Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Harlequin: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

From My Shelf

The Dark Horse

First-time author Domingo Martinez is a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award for nonfiction, for The Boy Kings of Texas. He's the only non-Pulitzer Prize-winning finalist in that category, and Lyons Press is the only "small" publishing house in that category.

In a starred review, our reviewer said the memoir is "concerned with the deep distress of a bordertown [Brownsville, Tex.] kid unclear on his place in the world. Martinez's story is heartrending and uncomfortable, but he maintains a surprising sense of humor that keeps his reader cringing and rooting for him."

Martinez was surprised: "My phone started glowing around 6 a.m., and I happened to be awake. My first thought was, 'Wow; those bill collectors are starting much earlier nowadays,' and I ignored it because I didn't recognize the number, until it went off again about five minutes later and it was my agent, Alice.... I depend on her to translate most of what happens in this business because I'm so new at it, and I was registering some serious excitement, but I didn't know how to interpret it. I mean... it just wasn't computing that I was A FINALIST for THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD. What's really funny is, when you read through that list, it's almost like the writers are putting question marks behind my name and book title, like 'Who the hell is this guy??' "

In a recent NPR interview, Martinez said, "If I stop to think about it, I might seize up. So instead, I'm reorganizing my Netflix queue.... The term 'dark horse' has been mentioned once or twice, and I have to chuckle. I wasn't even in the race two years ago. I wasn't even a horse, for that matter."

The National Book Award winners will be announced November 14 at a ceremony in New York. For the complete list of 20 finalists across four categories (fiction, nonfiction, poetry and young people's literature), visit nationalbook.org. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

Harlequin: The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

Ecco: The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman

Plume: Purity of Vengeancy by Jussi Adler-Olsen

Book Candy

Writer Costume Ideas; Gollum Sculpture in New Zealand

For its "Ghost of Authors Past" slide show, the Huffington Post offered grim sartorial advice on how to "dress as 13 famous (but dead) writers this Halloween."  

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Scary in its own right is the giant Gollum sculpture on display at Wellington Airport, which celebrates Peter Jackson's soon-to-be-released movie The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey by welcoming visitors to "the middle of Middle-earth" in New Zealand, the Guardian noted.

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"I wanted to discover if other people would enjoy as much as I do seeing books displayed without any other object to distract attention from them," said designer Paul Cocksedge, whose Invisible Bookend was featured by Geeky Gadgets.

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Do people secretly judge each other based on the contents of their bookshelves? The Digital Reader reported that the answer is yes, according to a recent art exhibit in New York City shows that "invites viewers to answer a series of questions by shelving black and red books on one of seven shelves."

Harlequin: Swan Point by Sherryl Woods

The Writer's Life

Steven Barthelme: The World as He Sees It

Steven Barthelme was born in 1947 in Houston, Tex., the son of the celebrated architect Donald Barthelme Sr. He is the author of the story collection And He Tells the Little Horse the Whole Story and the co-author, with his brother Frederick, of Double Down: Reflections on Gambling and Loss. He is the director of the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi, where he also teaches English. His writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and McSweeney's, among others. Hush Hush, Barthelme's new story collection, was just published by Melville House.

You have had a long and illustrious career as a short story writer. What is it about the short story that draws you, as a medium?

"Illustrious" is putting it a little grandly. I don't know what has drawn me to short stories, besides failed novels. Novels take a long time. I once read some writer saying that to write fiction you had to think you were the smartest person in the room while you were writing. It's hard to believe that for more than 10 minutes at a time, hard to believe at all past a certain age. Around 19, I'd guess. Of course, I've always lived in small rooms--that helps.

In your stories you frequently shed light on aspects of America that are often either ignored or romanticized by other literary writers--in settings that are neither urban sprawl nor suburbia, neither glamorous nor overtly repressive. Was this your goal, articulated more overtly in the satirical "The New South: Writing the Newsweek Short Story"?

Very young, I discovered that the world I saw didn't look like the one portrayed in magazines. The high seriousness and culture criticism bothered me, all that throat-clearing and frowning. I tried to describe what I saw. But trying to write anything true was difficult without some sort of corrupting self-awareness or junk heroics leaking in. When I read Jean Rhys's early novels, I thought, Christ, this is it--everyone else is lying, insufferably artificial. Hemingway, a great writer by any standard, looked like a fake.

What motivated you to write such a satire?

There's a lot about journalism in there. The fiction I most dislike is false in the same way, as if you're going to capture the culture by reporting some suburban [or ghetto] family's life story. In the suburb where I grew up, every house was full of strange folks, no two alike. Scott Fitzgerald says somewhere, "Set out to create an individual and you find you've created a type; set out to create a type, and you find that you've created--nothing." The story's statements are all misrepresentations which are being continuously turned over, as practically everything in it is stated then revised, qualified, denied, discredited. I'd like to write a novel that way.

In your stories there is often an element of breaking away from the entrenched social order--sometimes through the literal breakage of objects, such as in "Hush Hush" and "Vexed." In "Interview," Quinn breaks from the life of comfortable materialism as a lawyer. Does this seemingly recurrent theme have personal significance for you?

It must. It's really a rejection of success. Imagined success--I was a success of a kind in high school but since then success has been thin on the ground. So I may write about people rejecting success, but I have no idea if that actually works, makes for joy.

In "Claire," "In the Rain" and "Ask Again Later," a cat seems to act as the symbolic alter ego of the protagonist--lost, injured, in need of care--while the protagonist himself has trouble expressing emotion. What do you think it is about animals that makes them an effective symbol for repressed emotion?

Well, maybe. I don't know that they are symbols of repressed emotion. One's relations with other species are surely limited, but also kind of pure. I love animals, always have, all kinds. I love skinks. But especially cats. Limited, I understand them and they understand me. They're not people. I'm not sure it amounts to any more than that.

In "Hush Hush" the protagonist breaks one of the most universally enforced taboos, along with much of his bright new home furnishings. Did this frank story of incest lead to any controversy when it was first published in Boulevard?

Of course, I wondered if it might, but it didn't.

In "Claire," "Interview" and "Hush Hush," money becomes a source of discontent for the character, with financial success corresponding to feelings of malaise. Do you think contemporary American society places too much emphasis on the attainment of money as a goal for life?

Money is not these folks' main problem. Money is a side issue. It is true that the deals they've made to make a living, in two of those stories, have led to a kind of falseness. Fraudulence is their main problem. Tilden, in "Hush Hush," is supposed to be in a different bind.

Society is complicated, bewildering. I'm uncomfortable talking about it. Seems to me there's almost nothing one can say about it in a general way that is worth paying attention to. My fellow professors don't share this view, nor do many writers.

On money, I can tell you that walking around a casino with $4,000 in hundreds folded up in your shirt pocket is a buzz, and you should give money to guys on street corners. Past that, Mae West said 80 years ago, "I've been rich and I've been poor, and let me tell you, honey, rich is better."

"Heaven" is a devastating satire of a self-important artist. A contrasting parallel is "Acquaintance," where Quinn comes face to face with the writer he could have been, and finds that it's someone very ordinary like himself. Both stories, in different ways, seem like attempts to demystify the popular idea that artists exist in a world apart.

Well read on your part. I was raised in the religion of art so maybe I'm a little sensitive there. I like some stories, poems, paintings, jokes, but I kinda hate art, or the religion anyway, so I'm a little schizophrenic. I like Dave Hickey's take on all this, and if I really understood what he's saying all the time, which I don't, I think that could resolve my problem.

Quinn is supposed to love the guy he finds as the "writer he could've been," Ethan, and the reader is supposed to love him, too. He's ordinary only in the sense that Jesus was ordinary. He's a good soul, and all the light that's falling is falling on his idealism, his love of the girl, his admiration for the dead mentor. Or at least that was how it was supposed to work. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post

Harlequin: Since You've Been Gone by Anouska Knight

Inklings

Dirty Dancing in Jane Austen's Novels

Susannah Fullerton is president of the Jane Austen Society of Australia. Her book A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and Her Characters Went to the Ball, was just published. She is also the co-editor of Jane Austen--Antipodean Views and the author of Jane Austen and Crime.

"Mommy Porn" is the latest craze in the book world, with erotic shades of grey getting readers very excited. But Jane Austen did all that 200 years ago--and she did it so much better! She gave her readers not 50, but hundreds of shades of emotion and sexual attraction. She created Mr. Darcy, the world's sexiest hero in fiction. And she handled the theme of desire between men and women with infinitely more subtlety and power.

It is in the ballroom that Jane Austen shows most clearly the excitements and satisfactions of sexual attraction. Dances in her novels provide enticing opportunities for men and women to touch and move together, away from chaperones. Dances involved exciting glimpses of ankles and cleavages, arms pressed around a waist, eyes gazing into eyes--not as explicit as bedroom scenes of today, but far more memorable and fascinating.

Many of Jane Austen's heroines meet their future husbands at dances. Where would Pride and Prejudice be had Darcy not spurned Elizabeth as a dance partner, only to later gaze at her with lust and longing. Catherine of Northanger Abbey takes one look at Henry Tilney and cannot wait to be led by him into the dance (and into marriage and into the bedroom). There are the men who strut the room seeking out Georgian eye-candy, there are the Lydia Bennets who fall into the arms and beds of any man who wants them, and there are the plain girls who cannot seem to entice any man at all.

Jane Austen so vividly depicts the sexiness of dancing and the mating game, and she does it with elegance, understanding, feminism, and with a use of language that will make her novels adored around the world long after "Mommy Porn" has died away.

Greenleaf Book Group: The Good Dog

Literary Lists

Trick or Read; Otto Penzler's Fave Ghost Stories; Twisted Couples

If you believe "one of the great treasures of the Halloween season is the excuse to curl up with a big, terrifying tome," then Flavorwire's "10 terrifying new reads for Halloween 2012" may be just the list for you.  

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Mystery legend Otto Penzler, founder of the Mysterious Press and New York City's Mysterious Bookshop, recommended "14 scariest ghost stories" for the Huffington Post, which also unearthed a selection of "books that will scare the s*** out of you."

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Mental floss found "11 book sequels you probably didn't know existed."

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The recent Broadway revival of Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? inspired Flavorwire to reveal "the 10 most twisted couples in literature."

IPS: Point of View New York City

Book Review

Fiction

The Stockholm Octavo

by Karen Engelmann

The Stockholm Octavo, Karen Engelmann's impressive debut, is as marvelously and intricately constructed as the mysterious form of divination it's named for. Engelmann's narrator is man-about-town Emil Larsson, a contented bachelor and skilled gambler with a comfortable bureaucratic job in the final decade of the 18th century, as fashionable Stockholm begins to feel the rumbles of revolution from distant France.

The tale begins when Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, fortune-teller and proprietress of the exclusive gaming house where Emil spends much of his time, lays for him an octavo--a spread of eight cards, each representing a person destined to help bring about an event that will lead to transformation and rebirth for the seeker. Her vision for Emil is simple: love and connection. If Emil can find his Eight, his good fortune will be realized.

But as Emil searches, conspirators threaten to end King Gustav III's golden reign and plunge Sweden into chaos. Emil's Eight--friends and traitors alike--are indelibly tied to the fate of the kingdom. Among them are an icy, conniving baroness, a French fan maker and his kind wife, a beautiful and ambitious war widow, a cross-dressing calligrapher and a shrewd runaway girl. As Emil identifies them one by one, and the Octavo's deeper powers are revealed, it becomes clear that there is far more at stake than his own happiness.

A pleasure from beginning to satisfying end, The Stockholm Octavo will delight not only historical fiction fans but also readers with a taste for political intrigue--aided by the mysterious powers of cartomancy. --Hannah Calkins

Discover: Conspiracy brews underneath the chandeliers and across the gaming tables of 18th-century Stockholm, in a debut novel alight with color and magic.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 9780061995347

The Twelve

by Justin Cronin

Justin Cronin created a stir in 2010 with The Passage, a literary thriller that spans nearly 100 years in setting the story of a vampire apocalypse, the result of a military experiment gone terribly wrong. Many readers have been waiting impatiently for the second book in the series, and now The Twelve continues the story with a handful of survivors introduced in the first book meeting an intriguing cast of new characters.

As in The Passage, Cronin deftly moves between timelines. At time zero, readers follow three dominant characters who must cope with the evolving viral epidemic and its horrifying consequences of death, despair and ultimately slavery. Then, about a hundred years in the future, Cronin picks up the story of Amy, Peter, Alicia and others from The Passage as they come together with new leaders of the post-apocalyptic revolution to take down the original vampires in a dramatic climax.

Cronin fulfills the hope of many fans by living up to the intricately plotted, character-driven story of The Passage. Though The Twelve leaves the reader with a satisfying ending, one can't help wondering how he'll conclude the epic tale in the final volume of the trilogy. If you haven't yet read The Passage, then you need to get started immediately; you'll have time to catch up before the third book's arrival in 2014. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore

Discover: The second book in Cronin's vampire trilogy is an epic that's worth the wait.

Ballantine, $28, hardcover, 9780345504982

Wild Girls

by Mary Stewart Atwell

Wild Girls, Mary Stewart Atwell's debut novel, draws readers deep into the terrors of adolescence: the insecurities of friendship, first loves and high school parties. In case high school is not daunting enough on its own, these terrors are further multiplied by the dark rumors that swirl around Swan River Academy, an all-girls boarding school nestled in the Appalachians. Teenage girls gone wild, they say, setting fire to local buildings, breaking windows, killing their friends and families: "wild girls." The locals try to pretend that everything is perfectly normal in Swan River, but Kate Riordan knows that something is very, very wrong with her hometown. As one of the only day students attending Swan River Academy, Kate dedicates her teenage years to becoming anything but a wild girl, but quickly finds herself pulled back into the stories of her youth by those closest to her.

Wild Girls proves a cleverly reimagined take on the classic coming-of-age tale, combining boarding school politics and typical teenage romances with an undercurrent of dark magic and even darker power plays that chills to the bone. The result is a compelling novel filled with enough small details of the high school experience to keep an otherwise fantastical tale grounded in the real world. Readers will be waiting for more from Atwell in the future. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A chilling tale of high school girls gone wild, capturing the terrors of both adolescence and dark magic in one sweeping story.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 9781451683271

Sharp and Dangerous Virtues

by Martha Moody

Martha Moody's Sharp and Dangerous Virtues follows in the footsteps of novels like James Howard Kunstler's World Made by Hand and Brian Francis Slattery's Lost Everything, offering an emotionally resonant and intelligent vision of a cataclysmic dystopia brought on by the collapse of 21st-century technology. The year is 2047; the United States has experienced massive food and water shortages and has created a "heartland grid" near Dayton, Ohio. Meanwhile, a multinational group in Cleveland vies for power and makes overtures to Lila, the commissioner of water. Chad and Sharis, a married couple, attempt to help their children navigate their uncertain future while retaining knowledge of the past, while Tuuro, the gentle church custodian, becomes entangled, through compassion, in an unthinkable crime.

Moody creates a wonderful, workable vision of one possible future where new technologies seem real and the powers that maneuver for control over them even more so. She excels in the quieter, mundane moments, frail domestic set pieces that would ring true in any era. Character after character comes alive in her hands.

Sharp and Dangerous Virtues is a great hybrid of smart, well-plotted, science fiction and a literary novel where characters of depth and recognizable humanity struggle to keep their loved ones alive and their souls intact. It's an admirable book and a pleasure to read. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A sharply written, character-driven novel of a dark American future.

Swallow Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9780804011419

Block 11

by Piero Degli Antoni , trans. by Erin Waggener

As the Second World War draws to a close, several inmates manage a successful escape from the Auschwitz concentration camp; there will be consequences for those remaining. Ten prisoners are locked inside Block 11, the "prison within the prison," and given instructions: by dawn, they must choose one member of the group to be turned over to the firing squad. If they fail to comply, they'll all be shot. Meanwhile, at home with his son, the camp's commander engages in a game of chess, through which he attempts to mirror and predict what is occurring in the block that night.

The selected prisoners are intentionally representative of the camp's population, and in some cases their complicated relationships with one another predate their current circumstances. These relationships will be revealed and reshaped over the course of the night, through conversation and argument and momentary outbreaks of horrific violence. And as they struggle with their orders, the commander--who seems to possess a surprisingly intimate amount of knowledge about each of these prisoners--tweaks the rules, orchestrating a human chess game from afar.

Piero degli Antoni manages keep the large cast individually distinct as the night goes on; the prisoners will surprise each other as they confront their terrible conflict, and they may surprise the reader too. First published in Italian in 2010 and now translated into English for the first time, Block 11 is an intense, morally complex psychological thriller. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: The heightened tensions among a group of concentration-camp inmates forced into a terrible choice.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250001023

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Bowl of Heaven

by Larry Niven , Gregory Benford

Bowl of Heaven is the first collaboration between Larry Niven and Gregory Benford and the first book in a planned trilogy. These two masters of science fiction bring their combined talents to a galaxy-spanning tale of space exploration and alien encounter that will hold any reader's attention long into the night.

Cliff Kammash and his wife, Beth, take to the stars to discover a new world, sleeping through the centuries-long journey in suspended animation. Far sooner than planned, however, the watch crew wakes Cliff. There is an artificial object ahead, a massive bowl-shaped alien ship, larger than the solar system the colonists left. An exploration team is sent out. Soon after landing, half the team is captured; the other half escapes. Beth is among those held by the bird-like aliens who seem to be in charge of the ship.

A third of the story is told from the perspective of Memor, one of these aliens, a third from Cliff's perspective and the final third from Beth's. Memor's logic is delightfully alien; she thinks and feels in not-quite expected ways. Cliff learns how to lead, connecting to another married woman in his group in a predictable though graceful way. Beth confronts the alien life forms convincingly, though not always successfully.

The novel races along to a cliffhanger ending, yet still finds time to observe what it is to be human, or alien, within a story that's got all the hallmarks of master-level science fiction. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Two masters of hard science fiction team up for a story of exploration and alien encounter across the vastness of space.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765328410

Biography & Memoir

Distilled Spirits: Getting High, Then Sober, with a Famous Writer, a Forgotten Philosopher, and a Hopeless Drunk

by Don Lattin

An increasing number of Americans describe themselves as "spiritual, not religious." In Distilled Spirits, Don Lattin probes the origins of this evolution of belief and finds roots in interactions that took place--mostly in the open-minded air of California--among Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson, the British writer Aldous Huxley and Gerald Heard, an influential spiritual seeker and philosopher.

Lattin juxtaposes the legacies of these three men with his own experiences growing up in California in the 1960s. With searchingly personal reflections, he sees that his decades of altering his consciousness, studying world religions and nearly losing himself to addiction were not separate parts of himself but, perhaps, interrelated steps in a universal spiritual quest that Huxley, Wilson and Heard had taken long before, and in doing so set in motion ideas and practices that would transform Lattin's generation.

While his research on the historical trio is fascinating, it is Lattin's description of his own humble journey that is the heart of Distilled Spirits. Though he may never fully convince the reader that the butterfly wings of Huxley's move to the U.S. directly resulted in the hurricane of his own drug use, Lattin's intriguing assemblage of vignettes illustrates how much of the eruption of new spiritual ideas in 20th-century California can be traced to a surprisingly few key people and moments. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

Discover: A journalist of religion and recovering addict's exploration of the origins of modern alternative spirituality has a compelling personal perspective.

University of California Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9780520272323

Driving the Saudis: A Chauffeur's Tale of the World's Richest Princesses (plus their servants, nannies, and one royal hairdresser)

by Jayne Amelia Larson

For seven weeks, Jayne Amelia Larson spent nearly all her waking hours chauffeuring the women of the Saudi royal family and running their errands. The result is a delightful and surprisingly introspective memoir, Driving the Saudis.

As an actress, screenwriter and producer trying to build her career in Los Angeles, Larson took a job as a chauffeur, figuring it would give her a steady income and some freedom to ponder her creative projects, as well as rub shoulders with those who might put her work in front of an audience. When the chance to drive the Saudis (whom Larson calls "the family") appeared, she took it. Rumors of hefty tips and Rolex gifts abounded, and so did curiosity: here was a chance to drive for members of the world's largest and richest royal family.

Larson's seven weeks behind the wheel are an exhausting and sometimes baffling whirlwind of activity punctuated by beautifully rendered moments of genuine human connection. When Larson wasn't driving 13-year-old princesses to the movies, she was frantically trying to collect two dozen bottles of Hair-Off or 30 $500 bras at the behest of one princess or another, or introducing the family's maids to the marvels of the 99 Cents Only store. In between, Larson paints a portrait of the royals, their staff and her fellow drivers that are warmly human and strikingly intimate. Driving the Saudis is a wild ride, but a deliciously friendly one as well. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: The hilarious ups and poignant downs of an aspiring actress's seven weeks of chauffeuring for some of the world's richest princesses.

Free Press, $25, hardcover, 9781451640014

History

Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough: The Medical Lives of Famous Writers

by John J. Ross

Readers often want to know a lot about the lives of great writers, in particular, the ailments and illnesses that might have influenced a writer's work. Shakespeare's Tremor and Orwell's Cough satisfies that curiosity.

John J. Ross is an infectious disease physician and an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. His research began while preparing a lecture on syphilis; a simple check on William Shakespeare's references to disease led him to write an article exploring the possible connection between Shakespeare's literary obsession with the pox and his progressively tremulous handwriting. This article is now his opening chapter; a subsequent examination of George Orwell's cough closes out the book. In between, he discusses the maladies of such writers as Nathaniel Hawthorne, the Brontës, Herman Melville and James Joyce.

It is fascinating to read about Hawthorne’s mystery illness, with symptoms that included prolonged weight loss, pale skin, stomach pain and weakness. Though his doctor suspected cancer, the standards of the time precluded the physician from sharing the terminal diagnosis with the patient. Hawthorne died a week after seeing his doctor, never knowing that his likely diagnosis (as proposed by Ross) was gastric cancer.

Ross has nicely merged biographical data for each author with insightful discussions of his proposed medical diagnoses, and how their symptoms and treatments might have affected their work. While those in the medical community will find this book of interest, it is wonderfully engaging, often witty and quite intriguing to those of us outside of it, too. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore

Discover: Engaging speculation on the medical ailments and treatments that may have influenced the lives and works of famous authors.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9780312600761

Science

Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters

by Matt Kaplan

Matt Kaplan shines the light of modern science on all things mythological and monstrous in Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite, using everything from anthropology to zoology in the quest to uncover the origin of monsters. He moves beyond the simplistic idea that ancient people just wanted to tell stories--instead, he searches archeological and fossil records for the physical origins of those stories. Some of his conclusions are far-fetched, such as the theory that ancient people "discovered" the chimera (a goat, lion and snake hybrid) in a comically complex tar pit accident. Other explanations, however, are both fascinating and seemingly plausible: Charybdis, an enormous living whirlpool from the Odyssey, can be traced to tidal forces in the Strait of Messina that existed in Homer's time.

Kaplan especially excels as he moves from ancient mythology to more modern inventions. He explores why certain beasts have endured in the popular imagination while others have faded into legend (world exploration has killed the European-style dragon, for example, but fear of contagious disease lives on through the infectious undead). Chapters on dinosaur cloning and other man-made monsters bring the book full circle: from stories inspired by unknown wilds in the distant past to a future where science and imagination might bring real horrors to life.

Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite contains a lot of hard science, though Kaplan is careful to explain the essentials of each discussion--in part through frequent (and frequently witty) footnotes. Readers seeking the facts behind spooky fiction will find this book entertaining and informative. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A scientific look at the origins of ancient and modern monsters.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781451667981

Children's & Young Adult

Ten Good and Bad Things About My Life (So Far)

by Ann M. Martin

Pearl Littlefield returns in this terrific companion to Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M. Martin. Pearl's family plans to spend the summer traveling the Wild West. But before the vacation kicks off, her father loses his job.

The Littlefields must make sacrifices, including changing their vacation to a staycation. Nevertheless, summer brings adventure, camp, a fight with her new best friend JBIII, (short for James Brubaker the Third) and Pearl's first business venture with JBIII (once they make up). Though technically a sequel to Ten Rules, readers do not need to have read it to enjoy Ten Good and Bad Things. Pearl's first-person narration adheres to an outline (whose bullet points serve as chapter openers) that Pearl is completing for her first fifth grade assignment, reflecting on her summer.

Her easy humor will quickly win over readers, as when Pearl tries to remember the names of her fellow campers by using a chart with each camper's name, age and "comments, if any," such as Eliza, who "has already cried twice." Pearl's complete awareness of her faults and tendencies make her a likable, precocious narrator. Full of wonderful, wholesome characters, Ten Good and Bad Things is a great read. --Kyla Paterno, trade book buyer and blogger, Garfield Book Company at PLU

Discover: An all-new adventure for Pearl Littlefield, featuring big sister Lexie and new best friend JBIII.

Feiwel & Friends, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 9-12, 9780312642990

Iron Hearted Violet

by Kelly Barnhill , illus. by Iacopo Bruno

Kelly Barnhill (The Mostly True Story of Jack) vaults an unlikely hero to success, and twists the foundation of classic fairy tales for humorous and haunting results.

Princess Violet is "ugly" by storybook standards, but she is adventurous, smart, curious and strong. She meets Demetrius, a boy her age who becomes her constant companion, when he saves her from a bull at pasture. Violet's father, the king of the Andulan Realms, is obsessed with finding the last dragon. As Violet and Demetrius explore tunnels in the castle, they discover a secret book. An image of a not-human being ("instead of hands and feet it had four sharp points") standing on a mound of dragon hearts leads them to believe that Cassian, the royal storyteller, has not told them this tale. It is Cassian who perpetuates the cliché that a princess must be beautiful, planting a seed of doubt in Violet.

In her pursuit of the meaning of the secret book, Violet discovers a 13th god, Nybbas, so evil that the other 12 gods removed his heart to render him powerless. The king's pursuit of the dragon takes him to the lands of the Mountain King, who wages war in retaliation. Fear spreads. Violet's quest to seek the truth, to keep Nybbas at bay, and to make the last dragon whole will keep readers turning pages. Iron Hearted Violet is a coming-of-age story, a mystery and an adventure about embracing one's strengths, regardless of how unorthodox they may appear to others. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A princess takes matters into her own hands to defeat an evil god, heal the last dragon and save her kingdom.

Little, Brown, $16.99, hardcover, 9780316056731

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