Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 27, 2012
From My Shelf
We've been inundated with doom-and-gloom stories about the London Olympics, so a few good books might help put rain, mud and missile launchers out of mind. There are any number of books about the Olympics generally, like How to Watch the Olympics: The Essential Guide to the Rules, Statistics, Heroes, and Zeroes of Every Sport by David Goldblatt and Johnny Acton (Penguin). If you've ever wondered how wide a balance beam is (so you can try a move at home), or about the rules and strategies for fencing, this is your book.
Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum writes about the creation of the U.S. Olympic basketball team of 1992 and its path to gold in Dream Team (Ballantine). Subtitled How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever, it's a funny, respectful, expert, complete and literary examination of the team's permanent effects on basketball.
Fiction also competes for attention. Running the Rift by Naomi Benaron is the third Bellwether Prize winner published by Algonquin, awarded biennially by Barbara Kingsolver for an unpublished novel that addresses issues of social justice. It's a memorable coming-of-age story of Nkuba Jean Patrick, a Tutsi in Rwanda at the height of the Hutu-Tutsi conflict. Jean Patrick is a phenomenal runner, specializing in the 800-meter race. His dream is to go to the Olympics.
Our reviewer said that Gold by Chris Cleave (Simon & Schuster) "spins a tire-ripping velodrama out of two subjects underrepresented in novels: the head-games of Olympic track cycling and the heart-splitting demands faced by female athletes who try to balance motherhood and elite competition in their peak physical years."
For younger readers, sportswriter John Feinstein has come out with Rush for the Gold: Mystery at the Olympics (Knopf), another sports mystery featuring Stevie Thomas and Susan Carol Anderson. In this book, Susan Carol is an Olympic swimmer with some agents and sponsors who just might go too far to ensure her win. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness
Hogwarts Treehouses; Bookends and a Bookwall
J.K. Rowling is building Hogwarts treehouses for her kids. The creator of Harry Potter's imaginary world now wants a pair of 40-foot high "magical tree-top turrets custom-built by treehouse designer extraordinaire Blue Forest" that are so large "the author has had to seek planning permission from Edinburgh Council," Inhabitat reported.
Enterprising as it may be, the clothes dryer bookcase is probably an idea whose time has not come.
Bookends of the day: Explore featured Halve Bookends, which are "made of two split halves of a glass jar and fillable with anything you like."
Artist Anouk Kruithof's Bookwall installation is created in a different order each time with approximately 3,500 books.
Arlo Needs Glasses
by Barney Saltzberg
Arlo's owner suspects that his beloved pooch has vision problems, and he puts readers who may be facing the same predicament at ease, right along with Arlo, in this entertaining and interactive picture book.
Right from the cover, readers sense that Arlo, a yellow labradoodle, is the center of the boy's universe. The pup's name appears in the equivalent of lights, with the letters outlined in fiesta-bright colors, filled in with contrasting hues and then polka-dotted in a way that suggests small light bulbs on Broadway theater marquees. Arlo loves to play catch with his boy. And the feeling is mutual. The boy begins, "I love my dog Arlo. He likes to play...." Arlo wags excitedly in anticipation, and a gatefold depicts him leaping into the air to catch a red ball with blue, yellow and green dots. The appearance of the ball picks up on the boldly festooned capital letters of the cover. Then one day, suddenly, Arlo can't seem to catch the ball. A sequence of images against a tangerine backdrop shows the red ball bypassing the pup in all manner of ways ("it flew... or zoomed... or whizzed"), and it eventually "bopped him on the nose!" On a lime-green spread, the boy tries and tries to help Arlo, even demonstrating how it's done himself: children pull a tab that guides the ball securely into the boy's mouth. The boy looks so hopeful, tossing the ball to Arlo. Their figures appear as collage cutouts against the green grass and the wide brushstrokes of the blue sky, with slight shadows behind them as they try again. It's the same backdrop as the successful throw-and-catch gatefold in the opening scene. But this time, the ball bounces off the labradoodle's head. ("It was no use. Arlo still couldn't catch.") Nothing works. Then the boy (who, by the way, wears glasses himself) finds the answer in a big red book. (A pull-tab moves both the boy's and dog's eyes from left to right, to show they're reading.) The boy says, "I decided Arlo would need to go have his eyes checked."
As he did with his other fabulous book about solving problems, Beautiful Oops!, Barney Saltzberg exploits the possibilities of the interactive pages. He depicts an eye chart in the doctor's office that someone with 20/20 vision (such as the boy and the eye doctor, both wearing glasses) would see perfectly. With the pull of a tab, the letters blur and we get some idea of what Arlo might be seeing. (Eagle-eyed readers may also detect the words hidden in the eye chart.) The pooch also looks through a kind of neon confetti-colored "phoropter." Here again, as Saltzberg spells out "phoropter," he uses the Broadway-marquee lettering, as if children are picking up a party favor when they look through the accordion-style fancy-dancy binoculars. At the very bottom, in tiny letters, a prognosis awaits ("Arlo needs glasses").
Furthering the party favor theme, Saltzberg provides a trio of glasses in slipcases mounted on the page, for kids to try on Arlo (or themselves)--Movie Star, Superhero, and Mad Scientist spectacles (the latter with festive polka dots in clashing colors that seem to throb against their sturdy, laminated cardboard backdrop). Each fits securely on Arlo's head, which bends slightly forward from the page with a pull-tab. But none of those looks seem quite right for Arlo. He eventually does find the "perfect pair" (on the next page). The bespectacled boy throws the ball (tethered to the page with a yellow ribbon) to his beloved newly bespectacled dog, who catches it securely on the Velcro landing spot in his mouth.
Together, Saltzberg (who also wears glasses, incidentally), Arlo and his boy demonstrate to children with vision problems that there is a simple solution, what to expect at the eye doctor, and how life improves once you can see again. A celebratory finale holds more laughs in store, and plenty more to pore over. Saltzberg once again uses interactive pages to show how problems may be solved with a little effort and a sense of humor. --Jennifer M. Brown
Barney Saltzberg: Problem-Solving as a Pastime
How did you come up with the idea for Arlo Needs Glasses?
I have a 75-pound golden labradoodle named Arlo. My wife says she's never seen me so in love with a dog as I am with Arlo. My daughter picked him out for me. I was thrilled to think I'd have someone to play catch with. But he couldn't catch. I'm used to dogs jumping and catching and leaping. I have some phenomenal stills of him with his mouth open and the ball going by. Every once in a while he'd catch one; I think it was mostly luck.
Did you always imagine this as an interactive book?
The trajectory from where I started to what I ended up with is vast. I started with a picture book called Arlo Can't Catch. I tried it from the dog's perspective, then from a boy's perspective. I finally came up with a book dummy, and I was shot down left and right. I'm like the farmer with my bag of stuff, and Raquel Jaramillo, who edited Beautiful Oops!, asked me what I was working on, and I pulled the book out. She said, "We have to do this book." She spent six months trying to convince me. She took my original storyboard from my picture book concept and augmented it, to show me how it could work. I resisted the title, I told her, "You gave away the punch line." She said, "So many kids wear glasses. They will know what this book is about from the moment they see the cover." She's smart. Luckily, I listened to her.
Do you have to alter your process for an interactive book?
Raquel and I both looked at it together, with an eye toward simplifying the story. There was originally a longer lead-in to the book, things that the kid did with his dog. The dog never could catch. Raquel suggested starting the story with how he could catch, and then he couldn't. Because you have a pagination constraint--interactive books get expensive--you have to condense the timeline. You want to get into the solving of the problem quickly.
What about the tactile part of it, designing the pages with moving parts?
It's amazing to make it once, and then to mass produce it. It does make the page come alive. I think a picture book version would still have had a nice story, but there's something about participating in it. You learn differently when you try it. Saturday, kids were trying on the glasses [in the book]. It takes the fear out of the experience. As adults, we take that for granted.
Are you aware that some kids try to fake vision problems so they can wear glasses?
I know that there's a movement: I've seen Justin Bieber wear glasses without lenses in them. When I was in China last year, I was being interviewed by a 20-year-old woman studying to be a teacher, and I realized she was wearing glasses with no lenses in them. I don't think [wearing glasses] has the stigma it used to have.
Did you learn anything with Beautiful Oops! that you could apply in Arlo?
What I did with Oops is say, "Just play." It was a departure for me stylistically because my other books had more of a traditional pen-and-ink watercolor look. It's given me a freedom that I've never had in illustrating before. This is how my books should be rather than how I thought they should be.
Is that your own dog, Arlo, wearing glasses, in the book trailer? How did you film that?
I painted foamcore glasses and used bobby pins to keep them on Arlo. Here I am, a bald guy going into a beauty supply place for bobby pins. I told her they're for my bangs.
I also went to the fabric store and bought fake shearling; my cousin, a fabric maker, made the gloves [which serve as paws when Arlo holds the book]. I was on the floor with him. Then I played the ukelele and sang, using the iPad to record it. I sang in the shower, without the water running. My wife's an attorney. I thought, "If she could see me right now...."
Arlo discovers he's not seeing well while he's doing something fun, trying to catch a ball. Why?
That concept is a connection with Beautiful Oops. It's a book about problem-solving. It's one thing if it's Johnny in school who can't see the board, but you can get across a lot of information when they're having fun. I'm a big believer in subtlety. I like working with an animal, so racial and gender issues don't come up. One of the things I loved about doing this story is that the focus is, "What can I do to help him?" rather than giving up on him.
This book is about taking something that's hindering having a good time, and finding a way to solve it and move on so you can continue to do the things you love to do. It doesn't define you. I hope it's a nice message without hitting them over the head.
Did you have fun coming up with the titles of Arlo's books on that last spread? We especially liked Life Is Ruff.
I literally made them up as I went. I didn't have a list. I drew a book and wrote a title. I made wrapping paper for Jillson & Roberts, and I did use Fleas Navidad! I like Virginia Woof.
It's always a goal to come up with a big finish. I always think, what can you do to have a satisfying ending? Initially I had a single book with the dog. It felt too quick. I looked at Robert Sabuda's Alice in Wonderland. It had cards flying all over the page. We borrowed that and tailored it to the page. I built one and sent it to them. Sometimes you spend six months coming up with the solution. I didn't know if they could build this. And they did. --Jennifer M. Brown
Shelf vetted, publisher supported.
The Writer's Life
Jim Holt: Unexpected Metaphysical Alleys
Jim Holt is an essayist and critic, but for his latest book he put on his "existential detective" hat and followed the trail of investigations into the origins of the universe. Why Does the World Exist? (Liveright, July 16) explores some of the common beliefs about how we came into existence, but also blazes trails off of the beaten path, broadening the discussion into something more than the sum of philosophy, physics, and spirituality. The result is a fascinating, broad look at humanity that also delivers on a personal level, with Holt's own life taking some existentially challenging turns during the narrative. Why Does the World Exist? is also significantly funnier than anything Martin Heidegger put to paper.
Your book is more than a survey of thinking around the topic; part of the title is An Existential Detective Story, and a good detective doesn't investigate a question without hope of a solution. Did you set out to do a survey or to solve the mystery, or neither?
A good detective looks beyond the usual suspects. And when it comes to cracking the mystery of existence--why is there a universe rather than nothing at all?--the usual suspects are God and science. If you are a religious believer, you think the world exists because an eternal self-subsistent deity brought it into being. If you are a neo-atheist, you think--you hope!--that science can account for how our universe popped into existence out of nothingness in a primeval Big Bang. That's been the big back-and-forth argument in the recent "God wars."
I wasn't happy with either of these possibilities. I'm personally skeptical of religious metaphysics. And science can't really explain how something can arise from nothing; it only tells you how something arises from something else. Even if, as Lawrence Krauss has argued in A Universe from Nothing, the laws of physics can account for the emergence of space and time out of a state of pure nothingness, the status of those laws remains puzzling. As Stephen Hawking commented, "What breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?"
So, in playing the existential detective, I was determined to go beyond God and physics. But who or what could the other cosmic suspects be? As it happened, I got my clues by talking to some of the greatest living physicists and theologians--people like the physics Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg, the eminent Oxford theologian Richard Swinburne and the brilliantly speculative quantum-computation expert David Deutsch. Their own insights and perplexities led me to pursue my investigation down some unexpected metaphysical alleys.
What were the biggest surprises for you in researching and interviewing for this book?
How bizarre some of these alleys turned out to be. Could the world ultimately exist because it fulfills an abstract need for goodness? That sounds like a daft idea, but a distinguished Canadian cosmologist by the name of John Leslie nearly persuaded me it was true. Or might the rather messy world that we live in be a kind of reflection of perfect and eternal realm of mathematical essences? That's what Plato believed in ancient times, but it also, to my surprise, turned out to be pretty much what the great Oxford physicist Roger Penrose seemed to be convinced of when I talked to him. Perhaps the craziest notion I encountered was that absolute nothingness was like an annihilating force that somehow "nothed" itself, thereby engendering a world of being.
I guess the main thing that surprised me was that, if you let brilliant and profound thinkers do their thinking out loud, they eventually say things that are not dissimilar to what we used to say back in college in our cosmic rap sessions in the late-night hours. By the way, I was also surprised how my pursuit of the mystery of cosmic existence led me to ponder more deeply the mystery of my own existence, and how it would come to an end in the nothingness of death. There's a lot of death in the book--John Updike's, Claude Lévi-Strauss's, my dog's, my mother's and nearly my own.
There's a quotation in the book from Allan Sandage, "the father of modern astronomy": "Science cannot answer the deepest questions. As soon as you ask why there is something instead of nothing, you have gone beyond science." Do you agree? Do you think it is necessary to draw a distinction?
Well, another great scientist--John Archibald Wheeler, who coined the expression "black hole"--famously said, "We demand of physics some understanding of existence itself." But can physics ever meet that demand? The physicist Lawrence Krauss, in his book A Universe from Nothing, claimed that it could. But his case got pretty much demolished in a brutal review by the Columbia physicist and philosopher David Albert in the New York Times. When scientists try to explain why there is something rather than nothing, they tend, whether they realize it or not, to smuggle metaphysical assumptions into their reasoning. They also fall into circularity by trying to make Nothing into a Something--a quantum vacuum, a closed spacetime of radius zero and so on.
At risk of spoiling the book: Why does the world exist?
The answer to that question takes shape near the end of my book, after I have returned to All Souls College at Oxford and encountered the amazing Derek Parfit, one of the most profound philosophers alive. Instead of spelling out the answer explicitly, let me just say that it comes down to two principles: Simplicity and Fullness. Simplicity is a modern scientific principle: science always reaches for the simplest hypothesis. And Fullness (or Plenitude) is an ancient philosophical one, going back to Plato: the Great Chain of Being and all that.
But here's the great irony. Even though the principles of Simplicity and Fullness combine to explain the most general form that reality takes, they do not imply that the world should be either simple or full. (After all, the simplest world would be a world of nothingness.) Rather, they imply that reality is infinitely incomplete, messy and mediocre--a conclusion that is increasingly borne out both by cosmological investigation and by our own everyday experience, our finite existence in the shadow of death. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo
Extraordinary, 'Insignificant' Women
Lisa Cohen is the author of All We Know (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), about three women of the modernist era: Mercedes de Acosta, Madge Garland and Esther Murphy.
I am often asked why All We Know is about these particular three women. In fact, I first conceived of a book solely about Madge Garland, whom I had encountered while reading Virginia Woolf's Diaries. Madge was so fascinating--she worked on British Vogue when it was a forum for modernist artists and writers; she started the School of Fashion at the Royal College of Art; but despite this rich public life she was elusive. She didn't leave diaries or a voluminous correspondence, and often obscured the facts of her life. Yet even as it became clear to me that I had enough material to write a whole book about her, I realized that such a book would--ironically--not quite do her justice. She had accomplished so much, but much it was hard to pin down.
I realized that I had to grapple with the idea of ephemeral achievement more broadly. That challenge also meant a different approach to the form of biography. In the meantime, I was learning about several friends of hers whose lives were similarly elusive. From the writer Sybille Bedford, whom I had interviewed about Madge, I heard about the eccentric New York intellectual Esther Murphy--and was hooked. Writing a magazine profile of the iconic cultivator of celebrity Mercedes de Acosta, I spent a lot of time reading through her complex archive.
Writing about these three women made it possible to really focus on representing people who were both central and marginal to their time--and to try to capture, from several angles, what it felt like to live through the modernist moment. These women and this structure also allowed me to keep asking: What is failure and what is accomplishment? Who and what is important? These were questions that their lives raised so significantly—and yet they themselves have not been seen as significant. Putting them in the same book made it possible to tackle that paradox. --Lisa Cohen
Bright and Dark Summer Reads; Thrillers for Non-fans
"Yes, summer is half-over," GQ magazine conceded before noting that there is still time to check out "the five books to read this summer."
"Dark reads for your bright summer day" were recommended by the Huffington Post, which noted that the suggested books "can provide an escape synonymous with vacation while voyeuristically entering the shadowy world inhabited by the heroes and anti-heroes of noir."
Can't get to London for the Olympics? The Christian Science Monitor found "3 perfect summer books for Anglophiles."
"Eleven thrilling books for people who don't read thrillers" were suggested by Flavorwire.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Harold Fry makes for an unlikely pilgrim. A British pensioner, he spends most days sitting in his chair half-listening to his wife, Maureen, harangue him over trivialities that stand in for the larger disappointments of their marriage--until he receives a farewell letter from a nearly forgotten former coworker, Queenie Hennessy, who is dying of cancer. Troubled and energized, Harold writes Queenie a letter in response. A chance conversation gives Harold the notion that he can save Queenie's life by an act of faith: he will walk 600 miles from his village to Berwick-upon-Tweed and deliver the letter in person. In a message to Queenie, Harold says, "I will keep walking and you must keep living." Queenie once did Harold a good turn in a dark time, and he believes he can return the favor.
Harold sets out in a light jacket and yachting shoes, completely unprepared for the journey or for the stories he will hear from strangers he meets on his way, or for the memories of his own lonely childhood, his promising early years with Maureen and their son, David, and the tragedy that wrecked their family.
A redemptive journey of determination and love rekindled, Rachel Joyce's debut novel features an unusual Everyman whose grit and growth suggest that it's never too late for second chances. Through emotional hardship and physical injury, Harold's unfailing commitment to Queenie and ability to finally open his heart to others after so many years will inspire readers as they share his triumphs and pitfalls. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads
Discover: British pensioner Harold Fry undertakes an inspirational journey of 600 miles on foot to say goodbye to a dying woman who once saved him.
The Sandcastle Girls
by Chris Bohjalian
Chris Bohjalian (The Night Strangers; Midwives) introduces Laura Petrosian, a novelist usually focused on "domestic comedy about New Agey women on the social margins." Laura decides to learn how her paternal grandparents survived the Armenian genocide--the "Slaughter You Know Next to Nothing About"--and answer the question "How do a million and a half people die with nobody knowing?" She begins her research with 1915, the year her Bostonian grandmother, a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke, travelled to Syria to escape a suitable match with a well-to-do young man and to discover her own independent identity and help the "less fortunate." What she found was a recently widowed Armenian engineer with whom she quickly fell in love--even in the midst of a massacre of unimaginable proportions.
In The Sandcastle Girls, Bohjalian successfully balances a poignant character-driven romance with an exploration of a chapter of early 20th-century history that is little known to many Americans, yet unforgettable. Bohjalian is the grandson of Armenian survivors and grounds the narrative in historical facts about the genocide (his list of reference materials is exhaustive).
The Sandcastle Girls would be an excellent choice for a book club, satisfying readers who love a good story as well as those who enjoy learning a bit about history. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Discover: A gripping historical account of the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, as well as a testament to the indefatigable human spirit and power of love.
Mystery & Thriller
by Tana French
In Broken Harbor, Tana French returns to Dublin murder squad investigator Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, from her third novel, 2010's Faithful Place. Patrick Spain and his two children have been murdered in their home; Jenny, wife and mother, is in intensive care. At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie Curran, think it will be a slam-dunk, but there are weird goings-on. Pat and Jenny's house is squeaky clean--but why are there holes punched in the walls? Why are there baby monitors and cameras inside the holes? Why have computer files been erased? Who is the never-seen prowler, defying all locks and alarms?
Pat was convinced that he heard an animal in the attic; thus the holes and monitors. No one else ever heard anything. Was he going off the rails because he had lost his job and was about to lose his home?
Scorcher has his own painful history with Broken Harbor (now gentrified to Brianstown), where his family used to spend two halcyon weeks each summer in a caravan. That is, until the last time, when tragedy struck. That family loss particularly affected his mentally unstable younger sister, Dina. Hearing about murder in Broken Harbor has sent her reeling. Scorcher and Geri, his older sister, try to care for Dina, but she eludes them. Scorcher doesn't have his own memories as tightly under control as he once thought.
These two separate and very sad stories are multifaceted, complicated by many unknowns, and draw the reader deeper and deeper into the psyches of her characters. This is Tana French at her writerly best. --Valerie Ryan
Discover: Tana French brings back brash detective Scorcher Kennedy, now involved in the strange circumstances of a triple murder. Psychological suspense of the highest order.
The Joy Brigade
by Martin Limon
Martin Limón's first seven books starring Sergeant George Sueño focused on his investigations as a military police officer in the Korean DMZ. With The Joy Brigade, Limón sends Sueño on an adventure into North Korea that will test every bit of his strength and intelligence.
The year is 1972: Kim Il-Sung is looking to retire, but he wants to invade South Korea and reunite the Korean nation before handing power over to his son. Sueño is on a secret mission to find his lover, Doc Yong, who fled to North Korea the year before. Doc Yong has an ancient manuscript detailing a secret underground passage from North to South Korea--information that the Americans want to keep from Kim Il-Sung at all costs.
But finding Doc Yong and the manuscript and escaping back to South Korea is no easy matter. As a Latino more than six feet tall, Sueño stands out by a mile, and he will need all the tricks he learned growing up in East Los Angeles to protect him.
Filled with adventure, torture, sex, tae kwon do and suspense, The Joy Brigade moves at breakneck speed as Sueño crisscrosses the North Korean countryside, gathering information and attempting to evade Rhee Mi-Sook, the beautiful head of the North Korean secret police. Capitalizing on the recent interest in North Korea, The Joy Brigade offers a detailed look at the North Korea of 30 years ago, and the lengths to which the U.S. was--or wasn't--willing to go in order to prevent a war. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: North Korea is a dangerous place for an American in 1972, but military police officer George Sueño is determined to complete his mission, whatever the cost.
The Empty Glass
by J.I. Baker
J.I. Baker's debut novel, The Empty Glass, offers the reader a thrilling noir adventure. It's narrated by Ben Fitzgerald, a Los Angeles County deputy coroner called to the home of Marilyn Monroe on August 5, 1962. Upon arrival, he finds the world's most adored movie star lying naked in her bedroom, dead from an apparent overdose--and he takes her diary, known as "The Book of Secrets," when he leaves.
When Fitzgerald learns of the unexpected results of Marilyn's autopsy--no sign of pills in the stomach, unexplained bruises at the hip and back, an abnormal colon and markings to suggest the body had been moved after death--he begins to suspect a cover-up and embarks on a rousing and dangerous quest to unravel the mystery surrounding her death. In a clever parallel plot twist, Fitzgerald's movement toward the truth mirrors a struggle described by Marilyn within The Book of Secrets regarding her own involvement in a conspiracy involving sex, politics and power.
Though some readers might initially be confused by the voice of the narrator (Fitzgerald's recollections are targeted to a therapist, referred to as "you" in the book) and use of both flash-forward and flashback scenes, it all becomes clear soon enough. Buckle up--the trip through The Empty Glass is an exciting ride. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore
Discover: The executive editor of Condé Nast Traveler offers a novel with a new take on the conspiracy theories that suggest Marilyn Monroe's death was not a suicide.
Biography & Memoir
How to Be a Woman
by Caitlin Moran
British journalist Caitlin Moran's memoir-manifesto How to Be a Woman is as funny and careerist as Tina Fey's Bossypants, as divulging as Ayelet Waldman's Bad Mother and as earthy as Cheryl Strayed's Wild.
In chatty chapters that resemble newspaper essays (the author is a TV critic and columnist at the Times of London), Moran blends self-deprecating autobiographical anecdotes with earnest meditations on the parlous state of modern feminism. Rakishly personal and uninhibited, How to Be a Woman treats feminism in a down-the-pub clever, not ivory-tower rarified way, and apart from a few references to Germaine Greer, it takes the history of the women's movement for granted.
How to Be a Woman garners its hot topics from Moran's life, beginning with her pitiable 13th birthday and her simultaneously underinformed and privacy-free adolescence as the eldest in a big home-schooled family. An early gem recounts her reporting debut as a 16-year-old Wolverhampton wunderkind in the all-male London newsroom of Melody Maker: Moran's descriptions of her efforts to fit in are both funny-awkward and inspiring. How to Be a Woman's structure is more thematic than autobiographical, with chapters that shift quickly from the personal to the essayistic on everything from body image to weddings to Lady Gaga, with the exception of some intensely intimate accounts of childbirth and an abortion.
Moran's one-liners and set-pieces are offhand, mischievous without being mean, and occasionally hilariously rude. Some bring out the guffaws and the shakes, and put to rest forever the idea that feminists don't have a sense of humor. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts
Discover: A British journalist's personal, funny and occasionally ribald approach to modern feminism.
Have Mother, Will Travel
by Claire Fontaine , Mia Fontaine
Ten years after the events described in their first mother-daughter memoir, Come Back, Claire and Mia Fontaine's connection has grown shaky. When she had to, Claire stepped up the mama-bear role and got her daughter--drug-addicted and out of control, acting out in response to sexual abuse by her biological father--on the road to recovery. Mia's now a healthy, independent 20-something finding her way into adulthood, and as Claire's role in her daughter's life has changed, she's losing her own footing. The Fontaines decide to address their respective and shared crises by going abroad, setting out on a month-long global scavenger hunt followed by a season living in France.
Mia and Claire take turns narrating Have Mother, Will Travel; even if the shifts weren't signified by different typefaces, their voices would be identifiable. Claire is chatty and philosophical, often reflecting on the universal experiences of motherhood, and the mother-daughter bond in particular, as she observes it across cultures, while Mia's sections are more introspective and focused on the personal.
As they step out of their comfort zones and embark on foreign adventures, Claire and Mia interact with one another in ways they never have before. Often, parents and children are ill-prepared for the natural shifts in their relationships as the children become adults, even when those relationships haven't been tested by crises as the Fontaines' was. Have Mother, Will Travel offers an unusual perspective on the growth of the parent-child relationship. Under rather abnormal conditions, they're working toward a sense of normalcy. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness
Discover: A mother and daughter exploring the world and learning how to navigate their relationship.
Osceola and the Great Seminole War
by Thom Hatch
Ask someone to name a famous Native American from history, and the answer is likely to be Geronimo, Crazy Horse or Sitting Bull--all known for challenging the might of the United States army. Osceola, the early 19th-century leader of the Seminoles, is rarely recalled, yet his struggles to maintain his people's homeland in Florida, his bold strikes against forces consistently larger than his own and his dignity and composure even when captured mark him as a Native hero worth remembering.
Thom Hatch's Osceola and the Great Seminole War tells the story of how Osceola rose from the role of a tribal warrior to become the leader of his people as they fought against the injustices of the U.S. government. Despite years of guerrilla attacks on American forces, the Seminoles were not a warrior culture; Osceola was at heart a pacifist, wanting little more than to be left alone to live with his people as they chose, where they chose. Stories of his battles--especially the treachery of being taken prisoner while under the protection of a white flag--captured the minds of contemporary Americans, but this fascinating figure of Native American history has sadly faded from our modern consciousness--a wrong hopefully righted by Hatch's detailed account. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Discover: A compelling, detailed history of an overlooked Native American hero and the war he led against the United States in the early 19th century.
Current Events & Issues
Nonbeliever Nation: The Rise of Secular Americans
by David Niose
"Secular Americans," or Americans who conduct their lives without reference to a deity, form one of the largest demographic groups in the country and also one of the fastest-growing--estimated at 15% to 25% of the population, at least 50 million. Yet they have long felt themselves shut out of the national debate on a number of issues; particularly since with the rise of the religious right, the lack of belief in a god has been painted as the quintessentially un-American moral failing.
In Nonbeliever Nation, David Niose shows how religious rhetoric has influenced many issues that are important to the secular community--and led to the teaching of creationism and intelligent design in public school science classes, the lagging pace of LBGT rights and the denial of environmental degradation and climate change.
In easy-to-read chapters that are nonetheless full of information, Niose combines statistics, court decisions and anecdotes with clarity, arguing that the secular movement's goals are not only reasonable but necessary to a fundamentally equal and just society--and revealing how, with ever-increasing numbers of secular Americans "coming out of the closet," those goals are gaining ground.
The voice of secular Americans is not yet as loud as that of the religious right, or even that of the moderately religious. But it's getting louder. Nonbeliever Nation provides a useful reference guide to how we got here--and how secular individuals and communities can change the game. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket
Discover: The head of the American Humanist Association makes his case for a secular understanding of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
Psychology & Self-Help
What to Do When There's Too Much to Do: Reduce Tasks, Increase Results, and Save 90 Minutes a Day
by Laura Stack
"Today's fast-paced, high-pressure [work] environment often requires sixty, seventy, eighty, or more hours a week. But productivity tends to decrease as work hours increase," Laura Stack writes in What to Do When There's Too Much to Do. Stack, a personal productivity trainer, offers readers clear-cut solutions for the common problem of working long hours at the office to the detriment of personal health and happiness. By following her workflow formula, she says, readers will learn that "it's simple to rearrange your life so you can have a life outside of work."
The first steps toward this more balanced existence include assessing what truly needs to be accomplished on any particular day, scheduling time to complete those tasks and focusing one's attention by shutting out distractions (yes, this means forgoing checking personal e-mail and updating Twitter and Facebook). By saying "no" more frequently, by delegating work to others more suited for the job and by focusing on one task instead of multi-tasking, workers can gain on average about 90 minutes a day.
Stack shows how to tackle towering paper pyramids and overloaded inboxes--and voice mail, too--with an emphasis on efficiency and reducing the inflow of information. Multiple checklists and links to online information help keep readers on task toward developing a well-organized and effective system. Although aimed primarily at office workers, these tips will help anyone connected to the Internet become more efficient. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Expert advice and time-saving practices from a productivity pro that will streamline your workplace.
Children's & Young Adult
by Beth Kephart
Beth Kephart's (You Are My Only) life-affirming story describes the summer after Kenzie's senior year, when she decides to give birth rather than end her pregnancy.
Her father's death, months before, is Kenzie's first great loss. She wants to give birth and create a new life. Her mother sends Kenzie to southern Spain, where a college friend knows someone who wants Kenzie's child. Kenzie's kind host, 61-year-old Miguel, raises Spain's best bulls at his estate, Los Nietos, for the world-renowned bullfights in Seville. Kenzie helps Estela, whom Miguel calls "our queen," in the kitchen. And Esteban is the 18-year-old horseman. Kenzie asks many questions but learns she must earn their answers.
Kephart beautifully captures the way people communicate when they do not know each other or speak each other's languages. Conversations evoke the spareness of scenes from The Sun Also Rises, the long shadows stretching in the silences, the religion of the bullfight. "When reading Hemingway watch the pronouns," Kenzie's English teacher told her. "We should have been more careful," is the way Kenzie breaks the news to Kevin. "What are your choices?" he responds. Estela and Miguel and Esteban are a part of all that they know and all that they do, and they teach this to Kenzie in a way that fills her. Eager to see what Kenzie will do, we also wish to slow down, breathe in the smell of Estela's paella, the scent of the orange trees. As soon as the book ends, we want to begin it again. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Eighteen-year-old Kenzie, sent to Spain to hide her pregnancy, learns to love the country, its people and herself.
Something Strange and Deadly
by Susan Dennard
From the sounding of "the Dead alarm" on the first page, readers will be awakened to an 1876 Philadelphia replete with animated corpses, irresistible romance and a game of intrigue.
Narrator Eleanor Fitt awaits the arrival of her brother, Elijah, who's been away for three years, at the Centennial train depot in Philadelphia. One of the walking Dead delivers a cryptic letter to Eleanor informing her that Elijah is stuck in New York and can come home only "if I do what he needs." Eleanor knows her scholarly brother cannot manipulate a corpse, and he has long been pursued for the research and ancient artifacts he's unearthed about theology during his travels through Europe. She must enlist the help of the Spirit-Hunters who are in town to deal with the mysterious necromancer that's controlling the Dead.
A proper high-society girl, Eleanor should not be messing with the Dead, let alone exchanging cut and thrust with low-society boy Daniel Sheridan. But Daniel is the handsome and memorable Spirit-Hunter hired to expel the spirits of the Dead. The tensions between them will please romance readers, while Daniel's clever inventions will appeal to fans of steampunk. But the mission takes precedence over courtship, as Eleanor is occupied by protecting an essential grimoire, banishing a wicked ghost and battling the Hungry--quick, rabid corpses desperate to feed.
Those who enjoy Cassandra Clare's the Infernal Devices series will likely be spellbound by Susan Dennard's macabre and impressive debut, the first in a planned trilogy. --Adam Silvera, reviewer
Discover: Zombies and voodoo and corsets! Oh my! Teenaged Eleanor Fitt enlists Spirit-Hunters to rescue her missing brother from a necromancer.
White House Kids: The Perks, Pleasures, Problems, and Pratfalls of the Presidents' Children
by Joe Rhatigan , illus. by Jay Shin
This fascinating approach to American history, through the experiences of the children who have lived in the White House, offers details that young readers will eagerly devour.
Joe Rhatigan (Prize-Winning Science Fair Projects for Curious Kids) starts by asking young readers to "Imagine for a moment that your mom or dad gets a new job... in a different city, and you have to move, even though the job [may only last] four or eight years." He begins with George Washington, who never got to live in the White House (it was under construction), then moves to President John Adams, who did. But this is no straight chronology: Rhatigan zeroes in on some of the more interesting child personalities (such as Alice Roosevelt, a fashion icon) as well as memorable moments in history. Along with a generous smattering of photographs, fact boxes and highlighted quotes, the author sprinkles in fun trivia (e.g., President John Tyler holds the record with 15 children; seven born after his presidency).
In the course of the book, Rhatigan demonstrates how challenging it is for the President and First Lady to raise a family while also running the country (including keeping their privacy). He lightens things up with themed sections such as parties held at the White House, from weddings (there were 21--nine of them for children of presidents) to memorable birthday celebrations. Appendices include a presidential timeline and what happened to the children as adults. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: An essential guide for a White House visit, and an enlightening approach to U.S. history.