Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 3, 2014
From My Shelf
Happy National Sleep Day!
"I cannot sleep unless I am surrounded by books." --Jorge Luis Borges
Although its origins are cloaked in mystery (one theory is that it was a natural counterpoint to the frantic holiday season), National Sleep Day occurs annually today, January 3. So why are you still awake? If you'd like a few sleep-themed books for a celebratory voyage to "The Land of Counterpane," we have some suggestions.
You might start with The Art of Lying Down: A Guide to Horizontal Living by Bernd Brunner (translated by Lori Lantz), a "study of the history of lying down--which is more complicated than you might think."
Penelope A. Lewis, author of In The Secret World of Sleep: The Surprising Science of the Mind at Rest, told NPR earlier this year that sleep may be your brain's "spring cleaning" mechanism: "You clean up after you've made a mess, right? So that's exactly what sleep seems to do for the brain."
Bedtime reading possibilities are endless for drowsy children of all ages, ranging from prescriptive self-help titles to entertaining options like Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach and Ricardo Cortés, Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman, The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe or even Dr. Sleep by Stephen King, though the last one might not be the ideal sleep aid.
My selection for National Sleep Day this year is Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward, in which Julian West, the insomniac protagonist, enters his favorite room--a hermetically sealed, subterranean sleeping chamber--in 1887 and, under a mesmerist's spell, wakes up in the year 2000. Now that is a good night's literary sleep by any standard.
Since the Weather Channel is predicting -13 temps for tonight, concepts like spring cleaning, hibernation, reading under the covers and a little restorative snoozing all sound like the perfect ingredients for a successful holiday. Happy National Sleep Day! --Robert Gray, contributing editor
Literary Libations, Best Translated Novels
"As we welcome 2014 on to our calendars, test your knowledge of some bookish beginnings," the Guardian noted.
If your New Year's hangover is no longer an issue, you might want to check out Flavorwire's look at "literary libations from famous books."
"In Search of Identity: Three of 2013's Best Translated Novels" were chosen by Juan Vidal for NPR Books.
"As readers, we all have our own visions of what classic books would look like in real life," the Huffington Post noted in showcasing "9 layouts of famous houses from classic literature."
"A Harry Potter fan has created a Ministry of Magic website that looks just like the real U.K. government site," Buzzfeed reported.
A picture is worth a thousand wordsmiths? Brain Pickings showcased "famous authors' hand-drawn self-portraits and reflections on the divide between the private person and the writerly persona."
What We're Reading: Soccer
Every publisher who has a book with the words "Brazil" or "World Cup" in the title believes, or will try to convince us, that their book is the must-read soccer book of 2014. Here are four books, none particularly on the World Cup, that deserve mention--a good start for the summer games.
The best soccer book ever written just got better. Nation Books has published an updated version of Eduardo Galeano's Soccer in Sun and Shadow ($16.99, trade paper) that now includes his writing on the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. The book is a series of vignettes, a chain of stories, that cover the history of the sport through players, coaches, matches and goals. Those stories are framed by current events, politics, globalization, racism and commercialism. Galeano has said he wrote the book to enable "fans of reading to lose their fear of soccer and fans of soccer to lose their fear of books."
To understand Inverting The Pyramid: The History of Soccer Tactics by Jonathan Wilson (Nation Books, $18.99, paperback), you do need to know soccer. Actually, you have to be a bit of a soccer geek to work your way through these 400-plus pages of the history of soccer tactics. You might have heard of the 4-4-2 formation, but the 4-6-0 or the 1-3-3-3? Makes the mind twitch. The book, originally published in the U.K., has been updated and adapted for the U.S. market.
The oddest new book might be Those Feet: A Sensual History of English Soccer by David Winner (Overlook, $15.95, paperback), on how the English style of football, with deep roots in Victorian values and sexual anxiety, has created a modern neurosis for British football. For example, in the mid-19th century, John Charles Thring was influential in developing codes of football. His brother Edward Thring was important in Victorian education and obsessed with stamping out masturbation, which connects with William Acton's concept of "spermatic economy" in developing strong, focused young footballers. I guess that's about all I want to say about that.
The most fun of the recent crop of titles is You Are the Ref: The Ultimate Illustrated Guide to the Laws of Football by Paul Trevillion and Keith Hackett, with a foreword by Howard Webb (Overlook, $15.95, paperback), probably the most recognizable referee in the sport. A cousin to the Guardian comic strip that poses a match situation on Friday, with official answers on Mondays, the book is a collection of guidelines and advice, rules and scenarios for referees. There are the 6Cs of refereeing, which remind me of the 5D's of Dodgeball (stupid movie reference). My favorite section is on how to detect simulation--diving to the ground and feigning injury to draw a foul. If you want to see examples of flagrant diving, go to YouTube and search Arjen Robben or Cristiano Ronaldo.
Since the United States was plopped into the Group of Death (I mean, seriously--Ghana, Germany and Portugal?) the chances that we'll get out of the group stage are not pretty. But our shot to advance in the World Cup of World Literature (working title) is wide open. More information on this Global Literature Mega-Spectacular Event, hosted by Chad Post and your humble soccer editor, will follow soon at Three Percent. --George Carroll, independent publishers' representative (and Shelf Awareness soccer editor)
The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles
by Katherine Pancol , trans. by William Rodarmor , Helen Dickinson
Katherine Pancol is one of the best-known writers in France, and millions of copies of her books are available in 30 languages. With The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles, English-speaking readers will have a chance to enjoy her sly Gallic humor as they escape into an enjoyably readable novel.
Joséphine is a scholar of medieval history. Her snarky 14-year-old, Hortense, constantly remarks on her lackluster appearance, her "loser" clothes and her humorless approach to life, while younger daughter Zoé is sweet, loving and a bit of a baby. Joséphine's husband, Tonio, has been fired from his job and is cheating with his manicurist. Jo kicks him out.
Jo's older sister, Iris, has it all: beautiful home, successful husband, a perfect son, wealth. Yet she feels her husband, Philippe, drifting away. At a party, motivated by a desire to seem interesting and engaged in Philippe's eyes, she tells one of his influential friends, a publisher, she is writing a book set in the 12th century. He demands to see it.
Of course, she cajoles Jo to write the book for her, promising her all the money if she will allow Iris to be the "author." Against her better judgment, Jo agrees. The book is published, and wild acclaim follows. Meanwhile, Tonio's gone to Kenya with his mistress to start a crocodile farm, expecting to strike it rich by pleasing his Chinese bosses.
While there are several plot lines left hanging and not a lot of surprises, Pancol--or her translators--has such a readable style you can't stop turning the pages. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.
Discover: An enjoyable tale of two sisters, one of whom writes a book while the other takes credit for it--plus a cast of thousands, each with a great story.
Somewhere in France
by Jennifer Robson
Lady Elizabeth Neville-Ashford, the protagonist of Jennifer Robson's Somewhere in France, longs to make a difference in the world. She dreams of earning a university degree, traveling abroad and working at a useful job. But her place in London society, under the thumb of her aristocratic mother, has always limited her independence.
When World War I breaks out and her brother joins the British army, Lilly defies her parents' strictures, learning to drive, working to earn her living and joining the newly formed Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. After months of training, Lilly is posted to France, where her brother's best friend, the handsome Scottish surgeon Robbie Fraser, is working at a field hospital. Determined to prove her worth and distance herself from her coddled upbringing, Lilly takes on the toughest jobs. Robbie finds himself admiring Lilly, even falling in love with her--but he is determined to protect her from the horrors of war, even if it means ending their relationship.
Robson's debut novel moves deftly between the grimy tents of field hospitals and the luxury of Paris, providing a gritty look at the realities of the Great War. Despite the blood-soaked medical scenes, Robson also captures the tenderness of Lilly and Robbie's fledgling love and the quiet but deep bonds of friendship formed between the soldiers, WAAC drivers and medical staff.
With a compelling setting, a thrilling love story and a brave, sympathetic hero and heroine, Somewhere in France will appeal to fans of Downton Abbey and other period sagas of love and war. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: A compelling saga of love and war in the field hospitals of World War I France.
Mystery & Thriller
by M.A. Lawson
Mike Lawson, creator of the Joe DeMarco thrillers (House Odds et al.), uses the pen name M. A. Lawson to launch a new series, Rosarito Beach, with a new protagonist: DEA agent Kay Hamilton. Hamilton brings a take-no-prisoners attitude to her investigations, and though it's clear she makes a better field agent than supervisor, she's assigned to lead a team in Southern California investigating Caesar Olivera, the boss of a major Mexican drug cartel. After arresting the kingpin's little brother, Tito, Hamilton's main concern becomes keeping him locked up. Even after Tito is transferred to the brig of a vast Marine base, however, Caesar's army threatens.
Hamilton dislikes authority figures, enjoys a drink or four, picks fights with every other law enforcement agency in town and knows exactly how to use her good looks and hot body to her advantage. She follows her own personal code, pleased to be beholden to no one except herself, involved with her career and personal pursuits--mainly her sex life--until a mystery from her distant past resurfaces. This new addition to her short list of concerns reorders Hamilton's priorities and drives her to actions, and crimes, she never thought possible. The DEA fights to keep Tito locked up, the cartel arms itself for action and Hamilton rejects protocol in an accelerating race toward the end game, which concludes with all the fireworks and upheaval a thriller fan craves. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: A sexy renegade DEA agent's past resurfaces at the worst possible moment in a new series from (a barely disguised) Mike Lawson.
The Midas Murders
by Pieter Aspe , trans. by Brian Doyle
Pieter Van In, assistant police commissioner in the Belgian city of Bruges, is a mess. He drinks to excess, smokes like a chimney and is about to lose his home to foreclosure. Despite everything, though, his detecting skills remain sharp. This comes in handy in The Midas Murders--Pieter Aspe's sequel to The Square of Revenge--when the bedraggled commissioner is called upon to investigate the death of a wealthy German businessman and the bombing of a beloved statue.
The bombing appears to be a terrorist act and Bruges, dependent on tourism, is in a state of panic when a letter threatens more attacks. Then, when the German's autopsy reveals abnormalities that point to murder, Van In suspects a connection between the cases. As his pursuit of justice leads him in dangerous directions, his trusty sidekick, Sergeant Guido Versavel, and Van In's girlfriend, prosecutor Hannelore Maartens, attempt to keep the self-destructive cop in one piece.
Some elements of The Midas Murders reflect its original 1996 publication date, like Versavel's "new" word processor--but the plot itself feels up-to-date, even when it delves back into Europe's history, as Aspe weaves the historic into the current for a complex and intriguing mystery. The true gold of the novel, however, is the development of the character's relationships. Alone, Pieter Van In would be an unremarkable detective--just another drunken loner. Through his interactions with Versavel and Maartens, a humorous, empathetic, flawed human emerges--one for whom readers can cheer. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts
Discover: When terrorism strikes Bruges, a brilliant but troubled police commissioner must uncover those behind the attack, in the second novel from Flemish crime writer Pieter Aspe.
Dead Man's Fancy
by Keith McCafferty
Sean Stranahan is a renaissance man of the West: a fly fisherman, a painter and--in his spare time--a private investigator. For Dead Man's Fancy, the third novel in Keith McCafferty's mystery series, Sheriff Martha Ettinger summons Stranahan when a young woman disappears in the Montana mountains and the ranch hand who set out to rescue her is found impaled on an elk antler.
Tempers run high when evidence points to the likelihood that a wolf killed and consumed the woman. Wolf lovers face off against their adversaries, forcing Ettinger and Stranahan to find the truth before all hell breaks loose in the Madison Valley.
McCafferty's strong sense of place comes through not only in the Montana setting itself, but in the characters. Stranahan notes that while he's an Easterner by birth, he's far more comfortable with the Western way of life. "Casual acquaintance came so naturally," McCafferty writes, "that he seldom paused to consider that it was anything but ordinary to exchange hellos with a passing fisherman and take the confession of his infidelities a half hour later."
At times, McCafferty seems to try too hard to accurately portray fly-fishing; the excessive detail slows the momentum. However, the strong character and relationship development keep the reader's attention long enough to be reeled back in.
Discover: Geysers of trouble threaten to erupt in Montana when a missing woman appears to have been eaten by a wolf.
Food & Wine
The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature
by Tammi Hartung
Tammi Hartung, the owner and operator of Colorado's Desert Canyon Farms, knows what it means to farm in an area teeming with wildlife. Rather than fight against nature, Hartung's The Wildlife-Friendly Vegetable Gardener provides a wide assortment of methods for living in tune with local flora and fauna. By observing nature and its creatures, "you gain greater knowledge about how the natural world is actually influencing the garden (rather than what you assumed was happening)," Hartung writes. "You can then utilize that greater knowledge to create an even more beneficial garden environment."
Hartung explains the benefits of proper soil maintenance; a healthy and productive garden is directly related to its soil base. She gives ample advice on beneficial bugs such as paper wasps, praying mantis and spiders, and covers strategies to welcome animal predators like toads, some snakes and hawks, which will protect the garden from mice and gophers (among other small gnawing creatures), plus techniques beyond the scarecrow for keeping birds away. The lighthearted discussion also covers crop rotation, robust planting strategies and including animals and insects in every gardening environment. Hartung offers a series of garden designs that reflect a planter's good intentions and welcome butterflies, bats, birds and bees. Whimsical illustrations add a delightful touch to this slender volume; a quick reference chart of problems and remedies rounds out the abundance of helpful advice. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover: Tammi Hartung (Homegrown Herbs) offers a useful compilation of practical ideas enabling gardeners and nature to coexist and thrive in unison.
Biography & Memoir
The Trip to Echo Spring: On Writers and Drinking
by Olivia Laing
Olivia Laing's The Trip to Echo Spring focuses on six authors whose lives meet at the juncture of creativity and alcoholism. While Laing (To the River) acknowledges she had many alcoholic writers to choose from, the half dozen she selected justify and reward her nuanced attentions: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, John Cheever, Raymond Carver and John Berryman.
The Trip to Echo Spring--named for the bourbon favored by the maudlin Brick in Williams's Cat on a Hot Tin Roof--is partly literary criticism, while biographical detail reveals the subjects' intersections with one another in life as well as literature. There are hints of travelogue as Laing crisscrosses North America to visit crucial locations in these writers' lives, from Hemingway's Key West to Fitzgerald and Berryman's St. Paul, Minn., to Port Angeles, Wash., where Raymond Carver finished his life.
She delves into the biology and psychology of of alcoholism, and touches on her own upbringing as the child of alcoholics. While she focuses on the relationship between writing and drinking, another part of her journey is personal--but her history with drunks is only gradually revealed and never takes center stage.
All the disparate elements come together elegantly in Laing's quietly contemplative prose. She is sensitive to the struggles of these tortured men (among them several suicides) and deeply appreciative of their accomplishments, but also clear-headed about their shortcomings and their abusive treatment of others as well as themselves. A lovely piece of writing in its own right, The Trip to Echo Spring is a fine tribute to artists as well as a lament for their addiction. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia
Discover: Olivia Laing's poetic ruminations on the alcoholism of six authors will charm readers of travel writing, biography and literary criticism.
Health & Medicine
A Big Fat Crisis: The Hidden Forces Behind the Obesity Epidemic--and How We Can End It
by Deborah A. Cohen
"Who is to blame for the more than 150 million Americans who are obese?" ask Deborah Cohen, a public health specialist who has spent more than 25 years studying why people engage in risky behaviors like smoking, drinking and overeating. She does not believe the obesity epidemic is due to a lack of willpower; that would imply Americans had more self-control 30 years ago. In A Big Fat Crisis, she proposes a different explanation: too much food, too cheap, too accessible.
Non-cognitive systems of the human brain hardwired for survival may contribute to the epidemic, Cohen acknowledges, but the greater blame lies firmly on the ways in which our "food environment" has changed, with "cheap, high-calorie, low-nutrient foods at our disposal in a way that is unprecedented in human history." She believes obesity should be approached in the same manner as 19th-century cholera or typhoid epidemics--public health crises countered through government regulation.
Instead of regulating human behavior, Cohen wants to control how food is offered: standardizing portion sizes; requiring nutritionally balanced meals in restaurants; and prohibiting combo meals, 24-hour drive-thrus and impulse marketing. She models many of her recommendations, such as mandatory health warnings, on existing regulation of the tobacco and alcohol industries--believing sometimes the government must save us from ourselves. Although Cohen's arguments, backed with ample evidence of how the food industry does not support a healthy lifestyle, are convincing, her recommendations may be resisted by those who believe our world is regulated enough as it is. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Discover: A physician offers a controversial but compelling solution to the obesity epidemic in the U.S.
The Detox Prescription: Supercharge Your Health, Strip Away Pounds, and Eliminate the Toxins Within
by Woodson Merrell , Mary Beth Augustine , Hillari Dowdle
"Heredity is not destiny," says Columbia medical professor Woodson Merrell; in his experience, "we can affect a minimum of 70 percent of disease through our environmental and health choices." The Detox Prescription explains in detail what those choices should be, emphasizing diet and nutrition. The Center for Disease Control has determined the average body contains 153 toxins, from pesticides to plastics to water pollution, so Merrell presents two short quizzes to identify what might be lurking in readers' bodies to determine the extent of the detox needed.
Merrell believes most cleanses focus on releasing the toxins, but then fail to provide adequate levels of nutrition to eliminate them from the body. His three-day juice cleanse allows digestion systems to rest while still nourishing the body, preparing it for a "clean" diet. Inspired by Scandinavian studies that indicate juice cleanses alleviate autoimmune diseases and systemic inflammation, Merrell believes nutrition may be the answer for any kind of chronic pain, fatigue and discomfort. Collaborating with nutritionist Mary Beth Augustine, he has created 21 days of recipes that encourage optimal health (along with suggested stress relief activities). Tempting recipes like twice-baked sweet potatoes stuffed with fruits and nuts or quinoa with Asian mushrooms and black truffle oil ensure readers will not feel deprived as they clean and nourish their bodies on the way to better health. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics
Discover: Food may be the best "medicine" for purifying our bodies--and, a nutritional expert suggests, it should be pleasurable as well.
Children's & Young Adult
We Shall Overcome: The Story of a Song
by Debbie Levy , illus. by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
Debbie Levy (The Year of Goodbyes) leads readers on a journey of a song spanning hundreds of years and still sung today, accompanied by uplifting images by Vanessa Brantley-Newton (Let Freedom Sing).
This involving picture book traces the song's roots from a spiritual sung by enslaved people ("I'll Be All Right"), through Charles Albert Tindley's church in Philadelphia, circa 1900 ("I'll Overcome Someday"), the 1940s protests at a tobacco factory (the song "I Will Overcome"--with a different melody and words from Tindley's--morphed into "We Will Overcome") and to a 1957 party where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was guest of honor and serenaded by Pete Seeger--in a form closer to what we know the song as today. Levy's narrative evokes the feeling of lyrics. She describes the party honoring Dr. King, who "took the song with him in his heart/ everywhere he traveled./ The words changed a little/ But the spirit stayed the same."
The book's design emphasizes the refrain of the song in its different incarnations, which serves as a caption for each illustration. Brantley-Newton's images often provide much of the historic context (until readers reach the thorough timeline at book's end), and gracefully flow from the cotton fields to Tindley's church to the 1960s sit-ins and a moving penultimate spread depicting a huge crowd singing to President Barack Obama on Inauguration Day. Detailed resources will point young readers to related reading and videos of the song performed by the likes of Marian Anderson. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: The story of a song that threads its way through the most pivotal moments in U.S. history.
Princess Penelope and the Runaway Kitten
by Alison Murray
Pure fun for the preschool set, Alison Murray's (One Two That's My Shoe) paper-over-board book centers on a tiara-toting, polka-dot-boot-wearing princess in pursuit of a white kitten while the adults are otherwise engaged.
The sugar-white kitten stands out against the castle's cream-colored walls and outdoor environs as it unspools the glittering pink yarn from the queen's knitting project: "[O]ff he ran, with a swish of his tail,/ leaving behind him a pink woolly trail." Murray clues in youngest detectives as she connects the path the feline has traveled and offers a glimpse around the corner to what's ahead. A blue pedestal table, for instance, spotted from the playroom, gets a twist of glittery pink, as does the butler, calmly balancing a bird cage (from which the runaway feline has inadvertently freed a pair of birds), a tea tray and himself--on one leg (the other leg, like the table's, wrapped in pink). Toddlers can trace the pink trail, slightly raised from the page, as they help Princess Penelope track down the furry interloper, sometimes in spirals, other times in angular patterns.
Murray portrays the kitten as a kind of Pied Piper, gathering not only the princess but also the family dog, the freed birds, a peacock, a squirrel and other creatures. Where was the kitten off to in such a hurry? Why, to his mother, of course. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A glittery tactile seek-and-find for the toddler set.
by Tara Altebrando , Sara Zarr
Sara Zarr (The Lucy Variations) and Tara Altebrando (The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life) team up to deliver an authentic story about two girls spending their last summers at home before they leave for college.
When Elizabeth gets her roommate assignment from UC Berkeley's housing department, she e-mails Lauren to get acquainted. Elizabeth, an only child living with her mother in suburban New Jersey, is looking forward to bonding with her new roomie. She writes a long "babbling" message introducing herself and talking about appliances. Lauren, one of six children in a very crowded California household, had requested a single dorm room; she replies with a perfunctory answer, which immediately offends Elizabeth.
From this inauspicious beginning, a friendship sprouts. In alternating chapters, the two girls fumble their way to understanding one another. Their correspondence becomes more important to them both as the summer progresses. Each forms a bond with a new boyfriend, figures out how to say goodbye to long-time best friends and tries to forge a more mature relationship with her parents. These concerns will resonate with high school readers navigating their way through similar changes. Each girl's journey feels genuine. As they move closer to the moment when they will begin sharing a very small dorm room, readers begin to believe they may succeed.
Roomies is full of life and love, choices and responsibilities, all presented in a very neat and appealing package. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators
Discover: The ups and downs of two teenage girls spending a last summer at home before leaving for college.