Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 26, 2013
From My Shelf
But Is It Art?
In Steve Martin's Object of Beauty, narrator Daniel Franks tells the story of Lacey, a beautiful, manipulative and cunning woman working her way up the ranks in the high-class art world of New York. From Sotheby's to a private dealership to her own gallery in Chelsea, Lacey moves without a moral compass, making decisions based on what is best for her--and her alone. Though she's not particularly likable, her story is riveting, and through her tale, readers are treated to a glimpse of the highbrow art world in New York and internationally.
Martin writes of Lacey, "She started converting objects of beauty into objects of value." This one statement encapsulates the role of art fraud in our lives; drawn to objects of beauty, we are inclined to turn them into objects of value. And so it is not surprising that Claire Roth, in B.A. Shapiro's novel The Art Forger, is using her considerable skills to forge art for a reproduction company. She agrees to forge a stolen painting in return for a one-woman show in a famous gallery, but as she stares at the Degas in front of her, she begins to suspect that it may be a forgery itself. What follows is a suspenseful story that sheds light on the world of art and the art of forgery.
Caveat Emptor: The Secret Life of an American Art Forger presents a nonfiction view of this same insular art world. Ten years ago, an FBI investigation led down a trail of fake paintings, until the case was inexplicably halted. Now, after the statute of limitations on these crimes has expired, Ken Perenyi has confessed to the forgeries--in writing. Caveat Emptor is his story, treating readers to the tale of how Perenyi became the country's top art forger. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
Summer Books; Signs You're Addicted to Books
Ask the authors: Karin Slaughter shared her picks for "top 7 summer thriller books" on the Huffington post, while Meg Wolitzer chose "5 summer books that deserve more fanfare" on NPR Books.
To celebrate National Ice Cream Month, Quirk Books "wondered what would happen if worlds collided and books became ice cream (not literally, though, because that would be gross). Get your hybrid freezer/bookshelves ready, because here are six tasty samples!"
Pop Chart Lab's The Great Gatsby Chart offers a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of the comings and goings of the characters in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel.
"The first step is admitting it. The second step is to keep right on reading." Buzzfeed offered 25 signs you're addicted to books.
What the well-dressed reader is wearing this summer: Boing Boing featured an amazing dress made out of a book.
The "world's most beautiful miniature books" were showcased by the Telegraph.
The Writer's Life
David Rosenfelt: From Moving Pictures to Moving Dogs
David Rosenfelt left a successful career in the movie business--including a stint as the president of marketing at Tri-Star Pictures--to become author of a legal thriller series featuring New Jersey defense attorney Andy Carpenter. Andy is independently wealthy and avoids work as much as possible, preferring instead to spend time with his beloved golden retriever, Tara, and significant other, Laurie. But work comes calling anyway, and his 11th case, Unleashed, was published July 23.
Last year, Rosenfelt left California and moved across the country with the dogs he and his wife rescued via their Tara Foundation (the foundation has found new homes for more than 4,000 sick or injured dogs). Rosenfelt recounts their adventure in Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure, also out July 23 from St. Martin's.
You moved from California to Maine last year with 25 dogs in three RVs. How did you manage to keep your sanity and squeeze out two books?
If I was remotely sane, I wouldn't have gotten on the RVs in the first place. I can safely say that there was no writing going on during the trip, just as there was no sleeping. I had finished Unleashed before we started, and wrote Dogtripping after we got to Maine. I'm hoping for a return to at least partial sanity someday, but I'm not optimistic.
Did the idea to turn the journey into a book come about before or after it was over?
I actually think I first had the idea as the trip neared a conclusion. People have often suggested that I write about our life in dog rescue, but I had always resisted doing so. Just living it seemed enough. But the trip seemed a perfect "vehicle" for it, and I realized that in the moment.
What was the weirdest thing that happened along the way?
The entire experience was bizarre, but I guess it was the night we stopped the RVs in Vegas for a few hours of attempted sleep. An enormous thunderstorm hit, and it seemed as if the world was exploding. Having spent their lives in Southern California, our dogs had never experienced thunder and lightning, and they were freaking out.
Did the dogs help with the driving? Which one was the best driver?
Each RV had a couple of dogs that would try to wedge their way onto the driver's lap. The most persistent was Wanda, our 170-pound mastiff, who is accustomed to going wherever she chooses. We refer to her as "The Great Wall of Wanda."
One of the most touching relationships in the Andy Carpenter series is between Andy and his beloved golden retriever, Tara, whose age has been showing in the last few installments. Have you thought about how to handle the scene when someday she, ah, eats her last biscuit?
The real Tara, who started my wife and my descent into dog lunacy, died in 1993. Andy's Tara is never going to die, never going to get sick, never going to get a hangnail. Andy might be solving cases in an old age home, drinking his meals through a straw, but Tara will be just fine. Readers often worry about her; some say that they skim to the end of the book to make sure they still see her name. Everyone can relax. She is immortal.
Whew! Some of Andy's recent cases have involved political issues that are more global than just what's going on in his native Paterson, N.J. He's forced to wield a gun in Unleashed. Is this evolution a conscious reaction of yours to recent events? Will Andy turn into a hard and lean Andy Bond someday?
No, as long as Andy is written by me, he will retain his creator's cowardice. He has been involved in larger events lately, but it was not a conscious decision on my part. It's amazing how few conscious decisions I make. Things just seem to go where they go. In the next Andy (and Tara), Hounded, he will be taking on a more personal case.
So Andy may not turn hard and lean, but you said on Facebook you wanted to lose 12 ounces before starting your book tour. How's that going?
It's grueling. I've still got about eight ounces left. I'm doing my part, though. I'm watching two baseball games a night, and I even walked past the treadmill in our house a couple of times. If I can get two or three ounces from my goal, my plan is to get a haircut, which will get me the rest of the way. --Elyse Dinh-McCrilllis, freelance writer and editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd
The Light in the Ruins
by Chris Bohjalian
Italy in 1943 and 1955 is the setting for The Light in the Ruins, a story of lives lost and turned upside down, a doomed romance and the ravages of war. Chris Bohjalian (The Sandcastle Girls; Midwives) has spared no grisly detail or brutality in chronicling what happened in Tuscany during World War II.
The Rosati family is living in idyllic Villa Chimera in the Tuscan hill country when the Germans take over, forcing the Rosatis to live in one small room. Before this, the family had held the harsh reality of war at bay. Cristina, 18, rode her horse and swam in the pool with her parents, the Marchese and Marchesa, and extended family. Her two brothers were in the army, but still nearby. The family's hope was that the war was nearly over and soon they would be together again. Then Cristina falls in love with a German officer.
We learn about this history in chapters that alternate with a series of murders, and the subsequent investigation, taking place more than a decade later. First, Cristina's sister-in-law Francesca is killed, her heart removed and placed in an ashtray; then the Marchesa is murdered, her heart also removed. What does this signify--and who is next?
Serafina Bettini, the only female homicide detective in Italy, investigates. Her quest brings her back to the villa, where she once fought as a partisan and was grievously wounded, leaving her with scars both visible and invisible.
Bohjalian's characters are multi-dimensional, causing the reader to ponder what decisions he or she might have made in the same circumstances. The Light in the Ruins is a riveting re-creation of a time and place long gone. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: Bohjalian writes of the horror of war visited upon a peaceful Tuscan villa, leading to tragedy and repercussions many years later.
The Violet Hour
by Katherine Hill
On a sunny day in San Francisco Bay, usually stable rheumatologist Abe Green loses it. After a tirade over his aspiring sculptor wife Cassandra's seemingly guilt-free infidelities, he leaps off the family sloop and swims back to shore. Their Harvard-bound daughter takes the helm from her frantic mother and sails them back to the city. The marriage is over, the family broken.
But that's just the prologue to Elizabeth Hill's The Violet Hour, a rich first novel about Cassandra's journey from her family's funeral home in the Maryland suburbs of Washington to the artsy hills of Berkeley. With an uncanny touch for the idiosyncrasies of families, Hill gradually unveils Cassandra's history--her parents' 54-year marriage, her needy younger siblings, her stalwart husband's marijuana addiction, her ambitious daughter's inappropriate men and her own passions and insecurities.
The heart of the novel is the family's return home for her father Howard's 80th birthday--an event fractured by his accidental death from a fall off the roof of his half-built sauna. Without his paternal anchorage, they quickly unravel. Hill is especially good with Cassandra's always difficult mother, Eunice, who "was simply fond of saying no... a ringing and resounding no to almost everything," and who stayed home "ironing righteously" while Howard took his children to the playground.
The Violet Hour doesn't tell a new story. There are no new stories except in the telling; and in that, Hill has made a notable debut. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover: A fine first novel of a modern family and its timeworn struggles to overcome its disconnections.
by Andrea Thalasinos
The multiple meanings of the title Traveling Light ripple through Andrea Thalasinos's second novel (after An Echo Through the Snow), as her protagonist, Paula Makaikis, escapes a stifling New York City career, a loveless marriage and a murky family history the day she rescues Fotis--a wolf-like dog whose name comes from the Greek word for light.
As the novel begins, Paula plugs away at her well-paying job and hides her private life with an emotionally estranged husband who is a hoarder. When a social worker friend calls her to translate for a dying homeless Greek man, Paula discovers a long-lost "Uncle" and feels drawn to adopt his dog. Fotis (who understands only Greek) inspires her to abandon her complacency, buy an SUV and hit the road.
En route to visit friends in Minnesota, she has a newfound sense of adventure that leads her spontaneously to apply for a job at a wildlife rehab center on Lake Superior, where she discovers her true calling. Within a week, fate has led Paula to rescue Fotis, owls, eagles and, ultimately, herself.
Thalasinos draws on her Greek heritage, her life in Wisconsin and her love of animals. Passionate descriptions of mistreated wildlife and puppy mills are credible rather than didactic, as Paula discovers what really matters to her. She thoughtfully travels light: without worldly goods or self-doubt, but with Fotis and a soaring sense of purpose. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco
Discover: A young woman finds the courage to be true to herself when she opens her heart to a needy dog and injured wildlife.
Mystery & Thriller
by Carsten Stroud
Part crime novel, part supernatural thriller, Carsten Stroud's The Homecoming, the followup to 2012's Niceville, paints a picture of a southern town in the grips of something dark and menacing. Nick Kavanaugh is a police detective in Niceville, with an attorney wife, Kate, and a newly adopted son, Rainey Teague. Strange things have been happening, both in Nick's police department as well as in and around the various sites of evil-doings in Confederate times.
The non-supernatural plot of the novel revolves around a group of policemen who pulled off a particularly hairy car robbery in the first book. Byron Dietz, an abusive alcoholic who is married to Kate's sister, takes center stage as he co-opts the local sporting goods store to get his hands on that money, setting off another chain of brutal events.
The Homecoming is full of solid characters, with Harvill Endicott, the mob-hired amoral psychopath chasing down the money from the armed car robbery, Warren Smoles, the fire-breathing defense lawyer who's more interested in the camera than the actual fate of his charges, and Mavis Crossfire, the cheerily effective lieutenant who Nick reports to at each new crime scene.
Stroud weaves a darkly humorous tale of the evil that men do with a firm eye toward old haunts in the swamps. The Homecoming is a breathless read with endless surprises and the solid writing of an author firmly in control of his craft. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor
Discover: Stroud's tight plotting and colorful characters bounce between hard-boiled crime drama and suspenseful, creepy supernatural thriller.
by David Rosenfelt
Unleashed, David Rosenfelt's 11th mystery featuring defense attorney Andy Carpenter, opens with a prologue that takes place very far away from Andy's native New Jersey, indicating this installment deals with more global concerns. The story then moves closer to familiar ground: Paterson, N.J., where Sam, Andy's accountant, hits a dog while on his way to see Barry Price, a hedge fund owner who had offered to take Sam up in his private plane. The accident--the dog survives but is seriously injured--makes Sam late for his appointment, so Barry goes up alone. His plane crashes, and Barry's wife, Denise, is charged with his murder.
Because Denise was Sam's high school sweetheart and they've remained friends, Sam asks Andy to defend her. Mid-trial, the case takes a shocking, personal twist, and Andy is drawn into a deadly conspiracy that would make 9/11 look like a terrorist practice run.
As usual, Rosenfelt is adept at combining humor with very serious crimes. The body count is high, but Andy can induce chuckles with his anti-work philosophy, his courtroom quips and observations about his staff, including Hike, the support attorney with a penchant for depressing conversation, and Edna, the assistant who never assists in anything. And of course, there's a new dog character, Crash, who's even less interested than Andy and Edna in expending any energy at all.
The villainous plot Andy must prevent from being Unleashed, though, is no laughing matter. Andy is forced to do things he's never done, and readers might feel a little discomfort, too, because, in light of real-life world events, the conspiracy is all too plausible. --Elyse Dinh-McCrilllis, freelance writer/editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd
Discover: Defense attorney Andy Carpenter makes his 11th appearance in Rosenfelt's entertaining series in this unsettling, timely thriller balanced with humor.
by Alex Kava
FBI agent Maggie O'Dell and her partner R. J. Tully are tired of being on the road. They've been crisscrossing the country on the hunt for a serial killer targeting weary travelers at rest areas and truck stops. A mobile killer is hard to catch, though--until he sends Maggie a map that leads them to a plot of land in Iowa that's full of bodies.
Meanwhile, in Kansas, a teenager appears at a rest stop covered in the blood of his missing best friend. Local police suspect him for the crime--but could it be the serial killer? Maggie and Tully must sift the evidence, and figure out if they're being led on a wild goose chase.
In Stranded, her 11th Maggie O'Dell mystery, Alex Kava has honed the thriller to a fine point, keeping readers on the edge of their seats as she shifts between Maggie and Tully's investigation and the unspeakable things the killer is doing to his victims.
In addition to the main crime, Kava has added some refreshingly softer human elements to the story, weaving in a potential love interest for Maggie and some surprising personal revelations for both her and Tully. Fans of shows like Criminal Minds, or authors like Lee Child or Karin Slaughter, will undoubtedly love Stranded. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm
Discover: FBI Agent Maggie O'Dell must race to find a serial killer before he strikes again.
Biography & Memoir
Dogtripping: 25 Rescues, 11 Volunteers, and 3 RVs on Our Canine Cross-Country Adventure
by David Rosenfelt
There are two likely reactions to Dogtripping, David Rosenfelt's account of driving from California to Maine with 25 dogs: "That man is crazy" or "What a blast!" Either one is reasonable.
After 20 years as a marketing executive in the movie business, Rosenfelt lived a quiet, pet-free life in Southern California writing mystery novels (starting with 2002's Open and Shut). Then he met Debbie, his future wife, who came with a golden retriever that died of cancer two years later. In an attempt to honor the loss of their beloved dog, the couple began volunteering at a local animal shelter and eventually established the Tara Foundation, a rescue organization named after the retriever.
When Debbie retired, she and David decided they were ready for "real weather" and to be closer to family. They bought a remote, 10-acre wooded lot with a lake in Maine--and then moved 25 dogs (most weighing more than 50 pounds) cross-country. A group of generous dog lovers volunteered to help, Cruise America allowed them to rent three RVs and, after a lot of planning, the crew set out.
Rosenfelt is an entertaining, self-depreciating storyteller. He intersperses the tale of the journey with vignettes about the dogs they have rescued through the years--each pup's portrait is only a few pages long, but even readers who aren't dog people will soon see how Rosenfelt found himself in such a crazy predicament--and find themselves wishing the journey was much longer. --Kristen Galles, blogger at Book Club Classics
Discover: Dogtripping is a wonderful gift for any dog--or animal--lover.
Current Events & Issues
What Went Wrong: How the 1% Hijacked the American Middle Class... and What Other Countries Got Right
by George R. Tyler
Several books have examined the effects of the recent recession, but few have dug as deeply into the root causes of country's current economic malaise as George R. Tyler's What Went Wrong. Tyler--a deputy Treasury secretary in the Clinton administration and former World Bank counselor--brings his experience to bear on what he sees as the culprit behind today's stagnating wages and increasing wealth gaps: the economic policies of the Reagan administration and the "shareholder capitalism" that emphasizes short-term gains that look good on quarterly reports over long-term growth that sustains a viable standard of living for workers while keeping pace with productivity and inflation.
Tyler's critique of Reaganomics and its "trickle-down" approach challenges several common economic myths. He argues, for instance, that Adam Smith supported rigorous government regulation of corporations as a means of maintaining competition in a capitalist economy. He also observes that von Hayek and Keynes--whose theories are assumed to conflict--actually align against the Reaganomics strategy of, as he describes it, "overtly crafting large, routine structural deficits merely to lower taxes on the wealthy." Finally, he states that there is no real relation between the minimum wage and unemployment or inflation, and thus no reason for corporations to continue suppressing wages--except that they can.
Though his conclusions are undoubtedly controversial, Tyler grounds his arguments in data and facts, providing a deep exploration of our current economic situation and the pre-Reagan policies that, if implemented again, may lead us out. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket
Discover: A former undersecretary in Clinton's Treasury Department identifies Reaganomics as the root of our 21st-century recessionary woes.
Essays & Criticism
Lousy Sex: Creating Self in an Infectious World
by Gerald N. Callahan
Lousy Sex attempts to answer the ages-old question of what is self, but instead becomes a fascinating memoir that fuses science and philosophy into a poignant portrait of the human self. (The title is a pun referencing the bacterial infection that turns wood lice into self-reproducing females.) Gerald Callahan, an immunologist at the University of Colorado, uses his considerable expertise to explain the divergent themes of biological self--immunity and the evolutionary ways cells have evolved in distinguishing "self" from "nonself"--and psychological self--the brain's connections to thought and creativity.
Ranging between the science, religion and philosophy, Callahan's more personal recollections question the entirety of self within the context of his own humanity: an almost detached description of his mother's test for Alzheimer's and subsequent admission into a nursing home for care; a Thanksgiving car accident that leaves his wife physically disfigured and the efforts to restore her to her former self. In one passage, he uses multiple sclerosis as an example of a brain-body destroyer to illustrate how infectious diseases have allowed science to unlock the dark secrets of the human soul.
Callahan's prose is more poetic than scientific. He imbues a sense of wonder in his subject while punctuating how entwined our biological and psychological halves are to one another--destruction of one leads to a sense of loss for the other. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant
Discover: An immunologist's deeply personal and philosophical take on the meaning of "self" and its implications on humankind.
The Longest Road
by Philip Caputo
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Philip Caputo (A Rumor of War) joins the list of great travel narrators like Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and William Least Heat-Moon (Blue Highways) with The Longest Road, a memoir that harkens back most closely to John Steinbeck's classic Travels with Charley. Like Steinbeck, Caputo wants to look at the country afresh and searches for today's America on its two-lane highways. And, also like Steinbeck, he brought along a dog--two, actually.
"The longest road," Caputo writes. "The idea brought on a rush of restless blood, stirred my imagination." His wife joins him on the transcontinental adventure, leaving Key West towing an Airstream behind their truck. He grouses about the particulars of his camper, marvels at the beauty of the Natchez Trace Parkway, laughs at his old dogs, ruminates about politics and casts light on his own marriage (as well as making note of his own foibles and triumphs). All the while, Caputo unspools America's stories--from Mississippi to Kansas, Montana to Oregon, up north through the Yukon to the final destination: Deadhorse, Alaska.
The Longest Road will make readers feel a rush of restless blood and want to get behind their own rigs, stirring their own imaginations about what's around the next bend in the road. --Jonathan Shipley, freelance writer
Discover: Caputo's cross-country journey with his wife and their two setters is a Travels with Charley for the 21st century.
Children's & Young Adult
Binny for Short
by Hilary McKay , illus. by Micah Player
With humor, poignancy and a keen insight into human nature and family dynamics, Hilary McKay (The Exiles; Saffy's Angel) moves in with the Cornwallises as they relocate to the seashore in the wake of three deaths.
Everything was so great when Binny (short for Belinda) Cornwallis was eight. She had her father and her mother; her older sister, Clem; her baby brother, James; and Max, her wonderful border collie. Then her father dies, the family goes bankrupt and moves to a dingy tiny apartment, and Max goes to live with Granny. Next Granny's health goes, and Aunty Violet comes back from Spain to send Max away. Just when it couldn't get any worse, Granny dies, and Aunty Violet says--at Granny's funeral--that deaths " come in threes... who's next!" Binny has tried and tried to be polite, but she loses it then: "You should be dead, not Granny.... I wish you were." And, in true McKay tradition, Aunty Violet does die.
McKay follows Binny's family as they make over their lives in a seaside cottage that Aunty Violet has left them. Binny continues to probe the mystery of what happened to Max. Gareth, the archnemesis next door ("For Binny it had happened the way some people become friends.... Only it was not friends; it was enemies"), distracts Binny from the rhythms of family life and challenges her in new ways. And while this relationship as a framing structure sometimes calls attention to itself, McKay's characters command readers' full attention. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: Another probing look at the dynamics of a family from the ever insightful and humorous Hilary McKay.
OCD Love Story
by Corey Ann Haydu
A teenage girl realizes that her obsessive-compulsive disorder is limiting her dating potential in this absorbing, offbeat debut.
Bea knows she has some odd tendencies. When it comes to the people she loves, she can't help herself from constantly checking in on them, making lists about their lives and avoiding sharp objects so she doesn't accidentally hurt them. But that doesn't mean she has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, does it? After being accused of stalking her ex-boyfriend, Bea starts seeing Dr. Pat and reluctantly attending group therapy. At first, Bea is convinced that she "should be in a group of nice girls with tiny problems and pretty hair," instead of this motley group of self-mutilating kids. But Bea's tics grow as she becomes romantically involved with Beck, a kind, compulsive hand washer, and tries to hide her latest obsession with a married couple. Can Bea tame her OCD and find true love? Or will her anxieties always prevent her from realizing that "tiny pocket of possibility that there could be a day when I could do things the way other people do them."
Bea is an engaging and empathetic character with a vibrant, first-person voice. Her litany of repetitive thoughts and difficulty in managing them provide readers with a strong sense of what it must feel like to be trapped by compulsions. This unexpected, yet utterly realistic twist on traditional teen courtship will be appealing to those burned out on paranormal romance. --Jennifer Hubert Swan, middle school librarian and Library Department chair at Little Red School House & Elisabeth Irwin High School
Discover: An unconventional romance featuring an eccentric heroine whose mental health struggle is realistically and honestly rendered.
The Tapir Scientist: Saving South America's Largest Mammal
by Sy Montgomery
Sy Montgomery and Nic Bishop, the Sibert Medal–winning duo behind Kakapo Rescue, here focus on the lowland tapir in this addition to the Scientists in the Field series. The animal lives in the Brazilian Pantanal wetlands, described as "the Everglades on steroids."
Tapirs are not anteaters, as some assume; rather, they are related to rhinos and horses. (Fun fact: they use their snout as a snorkel when they swim.) Scientist Patricia Medici is working to learn more, including the best way to protect them. She and her team use various methods to track and study tapirs, including box traps, radio collars, dart guns and camera traps. She is trying to solve mysteries of territory, behavior, socialization and diet, all the while becoming attached to the animals she studies. Montgomery and Bishop, embedded in the action, wake up at 4 a.m. to check traps and share the ups and downs of work in the field, where there are many unpredictable problems to deal with, from ticks and poisonous snakes to faulty equipment.
Beyond the tapir itself, this book highlights each member of Medici's team and the ranch culture of the Pantanal. It also features some of the hundreds of other species that call these wetlands home, in particular the giant anteater and the giant armadillo. Although slightly marred by a couple of sloppy layouts and one instance of a poor graph explanation, Montgomery's engaging text and Bishop's vivid, compelling nature photography make this a fascinating introduction to a little-known animal. --Angela Carstensen, school librarian and blogger
Discover: All about the Brazilian lowland tapir, a little-known animal crucial to sustaining the biodiversity of the Pantanal wetlands.