Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thomas Nelson: Love of Story

From My Shelf

Gift Books: Animals

We're planning three gift book issues for you over the next few weeks: general titles, kids' titles and cookbooks. Here are a few on animals to get you started.

We'll begin with dog books, in deference to our office dogs: Butter, Fergus, Oscar and Willow. The Spirit of the Dog: An Illustrated History by Tamsin Pickeral, photography by Astrid Harrisson, comes from Barron's, the publisher that brought out the gorgeous The Majesty of the Horse last year. Pickeral and Harrisson team up again for a magnificent compendium of dogs from the "common" German Shepherd to the rare Komondor.

Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel (Little, Brown) will make you smile. There is no way dogs underwater can look noble as they lunge for balls. They look either goofy or ferocious, determined to get that ball or just blowing bubbles. Photojournalist Robin Layton has compiled dog owners' missives to their pets in A Letter to My Dog (Chronicle Books). Sweet, poignant, heartfelt--the love songs to the dogs are perfectly complemented by Layton's tender photographs.

Shelf Awareness staffers also have home office cats, who often help with the editing. Another Chronicle title, I Could Pee on This, befits their contribution. Francesco Marciuliano has collected poems by cats into a hilarious little book. From expressing their love for dead mice to pulling over Christmas trees, cats reveal their genius and neuroses. For a more serious feline display, the oversize The Life and Love of Cats by Lewis Blackwell (Abrams) is a sure bet. Dozing Siamese, peering bobcats, preening tabbies, eyes, tongues, fur--Blackwell's photos are elegant and arresting.

And of course, we need to include a horse book: Spirit Horses, photographed by Tony Stromberg (New World Library). Now out in large format paperback, it's a stunning homage to both wild and domestic horses. No riders, no tack--just unadulterated beauty and power. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

Emblem Editions: Clara by Kurt Palka

Ecco: Riddle of the Labyrinth by Margalit Fox

Tarcher: Carried In Our Hearts by Jane Aronson

Book Candy

Prep for Anna Karenina; Tolkien vs. Martin; Love Pentagon

If you haven't seen Joe Wright's film version of the Tolstoy classic yet (or even if you have), you might want to check out Indiewire's "10 adaptations of Russian novels to get you ready for Anna Karenina."

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Grudge match: Game of Thrones vs. Lord of the Rings. Flavorwire reported that "some brilliant person over at MTV Geek convinced a reluctant George R.R. Martin to play a few rounds of 'GRR vs. JRR.' "

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If you're "running out of ways to describe the ongoing antics" surrounding David Petraeus's affair with his biographer, Mental Floss helpfully offered "10 historical slang terms and euphemisms for infidelity that you probably won't see in headlines," many of which have literary origins.

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GIF ("a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, looping animations") is the 2012 Word of the Year, according to Oxford American Dictionaries. "Bluster," Dictionary.com's word of the year, was chosen to acknowledge "the most expensive political campaigns and some of the most extreme weather events in human history."

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Apparently it's holiday season in alternate worlds, too, so io9 came up with a list of "gift ideas for the 7 major species of science fiction fan."

Consortium: Bookslinger

The Writer's Life

Andrew Solomon: Illness or Identity

photo: Annie Leibovitz  

Andrew Solomon is the author of the novel A Stone Boat and The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, which won the 2001 National Book Award, among other prizes, and was a Pulitzer finalist. He has just come out with a monumental work, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity (Scribner, November 13, 2012). He lives in New York and London with his husband and children.

Solomon took 10 years to write Far from the Tree, working with 40,000 pages of interview transcripts from conversations with 250 families. The book encompasses many forms of "difference," from physical to emotional, from genetic to environmental, from "illness" to "gift," weaving together a compelling, moving presentation of humans and humanity, proving that "difference is what unites us."

You've written a book that covers a huge range of topics, of "differences." Tell us how you came to this.

I worked on an article about Deaf culture for the Times about 15 years ago, and I was struck that most deaf children are born to hearing parents who try to normalize them by giving them skills in lip reading and oral communication. Many of those children find it impossible to function in the hearing world, and when they discover Deaf culture in adolescence, it is a great liberation for them. It was a story that had some resonance for me as a gay person; gay people, too, are born to parents to whom their condition is foreign, and they have to learn identity from a peer group. Then a friend of a friend had a child who was a dwarf, and I learned that most dwarfs are born to parents of average height, and as this mother began to describe her concerns, I suddenly saw that it happens over and over again, that parents have children who bewilder them, and that children must learn who they are by meeting similar peers. In the end, I chose to look at some conditions usually described as illnesses (deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, multiple severe disabilities) and some usually described as identities (prodigious genius, conception in rape, criminality, being transgender), and concluded that we can describe any way that human beings are as an illness or as an identity, and that understanding the subtle play between the two is crucial to emerging into dignity. Everything is an illness and everything is an identity, and we should strive to bear witness to the entanglement of those two points of view. Parents who do so end up loving their children well and helping them profoundly.

On a personal level, I especially liked the chapter on autism, having worked for years with autistic children. There's been much debate on its definition and boundaries. What is your take on this? 

I think this is really a debate about terminology. The people who argued for removing the Asperger's diagnosis from the DSM observed, correctly, that there is no bright line between autism and Asperger's. But there is also no clear line between autism and eccentricity, or autism and mathematical ability. In the popular imagination, Asperger's is geekiness, and autism involves nonverbal children who bang their heads against the wall, but there's a wide spectrum of symptoms and it's hard to say exactly who is higher-functioning than whom. Is someone with full use of language but no idea what is of interest to the people with whom he is conversing really more disabled than someone with no language but better social instincts? I don't particularly champion the line as previously drawn between Asperger's and so-called "classic autism," but I think that by lumping everyone together, we do the population a grave disservice, because the diagnosis now applies to so many people with such varied needs. Medical progress is evidenced by nuance, and this is a means of sacrificing such subtlety to a gross generality. If the old categories were weak, they required further refinement, not elimination.

How did you manage all of the research, your thinking, the writing, the organization? A span of 10 years--when it's done, you're almost a different person. Did the direction of the book change as you waded through so much source material? 

I approached the writing with a plan--and then it all changed, and then it changed again, and again, and again. I always think that there's something a little comical about the way people sell books on the basis of a proposal, because a book that is the same after years of research and writing as it was when it was proposed is generally a pretty dull book. If you knew enough to make your arguments before you did your research, then why did you bother doing it? There's a deductive method, in which you start with arguments and then find out what they imply, and an inductive one in which you agglomerate experiences and then see what they mean, and I'm definitely an inductive writer. I think I drove my family crazy by coming home about once a month and saying, "I've finally figured out what this book is about." And if I hadn't forced myself to stop researching and write it all down, I'd probably keep inflecting the arguments until the end of time. But if did finally take some kind of coherent shape--or at least, it seems coherent to me.

What are you planning to write next?

At the same time that I was writing this book, I was working on a Ph.D., and I turned in my thesis in September. It's about how women emerge into maternal identity, and for my research, I found a cohort of 24 women and interviewed each before the birth of her first child, just after, and then going forward every six months. The children are now four and half, and I'm keeping the project going, and I will use this material as the basis for a new book, in which I argue that early motherhood, long held to be natural and ideal, is actually only the precursor to the profound relationship that develops with time, and that becomes easier once the mother has recovered from the shift into motherhood. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo

Loyola Press: The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis

Inklings

Five Words

David Rain is an Australian writer who lives in London. He is the author of the novel The Heat of the Sun (Holt) and has also written poetry, articles and reviews. He has taught literature and writing at Queen's University of Belfast, University of Brighton and Middlesex University, London.

Five words. That's all it took.

The place was Prague. A summer night. My partner, Antony, and I had been to the State Opera to see Madame Butterfly. Now we were standing on the Charles Bridge. The river rushed darkly below. Suddenly Antony said: "What happened to that boy?"

The boy was "Trouble," the half-American son of Madame Butterfly. At the end of Puccini's opera, Trouble is about to be taken back to America by his father, Lieutenant Pinkerton, and his new wife. For Butterfly, it's the end. For Trouble, it's just the beginning. What did become of him? I wrote The Heat of the Sun because I had to know. Or, at least, imagine.

"Where do you get your ideas?" is, perhaps, the question most often asked of writers. Inspiration is a strange business. Some inspirations are legendary: most famously, the nightmare from which Mary Shelley awoke with the idea for Frankenstein.

Some writers claim there's no such thing as inspiration. Some argue it doesn't matter that much. Wait for inspiration, we're warned, and we'll be waiting a long time. Writing teachers get impatient with students who say, "Well, I've had this idea...." Enough of the ideas! Give us words on the page! Yes, inspiration is only the starting point. But there's a weird magic in it all the same.

Writing The Heat of the Sun was harder than I expected, and took me longer than I ever thought it would. But I wouldn't have begun at all without Antony's question on a bridge late at night. I felt as if something had descended on me from the sky. Not a ton of bricks. More like a feather, floating down. "What happened to that boy?" Five words, and I was launched on a quest that lasted five years.

Photo: Antony Heaven

HarperOne: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Book Review

Fiction

Life Among Giants

by Bill Roorbach

Bill Roorbach's Life Among Giants is a novel of extravagant imagination about David "Lizard" Hochmeyer, a sweet high school quarterback from suburban Connecticut who loses his parents in a double murder and falls under the sway of the famous ballerina next door. As Lizard goes on to college and then the pros, he and his older sister, Kate, struggle separately to solve the mystery of their parents' demise. Lizard relates their story in retrospect, and by letting the revelations unfold over the decades, Roorbach makes the novel a leisurely mystery as well as a bildungsgroman. It's also a playful anthropological portrait of American preoccupations in the late 20th century: country club aspirations, 9-to-5 chicanery, Ivy League bumptiousness, the use of touchy-feely psychology in pro sports, the deification of prima ballerinas and the sloppy hedonism of 1960s rock stars.

"High Rise," the mansion that looms on the other side of the pond from the Hochmeyers' back yard, is home to English rock star Dabney Stryker-Stewart, his Norwegian ballerina-wife, Sylphide, and his disabled son from a previous marriage. One of the novel's seductions is discovering the extent of the connections between the modest Hochmeyers and the bohemian goings-on at High Rise.

Life Among Giants serves up descriptive bounty, including details on architecture, football, ballet, esoteric foodiness, restaurant management, touch-based bodywork and classic sailboats, and skillfully uses significant objects and nicknames as plot talismans. He also successfully creates a dozen unusual characters, from the slippery-yet-sturdy Sylphide down to the High Rise's fleet of eccentric factotums. Similar to the work of John Fowles, Life Among Giants contains flashes of fantasy and obsession. --Holloway McCandless

Discover: An unusually imagined novel--half bildungsroman, half mystery--in which a sweet suburban quarterback falls under the sway of a fey ballerina.

Algonquin, $24.95, hardcover, 9781616200763

Putnam: Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon

Magnificence

by Lydia Millet

For years, Lydia Millet has been fashioning an ambitious trilogy. In How the Dead Dream (2008), a man named T. found consolation spending time with animals at the zoo after breaking into their pens. Then, in Ghost Lights (2011), T. is lost in the jungles of Belize, and Hal, the husband of one of his employees, sets out to find him, like Stanley in search of Livingston. T. returns; Hal doesn't. Magnificence begins.

Susan Lindley is grief-stricken over her husband's death, distraught with guilt over "her callous practice of adultery" (which was why Hal volunteered to track T. down). She's not in a very nice place emotionally, so Millet introduces her to a new place, a strange one. She has inherited a majestic home from a great-uncle she hardly knew. It's inhabited by animals--but the inhabitants of this jungle are stuffed. Uncle Albert was loved taxidermy, and the animals and murals in the mansion's eight bedrooms are laid out with geographic themes: Rainforest, Arctic, Himalayas and so on.

Susan quickly comes to love her comforting "glorious mansion," but then Millet complicates things. People begin showing up: an unfaithful husband, Susan's paraplegic daughter, strange old women, human skeletons. How Millet carefully manifests Susan's character within all this is what makes Magnificence so good. Her prose mirrors the world, mesmerizing in an understated way; emotions ripple beneath its poetic surface. Told beautifully in third person, it's itching to become first person, but Millet keeps it unsettled, disturbing and fulfilling in a splendid way. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Millet completes an ambitious trilogy with an odd, eerie and unsettling tale about a woman in search of herself while surrounded by a world of stuffed animals.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393081701

Ecco: Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Creative Fire (Book One of Ruby's Song)

by Brenda Cooper

Ruby Martin is a Grey, one of the worker class inhabitants of the generational colony space ship, The Creative Fire. She lives in the same habitat as her parents and their parents before them, goes to work repairing robots and hangs out with her friends, Onor and Marcelle. The Reds, the security class, enforce strict rules to ensure order, sometimes with brutality, other times with distaste. Ruby sings, as well, with a voice that expresses her beauty of spirit to all who hear it.

Then one day the roof falls in, quite literally. There's a breech between levels, and a mysterious Blue named Fox falls, injured, into the park where Ruby had been sitting. She learns about the unfair hierarchy on the space ship; she learns the Fire is headed to a planet called Adiamo; she learns that the ship society hasn't always been this stratified. Ruby joins a resistance faction, falls in and out of love with Fox and tries to stay one step ahead of the unseen powers of the space ship to free her people from a life of drudgery and near-slavery.

Brenda Cooper presents many interesting ideas and themes, and writes characters with complex motivations and feelings. While The Creative Fire spends more time in dealing with Ruby's love interests than some science fiction readers might prefer, this first installment in a planned multi-volume series will hold their interest from beginning to end. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A multi-generational colonial spaceship is the setting for a promising new science fiction series.

Pyr, $17.95, paperback, 9781616146849

Biography & Memoir

American Lady: The Life of Susan Mary Alsop

by Caroline De Margerie

The names that appear in Caroline de Margerie's American Lady are so impressive, the historic events and settings so inclusive, it's hard to believe one woman lived through it all. This fascinating biography of Susan Mary Alsop introduces readers to a colorful American aristocrat who was on hand to experience many of the most significant events of the 20th century.

Born a Jay in 1918 (of the founding family; her grandmother was an Astor), 21-year-old Susan Mary wed Bill Patten in 1939. After Bill was posted to Paris with the State Department in 1944, she blossomed as a diplomat's wife. "She liked seeing 'history on the boil' as Nancy Mitford put it," de Margerie writes, "being present in a room where the fate of the world was being played out." Her fame as a hostess, which lasted throughout her 86 years, started in Paris, and so, too, did the love affair of her life, with Duff Cooper. After Duff's death, then Bill's, she agreed to a platonic marriage with deeply closeted columnist Joseph Alsop; their Georgetown home became a renowned salon where anybody-who-was-anybody gathered, including Kennedys ("Please call me Jackie"), Kissingers and Grahams.

The delicious details of power and wealth don't obscure de Margerie's portrait of the less-public Susan Mary, a loving and loyal mother and friend who studied issues and held thoughtful opinions, volunteered, traveled globally and, in the last decades of her life, wrote four books. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: A dishy biography of one of the most renowned and fascinating hostesses in American history.

Viking, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670025749

The Entertainer: Movies, Magic and My Father's Twentieth Century

by Margaret Talbot

Quick question: What movies did Lyle Talbot appear in? If you don't know (or even if you do), you'll want to read his daughter Margaret's lovely and affectionate biography of her dad, The Entertainer. Talbot, a staff writer at the New Yorker, was born when her dad was 59, the "lagniappe of a late-in-life fourth child." She remembers him telling stories about his "long-running picaresque adventures in entertainment," and now she wants to tell his story. It's not a memoir, but an "idiosyncratic history of how entertainment evolved in the twentieth century."

Lyle Talbot was a hypnotist's assistant, a magician in traveling tent shows, a star in the making in 1930s Hollywood who nearly became a B-movie has-been and then a regular on television from the 1940s to the early '80s. Drinking, along with his union activism (he was a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild), sometimes made it hard for him to get work, but he acted with Bogart, Davis, Tracy, Lombard, Stanwyck, Ginger Rogers, Shirley Temple and the Three Stooges; he was Commissioner Gordon in the early Batman and Robin serials and starred in three Ed Wood pictures. He was a regular on the Ozzie and Harriet Show and appeared in Leave It to Beaver along with his son, Stephen (who played Gilbert). The Entertainer is a terrific pean to Margaret's dad and an even better history of American popular entertainment. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A joyful celebration of a daughter's love for her father and his fabulous career over some 50 years of screen, theater and television acting.

Riverhead, $28.95, hardcover, 9781594487064

How I Slept My Way to the Middle: Secrets and Stories from Stage, Screen, and Interwebs

by Kevin Pollak

Quick, think of actor Kevin Pollak. Dollars to donuts you conjured up a vision of him as third banana in A Few Good Men or The Usual Suspects--or maybe you thought, "Who?" Pollak is a brilliant comedian whose impressions of Christopher Walken, William Shatner and Peter Falk gained him a following long before he shared screen time with Jack Nicholson. Now, he's written How I Slept My Way to the Middle, a book that should be given to all sourpusses because it is uproariously funny--laugh out loud until tears burn your eyes funny.

Pollak did stand-up for many years, coming up in the ranks with Jerry Seinfeld and Paul Reiser (one of his favorite people to prank). The shrimpy kid who started out imitating Bill Cosby grew into a funny man with a yen for acting in movies, a journey his side-splitting memoir recounts in hilarious detail. It's clear Pollak loves show business and reveres consummate professionals. He cannot say enough about his heroes and the breaks they afforded him. His anecdotes about his brushes with greats like Robert De Niro and Jerry Lewis are truly astounding. (At the same time, he reveals how Benicio Del Toro managed to fart in four consecutive takes during the line-up scene in The Usual Suspects.)

There's so much dirt Pollak could have dished, but he keeps it positive with feel-good, riotous stories and fascinating Hollywood lore. Except for that one time Michael Clarke Duncan accused him of stealing his pocket cash.... --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A laugh-out-loud memoir from actor and comedian Kevin Pollak.

Lyons, $24.95, hardcover, 9780762780556

Current Events & Issues

Of Africa

by Wole Soyinka

For Nigerian writer and Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka, Africa is a land of shifting loyalties and shifting boundaries. Of Africa offers a well-conceived vision for the potential healing of the continent.

He begins with a critical analysis into the sources of conflict that have torn his homeland apart: colonial forces that sought to plunder resources, the slave trade (which Soyinka views as comparable to Hiroshima and the Holocaust) and internal power struggles resulting in mass genocide. In recent years, dictatorial theocracies have threatened to further erode the psyche of the continent, as fundamentalist sects draw lines of war between Africa's many ethnic groups. "Religion, or profession of faith, cannot serve as the common ground for human coexistence," Soyinka warns, "except of course by the adoption of coercion as a principle and thus the manifestation of its corollary--hypocrisy."

Next, Soyinka concentrates on African contributions to literature, art, alternative medicines and spirituality, which he sees as unifying and redemptive. He identifies the Yoruba traditions of Orisa and Ifa as accommodative and tolerant viewpoints that can counteract the polarizing pulls of Christianity and Islam. Orisa is "the very embodiment of tolerance," he says, and "tolerance, in its own right, is at the heart of Ifa, a virtue worth cultivating as a foundational principle of humanistic faith."

Soyinka's inquiry arrives at one impassioned plea--tolerance. Africa's various sects, he tells us, must come to the collective bargaining table with an embrace of its tradition and innate differences in order to truly become whole. --Nancy Powell

Discover: Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka sets out to heal the African psyche with a vision of tolerance and humanistic faith.

Yale University Press, $24, hardcover, 9780300140460

Essays & Criticism

Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version

by Philip Pullman

Snow White, Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel are among the most recognizable stories in the world. It wouldn't be hyperbole to suggest that most adults in the Western world have told at least one of these stories to a child, whether they recite it from memory or read from some version of the tales compiled by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 19th century. There have been many English-language translations and adaptations; now Philip Pullman, who helped redefine fantasy literature for the modern era with the His Dark Materials trilogy, tackles these classics with his own edition of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm.

Pullman takes 50 stories--"the cream" of the Grimms' inventory, not just the obvious choices--and presents them in a way that respects the original renditions without being slavish imitations. In some cases, he rectifies what he calls the "clumsy storytelling" of the Grimms' sources to make the story run more smoothly. He gets the utter other-ness of the worlds in which these stories take place, where men fall in love with princesses at first sight and children constantly fall afoul of evil stepmothers. He also reminds us that the stories are sometimes weirder than we remember.

"When a tale is shaped so well that the line of the narrative seems to have been able to take no other path," Pullman says, "and to have touched every important event in making for its end, one can only bow with respect for the teller." There are several moments in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm in which Pullman himself earns that honor. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com

Discover: An enticing collection of familiar and not-so-familiar fairy tales, retold with clarity and wit by a master of fantasy literature.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670024971

Both Flesh and Not

by David Foster Wallace

Despite a number of posthumous publications (most notably the unfinished novel The Pale King), David Foster Wallace has been dearly missed by a devoted readership since his death in 2008. Faithful fans will be excited to find a new anthology of Wallace's nonfiction, Both Flesh and Not, which contains 15 previously uncollected essays.

The first essay, "Federer Both Flesh and Not," is, without a doubt, the perfect beginning for a Wallace collection, covering a topic that he loved--it's an ode to tennis and one of its greatest players, Roger Federer. The remaining essays are wide-ranging in topic, from contemporary young writers to AIDS to the U.S. Open to Terminator 2. Also included are several in-depth book reviews and the introduction Wallace wrote for the 2007 edition of Best American Essays. Interspersed between the essays are a selection of unusual words and definitions taken from Wallace's personal vocabulary list.

Not all of the essays in Both Flesh and Not are equally powerful, but the mix of subject matter and the variation in breadth don't detract from the powerful pull of Wallace's writing. His insatiable curiosity and his divergent passions are clearly on display here, as is his ability to expound on pop culture just as authoritatively as literature or philosophy. Though Wallace will always be missed, readers won't want to pass on this chance to enjoy his work once again. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore

Discover: A posthumous collection of 15 essays by David Foster Wallace, from book reviews to a celebration of tennis ace Roger Federer.

Little, Brown, $26.99, hardcover, 9780316182379

Children's & Young Adult

Reached

by Ally Condie

Ally Condie brings the Matched trilogy to a close with a powerful finale, as Cassia, Ky and Xander fight for free will against a totalitarian Society.

The Rising they've been waiting for begins when a sickness breaks out in the book's early pages. Leading the Rising is someone known only as the Pilot, who could be man or woman, dead or alive. Readers will not only question the Pilot's identity, but also his or her integrity, after some ominous occurrences. Cassia and her assigned Match, Xander, work undercover as agents within the Society, while Cassia's true love, Ky, pilots air ships carrying the only cure for the Plague. The rigorously statistical Society is uncharacteristically unprepared for the Plague--as are members of the Rising, when the Plague mutates with devastating effects.

Hearing from all three parties in the Cassia-Ky-Xander triangle will keep readers eagerly turning the pages, as Condie smoothly differentiates their voices, goals, obstacles and choices. The previous books centered on quiet rebellion, but the Rising grows into an insurgence to expose the Society's flawed methods of achieving perfection. Choices well beyond Cassia's pick for happily-ever-after add depth, while the author's picturesque prose will please romantics: "Cassia, I'm in love with you and I want you. So, what will it take for you to feel the same? A whole new world?" asks Xander.

The transformations these characters undergo while fighting for love and the ability to choose their futures make Reached a captivating read. --Adam Silvera, reviewer and former bookseller

Discover: The stunning finale to the Matched trilogy, in which the revolution for freedom kicks off with a deadly sickness.

Dutton, $17.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780525423669

Captain Awesome Saves the Winter Wonderland

by Stan Kirby , illus. by George O'Connor

Ever since this second-grade superhero's debut in Captain Awesome to the Rescue!, we can't get enough of him. The holidays and their winter plays are fast approaching, and this latest adventure combines a hint of mystery with cut-throat competition, elementary-style. Can Captain Awesome and his superhero pal, Nacho Cheese Man, keep The Winter Wonderland from melting into chaos?

Eugene McGillicudy (aka Captain Awesome) loves to play the triangle in Mrs. Randle's music class. Charlie Thomas Jones (Nacho Cheese Man) prefers the maracas ("I don't know what's inside, but I hope it's dried bugs," Charlie says). When Mrs. Randle announces a musical called The Winter Wonderland, Eugene and Charlie can't wait to play in the Snowflake Symphony ("My Triangle of Justice shall ring loud this day!" shouts Eugene). Perfectly pink Meredith Mooney volunteers to star, but when she gets cast as the Icy Icicle in the Frozen Chorus, watch out! Add to that Jake Story, who complains about how loudly Eugene plays his triangle and earns the nickname "the Whiny Whimperer," for his evil deed in keeping the duo apart. When the play's star gets sick, and Eugene steps into the role, someone tries to sabotage him. Could it be My! Me! Mine! Mere-DITH? The Whiny Whimperer? Or are they in cahoots? George O'Connor (KAPOW!) once again sweeps readers along with comics-style artwork that adds punch to the proceedings.

Readers just embarking on chapter books will embrace these two superheroes, who save the day--in more ways than one.- -Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A second-grade superhero tailor-made for comics fans, who solves a mystery and saves the school play.

Little Simon, $14.99, hardcover, 128p., ages 5-7, 9781442443358; $4.99 paper 9781442443341

Audio

The Gun Seller

by Hugh Laurie, narrated by Simon Prebble

It should come as no surprise that Hugh Laurie's 1996 novel The Gun Seller is a hilarious spoof. Writing long before House, Laurie transferred his extensive background in British television comedy onto the page in an action-packed spy novel, which Simon Prebble now gives voice in an audiobook edition.

Former British soldier Thomas Lang hires himself out for just about any job, but he draws the line at killing. Confronted with a murder-for-hire offer, Lang turns it down and heads directly to the intended victim in order to warn him. This is mistake number one--and sets the course for the chaos to follow. Before he has a solid grasp on his situation, Lang's in the middle of a terrorist attack... and he's the terrorist.

Prebble's narration of Laurie's work highlights the sharp, sarcastic wit and the wildly absurd circumstances Lang stumbles upon. While never compromising the entertaining nature of the plot, Prebble ensures that the underlying social commentary is always clear.
However, Prebble's interpretation of Lang may come off to some listeners as overly sophisticated, and some of the American roles as exaggeratedly macho. Despite this minor quibble, the audiobook is a captivating listening experience. Prebble tunes into Laurie's pacing and atmosphere to build anticipation and delivers a performance that connects readers with Lang and leaves them anxiously hoping he'll defeat the odds--and the bad guys. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A hilarious, bumbling caper that will have listeners driving an extra time around the block to hear just a little more.

High Bridge Audio, $34.95, CD, 9781611749724

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