Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 27, 2012
From My Shelf
Gift Books: Cheep
Today we highlight some delectable bird books, with one detour into the realm of boids: Ralph Steadman has produced 100 portraits of Extinct Boids (Bloomsbury, $50). With commentary by Ceri Levy, Steadman's paintings include true extinct avians like the Lanai Hookbill, mixed with imaginary birds like the Blackened Thront, which "looks like how we have all felt on certain mornings in our lives. Pretty damn shabby."
Delicacy and lushness fill Drawn from Paradise: The Natural History, Art and Discovery of the Birds of Paradise with Rare Archival Art by David Attenborough and Errol Fuller (Harper Design, $45). Introduced in the 16th century to Europe from their New Guinea habitat (where they were revered), birds of paradise stun and amaze with their exotic beauty. This book certainly does them justice. More striking beauty can be found in Beautiful Pigeons by Frank Povah, photos by Andrew Ferris (Ivy Press, $19.95 paper; also available as a calendar). From the Jacobin on the cover, alluring in its coy flamenco pose, to the Chinese owl with reverse neck feathers, these pigeons are all captivating.
The Mating Lives of Birds by James Parry (MIT Press, $29.95) is also captivating, in both text and photographs. The description of the Superb Lyrebird's monumental tail feather display, accompanied by "a dramatic supporting artillery of movement and sound," sent us straight to YouTube. A more practical book, filled with lovely watercolors, is The Illustrated Guide to Ducks and Geese and Other Domestic Fowl by Celia Lewis (Bloomsbury, $20). How to choose fowl, raise them, even advice on how to catch your peacock if you need to.
Columbia University Press has published the charming Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds ($16.95 paper). It's edited by Billy Collins, with paintings by the renowned David Allen Sibley; it's sure to include a poem of your favorite bird (like "Redwing Blackbirds" by Robert Penn Warren: "If singing is what you call that rusty, gut-grabbing cry/ That calls on life to be lived gladly, gladly.") --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness
Books and Food; Bookshelf Mountain; Beautiful Book Design
Still hungry after the holiday weekend? Check out the Huffington Post's "Book Foods: The Perfect Literary Meal."
Bookcase of the day: Complex.com featured the Bookworm Bookcase by Dutch designers Atelier 010. The "unique shelf meets chair was made from a commission asking the designers to create an 'organic' bookcase."
For all you DIYers out there, Instructables showed how to make a "bookshelf mountain."
Noting that "often we don't realize how important and essential graphic design is to our everyday lives," Emilia Terragni, editorial director at Phaidon Press, offered a slide show of some "great moments in book design history."
Flavorwire showcased "10 of the most gloriously frustrating endings in literature."
For NPR's Three Books series, author John Connolly recommended a trio of "tales of Gothic terror."
The Writer's Life
Bill Roorbach: 'Storytelling My Daily Bread'
Bill Roorbach is the author of eight books of fiction and nonfiction, including Big Bend, which won the Flannery O'Connor Prize and the O. Henry Prize. His new novel, Life Among Giants, was just published by Algonquin. The 10th anniversary edition of his craft book, Writing Life Stories, is used in writing programs around the world. Recently, Roorbach was a judge on Food Network All Star Challenge, evaluating incredible Life Stories cakes made under the gun. A video memoir about his tragic music career and a blog on writers and writing and just about everything else (with author David Gessner) is online at Bill and Dave's Cocktail Hour.
Your publisher compares your main character, David "Lizard" Hochmeyer, with Rabbit Angstrom, Garp and Frank Bascombe. Do you see your novel as part of that tradition--Updike, Irving, Ford?
Oh, man. I do hope so. Those are all writers I admire and books I've read with great interest and attention. And I definitely see elements from all three protagonists in Lizard. But those weren't my conscious influences, though Lizard is an athlete, a positive thinker and exuberantly alive despite his troubles, like all of the above. I was thinking of non-athlete Nick Carraway from the start, however, the genial narrator of The Great Gatsby, a regular fellow who's looking in on a rarefied world from the outside, only slowly to realize he's gotten his life tangled up in the lives of mythic beings and can't get untangled. Lizard's warmer than Carraway, and invested by more than love, though love is a big draw and one of the engines of the book. There's a world-famous ballerina living in the enormous mansion across the way from his modest house, and one day this valiant young man decides he's going to rescue her. It doesn't go as planned, not at all, but I don't think he'll ever regret it.
Where does David's nickname, Lizard, come from?
There's this young woman at Lizard's school--he's 17 as the novel opens--an artsy and aloof girl named Emily Bright. She's the daughter of an African-American sergeant and a powerhouse of a Korean woman. She has nothing but contempt for David's football stardom (but that might be a crush) and writes a scathing editorial for the school paper, calling him a reptile. The other guys on the team find it hilarious and start calling him Lizard. But he's more sensitive than she thinks, and takes Emily's criticism to heart--he's not impressed with his own powers, not at all, he's started to question his All-American status, his shallow All-American values. He wants to enter other worlds. And Emily's world has always interested him. Also Emily herself.
Where did the character of Lizard come from?
Lizard walked into my studio one day (he had to duck to get in the door) and I found him very appealing and asked him to stay and tell his story. It took years to get it all out. A very likable guy, very deep, size 16 shoes.
Lizard plays quarterback for his high school, then Princeton, then the Miami Dolphins. Lizard's sister plays tennis quite well. Why the sports focus?
Sports aren't a new subject for me. The protagonist of my first novel, The Smallest Color, was a downhill skier of some success, ending as an assistant coach for the US Olympic team. But not as cheerful as Lizard, and less driven, more haunted, full of secrets. Lizard's more open. I don't know why the focus on sports here. I just think it's a grand metaphor. I mean, it's Lizard's story, and Lizard's an athlete: it's not my fault! For my part, I was good but not stellar at sports, better at music and nature appreciation and smoking in the boy's room. My brother was a star at multiple sports, a coach's dream. I looked up to him. Still do. My mother always said that because he'd taken that slot in the town firmament, I had to find my own niche and chose to be a beatnik. Of course the beatniks were already gone. Still, I liked Mom's thinking, may she rest in peace, and proceeded to fulfill my destiny. Jimmy Hendrix, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell, Jerry Garcia, Janis Joplin, those were my heroes. Ginger Baker (of the band Cream) makes an appearance in Life Among Giants, along with other rockers both real and fictional. Lizard is more careful than I was, but still, he wants to cross over from the world of sports to the worlds of art. He exemplifies the same kind of ambivalence that has always lived in me. Of course, he's almost seven feet tall and a world-class quarterback, so his ambivalence is put to the test. And he gets to hang out with the real giants of both worlds--ballet stars, rockers, the Princeton Tigers, the Miami Dolphins.
In the novel we come across phrases like "I'll get to that," "But more about that later," or "That's a story for another time." All these create a sort of stylistic mantra. How hard was it to maintain the back and forth structure of the novel?
I don't use outlines, but rather find the story as I'm making it, just watching those characters closely, and listening to Lizard. You write a lot of extra pages doing that. In fact, one of the chores I put my editor (Kathy Pories of Algonquin) through was cutting back an original manuscript of more than 600 pages. Probably I wrote 1,000 manuscript pages to get to the 450 or so we ended up with. Her very smart approach was to eliminate a certain character and that character's complex storyline. The cut solved a number of problems, particularly of chronology.
Is chronology important?
Time is the most interesting thing about making fiction. Lizard speaks from now about several layers of time, pasts recent and distant and in between, and these layers fold in on one another, overlap as they might in memory. I managed that chronology more and more closely with each draft. The object was to reveal story elements past and present in just the most dramatic places while keeping things crystal clear. At least keeping the things clear that you want to be clear--I believe in leaving a little uncertainty both for characters and the reader, while leaving enough clues that the reader can make confident guesses about what's going on, sometimes confirmed, more often confounded.
I'm not giving anything away to say that David's parents are killed early on in the novel; he sees them shot, and this trauma dictates much of the rest of his life. Did you see this trauma as a key thread to hold your many stories together?
Lizard's parents are killed? Oh my god! That's terrible... I'm sure it affects every aspect of his life after forever after, makes him ponder the past. How could it not? And I'll bet it complicates his relationship with his sister immeasurably.
Did you draw on Bournonville's ballet La Sylphide as you were working? How does it relate to your own character, the world-class ballet dancer Sylphide?
Hold your mouth French and say it: Sill-Feeeeeed. Yes, the story of that ballet, which is discussed in the novel, does give a kind of framework to think about when reading this novel: a young man who, having fallen in love with a sylph, a kind of fairy creature, attempts to cross into her world, not a great idea. But fun to watch onstage, all those incredible dancers.
At its heart, Life Among Giants is primarily a family saga. Did you see it as such early on?
It's the story of two families living across a pond and many acres of manicured lawn away from one another. Lizard's family is struggling and heading for disaster. Meanwhile, the famous and inutterably talented and wealthy folks in the enormous stone mansion across the way are only getting richer. Lizard's sister sees a way out over there, but when she crosses the pond, fate is unleashed--at least that's how it seems to Lizard--and the intertwining of the two families begins. I saw it as a love story early on. The families developed character by character, and populated the lovers' lives, crossed their stars.
Where did the title come from?
That was tough. My working title, which I agree is not great, was The High Side, which is the name of the mansion in the book. I knew and everyone knew we'd change it at some point, but the title just didn't come and didn't come. Stories, I come up with perfect titles while I'm writing. But that's because stories are contained, simple, small. A novel, especially this novel, covers a lot more territory, both literal and emotional, and contains dozens of lives. For a while I liked the title My Dancer, but the story grew way past that relationship. Later, I thought of Children of War, and while that spoke to all different kinds of damage to various characters, it didn't catch the exuberant tone of Lizard's narration. Late in the process--the book already copyedited--the idea of giants came to mind--Lizard is so tall, for one thing. But he's not the giant I was thinking of. It's those people across the way that are so big--and even as imposing as he is, he must be careful not to get stepped on. I made a list of titles with the word giant in them, and eventually one of them stood out, and then towered.
Your publisher, Algonquin, has put together a very aggressive author tour and marketing effort for your novel. How do you feel about this?
I'm very grateful and feel very lucky. These are smart people and dazzlingly good at what they do, from editing to marketing to publishing to packaging to positioning to publicizing and promoting. But more important, they are people who love to read and love to get behind a book they enjoyed reading. And I've had the best conversations about not only my book but literature in general with all of them. They are business people who love to read, very smart readers who want to share what they love, and have the skills to do it. I'm looking forward to going around the country and meeting readers, making friends. You can find my events schedule on my website.
What are you working on now?
I'm in a new novel and always have stories going. I've also gotten interested in filmmaking, which I suspect will remain a hobby. I'm a blogger, too, something I never would have imagined just a few years ago, but it's a satisfying way to connect with readers instantaneously, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse! It's also a great way to connect with my readers directly, always important to me. Nothing I love better than an e-mail from someone who's just found my book and been kept up all night. (Sorry about that!) I've always written nonfiction, as well, mostly about nature, several books' worth, and will continue that, I'm sure. But fiction remains my first love, and storytelling my daily bread. --Tom Lavoie
Indulging in Short Stories
Kristina Wright is the editor of several erotica anthologies. Her fiction has appeared in more than 100 anthologies and she is the author of Seduce Me Tonight (HarperCollins Mischief). She lives in Chesapeake, Va., with her husband and their two young sons. Her military-themed erotica anthology Duty and Desire was just published by Cleis Press.
For the past three holiday seasons, I have found myself under an end-of-year deadline. I've also had two babies, so to say my holidays have been busy would be an understatement. There was a time when I finished holiday shopping by Thanksgiving and spent the last few weeks of the year decorating, cooking, wrapping presents, entertaining and making resolutions for the new year. Oh, and reading the big stack of novels that had accumulated on my bedside table. Those days are behind me, as I now find myself buying gifts in a mid-December panic, wrapping them on Christmas Eve and sending holiday cards sometime in January--or not at all. And my passion for reading gets lost amid the madness.
This year will be different. (Really!) I don't have a deadline to meet and I've simplified my gift giving by buying books for everyone on my list. This time of year is meant for reading. The colder weather and shorter days are best spent by a fire or under a blanket, indulging in a good read. Of course, the reality is we're all running from one party or event to the next, shopping, cooking, traveling, hosting... often there isn't time to enjoy an entire novel.
So I have been indulging my need to read by turning to short stories for my fiction fix. Anthologies hold a bevy of gifts between their pages in the form of dozens stories. When I edit an anthology like my current release, Duty and Desire, I am always conscious of the reader, the one who has a family, a job and a longer to do list than available hours in the day. So I write the stories I love to read and choose anthology themes that indulge the imagination.
And for the busy, multitasking women on my gift list, especially those who may have discovered erotica or erotic romance this year thanks to E.L. James, I know anthologies will open the door into a new world of erotic fantasy. What better way to end the year?
Dear Life: Stories
by Alice Munro
In Dear Life, each story is a flash of insight into the heart of a distinct character, grappling with the circumstances of his or her life. As in previous collections, Alice Munro's stories cover a broad stretch of time, from World War II to the 1970s and beyond.
If there is a common thread in Dear Life, it may be the theme of women struggling to determine their place in a world that has often already made the decision for them. "To Reach Japan," for example, features a female poet living in a time when a woman "having any serious idea, let alone ambition, or maybe even reading a real book, could be seen as suspect." As is common in Munro's stories, there are no conclusions reached, no voice from behind the scenes to influence the reader's opinion. This is particularly true of the twisted dance of a couple in "Corrie," where a man who has an affair with a wealthy heiress holds the power, even as she holds the purse strings. In the end, it is difficult to judge who has been wronged the most.
Perhaps the most deeply affecting of the stories is "Amundsen," another story about a malleable--though clever--girl seeking to mold herself to the desires of an authoritative male figure. The 21st-century feminist instinct is to judge, and yet Munro presents the undeniable appeal of total submission--even when it proves to be at an untenable cost.
In Dear Life, Munro once again delivers a compelling collection of stories that offer insights, delights of language and multi-dimensional female protagonists. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post
Discover: Munro delivers another batch of compelling short stories, often featuring women struggling to determine their place in the world.
Mystery & Thriller
Hand for a Hand
by T. Frank Muir
Add T. Frank Muir to the list of Scots, from Conan Doyle to Rankin and McDermid, who write great mysteries: Hand for a Hand, Muir's U.S. debut, is the first in a series of novels starring Detective Chief Inspector Andy Gilchrist.
A severed hand is found in the famous Road Hole bunker on the Old Course in St. Andrews, and Gilchrist is brought in to investigate. It's holding a note, addressed to Gilchrist, with one word written on it: "Murder." It's personal. Why? When a second hand, this one with paint in the nails, is found in another bunker of the golf course with another note ("Massacre"), he thinks about his son Jack's girlfriend, Chloe, a painter. When it's confirmed the hand is indeed her's, Gilchrist knows she's dead. Then a leg is found, also near the course, with the word "Bludgeon," branded into the skin, and it all hits him like a "wave of despair." (It doesn't help matters that he's been forced by his supervisor to work with a detective he caught having sex with his teenage daughter.)
The sense of pain and futility hovers over the book like a damp, Scottish fog. Watching Muir slowly and carefully navigate Gilchrist's overcoming it to find the killer is just one of the bright joys in this smart and contemplative novel. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: A new mystery series set in St. Andrews, Scotland, starring a thoughtful, emotional and wise inspector. Keep an eye out for the sequels (Tooth for a Tooth; Eye for an Eye).
Science Fiction & Fantasy
by Cherie Priest
Cherie Priest's 2009 Boneshaker introduced the "Clockwork Century," a steampunk-flavored alternate 19th-century where the Civil War went on for decades and downtown Seattle had been decimated by the release of a subterraneous gas, known as "the Blight," that turned victims into zombie-like "rotters." While the sequels Dreadnought and Ganymede expanded the fictional territory across much of North America, Priest circles back to the Pacific Northwest in The Inexplicables.
When one of Boneshaker's central characters, Zeke Wilkes, wanted to get into the walled-off Seattle, he was shown the way by an orphan named Rector. Six months later, Rector assumes Zeke must be dead. Thrown out of the orphanage on his 18th birthday, Rector decides to break into the walled city to find his friend's corpse. He soon realizes Zeke is thriving among the outcast society in Seattle's underground tunnels.
Priest uses Rector's status as a new arrival to introduce new readers to characters from the previous three novels, but in a way that won't bore longtime fans. Zeke and his mechanically inclined pal Houjin introduce Rector to his new community, then help him when he's recruited by the local crime lord to investigate a possible incursion by rival gangs. Just as Rector and his friends roam up to the edges of their territory, Priest probes the world that she's created, teasing out new aspects of familiar landmarks, then laying out early signs of the next direction--because it's clear that there's at least one more installment of the Clockwork Century coming. --Ron Hogan
Discover: Newcomers can follow The Inexplicables without difficulty, but there's an extra layer of enjoyment if you know the backstory--and its three predecessors are just such fun, anyhow.
Steampunk III: Steampunk Revolution
by Ann VanderMeer, editor
"I want to destroy steampunk," Amal El-Mohtar declares in her essay for Steampunk III. It's a sentiment common to many of the contributions, both fiction and nonfiction, to this anthology, but it's not intended in a hostile way. Instead, she's dreaming of "steampunk divorced from the necessity of steam," liberated from the superficial trappings of its cogs and gears--and, for that matter, the imperialist assumptions of Victorian England. Jaymee Goh also discusses how non-white fans engage with the genre's aesthetic, emphasizing its possibilities as an alternative social discourse. As Austin Sirkin says, it's a movement well suited to "the disillusioned and the dissatisfied."
The 27 stories in Steampunk III similarly push the genre in interesting new directions. Carrie Vaughn introduces us to an Indiana Jones-like adventuress in a world where an alien spacecraft crashed in England in 1869, giving the British technological superiority over the rest of the world, while Nick Mamatas speculates as to how Friedrich Engels might have developed Marxism in a world where workers are turned into cyborgs and become literal tools of production. Leow Hui Min Annabeth transports Ada Lovelace to imperial China, and Lavie Tidhar sends Bram Stoker on a mission to Transylvania--but the mysterious figure he'll find there isn't who you might expect it to be. And Bruce Sterling's contribution is about a 21st-century architect rebuilding his corner of collapsed Europe in order to provide for his son. Sterling calls his story "salvagepunk"--but, as Ann VanderMeer notes in her introduction, breaking a genre's most cherished conventions is about as punk as you can get. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com
Discover: Steampunk isn't just about Victorians playing with cogs and gears; these stories (and a few essays) reveal some of the latest steps in this branch of speculative fiction's evolution.
Real Man Adventures
by T Cooper
T Cooper, the author of several successful novels (including The Beaufort Diaries and Lipshitz 6), is fascinated by masculinity, perhaps in part because he's had to work a little harder than the average man to get there: he was born female. Yet even as he explores the essence of masculinity and his own experiences with gender in Real Man Adventures, he expresses some reluctance to delve into the personal.
There is definitely some autobiographical content, but Cooper takes his own privacy seriously, as well as that of his wife and daughters, and is less interested in hashing out the details of his own life than he is in exploring the meaning and role of masculinity in society and the difficulties facing transgender men and women. Real Man Adventures sidesteps the concept of a straightforward memoir, instead compiling a whimsical collection of miscellanea: letters, interviews, lists and original art all help Cooper and his readers explore together what makes a man. This structure works perfectly, and feels like a conversation with Cooper himself.
Deeply honest, even while guarding a few precious items of privacy, Real Man Adventures is a brave book. Cooper does a great service not only to transgender people whose paths might be made a little clearer, but also to their loved ones, neighbors and acquaintances, who should find it a little easier to navigate relationships and communications thanks to this frank discussion. And the irreverent, wry humor throughout keeps Cooper's brash personality at center stage, where it belongs. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia
Discover: A dryly witty journey from female to male, with musings on what it means to be a man.
The Injustice System: A Murder in Miami and a Trial Gone Wrong
by Clive Stafford Smith
In 1987, Miami resident Krishna Maharaj was convicted of the murders of Derrick and Duane Moo Young, a father-son team of Jamaican businessmen engaged in questionable financial dealings with Maharaj's importing company. In The Injustice System, Clive Stafford Smith revisits Maharaj's case--and reveals that the criminal trial system is perhaps even more dangerous for the innocent than the guilty.
Smith is an attorney who began investigating Maharaj's case in the mid-1990s, after an imprisoned Maharaj had spent his personal fortune on unsuccessful legal appeals. Smith is concerned by his first impression of his client; this self-disciplined, gentle and unfailingly polite man seems incapable of shooting someone over a soured business deal. As their relationship develops and the prosecution's original case unravels, Smith begins to realize his client has been convicted of two murders he did not commit. But as time draws on, funds dwindle and judges turn their backs, justice for Krishna Maharaj continues to fade into a mere fantasy.
Most Americans have a sense that our criminal trial system sorts the innocent from the guilty correctly in most cases, and when it does not, a complex system of appeals corrects the problem. As The Injustice System reveals, however, a trial system run by fallible human beings is one that breaks down--and post-conviction appeals aren't always enough to protect the innocent. It's a powerful tale and an eye-opening exposé of the pitfalls of a broken system. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket
Discover: A hard look at the flaws in the U.S. criminal justice system and a personal account of the all-too-often insurmountable task of exonerating a wrongly convicted man.
My Ideal Bookshelf
by Thessaly La Force, editor , illus. by Jane Mount
In My Ideal Bookshelf, Thessaly La Force asks a variety of authors and other celebrities: If you had to fill a small shelf with the books that represent you, which titles would you choose? Their essays are accompanied by Jane Mount's charmingly colorful drawings of each participant's shelf.
La Force selected a diverse group of participants. In addition to popular authors such as Stephanie Meyer, Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson, she solicited responses from skateboarder Tony Hawk, French Laundry chef Thomas Keller and New Yorker music critic Sasha Frere-Jones. The contents of each ideal bookshelf vary accordingly: James Franco divulges his love of Faulkner's As I Lay Dying for the insight into character it provided him as a teenager; Rosanne Cash reminisces about realizing her passion for social justice through reading Anne Frank at the same age.
There is no shortage of classics among people's picks, but the beauty of the cumulative library lies in the less expected titles. Readers are as likely to find Art Spiegelman's graphic novel Maus adorning a shelf as they are to find The Tempest, or to run across travel guides, historical accounts, Dr. Seuss, memoirs or cookbooks. Providing reading suggestions from and for every walk of life, My Ideal Bookshelf is a perfect gift for avid and reluctant readers alike--a celebration of the depth and breadth of the written word's shaping of our lives that will guide readers to new favorites while simultaneously causing them to think about their own ideal bookshelves. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: Charmingly colorful drawings accompany a collection of essays exploring the books that most influenced a diverse set of authors and other famous readers.
Detroit City Is the Place to Be
by Mark Binelli
Is Detroit on its way back? Rolling Stone journalist Mark Binelli, a Motor City native, makes a strong case for "maybe" in Detroit City Is the Place to Be. The son of an immigrant Italian knife sharpener, Binelli revisits the streets of his youth, noting the "miles and miles of unplanned obsolescence" as he ticks off such colorfully named landmarks as Kung Food, Wash My Car, Mo' Money Tax Returns and Babes N Braids, but his balanced assessment of the city's current state is built on a solid foundation of good reporting as much as personal nostalgia. He digs into historical sources, conducts interviews and even attends a handgun training class: "If you are not prepared to shoot a 12-year-old, you shouldn't carry a handgun," the instructor warns his crime-frightened students. "If he's big enough to point a gun in your face, he's big enough to take a bullet."
Detroit once had the fourth-largest population of any U.S. city, but the two million citizens of 1950 have dropped to just 700,000 today, and unannexed suburbs control most of what's left of the tax base. Nonetheless, Binelli finds hope in 2010 census statistics showing a new influx of college-educated residents under 35 years old as well as in the migration of European and American artists to what is "the new Brooklyn [or] the next Berlin." Ever the journalist, however, he cautiously concludes: "When your city has 70,000 abandoned buildings, it will not be gentrified any time soon." --Bruce Jacobs
Discover: A well-researched personal assessment of Detroit's condition by a soft-hearted native son and hard-nosed journalist.
The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I
by Stephen Alford
In The Watchers, Cambridge historian Stephen Alford presents the Elizabethan period as a dark and uncertain time in England's history. With no successor to Elizabeth and with the forces of Catholicism arrayed against her, the government's security balanced on the edge of a knife.
Against the backdrop of such uncertainty--where the death of the queen would lead to the government's collapse and leave the nation vulnerable to foreign invasion--a sophisticated system of espionage developed: infiltration, double agents, forgery and cryptography. Agents in Elizabeth's service ranged across Europe to spy on dissident English Catholics in Paris and Rome--and closer to home in Scotland.
Alford populates this engaging study of Elizabethan espionage with a cast of colorful characters and exposes the dark underbelly of a period that is often better known for Shakespeare and the triumph against the Spanish Armada. Secret correspondence, infiltration into the ranks of exile English Catholics in Rome and the betrayal of double agents are some of the thrilling elements that comprise this little-known tale.
Alford draws the obvious parallel between the unscrupulous, brutal methods of the Elizabethan era and the contemporary dilemmas of Homeland Security. He suggests that at times, the fear of danger was greater than the danger itself--yet the end was thought to justify the means. Alford argues that the motives of the queen's counciller Francis Walsingham, when England was embattled on all sides, were clearly in the state's best interests. But his actions were nonetheless questionable, with consequences for the monarchy in centuries to come. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post
Discover: An engaging study of the dark side of Elizabethan England replete with espionage, betrayal, treason and torture.
Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle Transformed Christianity
by James D. Tabor
In Paul and Jesus, religious historian James D. Tabor (The Jesus Dynasty) focuses on the two decades following Jesus's crucifixion and the early spread of his message. He seeks to shed light on how early Christianity originated not from Jesus or the original apostles who accompanied him during his lifetime, but from the experiences and ideas of one man--Saul of Tarsus, better known as the apostle Paul, who never met Jesus but who spent his life, after his conversion, skillfully fashioning, as Tabor says, "a version of Jesus' message for the wider non-Jewish world."
Tabor devotes chapters to the development of Christianity before Paul, including early views of the resurrection, and the role Paul played in redefining his peers' understanding of the Messiah, the kingdom of God, the people of Israel and the Torah's revelations. Paul's mystical encounters with Jesus changed his life, but he ultimately chose to break away from the original apostles by preaching and promoting views that some found reprehensible, especially James and Paul's arch-rival, Peter.
The thoughtfully researched examination is driven by a careful, critical analysis of the narrative voice of Paul's authentic letters from the New Testament. Tabor's insights make this book intellectually accessible to non-believers as well as those of any faith, whether they seek to expand their view of Christianity or simply want to better understand Paul's life, mission and message as he "completed the work of Christ" this side of heaven. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines
Discover: A critical examination of how the disciple Paul paved the way for "a new and separate Christian faith" after Jesus's death.
Children's & Young Adult
The Vengekeep Prophecies
by Brian Farrey , illus. by Brian Farrey , Brett Helquist
A family of thieves creates a con so clever it backfires in Farrey's (With or Without You) page-turning middle-grade adventure with a hint of magic.
In medieval-like Vengekeep, the Grimjinx family has prowled the streets and pickpocketed the rich for generations. The whole family makes sure the top brass sees them all at the annual Festival of the Twins--where the prophetic tapestry that lays out the year ahead is unveiled. Then 12-year-old Jaxter and his father slip off to rob the town's magistrate of his prized flute. But while most Grimjinxes are gifted grifters, narrator Jaxter is a klutz. What he does possess is a skill for mixing herbs to counter magic spells. Jaxter gets them inside their victim's house, but his clumsiness causes a fire. Luckily, his mother has tampered with the tapestry, creating a scene that foretells cataclysmic events--with the Grimjinxes saving the day. When the events start to come true, though, the family looks less fortunate. Jaxter comes up with an antidote to the tapestry's magic, but must travel the Five Provinces to gather the ingredients.
At the core of this gripping quest tale is a wonderful friendship between Jaxter and his newfound friend, Callie. Together they encounter exotic beasts, double-crossing thieves and rogue mages. Jaxter's family never loses faith in him, including his grandmother, who tells him, "The things you learn in books will outshine all of us someday." Farrey creates a complete tale, but readers will be happy to know that two more are planned. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A page-turning quest tale in which 12-year-old Jaxter Grimjinx must find an antidote to reverse his family's bad fortune.
Meant to Be
by Lauren Morrill
Lauren Morrill playfully employs the Shakespearean question of "to be or not to be?" with a romantic twist in her comedic debut.
Julia Lichtenstein lives a very structured life. She never breaks rules (it's one of her rules), and she even has her future boyfriend picked out. Julia had a pretend wedding with Mark Bixford when they were five, and he has been her MTB ("meant to be") ever since. Julia's destined love for Mark remains present throughout her class trip to London, but she bends her rules when classmate Jason Lippincott takes her out to a wild party, to prove she can let loose. Julia drinks, flirts, lies and even gives her phone number to a cute guy named Chris, who texts her throughout the novel. Adventurous yet inexperienced, Julia accepts Jason's help to teach her how to get a boy to fall in love with her (be it her MTB or Chris) in exchange for doing his homework.
Opposites attract, but Jason is too different from Julia's adored MTB. Jason is not only on her list of things she hates (along with flying, children and models), but he believes true love is a fairy tale and a marketing tool. Their antagonistic relationship makes for an exciting ride, in which Julia slowly learns more about love than she can find inside her books. Readers of Jennifer E. Smith and Stephanie Perkins will revel in this debate about love ruled by the stars or as a matter of the heart. --Adam Silvera, reviewer and former bookseller
Discover: On her class trip to London, Julia questions who her MTB (meant to be) is.