Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 5, 2013


Shadow Mountain: Christmas Jars Collector's Edition by Jason F. Wright

From My Shelf

Tarcherperigee: Holiday Must-Haves!

Thunder Bay Press: The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in Lego by Nathan Sawaya

Learning to Make Things Up

A delight for mystery lovers is discovering a good writer with a good series. Brad Parks's fourth novel featuring New Jersey reporter Carter Ross, The Good Cop, has just been published by Minotaur and, as expected, is more than fine. His novels cover serious issues--drugs, house flipping and political corruption. The Good Cop deals with the illegal gun trade between Virginia and New Jersey. We asked him why. "As a reporter in Newark, I covered the devastation caused by illegal guns for years. I always knew those guns didn't come from New Jersey--gun control laws there are too strict. But I didn't understand how loose they were elsewhere until I moved south. It doesn't take much effort to buy a trunk-load of guns, file off serial numbers and drive up north--I-95 is called 'the iron pipeline'--to sell them."

Parks added that, in a way, this is his first novel--as a career journalist, he had it seared into his soul not to make up stuff. "The first three books are based on stories I covered, and I wrote them like everything had to be double-sourced. This book deals with a real issue, but the story is invented. It took four books for me to realize a novelist is allowed to do that."

Parks's previous book, The Girl Next Door, was just nominated for the Lefty Award for the best humorous mystery of the year. In The Good Cop, Uncle Bernie and Gene are a particular riot. Parks said, "My characters are real people who just happen to live in my head (there's a lot of room up there). I can see them. I can hear them. So it's just a question of transcribing the interesting things they say when they start yapping." Adam Verner, who did the audio version (Dreamscape Media), told Parks he thought Uncle Bernie was quite possibly the most fun he'd ever had narrating a character. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness


Da Capo Lifelong Books: Veganomicon, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero


Book Candy

Books About and From Music; Jane Austen Stamps

Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Paul Muldoon, whose latest collection is The Word on the Street: Rock Lyrics, chose his five best rock-and-roll books for the Daily Beast.

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Admitting that he is "nervous suggesting any books about music since such a list would undoubtedly infuriate as much as intrigue," Howard Goodall, author of The Story of Music, nonetheless chose his "top 10 music books" for the Guardian.

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"What if best-selling albums had been books instead?" British designer Christophe Gowans created "14 classic albums reimagined as books."

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Can you name the 25 most common three-letter words in the English language? Mental Floss has a pop quiz for you.

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A new set of stamps featuring illustrations of Jane Austen's six novels are available in the U.K., the Guardian reported.


Bonhomie Press: The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel by Erika Mallman


Great Reads

The Aya Chronicles

At the highest watermark of graphic novels, only Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home share space with the gorgeous and deliciously fun Aya chronicles from Drawn and Quarterly, written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clément Oubrerie. Like the Botswana mysteries of Alexander McCall Smith, the Aya books celebrate the everyday, realistic joys of African life, and though the super-rich and super-poor find themselves uncomfortably thrown together, the politics are always human ones.

The initial volume, Aya, released in 2007, focuses on three teenage girlfriends--Aya, Bintou and Adjoua--growing up in Yop City, a working-class neighborhood of Abidjan on the Ivory Coast. Adjoua discovers she's pregnant and blames Bintou's rich boyfriend, resulting in a forced wedding; then, the baby is born looking very much like... someone else.

The sequel the following year, Aya of Yop City, has Aya continuing to study for college, lovingly tending Adjoua's child, teaching Bintou's gawky cousin to read so he can go to school, training the family maid to enter the local beauty contest, and discovering that her father has another wife and kids.

The third volume, Aya: The Secrets Come Out, published in hardcover in 2009, features the climactic Miss Youpougon Beauty Pageant, a number of fathers doing the wrong thing, and two gay friends planning an escape, ending in a multi-decker cliffhanger in which all the plot threads seem to be flying out of control.

All three of these original hardcovers were combined into a handsome, single-volume trade paperback, Aya: Life in Yop City ($24.95), the usual Drawn and Quarterly first-class production, and are now joined by a new paperback, Aya: Love in Yop City ($24.95), with three all-new installments of Aya's story.

Marguerite Abouet lived in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, for the first 12 years of her life, then moved to Paris, where she collaborates with her French illustrator husband, Clément Oubrerie, to bring the characters of her childhood to life. This new collection plunges favorite characters into new dilemmas, bringing together unlikely allies and picking up more than a dozen previous plot threads--gay hairdresser Innocent is now a homeless immigrant in Paris; Bintou is stalking the powerful medical professor whose sexual advances Aya has rebuffed--all building to one of the series' trademark surprises. Abouet and Oubrerie are masters at teasing. Unidentified characters creep through the shadows of the Thousand Star Hotel, mistaking each other and discovering each other. The shenanigans are pure farce, brought to life with just enough reality.

Oubrerie's nimble, effortless drawing captures myriad facial expressions. Top that off with his luscious African color palette, and you have a teenage soap opera captured by art that occasionally opens up into full-page spreads ablaze with daring, dynamic colorwork.

Dozens of individualized characters crowd these pages--in particular, four very different young women embarking on their lives, complicated by well-meaning, misunderstanding parents with their own problems. Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie deliver a tale that's perpetually surprising and animated by genuinely likable characters--a domestic epic splattered with sun-scorched color. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.


Lion Forge: Generations by Flavia Biondi


Book Review

Fiction

The Encounter

by Crawford Power


Crawford Power's The Encounter, first published in 1950, is a novel about spiritual salvation and eternal damnation that moves with the anticipatory pleasures of a thriller. Set in bucolic Maryland and boisterous Philadelphia, it follows the actions of Father Cawder, an overly scrupulous, seemingly cold priest whose meeting with a carnival performer and his sexually charged girlfriend serves as "the encounter" on which the novel pivots.

Power is nearly flawless in his portrayal of Father Cawder, who shows genuine concern for the souls of others but lacks the social graces and the small, human touches that build relationships--a flaw that makes his benign gestures go awry. His benevolent act for Stella, the carnival performer's girlfriend, sets off a string of events that end in calamity. Cawder, who has prided himself throughout the novel as a man of sound judgment and moral discernment, is forced to confront his own failings as he encounters the gulf between the man he perceives himself to be and the man he really is.

The novel's mid-century Catholic milieu will no doubt draw comparisons to Graham Greene and Flannery O'Connor, and it is a testament to Power's abilities that these comparisons are not hyperbole. For all the complex ideas brimming under the surface and its austere protagonist, The Encounter is a fine, readable novel that merits discovery by a new generation of readers. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: Overlook brings back an out-of-print masterwork that is part spiritual meditation and part taut thriller.

Overlook, $16.95, paperback, 9780879511913

Storey Publishing: Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake! by Deanna F. Cook


Jacob’s Folly

by Rebecca Miller


Jacob's Folly is a robust and brash philosophical romp in which Rebecca Miller examines faith, history and contemporary American life from the viewpoint of a most unusual protagonist.

Once a Jewish peddler in 18th-century France, Jacob awakens in the present day thrilled to discover he now possesses wings and telepathic abilities. At first, he's certain God has turned him into an angel and sent him to watch over two unrelated people, a determinedly good man named Leslie Senzatimore and an enticing but frail Ultra-Orthodox girl called Masha. After his previous life with a mentally handicapped wife and constant degradation at the hands of Christians, Jacob definitely feels he deserves honor and grandeur this go-round. Just as he accepts the mantle of seraphim, though, he looks into the mirror only to learn that he isn't an angel after all. God, or the equivalent force, has reincarnated him as a housefly. Furious at getting the short end of the karmic stick, Jacob vows revenge, setting out to lure Masha from her faith and break Leslie's unwavering pattern of good deeds. 

Miller's narrative incorporates such disparate threads as the psychology of a constant rescuer, the strictures of Ultra-Orthodox Judaism and the prejudice Jews faced in 1773 France without ever showing a seam. Deep insight into her characters allows Miller to take considerable plotting risks with rich returns. Part historical fiction, part contemporary family drama, Jacob's story connects three lives in surprising ways and could destroy or save them all. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: In this philosophical romp, a Jewish peddler from 18th-century France is reincarnated as a modern American housefly.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374178543

Wings of Glass

by Gina Holmes


Love is blind, literally and figuratively, in Gina Holmes's Wings of Glass. The story begins in a rural small town in 1999, when 18-year-old Penny Carson falls in love with Trent Taylor, a farmhand oozing bravado. The two have a whirlwind romance; when they decide to elope, Penny leaves a note for her disapproving parents telling them they shouldn't come looking for her. Surprisingly, they don't.

Fast-forward a decade: Penny, black-and-blue and beaten down, is living an isolated, poverty-stricken life with Trent, a flagrant alcoholic who vacillates between violent abuse and repentance. Penny chronically makes excuses for him; she's determined to get pregnant, believing a baby might salvage their marriage.

But when a fuel line explodes and blinds Trent on his welding job, Penny is forced to go in search of work to support them. Callie Mae, an older church-going woman aware of Penny's marital situation, offers her a job cleaning houses. Callie Mae and Fatimah, a Sudanese coworker, become Penny's friends, and the three forge a bond united by their sordid pasts.

Holmes (Crossing Oceans) writes this searing faith-based narrative from Penny's point of view, which lends authority to the psychological drama inherent in the pull-and-tug of abusive relationships. In the end, providence and friendship have the power to work together for good, but only if Penny will finally admit to her husband's bad behavior. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A suspenseful, faith-based narrative about a woman caught in an abusive relationship.

Tyndale House, $13.99, paperback, 9781414366418

The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee

by Carolyn Brown


Carolyn Brown's The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeño Society Jubilee introduces us to Cadillac, Tex., where the jalapeños are hot, but not as hot as the rivalries among the women. We meet five friends--twins Cathy and Marty; Darla Jean, a reformed madam now preaching at the local church; Trixie, cheated on by the odious and charismatic Andy; and old Aunt Agnes--as they romp through festivals, weddings planned and unplanned and the machinations of The Club (as the titular society is popularly known). Meanwhile, Anna Ruth and Violet, unloved by the quintet, scheme to make their lives miserable.

Cathy is engaged to Ethan, the stuffed shirt son of Violet, the self-appointed grande dame of Cadillac, but she wonders if she and Ethan are really in love. There is no evidence--at least nothing like the steamy scenes in her favorite erotic romances. What Cathy doesn't know is that her sister, Marty--who enjoys life to the max and never met a cowboy she wouldn’t sleep with--is the author of those books. Violet and her attorney present Cathy with a prenup which they think is a slam dunk, but Cathy surprises them--and herself.

Between all of these feisty characters and a very hot competition over who's got the best jalapeño recipe, Brown keeps it lively with tart and raunchy dialogue, situations that will make you laugh out loud, ancient rivalries revisited and the hope that friendship will triumph over all. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Cadillac, Tex., is the backdrop for fun and games and dirty tricks played out by friends and frenemies alike.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99, paperback, 9781402281266

The Accursed

by Joyce Carol Oates


Joyce Carol Oates likes gothics. The Accursed, originally written in 1984, is a powerful return to the sort of incendiary terrain she explored in the National Book Award-winning Them.

The novel is presented as having been written/compiled by a contemporary historian who tells us in an author's note that the tragic events he recounts took place in "accursed" Princeton, N.J. The story is a vast tapestry, its fictional chronicler thorough to a fault, a sign of Oates's own great effort in re-creating the "real" world of 1905. She sets the scene with references galore to furniture, flowers and herbs--along with historical figures like Princeton University president Woodrow Wilson and authors Jack London, Mark Twain and (a very favorably portrayed) Upton Sinclair.

The book opens with a young preacher who is deeply disappointed after a meeting with Wilson ("so keenly strung, he seemed at times to resemble a puppet jerked about by cruel, whimsical figures"), who doesn't share his anxiety about African Americans being hung in nearby Camden. Soon after, a frightening demon girl vanishes in a "paroxysm of flames," and the granddaughter of a former university president is lured out of the church during her own wedding--is a mysterious European count with strange eyes responsible?

Woven within this huge, Henry James-like Gothic is a latent, critically charged indictment of a society under a demonic urge: elitism, racism, prejudice. Immerse yourself in Oates's elaborate world and hang on for dear life. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A devastating social/political critique cleverly hidden in the sheep's clothing of an unassuming Gothic thriller.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062231703

Mystery & Thriller

Gods and Beasts

by Denise Mina


A week before Christmas, an armed man charges into a Glasgow post office as Martin Pavel waits to mail home gifts to his family. The older man in the line in front of Martin hands him his grandson and voluntarily helps the masked gunman--who shoots the old man dead as he leaves the building, leaving many unanswered questions for Martin and the investigating officer in the case, Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow.

Gods and Beasts, the third in Denise Mina's Alex Morrow series, is steeped in a mystery that goes far beyond the identity of the murderer. The reason behind the old man's assistance in the robbery--and the mystery surrounding Martin Pavel--add a richness and complexity to Mina's plot, while the tone of her prose creates a mysterious atmosphere to heighten the intrigue.

Mina has created a circus-like cast of characters, all with oddities that make them fascinating and engaging; each possesses hidden layers, beckoning readers to look at them closer and more deeply. As Martin explains, the novel's title originates with Aristotle: "Those who live outside the city walls, and are self-sufficient, are either Gods or Beasts." The ultimate mystery lies in who among the characters falls into which category.

Readers new to Denise Mina, or to the Alex Morrow series, can easily pick up Gods and Beasts without reading its predecessors, Still Midnight and The End of the Wasp Season. However, they should be forewarned that reading Gods and Beasts will likely lead to a Mina addiction. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A holiday murder-robbery in Glasgow sends Detective Sergeant Alex Morrow on the trail of a complex political network of crime.

Reagan Arthur, $25.99, hardcover, 9780316188524

Bear Is Broken

by Lachlan Smith


Lachlan Smith's Bear Is Broken introduces young defense attorney Leo Maxwell. The ink on Leo's bar card has barely dried as he's sitting in a café with his brother, Teddy, when a stranger walks in, shoots Teddy in the head and walks out.

Teddy Maxwell is a notorious defense attorney in San Francisco. Prosecutors and cops hate him; defendants love him. Still, was it an unhappy client who shot Teddy or arranged to have him shot? As Teddy fights for his life, Leo goes in search of answers, determined to bring the perpetrator to justice. In the process, he proves to be a refreshingly awkward novice. While his constant blunders and bad choices may be off-putting to some readers, they are appropriate to a newly accredited 20-something attorney who thinks he can take on the world, only to have the world prove otherwise.

Bear Is Broken is a fun thriller that works in a lot of information about the legal system without getting bogged down in jargon or detail, but it's also an examination of the relationship between two brothers. As Leo sets off to find his brother's killer, he also turns inward to figure out the conflicting emotions he's experiencing through this tragedy. Though Smith's humor occasionally falls flat, the plot of the novel is well constructed, with a plethora of red herrings and plenty of twists. Leo's tendency to immediately jump to the wrong conclusions will leave readers wondering who really done it right up to the end. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: In an impressive debut thriller, a murder attempt on a young lawyer's brother ignites a passionate search for the killer and answers about his past.

Mysterious Press, $24, hardcover, 9780802120793

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Blood's Pride

by Evie Manieri


Blood's Pride opens with a young man's memory of the kingdom of Shadar's vanquishing at the hands of the Norlanders, strange beings with pale skin "the color of death, marred by oozing purple sores," swarming upon a coastal fishing town "like walking dead, like living corpses." It would be fair to assume the novel focuses on the Shadari people's attempt to mount a revolution, and it does to some extent--but Evie Manieri has much bigger ambitions for her debut novel.

Manieri devotes as much attention to the conquering Norlanders as to their Shadari slaves, if not more; in fact, the Norlanders get what many might consider the more dramatic storyline. The three adult children of the ruling governor are all desperate to leave the remote outpost, but they're also still reeling from their mother's accidental death years earlier. When the rebellion finally comes, after the Shadari hire a ruthless female mercenary known as "The Mongrel" to lead them, it pushes the family trauma into the open. Meanwhile, Daryan, the young man from the prologue, is reluctantly forced into accepting his role as the Shadari's leader... even as he conducts a clandestine romance with one of the Norlander governor's daughters.

Manieri packs a lot of events into Blood's Pride (which takes its name from one of the Norlanders' magical swords); after a slow build, she maintains an unrelenting pace nearly all the way through. And though there are a number of unanswered questions at the novel's end, there's enough resolution to satisfy readers looking for one solid story. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com

Discover: Manieri's debut novel combines epic fantasy and family melodrama to rousing effect, with emotionally complex characters on every side of every conflict.

Tor, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765332349

Biography & Memoir

Here I Am: The Story of Tim Hetherington, War Photographer

by Alan Huffman


War photographer Tim Hetherington was a pro. He cut his teeth in the civil wars in Liberia, then followed the world's "trail of tears" to tsunami-stricken Sri Lanka, Darfur, Algeria, the U.S. army Restrepo outpost in Afghanistan and, finally, to the 2009 revolution in Libya--where, camera in hand, he was killed by Muammar Gaddafi's troops in the streets of Misrata.

In Here I Am, historian and journalist Alan Huffman (Mississippi in Africa) traces Hetherington's life from his student days in Cardiff ("he was tall, good-looking, affable, had a keen sense of humor, could party with the best of them, and sported a mass of long dreadlocks") to his last day, which he described in an e-mail just a few hours before the mortar attack that killed him: "Crazy day today. Full on city fight. It's an incredible story... and hardly anyone here."

Huffman's biography crackles with the authenticity of his own experience in Liberia and interviews with Hetherington and his colleagues, especially Sebastian Junger, his collaborator on the Academy Award-nominated documentary Restrepo. The portrait that emerges is not only one of an adrenaline-fueled war photographer, but also of a dedicated professional and humanitarian "intent on making connections across the void... to explain the world to the world through vivid and telling imagery." The impact of Hetherington's carefully chosen images will long outlast the fleeting amateur phone snaps from whatever conflict is trending on Twitter. --Bruce Jacobs

Discover: An in-depth, intense chronicle of the life and tragic death of war photographer Tim Hetherington.

Grove, $25, hardcover, 9780802120908

History

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II

by Denise Kiernan


Created in the fall of 1942, Oak Ridge, Tenn., the secret city--also known as "Site X"--housed the factories where uranium for the first atomic bombs was enriched. Young women traveled from around the country to fill the jobs at Oak Ridge--more than 75,000 at the factories' peak. Denise Kiernan's The Girls of Atomic City is a glimpse into the strange experience of working on a project whose nature was kept from them. Most expected to leave Oak Ridge as soon as the war was won, but many stayed on for decades. Due to the fine supply of handsome young men in uniform, a number of Kiernan's subjects would make families and homes there.

The stories of Jane the statistician, Virginia the chemist, Kattie the janitor and many more--based on interviews with the now elderly women who worked at Site X--are vivid and human in Kiernan's telling. The focus of the book briefly zooms out to cover the dropping of the atomic bomb and Truman's White House during the decision-making process, but then plunges back into Oak Ridge, where women who tested for leaks in pipes and kept tanks clean were rocked by the revelation of their work's ultimate results. Kiernan melds hard science and history with the moving stories of women caught in events bigger than themselves, whose experiences and whose work changed the world irrevocably. The result is a compelling and unusual new perspective on the Manhattan Project and World War II. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An evocative view of the Manhattan Project through the eyes of the women who worked and lived in the secret city of Oak Ridge, Tenn.

Touchstone, $27, hardcover, 9781451617528

Children's & Young Adult

A Little Book of Sloth

by Lucy Cooke


Lucy Cooke, who made a documentary for Animal Planet called Too Cute! Baby Sloths, here provides fascinating facts about these unusual mammals, along with stunning photographs (by herself and several other photographers). Did you know that it takes four weeks for a sloth to digest a meal? That three-fingered sloths are the only mammals on the planet with extra neck vertebrae? They can turn their heads up to 270 degrees. And yes, sloths do spend 70% of their time "resting."

Judy Arroyo is the "sloth whisperer." It all started when Buttercup, a three-fingered sloth just a few weeks old, turned up on her doorstep almost 20 years ago. As word of Buttercup's rescue spread, Arroyo's sloth population grew. Today she cares for 150 orphaned and injured animals at the Avairios del Caribe sloth sanctuary in Costa Rica. Photos capture the sloths in their few waking hours climbing jungle gyms, eating hot pink flowers and descending a tree to "do their business" (they eliminate only once a week). Cooke calls baby sloths the "Jedi masters of the hug." Mateo hugs a stuffed cow, Sunshine and Sammy hug each other and, "collectively, they form a cuddle puddle."

Any reader who witnesses the up-close photographs of the endearing thin-lined closed-mouth smiles, the wide-set button-black eyes and shiny wet noses of these mammal babies clutching a stuffed yellow rabbit, blankies and bears and doesn't say "Awww! That's so cute" has a heart of stone. --Lisa Von Drasek, blogger at EarlyWord and curator of the Children's Literature Research Collections

Discover: These distinctly adorable South and Central American mammals are "the masters of mellow."

Margaret K. McElderry/S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 64p., ages 5-up, 9781442445574

Stronger Than Steel: Spider Silk DNA and the Quest for Better Bulletproof Vests, Sutures, and Parachute Rope

by Bridget Heos with photographs by Andy Comins


Incredibly, Spider-Man comics do not exaggerate the strength of spider silk. The golden orb weaver, one of the largest web-spinning spiders, spins a silk with an ideal combination of strength and elongation (or stretchiness), potentially strong enough to stop fighter planes from landing on an aircraft carrier.

Dr. Randy Lewis, after isolating the spider's silk-spinning genes, is now developing ways to mass-produce its silk for lighter bulletproof vests, artificial ligaments and tendons, and more delicate thread for sutures. Following a primer on DNA and genetics, and a close look at the spiders in Lewis's University of Wyoming lab, author Bridget Heos (The Human Genome) launches into alternative ways to produce spider silk. The first is goats. Lewis's team implanted goat embryos with spider silk genes, and the results yielded goats whose milk contained spider silk proteins. They isolate those proteins and spin them into spider silk. Heos does not gloss over the ethics of using animals for scientific experiments (though the scientists treat the goats like family) or the painstaking nature of this work. They have also injected alfalfa and silkworms with the gene.

This latest in the celebrated Scientists in the Field series shares a lively, engaging approach to research and discovery with its predecessors. Comins's many large, clear, color photographs-- showing kids allowing spiders to crawl on them and scientists at work--along with Spider-Man jokes, counterbalance the complicated scientific explanations. Back matter includes a glossary and additional sources, although Heos's principal sources were clearly Randy and his colleagues. --Angela Carstensen, school librarian and blogger

Discover: A Scientists in the Field entry that reveals the fantastical real science of golden orb spider silk and transgenic goats.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99, hardcover, 80p., ages 10-up, 9780547681269

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