Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Crown Publishing Group: American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

From My Shelf

Liveright Publishing Corporation: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

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

Caddie-Lit: Reading Books About Reading Greens

When most non-golfers (and, admittedly, a substantial number of golfers) hear the word caddie, I suspect that a scene from Caddyshack naturally comes to mind. For me, it's Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) regaling a young caddie with his epic tale of looping for the Dalai Lama in Tibet:

So we finish the 18th and he's gonna stiff me. And I say, "Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort." And he says, "Oh, uh, there won't be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness." So I got that goin' for me, which is nice.

Caddying was my first "real job," for two perfect summers--beginning when I was 14--at a failing resort course. Memories of those times flooded back recently as I read An American Caddie in St. Andrews: Growing Up, Girls, and Looping by Oliver Horovitz, though my experiences have little in common with the author's amusing, insightful and unexpectedly compelling exploration of youth, age, class and the true meaning of the word "vocation."

Maybe this will be my year of the caddie-read. Upcoming books include Loopers: A Caddie's Twenty-Year Golf Odyssey by John Dunn and Walking with Jack: A Father's Journey to Become His Son's Caddie by Don J. Snyder.

There are precedents in this tiny genre. My favorites range from intense (Pete Dexter's novel Train) to funny (Who's Your Caddy?: Looping for the Great, Near Great, and Reprobates of Golf by Rick Reilly) to nostalgic (The Caddie Who Knew Ben Hogan by John Coyne) to poignant (Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story by John Feinstein).

Caddies also prowl the fairways mischievously in P.G. Wodehouse's tales, of course, though John Updike may have summed up their perspective best in his story "Farrell's Caddie," when wizened Scottish looper Sandy growls: "Ye kin tell a' aboot a man, frae th' way he gowfs." Caddie-lit abounds. So we got that goin' for us, which is nice. --Robert Gray, contributing editor, Shelf Awareness.


Indiana University Press: UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says by Donald R. Prothero and Timothy D. Callahan


Book Candy

'Iron Lady' in Literature; Book-Filled Bars

Although the passing of Britain's "Iron Lady" yesterday may not seem like book-related news, the Guardian managed to create a "Margaret Thatcher in literature quiz."

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Flavorwire showcased "15 amazing book-filled bars where we'd like to drink" and asked the reasonable question: "You know what's better than a night out? A night out with a book. Or, in the case of many of these fine establishments, a whole wall of books."

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Cats have been leaving their mark on books for centuries, according to the Guardian, which noted that "evidence of feline interference in a 15th-century manuscript reminds us of how big an impression they've made on literature as a whole."

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Penelope Bush, author of Me, Myself, Milly, chose her "top 10 teen twin books" for the Guardian, noting that from "distant planets to Vienna and English country boarding schools--even the future--it would seem that the problems twins encounter are universal."

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A first edition of Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, "dedicated to the daughter of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, who was thought to have been the model for the character of Ratty," sold at auction for £32,400 (about US$49,188), 10 times more than expected," the Guardian reported.

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For the past two years, Christophe Gowans has created almost 120 Record Books, reimagining record albums as book covers. "It's a game, really," he said. 'You go digging for an image to replace the one you know. You have to try and think of them in neutral, then it becomes about what the names suggest to me."


Johns Hopkins University Press: Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum by Kathryn Hughes


The Writer's Life

Donald McCaig: Always Somewhere New to Go

In Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies (our review is below) Donald McCaig takes readers along on his journey to the World Sheepdog Trials with border collies Luke and June, juxtaposed with interviews with pet dog trainers of various methods. McCaig is the author of Civil War-era historical novels such as Rhett Butler's People, as well as canine-focused fiction and nonfiction. He lives on a Virginia sheep farm, but spoke with us from Seattle, where he and his dog Fly competed in a herding trial.

What made you decide to interview pet dog trainers?

I say I'm a sheepdog trainer, not a pet dog trainer. Part of that is my respect for people who are good at it. All I have to do is train dogs. They've got to train people. That's a lot harder, you know?

They had things to say that helped me see my own dogs better. The main difference is that what I'm doing as a sheepdog trainer is absolutely dependent on the dog's genetics, whereas a lot of what they're doing is against the dog's genetics. There's nothing in the dog's genetics that says it's a real good idea to walk right beside the pack leader with your nose tucked against his leg.

Fly

Now, some sheepdog training is that way. Sheepdogs have to be trained to drive. They're genetically programmed to fetch. So you start out with the fetch because it's easier to work with the genetics. It's only after you've got a real bond with the dog and some commands on the dog that you start teaching it to drive.

Behesha Doan talked a lot about how the dog is trying to cooperate, and use that as a bargaining chip. We sheepdoggers have a very brief saying: "The dog isn't listening." Well, it can get interesting when you say, "WHY isn't that dog listening, given the fact that these dogs are bred to cooperate with us?"

What inspired the fascinating line of thought on the Lost Dog you discuss in Mr. and Mrs. Dog?

It struck me as weird that all three Semitic religions--Judaism, Mohammadism and Christianity--on the surface despise dogs. The Qu'ran has an exception for Salukis, and St. Christopher originally had the head of a dog, but as a general rule, they don't like dogs. That's odd because in the panoply of world religion, generally the dog is thought of pretty highly. The second thing that struck me was that our favorite dog story is the Lost Dog story: Lassie Come Home, The Incredible Journey, my own Nop's Trials. We don't tell many stories on ourselves where we look bad. John Wayne always triumphs, good wins over evil, but in these Lost Dog Stories, we look like insensitive jerks time after time after time. I began to think these two things had something to do with each other.

Writing and trialing both play immense roles in your life. How would you relate the two?

One of the things about writing is, you don't have to get it right. You can make some horrible mistake. You catch it in revisions and gradually winnow your stupidities out. There's certain kinds of mistakes you can't make with a dog. One of the pet dog trainers told me that border collies are what she calls "incident critical," which means that if you make a mistake, they learn it and repeat it three times before you have a chance to fix it.

On the other hand, if you approach dogs with good will and your ears open and get good advice, they usually work out. I am convinced that they want to do it [trialing] as well and beautifully as we want to do it. I don't think we make them do that. I think we can kind of awaken them, in the way that you teach scales to a musical prodigy.

Ralph Pulfer was for many years the best American sheepdog handler. Once when he was in his 80s, at the point that he had to ride his ATV to the handler's post, a bunch of fellas asked, "Ralph, how much of this do you understand?" He went back to his RV, and everyone else popped another beer. He came out, and he answered, "I figure I understand about 15% of it." And here was a guy who'd been doing it for 50 years at the highest levels! That's wonderful. I really like to think that in the next years that I have to live, there are new worlds to understand about how the dogs are thinking, and how they're reacting. There's a way in which I'm never gonna get on top of it, and I like that.

So with dog training, there's always somewhere new for you to go?

Always. Always.
--Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads


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


Book Review

Fiction

Life After Life

by Jill McCorkle


A decade and a half after her last novel (1997's Tending to Virginia), Jill McCorkle is back with Life After Life, set in the Pine Haven Retirement Community of Fulton, N.C., described as the "land of lard, Jesus, sugared-up tea and enough meshuggeners to fill Fenway Park."

McCorkle gives voice to Pine Haven residents, staff, volunteers, relatives--anyone with a piece of a story to tell. The central storyteller is Joanna, a volunteer who stays with people when they are breathing their last. She befriends C.J., the young tattooed and pierced cosmetician who does hair and nails for the residents. C.J. has a son, whose father is unknown to anyone except C.J. (and the father), which will lead to a surprising twist at the end of the novel.

A feckless magician named Ben lives nearby with his shrewish wife, Kendra, and their largely neglected daughter. Abby, nearly 13, spends far too much time at Pine Haven, feeling more at home with its residents than with kids her age. Her special friend there is Sadie, a former teacher who creates picture collages of residents visiting exotic places--making them feel as if they are there.

Appearance and disappearance are significant themes throughout Life After Life. The residents appear in faraway places thanks to Sadie's collages; Ben is making a "disappearing" chamber for a trick at Abby's birthday party. Another character, Stanley, has here-again, gone-again dementia. And, of course, part of life in a retirement community is that residents disappear--permanently.

It's a treat to have a new Jill McCorkle novel to enjoy. Her characters and setting, the humor and poignancy with which she writes, have been absent far too long. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A North Carolina retirement home is the stage for McCorkle's first novel (following three short story collections) in more than a decade.

Shannon Ravenel/Algonquin, $24.95, hardcover, 9781565122550

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


The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones

by Jack Wolf


Jack Wolf's debut novel, The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones, takes much of its inspiration from English fairy tales and folklore, and the language reflects its 18th-century setting. Tristan Hart, the narrator, is obviously brilliant and notably well-bred, but also clearly troubled. Prone to mental illness and psychosis, Tristan's recollections are inherently muddled and occasionally disturbing.

Tristan, despite his illness, leaves home to study medicine in London. While there, he realizes that he is irresistibly drawn to the practice of pain, whether preventing it medically or inflicting it personally. In attempting to understand this dichotomy, Tristan uses all of the knowledge and techniques available to him in this age of enlightenment. His research takes him beyond the laboratory to human experimentation, including sadistic practices that are ultimately carried out on his young wife. (She's a strange but suitable match for him, in that she is as willing to receive pain as he is to inflict it). Yet these efforts at self-understanding are confounded by Tristan's inability to distinguish reality from fantasy.

Some readers will find that the use of historically accurate English impedes their progress, while others may struggle with the scenes describing rudimentary surgery, human experimentation and sadism. Wolf maintains a fairly tight control over this ambitious and complicated novel, however, and readers who continue to the end will think about Tristan's story long after the final page. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore

Discover: A highly original, vividly imagined--and occasionally disturbing--debut novel exploring the connections between body and mind, pain and pleasure and science and superstition.

Penguin, $16, paperback, 9780143123828

The Dream Merchant

by Fred Waitzkin


In The Dream Merchant, Fred Waitzkin explores how good people's momentary ethical and moral lapses can result in destruction and ruin. As Jim, a 75-year-old salesman at the twilight of his career, makes a last-ditch effort to close the deal with a young, live-in lover, he reminisces about the key episodes of his narcissistic life to an unnamed narrator.

It is 1983 when the narrator, a 30-something journalist, meets Jim in a Bahamian bar and falls in love with his sense of adventure, flamboyance and wealth. Fast forward 20 years: Jim is now penniless, abandoning his latest wife for the erotically charged Mara, to whom he sells a diminishing past of privilege and wealth. He engages the narrator to write a memoir of his fairytale life, from humble beginnings in poverty on the Canadian plains to a rise up the economic ladder through pyramid and Ponzi schemes. Jim's insatiable ambition pushes an adoring trophy wife to dark impulses and secret affairs; he drowns his heartbreak with the pursuit of gold in the Amazonian jungle. As Jim's story progresses, the narrator's tone turns critical, as he himself recognizes: "Many of us are like this, making boxes for the loves we love, stuffing them back inside."

Waitzkin expertly psychoanalyzes his characters, juxtaposing the good and the bad of each to chilling effect. Jim's story is at once mesmerizing, erotically charged and repulsive--emotions echoed brilliantly by Waitzkin's ever prescient voice of reason. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The first novel from the author of Searching for Bobby Fischer is a mesmerizing tale of destruction and ruin.

Thomas Dunne, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250011367

Horses of God

by Mahi Binebine, trans. by Lulu Norman


Conventional wisdom says suicide bombers place no value on life; tragedy, hardship and extreme religion have blunted their human feelings. But what if the opposite is true? What if poverty and degradation feed extremism because they cause their victims to feel too much? These daring and uncomfortable questions are explored with poetic grace in Horses of God, a troubling yet beautiful novella from Moroccan artist and writer Mahi Binebine.

Based on a real incident from 2003, Horses of God is a picture of what pre-martyrdom life may have been like for boys growing up in the slums of Casablanca. Through Yachine, a young bomber who narrates from a regretful afterlife, Binebine leads the reader through a world of scavenge and filth, of casual violence and hunger. But for all the fear and privation, Yachine's world is also sometimes the world of all young people, where home has its special comforts, where a game of soccer can make a poor boy feel like a king and where the affections of a special girl can scent the air with beauty.

Binebine depicts, achingly, how the Sidi Moumen slum extinguishes that universal spirit of youthful possibility. When the opportunity for martyrdom comes to Yachine and his friends through a predatory group of older terrorists, the choice to trade the injustice of this world for the rewards of the next seems an obvious outlet for the passionate rage their cruel lives have engendered. Horses of God is a haunting elegy for the broken souls of mass murderers. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

Discover: A troubling yet beautiful novella about a group of boys from a Casablanca slum who become suicide bombers.

Tin House, $14.95, paperback, 9781935639534

Mystery & Thriller

Leaving Everything Most Loved: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

by Jacqueline Winspear


Leaving Everything Most Loved, Maisie Dobbs's 10th adventure, finds Jacqueline Winspear's heroine investigating the murders of two Indian women in London--and weighing several pressing personal questions.

An Indian man approaches Maisie about the murder of his sister, Usha Pramal, who came to Britain as a governess and later lived in a hostel with other Indian women, taking cleaning jobs to make ends meet. Well-educated and kind, Usha was a radiant spirit, a gifted teacher and a hard worker. Who would kill such a glowing soul, and why?

As Maisie seeks to unravel the threads of Usha's life, another young woman from the hostel is killed. Meanwhile, Maisie worries that the strain of her last case is still affecting her longtime assistant, Billy Beale, and continues to wonder if she can commit to marrying James, the man she loves.

Winspear writes sensitively of Maisie's inner struggles, with nods to previous cases and Maisie's personal journey from scullery maid to university graduate, war nurse and private investigator. Longtime readers of the series will appreciate a subplot or two involving familiar characters, while readers new and old will warm to Maisie and her thoughtful, incisive method of detecting. Both Usha's origins and Maisie's growing interest in travel abroad give this book an Indian flavor. Winspear touches on issues of empire without being heavy-handed, and resolves some questions while leaving others intriguingly open.

Well written, fascinating and layered (like all Winspear's books), Leaving Everything Most Loved provides both a satisfying mystery and an exciting new adventure for its heroine. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Maisie Dobbs's 10th adventure finds her investigating the murders of two Indian women and weighing some personal questions.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062049605

Ice Cold Kill

by Dana Haynes


When Daria Gibron, the formidable ex-Israeli secret service agent from Dana Haynes's Crashers and Breaking Point, returns in Ice Cold Kill, she's mostly working as an interpreter in the United States. Then she receives an urgent e-mail from an old acquaintance that lures her to New York City, where she narrowly but cleverly escapes the trap set for her. Placed on the wanted list by American and international government agencies, she has no choice but to join forces with a well-known terrorist. The two go on the run across Europe while trying to shut down a horrific conspiracy--though the world considers Daria a threat, she may be the only one who can save it.

Daria is an adrenaline junkie who has incredible physical assets, both in looks and skills. Sometimes, protagonists who are good at everything become boring, but Daria is always someone to root for; her hardscrabble background as an orphan justifies her toughness and survival skills. Her relationships with both her temporary ally and the man she's pursuing are complicated, resulting in surprising revelations.

Haynes can abruptly shift the point of view, at times within a single chapter, which might cause some disorientation, but it's not difficult to get back on track as the explosive action and cinematic language propels the plot forward. It's easy to "see" many scenes as if they're on a screen, like watching a Hollywood summer blockbuster that's happening in your mind. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, writer/editor blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A thriller that reads like a big Hollywood summer action flick, featuring the indomitable former Israeli secret service agent Daria Gibron.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250009630

The Golden Egg

by Donna Leon


Commissario Guido Brunetti loves his family dearly--especially his fiery, opinionated wife, Paola Falieri. He doesn't love his boss, Vice-Questore Patta, but he can hardly refuse to get involved when Patta asks him to discreetly look into some bribes that the fiancée of the Venetian mayor's son may have paid. Then Brunetti is distracted by a phone call from Paola, informing him that the man who worked at their dry cleaner has died. The man was both deaf and mentally handicapped, and neither Brunetti nor Paola know his name. Both are ashamed of this, and so Brunetti agrees to check it out, with the unofficial help of his team.

The dead man's mother calls him Davide, but as far as the Italian government is concerned, he never existed--no birth certificate, never paid taxes, never registered anywhere for anything. How could someone in this day and age live so under the radar? What was really wrong with Davide? Why is his mother being so secretive about his lack of documentation and parentage?

As always, Donna Leon transports the reader to the beautiful, decaying city of Venice. Davide's sad story underscores the complexity of Italian culture and life, as well as the never-ending struggle against dishonesty and corruption Brunetti and his team face. The debates among Brunetti and Paola and their children about the role of government and human nature are fascinating, adding weight to an already twisted mystery. The Golden Egg is not to be missed; an excellent installment in the beloved Brunetti series. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Donna Leon's 22nd Commissario Brunetti mystery is a haunting tale of family secrets and institutional corruption.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $26, hardcover, 9780802121011

Food & Wine

Homemade with Love: Simple Scratch Cooking from In Jennie's Kitchen

by Jennifer Perillo


Growing up in Brooklyn, Jennifer Perillo ate a lot of convenience foods. Then, after her parents divorced, she began helping her mom in the kitchen and discovered a new passion. In Homemade with Love, which grew out of her popular blog In Jennie's Kitchen, Perillo shares the joy she finds in cooking for those she loves.

Perillo's husband, Michael, died suddenly in 2011 from a rare autoimmune disease. His favorite recipes pop up often, underscoring the assertion that Mikey is still very much a part of her family. Her two young daughters also make frequent appearances, whether they're running a lemonade stand or begging their mom to tweak a cupcake recipe for an egg-allergic friend.

Perillo begins with the basics, taking readers on a tour of her kitchen and sharing recipes for homemade baking mixes, chicken stock, marinara sauce and even fresh ricotta. Two chapters on breakfast (sit-down and on the go) provide a seamless transition to the book's heart: simple, healthy, delicious main dishes and sides.

The Italian flavors of Perillo's childhood play a strong role, and she adds a few Asian touches, several Mexican recipes and basic comfort foods such as roast chicken and chicken pot pie. Handy icons signal recipes that can be made ahead or made quickly, or are adaptable for vegetarians, vegans or those with other special diets. Perillo's warm, friendly voice shines through in the recipe notes, inviting even timid cooks to take a turn at the stove. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A cookbook of healthy, delicious basics, whose warmhearted author shares the joy she finds in cooking for those she loves.

Running Press, $27.50, hardcover, 9780762447237

Nonfiction

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal

by Mary Roach


Mary Roach, whose exhaustive research and spirited writing on such subjects as cadavers, sex and the afterlife have made her a go-to expert on "weird science," returns with Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, a fascinating albeit sometimes hard to swallow investigation into the human digestive tract. With her signature wit and intrepid reporting on full display, Roach takes readers on a fact-jammed journey that starts at the mouth, winds through the stomach, intestines, colon and so on. Addressing the hesitation some readers may feel at embarking on this voyage, Roach states, "I don't want you to say, 'This is gross.' I want you to say, 'I thought this would be gross, but it's really interesting.' Okay, and maybe a little gross." Roach succeeds--and then some--on both counts.

With edifying anecdotes about taste, stomach acid and Elvis Presley's colon, what emerges most clearly in this fascinating book is the resilience of the human digestive tract. How else to explain the ability of drug mules to transport dozens of cocaine-filled condoms inside their bodies, or the practice of "hooping," where prisoners manage to smuggle multiple cell phones inside their rectums without any long-term ill effects? By the end of the book, readers will share Roach's admiration, evident on every page, for this complex system. She clearly relishes the chance to dive into a subject that most writers have avoided and in so doing offers an entertaining and informative (if indeed just a little bit gross) investigation of the human body. --Debra Ginsberg, author

Discover: A fascinating exploration of the human digestive tract from top to bottom by Mary Roach, expert on cadavers, sex, space travel and, now, inner space.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780393081572

Children's & Young Adult

Dark Triumph

by Robin LaFevers


The gripping launch title in the His Fair Assassin series, Grave Mercy, focused on the training of the assassin nuns at the convent of St. Mortain and the inner workings of the Breton court. Through narrator Sybella, this second book takes readers deep into the dark heart of the enemy.

The abbess has ordered Sybella back to the dangerous d'Albret household, where Sybella was raised, to serve as a spy and to thwart d'Albret's attempts to gain Breton through marriage to the duchess. As the book opens, Sybella stands on the North tower, warning Ismae of a trap that's been set for the duchess. While there, Sybella witnesses "a great big ox of a man," the last of the duchess's soldiers, felled in battle. He is the legendary warrior called "Beast." The abbess sends a message to Sybella: If Beast is alive, she must return him to the duchess in Rennes. Reunited, Sybella and Ismae (from Grave Mercy) confide a distrust of the abbess. (Sybella refers to herself as "a lamb sacrificed for the elevation of the convent.")

LaFevers explores the complicated consequences of incest and the desperation that can grow out of a household consumed with violence. These complexities echo Sybella's growing awareness that her powers to heal are as strong as her skills as an assassin, and her ability to love is as fierce as her propensity for hatred. The multi-layered storytelling makes it even better than the first book, and it stands alone. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In the sequel to Grave Mercy, Sybella, an assassin nun, is ordered to return as a spy to the dangerous household of d'Albret, where she was raised.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 14-up, 9780547628387

The Dark

by Lemony Snicket, illus. by Jon Klassen


Lemony Snicket (A Series of Unfortunate Events), having written 13 books about a family of orphans who live in fear, here pens a triumphant picture book in which a boy conquers his fear of the dark. Jon Klassen, working in the same palette as his 2013 Caldecott Medal–winning This Is Not My Hat, makes us believe that the dark is alive, and Snicket gives voice to it.

"Laszlo was afraid of the dark," the book begins. Readers immediately sense the interplay between light and dark in Laszlo's world, as the hero looks nervously at the window, where the sun is setting in the rosy rectangle of a window frame. His flashlight is within reach. The boy and the dark are the sole characters in the book. Post-sunset, the light plays off the staircase in rectangular blocks as the darkness increases its dominance. Snicket's sparest statements cause the scariest effects: "Sometimes the dark hid in the closet. Sometimes it sat behind the shower curtain." Each morning, Laszlo stands in the doorway to the basement and says, "Hi, dark.... Laszlo thought that if he visited the dark in the dark's room, maybe the dark wouldn't come visit him in his room." But of course, the dark does come to his room.

Readers, do not fear. Snicket and Klassen build to a well-earned victory for Laszlo, synchronized exquisitely between text and artwork. By the close, Laszlo ventures as far down as the second landing on the basement stairs, and we know he will be just fine. --Jennifer M. Brown

Discover: Lemony Snicket and Caldecott Medalist Jon Klassen team up for a triumphant picture book about a boy who conquers his fear of the dark.

Little, Brown, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 6-9, 9780316187480

Pets

Mr. and Mrs. Dog: Our Travels, Trials, Adventures, and Epiphanies

by Donald McCaig


In addition to historical fiction (Rhett Butler's People, an official sequel to Gone with the Wind) Donald McCaig writes about a pastime that enthusiasts consider a way of life--raising and trialing sheepdogs.

The eponymous Mr. and Mrs. Dog are a pair of border collies who trialed with him through burning heat, blinding rain and stinging sleet to qualify for the World Sheepdog Trials in Wales. Trialing is grueling work, requiring absolute concentration and self-discipline from both dog and handler as they attempt to demonstrate control over a flock of unfamiliar sheep on unfamiliar ground. McCaig relates his journey with June, "a foxy lady in a slinky black-and-white peignoir," and Luke, a dog who is at once "the best shedder" of sheep McCaig has owned and "a Blockhead."

Wondering if perhaps trainers from the pet and sporting dog spheres might have some insight he and his fellow herding enthusiasts lack, McCaig interviews and observes leading dog trainers of methods both new and time-honored, from positive reinforcement to e-collars to traditional dominance and correction-based training.

While McCaig ultimately adopts none of these methods, he offers an intelligent and nonjudgmental investigation of what is arguably the dog enthusiast's biggest hot-button issue: How should we train our dogs? Which method gets results, and which is most humane? How is the quality of humaneness to be defined, by human emotional standards or by the needs of dogs?

In a wry, down-to-earth tone, McCaig gives us an primer on dog training and sheepdog trials studded with shrewd philosophical insights into humankind's relationship with our oldest friend. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: An informative and thought-provoking memoir about a trainer and his two border collies making their way to the world's championship for sheepdogs.

University of Virginia Press, $22.95, hardcover, 9780813934501

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