Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 2, 2012
From My Shelf
How to Help
How to help people after Superstorm Sandy? The American Red Cross is an excellent place to donate money, since they know what and where does the most good. For booklovers, the thought of books lost to water, wind and mud is painful, because we know what certain books can mean to people. Thoughtful book donations to friends and family are a good way to help, and reestablish some normalcy.
Several years ago, two good friends lost their homes to fire. Most of what they owned was either destroyed or damaged, and the few books that were salvaged couldn't be fixed. Shelf Awareness publisher Jenn Risko, after rebuilding her house, at her housewarming (which she preferred to call a "cooling"), asked for books. It was a treat to go through my collection and decide what titles to give her. I did the same thing a few years earlier when Cindy Heidemann's apartment building was destroyed by an arsonist. I remember the joy I felt when I added a signed Clyde Edgerton to the stack--perfect!
Cindy, who's Northwest sales rep for Publishers Group West and Perseus Books, had this to relate: "I had no rhyme or reason in replacing, I would just go to the shelves in bookstores and see my old friends and pick them up. Friends who knew me well gifted me with their favorites and books they knew I loved.
"Books were such a part of my life that my first few days in my new place I didn't miss the furniture I didn't have or the lack of art on the walls or the fact that I didn't have sheets. But I did miss the books. The smell of them, the sight of them, the feel of them. As soon as I bought my first new book I felt the worst was over and my new life had begun."
Giving "old friends" to people is a good way to help restore lives. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness
Hobbit Airline Safety Video; Knuckle Literary Tatts
An airline safety announcement you'll pay attention to. Air New Zealand partnered with WETA Workshop on a brand new Hobbit inspired Safety Video, featuring a cameo appearance by Peter Jackson.
In her Huffington Post essay "When Bad Books Happen to Good People," Allison Hill, president and COO of Vroman's Bookstore, Pasadena, Calif., and Book Soup, Los Angeles, considers the three "truly bad" books she has read in her 20 years of bookselling and 40 years of reading.
Punch out illiteracy. Boing Boing shared "a great, pro-literacy set of knuckle-tatts" spotted at a Toronto restaurant.
"Word Portraits": Check out Artist John Sokol's works, including "James Joyce as Ulysses," "Borges as 'The Secret Miracle' and 'Eudora Welty as 'Powerhouse' "
Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America
by Andrea Davis Pinkney , illus. by Brian Pinkney
Andrea David Pinkney (Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down) gives young readers a sweeping history made personal through the individual biographies of 10 African American men, stretching from Benjamin Banneker in 1731 through to President Obama today.
Because Pinkney includes differing points of view--in particular W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington in the mid–19th century, and Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. in the mid–20th century--young people may examine for themselves the arguments for a separate black society versus integration, and come to their own conclusions. Pinkney also lays out how Frederick Douglass, at the turn of the 19th century, provided the foundation for the debates between these two pairs of men. Because he believed in equality for all human beings, Douglass was also a champion for women's rights. The author engages young people to think critically about their ideas, where they contradict one another, where they coincide, and how each was shaped by his early life, culture and society.
What all 10 share in common is their passion for reading--and writing. Benjamin Banneker's Almanac, published in 1792; Booker T. Washington's Up from Slavery; W.E.B. DuBois's 15 essays in The Souls of Black Folk, which, we read later in the volume, had a profound effect on both A. ("Asa") Philip Randolph and Barack Obama. Randolph founded and reported for the newspaper the Messenger and Barack Obama wrote two books, Dreams of My Father and The Audacity of Hope. Even in Jackie Robinson's biography, which focuses on how his pursuit of baseball changed America, Pinkney discusses what an outstanding student he was.
Pinkney's narrative voice evokes the oratory power of these men, many of whom took to the soap box or pulpit. She refers to Frederick Douglass's Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave as a "sermon in script" and writes, "When he preached, it was as if thunder was stomping its feet." A. Philip Randolph, who had yearned to become an actor and often stood on book crates to address crowds in Harlem, realized, "If he was seeking an audience and standing ovations, he needed to stand for something." Brian Pinkney's watercolor portraits evoke the spontaneity of sketches, resulting in deeply psychological renderings of each of the 10 men. Vignettes in each chapter highlight a milestone event--a Pullman Porter's cap to signify Randolph's role in negotiating the porters' labor agreement with the Pullman Company; a line of citizens walking past a bus in Montgomery, Ala., symbolizes Dr. King's leadership in the bus boycott there.
We also see their early childhood influences. An enslaved six-year-old Booker T. Washington, carrying the books of the master's daughter to school, longs to become educated and eventually founds the Tuskegee Institute. Thurgood Marshall--whose great-grandfather caused so much trouble that the plantation owner finally set him free--inherited the troublemaker gene. As punishment for the pranks he played in grade school, young Thurgood's principal sent him off to the school's basement to memorize passages from the Constitution. Young Thurgood committed the entire thing to memory before his grade school years were through. Did this lead him on the path to becoming the first African American Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court? Young readers can decide that for themselves.
Many of these 10 also had audiences with U.S. presidents. A. Philip Randolph had two audiences--first, with President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who introduced the Fair Employment Act to address one of the main issues around which Randolph was organizing a march in 1941. Then, two decades later, with Randolph's assurances to President Kennedy that his protestors would remain nonviolent, Kennedy gave his blessing to the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech.
Hand in Hand shows us the personal journeys of each man and how their passions and convictions help further the dreams of those who followed. Malcolm X and Thurgood Marshall each found ways to turn their lives around, using their discontent to examine their circumstances and figure out how to make changes in themselves and the world around them. W.E.B. DuBois, with his Pan-Africanism, and Malcolm X, with his Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), had similar goals, to expand their movements into a global effort to achieve racial equality. Each individual journey stands alone, and together they paint a full portrait of the path of African Americans and United States history through nearly 400 years.
Young people will come away from this beautifully designed volume believing that they can be part of the change they want to see in their world. Where they see injustice, unfairness, poverty or faithlessness, they will be inspired to take action to remedy the situation. --Jennifer M. Brown
Andrea Davis Pinkney: Making History Happen
Andrea Davis Pinkney is a versatile author whose work ranges from the novel Bird in a Box, a Today Show Al Roker Book Club Pick, to her picture books with her husband, Brian Pinkney: Sit-In: How Four Friends Stood Up by Sitting Down, which was named a 2011 Flora Stieglitz Straus Award winner and a Jane Addams Honor book; and Duke Ellington: The Piano Prince and His Orchestra, which received a Caldecott Honor. She and Brian Pinkney live with their family in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Your narrative voice for Hand in Hand brims with information, yet also has a storyteller's cadence. How did you find the voice for this collection of biographies?
In many respects, I feel that the narrative voice found me. I knew I wanted to include all these men, and I wanted to portray these trailblazers in this very different way. Once I decided to do that, one by one these guys started to tell me their stories. I almost felt like I was in the center orchestra at the theater, and each man stood out and told me his life. My role was as a storyteller who was listening carefully.
Each of the opening poems [for the chapters] are like praise songs. Keeping in mind this idea that if I'm a middle school reader, my takeaway about Frederick Douglass or W.E.B. DuBois would be that praise song. I wanted to give them that nugget of each individual.
What made you decide to focus solely on men?
The reason is there's still so much bad press about the stereotyping of African American males--I talk about this in my introduction. I've become acutely aware of the negative impact that has on boys. I'm the mother of a black son, and as I mention in the introduction, I visited a literacy institute specifically for African American boys in Chicago, and saw the impact that negativity and positivity can have. I wanted to illuminate the individual stories and give all readers, not just boys, stories that illuminated the positivity of black manhood. My own child, who's a middle-schooler, was begging me for narrative nonfiction that's fun to read. All these factors came together.
How did you choose whom to include and whom to leave out?
In the preliminary stages, that was the most daunting aspect of pulling the book together. You could debate all day: Who are the 10 black men who changed America? The idea is that their individual accomplishments would link up, hand in hand, to tell one story. For me, it was important to span America's history from the Colonial period to the Civil War to the turn of the century, the Civil Rights movement and modern day. I also spoke to African American men about who should be in here and why. Finally, certain names kept emerging.
How do you conduct your research? Do you have in mind where you want each biography to go, or do you let the research guide you?
I definitely let the research guide me. I'm a journalist; that's my first discipline. I start with doing a lot of reading. I'm a firm believer in primary source materials, and if I can see a shoe, a pair of glasses, letters--those things will animate the story and breathe life into these historical figures. For many young readers, these are wooden, cardboard, inaccessible people. I wanted to make them living, breathing, vibrant gentlemen.
Years ago, I had gone to W.E.B. DuBois's grave and living space in Ghana, in West Africa. I remember at the time feeling that this man and his mission have inhabited me for the time that I've been here. And then, Brian and I were driving in Great Barrington, Mass., and we said, "Look, there's W.E.B.'s boyhood home." I experienced again that same quivering feeling. Each of them inhabited me in the process of writing each of their individual stories, and basically gave me the narrative. Then you go back, you edit, you make the transitions and all that. But each one came like a bolt.
Did you guide Brian Pinkney's choices at all? Did you select photos as you did your research, and emphasize certain ones for the portraits?
The book started with the portraits. Brian started painting some portraits as a gift for our son, who's a teenager. Brian wanted to do them in these very bold India inks, and bold colors and dyes to really reflect the beauty and the boldness of each of these men and also of our son coming of age--bold and beautiful. And when he was into a few of these, I said to Brian, "Those are really striking." He did them with such abandon; he wasn't thinking these are going to be in a book. That's the strength of the portraits. [In a reversal of the usual process,] some of them inspired me. In a normal world, I wouldn't share cereal or the same tube of toothpaste with the illustrator of my work.
The fact that you included men who disagreed in their ideas and/or the implementation of those ideas makes for great fodder for discussion.
Disagreements are a good thing. It means people have strong convictions. It was a deliberate choice to include men with opposing views. It allowed me to explore the cultural, political and social landscapes of their time. Martin Luther King Jr. was not the defining point of view. There was Malcolm X. There was W.E.B. Dubois and Booker T. Washington, and each had his idea of how things should proceed.
I want [young people to have that exposure,] to know, "I can develop an idea and stick with what I believe is right." Along with that, I was also trying to convey that in many cases these men got to the point of, "Let's agree to disagree." Of all the men, Malcolm X's personal story is my favorite. He is one of the men in the book who made the greatest journey. He had this psychic change. He had these ideas mired in his past, and he did a complete turnaround and transcended all that. He was able to say, "We are all together in this."
The thread that connects them all is reading, whether they embraced it from the beginning, like Booker T. Washington, or came to it reluctantly, as Malcolm X did.
Here's the thing. If a book is a destination, a land, a place you can go, and I'm one of the men growing up in these circumstances, that's one of the few places where there's no segregation. I'm free. I can enjoy it, I can walk around, I can discover new things. I'm not mired or shackled down or worried about any of those forces that I have in my regular life. That was the pull for them. Reading allowed them that freedom, discovery, creative thought, inspiration, without any other societal forces. Libraries were segregated and all that, but once you get into the book, you're free. --Jennifer M. Brown
Shelf vetted, publisher supported.
Further Reading: Soccer
Baseball has been the subject of many great books. Although some are more about race, ethnic assimilation or the American Dream, most are fundamentally about the game itself--players, teams, strategies, stats and stadiums. The promise of spring, the smell of the grass, the boys of summer.
Soccer is the world's sport, and perhaps because the world is a bit more complicated, books about soccer can be much darker.
Juárez is the most murderous city in the world, a strategically placed entry point into the United States (across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Tex.), plagued by warring drug cartels and corrupt police and officials. Some 10 people are murdered daily in restaurants, in convenience stores, on the street. In This Love Is Not for Cowards: Salvation and Soccer in Ciudad Juárez (Bloomsbury USA), American journalist Robert Andrew Powell follows the Indios of Ciudad Juárez futbol club during their lackluster 2009 season as they fall from the Mexican premier league to relegation. The team's supporters, El Kartel, follow them loyally and with passion. The Indios provide hope and a thin possibility of redemption for the citizens of Juárez. In this very dangerous and frightening city, there's the belief that people can be bigger than the violence and brutality, and can be bound together by a sport.
During their occupation of the Netherlands in World War II, the Nazis insisted that the country's soccer clubs expel their Jewish players. In Ajax, the Dutch, the War (Nation Books), Simon Kuper writes that the Dutch, often touted as heroes of the resistance, were perhaps too easily persuaded to accede to the Nazis' directive. Some Jewish players ended up in death camps. Some Ajax club members hid Jews during the war, while others were not nearly as altruistic. Some Dutch resisted, some collaborated. It was very gray in the land of orange.
Saying that La Roja, the Spanish national team, is currently the best soccer team in the world is just stating fact. How they got there, from a handful of ex-pat Brits teaching the game to a community of Basques, is the stuff of La Roja: A Journey Through Spanish Soccer by Jimmy Burns (Nation Books). The team's history is loaded with politics. When Franco took power, he grabbed control of all football institutions, using them as propaganda tools to unite Spain. Those who supported his regime were rewarded, and those who didn't were marginalized. Franco embraced "La Furia," an aggressive style of play that reflected his concepts of conquest and militarism. The pitch became a battlefield, and the players soldiers. How Spain rebooted its team under a more intricate style of play after Franco's death and how it reexamined its identity and in turn was reshaped by the team La Roja is the heart of this fine book. --George Carroll, independent publishers' representative (and Shelf soccer editor)
Marilyn Monroe's Books; Great SFF Films; Bookish Songwriters
"Marilyn Monroe's books: 13 titles that were on her shelf" were featured by the Huffington Post.
"We've all been exposed to the classic anthologies--your Nortons, your Oxfords, your Best American series," Flavorwire noted to introduce its picks for "10 essential alternative anthologies for the modern reader."
Wired magazine recommended "10 books that became great sci-fi and fantasy films."
Flavorwire showcased "10 of music's most literature-obsessed songwriters.... musicians who have shown a certain bookish tendency throughout their careers."
by Jami Attenberg
Edie, the matriarch of The Middlesteins, can't stop eating, and Jami Attenberg (The Kept Man) weaves an entire novel around how Edie's marathon gorging breaks her family apart. Despite her severe diabetes, Edie, some 350 lbs., persists--she goes from McDonald's to Burger King to dinner at a Chinese restaurant, followed by a raid on the refrigerator when she gets home. One day, Edie's husband, Richard, after more than 30 years of marriage, announces he's leaving her.
Richard and Edie's two children, Benny and Robin, are horrified at their father's behavior. Robin cannot believe her father would leave his ailing wife; Benny's wife, Rachelle, a pencil-thin perfectionist, wants to save Edie. Part of her plan is to eat healthily in her own home, until a nasty incident involving kale leads to her own daughter falling off the roof in an attempt to get out of the house.
Clues abound as to what Edie's mothering has done to her children's lives. Benny is an affable, pot-smoking, don't-make-waves guy who visits his father occasionally but doesn't want to cross Rachelle. Robin is furious, a knot of anger who drinks too much and is afraid to admit that she is falling in love with her downstairs neighbor, Daniel.
Attenberg mines every bit of humor, sadness, poignancy and pathos possible from the story, switching voices and perspectives and skipping back and forth in time. The Middlesteins masterfully reveals the emotional landscape of one family's unusual connections and disconnections--and allows the hope that different connections may take place. Just another quirky family story? Anything but. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: Jami Attenberg illuminates the complex effects of one woman's obsessive compulsion on everyone in her family.
Mystery & Thriller
The Old Gray Wolf
by James Doss
When the accidental death of a ne'er-do-well drifter puts Police Chief Parris and Deputy Moon in the cross-hairs of a crime family matriarch, an unlikely protector emerges: struggling bounty hunter and aspiring crime novelist Louella Smithson, aka Missy Whysper, who tumbles into town hot on the trail of the cold-blooded "Cowboy" killer.
The Old Gray Wolf, the 17th book in James Doss's Charlie Moon series, is not your average mystery. Indeed, it might be easier to define what it is not. Despite having a full-blooded Ute protagonist with an irascible shaman auntie in a rustic Southwest setting, it's nothing like the novels of the late great Tony Hillerman. Nor do its humorously idiosyncratic, frequently bumbling heroes place it in the comic caper camp of Janet Evanovich. The narrator, a nameless, excessively verbose cross between Truman Capote and Henry James given to sotto voce asides, isn't even a part of the action.
Reading The Old Gray Wolf is a lot like taking a sip of what you are sure is cola only to find yourself with a mouthful of sarsaparilla; instinct tells you to spit it out, but if you let your palate acclimate, the novel begins to draw you in with its quirky characters. Still, be warned before you settle in for a nice light read: The Old Gray Wolf has a few other surprises in store. With this series, Doss may have done the impossible and invented an entirely new style of mystery. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: After the death of James Doss earlier this year, this may be the last installment in the quirky and popular Charlie Moon mystery series.
Food & Wine
Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well
by Sam Sifton , illus. by Sarah C. Rutherford
Sam Sifton, national editor of the New York Times, was formerly the paper's lead restaurant critic; for three years, he also handled the paper's online Thanksgiving Help Line. Now, all of his years of experience and words of wisdom regarding one of our favorite holidays has been gathered in a beautiful, slim volume entitled Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well.
Though many of us have steadfast traditions when it comes to Thanksgiving, Sifton's thoughts are worth consideration--and if you're cooking the holiday dinner for the first time, his guide is simply indispensable. As he states plainly in the introduction, this book is designed to help readers "cook Thanksgiving correctly."
Sifton begins by outlining the necessary items for the kitchen and the pantry, and then moves directly into chapters about cooking the turkey and side dishes (including gravy and cranberry sauce), as well as serving drinks and desserts. He also includes chapters on table etiquette and cleanup, even recommendations on what to do with leftovers. Each chapter is authoritatively succinct, accompanied by charming illustrations and occasional anecdotes and followed by a collection of straightforward but absolutely delicious recipes. Sifton also clearly, with tongue-in-cheek, shares some essential "do-nots": no skimping on the butter; avoid garlic in the mashed potatoes; thin gravy, of course, is unacceptable.
Though this book is intended to be an instructional primer, it is also a perfect crystallization of Sifton's gifts and a wonderful celebration of the Thanksgiving meal. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore
Discover: A former New York Times restaurant critic's authoritative guide to cooking the best Thanksgiving dinner ever.
Biography & Memoir
Thornton Wilder: A Life
by Penelope Niven
When people think of Thornton Wilder these days, it likely involves a vague memory of a high school performance of Our Town. Few know Wilder's other plays or bother to read his seven novels, like The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Thanks to Penelope Niven (Carl Sandburg: A Biography), this void in American literary biography has been exquisitely filled.
Thornton Wilder: A Life is biography as biography should be, and as the conservative classicist Wilder would no doubt have wanted. Niven quotes extensively from "ninety banker's boxes" of papers at Yale, the letters of Wilder's many friends, and conversations with his family and colleagues.
In straightforward, mostly chronological chapters, Niven taps Wilder's own words to tell much of his remarkable story and that of his equally literary family. They lived peripatetic childhoods in Wisconsin, California, Connecticut, China and Europe as his father struggled to raise them according to his strong convictions and earn enough to educate them, while serving his country as a diplomat. Wilder's was a writing family--letters, books and journals became the glue that held the scattered family together. From this background, the shy Thornton emerged to become a lifelong world traveler, reader, scholar, teacher, playwright, actor, novelist, soldier, financially successful family benefactor and friend to seemingly everyone he met from Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein to boxer Gene Tunney, actress Ruth Gordon and (perhaps his closest friends) critic Alexander Woollcott and University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins.
Penelope Niven's biography doesn't embellish the facts but lets Wilder's words and accomplishments quietly speak for themselves, fascinating chapter by fascinating chapter. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: With access to Wilder's voluminous letters and journals, Niven captures the remarkable life of this 20th-century American man of letters.
One for the Books
by Joe Queenan
As anyone familiar with the work of Joe Queenan would expect, One for the Books might just be the most sarcastic book about books ever written. What may come as a surprise to fans of Red Lobster, White Trash and the Blue Lagoon and other Queenan titles, though, is that the habitually acerbic cultural critic has a huge soft spot for books.
"There's nothing I would rather do than read books," Queenan confesses. The attachment began as a source of refuge, described in his memoir Closing Time, while growing up with an alcoholic father whose sole redeeming quality, in Queenan's eyes, was that he, too, was a reader. He estimates he's read somewhere between 6,000 and 7,000 books, conceding that, alongside the classics, "the mysteries, the beach reading, and the out-of-out trash really puff up the numbers."
Though he's a committed book buyer, libraries have been the source of some of Queenan's most entertaining reading adventures. There was the year he spent reading books he pulled haphazardly from the shelves, and the year he devoted to reading an entire short book every day. Queenan also reveals some quirks, like his determination to hang on to every book he has purchased as an adult and his refusal to accept reading tips from strangers (or most friends, for that matter).
Even at his most caustic, Queenan defines himself as a true book lover. "Every life, even the best ones, ends in sadness," he writes. "Books hold out hope that things may end otherwise." That's a sentiment every avid reader will appreciate. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer
Discover: Joe Queenan's entertaining memoir of his expansive reading life is both a caustic and affectionate look at his passion for books.
The Richard Burton Diaries
by Chris Williams, editor
At one point in the early 1960s, Richard Burton recalled, he thought about giving up his acting career to become a writer. "Not for a living, not for money," he clarified years later. "I wanted to write because I sought for some kind of permanence, a cover-bound shot at immortality." This is just one of many frank self-assessments in The Richard Burton Diaries.
The core of this material, as collated by Welsh historian Chris Williams, spans 1965 to 1972, and his turbulent relationship with Elizabeth Taylor is a dominant subject. "I have been inordinately lucky all my life but the greatest luck of all has been Elizabeth," he would write, just before recounting a brutal argument: "Christ if you can marry Eddie Fisher you can marry anybody, I said, and having created wounds, rubbed the salt in nicely for an hour or so." (He stopped keeping entries shortly after their eighth wedding anniversary, so there's no contemporaneous account of their first divorce, and his entries during their brief second marriage are sparse.)
The ultimate subject of the diaries, though, is Burton's own self-image, including his frustrations with acting: "I am fundamentally so bored with my job that only drink is capable of killing the pain," he writes. He was also a canny observer of the world around him, with unflinching verdicts on colleagues from Franco Zeffirelli to Lucille Ball. The glimpses of celebrity life are entertaining, but it's the eloquence with which Burton shares his innermost thoughts that makes The Richard Burton Diaries endure. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com
Discover: Burton held nothing back in his diaries; the intimate perspective on his marriage to Elizabeth Taylor is an obvious attraction, but there's so much more to learn about the man in these pages.
Makeup to Breakup: My Life In and Out of KISS
by Peter Criss
Peter Criss, the original drummer for KISS, may not be the most sophisticated of storytellers, but his take on the wild evolution of a hard rock band into an enormous licensing machine is told with heart and honesty.
Born Peter Criscuola, he began his journey in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the 1950s, a gang member who narrowly avoided life in prison. His musical talent, however, gave him another way to find meaning and belonging as he helped shape KISS into a juggernaut of rock music during the late 1970s. The picture he paints is fairly bleak, however: a life on the road with demanding, narcissistic band mates and fans who saw him only as his stage persona.
The amount of money made by other people--both in the band and out--never quite made it to Criss, even though he certainly earned a boatload or two. He doesn't flinch from telling the ugly truth about himself and the people he worked with in his 40-something years in the music business. Criss survives it all (including suicide attempts, failed marriages and breast cancer), coming out the other end a bit happier and far stronger than when he started.
Makeup to Breakup is a fascinating ride through the excesses at the height of glam-infused rock and roll--and the depressing reality underneath. The makeup, the bombastic stage show, and the simple, heavy, guitar-based music endeared them to millions of KISS fans worldwide. Peter Criss tells all about it directly, with a refreshing honesty and passion. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: The story of KISS's Catman, told plainly and without embellishment.
Now All Roads Lead to France: A Life of Edward Thomas
by Matthew Hollis
"He is the father of us all," Ted Hughes once said of the Welsh-British poet Edward Thomas (1878-1917). He's generally thought of alongside the British poets of the Great War--Brooke, Owen--but his poems were primarily about nature and the countryside. In fact, he wasn't a poet at all until he met Robert Frost. Thomas earned a basic existence for himself and his family writing reviews and prose works; then Frost arrived in England with his family in 1912 and, as he began meeting the literati, struck up a friendship, a very deep one, with Thomas. Frost read his good friend's writings and said that they could very well be turned into poems. And so, at the age of 34, with Frost's guidance and encouragement, he began to craft his first poems.
Frost, meanwhile, was writing some of his greatest poems, including "The Road Not Taken," which so inspired Thomas that he felt he had to enlist. In April 1917, at the front, a German shell exploded close to him, killing him instantly. When his first poetry collection was published after his death, it was dedicated to Frost.
Now All Roads Lead to France, a biography by the poet Matthew Hollis (Ground War), covers the last four years of Thomas's life. It is an impeccably researched and beautifully written tour de force. For those interested in the changes English poetry was going through in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this book is a must. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: The fascinating relationship between two young poets--Edward Thomas and Robert Frost--is the basis for this Costa Prize-winning biography, poet Matthew Hollis's first nonfiction work.
Children's & Young Adult
Ask the Passengers
by A.S. King
Printz Honor author A.S. King (Please Ignore Vera Dietz; Everybody Sees the Ants) has delivered yet another YA novel that may well have booksellers chasing customers around the store to handsell it.
In Ask the Passengers, Astrid Jones is struggling to find her identity. She spends her work breaks making out in secret with her female coworker; she's fake-dating a boy at school so she can spend Friday night going out with her friends; and those same friends are hiding secrets she wishes she didn't have to keep. Astrid's mother is a workaholic, her younger sister always sides with her mom, and her dad sneaks off to get high. Of course, no one else knows these things. Unity Valley is a small town, and fear of the rumor mill keeps everyone in check. The bright spots of Astrid's life include her humanities class and the time she spends gazing up at the sky, sending her love and her questions to the passengers in the planes that fly overhead.
When all the secrets start to come out, Astrid finds herself more confused than ever. As she tries to find answers to the questions everyone is asking her, she also finds unexpected strength and new perspectives on herself, her family and her friends. King interweaves Astrid's story with those of the passengers on the flights over Unity Valley, bringing unexpected moments of humor and depth. And the ending will likely have readers tearing up a bit. --Jenn Northington, events manager, WORD bookstore
Discover: A teen searching for her own identity, surrounded by friends and family who hide theirs, finds hope and strength in unexpected places.
by Rachel Cohn
When humans bioengineer their own tropical paradise, what could possibly go wrong? In Beta, author Rachel Cohn (Gingerbread; Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist), examines themes of free will, entitlement and justice in a highly readable futuristic fantasy.
Elysia, a newly emerged clone, inhabits the body of a beautiful 16-year-old girl. She is a Beta, a test model, and not yet perfected. She lives on the island of Demesne, constructed to be as perfect as possible--with its super-oxygenated air and soothing violet sea water to pamper its citizens, the world's richest and most privileged people. Demesne's population is served by clones designed to be immune to the euphoria of this island paradise. At first, Elysia is a most desirable clone, "exquisite," respectful and subservient. She follows every order put forth by her imperious human family. But Elysia soon comes to realize that she has Defects, which may prevent her from serving as her humans intended. She can taste her food and feel emotions, which are against the rules for clones. Even worse, Elysia begins to develop her own sense of values. But she must be careful: any clones who exhibit Defective behavior are immediately reprogrammed or "expired."
Teens may well identify with the characterization of clones as second-class citizens without control of their own destinies. A satisfying start to a new series, Beta ties up some necessary story threads, but a powerful cliffhanger will leave readers looking forward to the next installment. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover: A tropical paradise for the world's richest people, staffed by clones who increasingly resent their servitude.
by Jacqueline Woodson , illus. by E B Lewis
The team behind the Caldecott Honor book Coming on Home Soon delivers a doozy of a picture book about the insidious consequences of bullying.
Maya shows up at school on a snowy winter morning. The teacher, Ms. Albert, asks the children to greet Maya, "But most of us were silent," observes narrator Chloe. When Maya smiles at Chloe, Chloe moves her chair away. Lewis places readers outside the window looking into the classroom, evoking what Maya must be feeling--the sense of being left out in the cold. They turn down Maya's invitation to play jacks and pickup sticks. On a warm day when Maya wears "a pretty dress and fancy shoes," one child calls her "Never New" because the outfit looks secondhand. The next day, Maya does not show up at school. Ms. Albert asks each student to think about how kindness ripples out, like dropping a small stone in a bowl of water. The children report the kind things they've done. All except Chloe, who "couldn't think of anything and passed the stone on."
Woodson perfectly captures that feeling of belonging that comes from turning someone away from the sacred circle--as well as the hollow feeling that follows when you're alone with your conscience. Woodson and Lewis inject a sense of hope through Chloe's sense of remorse. We believe she will do things differently next time. The emotional honesty of Chloe's narrative and Lewis's ability to mirror her mood through her surroundings make this an ideal tool for self-reflection. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A haunting picture-book tale of bullying that demonstrates the subtle erosion of character that cruelty can cause to both victim and tormentor.
The Divinity of Dogs: True Stories of Miracles Inspired by Man's Best Friend
by Jennifer Skiff
"I've always been able to count on a dog. I've never truly felt the same way about people. I know I'm not alone," writes Jennifer Skiff. "I've learned to never underestimate the ability of a dog to provide comfort where a person can't." Skiff's The Divinity of Dogs presents real-life testimonials of dogs serving as celestial intermediaries, providing insight and inspiration through their very presence. (It's a companion piece to Skiff's God Stories, which also features real-life anecdotes of inspiring encounters with the divine.)
Part of the book is Skiff's memoir and a tribute to the dogs that have played significant roles in her own life. The greater portion, however, offers true stories from others revealing how the unconditional love and devotion of some canines have miraculously helped them through trials and offered enlightenment.
There's the story of an extraordinarily perceptive Doberman whose persistence saves a family from a catastrophic fire; a black mixed breed that forges an alliance with a troubled war veteran and helps him transcend disability; and a nine-pound Yorkshire terrier who helps a former battered woman find the right man to share her life.
Some entries are "Wow!" revelations, while others offer more quiet, touching epiphanies. Each story delivers a profound spiritual lesson infused with healing and hope--a perfect read for dog lovers and those wishing to adopt. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: An uplifting collection of stories about people who have had other-worldly experiences through their relationships with dogs.
Rabid: Are You Crazy About Your Dog or Just Crazy?
by Pamela Redmond Satran
Follow Pamela Redmond Satran's charts and discover which category of dog-person you are, or maybe where you'd file your neighbor, such as the one who dressed his schnauzer like Sarah Palin last Halloween. Rabid: Are You Crazy About Your Dog or Just Crazy? offers definitive answers to such questions, along with pages of fun facts and hilarious photos gleaned from the world of canines and their--perhaps--wacky humans.
Satran covers the pup business from birth to death, ending with a dog-cloning how-to (which involves paying a company in South Korea $100,000). Dog worship is not new, and Satran's timeline of dogs throughout history ranges from cave paintings right up to Queen Elizabeth II's corgis. Frequent quizzes help the reader analyze a human's craziness, and there's a veritable shopping list of canine-pampering possibilities: from a Tempur-pedic dog bed to a Disney pet resort to leaving your entire estate to your pets when you die.
On the plus side of dog adoration, pets do unite humans. Witness the annual Woofstock, a Humane Society benefit in Wichita, Kan., or the Doggie Art festival celebrating greyhound rescue efforts in Winter Park, Fla. Or the pup crawl in Chicago, or Seattle's dog yoga studio.... Dog lovers, whether in denial or proud acceptance, will read Rabid with delight. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller
Discover: A definitive history of dog adoration, with quizzes to determine a human's level of over-the-top doggie love.