Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Thomas Nelson: Love of Story

From My Shelf

Gift Books, Miscellany

Yes, we have still we have more gift books to suggest: the University of Alabama has published Circling Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality, edited by Wendy Reed and Jennifer Horne ($29.95). In this rich collection, 20 writers--"crossing faith, class and denomination"--have contributed essays on, among other subjects, growing up as a Jew in Tennessee, finding healing through art and Eastern Orthodoxy, calling God "Mama."

Part of spirituality is being in the moment, but how? Christina Rosalie has written and illustrated a guide "exploring the fabric of the present tense": A Field Guide to Now (Skirt!, $18.95). Each chapter is bookended by the front and back of a postcard, with a specific invitation to engage in the moment. Specific moments of joy are the subject of A Private History of Happiness by George Myerson (BlueBridge, $19.95), with 99 descriptions of everyday happiness from different ages and places--from "A Tasty Dinner in a Rustic Tavern," written by Cyrus P. Bradley near Sandusky, Ohio, in 1835, to "A Handful of Refreshing Well Water" by Lady Sarashina, Kyoto, in 1050, to Marcus Aurelius's "The Urge to Linger in a Warm Bed."

If you are familiar with Countée Cullen, you'll be drawn to And Bid Him Sing by Charles Molesworth (University of Chicago, $30), the first comprehensive biography of "the poet laureate of Harlem." If you are not familiar with the poet whose most familiar line may be "What is Africa to me?" you will be drawn to the book by the cover: Winold Reiss's striking pastel portrait. --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

Gifts for Bookworms; A Bibliophile Wedding; Brilliant Book Ads

'Tis the season. The Huffington Post showcased some "gifts for bookworms: 10 clever ideas for readers and writers."

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Offbeat Wedding shared photos of Cindy & Sam's "geeky bibliophile wedding," which included a book arch, an engagement shoot at the Seattle Public Library, a haiku page and books decorating the aisles and tables.

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"You kids don't read anymore!" Buzzfeed found "10 brilliant book ads" that tried to remedy the situation.

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Ever wonder what writers think about movies made from their books? Flavorwire highlighted "authors' funniest responses to the film adaptations of their work."

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If "you want to understand this transformation, from the rise of oxygen in the atmosphere to the mass deaths of the dinosaurs," io9 offers the "10 books you absolutely must read to understand the history of earth."

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"You wear amber-colored contact lenses to show solidarity with vampires who only feast on the blood of animals." Word & Film revealed "11 signs you're a Twi-hard Twilight fan."

Consortium: Bookslinger

Great Reads

Further Reading: Queen Elizabeth Behind the Scenes

Queen Elizabeth II is undeniably elegant, reserved, unflagging in her attention to her many duties and fond of her corgis and horses. But despite her decades in the public eye (and her appearance with James Bond--er, Daniel Craig--at the opening ceremonies of the London Olympic games), she remains largely an enigma. Who is the woman behind the royal façade?

William Kuhn takes a quirky, fresh approach to this question in his debut novel, Mrs Queen Takes the Train. Already feeling depressed and rather fed up with her endless round of appearances and charity events, Elizabeth is saddened by the prime minister's news that the Royal Train will soon be decommissioned. Disguised in a hoodie, she walks out of Buckingham Palace and hops a train to Scotland, headed for the royal yacht Britannia, moored near Edinburgh. Followed by half a dozen members of her household, she traverses the length of the country, meeting some rather unusual members of her public along the way. Kuhn deftly intertwines the story of Elizabeth's reign with the lives of six vastly different people, none of whom will remain unchanged by their journey.

Kuhn slips in a sly reference to another fictional portrait of the queen: Alan Bennett's charming novella The Uncommon Reader. Discovering a bookmobile on the palace grounds one day, the queen (accompanied by her corgis) stops in to investigate. Feeling duty-bound to check out a book, she surprises herself and the royal household by becoming an avid reader, interrupting her packed schedule to steal a few more pages and upsetting everyone from her husband to the Prime Minister.

For a more factual but equally interesting look at the queen, Andrew Marr's biography promises to show readers The Real Elizabeth. Marr explores Elizabeth's family history and historical context before painting a detailed portrait of her long reign. He touches on politics, economics, the delicate interplay between the queen and Parliament, and the royal family's problems in recent decades. He ends with speculations on the future of the monarchy in a rapidly changing Britain. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Loyola Press: The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis

The Writer's Life

Ken Jennings: It's Science. Really.

Author Ken Jennings (photo: Cathy Jennings)  

Ken Jennings, best known for his lengthy winning streak on Jeopardy, takes on the myths and rules passed down by generations of parents in his newest book, Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales, and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids (Scribner; reviewed below). Jennings examines the scientific evidence for a number of these parental rules--e.g., don't swim for an hour after eating--and judges the accuracy of each one with a true/false scale and a healthy dose of humor.

What inspired you to write on this topic? Do you have any experiences breaking the rules you got from your parents, only to find out they were right or wrong?

The book was born a couple years ago when my son, Dylan, who was then six, was running around with a lollipop sticking out of his mouth. I told him to sit down, because if he fell, the lollipop could puncture the back of his throat and go straight into his brain. He was fascinated by this idea. "Could it REALLY?" I realized I had no idea, so I appealed to my mom, who had always terrified us with this same warning when I was a kid. She admitted, "I have no idea. I heard it from Grandma when I was a little girl!" That's when I realized that these stories propagate for generations without anyone actually fact-checking them. But parents still have to act 100% sure about them, that's what I love. Kids are like bears, you can't show any uncertainty or they'll pounce. I decide I would write a book that would do the fact-checking for you, so parents could actually be sure and right. Also, kids of all ages would know when they'd been lied to.

How did you compile such a large list of parental warnings? How much is from your own family, and how much from other sources?

The list started with my own childhood, of course, but that well ran dry when I got to about 50 myths. At that point, I started bugging friends (and acquaintances, and people sitting next to me on airplanes...) for their own parenting clichés, because I wanted at least 50 more in the book. Turns out this isn't something you can really research at a library--it has to be anecdotal data. Towards the end, I got desperate and outsourced the question to the Internet. In particular, the hivemind at Reddit.com was very helpful. But I look at the book now, and I recognize at least 75% of the material from my own childhood. My parents were huge nags, I guess.

What was the best experience in writing this book? 

The kids really liked the myths we tested firsthand. We wanted to see how big a mess you could really make with shaken-up soda cans, so we went out to the backyard with a 24-pack. My son held the stopwatch, and my daughter held the umbrella. We felt like Ben Franklin with the kite, real guerrilla science. SPOILER WARNING: soda explosions just don't happen anymore, for whatever reason. Give the can 10-15 seconds to "rest," and it'll open like it was never shaken at all. (Also, tapping on the top of the can doesn't do a damn thing.)

What was the most challenging  part about writing it?

I'm discovering the repercussions of writing this book are only beginning. Here is what happens at least once a week at our house now. My wife: "Stop reading in the dark, kids, it's bad for your eyes!" Me (not looking up from phone): "No, it's actually not. Go right ahead, kids." She says I am undermining her parenting, but IT'S NOT ME, HONEY. IT'S SCIENCE. Actually, now it's even worse than that, because my son just read the book cover to cover. So now he's the one saying, "I don't have to sit up straight. It's in Dad's book." So this may be the book that saves millions of childhoods but ends my marriage.

What's your go-to "because I said so" with your own kids?

Writing the book, I found that the research for "go to bed early" is pretty iffy. Some people are just night-owls, and a lot of studies show that evening sleep isn't inherently more virtuous than early-morning sleep. But I still make my kids go to bed at 8:30--or whatever time they're starting to annoy me, really. I tell them it will extend their lives, and, luckily, they haven't asked too many follow-up questions about that yet.

Oh, I also tell them that the car doesn't run if they sing along with the radio. This is not supported by science, as far as I can tell.

Do you have any holiday-themed "because I said so" warnings or traditions? 

My parents always told us poinsettia leaves were poisonous, have you heard this one? Not true at all--apparently it goes back to a single misdiagnosis in Honolulu in 1944. So eat all the poinsettia you like, kids. Also, there's never been a single recorded case of anyone getting sick from eating snow.

What's your next project?

I'm writing a series of children's books for Simon & Schuster at the moment. Amazing-true-facts books, which I couldn't get enough of when I was a kid. I told them my only demand was that the book prominently feature an owl wearing glasses and a graduation hat. Kids just trust owls wearing glasses and graduation hats, I don't know why but they do. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

HarperOne: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Book Review

Fiction

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

by Ayana Mathis

Ayana Mathis won the author lottery when Oprah Winfrey announced that her debut novel is the next book club pick. Winfrey, who decided to select it before she finished the first chapter, said that while reading the book, she knew she was "witnessing a great writer's career begin." Cue media frenzy, leaping sales and comparisons to Toni Morrison.

These accolades are not undeserved. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie is a stirring, soulful novel that spans 60 years and is told in many rich and varied voices. It's the story of one formidable woman, and of her children--the "tribes"--at different stages of their sprawling lives. It's the story of the Great Migration, and of its ripping, aching effects across the 20th century.

The book consists of 12 distinct narratives that never lose sight of the titular Hattie as the book's soul and core. She is made of grit and steel, a woman hardened by disillusionment and circumstance who knows that her children do not think her kind. "They didn't understand that all the love she had was used up on feeding them and clothing them and preparing them to meet the world," Hattie reflects. "The world would not love them; the world would not be kind."

And it wasn't.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie wallops you from the first chapter, but the book's emotional power grows with the story as the decades pass and the scope of this family's life is revealed. Full of hard revelations and unlikely redemptions, Hattie is an ambitious debut by a writer who has just been fast-tracked to worthy success. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice

Discover: A powerful, aching, richly layered novel of the Great Migration centered on one courageous, flawed woman.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9780385350280

Putnam: Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by Jan Karon

The Book of Neil

by Frank Turner Hollon

It's 2012 and Jesus returns to earth, to a "fair little city," where he is ignored, dismissed and scoffed at as "another mentally ill street preacher." Then one day Jesus, wearing "a grayish robe tied by a thick rope around the waist... his hair... long and swept across his shoulders with each practice swing" strikes up a conversation on the Crystal Creek golf course with Neil, a middle-aged man in familial and financial crises. Jesus, desperate for media attention in a world driven by and preoccupied with technology, materialism and self-indulgence, enlists Neil's help. The two hatch a plan to rob a bank to benefit their mutually desired goals.

The hilariously flawed execution of their plan snowballs in Frank Turner Hollon's The Book of Neil, a smart, amusing story about faith and the nature of belief in the modern world. Hollon (Blood and Circumstance, Austin and Emily) narrates Jesus's return to earth via the points of view of those whose lives He touches, an array of believers and doubters: Neil, suffering pre- and post-robbery panic; the skeptical police chief; a bank teller who feels a sudden "peace come over her" during the robbery; a New York Times reporter eager to tell the story of the "Jesus-Bandit"; even the president of the United States.

Unexpected twists and turns shape this engrossing, satirical novel. At the end, on the rapid approach to a chilling climax, the story suddenly emerges in a new light and Hollon's literary craftsmanship leaps from mere entertainment into a much deeper, thought-provoking epiphany. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An engrossing, entertaining story about Jesus's return to earth and His efforts to make His presence known.

MacAdam/Cage, $20, hardcover, 9781596923850

Ecco: Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda

Sandalwood Death

by Mo Yan , trans. by Howard Goldblatt

Mo Yan's re-creation of the Boxer Rebellion begins, as it will end, with first-person narratives by voluptuous Meiniang and the four men in her life: her father, an opera singer leading the rebellion against German railroad workers; her husband, a dull, muscular butcher of dogs and pigs; her father-in-law, the imperial executioner assigned to punish the rebel leader; and her rich lover, the magistrate who betrays her father to the foreign invaders. The plot of Sandalwood Death has all the ingredients of an operatic tragedy; indeed, the monologues that form the opening and closing chapters each begin with lyrics from a Chinese folk opera based on the same story.

Zhao Jia, the imperial executioner, is such a cold-blooded, ruthless fellow that only the novel's first sentence, revealing that the heroine will stab him to death in seven days, gives the reader the courage to continue as Zhao Jia performs hideously cruel executions, as well as abusing and tormenting the more likable pawns in this dark, suspenseful love story. Fortunately, the heroine's not-so-bright husband provides comic relief, blundering along good-naturedly, blind to the obvious, falling out of bed when she screams in her sleep with desire for another man.

Mo Yan is a mesmerizing and daring storyteller, constantly showing the other side of characters you thought you knew. It's only near the end of this huge novel that Mo Yan gives us a glimpse of the staggering finale he has painstakingly prepared--a once-in-a-lifetime ending no reader will ever, ever forget. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: Nobel laureate Mo Yan's tangled operatic love story set against the Boxer Rebellion is wildly creative and frequently horrific in bringing to life the last dynasty's collapse.

University of Oklahoma Press, $24.95, paperback, 9780806143392

The Light of Amsterdam

by David Park

In The Light of Amsterdam, David Park (The Truth Commissioner) puts three families on the same flight from Ireland to Amsterdam. They have different reasons for making the trip, but they all bring the problems of home with them.

A father, with a ticket to a Bob Dylan concert, tries to recapture the person he was when he was an art student in Amsterdam, but his ex-wife is going on a trip with her new man, so he has to bring his sullen and uncommunicative 17-year-old son along with him.

A mother is invited to go on a "hen party" with her daughter and her friends. She is reluctant because it is costly and she isn't interested in drinking and carousing--but she will do anything for her daughter, which she proves before story's end.

A 60-something couple want to get away from business and their everyday lives, the husband treating his wife to a birthday weekend. She is a bundle of insecurities because he gave her a gym membership as well. Does he have a younger woman? Is she beginning to fade in his eyes? How can she make his stay more pleasant? Her "solution" brings into sharp relief the disparity between his attitude toward their marriage and hers.

Park has these characters occasionally cross paths as they make their separate ways through Amsterdam--sometimes just a glance, other times sharing a more meaningful exchange. They will all leave significantly changed in just a few days, knowing more about themselves than when they left. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A weekend in Amsterdam, rendered sensitively and with great insight, brings new understanding and perspective to three families.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781608197026

Food & Wine

When I Met Food: Living the American Restaurant Dream

by Kathy Sidell

People often cite financial independence or the desire to become "masters of their own destiny" as reasons for starting their own businesses. These two reasons, as well as financial hardship after her divorce, pushed Kathy Sidell into the restaurant business following a successful stint as a film producer. After working as a cook in her sister's restaurant, Sidell went into business on her own and launched a Boston restaurant empire providing sophisticated, upscale cuisine to casual diners. When I Met Food offers glimpses of her tony past and a love of food passed down from her father, a restaurant financier who backed some of Boston's most renowned celebrity chefs, including Todd English, Jasper White and Steve DeFillippo.

Sidell's self-promotional personal history also contains many revelations about her success--from her sage business acumen and a discerning eye for great hospitality to the ability to anticipate trends before they happen. (There are also recipes culled from family, friends and her restaurants' menus.) Confident, bold and with a strong sense of self, Sidell offers the most obvious, but often forgotten, tips and tricks on the art of managing and growing a business while describing how she preserved her personal and artistic integrity in a male-dominated profession. In her brief stint as a restaurateur, Kathy Sidell has managed to create her own take on the American Dream. --Nancy Powell

Discover: The Letitia Baldrige of restaurant hospitality recounts her rise to the top of Boston's male-dominated culinary scene.

Bibliomotion, $24.95, hardcover, 9781937134310

The North End Italian Cookbook: The Bestselling Classic Featuring Even More Authentic Family Recipes

by Marguerite Dimino Buonopane

"There's more to a cookbook than its recipes," Marguerite DiMino Buonopane notes in the introduction to this new edition of her classic cookbook. So true. Based on Buonopane's family recipes, The North End Italian Cookbook was originally published as a fundraiser for her local community center, where she hosted popular weekly luncheons and taught cooking classes at night. The volume quickly sold, becoming a staple in the kitchens of her Boston neighborhood and beyond. In the late 1980s, Buonopane was approached by a major publisher, and The North End Italian Cookbook has been in print ever since. For the new edition, Buonopane has added to her collection of family-style recipes and updated the preparation recommendations, hoping she can help a new generation of cooks create delicious Italian meals at home.

The cookbook is arranged from antipasto to dessert, and each recipe has been chosen with simplicity and practicality in mind. Buonopane prefers to take her readers through each recipe with clearly numbered steps, and complements them on the page with personal anecdotes and an assortment of photographs that feature food and other aspects of Italian life. While she includes all the expected classic Italian dishes, those interested in moving beyond the tried-and-true favorites won't be disappointed.

If The North End Italian Cookbook is already in your collection, this might be a good time to update your edition. If it isn't yet on your shelf, this new version will make the perfect addition. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore

Discover: A newly expanded and updated edition of Marguerite DiMino Buonopane's well-loved classic.

Lyons Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9780762781904

Biography & Memoir

Death in Persia

by Annemarie Schwarzenbach , trans. by Lucy Renner Jones

"This book will bring little joy to the reader," Annemarie Schwarzenbach (1908-1942) warns on the first page of the posthumously published Death in Persia, but she's dead wrong. The exhilaration of her writing far outweighs the desperate sadness of her vision. Schwarzenbach was a Swiss lesbian who dressed like a man, quarreled with her wealthy, Nazi-supporting family, married a homosexual French photographer, became a morphine addict, befriended the suicidal son of Thomas Mann, rejected the love of young Carson McCullers and ultimately died after falling off a bicycle at age 34.

This collection of fragments chronicles her four trips to Persia between 1933 and 1939, beginning a few weeks after the Shah gave women the right to go unveiled. Wrestling with mysterious, debilitating illnesses, fighting off loneliness and depression, struggling through the vast, hostile landscape--not to mention several conversations with an angel--it isn't long before Schwarzenbach is running out of strength and wishing to die in the solitude of the Persian plains.

Only the slim thread of hope generated by her secret passion for the lovely Jalé threatens to interrupt the hopelessness of the desert, but Jalé's father nips it in the bud, and the loss of her lover removes the narrator's last real reason for living.

This is travel writing on the edge of hallucination, prose poems that are half-Kerouac and half-Rimbaud, elliptical, lyrical sketches of a Persia lost forever. Her writing sweeps past the solitary columns of Persepolis, through sand-swept cemeteries and ruins, haunted by the sorrowful clanging of caravan bells on passing camels. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: Annemarie Schwarzenbach's collection of literary fragments documenting her travels through Afghanistan and Iran remained unpublished for more than a half-century after her death.

Seagull Books, $15, hardcover, 9780857420893

Saul Steinberg: A Biography

by Deirdre Bair

Many people may not know Saul Steinberg by name. Show them a few of his thousands of New Yorker illustrations, and they might know who you're talking about. But then mention the work that most embodied his irony and sketchbook way of storytelling--his endlessly reproduced and adapted New Yorker cover from 1976 "View of the World from 9th Avenue"--and everyone nods and says "Oh, that guy."

The accomplished biographer Deirdre Bair (Samuel Beckett, Anaïs Nin) admirably fleshes out the complicated life of a man who brought smiles, puzzling looks and outright laughs to so many. Saul Steinberg was an immigrant Romanian with a tyrannical mother who fell in love with his adopted United States. Although an inveterate traveler, he was considered the quintessential New York City resident. He leveraged a modest annual New Yorker stipend into a significant fortune by preserving the rights to his art and carefully investing the proceeds from reprints and commercial commissions. A lifetime philanderer, he nonetheless remained attached to two women for decades and financially supported them both after separation. Shy and introverted, Steinberg became a devoted and generous friend to everyone from Ionesco to Ian Frazier and conversationally dominated the frequent dinner parties in his robust social calendar.

With access to Steinberg's friends, letters and personal archives, Bair is able to weave together the subtleties of the contradictory man behind the art, a tribute to the life of an artist who defined the ambience of the New Yorker for nearly five decades. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A National Book Award winner for her Beckett bio, Bair digs behind the squiggly lines and quirky humor of the New Yorker's most recognizable "cartoonist."

Nan A. Talese, $40, hardcover, 9780385524483

Essays & Criticism

Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim

by Francesca Serritella , Lisa Scottoline

For mystery novelist Lisa Scottoline and her daughter, Francesca Serritella, every odd, humorous or touching incident is worth writing down (and calling each other about). In Meet Me at Emotional Baggage Claim, the third book of essays collected from their weekly Philadelphia Inquirer column, they discuss dating, fashion, life in the country with assorted pets (Lisa) and in tiny New York apartments (Francesca), and the ins and outs of their loving but complicated relationship. Lisa's octogenarian mother Mary--half deaf, sharp-tongued and feisty--also makes frequent appearances; estrogen-induced arguments are common, but fortunately all three women are as warmhearted as they are sarcastic.

Lisa, now an empty nester, worries constantly about Francesca in the big city. Is her building secure enough? Will she find a nice guy? Will she remember to bring a sweater, even in the summer? Francesca, for her part, struggles with the vagaries of online shopping, starting her career and growing mushrooms (a gift from Lisa) in her apartment. And Mother Mary drives Lisa nuts by watching TV at FULL VOLUME, but Francesca deploys her skills as the Grandmother Whisperer to keep the peace.

This collection is a mixed bag: some essays are truly hilarious, while others are bogged down by mundane details and Lisa's constant wisecracks about her two divorces. But the brief essays provide a quick shot of humor, and the honest musings on the mother-daughter bond will resonate with many women. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Honest, often hilarious musings on the mother-daughter bond from a mystery novelist and her adult daughter.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312640088

Through the Window: Seventeen Essays and a Short Story

by Julian Barnes

For readerly readers, Through the Window, a collection of trenchant essays by Booker Prize-winner Julian Barnes (The Sense of an Ending) will be a joy. In the preface, Barnes ruminates on the art itself--reading, that is--and even chimes in on the great 21st-century debate: "I have no Luddite prejudice against new technology, it's just that books look as if they contain knowledge, while e-readers look as if they contain information."

In spirited, insightful essays, Barnes speaks well of his fellow British writers: Penelope Fitzgerald, Orwell, Kipling, Arthur Hugh Clough and (on more than one occasion) Ford Madox Ford. The Good Soldier, Ford's masterpiece, "is a novel which constantly asks how to tell a story, which pretends to fail at narrative while richly succeeding," Barnes observes, then comments, "It needs the Good Reader."

He also writes about foreigners, including some Americans. Many of his French subjects are surprising--Chamfort, Merimee, Feneon, Houellebecq--but he also touches upon Flaubert and the impossibility of translating Madame Bovary. Then it's on to Edith Wharton, the "clever, witty" Lorrie Moore, an "Homage to Hemingway" (that's the short story) and a remembrance for John Updike. On hearing of Updike's death, Barnes writes, he had a "feeling of disappointment that Stockholm had never given him the nod." He admits, like many, to not reading all Updike's books, but he honors him with a "reader's raised glass," a toast to his prodigious output and to, above all, the Rabbit Quartet, which considered as a whole, is "still the greatest postwar American novel." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A terrific collection of essays for readers who love books and the people who know how to write them, like Julian Barnes.

Vintage, $15.95, paperback, 9780345805508

Children's & Young Adult

Twelve Kinds of Ice

by Ellen Bryan Obed , illus. by Barbara McClintock

The rituals and humor connected with a timeless childhood experience unspool seemingly without effort from author and artist in this intimate volume.

A book for the entire family, Twelve Kinds of Ice may be read in one sitting and returned to again and again. Ellen Bryan Obed, who grew up (and still resides) in Maine, describes the harbingers of winter's great gift: ice strong enough to hold a community of figure skaters and hockey players, at a rink they call Bryan Gardens. "The first ice came on the sheep pails in the barn--a skim of ice so thin that it broke when we touched it," she writes, as Barbara McClintock portrays a toddler breaking the pail's surface. Other meditations capture the wonderment of transformation: "Stream ice," at the spot where the Bryan family fished for trout in the spring; and "what was our vegetable garden in summer became our skating rink in winter" ("Garden ice"), a 100' x 50' magnet for skaters near and far.

The author introduces a breathtaking two-page vista of the Great Pond, half an hour away, as the children speed the length of the lake on "a day of black ice and silver"; McClintock draws the children on their silver blades amid the majesty of the surrounding shoreline, boulders and coves. It's an homage to the simple pleasures, accompanied only by sounds of laughter, skates piercing the ice and the occasional tussle over whether it's time for pucks or spirals. --Jennfier M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An intimate volume that captures the feeling of unity between child and nature while ice skating under the vast sky.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 64p., ages 6-9, 9780618891290

The Almost Truth

by Eileen Cook

Eileen Cook (Unraveling Isobel) creates the ideal read for teens who are sure they were switched at birth.

Sadie's home is a trailer. Her mother works as a maid and her father is a career criminal who spends more time in jail than with his family. Sadie desperately wants to leave all this behind, so she's counting the days (and the money she makes on petty cons, thanks to a few tips from her father) until she can leave for college. No, Sadie is not like her dad; she just needs money for books and expenses. But when her mom wipes out Sadie's entire bank account, which was meant to be her down payment to UC Berkeley, Sadie knows she's screwed.

Then Sadie sees a flyer for Ava McKenna, a child who went missing 15 years earlier, and the age-enhanced photo looks a lot like Sadie. There's also a reward of $250,000. With the help of her best friend, Brendan, who's "like a con genius savant," Sadie has hopes of getting the reward and "leaving the old me behind." As they investigate the disappearance to find an angle for the con, strange coincidences suggest that Sadie might, in fact, be Ava. But this seems like just another escapist fantasy. And who would Sadie be, anyway, if she's not who she believes herself to be? Readers will be swept along on the twists and turns of Sadie's journey to find her true identity, inside and out. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI

Discover: A novel about pulling the ultimate con, with Sadie trying to remake her entire life.

Simon Pulse, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 14-up, 9781442440197

Reference & Writing

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids

by Ken Jennings

Ken Jennings holds the record for the longest winning streak on Jeopardy! so it should come as no surprise that he is a quintessential trivia junkie with a knack and passion for disseminating nerdy truths. In Because I Said So!, he sets about debunking or proving 125 of the white lies parents innocently pass onto their offspring, applying scientific research to evaluate each one.

Among the rules of thumb Jennings reveals as false are the myth of the poisoned Halloween candy (absolutely no reported instances, ever), the vaunted five-second rule (it's dirt when it hits the ground) and the saying that the first answer is always the right one ("students are more likely to remember the times that an answer worked out badly because they feel cheated by the last minute switch that cost them the question"). While flushing toilets do release an untold amount of flying filth, bathroom sinks are an even worse culprit. One particular insight that should invoke the "I told you" card by parents lies in the adage, "These are the best years of your lives... enjoy them." The thought generates a cheeky response: "Studies always demonstrate that having kids around, no matter how old, is a great way to lower your net happiness."

Fast-talking, witty and filled with puns that will amuse as much as they educate, Because I Said So will make most readers think twice before passing on these falsehoods--until the desire for revenge sets in and the gleeful rites of hereditary karma continue. --Nancy Powell

Discover: Ken Jennings's hilarious new collection unmasks the truths behind all the myths and warnings moms and dads pass on to unsuspecting offspring.

Scribner, $19.99, hardcover, 9781451656251

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