Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 7, 2012
From My Shelf
Chilly Scenes of Winter
It's the dog days of summer, and we received a book trailer from Macmillan Audio for Paul Auster's recording of Winter Journal. The trailer opens with the sound of a cold wind; the book cover is snowy. In his 65th year, in the winter of his life, Auster is writing a history of his body and its sensations. This made me think about the connection between weather and reading. Would Winter Journal be better read in the coldest months? Would reading it in August be dissonant?
This caused me to remember other shivery books I've read, and wonder if reading Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing would have a cooling effect in these hot days. Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg has caused many readers to shiver and reach for a blanket as they follow Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen from Copenhagen to Greenland as she attempts to figure out the death of a small boy based on her reading of his snowy footsteps. Arnaldur Indrioason's Inspector Erlendur mysteries (Jar City, Hypothermia, Arctic Chill, etc.) are set in Iceland, and not only is the weather icy, the characters are, too.
In one of the recent books in Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series, Hell Is Empty, the sheriff pursues a dangerous psychopath through Wyoming's Cloud Peak Wilderness area during a blizzard. When I read it, I really did need hot coffee and warm socks. West of Here, Jonathan Evison's splendid epic novel about Northwest Washington, moves between the present and 100 years ago. Some of the most compelling writing is about James Mather, who in 1889 set out to explore the Olympic Mountains during one of the worst winters on record, because he was determined to be the first to penetrate the wilderness. Crazy? You bet.
These chilly books might help you save on air-conditioning; call it book-induced hypothermia. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness
Fairy Tale Books; Quidditch Origins; GWTW Going, Going, Gone
At this year's Tomorrowland music festival in Belgium, "an entire stage was filled with a library of gigantic fairy tale books to create a sort of magical country," Buzzfeed reported.
J.K. Rowling "created Quidditch in a pub after having a fight with her then-boyfriend. 'In my deepest, darkest soul,' she said, 'I would quite like to see him hit by a bludger.' " This is just one Potter-related tidbit from Mental Floss's Amazing Fact Generator.
Fifty Shades updates: Roleplaying with the best of them, actors Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis read passages from Fifty Shades of Grey. And with the click of a button, the Fifty Shades Generator, "a breakthrough in erotic fiction... generates world-class literature based on a pre-defined vocabulary."
A 1938 copy of Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind, signed by almost all of the movie's cast--as well as director Victor Fleming and producer David O. Selznick--sold for $135,300 at auction recently, the Hollywood Reporter noted.
Further Reading: Napoleon Bonaparte
Two hundred years ago the world watched in alarm as Napoleon invaded Russia. The brash emperor had turned Europe upside down in his quest for greatness, and has had a correspondingly large role in literature ever since. There are countless histories of Napoleon and his era--from biographies of the man himself, such as Steven Englund's Napoleon: A Political Life, to military histories of his battle achievements, like J. Christopher Herold's Bonaparte in Egypt.
But Napoleon is also frequently the focus of lighter works. In An Infamous Army, Georgette Heyer's masterful retelling of the Battle of Waterloo, Napoleon never actually appears on page. But "Boney" (as the British upper class scornfully called him) dominates every aspect of life in England and Belgium in the spring of 1815. Heyer juxtaposes the lords and ladies who danced and flirted their way through Brussels and the violence of the battle where Napoleon so very nearly won.
He also appears in Lauren Willig's The Garden Intrigue as a slightly pompous theater addict, who commissions his stepdaughter's friend Emma Delagardie to write a play for him. Emma has to navigate the complicated world of the Bonaparte household with the assistance of the verbose poet Augustus Whittlesby. Napoleon was quite capable of arresting people for trifling slights, keeping Emma constantly on her toes.
In a creative alternate history of the Napoleonic Wars, Naomi Novik's Temeraire series stars Captain Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire, who fight as part of the British Aerial Corps. In book three of the series, Black Powder War, Napoleon gets a celestial dragon of his own, and flies into battle at the head of his army and fighting dragon corps. His military genius becomes even more frightening when given this aerial dimension, and it looks like there are no limits to his success.
Seduced by Chocolate
Laura Florand was born in Georgia and eventually moved to Paris, where she met and married her own handsome Frenchman. She is now a lecturer at Duke University and dedicated to her research into French chocolate. Her new series launches in August 2012 with The Chocolate Thief (Kensington).
I often get asked how I could have come up with the idea to write about chocolatiers, as if this is rather quirky. But the more I discover of real top chocolatiers, the more I think--how could I not?
I came to chocolate via chocolate chips and supermarket candy bars the way most American kids do. It wasn't until I lived in Paris as a graduate student that I began to discover top French chocolatiers. Given my meager graduate stipend and that top chocolates even at that time cost $60 or more a pound, my credit card companies were delighted.
So when I decided to write about a chocolate-making hero in The Chocolate Thief, I was following my passion. When I made my first timid research inquiries, I never expected the generosity and enthusiasm with which the world's greatest chocolatiers would share their worlds with me, or that through them that first book idea (The Chocolate Thief) would grow into a series and a novella.
Their worlds are fascinating and incredibly diverse. Michel Chaudun has a laboratoire not much bigger than an SUV, and he filters his enrobing chocolate through pantyhose in between batches, using a hair dryer--yes, a hair dryer!--to loosen it from the grill. Jacques Genin's laboratoire is a huge, luminous space of marble counters above a beautiful salon of exposed rock walls and red velvet curtains. Pâtissier Laurent Jeannin works in a Michelin three-star kitchen where a team of over 100 move in a constant, intense dance.
They, too, are following their passion, and it is that passion and intensity which I try to capture in Sylvain Marquis, the hero of The Chocolate Thief. A person for whom the world is an utterly sensual place--and those senses are in the control of his hands. A person whose success has taken exceptional discipline, drive, creativity, and perfectionism.
Not to mention arrogance or, as Sylvain would prefer to call it, accurate self-assessment. Every single top chocolatier I have ever researched has openly stated to me, at some point during an interview, "I am the best in the world." And every single one, full of that conviction, goes back and pours his soul into being even better. And then offers that soul up to be eaten in one or two delicious bites.
My kind of hero. --Laura Florand
Movies Based on Books; Girls Who Fight; Books That Make You Cry
See the movie, read the... wait, there's a book? Flavorwire showcased "10 movies you didn't realize were based on books."
"Fight Like a Girl: 3 Books That Pack a Deadly Punch." For NPR, Diana Lopez, author of Choke and Confetti Girl, recommended a trio of books "with girls who know how to fight."
The Guardian suggested a few tear-jerkers in the latest edition of its "My Top Five" series, which highlighted "books that make you cry."
Shane Jones, author of Daniel Fights a Hurricane, recommended "10 essential surrealist books for everyone" at Flavorwire.
The Dog Stars
by Peter Heller
With echoes of Moby Dick and Waiting for Godot, Peter Heller's terrific post-apocalyptic first novel, The Dog Stars, wastes no time introducing everything we need to know about his narrator: "I keep the Beast running. I keep the 100 low lead on tap. I foresee attacks. I am young enough. I am old enough. I used to love to fish for trout more than almost anything. My name is Hig, one name. Big Hig if you need another."
Hig sleeps under the stars alongside the tiny Erie, Colo., airstrip nestled in the crumbling ruins of a suburban development of vacant McMansions. Except for his wily, gun-toting, self-preservationist partner, Bangley, and his last-legs dog, Jasper, Hig is alone. "The flu killed almost everybody," he explains, "then the blood disease killed more. The ones who are left are mostly Not Nice, why we live here on the plain, why I patrol every day." While Bangley gathers his protective arsenal, Hig secures a 1950s Cessna (nicknamed "The Beast") and fuel to reconnoiter from the air. Bangley's motto is "Guilty until--until nothing. Shoot first ask later. Guilty then dead," while Hig is willing to "let a visitor live a minute longer until they prove themselves to be human... because they always do."
Heller brings Melville's broad, contemplative exploration of good and evil to his story and tells it in the spare, often disjunctive, language of Beckett. Heller's vision, however, is not as dark as that of his literary antecedents. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover:With startling lyricism, Peter Heller's accomplished first novel rises above the inherent darkness of a world stripped bare by disease, climate change and violence.
The Bride of New France
by Suzanne DesRochers
As a young girl, Laure is torn from her parents' arms on the streets of 17th-century Paris--destined for the Salpêtrière, a notorious institution housing destitute, insane and criminal women. She grows up with minuscule rations, sickness and tragedy, dreaming of becoming a seamstress and marrying to improve her station. Instead, she finds herself on a ship bound for the colonies of New France in Canada, as a fille du roi ("daughter of the King")--not an opportunity but the worst of punishments.
Laure's new life is in some ways worse than she'd imagined. She is to serve as wife to a fur trapper or soldier, doing her part to increase the population of New France, but learning how to make fine lace has left her unprepared to chop wood or defend herself in an uncivilized world of deadly cold winters, wild animals and savages. Her ill-suited husband immediately leaves her alone in a rough-hewn cabin to fend for herself, and she must turn to one of the feared Iroquois for her survival.
Suzanne Desrochers's well-researched debut novel captures Laure's challenges and complexities admirably, with a candid account of an era that is often glorified. The settings of squalid Paris and feral New France are well evoked, Laure's emotions and frustrations are easily understood. Though flawed, she is a fully human character; the future that she and her counterparts face is bleak, but hopeful as well. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at Pages of Julia
Discover:A heartfelt novel about a 17th-century young woman's journey from Paris to the Canadian wilds.
The Appearance of a Hero: The Tom Mahoney Stories
by Peter Levine
Peter Levine's strong collection of linked stories, The Appearance of a Hero, focuses on the mysterious and charismatic Tom Mahoney. To the guys, he "was the man everyone wanted to have at parties, meet up with for a drink to talk about sports, figure out their spring brackets." To the many women who pass through his life, Tom is "a man who any woman would look at and think he was handsome, and would be proud to be with." Under his wealthy father's watchful and wishful eyes, he is destined to "become more powerful, wiser, more fully the man he is beginning to demonstrate the qualities of."
Levine's stories reveal a grim, Raymond Carver-like world where his rich young urban characters live vapid lives and Tom appears as a kind of mysterious Jay Gatsby hero. They want to be who they think he is, they want to be his friend, they want to sleep with him, or they want him to help them find a job or a running mate or workout partner. They are in law school or between jobs, they are couples who "have sex once a month, sometimes less--it seemed enough," or they are "just two guys having cocktails: slacks and shirts and gleaming black shoes and thin belts and thin bodies." Ironically, none of the stories are told from Tom's perspective--when he dies young of a heart attack, he is only what others make him out to be. And though Levine's world is dark, this collection shines. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover:A debut collection of contemporary linked stories by a talented writer who gets the lost lives of the young urban rich just right.
Mystery & Thriller
Kill You Twice
by Chelsea Cain
Beginning with Heartsick, Chelsea Cain's popular Archie Sheridan mystery series has been one long story: each novel picks up where the previous one ended. Kill Me Twice follows The Night Season, which provided a brief respite from Archie's nemesis, Gretchen Lowell (aka the Beauty Killer), but now she's back. A dead body, most of its skin removed, is found on Portland's Mount Tabor, with a lily on the ground nearby. The viciousness of the killing reminds Archie of Gretchen's MO, but she's incarcerated in the Oregon State Hospital. (Portland and the surrounding area figure prominently throughout the series.)
Another body is found downtown, burned beneath the famous "Portland, Oregon" sign, along with another lily. Meanwhile Gretchen has asked Susan Ward, a former reporter and regular "associate" of Archie's, to meet with her. She tells Susan about a murder she committed in St. Helen's when she was a teenager--lots of blood and her trademark slicing off of the nose: "It came off in my hand," Gretchen recalls. "Flesh always looks so much smaller once it's dismembered." She also says she had a child--and, by the way, they should be looking for an old accomplice of hers, Ryan Motley.
Short chapters (à la James Patterson) provide breakneck reading, and Cain does a good job of bringing all her pieces of the mystery together, throwing in just the right amount of gore and surprises. And, of course, we know when we reach the end that Gretchen will be back again soon. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher and Portland resident
Discover:The fifth book in Cain's dark and bloody addictive series set in Portland, Ore., featuring a likable detective and a brutal and brilliant female serial killer.
by Benjamin Black
One day John Banville, Man Booker Prize-winner and one of Ireland's finest writers, picked up a Georges Simenon mystery, got hooked and decided to write his own mystery. He found he couldn't do it--he wasn't that kind of writer--but an alter ego named Benjamin Black could. From that initial impulse (realized in 2007's Christine Falls), a series of novels set in 1950s Dublin, featuring a pathologist aptly named Quirke and his colleague Detective Inspector Hackett, has flowed.
At the beginning of Vengeance, the fifth book in the series, wealthy, successful businessman Victor Delahaye takes Davy, the son of his partner Jack Clancy, on a sailing trip in Slievemore Bay near Cork. He lowers the sails, mumbles something about loyalty and shoots himself in the chest. As he dies, Davy panics and throws the gun overboard. Hackett, a quiet, methodical man, and Quirke, a handsome, cosmopolitan professional who's irresistible to women, soon learn that Jack, always the lackey to Victor, has been secretly taking over the finances of the company. Not too long after that discovery, Jack is found washed up on the shore--murdered.
The stylish mystery of Vengeance unravels in an Ireland where the Catholic Church and its traditions hold a firm grip. Black introduces us to a fascinating, finely drawn group of suspects--family members on both sides, wives and relatives, all who might have had something to gain from either patriarch's death. And then there's Victor's identical twins, Jonas and James: there's something eerie about them. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover:The fifth installment in John Banville's sly, engaging Irish mystery series where the detective is second fiddle to the pathologist.
Biography & Memoir
The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals
by Jenny Brown with Gretchen Primack
There are many books about our broken food production cycle and the ethics of agribusiness, but such books rarely provide an intimate look at the creatures that suffer within the system. Not so with Jenny Brown's memoir, The Lucky Ones, written with the help of Gretchen Primack. Brown is clearly a fighter: she lost a leg to bone cancer at the age of 10 and rejected her conservative Southern Baptist upbringing to become a vegan activist with a job in television and film. Her true calling, however, is in fighting for those who have no voice: farm animals. With her husband, Brown started the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, a nonprofit organization that allows animals originally intended for slaughter or other commercial enterprises to live out their days in peace.
The Lucky Ones traces Brown's path to animal activism from the special bond she shared with her cat, Boogie, to her work as an undercover filmmaker exposing abuse in Texas stockyards to the creation of the Woodstock sanctuary. Her personal recollections are interwoven with stories that trace the lives of animals she has saved. Readers will love Albie, a three-legged goat who escaped a live-kill market in New York City and learned to walk with a prosthetic device. Or Brandy, an affable nine-year-old rooster who loves canned vegetarian dog food and applesauce. Or Patsy and Judy, pig-sisters with voracious appetites and a love of belly rubs. They will also appreciate Brown's unapologetic feistiness in her call for compassion for the farm animals she loves. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore
Discover:An appealing memoir by the cofounder and director of the Woodstock Farm Sanctuary, putting a face and a name to many of the animals that suffer to put food on our plates.
The Book of Mormon Girl
by Joanna Brooks
No matter what their religious or political beliefs, readers will agree Joanna Brooks has the courage of her convictions. In The Book of Mormon Girl, she shares memories of a happy Orange County, Calif., childhood in a family of devout Mormons, followed by a painful split with the church in adulthood over social issues.
As a girl, Brooks absorbed the stories of her forebears' treks west and followed the guidelines of Mormon role model Marie Osmond and the teachings of her church. "I loved being a Mormon girl, a root beer among the Cokes," she writes of her "un-caffeinated" youth. (Her journey is poignant but not humorless: she recalls equating the Equal Rights Amendment with unisex bathrooms in a sixth-grade report.)
At 17, Scott realized her dream, enrolling at Brigham Young University, thrilled to seek Joseph Smith's "truth and light." But her arrival coincided with a wave of Mormon feminism and a subsequent crackdown on feminists and intellectuals proposing gay and civil rights, leading to a wave of disfellowshipping and excommunication between 1993 and 1996. Brooks's heart rejected her church's rules; she graduated from BYU but returned her diploma in protest.
"I am a Mormon feminist," Brooks writes, and in her painfully honest memoir, she describes Mormonism as "my first language, my mother tongue, my family, my people, my home." Today, as current events and pop culture bring the religion to the foreground, Joanna Brooks offers a memoir of the faith and what it means to her, for better and worse.--Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller
Discover:A balanced, heartfelt memoir of honoring a faith and a heritage while challenging church teachings.
Essays & Criticism
The Way the World Works: Essays
by Nicholson Baker
As one would expect from a writer whose works include everything from a novel consisting of an extended phone sex encounter (Vox) to a controversial examination of the origins of World War II (Human Smoke), Nicholson Baker's second collection of essays, lectures and journalism, The Way the World Works, richly deserves the label eclectic.
Among these 34 pieces are a healthy assortment of personal essays, including a tribute to summer's simple pleasures and an account of a Sunday at the dump in his Maine home town. Baker also revisits the theme of Double Fold, his 2002 polemic against libraries' "assault on paper." The book purge overseen in the 1990s by Kenneth Dowlin, the former director of the San Francisco Public Library, is the subject of a savage attack in "Truckin' for the Future." But Baker praises the Duke University Libraries in a speech delivered at the opening of a facility dedicated to the storage of books.
In the lengthy "Why I'm a Pacifist," Baker argues that the lives of millions of Jews would have been spared had the Allies accepted the urgings of groups like the War Resisters League and negotiated an armistice with Hitler. It's possible to appreciate his diagnosis that "war never works" without accepting that prescription.
Recalling in "The Nod" a (literally) passing encounter with John Updike, Baker writes of how much he wanted to tell the author "how happy it made me to know that he was out there working." That's the way you're likely to feel after spending a few hours in Baker's company. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover:In this eclectic collection of essays, novelist Nicholson Baker explores everything from his passion for paper to the roots of his pacifist beliefs.
Some Remarks: Essays and Other Writing
by Neal Stephenson
In 1996, when he was still best known for his "cyberpunk" breakthrough novel, Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson filed a book-length article for Wired recounting his journey through various Asian nations to Egypt to the shores of England to check out the installation of a new generation of fiberoptic cables through which the Internet's data would stream. It was less an act of journalism, he wrote, than a new genre he called hacker tourism: "travel to exotic locations in search of sights and sensations that would only be of interest to a geek." The result was a seemingly sprawling but actually quite tightly structured adventure story filled with precise technical details--a trademark style any fan of Stephenson's later novels would recognize.
Other pieces here include op-ed contributions, college lectures, interview transcripts and even a pair of early short stories. (Fans of Stephenson's 2011 novel Reamde may be intrigued to see that his interest in online role-playing networks as a platform for alternate currencies extends at least as far back as 1995's "The Great Simoleon Caper.") Topics range from the blind spot many secularists have when it comes to understanding religious faith to the need to reinfuse science fiction with visionary aspirations to the health risks of sitting at a computer all day. It's all shot through with a sly humor; as he says in response to an online fan's question comparing him with William Gibson, "his Praying Mantis style was no match for my Flying Cloud technique." Some Remarks is an easy slam dunk for Stephenson's existing fan base, but his dig-deep approach may appeal to literary nonfiction audiences as well. --Ron Hogan
Discover:Neal Stephenson's nonfiction is just as wonky, detail-oriented and entertaining as his novels.
Children's & Young Adult
Liar & Spy
by Rebecca Stead
When seventh-grader Georges (named for the painter Seurat) and his family must sell their house and move to an apartment in Brooklyn, everything changes for him.
Narrator Georges understands that his father losing his job meant they needed to downsize, and that his mother, a nurse, now needs to work more double shifts. Safer, a boy his age who lives upstairs in Georges's building, helps him pass the time by keeping a lookout for the mysterious Mr. X on the fourth floor, who dresses in black and hauls suitcases around. Safer teaches Georges how to observe their building's security camera for long stretches. When Georges gets bullied at school, his friendship with Safer grows in importance. Together they discover a key in Mr. X's laundry and wonder what it might open. But when Safer asks Georges to keep watch while Safer slips into Mr. X's apartment to try out the key, Georges wants no part of "breaking and entering."
As with Seurat's paintings, Georges's mother has always told him that he needs to look not at the dots but at the big picture. However, as things heat up for Georges, he realizes that "Life is really just a bunch of nows, one after the other. The dots matter." As she did with When You Reach Me, Stead captures the experience of crossing the threshold from childhood into young adulthood, when longtime friendships feel tenuous and growing up means allowing the truth to outshine the lies we once told ourselves. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover:A Newbery Medalist explores the pains and pleasures of growing up in an adventure novel that weaves in friendship and mystery.
by Leeza Hernandez , illus. by Leeza Hernandez
With the simplest of rhyming phrases and clockwork pacing, first-time picture book creator Leeza Hernandez tells of a dog lost and found.
A redheaded boy plays Frisbee with a tan pooch with a brown spot over its left eye, "Happy dog." The wagging canine appears to be eyeing the red disc, but on closer inspection, it's the boy's stuffed dinosaur the pup covets. Grabbing the dino from the boy's toy chest, he growls and the boy says, "Settle down you snappy dog." The dino ends up in tatters, and the boy gets angry ("Put that down, you bad dog!"), so the pup leaps through an open window ("Dog gone!"). A pair of vignettes plus an aerial view show the pet's path to a rainy alleyway where other strays gather and keep the fellow company. Luckily, the boy finds his runaway ("Here, dog!/ Dear dog./ No more need to fear, dog") and takes him home for a toweling off and a cuddle. (A feral cat also finds its way into their home.)
Hernandez demonstrates the possibilities of bare-bones, mostly two-word phrases to carry the action. Except for the titular climactic phrase, the rhymes come in threes. She creates interiors in sunny yellows, reds and pea-greens, and outdoor scenes of the lost dog enveloped in charcoal, blue-gray and brown. Her "digital fusion," mixed-media illustrations appear as if they were rendered with woodblocks; the solid planes of color possess an appealing faded quality that adds warmth to the irresistible bond between boy and dog. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover:A heartwarming tale, told in the simplest of rhymes, of a boy and his beloved dog, lost and found.
Reference & Writing
How to Find Out Anything
by Don MacLeod
Don MacLeod is a man with a mission: teaching his readers to go beyond Google in their search for information. In How to Find Out Anything, MacLeod shares research techniques acquired during more than 25 years as a law librarian. In his first chapter, MacLeod teaches the reader to think through a research problem. He begins with an eye-opening discussion of how to craft a question that can be answered, moves on to the matter of where to look for information and ends with advice on fact-checking your own research.
The rest of the book is a detailed discussion of the tools available to the modern researcher. Despite his repeated caveat that Google is not "the end-all, be-all of research," MacLeod provides a thorough discussion of how to use the popular search engine most effectively. He also offers strategies for accessing the "deep web," an overview of libraries and library resources and suggestions on building your own reference collection. He discusses contacting associations for knowledge about specific subjects, finding people and researching the public record. His advice is always practical and sometimes surprising. (Looking for someone? Start with the phone book.)
Whether you're a journalist who needs an expert source or an amateur genealogist looking for your great-grandfather's military record--or just interested in finding out the total gross sales of linoleum in 1968--How to Find Out Anything will give you new tools for the search. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins
Discover:A useful and lively guide to finding information in today's world and becoming your own best reference librarian.
|--- SPECIAL ADVERTORIAL OFFERINGS ---|