Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 9, 2012

Ecco: Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

From My Shelf

The Holiday Spirit

Is it too early to talk about holiday books? They're hitting the bookstores now, and we review a few of them below--a mere drop in the sea of upcoming books. For example:

Yale University Press has just published a charming little book, Inventing the Christmas Tree by Bernd Brunner, translated by Benjamin A. Smith. Brunner explores the cultural history of the holiday tree, how it entered mainstream American culture and now is globally popular; historical illustrations add to its appeal.

Sabrina Jeffries, the popular romance author, brings some spice to the season with her tale of an embittered earl who's estranged from his mother, cruel memories of his childhood holidays and his mother's lovely new companion, in 'Twas the Night After Christmas (Gallery Books).

The season is made to order for mysteries, especially if they are set in England. Eleven Pipers Piping by C.C. Benison (Delacorte Press) brings back vicar Tom Christmas of Thornford Regis (Twelve Drummers Drumming) in a cozy that starts with a murdered bagpiper and continues with long-held village secrets. Delightful and witty, it's the second in what looks to be an extended and successful series. A New England village, historic Dorset, is the setting for suspense, murder, wit and 40 inches of snow in The Snow White Christmas Cookie (Minotaur Books). And in the ninth Berger and Mitry mystery by David Handler, the couple--Des Mitry, a state trooper, and Mitch Berger, a film critic--get into one of their usual messes with a black market prescription drug gang and a blizzard. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

DC Entertainment: 75th Anniversary

Dutton: The Barter by Siobhan Adcock

Putnam: Haunted by Randy Wayne White

Book Candy

Book Collages; Great Novels' Opening Lines; Alice Chess Board

Artist Alexander Korzer-Robinson's "incredible sculptural collages cut from antique books" cut away "everything except the images on each page, leaving them in their proper order," Flavorwire noted.  

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"On a January evening of the early seventies, Christine Nilsson was singing in Faust at the Academy of Music in New York." The Guardian featured a quiz on the opening lines of great American novels.

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An Alice Through the Looking Glass chess board, hand-crafted in 1875 by illustrator Sir John Tenniel, has been discovered and 150 limited-edition replicas made, the Telegraph reported.

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What's the difference between Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn? Mental Floss explains it all for you.

Picador: Mr. Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The Writer's Life

James L. Rubart: Letting the Music Out

Jim Rubart is a professional speaker, marketer and author of the four novels: Rooms, Book of Days, The Chair and Soul's Gate (just out from Thomas Nelson). The University of Washington was somehow convinced to give him a degree in broadcast journalism back in the mid '80s. He was an on-air talent before starting his own marketing firm. He lives with his wife and two sons in the Pacific Northwest and loves to dirt bike, hike, golf, take photos and still thinks he's still young enough to water ski like a madman.

Your résumé did not include "writer" for a long time. When and how did you start writing?

I always wanted to be a writer. In the seventh grade, I read the Chronicles of Narnia; it blew my brains out as an 11-year old. I thought, I want to do what Lewis did for me--he took me to a different world. So that dream was there from an early age.

I took a journalism class in eighth grade, was rejected when I tried out for the school newspaper, so at that point I heard the message, "You can't write" and even though I had this huge desire, and continued to dabble in writing with little short stories, I never showed them to anybody. I subscribed to Writer's Digest throughout my teens, my early 20s; I'd even go to an occasional writing workshop, but I never tried to be published. Then, around 1999, I wrote a play for my church, and someone came up to me and said I should be a writer. And that was the first stirring of thinking I should go with this, and I was one of those people--it sounds arrogant to say--who would read books and think, I can do better than this. But I was too scared to jump off the cliff.

In 2003 my wife went on a fast, and she said, I don't know why God led me to do this, I don't know how long this is going to last, but I'm supposed to do it. Day one, she hears nothing. Day two, nothing. Day three, we were in the car and God spoke to me, saying, Jim, I've created this desire in you, I've given you the gift of writing, when are you going to let go of your fear, when are you going step into it? To quote Annie Dillard, "You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down."

But this was while your wife was on a fast, not you?

Yes, exactly! I turned to my wife and said, I know you are fasting but here's the deal... and she said, I'm hungry and you get the answer!!?? So I got serious. I wondered, what if we could enter into the rooms of our soul and see some of the things we have forgotten that are glorious about us, or go into a room and see what has kept us back from our destinies? And the idea for Rooms was born.

I want people to be free to pursue their dreams, their destinies; I think each of us is divinely designed, but so many of us are fearful, so many of us don't let the music out, we never sing our songs. In the process of becoming a published author, I finally stepped into my destiny, and what I want people to do coming away from my novels is to be encouraged and empowered to follow their dreams. I finished Rooms in 2005 and sent it off to some publishers where it was rejected, and that almost took me out. But my wife looked at me, after I'd gotten one of the rejections, and said, Jim, you have to decide if you're a writer or not; no matter what anyone else says, you have to make the choice. If you are a writer, you have to continue. That was January 2006. I went to a writing conference that spring, and by July 1, three agents were interested in representing me. That fall I signed with a fourth agent and he shopped my manuscript, but everyone rejected it.

One of the editors who had turned it down wrote to my agent and said, I was so impressed with Rubart's material that I found myself wishing another author had written it. The editor needed an author with a track record, and he couldn't take a chance on a book like this. I sat down with that same editor at a writing conference a year later, and he said, Jim, I've read 200 manuscripts since I read yours, and yours is the one I can't get out of my mind. Let's take another run at it. And he published it in April of 2010--we put it on Kindle for two weeks for free, and it just took off from there.

Since I was a debut author, the publisher, B&H Fiction, hoped to sell 1,100 copies in the first year. We hit that the first month.

In April of 2011, Rooms won an RT Book Reviews Reviewers' Choice Award as well as a Best Book award from USA Book News later in the year. So it was a rush. Book of Days was my sophomore effort and was nominated for a number of awards, and I followed it with The Chair in the Fall of 2011. In 2012, The Chair was a finalist for the prestigious Christy Award for Visionary Fiction as well as an ACFW Carol Award finalist.

So you are a writer.

I guess so. I'm finally starting to believe it. There's this scene in The Matrix--one of my favorite movies--where two of the characters are talking about the hero, Neo, who decides to fight this enemy who no one has fought before and the one character turns to the other and says, "What's he doing?" The other character responds, "He's beginning to believe" (in himself). So I'm beginning to believe--it's a drama come true.

Did you do any social media? How do you think word spread?

Honestly, I think it was just the old-fashioned way of somebody reading the books and telling others about it. I don't do a lot blogging, not much FB or Twitter. I think those things help, and my profession for the last 20 years has been in marketing, so it sounds contradictory for me to say advertising wasn't that big a factor, but if 80% of your sales come from word of mouth, then the best thing to do is to write a good book. If you have a great ad, that's nice, but what really drives book sales is people saying to their friends, "You've gotta read this book."

I teach marketing seminars for writers. I tell them, their biggest marketing tool is their novel, so make sure they spend the time on the content. They have to write a good book.

That's such a great story.

It's unreal. I'm just an ordinary guy, but then I realize I'm becoming well-known. But I take that spotlight and turn it back on the readers and ask them: What are your dreams, what do you want to do? It gives me permission to speak to people's lives. That's a gift and an opportunity. So being in a position to do that--it's the best part of being an author.

Your first three novels are with B&H Fiction, but now you're publishing with Thomas Nelson.

While at my first writing conference in 2006, I got an e-mail from a friend who said, I'm at this men's retreat and I met Allen Arnold [v-p and publisher, Thomas Nelson Fiction] and he's willing to look at your book. I had a vision of him reading Rooms, loving it, and... I've made it! I sent him the first three chapters; he wrote back and said, "Thank you, but it doesn't fit with what we're doing, I'm sorry." I was crushed.

But two years later, in 2008, I had the opportunity to introduce him at a writing workshop. He loved the introduction, which started a relationship that turned into a deep friendship, and while we didn't talk about publishing for a long time, eventually we did and Thomas Nelson became my publisher in the in the spring of 2011.

B&H has been wonderful. I'm a relationship person, and it was hard to leave them. But the opportunity to work with Allen, who deeply understands the kind of stories I love to write... I couldn't pass that up. And the whole team at Thomas Nelson has been phenomenal to work with.

I have a contract now for five books with Thomas Nelson. The first three are a trilogy in a contemporary setting with the supernatural elements amped up quite a bit.

I was struggling with the first book, but then Allen and I took a trip into the Colorado wilderness to a ranch called Well Spring and developed the premise and plot for the first book in about an hour. It was so powerful that a good deal of the book happens at the Well Spring ranch. It's called Soul's Gate, and it just released. The premise is, what if you could send your spirit into other people's souls to fight for their healing and freedom?

The fourth book of the contract? No idea what it will be about. But the fifth, I do know and I'm excited. A few years back, my son, Taylor, came to me with an idea for a movie he called Backspace, where this guy is able to backspace any event in his life and do it over again. So Taylor and I are going to write the fifth book together.

Have you gotten any feedback from readers who don't like the supernatural element in your books?

People love it or hate it. The people who hate it are mostly atheists, so I can see why they're not loving a book that has a lot of God in it. There's not much negative feedback from Christians, although one person said my theology wasn't good, but at least it wasn't as bad as The Shack's! The guy really didn't like that book.

What is your advice for aspiring writers?

Dream big. Someone is going to be the next new author. Why not you? If you shoot at the moon instead of a bush, you'll much more likely to hit the moon, even if it seems impossible.

But... you knew there was a "but" coming, right?

Learn the craft. Because they've been writing since 2nd grade, most aspiring writers think it can't be that hard to write a compelling novel. But it is.

There's an old joke among writers about the author who goes golfing one day with his buddy the brain surgeon. The brain surgeon says, "Guess what? I'm taking six weeks off this summer to write a book!" The author turns and smiles. "What an amazing coincidence. I'm taking six weeks off this summer to become a brain surgeon."

There is a great deal of truth in that story. Treat learning to write fiction like you would if you wanted to become a brain surgeon. It takes eons of time, study, and extremely hard work. Count the cost before you start, because it's high. But the good news is most people give up or aren't teachable. If you are, you'll be one of the rare ones--and have a great shot at being published. --Marilyn Dahl

Ecco: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Inklings

When Things Get Personal

Katherine Crowley, a Harvard-trained psychotherapist, and Kathi Elster, a management consultant and executive coach, create the yin and yang of their company, K Squared Enterprises. Since 1989, they've combined their complementary expertise to develop a method for dealing with difficult people and challenging conditions at work. Their latest book is Mean Girls at Work: How to Stay Professional When Things Get Personal (McGraw-Hill).

As women business partners, we've provided a great deal of support to one another for many years. We've helped each other set limits with women who either abused our time or devalued our services.

We each have our own brand of "mean girl" that we're drawn to. Kathi has experienced a number of saboteurs--women who act as if they admire and respect her expertise, but who secretly go behind her back and try to steal her business. Katherine has attracted certain female clients who've said they want her help, endowed her with superpowers, then criticized and disparaged the service she provided.

Over time, Kathi has taught Katherine how to communicate clear boundaries with the demanding and critical mean girls who've hired her, while Katherine has helped Kathi identify potential saboteurs before they've infiltrated her business relationships.

Writing Mean Girls at Work brought our awareness of what "mean" is to a very different level. It's easy to identify the mean women who are obviously cold or cruel to other women. The more challenging kinds of "mean" are those behaviors that we engage in when we feel threatened or jealous of another woman.

We had to admit that we each exhibited our fair share of "meanness." We'd been guilty of gossiping about another woman, holding resentments against another woman, comparing ourselves to another woman, saying critical things about another woman, rolling our eyes when another woman spoke at a meeting.

As we wrote about these less obvious forms of mean behavior, one of us would say, "Oh, I've done that!" Our candid admissions allowed us to appreciate how easy it is to slip into covert competition with other women at work. They elevated our self-awareness and inspired us to try to be better.

Writing this book has made us extremely conscious of the need for women to support other women at work. We've become hyper aware of our own need to be kinder, to be tolerant and to appreciate the differences among us.

Pear Press: Zero to Five by Tracy Cutchlow

Literary Lists

Inspring, Stressful Books; 'Most Definitive' Millennial Gen Novels

"Inspirational books: Happy reads to help you through a tough time" were suggested by the Huffington Post, which also countered this with "9 books that will stress you out."

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Noting that in "any culture, the people look to storytellers to give shape to the experiences of their times, TeleRead suggested the "10 most defining novels of the Millennial Generation."

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Flavorwire suggested "10 'unfilmable' books that made it to the big screen."

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Like filmmaking, writing poetry is a tough gig," Word & Film noted in its article headlined "Poetic injustice: The 5 Most Fascinating Poet Biopics Never Made."

Shelf Awareness: Batman 75th Anniversary

Book Review

Fiction

The Walnut Tree

by Charles Todd

In The Walnut Tree, Charles Todd--the mother-son writing team behind the popular Ian Rutledge and Bess Crawford mystery series--turns to romance, with a story that shares the same First World War setting as their earlier books, including a tangential reference to Bess Crawford herself.

The book opens as war begins, and Lady Elspeth Douglas finds herself trapped in Paris. Her almost-fiancé, the gallant Alain, is off with the French army, and Elspeth feels compelled to return to England and be of service. As she attempts to reach Calais, she gets drawn into a battle and is rescued by handsome Captain Peter Gilchrist, a childhood acquaintance.

With Peter's aid, Elspeth eventually makes it back to England; against her guardian's wishes, she begins training as a nurse. Abandoning her title and privileged lifestyle, Elspeth serves as a regular member of the service. Nursing takes her to bloody field hospitals in France, back to England accompanying injured men, then to her ancestral home in Scotland and eventually to Sussex, where stands an old, beloved walnut tree. Along the way, Elspeth learns eye-opening lessons about class, society and coping. And she'll have to choose between the dashing Alain and the dependable Peter.

The Walnut Tree is a sweet, simple little book--a perfect holiday tale to read with a mug of hot cocoa (and a must-read for Downton Abbey fans). It conjures up an earlier time, a genteel era obliterated by the onslaught of war. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: As war begins, Lady Elspeth Douglas struggles to serve her country and find her heart.

Morrow, $16.99, hardcover, 9780062236999

Léon & Louise

by Alex Capus , trans. by John Brownjohn

Alex Capus's Léon & Louise begins as the World War I nears its end in the summer of 1918, when Léon LeGall, a 17-year-old in Cherbourg, sees Louise Janvier ride by on her bicycle. He contrives to meet her and they fall in love. While out walking, they are both injured by a German artillery attack and separated in the chaos that follows. Each believes the other has been killed.

Ten years later: on the Paris Metro, Léon, now married, catches sight of a girl who looks like Louise, whom he has never forgotten. At the insistence of his wife, Yvonne, he seeks out Louise. They are still in love, but Louise refuses to break up Léon's marriage and makes him promise not to search for her again.

During the German occupation of Paris, Léon works at the headquarters of the CID. His black-market income from reselling coffee brought by a high-ranking German official keeps food on the table. Meanwhile, Louise is sent to West Africa by the Banque of France, along with the Banque's gold reserves. She writes wonderful letters to Léon, never knowing if they will be delivered.

In a remarkable story spanning more than 40 years, Capus describes an enduring love affair. When Louise returns to Paris, she first reports to work and then to Yvonne. What happens after that is a tribute to all three people, the triumph of love and a masterfully told story that, at its end, is only beginning. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: An acclaimed French-Swiss novelist introduces us to two people who fell in love as teenagers, only to be separated by two wars; against the odds, love does conquer all.

Haus Publishing, $15, paperback, 9781908323132

Mystery & Thriller

The Christmas Carol Murders

by Christopher Lord

Christmas is on its way to Dickens Junction, Ore., in Christopher Lord's first novel, The Christmas Carol Murders. All the merchants of Dickens Square--a pedestrian area lined with shops such as Cricket's Hearth, Pickwick's Pilates and, of course, the Old Curiosity Shop--are busy with preparations for the tableaux, a traditional display of four Christmas Carol scenes to be staged that evening.

Simon Alistair, owner of the local bookstore, Pip's Pages, is about to go home and dress for his part when a stranger comes in to buy a copy of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, along with a volume of Dickens's Christmas stories. Before leaving, he gives Simon his card: Marley Enterprises, Mervin Roark, Acquisitions.

Later in the day, Simon meets Zach Benjamin, a "model-handsome" journalist on assignment from a gay and lesbian travel magazine. Simon happily points out things he should see and agrees to meet him for a drink later in the evening. Before they have that drink, though, Roark is murdered with a nail gun. Zach encourages Simon to find the murderer himself: "Don't you know this town--these people--better than the police do?" Simon starts questioning everyone--even close friends--but before long, another murder complicates matters.

Lord has created an entire community of interesting characters with histories and plausible motives abounding--think Jessica Fletcher's Cabot Cove, but in the Pacific Northwest. It all adds up to a delightful cozy mystery that leaves the reader eagerly awaiting Lord's next book. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: The first in a promised series of novels about Dickens Junction, a small Oregon town filled with interesting characters, chief among them Simon Alistair, bookstore owner and amateur sleuth.

Harrison Thurman Books, $13.95, paperback, 9780985323608

Romance

A Wreath of Snow

by Liz Curtis Higgs

In a world of iPhones and Twitter, A Wreath of Snow is an old-fashioned novella that brings welcome relief from the tech tornado. Higgs's Victorian tale, like many of her previous novels, is set in Scotland; this exceptional story transports readers to a simpler time filled with warm shortbread, candles glowing in windows and church bells chiming on Christmas Day.

Nevertheless, complex problems arise after independent schoolteacher Meg meets journalist Gordon when their train derails. They are forced to spend Christmas back in their home town, which both were attempting to flee. Meg is heartbroken because her bitter, invalid brother can't seem to treat her with anything but anger and contempt. Gordon nurses the guilty regret of accidentally paralyzing a young boy during a curling match years ago. These kindred spirits are immediately drawn to one another until they both confront their respective pasts, realizing a horrifying connection that might forever keep them apart.

Higgs's delightful novella is like a time machine. She expertly captures the social mores of the Victorian era and her descriptions of the clothing, cuisine and furnishings are remarkable. The charming language of her quaint tale will make you long for a gentler time. This book is best enjoyed while sitting fireside in a parlor with a cup of tea and a tin of biscuits. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A charming Christmas novella that will make the perfect stocking stuffer for any woman in your life.

Waterbrook Press, $14.99, hardcover, 9781400072170

Christmas in Cornwall

by Marcia Willett

An Anglican convent in decline brings together a host of characters in Marcia Willett's Christmas in Cornwall, a novel that explores the implications of loss, the complexities of family and friendship and the need to feel loved. Willett (The Summer House) stitches together tender stories about the bonds between ordinary people: Jakey, a five-year-old boy who believes that a real angel is keeping watch over him; Clem, his father, a young widower who comes to work at the convent after the death of his wife in order to regroup and be closer to his own mother; Dossie, Clem's mother, a widow herself and a successful caterer who has concerns for the well-being of her son and grandson and her elderly parents--along with romantic woes; Janna, an eccentric, single woman, cast adrift from a broken past, who feels she's finally found a home by working for the aging, quirky nuns. When a stranger arrives in town claiming to be writing a book about the history of the region, rumors swirl that he actually has secret designs to take over the convent's Elizabethan manor house. Will his quest change the future for everyone?

Willett has written a perfectly balanced ensemble piece, a gentle, moving story about faith and trusting in God's presence via the generosity of strangers, the love of friends and family and the miracle of Christmas. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An Anglican convent is the backdrop for a story about ordinary people learning the true meaning of family and faith during the holiday season.

Thomas Dunne, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250003706

Food & Wine

Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors, and Why They Matter

by David Buchanan

With the proliferation of farmer's markets, organic produce and the Slow Food movement, the American public is turning a sharpened gaze to its tables, farms and orchards. Gardener and plant collector David Buchanan takes readers inside the local food crusade, exploring the practicalities of growing and preserving rare and forgotten plants.

Taste, Memory examines the history and the present state of biodiversity in the United States, visiting farms, markets and research centers (both state-sponsored and private) to learn about forgotten varieties of fruits and vegetables. Buchanan stops to taste wild apples, pores over plant catalogues and spends endless hours driving around New England, visiting the patchwork of gardens and orchards he tends. While his careful detailing of government regulations can sometimes pall, his delight in new flavors and foods is infectious. The book is in part a chronicle of Buchanan's own trial-and-error process, as he experiments with which plants to grow and where to grow them--then how to sell the crops, store them for the winter and preserve them for future seasons.

Buchanan makes a strong argument for preserving a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, rather than focusing on uniformity and predictability (two factors prized by supermarkets and commercial farms). He admits there are obstacles to a truly local cuisine, especially for cash-strapped farmers and urban dwellers, but he highlights chefs and cultivators who are finding creative ways to produce and showcase rare foods. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: An examination of biodiversity in the U.S. with a plea to preserve rare foods as part of our culinary experience.

Chelsea Green, $17.95, paperback, 9781603584401

Barefoot Contessa Foolproof: Recipes You Can Trust

by Ina Garten

Careful preparation and helpful hints are the key ingredients in Food Network star Ina Garten's aptly named Barefoot Contessa Foolproof. Any doubts the reader may have about his or her ability to make these seemingly complicated recipes are quickly assuaged; it's clear that Garten's standards for what constitutes "foolproof" are high. Logically, foolproof recipes must be easy to make and turn out consistently well, but the resulting food must also be, as she says, "deeply satisfying to eat." Garten shares her tips for preparing a menu and ensuring that everything arrives at the table on time and delicious, including one secret: she develops a plan, complete with estimated times of completion, and writes it down.

Individual recipes are neatly organized into cocktails, starters, lunches, dinners, vegetables and desserts. Each section opens with general yet valuable information that should not be overlooked before attempting the recipes. Although the finished products can seem fancy, the ingredients and tools needed are easily obtained. Clear, precise instructions address every detail of the cooking or baking process so thoroughly that the reader can easily tell Garten has given the recipe several attempts. Some of the recipes even include useful margin notes that can leave the impression that he or she is cooking directly from a cookbook in Garten's personal collection. Complete with more than 100 dazzling color photographs of enticing foods, this well-thought-out, easy-to-follow cookbook is an essential addition to any cook's collection. --Sarah Borders, librarian at Houston Public Library

Discover: Elegant and easy recipes from the reigning queen of home-cooked entertaining.

Clarkson Potter, $35, hardcover, 9780307464873

The Epicurious Cookbook: More Than 250 of Our Best-Loved Four-Fork Recipes for Weeknights, Weekends & Special Occasions

by Tanya Steel , the Editors of Epicurious.com

Since 1995, Epicurious has offered a place online for dedicated cooks to swap recipes, trade tips, connect with one another and find new dishes to try. Now averaging eight million visitors a month, the site boasts thousands of recipes; The Epicurious Cookbook showcases more than 250 that have been given the highest ratings (three or four forks) by visitors.

Arranging their recipes by season and then by course, Epicurious editor-in-chief Tanya Steel and her staff provide a broad range of dishes, from quick weeknight dinners and easy comfort foods to more elaborate preparations. Many recipes include helpful hints and variations from the editors and Epicurious members; more than a few are from members. Mouthwatering photographs accompany some recipes, as do helpful sidebars noting which steps can be completed ahead of time.

Besides the useful tips, the cookbook's greatest strength is its variety: it includes ethnic dishes from paella to rugelach, as well as crowd-pleasers like cheeseburgers, Caprese pizza, summer salads, hearty soups and double-layer chocolate cake (the site's most-reviewed recipe). A quick flip through the seasons provides dozens of ideas for daily meals and special occasions. And if home cooks have questions or run into trouble, they can always check the site itself for more information.

Tempting and practical, The Epicurious Cookbook will earn a place on kitchen shelves the way its mother site has earned a permanent spot in readers' online bookmarks. Four forks. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A widely varied collection of mouthwatering recipes from the editors of Epicurious.com.

Clarkson Potter, $27.99, paperback, 9780307984852

Biography & Memoir

Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII

by Robert Hutchinson

Robert Hutchison's Young Henry, set during the same period of Henry VIII's life as The Tudors, proves a factual complement to the television drama that has captured modern imaginations. Hutchison (working backward from his previous Last Days of Henry VIII) plumbs myriad historical documents to prove that Henry, rather than the "great libertine with an insatiable debauched appetite" of popular legend, was a fun-loving, spirited young man with a bit of an obsession with creating an heir to the Tudor line.

Henry VIII was a third son, but after his brothers' deaths, the responsibilities of the crown fell to him--including wedding Katherine of Aragon, the queen infamously set aside in favor of Anne Boleyn in later years. Young Henry begins with Henry's childhood, covering everything from his education to his first exposures to the pomp and circumstance of court. He then moves on to Henry's young adult years, a time marked by elaborate--and expensive--celebrations, a series of failed military endeavors and a surprising amount of piety. Ending just after the courting of Anne Boleyn, Young Henry provides a focused approach to understanding the crazed Henry VIII remembered by future generations: a man fixated on the idea of creating a male heir, no matter the cost. Though it can be difficult at times to follow all the names and relationships Hutchison covers, anyone with a passing interest in Tudor history will catch up quickly and delight in a detailed profile of one of England's most famous--and infamous--monarchs. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A corrective look at the early years of Henry VIII's life, from a biographer and historian who knows this era well.

Thomas Dunne, $27.99, hardcover, 9781250012616

Kurt Vonnegut: Letters

by Kurt Vonnegut

In 2007, Kurt Vonnegut died of head injuries sustained falling down his home staircase. He probably would have had an amusing story to tell about his fate. The acclaimed author left behind a bookshelf of novels, stories, essays and political screeds that entertained and touched a large and varied audience. To this bibliography, we can now add a collection of letters edited by Vonnegut's longtime friend Dan Wakefield. In Kurt Vonnegut: Letters, we discover a man who was not only a celebrity writer with serious political positions, but also a loyal friend, a generous father, a tireless writer, a humanist with an eye for the absurd and an always amused observer of the world around him.

Wakefield does an admirable job organizing the correspondence and establishing their contextual relationship to Vonnegut's personal and publishing activities. The helpful notes on those who are addressed and mentioned in each letter not only clarify the content, they also give us a sense of Vonnegut's broad network of family, friends and business associates.

Vonnegut's life had as many troubles as it had successes. He was a POW during World War II; he was often short of money; his books were frequently misunderstood, banned or ignored; his long first marriage unhappily dissolved... "and so it goes," as he wrote in his most famous novel, Slaughterhouse Five. However, throughout his long life, he maintained a sense of humor that disarmed his critics and warmed his family and friends--and is shared with readers here. Vonnegut now lives on for us not only in his fiction, but also in his letters. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Vonnegut's letters reveal many subtle details of his long life with the humor and quirky perspective for which his novels are famous.

Delacorte, $35, hardcover, 9780385343756

Children's & Young Adult

Colin Fischer

by Zack Stentz , Ashley Edward Miller

The 14-year-old hero of this extraordinary debut novel is like no one else we've met in children's literature. As a teen with Asperger's syndrome, Colin Fischer may find social interactions challenging, but he is "high functioning," brilliant and focused.

On his first day at West Valley High, the wrong student is accused of bringing a gun to school. Colin knows that Wayne Connelly, who has bullied Colin for as long as he can remember, eats too neatly to have smeared cake icing on the gun. Colin is determined to find the true culprit. A generous smattering of entries from his notebook, which he uses to record his interactions, shows readers how Colin's mind works, and extensive footnotes let readers inside Colin's favorite films and obsessions. A photo of Basil Rathbone hangs over Colin's bed (as a footnote explains, to Colin, Rathbone was "the definitive inhabitant of the role of World's Greatest Detective," Sherlock Holmes). Clearly Colin gravitates to another mind that's working differently. His pursuit of the truth takes Colin literally outside of his comfort zone, as he and Wayne travel bus routes far beyond his neighborhood.

It quickly becomes clear to readers that, as Colin works on solving the mystery of the gun's owner, he is also figuring out Colin--and learning that his own life is, in many ways, a mystery to be solved. The authors create a magnetic character--though he's a creature of routine, Colin still manages to surprise us. Readers will take this hero to heart. --Jennifer M. Brown

Discover: A magnetic teen who, in solving the mystery of which classmate brought a gun to school, discovers some things about himself.

Razorbill, $17.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 12-up, 9781595145789

Unspoken: A Story from the Underground Railroad

by Henry Cole

Even children unfamiliar with the Underground Railroad will be intrigued by the events unfolding in Henry Cole's captivating, wordless book.

A girl and her cat take a cow through a pasture, as five soldiers carrying a Confederate flag ride by. A woman hands the girl a basket, and she collects root vegetables from the barn. Her cat stays close. The girl looks over her shoulder. Someone is hiding among the cornstalks; a single eye is visible through an opening in the stalks. After dinner, the girl steals away to the barn in the dark of night and leaves food for the unseen guest; she repeats this over several days. The soldiers return, bearing a poster of an escaped slave, promising a reward. The girl spies on the soldiers from a cabinet beneath the staircase, only her eye visible through a knothole. The image echoes the eye of the visitor among the cornstalks, as Cole visually ties the fates of girl and fugitive. Her aid to the runaway puts her at risk, too.

Cole's story leads smoothly into a discussion of the Underground Railroad. Large horizontal pages evoke the vast expanses of territory that escaping captives needed to cover. The black-and-white charcoal images suggest a time long ago, and a world that perceived humanity divided into black and white. Cole beautifully portrays the bravery of both child and fugitive as they navigate the gray area together. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An engrossing wordless tale that makes an ideal entry point for a discussion of the Underground Railroad.

Scholastic Press, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 7-up, 9780545399975

Earth and Air: Tales of Elemental Creatures

by Peter Dickinson

Enjoyable surprises await those who pick up this latest and last addition to the Tales of Elemental Creatures series. Peter Dickinson, working alone (he co-authored the first two collections, Water and Fire with wife Robin McKinley), once again proves his expertise in fantasy and short story writing.

Dickinson translates elements (and sometimes entire legends) of the classical mythologies from around the globe into a half dozen tales set in the modern world in Scotland, Greece and England, as well as an archeological dig in North Africa, and even an alien expedition in outer space. The pleasure of reading a short story by this author stems from his complete control over the essentials of fiction writing. Acute characterization, clear, often complex plotting and just enough setting to broaden a reader's appreciation, all lead to not-always-happy endings that nonetheless satisfy. In "Talaria," the gritty Varro, a talented leather worker, escapes from slavery in legendary Timbuktu to face an unimaginable future. "Ridiki," the bittersweet tale of a modern-day Greek Orpheus and his canine Eurydice, ends with a startling (but splendid) twist. A Christian boy, Yanni, hero of "Scops," uses the landscape of his hilly, rock-strewn island home to carry out the commands of an ancient goddess.

A true delight, this engrossing collection will lead many readers back for second and third readings. --Ellen Loughran, reviewer

Discover: A varied short-story collection for fantasy fans, and a welcome introduction for newcomers to this maestro of the genre.

Big Mouth House/Small Beer, $17.95, hardcover, 256p., ages 10-up, 9781618730589; $14.95 paperback 9781618730381
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