Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 20, 2012
From My Shelf
As many of us have hidden in air conditioning or run to the beach or mountains to escape the past month's record-breaking drought and heat across the country, there's one activity that consistently entertains and informs and usually keeps us from breaking a sweat: reading. In today's issue, we review a baker's dozen of great new books that can help on this quest.
In Behold a Pale Horse, starring Sister Fidelma, you can get lost in a mystery and learn about the ethnic, political and religious schisms in northern Italy in the 7th Century. In the 17 stories in Homesick, readers can travel between England and Sri Lanka and--like the characters--between two cultures.
Or if you want to ride into space--and be amused--delve into Year Zero, where other planets react in a range of ways to the royalties they are obliged to pay Earth for airing pop songs. (For more explanation, see below!) In a different vein, Insignia envisions a World War III created by greedy corporations.
Soundings is the inspiring story of Marie Tharp, the scientist whose underwater map work proved continental drift, a woman who had to fight all kinds of discrimination in the world of science and society at large.
Tigers in Red Weather is a debut suspense novel played out over three generations with the anchor of a family cottage on Martha's Vineyard. Other major storytelling titles are Chapman's Odyssey by Booker Prize nominee Paul Bailey and The Land of Stories by Chris Colfer, the Glee actor and singer.
And what would summer be without baseball? Bluegrass Baseball tells about the hardscrabble life of four minor league teams in Kentucky one recent season--and the dreams that buoy everyone involved. Dream along, and stay cool. --John Mutter
250,000-Book Maze; Jane Austen Gems; Old Book Smell Defined
What do you get when you bring 250,000 books to the London 2012 Festival? My Modern Met reported that aMAZEme, "a gargantuan maze," is being created with walls "expected to be 13 feet high and the labyrinth will ultimately be over 5,000 square feet." The installation will be on view at Southbank Centre London from July 31 to August 26.
Jane Austen update: The author's much-publicized turquoise ring was sold at auction in London to an anonymous bidder for £150,000 (US$234,668), more than five times the estimate, the Telegraph reported.
For those of us who can't afford her jewelry, however, BBC Worldwide's entertainment division and Legacy Games have come up with a new Facebook game called Jane Austen's Rogues and Romances, in which players are challenged "to find the two members of Austen's most famous couple--Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice--and convince them to return to their newlywed life," Page Views wrote.
"Reading a book is a process," Cassidy Tucker advises in her video primer on finding just the right book reading position.
What exactly is "old book smell? Mental Floss noted that a team of scientists defined it as a "combination of grassy notes with a tang of acids and a hint of vanilla over an underlying mustiness."
The Writer's Life
Lydia Netzer: Getting to the 'Clicking' Point
Lydia Netzer's debut novel, Shine Shine Shine, introduces Maxon and Sunny, an improbable but charming pair that our May 23 Maximum Shelf review called "the most easy-to-root-for couple this side of the Sea of Tranquility."
"Through domestic squabbles, grief and meteor strikes, Shine Shine Shine remains an upbeat affirmation of life and self-discovery. Cleverly mixing mathematical equations with human relationships until the two seem inextricable, Netzer's logical yet whimsical voice combines with light touches of science fiction in a refreshingly original novel that will leave readers thinking about their own best selves."
Netzer took some time from her book promotion--Shine Shine Shine was released by St. Martin's on July 17--to be interviewed by her friend, author Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants; Ape House).
SG: Lydia, I know you have been working on this novel for 10 years, and I know that it's seen many drafts. After being engrossed in this book for so long and changing so many things about it, how did you know when you were done?
LN: It's hard to feel done. Even when I read the book now, I feel the urge to tweak it or mess with it a little--change the wording or the order. I have ideas float through my head and I think, wow, I want to put that in the novel, but of course I can't. I'm sure that's pretty common!
SG: Right, but of course at some point you have to say--it's finished.
LN: I think it was easier to know for sure when I wasn't done. I definitely knew, with earlier drafts, that I was not doing it right. And then when I got to this final draft, the one I wrote mostly in 2010, I felt like I had put enough internal tumblers into place that the lock was going to click.
SG: What was the hardest moment you experienced, in getting to that "clicking" point?
LN: There were two dark moments that stick out. The first one happened a long time ago. I have a very dear friend who is also a writer, Susannah Breslin. She read an early draft of the book for me, and it was a mess. You know a good friend is one who will tell you, "This isn't working." Well, that's what she said. And when I said, "What should I change?" she said, "Don't change it. Start over from the beginning. Open a new document, and get rid of all of this." Of course the thought of starting over after writing 30,000 words was malodorous, and I was irritated. I'm a homeschooling mom. Every one of those words represented time I'd taken away from my kids, or my husband, or sweet, beautiful sleep. I pouted for about three months. But she was right, and I'm grateful she had the stones to break it down for me like that. The experience of throwing out that much work changed my understanding of writing forever.
The other hard thing was writing the scene where Sunny takes her mother off life support. This scene is similar to what I went through with my mother in 2004. I knew then that I wanted to write about it, eventually, but it took me five years to get enough emotional distance to do it without going insane. And I still went insane. I had started over (again) on the book and was writing in a mad binge, a thousand words at a time and day after day. Almost like I had to get up some inertia in order to get through it. I got to that scene at about 15,000 words, and wrote it almost with my eyes shut because I could hardly stand to look at the words appearing on the page. After that scene, my binge collapsed and I left the novel alone for three months.
SG: Because you were just wrung out?
LN: Yes, not to be all "I'm a delicate flower" about it, but after that chapter I was spent. Whatever I have, I had used it all up. Trying to continue that book without a breather would have been awful. I think taking breaks in a novel can be very productive. During that time you're thinking, organizing things in your brain, letting ideas form, and you're recovering from your last push. And you're working on other projects, which you'll need to break from so you can return to this one.
SG: You mentioned Susannah's editing help. What advice from other writers as helped you in this process?
LN: One of my teachers in graduate school that I am very fond of is Cris Mazza. She used to say that reading my fiction was like climbing up the face of a cliff, and that some of my paragraphs felt like falling backward off that cliff. Of course, these were usually my favorite paragraphs. I have learned, though, that pushing my reader backwards off a cliff is not something that I should be doing. I've learned to temper those departures, ground them, make them more accessible.
There's one paragraph in the book that starts like "It is dark inside the body. The things that go on there cannot be seen." This was definitely a falling-backwards-off-a-cliff paragraph, and it's actually one of the only bits that survived the very first draft. It's the oldest piece of writing in the book, but it's been edited and contextualized until now I hope that if you're still falling backward, at least you feel you have a parachute.
Another bit of wisdom that I love came from a graduate school prof that Joshilyn Jackson and I shared: Michael Anania. He told us never to be afraid to be friends with writers, that success in writing did not come in lightning strikes, where one member of a group of friends would be elevated and chosen, and the rest would be passed over. He said that success often comes in clusters, where friends help each other and the high tide raises all the boats. I'm so lucky to have writing friends like Joshilyn and Susannah, you and Karen Abbott, and so many more. Your editing note fixed my timeline. Joshilyn's determination got me an agent. Karen's enthusiasm, Susannah's focus--I could go on and on. Everyone has been so wonderful to me and I'm so grateful for the friends, old and new, who have made this book happen.
Betsy Woodman: A Dreamscape
Betsy Woodman is the author of Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes (Holt Paperbacks), the first in a series about a Scottish woman (and her parrot) who inherits her grandfather's house in an Indian hill station.
A reviewer called Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes a "dreamscape," and I like that word a lot. The story is set half a century ago, in a fictional Himalayan hill station, or seasonal resort. As an American child in India, I loved vacations in real hill stations. After the heat of the plains, it was a treat to put on a sweater and to sleep beneath blankets. The views were long and the air was fragrant--of eucalyptus in south India, of pine up north. Being in such places frees the imagination, and, decades later, setting Jana Bibi in a far-off world let me escape mundane realities. I found myself imagining something more whimsical.
Nonetheless, the book harks back to some real-life features of mid-20th-century India, notably, the state of communications. In 1961, although the postal service was great, the phone system was another matter. India had seven phone lines per 100,000 people, and an international call had to be booked 12 hours in advance.
In contrast, in May 2012, there were more than 929 million mobile phone subscribers in India, with more being added at a dizzying pace. Most people can connect, and lives are immeasurably better for it.
In the Jana Bibi world, people work hard to communicate. They send notes to each other by runner and wait for the reply. To make a phone call, they stand in line at the Post, Telegraph, and Telephone Office. They get important messages through letters, some forwarded several times.
There are no electronic screens, TVs, or computers in their lives. They learn about the outside world by newspaper or word of mouth. Radios blare, but other noise is made by humans, animals or the rain on metal roofs. These are some elements of the "dreamscape." Come enter into it with me. --Betsy Woodman
Best YA Series; Homes in Literature; Travel Coffee Table Books
Inspired by the death of Encyclopedia Brown creator Donald J. Sobol, Flavorwire showcased "10 of the greatest YA series of all time."
Stuart Evers, author of If This Is Home, chose his top 10 homes in literature, noting that he "decided to restrict it to traditional homes in novels--i.e. buildings in which fictional characters live."
Displaying travel-themed coffee table books "is a great way to showcase your love of exotic cultures and unquenchable thirst for beautiful sights," Apartment Therapy observed in featuring "10 inspiring travel coffee table books."
"Sometimes a book is better than sleep. Here are five recommendations for reads that will keep you up late," NPR's Rosie Friedman noted in "Staying Up Late: 5 Picks for the Ravenous Reader."
by Paul Bailey
Chapman's Odyssey, by twice Booker-shortlisted Paul Bailey, draws the reader inexorably into the life of Harry Chapman, heavily medicated in a hospital ward. His ramblings are sometimes lucid, occasionally off the wall and always entertaining. Harry can quote poetry endlessly, to the delight of his attending doctors, nurses and other helpers. He started his adult life as an actor and retains a theatrical flair despite a crippling pain in his belly that makes him cry out for release.
A lifelong reader, despite humble beginnings in an anti-intellectual atmosphere, Harry wrote several successful books after leaving the stage. Many of his best friends are characters from novels he has enjoyed. In his current miasma of drugs, they visit him and settle in for a talk. One of his frequent callers is Pip, of Great Expectations; Harry identifies with Pip's poor boy–makes-good scenario.
Harry's mother is a harridan who has been dead for 22 years and now visits him daily, spewing her venom around the room. Another drop-in is Harry's father, Frank, killed in the war. Harry floats from injection to injection receiving his ghostly guests like a good host.
This all adds up to a fascinating story of a man who has lived a full life both of the body and the mind. Harry was never averse to a little rough trade, but also gloried in fine music, good food and wine and the best in literature. The rapier wit and wisdom of Harry Chapman amuse and amaze by turns. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: Harry Chapman, hospital-bound and drugged, reviews his life and times, friends and foes, with probity and wit.
Tigers in Red Weather
by Liza Klaussmann
As World War II draws to a close, two Bostonian cousins are parting ways: Nick marries her longtime love and war hero Hughes, while Helena marries Avery, an aspiring filmmaker in Hollywood. Yet the women remain bound together by shared memories of the family cottage in Martha's Vineyard where they spent childhood summers. As their lives begin to unravel, the Tiger House comes to represent their only place of refuge--until a brutal murder illustrates just how fragile that refuge truly is.
Tigers in Red Weather is an exercise in controlled revelation. Through Klaussmann's gradual unfolding, the reader learns the reason for Hughes's emotional withdrawal from Nick soon after they're married and the twisted contours of Helena's marriage to a man who manipulates her through pill addiction. And while Nick gives every appearance of being the perfect wife, she, too, is concealing her share of secrets.
As Nick's daughter Daisy and Helena's son Ed mature and take their places in the drama, they become caught up in the dark secrets of their parents, suffering irrevocable damage as a result. When Daisy and Ed discover the body of a murdered woman, the incident is symbolic of the inability of the adults in their lives to shield them from the ugliness that lurks beneath their mannered façade. Not even the idyllic beauty of Martha's Vineyard can protect the family from the choices that will be their undoing.
Klaussman has produced a suspenseful story that is by turns a mystery, an examination of a marriage and an exploration of the consequences of self-deception. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post
Discover: A suspenseful debut novel set partially in Martha's Vineyard and centered on dark family secrets, a brutal murder and the effects of both on the next generation.
by Roshi Fernando
In 17 linked stories, Roshi Fernando's Homesick explores the dynamic of family, the meaning of home, the wrench of displacement.
It all begins with the title story, at a 1982 New Year's Eve party at the London home of Sri Lankans Victor and Nandini. From there, the stories move back and forth in time and place, from Sri Lanka to London to Sri Lanka, from the 1970s to the present. We follow the lives of Victor and Nandini's children, especially Preethi, their funny and forward daughter, and other friends and relatives on the periphery.
Preethi is a young girl eager to assimilate, pilfer wine, learn to smoke, try to suss out just how much sex is enough to make her popular but not promiscuous. Then Preethi witnesses something she shouldn't have seen, and tells the wrong person--with near-tragic consequences.
In a particularly poignant story, "Nil's Wedding," the young bride is sari-clad, led around by her father, toasted, fed sweets like a caged animal and, through it all, wonders at what she is giving up. She is caught between two worlds: one of her birth and one of her choosing. Does she love this man enough to abandon her life for him? Is there a way out?
The final story, "The Funeral," has a coincidence in it too far-fetched to take in, but that is the only false step in Fernando's interweaving series of stories of lives and longing, trials and failures, hope and despair. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: A debut collection of 17 connected stories about an extended Sri Lankan family learning--or not--how to belong in a new place.
The Red Chamber
by Pauline A. Chen
Pauline Chen's imaginative retelling of Cao Xuequin's Qing Dynasty epic The Dream of the Red Chamber examines how filial duty both binds and destroys families, serving much the same purpose for 18th-century Chinese class structure as Jane Austen's novels did for the West. Behind the refinement and opulence, women retain few choices, their utility determined by their rank and status within a family, a condition Chen communicates through her repressed and mistreated heroines and forsaken lovers.
The Red Chamber revolves around the Jia family, trusted bondsmen to the Imperial dynasty who have amassed power, prestige and wealth in Beijing. The rebellious Baoyu has lived in the shadow of his deceased and more beloved brother; when his paternal cousin Lin Daiyu arrives at the Jias' home after the death of her parents, her naiveté and outsider views both attract and change Baoyu for the better. They fall in love, but their situation is complicated by Baoyu’s betrothal to his maternal first cousin, the aristocratic but homely Xue Baochai. As they contend with the ensuing political struggles and always shifting family loyalties, each character unwittingly contributes a role to a morality play that will serve as an indictment of existing social and gender inequities.
Chen's version of The Red Chamber may not have the literary heft of Xuequin's 2,500-page epic, but her abbreviated version succeeds in reflecting the historical artifacts whose repercussions reverberate even in the present. In this, she makes the pageantry of a bygone epoch fluid and palpable for 21st-century audiences. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer
Discover: A bittersweet love story and novel of manners that also serves as a commentary on the class and gender inequities of 18th-century China.
Mystery & Thriller
Behold a Pale Horse
by Peter Tremayne
Behold a Pale Horse is the 22nd book starring Peter Tremayne's intrepid Sister Fidelma of Cashel. Simultaneously a religeuse, princess and lawyer, Fidelma has a curious mind and cannot resist getting involved whenever something mysterious appears in her path.
Although Behold a Pale Horse is subtitled "A Mystery of Ancient Ireland," it's actually set in 664 A.D. Italy. On her way back home to Ireland after a pilgrimage to Rome, Fidelma is shipwrecked. Stuck in Genoa, she hears that her mentor Brother Ruadan is at an abbey in the mountains. Fidelma sets out to see Ruadan--traveling through the territory of the fierce Longobard warriors (who are gearing up to battle the Franks) to get there. Ruadan confides in her about some mysterious gold coins; but before Fidelma can speak to him again, he's murdered. Soon, Fidelma learns that Ruadan isn't the only person tied to the abbey who has died mysteriously. She is determined to find out if the deaths are connected, and if the gold of which Ruadan spoke is connected to rumors of buried treasure.
Tremayne's lessons in the intricacies of 7th-century northern Italian tribal warfare are fascinating: the Longobards and Franks are opponents both politically and religiously, with pagans, Nicean Christians and Arian Christians all struggling for supremacy. Fidelma must tread delicately to find the gold and solve Ruadan's murder without becoming a victim herself. This intriguing blend of medieval religious life, political warfare and murder will captivate history buffs and crime aficionados alike. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: The indomitable Sister Fidelma of Cashel can’t resist a good mystery. Can she solve the murder without getting kidnapped or killed herself?
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Rob Reid
Rob Reid takes his cue from The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy in Year Zero, a humorous tale of a galaxy-spanning alien culture hell-bent on securing the rights to all of humanity's music forever. Nick Carter is a junior-level music lawyer in a high-powered firm when he is visited by surprisingly human-looking aliens who arrive via a temporary wrinkle in space-time to plead their case.
Carter is a fast talker--and thinker. He promises the two oddly dressed humanoids that he'll figure it out, and they disappear back to whatever distant star system they came from. What follows next is a satirical look at pop culture, the music industry, science fiction tropes and intellectual property law.
The galaxy has strict rules of ethical behavior; it must honor laws about artworks from the originating planet. Because of Earth-based antipiracy laws, the galaxy owes humanity a ton of money for the music it's been listening to since 1977, the year radio waves carrying pop music were discovered by alien civilizations. (It turns out pop sends every non-human listener into paroxysms of joy and sensory overload.) Some aliens, however, try to exploit a loophole whereby planets that destroy themselves can no longer collect royalties.
The fun in Year Zero comes from the banter among the main characters, all of whom are well drawn and hilarious in their own right. While the novel satirizes the music industry, it's obvious the author feels as passionately as some of the alien characters about the power of pop music. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: A humorously written debut satire of intellectual property law, the music industry and a galactic alien culture that may end up destroying the Earth.
Biography & Memoir
Soundings: The Story of the Remarkable Woman Who Mapped the Ocean Floor
by Hali Felt
Biography readers who love stories of fascinating, historically important figures should rush to find a copy of Soundings, Hali Felt's astute reconstruction of the life of Marie Tharp.
In 1948, Marie Tharp, brilliant and independent in a society that valued neither quality in women, came to work at Columbia University's Lamont Geological Observatory--which owned the largest collection of oceanic data in the world--having already fought a hard battle for an education in the sciences and a career. Barred from fieldwork due to her gender and relegated to drafting maps under men her junior in both age and education, Tharp nonetheless made a startling contribution to the world of earth sciences. While interpreting soundings (a measure of oceanic depth) into oceanic cartography, Tharp discovered the Mid-Oceanic Ridges, an underwater mountain range that proved the theory of continental drift.
While historical accounts show Tharp as a self-contained and outwardly unemotional woman, the topography of her life contained mountains and valleys created by the impact of her mother's early death, her fight for acceptance in a man's world and her unorthodox relationship with Bruce Nezeen, her partner and lover, whose power struggle with Lamont's administration would turn Tharp's career into a bargaining chip.
Felt's skill revives Marie Tharp, finding the shape of an intelligent, passionate woman's personality, the political machinations of the Cold War scientific community and an underwater world where "steaming hot springs resemble ladles of consommé." Felt re-creates scenes as though they were movie montages, depicting Tharp's race to produce a map of the Indian Ocean for the scientific community. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads
Discover: Marie Tharp, a brave and brilliant geologist in a time when women were all but barred from the scientific field, stars in this imaginative biography.
Mule: My Dangerous Life as a Drug Smuggler Turned DEA Informant
by C.A. Heifner with Adam Rocke
A self-described "military brat" from Alabama, Chris Heifner transferred to the University of Texas at El Paso in 1997 to live with his grandmother, study economics and pursue his dreams of climbing the corporate ladder to "a cubicle, business cards, my own coffee mug, a reserved parking spot, a 401(k), and a daily routine that didn't include worry and exhaustion." Somewhere along the way, his dreams are waylaid by hard partying and his girlfriend Missy's pregnancy. Late nights at the stripper clubs of "Hell Paso" with classmate Jeff "Jake" Andes don't help. The bills mount, and Missy's telemarketing job and his part-time job at Best Buy aren't cutting it. He needs money bad and turns to Jake, who always seems to have plenty, for a loan. Instead, Jake offers him a job running weed to the Midwest and money back to Mexico to fuel Jake's growing drug business.
Mule is the story of how a vivacious business graduate derails his life for the alluring money of drug trafficking. Despite his sincere efforts to get ahead, Heifner's ambition consistently lands him in trouble. One thing leads to another, until the DEA busts him and offers a deal--if he becomes an informant. We sympathize when he says, "All I knew for sure: rock, me, hard place." Heifner neither is the first nor will be the last to get into such a spot, but his tale of life in "the life" is refreshingly candid. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: The fast-paced, real-life story of a strapped college grad's desperate turn to drug trafficking and its alluring cash paydays.
Fire in the Belly: The Life and Times of David Wojnarowicz
by Cynthia Carr
David Wojnarowicz was an incendiary painter, photographer, filmmaker and activist at the gritty heart of Manhattan's East Village art scene in the 1980s. He died in 1992, at the age of 37, due to complications of AIDS.
In an unflinching and incredibly humane portrait of his life and death, Cynthia Carr draws from extensive interviews, Wojnarowicz's writings and her own memories of him to recount the experiences, relationships and passions that informed his work. That art is strewn with the "relics and rubble" that fascinated him and marked by themes of destruction and corrupted spirituality--and, near the end of his life, a visceral condemnation of a government that ignored the AIDS crisis.
Wojnarowicz emerges from these pages as a forceful, enigmatic character, "a truth-teller who kept secrets, a loner who loved to collaborate, an artist who craved recognition but did not want to be seen." Carr's probing, masterful storytelling suggests his traumatic early life--an abusive childhood and an adolescence hustling in Times Square--was the foundation for his legendary temper, complex relationships and his artistic and existential sensibilities.
Carr, who covered art for the Village Voice for nearly 20 years, was a friend of Wojnarowicz as well as a witness to the "discovery, exploitation, and demise" of the East Village scene in which he played a pivotal role. Her clear-eyed but impassioned analysis of the double-pronged assault of gentrification and AIDS that destroyed "New York's last bohemia" elevates Fire in the Belly from biography to requiem. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice
Discover: A sprawling, elegiac biography that mourns the loss of David Wojnarowicz and the art scene in which he flourished.
Bluegrass Baseball: A Year in the Minor League Life
by Katya Cengel
"It is a tale of dreams, history, and heartache," writes Katya Cengal. "This is where it all begins, and, for many, where it ends." Bluegrass Baseball is a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes into four teams--three from the minors and one playing in an independent league--battling for fans and for their future amid the Kentucky baseball circuit during the 2010 season.
Each ball club encounters injuries and accomplishments, sacrifices and uncertainty. Only 5% to 10% of ballplayers are drafted to the majors, but such odds don't daunt those fresh out of high school, athletes from poor countries in search of a better life or men past their prime trying to keep the game in their blood. Managers, unable to make the grade in the majors, lead lives just as demanding, unglamorous and lacking in glory as their players. Relationships are tested as wives put their own lives on hold so husbands can chase their big league dreams. And from a business perspective, financial success comes from attendance and advertising--creative ways to draw fans--not directly from the teams' records.
With depth and sensitivity, Cengal details the grind faced by owners, players, trainers, groundskeepers, ushers, broadcasters, mascots and even local families who take in ball players as boarders in their homes. Life in the minors is devoid of chartered planes, fame and fortune, but these vivid, personal stories of ordinary people with a dedicated passion and drive for the game will serve as inspiration for all. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An in-depth chronicle of four teams from the farm-team baseball circuit of Kentucky.
Children's & Young Adult
The Land of Stories: The Wishing Spell
by Chris Colfer
Chris Colfer is the Golden Globe–winning actor with a soprano's pitch on Glee, but his enchanting storytelling will earn him an audience beyond those who've enjoyed his renditions of "Defying Gravity" and other hit songs.
This story does not begin with "Once upon a time." A prologue reveals Snow White visiting her imprisoned stepmother, the Evil Queen, in a dungeon, ready to explain her cruel intentions.
The protagonists, the Bailey twins, are well versed in fairy tales, but hold different views on them. Alex (a girl) shares Hermione Granger's enthusiasm for books and learning, while Conner thinks "fairy-tale characters are missing common sense." On their 12th birthday, their grandmother passes down to the twins the family volume The Land of Stories, which (unbeknownst to them) possesses magic. The twins soon find themselves hurtling into a world full of characters introduced to them by their recently-deceased father. In order to return home, they must track down the ingredients of the legendary Wishing Spell, which include a lock of Rapunzel's hair and the spindle that cursed Sleeping Beauty. Unfortunately, the Evil Queen has escaped the dungeons and also seeks the Wishing Spell's magic, in order to exact revenge.
Colfer explores life post–Happily Ever After for fairytale favorites such as Cinderella, who's pregnant; Goldilocks, living as a fugitive for her crimes against the three bears; and Little Red Riding Hood, who's in love with Jack of Beanstalk fame. This debut from a promising new voice brims with everlasting magic, adventure and hilarity. --Adam Silvera, reviewer and former bookseller
Discover: Glee's Chris Colfer's enchanting tale of the Bailey twins, who fall into their book, The Land of Stories, where fairytales stretch beyond Happily Ever After.
by S.J. Kincaid
This chilling debut novel imagines a World War III underwritten by corporate entities that wish to not only control the Earth, but also the galactic space surrounding it.
Fourteen-year-old Tom Raines always thought that Neil, his hard-drinking, gambler father, was just paranoid when he suggested that Elliot Ramirez, the spokesman for the Indo-American forces, wasn't real ("Look how he blinks every fifteen seconds on the dot," his father says). When General Terry Marsh appears in a gaming room to recruit Tom for the military, Tom asks his father to sign the release forms, and Neil is crushed. As he gets deeper into Pentagonal Spire, Tom is amazed to learn that Neil was not so far off base. Dominion Agra has a monopoly on the food supply, and Harbinger controls the water. The cold, calculating war waged by these corporations depends upon teens whose brains have been enhanced by neural processors--computers.
Kincaid likens war in this realm to gaming. Rather than engaging in hand-to-hand combat, the neurally outfitted teens control battles in space. Tom becomes obsessed with Medusa, the Russo-Chinese Combatants' star warrior--so much so that he breeches security to contact Medusa for private simulations. Meanwhile, Tom's mother's sleazy boyfriend, a Dominion employee, uses his position to hijack Tom's neural processor. Kincaid paints a terrifying near future in which America has 33% unemployment. The author leavens the proceedings with Tom's friendships and the pranks they pull, but raises provocative questions about the downside of a global economy when greed runs rampant. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A chilling dystopia in which teens' brains are modified to fight a war for a future they may not want.
Invincible Microbe: Tuberculosis and the Never-Ending Search for a Cure
by Alison Blank , Jim Murphy
Newbery Honor author Jim Murphy (The Great Fire) and his wife and co-author, Alison Blank, begin their riveting, interdisciplinary biography of "the greatest killer of humans in the history of the world": tuberculosis, which Homo erectus carried out of Africa.
Ancient Egyptian mummies show evidence of the disease, and Greek physicians were the first to document its symptoms. TB spread through Europe, eventually intersecting with the creation of the stethoscope, the x-ray and antibiotics. The cramped quarters caused by the industrial revolution created the perfect conditions for spreading disease, and coincided with the sanatorium system. Stricken teens were taken from their families to live under a strict regimen for years at a time.
The authors detail many ineffective cures, such as the practice of collapsing a patient's lung in hopes of starving the germs of oxygen. Health laws, education campaigns and housing reforms have all been used to slow TB. Readers will be appalled to learn that minorities and the poor were often left untreated. Not until the 1940s did sick chickens lead to the discovery of streptomycin, the first effective cure for TB. Yet today, tuberculosis remains a worldwide threat. Young readers will appreciate the fascinating facts (such as the 15-pound Gambian pouched rat, trained to sniff out tuberculosis bacilli) and shocking statistics sprinkled throughout (in 1850, 75% to 90% of all people on earth carried the TB germ). The back matter reflects the authors' painstaking research. --Angela Carstensen, school librarian and blogger
Discover: The fascinating evolution of tuberculosis--how it came to be treated, and how society has viewed its sufferers.