOW

A: Laurie, the character who was raised to be skeptical of religion, ends up leaving her family to join a Rapture cult called the Guilty Remnant, a group of fanatics who dress in white, chain smoke and take a vow of silence. Her embrace of the cult is rooted in her sense of bottomless loss—the daughter of her best friend disappeared in the event known as the Sudden Departure, and she simply can’t get over the shock. To the extent that the book is fascinated by religion, it wants to consider faith as a response to the incomprehensible, an attempt to impose meaning on the terrifying mysteries of life and death.


visiting the area. The weakest stories are those about the black characters: a porter assigned to the Kennedy train his first day on the job and a concierge at a quality D.C. hotel who walks the generational line between dignity and servility. Both threads strive for complexity but bear too heavy a stamp of white liberal sympathy. Similarly, the story of an Irish born young woman up for a job as the Kennedys’ new nanny is a little too full of charm and blarney to feel realistic. On the other hand, fully believable is the disabled Vietnam vet being interviewed as a hero by a former high-school classmate (never a friend) for the local paper. As tensions and disappointments roil together along with miscommunications, the vet’s increasing isolation from his supportive but clueless family is gut-wrenching without being sentimental. So are the ill-fated adventures of a well-meaning middle-class woman sneaking off with her little girl to see the funeral train despite her husband’s rabid conservatism. Tension rises as she makes one poor choice after another until tragedy strikes, when readers are sucker-punched by her husband’s surprising emotional sensitivity. A more quietly painful plotline concerns a young boy recently “kidnapped” by his divorced father. Forcibly returned to his mother, whom he also loves, the boy plays out his emotional confusion while horsing around with his friends on the train tracks. In contrast, Rowell takes a detached, minimalist approach to depict pot-smoking, angst-ridden suburbanites celebrating their new swimming pool. The Kennedy train is a weak link here between plot segments that are stylistically disjointed and lack any deeper thematic connection. (Agent: Molly Friedrich)

SHOCK WAVE

Sandford, John Putnam (400 pp.) $27.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-399-15769-1 A methodical bomber gives Virgil Flowers a welcome chance to recover from his atypically bombastic last outing (Bad Blood, 2010, etc.). Three days before his 70th birthday, billionaire Willard Pye and his board of directors are one room away from an explosion that rocks his boardroom outside Grand Rapids and kills Angela (Jelly) Brown, his executive assistant. Another blast follows with indecent haste, killing a construction superintendent at the site planned for a new PyeMart in Butternut Falls, Minn. The second bombing brings out the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in the person of Virgil Flowers, who assures the disgruntled Pye that he expects to clear the case within a week. “One week and I kiss his ass,” Pye tells Marie Chapman, his high-priced amanuensis. But a week doesn’t look like nearly long enough for a case this complex. Lots of townsfolk in Butternut Falls are against the new megastore. The Cold Stream Fishers, fearing that a pristine trout stream will be fouled, are especially militant. And Despite Pye’s denials, it looks as if a PyeMart expediter has bribed Mayor Geraldine Gore and at least three |

city councilmen into supporting the highly divisive project. Virgil networks, invites more than 100 locals to make up lists of potential bombers and wonders whether his faltering longdistance relationship with Warren Count Sheriff Lee Coakley is strong enough to keep him safe from Marie Chapman and other indigenous temptresses. The bomber, meanwhile, is moving ahead with a deep-laid plan, setting off one explosive device after another in order to make some kind of statement, mislead Virgil and cover his tracks. The tale drags at times, but the mystification and detection are authentic and the solution surprisingly clever. Virgil fully deserves to have Willard Pye kiss his ass.

ABUSE OF POWER

Savage, Michael St. Martin’s (336 pp.) $25.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-312-65161-9 Routine thriller follows a journalist who elects to save the United States from terrorists—and from itself. Plans to turn San Francisco into the next Ground Zero go awry when Jamal Thomas, a kid hoping to join a gang, hijacks a Prius. The driver gets away, but Jamal commandeers the vehicle, speeds into an intersection, collides with another car and suffers serious injury. Enter SFPD bomb-squad officer Tom Drabinsky, on a FAM trip with Jack Hatfield, who lost his gig as a right-wing radio commentator after the “liberal media elite” labeled him an “Islamaphobe.” (Author Savage is a conservative talk-show host.) Drabinsnky is killed when a bomb in the car explodes, a bomb later determined to be of “military grade.” Hatfield sniffs a cover-up—and a story that might put him back on top—when police arrest a group known as the “Constitutional Defense Brigade” and charge them with the bombing. Convinced an Islamic cell is up to something big, Hatfield appoints himself to uncover what’s really at stake, a decision that comes as no surprise after several digressive editorial passages in which he makes clear he puts little or no trust in police, government and, to some extent, the church. (Frequently recalling Bible verses he finds reassuring, Hatfield makes clear he believes in some sort of divine wisdom.) After a group of men in dark suits take out Jamal, lest he describe the man driving the Prius, Hatfield obtains footage of their getaway car. Spotting a parking decal linked to Great Britain, Hatfield has no compunction about bribing a computer hacker to find out who the men are. Details in hand, he sprints to Israel and then to Great Britain to learn—and stop—what’s afoot. Ten years after 9/11, the tropes of terrorism thrillers wear thin. For fans of Fox News, Savage’s right-wing POV (but little else) may lend some distinction. (Agent: Ian Kleinert)

kirkusreviews.com

|

fiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1525


THE EMPEROR OF LIES

Sem-Sandberg, Steve Translator: Death, Sarah Farrar, Straus and Giroux (672 pp.) $30.00 | September 1, 2011 978-0-374-13964-3 A Swedish bestseller, this sprawling, Dickensian novel of the Holocaust now lands in America, where it is sure to attract attention. Based on historical fact and a real-life central character, Sem-Sandberg’s magnum opus is set in the Jewish ghetto of Lodz, Poland. The time is the winter of 1940, when the Nazi invaders have newly arrived to find an apparently willing accomplice in a very unpleasant man named Chaim Rumkowski. Sadistic and abusive in every possible way, Rumkowski has an odd dream: He believes that he can “demonstrate to the authorities what capable workers the Jews are,” thereby convincing the Nazis to turn all of Lodz into what would eventually become “a Jewish free state under Nazi supremacy, where freedom had been honestly won at the price of hard work.” Against the awful figure of Rumkowski, who Sem-Sandberg allows to come out of the shadows only slowly, stand other characters, real and imagined: Rumkowski’s sister, horrendous in her vanity; Gertler the policeman, a law unto himself; Adam, hooked of nose and in care of a mentally disabled sibling, both the kind of people the Nazis want very much to exterminate. The Nazis, of course, are very bad indeed, as they reveal with little ceremony from the first, and especially when the deportations to the death camps begin. But the Jewish administrators of the ghetto are perfectly capable of inflicting terror on their own people; Sem-Sandberg risks courting controversy by revisiting this complicity with evil, as he does by allowing the possibility that Rumkowski may have honestly believed that he was saving his fellow Jews by his acts—a possibility that historians have lately been wrestling with. Sem-Sandberg is very good with period details, and most of his scenarios seem well founded, though often the prose strays into melodrama. Of a piece with Jonathan Littell’s The Kindly Ones (2009) as a philosophically charged novel of an ever-moredistant time, written by one who was not there to see those terrible events firsthand.

EVERYTHING WE EVER WANTED

Shepard, Sara HarperCollins (352 pp.) $14.99 paperback October 11, 2011 978-0-06-208006-6 paperback A contemporary portrait of the stultified life of Philadelphia’s Main Line elite. The plot revolves around a possible school hazing scandal, but really 1526

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

Shepard’s subject is the smashing silence and conformity required of the well-mannered life. Sylvie Bates-McAllister lives in Roderick, the Main Line mansion she inherited from her beloved grandfather. Despite raising her two boys in the house, it remains largely unchanged since her grandfather lived in it— along with the prep school he founded, Swithin, a testament to his greatness. Sylvie serves on the board of Swithin and is called one night when a student is found dead, the apparent victim of suicide. The boy was on the wrestling team her 30-year-old son Scott coaches; there are rumors of student hazing and the complicity of the coach. Sylvie believes the worst. Scott, adopted as a toddler, is of mixed race and has a strained relationship with Sylvie and her older, biological son Charles. Charles, a prim and quiet aspiring journalist, is Sylvie’s favorite, but her late husband James doted on Scott, found in him an outsider he could identify with. Now that James is dead, Scott is more of a mystery than ever—he has a defiant swagger and tattoos and lowslung jeans—and Sylvie is simply embarrassed by him. Swirling around the breaking scandal are a variety of subplots—Charles’ new wife Joanna (who as a girl kept a society page scrapbook featuring the public appearances of the Bates-McAllister family) is beginning to think her marriage is a misplaced fantasy. Charles is set to interview his high-school sweetheart Bronwyn, who has become a sort of back-to-the-land hippie in rural Pennsylvania. Sylvie becomes increasingly obsessed with the affair she believes her husband had. The strings are so tightly laced around this family that they are bound to break—when they do, old secrets reap surprising results. Though the plot sometimes wanders and the “scandal” never seems urgent, Shepard has crafted a fine character study on the repressed lives of the American elite.

THERE BUT FOR THE

Smith, Ali Pantheon (256 pp.) $25.00 | September 1, 2011 978-0-375-42409-0 978-0-307-37998-6 e-book An enigmatic British man locks himself indefinitely in a guest room during a party, altering forever the lives of four people who barely know him. Charming and intelligent, Miles Garth is in many ways a desirable guest. And when he accompanies handsome 60-year-old Mark Palmer to Genevieve and Eric Lee’s annual “alternative” dinner party in Greenwich, it is assumed Miles is the older man’s new lover. He is not, and has in fact just met Mark at a theater performance. Halfway through the meal, Miles heads upstairs ostensibly to use the bathroom, and does not come back down. Sequestered in the Lees’ extra room, he offers no explanation but does pass a note requesting vegetarian meals be sent under the door. At a loss over what to do, Genevieve tracks down Anna Hardie, a Scottish woman who met Miles briefly when they were teenagers. As Anna recalls his kindness to her during a school trip, she begins to

kirkusreviews.com

|


“An intriguing yarn—most geeky, and full of satisfying mayhem.” from reamde

come to terms with her own past and uncertain future. Miles has that affect on people. Anna also befriends Brooke, a precocious, lonely 9-year-old neighbor girl who met Miles at the party as well. Meanwhile, news of Miles’ weird sit-in ripples throughout the community, and people begin to think of him as some kind of folk hero with almost mystical powers. That Miles is both more and less than he appears to be is part of the fun in this witty, deconstructed mystery. With its shifting points of view, Smith (The First Person: and Other Stories, 2009, etc.) displays a virtuoso gift for channeling her character’s inner voices. Happily, the book manages to wear its profundity lightly. Off beat exploration of the human need to connect with others.

REAMDE

Stephenson, Neal Morrow/HarperCollins (1056 pp.) $35.00 | September 20, 2011 978-0-06-197796-1 Who lives by the joystick dies by the joystick: Noir futurist Stephenson (Anathem, 2008, etc.) returns to cyberia with this fast-moving though sprawling techno-thriller. Richard Forthrast is a middle-aged videogame tycoon with a problem on his hands: Bad guys have figured out a way to hack his new shooter splatfest with a virus that “took advantage of a buffer overflow bug in Outlook to inject malicious code into the host operating system and establish root-level control of the computer.” Richard has other problems, some big enough to pose a threat to the world currency market. Eek! Fortunately, nepotism be damned, he’s hired his adopted niece to do a little consulting, and she turns out to have the wherewithal to give Geena Davis and Uma Thurman a run for the money in the hot-chicks-with-mad-ninja-skills department. Young Zula has solid possibilities. For one thing, she’s babelicious, “black/ Arab with an unmistakable hint of Italian.” For another, she’s got dual degrees in geology and computer science, which come in very handy when she has to scale impenetrable mountains on the hunt for renegade computer jocks. A bonus: She’s quick to learn her way around a shotgun, and her boyfriend isn’t too shabby, either, even though they have a habit of getting into bad predicaments: “As minutes went by and the novelty of being on a private jet wore off, Zula began to understand the same thing that Peter did, which was that they were not meant to get out of this alive.” There are bad guys aplenty, and they’re more diverse than an IHOP menu: There are Russians and Chinese, mutually distrustful, and a small army of very bad jihadists, the kind who give good Muslims a bad name. There are hackers and counterhackers, spies versus spies. And then there are Richard’s kinfolk, the Brothers Karamazov with heavy weapons. Who’ll prevail? We don’t know till the very end, thanks to Stephenson’s knife-sharp skills as a storyteller. An intriguing yarn—most geeky, and full of satisfying mayhem. |

THE DUBIOUS SALVATION OF JACK V.

Strauss, Jacques Farrar, Straus and Giroux (224 pp.) $24.00 | September 7, 2011 978-0-374-14412-8 In this debut novel from South African author Strauss, a privileged white South African boy comes of age during the waning days of apartheid. Caught in between childhood and adulthood, 11-year-old Jack Viljee enjoys playing with He-Man action figures; swimming in his family’s pool with his best friend Petrus; and masturbating—a lot. A bit precocious, he is in many ways a normal kid, albeit one living in Johannesburg in 1989, shortly before the historical events that would alter South Africa forever. Like those of his class, Jack has been raised in part by a live-in black maid, Susie, who he comes to think of as a second mother. She is, as one of his friends says, a “good” black. Warm and loving (apart from an occasional humorous threat) Susie seems devoted to her young charge. She does, however, have a teenage son of her own, Percy, who usually lives with her estranged husband, Lebo. A surly youth with a fondness for drinking, Percy comes to stay with his mother for a while, complicating Jack’s comfortable little world. The tension between the two boys plays out like an echo of the changing relationship between whites and blacks in the country itself. So when Percy bears witness to Jack during an especially private moment, the humiliated younger boy feels compelled to retaliate. He tells his parents a lie that ends up having long-lasting—and tragic— results for all of them. Meanwhile, Jack, who is half Afrikaner and half English, finds painful and hilarious ways to deal with his own ethnic and sexual confusion. Strauss’s often-hilarious debut captures a remarkable period of time without resorting to any heavy-handed political messaging. And in Jack he has created an unlikely, and utterly believable, voice of a generation. Profane, brutally honest portrait of tween angst.

BOHEMIAN GIRL

Svoboda, Terese Bison/Univ. of Nebraska (208 pp.) $14.95 paperback September 1, 2011 978-0-8032-2682-1 paperback Enslaved to an Indian to settle her father’s gambling debt, a young girl escapes and makes her own way in mid-19th-century Nebraska. Poet and author Svoboda (Black Glasses Like Clark Kent, 2008, etc.) has an elliptical prose style that makes demands some will find irksome. Those willing to stick with her tough, resourceful narrator, however, will be rewarded by an unsentimental picaresque recalling True Grit in its matter-of-fact portrait of a harsh society that

kirkusreviews.com

|

fiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1527


mirrors the West’s vast, indifferent landscape. True Grit’s Mattie Ross is a creampuff compared to 12-year-old Harriet, who doesn’t tell us her real name but assumes the sobriquet of a fellow captive who killed herself. Tied to a tree and temporarily saved from being burned alive when her dancing brings rain, Harriet manages to slip her bonds and limps off (she’s been hobbled to prevent flight) to find her Pa. She acquires a baby whose family has been struck by lightning and winds up in a town being looted by soldiers—no one knows from which side, since the chaotic first year of the Civil War has given rise to armed bands of no particular allegiance. Undaunted by seeing a shopkeeper shot dead at his door, Harriet starts selling his supplies, telling the townsfolk she is his niece and has just arrived with her orphaned cousin. Over the course of the war, she establishes herself as a canny businesswoman while facing down with aplomb such threats as the arrivals of a peddler who knew her as a captive and of her crazy Indian captor. She acquires a suitor, damaged veteran Henry, who proves to have secrets of his own. Pa never shows up, and the baby who kept her from roaming farther to find him grows into a 13-year-old whose dreams are at odds with hers. Yet we never doubt Harriet will seize as much satisfaction as this hard life can spare. Difficult, but worth it for a marvelous heroine with an iron will and a unique voice.

IRMA VOTH

Toews, Miriam HarperCollins (272 pp.) $23.99 | September 6, 2011 978-0-06-207018-0 An unworldly Mennonite girl with a tainted past considers a life without the direction of her father, her husband or God, then implements it, in the latest from Canadian writer Toews (The Flying Troutmans, 2008, etc.). Nineteen-year-old Irma is already breaking away from her Mennonite community in Mexico as the novel opens. Her marriage to Jorge, who is involved in the drug trade, has brought down the wrath of her dictatorial father, and the family chasm only deepens when a film crew arrives and Irma starts working for them as a translator. Irma’s voice—minimal, introverted, bewildered—lends poetic intensity, softened by a tragi-comic edge, to the initially slow-moving story. As tensions rise between the bohemian film crew and the rigid religious community and her marriage disintegrates, Irma plans her escape, accompanied by her 13-year-old sister and, then, at her mother’s behest, the new baby. Now the narrative springs to life as the girls exchange austerity for freedom and friendship in Mexico City, where students help them to settle. Pleasure and creativity enliven them, but past deeds must still be reconciled, a task which Irma eventually begins to tackle. A literary novel marked by charm, wit and an original approach to language, weakened by polarized characters and a shift from gritty to soft-centered. 1528

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

THE VERY PICTURE OF YOU

Wolff, Isabel Bantam (320 pp.) $25.00 | October 4, 2011 978-0-553-80784-4 A portrait painter becomes enmeshed in her subjects’ secrets and lies. Ella, who at 35 has secured her niche as London portraitist to the wealthy and titled, has a knack for exposing the cloaked emotions of the people she paints. As the novel begins, she’s just received an e-mail from her once-revered father, John, who left Ella and her ballerina mother, Sue, 30 years ago for another woman. She’s debating whether to see John when her half-sister Chloe, finally recovering from an affair with a married man, wins a portrait from Ella at a charity auction. Ella is thus assigned to paint Chloe’s charismatic fiancé, Nate, an American employed by a London private-equity firm. At first Ella despises Nate—based on an overheard cell-phone call, she assumes he’s two-timing Chloe—but as he sits for her, she finds herself, to her dismay, falling for him brushstroke by brushstroke. As she helps Sue plan the myriad details of Chloe’s upcoming wedding extravaganza, her mother confesses that not only was John unfaithful, he had a child with the other woman. As she ponders this revelation of a sister she never knew she had, Ella is beset by other dilemmas. One of her subjects, a Frenchwoman, is not only cynical about the 40th birthday gala her much older husband is planning for her, but squeamish about being captured on canvas—could it be because she is having an affair? Another, an M.P. up for re-election, may have been the hit-and-run driver who killed Grace, a bicyclist whom Ella has been commissioned to memorialize in a posthumous painting from photographs. Wolff builds tension by skillfully balancing multiple plotlines of betrayal, deception and remorse. Although Ella’s close scrutiny of her subjects elucidates their characters, her own personality, thanks perhaps to her role as voyeur, remains opaque—not a winning trait in a protagonist. Any hope of profundity is further undermined by a maudlin ending worthy of a Hugh Grant movie. (Agent: Clare Conville)

A KILLER’S ESSENCE

Zeltserman, Dave Overlook (240 pp.) $23.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-59020-321-7

An NYPD homicide cop who’s seen it all finds a strange new way to see it all in Zeltserman’s latest trip to the dark side (The Caretaker of Lorne Field, 2010, etc.). Fifty-two-year-old Gail Laurent had led a blameless life. One might say she didn’t have an enemy in the world. Not so. Shot multiple times

kirkusreviews.com

|


“Banks does neo-noir with the best of them.” from beast of burden

and savagely treated thereafter, she is discarded, like a mutilated paperback, not far from the front door of a bookstore. Witnesses? Yes and no. Examining the tape from the store’s surveillance camera, Detective Stan Green watches a man come into the frame, freeze, then register extreme horror. When questioned, however, Zachary Lynch swears he can’t be helpful. He acknowledges that he may have actually witnessed the killing but insists there’s no way he can identify the killer. In the meantime, Green’s domestic life is no picnic either. There’s the wear and tear of maintaining amicable relations with a spiteful ex-wife, matched by the strain of coping with a gorgeous, much younger girlfriend. And let’s not forget the $3,000 he owes to absolutely the wrong people. On the job, it’s now beyond question that the police have a vicious serial killer on their hands. Pressure mounts exponentially. NYPD brass wants the case cracked yesterday. Green thinks wistfully of other lines of work. And then suddenly, a long-dormant memory surges up from his unconscious to give a weirdly literal dimension to the phrase “soul-searching,” and serve as a key to the puzzle. Zeltserman’s signature creepiness is available here and there, but what really drives this novel is the engaging portrait of an honest, hardworking cop who, on the job and off, gives the best he’s got, knowing how rarely it will be enough.

m ys t e r y THE GILDED SHROUD

Bailey, Elizabeth Berkley Prime Crime (368 pp.) $15.00 paperback | September 6, 2011 978-0-425-25289-6 paperback A Dowager’s companion and a second son join forces to uncover a murderer. Emily, the licentious Marchioness of Polbrook, lies strangled in her bedchamber. Her husband the Marquis saddled up and left in the early-morning hours, perhaps, as it’s suspected, on his way to France. The household is mostly in disarray. The butler, the footman, the lady’s maid, the housekeeper, the cook, even the Dowager herself, are at sixes and sevens. The Dowager’s new companion, widowed Ottilia (Tillie) Draycott, who’s rather pleased with all the excitement, steps right up to settle everyone down. Lord Francis, second son and Emily’s brotherin-law, is dispatched to find his brother while Tillie noses about the estate. On the Lord’s return, he’s bemused then enchanted by Tillie, who’s discovered that a fan, a Polbrook treasured heirloom last in Emily’s possession, has gone missing, along with her jewel box and her silk stockings. But what to make of that extra key found in her dressing-table drawer? Suspicion falls on Emily’s many lovers; the Bow Street Runners favor the Marquis instead. Despite the difference in their stations, Tillie and Lord |

Francis are attracted to one another, but it’s Tillie who solves the crimes before their first kiss. First in a Regency suspense series from newcomer Bailey, who’s a trifle long-winded but has the scenery and the upstairs-downstairs characters down pat.

BEAST OF BURDEN

Banks, Ray Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (304 pp.) $25.00 | August 11, 2011 978-0-15-101453-8 A depraved cop chases a depressed PI through the mean streets of Manchester, England. Cal Innes is a train wreck. True, he’s always been something of an emotional wreck or at least existentially depressed, but now, not yet 30, he’s had a stroke. His face is twisted, his speech slow and labored and he walks with a cane. So it’s more than a little surprising to him when Morris Tiernan, that nonpareil among Manchester gang lords, wants to put him to work as a private investigator. Morris Senior wants Cal to find Morris Junior, who seems to have vanished without a trace. Why Cal? Stroke deprivations aside, the family Innes has had a problematical history with the family Tiernan, and it’s no secret that Cal blames the Tiernans for much that’s gone wrong with his life. As for the vanished heir, it’s Cal’s view, and most others’ too, that Mo the malignant is best left among the missing. Still, he signs on for reasons of his own. While Cal sets about tracking Mo, he soon realizes that Detective Sergeant “Donkey” Donkin is stalking him, also for reasons of his own. Exactly what those might be, Cal can’t even begin to guess. But given what a sociopathic bully Donkey is, they’re almost certain to lead to the shedding of blood. Cal’s blood. Banks (Saturday’s Child, 2006, etc.) does neo-noir with the best of them, but his dark side tends toward the dark and dreary.

IN SICKNESS AND IN DEATH

Bork, Lisa Midnight Ink/Llewellyn (288 pp.) $14.95 paperback | September 8, 2011 978-0-7387-2336-5 paperback A sheriff ’s deputy tries to cure his wife’s baby blues by bringing home a foster child. Losing the infant she’d hoped to adopt has sent car dealer Jolene Asdale Parker (For Richer For Danger, 2010, etc.) into a deep depression. What could be a surer cure than the 12-year-old juvenile delinquent her husband Ray Parker agrees to foster? Danny Phillips’ dad is in the slammer for grand theft auto. So Danny

kirkusreviews.com

|

mystery

|

1 september 2011

|

1529


gets parked with the Parkers, and it’s Jolene’s job to enroll him in school, cook him tasty, nutritious meals and supervise him when he gets suspended from school for fighting. (You might think a kid who’d been living on the street might have some anger issues, but it turns out Danny was only defending Ray from a classmate with a thing against cops.) Like father, like son: Danny disappears and gets caught in a hot-wired Camry. Which turns out to have a woman’s arm in the trunk. Finding the owner of the severed limb turns out to be Ray’s job, and soon the clues start to implicate the elder Phillips. Eager to shield her new foster child from more pain, Jolene noses around for an alternative solution, although she’s distracted by the disappearance of her bipolar sister Erica, who’d been hanging around a strip joint called The Cat’s Meow trying to pick up the leftovers. Would a judge really find the dysfunctional Parkers better parents than Danny’s career-criminal dad? That’s not the only question Bork’s disappointing third fails to answer.

THE BURNING

Casey, Jane Minotaur Books (336 pp.) $24.99 | September 6, 2011 978-0-312-61417-1 978-1-3299-2143-5 e-book A South London serial killer gets too much credit. Between September and December of 2009, four vulnerable young women walking home alone at night are brutally savaged, then set alight. DC Maeve Kerrigan, the only lass assigned to Operation Mandrake to bring “the Burning Man” to justice, is tasked with following up on the murder of a fifth victim, Rebecca Haworth. Unfortunately, when Maeve arrives at Rebecca’s digs, Louise North is already there scrubbing the rooms clean. Her oldest friend, she says, was a tad messy, and she’s been picking up after her since their years at Oxford. She points Maeve toward Rebecca’s former boyfriend, the abusive Gil Maddick, as a possible suspect. Her apparently surprising idea makes sense because not everything about Rebecca’s murder jibes with the burning man’s M.O. Chief Superintendent Godley encourages Maeve to delve into Rebecca’s past, which includes a cocaine addiction, a touch of blackmail and an obsession with a young man who drowned at Oxford. But matters come to an abrupt halt when a stakeout lands Maeve in the hospital with a fractured skull, her death averted only by the quick action of DC Rob Langton. As she heals, her feelings for Rob deepen. So does her belief in what and who really caused Rebecca’s demise. Casey (The Missing, 2010) excels at precinct backbiting, sexism and romance. She’s less surefooted at winding up her plot, resorting to a major and unlikely confession.

1530

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

THE BLOOD ROYAL

Cleverly, Barbara Soho Constable (320 pp.) $25.00 | September 13, 2011 978-1-56947-987-2 After three rounds with a new detective (A Darker God, 2010, etc.), Cleverly brings back Joe Sandilands (Folly du Jour, 2008, etc.) for the eighth time to investigate, and instigate, international intrigue in London between the wars. Lily Wentworth is one of London’s few policewomen. Despite her blonde hair and petite stature, she walks a London beat to protect prostitutes and children. When Joe Sandilands needs a feminine partner for a special assignment, he dragoons Lily. Scotland Yard is worried for the lives of the royal family after Irish rebels murder two prominent politicians. So Lily, in borrowed finery, passes for the Prince of Wales’ new paramour while watching his back at a charitable ball for aristocratic Russian emigres. She proves herself sharp as she and Sandilands unravel the schemes of Irish assassins to find a deeper plot, and sharper still by saving Prince Edward from poisoning. The Russian aristocrats have laid a trail of red herrings for Sandilands and Lily. Does the trail lead all the way back to the execution of the Romanovs? Stretches the bounds of historical credulity, but does so with panache. A darkly glamorous thriller.

THE PERFECT SUSPECT

Coel, Margaret Berkley Prime Crime (304 pp.) $25.95 | September 6, 2011 978-0-4252-4348-0 A reporter and a killer duel over the murder of a political candidate. The hottest story in Denver is the shooting of gubernatorial hopeful David Matthews. Investigative journalist Catherine McLeod (Blood Memory, 2008, etc.) has been covering the campaign for the Denver Journal. Now a mysterious phone call from a woman who names the murderer launches Catherine into a tricky investigation. Even though the charming Matthews had the election in his pocket, Catherine always felt there was something too good to be true about him. Perhaps it was the many rumors of his infidelity despite his marriage to a wealthy, beautiful woman. His wife was at their vacation home the night of his death, but once the murder weapon is found in a desk drawer, she’s arrested for the crime. When one of Matthews’ campaign staff becomes the next victim, Catherine realizes she could be next on the list. But she refuses to give up even in the face of opposition from her police officer boyfriend. Although Coel reveals the killer’s identity in the first chapter, the dangerous dance between Catherine and her quarry provides all the tension you could ask for.

kirkusreviews.com

|


GUILTY PLEASURES

Cutler, Judith Severn House (224 pp.) $27.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7278-8048-2

A vintage snuffbox is almost nicked at a church party. And then… While antiques divvy Lina Townend mans the bric-a-brac table at the party to raise funds to restore St. Jude’s in Kenninge, her doppelganger argues with a man in a cashmere turtleneck and somebody tries to pocket a valuable 17th-century sterling snuffbox. Thinking it had been donated by mistake, Lina takes the treasure home to safeguard it. A pair of ersatz coppers promptly begin spying on the shop she runs with her mentor, aging gay sophisticate Griff. Then somebody breaks into the shop and rigs their car with two tracking devices. Meanwhile, Robin the vicar takes himself off on a retreat; his pregnant inamorata is so overwrought she

|

can barely handle the police investigation under her command; and Lina’s married ex-boyfriend Morris, a mainstay of the Met’s Fine Arts Squad, pops around to jiggle her hormones again. Two copies of the snuffbox come on the market. Lina keeps getting mistaken for her doppelganger. The man in the cashmere turtleneck goes missing. And Lina’s sire, Lord Elham, takes time from swilling champers and forging masterpieces to acknowledge his many by-blows, two of whom strongly resemble Lina. One old codger will die and another will be sent to intensive care before the doppelganger will be identified, the vicar will plan his wedding, Lina will brace herself for Morris’s move to Paris, Griff will serve homemade lemonade in the garden and the vintage snuffbox will be sent to Victoria and Albert. Lina’s vocabulary lapses are irritating, and Griff calls her “dear” far too many times to be endearing. This entry, more heavy-handed than Ring of Guilt (2011), suggests that it may be time to give the series a rest.

kirkusreviews.com

|

mystery

|

1 september 2011

|

1531


“If Donald Westlake had ever gotten around to writing a paranormal mystery, it would have sounded like this.” from mind over monsters

THE GOOD THIEF’S GUIDE TO VENICE

Ewan, Chris Minotaur Books (400 pp.) $24.99 | August 16, 2011 978-0-312-58085-8 Every time the gentleman thief tries to get out, they pull him back in! Bestselling author and former burglar Charlie Howard, relocated to Venice after his most recent misadventure (The Good Thief ’s Guide to Vegas, 2010, etc.), wakes up in the middle of the night to find a curvy female burglar in mid-burgle. He almost catches her, and it looks as if he’s gotten off easy until he notices that his prized possession, a framed first edition of The Maltese Falcon, is missing. His agent and annoying voice of reason Victoria, who arrives just in time to scold Charlie, immediately hatches a plan to track down the thief. But this proves unnecessary when Charlie receives an invitation from the woman, whose name is Graziella, to meet. Though she has changed her long blond hair to a short dark bob, Charlie recognizes the hot criminal right away, and their sexual chemistry adds a layer of complexity to their meeting and subsequent involvement. Charlie makes a deal with this Delilah to break into a vault in a majestic but rundown palazzo not far away. The caper goes surprisingly well until opening the vault trips a loud and destructive bomb. Fortunately, Charlie is able to stagger back home, bruised and bloody, where he passes out and wakes up naked in bed with Victoria attending him. Far from counseling prudence, she surprises him by urging him back into the heart of danger. Ewan’s fourth Charlie Howard romp moves briskly, relying once more on the boyish charm of its roguish narrator-hero.

MURDER BY MUSIC The Wedding Quilt Graham, Barbara Five Star (292 pp.) $25.95 | October 21, 2011 978-1-4328-2544-7

The beautiful Smoky Mountains provide the background for a series of ugly murders. Theo Abernathy is a quilt-store owner married to Tony, Sheriff of Park County, Tenn. Heavily pregnant with twins, she’s looking forward to a quilting retreat at The Lodge, a nearby hotel with stunning views and a relaxing atmosphere. But her plans are derailed when she spots the body of haughty embroidery expert Scarlet LaFleur, a member of the area’s famous floral-named family. Scarlet did not plunge to her death over a temporary railing, as Theo first assumed, but was strangled with a mandolin wire. Tony’s already had his hands full with the death of the local loan shark, petty theft and the riflewielding crazies who’ve been shooting up road signs. His problems only increase with the murder of famous singer Elf, who 1532

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

came to town for her son’s wedding, by the same means as her sister Scarlet. Confined to a wheelchair until she delivers her twins, Theo still keeps busy making wedding quilts, listening to local gossip for tidbits to help Tony and pondering who could be killing off members of the Flower family. Once more Graham (Murder by Artifact, 2009, etc.) offers a cluttered mystery whose best features are Tony, Theo and the obligatory instructions for a mystery quilt.

MIND OVER MONSTERS

Harlow, Jennifer Midnight Ink/Llewellyn (288 pp.) $14.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7387-2667-0 How would you like your job if your co-workers included a vampire and a werewolf? Bea Alexander, an elementary schoolteacher, has one trait so alarming most people avoid her. Even her family calls her a monster. So when George Black drops by and invites her to join F.R.E.A.K.S. (Federal Response to Extra-Sensory and Kindred Supernaturals), his unit at the FBI, she’s so lonely that she agrees and is whisked off to a secret compound in Kansas. There she meets a dishy vampire, a handsome werewolf, a woman who can make her spontaneously combust, a teen who used to rob banks and specializes in teleportation, a blind man who chats with ghosts and a psychic who can read her mind. Their mission is to fight “UNCRETS,” that is, unidentified creatures. But first Bea has to learn how to harness her awesome power to blast people, places and things to smithereens. She’s barely through training when she and the other Freaks head to Colorado to solve two murders the local sheriff attributes to wild animals but the FBI doesn’t. The adventure entails several near-death experiences when they are twice attacked by zombies, assaulted by ghouls, practically incinerated in a cemetery mausoleum, sucked empty of liters of blood, shot at and, in Bea’s case, both propositioned and almost devoured by the vampire and the werewolf. Babysitting a little dead girl puts Bea in harm’s way, but her training and her special skill save the day, give or take a few missing chunks of flesh. If Donald Westlake had ever gotten around to writing a paranormal mystery, it would have sounded like this. Harlow’s genre debut is funny, creepy and refreshingly brash.

kirkusreviews.com

PICTURE OF LIES

Harrison, C.C. Five Star (326 pp.) $25.95 | October 21, 2011 978-1-4328-2506-5 The austere beauty of Monument Valley hides a dangerous secret. Keegan Thomas is an investigative reporter who specializes in child-abduction |


cases ever since her own daughter vanished from a quiet beach. An old photograph found in her grandfather’s belongings provides a reason to get away to the Navajo Indian Reservation and escape a breakup and her constant guilt and anger. The photo shows her grandfather, a BIA doctor on the reservation, with a group of other people both white and Navajo. After a rough start Keegan gets some help from Dante Covelli, an attractive archeologist working in the area, and Jilly Wolf, whose grandmother may supply some answers. Keegan finds it hard to get information, but she is told by Jilly’s mother that one of the children in the picture was taken by missionaries and never returned. When Jilly’s grandmother is murdered, Keegan begins to realize her innocent quest for information may be uncovering dangerous secrets from the past. It is only when she gets some help from a researcher at the National Archives that she realizes just how dangerous those secrets may be. Her life is in jeopardy more than once before she can unmask the killers. Similar in feeling to Harrison’s romantic suspense mystery The Charmstone (2007), also set in Monument Valley. This one, although a bit implausible at times, offers a nice combination of action, romance and Navajo lore.

MURDER MY NEIGHBOUR

Heley, Veronica Severn House (240 pp.) $28.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7278-8050-5

Trouble hits close to home as Ellie Quicke (Murder in the House, 2009, etc.) investigates a disappearance from a house around the corner. Something’s amiss at Flavia Pryce’s multi-storied, multi-gabled home. First, Ellie’s housekeeper Rose falls off a ladder while tying back some rambler roses the gardener carelessly neglected—all because she sees a disembodied head floating mysteriously in the air above the garden that backs onto Ellie’s house. Next, Flavia’s great-nephew Terry shows up at Ellie’s claiming that his aunt left for a nursing home but never checked in. A visit to Flavia’s reveals footprints in the dust and a thriving vegetable garden, recently watered and picked. Ellie also learns more about Flavia’s relations, stepchildren Edgar and Edwina, and Edwina’s daughter Evangeline, all of whom sponge mercilessly off her. (Although none are as rapacious as Ellie’s own daughter Diana, who threatens to disrupt her son’s comfortable custody arrangement with his father if Ellie doesn’t raid her charitable trust to finance Diana’s latest scheme.) The local police are willing to look into the disappearance of Ellie’s engagement ring right after Terry’s visit, but they’re indifferent to Flavia’s fate. So it’s up to the indomitable Ellie to find out why Flavia sold off her belongings, gave away her cats, set up a room for herself in a nursing home but never arrived. Ellie’s fans will find all the typical pleasures in her 11th case: domestic felicity disrupted by dark doings and the eventual triumph of the good over the greedy.

|

NAZARETH CHILD

James, Darrell Midnight Ink/Llewellyn (384 pp.) $14.95 paperback | September 8, 2011 978-0-7387-2369-3 paperback The key to a field operative’s past may be in her current investigation. Locating missing people is what Del Shannon does best. The tough and efficient field operative has never been given a case she couldn’t crack, which is why the folks from Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives show up at her Tucson door. It seems one of their own has recently disappeared, and they need her help to find him. Daniel Cole, the vanished agent, was supposed to infiltrate the Nazareth Church to investigate the cultish community led by faith healer Silas Rule. Special Agent Darius Lemon hasn’t heard from Cole recently and isn’t sure whether this means he’s been accepted as a Trojan horse or something much worse. While Lemon has little incentive that would induce Del to lead her own investigation, she discovers some motivation when she realizes that the church may hold the key to her missing mother’s secret past. Del’s missing mother was the one case she could never crack. Now, teamed up with the tough but sensitive Agent Frank Falconet and sent into the potentially unstable community of Nazareth Church, Del has what may be her only chance to discover the truth about her roots, all the while guarding against what appears to be mounting danger. The fast-flowing story line will engage readers and may distract their attention from some characters who are painted in rather broad strokes. It’s nice to see James (Body Count: A Killer Collection, 2006) present a woman in control in the leading role.

NEW YORK TO DALLAS

Robb, J.D. Putnam (416 pp.) $27.95 | September 13, 2011 978-0-399-15778-3

Lt. Eve Dallas (Treachery in Death, 2011, etc.) returns to her troubled roots when she goes up against a sex killer with a taste for tweens and a personal interest in her. Twelve years after his life sentence for raping and imprisoning several of his alleged 27 victims, Isaac McQueen, aka the Collector, is on the loose again. After making his escape from Rikers Island, he returns to his old apartment, takes the couple renting it hostage and demands that Tray Schuster convey the news of his escape to Eve in person within an hour on pain of serious damage to his girlfriend Julie Kopeski. Tray’s anguished visit is only the first of many episodes in which McQueen threatens the officer, who put him away, with a lingering, X-rated death. But he’s not content simply to taunt his old nemesis. Sylvia Prentiss, the drug addict who

kirkusreviews.com

|

mystery

|

1 september 2011

|

1533


“Kubu’s third recorded case is again alive with local color and detail and, refreshingly, offers his fullest mystery plot yet.” from death of the mantis

helped him escape, outfits his latest torture chamber in faraway Dallas and helps stock it with fresh meat. McQueen’s first victim is a familiar face: rape counselor Melinda Jones, who’d already been rescued once before from his clutches. His second is Darlie Morgansten, a 13-year-old who’s more in his sexual line. Together with her megamillionaire husband Roarke, Eve flies to the city that gave her her name to confront both the monster she caged once before and the prison-house of her own tormenting childhood memories. Roarke and his attendant computer wizards make so many vague, conveniently timed discoveries that the detection is never convincing. But the cat-and-mouse suspense when Eve and McQueen go up against each other is intense.

DEATH OF THE MANTIS

Stanley, Michael Harper/HarperCollins (448 pp.) $14.99 paperback | September 6, 2011 978-0-06-200037-8 paperback A dedicated Botswana detective finds himself in the middle of simmering tensions between police and nomadic Bushmen. A prologue set in the 1950s reveals a cave atop several desert hills as The Place, where one can meet “the spirits.” In the present, rangers Ndoli and Vusi find their colleague Monzo dead in the desert at the bottom of a dry riverbed, a place well out of his bailiwick. The body is surrounded by Bushmen who vault to the top of the suspect list and are arrested. (A few weeks earlier, two University of Botswana students were found dead at a campground, and local gossip blames witchcraft.) Detective Sergeant Phinda Lerako, known to local natives as “Detective Stone Wall,” won’t listen to educated Bushman Khumanego’s warnings against a rush to judgment. So Khumanego appeals to his old friend David “Kubu” Bengu, Lerako’s subordinate in the department. The big boss, Mabaku, allows Kubu to investigate as long as he doesn’t “stir things up.” Unfortunately, evidence leads in a different direction, and the more Kubu follows the real trail, the harder Lerako comes down on him. Monzo’s secret mistress provides some key clues, but before Kubu can put all the pieces together, a second, very similar murder raises the stakes and puts the pressure on the usually ebullient detective. Kubu’s third recorded case (The Second Death of Goodluck Tinubu, 2009, etc.) is again alive with local color and detail and, refreshingly, offers his fullest mystery plot yet, along with a glossary, maps and a helpful list of characters.

1534

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

ICE STATION

Tonkin, Peter Severn House (224 pp.) $28.95 | August 1, 2011 978-0-7278-8042-0 Both intrigue and Mother Nature threaten a new nuclear facility, with Richard Mariner right in the center of it. Without his wife and travel partner Robin, industrialist and urbane adventurer Mariner is part of an international team that has been called in to assist the Russians with Zemlya, their new floating nuclear facility. The incident that prompts Russian magnate Felix Makarov to summon help is the disappearance of Boris Gagarin, captain of the tug Ilya. Richard quickly teams up with Scotsman Colin Ross, a kindred soul who’s also traveling without his usual companion, his wife Kate. Russian second lieutenant Vanya Vengerov, who’s in charge of the Zemlya, responds to questions like a public relations pro, revealing in the process that there’s been a series of little “accidents” setting back the project’s progress. Members of the crew, which includes a good bit of eye candy apparently designed to occupy the foreign visitors, are similarly on message. The danger aboard is made painfully apparent when Vengerov’s proximity to a Geiger counter sets it ticking madly before he collapses. Declaring the man radioactive, Richard takes quick charge, ordering the infected man whisked away to isolation, where he clings to life. Sabotage is indicated, though Captain Sholokhov remains suspiciously unflappable. Richard et al. are still adjusting to the new normal when an ice storm hits. Will Zemlya become Chernobyl afloat? Another skillful mix of maritime adventure and mystery thriller from the prolific Tonkin (Red River, 2011, etc.), though series fans may miss the spousal banter of earlier episodes.

DARK ENTRY

Trow, M.J. Creme de la Crime (224 pp.) $28.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-78029-006-5 Elizabethan playwright Christopher Marlowe’s college years turn out to have included a bit of amateur detection. Before Marlowe set on the career path that made him famous, he was known as Kit, a principled Matthew Parker scholar trying to graduate with his cohort. When he discovers fellow scholar Ralph Whitingside’s body, Marlowe refuses to rest until he leads the other lads in a full investigation of the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s death. Assisted by the quirky but able Dr. John Dee, Marlowe learns that Ralph’s socalled suicide is part of something larger. His suspicions are all but confirmed when an unknown woman’s body mysteriously washes ashore, even though the local law refuses to see the pattern Marlowe is certain looms in the background. The moody

kirkusreviews.com

|


and divisive Marlowe has his fair share of adversaries, and his quest for truth is hampered by his enmity with everyone from his teachers and proctors to local villagers. While Marlowe is known for his straightforward nature, the more he investigates, the more he is certain that a foe may be masquerading as a friend. The tension absent from the early scenes finally builds as Trow (Jack Ripper: Quest for a Killer, 2009, etc.) rallies his cast for a suspenseful conclusion. Readers enamored of the customs of the time are most likely to welcome this mystery of manners. The less historically well-informed may struggle to keep up with the details that make all the difference.

science fiction and fantasy FIRESTORM

Anderson, Taylor ROC/Penguin (432 pp.) $25.95 | October 4, 2011 978-0-451-46417-0 In 1942, two creaking World War I–era U.S. destroyers in the Pacific fall through a temporal discontinuity into an alternate world—along with a Japanese battle cruiser—and find themselves fighting a very different World War II: This is the latest in the Destroyermen series (Rising Tides, 2011, etc.). In this new world, the oceans swarm with gigantic, ferocious creatures. Warm-blooded dinosaurs evolved into the predatory “Grik,” of whom only the leaders are truly intelligent—the rest follow programmed pack behavior. Fighting the Grik are intelligent cat-like “Lemurians,” whom the Grik are attempting to exterminate. Further complicating the picture are two other human groups, the Empire of the New Britain Isles, descended from marooned British Royal Navy sailors from the 18th century, and the Holy Dominion, Spanish colonists who practice a bloodthirsty version of Catholicism involving human sacrifice, mostly of nubile young women. The Americans, led by Captain Matthew Reddy, ally themselves with the Lemurians and the Empire against the Grik and their Japanese collaborators, only to find themselves fighting the insensate Holy Dominion, too. The action, which rarely slackens, features splendid naval battles pitting destroyers against wooden-hulled fleets with cannons, land engagements where vastly outnumbered humans and Lemurians face hordes of vicious but none-too-bright dinosaurs, and inflexible Imperials terrorized by fanatically loyal Catholic armies. While some Japanese desert, unable to |

kirkusreviews.com

|

stomach the frightful Grik or the actions of their sadistic leaders, the Grik attempt to develop smarter, more flexible tactics and secret weapons. Intriguing what-ifs and convolutions by the boatload combine with churning, bloodthirsty warfare that grips despite the confusion of a largely indistinguishable cast of thousands struggling to the death in a historical melting pot amid re-named or unrecognizable landmarks. Series fans will jump right in. Newcomers should begin at the beginning—and take notes. (Agent: Russell Galen)

THE SOOKIE STACKHOUSE COMPANION

Harris, Charlaine Ace/Berkley (480 pp.) $30.00 | August 30, 2011 978-0-441-01971-7 After 11 novels in her Sookie Stackhouse supernatural mystery series, as well as an extremely popular TV adaptation (HBO’s True Blood), Harris (Dead Reckoning, 2011, etc.) has provided her dedicated fanbase with this mostly superfluous companion work. The primary appeal of the Companion is a new Sookie novella by Harris, “Small-Town Wedding,” which finds Sookie accompanying her boss and friend Sam Merlotte to his brother’s wedding in a small Texas town. Sam, a shape-shifter who can take the form of various animals, is worried about prejudice directed at his shape-shifting family now that the “two-natured” (as they’re known in the series) have revealed themselves to the general public, just as vampires did in Harris’ first Sookie novel, Dead Until Dark (2001). “Wedding” features a simple story that adds dimension to Harris’ wider fictional world while remaining squarely focused on two of her long-running characters, and it serves as a nice spotlight for Sam and his family. The rest of the book is mostly filler, including painstakingly detailed (but completely dry) summaries of all the Sookie novels and short stories to date, as well as similarly exhaustive entries on every character, no matter how minor, who’s ever appeared in the series. Those sections might at least be informative for readers who can’t be bothered to check Wikipedia or fan websites, but features like the history of Harris’ fan club, a selection of recipes inspired by the books and an instantly outdated interview with True Blood creator Alan Ball are almost completely useless. This hodgepodge of material will only become more irrelevant as Harris continues the series, adding narrative pieces outside of the scope of the Companion. The previously unpublished novella is charming, but the rest of the book is for hardcore Sookie completists only.

science fiction & fantasy

|

1 september 2011

|

1535


“Rosen’s debut fantasy: a steampunk mashup of Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest.” from all men of genius

ALL MEN OF GENIUS

Rosen, Lev AC Tor (416 pp.) $24.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7653-2794-9

Rosen’s debut fantasy: a steampunk mashup of Twelfth Night and The Importance of Being Earnest. Seventeen-year-old Violet Adams, a brilliant inventor of mechanical devices and automata, disguises herself as her twin brother Ashton so that she can attend London’s famous (and male-only) Illyria College, which specializes in the sciences. The masquerade becomes somewhat more uncomfortable when the school’s headmaster, Duke Ernest of Illyria, begins to have unsettling feelings regarding “Ashton,” as does his beautiful young ward and cousin, Cecily Worthing, who is herself pursued by Violet’s childhood friend and fellow student, Jack Feste. Meanwhile, the sinister second-year student Malcolm Volio plots to seize control both of the school and Cecily. Those conversant with both plays will have a fairly good idea of the role each character will assume and how the story will go. The steampunk story line, involving a secret cabal of scientists seeking world domination, climaxing in chaos at the Crystal Palace and the expected cameo by Queen Victoria, may seem equally familiar to many readers. The lack of surprises is somewhat ameliorated by a multitude of amusing allusions to the novel’s sources, especially Bunburry, the constantly ailing and entirely imaginary friend in Earnest, who’s transformed into a very real and incredibly accidentprone scientist. (It is unfortunate that Lady Augusta Bracknell, the imperiously witty matriarch who provides Earnest’s best lines, is morphed into a foul-mouthed, oafish astronomy professor.) Rosen writes with color and verve, particularly in his descriptions of mechanical marvels, and also offers moments of unexpected poignancy, such as the sad history of Cecily’s governess Miriam, whose characterization far exceeds the depth of her initial inspirations, Earnest’s ditzy Miss Prism and Twelfth Night’s comic maid Maria. Here’s hoping Rosen will strike out into fresher territory in future efforts.

people have to adapt. Now the world has been reconstituted under a feudalistic system, complete with lords, castles, knights, squires and the like, and magic and prophecies play increasingly important roles in the story. After questing for several novels, nominal protagonist Rudi Mackenzie has finally retrieved the mythical Sword of the Lady and is working to unite disparate factions as part of his new kingdom of Montival. Rudi, also known as Artos now that he has ascended to the role of High King, needs as many allies as he can get in order to face down the forces of the Church Universal and Triumphant, an evil organization that uses mind control to keep its subjects in line and is bent on conquering all of what was once North America. The novel follows dozens of characters as they maneuver things into place for the big showdown, but it’s almost all set-up for a climax that never arrives. Stirling spends paragraphs describing the clothing and weaponry of his characters in agonizing detail, while moving the plot along at a glacial pace. Although there are some fun nods to fantasy fandom (among them a faction of warriors who base their entire worldview on the Lord of the Rings novels), the writing is mostly deadly serious and dull. Stirling whips up a couple of lively set pieces, including the aforementioned Tolkien acolytes liberating the captive family of one of the opposition leaders, but the plodding boredom far outweighs the intermittent excitement. Dedicated followers of the series will likely want to see it through, but this installment doesn’t bode well for the books still to come.

TEARS OF THE SUN

Stirling, S.M. ROC/Penguin (496 pp.) $26.95 | September 6, 2011 978-0-451-46415-6 The eighth book in Stirling’s postapocalyptic Novels of the Change series is a mostly tedious wheel-spinning installment, with repetitive plotting and labored prose. Stirling (The High King of Montival, 2010, etc.) began the Change series with 2004’s Dies the Fire, in which all technology on Earth suddenly stops working, and 1536

|

1 september 2011

|

fiction

|

kirkusreviews.com

|


nonfiction HAITI A Shattered Nation

SIDE BY SIDE Parallel Histories of Israel-Palestine

Abbott, Elizabeth Duckworth/Overlook (496 pp.) $35.00 | October 1, 2011 978-1-59020-141-1 An appalling chronicle of Haiti’s ruinous progress, with Duvaliers major and minor serving as exemplars of venality. Much of this book first appeared in 1988, when Abbott published Haiti: The Duvaliers and Their Legacy. In this revised edition, the author brings us up to the present. “Just as the story of the Duvaliers and the infamous regime they created continues years after the last Duvalier left Haiti,” she writes, “it surely began long before 1957, the year Papa Doc became President.” Abbott begins with the abominable French colonial period, when it was cheaper to work slaves to death in the cane fields—just buy more—than provide the basic means of survival. The earth-shaking slave revolt that bounced French, Spanish and British interests from the island soon slid into degeneracy, thanks in large part to the embargo placed on the country’s products by the United States, whose slave-holders feared the bad example and crushed the trade that would have ushered Haiti into the modern world. Bitter class divisions, unchecked violence and mulatto-black enmity also marred the country’s early years, as well as an atrocious period of American occupation, all of which Abbott spells out in passionate, excruciating detail. Then came Papa Doc Duvalier—again, such initial promise; he spoke of integrity and humility—whose reign of terror, pillage and debauchery was all about the micromanagement of greed and power through such vehicles as the voodoo and the paramilitary group the Tontons Macoutes. Abbott draws a forceful portrait of a tyrant who gradually destroyed the country’s agricultural base while massacring all dissent—the amount of grotesque violence in these pages is breathtaking—to create a poster child for international aid. So it goes, with one corrupt autocratic government following another, to the sorry spectacle of an earthquake a year-anda-half ago still crippling the country today. More than two decades later, Abbott’s theory of Duvalierism’s enduring legacy holds water.

|

Adwan, Sami Bar-on, Dan Naveh, Eyal Peace Research Institute in the Middle East New Press (384 pp.) $23.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-59558-683-4

The Peace Research Institute in the Middle East (PRIME) constructs an innovative textbook juxtaposing the historical narratives of two peoples in seemingly endless conflict. Developed by a group of Israeli and Palestinian teachers, this text will prove useful not just to the young, but to anyone who quails at the thought of even attempting to unravel the knotty history of the Middle East. Under PRIME’s auspices, editors Adwan (Education/Bethlehem Univ.), Bar-On (now deceased) and Naveh (U.S. History/Tel Aviv Univ.), recognizing that the hostilities run deep and the divisions remain bitter, have set aside any attempt at consensus. They have “settled” instead for dual, oftentimes dueling, narratives of Israeli and Palestinian history, from the 1917 Balfour Declaration through 2000, the end of the Clinton administration and the outbreak of the Second Intifada. On alternate pages, literally “side by side,” the editors present both the Palestinian and Israeli versions of significant events that have marked the fraught decades of the 20th century. This device—along with a short introduction explaining their methodology—helps demonstrate the scrupulousness of their enterprise and underscores the differences between the parties, but it unfortunately makes for cumbersome reading. Alternate chapters would have served just as well to illustrate the stark divisions between these longtime antagonists. One side’s “War of Independence” is the other’s “catastrophe”; for Israel, the 1967 Six-Day War was “a huge victory in a war it didn’t initiate or intend,” where the Palestinians see it as an act of pure “aggression”; for the Israelis, America prosecuted the Gulf War to “maintain stability in the Middle East, “ understanding “its first priority was to achieve a political order acceptable to all sides,” while the Palestinians condemn the U.S. for using “its achievements in the war to enhance its hegemony even on its European allies.” Readers shouldn’t expect fine writing; this is a committee project where the goal is to avoid the flashy or the incendiary, to present, as honestly as possible, each side’s point of view. A small but important step, if not toward peace, then perhaps toward understanding.

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1537


“Wholly satisfying, with plenty of insights for Atwood and sci-fi fans alike.” from in other worlds

IN OTHER WORLDS SF and the Human Imagination

Atwood, Margaret Talese/Doubleday (272 pp.) $24.95 | October 18, 2011 978-0-385-53396-6 A witty, astute collection of essays and lectures on science fiction by the acclaimed novelist. The motivation for this book is a review of Atwood’s 2009 novel, The Year of the Flood, in which Ursula K. Le Guin accused Atwood of rejecting the term “science fiction” in connection to her own work, lest it trap her in a populist ghetto. In the three new lectures that anchor this collection, Atwood shows that such claims are unfounded. She’s just careful about terminology, and her close studies of H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley and Le Guin herself prove she’s not just playing semantic games. In one lecture, she recalls her obsession with sci-fi tales as a child and studies the ways that the genre’s tropes have been the bedrock of storytelling since antiquity. In another, she discusses “ustopia,” the term she uses for her own forays into science fiction, The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) and Oryx and Crake (2003), in addition to The Year of the Flood. “Ustopia” reflects her belief that every dystopian tale has a utopian one embedded in it, and vice versa; for instance, George Orwell’s 1984 concludes with a faux postscript that suggests that the grim authoritarian society it depicts ultimately faded. The individual reviews read like rehearsals for the themes she covers in the longer lectures, but they’re worth reading in their own right: Atwood is a stellar reviewer who deftly exposes the ironies and ideas embedded in books by Rider Haggard, Kazuo Ishiguro and Jonathan Swift, and her tone easily shifts from rigorous academic to wisecracking feminist. A handful of fictional excerpts prove that she can walk it like she talks it: Whatever name she applies to the work, it’s clear that her affection for the genre is deep and genuine. Wholly satisfying, with plenty of insights for Atwood and sci-fi fans alike. (Agents: Phoebe Larmore and Vivienne Schuster )

DEFEATING DICTATORS Fighting Tyranny in Africa and Around the World

Ayittey, George B.N. Palgrave Macmillan (288 pp.) $27.00 | October 25, 2011 978-0-230-10859-2

How to deal with despots in Africa and other parts of the world. The founder of the Free Africa Foundation, Ayittey (Economics/American Univ.; Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa’s Future, 2004, etc.) has struggled for nearly 40 years to advance the idea that despotic governments are not caused by external 1538

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

factors—imperialism, for example—but by internal corruption and incompetence. In fact, the author argues that intervention from the United States and other Western powers often aggravates the problem. His latest work elaborates on “Ayittey’s Law,” which identifies the sequence of events that accompany what have been successful movements against despotic regimes. Ayittey divides the despotic regimes into “vampire states” and “coconut republics.” The worst of the vampire states include Mexico and Nigeria, while Uganda and Tanzania are among the coconut republics. He also provides a helpful list of “the most odious and despicable” of the despotic regimes, which include Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, Than Shwe of Myanmar and Isaiah Afwerki of Eritrea. The author writes that traditional societies can provide a basis for opposing despots and despotisms. In addition to providing recipes for tactics to be employed against differing kinds of despotisms, Ayittey also shows where movements against despots have failed. Freedom of expression and outreach through media access are among the tactics he recommends, and he cites the successful use of radio in Ghana and online activities in Egypt and Tunisia. A useful step-by-step guide to “help oppressed people… bring democratic change to their countries peacefully— without violence, without firing a shot, and without Western help or intervention.”

VELÁSQUEZ AND THE SURRENDER OF BREDA The Making of Masterpiece Bailey, Anthony John Macrae/Henry Holt (288 pp.) $30.00 | November 8, 2011 978-0-8050-8835-9

A fascinating look at the paintings and history of 17th-century Spanish court painter Diego Velázquez, through the prism of one of his greatest masterpieces. Longtime New Yorker writer Bailey (John Constable: A Kingdom of His Own, 2007, etc.) uses Velázquez’s painting of the 1625 surrender of the Dutch town of Breda to Spanish forces as an entry point into a richly detailed portrait of the court of King Philip IV as Spain’s Hapsburg empire crumbled around him. Though the basic details of Velázquez’s life are known and some 125 of his paintings survive, as Bailey apologetically reminds us throughout, when it comes to his inner thoughts and feelings, there is little to go on. The only description of the painter’s personality, given by several sources, is that he was phlegmatic—“in modern parlance, Velázquez was cool.” There is, however, much documentation about Philip IV’s court, and Bailey brings it vividly to life, as he simultaneously traces the artist’s rise from humble beginnings to eventual nobility. The author also thoroughly examines the military victory at Breda, a high point on the downward slope, along with other important events and many of Velázquez’s most famous works. Bailey does not resist the temptation to speculate about the painter’s inner life based on his work, with mixed results. Ultimately, Velázquez remains

kirkusreviews.com

|


a cipher, a man whose ambition seems to have been focused on advancing at court rather than on becoming a great artist. That he did become one is confirmed by the paintings he left behind, and his influence, covered by Bailey in the penultimate chapter, on those who followed. An impressive work of history that gives the reader a greater appreciation for the art, if not an understanding of the mind, of one of the world’s master painters. (30 blackand-white illustrations; 8-page color insert)

CATHOLICISM A Journey to the Heart of the Faith

Barron, Robert Doubleday (320 pp.) $29.99 | September 6, 2011 978-0-307-72051-1

An accessible introduction to traditional Catholic teachings. Best known for his evangelical ministry, Word On Fire, Father Barron’s (Eucharist (Catholic Spirituality for Adults), 2008, etc.) latest book opens with a description of what he calls the distinctive “Catholic thing,” the incarnation of the Word, Jesus, as human flesh. Catholics experience this continued enfleshment, Barron writes, through sacraments and songs, theology, the teachings of the Church, and Catholic art and poetry. So begins this simple, engaging guide to the Church that encompasses everything from theological tracts to popular tales of Mary apparitions. The author shies away from hot topics such as abortion and sexuality, focusing on philosophical principals such as the mystery of God, the problem of evil, the beatitudes, the unified Catholic church, Mary’s role as the Mother of God and the Eucharist. Highlights include inspirational stories about notable Catholics, including Mother Teresa and her struggle with faith, the conversion story of playboy-turned-monk Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day’s activism and the teachings of Pope Benedict XVI. Barron surveys different aspects of Catholicism rather than presenting a comprehensive guidebook: “I want to function as a mystagogue, conducting you ever deeper into the mystery of the Incarnation in the hopes that you might be transformed by its power.” Interspersed within the text are numerous images of Catholic paintings, sculptures and cathedrals, serving as a quiet reminder of the religion’s rich artistic history. Not in-depth enough for seasoned Catholics, but provides a pleasant primer for cafeteria Catholics and newcomers to the faith.

|

MY SONG A Memoir

Belafonte, Harry Shnayerson, Michael Knopf (464 pp.) $30.00 | October 11, 2011 978-0-307-27226-3 978-0-307-70048-3 e-book

The noted entertainer and activist looks back over his tumultuous life. Being the first singer to sell 1 million copies of an album (Calypso in 1956) and writing his own ticket at the otherwise segregated Riviera in Las Vegas did little to assuage Belafonte’s fury at the discrimination he had experienced before he made it big. Nor had the emotional scars healed from a poverty-stricken childhood with a severely depressed, impossible-to-please mother, he acknowledges in this forthright memoir, ably co-authored by veteran reporter Shnayerson (Coal River, 2008, etc.). Not until he met Martin Luther King Jr. in 1956 did Belafonte find a way to channel his rage into the larger struggle for racial justice. He would become as well known for his unswerving commitment to civil rights as for his records and concerts. He planned strategy with King; funded the young rebels at the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Council; acted as a liaison to the hesitant Kennedy administration; and recruited the celebrity-studded lineup for the March on Washington. Though never as big a movie star as his friend Sidney Poitier, about whom he writes with equal parts affection and competitiveness, Belafonte also had some successes in film, most notably opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Carmen Jones (1954) and in Robert Altman’s Kansas City (1996). He recounts these highlights, as well as three marriages, four kids, a half-century in Freudian analysis, and lots more, with frankness and bite. He has mellowed not at all in old age, calling George Bush a terrorist in 2006 and judging President Obama to be insufficiently compassionate and committed to the poor. Yet Belafonte’s bluntness and vast ego aren’t too hard to take, since they are so often applied to the service of others, not just in the ’50s and ’60s but into the ’80s with the “We Are the World” video for African famine relief and currently in his Gathering for Justice project to train minority youths in nonviolent activism. Bracingly opinionated autobiography from an American original, still provocative in his ninth decade. (32 pages of photographs. First printing of 150,000. Author tour to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington, D.C.)

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1539


“Like a ballpark frank, it might be a little overdone, and some bits might be tough to swallow, but you can’t help but venjoy it.” from a moment in time

AN ACCIDENTAL ATHLETE A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Middle Age

Bingham, John VeloPress (212 pp.) $16.95 paperback | August 1, 2011 978-1-934030-73-8 paperback

In a brisk memoir, former Runner’s World columnist Bingham (Running for Mortals, 2007, etc.) recounts his transformation from overweight, chain-smoking couch potato to avid runner, cyclist and swimmer. “A funny thing happened on my way to middle age. I became an athlete,” writes the author in the introduction to his exploration of adult-onset athleticism. Bingham recalls his struggle with basic sports at an early age, as swimming, basketball, baseball, even bowling, all proved difficult to master. “This was a heartbreaking moment,” the author writes, and led to a self-imposed “long period of sedentary confinement.” Despite achieving much success both personally and professionally, Bingham couldn’t help but feel something was missing. When one of his colleagues returned from a cycling trip aglow with joy and energy, he finally realized that his inactive lifestyle was responsible for the emptiness he felt. He immediately went out to purchase a bike and began cycling. Because his job required so much travel, however, Bingham took up running. His first run may have lasted only eight seconds, but “what I knew for sure was that even though I was awful at it, I liked running.” More than two decades and thousands of miles later, Bingham’s first race stands in his memory as the moment his life changed. More than a meditation on adult athleticism, this is a winning blend of wisdom and motivation.

A MOMENT IN TIME An American Story of Baseball, Heartbreak, and Grace Branca, Ralph Ritz, David Scribner (240 pp.) $25.00 | October 1, 2011 978-1-4516-3687-1

The pitcher who served up Bobby Thomson’s 1951 pennant-winning homerun, the legendary “Shot Heard ‘Round the World,” spins yarns from a bygone era when baseball was still king. Baseball, by virtue of its place of prominence in early American sporting culture and its gently rhythmic, almost lackadaisical pace of play, has long been a prime conduit for nostalgia-driven memoirs. Branca, ably assisted by veteran co-author Ritz (Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King, 2011, etc.), adds another chapter to that collective oeuvre, chronicling his days pitching for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the team’s heyday, when trailblazing Jackie Robinson broke 1540

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

baseball’s color barrier and “dem Bums” were one of three storied New York franchises (along with the Yankees and Thomson’s Giants) who dominated the Major Leagues. Rather than a prototypical tale of overcoming inner demons or rising above childhood poverty, however, the author offers a kinder, gentler tale, which starts with a loving and supportive family and concludes not with the crowning achievement of a World Series triumph, but rather with a crushing failure—the aforementioned “Shot”—followed by a gradual decline into mediocrity. Branca does, however, remove some luster from Thomson’s historic homer by detailing how the rival Giants used a high-powered telescope to steal other teams’ signs, an ignominious stain on an otherwise remarkable season of baseball that is well documented in Joshua Prager’s masterful The Echoing Green (2006). Despite the circumstances, Branca evinces little bitterness: He married the girl of his dreams, enjoyed post-career success as an insurance salesman and even got some merchandising mileage out of a friendship with Thomson that developed years after their careers had ended. Like a ballpark frank, it might be a little overdone, and some bits might be tough to swallow, but you can’t help but enjoy it.

18 MINUTES Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

Bregman, Peter Business Plus/Grand Central (288 pp.) $24.99 | September 28, 2011 978-0-446-58341-1 Successful people can get even more out of life and work by mastering distraction and following a few supposedly

simple rules. The 18 minutes in Harvard Business Review columnist and business consultant Bregman’s (Point B: A Short Guide to Leading a Big Change, 2007) plan, not revealed until well into the book, include one minute every working hour to contemplate how effectively the carefully plotted previous hour was used and what’s in store for the next. This ritualistic hourly refocusing exercise should be prompted by a pre-programmed phone, computer or watch alert. There will also be just enough time to ponder, “Who am I?” The author’s method accounts for a daily eight minutes during work, sandwiched between five minutes in the morning to plan ahead and another five at night to candidly review how it went. Do it faithfully and success will follow or increase. Many chapters in this formulaic guide begin with anecdotes that lead to some larger point and are topped off with a chapter-ending homily. Emphasis is placed on shutting out distraction, as in refusing to cede precious seconds to people or things that don’t really matter in one’s yearly, daily, and minute-by-minute plan. Bregman’s writing style is lucid if somewhat self-congratulatory. That prospective practitioners of the author’s program are intelligent, talented and ambitious

kirkusreviews.com

|


is assumed. Only one lower-order person appears in the book, a night janitor with a sense of achievement for making an office look clean. The author, a Princeton graduate and self-made man, seems to find this hard to credit. Irritating on many levels, but loosely based on an underlying truth that thought should precede action.

IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU A Little Story About What Matters Most in Business Burg, Bob Mann, John David Portfolio (144 pp.) $23.95 | September 20, 2011 978-1-59184-419-8

An entertaining parable that could help hone business skills. Those who think a successful sales strategy involves aggressive badgering may be surprised by Burg and Mann’s (Go-Givers Sell More, 2010, etc.) latest release. Despite the title of their third collaboration, they argue that it is about you; it’s about how you need to learn to listen to others and focus on their needs. Do so, Burg and Mann imply, and you’ll not only make the sale but learn to lead in the process. The protagonist of their story is a young salesman, Ben, who has been sent to buy out a struggling yet beloved chair manufacturer. Over the course of a few weeks, Ben becomes close with the four company executives, each of whom exhibits a different leadership trait. At the behest of his mysterious mentor, “Aunt Elle,” with whom he meets regularly for tea, Ben learns how to navigate the tumultuous waters of salesmanship— as well as leadership, since Ben ultimately discovers that learning to lead is at the heart of all business transactions. This slim volume is lighter and more readable than many business books, with accessible language and universally applicable lessons. The roadblocks Ben encounters along the way offer helpful instruction for how to deal with others, regardless of one’s profession. Hardly a gripping tale, but as a paradigm for those struggling to make their way in the world of corporate sales, it could prove somewhat enlightening.

NOTHING A Portrait of Insomnia

Butler, Blake Perennial/HarperCollins (288 pp.) $14.99 paperback | October 18, 2011 978-0-06-199738-9 paperback

A story of sleeplessness told through lyrical bursts of prose, science, fleeting thoughts, and haphazard punctuation. Atlanta-based novelist Butler (There Is No Year, 2011, etc.) attempts to comprehend the bewildering “aimless mental spin” resulting from a consecutive stream |

of restless nights. Conveyed through footnotes and streamlined paragraphs, the author recollects his troubled, paranoid childhood terrorized by Stephen King novels and sleepless nights spent “rubbing along walls” for seams in the house. When sleep came, it was accomplished by contorting himself beneath his parents’ bed and was often accompanied by night terrors, a horrific condition believed to be inherited from his mother, who documented the family in handwritten journals. He describes his present-day struggle to achieve slumber as a multitiered ritual rife with minute physical nuances each harboring the potential to allow him either a good night’s sleep or one spent writhing in frustration. Once awake, however, his “busy brain” actively nursed a buzzing Internet obsession with search engines or Facebook, “jumbling through nothing, staring at images of head after new head.” Particularly harrowing are sections detailing the author’s unimaginable near-six-day stretch without sleep and the eerie visions of an ominous male phantom lurking outside his bedroom window. Exasperatingly ineffective trials with sleeping pills, hypnosis videos and a walkin clinic evaluation only compounded Butler’s dilemma. A slick combination of dreamscapes, stream-of-consciousness writing and referential scientific data on the compelling origins of insomnia disorders coalesce in a narrative that’s initially intimidating and demanding in its unorthodox delivery yet becomes compelling once Butler establishes a narrative cadence. A weird, waking-dream of a memoir superbly illustrating the relentless inner spin of the insomniac. (Author events in New York and Atlanta)

MY STONE OF HOPE From Haitian Slave Child to Abolitionist Cadet, Jean-Robert

Univ. of Texas (224 pp.) $29.95 | $21.95 paperback October 15, 2011 978-0-292-72853-0 978-0-292-72929-2 paperback A devastating memoir about the shocking persistence of child slavery in Haiti. Cadet (Restavec: From Haitian Slave to Middle-Class American, 1998) writes with the hard-earned authority, for he was a child slave in Haiti from the late 1950s to the early ’70s. When he was young, those in the city who were better off got their child labor from the country. Though the days of Papa Doc Duvalier’s brutal regime have ended, child labor continues. Cadet fought to make his way in the United States, and he recounts the demons and ignorance he had to confront to find education, serve in the military and take advantage of GI benefits to become a teacher. He writes of his work rescuing Haiti’s child slaves, helping to educate them as a way to give back what was given to him. In Cadet’s view, the scars of childhood slavery leave their marks on minds as well as bodies torn by cow-hide whips and switches. The institution wounds everyone—slave and nonslave, adult and child—and the scars

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1541


continue down through the culture; to this day, the threats of punishment and violence persist. Cadet sees the right to education for all as an affirmation of a society’s commitment to its future. His journey of self-discovery was completed when he found the family from which he was taken so long ago. A powerful contribution to the ongoing discussion about Haiti and the shortcomings of current approaches to aid and disaster relief in the aftermath of the massive earthquake. (11 black-and-white photos)

PHILLIS WHEATLEY Biography of a Genius in Bondage

Carretta, Vincent Univ. of Georgia (304 pp.) $29.95 | November 1, 2011 978-0-8203-3338-0 Carretta (English/Univ. of Maryland; Equiano, the African, 2005) returns with an examination of the life of a woman of whom little is known but whom the author and literary history have crowned as the mother of African-American literature. The author struggles mightily to add flesh to the skeletal structure of Phillis Wheatley’s (1753–1784) story. He tells us about the slave ship that brought her, when she was about 7, from Africa, as well as some general history about the Wheatleys, who purchased her then freed her at the urging of her supporters in England, where she had published her only volume, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, in 1773. Carretta supplies as much as he can about her life before she began writing, the effects of her poetry, her minor celebrity in England (where her volume earned some respectful but sometimes patronizing reviews; scholars have found no American reviews) and her relationships with George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John Paul Jones and others. The author also discusses the man she later married, John Peters, whose financial troubles might have caused her virtual disappearance for a few years near the end of her life. She floated proposals for a second volume of verse, but circumstance denied her. Carretta speculates that she might have had a better life if she had stayed in England, where she traveled with a Wheatley on business in 1773. In London, she discovered an intellectual and personal freedom unknown to those of her race (and gender) in America. But too often the slim record forces Carretta to employ words like probably and likely, to substitute historical and cultural backgrounds for biographical fact and to tell us about other people only tangentially involved. Even this most resolute, thorough excavation cannot uncover what is no longer there. Still, this is the most complete biography available, and no one is likely to find out much more of consequence about Wheatley. (34 black-andwhite photos; 1 map)

1542

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT Notes on a Dozen Lifelong Sports

Casey, John Knopf (240 pp.) $25.95 | November 9, 2011 978-0-307-70002-5 978-0-307-70135-0 e-book

An author/lit professor/exercise fanatic chronicles his lifelong pursuit of endurance sports and survival training. Marathons, cross-country skiing races, endurance hikes, epic rowing junkets, wilderness survival trips—National Book Award winner Casey (English/Univ. of Virginia; Compass Rose, 2010, etc.) has led a vigorous life worth writing about, and he does so in a muscular prose worthy of his manly pursuits. That’s not to say, however, that the narrative is driven by a testosterone-fueled need to prove athletic excellence or dominion over nature. Instead the author attempts to re-create on paper the mind-numbing cold of a snowy night spent huddled in a selfmade shelter, the strange weightlessness of a long-distance run and the hand-shredding and leg-shaking fatigue brought on by hours of rowing. For all of the vivid descriptions, however, there is an analytical distance, the requisite probe for meaning engendered by the mind of a writer and teacher—not so much in the acknowledgement of the therapeutic power of exercise as a balm against divorce-induced depression, but rather in the effort to contextualize the intensely personal yet still communal Outward Bound experience, or to describe the kinship and camaraderie of like-minded individuals engaged in the same quest for something beyond health, vanity, endorphins or competition. Age becomes a more prominent theme as the essays progress, with the author concocting increasingly elaborate exercise routines to commemorate his birthdays. Casey shows evident pride as he details his continued achievements, but the same outward self-assessment that pervades the collection remains, a balance between acknowledging the passing of years while striving to avoid being controlled by them. Occasionally self-indulgent, but the collection’s rustic charm and indomitable spirit transcend its flaws.

1,000 MITZVAHS How Small Acts of Kindness Can Heal, Inspire, and Change Your Life

Cohen, Linda Seal Press (220 pp.) $16.00 paperback | September 27, 2011 978-1-58005-365-5 paperback In her debut, Cohen recounts her experiences performing a variety of good deeds. The author commenced her plan to carry out 1,000 mitzvahs, or acts of kindness, as a way of honoring her late father’s memory and coping with her loss. While the traditional meaning of the

kirkusreviews.com

|


word “mitzvah” alludes to “statements and principles of Jewish law and ethics contained in the Torah,” Cohen writes from a secular standpoint, inviting readers of all faiths to embrace an altruistic approach to life. An active wife and mother of two, the author demonstrates that performing acts of kindness does not require excessive time or money, and the rewards for the giver and receiver are priceless. Organized categorically rather than by sequence of events, Cohen shares details of mitzvahs she’s bestowed upon a variety of recipients, including charity organizations, pets, those in mourning and the environment. Her preludes to each category of mitzvahs provide thoughtful perspectives on life. However, because her mitzvahs are grouped by common theme, Cohen’s anecdotes at times can blend together without distinction. On other occasions, the author takes herself a bit too seriously, describing a lighthearted mitzvah such as replacing toilet paper in a public bathroom as an act that can “prevent another person from having to experience this extremely vulnerable and helpless situation.” An endearing reminder that small gestures can often go a long way.

SWEET JUDY BLUE EYES My Life in Music

Collins, Judy Crown Archetype (368 pp.) $26.00 | October 18, 2011 978-0-307-71734-4

Famed folk singer’s candid memoir about her survival in the music business despite a 20-year battle with booze. Although classically trained folkie Collins (Singing Lessons, 1998, etc.) may exude an angelic veneer of ivory-snow purity and Midwestern conservatism, this memoir should dispel any remaining air of innocence surrounding the woman who made Stephen Sondheim’s saccharine “Send In the Clowns” a top-10 hit. Collins was raised in a middle-class family in Colorado at the beginning of World War II. Her father was a blind radio personality with some modicum of notoriety. However, he was also a depressionprone alcoholic whose addictive personality got passed down to his musician daughter with full potency. Although this is as booze-soaked a memoir as any rock star could hope to write, Collins provides a panoramic view of a politically turbulent but creatively explosive bygone era. Along with telling the story of her own rise to prominence in the mid-’60s New York City folk scene, the author also places her life in its broader historical context. Readers will get a keen sense of the tenor of the times as Collins repopulates the Greenwich Village streets with all the vibrant characters and long-vanished performance venues that helped make that neighborhood famous. Though she married young, Collins soon became something of a notorious serial monogamist, zipping from one partner to another with striking frequency, even for the free-love generation: Collins shared a bed with everyone from an English professor to rock star Stephen Stills. Although the author is refreshingly forthcoming |

about her promiscuity, she never spends much time secondguessing her frequent and sometimes overlapping relationships with men. Up through her popular mainstream success in the ’70s, Collins continued her struggle with alcohol addiction and fragmented relationships until around 1978, when she finally found some grounding in her life. Despite Collins’ tendency to lapse into high-toned idealism and compulsive name-dropping, this is a fascinating and even harrowing musical and personal reflection. (Events in New York. Agent: Susan Raihofer)

THE STRUGGLE FOR EGYPT From Nasser to Tahrir Square

Cook, Steven A. Oxford Univ. (408 pp.) $27.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-19-979526-0

The unfolding of events leading up to the overthrow of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, including a detailed account of the build-up to revolution and how recent developments were organized. Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Cook (Ruling But Not Governing: The Military and Political Development in Egypt, Algeria and Turkey, 2007), who is intimately familiar with Egypt and its political and cultural history, begins from Nasser’s 1952 coup, providing broad context for his discussion. He duly investigates the many strands of Egypt’s religious, military and political history, in particular since the British bought the Suez Canal Company from its French owners at the end of the 19th century. Cook also focuses on the relationship between Islam and Egypt’s military, demonstrating how U.S. policies have been spread through the Middle East by the Agency for International Development, working with the Egyptian government’s institutions. Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood is the main concern, since it has provided a core of personnel for al-Qaeda’s terror operations around the world, including 9/11. Cook also profiles the secular opposition, which has been increasing, and the factors that contributed to the Tahrir Square demonstrations. A nice complement to Lloyd Gardner’s similar book, The Road to Tahrir Square (2011), though Cook is more concerned with internal than international dynamics.

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1543


“A monumental, definitive biography of one the finest film actors in the history of the medium.” from spencer tracy

THE BEST AMERICAN TRAVEL WRITING 2011

Editor: Crosley, Sloane Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (288 pp.) $14.95 paperback | October 4, 2011 978-0-547-33336-6 paperback An eclectic but not particularly strong collection of pieces involving travel around the globe and around the yard. Independent columnist Crosley (How Did You Get This Number, 2010, etc.) presents a wide variety of pieces, including André Aciman’s search for Monet sites in Bordighera, Christopher Buckley’s brief account of a year on a tramp freighter, Keith Gessen’s grousings about Moscow traffic and Emily Witt’s sophomoric snippets about her drinking and partying in Miami. At times, Crosley seems bent on juxtaposing pieces to see what light may emerge from the collision, say, between Téa Obreht’s peregrinations in the Balkans hearing vampire stories and Annie Proulx’s quiet walks around her Wyoming ranch observing the wildlife. At other times, the editor places shorter pieces (Gary Shteyngart’s cryptic ruminations about Russians in Israel) before longer ones (William T. Vollmann’s six visits to Kirkuk to learn about the Kurds and the explosive politics in the region). There are essays by writers who went to geographical extremes (Justin Nobel to Arctic Quebec, Verlyn Klinkenborg to a remote area of Australia, Maureen Dowd to Saudi Arabia) and those who stuck closer to home (Ariel Levy to the Hamptons for an enlightening piece about Indian casinos, Jessica McCaughey on a local hike where she tried to cure her inept internal GPS). Some pieces have moments that are downright harrowing: Mischa Berlinski’s views of earthquake devastation in Haiti, Tom Ireland’s time in Mumbai while terrorists were killing people. Although these writers invariably have something novel to say, there aren’t a lot of moments that will make armchair travelers race out to renew their passports.

SPENCER TRACY A Life

Curtis, James Knopf (1056 pp.) $39.95 | October 18, 2011 978-0-307-26289-9 978-0-307-59522-5 e-book

Spencer Tracy (1900–1967), warts and all. Acclaimed biographer Curtis (W.C. Fields, 2003, etc.) presents an exhaustive and exhausting biography of the legendary Hollywood star, famed for his uncanny naturalism and authority on camera and best remembered for the series of films he made with longtime companion Katharine Hepburn. Impeccably researched, Curtis’ doorstopper chronicles Tracy’s steady rise from stock 1544

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

company star to Broadway sensation to silver screen icon in copious and sometimes plodding detail, recording salary negotiations, scheduling conflicts and press notices with laser-like focus. Happily, the author is equally expansive on the production details of Tracy’s many classic films, his friendships and affairs with fellow glitterati and the culture of working actors in a variety of milieus. The heart of the book concerns Tracy’s turbulent relationship with Hepburn; in Curtis’ telling, it was a miraculous meeting of two diametrically opposed and difficult temperaments in which the neuroses and rough edges of each party found succor and understanding in the other. Truthfully, they both come across as monumentally annoying, and Tracy’s lugubrious personality—guilt-ridden, painfully sensitive, diffident, gloomy—casts a bit of a pall over the narrative. Curtis is scrupulous but not salacious in documenting Tracy’s catastrophic alcoholism and philandering. His long-suffering wife Louise (they never divorced, despite the open secret of his decades-long affair with Hepburn) emerges as an unlikely hero, an intelligent and proud woman who devoted her life to the establishment and expansion of The John Tracy Clinic, named for the couple’s deaf son and tasked with improving the lot of deaf children and their parents through education and progressive treatments. Tracy regularly supplied funding for the clinic and seemed to regard its existence as the noblest aspect of his legacy—unsurprising for a self-loathing man who always reckoned he should have become a doctor or a priest and regarded his chosen profession as an embarrassment. A monumental, definitive biography of one the finest film actors in the history of the medium. (136 photographs. First printing of 60,000. Author tour to Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco. Agent: Neil Olson)

1812 The Navy’s War

Daughan, George C. Basic (512 pp.) $32.50 | October 4, 2011 978-0-465-02046-1

A naval expert’s readable take on the U.S. Navy’s surprising performance in the war that finally reconciled the British to America’s independence. Maritime disputes over impressments and free trade forced a reluctant Madison to ask Congress to declare war in 1812 against Great Britain. Presumptions on both sides—that the U.S. could easily invade and conquer Canada and that the Royal Navy would vanquish America’s woefully inadequate navy—proved erroneous. The antagonists signed a treaty three years later, quietly dropping the disagreements over sailors’ rights and sea-going commerce. Daughan (If By Sea: The Forging of the American Navy—From the Revolution to the War of 1812, 2008) follows up his award-winning debut about the U.S. Navy’s birth with this story of its maturation. If the U.S. Navy, along with considerable assistance from privateers, didn’t win the War of 1812, it probably kept the nation from losing.

kirkusreviews.com

|


The Great Lakes, coastal and blue-water exploits of outstanding officers like Isaac Hull, David Porter, Stephen Decatur and Oliver Hazard Perry earned new respect for America’s fleet; victories by the Essex, the Hornet and the Constitution (dubbed “Old Ironsides” after its triumph over the Guerriere) set off national celebrations. Daughan supplies just enough of the big picture—the dismal struggles of both armies, Napoleon’s off-stage machinations that determined so much of the war’s progress, the outcome of domestic political squabbles upon which the navy’s survival depended—to place the navy’s role in context, but he focuses on the personalities, ships and battles that prevented the British from suffocating the infant nation’s maritime ambitions. With each success, the navy demonstrated its value, shaming the politicians reluctant to fund it. After the war, writes the author, the navy became an integral part of the nation’s new defense strategy. A smart salute to a defining moment in the history of the U.S. Navy. (10 maps; 20 black-and-white illustrations. Author tour to Baltimore, Boston, New York, Washington, D.C./Annapolis. Agent: Rob McQuilkin)

KISSES FROM KATIE A Young Woman’s Journey of Faith, a Remote Village, a Love Without Limits Davis, Katie Clark, Beth Howard Books/Simon & Schuster (288 pp.) $24.00 | October 4, 2011 978-1-4516-1206-6

This moving debut memoir tells Davis’ story of moving to Uganda and founding Amazima ministries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to bettering the lives of underprivileged children. As a teenager, the author found herself hungering for an outof-the-box experience that would allow her to do “something incredible for God and others.” She researched opportunities at orphanages and discovered a Ugandan home for abandoned babies that needed volunteers. Over the Christmas holiday in 2006 and just six months before Davis graduated from high school, she “lost part of [her] heart to a place [she’d] never been before.” A pastor whom she met during the trip invited her to teach at a kindergarten he would soon be opening, and Davis accepted. While she knew she would be giving up what most young, upper-middle-class adults take for granted—a comfortable life, college and prospects for a good career—she didn’t yet realize how much her work would change her. Davis came to love the people and especially the children in her village as much (if not more than) the members of her own family. At 19, she adopted four homeless little girls; by the time she was 22, she had become mother to 10 more. Her personal sacrifices cut her to the bone but taught her that “to be real is to love and be loved until there’s nothing left.” The profundity of this young |

author’s commitment to God and to going to “the hard places” is nothing short of remarkable. Though frankly evangelical, Davis’ book is still a refreshing read for those seeking the inspiration to follow the stirrings of their own hearts. (8-page 4-color insert)

SERIOUSLY...I’M KIDDING

DeGeneres, Ellen Grand Central Publishing (256 pp.) $26.99 | $28.99 large print $29.98 compact disc | October 4, 2011 978-0-446-58502-6 978-1-455-50415-2 large print 978-1-609-41041-4 compact disc The doyenne of afternoon comedy returns with more quirky reflections on life. The author’s latest comes eight years after her last bestselling collection of humorous musings (The Funny Thing Is…, 2003, etc.), as well as after one wildly successful talk show, a brief stint on American Idol and the founding of a record label. While the present work largely represents more of the same from DeGeneres, fans will not be disappointed. This hodgepodge of self-help tips, adult(ish) stories, coloring-book pages for children of all ages and one hilarious haiku—“Haiku sounds like I’m / saying hi to someone named / Ku. Hi, Ku. Hello.”—displays throughout the author’s gift for capturing the absurd hilarity of internal monologue. As such, readers will expect the audiobook edition to amplify the humor of some of these vignettes that, on the page, elicit little more than quiet smirks. Many of the passages, like her advice on “How to Be a Supermodel”—“Get those lips out there. Purse your lips like you’re trying to sip out of a straw that someone keeps moving away from you…Be mysterious. Always pose with one hand in your pocket as if to say, ‘I’m so mysterious, this hand in my pocket could be a hook hand. You don’t know’ ”—deliver their comedic punch unaided. One of the more refreshing aspects of this miscellany is DeGeneres’ inclusion of her spouse, Portia de Rossi, whom she admires and gently chides as any partner might—e.g., her critique of de Rossi’s lotion mania: “Each kind says it has something special in it for your skin—aloe, shea butter, coconut, cocoa butter, vanilla, lemon extract. That’s not lotion. That’s one ingredient short of a Bundt cake.” Though DeGeneres doesn’t provide many laugh-out-loud moments, her trademark wit and openness shine through.

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1545


“An entertaining presentation of important ideas and information about how lives could be improved.” from what’s the economy for, anyway?

WHAT’S THE ECONOMY FOR, ANYWAY? Why It’s Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness

de Graaf, John Batker, David K. Bloomsbury (304 pp.) $25.00 | November 1, 2011 978-1-60819-510-7

A stimulating approach to the economy, which puts people and their needs ahead of money-based indicators of growth and performance. De Graaf, coordinator of the Seattle Area Happiness Initiative (co-author: Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, 2005) and Batker, a fellow at the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics at the University of Vermont, examine new ways to think about economic processes, specifically as they relate to human happiness and wellbeing. The authors show that the indicators of performance developed during World War II—the “Gross National Product”—have become both obscurantist and counterproductive. They argue that human purposes and needs ought to provide the basis for much more broadly based measures of performance, which would consider what is the greatest good and benefit for the greatest number of people over the longest period of time. The authors have been involved with efforts to establish such approaches through the Seattle project and the Bhutan “Gross National Happiness Indicator,” both of which are based on measuring the satisfaction of human needs, like food, shelter, clothing, health care, education and those related to the quality of individual and community life. De Graaf and Batker compare these approaches with legislative and social initiatives in countries like the Netherlands, Denmark and Germany, where such approaches are made priorities. For example, since 1981 in Holland, it has been a requirement that part-time workers be treated exactly the same as full-time workers. The authors counter the insistence of U.S. conservatives that the redistribution of wealth merely shifts money from rich to poor; they demonstrate that society’s resources as a whole are increased through added capabilities that enrich everyone’s lives. An entertaining presentation of important ideas and information about how lives could be improved.

FOUNDING RIVALS Madison vs. Monroe: The Bill of Rights and the Election that Saved a Nation DeRose, Chris Regnery History (336 pp.) $27.95 | November 14, 2011 978-1-59698-192-8

A fresh, narrow, knowledgeable-ofminutia take on a well-known friendship and rivalry during the early establishment of the U.S. Constitution. 1546

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

Attorney and political strategist DeRose shifts his focus around James Madison’s forced championing of a Bill of Rights to the Constitution, the contentious Congressional election campaign between fellow Virginians Madison and James Monroe of 1789 and the early influence of the Virginia Plan on the drafting of the U.S. Constitution. His depiction of the evolving relationship between the two key Virginians proves a steady, compelling narrative throughout. Several years younger than Madison, the Revolutionary War hero Monroe became Madison’s protégé and correspondent. Madison, a soft-spoken, eloquent landowner and delegate, became the architect of the Constitution. Both men, writes DeRose, proved in separate ways their heartfelt patriotism. At the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, Madison helped hammer out a perfect-enough Constitution in order to present to the states, and then—along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay— tried to convince the public of its worth in a series of newspaper essays under the pen name Publius (i.e., The Federalist Papers). Subsequently, Monroe, as a delegate to the Virginia Ratification Convention the next year, presented objections, namely to the lack of controls on the central government and need for preservation of basic rights. In just six months, Madison and Monroe would be battling over election to the first House of Representatives. Madison barely won, largely because of his campaign promise to introduce into the new Congress a Bill of Rights, which he duly did, preempting the anti-Federalists, and thus helping to gain passage for the first 10 amendments by 1791. DeRose maintains that unless Monroe opposed Madison early on, the lack of amendments would have quickly created division and rupture in the new government. A lively, clear-cut study of the myriad hurdles and uncertainty that characterized the first attempts to form the U.S. government.

SURVIVING THE SHADOWS A Journey of Hope into Post-Traumatic Stress

Delaney, Bob Scheiber, Dave Sourcebooks (320 pp.) $16.99 paperback | September 1, 2011 978-1-4022-6355-2 paperback

With an affecting compilation of true stories and information, veteran NBA referee Delaney (Covert, 2008) sheds light on the often undiagnosed horrors of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). During his stint as an undercover agent for the New Jersey State Police in the 1970s, the author infiltrated the mafia and witnessed firsthand the depravity of organized crime. He also developed PTSD and has since crusaded to help others who are suffering its ravages, which include emotional, psychological and physiological symptoms like extreme fatigue and paranoia. With clarity and gentle insight, Delaney provides real-life stories amid eye-opening facts. PTSD can affect anyone who has suffered severe trauma—e.g., military personnel, emergency responders and victims of violent crime or automobile

kirkusreviews.com

|


“The youngest member of the Argentine National Congress reveals the gruesome story of her uncle’s involvement in her birth parents’ murder, her kidnapping and adoption.” from my name is victoria

accidents. The author cites the Rand Corporation’s 2008 study that “approximately 18.5 percent of U.S. service members returning from Afghanistan and Iraq have experienced PTSD or major depression.” Untreated PTSD can have devastating effects, as in the case of Gunnery Sergeant James F. Gallagher, a loving family man who hanged himself. Due to social stigma, sufferers are often hesitant to seek treatment. However, there are an increasing number of options for those who do. Delaney urges peer-to-peer counseling for psychological support, and provides contact information for facilities that can help. A valuable volume of hope, education and awareness.

MY NAME IS VICTORIA The Extraordinary Story of One Woman’s Struggle to Reclaim Her True Identity Donda, Victoria Translator: Bogin, Magda Other Press (272 pp.) $15.95 paperback | October 18, 2011 978-1-59051-404-7 paperback

The youngest member of the Argentine National Congress reveals the gruesome story of her uncle’s involvement in her birth parents’ murder, her kidnapping and adoption and the shock waves the truth created in her life. Born in captivity in a military prison to a mother she never knew, Donda chronicles the painful discovery of her true identity. At the age of 27, the author learned that she was the daughter of one of the “disappeared,” one of “the thirty thousand people who were kidnapped, tortured, and eventually killed” by the military dictatorship beginning in the 1970s. Analía, as she was known, always perceived a gulf between herself and the couple she knew as her parents. “From my earliest years, I’ve had a rebellious, contentious nature that was diametrically opposed to that of the man and woman who raised me whom I believed to be my parents,” writes the author. At an early age, Donda became active in social-justice movements and helping the poor. As her political commitments deepened during the ’90s, the author rebelled against the right-wing ideology of her middle-class suburban parents. When she learned the identities of her real parents and how they died, she was forced to confront the truth: “I was thus raised in a brazen lie, knowing nothing of my true roots and loving the very people who benefited from the tragic fate of my real parents.” Donda deftly leads readers through Argentina’s Byzantine history of guerrilla groups, dictatorships, coups and military policies, providing a solid foundation for understanding the political and social upheavals underpinning her story. As “the first baby stolen by the military to play an official role in the political life of her country,” the author serves as a witness to its horrific past and its hopeful future. Donda’s captivating account of her surreal role in pulling back the curtain on one of the darkest periods of Argentine history merits a wide readership. |

A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF WORLD WAR II The World’s Most Destructive Conflict, as Told by the People Who Live Through It Favreau, Marc New Press (288 pp.) $18.95 paperback | November 1, 2011 978-1-59558-166-2 paperback

A greatest-hits collection of oral history and first-person accounts, containing little new materal but sprinkled with gems. The New Press editorial director Favreau (co-author: Remembering Slavery, 1998) writes that, prior to his death, Howard Zinn urged the publisher to assemble this collection, which, like Zinn’s many People’s Histories, provide an alternative, bottoms-up, less-triumphalist view of America that has provoked controversy but whose focus on individuals and the downtrodden has entered the mainstream. Zinn’s radicalism is modestly in evidence here, although World War II tended to trump political beliefs. The old master, Studs Terkel, distills half-a-dozen of the best narratives from otherwise inarticulate participants, plus a scientist who muses without guilt about building the atomic bomb. Several memoir excerpts deliver a more sophisticated view. Historian Eric Hobsbawm spent the war in Britain as an enlisted man, often bored, maintaining his pre-war communist connections while paying little attention to party directives. American black radical Nelson Peery describes a nasty encounter with Japanese troops in one section, an equally nasty race riot in another. Primo Levi revisits Auschwitz after 40 years. A few interviews and statements written in the heat of the moment (a pacifist defends his beliefs, scientists denounce nuclear weapons) have lost their sting. Readers will probably enjoy the last essay most: An ex-refugee from Europe describes the incomprehensible (to Americans) nightmare of “lacking proper documents” and then his delight in arriving in prosperous postwar United States as a teenager, where no one cared about papers. Plenty of memoirs, autobiographies and oral histories cover this period in richer detail, but anyone who skims this book will find plenty of opportunities to stop and read more carefully.

kirkusreviews.com

CIVILIZATION The West and the Rest Ferguson, Niall Penguin Press (400 pp.) $35.00 | November 8, 2011 978-1-59420-305-3

Ever-nimble historian Ferguson (History/Harvard Univ.; The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World, 2008, etc.) examines the factors that led to the rise of the West rather than the East. |

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1547


The author boldly takes on 600 years of world events, keeping an eye always to the pertinence of the material in relation to the modern era, so that the history lesson remains fresh and compelling. The consideration of why Western Europe took predominance from around 1500 onward is not new, for example, having been undertaken by the likes of Samuel Johnson and Max Weber. Ferguson’s six factors are fairly standard, yet tidily presented and contextually developed in discrete chapters: competition, science, property rights, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic. Although China had developed enormous innovations early on—in medicine, the printing press, paper and gunpowder—the colossus had closed its door to exchanging ideas with the rest of the world; the Arab world, despite being the custodian of classical knowledge, innovator in mathematics and astronomy and conqueror of many lands, was finally turned back at the Siege of Vienna of 1683, marking the long Ottoman eclipse and the ascent of the West. While the “heirs of Osman” began looking at freethinkers and scientific inquiry as blasphemous to the Koran, England and France had established scientific academies sponsored by the crown, and rulers like Frederick the Great of Prussia welcomed religious tolerance and free inquiry. The Enlightenment took off, and through numerous brilliant works which Ferguson touches on briefly but comprehensively, important civilizing tenets were encoded in the West, such as the separation of church and state, the importance of literacy, the protection of private property, the rule of law and representative government. The author looks at the effect of the Protestant work ethic and compares it to the Chinese sense of labor and thrift—culminating in projections of similar ascent for China. A richly informed, accessible history lesson. (47 illustrations; 7 maps)

FOLLOWING EZRA What One Father Learned About Gumby, Otters, Autism, and Love from His Extraordinary Son

Fields-Meyer, Tom NAL/Berkley (256 pp.) $15.00 paperback | September 6, 2011 978-0-451-23463-6 paperback

A father celebrates his son’s differences and advises others on how to view autism as a parallel journey rather than a restrictive label. Chronicling son Ezra’s toddler years through his bar mitzvah, journalist Fields-Meyer (Business Mensch: Timeless Wisdom for Today’s Entrepreneur, 2009, etc.) approaches autism from a topical perspective, creating a loving tribute that favors “following” his son’s interests instead of imposing behavioral or social expectations. Subjects range from the initial diagnosis to Ezra’s deep enchantment with animals, and from learning to read to the rewards and challenges of parenting a child who is spirited and unfiltered in his expressions. This is not the average medical memoir concerned with educating the public, nor does it trace a common tragedy-to-triumph trajectory; the author strongly emphasizes supporting Ezra himself over the 1548

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

condition. Advised early on to “grieve for the child he didn’t turn out to be,” Fields-Meyer quickly realized that there was nothing to grieve, and no sense of blame. Together with his wife and Ezra’s brothers, he adapted to life at a slower pace, allowing frustration and wonderment alike to play out naturally. Characteristics of autism, which can include repetition, fixation, facial nuances, lessened eye contact and a superb memory for obscure minutiae are not treated as symptoms to normalize but as opportunities to enter Ezra’s world— whether that means learning the running times of animated films or appreciating honest insights. Determinedly upbeat, the author depicts parenting with grace and every child as a gift.

BREAKING THE CODE A Father’s Secret, a Daughter’s Journey, and the Question that Changed Everything

Fisher-Alaniz, Karen Sourcebooks (336 pp.) $14.99 paperback | November 1, 2011 978-1-4022-6112-1 paperback

Debut memoirist Fisher-Alaniz offers a sensitive account of how she helped her war-veteran father confront a traumatic memory he had carried with him for more than 50 years. On the day Murray Fisher turned 81, he gave the author two notebooks filled with more than 400 pages of letters he had written to his parents while he was stationed at Pearl Harbor during World War II. Baffled, the author took it upon herself to not only read and transcribe his letters (several of which appear in the book) but to understand the motivations behind her father’s unexpected gesture. She knew he had served in the Navy and that he had “spent his days working in an office.” She did not know, however, that he had been trained to copy Katakana, the code the Japanese military had used to communicate top-secret information. Her father could never speak of his work to outsiders because “anyone could be a spy.” In March 1945, Fisher and a fellow code breaker and friend were sent to Okinawa, where a shrapnel wound killed the friend. Fisher’s grief and guilt were so intense that he suffered a temporary breakdown. This story of an adult child learning to understand a parent she thought she knew is simple and unpretentious. While the narrative lacks literary finesse, it is nevertheless commendable for how it breaks the silence surrounding PTSD. “Whether the veteran returned from war sixty years ago or six days ago,” she writes, “one thing remains constant: it’s time for us to talk and to listen.” Not the most elegant memoir, but a genuine tale told from the heart.

kirkusreviews.com

|


THE KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks

Flinn, Kathleen Viking (304 pp.) $26.95 | September 29, 2011 978-0-670-02300-4

A Seattle-based writer turned chef demonstrates how readers can transform their lives with the right recipe. After a stint at Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu, Flinn returned to the States to pen her 2008 debut, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. But after the critical acclaim and the endless book touring subsided, the author found herself at a loss for her next project until she stumbled across the TV program What Not to Wear. Envisioning a cooking class that would dig through pantries and cupboards in a manner befitting the show’s hosts, Flinn took on a group of nine culinary novitiates and imparted technique and skill, giving them confidence in the kitchen. The author began by taking inventory of each participants’ refrigerator, cabinets and eating habits. A friend’s step-daughter, Sabra, was a disaster in the kitchen, so she usually relied on frozen dinners. One of her go-to concoctions, “White Trash Garlic Bread,” is enough to give any reader, no matter how unseasoned a chef, pause: “She slathered one-half of a soft hamburger bun with Gold ’n Soft margarine, added a few hearty shakes of generic garlic salt, and topped it with dried Parmesan cheese from a can.” Another woman admitted to buying in bulk, only to later feel awful about the amount of food she wasted. Flinn’s chronicle of her culinary coaching discusses how her students fared, and acknowledges how the process led her to clean out her own cupboards: “I am in a battle with myself. It seemed that I had as much to learn as the people I’d just visited.” The author’s humble approach is inviting and shows why her students were enthusiastic.

OBAMA ON THE COUCH Inside the Mind of a President

Frank, Justin A. Free Press (256 pp.) $26.00 | October 18, 2011 978-1-4516-2063-4

A psychoanalyst attempts to analyze President Obama’s failure to fulfill the hopes of his supporters. Frank (Psychiatry and Behavioral Analysis/George Washington Univ.; Bush on the Couch, 2004) suggests that the differences between Obama the candidate and Obama the president are products of his troubled childhood. Obama’s conciliatory attempts to win over his political opposition, writes the author, |

reflect the stress he faced growing up as a biracial child raised by a single (white) mother. Frank believes that Obama feels a compelling need to unify the country because of his attempts to resolve his own conflicted sense of identity. He suggests that Obama’s famous line in his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention—“There is not a liberal America and a conservative America—there is the United States of America”—not only catapulted him into the national spotlight but expressed his apparent subsequent inability to stand up against enraged detractors such as the Tea Party. As a child, the president was forced to repress anger at his father for deserting the family, and toward his mother for not providing an adequate home, and this has left him unable to “manage to confront the destructive hatred directed against him.” Taking his analysis a step further, Frank writes that he is hopeful that, “By ordering and overseeing the successful raid on Osama bin Laden…Obama gained invaluable and unprecedented experience in confronting and expressing his [own] murderous impulses.” This will hopefully prove helpful in freeing him to confront his internal opposition and rid himself of “father figures” like Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke. Psycho-babble mixed with occasional insight. (Agent: Gail Ross)

THAT USED TO BE US How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back

Friedman, Thomas L. Mandelbaum, Michael Farrar, Straus and Giroux (360 pp.) $28.00 | September 5, 2011 978-0-374-28890-7

A comprehensive but unoriginal look at the challenges America faces in 2011

and beyond. New York Times columnist Friedman (Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Save America, 2008, etc.) and Mandelbaum (American Foreign Policy/Johns Hopkins Univ.; The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era, 2010, etc.) join forces to explain why they believe America’s glory days are waning and what Americans should do to reverse the downward slide. The authors suggest that America’s problems should be addressed through “stick-toitiveness,” political compromise and a renewed sense of national purpose. Americans must admit that global warming exists, impose saner environmental regulations, reform the immigration policy, demand more from teachers, principals and schools, lower government spending and break the addiction to oil. None of these recommendations are new, and all have been argued more cogently elsewhere. (For more incisive discussions of climate change, see Bill McKibben’s Eaarth. Regarding oil, see Amanda Little’s Power Trip.) Friedman and Mandelbaum’s solutions to America’s difficulties take the form of motivational slogans littered with clichés, and they delight in relating inspirational tales

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1549


of average Americans who accomplished great things by being “just too dumb to quit.” More than once, they write that Americans must be prepared to do “something big and hard together,” to become “creative creators.” The urgency of deficit reduction places “the future of the country” in our hands, “as it was for the GIs on the beaches of Normandy.” High-skilled immigrants are “brainy risk takers;” low-skilled immigrants are “the brawny ones” (America needs both). Friedman and Mandelbaum are clearly attempting to make complicated concepts accessible to a general audience. However, in relying on Friedman’s trademark blend of condescension, clumsy analogies and uninspiring centrism, they fail to break any new ground. While the challenges described in the book are serious indeed, and most readers will agree with much of what the authors explore, the narrative execution is lacking. Disappointing. (Author tour to New York, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Dallas/Houston, San Francisco, Los Angeles. Agent: Esther Newberg)

THE ROAD TO TAHRIR SQUARE Egypt and the United States from the Rise of Nasser to the Fall of Mubarak

Gardner, Lloyd C. New Press (240 pp.) $17.95 paperback | October 1, 2011 978-1-59558-721-3 paperback Solid account of Egypt’s still-developing political transformation and how it has related to the United States. Gardner (History/Rutgers Univ.; The Long Road to Baghdad: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy from the 1970s to the Present, 2010, etc.) has written extensively on the history of the Middle East, especially the time since World War II. Here he brings that experience to bear on the recent developments in Egypt and elsewhere in the region—a series of uprisings dubbed the “Arab Spring.” The author examines the international exigencies that have bound proponents of national independence and selfdetermination in the aftermath of the war, and he situates the downfall of Hosni Mubarak in the context of the paradoxes that American policies placed on the country since the end of the war. Gardner addresses many historical and political threads, including the consequences of the collapse of the British Empire and its replacement by the U.S., which had different priorities during the Cold War, when promotion of radical Islam as a movement against communism was affected also by the need to cooperate with the British over military bases and strategy. For Egypt, this translated into a choice between leading the Arab world, or simply remaining a somewhat inconsequential Nile River Valley country. The author also looks at deeper concerns regarding the transformation of a region whose politics have been based, especially since 1947, on three differing and conflicted allies of the U.S.: Israel, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Gardner ably pursues strategy and context as sources 1550

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

of political constraint and tension, providing a useful overview of Egypt’s dealings with the U.S. Pair with Steven A. Cook’s The Struggle for Egypt (2011), which provides greater detail on the variegated inputs at the local level.

HEART OF IRON My Journey from Transplant Patient to Ironman Athlete

Garlett, Kyle Chicago Review (256 pp.) $24.95 | November 1, 2011 978-1-61374-005-7

Freelance sportswriter and motivational speaker Garlett (What Were They Thinking?: The Brainless Blunders that Changed Sports History, 2009, etc.) writes with humor and brutal honesty about his 17-year battle to defeat cancer. In 1989, Garlett was expecting his senior year in high school to be a ball; when he noticed two lumps in his neck, he wasn’t unduly alarmed. A biopsy revealed Hodgkin’s lymphoma, but the doctor reassured him that it could be cured. He finished the school year and went on to college, functioning despite the debilitating effects of radiation treatment, but his first year in college was a disaster. He spent his time partying and barely squeaked by academically. Then the Hodgkin’s returned and this time he faced six cycles of disabling chemotherapy. After another remission, he buckled down in college and established a career as a sportswriter after graduation. His remission lasted only until 1995; this time, his odds of surviving were reduced to 40 percent. His treatment was so severe that he was on the point of death several times and required a bone-marrow transplant. After finally defeating the Hodgkin’s, two years later he faced leukemia and three more years of treatment. Describing his experiences with wry humor, he chronicles how he managed to keep working, met and married his wife and worked to rebuild his strength. Not content to define himself with just being a survivor, he welcomed new challenges. After recovering from a heart transplant (necessitated by the effects of chemotherapy), he competed in the grueling Ironman Triathlon. A compassionate celebration of the human spirit that doesn’t gloss over tough realities. (8-page color photo insert)

kirkusreviews.com

WHO’S IN CHARGE? Free Will and the Science of the Brain

Gazzaniga, Michael S. Ecco/HarperCollins (256 pp.) $27.99 | November 15, 2011 978-0-06-190610-7 The more we learn about the human brain, the more puzzling the question of free will becomes. |


“A heretic’s theological guide, some of which may passeth the understanding of the Bible Belt faithful but, lo, still damned comical. Amen.” from the last testament

Forty years ago, cognitive neuroscientist Gazzaniga (Human: The Science Behind What Makes Your Brain Unique, 2008, etc.)— the director of the SAGE Center for the Study of Mind at the University of California, Santa Barbara—pioneered the study of the different functions of the right and left hemispheres of the human brain. Since then, it has become clear that what characterizes the human brain is not simply its size—after all, Neanderthal brains were larger—or even the greater connectivity of our neurons than occurs in the brains of our chimpanzee cousins. Neuropsychologists have established that the human brain is composed of specialized modules, local circuits that each operate automatically. “The end result is thousands of modules, each doing their own thing,” writes the author, so that “our conscious awareness is the mere tip of the iceberg of non-conscious processing.” This capability allowed us to create culture and technology, our hallmark as a species, but we are left with a disturbing question: “[W]hy do we feel so unified and in control” if our conscious experience is the result of “positive feedback” from modules that are each acting independently in response to environmental challenges? Gazzaniga goes on to pose the deeper question of whether can exist if “the thoughts that arise from our minds are also determined,” as can be shown experimentally by brain scans. If the brain is made up of subsystems without any one locus of control, can the concept of free will have any meaning? The author examines this knotty question from many different angles and offers a simple analogy to explain how, in his view, consciousness and moral responsibility emerge from social interaction. In other words, the rules of traffic are collective and cannot be reduced to the behavior of individual cars. A fascinating affirmation of our essential humanity. (Black-and-white illustrations. Author appearances in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and upon request)

HITLER’S HANGMAN The Life of Heydrich

Gerwarth, Robert Yale Univ. (336 pp.) $35.00 | October 25, 2011 978-0-300-11575-8

In calm and harrowing detail, Gerwarth (Modern History, War Studies/ Univ. College Dublin; The Bismarck Myth: Weimar Germany and the Legacy of the Iron Chancellor, 2005, etc.) explores the life and work of the embodiment of Nazism, Reinhard Heydrich (1904–1942). The author trails the life of this favorite of the Fuhrer, the Gestapo chief, from his comfortable childhood as the favored son of a musician through his career as a paragon of Nazi philosophy put into practice. Rumors of the taint of Jewish blood in the veins of the arrogant man wearing the cap with the death’s-head insignia were untrue. After being drummed out of the German navy, the ambitious young man found his calling in the nascent SS, quickly rising to second in command under |

Heinrich Himmler. The “Jewish expert” Eichmann reported to Heydrich, who was instrumental in establishing the Kristallnacht pogroms of 1938. He conceived ghettoes as storage places for Jews until more convenient disposal could be arranged. The requirement for Jews to wear the yellow star was his idea, and he worked to rapidly increase the population of the concentration camps. To ease the work of his murderers, Heydrich pioneered the use of lethal gas. Breaks from his day job of killing civilians included flying missions with the Luftwaffe just for fun. His successes earned him the Protectorate of Moravia and Bohemia. As the war progressed, the Jewish “final solution” evolved, and Heydrich convened Wannsee to implement it early in 1942. A few months later, he was assassinated. In partial reprisal, the village of Lidice and its inhabitants were liquidated. Page by page in this scholarly history, Gerwarth builds a complex story of the perfection of mass murder. The author meticulously takes us inside the Third Reich, face to face with the Nazi hero, revealing as few texts do how the bureaucracy of evil worked.

THE LAST TESTAMENT A Memoir God Javerbaum, David Simon & Schuster (384 pp.) $23.99 | November 1, 2011 978-1-4516-4018-2

A real publishing “get”: With the assistance of former Daily Show head writer Javerbaum (co-author: Earth: The Book, 2010, etc.), the Author (of everything) answers age-old mysteries with some unaccustomed straight talk. Though the media-savvy Creator proves to be a 21st-century deity, he reveals, in this tell-all memoir, that he took a century off since sinking the Titanic in 1912. Apparently, he was messing with other universes. Now He’s back and funnier than His first rib tickler with Adam and Steve; for lo, Steve came before Eve! Revelations, of interest to Jews, Christians, Muslims, the Perpetually Confused and a few fans of stray gods, cover such earthly matters as food, sports, crusades, America and, ever popular, sex. Many ecclesiastical secrets are explained in chapter and verse marked by faith, piety and extreme silliness. The Author, CEO of a major enterprise, takes time from His busy schedule to present much Holy Shtick. Judging by the jacket photo, the Timeless One hasn’t aged since the official portrait by Michelangelo. Certainly, there are, as in His prior books, some arid, less-than-hilarious passages, but his Self-given wit offers much mirth for heathens and other Americans. Before we come to the End (of Days and the memoir), the Author provides a big finish with boffo one-liners regarding eschatological matters. Warning: If this text doesn’t meet sales expectations, there may be Hell to pay. A heretic’s theological guide, some of which may passeth the understanding of the Bible Belt faithful but, lo, still damned comical. Amen. (16-page 4-color insert)

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1551


k i r ku s q & a w i t h pat r i c i a b o swo r t h Patricia Bosworth has written acclaimed biographies of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and Diane Arbus, complicated figures all. But perhaps none have been as complex a subject as Jane Fonda, sex kitten, antiwar activist, feminist, exercise guru, celebrated actress—and the author’s longtime friend. Bosworth tells us how it all came together for her latest, Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman. Q: You’ve been a friend of Jane Fonda since the ’60s. How difficult was it for you to maintain objectivity as you wrote about a friend? JANE FONDA:

The Private Life of a Public Woman Patricia Bosworth Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (608 pp.) $30.00 Aug. 30, 2011 978-0547152578

A: Gloria Steinem once told me, “Jane is a transitional figure.” Her immersion in radical politics during the l970s transcended the role traditionally assigned not just to celebrities but to women in general. Jane paved the way for the celebrity activists of today like Oprah, Eve Ensler, Susan Sarandon and Rosie O’Donnell. Also, in her work as an actress in the 1970s, the movies she chose to star in and produce such as Coming Home [about Vietnam vets] and The China Syndrome [about the dangers of nuclear power] defined her political evolution.

Q: Fonda published her autobiography in 2005. How accurate and thorough did you find it?

Q: The chapters on Fonda’s anti-Vietnam War activism in the ’70s detail many forces at work during that time. Did your own experiences then help you to put the period in context?

A: We both had many experiences studying with master teacher Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. Jane cried real tears very easily, which for most of us was hard to do. Lee used to assign Jane simple 1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

A: My own experience with the chaotic activism of the era coincided totally with Jane’s. I was a small part of it. Jane reflected it in everything she did. After I did my first piece on Jane in McCall’s, I ended up in Washington at a huge rally Jane emceed on the National Mall, where she spoke out against the bombing of Cambodia. From then on, my husband and I took part in many antiwar protests. 1970 was the height of the women’s movement, too. I was in a consciousness-raising group. So was Jane, who was becoming something of a feminist heroine because of her landmark performance as the call girl Bree in Klute. She believed the movie had political connotations because it dramatized how men can exploit women in this society and she related to it, remembering her years as a sex object. We often shared what we’d been learning as activists as I continued to do pieces about her. —By Gerald Bartell

9 For the full interview, please visit kirkusreviews.com

kirkusreviews.com

|

P H OTO © A N D RE W C OP PA

Q: You and Fonda studied together at the Actors Studio in the ’60s—what did you think of her acting abilities?

|

Q: Did Fonda influence the very movements she was part of?

A: It’s a very delicate dance…the dance of the biographer with a live subject, friendship not withstanding. I wanted to be fair. I wanted to paint as accurate and definitive a portrait as possible. Jane is a very complicated woman. She is generous, vulnerable, insecure, but she is also ruthless and powerful. She would not have accomplished so much if she hadn’t been all these things. So I tried to find stories that would illustrate her many sides. I never thought of these stories or details as “unflattering” or “negative,” rather they were used to emphasize a point.

A: It’s a fascinating book. Jane deals with her childhood, her obsession with her father, her mother’s suicide. By the same token I kept remembering what her brother Peter Fonda told me, “Jane has her version of her life. You must find all the other versions because they are equally interesting.” Which is true. For example she gave her early lover/mentor Andreas Voutsinas two lines in her book. I devoted almost all of Part Two to Andreas. He was a hugely important figure to her when she was very young. They met at the Actors Studio and lived together and were close for 10 years. They had become estranged. He still adored her. He wouldn’t talk to me until he learned that Jane had said it was OK. But months later, when I said, “Do you want to hear about Andreas? I spoke to him in Paris,” she exclaimed, “No!” Being with him had been a painful time for her. She had been lost and miserable. She didn’t want to relive it.

1552

scenes where she had to be “herself ”—natural, spontaneous. She was used to putting on an act. She had many facades, but what I’ll never forget is when I saw her on Broadway for the first time in There Was a Little Girl she opened the play sitting on the stage by herself talking to the audience. Corny as it sounds, she had—still has—what is called “star quality.” You couldn’t take your eyes off her. She commanded attention by her mere presence…and she still does.


THE TABLE COMES FIRST Family, France, and the Meaning of Food

Gopnik, Adam Knopf (320 pp.) $25.95 | November 4, 2011 978-0-307-59345-0 e-book 978-0-307-70059-9

A philosophical look at French food and how it has affected our eating habits

and our lives. New Yorker writer Gopnik’s latest book (Angels and Ages: A Short Book About Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life, 2009, etc.) is not for the fast-food junkie in search of a quick fix; the essays are delicious in small bites though slightly overwhelming in large quantities. Throughout, the author displays a masterful grasp of French cuisine and history. Starting with the origins of the restaurant in France as a byproduct of the French Revolution and meals served in inns as another form of seduction in the quest for sex, Gopnik moves on to reflect on the recipe, the meaning of taste and the ongoing argument for and against eating meat. Whether he is discussing haute cuisine, nouvelle cuisine or the newest techno-emotional cuisine, the author ponders the real meaning of food, beyond the need to satisfy a hunger—is it to provide comfort, is it a symbol of love or something more sacred? Local foods, French wines and a discussion of peasant foods versus traditional French cooking all blend together into a rich feast of sensory details. These essays will leave no doubt in readers’ minds that Gopnik is a true food aficionado with a desire to share his musings. To lighten the heaviness of his chapters, the author intersperses delightful, almost comic letters written to Elizabeth Pennell, a food critic and writer in the 19th century. Here he adopts a more informal tone and provides insights into his family life and the recipes he prepares for his children. Rich in context and philosophical thoughts, Gopnik’s book will satiate the most ardent of food-history buffs. (First printing of 50,000. Author tour to Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C.)

THE UNMAKING OF ISRAEL

Gorenberg, Gershom Harper/HarperCollins (336 pp.) $25.99 | November 8, 2011 978-0-06-198508-9

A Jerusalem-based journalist presents his exegesis on how Israel came together and how he sees it coming apart. American Prospect senior correspondent Gorenberg (The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements, 1967-1977, 2006, etc.) recounts the history of the lone democracy in the Middle East, as well as the faults peculiar to democracies and their guarantee of free speech. He presents an earnest survey of the resentful discourse, internecine political battles and other endemic problems |

besieging the small nation. In cities across Israel, the religious right has moved into Palestinian conclaves. Settlements outside the contested Green Line were established without permits, and West Bank homesteaders erected residences without seeking permission. Against biblical injunction, ancient and productive Arab olive trees were destroyed. Religious fundamentalists claim “The Whole Israel” as their legacy. Can or will the army or the police disengage the increasing cadre of settlers from the occupied territories? Parties are divided. Jewish civil-rights groups sue, but some Supreme Court victories simply languish and are not enforced. Israel’s split personality engages zealots of all stripes, but the rule of law, ignored at times, still exists as nowhere else in the region. Employing considerable and powerful selective history, the author is, for the most part, passionately persuasive. His concluding remedy comprises three parts: first, end the occupation in Judea and Samaria; next, divorce state and synagogue; finally, be less Jewish in favor of equality. As readers and his countrymen will remind the author, Israel’s reason for being—from its birth, parented in 1948 by the international community through its battles for survival—is that it is the Jewish State, a state like no other. Gorenberg offers no significant guarantee of that birthright. Sure to raise contention, a strong dissenting voice from a burdened land where dissent is not simply tolerated, but a way of life.

CRAZY RIVER Exploration and Folly in East Africa

Grant, Richard Free Press (304 pp.) $15.00 paperback | October 25, 2011 978-1-4391-5414-4 paperback Fear and loathing in East Africa as travel writer Grant (God’s Middle Finger: Into the Lawless Heart of the Sierra Madre, 2008, etc.) traverses the ravaged continent in search of a mysterious river and the source of the Nile. The Malagarasi River in Tanzania had not been fully traveled by either Westerners or Africans. So, the tradition of 19th-century British explorers, first and foremost Richard Burton, who became his spectral travel companion, Grant set out to do so. But his adventures on the river—disease and disappointment, danger from crocs, hippos and bandits—became but part of his larger story about what Africa is and how to make sense of it. The author narrates his stops in Zanzibar, where he befriended a golf pro (on an island where there is no golf course), across Tanzania to Lake Tanganyika and on to Burundi and Rwanda, both ravaged by genocide and ethnic civil war. The journey nearly destroyed him: “Africa had ground away at my sanity and well-being.” In Grant’s Africa, verdant plains had become a “devastated moonscape” due to cattle overgrazing, mammoth slums overwhelmed cities overseen by corrupt leaders who got fat on the spoils of the Western “aid industry.” He concludes that Africa “was a shambles and a disgrace.” This may be a selective and overly harsh conclusion, but he tempers his

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1553


indictment with an unerring eye for detail that imbues those he meets with dignity and humanity. The hustlers and whores of the dive bars he often frequented are seen, if blurrily, with compassion, and Grant marvels at the hope and enthusiasm of so many in the poorest nation in the world, Burundi. The joy of Congolese pop music and the craze for the country music of Kenny Rogers reassure him that resilience and resurgence may also be part of Africa. The source of the Nile, it turned out, was merely a “moss-fringed rabbit hole with a thin dribble of water leaking out of it.” Dyspeptic, disturbing and brilliantly realized, Grant’s account of Africa is literally unforgettable.

KEARNY’S MARCH The Epic Creation of the American West, 1846-1847 Groom, Winston Knopf (320 pp.) $27.95 | November 14, 2011 978-0-307-27096-2 978-0-307-70141-1 e-book

Manifest Destiny fulfilled: Groom (Vicksburg, 1863, 2009, etc.) spotlights four journeys during two tumultuous years in American history that marked a “stupendous westward shift.” Did the United States bait Mexico into a war in 1846? Groom spends little time debating the justifications for or the morality of this controversial clash. Rather, he focuses on how the war accelerated an already notable westward migration by Americans across the continent. The day after Congress’s declaration, President Polk ordered General Stephen Kearny to capture Mexico’s northern-most provinces, territory that would become Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Groom follows Kearny’s 2,000-mile march from Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to California, providing wonderful stories about the soldiers’ progress through a rugged, wildly changing landscape. Kearny’s march was only the most conspicuous example of the western exodus. Also on the move was the “most famous man in America,” the Pathfinder, John C. Frémont, who believed he had discretion in the event of war with Mexico to seize California, a severe misunderstanding that put him in eventual conflict with Kearny and subjected him to a controversial court-martial. The Latter-Day Saints, too, were headed west. Fleeing persecution, stalled in Nebraska, Brigham Young used the money raised from the enlistment of the Mormon Battalion—whose trek on behalf of a U.S. government that suddenly needed them was, unlike Kearny’s, all on foot—to finance the Mormon’s passage to Utah, “the single greatest human migration in American history up until that time.” Meanwhile, snowbound in the High Sierras, the Donner party descended into cannibalism. Relying heavily on letters, official reports and journals, Groom darts in and out of these four stories, his quick rhythm mimicking the agitation of a vast territory whose conquest profoundly altered the boundaries and character of the nation. Galloping popular history, guaranteed to entertain. (16 pages of illustrations) 1554

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

YOUR MEDICAL MIND How to Decide What Is Right for You Groopman, Jerome Hartzband, Pamela Penguin Press (320 pp.) $27.95 | September 20, 2011 978-1-59420-3111-4

Bestselling author and oncologist Groopman (How Doctors Think, 2008, etc.) and eminent endocrinologist Hartzband collaborate to help readers rethink their health-care choices. Wading through medical information can be daunting, as both the authors are well aware. They explore the roots of how individuals make medical decisions through research and confidential interviews with patients. The authors investigate individuals facing medical decisions and detail the powerful internal and external forces, such as family background or personality, TV ads or Internet information, that can affect those choices. They begin with the story of Susan Powell, who was prescribed synthetic statins to manage her cholesterol. Against her doctor’s advice, she declined the medication for a number of reasons, including familiarity with a woman suffering side effects from the medicine and because of her father’s refusal to treat his high cholesterol. The authors categorize Powell as a “doubter,” a skeptic of non-natural medical solutions. Other personality types include “believers,” patients who favor more aggressive treatment. The authors are quick to point out how technology is also changing medical decision-making. “Surveys show that more than 60 percent of people search the Web for medical information, and that number is increasing all the time,” they write. Learning to properly comprehend the statistics, risks and benefits readily available on the Internet, referred to here as “health literacy,” can help readers make healthier choices now to create better outcomes for the future. For readers who are not already proactive with their health care.

EVA BRAUN Life with Hitler

Görtemaker, Heike B. Translator: Searls, Damion Knopf (320 pp.) $27.95 | October 31, 2011 978-0-307-59582-9 978-0-307-70139-8 A German historian coaxes from history’s shadows the woman who for 14 years was the companion, lover and, near the end, wife of Adolf Hitler. Görtemaker doesn’t spend much time with the childhood of Eva Anna Paula Braun (1912–1945), who began her life in middle-class obscurity and ended it in Hitler’s Berlin bunker

kirkusreviews.com

|


as the Soviet army swept through the city. Not much is known about her girlhood, but as a teenager she went to work in the Munich photography studio of the Nazis’ official photographer, Heinrich Hoffmann. Braun probably began as a shop clerk, then gradually learned the trade and became an active amateur. In 1929, it was through Hoffmann that she met Hitler, whose Munich background, dramatic rise and fall Görtemaker swiftly chronicles—only rarely allowing the larger story to eclipse the smaller one. Because of the lack of documentation, the author often has to qualify with words like “probably” and “likely,” but she is a serious critic of others who have told Braun’s story and manages to keep out even a dash of compassion for the young woman who vigorously supported her lover, accepted and shared his vicious anti-Semitism, believed in the imperialist goals of the Reich and partied hard while the party lasted. Görtemaker shows how Hitler, who wished to portray himself as the selfless image of the Reich, a man with no low animal needs, kept Braun well hidden, rarely appearing with her in public (never alone) or allowing her to travel with him or his inner circle. Braun emerges as bright but vapid, energetic but soulless. As thorough and clear a look of a monster’s lover as we are likely to get. (36 black-and-white photographs)

BEAUTY PAYS Why Attractive People Are More Successful Hamermesh, Daniel S. Princeton Univ. (224 pp.) $24.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-691-14046-9

An extensive, dizzying compilation of economic data explaining “why attractive people are more successful.” A 40-year veteran in the field of economics, Hamermesh (Economics/Univ. of Texas; Economics is Everywhere, 2003, etc.) examines the correlation between beauty and economics “using a nationally representative sample of adults, and to do so in the context of economic models of the determination of earnings.” The author begins by addressing the fundamental difficulties of pursuing such a complex topic cross-culturally and internationally, not to mention by gender, race and age. Thus, readers may find that the mountain of statistical data can at times overwhelm the narrative. But Hamermesh’s findings give credence to the nagging hunch many readers have had all along: that “within most occupations, the better-looking earn significantly more” and that employers “believe that they will be helped if they hire better-looking workers.” He finds that “bad-looking men” earn, on average, 17 percent less than their Adonis-like counterparts and that, among women, there’s a 12 percent pay difference. HR representatives would be wise to consult the essential ethical discussion regarding the “pure discrimination in favor of the good-looking and against the bad-looking” with which the author concludes his simultaneously fascinating and frustrating investigation. |

DANGEROUS AMBITION Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson: New Women in Search of Love and Power

Hertog, Susan Ballantine (512 pp.) $30.00 | November 1, 2011 978-0-345-45986-2 978-0-345-45987-9 e-book

The professional successes and personal failures of two of the 20th century’s most prominent and influential journalists. Although Dorothy Thompson (1893–1961) and Rebecca West (1892–1983) knew each for more than 40 years, Hertog (Anne Morrow Lindbergh, 1999) has more on her mind than their friendship. She’s not even all that interested their careers, which would have been considered extraordinary under any circumstances but were particularly remarkable for women born duringthe Edwardian era. Thompson, the first female head of a news bureau, was one of the earliest journalists to sound the warning against Hitler’s megalomaniacal plans and remained a respected and influential figure through the end of World War II. West was a feared book critic and essayist who set new standards for long-form journalism with her New Yorker reports on the Nuremberg trials and a lynching case in Greenville, S.C., as well as her esteemed book on Yugoslavia, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon. These achievements get almost as much attention as West’s tortured affair with H.G. Wells, which produced an embittered-for-life son, Anthony West, and Thompson’s tortured marriage to Sinclair Lewis, which produced an embittered-for-life son, Michael Lewis. In Hertog’s view, “neither Rebecca nor Dorothy knew how to be a woman,” and though she is careful to preface this judgment with the qualifier, “within their contemporary gender stereotypes,” a queasy mix of feminist jargon and women’s-magazine psychologizing can’t disguise the author’s punitive attitude toward these admittedly less-than-perfect wives and dreadful mothers. Their impact on the political and cultural discourse of their times is far more important than their inadequacies as human beings, but Hertog fails to provide a balanced perspective. Pretentious and poorly written, this irritating joint biography squanders a great subject. (30 black-and-white photos. Agent: Elizabeth Sheinkman)

kirkusreviews.com

REIMAGINING EQUALITY Stories of Gender, Race, and Finding Home

Hill, Anita Beacon (224 pp.) $25.95 | October 4, 2011 978-0-8070-1437-0 978-0-8070-1438-7 e-book

Intriguing exploration of the social construct of “home” and its relevance to gender rights and racial equality. |

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1555


“Passionate and compassionate reporting on an extraordinary city.” from instant city

Hill (Social Policy, Law, Women’s Studies/Brandeis Univ.; Speaking Truth To Power, 1997) fuses elements of memoir, legal studies, history and polemic in this compact work. She suggests that the ongoing housing crisis is the latest cruel twist upon the celebrated “American dream” of home ownership, and “a tragic turning point in the search for equality in America”. Hill examines a variety of narratives, including her own family history as the great-granddaughter of a slave. This leads to a chilling account of the lynching era in the Jim Crow South, which ironically strengthened black communities, who “shared a collective interest in avoiding racial violence.” The author emphasizes the transformative roles of African-American women, who felt compelled to “establish their place in the communities where they settled, and thereby advance the race.” While early black leaders like Booker T. Washington stressed the connections between achieving a home and a fuller citizenship for blacks in the early 20th century, suffragists like Nannie Burroughs were criticized for “promoting black women’s independence from black men.” But Hill looks as far back in American history as Abigail Adams to underscore that American women’s understanding of the potency of home as a space for protection and social advancement transcended color and class. Yet this seemingly remained out of reach; Hill notes, for example, how the New Deal’s Home Owners’ Loan Corporation actually “gave its financial blessing to segregated neighborhoods,” and how “postwar housing policies... affirmed racial segregation and the cult of domesticity.” The author examines disgraceful attempts by Wells Fargo and other banks to promote high-risk subprime home loans in beleaguered minority communities. Thoughtful and disturbing examination of slippery ideas, rendered in powerful prose.

MIDNIGHT RISING John Brown and the Raid that Sparked the Civil War Horwitz, Tony Henry Holt (384 pp.) $28.00 | October 25, 2011 978-0-8050-9153-3

A crisply written but not entirely original retelling of John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry. Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and historian Horwitz returns to the Civil War era (A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World, 2008, etc.) and John Brown’s infamous raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry in what is now West Virginia. The author depicts a morally upright abolitionist deeply committed to his cause but also well known for his “fixedness,” a rigid stubbornness that could be a source of strength but was equally a source of weakness. Brown rose to notoriety on the basis of his violent abolitionist crusades in Bloody Kansas, but he had larger plans in mind; he imagined his raid would set in motion slave uprisings that would allow him to command a righteous army of liberation. Grand dreams gave way to grim 1556

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

reality soon after he set his scheme in motion in October 1859 with a small but loyal band of white and black followers. Soon Brown’s men were overrun, and those who were not killed or who did not manage to escape faced the gallows. Among this group was Brown himself, whose hanging represented just retribution in the minds of many detractors, especially whites in the South, but served as equally apt martyrdom in the eyes of his supporters. Though the author’s archival sleuthing pays off with a rich narrative, the book is one of many on the subject to appear in recent years, most notably David S. Reynolds’ John Brown, Abolitionist (2005). Horwitz is a fine writer, but the narrative lacks deep historical analysis. Lucid and compelling but hardly groundbreaking. (35 illustrations; 2 maps. Agent: Kristine Dahl)

INSTANT CITY Life and Death in Karachi

Inskeep, Steve Penguin Press (288 pp.) $27.95 | October 17, 2011 978-1-59420-315-2

NPR’s Morning Edition co-host Inskeep explores Karachi, Pakistan, a megacity of hopes and conflict, “a field of operations for the makers of buildings and bombs.” Karachi is an “instant city,” where, as with Shanghai and Istanbul, the population has soared with unprecedented speed. In 1945, Karachi had a population of 400,000; today it is 13 million. Millions arrived during the partition of India, still more from what is now Bangladesh, and millions more have fled the violence of Pakistan’s northern border with Afghanistan. Amid a combustible mix of religious difference—though the population is overwhelmingly Muslim—and divisions of class, language and even ancestral home village, Karachi is a city where “[l]ifelong residents and newcomers alike jostle for power and resources in a swiftly evolving landscape that disorients them all.” As venal political parties both breed and feed on the city’s divisions, battles over the riches to be made, especially in real estate, have changed the city. Inskeep examines this part of the culture, but he also looks at those simply trying to make a difference. An emergency-room doctor tended to all wounded by bombings and riots, as the emergency room itself became a target for terrorism. Another resident built a charitable empire by providing cheap or free ambulance service and pharmaceuticals. An organizer helped the poor build housing and find basic services, creating selfgoverning enclaves within a debased political system. Developers have dreamt of, and at times realized, skyscrapers, malls, hotels and city centers to attract the foreign capital Karachi needs to survive in an age of globalization. Inskeep seemingly looked at everything and talked to everyone—religious zealots, political bosses and people simply trying to get by. Here he finds the promise of Karachi, “the most powerful force in the instant city; the desire of millions of people—simple quiet,

kirkusreviews.com

|


humble, and relentless, no matter what the odds—to make their lives just a tiny bit better than they were.” Passionate and compassionate reporting on an extraordinary city.

EXPLORERS OF THE NILE The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure

Jeal, Tim Yale Univ. (544 pp.) $32.50 | November 1, 2011 978-0-300-14935-7

An account of the hardships, backstabbing and fierce determination of a group of British adventurers who explored the headwaters of the Nile River. Jeal, the author of a well-received biography of the explorer Henry Morton Stanley (Stanley: the Impossible Life of Africa’s Greatest Explorer, 2007, etc.) and an earlier biography of David Livingstone, here seeks to rescue the reputation of an earlier member of the tribe, John Hanning Speke. In the mid 19th century, Speke discovered the source of the river, “the planet’s most elusive secret.” Speke was led by Richard Francis Burton, the British intelligence officer, travel writer and explorer most famous for his translation of The Arabian Nights. Jeal describes the friction that developed between the two men during their expedition, made worse by the travails of the journey, which included ulcers caused by parasites, malaria and, for Speke, a serious spear wound. After the two explorers discovered Lake Tanganyika, Burton was forced by illness to stop while Speke continued on to the southern shore of Lake Victoria, the actual source. Burton’s efforts to discredit Speke’s discovery included deliberate misrepresentation of water flows in the region, and it was Stanley who later confirmed the outflow from Lake Victoria to the Nile. Jeal offers rich descriptions of the African kingdoms in the region and the still-flourishing slave trade, and the larger-than life cast of characters includes Livingstone, Stanley and several lesser figures. An enjoyable adventure story. For a broader scope, see Adam Hochschild’s King Leopold’s Ghost (1998).

WHAT DOESN’T KILL US The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth Joseph, Stephen Basic (288 pp.) $26.99 | November 1, 2011 978-0-465-01941-0

A traumatic event can have positive effects, writes the author, by jolting us into valuing friends and families more and being less concerned with ephemeral pleasures. Joseph (Psychology/Univ. of Nottingham; Post-traumatic Stress, 2010, etc.) is a proponent of positive psychology. As |

someone who grew up in Northern Ireland during the height of that country’s political violence, he has had firsthand experience of the effects of traumatic events. At the time, the author was drawn to tales of superheroes who stood up to violence and made the world a better place. In his professional capacity, he has treated trauma victims beginning with survivors of the 1987 Herald of Free Enterprise shipwreck, in which 193 out of 500 passengers were killed. Joseph also draws on a wealth of historical sources such as the writings of Holocaust survivors to substantiate his critique of the current definition of PTSD. In his opinion, while the diagnostic term was valuable in calling attention to the disorder during the Vietnam War, increased broadening of the criteria to include relatively trivial events such as the defeat of a favorite football team and reliance on medication to treat PTSD are problematic, especially since statistics show that the majority of those suffering genuine trauma do not develop fullblown PTSD. Joseph believes that misdiagnoses can become self-fulfilling prophecies, and he suggests that those who do experience full-blown PTSD may benefit by becoming more resilient in confronting and mastering adversity. They may even experience greater happiness in the long run. Conversely, “swallowing a magic pill” to alleviate psychological distress may stand in the way of “an existential journey to a richer life.” A sure-to-be-controversial, provocative challenge to prevailing wisdom on how to deal with stress. (Agent: Peter Tallack)

OFF BALANCE Getting Beyond the Work-Life Balance Myth to Personal and Professional Satisfaction

Kelly, Matthew Hudson Street/Penguin (160 pp.) $21.95 | September 15, 2011 978-1-59463-081-1

Management consultant Kelly upends the myth of “having-it-all” and replaces it with a system for personal and professional satisfaction. For his latest entry in the self-help pantheon, Kelly (Perfectly Yourself: 9 Lessons for Enduring Happiness, 2008, etc.) conducted a survey that found people prefer satisfaction to balance in both the workplace and at home. With this in mind, he set about devising a method to guarantee satisfaction in both work and life: “The promise of this book is to help you design and build a more satisfying life in both the personal and professional arenas. We will do this together by approaching our lives with the strategy and rigor with which the very best companies in the world approach business.” Kelly identifies three -isms that erode the fabric of professional and personal lives: individualism, hedonism and minimalism. All, he writes, are anathema to satisfaction. But it’s not long before the author recalibrates the conversation entirely, exposing the false divide between work and life. “You cannot have it all,” he writes. To that extent, Kelly establishes a set of values-based priorities that readers can use

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1557


“A shimmering piece of work, in which the flash illuminates the creative act.” from madboy

to reshape their life. Breaking it down even further, the author offers a working-priority list. His system may be pragmatic and easily applicable, but he cautions against pitfalls such as depleted energy levels due to long-term dysfunction (anger, fear, anxiousness) and distraction. The final stage of his system is personal and professional accountability, neither of which should be taken lightly. Supplant time management with the author’s strategies to become “the best version of yourselves.”

HOW TO GET A GRIP Forget Namby-Pamby, Wishy-Washy, Self-Help Drivel. This Is the Book You Need.

Kimberley, Matthew John Blake/Trafalgar (264 pp.) $12.95 paperback | September 15, 2011 978-1-84358-328-8 paperback

An anti-self-help book that somewhat humorously reminds readers about basic coping strategies. Kimberley successfully models how not to take yourself too seriously—one of his mantras—in this amusing debut instruction manual. From the start, the author admits, “some have it worse than others. Some of us were born in the arse-end of the country to a family of inbred petty criminals with facial tattoos and Neolithic attitudes to women and literacy.” But then he goes on to say that no matter what one’s circumstance, each of us needs to take personal responsibility for our failings. All too often, however, the author’s straightforward and snarky style is crippled by unnecessary fluff. Poorly executed anecdotes fail to adequately illustrate his points, and some of the author’s advice is unsubstantiated and just plain ridiculous—e.g., urging the use of gossip in the workplace: “Gossip is what we are put on this earth for. We were NOT put on earth to compile spreadsheets and financial projections. That is a construct of men with clipboards and shiny heads.” Kimberly’s comical crusading grows tired quickly, and stands in the way of any good he might actually accomplish. In the end, readers are left wondering which parts to take seriously, if any at all.

MADBOY My Journey from Adboy to Adman

Kirshenbaum, Richard OpenRoad Integrated Media (224 pp.) $21.99 | September 20, 2011 978-1-4532-1144-1 Kirshenbaum submits a vibrant, educational look at his days as creative director of his New York City advertising company.

1558

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

“Advertising people by nature tend to be quirky, fun, and loquacious,” which may only be half true, but the author certainly fits snuggly into that camp. He rose in the industry during the 1980s and cut a broad swath as an unconventional, inventive adman, tackling everything from Reynolds Wrap to cognac. In this jaunty memoir, he starts with a little familial background material before moving on to tales from the trade: encounters with the rich and famous and, better yet, the notso rich and hardly famous; the crazy shoots; the whole milieu of high-stakes advertising. Yet there is plenty of hard business information in these pages, for Kirshenbaum appreciates discipline, old-school politesse and plain hard work. Much of his wisdom is reduced to aphorisms, and he knows the power of laughter as a business model as well as the fact “that unless you have a killer strategy, you might go down the wrong path creatively.” What stands out in particular is the author’s ability to convey the exigent art of the creative process at work. His outlook is part liberal and socially conscious—he came up with the Kenneth Cole campaign that featured characters du jour: Imelda Marcos and her 2,700 shoes, Dan Quayle and Oliver North (“Isn’t it time America focused less on arms and more on feet?”). Kirshenbaum’s bracing, often ribald humor carries right through the page and onto the sidewalk, where he stenciled such ads as that for Bamboo Lingerie: “From here it looks like you could use some new underwear.” A shimmering piece of work, in which the flash illuminates the creative act.

THE SIBLING EFFECT What the Bonds Among Brothers and Sisters Reveal About Us Kluger, Jeffrey Riverhead (320 pp.) $26.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-59448-831-3

An in-depth exploration of the bonds between siblings and their surprisingly large influence on how we develop. Time senior editor Kluger (Freedom Stone, 2011, etc.) has experienced myriad familial and sibling relationships in his life: son, brother, stepbrother, half brother and stepson, to name just a few. Using these often humorous, but sometimes dark, experiences as a handy framework, he first explains why human siblings are unique in the animal kingdom and why, in many cases, bonds between brothers and sisters are among the most important in their lives. Masterfully weaving anecdotal passages with academic research and scientific data, the author thoroughly examines the many manifestations of the simple brother-brother, sister-sister or brothersister relationship, and the dynamic within each. Kluger devotes chapters to such major topics as the importance of birth order in a growing family, parental divorce and blended families (which become more prevalent each day), and what happens when a parent clearly favors a particular child. The

kirkusreviews.com

|


author also touches on why siblings fight, how their risky behaviors may influence one another (hint: it’s not always negatively), sex and gender and sibling relationships in old age. Kluger doesn’t neglect the “curious worlds of twins and singletons”; they get a chapter all to themselves. An entertaining, enlightening and helpful handbook for familial relations from an author who’s been through them all.

THE BIG ENOUGH COMPANY Creating a Business that Works for You

Lancaster, Adelaide Abrams, Amy Portfolio (256 pp.) $25.95 | September 15, 2011 978-1-59184-421-1

In Good Company founders Lancaster and Abrams interview 100 businesswomen in this snappy guide to entrepreneurial bliss. This well-crafted book certainly isn’t just for women, but rather for anyone dreaming of making their career work for them. Eschewing the traditional (and admittedly male) growit-and-sell-it model of entrepreneurship, the authors focus on helping struggling entrepreneurs create the kinds of companies they dream about. Sadly, write the authors, despite huge reserves of energy, drive and intelligence, many of those modern entrepreneurs end up getting in their own way. They take bad advice, expand when they shouldn’t and sell things they don’t care about. Lancaster and Abrams provide a recipe for success that begins with a series of simple yet penetrating questions that crystallize why someone would want to venture out on their own in the first place—and, subsequently, where they could go wrong. They advocate savvy business solutions that that would likely be anathema in the male-dominated corporate arena—e.g., sharing, cooperation, even friendship. Smashing the corporate paradigm is possible, and it never looked so rewarding and fun. Knuckle-draggers in pinstripes will probably continue to look for the easy kill, but readers with a soul will want sit down, uncork the highlighter and dig in.

“SOMETHING URGENT I HAVE TO SAY TO YOU” The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams

Leibowitz, Herbert Farrar, Straus and Giroux (560 pp.) $35.00 | November 1, 2011 978-0-374-11329-2

A detailed biography of pioneering modernist poet William Carlos Williams (1883–1963), seen through a discriminating and skeptical eye. |

Skeptical because, for all the close attention Parnassus editor Leibowitz pays to each phase of the physician-poet’s life, the author sometimes seems uncertain that Williams is a subject worthy of biographical scrutiny. Though Leibowitz has high praise for some of Williams’ scattered poems and for the first two parts of his epic poem Paterson, he deems Williams an admirably experimental writer whose experiments often fell short. What Leibowitz acknowledges is the importance of the experiments: By tinkering with rhythm, line breaks and subject matter in new ways, Williams strove to capture the voice of the everyday American without feeling beholden to old-fashioned Victorian poesy or the obscurantism of T.S. Eliot and his mentor Ezra Pound. (Williams and Pound’s relationship was always contentious. Pound could be equally supportive and condescending toward Williams, but Pound’s embrace of fascism and anti-Semitism during World War II shattered their friendship.) Leibowitz identifies two crucial personal influences on Williams’ poetry. First was his work as a physician in New Jersey, which exposed him to the working-class people he sought to embody in his writing. More important was his long but troubled marriage with his wife, Floss, which inspired some of his more powerfully embittered poems, as well as numerous affairs. (Leibowitz suggests Williams fathered at least one child out of wedlock.) The author concentrates heavily on close analysis of Williams’ poems, sometimes at the expense of narrative thrust; for instance, Paterson is mentioned numerous times with little explanation before the chapter dedicated to its creation. Leibowitz doesn’t position Williams as a consistently great poet, but he saves him from the brickbats his work has recently absorbed, and gives him his due as a key figure in the creation of Modernist ideas. (8 pages of black-and-white illustrations)

REPUBLIC, LOST How Money Corrupts Congress—and a Plan to Stop It

Lessig, Lawrence Twelve (320 pp.) $26.99 | October 5, 2011 978-0-446-57643-7

Harvard Law School cyber-law expert Lessig (Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy, 2008, etc.) turns his attention to what he believes to be rampant institutional corruption destroying American democracy. While the U.S. Congress has lost credibility because of widespread conviction that senators and representatives are bought and paid for by special interests, the author argues that this is the fault of a system that has gone out of control rather than the personal venality of politicians. Lessig, a one-time conservative who supported President Obama, attributes this to systematic economic deregulation over the past 20 years, which has allowed for the concentration of wealth into the hands of a small number of individuals who now wield disproportionate power. He shows

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1559


“Inevitably a mixed bag, but with high ambitions and a strong sense of purpose.” from the ecstasy of influence

in detail how financial rather than national interest has come to dominate legislation and the practice of government on both sides of the aisle, despite stated political allegiance. A root cause is the rise of campaign spending, which has grown from $56,000 for a member of the House in 1974 to $1.3 million in 2008 and is still rising. Not only do politicians cater to their largest contributors, but a majority of their time and energy is necessarily diverted to fundraising for the next campaign. Lessig describes how entitlements to big business (“corporate welfare”) provide absolutely no benefit for average Americans or the poor, as exemplified by protective tariffs on sugar and support for ethanol production, which benefit agribusiness to the detriment of public health and the environment. He suggests that campaign-finance reform is the most important issue to be remedied, and he proposes a national discussion about the necessity for a constitutional convention to implement reform. A well-reasoned argument on the structural problems now paralyzing American government, with a less-convincing proposed solution. (Author tour to New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco)

THE ECSTASY OF INFLUENCE Nonfictions, Etc.

Lethem, Jonathan Doubleday (480 pp.) $32.50 | November 8, 2011 978-0-385-53495-6 Conceptual ambition, sense of purpose and a fan’s evangelical devotion distinguish this collection from the typical novelist’s gathering of nonfiction miscellany. If this is a closet-clearing exercise by Lethem (Chronic City, 2009, etc.), his is an impressively rich closet. In addition to being a writer who blurs the distinction between genre fiction (sci-fi, detective, western) and postmodern literature (a term he questions), Lethem writes with a commitment to sharing his enthusiasm for whatever obsesses him—underdog novelists such as Paula Fox and Thomas Berger, underacknowledged rock bands such as the Go-Betweens, seminal inspirations such as Philip K. Dick and J.G. Ballard. “I began writing in order to arrive into the company of those whose company meant more to me than any other: the world of books I’d found on shelves and begun to assemble on my own, and the people who’d written them, and the readers who cares as much as I did,” he writes toward the conclusion of this collection. While the results illuminate his formative influences and artistic development, they also cast considerable light on the culture at large, which is both reflected in Lethem’s work and has profoundly shaped it. His personal pantheon extends from popular music (he writes at incisive length about both Bob Dylan and James Brown) to the international literary alchemy of the late Roberto Bolaño, enlisting the reader as an accomplice in his quest. Intensifying that intimacy, he shares his complicated relationships with two college buddies, Bret 1560

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt, who both achieved precocious literary success well before he did, and he recalls his bitter response to James Wood after the latter wrote a mixed review of Lethem’s breakthrough, Motherless Brooklyn. Inevitably a mixed bag, but with high ambitions and a strong sense of purpose. (Agent: Eric Simonoff)

GOD IS RED The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China Liao Yiwu Translator: Wen Huang HarperOne (256 pp.) $25.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-06-207846-9

A fascinating collection of interviews exploring the resurgence of Christianity in China. No stranger to censorship, award-winning Chinese author, journalist and poet Liao (The Corpse Walker, 2008) has spent time in prison for writing critically of China’s Communist regime. Here the author examines Christianity, which survived under China’s Cultural Revolution despite attempts to eradicate it as a “lackey of the imperialists.” While atheism remains the cultural norm in China today, estimates report that Christianity now stands as China’s largest formal religion, surpassing both Buddhism and Taoism in numbers. In an attempt to understand why a foreign religion gained such popularity, Liao interviews a wide range of Chinese Christians, from an elderly nun who witnessed both the closing and eventual reopening of her church by the Communist regime, to a missionary doctor treating impoverished villagers in lieu of working in a government-run hospital, to a dying tailor who finds meaning in his recent conversion to the faith. Many of the interviewees recall hardships such as being socially ostracized, beaten, paraded in dunce caps or even arrested and tortured—and this in addition to suffering from the mass famine that claimed millions of lives between 1959 and 1962. A non-Christian himself, Liao transcribes his interviews with little additional commentary, allowing the heartbreaking tales of persecution and spiritual fervor to speak for themselves. Will appeal to both Christian and secular readers interested in the cultural realities of China’s Great Leap Forward.

kirkusreviews.com

|


THE SWORD OF ST. MICHAEL The 82nd Airborne Division in World War II LoFaro, Guy Da Capo/Perseus (784 pp.) $35.00 | September 1, 2011 978-0-306-82023-6 e-book 978-0-306-82024-3

A comprehensive history of the 82nd Airborne Division in World War II, from an officer of that famed unit. Wartime Chief of Staff George Marshall viewed airborne troops, at the division level, as a means to transform the battlefield as a whole, and incorporated the idea in his 1941 draft invasion plan for April 1943. He backed the officers like Matthew Ridgway and James Gavin who brought the division into existence and organized its tactics and supplies. However, after the unit’s first mission in Sicily, Eisenhower, who was unsure of a deployment based on relatively independent small units acting on their own initiative, wanted the division units disbanded. Marshall prepared a “Plan C” for Eisenhower’s consideration for D-Day in 1944, suggesting a proposal to drop two or three divisions of airborne troops into the Orleans Gap 85 miles inland from the Normandy beaches to cut German supply lines and communications. Marshall called this proposal “vertical envelopment.” As LoFaro ably shows, this strategic conception was subordinated to both staff caution and inter-allied intrigue, which limited the application of the unit’s potential but not the heroism of its troopers in combat against the Germans. They were never deployed in the way Marshall envisioned. LoFaro singles out as exemplary both Ridgway and Gavin, who led their troops from the front. A tour de force for military historians and WWII buffs, and a lesson on the leadership skills required to effectively conceive and coordinate a mission. (16 pages of black-andwhite photographs. Agent: Gayle Wurst)

THE DOORS A Lifetime of Listening to Five Mean Years Marcus, Greil PublicAffairs (240 pp.) $24.99 | November 1, 2011 978-1-58648-945-8

The veteran critic (Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus, 2010, etc.) turns his attention to one of the defining rock bands of the 1960s. Outside of the band’s 1967 debut album, the Doors strike Marcus as a mediocrity. So why write about them? In part because the release of “official bootleg” albums of live Doors shows offer new perspectives for Marcus to consider. It may help to have 2003’s Boot Yer Butt! handy as he sagely discusses the group deconstructing “Light My Fire” |

onstage in 1967, or the way “The End” messily collapsed live a year later. In those pieces, Marcus eagerly strips the Doors of the psychedelic clichés that have attached to them. A compulsion to debunk myths about the ’60s drives much of this book: Sick of being called upon to opine romantically on Woodstock culture, Marcus hears the death of the Summer of Love dream in the Doors’ music, the way its mood seemed to foreshadow the Manson murders and the Altamont tragedy. As ever, the author synthesizes a variety of works to make such points, and the connections aren’t always clear or convincing. What “Twentieth Century Fox” has to do with pop artists like Roy Lichtenstein is no clearer at the end of one essay than it was at the beginning. But Marcus’ enthusiasm is often infectious, as in his astonishment over his admiration for Oliver Stone’s biopic or the way Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice harks back to Morrison’s crazed vocals on “L.A. Woman.” An honorable if sometimes clumsy attempt to put the Doors in their cultural place.

JACK KENNEDY Elusive Hero

Matthews, Chris Simon & Schuster (448 pp.) $27.50 | November 1, 2011 978-1-4516-3508-9 Hardball host Matthews (Life’s a Campaign: What Politics Has Taught Me About Friendship, Rivalry, Reputation, and Success, 2007, etc.) blends tributes and chastisement in this highly personal account of John F. Kennedy’s career. The author begins with his earliest memory of JFK—his failed 1956 attempt to gain the vice-president spot with Adlai Stevenson. From a Republican family, Matthews gradually moved the other way, and JFK was a major factor. Throughout the narrative, the author combines political biography with personal reflection. Repeatedly, he narrates a key event in JFK’s career (e.g., the Bay of Pigs debacle), and then raises questions about why the president behaved as he did. Matthews praises Kennedy’s heroism during World War II, his determination to excel despite his medical conditions and his recognition of the moral aspects of politics. The excerpt Matthews includes from a JFK civil-rights speech delivered after the crisis at the University of Alabama remains stirring today. The author also lauds JFK for his ability to turn from his strong-willed father, his devotion to old friends, his speaking and debating skills and his resolution in the face of the dire threats issued by the Soviets. Despite his obvious emotional attachment to JFK, Matthews does not neglect his negative character traits. He reminds us that Kennedy was not a devoted husband—not just because of his serial infidelities but also in his casual, even cruel, treatment of his wife—and he questions JFK’s support of Sen. Joseph McCarthy and his appointment of his own brother Robert as Attorney General—“sheer, unadulterated nepotism,” writes the

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1561


THE BURMA CAMPAIGN Disaster into Triumph, 1942-45

author. Matthews also recognizes that the Kennedy charm lay on a hard foundation of political savvy, even ruthlessness. Matthews’ admiration and gratitude for JFK trump his disapprobation. (20 black-and-white photographs)

THE WHOLE DAMN DEAL Robert Strauss and the Art of Politics

McGarr, Kathryn J. PublicAffairs (480 pp.) $29.99 | October 11, 2011 978-1-58648-877-2

A well-paced, exhaustively researched biography of Robert Strauss, the wellconnected lawyer, politician, businessman and diplomat known in some circles as “Mr. Democrat.” Readers interested in national politics will find McGarr’s first book packed with compelling stories about her subject’s varied and intriguing career, the evolution of the Democratic Party from the 1950s to the ’90s and the changing tone in Washington during the same period. A wealthy and successful Texas lawyer who began his career as an FBI agent, Strauss established himself as an important figure in state politics by the ’50s, served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 1972 to 1977, U.S. Trade Representative and special envoy to the Middle East under President Carter and U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union and, later, Russia under President George H.W. Bush. By disclosing her close personal connection to her subject in the book’s introduction—Strauss is McGarr’s greatuncle—the author is clearly attempting to de-fang potential critics. McGarr likely learned this handy trick from “Uncle Bob” himself. As she frequently notes, despite having come under occasional fire for influence-peddling throughout his years in politics, Strauss’ disarmingly frank manner kept his reputation virtually unsullied. Though ingratiating, McGarr’s candor about her relationship to her subject nevertheless casts doubt on her portrayal of a man toward whom she clearly feels deep affection and loyalty. Her exclusive access to Strauss himself—as well as to dozens of high-level politicians and media personalities who worked with him—both strengthens the book and undermines it. Though enriched by many funny, revealing quotes and anecdotes, the book draws heavily on material almost exclusively provided by people who like and admire the subject. By all accounts, including McGarr’s, Strauss has a Texas-sized personality and an ego to match. Many of his business dealings were ethical only in the sense that he never believed he was doing anything wrong. McGarr seems at pains to argue that, even if Strauss’ actions weren’t always strictly above-board, his intentions were. It is worth reading the book to decide whether Strauss is a wise elder statesman of a bygone era or merely an effective practitioner of politics as usual. Neatly structured and highly readable debut featuring a commanding central figure. (Agent: Robert Guinsler)

1562

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

McLynn, Frank Yale Univ. (544 pp.) $35.00 | October 15, 2011 978-0-300-17162-4

A highly opinionated history of the bloody, half-forgotten World War II jungle campaign. After Pearl Harbor, British leaders were shocked by Japan’s easy capture of Hong Kong, Malaya and Singapore. They did not expect an invasion of Burma and were equally shocked when it occurred in January 1942, writes veteran British historian McLynn (Captain Cook: Master of the Seas, 2011, etc.). Although outnumbered, aggressive Japanese forces repeatedly defeated poorly led British, Indian and Chinese troops in a four-month campaign that ended with their long, brutal retreat. There followed two years of rebuilding, minor engagements and political fireworks between the allies before a reorganized British and Colonial army led by the widely admired General William Joseph Slim routed the Japanese. McLynn divides the narrative between military events and accounts of half-a-dozen colorful but sadly mismatched Allied leaders. Only Slim emerges unscathed. The commander of American forces, General Joseph (“Vinegar Joe”) Stillwell, did not conceal his detestation of the British (Slim excepted) and of Chinese Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, whose troops were purportedly under Stillwell’s control. McLynn describes supreme commanders General Archibald Wavell and, after 1943, Louis Mountbatten as “overpromoted” men who lived up to their mediocre talents. British commander Orde Wingate, a media darling after leading a costly 1943 large-scale raid into Japanese-occupied Burma, seems psychotically eccentric. None of the author’s unflattering portraits will surprise educated readers, although recent historians have been more understanding. Clumsily managed, the Burma campaign was also a sideshow that contributed little to Japan’s defeat, but McLynn’s fiercely partisan judgments and lucid accounts of both military and political bloodletting provide a thoroughly satisfying experience.

BLUE GUITAR HIGHWAY

Metsa, Paul Univ. of Minnesota (288 pp.) $24.95 | October 7, 2011 978-0-8166-7642-2

A veteran of the Minneapolis barband scene takes readers on a ramble down the roads of a life spent working on the outer edge of fame but on the center stage of satisfaction. While he may be a first-time memoirist, Metsa is a long-time raconteur who has been saving up

kirkusreviews.com

|


“A nice combination of acerbic wit and erudition—the perfect complement to Susan Jacoby’s Never Say Die (2011).” from losing it

stories from nearly 40 years in the music business, most of it spent in his beloved home state of Minnesota. From his first junior-high garage band to a successful stint with a Grateful Dead–esque ensemble to a bevy of solo gigs, Metsa has dedicated his heart to performing, and his earnest and often self-deprecating memoir—sprinkled with generous doses of Kerouac/Kesey flights of verbal fantasy, some more successful than others—shows him to be as likable a narrator as ever graced a bar stool. Too many rock memoirs dwell on excess at the expense of inspiration; Metsa quickly dispenses with the former (a bout with cocaine in the ’80s) to better concentrate on the latter. Fusing music and social activism has allowed the author to build a loyal following in addition to attracting attention from such luminaries as Nora Guthrie (Woody’s daughter), John H. Hammond (the rock promoter who helped elevate Bob Dylan and Pete Seeger to prominence) and the late progressive Minnesota Senator Paul Wellstone. The best example of this dedication comes in a chapter called “Slings and Arrows,” in which Metsa details his (unfortunately unsuccessful) attempts to save the historic Guthrie Theater from demolition. More than simply a title of regional interest to Midwesterners, this musical journey will resonate with readers who prefer their tell-alls spiced with a generous helping of conviction and a dash of humility.

LOSING IT In Which an Aging Professor Laments His Shrinking Brain...

Miller, William Ian Yale Univ. (336 pp.) $27.00 | October 25, 2011 978-0-300-17101-3

Miller (Univ. of Michigan Law School; Eye for an Eye, 2005, etc.) makes the case that old age is indeed a bummer. Following on his previous examinations of the human condition, Humiliation (1993) and The Anatomy of Disgust (1997), the author’s disdain for protestations that with age comes wisdom and greater happiness is understandable if not necessarily appealing. He addresses himself particularly to those who do not “suffer from incurable positive thinking and its attendant imbecility” and expresses contempt for “so-called positive psychology.” The author, now in his mid 60s, gives an admittedly exaggerated account of his own slowing down, memory loss and distractibility with what some readers may find distressing detail, but he includes some great quips along with his grumpy complaints. Describing what he means by “losing it” with the onset of old age, he writes that “the process of losing it [is] more drawn out ... [than losing] a cell phone or virginity, each of which can be lost in mere seconds of thoughtfulness.” In his opinion, research claiming that old folks are happier as they age simply corroborates his theory that the elderly have lost the capacity to judge. Making a minor concession, he suggests that perhaps “the modest pleasure…of having gotten through it all |

[can be] akin to the pleasure of no longer banging your head against the wall.” A nice combination of acerbic wit and erudition—the perfect complement to Susan Jacoby’s Never Say Die (2011).

LIONS OF THE WEST Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion

Morgan, Robert Algonquin (496 pp.) $28.95 | October 18, 2011 978-1-56512-626-8

Novelist, poet and historian Morgan (Boone: A Biography, 2007, etc.) moves in the territory between hagiography and calumny in this look at the men who made Manifest Destiny manifest. Thomas Jefferson, writes the author, seems to have been born looking west; throughout his childhood and early adulthood, he ventured farther and farther beyond the Virginia piedmont, though it was up to others, such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, to explore the region beyond the mountains by proxy for him. Morgan begins, properly, with Jefferson, and though his account is a touch diffuse—does it matter that Jefferson was a good condenser of law texts in this connection?—it affords an appropriately high-minded justification for a signal fact: namely, as the Mexican historian Josefina Zoraida Vázquez observed, that “the North Americans kept up this continuous expansion, and the United States government followed their footsteps.” Morgan follows with profiles, most of them illuminating and of just the right length, of some key players. Many are well known, such as the violent Andrew Jackson and the fearless Kit Carson; others are less well known and more interesting in the fact than in the myth, such as John Chapman (aka Johnny Appleseed) and John C. Frémont, the latter a scoundrel who figures in many histories but not much in the popular imagination these days. Morgan’s actors are sometimes even more obscure, though not deservedly so, such as the fair-minded diplomat Nicholas Trist, “idealistic to the point of seeming naive to a politician such as Polk.” The author is also good at pointing out some of the incidental ironies history affords, such as the fact that the men at the Alamo could have saved their skins had William Travis not “refused to recognize the authority of [Sam] Houston.” A vivid, well-conceived look at western expansion in the old narrative-driven school of Bernard DeVoto and Wallace Stegner.

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1563


THE VOYAGE OF THE ROSE CITY An Adventure at Sea Moynihan, John Spiegel & Grau (256 pp.) $22.00 | October 4, 2011 978-0-8129-8243-5 e-book 978-0-679-64381-4

Occasionally self-indulgent but intriguing memoir by the now-deceased Moynihan, chronicling the time he served as a Merchant Marine aboard the Rose City. In the author’s first—and sadly, last—book, he discusses his adventures as a seaman on a brutal and unforgiving fourmonth journey around the world. His father, the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, pulled strings to find his son a place on a ship taking what seemed to be a pleasure cruise around the Mediterranean; however, the young Moynihan was shocked when the journey turned out to be anything but a relaxing vacation. Initially advised to hide his distinguished origins, the details of his parentage quickly leaked, transforming his search for adventure into a miserable, lonely existence. The author laments his treatment at the hands of his fellow seamen and doesn’t seem to ever overcome this self-pity. The second half of the book focuses on the increasingly difficult physical conditions aboard the Rose City, as well as the debauchery that occurred when the ship made port. Though the descriptions of booze, women and drunken antics may seem unnecessary and distasteful to some readers, Moynihan uses them to effectively demonstrate how, through these experiences, the disparate men bonded and became a unified crew. It makes for a sincere study of the life of a man at sea, eschewing the romanticism often associated with the lifestyle. Moynihan is a talented writer, wielding crisp and clear prose, and his emotions spill out onto the page but never overwhelm the story. He brings the narrative to a satisfying close, only marred by the fact that the author’s life was cut tragically short. An honest portrayal of a lonely life at sea, Moynihan’s adventures aboard the Rose City are exciting, but it is his overwhelming desire for acceptance that will resonate most with readers.

IN YOUR EYES A SANDSTORM Ways of Being Palestinian

Neslen, Arthur Univ. of California (322 pp.) $34.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-520-26427-4 An indefatigable journalist interviews more than 50 Palestinians about their fractured lives. Seeking to broaden our understanding of the Palestinians 1564

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

beyond the usual suspects, and, notwithstanding the difficulties posed by his own Jewish religion and ethnicity, Neslen (Occupied Minds: A Journey Through the Israeli Psyche, 2006) has sought out a wide variety of interview subjects, earned their trust and allowed them to speak in their own voices about their experience. Clearly sympathetic to their grievances—he describes himself as the child of left-wing, anti-Zionists—the editor makes no attempt to argue with or modify the remarks in these recorded, sometimes very raw conversations. Although readers will recognize a few names, the vast majority of these voices would have gone unheard but for this collection. Using key events from Palestinian history to mark successive “generations,” Neslen organizes his presentation traveling back through time from the present, to the Second Intifada, the Oslo Accords, the First Intifada, the Palestinian Revolution, the 1967 war, the Naqba and the 1936 Great Revolt. From soldiers, students, dancers, models, rappers, engineers, drug dealers, lawyers, taxi drivers, policemen, psychologists, teachers and comedians, Neslen has extracted stories that, taken together, paint a complex picture of the Palestinians and their history. Unsurprisingly, in virtually all of these accounts, many of loss, dispossession, suffering, terror and torture, the State of Israel comes in for a bashing. More revealing, especially to readers unfamiliar with the tortured history, are the differences and divisions Neslen uncovers among the Palestinians themselves. Notwithstanding all that these subjects have in common, they have lived, after all, individual lives. The view from a camp in the West Bank or Gaza is not necessarily that of a Palestinian in Israel, Jordan or Lebanon. Neslen has forged a collection of voices that forces us to rethink simplistic notions about the nature of Palestinian identity. (61 black-and-white photographs)

ONE AND ONLY The Untold Story of On the Road and of Lu Anne Henderson, the Woman Who Started Jack and Neal On Their Journey

Nicosia, Gerald Santos, Anne Marie Viva Editions (240 pp.) $22.95 | November 1, 2011 978-1-936740-04-8

Free-spirited adventuress? Promiscuous party girl? Protofeminist? Who was the real Lu Anne Henderson, immortalized as “Marylou” in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road? Nicosia (Lunatics, Lovers, Poets, Vets and Bargirls, 2006, etc.) and Santos address many of the labels thrown at Henderson and her reputation in this composite text comprised of scholarly analysis, an extensive interview with Henderson conducted in 1978 and personal memoirs about her. Henderson, the 15-yearold beauty who married Neal Cassady, accompanied Kerouac, Cassady and others on the cross-country adventures later

kirkusreviews.com

|


fictionalized in On the Road. Nicosia makes a compelling case for Henderson’s unique perspective on and understanding of Kerouac and Cassady, poster boys for the Beat generation. Henderson was there from the onset of their friendship, when she and a passionate, frenzied Cassady arrived in New York City in a stolen car, carrying suitcases of books but no cash. The two quickly fell in with a group of young students and budding writers, including Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and John Clellon Holmes. Cassady, desperately trying to become a writer and overcome his lack of education, was enthralled, inspired and sometimes jealous of these new peers. The balancing act of admiration and misunderstanding was most pronounced between Kerouac and Cassady, especially in later years. Yet their friendship ran deep and had profound effects on both of their lives, as Henderson directly observed in her role as friend and lover: “I really believe there was something of an umbilical cord between the two of them, because their lives were so entwined, and they really both ran the same gamut, and wound up at the same place.” Henderson’s extensive interview provides a unique perspective on the development of the seminal Kerouac-Cassady friendship, as well as anecdotes about and corrections to the account rendered in On the Road. The oft-maligned Henderson, characterized as an oversexed nitwit in many film and memoir accounts of the period, speaks with intelligence, insight and tenderness about her experiences and her genuine affection for both men. A real find for Beat aficionados, adding verve to a cherished moment in American history and the novel that came to define it. (First printing of 25,000)

FOOL ME TWICE Fighting the Assault on Science in America

Otto, Shawn Lawrence Rodale (380 pp.) $24.99 | October 11, 2011 978-1-60529-217-5 | 978-1-60961-320-4 The public’s perception of the role of science in culture and medicine has changed amid an increasingly anti-intellectual movement in politics and religion, and unless scientific literacy increases among citizens and lawmakers, environmental and other crises will exacerbate and threaten the United States’ role as a global superpower. Fueled partly by right-wing politicians and lobbyists and partly by a scientific community that has lost its engagement with the general public, scientific facts are suddenly vulnerable to being “subjective” and even “partisan.” Important issues like vaccinations (see Paul Offit’s Deadly Choices) and global warming have become heated debates in the media and in election cycles, and science in general is mistakenly perceived as just another “way of knowing” and can be “debunked” by an articulate (if inaccurate) counter-argument. The result is often public policy that is disastrous for the long term but benefits a few powerful people in the short term. Otto, co-founder and CEO of Science Debate 2008 and writer and producer of the |

film House of Sand and Fog, argues that an uninformed, or misinformed, country, including members of Congress, may be ill-equipped to make the enormous decisions that will affect future generations. The members of the incoming GOP class almost unanimously agree that climate change is a hoax, despite the fact that the U.S. stands alone among all other developed nations in this opinion. Combined with a loyalty to free-market economic policies that no longer make sense in a rapidly growing population, this could spell ecological and economic disaster. Only by competing with other countries to find renewable energy and by committing to science education and unbiased reporting can the U.S. remain a global leader. Otto writes that “there is no greater moral, economic, or political question” at stake, but that our legacy of freedom and leadership can guide us to make the right decisions. A gripping analysis of America’s anti-science crisis.

KILLING LINCOLN The Shocking Assassination that Changed America Forever

O’Reilly, Bill Dugard, Martin Henry Holt (336 pp.) $28.00 | October 1, 2011 978-0-8050-9307-0

Cable-news talking head O’Reilly (Pinheads and Patriots: Where You Stand in the Age of Obama, 2010, etc.) and historian Dugard (To Be a Runner, 2011, etc.) serve up a sensational, true-crime account of one of the most shocking murders in American history. In this fast-paced narrative history, the authors recount the weeks leading up to and immediately following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. They pick up the historical thread in the waning moments of the Civil War, as two bedraggled armies attempted to outmaneuver and outlast one another. A reflective and anxious Lincoln was near the battlefront, conferring with General Grant and waiting for the fall of Richmond that would signal the last phase of the war. Meanwhile, a disgruntled Confederate sympathizer, John Wilkes Booth, traveled around Washington, D.C., and its environs fomenting unrest among his co-conspirators. In response to the fall of the Confederacy, Booth transformed the group’s longstanding kidnapping plan into a vengeful and flamboyant plot to assassinate Lincoln and several key Cabinet members. The authors profess to be writing history that reads like a thriller, and their account of Lincoln’s assassination makes ample use of tricks like cliffhanger endings, hypothetical psychological insights and fictional dialogue. Yet such narrative propulsions seem hardly necessary when chronicling the rapid-fire succession of major events that occurred during those fateful weeks: several of the bloodiest battles of an already brutal war, the surrender of the Confederacy, tumultuous celebrations in the North and the Good Friday assassination of a leader who was both beloved and despised. This

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1565


“Classic Pinker, jammed with facts, figures, and points of speculative departure; a big, complex book, well worth the effort for the good news that it delivers.” from the better angels of our nature

moment in history is already dramatic, thrilling and shocking; applying the “thriller” motif delivers on the subtitle’s description of a “shocking assassination” but fails to elucidate how the authors believe this event “changed America forever.” An entertaining tale that neither adds to the vast bulk of Lincoln scholarship nor challenges the established theories of Booth’s plot and the subsequent trial of the conspirators. Readers seeking a consequential thrillerlike portrayal of the assassination should turn to James L. Swanson’s Manhunt (2005).

BEN-GURION A Political Life

Peres, Shimon Landau, David Schocken (240 pp.) $25.95 | October 25, 2011 978-0-8052-4282-9 978-0-307-90689-2

The current Israeli president teams with a journalist to survey and celebrate the life of David Ben-Gurion (1886–1973), one of the founders of the State of Israel. This latest entry in Nextbook’s Jewish Encounters series makes no real pretense of objectivity. As a young man, Peres (The Imaginary Voyage: With Theodor Herzl in Israel, 2000, etc.) worked with Ben-Gurion and idolized him (still does), so the narrative is hardly fair and balanced. There are several issues, however, that divided Peres and co-author and Economist writer Landau (once editor-in-chief of Haaretz), and at those moments the authors step outside the narrative, shifting to a dialogue format to discuss/debate the issues. These include Ben-Gurion’s focus on Zionism at the possible expense of rescuing Holocaust victims, the controversial partition deal he accepted in 1948, the decision to align with the West, his determination not to create a theocracy in Israel and the effectiveness of reprisal raids launched against attacking states and political entities. Because Landau crafted the text from a series of taped interviews with Peres, there is a personal, conversational tone throughout, which brightens and sharpens in the dialogue segments. The authors occasionally step outside politics to provide some conventional information. Their subject was born David Gruen in Poland in 1886; an early love affair went sour before his marriage, during which he had children. But this is principally a story about intractable, internecine politics and a fierce politician whose intelligence, will, biblical convictions and courage were fundamental in the successful creation of Israel. If the authors sometimes soar too high (calling BenGurion a “mythic figure” and a “modern-day prophet”), readers must remember that this is history in the form of gratitude, not a disinterested dissertation.

THE BETTER ANGELS OF OUR NATURE Why Violence Has Declined

Pinker, Steven Viking (848 pp.) $40.00 | October 4, 2011 978-0-670-02295-3

Frightened of your own shadow? Worried about lone gunmen and psycho killers? Pinker (Psychology/Harvard Univ.; The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature, 2007, etc.) encourages readers not to fret so much. Recognizing that the world can be a dangerous place, the author sets out as his overarching thesis the fact that violence has steadily declined in human society over the generations—“today we may be living in the most peaceable era in our species’s existence.” For those who consider humans to be simply well-armed chimpanzees, Pinker argues that there would seem to be nothing innate about “coalitional violence”—that is, the savage raiding that so characterizes chimpanzee society on one hand and what ethnologists used to call primitive human societies on the other. Yet, he adds, neither is there much reason to believe that we evolved to be peaceniks on the putative model of bonobos, who, in nature, turn out not to be the hippies of the primate world but who nonetheless cause less mayhem than their (and our) chimp relatives. In other words, our behavior is more situational and provisional than hard-wired, for which reason, as Pinker writes, the rate of violence (at least, of the non-coalitional sort) in most parts of the world is steadily declining. As evidence, he cites the steady disinvestment of many world powers in military enterprises, as well as the complex statistics in rates of death in warfare in state and nonstate societies (for the Aztecs, about 250 per 100,000; for America during the Vietnam era, about 3.7 per 100,000). Pinker ranges widely, citing the literature of neuroscience here and the poems of Homer there, visiting vast databases of statistics while pondering the wisdom of Thomas Hobbes’ conception of human life as “nasty, brutish, and short,” and analyzing such weighty matters as “the adaptive logic of violence” and “pathways to self-control.” Classic Pinker, jammed with facts, figures, and points of speculative departure; a big, complex book, well worth the effort for the good news that it delivers.

BECOMING DR. Q My Journey from Migrant Farm Worker to Brain Surgeon

Quiñones-Hinojosa, Alfredo Rivas, Mim Eichler Univ. of California (348 pp.) $27.50 | October 1, 2011 978-0-520-27118-0

Renowned neurosurgeon and neuroscientist Quiñones-Hinojosa’s life story is as unlikely as it is inspiring. 1566

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

kirkusreviews.com

|


Born into a Mexican family perpetually teetering on the edge of poverty, the author’s origins were anything but auspicious. Intelligence, imagination and a grandfather who believed that “hard work, honesty, and a good heart”—along with a healthy dose of charm and charisma—allowed Quiñones-Hinojosa to see beyond the difficult realities that defined his life. Economic circumstances forced his family to become migrant farmworkers for one summer in California; but for the author, going north “had a feeling of destiny” about it. Risking “injury, incarceration and even death,” he eventually returned to the U.S. on his own by jumping the border fence between Mexicali and Calexico. To survive, Quiñones-Hinojosa held a variety of menial jobs from tomato picker to fish-lard scraper to stockyard welder. Education saved him and illuminated his path: After earning his associate’s degree, he won a scholarship to UC-Berkeley, where he decided on a career in medicine. A fellowship to Harvard Medical School allowed him to pursue his dream and define himself still further as a brain surgeon and researcher. “From my earliest childhood, I had used my hands for everything from pumping gas to fixing car engines,” he writes. “[N]ow I could use [them]… to help patients heal.” The personal sacrifices that the author has been forced to make along the way prevents this story of professional success from reading like a fairy tale. A passionate hymn to the power of the American Dream. (32 black-and-white photographs)

ENTRELEADERSHIP 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches

Ramsey, Dave Howard Books/Simon & Schuster (320 pp.) $26.00 | September 20, 2011 978-1-4516-1785-6 Popular talk-show host and bestselling author Ramsey (The Money Answer Book, 2010, etc.) shoots business leadership advice straight from the hip in a substantive title refreshingly devoid of theory. The author “paid his stupid tax” in his 20s when his successful real-estate investment business failed due to massive debt. Broke and humbled, Ramsey embraced Christian principles in every facet of his life, including his work. This framework would lead to his new venture, a financial consulting firm, which, more than 20 years later, has earned the author tens of millions of dollars in revenues and helped countless others find success as well. Ramsey’s faith may serve as his foundation, but any entrepreneur will find inspiration in his nuts-and-bolts advice. He touches on everything from time management and organization to the three things successful businesses never skip: contracts, vendors and collections. “Entreleaders,” he writes, know how to blend their entrepreneurial passion with servantlike leadership that motivates employees through persuasion instead of intimidation. The first step is the interview process. While it may seem harsh that Ramsey wouldn’t hire a woman |

because of her political beliefs, he encourages targeting potential employees who will fit well within an organization’s personality. Hiring individuals who “light up” with excitement over their jobs is also key. He doesn’t sugarcoat any of the difficulties, including problem employees, offering advice for reprimands and releases. As Ramsey fans expect, there is inspiration here, too. He cites Jane Delaney, who began her business in 2003 with a crumpled five dollar bill and an idea to build an online tool to help families plan and budget meals. Today, E-Mealz grosses nearly $4 million per year. Decent advice for small-business entrepreneurs. (Author tour to New York, Chicago, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Orlando, Raleigh, Nashville, Dallas, San Antonio, Atlanta, Houston, Grand Rapids, Mich., Kansas City and Oklahoma City)

THE SHAKESPEARE THEFTS

Rasmussen, Eric Palgrave Macmillan (240 pp.) $26.00 | October 11, 2011 978-0-230-10941-4 A Shakespeare authority recounts his attempts to identify and document all extant copies of Shakespeare’s First Folio of 1623. Rasmussen (English/Univ. of Nevada) begins by reminding us of the rarity of the First Folio (232 known copies), of its immense cultural significance (without it, half the plays of the Bard would no longer exist—including The Tempest and Twelfth Night) and of its physical aspects (its size, its £1 cost in 1623). The author then devotes some chapters to stories about the provenance of various copies—especially those with complicated, even violent histories. These chapters, distributed throughout, are interrupted occasionally with other segments—e.g., Rasmussen’s discovery in 2005 of a painting he believed/hoped was a portrait of Shakespeare (it wasn’t) and his story about an employee of Isaac Jaggard, printer of the First Folio, who left a hair stuck to the wet ink in one copy. The author also provides a terrific appendix, which readers should not skip, that tells how Elizabethans printed books and how the First Folio came to be. We learn, too, how Rasmussen assembled his team of Folio specialists and inspectors and how they created their massive census of the extant copies. He grieves about an inaccessible copy in the hands of a Japanese multimillionaire, and he tells how he once—during a bomb scare—walked out of a library with one of only two known copies of the 1603 Hamlet. The author also tells numerous tales of thefts and attempted thefts. Sometimes, Rasmussen affects a patronizing, just-plainfolks diction, and probably employs more exclamation points than in all of his scholarly writing combined! Indiana Jones, sans bullwhip, pursues the Bard.

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1567


“A bell-clear exposé of corporate greed and governmental malfeasance that should—if there is any justice in the world—provoke a furious backlash in the name of human dignity.” from walking with the comrades

SURVIVAL OF THE BEAUTIFUL Art, Science, and Evolution Rothenberg, David Bloomsbury (320 pp.) $27.00 | November 1, 2011 978-1-60819-216-8

A philosopher and musician proposes that art is important to nature and that a deeper consideration of art in nature can enhance not only our understanding of evolution but of art itself. Rothenberg (Philosophy and Music/New Jersey Institute of Technology), who has explored the mystery of bird songs (Why Birds Sing, 2005) and the songs of whales (Thousand Mile Song, 2008), now takes up a broader question: How can the existence of art and beauty in nature be explained? He launches his investigation by introducing bowerbirds, whose artwork he feels makes art more necessary to evolution then if only humans produced it. “Each species,” he writes, “has its own aesthetic, which defines what colors, sounds, and shapes its members desire.” Rothenberg finds support for his views in the work of Yale’s Richard Prum, curator of birds at the Peabody Museum, who argues that beauty has been overlooked in the study of evolution. The author quotes Prum extensively on the co-evolution of appearance/performance by males and appreciation/taste in females. Thus evolution produces results that are not only practical but also beautiful. Natural selection, writes Rothenberg, is simply not sufficient to explain what nature shows us. The author also examines how beauty comes out of form and is built up out of the basic laws of physics and chemistry. Understanding this sharpens our human eyes whether we are art creators or art viewers. A special appeal of this book is the illustrations—of the elaborate bowers created by bowerbirds, of striking variations in feather patterns and of amazing examples of animal camouflage. Rothenberg does not omit human art, either, examining prehistoric drawings discovered in the Cave of the Three Brothers in France, as well as cubist paintings, scientific drawings and contemporary sculpture. A fun, freewheeling discussion of the role of aesthetics in evolution and a celebration of the beauty to be found in the great diversity of life. (16-page color insert and black-andwhite illustrations. Appearances at science and natural history museums in New York and New Jersey. Agent: Michele Rubin)

WALKING WITH THE COMRADES

Roy, Arundhati Penguin (220 pp.) $15.00 paperback | October 25, 2011 978-0-14-312059-9 paperback In a well-documented indictment, investigative journalist Roy (Listening to Grasshoppers: Field Notes on Democracy, 2009, etc.) presents the case against the 1568

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

Indian government’s murderous policies toward the country’s tribal population. These three linked articles/essays, rendered with a disarming blend of passion and precision, tell the story of India’s tribal people and the violence and neglect they have suffered at the hands of the Indian state. Their land is rich in natural resources and has become the target of takeover by the corporate elite, aided and abetted by a corrupt government and, thus, by the military. This takeover is being conducted in conjunction with Operation Green Hunt, a program aimed at eradicating the Maoist insurgency that has been taking place for decades in the tribal lands, and that has the earmarks of the Sri Lanka solution—kill them all and let heaven do the sorting—and George W. Bush’s binary system: for us or against us. Not only does Roy go out and get involved, she examines every shade of gray while spending weeks with the young insurgents to get under their skin. She writes with a ringing clarity that should bring down a measure of opprobrium to shame the Indian political establishment. The concluding piece, bathed in a sense of cynicism that readers will feel Roy is entitled to, details how the Indian constitution has been traduced by everyone from the parliament to the press to the police. A bell-clear exposé of corporate greed and governmental malfeasance that should—if there is any justice in the world— provoke a furious backlash in the name of human dignity.

THE METHOD METHOD Seven Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-Up Turn an Industry Upside Down Ryan, Eric Lowry, Adam Portfolio (272 pp.) $26.95 | September 15, 2011 978-1-59184-399-3

Oozing with 20-something creativity and offbeat humor, this premiere edition tells the story of two childhood friends who formed a business to revolutionize the cleaning industry. The key is as old as capitalism itself: Find something you love, and sell it in a new and exciting way. Lowry, a climate research chemist, and Ryan, a former adman, channeled their passion for a healthy planet into a multimillion-dollar brand. They created nontoxic soap products in beer pitchers at their apartment and sold them from the back of a car. The end result was Method, a line of eco-friendly detergents and household cleaners, such as a dish soap that contains a biodegradable cleaning agent derived from corn sugars and coconut oil. But taking Method from the red to the shelves of Target stores and large profits in just ten years was not without struggle. The authors list seven “obsessions” in lieu of typical ho-hum business strategies. Their “Method humanifesto” urges would-be entrepreneurs to “look at the world through bright-green colored glasses.” Design is also important, as many of Method’s recycled containers are stylish

kirkusreviews.com

|


GUERRILLA LEADER T.E. Lawrence and the Arab Revolt

and fun; in collaboration with Disney, a kids’ line of soap bottles was created to resemble Mickey Mouse ears. Method’s business philosophy encourages employees to “keep Method weird.” Readers will find much inspiration and advice for turning a startup concept into business reality in this atypical how-to guide.

TEN LETTERS The Stories Americans Tell Their President Saslow, Eli Doubleday (304 pp.) $25.95 | October 11, 2011 978-0-385-53430-7

Every evening, President Obama sits down to read ten letters selected from the 20,000 that arrived in the day’s mail. Who are these people, and what are their stories? In his first book, Washington Post staffer Saslow narrates the stories of a small sample of these correspondents. A Michigan couple faces a multiple array of problems, from skin cancer to the threat of bankruptcy. A top student at a Catholic high school in Philadelphia is inspired by the president to run for class president, and wins; his mother, who can’t find work, worries about how she’ll afford his college. A military wife in Richmond, Va., worries about her husband in Afghanistan and tries to cope with his erratic behavior when he comes home. In Arizona, a young Hispanic woman describes the culture of fear and racism created by an immigration bill. When the president responds to these letters, as he often does, the recipient gets a boost of enthusiasm, and sometimes, national celebrity. When Natoma Canfield, a 50-year-old cleaning woman suffering from cancer, presented a perfect horror story about her maltreatment by her insurance company, the president was so impressed that he cited her case at length while discussing the health-care bill. One of the standout letters came from an amazingly mature 10-year-old girl named Na’Dreya Lattimore, who wrote the president on conditions in her Ohio classroom; the president included parts of it in one of his speeches on education. Certainly, this is an Obama-centric book in which every chapter shows the president nobly dealing with the larger issues addressed in these letters; only one of the letters is negative, and some of the stories are bland. The best, however, offer an intimate glimpse into the lives of people who are hopeful, and sometimes desperate, to be heard (Agent: Esther Newberg)

Schneider, James J. Bantam (368 pp.) $28.00 | November 8, 2011 978-0-553-80764-6 978-0-345-53020-2 e-book

A military theorist at the School of Advanced Military Studies looks closely at Lawrence of Arabia’s self-styled conversion into an effective guerrilla leader. Young, brash, well-schooled and smitten with a romantic idea of Arab culture, T.E. Lawrence (1888 –1935) began to fashion himself in “Arab skin” fairly soon after arriving in the Middle East in 1909 to work on his Oxford University thesis on the Crusades. He learned Arabic and worked on archaeological digs in Turkey and in strategic intelligence in Palestine in 1913. With the outbreak of World War I, Britain’s policy in the region was to “detach the Arabs from the Turks,” in order to bring about the demise of the ailing Ottoman Empire. Though Lawrence often witnessed “an arrogance of power wedded to an ignorance of culture” on the part of the British, he aided the British as a necessary step to Arab independence. When the Arab revolt erupted in 1916, Lawrence, with his knowledge of Arab culture and language, became indispensable to the British as a staff officer and diplomatic conduit. But Lawrence learned quickly that the traditional Western military style of leadership did not suit the Arabs, and during a long hallucinatory spell of sickness, which Schneider elaborates on as conveying “a flash of genius,” Lawrence clarified in his mind the means of guerilla warfare—wear down the opponent by exhaustion rather than annihilation, and by the employment of small, effective “clouds of raiders.” His empathy was key to leadership success, and Schneider takes us through skirmishes at the port of Aqaba, the battle of Tafileh and eventual march to Damascus in 1918. The author bestows on Lawrence the supreme compliment of being an “autonomous leader,” and deeply probes his conflicted sense of helping the Arabs while also being a “fraud” in upholding British imperialism. A keen psychological study that aims at honing leadership skills via example. (4 maps. Agent: EJ McCarthy)

AN INVISIBLE THREAD The True Story of an 11-YearOld Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny Schroff, Laura Tresniowski, Alex Howard Books/Simon & Schuster (288 pp.) $25.00 | November 1, 2011 978-1-4516-4251-3

A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York. |

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1569


“Essential reading for anyone who works for a living.” from retirement heist

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socioeconomic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter. (8 pages of black-and-white photographs)

RETIREMENT HEIST How Companies Plunder and Profit from the Nest Eggs of American Workers

Schultz, Ellen E. Portfolio (256 pp.) $26.95 | September 15, 2011 978-1-59184-333-7

A blistering examination of corporate greed and avarice. Readers are no stranger to the grumblings of their corporate overlords: Pensions are untenable; health-care costs too high; retiree benefits hurt competitiveness. But according to Pulitzer Prize–winning Wall Street Journal reporter Schultz, employee pensions actually make money for corporations, and the funds diverted from them help feather the beds of multi-millionaire executives. She exposes all this and more in a rapid-fire narrative. Individual stories of retired men and women (some with more than 40 years of service) robbed of their nest eggs put a human face on the proceedings. The extent of corporate obfuscation is nearly incalculable, but the author does a stellar job breaking it all down, succeeding where regulators, lawyers and members of Congress have failed. Schultz’s debut is a significant call to action, and ignoring her findings would be inadvisable. Her story of a minivan full of diabetic and cancer patients forced to travel more than 100 1570

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

miles just to have their day in court should alone be enough to spur new reforms. Schultz unleashes an undeniably powerful and penetrating look into corporate money-making machinations and the havoc inflicted on rank-and-file employees. Essential reading for anyone who works for a living.

CONFESSIONS OF A LEFT-HANDED MAN An Artist’s Memoir

Selgin, Peter Univ. of Iowa (244 pp.) $19.95 paperback | October 1, 2011 978-1-60938-056-4 paperback

The quirky, intelligent memoir of an artist and fiction writer. The left-handed brother of a righthanded fraternal twin and son of two Italians—a Sophia Loren look-alike mother who was “all instinct and innuendo” and a brilliant inventor father who was “all logic and intellect”—Selgin (Drowning Lessons: Stories, 2008, etc.) was a born misfit. Rather than trying to fit in like his more conventional brother, however, he consciously clung to his uniqueness “like the survivor of a shipwreck.” He followed his creative leanings into art school at the Pratt Institute, where he discovered that his gift for caricature marginalized him even among artists. Although he continued to draw—and at one time earn money as a caricaturist to the rich and famous—he dropped out of art school and began dreaming of a literary life. “Where drawing had led me only to surfaces,” he writes, “words (I promised myself) would take me deeper.” With the zeal of an addict, Selgin recorded every detail of his life for 10 years, only to find that his writing would become “like kudzu strangling a forest”—something that consumed rather than clarified his existence. Humbled by this and other misadventures—including an encounter with an enraged canine that would cause him to lose left-hand dexterity—Selgin abandoned all artistic posturing. In its stead, he developed a more genuine, heartfelt passion for both art and storytelling that is vividly revealed in the often hilarious but always compassionate portraits he sketches of his eccentric family, assorted oddball friends and lovers. An engaging, original modern-day picaresque.

kirkusreviews.com

AN AMERICAN BETRAYAL Cherokee Patriots and the Trail of Tears

Smith, Daniel Blake John Macrae/Henry Holt (336 pp.) $28.00 | November 8, 2011 978-0-8050-8955-4 A vivid new history of the 19th-century Cherokee removal and the Trail of Tears. Former history professor turned documentary filmmaker Smith (co-author: The |


Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown: The Sea Venture Castaways and the Fate of America, 2008, etc.) covers mostly well-trod ground with his searing account of how the Cherokee tribe had to give up its homeland in portions of Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee; they were relocated by forced march to what would become northeastern Oklahoma. Thousands of Cherokees died on what was later dubbed the Trail of Tears. The difference between Smith’s account and other similar histories is the emphasis on infighting within the Cherokee leadership, who faced a difficult choice: Should they fight the forced removal by facing massive armies assembled by the American government, or negotiate the best possible terms while relocating peaceably? Neither answer was obviously correct, giving the narrative a tension that Smith develops skillfully. Cherokee leaders such as John Ross, Elias Boudinot, John Ridge and Major Ridge come alive on the page. Numerous little-known Caucasians also emerge as brave defenders of Cherokee humanitarian and land rights, although admittedly many of those defenders expected something in return, such as conversion of the Indians to Christian religions. President Jackson, a man of the common people in many ways, cannot be termed heroic by any definition in his resolve to segregate Cherokees (and other Indian tribes), and Smith ably portrays his sometimes-bloodthirsty nature. A well-written, well-researched version of an oft-told saga. (Black-and-white photographs throughout)

THE THOMAS SOWELL READER

Sowell, Thomas Basic (448 pp.) $29.99 | October 4, 2011 978-0-465-02250-2 “Ideology is fairy tales for adults.” Thus writes economist and conservative maven Sowell in a best-of volume shot through with…ideology. Though he resists easy categorization, the author has been associated with hard-libertarian organizations and think tanks such as the Hoover Institution for most of his long working life. Here he picks from his numerous writings, which have the consistency of an ideologue—e.g., affirmative action is bad, period. It’s up to parents, not society or the schools, to be sure that children are educated. Ethnic studies and the “mania for ‘diversity’ ” produce delusions. Colleges teach impressionable Americans to “despise American society.” Minimum-wage laws are a drag on the economy. And so on. Sowell is generally fair-minded, reasonable and logical, but his readers will likely already be converts to his cause, for which reason he does not need to examine all the angles of a problem. (If it is true that most gun violence is committed in households where domestic abuse has taken place, then why not take away the abusers’ guns as part of the legal sentencing?) Often his arguments are very smart, as when he examines the career of Booker T. Washington, who was adept in using white people’s money to advance his causes while harboring no illusions that his benefactors were saints. Sometimes, though, Sowell’s sentiments emerge as pabulum, as when he writes, in would-be |

apothegms: “Government bailouts are like potato chips: You can’t stop with just one”; “I can understand why some people like to drive slowly. What I cannot understand is why they get in the fast lane to do it.” The answer to the second question, following Sowell, might go thus: because they’re liberals and the state tells them to do it, just to get in the way of hard-working real Americans. A solid, representative collection by a writer and thinker whom one either agrees with or not—and there’s not much middle ground on which to stand.

AMERICAN EMPEROR Aaron Burr’s Challenge to Jefferson’s America Stewart, David O. Simon & Schuster (352 pp.) $28.00 | October 25, 2011 978-1-4391-5718-3

A fresh, vivid exploration of the exploits and trial of Aaron Burr (1756– 1836), the most notorious figure of the early American republic. In 1800, Burr came within one electoral vote of becoming president of the United States. Instead, as originally intended, he became Thomas Jefferson’s vice president, serenely presiding over the Senate while under indictment for the murder of Alexander Hamilton in a duel, an unpleasantness with which Stewart (Impeached: The Trial of President Andrew Johnson and the Fight for Lincoln’s Legacy, 2009, etc.) rapidly dispenses in satisfying detail. Dumped by Jefferson in 1804 and frozen out of national political influence, Burr turned to a fantastic scheme. In league with the odious Gen. James Wilkinson, commander of America’s tiny army and a lavishly paid secret agent for the Spanish crown, Burr undertook to assemble a private army and redraw the map of North America by uniting the Spanish Floridas, Mexico and whatever American states and territories west of the Appalachians wished to join him, into a new nation under his own leadership. Burr’s men were headed downriver for New Orleans when he was betrayed by Wilkinson, arrested and packed off to Richmond to stand trial for treason. Jefferson desperately wanted this conviction and actively meddled in the prosecution’s trial strategy, but the presiding judge was Chief Justice John Marshall, a political foe determined to insist on due process for the widely despised defendant. A practicing attorney, Stewart works the miracle of making even early-19th-century legal opinions and argument accessible and vital to modern readers. Two parts adventure story and one part courtroom thriller, Burr’s saga unfolds in “a North America of possibilities, not certainties,” where borders shifted frequently. The author makes it all sound plausible and lays out this complicated story with admirable clarity, while also explaining the long-term significance of its outcome for individual rights, the judiciary and the stability of the young nation. A persuasive, engaging examination of the post-political career of a shadowy and much-maligned figure from the era of the Founders. (29 black-and-white photographs; 6 maps. Agent: Philippa Brophy)

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1571


CHEAT ON YOUR HUSBAND (WITH YOUR HUSBAND) How to Date Your Spouse

Syrtash, Andrea Rodale (224 pp.) $15.99 paperback | September 1, 2011 978-1-60961-109-5 paperback Relationship expert, on-air personality and Huffington Post and Oprah.com regular Syrtash (He’s Just Not Your Type, 2010, etc.) dishes out wisdom to keep marriage alive for the long haul. The author’s guide will resonate loudest with women who are currently attempting to balance marriage with their careers and children. Citing a study by biological anthropologist Helen Fisher, she describes how the brain’s chemical reactions during the first months of romantic love are similar in composition to the chemistry that leads to obsessive-compulsive disorder. Indeed, “the brain chemistry of addiction is also often displayed in the brains of people falling in love.” But that initial rush of dopamine doesn’t last, and then it’s time to get down to the work of maintaining a relationship. First, women are encouraged to put themselves front and center—it’s not only OK, the author writes, but necessary. Syrtash suggests a checklist of things to do for oneself each day. Infidelity may be tempting, she writes, but there are ways it can be avoided. Instead of acting on impulses, readers are urged to remove themselves from the situation and channel the dopamine rush of flirtation back into their marriage. Other strategies for spicing up a partnership including courting and kissing—also known as the Girlfriend Experience—as well as loving one’s body through a series of exercises that encourage vulva exploration. Familiarity may breed comfort, but it can also become dull. To counteract this effect, the author advises women to continue acting as if they are dating even though they are married. That means keeping the bathroom door closed to help maintain the initial air of mystery, ladies. Time-tested advice to help rewire the brain for excitement.

FEAR AND LOATHING AT ROLLING STONE The Essential Writings of Hunter S. Thompson Thompson, Hunter S. Editor: Wenner, Jann S. Simon & Schuster (592 pp.) $32.50 | October 25, 2011 978-1-4391-6595-9

The late master of gonzo journalism and dispenser of drug-addled opinion returns with this collection of his pieces for Rolling Stone magazine. There was a time when Rolling Stone was hip, and Thompson (Kingdom of Fear, 2003, etc.), made it more so, even as he turned the world of straight journalism on its head. In 1970, 1572

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

he wrote his first piece for the magazine, a twisted manifesto/ report on his campaign for a new kind of mayor in Aspen, Colo.: “Our program, basically, was to drive the real estate goons completely out of the valley…No more land rapes, no more busts for ‘flute-playing’ or ‘blocking the sidewalk’….zone the greedheads out of existence.” (Thompson records that he lost by only six votes.) He followed with a closely reported, quietly angry piece on the murder-by-cop of Los Angeles activist and fellow reporter Ruben Salazar: “When he went to cover the rally that August afternoon, he was still a ‘MexicanAmerican journalist.’ But by the time his body was carried out of the Silver Dollar, he was a stone Chicano martyr.” After that piece, the going quickly turned weird as Thompson embarked upon his “Fear and Loathing” series of misadventures, the best (and best-known) of them being the immortal, howlingly funny Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, followed by a superbly bizarre take on the Super Bowl and then, in 1992, a similarly wild piece recounting a supposed romp with Clarence Thomas in the outback of Nevada: “What the hell? I thought. It’s only rock & roll. And he was, after all, a Judge of some kind…Or maybe not. For all I knew he was a criminal pimp with no fingerprints, or a wealthy black shepherd from Spain.” Included here are numerous lesser-known pieces as well, among them an elegant obituary for Timothy Leary, one of the “pure warriors who saw the great light and leapt for it.” Much of this work is available in earlier collections such as The Great Shark Hunt, but that doesn’t make this any less essential—a fine gathering by one of the best writers of our time.

PACIFIC CRUCIBLE War at Sea in the Pacific, 1941-1942

Toll, Ian W. Norton (544 pp.) $32.95 | November 7, 2011 978-0-393-06813-9

An entertaining, impressively researched chronicle of the tense period between the bombing of Pearl Harbor and American victory at the battle of Midway. In between these two signal events of World War II, uncertainty shook America. In the Pacific, the United States was caught off-guard by Japan’s sneak attack, her Navy crippled and her fighters outmatched by the agile and deadly Japanese Zeros. Rumors of Japanese invasion of the West Coast seemed more likely with each defeat suffered by the combined forces in the Philippines. Toll (Six Frigates: The Epic History of the Founding of the U.S. Navy, 2008, etc.) examines the forces moving behind the scenes—the trends in naval combat, complicated allegiances of American and Japanese politics, the military hierarchies and infighting that occurred between the combined forces—to create a full picture of the complex dynamics involved. The author’s attempts to be comprehensive occasionally lead to dry passages and unnecessary digressions, especially regarding

kirkusreviews.com

|


“Superbly organized, comprehensive and engrossing from start to finish—a strong contender for biography of the year.” from charles dickens

the more esoteric areas of politics. But when illuminating the remarkable men behind the headlines, Toll truly excels. From the horror of Pearl Harbor to the triumphant battle of Midway, the author carefully balances the narrative to tell the story from both sides of the conflict. His account begins with the American and Japanese officials involved in the burgeoning field of aircraft-carrier combat, and continues down to the pilots and crewmen who acted as the guinea pigs. What he finds is not a group of fearless soldiers, but real, conflicted men nearly torn apart by their doubts and fears, men who found the real courage necessary to act all the same. Toll gives everyone involved in the conflict a chance to speak, bringing readers into the command centers and cockpits to reveal the humanity of combatants on both sides of the Pacific. (24 pages of illustrations; 12 maps. Agent: Eric Siminoff)

CHARLES DICKENS A Life Tomalin, Claire Penguin Press (576 pp.) $36.00 | October 31, 2011 978-1-59420-309-1

Like Shakespeare, Charles Dickens (1812–1870) was an overachiever of genius, and his life was as eventful, dramatic and character-filled as any of his novels. This rich new biography brilliantly cap-

tures his world. Acclaimed biographer Tomalin (Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man, 2007, etc.) has always hunted big literary game (Hardy, Jane Austen, Samuel Pepys, etc.), and here she goes after one of the biggest and most complex. Dickens once told a visiting Dostoevsky that his heroes and villains came from the two people inside him: “one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite.” However, there were many more dimensions to Dickens’ character. Besides being a tireless writer of long, complicated novels and hundreds of articles, an editor of a succession of magazines and a frustrated actor whose public readings became standing-room-only events, he was ebullient, charming, radical, instinctively sympathetic to the poor, generous to friends but unforgiving once you got on his bad side. At home, he was a domineering husband to his long-suffering wife and a distant father to his ten children. Dickens certainly would have appreciated Tomalin’s keen eye for scene, character and narrative pace. Ever the deft critic, she notes how the characters in Martin Chuzzlewit are “set up like toys programmed to run on course,” and that Hard Times “fails to take note of its own message that people must be amused.” Having written previously on Dickens’ disastrous latelife affair (The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens, 1991), Tomalin also displays considerable detective work to bolster the possibility that Dickens and his other woman had a secret child who died in infancy. Superbly organized, comprehensive and engrossing from start to finish—a strong contender for biography of the year.

|

THE CHURCH OF SCIENTOLOGY A History of a New Religion

Urban, Hugh B. Princeton Univ. (296 pp.) $27.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-691-14608-9

A fascinating and oftentimes mindbending account of how penny-a-word sci-fi writer L. Ron Hubbard doggedly pursued the “religion angle” in his quest to create the worldwide Church of Scientology. Urban (Religious Studies/Ohio State Univ.) makes it clear from the outset that he could have written a lot more about Scientology than he has here—perhaps even a few volumes more. Settling on a narrower scope, however, hasn’t precluded the author from presenting a thoroughly absorbing chronicle of Scientology’s 60-year history in America. Beginning in the 1950s with the creation of the self-help system Hubbard dubbed Dianetics, the narrative quickly moves on to the founder’s audacious attempts to turn Scientology into a bona-fide taxexempt religion, the incredible covert operations Scientologists launched against snooping federal authorities and the relentless war Scientologists still wage against unflinching critics today. Despite its conservative reputation, Urban believes that ’50s America offered Hubbard a “spiritual marketplace” teeming with new possibilities. It was a time of UFO sightings, the Red Menace and the growing influence of Eastern thought on American culture. Suddenly, there was also room for a man with a trunk full of intergalactic space operas, an abiding fascination in the occult and a talent for synthesizing already popular religious beliefs. All of which compels the author to pose the question: Just what, exactly, is religion and who gets to make the determination? Readers are ultimately left to ponder that question on their own, just as they’re left to wonder what Urban has left out. Esoteric knowledge, meanwhile, has always been Scientology’s stock and trade, but the Internet has largely taken that veil of secrecy and shredded it. That leaves another question to be answered: Does Scientology have a future? An intriguing introduction into the labyrinthine world of Scientology and its meaning in American society. For a more entertaining, behind-the-scenes look, check out Janet Reitman’s Inside Scientology (2011).

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1573


THE UNCONQUERED In Search of the Amazon’s Last Uncontacted Tribes

Wallace, Scott Crown (512 pp.) $26.00 | October 18, 2011 978-0-307-46296-1 e-book 978-0-307-46298-5

A photographer, journalist and firsttime author joins a celebrated Brazilian Indian rights activist on an expedition in search of an isolated Amazon tribe. Brazil’s dense forests are known to shelter some 400,000 Indians from 270 tribes. But there are reportedly many more indigenous people who have not made contact with modern civilization. As head of Brazil’s Department of Isolated Indians, wilderness scout Sydney Possuelo, 62, had already confirmed the existence of 17 uncontacted tribes by 2002, when the author was assigned by National Geographic to cover Possuelo’s attempt to find yet another group said to be living deep in the Amazon: the flecheiros, or “People of the Arrow.” Wallace’s book is a detailed, overlong account of the three-month land-and-water journey, in which Possuelo and his 34 men sought facts about the Arrow People’s existence—but deliberately made no contact with the tribe. The “no-contact” policy, set by Possuelo, was intended to protect wild Indians from the diseases of white men. Unfortunately, it robs readers of the traditional payoff of a journey of discovery. Even the author yearned for the knowledge that contact would bring. But Possuelo’s goal was to quietly observe that the Arrow People are thriving, then leave, preserving the tribe’s isolation. “The best thing we can do is to stay out of their lives,” he says. Only later, on a flight retracing the expedition’s route, did Wallace glimpse members of the tribe, scurrying about like ants, then “staring up at us in a trance.” Wallace provides a good sense of deep-jungle travel and dining (piranha stew, boiled monkey, etc.), and portrays Possuelo as a great explorer dedicated to saving Brazil’s Indians. He notes that Possuelo was later fired after criticizing his boss’s remark that Indians were claiming too much land. By then, Possuelo had protected 365,000 square miles of indigenous lands from logging, mining and other development. A well-reported but somewhat disappointing adventure story. (Agent: Deborah Grosvenor)

AUGUST GALE A Father and Daughter’s Journey into the Storm Walsh, Barbara Globe Pequot (272 pp.) $24.95 | October 18, 2011 978-0-7627-6146-3

and desertion. 1574

|

Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Walsh (Sammy in the Sky, 2011) explores the ties that bound her own family despite death

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

The author writes about the almost mythic heroism of her ancestors, tough, hard-drinking fishermen who had emigrated from Ireland to Marystown, Newfoundland. They battled fierce storms to put food on the table for their families and looked out for each other in this small community where most of the people who lived there were related. The author begins in August 1935, with the birth of her father in Brooklyn—her grandfather had come to the United States a decade earlier— which coincided with the death of more than 40 Marystown fisherman in a devastating hurricane. This is a complex tale that began for the author in 2002, when her father suggested that she write about the storm and revealed secrets about his own family history that he had found too painful to discuss before. When he was 11 years old, her father had abandoned his family, leaving his mother in dire poverty with two children to raise alone. The author learned that along with five sisters, she had American cousins whom she’d never met, and others living in Newfoundland. Walsh uses her journalistic skills to re-create the life of the Newfoundland fishing community before the gale; she recounts events during the storm and the struggle of the women and children who survived the tragedy. She and her father establish contact with his father’s half-siblings and their relatives in Marystown, and she recognizes physical traits and mannerisms they hold in common. The eponymous storm provides the thread that holds the story together and serves as a metaphor for her father’s stormy childhood. A celebration of traditional family values and reconciliation. (Two 8-page black-and-white photo inserts. Agent: Diane Freed)

LEARNING TO BREATHE My Yearlong Quest to Bring Calm to My Life

Warner, Priscilla Free Press (240 pp.) $23.00 | September 20, 2011 978-1-4391-8107-2

An investigation into popular relaxation methods, packaged as chick lit. A longtime panic-attack sufferer and the co-author of The Faith Club, Warner decided that she wanted to acquire the relaxed brain of a Tibetan monk. This decision set her on a journey to exploring myriad techniques to help her chill out beyond the temporary fix of Klonopin. Among the alternatives: psychotherapy; a Buddhist meditation course; guided imagery with Belleruth Naparstek; walking meditation; a Jewish mikvah bath; Trager therapy; Somatic Experience therapy; EMDR; and a Windhorse meditation retreat with Pema Chodron. With these new techniques in hand, Warner dealt with real-life issues like visiting her ailing mother in an Alzheimer’s unit and the death of her beloved dog. She explains each healing process with enthusiasm and includes conversations with master teachers/doctors with whom she seems immediately familiar. Warner’s personal stories add emotion and help readers comprehend the effects of the more abstract methods of relaxation. The author also took

kirkusreviews.com

|


“An eye-opening account of a national disaster that has been all but forgotten, as well as a shameful spotlight on the short-sightedness of humans in the face of the awesome powers of nature.” from the thousand -year flood

THE THOUSANDYEAR FLOOD The Ohio-Mississippi Disaster of 1937

up thangka painting with a Lama from Tibet, spending countless hours drawing the perfectly symmetrical face of the Buddha as she absorbed lessons of peace and compassion. After she continued to complain about her ailing mother’s pain, Lama Tsondru brought her down to earth with the sage advice, ”Look at all the other mothers in the world who are suffering; make yourself a Bodhisattva, with compassion for others.” Ditch the drugs and learn to relax naturally.

DEADLY MONOPOLIES The Shocking Corporate Takeover of Life Itself–and the Consequences for Your Health and Our Medical Future

Washington, Harriet A. Doubleday (432 pp.) $28.00 | October 4, 2011 978-0-385-52892-4

A searing look at the medical-industrial complex and its ability to patent genes and other biological products, resulting in an opportunistic and powerful pharmaceutical industry that often ignores the most pressing global-health issues in order to make a profit. National Book Critics Circle Award winner Washington (Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial Times to the Present, 2007, etc.) begins with the controversial 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, which allowed the commercialization of medical inventions based on governmentfunded patents, including those on living things. As a result, an unprecedented collusion between universities, researchers and private pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies spawned an era in which many vital medicines are too expensive or inaccessible to average consumers, or rushed to market before being adequately tested. Despite the fact that taxpayers largely fund medical research and development, pharma companies include that cost in their purported expenses, therefore using disingenuous figures to justify the skyrocketing costs of patented drugs. The author adeptly details the wide-ranging repercussions of this monopolistic research model and recounts chilling anecdotes that reveal a pattern of shady practices by biotech and pharma companies. These firms often display a lack of respect for patients’ rights in a ruthless pursuit of “blockbuster” drugs without regard for helping those who need it most. As of 2009, only 10 percent of the more than $70 billion spent per year on medical research addresses “diseases that cause 90 percent of the world’s health burden.” In addition, minorities and poor populations are often exploited for their genetic material yet not compensated for their contribution. Thousands of people die from preventable causes simply because it’s not profitable to save them. The author clearly presents data to elucidate these complex issues, and cogently argues that there are opportunities to reinstate transparency, collaboration and altruism in drug development and disbursement. A gripping, revelatory account. |

Welky, David Univ. of Chicago (384 pp.) $27.50 | November 1, 2011 978-0-226-88716-6

The story of the worst flood in American history and how it overwhelmed the Ohio river valley and much of the lower Mississippi in January and February 1937. Writing that “the 1937 flood is a catastrophe lost to historians,” Welky (Univ. of Central Arkansas; The Moguls and the Dictators: Hollywood and the Coming of World War II, 2008, etc.) exposes the weaknesses in the Army Corps of Engineers’ approach to river management, many of which were known at the time. Had lessons been learned then, perhaps later disasters might have been avoided or had less-catastrophic results. The entire 981-mile length of the Ohio River was above flood stage at one point, along with tributaries from Pennsylvania to Illinois. Water surged 15 feet above previous records, covered 15,000 miles of highway and disrupted rail traffic across the eastern United States. Nearly 400 people died, and more than 1 million were forced to evacuate their homes. By the time of FDR’s second inauguration, the flood was in full swing and was mentioned briefly in a radio address January 30th, when the President called for a “national effort on a national scale…to decrease the probability of future floods and disasters.” Welky reviews the history of the process by which the Army Corps of Engineers institutionalized its role as the lead agency in river management. He argues that the Corps’ insistence on building levees and floodways contributed to the scale of the disaster by channeling and accelerating the flood waters which easily overtopped the levees of towns across valley. Unfortunately, nothing ever came of FDR’s vision of a national-resources council to coordinate all aspects of river-basin management. An eye-opening account of a national disaster that has been all but forgotten, as well as a shameful spotlight on the short-sightedness of humans in the face of the awesome powers of nature. (18 halftones; 2 maps)

EDIBLE BROOKLYN The Cookbook

Wharton, Rachel Sterling (168 pp.) $18.95 | October 4, 2011 978-1-4027-8554-2

Through a wide variety of unique and delicious recipes, editor Wharton draws a blueprint of Brooklyn’s storied locavore food culture. Anyone who regularly picks up Edible magazine knows what they’re going to find: profiles of culinary trailblazers, articles about innovative food ideas and techniques and recipes that

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1575


stress local, organic ingredients and a bold DIY philosophy. This title, the first in a series that will feature different cities, admirably furthers this noble endeavor. Nearly 100 people from all aspects of Brooklyn’s food culture were asked to contribute a favorite recipe, among them legendary restaurateurs, founders of CSAs and the farmers who supply them, rooftop gardeners and home picklers. The book is organized into five sections—small plates, finger food, mains, light suppers and soups and drinks and desserts—and each recipe is accompanied by a brief profile of the contributor and the inspiration behind the dish. There are also tips on cooking techniques and where to find the best ingredients and equipment. Peppered throughout the recipes are intriguing full-page profiles on subjects that deserve extra attention: Ian Cheney, who has a farm in the bed of his pickup truck; Brooklyn Brewery, which single-handedly revived the rich brewing culture of Brooklyn; and The Brooklyn Kitchen, a paradise for foodies in Brooklyn and beyond. Clearly most valuable to those lucky enough to benefit from its local food knowledge firsthand, but will also inspire out-of-town foodies to book the next flight to JFK.

RUNNING AWAY TO HOME Our Family’s Journey to Croatia in Search of Who We Are, Where We Came From, and What Really Matters

Wilson, Jennifer St. Martin’s (336 pp.) $24.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-312-59895-2

A “typically sane middle-aged mother” of two reinvents herself and her family with a spontaneous sabbatical to her central European origins. In Des Moines, Iowa, travel writer Wilson and her architect husband Jim purposefully led what they imagined to be the idyllic, comfortable “American Dream,” but both harbored feelings of disenchantment and restlessness. When Wilson’s great-aunt, Sister Mary Paula, died in 2008, inside a box of her personal papers the author discovered a handwritten history of the nun’s parents’ life in sparsely populated backwoods Mrkopalj, Croatia. Despite the plummeting stock market depleting half of their collective savings, the opportunity presented itself for both Wilson and her husband to realize a dream of not only living overseas, but reconnecting with her maternal Croatian ancestry and the village inhabited by her great-grandparents. After an eye-opening dry-run to desolate “one-chicken town” Mrkopalj using her press credentials, it then took some delicate finagling with her two children to finally embark the family on an intrepid one-year stay in the mountainous Croation “Motherland.” Expected culture-clash calamity ensued: The rooms they’d rented were stuck in mid-construction, language barriers with native Croats often stymied them and the drinking habits of the locals became troublesome. Eventually, Wilson developed a deeper genealogical understanding and a greater 1576

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

appreciation of her heritage. The author’s voice is consistently infused with an energetic spunkiness, complimented with passages of sage introspection. Though her adventures had patches of both good and not-so-good, Wilson still believes her family’s grand jaunt abroad was a risky yet overwhelmingly beneficial move that trumped spending “the rest of our days stagnating on a couch in middle America.” Armchair travelers will find vicarious thrills in Wilson’s long-winded yet appealing travelogue of discovery and renewal. (Agent: Richard Pine)

REDIRECT The Surprising New Science of Psychological Change

Wilson, Timothy D. Little, Brown (288 pp.) $25.99 | September 8, 2011 978-0-316-05188-0

Change is hard. Or is it? A keen observer of the human condition explains how tweaking our personal narratives can have a huge effect on our lives. “I’m such an idiot!” Who hasn’t admonished themselves in similar fashion at some point in their lives? The problem, according to Wilson (Social Psychology, 2009, etc.), is that such seemingly innocuous interior narratives can have a profound effect on the way we view ourselves in society. Like the college freshman who muffs her first math test and immediately concludes she’s just not cut out for higher education; the little leaguer who strikes out his first time at bat and thereafter confines himself to the dugout. The way we internalize our experiences matters. The good news, writes the author, is that the same toxic narratives that produce drop-outs and bench warmers can just as easily be replaced with positive narratives that promote valedictorians and all-stars. Individually, that means happier, more fulfilling lives. Nationally, it could mean reduced crime, fewer unwanted pregnancies and the end of racism. Wilson looks at how well-meaning people have tried to combat societal ills in the past and concludes that they have been ineffective because they have failed to recognize the importance of core narratives. The same goes for a host of other sociological interventions that on the surface appear sound, but ultimately fail to stand up to scientific scrutiny. That’s the second part of Wilson’s premise. He’s keenly interested in understanding why a certain approach succeeds of feels, and the result is an important examination of the ways we try to ameliorate societal ills. Rendered in bite-sized portions with ample servings of statistics and case studies, readers should have no trouble digesting any of it—no matter how faulty their own personal narrative about “science books” may be.

kirkusreviews.com

|


LUCKING OUT My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York

Wolcott, James Doubleday (272 pp.) $24.95 | October 25, 2011 978-0-385-52778-1

Longtime Vanity Fair cultural critic Wolcott (Attack Poodles and Other Media Mutants, 2004, etc.) celebrates the Big Apple as a haven for the writers, artists, musicians and eccentrics who thrived at its core in the 1970s. Of the many sentences in Wolcott’s memoir that will have contemporary Manhattan-philes gnashing their teeth in envy is this one recounting how the author dealt with losing his on-site staff job at the Village Voice: “From that point onward I never worked a regular office job again, solely writing for a living, something that would have been impossible if New York hadn’t been a city of low rents and crappy expectations that didn’t require a trust fund or a six-figure income for the privilege of watching everything fall apart before your eyes.” Actually, the entire book is not only a bittersweet valentine to a muchmaligned era but a model of exemplary prose that any writer would do well to study. Wolcott’s talent for choosing words, shaping sentences, constructing paragraphs and crafting each of the five sections into an essay that stands on its own reveals an architectonic approach lacking in many current memoirs. The author also understands how to apply his individual experiences to the larger context of the zeitgeist. For example, the section entitled “Bodily Contact” weaves personal encounters into a critique of “Me Decade” sexual mores, drawing on Bob Fosse films, the seedy atmosphere of pre–tourist friendly Times Square, the emerging gay-rights movement and concerns about the dark side of the pick-up culture prevalent at both straight and gay bars. Wolcott also rubbed shoulders with the luminaries of the day, including his mentor, the rabble-rousing author Norman Mailer, punk songstress Patti Smith and legendary movie critic Pauline Kael. His poignant reminiscences of Kael pave the way for the book’s plaintive conclusion. Gives the lie to the belief that the ’70s contained nothing but disco decadence and self-help solipsism.

THE VIRAL STORM The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age

Wolfe, Nathan Times/Henry Holt (320 pp.) $26.00 | October 11, 2011 978-0-8050-9194-6 From a well-traveled virologist, an eloquent argument for why we need better ways to predict and thus prevent major disease outbreaks. |

Wolfe, the CEO of Global Viral Forecasting, begins by describing the ubiquity of microbes, the most abundant biomass on earth. Viruses in particular can inhabit any cell type, making them the most diverse and flexible of organisms, frequently mutating and able to exchange genes with kin. Our ape ancestors picked up viruses from insect bites and from the animals they hunted, giving them a rich microbial repertoire. That would diminish, not only because the grasslands were less fertile ground, but because the pioneer groups were small. This evolutionary “bottleneck” resulted in the loss of some pathogens (the bugs either killed their hosts or the survivors became immune, leaving no one to infect). The advent of cooking would further reduce the repertoire. But then came animal domestication and farming, upping the repertoire as people in settled communities became targets for new microbe sources. Fast-forward to today’s hugely interconnected urbanized world and, you have the ingredients for a pandemic: a worldwide outbreak of disease spread from human to human. That happened with HIV, the result of two monkey viruses that combined in a chimpanzee, which was later eaten by hunters. It hasn’t happened yet with bird flu (no human to human spread), but it could. To forestall epidemic disasters, improved surveillance systems are under way, including Wolfe’s company, which is using the latest technologies to identify new disease bugs and track cases using rapid communication links. Most importantly, the company is establishing “sentinel” outposts at remote jungle sites where people still consume bushmeat or in other ways may be “the canaries in the coal mine.” Wolfe makes clear that most bugs are harmless; some are even helpful. But his wide experience confronting killer diseases in Africa and Asia makes for important, graphic reading and underscores his passion for prevention. (45 black-and-white illustrations)

AMERICAN NATIONS A HIstory of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America

Woodard, Colin Viking (384 pp.) $30.00 | October 3, 2011 978-0-670-02296-0

Forget about the United States and Canada. The true nations of North America, writes historian and Christian Science Monitor foreign correspondent Woodard (The Republic of Pirates, 2007, etc.), have little to do with those artificialities. Borrowing fruitful notions from Joel Garreau’s Nine Nations of North America (1981) and David Hackett Fischer’s Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in North America (1989), Woodard traces the differences in America’s regions to cultural, ethnic, religious and political differences among various strains of settlers, many of them long in play back in the British Isles. What he calls The Midlands, for instance, extends from the central Atlantic Seaboard deep into the Great Plains, encircling “Yankeedom” by taking in the southern tier of east-central Canada.

kirkusreviews.com

|

nonfiction

|

1 september 2011

|

1577


These regions are the historical purview of, respectively, the Quakers of the English Midlands and the Puritans of England’s eastern coast, with their distinct views of human nature and how government had to be organized to respond to it. Some of his “eleven stateless nations of North America” descend from these two regions, representing the old divide between moderate conservatism, with its “middle-class ethos and considerable respect for intellectual achievement,” and moderate liberalism, with its view that “society should be organized to benefit ordinary people.” Other regions, though, are the product of an English elite that mistrusted any government that presumed to tell them what to do, even though they descended from feudalism. Behold, then, the South, both the aristocratic piedmont of Virginia and North Carolina and the hardscrabble, God-haunted, fearful Deep South. The author connects these regional differences to deep divisions in American life, noting that the old struggle between those moderate forces has been supplanted by the rise of that Deep South, perfected in the 2000 election, when it “established simultaneous control over the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives for the first time in forty-six years.” Woodard offers a fascinating way to parse American (writ large) politics and history in this excellent book.

hold on the imagination, as well as the hidebound language that traditionally divides women’s accomplishments from men’s. Throughout this slim memoir, Work displays a genuine affection for his colleagues and neighbors that simultaneously allows him to spoof their eccentricities. Distinctly regional in tone yet universal in scope, the book offers a cozy homage to a more innocent time and place.

DON’T SHOOT THE GENTILE

Work, James C. Univ. of Oklahoma (152 pp.) $19.95 paperback | October 1, 2011 978-0-8061-4194-7 paperback A greenhorn professor finds unexpected camaraderie and community when he takes a teaching job in Utah, challenging his preconceptions of small-town life. Work (Windmills, the River & Dust: One Man’s West, 2005, etc.) serves up a gently humorous take on the classic “stranger in a strange land” narrative as he details his transition from an upstart English major in the 1960s to the lone nonMormon professor at the College of Southern Utah. Accepting the position in conservative Cedar City on a whim, Work and his family sojourned outside of their comfort zone to experience a West that, while geographically not so distant, bore little cultural resemblance to their Fort Collins home. The Cedar Citizens forswore caffeine, tobacco and alcohol; attended their temple nearly every day; hunted jackrabbits with heavy artillery; and, in homage to the beehive’s omnipresence as Utah’s national emblem, sported heavily shellacked hairdos long after hippies had made straight, untamed hair fashionable. Despite some initial culture shock at the lack of coffee in the teacher’s lounge—a situation that the author countered by holding clandestine cocktail parties at his house for those willing to occasionally stray—Work came to respect his colleagues’ devotion to their faith as well as their industriousness and willingness to welcome an outsider. Musing on the prominence of deserts in religious mythology, he also explores the mystique of the Utah landscape and its powerful 1578

|

1 september 2011

|

nonfiction

|

kirkusreviews.com

|


children & teens MERCY LILY

Albert, Lisa Flux (240 pp.) paper $9.95 | October 8, 2011 paper 978-0-7387-2699-1 Oregon high-school sophomore Lily has been her widowed mother’s caregiver for four years, injecting her with bee venom to counter the debilitating effects of multiple sclerosis. When the venom stops working, Mom asks Lily to help her die. Mom hasn’t consulted a doctor since her MS specialist, father of Lily’s love interest, refused to authorize bee-venom therapy (readers aren’t told that clinical studies support his position). A veterinarian, she adheres to a strict “natural” healing regimen, even refusing hospital palliative care (perplexingly, the family diet is rich in processed foods). It’s unclear why Mom, financially secure, largely ambulatory and surrounded by loving caregivers, arbitrarily rules out dialysis and palliative care that could ease her pain and allow her more time with Lily. Mom’s decision to die and Lily’s tritely resolved feelings about it are conveyed simplistically, without reference to a larger social context or acknowledgment that many who live with disabilities find “right to die” laws troubling. This debut, hobbled by its high-concept–but-unlikely premise, is further undermined by errors and inconsistencies, especially in its portrayal of the natural world. Though thematically central, nature itself receives slapdash treatment, and Oregon’s vastly different climate zones are erroneously conflated. Flimsy and forgettable. (Fiction. 12 & up)

EVERY-DAY DRESS-UP

Alko, Selina Illustrator: Alko, Selina Knopf (32 pp.) $16.99 | PLB $19.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-375-86092-8 PLB 978-0-375-96092-5 A little girl’s mom leads her from princess dress-up to real women in a brief tale that does not let its earnestness get in the way of the fun. Some of the language is a bit awkward (“spinning like a diamond”? “a daring new dame”?), and the gouache-and-collage images, with their rubbery facial expressions and flattened perspectives, share that clumsiness. It’s hard not to cheer, however, when on Monday the unnamed little girl puts on goggles like Amelia Earhart, on Tuesday sings like Ella (Fitzgerald), on Wednesday |

kirkusreviews.com

is Elizabeth the Super Suffragist and continues through the week with Scientist Marie (Curie), chef Julia (Child), ballerina Maria (Tallchief) and artist Frida (Kahlo). She ends hoping little girls will dress up like her someday. All this playacting is performed to an appreciative audience of friends and toys. The colors are bright and the textures amusing (Julia’s fish is made of newsprint with a recipe for Hot Tuna Loaf Sandwich). It is good to see that ethnicity plays no part in whom the protagonist chooses to emulate. Biographies of the women named (each only a few sentences long) and a rather odd bibliography of picture books—and Mastering the Art of French Cooking—conclude the text. Inspired little girls may be unhappy to see that the paper doll and outfits on the endpapers are pasted down, though. In all, another happy antidote to the princess plague. (Picture book. 5-8)

CITY OF WIND

Baccalario, Pierdomenico Translator: Janeczko, Leah D. Illustrator: Bruno, Iacopo Random (304 pp.) $16.99 | PLB $19.99 e-book $16.99 | September 27, 2011 978-0-375-85897-0 PLB 978-0-375-95897-7 e-book 978-0-375-89228-8 Series: Century Quartet, 3 This third installment in this four-book teen thriller series continues the adventures of a multicultural group of teens in the mysterious mission that they know is important to Earth’s survival, this time in Paris. As has become usual, maps and archival photos included in the centerfold provide a sense of the city of Paris. Even before Harvey, Elettra and Sheng join Mistral, they encounter people trying to prevent them from getting together. The City of Light has so many hiding places located in cathedrals, museums and underground haunts that their undertakings are made unusually difficult. Characters (and readers) are kept in the dark: Clues and facts are provided in stingiest manner, hyping the suspense, grabbing readers’ attention and keeping it. New villains include a vicious café owner and a pretty but untrustworthy young woman. Balancing the baddies, an ancient spirit aids the four teens by producing relevant warnings and mystifying effects. Though readers of the first two books will find the story easier to understand, back story is provided for newcomers. Clever writing and a pell-mell plot will win over readers new to the series and satisfy its fans (Adventure. 12 & up) |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1579


WHERE’S MY T-R-U-C-K?

does it; Makenna has grown beyond her hatred of humans, thus improving her effectiveness with magic; and heroic Tobin has proven himself an astute strategist. The climax uses these combined qualities as well as all the guile and courage that the goblins can muster to reach a stunning ending. This rewarding resolution caps off a fascinating, engaging trilogy that holds appeal for a diverse fantasy audience. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Beaumont, Karen Illustrator: Catrow, David Dial (32 pp.) $16.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-8037-3222-3

Anyone who’s ever interacted with a young child who’s lost a favorite toy will immediately recognize this little boy and his single-mindedness in searching for

his t-r-u-c-k. The rhythmic, rhyming text works well, especially out loud, as long as readers realize “t-r-u-c-k” means to spell out the word letter by letter: “But all I want to do today / Is find my T-R-U-C-K!” Scratchy pencil-and-watercolor illustrations capture the chaos of a household with young kids and pets: Clothes overflow from dresser drawers, soap and scrub brush go flying when Tommy peeks behind the shower curtain and toys spill out of an overturned toy bin. Tommy’s shoes are untied, and his hair sticks up; it’s easy to imagine this kid losing track of his things. However, alert readers and listeners will notice clues to the real fate of Tommy’s truck. On every spread, his mischievous dog is dashing away, something he has filched in his mouth: a pair of gardening gloves, a fuzzy pink slipper, a toy dinosaur and more. It’s especially funny when Bowser races away with the cat in pursuit, the cat’s toy in his mouth, while the cat chases him, knocking over the ladder to the treehouse and stranding Tommy. Don’t read this at bedtime; the boisterous energy here is aptly summed up in the final rhyme: “HOORAY! I FOUND MY T-R-U-C-K! / Come on, Bowser! Let’s go play!” (Picture book. 3-6)

THE GOBLIN WAR

Bell, Hilari HarperTeen (320 pp.) $17.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-06-165105-2 In this fantasy sequel, the final volume in the trilogy that began with The Goblin Wood (2003), a highly suspenseful plot leads to a thoroughly satisfying and surprising conclusion. Picking up at the immediate end of the previous novel, Bell ratchets up the suspense immediately and makes this finale a true page turner. Having returned from the Otherworld that was draining all power from the goblins and hedgewitch Makenna, all characters become fixed on solving the problem of the barbarians in the south. The point of view switches from one to another of a reluctant triumvirate made up of Makenna and brothers Jeriah and Tobin. One very satisfying aspect of the series is the growth these characters have seen throughout the three books. Jeriah has become a resilient clergyman who knows what needs to be done and 1580

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

A GIRL NAMED FAITHFUL PLUM The True Story of a Dancer from China and How She Achieved Her Dream

Bernstein, Richard Knopf (288 pp.) $15.99 | PLB $18.99 e-book $10.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-375-86960-0 PLB 978-0-375-96960-7 e-book 978-0-375-98434-1 In 1978, an 11-year-old girl fights poverty and prejudice with gutsy perseverance and talent to fulfill her dream of studying at the Beijing Dance Academy. Faithful Plum, or Zhongmei, lives in a remote area of China near Siberia. The standard of living is so low that she and her siblings eat one egg a year on their birthdays. She loves to dance, though, and upon hearing that the Academy is holding national auditions she sets her mind on going. And go she does, when a hunger strike and the kindness of her community overcome her parents’ initial refusal. After a horrific three-day journey by trains and buses, Zhongmei comes through the difficult audition only to face an extreme daily regimen of exercise and instruction, an appallingly rigid dormitory supervisor and a ballet teacher scarred by the Cultural Revolution. Fortunately, a wise and kindly administrator recognizes her extraordinary talent. Bernstein, a noted columnist and author of books on China, is married to Zhongmei, who enjoyed a noteworthy career. In his first book for children, he has taken her voice as his own and written a riveting account of her first year at the Academy. The conversations ring true, albeit “imagined,” and events have been compressed to keep the pace flowing. A fascinating and memorable account of a life and times difficult to imagine today. (glossary) (Historical fiction. 10-14)

kirkusreviews.com

|


“The author captures the dangers of inner-city life as readers follow a teen trying desperately to be a man as he watches his friends and, especially, his father, make right or wrong choices.” from bronxwood

FEEDING FRIENDSIES

Bloom, Suzanne Illustrator: Bloom, Suzanne Boyds Mills (32 pp.) $16.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-59078-529-4

Getting dirty has never been so much fun. Creative preschoolers (and one toddling babe) explore the garden’s rich, natural wonders. Each youngster concocts an inventive mix of dirt and grub, not for his or her own consumption but for the critters flying and hopping nearby. With gleeful abandon, the gardeners throw themselves into their activity, while the youngest participant cautiously observes until he serves colorful leaves for his stuffed friends’ tea party. A question-andresponse format encourages further discovery. “Dylan made a dirt dessert from roots and twigs / and chunks and clumps and dandelions. / Will he eat it? // Oh no, no, no. / He made it for the wiggly worms.” Worn out from their morning play, the kids enjoy their own picnic from unseen Nana (“sticky bits, / crunchy munchies, pink drinks” included), and a welldeserved snooze soon follows. Page turns both maintain the pacing and call for participation. Watercolors focus on outdoor scenes dominated by appropriately earthy tones, and the children’s unique physical styles (from a wide-brimmed straw hat to a smattering of messy pigtails) shine. Give two green thumbs up for the joy of mud pies everywhere. (Picture book. 2-5)

A PLAGUE YEAR

Bloor, Edward Knopf (304 pp.) $15.99 | PLB $18.99 e-book $15.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-375-85681-5 PLB 978-0-375-95681-2 e-book 978-0-375-98937-7 Freshman Tom Coleman studies for the PSAT, works for free at the Food Giant his dad runs and plays Nintendo in this rural Pennsylvania town in the fall of 2001, when terrorists and methamphetamine suddenly become big threats. Bloor (Taken, 2007, etc.) opens with an attempted robbery, allowing Tom to show off his quick thinking. It is the first symptom Tom notices of the coming “plague.” Tom will need more than academic smarts and a hearty work ethic as the town collectively succumbs to meth addiction. Key is a group counseling session about drugs and addiction led by a therapist from outside the community. Both this sophisticated therapist and her good-looking daughter hold an exotic, outsider appeal for Tom. Tom’s family has struggled with addiction in the past, providing a layer of poignancy. As the town goes from a vague awareness of drugs to being overrun by zombie addicts, Tom and the town |

kirkusreviews.com

are challenged to respond. In other hands, the nearby downing of Flight 93 could overshadow the plague, but Bloor’s insight into ordinary people provides a great prism through which to view the events. The language is not particularly elegant (some dialogue is realistically crude), but it carries the big ideas sturdily and with affection for the community and its people. A likable teen successfully explores a significant social issue without preaching or becoming a symbol. (Historical fiction. 12 & up)

BRONXWOOD

Booth, Coe PUSH/Scholastic (336 pp.) $17.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-439-92534-1 Booth returns to the gritty and dangerous Bronx projects to pick up the memorable story of Tyrell seven months after the conclusion of Tyrell (2006). With his father out of jail, the now 16-year-old Tyrell has mixed feelings about having him back. “Two men in one house don’t work.” Tyrell tried keeping his family together while his pops was locked up, but he failed: Troy, his younger brother, is living in foster care. “…I know I fucked up,” he confides to readers. Booth packs a lot into this story: Tyrell’s guilt about Troy, his resentment toward his irresponsible father, his blossoming romantic relationship with friend Jasmine who is living with a 40-year-old man and his anger over his mother’s infidelity. The author captures the dangers of inner-city life as readers follow a teen trying desperately to be a man as he watches his friends and, especially, his father, make right or wrong choices. Despite the multitude of negative influences, Tyrell, who is no saint, attempts to make a better life for himself. Tyrell’s fresh voice and his frank talk about sex, drug use and violence give authenticity to the dismal urban setting. This book can stand alone, but the cliffhanger ending begs another installment; readers who have been with Tyrell from the beginning as well as those meeting him for the first time will be utterly invested in his future. (Fiction. 14 & up)

BURIED THUNDER

Bowler, Tim Holiday House (216 pp.) $16.95 | October 15, 2011 978-0-8234-2397-2 This spine-tingler plunges into the stuff of nightmares. “The body was lying in a thicket,” it begins. Fourteen-year-old Maya doesn’t remember why she ran off the path in this dark forest. Two dead bodies lie on the ground, each turning its head with eyes aglow. A shadowy figure bends over a third body. Maya stumbles and screams. |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1581


“Masterful use of white space, dramatic close-ups, arresting perspectives and meticulous respect for natural details memorialize the interaction between Lion and Mouse.” from mouse & lion

Her family finds her and guides her out of this terrifying forest, but when they reach their new home/business—a village hotel called the Rowan Tree—something chilling occurs: A police officer sent to investigate is the same person as the first dead body. Not a twin, not a doppelganger—the same person. Maya just knows. Fright and grisliness escalate. Someone unknown and unseen stalks Maya; a fox has an unnatural power to make her follow it; foxes are turning up disemboweled and decapitated—and not just foxes. The narration stays faithful to Maya’s third-person-limited perspective, so readers don’t know who’s good or bad any earlier than she does. Maya’s warm parents and dedicated older brother can’t shield her or the village from danger, and they become targets too. There’s nothing particularly unique or specific about Maya and her family, which works well here, as if this could happen to anyone. When clarity and answers come, they’re sad, satisfying and less supernatural than they first seemed. Horror with heart. (Horror. 12-15)

WOLF MARK

Bruchac, Joseph Tu Books (392 pp.) $17.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-60060-661-8 A loner teen finds himself caught up in a paranormal paramilitary threat—but he has both untapped personal resources and some unlikely allies to help him out. Ever since his mother died, his father—a sometime Special Ops–type agent who happens to be of Native American descent—has been worse than useless. Lucas just concentrates on doing well in school and mooning over the beautiful daughter of one of the Pakistani scientists working at the new Romanian-owned top-secret facility in town. He goes out of his way to avoid the Sunglass Mafia, a bunch of unusually pale Russian students. But when his father is kidnapped and gives him a coded message by telephone, Lucas discovers that his heritage is more complicated and powerful than he had thought. Bruchac throws an enormous number of plot complications at his protagonist, from a schoolboy crush to filial angst to bioterrorism of a particularly creepy sort to a coming-of-age epiphany with a twist. For the most part, he keeps all the elements working pretty well, but Lucas tends toward introspection, which results in rather more navel-gazing than thriller-readers normally like. But the scenes with the Sunglass Mafia both defy stereotypes and manage to be very funny, and when the action kicks in, it does so in overdrive. A solid entry into the paranormal market, with an appealingly different hero. (Paranormal thriller. 12 & up)

1582

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

MOUSE & LION

Reteller: Burkert, Rand Illustrator: Burkert, Nancy Ekholm Michael di Capua/Scholastic (32 pp.) $17.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-545-10147-9 A wee African grass mouse “receives top billing” (according to a concluding note) in this visually stunning retelling of Aesop’s fable set amid the Aha Hills of Africa. One day Mouse rushes over a “tawny boulder that lay in his path,” which, unfortunately, turns out to be King Lion, who traps Mouse and threatens to eat him. Dangling above Lion’s jaws, Mouse begs for release and asserts his bravery. Intrigued, Lion asks Mouse to demonstrate his mettle, and Mouse fiercely tilts with a blade of grass. The amused Lion releases Mouse, who prophesies, “You might need me someday, in a pinch.” A year later, Lion becomes hopelessly snared in a hunter’s trap, and Mouse rescues him by nibbling the ropes. While the elegantly simple text conveys King Lion’s transformation from negligent predator to appreciative victim, the exquisitely rendered brush, ink and pencil illustrations steal the show. Masterful use of white space, dramatic close-ups, arresting perspectives and meticulous respect for natural details memorialize the interaction between Lion and Mouse. Realistic images of Mouse pinned by Lion’s claw, suspended above Lion’s gaping mouth, acrobatically scaling a blade of grass, helpfully gnawing Lion’s ropes and looking Lion in the eye emphasize the humanity of the natural world. A favorite ancient fable beautifully presented in the tradition of the finest picture books, this does not replace Jerry Pinkney’s transcendent, Caldecott-winning The Lion & the Mouse but proudly takes its place beside it. (Picture book. 3 & up)

SPUNKY TELLS ALL

Cameron, Ann Illustrator: Castillo, Lauren Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux (112 pp.) $15.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-374-38000-7 The beloved family of Julian and Huey Bates (The Stories Julian Tells, 1981, etc.) is back after a long hiatus. Spunky, their mixed-breed dog, hilariously reveals all about his humans and realizes his purpose in life. No matter how hard Spunky concentrates and how earnestly he explains himself, his family is unable to hear him. This leads to one unintended consequence: The family adopts a cat, Fiona, thinking that Spunky needs a friend to play with. Fiona does just what she wishes, while Spunky is true to his nature and just wants to please his family and follow the schedule— except when he is chewing socks and breaking pencils. Through kirkusreviews.com

|


first-canine narrative, readers get right into Spunky’s mind, sharing his frustrations at Fiona’s lack of reflection and his humans’ inability to figure things out. Amusing descriptions of the house—Boy Sleeping Room, White Pond Room (bathroom), Family Lie-Around Room—keep young readers laughing, and lots of action (the best of it in the White Pond Room) keeps the pages turning. Spunky’s love of his boy, Huey, will bring a tear to the eyes of dog lovers, too. Castillo’s perfect black-and-white spot drawings capture the energy and intelligence of both animals as they begin the careful dance of new friendship. Readers ready for chapter books will delight in seeing the world through Spunky’s eyes and powerful nose. (Fiction. 8-11)

RED BIRD SINGS The Story of Zitkala-Ša, Native American Author, Musician, and Activist

Adaptor: Capaldi, Gina Adaptor: Pearce, Q. L. Illustrator: Capaldi, Gina Carolrhoda (32 pp.) PLB $17.95 | e-book $13.95

October 1, 2011 PLB 978-0-7613-5257-0 e-book 978-0-7613-7159-5

Zitkala-Ša, whose name means Red Bird, also known as Gertrude Simmons Bonnin, was Yankton Sioux, a musician, writer, composer and activist who was born in the year of Little Bighorn. Capaldi and Pearce have taken three of the stories Zitkala-Ša wrote for the Atlantic Monthly, presumed to be autobiographical, and retold them with additional material. While the language has been somewhat modernized, it still sounds quite stilted and overwrought to contemporary ears, although it is very much in the heightened style of the time. The stories are powerful: having her long, thick hair cut short at White’s Manual Labor Institute in Wabash, Ind.; winning oratory contests at Earlham College while facing a huge banner with the word “Squaw” on it; teaching at Carlisle Indian School and playing the violin before President McKinley; writing the Sun Dance opera (the first Native American to write an opera and have it staged); working in Washington D.C. for the National Council of American Indians. The illustrations use collages of newspaper clippings, railroad tickets, Atlantic Monthly logos and other archival materials over the loosely drawn, textured images. An afterword, source note and selected bibliographies are included, but the use of the first person may give scholarly pause, especially for young readers, who may not wish to pursue the various bibliographical sources. An important figure of myriad talents, Zitkala-Ša and her life and works are brought to needed attention here, but it’s too bad the treatment isn’t a bit clearer. (Fictionalized biography. 8-12)

|

kirkusreviews.com

THE BREAK-UP DIARIES

Carter, Nikki Elliott, Kevin Kensington (288 pp.) $9.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7582-6888-4 Series: The Break-Up Diaries, 2

=Two more novelette-length bittersweet romances portray African-American teen girls embracing their independence after painful breakups. In Carter’s (Not a Good Look, 2010) “So Over It,” Zoey is devastated after her boyfriend breaks up with her via Facebook. Zoey, who narrates in a believably insecure and high-strung voice, is first in denial, then angry, then desperate to get Mario back. In adult street-lit author Elliott’s heavier “Swag,” rich suburban girl Zori dates DeMarco Mobley, a drug dealer who puts pressure on her to break rules. Zori accepts expensive gifts, invitations to sneak out of the house and double dates with DeMarco’s dangerous and disrespectful friend Jimmy, hurting and scaring her friends and parents in the process. Both stories thoughtfully address class conflicts between suburbia and the hood, and both feature supportive friends and family who show the narrators both compassion and tough love. A portrayal of an attempted date rape in “Swag” realistically addresses the issue (it is unfortunate, however, that the word the girls use to call out the perpetrator is “faggot”). Contemporary communication media, including texting and Facebook, are seamlessly integrated into the characters’ social lives. Though neither story is at all preachy, conclusions that leave the protagonists strong and happy on their own send a welcome message. Offer these affirming stories to any teen leaving a relationship, or starting one. (Fiction. 12 & up)

RIDDLES AND DANGER

Chick, Bryan Greenwillow/HarperCollins (304 pp.) $16.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-06-198927-8 Series: The Secret Zoo, 3 In the third installment of this fantasy series, the four Action Scouts, Richie, Ella, Noah and Megan, must band together to save both the magical world beneath the Clarksville Zoo and their own from the evil “Shadowist” DeGraff and his army of Sasquatches. Together with the teenage “Descenders” and a team of amazing animals, the Scouts go further into the world of the Secret Zoo than ever before, moving from portal to portal through the Grottoes in a desperate attempt to keep the Shadowist from infiltrating the Secret Zoo and creating an army of creatures to “storm the Earth.” While the plot has page-turner potential, the narrative gets mired down in description, costing the novel much of its sense of suspense. Chick dwells far too long on the |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1583


history of the zoo and traveling through the intricate system of portals and far too little on developing characters and building a sense of urgency—two things that would go a long way toward keeping readers invested in the story. While there may be enough interaction between the Scouts and zoo animals like Podgy the flying penguin and P-Dog the prairie dog to please animal lovers, readers looking for a fast-paced thrill will likely be disappointed. (Fantasy. 9-12)

SWEET VENOM

Childs, Tera Lynn Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins (352 pp.) $17.99 | October 4, 2011 978-0-06-200181-8 A 21st-century reboot of the Gorgon mythos. Imagine yourself a teenager just arrived in San Francisco, in a new high school. It’s an opportunity to reinvent yourself, to become more than the meek wallflower you left behind. Unfortunately, Grace is finding that a change of place doesn’t automatically change her. Life appears to be about the same as always…until she runs up against a Minotaur that only she can see. Things become even more bizarre when she sees a girl who looks exactly like her take out that monster as if it was a walk in the park. Gretchen, on the other hand, is used to returning monsters to their home world on a regular basis—it’s finding a long-lost twin that she has trouble dealing with. Trying to build a bond between them, Grace finds there may be a third sibling out there and that their lives are bound up in ancient mythology, as descendants of Medusa. Starting with this cool, Percy Jackson–esque premise, this book is all about bringing the triplets together and setting up future action. Said action will probably include mysterious but luscious boyfriends, unknown dangerous foes and assistance from Ursula, a woman who rescued Gretchen from the streets but who is now in hiding herself. There’s obviously a lot more to come in the sequel. For teens who hunger for a chick-lit alternative to Rick Riordan. (Fantasy. 13 & up)

CORAL REEFS

Chin, Jason Illustrator: Chin, Jason Neal Porter/Flash Point/Roaring Brook (40 pp.) $16.99 | October 1, 2011 978-1-59643-563-6 A book on coral reefs transforms the New York Public Library into a reef for its reader as she eagerly learns about those who make and dwell in those unique ecosystems, “cities of the sea.” 1584

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

Chin, who pioneered this hybrid form of straightforward nonfiction text and fanciful pictures with Redwoods (2009), offers another a statement about the power of reading for an imaginative child with this appealing introduction to a complex world. He opens and closes his narrative with accurate and clearly labeled pencil sketches of a large variety of reef-dwellers. Inside, realistic watercolor images, some in panels, some in full-bleed pages and even double-page spreads, complement the text. Sharp-eyed readers will see and be able to identify the creatures (not always those in the narrative) and will enjoy the dreamlike elaboration—especially as the coral reef begins to turn back into a city complete with appropriate signage. The species shown are all found in Caribbean reefs; Chin visited one off Belize in the course of his research. The backmatter includes an afterword describing the threat to coral reefs and providing additional facts as well as selected sources. As in his earlier Redwoods, the child reader shares her reading, passing on the book to others. Real-life readers will be eager to do the same. (Informational picture book. 5-9)

DIVINER

Davis, Bryan Zondervan (432 pp.) paper $9.99 | September 1, 2011 paper 978-0-310-71838-3 Series: Dragons of Starlight, 3

A convoluted Christian fantasy offers up sadistic theology in place of comprehensible narrative. While Koren the Starlighter wrestles with whether serving the evil dragon Taushin is worth the greater good, Elyssa masters the healing gifts that come with her Diviner powers. Meanwhile, Jason’s friends keep fighting to free the slaves, and the former dragon rulers visit Darksphere to raise a human army. From the opening paragraph, readers are thrown into the middle of several over-cluttered storylines—dozens of characters from two different worlds, human and dragon and ghost and otherwise, each with back story and agenda and secrets—from constantly shifting viewpoints, all of which sound pretty much the same. Most of these plots eventually cohere, somewhat, but the tale does not so much conclude as simply stop mid-action. Although the language can be elegant and the imagery exquisite, such craft is mostly lavished upon detailed, sensuous descriptions of physical and mental tortures. Since this suffering is explicitly deemed essential to “freedom,” and characters keep being resurrected from near- and actual death (although fatality seems no hindrance to continued activity), it is hard to distinguish or even take seriously the deeds and experiences of individuals presented as either “good” or “evil.” Even the most devoted fans may find themselves frustrated to the point of giving up by the end. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

kirkusreviews.com

|


“The ending, in which a white character reveals the full nature of racism—that blacks might be considered friends but never, ever, equals—is startling, swift and sure, pointing to America’s next great war, the battle over civil rights.” from caleb’s wars

CALEB’S WARS

Dudley, David L. Clarion (272 pp.) $16.99 | October 24, 2011 978-0-547-23997-2 In small-town Georgia in 1944, 15-year-old Caleb is surrounded by war. His older brother, Randall, is serving in a black Army unit overseas, and a German prisoner-of-war camp just opened outside town. Caleb’s mother wants him to be baptized in a faith he’s not sure he believes in, and his overbearing father fights him over every aspect of his life. But worse than all that is the constant battle African-Americans have, in the segregated South, to be seen and treated as fully human. Caleb defies his father and gets a job washing dishes in a whitesonly restaurant, where he is horrified to find a German soldier working beside him. The other restaurant workers, both black and white, are equally horrified, but Andreas, the German, seems to want to be Caleb’s friend. Dudley’s characterizations are sure and complex. His use of dialect, initially a bit jarring, eventually adds depth to the richly evoked setting. Only an improbable and unnecessary subplot involving faith healing distracts slightly from the story’s momentum. The ending, in which a white character reveals the full nature of racism—that blacks might be considered friends but never, ever, equals—is startling, swift and sure, pointing to America’s next great war, the battle over civil rights. Provocative and interesting. (Historical fiction. 14 & up)

THE TRAITOR’S SMILE

Elliott, Patricia Holiday House (304 pp.) $17.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-8234-2361-3

Picking up directly after The Pale Assassin (2009), this French Revolution thriller includes intrigue, romance and plenty of blood but takes a while to pick up steam. Displaced aristocrat Eugénie and friend Julien have fled Paris for Eugénie’s rebel-minded cousin Hetta’s house on the English coast. Eugénie can’t return to France because of a fraudulent but binding marriage engagement to Le Fantôme, a Phantom of the Opera/ Javert figure with high government ranking and a vast spy network. Eugénie’s brother Armand languishes in Paris prisons awaiting the corrupt trial that will send him to the guillotine for being a royalist and aristo. Le Fantôme’s debonair, sociopathic thug, Guy, tracks Eugénie, Hetta and Julien with disconcerting expertise. However, despite the constant threat of rape, murder and kidnapping, momentum lags for the first 200 pages. Readers know every danger and secret all along; narrative perspective shifts from character to character too quickly to catch hold. When Eugénie and Hetta end up accidentally back in Paris, the plot quickens. The city seethes with bitter |

kirkusreviews.com

fury and revenge-based executions. Romantic connections get befuddled through naivete, and the main characters’ tricky final escapades, while not quite believable, are as exciting and gruesomely successful as befits the Revolutionary setting. Political passion and upheaval are mainly backdrop; if readers loyal to the four main players can stay the course, they’ll like the ending. (cast of historical and fictional characters, timeline, afterward) (Historical thriller. 14 & up)

THE CARRIER OF THE MARK

Fallon, Leigh HarperTeen (352 pp.) paper $8.99 | October 4, 2011 paper 978-0-06-202787-0

This obsessive, Twilight-like romance and teen debut, first discovered on inkpop.com, misses the benefit of thorough editing in a rush to be published. After years of moving since her mother died, Megan finally feels at home in her father’s most recent relocation, this time to Ireland. Despite rumors that his family may be witches, she’s instantly attracted to Adam DeRís. Megan soon discovers in a nonstop information dump (which leaves little room for authentic Irish dialogue or interesting action) that she, along with Adam and his two siblings, is Marked as one of the vessels of the four elements (earth, wind, fire and air). If she can invoke her powers, then she and the DeRíses can perform an alignment on the Summer Solstice and turn the world’s chaos into harmony. But Megan is also the Carrier of the Mark and therefore responsible for producing children that will continue the Marked lineage. Because “physical union” between two Marked is forbidden, Megan must decide if she should accept her fate and forsake Adam’s love or repress her Marked powers and let the world fall to ruin. Complicating the decision are the Knox, who want to seize the elemental powers and instate a fifth element, and possible corruption of a secret Order with ties to Trinity College in Dublin. Perhaps the planned sequel will be less complicated. Misses the mark. (Paranormal romance. 13 & up)

BUNHEADS

Flack, Sophie Poppy/Little, Brown (304 pp.) $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-316-12653-3 Hannah has always dreamed of becoming a ballerina and living “the most amazing, wonderful, and crazy life.” Now 19 and a corps member of the Manhattan Ballet (read: New York City Ballet), she is determined to be promoted to soloist. Her life revolves around company class, |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1585


“An unusual anatomy book combines familiar children’s terms for bodily functions—pee, poop, snot, etc.—with accurate, relatively simple explanations of their roles.” from my messy body

rehearsals and performances during the fall, winter and spring seasons that she chronicles. Food—or how little of it to eat—is a constant topic of conversation, and exercise classes fill whatever free time remains. Two new boyfriends, one a downtown musician and the other an uptown patron, raise conflicts in her mind. The realization that she has never been kissed or seen anything of Manhattan outside Avery Center (read: Lincoln Center) begins to trouble her. The author danced with City Ballet for several years before being let go in a budget downsize. She excels at label-dropping, describing friendships tinged with jealousy and detailing every step required to break in toe shoes. More to the point, she brilliantly captures the arc from soaring ballerina to exhausted dancer collapsing in a pool of sweat and the crushing disappointment of not becoming a soloist, forever doomed to dance corps roles. Details have been changed, but fans of ballet will nonetheless relish the inside scoop. A multi-layered and absorbing good read by a promising debut novelist. (Fiction. 13 & up)

THE SURVIVAL KIT

Freitas, Donna Frances Foster/Farrar, Straus & Giroux (368 pp.) $16.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-374-39917-7 A story of struggle in which 16-yearold Rose fights to bloom again after her mother’s death from cancer. When Rose’s mother died, Rose felt as if her life had stopped. She no longer has any interest in her friends, cheerleading or her quarterback boyfriend, Chris. Despite her best efforts she cannot seem to hold onto what is left of her family as alcoholism threatens to destroy her home life. But her mom did not leave Rose without any help. On the day of her mom’s funeral, Rose finds a “survival kit” left by her mother, which contains what seems to be a hodgepodge of cryptic items, such as an iPod filled with meaningful songs, a photo of peonies and a miniature crystal heart. All were carefully chosen to help Rose overcome her grief and move on to adulthood. As Rose slowly decodes the survival kit’s contents, she finds that each item plays a creative role in helping her deal with her loss, including connecting her with Will, a classmate who has also lost a parent but whom she never took the time to notice. Freitas also gives Rose the redoubtable Grandma Madison, who provides some appealingly crusty support of her own. Flashbacks of Rose’s mother’s illness punctuate her first-person account of her slow healing. Although somewhat predictable, Rose’s cathartic interactions with her survival kit provide a creative way to show that mother always does know best. (Fiction. 12 & up)

1586

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

MY MESSY BODY

Series: Body Works

Fromer, Liza Gerstein, Francine Illustrator: Weissmann, Joe Tundra (24 pp.) $12.95 | September 13, 2011 978-1-77049-202-8

An unusual anatomy book combines familiar children’s terms for bodily functions—pee, poop, snot, etc.—with accurate, relatively simple explanations of their roles. Using amusing, cartoon-y watercolor illustrations and a couple of paragraphs of text per page, the book provides correct terminology for the kid-familiar terms. It undercuts itself, however: Telling readers the proper word for snot is nasal mucus, the work then returns to using the colloquial term instead. This retreat into the vernacular feels gimmicky, since other complex words are freely employed, including esophagus, carbohydrate and bacteria. Many pages feature “Fun Facts,” such as that newborn babies cry without tears and that lips lack sweat glands. Each spread has a brief piece of advice called “Doctor Says.” The doctor advises readers not to pick their noses: “It looks gross, and you can spread germs by using that finger to touch objects other people are likely to use.” At only 24 pages, this effort is brief in the extreme and fails to include any suggestions for further reading, a bibliography, an index or a table of contents, although it does have a glossary. Other books in the Body Works series cover pain, growth and bodily noises: My Achy Body, My Stretchy Body and My Noisy Body. While it provides accurate information on topics that should appeal to curious school-age readers, this work’s reliance on the limited shock value of colloquial terminology seems inappropriate for the intended audience. (Nonfiction. 5-8)

I’M LIKE YOU, YOU’RE LIKE ME A Book About Understanding and Appreciating Each Other Gainer, Cindy Illustrator: Sakamoto, Miki

Free Spirit (48 pp.) $14.99 | October 1, 2011 978-1-57542-383-8

The message of this purpose-driven text is loud and clear: Recognize similarities, accept differences and appreciate both. In this newly illustrated edition of her 1998 text, Gainer looks at diversity through six concepts: comparing, acceptance, listening, understanding, kindness and cooperation. The text itself is a laundry list of observations: “One of us is bigger, and the other is smaller. // … Some families have many people. / Some families have few people. // … We can tell each other about things we like and things we don’t like. / We can try our best to understand each other.” Certainly kirkusreviews.com

|


didactic, and unapologetically so. But that doesn’t make the lesson any less important. The well-intentioned text plods along at a steady drone—perhaps for a few pages more than necessary—but simple and direct instruction can be influential in starting a foundation for learning life lessons. Sakamoto’s illustrations are bright and cheery, providing necessary leavening. They are filled with children of all ethnicities and abilities. Such diverse objects as ladybugs, toy dinosaurs and hopscotch boards dot the page borders, giving readers plenty to examine. Backmatter includes discussion questions and reading tips for parents and caregivers. Neither enchanting nor exciting, but grounded and easy to relate to. A starting point for diversity discussions. (Picture book. 3-6)

THE GREAT GLOBAL PUZZLE CHALLENGE WITH GOOGLE EARTH

Gifford, Clive Illustrator: Ings, William Kingfisher (32 pp.) $15.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7534-6721-3

This modestly oversized volume is a Google Earth launch vehicle for young grade-schoolers. The book starts with an introduction to Google Earth (a free download): how to get it, how to navigate and special features such as a tilted look at the locale and zoom. Gifford’s language is crisp and engagingly friendly as he proceeds to explain the book’s game format, with quizzes and hunts for objects in the illustrations—like historical and geographical incongruities in the places visited—and the gradual accumulation of numbers that will lead to the final destination. The artwork is imposing, great two-page spreads, busy and colorful, in which Ings has drawn the images readers will see on their Google Earth photographs. The single most obvious drawback is that once the various hidden objects have been located and the quizzes have been successfully wrestled to the ground, those critical aspects of the book become moot. But this is overwhelmed by the canny sense of place the book imparts and its encouragement to let Google Earth guide you to other realms (both terrestrial and celestial). Use in conjunction with a conventional atlas, which requires—better yet, allows for—more imagination. (Nonfiction. 8-14)

|

kirkusreviews.com

THE GLASS SWALLOW

Golding, Julia Marshall Cavendish (320 pp.) $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5979-8

This gentle tale, set in the world of Dragonfly (2009), offers a fresh take on high-fantasy conventions. Only her father knows that Rain, 15, designs the glass in his workshop; women are barred from the glassmakers’ guild. He sends her in his place when a distant country with a decaying society and a rigid caste system, Magharna, seeks a glass designer. Arriving in Magharna, Rain’s party is attacked by bandits. She’s rescued by Peri, a handsome falconer and member of the untouchable caste, but through a misunderstanding, is left to fend for herself in the unfriendly city of Rolvint. Her forced servitude there ends when a merchant’s financial collapse sparks a revolt, driving the city into anarchy. Peri returns to rescue Rain, but she has her own agenda—restoring Magharna to a viable society. Yes, Golding’s high-fantasy world features the usual hierarchical governance by ancient aristocracies, but she’s no moral essentialist. Her bandits aren’t innately evil or deluded by satanic influences; they’re unemployed outcasts with no better prospects until Rain shows up, blending idealism with a streak of girlish realpolitik. Forget the predictable and clichéd love story; read for the social commentary. An insightful, engaging portrait of a high-fantasy society in the midst of social change. (Fiction. 12 & up)

THE OTHER FELIX

Graff, Keir Roaring Brook (176 pp.) $15.99 | October 11, 2011 978-1-59643-655-8 An allegorical tale about friendship, fear, happiness and hope. Orange-haired fourth-grader Felix Shwartzwalder lives a pretty ordinary life. He lives in an apartment with two very busy parents and attends the school right across the street. When he goes to sleep at night, however, Felix’s life gets strange. He travels to a forest that is home to some super-scary monsters as well as a boy who looks exactly Felix. This boy, the “Other Felix,” knows how to keep the monsters away, and Felix is determined to learn the skill. In his daytime life, Felix begins to have trouble with Chase, a new kid in school who frames Felix for stealing a calculator. Felix figures out how to get back at Chase, but he never feels right about that choice. His teacher, noticing the friction between the boys, forces them to spend time after school together, but will this help the two boys to forge a friendship? In the nighttime world, Felix finds himself befriending the very monsters he once wanted to vanquish. Can |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1587


he do that in real life? The story unfolds deliberately, in plainspoken prose that helps readers accept Felix’s surreal dream life as just as real as his school life. This thoughtful, whimsical story promises rewards for those patient readers who stick with Felix till the end. (Fiction. 9-12)

KILLER KOALAS FROM OUTER SPACE and Lots of Other Very Bad Stuff that Will Make Your Brain Explode

Griffiths, Andy Illustrator: Denton, Terry Feiwel & Friends (176 pp.) $12.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-312-36789-3

Sometimes bad can be very, very good indeed. Griffiths proves this time and again in this hilarious collection of rude, lewd and crude poems, jokes and cautionary tales. Deliciously revolting characters in stories like “The Old Woman Who Lived in a Poo” and “Mud Brown and the Seven Slobs” are sure to leave young, potty-humor–loving readers in stitches. Denton’s edgy, stick-figure illustrations only add to the fun, upping the gross-out ante and giving the collection a frenetic energy that makes the book nearly impossible to put down. Readers will cringe as “Bad Mommy and Daddy” allow their son to jump into a volcano. They’ll wince each time a killer koala rips somebody’s face off. And here’s the best part, they’ll do it with gigantic smiles on their faces. The genius of this subversive little tome lies in its perfect combination of zany subject matter that will appeal to a broad spectrum of readers and a format that make it easily accessible to beginning and struggling readers. With plenty of white space on each page and hilarious comic-strip–style illustrations that reinforce story matter, this book would make a great, though certainly untraditional, easy read. As promised, this book is filled with loads of “Very Bad Stuff that Will Make Your Brain Explode!”—what could be better than that? (Poetry/graphic short stories. 7-12)

UNWELCOME

Griffo, Michael Kensington (352 pp.) paper $9.95 | September 1, 2011 paper 978-0-7582-5339-2 Series: Archangel Academy, 2

An almost unreadable morass of supernatural creatures, double crosses and internal monologues. Michael Howard, who accepted that he was both gay and a vampire in Unnatural (2011), now lives with his boyfriend Ronan among humans 1588

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

and a variety of beings disguised as humans at Archangel Academy. Michael and Ronan are water vampires, a web-handed variety that feeds on blood once a month and then drinks from the Well of Atlantis. Non-hybrid vampires, however, including Archangel Academy’s evil new headmaster, want the water vamps destroyed. Meanwhile, both Ronan and Michael come to terms with truths about their families, an efemera (similar to a guardian angel) falls in love with a human, Ronan’s estranged sister comes to town—and those are only a few of the novel’s numerous and convoluted subplots. Readers are thrown into the book’s world with little introduction, presumably expected to remember the paranormal mythology and large cast of characters from the first book. The third-person narrative voice jumps briskly and dizzyingly among points of view, even within a single scene, but characters’ motivations often remain opaque. Most uncomfortably, ethically questionable acts, such as Michael reading Ronan’s personal correspondence and the two boys feeding on a suicidal woman as she jumps to her death—go oddly unremarked upon. Literature for teens could use more vampire stories with gay protagonists; it’s a shame this one is such a slog. (Paranormal romance. 14 & up)

DEADLY COOL

Halliday, Gemma HarperTeen (320 pp.) paper $8.99 | October 11, 2011 paper 978-0-06-200331-7

In this light comedy/murder mystery, 16-year-old Hartley tries to prove that her ex-boyfriend didn’t kill her rival. The emphasis stays on comedy with spikes of suspense as Hartley bounces from rage against boyfriend Josh and his not-so-secret squeeze Courtney to screaming shock when she finds Courtney’s dead body in Josh’s closet. Despite appearances, she’s sure he’s innocent and decides to prove it, no matter how ill-equipped she may be to do so. She teams up with Chase, a hunky, goth-type school journalist who looks a bit suspicious himself. Hartley breezily defies her mother and sneaks out of her house to meet strangers in the middle of the night, even after she literally stumbles over a second murder victim. Not surprisingly, eventually she finds herself in danger. Halliday keeps the mood light and tries to balance the comedy and suspense. Comedy easily wins the battle, but suspense often breaks into this fairly standard murder mystery. The author portrays Hartley as a bit of a bubble brain, however, indulging in omigod freakouts with best friend Sam at every turn of events and constantly acting on impulse, quipping her way through highschool suspects until she finds the major clue in the case. It’s fine for an audience more interested in light entertainment than discerning heft. Light indeed, but merry and often suspenseful. A pleasant, funny chick-lit mystery. (Mystery. 12 & up)

kirkusreviews.com

|


“Little ones will want to pore over the pages again and again as they read and sing along with the Judy Collins recording that is included.” from when you wish upon a star

DARKFALL

children fly about, with and without visible wings. The children’s wishes appear at first to be mostly about candy and toys, but they interact and come together with gestures of peace and acceptance. The children’s clothing, rendered in sharp, bright colors, reflect their various ethnicities but stop just short of stereotype. Little ones will want to pore over the pages again and again as they read and sing along with the Judy Collins recording that is included. A gem. (illustrator’s and performer’s notes) (Picture book. 2-6)

Hardy, Janice Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins (432 pp.) $16.99 | October 4, 2011 978-0-06-174750-2 Series: The Healing Wars, 3 In this final installment of The Healing Wars series, warrior Nya desperately searches for her missing sister while fighting to preserve her heritage even as the Duke of Baseer prepares to invade Geveg. Fifteen-year-old Nya, her sweetheart Danello and compatriots in the underground resistance hide on a farm after Nya destroys the Duke’s palace in Baseer by flashing pain. Notorious for her unique ability to shift and push pain, Nya secretly returns to Geveg hoping to find her sister, Tali. When a corps of Undying, the Duke’s mindless soldiers trained to endure and inflict pain, attack Nya, Tali is among them. Devastated to discover her alien, brainwashed sister, Nya fears Tali will never be the same. With the Duke’s forces approaching, Nya’s reputation as a fighter rallies Geveg’s embattled citizens, who embrace her as the leader they desperately need. Tempted to take Tali and flee, Nya can’t deny her heritage and, with help from her friends and allies, reluctantly prepares to defend her city. A conflicted, complex heroine to the end, Nya anguishes over the potential pain and death she will trigger to preserve what she loves. Though lacking some of the punch and rapid-fire excitement of the first two volumes, the finale offers suspense, resolution of prior wrongs, the sweetness of first love and a battle-tested heroine who fights with her head and heart. (Fantasy. 10-16)

FASHION KITTY AND THE B.O.Y.S. (Ball of Yellow String)

Harper, Charise Mericle Illustrator: Harper, Charise Mericle Disney Hyperion (112 pp.) $14.99 | October 4, 2011 978-1-4231-3654-5 Series: Fashion Kitty, 4 Fashion Kitty has met her share of enemies, but Leon Lambaster the III is the most devious, dastardly of all. This time, no one is attacking her fashion sense—he’s trying to capture Fashion Kitty herself! Leon, a troublemaker at school, starts the Catch Fashion Kitty Club (C.F.K.C. for short). The other members are there because they want to see Fashion Kitty up close, not because they want to harm her. But not Leon. He’s sneaky and full of mischief. However, Leon’s twin brother Lester is the complete opposite. Lester is friends with Kiki Kittie (or Fashion Kitty, when duty calls). When Lester finally learns of Leon’s plan, he does everything he can to stop him. With a larger text-to-illustration ratio than previous works (Fashion Kitty, 2005, etc.), Harper has room to expand. And expand she does. The wacky ball of slimy, yellow string—integral to Fashion Kitty’s capture—needs special gloves and two separate kinds of sprays for it to work. The exciting, yet cluttered, conclusion combines a marshmallow statue, rubber bands from an Eiffel Tower T-shirt and x-ray vision. Along with a few fashion emergencies thrown in. Fashion Kitty has plenty of fans and won’t go out of style anytime soon. This installment, however, requires a bit more attentiveness than her previous outings. (creative ideas for crafty kitties; not seen) (Graphic novel. 8-12)

WHEN YOU WISH UPON A STAR

Harline, Leigh Illustrator: Puybaret, Eric Imagine Publishing (28 pp.) $17.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-936140-35-0 The venerable and well-loved song from Disney’s Pinocchio is lovingly re-imagined. The song has been recorded by dozens of singers in every possible style. Harline’s lyrics are uplifting and hope-filled and have remained in collective memory for 70 years. Each generation of children exposed to reissues of the movie finds it new and fresh. In this version, Puybaret’s visual interpretation wistfully evokes a peaceful and magical world. A star-filled midnight-blue sky glows from the endpapers through the double-page spreads as a unifying motif. The wishing star appears first as a distant, diaphanous, almost ghostlike figure that morphs into a stylized fairy with delicate wings, dressed in blues and yellows. As she floats and flies about, she gathers a parade of multiethnic, multinational children through a brightly colored dreamscape. Then, returning to her place in the sky, she shines benevolently as the |

kirkusreviews.com

SAY SOMETHING, PERICO

Harris, Trudy Illustrator: Rébora, Cecilia Millbrook (32 pp.) $16.95 | e-book $12.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7613-5231-0 e-book 978-0-7613-8046-7

permanent home. |

children

&

Bored with a parrot’s life in a pet store, Spanish-speaking Perico wants a

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1589


“An imaginative, intriguing and spirited retelling of ‘The Twelve Dancing Princesses.’ ” from the princess curse

The pet store man assures a female customer that Perico “can say some words.” After the birds’s unsuccessful attempt at “Polly wants a cracker,” though, the woman turns to leave in disgust. Perceptive readers may notice that Perico squawks “Agua!” to call attention to his empty water dish. The pet store man convinces the female customer that Perico is attempting to say the word “opera,” and she buys the bird. Things don’t go well when she takes Perico to the opera that evening, and she returns him. The pet store man tells Perico that he’ll have to learn some phrases if he wants a new home, giving him “I am fine today” as an example. The bird stays up that night practicing the phrase. After two other failed attempts, a little Latino boy and his mother visit the store, and Perico uses all of his new phrases to impress the boy. The boy ignores the bird completely until Perico starts squawking in fluent Spanish. The bilingual boy immediately wants the bird, who speaks Spanish and English just as he does. Rébora’s humorous illustrations and the happy ending help balance the mostly clueless, often rude adults in the book. A welcome, if a little long, tale of belonging and bilingualism. (Spanish glossary) (Picture book. 4-8)

TRIS AND IZZIE

Harrison, Mette Ivie Egmont USA (272 pp.) $16.99 | October 11, 2011 978-1-60684-173-0 Torn between two boys, 16-year-old Isolde also finds herself caught between a normal life and her recently rediscovered magical legacy in this modernization of Tristan and Isolde. Izzie lives a charmed life as girlfriend to basketball captain Mark King and a member of his “court” at Tintagel High. When she brings a “love potion” to school to help her lovelorn friend Branna and quash her own attraction to new boy Tristan, her matchmaking scheme backfires and leads Mark, Izzie, Branna and Tristan into a romantic quandary. Soon, Izzie must fight not only hormones but also monsters sent by the villainous Gurmun as she reclaims her magical powers and uncovers the truth about her father’s death. High school and high-stakes action blend poorly, and the quartet’s romantic problems often overshadow the fantasy plot. Moderately inventive worldbuilding gets lost amid teen–paranormal-romance clichés; Izzie’s apt complaint, “I had always though love triangles were lame,” is regrettably ignored. Though Harrison’s (The Princess and the Snowbird, 2010) update lacks the epic passion of the original tale—of which little mention is made—the blend of action, mythology and romance will probably find an appreciative audience anyway. More High School Musical than Wagnerian sturm und drang. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

1590

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

THE MAGIC CAKE SHOP

Hashimoto, Meika Illustrator: Masse, Josée Random (176 pp.) $15.99 | PLB $18.99 e-book $15.99 | October 25, 2011 978-0-375-86822-1 PLB 978-0-375-96822-8 e-book 978-0-375-89874-7 When “Plain Jane” Emma tries to thwart her evil uncle’s scheme to take over a master baker’s shop, a lot of slurping, spewing and brewing ensue. Mr. and Mrs. Burblee are beautiful, thin and perfect in every way except for one annoying detail: their ordinary daughter. They send Emma to gross Uncle Simon for the summer, but he treats her worse than a servant. She overhears a plot between him and his villainous pal, Maximus Beedy (dressed all in white), to coerce Mr. Crackle, a Supreme-Extreme Master Baker, into making them a magical elixir that will turn any food instantly delicious. They prick him with joobajooba poison, which will rob him of his senses one by one, unless he complies. But Mr. Crackle has a few tricks up his toque, as readers learn when he, Emma and her friend Albie descend into the magic flour barrel to a secret, underground spice shop to round up the ingredients. Will they be able to make the elixir by the deadline? To the list of goofy ingredients (Burberry beans, whingbuzzit legs, biddle hegs, fribs, shick shack shree, etc.) add heaps of preciosity and blend with an overly melodramatic plot—the result is tasteless when compared to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the author of which Hashimoto clearly seeks to emulate. Emma is a tough cookie, but this recipe for a fun fantasy falls as flat as a collapsed soufflé. (Fantasy. 9-11)

THE PRINCESS CURSE

Haskell, Merrie Harper/HarperCollins (336 pp.) $16.99 | PLB $17.89 | September 6, 2011 978-0-06-200813-8 PLB 978-0-06-200814-5 An imaginative, intriguing and spirited retelling of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Reveka, a smart, irreverent, outspoken and observant herbalist’s apprentice with a “curiosity ailment,” is determined to break the mysterious and powerful curse on the princesses of Sylvania, though anyone who tries either disappears or falls into a deathlike sleep. In a fictional region of 15th-century Romania (between Maramures and Transylvania), 13-year-old Reveka yearns for her own herbery in a convent, “a whitewashed room filled with northern sunlight and tall drying cabinets.” Initially driven by Prince Vasile’s promise of a large reward—for a woman, “a fabulous dowry,” with which Reveka could buy her way into an abbey— Reveka’s motivation and sense of urgency changes when her kirkusreviews.com

|


friend Didina is poisoned and must join the “sleepers” in the western tower. Writing from Reveka’s point of view, Haskell departs from traditional renditions by handing the sleuthing reins to a strong (and compassionate) heroine whose resourcefulness extends even to the Underworld, the “Sunless House,” where she’s faced with a dizzying moral dilemma. In this impressive debut, the author artfully weaves humor, suspense, magic and myth into an intricate plot, which includes the possibility of an improbable romance and more exciting stories to come; we hope so. (glossary, author’s note) (Historical fantasy. 10 & up)

CIRCLE NINE

Heltzel, Anne Candlewick (272 pp.) $16.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7636-5333-0 A sad and slow-moving meditation on secrets, lies, identity and fate. Abby lives in a lavishly decorated secret cave in the woods, doted on by the handsome and mysterious Sam. She’s free to sketch all day, losing herself in her artwork, mythology and the classic literature Sam loves to read aloud. She wonders about her life before she met Sam, but the details are too fuzzy to pin down, and everything seems perfect as she basks in the glow of Sam’s affection and care. Leaving their snug hideaway to uncover the truth is out of the question, anyway, because Sam fears Abby will be attacked by the evil denizens of the world outside, which he’s dubbed Circle Nine, after Dante’s most intimidating Circle of Hell. His reasoning doesn’t hold up: Abby notes that Sam leaves the cave to get “medicine” from his “doctor,” Sid, while Amanda, another Circle Nine resident, turns up to live in the cave, too. Amanda makes Abby question her perceptions of the cave, the food they eat, even Sam’s motivations. Astute readers will have sussed out most of Sam’s problems and Abby’s past well before her memories trickle, then surge back, eliminating the urgency and suspense essential to any psychological thriller’s success. Abby and Sam’s tragic story is better suited to tearjerker fans than die-hard thriller readers. (Mystery. 14 & up)

DAVID

Hoffman, Mary Bloomsbury (304 pp.) $16.99 | October 11, 2011 978-1-59990-700-0 The author of the Stravaganaza series reveals the muse behind Michelangelo’s David. Hoffman provides a possible inspiration for Michelangelo’s famous sculpture in the form of Gabriele, a handsome |

kirkusreviews.com

fictional stonecutter whose mother served as Michelangelo’s wet nurse. Gabriele comes to model for his “milk brother” in Florence during a time of political unrest. The city is split between the compagnacci, who wish to return the city to royal Medici family rule, and the frateschi, who follow the teachings of martyr and Dominican friar Girolamo Savonarola, an outspoken opponent of the Medici’s wealth and influence. Michelangelo warns Gabriele to steer clear of Florence’s politics. But impressionable Gabriele is adopted by the frateschi even as his good looks earn him work as a painter’s model for a member of the compagnacci. Soon he finds himself a pawn in a street war that threatens his very life. While the concept is intriguing and the research meticulous, the execution is as dry as the frequently mentioned marble dust. Florence’s turbulent political history is provided to the reader through long, didactic speeches from a confusing crowd of secondary characters that slow all action to a standstill. The entertaining passages that detail Gabriele’s youthful sexual indiscretions, which break up the long-winded political talk considerably, are regrettably few and far between. Nonfiction masquerading as a novel and failing as either sort of narrative. (character list, historical note, glossary) (Historical fiction. 13 & up)

HORSES Trotting! Prancing! Racing! Hubbell, Patricia Illustrator: Mathieu, Joe Marshall Cavendish (32 pp.) $17.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5949-1

Rollicking rhyming couplets keep the pages turning as readers learn how to care for a horse and the many jobs that horses help humans complete in this latest from Hubbell. “Clean their stall! Fill their pails! / Brush their bodies, manes, and tails! / Wipe their ears. Shine their feet. / Give them apples for a treat.” From the tasks of caring for a horse, Hubbell goes on to describe the different colors horses can be and what they do. The real strength of this book, however, lies in its descriptions of how horses and people work together. Horses help cowboys herd cattle and farmers plow their fields. They perform in circuses and help police officers get around. Horses can haul wagons and sleighs, carry people, swim, jump and race. A final page presents 12 labeled thumbnails of popular horse breeds (including one that is a color rather than a true breed: palomino). Mathieu’s watercolor-and-pencil artwork captures the beautiful lines of each horse. By contrast, the people are more cartoonish, making for a disparity that sometimes detracts from the scene as a whole. Meant for the youngest audiences, this rough overview won’t hold the interest of those who are already horse crazed, but it just may start the uninitiated down that path. (Informational picture book. 3-6)

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1591


SHAGGY DOGS, WAGGY DOGS

neighborhood children discover that the boy himself is Neville, they will embrace him as surely as they did his search. A fine treatment of a tried-and-true theme. (Picture book 4-6)

Hubbell, Patricia Illustrator: Wu, Donald Marshall Cavendish (32 pp.) $17.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5957-6

MELONHEAD AND THE UNDERCOVER OPERATION

A cornucopia of canines! There are many kinds of dogs in the world, and this cheerful collection of furry, frolicsome, tailwagging critters endeavors to show them all. The concentration is on the many attributes of dogs, rather than breeds. Rhymed text describes different aspects of our four-legged friends: “Country dogs. / City dogs. / Itty-bitty pretty dogs. // Shy dogs. / Bold dogs. / Won’t-do-as-they’re-told dogs.” Vivid and colorful illustrations show doe-eyed puppies and adult dogs of different breeds from head to tail and back again, including various elements of their behavior, size, appearance, value and affection for those they love. As with Hubbell’s earlier book on cats, both the obvious and more elusive are covered here (I Like Cats, illustrated by Pamela Paparone, 2003). Youngsters will delight in the gentle humor and join in the catchy tempo with descriptive rhymes of their own. Good for encouraging children to notice details and characteristics, this straightforward selection is a celebration of all things canine and a fine read-aloud in both home and school or library settings. Any child who loves dogs is in for a real treat. (Picture book. 2-5)

NEVILLE

Juster, Norton Illustrator: Karas, G. Brian Schwartz & Wade/Random (32 pp.) $17.99 | PLB $20.99 | October 25, 2011 978-0-375-86765-1 PLB 978-0-375-96765-8 A little boy, bereft over moving, makes strides toward feeling at home in his new neighborhood. With uniform houses and patches of lawn, the community depicted evokes Levittown. Karas’ mixed-media art employs a bleak, gray palette for the setting, befitting the boy’s forlorn feelings. His mother suggests, “Maybe you’d like to take a little walk down the block. You might even meet someone.” Though unenthusiastic, he “slowly shuffle[s] away.” When he stops and (rather inexplicably) calls out, “Neville,” another child hears him, and then another and another, and they all join in. But who is Neville? “Is he new?” one child asks. “Are you a friend of his?” adds another. “His best friend, I guess,” he responds. The children wander off, leaving the boy hopeful after making this foray into joining their community. His homecoming is alight with colors that Karas slowly incorporated into prior illustrations, and when his mother tucks him in, she whispers, “Good night, Neville…” Readers then can hope that when the 1592

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

Kelly, Katy Illustrator: Johnson, Gillian Delacorte (256 pp.) $12.99 | PLB $15.99 e-book $12.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-385-73659-6 PLB 978-0-385-90618-0 e-book 978-0-375-98292-7 Series: Melonhead, 3 Melonhead and his buddy Sam deliver their third goofball romp when they go undercover to catch one of the FBI’s Most Wanted. Having earned “Junior Special Agent” status from their numerous visits to FBI headquarters, Melonhead and Sam decide that a woman they meet on the bus is The Chameleon, master of disguise and wanted by the FBI. They get so caught up in their self-imposed spy mission that, despite their perpetual good intentions, things run amok. In particular, they bungle a pastry delivery, to the delight of the squirrels, when they hide in a tree outside the suspect’s home. As in the first two books of this series, the story is liberal with such tomfoolery as nose picking, butt walking and a dog-pee mishap. The boys have a witty repartee and are fond of rhyming: “E-Z P-Z, rice and cheezie” or “Unbend, my friend.” As the pair works at fixing their delivery bungle while still continuing to track and report on The Chameleon, they learn that fear and bravery go hand in hand and that sometimes tomato-soup blunders turn out to be a good thing. Combined with appearances from neighborhood favorites met in earlier volumes and Johnson’s snappy sketches, Melonhead’s pure, kid-centric, fun-loving perspective is hard to resist. As they learn to take responsibility for their mini-fiascoes, Melonhead and Sam deliver sniggers galore in this sweet and funky confection. (Mystery. 8-11)

YOU ARE MY ONLY

Kephart, Beth Egmont USA (256 pp.) $16.99 | October 25, 2011 978-1-60684-272-0 The heartbreaking tale of a kidnapped child and her bereft mother unfolds in alternating narratives in this intense and lovely novel. Fourteen-year-old Sophie has been successively uprooted by the stern, sour woman she knows as her mother, always on the run from people and their questions. Her story begins as they are settling into their latest rented house and she meets Joey, a neighbor her age kirkusreviews.com

|


“Lively, colorful illustrations depict these independently capable preschoolers performing tasks with active joy, care and assurance, deftly matching the unadorned, sprightly text.” from sadie’s sukkah breakfast

who lives with two warm and gentle elderly women, a couple, who eventually help her in discovering a horrible secret about her past. In a separate thread, young Emmy frantically searches for her abducted baby but is deemed by the authorities to have suffered a breakdown and is committed to a psychiatric hospital. Though there is never any question about how the two stories are related, they focus on different periods of time for the two protagonists. Though occasionally straying into melodrama, the ripped-from-the-headlines plot is here treated with tenderness and depth. Kephart’s deft employ of descriptive language—“Past the door is scuffle and howl, the slow and the fast moving. I see it through the window glass, the glass all scratched with black diamonds”—is extremely effective in setting mood and creating imagery. Though the initial draw may be the sensational subject matter, readers will come away with much more. (Fiction. 12 & up)

SADIE’S SUKKAH BREAKFAST

Korngold, Jamie Illustrator: Fortenberry, Julie Kar-Ben (24 PP.) $16.95 | paper $7.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7613-5647-9 paper 978-0-7613-7970-6 A resourceful big sister and helpful little brother set up breakfast in the family’s newly decorated Sukkah and figure out a way to quietly enjoy it with some good friends while parents sleep. Early risers on this Sukkot morning, Sadie and Ori are very excited, but they know they must not wake their parents. Admiring their decorative handiwork on the Sukkah they built last night, the siblings decide to bring breakfast out to the festive hut. Working together, they prepare a tray—“Sadie got the cereal. / Ori got the spoons. / Ori got the bowls. / Sadie got the milk.” And when juice, challah rolls, cups and napkins make the tray too heavy, then—“Sadie got the juice. / Ori got the cups. / Ori got the napkins. / Sadie got the challah rolls,” each bringing an item out to the Sukkah table, setting up “an elegant breakfast.” Seeking to complete the experience with the required invited guests for this holiday meal, Sadie and Ori fill seats at their Sukkah table with a menagerie of favorite stuffed animal friends. Lively, colorful illustrations depict these independently capable preschoolers performing tasks with active joy, care and assurance, deftly matching the unadorned, sprightly text. Blessings abound for the autumnal holiday, with these happy kids and (behind the scenes) grateful parents. (note) (Picture book. 3-6)

|

kirkusreviews.com

AMADITO AND THE HERO CHILDREN

Lamadrid, Enrique R. Illustrator: Córdova, Amy Univ. of New Mexico (60 pp.) $19.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-8263-4979-8 Historical perspective shares the front seat with plot in this scholar’s bilingual portrait of a small New Mexico community struck by the Great Flu Epidemic of 1918. Painted illustrations done in a naïve style embellish the sense of place and period in Lamadrid’s child-centered picture of life on the Dominguez family farm in Chamisal. In lengthy side-by-side English and Spanish passages, he blends fiction and history to chronicle the rising tide of anxiety as news comes of a deadly influencia creeping closer, at last striking even in nearby Embudo. No cure exists, but traditional herbal remedies combined with memories of a smallpox epidemic a century before that had been successfully treated by traveling groups of inoculated children—known still as los Niños Héroes—provide some comfort. The author ends with hopeful signs of the pandemic’s passing and a biographical note, then hands the reins to a fellow academic for a general overview of both the smallpox and the influenza epidemics in New Mexican history. A purpose-driven patchwork, it nonetheless illuminates two little-known episodes that left deep and lasting impressions on Southwestern culture. (glossary, scholarly bibliography) (Historical fiction. 10-13, adult)

TORNADO SLIM AND THE MAGIC COWBOY HAT

Langdo, Bryan Illustrator: Langdo, Bryan Marshall Cavendish (32 pp.) $17.99 | e-book $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5962-0 e-book 978-0-7614-6075-6 Colloquially told, with an epistolary twist, this Western tall tale of guileless cowboy Slim, who finds himself thrust into the role of a hero, packs a lot of charm. Sweet-talked by an about-to-be married coyote into delivering a letter to the sheriff of Fire Gulch City, Slim also accepts a hat as part of the deal. While all Slim wants at the end of each day is “an ice-cold sarsaparilla,” he finds himself instead capturing first a flood and then a tornado in the magic cowboy hat. Finally, in where else but Fire Gulch City, he puts out a fire with the water stored in the hat and then captures Smelly Jim and his Band of Outlaws by unleashing the tornado. In each town, he’s feted with a celebration and five-, six- and seven-alarm chili. A surprise in the letter brings this lively tale to a tidy conclusion. Langdo’s jaunty, energetic pictures employ highlighted circles to zoom in for the occasional telling close-up. The classically deadpan narration features dialogue liberally strewn with |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1593


“A credible, ethical approach to teaching environmental science and responsibility under a Judaic umbrella.” from green bible stories for children

Western-isms and lacking just the right number of terminal g’s to give flavor without overwhelming. Decent, likable Slim makes for an excellent protagonist. An ebullient and refreshing venture Out West. (Picture book. 5-8)

GREEN BIBLE STORIES FOR CHILDREN

Lehman-Wilzig, Tami Illustrator: Bernhard, Durga Yael Kar-Ben (48 pp.) $17.95 | paper $7.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7613-5135-1 paper 978-0-7613-5136-8 An environmental theme unites nine Jewish bible stories enhanced with a variety of science and nature activities. The religiously focused narrative begins by stating that God’s “perfectly planned planet” has been misused by humankind. Biblical figures such as Noah, Abraham, Joshua, Joseph and Moses demonstrate how the Bible is filled with ways to preserve and respect the earth. From Noah’s Ark and the flood, illustrating the beauty of the planet’s biodiversity, to Joshua’s need for sunlight to successfully defend the people of Gibeon with solar power, each scene is connected to a contemporary interpretation through introductory paragraphs and child-oriented projects. For example, noise pollution is addressed through the story of how Joshua destroyed Jericho first by surrounding the city walls with silence and then by using the loud trumpet blasts to crack the ramparts reinforcing the walls. This is followed by a simple science experiment that will observe whether two identical plants will grow differently under soothing classical and loud hard rock music. Biblical scenes done in gouache against white or pastel backgrounds alternate with easy-to-achieve directives in white panels set against a background that look like green handmade paper. A final “potpourri” section deals with biblical laws and practices for a plethora of eco-friendly practices. A credible, ethical approach to teaching environmental science and responsibility under a Judaic umbrella. (Religion. 5-9)

EVERY YOU, EVERY ME

Levithan, David Photographer: Farmer, Jonathan Knopf (256 pp.) $16.99 | PLB $19.99 e-book $16.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-375-86098-0 PLB 978-0-375-96098-7 e-book 978-0-375-89621-7 High-schooler Evan blames himself for the breakdown of his close friend Ariel. When a mysterious photographer strategically plants pictures of him and his missing best friend Ariel where he will find 1594

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

them, Evan starts to unravel with paranoia, guilt and grief. He enlists Jack, his close friend and Ariel’s former boyfriend, to help find out who’s sending the photographs and why they’re being stalked. Readers will immediately recognize Levithan’s familiar writing style, characterizations and themes: his cadences and wordplay, the complex connections between characters, the stream-of-conscious inner dialogues. What they won’t recognize is the messy, stilted, stop-and-go plotting characterized by Evan’s jumbled thoughts—some of which he decides he wants to express, while others are crossed out. While this conceit intensified Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (2009), its far more extensive use here only succeeds in confounding readers. Much of the drama and mystery behind what’s happening to Evan and what he’s going through is extinguished in a cloud of word repetition and jumbled back-and-forths between the present and the past. Farmer’s photos are appropriately haunting and help move things along, but a simplistic and unsatisfying conclusion will have readers wondering why they went through it all in the first place. A sadly disjointed attempt at a thriller by a celebrated romantic. (Thriller. 14 & up)

CIRCLE OF SECRETS

Little, Kimberley Griffiths Scholastic (336 pp.) $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-545-16561-7

A steamy Louisiana bayou is the atmospheric backdrop to a tale about a daughter’s estrangement from her mom, the mother’s long-held guilty secret and a restless ghost’s long-sought closure. When her dad takes a job overseas, 11-year-old Shelby must stay with the mother who walked out on both of them a year earlier. Deeply resentful and wary of her healer mom’s isolated cabin deep in the swamp, Shelby gets drawn into mysterious doings involving strange notes hidden in glass bottles that hang from a tree near home. Tormented at school, Shelby eventually finds a friend in Gwen, a girl who lives alone in the bayou. Ever more mysterious incidents ensue as Shelby slowly unravels the truth about Gwen, her mother’s involvement with the cryptic messages and Mom’s past. The author serves up the setting well, evoking the sights, sounds and smells of the humid, tangled bayou. She fares less well with the regionalisms, which are delivered inconsistently and sometimes jar. The gently spooky ghost angle is handled nicely with some religious overtones. A very dramatic climax leads to a sweet, satisfying ending with some surprising twists and with reconciliation occurring for several characters. For readers who like their ghost stories more friendly than terrifying. (Suspense. 9 -12)

kirkusreviews.com

|


LITTLE PENGUIN The Emperor of Antarctica

London, Jonathan Illustrator: Olson, Julie Marshall Cavendish (32 pp.) $17.99 | e-book $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5954-5 e-book 978-0-7614-6062-6 Children are introduced to emperor penguins, the largest of the penguin species, as readers follow a single emperor chick from his hatching to his first swim in the sea at five months of age. As Little Emperor grows, readers learn how these birds survive the harsh cold of the Antarctic, how they communicate, how and what the chicks are fed and about the predator that Little Emperor faces when he finally reaches the sea. Children will also pick up a few facts about Antarctica. Keeping the focus on one penguin chick brings readers into his story and lends relevance to the facts that are presented in the text. But in so doing, readers miss out on one of the most fascinating aspects of emperor penguin parenthood—the amazing stamina and clever survival tactics of the males as they incubate the eggs through the freezing Antarctic winter. Blues, whites and purples dominate Olson’s artwork until the sun returns to the Antarctic, then rosy oranges and yellows take over. Rendered in pencils, watercolors and digital media, the penguins are softly realistic, and Olson keeps the focus on the family trio, blurring the rest of the penguins into the background. Not the most factual or fascinating book on the penguin shelf, still this offers a chick’s point of view, which may appeal to younger audiences. (Picture book. 4-8)

ELVIS ROMERO AND FIESTA DE SANTA FE FEATURING ZOZOBRA’S GREAT ESCAPE

Lovato, Andrew Leo Museum of New Mexico (76 pp.) $22.50 | September 22, 2011 978-0-89013-532-7

A history of Santa Fe’s distinctive annual festival is packaged with old photos, bundled with an uninspired short story and unlikely to find either an adult or a child audience. After opening with a mini-memoir addressed to adults, Lovato harks back to memories of Santa Fe in the early 1960s for a tale of two 10-year-olds who conceive a sudden sympathy for the giant puppet constructed to be ritually burnt each year during Fiesta. “Despite our heavy yoke of apprehension, we felt compelled to fight this impending crime,” young Elvis woodenly recollects. Then, having hauled “Zozobra” into hiding, the narrator guiltily confesses to a priest (“the pit in my stomach began to dissipate”), who agrees to spill the beans without naming the culprits. Following this anticlimactic episode, the author goes on to trace the Fiesta’s history from its 18th-century origins through the invention of Zozobra and the Historical/Hysterical Parade by |

kirkusreviews.com

the town’s Anglo artist’s colony in the 1920s to its modern blend of civic and religious, as well as multicultural, elements. The photos, all taken between 1911 and 1964, cover only a relatively small span of the Fiesta’s history, and, being all black and white, fail to capture the colors of the floats and costumes. Klunky and unfocused—steer young readers to Jennifer Owings Dewey’s more dramatic Zozobra! The Story of Old Man Gloom, with photographs by Jeanie Puleston Fleming (2004). (Fact/fiction blend. 10-12, adult)

OLIVE AND SNOWFLAKE

Lyon, Tammie Illustrator: Lyon, Tammie Marshall Cavendish (32 pp.) $16.99 | e-book $16.99 October 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5955-2 e-book 978-0-7614-6069-5

Is there obedience school for children? Olive and her dog Snowflake spend their time together in various household adventures, but they always seem to get into trouble. Colorful, cartoonlike illustrations show a charming, active girl and her perky canine at play, accidentally making mess after mess. When Mom’s favorite lamp breaks, it’s the last straw, and Olive’s parents decide it’s time to send Snowflake to obedience school. If it doesn’t work, Snowflake may even have to go to some other family! Round-faced and wide-eyed, Olive worries that if she herself doesn’t shape up, she may be sent away too. It all comes to a head when obedience school begins, and Olive realizes that while Snowflake will be able to master the tips and tricks, she may not. Once Mom learns of the misconception, it’s cleared up (“We would never send you away,” she tells her daughter). Olive and Snowflake practice, practice, practice, until Snowflake learns to behave and help Olive clean up—and gets to stay. While this selection may have limited appeal, it does a good job of explaining obedience school while highlighting the love of a girl and her dog. The satisfying ending will have readers cheering for Olive and Snowflake and admiring their perseverance. A nice choice to help dogs—and children—learn how to behave. (Picture book. 3-6)

HOW TO FEEL GOOD 20 Things Teens Can Do

Mangan, Tricia American Psychological Association/ Magination (128 pp.) paper $12.95 | September 15, 2011 paper 978-1-4338-1040-4 Unhappy teens in need of a lecture on thinking positively and being more in touch with one’s emotions need look no further. |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1595


k i r ku s q & a w i t h jon s kov r on MISFIT

Jon Skovron Amulet (384 pp.) $16.95 Aug. 1, 2011 978-1419700217

If turning 16 isn’t sufficiently awkward, try doing it as a half-demon, motherless vagabond with an aloof father too protective to tell you that a hellish being is set on annihilating you. Really, Misfit is understating the case just a bit. Catholic schoolgirl Jael picks up some significant allies in her plunge into self-knowledge, most notably thoughtful skater Rob and her newly discovered Uncle Dagon, an astonishingly cuddly demon. Here, Jon Skovron touches on religion, celebrity and the staying power of Sigourney Weaver. Q: In reference to beliefs, Rob says, “You believe things to justify what you do.” Who abuses this mentality? A: There will always be people whose espoused beliefs are little more than justifications for self-serving actions. Like say, for example, a president using people’s fear of terrorism and religious extremism to justify the invasion of a Third World country. The fact is that throughout its long history, religion has always been used as a means of controlling “the masses.” But we can look at this concept another way, too. When Rob says, “You believe things to justify what you do,” he’s not really offering it up as a mentality or a particular mode of thinking that you may or may not choose to subscribe to. Instead, he suggests that it’s an intrinsic aspect of human nature. Whether we know it or not, it is something that we all do. If you act confident, eventually you believe you are confident, and therefore you become confident. In a very real sense, you can influence the person you believe yourself to be by changing your actions. Q: You’ve included an opening quote: “The gods of the old religion become the demons of the new religion.” What gods today will be tomorrow’s demons?

1596

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

Q: What do you say to a potential male audience who might turn up their nose to a lead female character— albeit an incredibly powerful, fireball-wielding halfdemon character? A: Well, there are a lot of strong supporting male characters like Rob the skater scientist, Paul the exmonk/retired demon hunter and Dagon the um… baker of Hell. Three of the chapters are even told from Paul’s point of view. So I think male readers will find plenty of characters to relate to. But really, I’ve always considered kickass female protagonists to be a staple of books and movies, probably ever since Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley shoved that alien out the airlock. I mean, come on, guys! Cool chicks and monsters! What’s not to love? –By Gordon West

kirkusreviews.com

|

P H OTO © A B RA M S B OO KS

A: What we’re talking about here is demonizing or portraying another person, group or culture as wicked and threatening. It’s used as a way to make your own person, group or culture look more appealing by drawing up the sides in stark good and evil, obviously with your side as “good.” This technique can be used to oppress minorities, like depicting homosexuals as deviants or black men as violent. As for today’s “gods,” which might become demons, one of the biggest battles right now seems to be between religion and science. Religion has a long, sordid history of war, oppression and genocide, so it’s pretty easy to demonize. Then again, lots of terrible things have also been done in the name of science. But they’ve both accomplished many wonderful things as well. The power between the two is pretty balanced. I think it’s going to take something pretty significant to tip the balance one way or the other. Or maybe, just maybe, they could

live in harmony? I know, that’s crazy talk... My personal vote for god ousting is the cult of celebrity. The obsession and near worship of famous people simply because they are famous is escapism of the worst and most destructive kind. It degrades your own self worth and gives too much power to people who either don’t want it or shouldn’t have it. If we put all that energy and fascination into the real people of our everyday lives, everyday life would be so much cooler. Hey, check it out! I just demonized celebrity culture!


Mangan presents in as many chapters a 20-point strategy that ranges from “Have a Positive Attitude” and “Cut Your Problems Into Pieces” to “Practice Being Patient” and “Appreciate the Value of Your Hard Work.” She blends private exercises like visualizing forgiveness with comments on selective attention, “problematic procrastination” and other bad habits, reframing situations to put them in different lights, “changing shoes” to understand others better and subjecting feelings to rational analysis. Though the author has a graduate degree and years of practice in clinical psychology, she offers generalities and generic situations rather than specific cases from her experience, and the book is devoid of references to further resources or even an index. Superficial advice (“If you are unsafe or are around kids that you know are bullies, just walk away”) combines with techniques that are unlikely to interest readers (“Make a song verse out of your list of helpful thoughts”). The author also makes questionable claims about the mind-body connection (“When you smile, your body sends a signal to your brain that you are happy”) and fails to make a case for regarding side forays into food habits and environmental concerns as relevant to her topic. Obvious issues and common-sense advice, unpersuasively presented. (Self-help. 12-15)

VANISHING ACTS

Margolin, Phillip Rome, Ami Margolin Harper/HarperCollins (176 pp.) $16.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-06-188556-3 Cardboard characters and an unbelievable plot make this contemporary mystery feel like a Nancy Drew knockoff minus the nostalgic charm. Presumably veteran suspense author Margolin contributed the fast-moving action while his daughter Ami added the local color of the Portland, Ore., setting. Unfortunately, their efforts just don’t jell into a cohesive tale. Distraught by the unexplained absence of her best friend at the start of seventh grade, soccer fanatic Madison Kincaid tackles two very different disappearances with the help of a new (boy) friend. The second investigation centers on a missing woman whose husband is being represented by Madison’s defense-attorney dad. That only Madison would notice a particular observer in the courtroom (one who just happens to resemble the missing woman, who just happens to be Madison’s second-grade teacher) seems unlikely in the extreme. That Madison would enter the home of an accused murderer is both improbable and frighteningly foolhardy. Superficially drawn characters do little to strengthen the formulaic plot’s appeal. Madison, an excellent athlete and student, yearns for her distant, workaholic father’s attention. His elderly receptionist Peggy is Madison’s comforting confidante. Jake, the new friend, has no personality at all, while Ann, the other “missing” person, described as friendly and easygoing, seems to exist mainly as a foil for Madison and as a problem for her to solve. Disappointingly dull. (Mystery. 9-12) |

kirkusreviews.com

TALIA AND THE RUDE VEGETABLES

Marshall, Linda Elovitz Illustrator: Assirelli, Francesca Kar-Ben (24 pp.) $16.95 | paper $6.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7613-5217-4 paper 978-0-7613-5218-1 A little girl’s misunderstanding, the harvesting of some root vegetables and a recipe for stew merge for an amusing Jewish New Year story. Talia, a city girl, is visiting her grandmother, who tells her to “bring back seven root vegetables” from the garden. Hearing “rude” for “root,” the confused child ponders over this while she proceeds to find her perception of rude veggies in an ornery onion, a garish garlic, a crooked carrot, a terrible turnip, lumpy bumpy potatoes, big ugly parsnips and “rude-abagas…definitely rude.” Pleased with how well she has satisfied Grandma’s request, Talia decides to donate the other perfectly nice vegetables to the Rabbi as a mitzvah for a poor family. The narrative, with its recurring theme of “what Grandma wants,” is matched well to Assirelli’s illustrations. Their terra-cotta and earthy hues combine with deep purple and olive-green tones for kitchen and backyard scenes. Talia’s round face is drawn with thin lines detailing expressions of surprise, pleasure and the exertion of digging and pulling. Marshall incorporates many new words to extend the term “rude” while at the same time allowing youngsters, who will soon realize Talia’s mix-up, to learn the names of the various root vegetables. A charming fall story loosely structured by Judaic concepts. (recipe) (Picture book. 4-6)

DEVIANT

McKinty, Adrian Amulet/Abrams (368 pp.) $16.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-8109-8420-2 The new kid in a near-reform school finds himself caught up in a disturbing animal-abuse case. Accused of theft at his Las Vegas school, Danny Lopez needs a fresh start in a structured environment, and his parents think they’ve found just the place in Colorado: Cobalt Junior High Charter School, with a strict dress code, a draconian policy on communication and tightly outlined class instruction. As Danny adjusts to the silence and the scripts, he also gets caught up in the student sects, each of which claims to run the school. Meanwhile, a serial killer is murdering cats, and Danny is determined to uncover the secret before his cat is sacrificed. Generic protagonist Danny’s lack of personality and distinctive voice is underscored by the stream of pop-culture references that pepper the narrative, seemingly in an attempt to reach out to the teen audience. Many of the plot points (rote |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1597


“A totally absorbing poetic celebration of loss and redemption.” from never forgotten

SCORED

memorization over critical thinking, absentee parents, religious instruction in schools) come across as social critique rather than narrative elements, and none of them feel particularly suited to the middle-school audience. Though the cat killings are slightly gruesome, the serial killer is never truly scary and has flimsiest motivation at best. The publisher has labeled this book for ages 14 and up, perhaps because of the serial killings. The gore isn’t particularly gory, though, and protagonist, writing and setting all seem to skew this book to middle-school audiences. Bloody without terror, this tale barely deviates from formula. (Mystery. 12-13)

McLaughlin, Lauren Random (240 pp.) $17.99 | PLB $20.99 e-book $17.99 | October 25, 2011 978-0-375-86820-7 PLB 978-0-375-96820-4 e-book 978-0-375-89873-0

NEVER FORGOTTEN

McKissack, Patricia C. Illustrator: Dillon, Leo Illustrator: Dillon, Diane Schwartz & Wade/Random (48 pp.) $18.99 | PLB $21.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-375-84384-6 PLB 978-0-375-94453-6 A searing cycle of poems describes a father’s grief after his son is taken from their home in Mali and enslaved in America. McKissack’s tale of a father’s grief, old ways carried to the new world and a circle broken and reforged to span the ocean itself echoes ancient storytelling traditions. An initial poem, “The Griot’s Prelude,” describes “men with the blue of the sky in their eyes” coming deep into the forests to take slaves. A Mende blacksmith in 18th-century, Mali raises his child himself when the infant’s mother dies in childbirth. Dinga enlists the Mother Elements of Earth, Fire, Water and Wind as the elders who help to raise Musafa. Sounds of drums and song for each element (Fire is “Kiki Karum Kiki Karum Kiki Karum,” while Water is “Shum Da Da We Da Shum Da Da We Da,” for instance) emphasize the storyteller’s voice in the narrative, inviting listeners to participate and engage. Full-page and border paintings in acrylic and watercolor use strong black lines, almost like woodcut engravings, in deep browns, earth colors and subtle jewel tones against creamy backgrounds. The boy learns to make beautiful objects of metal but is taken by slave traders, and it is years before Dinga learns from the Wind that his son, now Moses, has become a gifted apprentice blacksmith in Charleston, S.C., soon to be freed by the smithy owner. A totally absorbing poetic celebration of loss and redemption. (author’s note) (Picture book/poetry. 7-12)

1598

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

Everyone is a number in a dystopian near-future in which lives are determined by a corporation’s surveillance-driven scores. Imani LeMonde has grown up under the watchful cameras of Score Corp, a software company promising access to advancement opportunities for those with high-enough scores. When her best friend Cady’s score plummets, Cady becomes a liability. If Imani can keep her score over 90 until she graduates, she gets to go to college—otherwise, she can’t afford a future. The prospect of freedom through college means being under constant corporate surveillance, making it risky for her to see Cady or Diego, an intelligent yet unscored classmate. When Diego wants to partner with Imani for an essay assignment requiring the scored students to write persuasively against the score and the unscored to argue for it, Imani’s score-quest leads her into playing both sides while trying to decide which one is hers. McLaughlin (Recycler, 2009, etc.) keeps the heavy, philosophical ideas married to the characters, thus preventing the story from becoming a preachy rant. Diego’s flaws and privilege along with the tension of Imani’s final score looming overhead complicate what would otherwise be an open agenda. The bold, aggressive narrative condemns both No Child Left Behind–style testing and current financial policies, cautioning about what could happen to social mobility in the face of stark inequity. (Science fiction. 13 & up)

THE SHABBAT PRINCESS

Meltzer, Amy Illustrator: Avilés, Martha Kar-Ben (32 pp.) $17.95 | paper $7.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7613-5142-9 paper 978-0-7613-5106-1 The Shabbat Queen, a Talmudic metaphor for the importance of a welcoming, regal atmosphere for family and guests each week, inspires a little girl and her parents to set their table with a few special items. Rosie wonders whether, since a Shabbat Queen exists, there can also be a Shabbat Princess? Neither her mother nor her father has ever heard of one, but they invite Rosie to be their princess for the evening. Rosie dresses up for the occasion, while her parents add crystal candlesticks and the just-polished silver goblet to the customary best dishes. Rosie’s addition of a golden sequined scarf for a challah cover completes a Shabbat table fit for royalty. Pink- and lavender-shaded scenes of a modern home setting (often flanked by a side border of flowered kirkusreviews.com

|


vines) alternate with Rosie’s imagined majestic view. A panorama of rolling meadows beyond a castle filled with lords, ladies and court jesters surrounds a tall, bejeweled Shabbat Queen wearing a flowing rose-pink gown and golden crown. Following the three blessings and the banquetlike meal, Rosie wonders aloud about the appropriateness of creating such extravagance and is assured by her parents: “When an honored guest visits our house, she deserves extra-special treatment.” Meltzer’s child-oriented tale presents a lovely way to honor the Sabbath with a bit of respectful festivity. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-6)

IS THE END OF THE WORLD NEAR? From Crackpot Predictions to Scientific Scenarios

Miller, Ron Illustrator: Miller, Ron Twenty-First Century/Lerner (120 pp.) PLB $33.26 | e-book $24.95 October 1, 2011 PLB 978-0-7613-7396-4 e-book 978-0-7613-8047-4 Will the world end in a bang or a whimper? Unless preempted by human-induced disaster or one of many scientifically possible catastrophic scenarios, life on Earth will end a billion years from now in a sizzle. Predicting the end of the world is an old story, argues the author, presenting evidence in brief surveys of eschatologies from the world’s major religions and mythologies of ancient civilizations. Miller also notes how end-of-world scenarios have captured humanity’s imagination in their frequent appearances in science-fiction novels and motion pictures. (Disappointingly, the reasons for this ongoing fascination are not explored.) A chapter about imminent predictions for 2012 explains the Mayan prophecy and a theory about a phantom planet called Nibiru crashing into Earth. Another chapter examines pseudoscientific end-of-world theories such as planetary alignment and pole shifts. The primary focus is on scientifically plausible scenarios: self-destruction through nuclear war or continued environmental exploitation; humanity wiped out by a pandemic; an asteroid or comet strike destroying Earth. Attractively designed and handsomely illustrated, this informative text introduces teens to many intriguing angles on a high-interest topic that should inspire many to further explore the subject. (chronology, glossary, bibliography, further reading, index) (Nonfiction. 12-16)

|

kirkusreviews.com

ALI BABA AND THE FORTY THIEVES: RELOADED

Mukherjee, Poulomi Illustrator: Tayal, Amit Campfire (68 pp.) paper $9.99 | October 4, 2011 paper 978-93-80741-13-0

The classic tale is newly dressed up as a graphic novel and transferred to modern Mumbai. Hewing fairly closely to the original’s storyline, Mukherjee casts Ali Baba as a cab driver, the clever slave girl who repeatedly saves his hide as an aspiring young dancer named Marjeena, and the thieves as heavily armed bank robbers in suits and shades. Drawn as caricatures in the crowded-together but legible panels, Ali Baba and his son Omar have appropriately hapless looks, the thieves’ leader, Vladimir, is a picture of chiseled menace and the beauty Marjeena (modeled, to judge from the photo, on the author) projects an air of alert competence. The “reload” is felt in plot as well as depicted setting. The climax feels muddled, thanks to a previously unmet gent who mysteriously pops up to defuse the bombs that Vladimir sets, but Marjeena consents to marry Omar in the end rather than just being handed over. Also, the thieves are only arrested, not boiled in oil, and though Ali Baba’s ne’er-do-well brother Qasim is gunned down early on with much splashing of blood, at least he isn’t, as in the traditional version, chopped into quarters. A properly melodramatic rendition that doesn’t take itself too seriously. (Graphic fiction. 12-14)

ASHFALL

Mullin, Mike Tanglewood Press (472 pp.) $16.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-933718-55-2 “The pre-Friday world of school, cell phones, and refrigerators dissolved into this post-Friday world of ash, darkness, and hunger.” Left home alone for a weekend in Cedar Falls, Iowa, while his family visits relatives in Warren, Ill., 15-year-old Alex Halprin ends up fighting for survival trying to get to them through an America ravaged by the sudden eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone Park. Alex is characterized by the decisions he makes when confronted with moral dilemmas—dilemmas that have no straightforward, correct answers—resulting in a realistically thoughtful protagonist dealing with complex and horrifying situations. Before he’s even left his hometown, Alex encounters looting and other behaviors born from realization of just how finite resources are in emergencies. Traveling to Warren, he’s even more vulnerable, both to the elements and to the mercies of the people he encounters. Among the best people that Alex encounters are a girl |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1599


named Darla and her mother, Mrs. Edmunds, both self-sufficient farmers. But any relief is temporary—threats both environmental and human are ever present. While the pain and suffering Alex witnesses and experiences is visceral, so are the moments of hope and glimpses of human goodness. In this chilling debut, Mullin seamlessly weaves meticulous details about science, geography, agriculture and slaughter into his prose, creating a fully immersive and internally consistent world scarily close to reality. (author’s note) (Speculative fiction. 14 & up)

THE DEAD KID DETECTIVE AGENCY

Munday, Evan ECW Press (300 pp.) paper $9.95 | October 1, 2011 paper 978-1-55022-971-4 A goth teen meets ghosts, uncovers a murder and even gets a little (very little) work done on her horror novel in this mannered but entertaining prose debut. October considers the cemetery next to her new house a nice touch, as her single father is clinically depressed and she’s been dubbed a “Zombie Tramp” by mean girl Ashlie Salmons just moments after entering the “teenaged Thunderdome” of her new Ontario high school. At least she can work on her magnum opus, Two Knives, One Thousand Demons, among the tombstones—except that just reading a spell from the book calls up the friendly but rambunctious ghosts of five local teens killed over the past two centuries. Then her favorite teacher is crushed beneath a car. The police call it an accident, but October’s not so sure…and with help from her motley crew of ectoplasmic allies sets out to discover the truth. Switching frequently for no evident reason between first and third person and occasionally interjecting authorial comments, Munday interweaves a brisk tale of high-school hatreds with an investigation that ultimately leads back to terrorist acts committed 40 years before and culminates in a wild Halloween climax. Munday, a cartoonist, tucks in black-and-white spot portraits and closes with notes on characters and cultural references. Authorial tics aside, an engaging tale with a resilient heroine, a dead but lively supporting cast and enough wit to grease the wheels. (Detective fantasy. 12-15)

SEA OF DREAMS

Nolan, Dennis Illustrator: Nolan, Dennis Neal Porter/Roaring Brook (40 pp.) $16.99 | October 25, 2011 978-1-59643-470-7 A girl leaves her sandcastle at dusk, just as the inevitable tide rushes in, and misses a small, plaintive light that appears in its window. Rushes of tingly surrealism continue throughout this 1600

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

wordless adventure story about the tiny inhabitants of the sandcastle, who escape by boat. Double-page spreads immerse readers in a fantastical world studded with gem-like pleasures: Miniature mermaids frolic with seahorses, the shipwrecked family forage among towering seashells, starfish and seaweed, their washed-up girl feeds a seagull baby, standing on tippy-toes to reach its beak. While much Thumbelinan pleasure comes from watching the minute creatures navigate our suddenly gigantic world, even more riveting interplay occurs among characters of equal proportion. Arms strain from boat to boy as he’s thrown into the waves and his hands stretch to meet them—from way across the opposite page; a mermaid clutches his shoulders as he descends, locking eyes and leaving him in open-mouthed shock. These striking, imaginative scenes, rendered in a pleasingly realistic style, make for a magical read. Children will surely shout, “Cool!” many times reading such a cinematic, arresting picture book, but they will also diligently peruse the richly detailed illustrations that ultimately make this modern fairy-folk tale so engaging. And then there’s its embedded question, one as slippery as a fish and as old as the ocean: Was it all a dream or real? One thing’s certain: It’s magic. (Picture book. 4-10)

THE AVIARY

O’Dell, Kathleen Knopf (352 pp.) $15.99 | PLB $18.99 e-book $15.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-375-85605-1 PLB 978-0-375-95605-8 e-book 978-0-375-98935-3 In the early years of the 20th century, a 40-year-old mystery in a dead magician’s crumbling mansion magically changes Clara Dooley’s life forever. Eleven years old and barely allowed out of the house due to her “weak heart,” Clara and her mother live with ancient Mrs. Glendoveer. Mother nurses the widow and keeps the mansion in mostly working order with the help of cook Ruby. All of them tend the magician’s five surviving birds, of various species, that live in the backyard aviary. When Clara hears the mynah shout “Elliott,” she asks Mrs. Glendoveer who that might be, only to find it’s the name of Mrs. Glendoveer’s baby, who went missing decades before. When Mrs. Glendoveer dies shortly thereafter, Clara discovers that five other children vanished with Elliott; despite the impropriety, Clara begins to investigate with the help of Daphne, her new (and secret) friend from town. O’Dell jumps genres to great effect in this spooky, fantasy/mystery (Agnes Parker… Keeping Cool in Middle School, 2007, etc.). She evokes the period so well that (older) readers might suspect they’re reading a lost collaboration between E. Nesbit and Agatha Christie. O’Dell reveals the mystery and magic incrementally, even as Clara simultaneously discovers her autonomy. Readers seeking instant gratification might not stick it out, but they’ll be cheated out of an action-packed, page-turning finale. kirkusreviews.com

|


“Peet achieves what few writers for young adults have: a bold venture that spans generations against a backdrop of war and global politics and their effect on individual lives…” from life: an exploded diagram

An absorbing mix of talking birds, ghostly messages, kidnapped children, magic spells and tragic family secrets. (Historical fantasy. 9-12)

LIFE: AN EXPLODED DIAGRAM

Peet, Mal Candlewick (416 pp.) $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7636-5227-2

A coming-of-age story framed by some of the most terrifying events of the last 60 years, from World War II to 9/11. Peet achieves what few writers for young adults have: a bold venture that spans generations against a backdrop of war and global politics and their effect on individual lives, while describing minute facets of those lives in intimate, cinematic detail. Clem came unexpectedly into the world, a “wartime mishap,” whose premature birth was brought on by a German air raid over rural England. A smart, working-class boy with a talent for drawing, Clem attends school on scholarship. In defiance of the local prohibition against “getting Above Yerself,” Clem falls in love with Frankie, the daughter of a wealthy man bent on bulldozing his land into a prairie. In delicious and often humorous meanderings through time and place, the author adroitly intertwines the brinkmanship of the Cold War and the Cuban Missile Crisis with the teenagers’ secret romance. His narrative glides easily from Clem’s first-person retrospective to thirdperson storytelling from several points of view, including Kennedy’s and Krushchev’s. Sophisticated teens and adults will appreciate this subtle yet powerful exposition of the far-reaching implications of war. (Fiction. 14 & up)

decision is handed down, Dawnie Rae is selected as one of three African-American children who will integrate the Prettyman Coburn school. True to the series’ format, the fictional diary entries, chronicle the both events of the primary story arc and fill in telling details of the time and place. Today’s readers may well be stunned when Dawnie Rae’s Mama and Daddy bluntly tell her the family doesn’t have enough money to buy a television, and she goes on to muse about the buying power of the 1954 nickel. While many contemporary accounts of the Civil Rights movement focus on the courage, integrity and character of those who pioneered the struggle, Pinkney does a commendable job imagining both the setting and the inner emotions that ordinary children might have wrestled with as they stepped into history. A solid entry in an ever-popular series. (historical note, photographs, biographical notes, time line) (Historical fiction. 8-14)

BUN BUN BUTTON

Polacco, Patricia Illustrator: Polacco, Patricia Putnam (40 pp.) $16.99 | October 27, 2011 978-0-399-25472-7 Paige Elizabeth Darling’s cherished stuffed bunny has a mighty adventure. “We Darlings have always been lucky,” says Gramma, as she and Paige make cookies together and feed the five cats and two dogs. Then they sit in the Old Blue Chair to cuddle and read. While everyone seems to have their own toy, including the pet squirrel, Paige doesn’t, so Gramma makes Bun Bun Button out of calico. Bun Bun goes everywhere with Paige, even to the park, where Gramma gets her the reddest and roundest of balloons. Paige wants Bun Bun to fly, too, but even though she is very careful and ties the balloon string onto her wrist and listens to Gramma’s admonitions, Bun Bun and the balloon go off into the sky—but Darlings have always been lucky. Polacco’s exuberant and expressive pictures convey Paige’s excitement and delight, and the spread in which she cries while Bun Bun flies off is a perfect childhood howl of anguish. The identical cats and the twin dogs (and the goldfish and squirrel) have whimsical and sometimes knowing expressions. Bun Bun’s return, somewhat the worse for wear, brings a softly sentimental end to a classic (if a teensy bit exaggerated) childhood experience. (Picture book. 4-7)

WITH THE MIGHT OF ANGELS The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley, Virginia, 1954 Pinkney, Andrea Davis Scholastic (336 pp.) $12.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-545-29705-9 Series: Dear America

Coretta Scott King Award–winner Pinkney provides an outstanding contribution to the Dear America series with the diary of the (fictional) first African-American student to integrate the segregated schools of Hadley, Va. Pinkney paints a vivid picture of a bright 12-year-old who is athletic, fun-loving and full of dreams. She admires Jackie Robinson and is fiercely protective of her autistic younger brother. Shortly after the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court |

kirkusreviews.com

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1601


“A necessary title for most school and public libraries serving young readers, this will be welcomed for its calm tone and straightforward, comprehensive introduction to the subject.” from billions of years, amazing changes

PRINCESS SUPER KITTY

only in black and white) along with short chapters, sidebars and an attractive, open layout make this an inviting read. Both the glossary and the suggestions for further reading are extensive. A necessary title for most school and public libraries serving young readers, this will be welcomed for its calm tone and straightforward, comprehensive introduction to the subject. (index) (Nonfiction. 9-15)

Portis, Antoinette Illustrator: Portis, Antoinette Harper/HarperCollins (40 pp.) $14.99 | PLB $15.89 | October 1, 2011 978-0-06-182725-9 PLB 978-0-06-182726-6 A lively little girl named Maggie explains a series of transformations as she goes through her day. “There are girls who are regular girls. But not me…Because today I am a kitty!” Sporting cat ears and tail, she explains that “Kitties are cuter than regular people,” and says only “Meow” when spoken to. At nap time, although “[k]itties like to take lots of naps.… not me. Because…I am a Super Kitty.” She leaps from the bed, the chair and the couch in a yellow cape and pink boots and demonstrates super strength (enough to lift a toy fire truck overhead and to open tricky jars). Donning dress, slippers, beads and a crown, Princess Super Kitty (“someone you obey”) entertains her two siblings until bathtime. Beside the tub, decked out in flippers and tropical costume (but tail still attached), Water Lily Hula Porpoise Princess Super Kitty of the Sea makes her grand appearance. This girl is bouncy, delightful and not to be easily typed or contained. Bold lines and solid colors—not overly dominated by pink—surrounded by plenty of empty space keep the focus firmly on the girl and her props. Readers and listeners both bold and retiring will find much to like in this charming depiction of a child with a strong sense of self and confidence in her imaginative makeovers. (Picture book. 2-5)

BILLIONS OF YEARS, AMAZING CHANGES The Story of Evolution Pringle, Laurence Illustrator: Jenkins, Steve Boyds Mills(96 pp.) $17.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-59078-723-6

A clear, well-organized presentation of the evidence from earth’s rocks and fossils, the variation of living things, the process of natural selection and the study of DNA and radiocarbon dating that supports the scientific theory of evolution. Pringle (Global Warming, 2001) again takes on a complicated and controversial subject, explaining it simply and convincingly for upper-elementary and middle-school readers. He connects his audience to his topic by inviting them to imagine their own ancestors, in order to begin to look back over time. With lively writing and interesting examples from all over the world and from the distant past to the present day, he explains what people once believed and what we now know. Along the way he also introduces theories of continental drift and plate tectonics, defines “species” and other important terms in context and explains the use of the word “theory” in science. Color photographs and Jenkins’ signature cut-paper illustrations (both seen 1602

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

GIFT OF PEACE The Jimmy Carter Story Raum, Elizabeth Zonderkidz (128 pp.) paper $6.99 | August 16, 2011 paper 978-0-310-72756-9

This informative biography examines how Jimmy Carter’s Christian beliefs have influenced his actions and decisions throughout his life. The chapters about Carter’s early years are insightful in examining how growing up in the segregated South shaped his sensitivities to discrimination and inequality. Carter’s sense of compassion and fairness was largely instilled by his mother’s examples. Raum chronicles Carter’s careers as naval officer, businessman and politician. Quotes from interviews and Carter’s memoirs show how he relied on faith and prayer to guide decisions he made as president and throughout his life. Although his presidency is often characterized as weak, Raum notes Carter’s significant achievements in championing human rights and Middle East peace, as well as his visionary energy-saving initiatives. His work as a humanitarian with the Carter Center and as advocate for Habitat for Humanity are, surprisingly, given less attention. There are odd superfluities in the text, such as the definition of “possum” in the glossary as an “informal name for opossum.” Suggesting to readers that they “put into practice the teachings of Jesus Christ” to live a compassionate life like Carter’s will probably put off nonChristians, but they are not the audience for this book anyway. An inspiring story about a humble humanitarian who has always tried to stay true to the tenets of his faith. Photographs not seen. (glossary, chronology, bibliography) (Biography. 10-14)

A WEB OF AIR

Reeve, Philip Scholastic (304 pp.) $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-545-22216-7 Series: Fever Crumb, 2 Fever Crumb is back! Two years after the events of Fever Crumb (2010), Fever finds herself far south of London (which continues to ready itself for mobilization), in a volcanic city where a lonely young man seeks the secret of flight. Reeve’s writing, already excellent, shines here as he turns his kirkusreviews.com

|


WHAT ANIMALS REALLY LIKE

attention to the romantic, in both the human and poetic senses. Fever herself is a virtuoso character: prickly, even unlikable, hampered by her eminently rational upbringing and the way it distances her from others, yet compelling and even lovable by readers and characters alike. Her rational approach to the world blinds her; readers will intuit elements of the mystery consuming Fever long before she catches on. It also dooms Fever’s chance at love, because love in inherently irrational. Religion and political machinations both play a role here, and the actions of her Scriven mother and grandfather continue to intrude on Fever’s attempts to make her own way in this ingenious world. A final delight for old fans: Building blocks of the Mortal Engines series appear like video-game Easter eggs (the first Jenny Haniver!). This is clearly the middle of Fever’s tale, and the end hints at more adventures to come. Imaginative, inventive and exciting. (Steampunk. 12 & up)

Robinson, Fiona Illustrator: Robinson, Fiona Abrams (24 pp.) $15.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-8109-8976-4 World-famous conductor Herbert Timberteeth (an aptly named beaver) is about to debut his new song, “What Animals Like Most.” The curtain parts with a horizontal gatefold to reveal all of the performers stretched out on stage. The lions begin the show. They unenthusiastically sing, “We are lions, and we like to prowl.” Reluctant wolves chime in with “We are wolves, and we like to howl.” The pigeons predictably follow suit. “We are pigeons, and we like to coo.” But the cows, with mischievous grins, sing, “We are cows, and we like to … / … dig,” gleefully whipping out spades and shovels to emphasize their point. Dig?! A stern glare from Timberteeth stops the shenanigans, and the song continues. But soon other animals start changing the lyrics too. Do kangaroos really like to hop around? No, they much prefer Ping-Pong. Do worms like to wiggle? No, they like to bowl! Timberteeth throws his baton down in disgust. These darn animals are ruining the show. Or maybe they are just tired of being misunderstood! Robinson’s pen-and-ink illustrations pack plenty of visual wit, too. A shrimp (who likes to ski) has multiple broken legs, and by the end, the monkeys (who like buffets) are snoozing off food comas. Guffaws and surprising twists (plus Timbertooth’s exaggerated tantrums) will have youngsters clamoring for a repeat performance. Brava! (Picture book. 4-8)

ONLY THE MOUNTAINS DO NOT MOVE A Maasai Story of Culture and Conservation

978-1-60060-333-4

Reynolds, Jan Photographer: Reynolds, Jan Lee & Low (40 pp.) $18.95 | September 1, 2011

Six Maasai proverbs complement glimpses into the daily life of a Maasai community in a compact and fascinating portrait of this nomadic people and their changing world. Reynolds describes in photographs and text how, in an area about the size of Oregon, the Maasai herd goats and cows as they have traditionally done and also increasingly adapt to changes in the environment and availability of grazing land and water. Farming and beekeeping are shown as examples of new Maasai ways of subsistence that may help restore health to the land that supports wild animals. The Maasai’s respect and care for wild animals—they do not hunt them for food—and for the environment comes through clearly. The straightforward and economical text explains the construction of the huts, the use and importance of the livestock and the responsibilities, games and social traditions of girls and of boys within the group. The dozens of photographs inside and on the cover are excellent, with only two—peering inside an enjaki, or hut—a bit dim. An author’s note discusses in a more personal voice the importance of Maasai storytelling and explains the effect that wildlife preserves—where not even leopards are truly wild—have on the natural order that the Maasai seek to restore. A revealing look at a vibrant and distinct culture. (author’s note, glossary, source notes) (Nonfiction. 7-11)

|

kirkusreviews.com

TASHI AND THE TIBETAN FLOWER CURE

Rose, Naomi C. Illustrator: Rose, Naomi C. Lee & Low (40 pp.) $18.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-60060-425-6 A heartwarming picture book presents age-old Tibetan medical traditions with a modern, positive, community-based twist. Tashi, a young Tibetan-American, is greatly concerned for her grandfather, Popola, whose chronic cough weakens him every day. Having grown up listening to Popola’s stories, Tashi has learned about the healing powers of flowers in traditional Tibetan medicine and hatches a creative plan to help Popola reconnect with these ancient cures. Unfortunately, she quickly learns that not being in Tibet makes this a challenge. Determined to help her grandfather, Tashi creatively enlists the management of a local flower nursery to let her and her family visit. Although Popola is at first skeptical that this improvised flower cure will work outside of Tibet, he is |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1603


pleasantly surprised when their community bands together to facilitate his healing. Painterly acrylic-on-canvas illustrations incorporate traditional Tibetan objects such as prayer flags and thangkas, sacred wall hangings, into a modern-day setting, providing a colorful window into both cultures. Additional Tibetan elements, such as Tibetan words and phrases, are sprinkled throughout and are further explained in a brief note on Tibetan-Americans at the end of the text. An uplifting and informative peek into traditional Tibetan medicine through the lens of a modern TibetanAmerican family. (Picture book. 6-9)

EYE-POPPING 3-D BUGS Phantogram Bugs You Can Practically Touch!

Rothstein, Barry Rothstein, Betsy Photographer: Rothstein, Barry Photographer: Rothstein, Betsy Chronicle (64 pp.) $19.99 | September 21, 2011 978-0-8118-7772-5

Photography just doesn’t get more “up close and personal” than the buggy images in this oversized album. Matched to hyperbolic commentary (“Not only that, [praying mantises] eat their prey alive. Gross!”), the pictures look like jumbles to the naked eye, but don one of the two accompanying pairs of cardboard glasses, and 21 kinds of insects, arachnids, scorpions and related creepy crawlies—most much, much larger than life size—will swim into unexpectedly close focus seemingly handspans above the page. These “phantograms” not only do standard 3D photos one better in appearing to be much higher and deeper, but they feature both multiple apparent levels (rather than the usual two) and unusually sharp fine detail to boot. Along with memorable visuals, the information about each type of critter’s physical features, geographic distribution, life cycles and diets can be found elsewhere, but they are seldom imparted with such relish: “Poop and vomit eaters—aren’t you glad you’re not a cricket?” A detailed description of the authors’ photographic methods and a closing “More Fun with 3-D” spread of paired insect photos, which can be viewed in stereo through two rolled up pieces of paper, provide splendid lagniappes for this face-plant into the realm of the many-legged. A crowd-pleasing follow up to Eye-Popping 3-D Pets (2009) if ever there was one, for young biologists and thrill-seeking browsers alike. (Informational novelty item. 7-10)

1604

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

THE JEWEL OF THE KALDERASH

Rutkoski, Marie Farrar, Straus and Giroux (336 pp. $16.99 | October 25, 2011 978-0-374-33678-3 Series: The Kronos Chronicles, 3 A slambang finale to a refreshingly different fantasy trilogy. Petra Kronos is determined to free her father from his transformation into one of Prince Rodolfo’s ghastly Gray Men. But as she searches for a magical cure, first in the hidden Roma homeland and then back in her native Bohemia, she is caught up in the greater European intrigues of kingdoms, spies and rebellions. Despite the high stakes and epic scope, peppered with real Renaissance personages and events, the focus is firmly upon Petra and her friends and the choices each is forced to make. The narrative jumps between viewpoint characters, sometimes to jarring effect, but most often stays with Petra (who learns to temper her hotheaded stubbornness to meet overwhelming challenges) and the Roma trickster Neel (who is forced to grow up beneath the weight of unexpected responsibility). Breakneck pacing is paired with practical, charmingly unsentimental prose, which renders the rare flashes of dry wit and the understated romantic subplot all the more effective. Short, action-packed chapters lead to a climax of heroic courage, violent horror and tragic sacrifice, and an epilogue perfectly admixes restrained melancholy and tender hope. Thrilling, heartrending and unexpectedly sweet; Petra’s adventures could not have had a more satisfying conclusion. (Fantasy. 11-15)

THE BIPPOLO SEED

Dr. Seuss Illustrator: Dr. Seuss Random (72 pp.) $15.00 | PLB $18.00 | September 27, 2011 978-0-375-86435-3 PLB 978-0-375-96435-0 Seven rhymed tales, dug from hard to find places! Look for millions of Seuss fans with bright shiny faces! As Seuss scholar Charles D. Cohen notes in his buoyant introduction, the stories—all published in magazines in the early 1950s, but never elsewhere except, for some, in audio editions—catch Ted Geisel at the time he gave over writing in prose, inspired by new insight into the capacity of children to absorb and enjoy words and word sounds. His command of language and cadence is sure, while the pedantry that sometimes weighed down his later work is also visible but only lightly applied: Extreme greed leads to the loss of a wish-granting seed in the title story, for instance, and an overfed “Gustav, the Goldfish” outgrows every container. (The latter story is an early version of an unrhymed tale published by Seuss’ first wife, Helen Palmer, as A Fish Out Of kirkusreviews.com

|


“Short and atmospheric, this first in a projected trilogy follows a boy who can see ghosts and the cruel, hungry creature that hunts him.” from the shadowing

THE SHADOWING: HUNTED

Water.) In other premises that saw service elsewhere, “The Great Henry McBride” ambitiously daydreams of future careers, and a “Strange Shirt Spot” keeps moving from place to place despite a frantic lad’s efforts to remove it. The buffed-up illustrations look brand new, and despite occasional signs of age—“Oranges! Apples! And all kinds of fruits! / And nine billion Hopalong Cassidy suits!”—the writing is as fresh, silly and exhilarating as it must have been when first seen. The good Doctor may be dead these 20 years, but he’s still good for splendid surprises. (Picture book. 6-9)

Slater, Adam Egmont USA (192 pp.) $16.99 | e-book $16.99 September 13, 2011 978-1-60684-261-4 e-book 978-1-60684-282-9 Series: The Shadowing, 1

Short and atmospheric, this first in a projected trilogy follows a boy who can see ghosts and the cruel, hungry creature

EMPIRE OF RUINS

that hunts him. Callum lives in a cottage with his no-nonsense Gran in Nether Marlock, a mostly abandoned village separated from the small English town of Marlock by a deep, dark Wood. He has always been able to see ghosts, but as the story opens, Callum senses a more sinister presence. As he begins having gruesome premonitions and psychic nightmares, Callum attracts the interest of “that ridiculous New Age girl, Melissa Roper,” a schoolmate with henna tattoos and protective crucifix necklaces, and the two team up to fight both mundane bullies and supernatural evil. Meanwhile, the Hunter seeks its prey, and short chapters from its point of view express both its hunger and the chilling delight it takes in hunting its victims. Though tension pervades, the plot sometimes feels bare-bones, and a few key shifts in the action happen too quickly to be entirely believed. Reluctant readers, however, will be grateful for the low page count, and horror lovers will relish the bloody imagery and the genuine scariness. (Horror. 12 & up)

Slade, Arthur Wendy Lamb/Random (304pp.) $15.99 | PLB $18.99 e-book $15.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-385-73786-9 PLB 978-0-385-90696-8 e-book 978-0-375-98359-7 Series: The Hunchback Assignments, 3 Brittania’s secret weapon, shapechanging orphan Modo, returns for a third steampunky, jingoistic outing. Somewhere in the Australian rain forest, the last remnant of an Egyptian civilization hides the God Face, a fabled treasure that drives men mad. Modo and fellow teen agent Octavia are on the case again, this time accompanied by their supervisor, Mr. Socrates, and his Indian servant/friend, Tharpa. As in the previous volumes, dialogue feels forced, especially the “reparting” (as Seven Dials–raised urchin Octavia calls the witty banter), and far too much internal monologue is focused on Modo’s face, even when he is not “speaking.” Fast-paced action sequences include airships, potentially dangerous natives and, of course, the Clockwork Guild and the wicked, metal-handed Miss Hakkandottir. These mostly balance the flaws, and the world continues to be delightfully inventive, although a cursed Egyptian tomb falls flatter than orphan-powered machines beneath London (The Hunchback Assignments, 2009) or an undersea Utopia (The Dark Deeps, 2010). An undercurrent of pro-British, racist behavior from Mr. Socrates may leave some readers uncomfortable, but Modo seems poised to challenge these attitudes, and he defies some of them here. Perhaps most important to fans, Modo finds that his appearance and amazing shape-changing skills may be linked to the tomb, and he may not be as singular as he feared. Another fun outing, sure to please series fans. (Steampunk. 10-14)

|

kirkusreviews.com

MAGPIE’S TREASURE

Slater, Kate Illustrator: Slater, Kate Andersen/Trafalgar (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 1, 2011 978-1-84939-008-8

When a burglar bird goes after the object of his dreams, he learns a valuable lesson. Magnus Magpie lives on a faraway hill in a lonely tree. By day, he slurps worms and hunts pheasants, and by night he goes out thieving. Magnus has stolen an emerald egg cup, a pinnacle from the Taj Mahal and a shimmering slipper—right off a ballerina’s foot. What Magnus wants most of all is the moon, seeing it as the ultimate treasure. One night, he flies higher than he’s ever flown before and, exhausted, reaches the moon. But it’s not shiny at all; it’s dusty and gray and covered with rocks. Magnus begins to cry. Far off in the distance, he spots something shiny and dazzling: It’s home! He flies back as fast as he can and makes a beeline for his tree, where he finds a glossy female magpie enjoying a breakfast of beetles. (Readers know she’s a female because she has long eyelashes.) All the things Magnus has stolen seem to have lost their sparkle, and he returns them. This leaves more room for his new tree-mate and their hungry magpie baby. Bright colors explode in |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1605


“A fast-paced, unsettling portrayal of abuse and brotherly loyalty.” from stick

Slater’s illustrations, made in mixed-media collage, which have a slightly three-dimensional effect. The message is presented with a deft touch in this colorful and appealing tale. (Picture book. 4-6)

STICK

Smith, Andrew Feiwel & Friends (304 pp.) $17.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-312-61341-9 A fast-paced, unsettling portrayal of abuse and brotherly loyalty. Born with one ear, 14-year-old Stick, née Stark, has been bullied for as long as he can remember in his Oregon hometown. His tough older brother, Bosten, usually looks out for him. At home, their abusive parents do little else besides smoke, drink and beat the living daylights out of their sons. When Bosten is discovered in flagrante delicto with his best friend, he’s severely beaten and imprisoned by their father. The next morning, Stick discovers Bosten has fled the scene. Stick then embarks on a perilous journey to find him. Intense, brutal and heartrending, Smith’s latest starts off choppy but soon finds its stride. He visually breaks up his dialogue to represent Stick’s hearing disability, which may seem twee at first, but the cumulative effect makes the device work. The abuse is relentless, and it doesn’t let up even after the brothers finally escape their parents. A temporary relief—for both the characters and readers—is found at an aunt’s house in California, where friendship, surfing and sand wash their anxieties away. Neither brother understands just how awful their life is until they experience this respite, and that makes the abuse at home all the worse. Smith’s well-crafted dialogue and characterizations help move the plot along quickly towards an unnecessarily crunched ending. An altogether compelling, if disturbing work. (Fiction. 14 & up)

STORM RUNNERS: THE SURGE

Smith, Roland Scholastic (144 pp.) $16.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-545-08179-5 Series: Storm Runners, 2

Family members separated in a Florida hurricane struggle to get back together, but the waters are rising fast and big cats are on the loose in this sequel to Storm Runners (2011). Taking up the action exactly where the previous episode left off, stranded teenagers Chase and Nicole leave the (supposed) safety of the circus barn to fetch gas for the sputtering generator— only to run into an escaped lion and, later, a very aggressive leopard. Meanwhile, Chase’s father and a TV news crew face flooding territory and multiple other serious dangers as they make their way toward the young folks’ refuge. Though the characters show 1606

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

a remarkable ability to carry on conversations in normal tones of voice amid howling winds and flying debris, the action never lags. As the two parties draw toward an eventual reunion Smith’s habit of switching his very short chapters back and forth on cliffhangers becomes more a suspense builder than the distraction it was in the opener. Nearly devoid of references to previous events and closing on game-changing news that will be sending the central cast on an emergency mission to Mexico in the next episode, this slice of natural disaster isn’t exactly freestanding, but it definitely offers nary a dull moment. A high-velocity page-turner, for all that it’s only a segment of a larger arc. (Adventure. 11-13)

HEY, 13!

Soto, Gary Holiday House (198 pp.) $16.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-8234-2395-8 Soto’s latest short-story collection offers readers glimpses into the daily lives of young teens. An inexperienced middle-school honor student’s eye-opening visit to a liberal-arts college starts the collection, and a far less naïve young girl has an equally revealing visit to a friend’s house in the 13th and final tale. In between, subjects range from the superficial to the profound, mimicking the life of the average 13-year-old. In “Twin Stars,” best friends Teri and Luz dream of pop stardom, while Saul Garcia faces a crisis of conscience when he abandons his faithful dog in “A Simple Plan.” Cynthia Rodriguez struggles with the issues of poverty and charity after serving a classmate at a local soup kitchen in “Finding Religion.” Also realistically, not all of the tales feature epiphanies. Sometimes the bullies do win, and occasionally self-absorbed teenaged girls stay that way. While the collection offers a mixture of male (four) and female (nine) protagonists who are often explicitly Latino, the cover of the book features pictures of primarily young Latinas and resembles the type of teen fan magazine marketed exclusively at girls. This stylistic decision is unfortunate, as there are some gems for both genders in the collection. If young males can get past the cover, this collection is good for all reluctant readers. (Short stories. 10-13)

JUST YOUR AVERAGE PRINCESS

Springer, Kristina Farrar, Straus and Giroux (208 pp.) $15.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-374-36150-1 When an unexpected visitor threatens to take away everything Jamie has ever wanted, she has to decide how far she is willing to go to make sure that what belongs to her stays hers. kirkusreviews.com

|


From the hand-dipped caramel apples to the giant tower of pumpkins, Jamie loves everything about her family’s pumpkin patch. But her two favorite things about the Patch are the thought of becoming the next Pumpkin Princess and Danny, her father’s hard-working and crush-worthy farmhand. Everything changes when Milan, Jamie’s Hollywood starlet cousin, comes to live with the family. Soon Jamie’s mother is cooking vegetarian dinners, her father is considering selling pumpkin lattes at the Patch and Danny seems to be star-struck. Milan’s announcement that she is going to run for Pumpkin Princess is the last straw. Unusual details, such as bizarre caramel-apple concoctions and the teenagers’ habit of chucking corn at people while they are cruising, are bright lights in an otherwise dim narrative. Stock characters, a predictable plot and unimaginative dialogue combine to create a flat story that is both overfamiliar and completely forgettable. Readers looking for a serving of small-town life with a side of royal quirkiness would do well to look elsewhere. (Fiction. 12-15)

THE SCORPIO RACES

Stiefvater, Maggie Scholastic (416 pp.) $17.99 | October 18, 2011 978-0-545-22490-1

The bestselling author of Shiver (2009) and Linger (2010) turns the legend of the water horse into a taut, chilling, romantic adventure. Each October on the island of Thisby, the capaill uisce, or water horses, emerge from the sea. Predatory meat-eaters, they endanger the islanders—but they are also fast, far faster than land horses, and if captured and very carefully handled, with iron and magic, they can be trained. Every first of November, the water horses are raced on the beach of Thisby; winning the Scorpio Races brings fame and fortune, but losing often brings death. Nineteen-year-old Sean Kendrick runs for the right to buy the water-horse stallion Corr; 16-year-old Katherine, called Puck, pits her land mare against the water horses in an attempt to save her home. Gradually, the two of them, both orphaned by capaill uisce and fighting for the most important object in their lives, become confederates. First-person narration alternates seamlessly between Sean and Puck. The large cast of supporting characters springs to life, particularly Puck’s brothers, Finn and Gabe, and Thisby feels like a place you can see and smell. The water horses are breathtakingly well-imagined, glorious and untamably violent. The final race, with Sean and Puck each protecting each other but both determined to win, comes to a pitch-perfect conclusion. Masterful. Like nothing else out there now. (Fantasy. 13-18)

|

kirkusreviews.com

BALLOONS OVER BROADWAY The True Story of the Puppeteer of Macy’s Parade

Sweet, Melissa Illustrator: Sweet, Melissa Houghton Mifflin (40 pp.) $16.99 | October 31, 2011 978-0-547-19945-0 This bright, brimming picture biography commemorates Tony Sarg, a brilliant, self-taught artist whose innovative helium balloons delighted legions of Macy’s parade watchers from 1928 on. Sweet sketches Sarg’s career as a puppeteer and marionettemaker. Moving from London to New York City, where his marionettes performed on Broadway, Sarg engineered mechanical storybook characters for Macy’s “Wondertown” holiday windows. In 1924, he created floats and costumes for the first Macy’s parade, which celebrated both immigrant and American holiday traditions. When the annual parade’s lions and tigers (borrowed from the Central Park Zoo) frightened children, Macy’s commissioned Sarg to replace them. Ever innovative, Sarg eventually utilized rubberized silk and helium to create larger, lighter balloons that could be controlled from below. Sweet’s charming mixed-media layouts form a playful bridge between her creative process and Sarg’s. She fashioned whimsical toys from painted blocks, buttons and fabric, combining them in photo-collages with old books, cut paper, imagined sketches for Sarg’s projects, watercolor images of parade scenes and much more. Endpapers inform and delight, too, with excerpts from a 1929 book about Sarg’s marionettes and a front-page parade invitation in the 1933 New York Times. Backmatter is also a collage of treats, with an author’s note appending further biographical details and comments about the art. This clever marriage of information and illustration soars high. (bibliography of adult sources, quote sources, acknowledgements, period photo) (Picture book/biography. 4-8)

MY LIFE AS A STUNTBOY

Tashjian, Janet Illustrator: Tashjian, Jake Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt (272 pp.) paper $13.99 | October 11, 2011 paper 978-0-8050-8904-2 In this satisfying stand-alone companion to My Life as a Book (2010), 12-year-old Derek Fallon thinks landing a job as stuntboy for megastar Tanya Billings must be as good as it gets. After all, the infamously reluctant reader had finally found his niche! The plot, however, thickens: “This morning I was on a movie set doing stunts, talking to a movie star. By the end of the day, my best friend’s making fun of me, I have a homework tutor, and my mother’s going to cut open my adopted monkey to retrieve my horse. How do these things happen?” As Derek’s well-meaning |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1607


parents tirelessly engage in what sound like rehearsed “teacher moments,” their son realistically vacillates between self-doubt and boyish bravado—all in a dry, funny first-person voice. Derek’s Yoda-like parkour/stunt coach Tony also has many life lessons for the stuntboy, such as “Parkour is about making your way around obstacles.” The family’s foster capuchin monkey Frank provides a hairy subplot, as does Derek’s nagging worry about losing his best friend Matt, suddenly jealous about Derek’s newfound fame. The generous margins are filled with Derek’s often quite clever stickfigure cartoons illustrating vocabulary words such as “flabbergasted” and “camouflage”—all rendered by the author’s teenage son. Another fun, emotionally resonant read for the Wimpy Kid set and beyond. (Fiction. 9-14)

COSMIC STORM

Testa, Dom Tor (272 pp.) $16.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7653-2111-4 Series: Galahad, 5 This installment of the series that started with The Comet’s Curse (2009) continues the adventures of teens aboard the spaceship Galahad, selected by a dying population to carry Earth’s heritage to a new planet. A year into their voyage, they’ve already survived their share of trials and tribulations, including the recent death of one of their own. But it is the departure of their leader Triana that rocks their enclosed world this time. She has disappeared, leaving a void in the leadership council that must be filled. Gap is the natural choice, but his long-standing antagonist, Merit Simms, has other plans. He nominates Hannah, Gap’s ex-flame, to run against him, setting up a trying time for everyone concerned. As if this weren’t enough, the ship begins to pass through a series of cosmic storms that threaten Galahad’s safety shields. Even the ship’s know-it-all computer, Roc, can’t answer this puzzle. The pace of this novel is slower than previous entries, dealing almost exclusively with the key characters and their feelings. It isn’t until the very end that it heats up again, with a cliffhanger that leaves patient readers wanting more. Unfortunately, some readers won’t stay with it that long. Unlikely to win new fans to the series, this is for committed readers only. (Science fiction. 12 & up)

THE GUARDIAN TEAM On the Job with Rena and Roo

Urbigkit, Cat Photographer: Urbigkit, Cat Boyds Mills (32 pp.) $16.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-59078-770-0

Roo and Rena (a wild donkey and canine runt) learn to protect their herd of motherless lambs through bonding and socialization. Each relates to their young charges in her own way; Roo frolics with the group, while Rena first grooms the babes she protects. Initially wary of each other, the pair develops a united front when a ram intrudes on their territory. Maturation affects not only the growing sheep; it also alters the guardians’ work assignments. Overall, the matter-of-fact tone describes authentic behavior, though, occasionally, the voice gushes discordantly (“the orphans were growing into beautiful adults”). Clear photographs emphasize interactions up close: In a moment of spontaneous affection, Rena gently nestles her paw against the burro’s face. Though the layout is nothing exceptional, crisp shots capture each slight nuance in nonverbal communication. The use of perspective highlights shifts in time; initially, Rena resembles those she supervises (slim in stature with her fluffy, white coat) until the following spring, when she towers over the flock’s newest additions. This snapshot of animal dynamics presents a rugged picture of one surprising friendship. (author’s note, bibliography) (Informational picture book. 4-8)

BECAUSE YOU ARE MY FRIEND

van Genechten, Guido Illustrator: van Genechten, Guido Clavis (30 pp.) $17.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-60537-095-8 A bear’s best friend is his Mommy, until he’s old enough to find his own. When Snowy the polar bear is a cub, he and his Mommy do everything together, playing and fishing and snuggling late at night in their cave. But one day, when he is old enough, Mommy tells Snowy that it’s time to find a new friend. He tries a giant sea gull, a seal swimming under the ice and a long line of tottering penguins, none of whom prove to be a good match. The penguins all want to be Snowy’s friend and begin a loud squabbling that drives Snowy away. The venerable walrus is almost just right—he lets Snowy slide down his back—but declares himself too old to be any fun for a young bear. Then, unexpectedly, when he’s just resting against a snowdrift, Snowy is approached shyly by another young polar bear named Spotty. At the exact same moment, they both ask, “Would you like to be my friend?” And this, of course, is the perfect match. Van Genechten’s characters look like stuffed animals, smiling and gentle. He uses backgrounds of baby blue and pink, dotted with flakes of snow. And Snowy is flocked, like wallpaper, for a little extra reader appeal. It’s certainly accessible for very young children, but it carries an odd message: Should we be friends only with those exactly like us? (Picture book. 3-5)

An unusual duo finds a sense of home and purpose on Urbigkit’s Western ranch. 1608

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

kirkusreviews.com

|


“The second installment of The Nightshade Chronicles doesn’t disappoint.” from the white assassin

WHAT YOU WISH FOR A Book for Darfur

reports of successful nonviolent protests and a passionate plea to cut back, re-use and become involved in collective action. Though too general to serve as a nuts-and-bolts guide for young activists— and hard to read, thanks to the overcrowded page design—this adds another voice to the chorus warning that global disaster is on the way and sitting it out isn’t the smart option. A litany of valid concerns, though too broad and generalized to be a mind changer. (glossary, resources, index) (Nonfiction. 10-12)

various Putnam (288 pp.) $17.99 | September 15, 2011 978-0-399-25454-3

This charitable benefit anthology gathers all-stars for both hits and misses on the theme of wishing. Twelve stories are accompanied by five poems and one warmly vivid graphic short. Francisco X. Stork introduces Pablito, Breaker-Breaker and Sherry B in a stellar tale of teens supporting one another in a group home. Sofia Quintero’s “The Great Wall,” about a Jamaican-American girl with a thing for the Chinese-food delivery guy, is entertaining enough to overcome its brick-to-the-head lack of subtlety. Meg Cabot’s nerdy hero, seeking a friend, is heartbreakingly funny. The stories cover First World problems, far from the Sudanese refugees described in the saccharine foreword by Mia Farrow, but that distance only helps the collection. John Green’s “Reasons” directly addresses some of the moral issues underlying the desire to rescue people from other countries in a thoughtprovoking piece about a boy in love with a sponsored Kashmiri child. Ann M. Martin’s epistolary tale shows two girls with different sets of financial and social problems finding support in each other’s friendship. As for the poetry, with offerings from Naomi Shihab Nye, Marilyn Nelson, Gary Soto and Nikki Giovanni, even these tiny verses are lovely. With so many top-notch writers on tap, it’s surprising this collection is only solid rather than exquisite; still, those readers willing to brave anthologies will be rewarded. (Anthology. 11-13)

THE WHITE ASSASSIN

Wagner, Hilary Holiday House (256 pp.) $17.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-8234-2333-0 Series: The Nightshade Chronicles, 2 The second installment of The Nightshade Chronicles doesn’t disappoint. Nightshade City is populated by intelligent and long-lived rats who escaped from a lab that was conducting experiments on them and then managed to defeat Billycan, an albino rat turned evil and über-violent by a series of injections administered in that same lab. As this volume opens, Juniper and the other citizens of Nightshade discover that Billycan, otherwise known as the White Assassin, is building an army of swamp rats to retake Nightshade City. They also discover something much harder to believe: There is a traitor in their ranks. Someone is in cahoots with Billycan. Who could it possibly be? Juniper and his friends manage to capture Billycan, take him back to Nightshade City and administer a truth serum in hopes of learning the identity of the traitor. But something strange happens when the truth serum is administered. Billycan seems like a different rat. Has he somehow changed, or is it all an act? Many surprises are in store in this volume, surprises that will cause the rats—and readers, too—to reevaluate their perceptions of family, loyalty, justice and culpability. Wagner’s worldbuilding carries readers through these heavy themes with ease. The ending satisfies, but there are some definite loose ends. Look forward to more adventures in Nightshade City. (Animal fantasy. 9-12)

NOWHERE ELSE ON EARTH Standing Tall for the Great Bear Rainforest

Vernon, Caitlyn Orca (136 pp.) paper $22.95 | October 1, 2011 paper 978-1-55469-303-0

An earnest, overly ambitious call to action laid over an omnium-gatherum of environmental issues affecting the British Columbian rain forest in particular and all of us in general. Vernon shoehorns her narrative in among inspirational slogans, testimonials from rain-forest residents and environmental workers, case studies in local activism and small color photos of wildlife (particularly bears) and huge trees. She points in turn to depleted salmon runs, the forced relocation of native groups, clearcut logging, the hazards of sending huge oil tankers down nearby shipping lanes and the relentless overhunting of abalone, whales and sea otters. Looking further afield, she also calls attention to global warming, the toxic effects of mining Alberta’s oil sands and the danger of our “addiction” to oil, before closing with |

kirkusreviews.com

LITTLE MAN

Warwick, Dionne Wooley, David Freeman Illustrator: Willingham, Fred Charlesbridge (32 pp.) $19.95 | e-book $9.99 | October 1, 2011 978-1-57091-731-8 e-book 978-1-60734-306-6 A somewhat didactic, yet inspirational tale full of love and music. Little Man loves to play the drums. “BOOM BOOM / rat-atat / ping-ping / CRASH!” He improves his skills by practicing |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1609


“(A) rich, layered and funny tale about friendship, family relationships and doing what’s right.” from pie

on his own, but he longs to buy a bicycle so that he can take lessons across town. Little Man has lots of support from his family, including his father, who encourages him to pursue his passion despite teasing from his brother and friends. Little Man works as hard as he can at odd jobs to raise money, but he can’t seem to earn enough cash for the bike. Until, that is, the opportunity to play at the upcoming block party arises. Little Man entertains family, friends and neighbors with his beats, and they in turn fill a hat with enough money for Little Man to buy his bike. If the prose feels a little stilted at times, the illustrations—created with pastels and airbrushing—are unfalteringly realistic and warm. Little Man and his family and neighbors look like they could step, or dance, right off the pages. On the accompanying CD, Warwick narrates the story, bringing its rhythms to life, and Wooley, on whose life the story is based, provides a drum demonstration. Break this one out at storytime, and don’t forget the musical instruments. (Picture book. 4-8)

HARRY HOUDINI The Legend of the World’s Greatest Escape Artist

Weaver, Janice Illustrator: Lane, Chris Abrams (48 pp.) $18.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-4197-0014-9

Ehrich Weiss was born in Budapest and died Harry Houdini in Detroit, having lived a rags-to-riches story that was inescapably magical. Though Harry’s father had a law degree, was a rabbi and spoke several languages, he never seemed to find success, and Harry left home at 12 to find his way in the world. Like many children of the late 19th century, he had little education but many jobs. He was a newspaper boy, an assistant cutter in a tie factory, a shoe shiner and a messenger boy, but he escaped these dead-end jobs to find a future in magic, where there were better things to escape from: handcuffs, jails, milk cans and a Chinese Water Torture Cell. Though the cover bills this volume as “The Legend of the World’s Greatest Escape Artist,” Weaver’s narrative is straightforward and factual, never quite conveying the excitement and magic of her subject. The unusual mix of original art and archival material—photographs, promotional posters and playbills—is bolstered by effective sidebars that offer historical context for the narrative. A section of references and resources will lead young readers to good books and websites that will help bring Houdini’s magic to life more effectively than the text does by itself. Overall, a solid-enough introduction to Houdini; good escapist reading that should lead to more. (source notes, index) (Biography. 8-12)

1610

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

SIX DAYS

Webb, Philip Chicken House/Scholastic (352 pp.) $17.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-545-31767-2 In this crackerjack adventure, a pair of Cockney trash-pickers and their spaceman friend seek a MacGuffin in the ruins of post-apocalyptic London. Fifteen-year-old Cass and her kid brother Wilbur are usually stuck scavving under a gangmaster’s careful eye, pulling London to pieces and tossing it in crusher chutes. The Vlads have been running Britain ever since they conquered the world 100 years ago, and heaven help any Londoner who sneaks out of her lifelong job of searching for object of the Vlads’ desire: the artifact. Nobody knows what the artifact is, but Wilbur, convinced his comic books tell him how to find it, sneaks off repeatedly into forbidden neighborhoods. This is how he finds Peyto and Erin, strange kids who say the artifact is a flinder, and they need it to repair their wounded spaceship. Maybe Wilbur can help them— maybe he’s even destined to. Now they’re caught in a mad spiral of (occasionally incoherent) adventure, hopping into space and back, fleeing from Vlads, hiding in the British Museum, fighting drone soldiers in powered battlesuits. Cass has a lovely, rich narrative voice (“We go through it like a horse ’n’ cart through a cake”), and is a feisty heroine, a much better protagonist than destined savior Wilbur would have been. Even if events don’t always quite hold together, it’s such a racketing good time it doesn’t matter. (Science fiction. 9-11)

PIE

Weeks, Sarah Scholastic (192 pp.) $16.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-545-27011-3 What do you get when you take some scrumptious pie recipes, stir in a mix-up of a mystery involving an overweight cat and a legacy, then add a sly satirical nod to the Newbery Medal? This irresistible confection. In 1955, 10-year-old Alice’s beloved Aunt Polly, the peerless “Pie Queen of Ipswitch,” who has always given away the extraordinary products of her oven simply because it makes her happy, dies. She bequeaths her incomparable piecrust recipe to Lardo, her cat—or does she?—and leaves Lardo to Alice. Thus the stage is set for a rich, layered and funny tale about friendship, family relationships and doing what’s right. The characters are wonderfully drawn. While doing her best to carry on Aunt Polly’s legacy, trying to figure out how to wrest the secret from the cat, dealing with a nefarious woman poking around town and learning about the renowned “Blueberry Medal,” which everyone in town is trying to win, Alice draws closer to her mom, a kirkusreviews.com

|


resolution Aunt Polly would have cherished. Alice and her family eventually discover the solution to the mystery in a plot twist that is both comical and plausible. An epilogue, set in 1995, is deeply poignant and gratifying. In addition to the beautifully wrought story, readers will savor and want to attempt the 14 recipes, each of which precedes a chapter. Warm, delicious and filling. (recipes, pie credits) (Historical fiction. 9-12)

WAITING TO FORGET

Welch, Sheila Kelly namelos (170 pp.) $18.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-60898-114-4

As 12-year-old T.J. sits in an emergency-room waiting area, wondering whether his younger sister, Angela, will survive her head injury, he ponders their miserable childhood. T.J. and Angela are children who, far too often, have slipped through the cracks. Their irresponsible yet sometimes affectionate mother has routinely left them home alone, with T.J. Bearing the responsibility—and the worry—for looking after his little sister, while also fretting about his childish mother. Using a scrapbook, T.J. remembers a few of the good times—a summer when his mother had a kind, much younger boyfriend— as well as the last terrible months she was with them and her new boyfriend, a brutal small-time thief who physically and verbally abused the boy. T.J.’s memories, interrupted by his experiences in the emergency room, are vivid, believable and riveting, framed within the boundaries of a child’s level of understanding of what the pair went through, infused with all his guilt for failures that were actually his mother’s. Now in an adoptive home, neither child can let go of the past, but the progress T.J. makes as he waits provides a hopeful conclusion to this moving tale of neglect and loss. T.J.’s authentic voice and the multilayered presentation of his memories, shifting between the waiting room and his past, make for a poignant, realistic tale of child-survivors. (Fiction. 11-15)

THE BOY WHO WANTED TO COOK

Whelan, Gloria Illustrator: Adams, Steve Sleeping Bear Press (32 pp.) $16.95 | September 9, 2011 978-1-58536-534-0

whose father is owner and chef of a quaint restaurant near the Tarn River in the south of France. Although he sees the world as “one big beautiful meal,” his father (depicted as the quintessential portly chef with bulging, expressive eyes, a thin handlebar moustache and a white toque) thinks Pierre is too young to cook. After a restaurant critic asks the boy for directions to his family’s restaurant, Pierre decides that honor demands that he refrain from telling them the critic’s identity. Instead, he announces that a stranger from a long distance will be dining with them and scurries to pick local delicacies, including the first morilles (wild mushrooms) of the season. When his father refuses to use them in his signature beef dish, Pierre secretly adds them and not only wins the restaurant a star but his father’s pride for his cooking skills and honor. While Adams’ acrylic paintings on board lend a charming, folksy feel, the narration focuses more on French phrases rather than the culture. Only Francophiles will overlook the didactic messages at the conclusion. Needs more spice. (glossary) (Picture book. 6-9)

A MONTH OF SUNDAYS

White, Ruth Margaret Ferguson/Farrar, Straus & Giroux (176 pp.) $16.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-374-39912-2

A sweet but slight Southern family story. It’s 1956. April Garnet’s father abandoned her before her birth 14 years ago; now her mother does the same thing, leaving her with Aunt June in Virginia while she goes to look for work in Florida. Garnet’s stated resentment dissolves when her relatives, who’d not previously been aware of her existence, welcome her warmly. She accompanies her aunt to a different church service each Sunday, and gradually it’s revealed that her aunt is looking to be cured from terminal cancer. The churches come across as both interchangeable and stereotyped—the speaking in tongues, snake-handling and even faith healing are presented more in the nature of carnival sideshows than as stemming from any actual religious belief. How Garnet feels toward God is never revealed. Except for her growing interest in a young preacher, Silver, her emotional tone remains flaccid, and she changes not a whit from start to finish. White’s firstperson narration and her comfortable dialogue are so smooth that it’s easy to overlook the lack of action, but this is far from her strongest effort. The improbable happily-ever-after ending will appeal to children whose parents are separated. Homey and bland as a bowl of grits without gravy. (Historical fiction. 10-14)

A riveting tale of French life? Au contraire. A fictional companion to the publisher’s E Is for Eiffel Tower: A France Alphabet (2010), this entry in the Tales of the World series weaves French phrases into a blasé story about 10-year-old Pierre, |

kirkusreviews.com

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1611


FIRST DESCENT

Withers, Pam Tundra (272 pp.) $17.95 | September 13, 2011 978-1-77049-257-8 When a 17-year-old tackles the firstever descent of a tumultuous Colombian river, he encounters both raging rapids and raging war. Rex is the grandson of a world-class kayaker who inexplicably turned his back on El Furioso 60 years before. Armed with his grandfather’s journal—but very little advice from the taciturn man—and plenty of kayaking ability but astonishingly little world experience, Rex travels to Colombia, where he meets Myriam, also 17. The tale shifts between his first-person narration and alternating chapters told from her third-person point of view. She’s an indígena, one of a small group of locals caught in the brutal, cocaine-fueled war among guerrilla fighters, paramilitary groups and the ineffectual Colombian army. In spite of numerous warnings and the desertion of his team, Rex takes on El Furioso solo, with dire consequences. Kayaking action and encounters with the various military groups are vivid and thrilling. Less effective are some of the transitions between the two narratives, when showing periodically deteriorates to telling. Readers must suspend belief that Rex would travel alone to war-torn Colombia to take on a wild river with just a pair of ill-prepared teammates—without someone recognizing the foolhardy nature of the venture. Those willing to accept the premise of this effort are in for an exhilarating if somewhat shallow ride. (Adventure. 12 & up)

THE HOUSE BABA BUILT An Artist’s Childhood in China Young, Ed Koponen, Libby Illustrator: Young, Ed Little, Brown (48 pp.) $17.99 | October 3, 2011 978-0-316-07628-9

Flashes of multi-media brilliance illuminate this darkly colored, leisurely paced memoir of childhood in Shanghai. With war approaching, Baba (daddy) searches for a place to keep Ma and their five kids safe. “The safest part of Shanghai was where the embassies were—on the edge, next to fields,” but that land is too expensive to purchase. Baba makes a deal: He’ll use his engineering skills to build “a big brick house… with courtyards, gardens, [and] a swimming pool” that his family can inhabit for 20 years, after which it will revert to the landowner. The artist’s childhood in this house comprises the story, a patchwork of games played (including roller skating on the roof), mild deprivation (little meat, but always food) and the distant-seeming war (first-person Eddy refers to Japan as the 1612

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

enemy but doesn’t explain). Eddy feels safe in Baba’s house, as do the other families sheltering there. The episodic text rambles; some illustrations are casual and chaotic. Others are magnificent. Young uses myriad textures, including crinkly paper and woven reed paper. Collaged family silhouettes feature tenderly sketched faces. Old photos and bits of painted collage glow on dark pages. Miniscule cut-out people populate fold-out drawings and complex, three-dimensional–looking collages of the house. Those wanting historical or cultural background will need supplements, though. Sophisticated, inventive art invites close viewings for patient readers in this unusual family story. (foreword, time line, author’s note) (Picture book/memoir. 7-12)

SAGA OF THE SIOUX An Adaptation of Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee

(Adaptor: Zimmerman, Dwight Jon) Henry Holt (224 pp.) $18.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-8050-9364-3

A wrenching account of the injustices the Sioux endured from white men and the battles that ensued, based on Dee Brown’s classic Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Brown’s work, considered groundbreaking in 1971, told the painful history of Native Americans in the late-19th century from their perspective. Rather than just shorten the weighty original, Zimmerman draws from chapters about the Sioux as representative of the broken treaties, battles, suffering and death. The fluid chronological adaptation conveys the view that “an overwhelming number” of settlers, soldiers and men in authority were “arrogant, greedy, racist, murderous, and cruel beyond belief,” a conclusion supported by the many well-told accounts of travesties. Except for references to the Civil War, the author offers little historical or social context. He rarely mentions women, although the controversial term “squaw” appears once. The overall effect feels dated, including occasional flowery prose from the original book, such as “the remnants of the once proud woodland Sioux awaited their fate.” Except for material supporting the introduction and epilogue, source notes are not included; readers are referred to the original for Brown’s. Photographs, including many by Edward Curtis, and illustrations with useful captions appear frequently in the attractive, open design. Flawed and no longer groundbreaking in its perspective, this nevertheless offers a readable description of an essential part of American history. (time line, glossary, suggested websites, recommended reading, index) (Nonfiction. 11-15)

kirkusreviews.com

|


ART 123 Count from 1 to 12 with Great Works of Art

Zuffi, Stefano Illustrator: Zuffi, Stefano Abrams (32 pp.) $12.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-4197-0100-9

Milan-based Zuffi mines art masterpieces in aid of early learning, leaving his usual audience of adult art lovers behind for this effort. Here he helps youngsters reinforce their counting skills even as he exposes them to artworks ranging from the Renaissance to pop art. In a handsome and elegant squared-off format, he pairs 13 works by greats like Henry Moore (the emblematic King and Queen, ca. 1952-53) with a corresponding numeral (2) and offers a telling, enagaging rhyme: “Good afternoon, my king, my queen. / Are you enjoying this winter scene?” Favorite and accessible works include Caravaggio’s three (3) Cardsharps, Edward Hopper’s four (4) Nighthawks, Henri Matisse’s five (5) figures engaged in a bold, exuberant Dance and Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s twelve (12) guests enjoying a languid summer Luncheon of the Boating Party. The rhymes are every bit as affecting as the art: Thomas Gainsborough’s charming, soft, crayon drawing, Six Studies of a Cat, is paired with “6 / lazy kittens on the floor. / Some stretch and curl, / others sleep some more.” (Oh, and that 13th work? “So many men in hats falling from the sky” in René Magritte’s Golconda.) This handsome entry will particularly please art-loving parents. (Picture book. 3-8)

UNDERDOGS

Zusak, Markus Levine/Scholastic (512 pp.) $19.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-545-35442-4 A three-in-one volume binds together Zusak’s two later books about Cameron with his first, paradoxically the last to appear in the United States. Before the prize fights of Fighting Ruben Wolfe (2001) and the complications with Octavia in Getting the Girl (2003), Cameron and Ruben Wolfe were plotting to rob dentists and exact revenge on their sister Sarah’s ex-boyfriend while their mother continually cooked sausage and mushrooms in tomato sauce for meals. Attempting to break free from the monotony of his family, Cameron begins working with his father on plumbing jobs and meets Rebecca Conlon in the process. While Cameron’s failed to engage in life so far, could Rebecca be the first reason to reach out? With this compilation release of The Underdog, the rough-and-tumble adventures of the Wolfe brothers are finally all assembled. Zusak’s stunning use of language and rich character development are present, while the introduction of the |

kirkusreviews.com

family framework provides additional understanding for the sibling dynamic in the later stories. It’s a treat to see Cameron’s visions, which will develop into stories in later chapters, especially since the author brings such a strong sense of frustration and despair to those insights. Appealing to fans and providing an entry point for fresh readers, this is a much-appreciated addition to the Wolfe brothers’ canon. (Fiction. 12 & up)

kirkus christmas & hanukkah roundup THE STORY OF HANUKKAH

Adler, David A. Illustrator: Weber, Jill Holiday House (32 pp.) $14.95 | August 15, 2011 978-0-8234-2295-1

The story of war, destruction and renewal in ancient Judea, fueled by the Jewish determination to freely maintain

a belief in one God. Adler recounts the plight of the small Jewish army led against Greek King Antiochus IV first by the old priest Mattathias and then by his son Judah in a direct, active voice. Throughout, explanations are provided for the cause of the conflict, the meaning of the word Maccabee and why the Jewish army was known by that name and legend of the fabled ner tamid, or eternal light, that remained lit for eight days with only one day’s supply of oil. Diminutive, often detailed Biblical scenes in acrylic paints complement the plainspoken narrative. A final, contemporary two-page view of menorah lighting and dreidel play appears along with a basic description of how the holiday is celebrated today with songs, fried potato pancakes, jelly doughnuts and an explanation of the dreidel’s Hebrew acronym for the sentence, “A great miracle happened there.” There is only brief mention of the sometime modern-day practice of giving gifts. This very traditional chronicle remains true to the legendary Judaic story, making it an excellent introduction to the holiday. (recipe, game directions) (Picture book/religion. 6-8)

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1613


CHRISTMAS WITH VERA

are appealing, but there is a problem in differentiation among the puppies, as two have similar coloring. This trio of pups tries to please but fails to deliver any holiday magic. (Picture book. 3-6)

Bastin, Marjolein Illustrator: Bastin, Marjolein NorthSouth (32 pp.) $16.95 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7358-4044-7

Bastin employs a collection of anthropomorphized animals as characters for this holiday story interspersed with simple craft and decorating ideas. In this offering, first published in the Netherlands, Vera the country mouse prepares for Christmas with the help of her friend, Fritzy the mole, as well as her doll (a tiny, living creature) and her dog. Together they decorate Vera’s cottage in anticipation of the arrival of her cousin from the city, Bianca. The text follows the characters as they make apples with cut-out star decorations, marzipan snowballs, salt-dough ornaments and Christmas party crackers. Instructions and easy recipes are included, along with appropriate safety warnings tucked into the art. Bastin’s detailed watercolor illustrations of the mice in holiday costumes have a certain nostalgic appeal, but the slight story is merely a framing device for the similarly slight crafts and recipes. Christmas with the Mousekins (2010) uses a comparable structure of story and activities but with many more crafts and recipes. Bastin’s greeting cards are popular worldwide, so her adult fans may enjoy incorporating Vera and friends into their holiday reading and decorating, but children may find this book leads to a long winter’s nap. (Picture book. 4-7)

THE CHRISTMAS PUPS

Bateman, Teresa Illustrator: Kanzler, John Whitman (32 pp.) $16.99 | August 1, 2011 978-0-8075-1160-2

|

1 september 2011

|

children

Bedford, David Illustrator: Ainslie, Tamsin Kane/Miller (26 pp.) $9.99 | September 1, 2011 978-1-61067-039-5 A little preschool-age girl prepares for Christmas as her adoring lamb toy watches in this sweet story first published in Australia. The text follows a pattern of two activities that lead to a reassuring, repeated refrain: “When you wrap your gifts / When you tie the bows / That’s when I love you.” The lamb toy watches in smiling silence as the little girl makes cookies, decorates the tree, sings and dances to Christmas music and makes cards. She tosses and turns trying to get to sleep on Christmas Eve (with the lamb next to her in bed). On Christmas morning, readers see that the cookies, the card and the wrapped presents are all for the lamb. On one of the last pages (“when you lift me high”), the girl holds up the lamb, who is wearing a new scarf and hat. Adult readers will see that the loving relationship between the child and her lamb is symbolic of that between parent and child. Charming, simple illustrations with minimal backgrounds suit the nature of the story. A pleasing story for preschoolers to enjoy with a favorite stuffed animal and a Christmas cookie. (Picture book. 2-5)

SANTA’S NEW JET

Puppies are abandoned, rescued and adopted in this predictable holiday story that features dogs that can think and talk to each other with a human level of communication. The three talking puppies are a protective pair of brothers, Ruff and Tuff, and their shy sister, Penny. At the animal shelter they befriend an older gray dog, Brownie, who advises the brothers to act wild and naughty whenever prospective owners arrive so that their sister will find a home first. A family with two older sons and a younger sister comes to the shelter on Christmas Eve, and the little girl picks the quieter female puppy. But—surprise!—the boys want the male puppies, and the parents like the more mature, older dog, so they all go home together to the family farm. (Adult readers will have to suspend disbelief that a shelter would allow one family to take home four dogs at once.) The story is unobjectionable but unexceptional, and the Christmas setting doesn’t elevate it from the ordinary acquiring-a-pet story. The large-format illustrations of the dogs 1614

WHEN I LOVE YOU AT CHRISTMAS

&

teens

|

Biedrzycki, David Illustrator: Biedrzycki, David Charlesbridge (32 pp.) $16.95 | paper $7.95 e-book $6.99 | July 1, 2011 978-1-58089-291-9 paper 978-1-58089-292-6 e-book 978-1-60734-369-1 When the reindeer get too out of shape to pull Santa’s sleigh, an elf named Orville designs a custom jet for Santa’s Christmas Eve deliveries, though Santa finds his traditional transportation mode suits him best. Computer-generated illustrations and slapstick humor set the tone for this amusing, first-person account told from Santa’s point of view. The elves produce a new, bright-red jet for Santa in record time, and he zips around the North Pole on practice runs. But during his Christmas Eve deliveries, Santa finds the jet noisy and hard to land. He misses the reindeer, and when fog sets in, he sends up an emergency flare for reindeer road assistance. The reindeer have been secretly working out and fixing up the old sleigh, so they fly to Santa’s aid to complete the kirkusreviews.com

|


“Bloch … brings a French flair to his illustrations with sophisticated, minimalist pen-and-ink drawings of the human characters in combination with photographic elements …” from snowed under and other christmas confusions

holiday deliveries in the old-fashioned way. The visual gag ending shown in thought bubbles from the reindeer reveals Santa’s jet in a display at the History of Flight Museum, rather than the reindeer team shown in a previous illustration. These newly buff reindeer are far from obsolescence. The story line is a little forced and the ending is predictable, but kids who like shiny airplanes or alternate means of transportation will like seeing Santa in a jet instead of a sleigh. (Picture book. 3-6)

SNOWED UNDER AND OTHER CHRISTMAS CONFUSIONS

Bloch, Serge Illustrator: Bloch, Serge Sterling (32 pp.) $12.95 | October 4, 2011 978-1-4027-7131-6

With a tip of the stocking cap to Amelia Bedelia, Bloch offers a charming Christmas story interwoven with common expressions that can be interpreted in more than one way, illustrated in a refreshing collage style that combines pen-and-ink drawings and photographs. The first-person story is narrated by a little boy who is preparing for the holiday along with his parents, grandparents, sister and dog. Each page offers a few lines of text including one familiar phrase, highlighted in red or green, along with a humorous illustration playing off the pertinent expression. The boy uses many familiar sayings, like “trim the tree” and “as hungry as a bear,” and others that may be new to children, such as “feeding an army” and “when pigs fly.” Bloch lives in Paris, and he brings a French flair to his illustrations with sophisticated, minimalist pen-and-ink drawings of the human characters in combination with photographic elements, such as playing cards for “deck the halls” and a real sardine can illustrating “packed in like sardines.” The illustrations are creatively composed with effective use of white space, shadows and perspective along with motion and sight gags. As all kids know, “time flies when you’re having fun,” even on Christmas Eve. This is more fun than a barrel of monkeys. (Picture book. 4-9)

HOME FOR CHRISTMAS

Brett, Jan Illustrator: Brett, Jan Putnam (32 pp.) $17.99 | November 1, 2011 978-0-399-25653-0

show their maturity through their actions, and Rollo has little chance of losing his tail due to his consistently bad behavior. After he deposits the family pig on top of the roof, Rollo runs away from home looking for greener pastures. He tries living with owls, bears, otters, a lynx and moose, growing more homesick with each new environment before sliding back home on a moose-antler sled. His family has been sadly and faithfully waiting for his return, caring for his pet hedgehog and preparing his Christmas gifts. Their actions are illustrated in heart-shaped vignettes tucked into Brett’s signature border designs, which in this offering are particularly effective, with a birch-bark texture and tiny surprise-filled pockets in the corners. As always, Brett’s illustrations are filled with well-researched details in costumes, decorations and Christmas toys. The satisfying conclusion shows the troll family in their striped pajamas gathered around the fire, “all together, singing and telling stories far into the night.” A cozy Christmas present for Brett’s devoted fans. (author’s note) (Picture book. 3-7)

MUSHER’S NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS

Brown, Tricia Illustrator: Dubac, Debra Pelican (32 pp.) $16.99 | September 15, 2011 978-1-58980-843-0 Yet another parody of “The Night Before Christmas,” this time with a sleddog theme and an Alaskan setting. The text uses the rhythm and rhyme scheme of the classic poem, and the plot revolves around Santa making his worldwide deliveries with his team of eight reindeer plus Rudy with his redlight nose. A solitary sled-dog owner named Tom and his team of dogs are introduced in their remote Alaskan setting, and when Rudy’s light grows dim, Santa stops at Tom’s cabin’s to ask for his help. The city of Nome, Alaska, is socked in with whiteout conditions, so Tom and the team travel by sled with added lights so Santa and the reindeer can see to reach their final stop. As Santa’s parting gift, he leaves Tom a new van to transport the sled dogs and a new sled shaped like Santa’s sleigh. The text is long and not particularly funny, and some verses are tongue-twisters, but the plot holds together and conveys some basics about sled-dog travel. The cartoon-style illustrations are humorous but crude, and the elves are downright scary caricatures. This will be of interest to Alaskan residents and those fond of sled dogs, but most youngsters will prefer a more traditional or more amusing interpretation. (author’s note, glossary) (Picture book. 5-8)

The snowy Scandinavian setting used in Brett’s previous stories about trolls is again the backdrop for this latest Christmas offering from the beloved and prolific illustrator. This time a little troll boy named Rollo learns a lesson about good behavior and helping others. Trolls have a tail until they |

kirkusreviews.com

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1615


“The soothing text follows the pattern of saying good night to each character and to some of the natural elements as well, in the manner of that other, most famous good-night story.” from a christmas goodnight

A BAD KITTY CHRISTMAS

in both the Nativity scenes and in the final spread of the farm on Christmas morning, for instance. The double-page-spread format makes this a fine read-aloud for a group of little ones, but it’s also a cozy choice as a December bedtime story. A terrific introduction for preschoolers who are just learning about the Nativity story. (Picture book/religion. 2-5)

Bruel, Nick Illustrator: Bruel, Nick Neal Porter/Roaring Brook (40 pp.) $15.99 | October 11, 2011 978-1-59643-668-8 Bruel continues the hilarious adventures of Bad Kitty with a “Night Before Christmas” theme in this latest entry in his successful series about the alphabet-

obsessed pet. Bad Kitty exhibits her customary bad-to-the-bone behavior as she tears through presents and decorations in alphabetical order, from ambushing an angel to zapping the narrator’s zeal. But all that chaos isn’t enough for the fearless feline, because she also dreams of an improbable Christmas banquet, enumerated in another alphabetical litany of hypothetical treats such as fried yak with zebra tail. After a scolding, Bad Kitty runs away from home, and as darkness falls on Christmas Eve, she is rescued by a tiny, elderly woman. The lady shares her family photos with the cat, launching another amusing alphabetical list of her extended family. Though the rhyming text is humorous, the kindly woman also makes some gentle comments about the important aspects of celebrating Christmas with family, and her kindness is repaid when Bad Kitty takes her home for Christmas. The cartoon-style illustrations and multiple-panel format will draw in reluctant readers who might resist a Christmas story, but, really, who can resist Bad Kitty, with all her funny faces and amusing antics? A witty and original take on the old Christmas Eve chestnut, with a sweet twist to season the fun. (Picture book. 3-8)

A CHRISTMAS GOODNIGHT

Buck, Nola Illustrator: Wright, Sarah Jane Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins (24 pp.) $12.99 | PLB $13.89 | October 1, 2011 978-0-06-166491-5 PLB 978-0-06-166492-2

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

Butler, M. Christina Illustrator: Macnaughton, Tina Good Books (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 1, 2011 978-1-56148-727-1

In this fourth story about Little Hedgehog, he prepares for Christmas with the help of his forest friends, creating homemade decorations and gifts before hosting a holiday gathering in his cozy burrow. As in all the Little Hedgehog stories, there is an added textural highlight in the illustrations, this time with sparkles of glitter added to certain Christmas decorations, such as ribbons, strings of paper snowflakes and snow banks and snowcovered trees in the outdoor scenes. The sparkling effect is also used for Little Hedgehog’s Santa hat and Christmas packages on the cover illustration and interwoven into the plot, as Little Hedgehog tries to make his homemade decorations fancier and his house more “Christmas-y.” In several endearing illustrations, Little Hedgehog has pieces of glittery paper stuck on the quills on his back, reinforcing his earnest, innocent personality. Though the story is slight and the dialogue often trite, there is some dramatic tension when Little Hedgehog walks through the snowy moonlit forest, feeling a bit scared before bumping into his friend, Fox. The overall effect is sparkling, cozy and festive, just the results the cute little critter was seeking for his holiday celebration. (Picture book. 3-5)

A LIGHTHOUSE CHRISTMAS

A preschool-age boy plays with his Nativity crèche figures on the cover of this quietly charming bedtime story that integrates the little boy’s world with the Christmas Eve story of the birth of the Christ Child. The soothing text follows the pattern of saying good night to each character and to some of the natural elements as well, in the manner of that other, most famous good-night story. He bids good night to each of the characters in the Nativity story, and then the text shifts to a snowy scene of a moonlit farm with a country church in the distance. (“Goodnight to the golden glowing moon” is a tip of the hat to the story’s thematic predecessor.) The little boy reappears to put Baby Jesus to sleep in the manger, nicely tying the Nativity story to the child’s personal world. Softly shaded, realistic illustrations are appealing in a quiet, pleasant way, with engaging touches. The little boy’s stuffed lamb echoes the sheep appearing 1616

ONE CHRISTMAS NIGHT

|

Buzzeo, Toni Illustrator: Carpenter, Nancy Dial (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-8037-3053-3

A girl and her little brother spend a Depression-era Christmas on an island off the coast of Maine with their recently widowed father in this nostalgic, touching story of how Christmas surprises can arrive in amazing ways. Frances and her little brother Peter face a bleak holiday on the island as their supplies dwindle before Christmas. Due to stormy weather, supply boats can’t come in, and Frances and Peter can’t leave the island to visit their aunt as they had planned. During a fierce storm, their father rescues a man from his boat as Frances keeps the light in the lighthouse lit. With their new kirkusreviews.com

|


visitor, they plan a simple Christmas celebration, with a pine branch as their tree and tiny, homemade presents. Just in time for Christmas, a small plane drops off a care package with food, toys and books from the Flying Santa (a Maine tradition from 1929 to the present). The quietly told, longish story and softly shaded illustrations evoke their spare, lonely life in the lighthouse and shows the love between sister and brother and parent and child. A gentle but dramatic story of an earlier time, when just one care package could make a happy Christmas for an entire family. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5-9)

DUCK & COMPANY CHRISTMAS

Caple, Kathy Illustrator: Caple, Kathy Holiday House (48 pp.) $15.95 | September 15, 2011 978-0-8234-2239-5 Duck and Rat celebrate Christmas at their bookstore with an assortment of animal friends in this early reader that will also win over younger children as a read-aloud. In seven short chapters, Duck and Rat decorate the store with cut-paper snowflakes, open a gift-wrapping station and watch as their gingerbread house is nibbled down to nothing. As a major snowstorm moves in on Christmas Eve, all the animal friends take shelter at the bookstore, spending Christmas Eve together with a potluck dinner and a slumber party that finds the animals spread out on the floor, tables and shelves. In the morning, there are Christmas stockings for all and a frosty coating on the display window, with a new gingerbread house and a message from Santa. The droll humor and quietly amusing holiday preparations have the flavor of the Frog and Toad stories, with the same comforting sense of a kind and reassuring world. Understated illustrations in gouache and ink are filled with tiny, humorous details and clever costumes for the animal characters, such as tiny jackets and pointed caps for a flock of particularly captivating chicks. As sweet and clever as a gingerbread house (with a frosting of humor) and as satisfying as a cup of hot chocolate. (Picture book /early reader. 4-8)

THE MAGICAL CHRISTMAS HORSE

Clark, Mary Higgins Illustrator: Minor, Wendell Paula Wiseman/Simon & Schuster (40 pp.) $17.99 | October 25, 2011 978-1-4169-9478-7

The prolific mystery writer turns her hand to children’s Christmas stories with a sentimental tale of a beloved family heirloom that is restored just in time for reappearance under the Christmas tree. |

kirkusreviews.com

A little boy named Johnny remembers a previous holiday visit to his grandparents’ New England farm, where he rode on a white riding-horse toy that had been in the family for several generations. Now he and his younger brother, Liam, and their parents are returning to the farm for Christmas. Johnny has promised Liam that he can ride the family heirloom, but the horse was lent out the previous Christmas and never returned. Johnny finds the dilapidated horse in the attic, and his father and grandfather restore it for Liam. Some elements of the plot are a stretch: The horse looks like it was left out in the snow for a decade or two, and the restoration project is accomplished with unbelievable speed. The text is long and drawn-out, with lots of stated rather than implied emotions and too-obvious symbolism. Minor’s accomplished illustrations in watercolor and gouache provide strong visual personalities for the main characters and a distinct setting on the snowy New England farm with its 19th-century stone farmhouse. Even with attractive illustrations and a Christmas setting, a plodding story doesn’t create any magic. (Picture book. 4-7)

ENGINEER ARI AND THE HANUKKAH MISHAP

Cohen, Deborah Bodin Illustrator: Kober, Shahar Kar-Ben (32 pp.) $17.95 | paper $7.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7613-5145-0 paper 978-0-7613-5146-7 A camel, a train mishap and the holiday of Hanukkah bring together a Bedouin and a Jew in acts of kindness and camaraderie. Eager to celebrate with friends in Jaffa, Ari balances an armload of sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), dreidels, menorah, bottle of oil and the bag of Turkish coins as he rushes to the train he will drive to Jerusalem. On his way are several children playacting the story of the holiday, providing a tiny summary for readers, a device that is repeated throughout. Finally aboard and daydreaming a bit, Ari derails the caboose of his train when forced to make a sudden stop to avoid a camel sitting on the tracks. Rescue comes with the stubborn camel’s owner, a Bedouin named Kalil (“friend” in Arabic), who sends for help while Ari graciously accepts Kalil’s hospitality. “Your camel may be stubborn, but I was not careful.” The observance of the first night of Hanukkah, coincidentally on the site of Modi’in, the ancient home of the Maccabees, is shared; Ari lights candles, sings blessings and teaches Kalil to play dreidel, and together they enjoy coffee with the sufganiyot. The late-19th-century atmosphere of the story is conveyed with gentle cartoons that move horizontally with the flow of a traveling train. This addition to the series moves beyond the holiday with its implied message of friendship, cooperation and mutual respect for separate cultures sharing one homeland. (glossary, author’s note) (Picture book. 5-7)

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1617


THE MONEY WE’LL SAVE

double-page spread format adequately support the text, but the narrating tree never truly takes root as a real character. Talking Christmas trees really aren’t a good idea for a children’s book. (Picture book. 4-7)

Cole, Brock Illustrator: Cole, Brock Margaret Ferguson/Farrar, Straus & Giroux (40 pp.) $16.99 | October 11, 2011 978-0-374-35011-6

THE HAPPY ELF

When Pa brings home a turkey poult to raise for Christmas dinner, hilarious complications ensue in this heartwarming family story set in 19th-century New York City. The family of six lives in a crowded three-room flat, and they quickly discover that there isn’t room for a growing turkey in their small kitchen. Pa first builds a pen for Alfred the turkey on the fire escape and then a larger pen hung from pulleys on the clothesline. After complaints from the neighbors, Pa moves the turkey into the flat’s single bedroom, and the family has to sleep in the kitchen and parlor. When Christmas arrives, the children can’t bear to eat Alfred for dinner, so they give him (as a pet) to their downstairs neighbor for her Christmas gift. The cleverly constructed text is full of understated humor and witty dialogue, with a satisfying conclusion describing the family’s simple but happy Christmas celebration. Cole’s loose watercolor-and-ink illustrations skillfully evoke the old-fashioned setting and busy life of a New York tenement community. He effectively shows the connected clotheslines, backyard privies and outdoor neighborhood markets of another era, and each character has a distinctive personality. Young fans of historical fiction series will enjoy this, as will anyone who enjoys a funny family story about Christmas preparations. (Picture book. 4-9)

THE LITTLEST EVERGREEN

Cole, Henry Illustrator: Cole, Henry Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins (32 pp.) $16.99 | PLB $17.89 | October 1, 2011 978-0-06-114619-0 PLB 978-0-06-114620-6

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

Eubie is a relentlessly cheery elf whose story is based on a Christmas song by Connick, which was also previously made into an animated movie. The storybook version finds the exultant elf checking Santa’s lists and discovering that every child in the town of Bluesville is on the naughty list. He uses his magic hat to transport himself to the dreary town, which is sited at the bottom of a deep valley. When Eubie finds the town is surrounded by mountains of “unburnable coal,” he helps the town’s children polish the extensive surrounding mountain range so the peaks shine with sparkling light like jewels. This cooperative effort transforms the townspeople into a happy crowd of Christmas celebrants, and Eubie is rewarded for his kindness by being chosen to join Santa’s sleigh team for Christmas deliveries. The story is a little long, a little illogical and much too full of words in all capitals, exclamation marks and Eubie’s signature cry of “YIPPPPPPPPEEEEEEEE!” The large-format watercolor illustrations have a retro appeal, though the elves and the children look like the same species aside from pointed ears. Kids who are familiar with the song or movie about Eubie may enjoy the story, but adult readers might be tempted to offer Eubie a lump of unburnable coal for his Christmas stocking. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-7)

THE CHRISTMAS TREE SHIP

This tale is narrated by an anthropomorphic, talking Christmas tree that describes its life cycle from seedling through a Christmas season as a decorated tree and then on to full growth as a tall evergreen. The tree marks its growth through all sorts of weather and recounts the different birds that have nested in its branches. One year, in late fall, workers with chain saws cut down the surrounding trees, but the narrating tree is too small, so it is dug up and taken to the sales lot as a living tree. A family purchases the tree, decorating it for Christmas and then planting it in their yard. The final illustration shows the immense, fullgrown tree, who has had “a long and beautiful life.” Ascribing human emotions to the narrator tree strains credulity, and the sadness attributed to the cut trees will make anyone with that sort of tree in the house feel guilty. Serviceable illustrations in 1618

Connick, Jr., Harry Illustrator: Andreasen, Dan Harper/HarperCollins (32 pp.) $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-06-128879-1

|

Crane, Carol Illustrator: Ellison, Chris Sleeping Bear Press (32 pp.) $15.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-58536-285-1 The true story of a ship loaded with Christmas trees that was lost in a storm on Lake Michigan in 1912 is interwoven with a nostalgic reminiscence by an adult narrator recalling storytelling grandfather. The unnamed narrator recounts how, as boys, he and his younger brother lived with their grandparents in a lighthouse on the shore of Lake Michigan. One Christmas, Grandpa Axel told his grandchildren the story of Captain Santa, who each November took a shipload of thousands of Christmas trees from northern Michigan to Chicago to sell. The ship and its kirkusreviews.com

|


“(Cushman’s) dramatic pacing and skilled balance between art and text ... make this Christmas offering sparkle.” from christmas eve good night

THE STORY OF CHRISTMAS

crew were lost in a fierce November storm, but the following year the captain’s widow and his daughters brought another ship loaded with trees to Chicago to continue Captain Santa’s tradition. Grandpa Axel’s retold story of the Christmas-tree ship is illustrated in sepia tones to distinguish it from the later story, which is illustrated with vibrant paintings with an appealing, Impressionistic flavor. The wreck of the ship is glossed over with a blurry illustration of the sinking ship and no mention of loss of life. The transition back and forth between 1912 and the era of the storytelling grandfather (with no specified date) may be confusing to some readers, and a map of the Lake Michigan area would have been helpful. A dramatic but lugubrious subject for a Christmas story. (author’s note) (Picture book. 6-10)

Illustrator: Dalton, Pamela Handprint/Chronicle (32 pp.) $17.99 | November 2, 2011 978-1-45210-470-6

The Nativity story from the King James Bible serves as the text for this engaging interpretation done in exquisite cut-paper–and-watercolor illustrations that stand out against dramatic, black backgrounds. Dalton’s intricate illustrations are cut from paper and then hand-colored to fill in textures and details. Many of the illustrations employ mirror images at each side as in traditional papercutting art, with a single focal element showcased in the center. Other formats vary the perspective, including a dramatic overhead view of Baby Jesus in the manger full of hay and a complex procession of multiple characters in panels outlined in organic tree-limb shapes, illustrating the Flight into Egypt. Many of the compositions consciously echo medieval illuminations. Traditional symbols for Mary (roses, lilies and rose of Sharon) are worked into the illustrations, and roses decorate the endpapers as well. Though the overall look of the cut-paper illustrations is dramatic, the faces of the people tend to look sad or disengaged throughout the story, especially in the Christmas Eve scene in the stable. Another issue is the apparent advanced age of Joseph, who is bald and has a white beard, in comparison to the youthful Mary. Though this disparity has historical roots in apocryphal literature and early Christian art, it may feel odd to modern children. The downcast faces of the people and angels and the oldfashioned language of the traditional text serve to distance readers. The “good tidings of great joy” are missing from this otherwise visually stunning work. (Picture book/religion. 4-8)

CHRISTMAS EVE GOOD NIGHT

Cushman, Doug Illustrator: Cushman, Doug Henry Holt (32 pp.) $12.99 | October 25, 2011 978-0-8050-6603-6 This deliciously clever bedtime story offers bouncy rhymes with rich vocabulary, a cast of appealing parent-child pairs and a satisfying ending as Santa takes off with his sleigh and his traditional “to all a good night!” Using the same structure as his Halloween Good Night (2010), Cushman presents eight characters bidding their mothers or fathers “good night” in their own fashion, including snowmen, polar bears, gingerbread people and reindeer. The story begins with a child under a quilt in her room, with several toys and treats foreshadowing their appearance later in the story. By the final pages, it becomes clear that this child is actually one of Santa’s elves, and she is just falling asleep as Santa and the reindeer fly away, glimpsed against a full moon through her bedroom window. The rhyming text with the corresponding “good night” phrases encourages participation from young listeners, who will demand repeated readings of this beguiling story. Cushman’s watercolor-and-ink illustrations are full of witty details and hints about the conclusion, but it is his dramatic pacing and skilled balance between art and text that make this Christmas offering sparkle. This one has it all: engaging illustrations, a simple but satisfying plot and a text that adults won’t mind reading over and over. (Picture book. 3-6)

|

kirkusreviews.com

STREGA NONA’S GIFT

dePaola, Tomie Illustrator: dePaola, Tomie Nancy Paulsen Books (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 18, 2011 978-0-399-25649-3 DePaola’s latest holiday contribution describes the eight traditional feast days of the Christmas season in Calabria, home of the consummate cook, Strega Nona, and her ever-hungry sidekick, Big Anthony. The foods, traditions and legend for each feast day are worked into the text as the villagers celebrate each event together. On the eve of the Feast of the Three Kings, Strega Nona follows tradition and cooks delicious dishes for each of her pets, but poor Big Anthony gets only a plate of plain pasta. He gets in trouble when he helps himself to the goat’s turnips, and the goat retaliates by eating Anthony’s blanket. When Big Anthony is chosen as the king of the Feast of Epiphany, he chooses a new blanket as his gift from Strega Nona and a big dish of turnips that he gives to the goat as a peace offering. |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1619


“The tale of Pyn and her father has psychological ties to the story of Heidi and her grandfather, with a similar theme of the love of a little girl cracking open a crusty heart.” from a christmas tree for pyn

Strega Nona’s larger gift is sending a marvelous dream of magical food to each of the villagers, with walls turning to cheese and bedsheets into sheets of lasagna. (Readers will probably want to know more about those delectable dreams.) The information conveyed about the feast days is interesting, but Strega Nona and Big Anthony aren’t at their top form in this effort, with little of the rich magical humor they are known for. (author’s note) (Picture book/religion. 4-7)

A CHRISTMAS TREE FOR PYN

Dunrea, Olivier Illustrator: Dunrea, Olivier Philomel (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 18, 2011 978-0-399-24506-0

Little Pyn lives in a cottage on top of a mountain with her cranky giant of a father, who doesn’t want to celebrate Christmas—or raise a daughter by himself, either. In this odd but touching Christmas story, Pyn keeps house for her father and tries to please him with tasty food and a tidy home. Her father refuses to be called “papa,” repeating that his name is Oother. Readers learn early in the story that Oother has lost his wife, with a subtle glimpse into his troubled thoughts (“how very like her mother she is”). After a search in the snowy forest, Pyn acquires her first Christmas tree, which she decorates with birds’ nests and feathers, and Oother gives her a bird ornament that he made for Pyn’s mother long ago. The sight of the decorated tree brings father and daughter closer, with Oother finally telling his child to call him “papa” and calling her “daughter” as he tucks her into bed. Minimalist illustrations in gouache and ink show the two characters in profile against stark, white backgrounds that suggest the frozen emotional environment in the home. The tale of Pyn and her father has psychological ties to the story of Heidi and her grandfather, with a similar theme of the love of a little girl cracking open a crusty heart. (Picture book. 4-8)

MARY ENGELBREIT’S NUTCRACKER

Adaptor: Engelbreit, Mary Illustrator: Engelbreit, Mary Harper/HarperCollins (40 pp.) $17.99 | November 1, 2011 978-0-06-088579-3 Engelbreit extends her collection of traditional children’s stories with this retelling of the Christmas classic, which blends well with the artist’s signature style of highly ornamented illustrations bursting with bows, candies and fantasy flowers. In this interpretation, Marie is a little girl of the 1920s, with blond bobbed hair and a cozy life in the suburbs with her 1620

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

well-to-do family. Wealthy Uncle Drosselmeyer, a kindly toymaker, arrives at the family Christmas party bearing toy soldiers for little brother Fritz and a pair of dolls and the fateful Nutcracker for Marie. The story unfolds in traditional fashion, with fierce battles between mice and soldiers, the Nutcracker’s transformation and Marie’s journey to Toyland with the Prince. They meet dancers and the Sugar Plum Fairy and view the Prince’s gingerbread castle before returning to Marie’s home. The budding romance between Marie and the Prince is a sweet foreshadowing of her adult life, and the conclusion shows them ruling over Toyland together. Each illustration is filled with details, borders and tiny hidden surprises, along with charming, smiling characters. Engelbreit’s many fans will find this a garden of Christmas delights. The Nutcracker by Susan Jeffers (2007) remains the quintessential interpretation, but there is room on the Christmas bookshelves for the Engelbreit version as well. (Picture book. 4-7)

OH, WHAT A CHRISTMAS!

Garland, Michael Illustrator: Garland, Michael Scholastic (40 pp.) $16.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-545-24210-3

Roly-poly Santa plunges to the ground when his sleigh breaks, and he meets an unlikely cast of reindeer substitutes. Stranded and isolated in the snow, he stumbles upon a barn with numerous farm occupants. His drafted replacements need little encouragement to assist during the night’s critical toy delivery. Though the animals’ panicky expressions suggest otherwise, there are no roadblocks along the successful trip from house to home, and Santa generously rewards his new helpers. Glossy digital spreads accentuate humorous moments as incredulous faces register anxiety at their unusual predicament. Shifting perspective expands vast scenes as the imposing sleigh rockets through the snow-speckled sky. Glints of sparkly light radiate through clean nighttime scenes. There’s little conflict to accelerate the slight storyline, and the earnest voice occasionally plods through instead of flying along the journey. “Delivering presents to all the children of the world is a big job to do in one night. They were so far behind schedule! They had to work twice as hard! There was barely time for cookies and milk this year!” Dynamic typography emphasizes each bang and bump during the ride, compensating for the minimal characterization to strengthen the clear-cut narrative. A lighthearted lift for the holiday season, though the pat ending renders it a little more “ho-ho-hum” than “hoho-ho.” (Picture book. 4-8)

kirkusreviews.com

|


MICHAEL HAGUE’S TREASURY OF CHRISTMAS CAROLS

Hague, Michael Illustrator: Hague, Michael Sterling (48 pp.) $9.95 | September 6, 2011 978-1-4027-7812-4

A velvety cover in holly-berry red sets the tone for this short collection of traditional Christmas carols illustrated with Hague’s cuddly animal characters singing along with each other and preparing for the holiday. The collection includes “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls,” “O Christmas Tree” and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.” The words to each song are attractively laid out in large type on ivory pages with decorative, Christmas-themed borders. Opposite each page of text is an illustration of one of Hague’s animals: a rabbit in a one-horse open sleigh, bears finding their tree and cooking figgy pudding and mixed groups of cooperative creatures caroling together in the snow. The arrangement of songs and animal groups forms a coherent visual story of preparation and celebration, just right to introduce younger children to the traditional carols or to use in a holiday storytime as a musical selection. The choice of a larger type font and layout incorporating white space make this a suitable choice for new readers as well. Hague’s illustrations have the same dreamy charm that has made his work popular over the past 30 years, but he now prepares his illustrations digitally. This “Yuletide treasure” is a sweet treat; time to “[s] trike the harp and join the chorus.” (notes on songs, Illustrator’s note) (Picture book/early reader. 2-8)

JINGLE BELLS How the Holiday Classic Came to Be

Harris, John Illustrator: Gustavson, Adam Peachtree (32 pp.) $16.95 | October 1, 2011 978-1-56145-590-4 Harris offers a fictionalized interpretation of the circumstances surrounding the beloved carol’s composition in Savannah, Ga., in the era just before the Civil War. The song, originally titled “One Horse Open Sleigh,” was composed by John Pierpont, a music director who worked at the Unitarian church in Savannah. As he explains in an author’s note, Harris takes some of the known facts about the composer, rearranges some dates and creates a plot in which Pierpont composes the song for a Thanksgiving service. His daughter, Lillie, and an African-American girl adopted by a member of the church are also main characters, and they use strings of sleigh bells during the song’s performance and join with the other children from the church in tossing bags of feathers at the conclusion to simulate snow. The story begins with a racially based |

kirkusreviews.com

attack on the church (bricks thrown through the church windows because a few church members were African-American) and concludes with the two girls side-by-side performing in solidarity, with the composer’s rousing hope that the song “reaches the whole world.” Pleasant oil paintings in a large format create the appropriate historical milieu for the Southern, pre-Civil War setting and appealing personalities for the two girls. The author’s artistic license creates a modern fable with a pleasant provenance for the song, but it’s not clear enough that this is fiction. (Picture book. 6-9)

GRACE AT CHRISTMAS

Hoffman, Mary Illustrator: Van Wright, Cornelius Illustrator: Hu, Ying-Hwa Dial (32 pp.) $17.99 | October 13, 2011 978-0-8037-3577-4 Many faith traditions and cultures advocate welcoming the stranger to the table of fellowship, and Grace learns this lesson firsthand when her family hosts a mother-daughter pair for Christmas. Grace is a vibrant, naturally appealing girl who has previously starred in several picture books and a chapter book about different aspects of her life with Ma, Nana and her cat, Paw-Paw (Princess Grace, 2008, etc.). She loves acting and dress-up, and in this tale she acts out the Nativity story, pressing her family members into service in multiple roles. Grace is resentful when Anita and her daughter Savannah are invited to stay for Christmas, but the two girls quickly become friends through shared creative play and their mutual experience of being separated from their fathers at Christmas. Savannah’s aunt, a professional ballet dancer, joins the group for Christmas dinner and participates in another re-enactment of the Nativity story, followed by an impromptu ballet performance. Softly shaded watercolor illustrations capture the emotions and facial expressions of the characters and provide intriguing patterns and textures in clothing details and decorations. In a few places, the illustrations do not match specific descriptions in the text, which sharp-eyed young readers are sure to notice. Grace learns some subtle lessons about sharing and being open to unexpected gifts, adding an additional layer of meaning to her name. (Picture book. 4-8)

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1621


HANUKKAH, OH HANUKKAH!

holding paddles, after all), and the motivation of the stranger offering the magical transportation is unclear. But folktales are sometimes allowed to be a little puzzling, and the talents of Kimmel and the San Soucis keep this enigmatic and unusual Christmas story aloft. (author’s note, glossary) (Picture book/folktale. 5-9)

Illustrator: Ivanov, Aleksey Illustrator: Ivanov, Olga Marshall Cavendish (32 pp.) $12.99 | e-book $12.99 September 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5845-6 e-book 978-0-7614-6007-7

THE GOLEM’S LATKES

The timeless Eastern European holiday song is illustrated with deep opaque strokes and features a stereotypical white American Jewish family. Full-bodied, double-page spreads detail each activity as it is sung—lighting the menorah, having a party and dancing the hora, gathering around the table, playing dreidel and eating latkes. A shimmering, fully lit menorah complete with half-melted candles serves as the impetus for the family to reflect on the “days long ago,” with one final Biblical scene set within a thought bubble above the little boy’s cheerful face. Cherubic round faces with ecstatic expressions against blue/lavender and yellow backgrounds dominate the digitally finished acrylic paintings. The Ivanovs have paid attention to details, including yarmulkes for the male family members and the furry white Samoyed dog. This nice, if unexceptional visual interpretation of the brief, classic song will have little ones singing along throughout the eight-day celebration. (historical note, sheet music) (Picture book. 2-5)

THE FLYING CANOE A Christmas Story

Kimmel, Eric A. Illustrator: San Souci, Daniel Illustrator: San Souci, Justin Holiday House (32 pp.) $16.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-8234-1730-8

Kimmel, an expert in folktales and their origins, retells a mysterious story about six French-Canadian fur traders who use a magical flying canoe to get home to Montreal for Christmas. The voyageurs are stuck in a remote location in Ontario on Christmas Eve, missing their families. A stranger in the clothing of the early explorers suddenly appears, offering them transport home if they will remain silent for the entire trip. Their canoe magically floats above the clouds as the men paddle silently, communicating with Indian sign language. One of the men speaks up on arriving home, causing the reappearance of the stranger, who is just about to send them back when the canoe gets stuck on the spire of the cathedral, allowing the men to escape. Evocative illustrations from Daniel San Souci, in collaboration with his son Justin, offer spooky views of the moonlit canoe sailing over lakes, forests and a fort in northern Michigan. Though the story has some humorous moments, the fluidity of the signed communication between the men as they paddle through the dark skies strains credulity (they are 1622

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

Adaptor: Kimmel, Eric A. Illustrator: Jasinski, Aaron Marshall Cavendish (40 pp.) $17.99 | e-book $17.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5904-0 e-book 978-0-7614-6006-0 The renowned Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague and his mythical golem appear in this Hanukkah fairy tale inspired by The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and reminiscent of Tomie dePaola’s Strega Nona. Rabbi Judah has much to do but little time. When he must visit the emperor, he allows his new housemaid, Basha, the assistance of the golem to clean the house and make latkes for the first night of the Rabbi’s Hanukkah party. Basha must direct the golem to stop his task by saying, “Golem, enough.” Basha, however, is so impressed by the golem’s effortless, incessant work she decides to visit a friend while the golem continues to “PEEL. CHOP. MIX. FRY.” Hours later, a mountain of golden, crispy latkes overtakes the city walls, proving that the golem indeed does “have clay for brains … [and] doesn’t know when to quit.” As all Prague residents happily partake in the Hanukkah delicacy, Basha wonders if a mountain of golem-baked hamantaschen can be possible for Purim…. Rich, earthy-toned acrylic paints on wood panels bring this predictable yet amusing Old World yarn to life with detailed brush strokes to invoke the mottling of the hand-molded clay giant or the silky fur of the Rabbi’s wide shtreimel hat. The golem, which could be frightening, here is painted with a beatific smile and, despite his size, looks about as threatening as Gumby. Kimmel’s storytelling is effective in its use of suspense, humor, trope and repetition, making a fine read-aloud holiday treat. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5-8)

NATHAN BLOWS OUT THE HANUKKAH CANDLES

Lehman-Wilzig, Tami Katzman, Nicole Illustrator: Tugeau, Jeremy Kar-Ben (32 pp.) $17.95 | paper $7.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7613-6657-7 paper 978-0-7613-6658-4 The traditional family Hanukkah celebration is here adjusted to include an autistic boy’s interpretation. Jacob’s brother, Nathan, can be quite vexing, especially when he repeats himself constantly. Jacob’s mother has explained that kirkusreviews.com

|


“The emotion-filled text conveys the excitement and wonder of the Nativity story, but Jay’s stunning illustrations are the volume’s best feature.” from song of the stars

Nathan’s “mind is wired differently” and that he “just looks at things in his own way.” On the first two nights of Hanukkah, Jacob is excited to welcome new neighbors Steven and parents to their candle-lighting ceremony. He quickly regrets it when, to his acute embarrassment, Nathan blows out the candles despite being told they are not like birthday ones. Playing dreidel also proves to be less than enjoyable when Nathan fixates on the spinning and ignores the rest of the game. Yet when confronted by Steven—“your brother is weird” —Jacob counters with the defiant response that Nathan’s autistic (not, as Steven mishears, “artistic”) behavior helps his family see the world just a bit differently. Softly outlined illustrations offer snapshot views of family gatherings while also capturing emotional expressions of surprise, chagrin and enjoyment, as reflected in the arc of the story line. A creative final scene encompasses both the traditional menorah lighting as well as a birthdaylike candle celebration atop a tray of jelly doughnuts. This inclusive holiday story offers a realistic perspective on one family’s ability to embrace an autistic individual with respect and compassion. (author’s note) (Picture book. 6-8)

WHAT AM I? CHRISTMAS

Lewis, Anne Margaret Illustrator: Mills, Tom Whitman (24 pp.) $9.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-8075-8958-8 Series: What Am I?

A simple riddle format lets toddlers and preschoolers use textual and visual clues to guess the Christmas character or item hidden behind sturdy flaps on each right-hand page. Following the same pattern used in What Am I? Halloween (2011), a short description written in first person on each left-hand page gives some obvious clues: “I’m topped with a golden star, and my needles are green.” Each flap asks, “What am I? What could I be?” Under the flap, part of the illustration peeks out to give the young reader another way to predict the answer, revealed in both words and the full-scale illustration when the flap is lifted. Following pages introduce the cast of familiar Christmas characters: an angel, a reindeer, a snowman, an elf and Santa, of course. The brightly colored illustrations are done in a cartoon style with large, simple shapes that fit into the lift-the-flap format. While this format may seem obvious to anyone over the age of 5 (and especially to any older siblings who might pick this up), the structure is remarkably well thought out for the youngest children, who will find the clues-predictionanswer concept an amusing challenge. (Picture book. 1-5)

|

kirkusreviews.com

SONG OF THE STARS A Christmas Story

Lloyd-Jones, Sally Illustrator: Jay, Alison Zonderkidz (32 pp.) $15.99 | September 13, 2011 978-0-310-72291-5

A wide variety of animals from diverse environments feels the excitement of the impending event in Bethlehem, and many of them hurry along, crowding around the manger to welcome Baby Jesus. The poetic text focuses on the mysterious, powerful forces that created a feeling of anticipation in the natural world at the time of the first Christmas. Animals, flowers, the wind, the skies and the sea all know that something miraculous is about to happen. The brief story effectively emphasizes the excitement of the animals and the involvement of all the natural forces in the important event. However, from a theological viewpoint, some of the text surrounding the birth of Jesus is beyond the developmental level of the intended audience. (“The One who made us has come to live with us!”) Large-format illustrations in Jay’s striking, signature style are presented in alternating formats across two-page spreads, in half circles, rectangles and ovals, effectively varying the presentation. Her paintings use a crackled overglaze that impart a folk-art look, along with slightly exaggerated proportions and flattened perspective. The emotion-filled text conveys the excitement and wonder of the Nativity story, but Jay’s stunning illustrations are the volume’s best feature. (Picture book/religion. 3-6)

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Illustrator: Long, Laurel Dial (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 13, 2011 978-0-8037-3357-2 Ornate illustrations in a lush, romantic style follow the traditional wording of the old song, with all the accumulating gifts hidden within each succeeding illustration. This version has a dreamy, fairy-tale sensibility, though Long does not provide a clear visual narrative to accompany all the verses of the song. There is a mysterious woman in red in the background of several illustrations, angels serving as pipers and nine ladies dancing who look like they stepped out of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” The 10 lords a-leaping are knights in armor riding off to battle, with the lady in red again hurrying away in the distance. All the gifts (in the correct numbers) are hidden in each following illustration, tucked into borders, shadows, flowers and costumes, often in tiny or faint formats that are difficult even for an adult to locate. The solution key to the hidden gifts is printed in thumbnail sketches on the back of the book’s paper cover, which limits this volume’s usefulness |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1623


“A fresh take on the Nativity story is a tall order, but this beautifully realized offering sounds like a winner, in every way.” from listen to the silent night

in library settings. The final two-page spread shows all the gifts integrated into a complex outdoor scene. The intricate illustrations demonstrate the artist’s considerable skills, but the total effort is a fragmented conglomeration that fails to create a story for the song. To see what really can be done with the song, read Jane Ray’s exquisite version (2011). (artist’s note, musical notation) (Picture book. 5-7)

LISTEN TO THE SILENT NIGHT

Mackall, Dandi Daley Illustrator: Johnson, Steve Illustrator: Fancher, Lou Dutton (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 13, 2011 978-0-525-42276-1 Mackall cleverly turns the idea of a silent Christmas Eve night upside down with this poetic view of the first Christmas, focusing on the sounds made by each participant in the Nativity story. A soaring owl (“who, who, who”) leads readers into the story with a glorious bird’s-eye view of Mary and Joseph below, followed by pages with the sounds of Joseph’s sandals, his knock at the inn’s door and the sounds of the animals in the stable. The perfectly rhymed verses continue presenting more sounds of those hurrying to the manger, leading to the concluding cry of the newborn child. The unusual rhyme scheme (abbba) repeats the same first line for each stanza—“It was not such a silent night”—with the following line presenting the next sound distinguished through larger type in italics. The rhythm also contributes to the effect, with a staccato pattern suggestive of hurrying feet. Evocative paintings jointly created by Johanson and Fancher have a unifying element of royal blue skies speckled with stars, echoed in the blue pattern of Mary’s robe. The design of each spread incorporates motion in creative ways, with the text set in striking white type. A fresh take on the Nativity story is a tall order, but this beautifully realized offering sounds like a winner, in every way. (Picture book/religion. 4-8)

SANTA’S ON HIS WAY A Changing-Picture Book Martin, Ruth Illustrator: Williams, Sophy Templar/Candlewick (14 pp.) $12.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7636-5555-6

through Santa’s mailbag. Regular spreads alternate with three additional gatefold flaps and changeable pictures, all in a pleasant, soft-focus style, showing Santa’s busy workshop, barn and cozy parlor, where he rests before his big night. The text pages count down from December 19 to December 24, with Santa and the reindeer taking off against a full moon on the final page. The changeable picture there shows a large, snow-covered home, and when the gatefold is opened, two children stand at their window, looking up at the illustration of Santa and his sleigh. The pages are sturdy cardboard, although the binding will need reinforcement if the volume receives heavy use. The forgettable text is just a placeholder to accompany the illustrations, but the novelty of the changeable pictures and movable flaps will interest younger children during the long days before Christmas. (Picture book. 3-5)

LITTLE BUNNY AND THE MAGIC CHRISTMAS TREE

Martin, David Illustrator: Gorbachev, Valeri Candlewick (40 pp.) $15.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7636-3693-7

An extra-large format and engaging illustrations of an adorable rabbit family help to elevate this story about a bunny boy who interacts with Christmas-tree ornaments that come alive on Christmas Eve. When Little Bunny is teased by his older brother about his diminutive size, the young rabbit pouts and falls asleep under the Christmas tree. Some friendly ornaments encourage him to “think small,” and through some unexplained Christmas magic, Little Bunny shrinks down to the size of an ornament himself. He climbs up the tree, chats with the little characters and then drives his favorite fire-truck ornament through the branches and right up to the tree-top star. The ornaments invite Little Bunny to stay with them, but he misses his family, so he returns to reality in time for the Christmas morning celebration. Gorbachev’s expressive watercolor-and-ink illustrations make Little Bunny’s flight of fancy seem quite possible and realistic, and his buck-toothed bunny rabbits are endearing in their comical outfits, with clever touches like glasses and hair bows. The story is a little too long and wordy, though, too often telling what Little Bunny thinks rather than showing. The saving touch of magic in the illustrations makes readers care about Little Bunny and his Christmas Eve quest. (Picture book. 3-7)

A slight story about Santa’s countdown to Christmas Eve is paired with nostalgic, soft-focus illustrations with changeable picture cutouts and gatefold flaps offering surprises within the art. The cover illustration with a round die-cut shows Santa at home in his spectacles, checking his list. As the cover is opened, this picture changes to a view of the elves and reindeer sorting 1624

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

kirkusreviews.com

|


ELMER’S CHRISTMAS

McKee, David Illustrator: McKee, David Andersen Press USA (32 pp.) $16.95 | e-book $12.95 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7613-8088-7 e-book 978-0-7613-8090-0 Elmer the patchwork elephant celebrates Christmas and the arrival of Papa Red, the elephantine equivalent of Santa Claus, in this quirky explanation of the origin of Christmas gifts. As the little elephants in Elmer’s herd eagerly anticipate Papa Red’s annual visit, Elmer takes them off to look for a Christmas tree so the older elephants can “prepare the presents.” Elmer and his charges return with a huge tree to decorate, which they plan to return after use. The whole herd and all their other animal pals decorate the tree together, piling a heap of wrapped presents underneath. On Christmas Eve, the young elephants hide behind tall plants (though readers can see their eyes and trunks peeking out), and they observe Papa Red’s arrival in his sleigh (drawn by moose instead of reindeer). Elmer helps Papa Red load all the presents into the sleigh for delivery, and the story concludes with Elmer leaving one package from Papa Red next to each sleeping elephant. McKee’s cheerful gouache illustrations in double-page-spread format have their usual naïve charm with flattened perspective and profile portraits of Elmer’s animal friends. Simple enough for younger preschoolers, but charming enough to please Elmer’s devoted fans of any age. (Picture book. 3-6)

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS IN WASHINGTON

Nez, John Abbott Illustrator: Nez, John Abbott Sterling (32 pp.) $12.95 | October 4, 2011 978-1-4027-7068-5 Series: The Twelve Days of Christmas in…

bulletin-board spread. Brief biographies of famous Washington residents and a note about Mt. St. Helens are also included. Cheery illustrations of Max and Molly enjoying their travels skillfully accommodate the busy format. Younger children who are not ready for all the information in the letters will enjoy just singing along with the clever parody, while older kids will appreciate Max’s witty writing style. (Picture book. 3-9)

A CHRISTMAS SPIDER’S MIRACLE

Noble, Trinka Hakes Illustrator: Costanza, Stephen Sleeping Bear Press (32 pp.) $16.95 | September 1, 2011 978-1-58536-602-6

An impoverished single human mother struggling to provide a Christmas treat for her children and a spider mother trying to care for her own babies find their lives intersecting on Christmas Eve in this poignant interpretation of a Ukrainian folktale. Luminous illustrations in jewel-bright tones show the smiling mother spider in her kerchief and dress, trying to keep her seven babies warm outside in the wintry weather. The mother spider is quite appealing in the illustrations, with a gentle demeanor and sweet expression that should mollify any arachnophobic readers. The human mother does her best to care for her three children in their tiny cottage, but she can’t afford any of the Christmas toys or sweets sold in the market stalls. Late on Christmas Eve, she goes out to bring in a little fir tree from the forest, though she has only ideas and no materials for decorations. The spider mother and her children are hidden in the tree, and during the night, the spider spins gossamer decorations for the tree using the woman’s sketches as inspiration. The story unfolds smoothly, with the lyrical, dramatic text conveying the desperate circumstances of the family’s poverty, as well as the miraculous resolution for both devoted mothers. An appealing story with a magical aura spun by the shimmering illustrations and memorable story. (author’s note) (Picture book/folktale. 4-8)

This geographically based series with a “Twelve Days of Christmas” structure continues with the latest entry set in Washington State. A boy named Max is visiting his cousin Molly and her parents at their houseboat in Seattle for the Christmas season. The format places a letter from Max to his parents with the details of the group’s travels around the state on each left-hand page. On the facing pages, the “Twelve Days of Christmas” parody unfolds with all the gifts that Max received from his cousin, beginning with a welcoming gift of a goldfinch in a hemlock tree and ending with 12 boats a-blinking at the annual parade of Christmas ships. Lots of interesting sights, sounds and events are described in Max’s letters home, and additional facts and trivia about the state are included in a concluding two-page |

kirkusreviews.com

THE THIRD GIFT

Park, Linda Sue Illustrator: Ibatoulline, Bagram Clarion (32 pp.) $16.99 | November 14, 2011 978-0-547-20195-5 Newbery Medalist Park offers a Christmas story explaining how myrrh is harvested and how it came to be one of the gifts carried to the Christ Child by the three Wise Men. Her story begins with an intriguing opening line: “My father collects tears.” The story is narrated by a boy whose father is |

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1625


teaching him to harvest dried pearls of sap that bleed out of myrrh trees when the bark is cut. The dried sap, the boy postulates, is “called tears because it seems as if the tree is crying.” The narrator explains the various applications of the tears, including the funereal use of the very best tears. The father allows his son to harvest the largest tear during their search, which is then sold at the spice market to three men who are taking special gifts to a baby. As the men leave on their camels, the boy is left wondering about this baby. The mysterious tone of the text and subtle references to tears, blood and mourning foreshadow the fate of this special newborn. Large-format illustrations in a subdued palette are suffused with golden light, complemented by parchment-colored backgrounds for the text blocks. The cumulative effect of text and illustrations has a sad rather than celebratory feeling, unusual in a Christmasthemed story and therefore refreshing in a usually relentlessly cheery season. (author’s note) (Picture book/religion. 6-9)

THE TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

Illustrator: Ray, Jane Candlewick (32 pp.) $16.99 | September 1, 2011 978-0-7636-5735-2 The lovely cover of this exquisite interpretation of the classic song draws readers in immediately with its soft pink background and delicate pear tree next to a cup of tea and a letter hinting at the delightful story inside. On the first day of Christmas, readers see an old-fashioned city street with a postman delivering the pear tree to a surprised young lady at a house marked number four. There are other people on the street and in the windows of the other houses, but look closely at the house next door to number four. (There, in the window: the shy young man wearing glasses.) He is watching from his window as many of the ensuing gifts are delivered to the pretty young lady, each one bearing a tag “to my true love.” As the presents accumulate, the typical mayhem with geese, swans, cows and pipers ensues, coming to a touching conclusion on the final page, when the young man finally finds enough courage to knock on the door of number four, bearing a single rose for his true love. Ray’s luminous illustrations in watercolor, ink and collage mesmerize and feature a 1920s setting and a multiracial cast of characters in period costumes. Every twopage spread is a surprise in content and composition, and her skilled accommodation of all the birds, beasts and performers, as well as the two sweethearts, is remarkable. A dazzling accomplishment. (Picture book. 3-7)

1626

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

THE BEST CHRISTMAS PAGEANT EVER

Robinson, Barbara Illustrator: Cornell, Laura Harper/HarperCollins (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 1, 2011 978-0-06-089074-2 The beloved novel about the ultimate church Christmas pageant is abridged for a younger audience or shorter holiday storytimes, with charming watercolor illustrations that bring the crowd of Herdmans to life. Robinson’s classic tale, first published in 1972, relates the story of the six ill-behaved Herdman children, who suddenly begin attending Sunday school at their neighborhood church. They take over all the major roles in the Christmas pageant, causing lots of humorous mischief along the way. The unusual pageant is ultimately a great success, with heartfelt performances by the Herdman kids, who bring their holiday ham to the manger as their offering. This truncated version cuts the longer story down to just the basic plot elements, without the hilarious hijinks of the Herdmans and with some loss of the subtle underlying theme conveyed in the full-length novel. However, the story is often performed as a play during the holiday season, and this shorter version will serve well as an introduction to children prior to a performance or as a read-aloud for the family gathered around the Christmas tree. Cornell’s distinctive, loose watercolors add humorous details. The full-length novel better conveys the complex narrative, but this picture-book version makes the basic story easily accessible to all. Final art not seen. (Picture book. 4-9)

THE CARPENTER’S GIFT A Christmas Tale about the Rockefeller Center Tree

Rubel, David Illustrator: LaMarche, Jim Random (48 pp.) $17.99 | PLB $20.99 | September 27, 2011 978-0-375-86922-8 PLB 978-0-375-96922-5

An elderly man named Henry recalls the Christmas season of 1931 in this relatively long story that connects the Depression era to Habitat for Humanity via the enormous Christmas trees at Rockefeller Center in New York City. A boy of 9 or 10, Henry lives with his parents in a tiny, unheated shack in the country. Henry helps his father cut down evergreen trees to take to the city to sell, and there they befriend some men working on the construction of Rockefeller Center. Together they decorate a makeshift Christmas tree; Henry’s father gives the last of the trees to the workers. On Christmas morning the workers respond by arriving at Henry’s home with materials to build a new house. The boy receives a hammer from one of the men, and Henry grows up to be a skilled carpenter himself. In a Dickensian series of coincidences, a huge tree kirkusreviews.com

|


“Virginia’s personality shines through in this poignant story that entertains and informs without recourse to stereotypes.” from the christmas coat

on Henry’s land is chosen as a Christmas tree for Rockefeller Center, with wood milled from the tree to be given to a family for their new house. Henry meets the young girl whose family will receive the wood and passes his treasured hammer on to her. Luminous illustrations in a large format have a muted, shimmering quality, especially in the concluding view of the magical tree at Rockefeller Center. A sentimental but touching story with beautifully realized illustrations. (author’s note) (Picture book. 5-9)

THE HANUKKAH HOP!

Silverman, Erica Illustrator: D’Amico, Steven Simon & Schuster (32 pp.) $12.99 | October 4, 2011 978-1-4424-0604-9

The arrival of some special guests transforms the traditional family Hanukkah gathering into a dance fest that has everyone moving to the rhythm of a bopping, hopping beat. Excitement mounts while Rachel and her parents get ready to host the extended family. Streamers, blue balloons and shiny menorahs are all arranged while latkes fry and the family listens to a “jazzy bim-bom beat.” Unlike Lisa Wheeler’s sprightly, zesty jitterbug verse in Jazz Baby (illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, 2007), Silverman’s forced, uneven rhymes are only marginally successful at achieving that bebop syncopation. She seems to struggle with her verse framework to include all the conventional elements (dreidels, menorahs, latkes) and a very brief summary of the origin of the holiday along with the description of a joyous celebration. Her inclusion of a Klezmer band (the Mazel-Tones) injects much-needed energy into the party with its version of the ever-changing refrain. “Biddy-biddy bim-bom / bim-bom bop. / Spin! Swing! Sway! / Dive! Jump Pop! / The party’s going wild / at the Hanukkah Hop!” While the text falls short and is difficult to read aloud with an appropriately fluid musical swing, the digitally rendered cartoon-style art provides retro-cool images of a raucous, frenzied shindig. An unsuccessful blending of the holiday’s history and rituals with a boogie-woogie theme leaves this Hanukkah addition on the sidelines. (glossary) (Picture book. 4-7)

THE CHRISTMAS COAT Memories of My Sioux Childhood

Sneve, Virginia Driving Hawk Illustrator: Beier, Ellen Holiday House (32 pp.) $16.00 | August 1, 2011 978-0-8234-2134-3

This straightforward, heartfelt reminiscence recalls a Christmas season from the author’s childhood on the Rosebud Sioux Reservation in South Dakota, a time when she needed a |

kirkusreviews.com

new winter coat and her younger brother needed snow boots. When boxes of donated clothing arrive before Christmas, Virginia and her brother are the last to receive anything. Because their father is the Episcopal priest at the reservation, the children are trained to let others take precedence. A snotty rival of Virginia’s selects a fur coat that Virginia covets, and when that doesn’t suit, she later takes the plain cloth coat set aside for Virginia as well. But on Christmas Eve, two special boxes sent just for the priest’s children are set out for Virginia and her brother, containing a soft red coat and sturdy cowboy boots. The story unfolds in a linear, matter-of-fact way reminiscent of the writing of Laura Ingalls Wilder, with school and family scenes and a strong sense of the main character’s emotions and family ties. Realistic illustrations in w atercolor and gouache capture the snowy, flat landscape, the simple schoolroom and the crowd of children each experiencing something different at the holiday events. Virginia’s personality shines through in this poignant story that entertains and informs without recourse to stereotypes. (Picture book. 5-9)

THE PERFECT CHRISTMAS

Spinelli, Eileen Illustrator: Adinolfi, JoAnn Christy Ottaviano/Henry Holt (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 25, 2011 978-0-8050-8702-4 Spinelli and Adinolfi team up again for a look at another perfect holiday celebration, following the same families chronicled in their collaboration on The Perfect Thanksgiving (2003). The unnamed narrator describes her family’s preparations for a casual, homemade Christmas celebration, contrasting their way of doing things with those of her best friend and neighbor, Abigail Archer. In rhyming quatrains, the narrator tells about Abigail’s family, “as perfect as can be,” cutting their own Christmas tree, arranging elegant decorations and serving gourmet treats. The narrator’s family has a more casual approach, with a scrawny, artificial tree, recycled decorations and cookies so hard one once “broke my uncle’s toe.” Though the comparisons are humorous and both girls seem happy, the Archer family is obviously wealthier than that of the narrator, and some of the comparisons (for example, between a chauffeur-driven limousine and a pickup truck) are both exaggerated and elitist. By the conclusion, both families are outside on equal footing, enjoying a snowfall together. Adinolfi’s cheerful collage illustrations in a naïve style provide a bright, detailed environment and multiracial families in both homes. The author’s point may be that any joyous celebration with a happy family is a perfect Christmas, but this classbased comparison doesn’t seem to be the aptest focus for a children’s holiday story. (Picture book. 4-7)

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1627


“This unforgettable interpretation stands out as a bright, multifaceted star in the crowded constellation of Christmas Eve stories.” from one starry night

THE GREATEST GIFT The Story of the Other Wise Man

978-1-84686-578-7

and manger. Look deeper again. Both the muted illustrations using simple shapes and a flattened perspective and the simplified text from two viewpoints indicate the influence of cubism, a different way of looking at a complex subject. This unforgettable interpretation stands out as a bright, multifaceted star in the crowded constellation of Christmas Eve stories. (Picture book/religion. 4-8)

Reteller: Summers, Susan Illustrator: Morris, Jackie Barefoot (32 pp.) $16.99 | November 1, 2011

This lyrically told story of an unknown Wise Man with a different sort of gift is based on Henry Van Dyke’s Victorian-era tale, “The Story of the Other Wise Man.” The fourth Wise Man, Artaban, was a friend of the betterknown trio who had plans to join them on their journey to honor the newborn Christ Child. He sells his house and buys three jewels to take as his gift, but he is prevented from meeting the other Wise Men when he stops to tend to a sick man. Artaban continues to search for the new King of Kings unsuccessfully for the rest of his life, using each jewel over the ensuing years to help someone else. The final jewel is employed at the time of Christ’s crucifixion to save a young woman from being sold as a slave. This intriguing story unfolds in flowing prose with the feeling of a folktale, conveying a subtle message in Artaban’s kindness toward the needy of any religion. Morris provides handsome watercolor illustrations in a smoky palette of earth tones, with a soft focus that complements the ancient setting. The length of this story makes it most suitable for elementary-age children, but teens and adults will also appreciate this moving tale of a Wise Man with a special gift. (author’s note) (Picture book/religion. 6 & up)

ONE STARRY NIGHT

Thompson, Lauren Illustrator: Bean, Jonathan McElderry (32 pp.) $16.99 | October 4, 2011 978-0-689-82851-5

This arresting story of the first Christmas has a succinct, powerful, rhyming text and striking illustrations unlike any other version of the Nativity story, with art and words perfectly matched in an artistic tour de force. At first glance, the story seems extremely short, even simplistic, and the illustrations washed out, lacking color or life. Look deeper. The gentle, soothing text is related in two voices, one describing mother-and-child pairs of animals, the second offering comforting words in the voice of the mother. The mother’s words are a beautiful rhyming poem, the thoughts of a caring parent that can also be interpreted as the voice of God speaking to his children. The motherand-child pairs move slowly through the dark night, illustrated in minimalist shapes in a desert-night palette of tan, gray, gray-blue and black. The animal pairs gather around Mary and Joseph and their newborn in a tableau of simple shapes against a huge tree, with the merest hint of a shelter 1628

|

1 september 2011

|

children

&

teens

|

THE CHRISTMAS CATS

Wallace, Nancy K. Illustrator: Housley, Cathren Pelican (32 pp.) $16.99 | September 30, 2011 978-1-58980-979-6

Eight cats crash a Christmas tea party in this rhyming holiday story that tries hard to be funny and charming but misses the mark by more than a whisker. Elizabeth Ann and her sister Mollie live in a Victorian house with their mother and their collection of cats of different colors and personalities. The girls are planning their annual dress-up tea party, but the cats are not invited; they are banished to an upstairs bedroom with treats to keep them busy. The clever cats escape, charge downstairs and into the party scene, causing a ruckus. They leap onto the tea table, spilling milk, flinging food and helping themselves to sandwiches and drinks. The subdued girls pet the now-exhausted cats, and the story concludes with the guests declaring they rather liked the feline frenzy. The rhyming text plods along in sing-song fashion with several clunky near-rhymes that fall flat and lines that don’t scan well. Some of the illustrations of the cats are comical, but the girls look like paper dolls—and sad paper dolls at that. The premise of cats running amok at a tea party has the potential for humor, but neither the writer nor the illustrator can pull this off. (Picture book. 3-6)

SISTER BEAR A Norse Tale

Reteller: Yolen, Jane Illustrator: Graves, Linda Marshall Cavendish (32 pp.) $17.99 | e-book $17.99 September 1, 2011 978-0-7614-5958-3 e-book 978-0-7614-6072-5

Yolen’s clever retelling of an old Norse folktale changes the main character from a boy to a brave, smart girl named Halva, a welcome addition to the roster of clever folk heroines who solve their own problems. Halva finds an adorable, white bear cub in the woods and takes her home to raise as her pet, despite parental misgivings. kirkusreviews.com

|


The bear becomes so well-trained and beloved that she earns the name of Sister Bear. When Halva decides to take Sister Bear to meet the king, they stop on Christmas Eve to stay with a family along their route. Her new friends are about to evacuate in fear of the annual Christmastime visit of a pack of evil trolls, so Halva and Sister Bear decide to take on the trolls. Together they fend off the troll attack with a combination of wits and Sister Bear’s brawn and then continue their journey to visit the king. Appealing illustrations in pastel, colored pencil and watercolor create delightful personalities for Halva and Sister Bear along with intricately detailed Scandinavian costumes and interior scenes. The troupe of trolls is suitably horrid (“[t]en feet high, green teeth, terrible manners”) though not truly terrifying. This satisfying tale from a consummate storyteller will be popular with those who like Scandinavian settings, and many readers will wish for a companion like Sister Bear. (author’s note) (Picture book/folktale. 4-8)

This Issue’s Contributors # Kim Becnel • Emilie Bishop • Marcie Bovetz • Kimberly Brubaker Bradley • Sophie Brookover • Louise Brueggemann • Timothy Capehart • Louise Capizzo • Ann Childs • Julie Cummins • GraceAnne A. DeCandido • Dave DeChristopher • Elise DeGuiseppi • Lisa Dennis • Carol Edwards • Robin Elliott • Brooke Faulkner • Laurie Flynn • Diane B. Foote • Omar Gallaga • Barbara A. Genco • Judith Gire • Carol Goldman • Linnea Hendrickson • Heather L. Hepler • Megan Honig • Jennifer Hubert • Shelley Huntington • Kathleen T. Isaacs • Laura Jenkins • Betsy Judkins • Deborah Kaplan • K. Lesley Knieriem • Robin Fogle Kurz • Megan Lambert • Angela Leeper • Peter Lewis • Ellen Loughran • Lauren Maggio • Joan Malewitz • Hillias J. Martin • Kathie Meizner • Lisa Moore • Rachel Moore R. Moore • Kathleen Odean • John Edward Peters • Susan Pine • Rebecca Rabinowitz • Kristy Raffensberger • Nancy Thalia Reynolds • Melissa Riddle Chalos • Lesli Rodgers • Leslie L. Rounds • Dean Schneider • Chris Shoemaker • Karyn N. Silverman • Paula Singer • Meg Smith • Robin Smith • Karin Snelson • Rita Soltan • Edward T. Sullivan • Shelley Sutherland • Ebony E. Thomas • Bette WendellBranco • Monica D. Wyatt

|

kirkusreviews.com

|

children

&

teens

|

1 september 2011

|

1629


kirkus indie Kirkus has been keeping an eye on selfpublishing for years, and we’ve never seen anything like the current boom. With the number of self-published titles now pushing 1 million per year, and independent authors utilizing new technologies to sell tens of thousands of copies of their work, the age of indie has truly arrived. Kirkus Indie brings readers the best works by independent authors, and we bring independent authors the crucial tools to get the word out about their books like no one else. We’ll give your book an unbiased, professional review, and then we’ll push that review into the world via our social-media properties, newsletters, website and expanding content. To learn more about Kirkus Indie and start promoting your title, please visit us online at kirkusreviews.com/indie/about.

1630

|

1 september 2011

|

kirkus indie

|

PRIMACY

Fishman, J.E. Verbitrage (400 pp.) $24.95 | September 1, 2011 ISBN: 978-0983380900 In Fishman’s eco-thriller, a voluble primate threatens to bring down the animal-testing industry. Liane Vinson has made her peace with working at the fabulously rich and sinister animal-testing corporation called Pentalon. Then one of her charges in the primate lab, a bonobo—that’s the chimpanzee subspecies famous for preferring love to war—named Bea utters what sound like actual, if indistinct, words, like “bowling-go,” “en-decko” and even “Liane.” Depending on where the reader falls regarding the novel’s overwrought philosophical dialogues on the nature of sentience, a talking chimp could seem like either a novelty act or the most profound challenge to human supremacy and self-regard ever; to Pentalon’s fantastically cruel CEO Axel Flickinger and his murderous security chief Vlad Gretch, Bea is the kind of animal-rights mascot that could tank the whole company. To save her from a laryngectomy, Liane busts Bea out of the lab and takes her on the lam, assisted by Mick, a mensch of a veterinarian. Pursued by Vlad as well as the ruthless, machine-gun-toting secret operatives of the Department of Agriculture, they turn to Liane’s old flame Corey, an eco-fanatic whose rather sensible plan—put Bea on TV as an animal-rights mascot—Liane rejects as too tawdry an exploitation of her simian innocence. Readers who would rather not get involved with a talky, bitey and none-too-housebroken ape will feel a bit bemused by the multiparty war to take custody of Bea. Fortunately, the author turns the scrimmage into good, boisterous fun. Fishman is a deft, fluent writer who’s great at turning out intricate action scenes, and he gives us appealing characters—even the chimp grows on you—to boot. Subplots about Liane’s dying mom and the anguished Congolese family who started all the trouble add pathos and exoticism to the mix. A hokey but entertaining thriller that’s more fun than a barrel of overgrown monkeys.

kirkusreviews.com

|


“On-target insights that will illuminate and enrage the average citizen.” from oil and finance

PAM OF BABYLON

Jenkins, Suzanne CreateSpace (330 pp.) $14.99 paperback | June 14, 2011 ISBN: 978-1461135920 An intriguing first novel that revolves around a husband’s death and hidden secrets. Pam Smith lives an apparently charmed life as a well-to-do Babylon, N.Y., homemaker in a large house by the water. In her 50s with her children grown, Pam is happy with her exemplary husband Jack. After he has a heart attack on the subway, however, the protagonist finds out more than she ever wanted to know about Jack. She uncovers a weapon in his desk, his extramarital affair, his mistress’ potential pregnancy and his possible abuse of her younger sister Marie, who comes to visit every weekend. Bordering on preposterous but consistently interesting, this psychological novel contains some mystery and moves along quickly for a non-thriller. While Pam is the novel’s protagonist, Jack’s mistress Sandra and Marie also play key roles. The three women all feel betrayed by Jack, and the plot focuses on their reactions to his deception. Pam, though, feels drawn to Sandra in empathy while Marie is angry and jealous. The women develop an odd bond, and Pam even invites the other two women for a weekend to relax at the beach house in Babylon—a hostess gesture that seems a bit extreme. The novel also focuses on Jack and Pam’s mothers, the latter of whom is having a hard time living alone in Brooklyn—Pam, of course, brings her to Babylon, too. Jenkins is skilled in her presentation of the characters’ inner thoughts, particularly at Jack’s funeral, where Pam’s emotions are decidedly mixed as various facts about her late spouse come to light. While the novel is convincing during moments between the main female characters, the plotline strains from narrative overload as extortion and issues of parentage come into play. Themes of sisterhood and abuse run through the book, and the three women shift between rivalry and friendship before becoming empowered by Jack’s demise. Women’s fiction with a touch of noir.

OIL AND FINANCE: The Epic Corruption from 2006 to 2010 Learsy, Raymond J. iUniverse (318 pp.) $33.95 | $23.95 paperback $9.99 e-book | May 5, 2011 ISBN: 978-1462018109 Paper: 978-1462018093

Learsy (Over a Barrel, 2007) offers a chronological and critical perspective on the power wielded by Big Oil and Wall Street. According to this compilation of Learsy’s writings for the Huffington Post over a five-year period, the nation’s economic |

health is essentially controlled by the petroleum and financial industries. Learsy’s searing criticism of these companies goes so far as to suggest that they, in collusion with the federal government, essentially created the country’s recent financial meltdown. The book is well-organized into logical sections, “Enemies Foreign” (in particular, OPEC), “Enemies Domestic” (including Big Oil and Wall Street) and “How We Can Fight Back,” which addresses the strategic petroleum reserve, our appetite for oil consumption and alternate energy sources. These essays may strike some as largely left-leaning, but one cannot argue with the author’s ability to identify and document the free reign given to oil companies and the transgressions of financial firms. His analysis of Big Oil’s influence during the George W. Bush years is particularly insightful. Learsy is refreshingly blunt. His indignation is palpable, as in this statement from a 2010 piece: “Where is the outrage here? Where are our vigilant Congress, our administration, our somnolent justice department and Federal Trade Commission while the oil boys are taking us to the cleaners?” In a 2009 essay about the Wall Street implosion, Learsy writes that the United States’ “creative vision and sense of fair play are being destroyed by vested interests that have stacked the deck so consistently and successfully as to destroy the meritocracy’s credibility altogether.” Learsy skewers Big Oil, Wall Street and the government alike, though he concedes there are no easy solutions to what has become an endemic problem. In his afterword, he says, “Too many people and interests have too much at stake in the status quo—both financially and in terms of their power of influence.” While Learsy’s commentary is unrelentingly harsh, it does represent an eloquent call to arms. On-target insights that will illuminate and enrage the average citizen.

A BINTEL BRIF

Nathan, John Xlibris (220 pp.) $29.99 | $19.99 paperback $9.99 e-book | February 2, 2011 ISBN: 978-1456857493 Paper: 978-1456857486 Veteran author and translator Nathan (Living Carelessly in Tokyo and Elsewhere, 2008, etc.) returns with a historical novel that artfully fuses the immigrant experience of 1910s New York with dark romance and political intrigue. By most measures, Abraham Cahan is a successful man—he’s the author of seminal works of Jewish immigrant fiction, a leftist political activist, a pillar of the community and an esteemed newspaper editor of the Yiddish-Socialist Forward, for which he writes an indispensable advice column. But a loveless, sterile marriage has left an emotional void in Cahan’s life, one exacerbated by his estrangement from the religious practices of his youth. So when a troubled woman writes the newspaper with a letter claiming familial sexual abuse, accompanied by a titillating photograph, Cahan ingratiates himself into her life with

kirkusreviews.com

|

kirkus indie

|

1 september 2011

|

1631


k i r ku s q & a w i t h ta n ya w r i g h t BUTTERFLY RISING

Tanya Wright CreateSpace (257 pp.) $12.00 paperback $2.99 e-book August 5, 2010 978-1453650363

True Blood’s Tanya Wright didn’t set out to become an actress. “I always wanted to be a writer,” says Wright, who plays Deputy Kenya Jones on the popular show. “When I went to Los Angeles 10 years ago, I was torn over whether I should pursue writing or acting. And then I got an acting job! And then I got another and another. So there was my answer.” But the actress, whose acting credits also include 24, ER and NYPD Blue, never stopped writing. Her debut novel, Butterfly Rising, follows the lives of two seemingly disparate women as they leave their hometown and encounter Lazarus of the Butterflies—and was inspired by the film of the same name that she wrote and directed. Q: Butterfly Rising was a film before it became a book, although it usually seems to go the other way around. Why did you choose to turn the movie into a novel?

K I R K US M E DI A L L C # President M A RC W I N K E L M A N SVP, Finance JA M E S H U L L SVP, Marketing MIK E HEJ N Y SVP, Online PAU L H O F F M A N #

POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Kirkus Reviews, PO Box 3601, Northbrook, IL 60065-3601. Periodicals Postage Paid at Austin, TX 78710 and at additional mailing offices.

1632

|

Q: Did you feel like you could expand the book’s plotline and characters, since it didn’t have same time constraints as a movie? A: Absolutely. The book and movie are two completely different mediums. With the book, you’re able to go deeper into a character—what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling. You can describe a pillow in great detail. Butterfly Rising is a story about two women who take a road trip to meet a mythical medical man named Lazarus. The movie focuses on the road trip. The book expands the life of these women up until they’re 70 years old. There’s a lot more material in the book than I could accommodate in the movie. Different medium, different rules. Q: What made you decide to self-publish instead of following the route of a traditional publisher? A: I can’t say I was without a traditional publishing option. I chose to self-publish for a number of different reasons. It was a very conscious decision on my part. Being on True Blood has been a help in that people will give me a chance, as the show is very popular.

1 september 2011

|

kirkus indie

|

I thought, who knows, I don’t know what will happen in a year or two. I can wait and have this book come out in a year and a half with a traditional publisher. Or I could do it now. I hired a great editor who has about 30 years’ experience in the business at big publishing houses, and a fantastic publicist. I knew I had to anchor myself with people in the publishing world who did their work well and were respected. I’m so glad that I did it this way. If anything I also want to be a sort of poster child of what can happen if you do something independently. Q: Do you find that you’re getting a lot of support from the True Blood community? A: Yes, they’ve been so supportive! These people are phenomenal. They go above and beyond the call of duty. I’m friends with the people who run the True Blood websites, and they post anything concerning Butterfly Rising. They’re just great, and I’m very grateful. Q: If you had to give one piece of an advice to an indie author, what would you tell him? A: Surround yourself with people who will take you to task on your manuscript. Listen to advice—but you don’t have to do any of it. You can do all of it, some of it, none of it. But have your mission be “how can I make this story better?” – By Rebecca Cramer

kirkusreviews.com

|

P HOTO C OU RT E SY OF TA N YA W RI GH T

Copyright 2011 by Kirkus Media LLC. KIRKUS REVIEWS (ISSN 0042 6598) is published semimonthly by Kirkus Media LLC, 6411 Burleson Road, Austin, TX 78744. Subscription prices are $169 for professionals ($199 International) and $129 ($169 International) for individual consumers (home address required). Single copy: $25.00. All other rates on request.

A: I think it came out as a movie first because, as an actor, that’s the world that I’m in. The characters came out in dialogue that would be more appropriate to film and television. But then I was doing some research on what was going on in the independent film world. There’s this word called “transmedia” that’s going around, and that’s “how can you tell one story over multiple mediums to expand the story and expand the reach.” I thought that the movie would make a great book. So, although I had written a screenplay and shot the movie, and I was in the midst of editing, I slowed the movie process down to accommodate me writing and publishing a book.


less than the purest motives. Though he vaguely suspects the situation is more than what it seems, he quickly finds himself drawn into a tangled plot with strands that seemingly lead to his professional competitors as well as the far more powerful interests of the Tammany Hall political machine. Before he knows it, Cahan’s reputation and fortunes teeter on the brink of ruin. Nathan’s rich, beautifully descriptive prose advances the story at a relaxed pace while realizing the crowded, variegated world of the Lower East Side in all its overstuffed essence. Nathan expertly characterizes Cahan, a historical figure, as a man tugged in many directions by competing forces: between Jewish shtetl culture and assimilationist modernity, between gradual socialist change and the forceful demands of revolutionaries, and between the need to maintain propriety and the desires of his heart. Although the writing is somewhat halting and stuffy in the early going, Nathan finds his stride just as the passions of his protagonist awaken and bloom. A well-rendered, appealing period piece.

LOOKING UP: A Memoir of Sisters, Survivors and Skokie

Pressman, Linda CreateSpace (339 pp.) $15.00 paperback | $5.99 e-book April 16, 2011 ISBN: 978-1456470685 Humor and tragedy blend seamlessly in this memoir of childhood upbringing and family trauma. The daughter of Holocaust survivors and one of seven sisters, Pressman recounts her youth in Skokie, Ill., and how it intermingles with her family history. Throughout her young life, she often derides her parents’ obsession with their harrowing past, at one point scoffing that “Holocaust Judaism” has become their surrogate religion in place of more established movements of American Judaism. But as much as she tries to mold the haunting tales of her parents to her “happy ending template,” or even ignore them altogether, these stories—and the lessons they tell—play a crucial role in her formative years. Interweaving various events across time, the memoir juxtaposes Pressman’s angst at her ancestry’s ineluctable grip with the pre-adolescent and teenage tribulations she experiences in her comfortable suburban milieu. These strands occasionally diverge too widely, causing some family anecdotes to feel arbitrary as much as they prove entertaining. Still, the poignancy of Pressman’s voice and her meticulous attention to detail instill life into the characters and settings that surround her, as well as the ghosts of horrors past. This work separates itself from the ever-expanding memoir pool by emphasizing the universal aspects of deeply personal issues. Anyone with siblings can relate to the author’s amusing descriptions of the complicated power dynamics among her sisters. Even if one has never met a Holocaust survivor, he or she can empathize with Pressman’s attempts to grasp the weight of her parents’ struggle to |

survive. The memoir doesn’t unequivocally justify the actions or beliefs of any one character, but its overriding sense of pathos honors each person’s way of dealing with triumph and defeat. Since it deals with issues of existence, this quality has never been more necessary. A memoir whose heart pays considerable homage to its subjects.

JESSALOUP’S SONG

Velmans, Hester Van Horton (206 pp.) $9.95 paperback | September 1, 2011 ISBN: 978-0983550594 In this sequel to her middle-schoolage novel Isabel of the Whales (2006), Velmans flips the script and features a whale that turns into a boy. Opening three years after the start of Isabel of the Whales, this new installment features Isabel having trouble adjusting to life back on land after her adventure as a humpback whale. School, boyfriends and family life don’t interest her as they might another young teen, and she longs to return to the ocean. Then she gets a shock when a beached whale near her home turns out to be her friend Jessaloup. In order to communicate with her, he becomes human. Isabel teaches Jessaloup how to walk, talk and eat like a human, then she learns that he has come to warn her of a devastating tsunami headed toward her home on Cape Cod. Isabel has trouble getting the police to take her warnings seriously, but finally convinces her science teacher, who takes her and Jessaloup to an oceanographic institute to get advice. A young scientist studying whale songs believes Isabel and helps spread the word and start the evacuation. But Isabel’s biggest surprise is yet to come, as her parents reveal the identity they’ve kept hidden from her. That secret identity, while not completely unexpected, provides a satisfying twist and reinforces a theme that runs through the story—be true to one’s self. In many ways, the plot thread involving Isabel’s family makes for a more compelling story than the tsunami threat, though Isabel and Jessaloup’s race against time and the book’s spirit of adventure keep the pages turning. A fantasy that will satisfy fans of Velmans’ previous work as well as new readers, budding scientists in particular.

kirkusreviews.com

|

kirkus indie

|

1 september 2011

|

1633



September 1, 2011: Volume LXXIX, No 16