Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, April 26, 2013
From My Shelf
Gregory Martin: No Sweat
Each year the Washington Center for the Book hosts an author for a series of free programs, Seattle Reads. Everyone is invited to join in: read the featured book, participate in a book discussion, attend the programs. This year Stories for Boys by Gregory Martin (Hawthorne Books) is the pick, and he will be at least 10 events from late April through mid-May. Martin's memoir chronicles his shock and gradual acceptance of his father's revelation of a childhood of abuse and secretly being gay. Gregory Martin has this to say about his selection:
"In June of 2000, within two days of each other, our first child was born and my first book (Mountain City) was published. Those days were among the happiest of my life. I remember reading at Elliott Bay and sweat pouring down my face like Robert Duvall in The Apostle, and Christine coming up the aisle and giving me one of Oliver's cloth diapers to mop my face. Sure, I was mortified, but I was reading at Elliott Bay! What could be better? I draped the damp diaper over the podium. This was before 9/11. This was seven years before my father attempted suicide and came out of the closet as a gay man. It was a different time. I was sleep-deprived but unguardedly happy. I didn't know yet how tragedy might change me. During those three years in Seattle, I came to know myself as a writer, rather than as someone who had always wanted to be a writer. (I received my first rejection letter from Random House when I was eight.) To have my book chosen for Seattle Reads--what can I say? I'm honored and grateful beyond words. We use Oliver's diapers now as kitchen rags. I'm not bringing one. So that means there's no chance I'll break out in an apocalyptic sweat at one of the events." --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers
'Foolproof' Gift Books; Great Children's Book Escapes
In honor of World Book Night earlier this week, Flavorwire suggested "10 foolproof books to give as gifts."
To mark the death of classic children's author E.L. Konigsburg, MobyLives recommended "seven great escapes in children's literature."
Come and get it! Buzzfeed served up "9 dinner specials created in honor of Game of Thrones characters."
GQ magazine suggested a "New Canon: The 21 Books from the 21st Century Every Man Should Read."
The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City has acquired correspondence by a young and struggling Manhattan author named J.D. Salinger, the New York Times reported. Buzzfeed weighed in with "7 saucy ways to flirt from uncovered J.D. Salinger letters." Flavorwire highlighted the "most fascinating quotes" from Salinger's collected correspondence.
The Bloom book loom is now showing at Most Salone as part of the Milan furniture fair. Raw-Edges was commissioned "to design a bespoke bookcase to house one selected work of fiction from each of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists from the last 3 decades."
The Writer's Life
Bee Ridgway: Genre Bender
|photo: Kate Thomas|
Bee Ridgway's debut novel, The River of No Return (our review is below), is a romantic thrill ride that defies the laws of time and space. Accidental time traveler Nick must leave his 21st-century life to return to his 19th-century past as an English lord at the behest of a mysterious organization known as the Guild. When he reconnects with Julia, the girl he once loved from afar, their passion challenges Nick's resolve to return to the 21st century. Little does he know, Julia has a secret of her own. Ridgway is a professor of English literature at Bryn Mawr College.
How did you end up writing this intricate story?
In 2004, the idea of Nick waking up in the house in Vermont and having this letter waiting for him arrived in my head. I was actually living in Vermont in the house that I imagined him waking up in. I bashed out a 10-page character study. All I knew was that there was this weird group called the Guild that controlled time travel, and that Nick had jumped from the Battle of Salamanca and had been living in the 21st century but suddenly was called upon by the Guild to do something. I showed it to my brother, and he said, "If this is going to work, it has to be a combination of a Regency romance and James Bond." I couldn't figure out what happened next, and I put it away and forgot about it for seven years. The way I think about it now, I locked Nick in a barn and he quietly built this crazy flying machine while I was doing other things, and then on July 23, 2011, I woke up and was drawn to my computer, and the story came out. I think it happened while I wasn't looking.
I have such a crush on Nick. Did he happen while you weren't looking?
He already existed by himself completely. He got more beat up and real as further drafts went on, but he was who he was. I feel he was the one who kept dragging me forward through the writing. It was Julia who was hard to get right.
I found it difficult to write a woman who had the strength of character I wanted Julia to have but who was believable for her time. The rules of genre really pressed on the character. But if you think about the history of the novel, it was basically invented to instruct women on how to be women, so it shouldn't be surprising that writing a novel is hard when it comes to writing women. You have the virgin/whore dichotomy, right? For all that I'm completely aware of it, it was hard to not write it, so I revised Julia again and again.
If you had to choose a genre that best fits this story, what would you choose?
When I was in graduate school, I was having a terrible day, and my friend brought me The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer and said, "This will save you." I became completely obsessed and thus became a Regency reader, and I do think that the heart of this novel is a Regency romance. With that said, I loved driving other genres across it and seeing what it could accommodate and what it couldn't. I learned so much about genre writing this, because the rules are elastic, but they're really there. They don't accommodate some rules of other genres very well, and it was like building a house of cards to try to make it all work together.
You have a secondary character named Arkady who is the most wonderful contrast. Where did he come from?
I think there's something really interesting in a book that follows young people falling in love, but young people haven't experienced very much. Arkady could have been a romance hero of a book set in another time, but here he's in his second or third relationship, he's older, so who might this romance hero character become? There's this genre of older man who are respectful to women; they're flirtatious, and they're feminist in a way. They've come around to understanding women, probably having been jerks in their youth.
Arkady's also kind of a narcissist--he would read the book and think it was really about him.
Is this a series in the making?
I'm imagining a trilogy. I would keep Nick and Julia in the sights, but I think each book will move to a different pair of lovers. I feel like the male lead was really important in this one, and I'd like to write the next one with the woman being more of the lodestone. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads
Tapestry of Fortunes
by Elizabeth Berg
Elizabeth Berg's 24th book is indeed a Tapestry of Fortunes--a novel as comforting as one of the heroine's antique quilts that invites readers to weave their own stories into the picture.
Cece Ross is a motivational speaker and author whose best friend dies before Cece fulfills a promise to take her own advice: slow down and enjoy life. Penny was Cece's neighbor, and her death prompts Cece to move out of her large, perfectly appointed home and onto a new stage of life. Two coincidences reinforce this transition: a postcard from a long-ago lover and an invitation to become a fourth renter in a home where she fits in perfectly.
Although her roommates are high achievers, they all need Cece's expert advice--and readers can draw from her frequently dispensed wisdom, too. When Cece decides to drive from Minneapolis to Cleveland to reunite with Dennis ("when you looked into his eyes, the sign was flipped to the Open side"), the other women join her. Each has a logical reason to make the trip, and their easy friendship but unusual differences lead to an unpredictable yet satisfying quest.
A mother rediscovering love in her golden years, a newfound dedication to hospice work and the families and careers of the housemates give depth to Cece's story. Berg's fans and any readers new to her novels (Open House, Talk Before Sleep et al.) will embrace Cece Ross as a new favorite character. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A new Elizabeth Berg novel of women's friendship and taking risks in a search for happiness.
by Alan Brennert
For more than 70 years until it closed in 1971, Palisades Amusement Park drew crowds to the cliffs above the Hudson River in New Jersey, promising rides, music, carnival food and a chance to escape the pressures of real life. Alan Brennert pays tribute to the park--a beloved part of his own childhood--in a sweeping new novel peopled by a colorful assortment of characters.
The cast of Palisades Park includes many historical figures, such as the Rosenthal brothers, the park's longtime owners. But its plot centers on a fictional family: Eddie and Adele Stopka, who run a french fry stand at Palisades, and their children, Toni and Jack, who grow up among the park workers. Impulsive tomboy Toni is enchanted by the feats of the performing high divers, while her mother dreams of escaping the grease and sweat to pursue a career on the stage.
The park prospers through the Depression, providing a much-needed escape for locals and tourists alike. But World War II, several later conflicts and the beginning of the civil rights era bring changes for both the park and the Stopkas. Brennert deftly intertwines the two stories, tracing the rise of Toni's diving career and the park's shifting fortunes. Readers of Brennert's previous novels (Honolulu; Moloka'i) will enjoy several nods to Hawaii, and readers old and new will appreciate his cast of working-class characters, many of them dreamers. Told in vivid prose with a hint of nostalgia, Palisades Park is a beguiling love letter to a vanished world. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A colorful cast of characters fills this vivid fictional tribute to the now-defunct Palisades Amusement Park.
The River of No Return
by Bee Ridgway
Bryn Mawr English professor Bee Ridgway kicks off her career as a novelist with The River of No Return--a passionate, thought-provoking and consistently fun debut that's best described as a Regency romance wrapped in a spy novel covered in science fiction. Sound like overkill? We assure you, her formula works.
Wounded and dying on a Napoleonic battlefield, Marquess Nicholas Falcott accidentally leaps through time to the year 2003, and lands in the lap of luxury as a beneficiary of a shadowy organization known as the Guild. While plenty of cash, a new life in Vermont as a cheesemaker and a string of dalliances sound appealing, they don't make up for the fact that Nick will never see his home, his family or the winsome, dark-eyed Julia ever again. The Guild swears time-jumpers cannot go back--until their need for his former identity forces them to reveal not only that Nick can go back to 1815, but that he must.
In 1815, Julia Percy's grandfather dies, leaving her at the mercy of her cruel, deranged cousin, the inheritor of her grandfather's earldom. Julia knew her grandfather had the power to control time; her cousin insists she divulge secrets about her grandfather's ability. Although he grows ever more desperate and violent, Julia simply does not have the answers he seeks--until the Marquess of Falcott returns, seemingly from the dead, and turns her world upside-down.
Ridgway's clever vision of time travel--and a hefty infusion of espionage--shatter the bodice-ripper mold. Her clear grasp of the history and culture of Regency England shines in every period detail and the portrayals of secondary characters. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads
Discover: In this genre-bending romance, Regency lovers Nick and Julia must cope with time travel and the machinations of a shadowy organization known as the Guild.
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Blood of Dragons
by Robin Hobb
Robin Hobb's Rain Wilds Chronicles follows a small group of sentient but crippled dragons and their human keepers as they drag the species hand-over-hand back from the brink of extinction, despite disease, adversity, natural disaster, poachers and government conspiracy. The fourth and final installment of the series, Blood of Dragons, can be (perhaps even should be) read as a standalone.
In the first three books, Hobb took her time developing the main characters and building suspense, even crafting a clever subplot told entirely through messages sent by carrier pigeon. Thousands of pages of slow pacing, though, may offer more frustration for many readers than the payoff is worth. Blood of Dragons is brisk in comparison, and newcomers will find it relatively easy to pick up the necessary background.
Despite the epic high fantasy premise, Hobb deliberately focuses on the day-to-day heroism and ignominy of her characters rather than grand acts of derring-do. She is a master of the intimate moment, packing more emotional significance into a fight over tanning techniques than many writers can manage in a death scene. Her characters are fantastic but not escapist, and reflect a varied background of ethnicities and sexualities, which Hobb depicts with sensitivity.
Best of all, Blood of Dragons offers a satisfying conclusion. Unlike many doorstop fantasy series, Rain Wilds ties up all its loose ends, provides a sense of closure for all the major characters and leaves the reader smiling. --Katie Montgomery, book nerd
Discover: The masterful conclusion to Hobb's Rain Wilds Chronicles stands on its own and can be enjoyed without having read the three previous installments.
Biography & Memoir
The Creation of Anne Boleyn: A New Look at England's Most Notorious Queen
by Susan Bordo
As the subtitle of Susan Bordo's biography notes, Anne Boleyn is perhaps "England's most notorious queen." She is certainly England's most fictionalized one; even before her execution in 1536, the Boleyn of most written chronicles was a work of fiction, as good or as evil as the writer imagined her. In The Creation of Anne Boleyn, Bordo (Unbearable Weight) explores the various Boleyns of myth and fiction, comparing their stories to the sparse historical record.
The comparison reveals how much of Boleyn's notoriety is constructed--and how little it comports, at times, with the real-life woman. Bordo begins with a review of the historical records of her life and death, taking care to separate what popular imagination holds to be true (Anne had six fingers! She plotted to kill Mary Tudor!) from what the few remaining records can tell us (no and no). Her contrasting reputations as the savior of reformed Christendom or as "the goggle-eyed whore" were undeserved in her own time; over the centuries, they have morphed into Anne as homewrecker, Anne as assassin, Anne as the shadow self.
Next, Bordo explores the development of this character we popularly love to hate, from her nearly mute presence in Shakespeare's Henry VIII to the brainy seductress portrayed by Natalie Dormer in Showtime's The Tudors. The result is a meticulously researched, precisely phrased exploration that exposes the mysteries of Boleyn's life without puncturing their allure. The Anne Bordo gives us is richer, more complex and more human than the Anne of myth and fiction. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket
Discover: A fascinating and accessible study of Anne Boleyn's history and popular myth.
The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius
by Kristine Barnett
When her three-year-old son, Jacob, was diagnosed with autism and she was told he might never learn to read, Kristine Barnett knew, deep down, that the doctors were wrong about her son. Yes, he had autism, but there was something about the way he studied light and shadows and always carried a set of alphabet cards with him that made this strong-willed mother not lower her expectations for him after his diagnosis. "Maybe he was trying to learn to read with those beloved alphabet cards, maybe he wasn't," she writes, "either way, instead of taking them away, I would make sure he had as many as he wanted."
The Spark is the delightful and tender story of how Barnett rejected the advice from experts--as well as her own husband--determined to engage Jacob on his level and on his terms. She soon discovered, far exceeding anyone's imagination, that Jacob was a genius, scoring higher on IQ tests than was possible to record. While juggling her daycare business and evening classes for autistic children, raising two other sons and dealing with her own illness, Barnett sought out advanced classes for Jacob at the university level and watched her son evolve from a shy, withdrawn child to an animated expert in science and math. The Spark provides readers with hands-on examples of how to unlock the potential in every child and instills a feel-good message about fighting for individualism while maintaining the attributes of a normal, play-filled childhood. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: The passionate determination of a mother brings out the best in her autistic--and brilliant--child.
Current Events & Issues
Mistrial: An Inside Look at How the Criminal Justice System Works... and Sometimes Doesn't
by Mark Geragos , Pat Harris
Mark Geragos and Pat Harris have practiced criminal defense for decades, representing several high-profile defendants--including Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson--as well as hundreds of others. In Mistrial, the pair combine their experience with attitude, revealing the flaws in a heavily pro-prosecution system in the way only counsel for the defense can. They begin with the unprecedented media coverage that surrounded the O.J. Simpson trial and continued after its verdict. Thanks to Court TV and many legal analysts who filled airtime on other news networks, Americans tend to think they know more about the courts than ever before--but the version of courtroom events that plays well on cable is rarely the one that best shows how a criminal trial actually works, much less the one that protects the Constitutional rights of criminal defendants.
Rather than continuing to insist on the myth of an impartial justice system, Mistrial examines how news reports sway public opinion, making a disinterested jury increasingly difficult to convene, and how police and prosecutors are often willing to lie for their version of the "truth," even when it's not supported by the facts. Geragos and Harris also discuss how some defense attorneys, too afraid to rock the local boat, fail to stand up for their clients. Part exposé, part gossip column, Mistrial is a fascinating and entertaining look at how our criminal justice system fails us--and how it succeeds. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket
Discover: A celebrity lawyer and his co-counsel provide a juicy look at the workings--and misworkings--of our criminal justice system.
Essays & Criticism
I Can't Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays
by Elinor Lipman
If you've ever been a proud mother, faithful wife, best friend, loving daughter, Jewish girl in an Irish town or online-dating widow, you'll laugh and cry at Elinor Lipman's collection of "(all too) personal essays," I Can't Complain. If you haven't--say, for example, you're a man--you'll laugh and cry just the same at Lipman's gentle, sardonic humor.
Lipman's comedic riff on her mother's picky eating becomes a loving homage in "Julia's Child." In other essays, she thanks her son, Ben, who "barely minds being publicly exposed," and entertainingly shares tales from his life, including his sex ed class at age 10. Readers share in her joy at his many achievements because eventually we feel like part of the extended Lipman family.
Anecdotes from her public readings, including a list of "Lies to Tell an Author Who is Looking Forlorn, Unloved, Unpurchased," ring true to anyone who has ever endured a folding chair to hear a favorite writer. Best of all, she shares things learned during the research for her novel The View from Penthouse B--also released in the spring of 2013--in the closing essay, "A Fine Nomance." Lipman's protagonist places a personal ad in the New York Review of Books; Lipman joins Match.com. Only an author as big-hearted as Elinor Lipman would write an essay of her experiences for all the world to read. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: Lipman's first essay collection is as funny and poignant as the books that have endeared her to readers, from Then She Found Me to Family Man.
Surfaces and Essences: Analogy as the Fuel and Fire of Thinking
by Douglas Hofstadter , Emmanuel Sander
Douglas Hofstadter was just 34 years old when he published the 1979 Pulitzer Prize‑winning Gödel, Escher, Bach, a profoundly original and bravura achievement that explored how consciousness and a sense of "self" might arise from inanimate matter. Nearly 30 years later, I Am a Strange Loop (2007) offered a more contained and personal explanation of consciousness and the physical nature of thought.
Now, in Surfaces and Essences, Hofstadter and French cognitive psychologist Emmanuel Sander address the central role of analogy in thought, an important research focus in cognitive science. The result is a definitive affirmation of the argument that analogies are essential for concepts and thinking, permeating every moment and every aspect of thought. We understand the new and unfamiliar because we associate it with something familiar. Analogy is thus the core of thinking.
Hofstadter and Sander spin out this idea on multiple levels, from the personal to the cultural, from specific words, phrases and situations to abstract ideas and ultimately, to creativity. They explain that the mechanism that allows us to use the simplest words is the same mechanism that has enabled humanity's most groundbreaking discoveries and its greatest accomplishments.
They also take unbridled and often infectious pleasure in backing up each key step in their argument with a dizzying array of examples, often laced with playful humor. Surfaces and Essences shares with Hofstadter's earlier books his joy in exploration and ideas. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer
Discover: Like the iconic Gödel, Escher, Bach, Hofstadter's latest is serious idea-driven nonfiction for general readers--especially fans of Stephen Pinker, George Lakoff and Daniel Dennett.
My Beloved Brontosaurus: On the Road with Old Bones, New Science, and Our Favorite Dinosaurs
by Brian Switek
Brian Switek (Written in Stone) mixes memoir, travelogue and his infectious love of dinosaurs into an exploration of sauropod sex, Allosaurus social groups and much more in My Beloved Brontosaurus. Switek uses the "Brontosaurus"--an iconic giant that never really existed, but was the result of skull fragment fossils from a different creature misidentified and incorrectly assembled by an early paleontologist--as his mascot. It's both a nod to his own childhood fondness for the fictitious creature and, as he puts it, a "symbol of the tension between the actual animals paleontologists investigate and the pop-culture images of these behemoths."
That tension dominates much of My Beloved Brontosaurus. Switek debunks the popular misconceptions about dinosaurs that prevailed during his childhood, when they were imagined to have lumbered sluggishly through swamps with dragging tails. He explains the most up-to-date understandings of dinosaurs, discussing the evidence that altered the scientific consensus. New finds create more questions, and the view of dinosaurs as agile, bird-like, even feathered creatures seems like old news compared to the latest debates over growth rates and sexual dimorphism.
If all this sounds dauntingly academic, fear not--Switek has a knack for finding fascinating specifics and presenting them in engaging ways. He excels at relating fossil finds to their once-living counterparts, giving these animals an awesome sense of reality. Even readers whose younger days of dinosaur frenzy are long extinct will find My Beloved Brontosaurus a fascinating read. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer
Discover: A delightfully enlightening blend of pop-science paleontology and dinosaur fanatic memoir.
Children's & Young Adult
Missing Mommy: A Book About Bereavement
by Rebecca Cobb
In her extraordinary debut picture book, Rebecca Cobb creates the perfect approach to a topic no one ever wants to have to tackle: the death of a parent.
Because she makes the child the narrator, Cobb achieves a level of honesty that's rare in books about loss. "Some time ago we said good-bye to Mommy," the child says. "I am not sure where she has gone." The child is the only splash of color amid a group of mourners dressed in black under umbrellas. Mother Nature, too, seems in synch with the narrator, whose father holds the child tight. The narrator searches the house for her and, alongside father and sister, leaves flowers at her gravesite ("I don't know why she hasn't taken them"). Cobb lays bare the range of emotions that such a deep loss exposes: "I feel so scared because I don't think she is coming back. And then I feel angry because I really want her to come back." Deceptively simple artwork in crayon or pastel evokes the immediacy of the child's changing emotions.
Cobb finds lighter moments, too, as the narrator tries to help with the chores, and swings between father and sister. One mostly white image showcases the child in the bottom right corner, facing away from readers: "I really miss my mommy." Cobb allows room for the big emotions, then offers a parting image of hope as the child waters the garden, "But I will always remember her." Sensitively and responsibly handled. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: An honest, sensitively handled approach to talking about the death of a parent with youngest children.
by Elizabeth Norris
There are five days to save the world, and Elizabeth Norris counts down to a triumphant conclusion in her sequel to Unraveling.
After Ben Michaels and his healing gifts brought Janelle Turner back to life in Unraveling, and the two together prevented the end of the world, Ben returned to his home in an alternate universe. Unfortunately for Ben, back home he's considered the prime suspect of a human-trafficking ring. People from different universes are being abducted and sold into slavery--called the Unwilling--and an unsettling number are vanishing from San Diego, where Janelle lives. Agent Barclay of the Interverse Alliance enlists Janelle's help; they raise the stakes by sending Janelle through a portal into worlds far more dangerous than her own.
Janelle has never gone down without a fight, but in order to survive in these alternate universes, she's pushed to unfathomable limits, which haunt her throughout her mission to find Ben and to prove his innocence. When Janelle finally finds Ben, readers may well wonder if he was better off lost. (Ben's history is explored further in the e-novella Undone.) Science fiction fans will appreciate the strange interactions with doppelgängers, portal hopping and blueprints that map out the alternate universes, but a familiar theme of belonging when your world is falling apart--sometimes literally for Janelle--will appeal to all readers. The brief and electrifying chapters will send fans racing to the end. --Adam Silvera, Paper Lantern Lit intern and former bookseller
Discover: Victims from multiple universes are being abducted for a human-trafficking ring, and Janlle must save them.
by Édouard Manceau , trans. by Sarah Quinn
One bold, bright shape after another appears on a snow-white background, presenting creative possibilities galore, in this inventive art-lesson-in-a-book.
First a gray circle, then a gold quarter-pie shape, two smaller black circles, a red blobby E-shape and more seem to land from out of the blue. "Where did they come from? Whose are they?" asks an unseen narrator. "They're mine!" answers a chicken, assembled from the shapes. "I saw them lying around!" Manceau presents an array of options; he shows just how little an artist needs to depict an animal's defining characteristics. That same red blobby E that served as a comb on the chicken now functions as a fin on a fish; the gold pie-shape is its tail. Manceau uses a thick black line to fill out the rest of each animal featured.
The author-artist also suggests that art belongs to everyone--from the chicken to the fish, and later to a frog and snail. In the closing pages, the narrator bequeaths the shapes to young readers: "They're yours now too. What will you do?" Manceau offers just enough possibilities to ignite youngsters' imaginations, then sends them off to try some creations of their own. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A gentle art lesson in a book--simple shapes in different configurations make a chicken, a fish and other creatures.