Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, December 19, 2014

From My Shelf

Gift Books: Inspiration

The story of Louis Zamperini's life, Unbroken, in addition to being a bestselling book, looks to be a big movie, opening on Christmas. In Don't Give Up, Don't Give In (Dey St., $22.99), Zamperini, with David Rensin, wrote about the values and lessons that upheld him, concluding, "I'm a thankful citizen of America who just wants to be remembered for his charitable heart."

Different, more interactive inspiration can be found in John Minford's new translation of the I Ching (Viking, $39.95). This new rendition of "the oldest extant book of divination," with commentary, is said to surpass the classic Wilhelm-Baynes translation. Jack Miles is general editor for The Norton Anthology of World Religions (Norton, $100), a hefty, boxed two-volume work. Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam and more are covered in more than 4,000 pages--sacred text, poetry, hymns, writers who are believers or skeptics--an outstanding compilation.

In 1974, poet and essayist James P. Lenfestey was given a copy of Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by T'ang poet Han-shan, and thus began a journey in search of the actual Cold Mountain Cave. The result is Seeking the Cave: A Pilgrimage to Cold Mountain, a beautifully crafted volume of personal discovery, travel and poetry, from Milkweed Editions ($24).

Some 600 women contributed writings and photos to Women in Clothes (Blue Rider Press, $30). How do clothes define their lives or express their values? Dipping into the book any place provides much for pondering, connecting, reevaluating. Roxanne Gay writes, "I'll stand before my closet and look at all the clothes I'm too shy to wear, and pretend for about three minutes I might do something different, and then reach for one of the ten or so outfits I wear regularly." A companion book is A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy  (Penguin, $18), Sarah Lazarovic's diary of going on a buying hiatus--she has advice for purchasing more deliberately and looking at "stuff" in a healthier way. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Ecco: Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins

Viking: The Secret Place by Tana French

Touchstone: Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger

Book Candy

Neil Gaiman's A Christmas Carol; Gift Books and Cards

What better way to get into the spirit of the season than by revisiting a performance of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol by Neil Gaiman, who last year "read the classic tale as the great author intended, following edits and prompts Dickens wrote in his own hand for his unique readings 150 years ago."

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Winter (I mean Christmas) is coming. Buzzfeed featured "12 Christmas cards every Game Of Thrones fan will appreciate."

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Bustle suggested "11 Christmas presents perfect for the fictional characters on your holiday gift list."

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BookBar, Denver, Colo., shared the "top 15 reasons why books make the best gifts."

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Charles Palliser chose his "top 10 neo-Victorian novels" for the Guardian, noting that "this is the time of the year to curl up beside the fire with an engrossing novel."

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The perfect gift for a booklover who has everything? Phillips recently sold Charlotte Perriand's Bibliothèque bookcase for $314,500.

Atria: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

The Writer's Life

Laurie King: Inspired by Sherlock Holmes

photo: Chris Schmauch, GoodEye Photography

Laurie King is the author of more than two dozen crime and mystery novels, including the Mary Russell series, inspired by Sherlock Holmes. She was inducted into the Baker Street Irregulars in 2010. King worked as co-editor, with Leslie Klinger, on the story anthology In the Company of Sherlock Holmes (Pegasus), the second volume of Holmes-inspired stories the duo has worked on (the first was A Study in Sherlock, published in 2012).

Both anthologies take an unorthodox approach to collecting Sherlock Holmes stories. Where did the original idea came from, and how that has shaped the collections?

It all started because Leslie Klinger suggested to the organizers of [the mystery convention] Left Coast Crime that he and I do a panel on Sherlock Holmes with people who aren't normally connected with Sherlock Holmes (Lee Child, Michael Connelly and Jan Burke). We had a great time with the panel itself, and afterward, he and I looked at each other and said, "Hey... I know what to do with this."

So we started asking people to contribute to an anthology. From the beginning, we looked for writers you don't think of as Sherlockians. With the exception of Neil Gaiman, who had written an earlier Holmes story, most of the authors that we have in the collections have never published something to do with Sherlock Holmes. That has really lent both collections an energy of newness.

Since you weren't looking for known experts on the Holmes canon for In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, how did you go about selecting the contributors?

Some of them were people we met at a party or conference who said how much they enjoyed the first collection, so we asked them to be in the next one. For the rest, we started with a core number of people who we knew we wanted to include in the second volume, and from there we spread out trying to get a balance in flavor and style.

How much direction did you give the contributors about the types of stories you wanted?

What we said was that anything inspired by the Holmes canon would work, so long as it was vaguely connected to Sherlock Holmes. And then we stood back. That was the shocking thing about this process: seeing what a first-rate, professional writer could do with an absolutely free slate.

The only time Les and I stepped in during the writing process was to answer questions about some Sherlockian detail, like where a certain character is in a given story. We functioned as a kind of resource for the contributors. As editors, we also made suggestions on how the stories could be tugged closer to the Sherlock canon, or made a bit tighter.

The range of style--from graphic story to a play on a series of Facebook posts--is as diverse as the time periods included in these stories.

In any collection inspired by Sherlock Holmes, you expect to get things set in the Victorian era, or modern-day adaptations of the stories. Then there are stories in this collection like "Dunkirk," which shows that John Lescroat had clearly done a lot of research on the battle, and in looking for a way to use that exciting material in a story, asked himself how old Sherlock might have been in 1940. When he realized it could work, he brushed off the older Sherlock Holmes and saw what he could do at Dunkirk.

There are many clever nods to the original Holmes stories throughout the whole collection. Do readers need to be familiar with the original canon to appreciate the stories?

I think it's like many reading experiences: your background can enrich a book, but any fiction that requires a certain background is, I think, not a valid form of fiction. The story has to stand on its own.

It's also one of the advantages of choosing writers outside of the Sherlock community, as it were; they realize that not everyone speaks the "Sherlockian" language.

It's impossible discuss In the Company of Sherlock Holmes without asking about the "Free Sherlock" campaign, which resulted in a court ruling that Sherlock is now in the public domain. What was it like, being at the center of legal dispute over one of the most popular characters in literature?

I was somewhat removed from it, because it was more Les's thing, but, obviously, because it was sparked by a book that I was one of the editors for, I was involved. He had just decided that this assumption of possession of the first 50 stories on the part of the Conan Doyle estate was generally accepted--but flawed.

In the first volume, the issue of copyright was got around by paying the estate; over our objections, our first publisher's legal department decided it was simpler to pay for the usage. And indeed, most of the film companies have decided the same--that it's easier just to pay the Estate. But Les said no--they don't have the right to do this. He's a lawyer, and he felt they had no right to claim this character.

In the introduction of In the Company you wrote that you were already planning this second volume before you had even completed the first. Does that mean a third volume is already in the works?

Oh, yes. Les already has a list going. We have a conference coming up, and we're working on a list of people we can shoehorn into a corner and ask to write for us. These collections are just so much fun. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

FSG: Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Book Review

Fiction

Tristana

by Benito Pérez Galdós , trans. by Margaret Jull Costa

Considered the Spanish Charles Dickens, Benito Pérez Galdós (Fortunata and Jacinta) wrote more than 70 novels. Inexplicably, his writings are almost entirely unavailable in English translation. New York Review Books is working to remedy that situation with Margaret Jull Costa's fine new translation of Galdós's dark 1892 shocker, Tristana. This 166-page gem is frequently modern in its frank, earthy style as it cynically submits love and desire to merciless analysis, picking apart romantic delusions with scientific glee.

Don Lope Garrido, once a rich member of the highest social circles, now lives in cheap rented rooms. After depleting his fortune in a failed attempt to save his best friend, he becomes the guardian of his friend's beautiful orphaned daughter, Tristana; within two months he's taken her virginity. But Tristana is a free soul, a gorgeous, delightfully cheerful feminist a century ahead of her time who abhors marriage, refuses to surrender her independence and possesses a natural artistic sensibility. Scarcely 21, she appears to live with Don Lope like a niece or daughter. When she falls in love with a poor, angelically handsome young painter, her vigilant, despotic master threatens to teach her a lesson.

Much of the middle section of the novel is epistolary--the intoxicated correspondence between the two lovers--and here Galdós is at his most conventional. Soon, he completely turns the formula on its head in his daring and original conclusion that defies all romantic illusions. Uncomfortable moral complexity is Galdós's specialty, and the novel is a carefully constructed trap that springs shut on the reader in the last 30 pages. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A witty 19th-century Spanish classic about a compromised young woman and the two men who love her.

New York Review Books, $14.95, paperback, 9781590177655

Knopf: The Roosevelts by Geoffrey C Ward

The Vendetta of Felipe Espinosa

by Adam James Jones

Felipe Espinosa's youth was filled with struggle, violent loss and rejection. However, it is a brutal attack on his wife, Secundina, and their son that is Espinosa's breaking point. Finding them both dead, he strikes out with Secundina's brother Vivian to exact his revenge on a world that's left him with nothing. Throughout 1863, Felipe and Vivian leave a gruesome trail of death in their wake. They murder more than 30 settlers in the Western territories, eluding law enforcement, the military and town posses.

In the acknowledgements of his debut novel, The Vendetta of Felipe Espinosa, Adam James Jones notes that "the life of Felipe Espinosa has gone largely unrecorded and overshadowed by history." The 1860s was a decade of great unrest in the United States and recordkeeping was sparse. Despite a lack of primary source material, Jones creates a vivid depiction of the American Southwest and a persuasive narrative of one of the country's first serial killers.

Fact and fiction blur seamlessly together. The authenticity of this epic historical novel is due in large part to Jones's meticulous care with the colliding cultures--Anglo-American, Mexican and Native American--and his obvious respect for the beauty, fierceness and mysticism of his setting. In Jones's hands, Felipe is just as capable of passion, devotion and fear as he is callousness, hatred and violence, making a simple black-and-white judgment difficut. This beautifully rendered macabre romance will appeal to fans of history, westerns and crime fiction alike. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A debut author offers his interpretation of the life of one of the nation's first serial killers.

Five Star, $25.95, hardcover, 9781432829919

Riverhead: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Barefoot Queen

by Ildefonso Falcones

Set in Spain in the mid-1700s, The Barefoot Queen revolves around three principal characters: Caridad, a slave from a Cuban tobacco plantation whose master frees her just before he dies on their voyage to Spain; Melchor Vega, an older gypsy man who smuggles tobacco for a living; and his granddaughter Milagros, who learns to sing and dance to traditional gypsy music and earns money for her family with her talents.

Fresh off the boat, Caridad is lost in the city of Seville. Melchor eventually befriends her and sets her to work making cigars. Milagros, drawn to the sad black woman who hums quietly while she works, learns to sing with Caridad. Their friendship quickly blossoms, and the two women share secrets that eventually lead to regrettable actions.

Meanwhile, the King of Spain declares all gypsies are outlaws; some are imprisoned, while others go into hiding on the Portuguese border. The community is torn apart, and the paths of Caridad, Milagros and Melchor continually diverge and reconnect over several years. They struggle to understand the value of love, friendship, family and honor while murder, intrigue and conspiracy circle around them. Fascinating bits of history add to the story, told in vivid prose, about a clan of gypsies--their food and drink, music and dance, lusty dreams and desires--and the snobbery and racism that the aristocrats of Spain felt toward them.

Though his switches in perspective can sometimes be jarring, Ildefonso Falcones (Cathedral of the Sea; The Hand of Fatima) has written a sensual, passion-filled historical romance that ends most satisfactorily. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: An exotic and romantic tapestry of gypsy life in 18th-century Spain.

Crown, $28, hardcover, 9780804139489

Mystery & Thriller

The Big Finish

by James W. Hall

For almost 30 years, Shamus and Edgar Award winner James W. Hall has been exploring the nuances of his well-worn South Florida protagonist known only as Thorn. In The Big Finish, Thorn is getting a little long in the tooth, though like Michael Connelly's Bosch or Robert B. Parker's Spenser, he ages well. Quick to action when he sees wrongdoing, he remains true to his moral compass even if he can't outrun trouble so easily anymore or throw an uppercut takeout punch. Good thing for him his best friend, former cop Sugarman, is still around to watch his back.

An adopted orphan with a long string of girlfriends, Thorn was happy not to be a family man until, in Dead Last, he discovered that he had a grown son from a one-night stand. In The Big Finish, Flynn calls on his father to rescue ELF (his eco-warrior group) from a sortie against an environmentally negligent corporate hog farm in North Carolina. Finding family ties to be stronger than he thought, Thorn rounds up a reluctant Sugar and leaves the comfort of his Florida sanctuary to do whatever it takes to save Flynn.

Although Hall's plot travels a twisting path among drug dealers, rural black tenant farmers, Mexican farm workers and rogue FBI agents, he's a pro who knows that his out-there characters and plots need to be grounded in a fluid narrative and a protagonist who lives as true to his own code as circumstances permit. Thorn is such a man, and The Big Finish is another slick addition to his chronicles. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: James W. Hall's quixotic hero Thorn heads to a corporate hog farm in rural North Carolina to save his eco-warrior son.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250005014

Biography & Memoir

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography

by Laura Ingalls Wilder , Pamela Smith Hill, editor
Pioneer Girl was Laura Ingalls Wilder's original autobiographical manuscript that her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, edited and later tried to spin off as a juvenile novel. It also became the basis for the beloved Little House series and the inspiration behind Lane's own fictional successes in Let the Hurricane Roar and Free Land. Wilder biographer Pamela Smith Hill has added commentary, research and analysis, bringing together pieces of Ingalls family history and shedding light on the collaborative role that Lane played in the development of her mother's literary craft and career as a children's author.

At the beginning of Pioneer Girl, Wilder's style seems influenced by her stint as columnist for the Missouri Ruralist; a seven-paragraph narrative conveys immediacy and dramatic tension. Through Lane's mentoring, Wilder gained confidence in her craft and began to imbue her characters with rich and deeply developed storylines--hallmarks that would characterize her fictional works. As a result, Pioneer Girl resounds with the nostalgic longing of an older adult confronting her own mortality, wistfully remembering a simpler time.

Hill stays true to Wilder's narrative, providing historical context where appropriate and adding footnotes to reconcile plot differences between the original manuscript and the subsequent series. This lightly edited version presents a portrait of an emerging artist, one whose storytelling gifts allowed her figuratively to wrap readers in Pa Ingalls's arms and take them on an adventure across the Midwestern plains. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Laura Ingalls Wilder's original memoir, which formed the basis of her popular Little House books.

South Dakota State Historical Society, $39.95, hardcover, 9780984504176

God'll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, a Murder, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi

by John Safran

John Safran--a young, white, Jewish Australian who makes comedy films--seems an unlikely candidate to write a true-crime book, but that's what he's done with God'll Cut You Down: The Tangled Tale of a White Supremacist, a Black Hustler, a Murder, and How I Lost a Year in Mississippi. It explores the murder of Richard Barrett, a white supremacist, by Vince McGee, his black neighbor. Safran heads to Mississippi expecting a case tinged with the embedded racism of the South. What he finds instead is a complicated crime with no clear motive--race or otherwise.

The account of the author's yearlong investigation can be hard to follow: short sections with strange titles track Safran's moves through time, from one interview to the next, which presents the story in the order Safran uncovered it rather than the order in which the events happened. His journalistic approach can be brusque and perhaps misguided at times, as when he can't pay the convicted murderer for an interview outright, but gets around that law by giving McGee prepaid charge cards from Walmart. But his candid, informal style is endearing, revealing that God'll Cut You Down is as much the story of how Safran learned to write about crime as it is the story of why Barrett was murdered. Despite Safran's best noodling and puzzling and nagging of the police, lawyers, witnesses, family and friends of both the convicted murderer and the victim, the story of that murder is never made entirely; the delight comes from reading about Safran's experiences as an outsider snooping around an insular community. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: An unlikely account of the murder of a white supremacist in Mississippi from a Jewish Australian comedian.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594633355

History

Dirty Old London: The Victorian Fight Against Filth

by Lee Jackson

The Victorian era, 1837–1901, saw extreme filth and considerable change in the British capital. Lee Jackson (Walking Dickens' London; A Dictionary of Victorian London) turns his gaze toward this grime with Dirty Old London and divides his study by category of filth, not chronology. Chapters cover the ashes and cinders of domestic coal fires; "mud" in the streets (horse dung); "night soil" (domestic human excrement); sewers and drains; human remains buried close to one another; unwashed bodies and filthy homes; public toilets; and air pollution, largely from industrial and domestic coal smoke. He touches on major figures in sanitation and reform, such as Edwin Chadwick, who championed the idea that disease is traceable to environmental elements, and Joseph Bazalgette, credited with establishing London's sewer system. Themes include the challenges of regulation, the tension between centralization and local control and the limits of contemporary science--germ theory hadn't yet been widely accepted, and the notions of miasma and humors persisted.

While the subject of Dirty Old London is often, unavoidably, off-putting, it is also endlessly intriguing. Jackson is frank and matter-of-fact and occasionally entertaining, although his overall tone is more academic than playful. His research is reliable, with plentiful endnotes. He affirms that "this book is not about casting blame on the Victorians for their failure to manage the dirt of their great capital." Rather, Jackson hopes that the Victorians' filth can offer a lesson to the modern world that still struggles with how to handle its own waste. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The muck of historic London, replete with colorful characters and wisdom for the modern age.

Yale University Press, $38, hardcover, 9780300192056

Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World

by Tristram Hunt

In Cities of Empire: The British Colonies and the Creation of the Urban World, historian Tristram Hunt (Marx's General) explores Britain's imperial history through the lens of the formerly colonial cities that he argues are her greatest legacy to the modern world.

Hunt organizes his work around 10 cities and their role in the development of the British Empire. Most, such as Boston and New Delhi, were founded as colonies. Others, such as Dublin and Liverpool, were transformed by the Empire's expansion. Hunt considers each city's creation or annexation not simply as an imperial act but as a series of negotiations and exchanges between two cultures, though admittedly often on unequal terms. He looks at architecture, civic institutions and street names as imperial artifacts. He discusses the role of each city as both an entrepôt within the imperial network and a hub of the economy that developed around it. Working more or less chronologically, Hunt traces the history of the Empire from Boston's transformation from a colonial to a revolutionary city through Liverpool's post-imperial decline. The book ends with Hunt's assertion that Britain is now on the receiving end of the Empire it created, shaped by exchanges and negotiations with its former colonies.

Hunt's approach is informed by postcolonial theory, urban history and his own Labour Party politics, but he uses them with a light hand, creating a work of colonial history that is both lively and authoritative. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Ten cities of the British Empire and how they grew.

Metropolitan Books, $35, hardcover, 9780805093087

Essays & Criticism

Essays After Eighty

by Donald Hall

Bearded and etched with lines like a dry riverbed, the face of poet and essayist Donald Hall (The Best Day the Worst Day) gazes out from the cover of his collection Essays After Eighty. The unretouched honesty of that visage telegraphs the frankness, pathos and humor of these 14 essays about the "ceremony of losses" that is old age.

Hall lives alone in the New Hampshire farmhouse first occupied by his great-grandfather in 1865. It's the setting for "Out the Window," the first and most beautiful essay in the collection. In it, Hall observes the passing seasons from his blue armchair, interweaving lyrical descriptions of hummingbirds and snowdrops that "crack the wintry earth" with musings on his interior life in the middle of his ninth decade. "After a life of loving the old," he writes, "I turned old myself."

The dominant emotional tone of these pieces falls somewhere between gratitude and bemusement at Hall's own longevity. There's the inevitable irritability at the constraints and indignities age imposes, like the voluntary surrender of his driver's license at age 80 after two accidents or the challenges of making it to the bathroom. "It's almost relaxing to know I'll die fairly soon, as it's a comfort not to obsess about my next orgasm," he confesses with customary candor.

The book's title essay is one of its most rewarding. In barely four pages, Hall, whose prose style is notable for its directness and economy, delivers some valuable writing tips, including this priceless one that provides a fitting ending for this review: "Let the words flash a conclusion, then get out of the way." --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Poet Donald Hall expounds on the pleasures, and mostly the pains, of old age.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $22, hardcover, 9780544287044

Travel Literature

An Innocent Abroad: Life-Changing Trips from 35 Great Writers

by Don George, editor

When writing about their travel adventures, great authors invariably include details and descriptions that might be overlooked by the average person. Some short, some long, these personal essays by 35 authors--including Pico Iyer, Torre DeRoche and Cheryl Strayed--deliver exceptional value in a small package. More than just travelogues, the essays in An Innocent Abroad cover a multitude of emotions: the exhilaration of finally visiting a famous literary location; the abject terror of being chased by drug sellers in a truck on a road in Morocco; the frustration of attempting to fight sickness and injury with Western medicine and the relief when local healing methods actually work; and the inexplicable desire to have an "adventure" (like diving into rock-strewn, shark-infested waters off the coast of Australia) that is almost certainly a bad idea.

Vivid images bring these international experiences to life--boating on the canals in Venice, hiking through the mountains in Thailand, jumping from ice floes off the coast of Greenland, strolling the seaside boardwalk in Havana. Many of these journeys took place before 9/11, a time when traveling anywhere in the world was so much easier, which is reflected in the oftentimes simple and trusting nature with which the authors approach their fellow travelers, the foreigners they meet and their surroundings. Although each author's experience is distinctly different, readers will gain the sense of transformation that comes with travel just by reading these stirring accounts. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Adventures from around the world that altered the famous writers who experienced them.

Lonely Planet, $15.99, paperback, 9781743603604

Children's & Young Adult

Maple and Willow Together

by Lori Nichols

The baby sister introduced in Maple gets a bit older and the sisters' relationship grows a bit more complicated in Lori Nichols's charming and insightful companion picture book.

"Maple and her little sister, Willow, were always together," opens Nichols's narrative. Maple takes Willow by the hand, and their namesake trees provide the backdrop. Nichols pictures them on a bed of leaves and making snow angels through the seasons, plus sharing their daily routine (most nights, Willow winds up in Maple's bed) as well as a special language (Pig Latin). But inevitably they want to do things differently, and Nichols paints Willow as the more easygoing of the pair--except when Maple wants only to collect dandelions, not blow on them: "That's when Willow decided to show Maple a thing or two." Maple yells, and Willow strikes back ("Admay!" says she, stomping on Maple's toy). A forced separation helps the sisters see how much they miss each other. In a visual representation of their emotional shift, Nichols depicts each child's closed bedroom door, their slowly thawing moods, and the doors opening. 

The author-artist captures a universal experience between siblings while continuing to emphasize a love of nature and the way it gives flight to the children's imagination (Willow fashions a cat mask from a maple leaf, for instance). Once the sisters make up, "They couldn't wait to run back outside." Fun details, such as a snorkel in the bathtub, attest to the girls' boundless sense of make-believe. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A realistic depiction of the ebb and flow of a relationship between two close sisters.

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-up, 9780399162831

Talon

by Julie Kagawa

Julie Kagawa imagines a world in which dragons living in Talon can take human form and infiltrate modern society in this suspenseful and romantic adventure, the launch to a new series.

Twins Ember and Dante, age 16, leave Talon for the first time, to assimilate as humans in a California beach community--only to have their training cut short by reports of rogue dragons. Instead, they are sent off each day separately for individual training. Two dragon slayers from the elite order of St. George (think Navy SEALs) also show up, searching for a female sleeper dragon. Riley, one of the rogue dragons, introduces himself to Ember and implies that there's more to Talon than she knows. Garret, a soldier of St. George hoping to hone in on the sleeper dragon, endears himself to a group of female teens--one of whom is Ember.

Kagawa builds tensions within the Ember-Riley-Garret triangle and adds a level of urgency with Dante's efforts to keep the twins together. As romance blooms between Garret and Ember, each realizes the dangers such an alliance introduces into their respective missions. Meanwhile, Riley's "nest" cells of rogue dragons begin to die out, and he wonders if Talon or St. George is responsible. Kagawa's description of Ember's fight not to shift into dragon form aptly describes her conflicting feelings of carrying out her deception: "my human body suddenly had felt very tight and confined." The larger theme of decoding male-female (St. George-dragon) miscues will hit universal notes of recognition for readers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A suspenseful adventure of two dragon twins, attempting to assimilate as humans in a beach town, encountering dangers from all sides.

Harlequin Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 14-up, 9780373211395

Strongheart: The World's First Movie Star Dog

by Emily Arnold McCully

In a fascinating picture-book biography, Emily Arnold McCully (Dare the Wind) introduces Etzel von Oeringen, born in World War I Germany to "champion police dogs."

Etzel's story will captivate readers. The couple that adopts him are American silent movie director Larry Trimble, who seeks a canine star for his next film, and his wife, Jane Murfin, a screenwriter. When they burst into the New York kennel grounds (where Etzel's been sent, postwar), eager to see if Etzel lives up to his reputation, the dog crashes through a window. But Larry, who's also an animal trainer, recognizes Etzel's potential. Jane still has doubts ("Before he can act in movies, he will have to learn to relax and have fun"), but Larry remains confident that Etzel can be taught. McCully's series of vignettes shows how Larry teaches his dog to play, through repetition and a new playmate (a kitten). He gains a stage name, Strongheart, and his film debut, The Silent Call, plays to sellout crowds and becomes front-page news nationwide. Etzel even sniffs out a thief posing as a journalist.

Children will most enjoy a double-page spread of Stongheart and his mate, Lady Jule, and their litter of adorable puppies--the first in a line of champion movie-star dogs. In McCully's endnote, she credits Strongheart with ushering in the popularity of German Shepherds in the U.S., and mentions his only film still available, The Return of Boston Blackie. Animal lovers drawn to the subject will also gain a snapshot of history and insight into the movie industry. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A picture-book biography certain to please animal lovers as well as history and movie buffs.

Holt, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-8, 9780805094480

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