Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 14, 2014


From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide

Will You Be Mine?

Let's admit it: from homemade folded-paper hearts in kindergarten to imported chocolates as adults, we love getting Valentines. Here are a few favorite books to express your affection to loved ones, from toddlers to teens, and even a little something for yourself.

As the animals in We Love Each Other by Yusuke Yonezu pair off, they form shapes that youngest book lovers will easily recognize, such as the back-to-back birds on the cover, which form a red heart, and the two half-circle turtles that complete a green circle. The Silver Button by Bob Graham portrays familial love, as a girl witnesses her toddler brother's first steps. Aphrodite by George O'Connor may at first blush look like a book for girls, but boys will find just as much action and intrigue in this graphic novel addition to the fabulous Olympians series.

It wouldn't be Valentine's Day without a book of poetry, and this one's a knockout: What the Heart Knows: Chants, Charms and Blessings by Joyce Sidman, illustrated by Pamela Zagarenski. You'll find 29 poems of friendship, romance and creativity, plus artwork with a visual poetry all its own. It's a gift for friends and lovers alike.

No date for Valentine's Day? Settle in with some chocolate and Cress by Marissa Meyer, the third book in the Lunar Chronicles begun with Cinder. And if you haven't yet started this (literally) stellar series, you'll be grateful that Monday's a holiday so you can devour them all in one weekend.

You think you're tapped out on vampire books? Then you haven't yet read Holly Black's The Coldest Girl in Coldtown. A vampire to rival Tim Curry stars in a dance of predator and prey more sensual than violent.

And if what you really want is an old-fashioned, well-written, realistic love story, then How to Love by debut author Katie Cotugno is just the ticket. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness


Storey Publishing: The Naturalist's Notebook: An Observation Guide and 5-Year Calendar-Journal for Tracking Changes in the Natural World Around You by Nathaniel T. Wheelwright and Bernd Heinrich


Book Candy

Valentine's Day: Love and Books

"Made for each other: Literature's 25 most memorable love affairs" were showcased by Flavorwire.

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Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project, chose his "top 10 difficult love stories" and the Telegraph highlighted the "10 unhappiest marriages in fiction," but the Guardian saved the day when Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss, shared her picks for "top 10 most romantic books."

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Harlequin editor Patience Bloom, author of Romance Is My Day Job, discussed "10 differences between finding love in a romance novel and in real life" for the Huffington Post.

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"Big Brother's not the only one with his eye on you." The HarperCollins tumblr showed what might happen "if famous writers sent Valentines."

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Spending the day alone? BuzzFeed offered "11 reasons why books are better than boyfriends."

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"All is fair in love and ink," Buzzfeed noted in displaying "23 epic literary love tattoos."


Workman Publishing: Enter to Win a Library of Our Bestselling Holiday Gifts


The Writer's Life

Robin Oliveira: The Confluence of Life and Art

photo: Fred Milkie Jr.

Robin Oliveira holds a BA in Russian and studied at the Pushkin Language Institute in Moscow. She received an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts and is also a registered nurse, specializing in critical care. She lives in Seattle, Wash. Her new novel is I Always Loved You, a story about the relationship between Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas (see our review below).

Your first novel, My Name is Mary Sutter, took place in Washington, D.C., during the U.S. Civil War. I Always Loved You finds us in Belle Époque Paris. What is it that draws you to specific moments in history?

Specific moments in history do not inspire me; story and characters do. My Name Is Mary Sutter is set in the Civil War because I had a vision of a young woman in period dress, looking through a brass microscope, surrounded by books. Who she was and what she wanted drove me to discover that 17 women became physicians out of their experience in the Civil War. Similarly, Mary Cassatt's action of burning all the letters between herself and Edgar Degas drove me into the Belle Époque. Why she might have done such a thing captivated me, not the period itself. That said, I prefer writing historical fiction to contemporary fiction partly because I love the challenge of evoking an era. We all know what now looks like. What interests me is what the past looked like. What were its conventions? How did it smell, feel? How did one get around, live daily life, eat, work, die? And unlike some novelists who specialize in a specific period, I gravitate toward variety. It would be easier if I didn't. Each new time period requires familiarization with a whole new era, but I am a perennial student and find the challenge a lot of fun.

Tell us about the research you had to do for this novel.

Apart from one trip to Paris, I knew nothing about the city, the Belle Époque or art history when I began writing. To educate myself, I read about 70 or 80 books, including diaries, biographies, art history, technique, and exhibition catalogues. During the writing, I traveled to museums in the United States and France, to see artwork and to solidify my understanding of the Impressionists' individual style. I persuaded curators to let me view artwork locked away in vast storage rooms and basements. I begged the Musée d'Orsay to show me artifacts from Degas's studio, kept in their cavernous cellar. (You can go to my website to read the hilarious story of how I finally got in.) In Paris, I walked in the artists' footsteps to garner ambiance, locate their studios and see where they lived. By e-mail and phone I conferred with Degas and Cassatt curators. At the Library of Congress, I read French newspapers to gain a sense of the times. I searched museum libraries for rare books, exhibition catalogues of both the Paris Salon and the Impressionists, and catalogues raissonnés, books that list the full complement of an artist's work. Research is one of the reasons I like writing historical fiction; again, I am a perennial student.

The heroine of your first novel, Mary Sutter, was a fictional creation inspired by historical events, but Mary Cassatt is an actual historical figure. How did this change your approach in bringing these two different women to life? Was one easier to write than the other?

In writing Cassatt's life, I had much less latitude than I had with Mary Sutter, who I could move freely through history, based on what she wanted and the needs of the story. With Cassatt I worked within the bounds of what was known about her life, which restricted my options for creating story. I took great care with the details of her life, as well as those of Degas, Manet and Morisot. The other challenge was that all historical figures have established reputations; myth and truth combine to present a finished person; we remember people based on who they became rather than by how they became the people we remember. Mary Cassatt is generally perceived as a focused, independent woman who achieved worldwide fame as an artist based on steely discipline, relentless ambition and unfailing curiosity. What is invisible in this summation is the doubt, fear, pain, failure and missteps all artists experience on the way to becoming who they are. In writing her story, I had to violate some of her established reputation in order to show her development. While all novels have constraints of story and character, I constantly had to talk myself into allowing myself artistic license. As my editor reminded me, I was not writing biography, I was writing fiction. The balancing act between the two posed immense challenges not present in My Name Is Mary Sutter.

Were you familiar with Impressionist art before you began writing this novel? Do you have a favorite artist or work?

I was familiar with Impressionist art and loved it, of course, but I didn't know anything in depth, and certainly could not have distinguished a Manet from a Monet, or a Cassatt from a Morisot. Growing up, however, I loved Degas, for two reasons. One was that my mother had a Degas print hanging over her bed, and the other was that I loved ballet as an art form. These two gave me a natural affinity for his work. Now, after writing this book, my knowledge is much broader, but I would still have to say that Degas remains preeminent. Though not an Impressionist piece per se, his Little Dancer of Fourteen Years remains a fascination for me.

Your characters often struggle in the act of creation, in accurately and completely translating the artistic vision they've imagined to the canvas. As a different kind of artist, would you say that their experiences were influenced by your own?

The act of creation, whether it's words on paper, or oil on canvas, or any other medium, seems to me to be the same struggle. And it was quite freeing for me to talk about the creative process in a medium in which I am not facile. It liberated me to expose the doubt and fear all writers feel but are sometimes loath to express.

Late in the book, your heroine reaches the conclusion that pain and doubt are an inherent part of the creative process, saying "to be in pain was to be in the work." But something similar could be said of many of the romantic and familial relationships in the novel. Would it be fair to say that love and art are metaphorically linked?

The personal lives of the Impressionists were wrought with pain. One of my working titles for this book (there were several) was Love and Art. Rejection, adoration, desire, revelation, exposure are all elements of creation, as they are of love. One is most vulnerable in life when one is in love, or when one is in the act of creation, which is an act of love.

Historians disagree on the nature of the relationship between Cassatt and Degas. Having immersed yourself in their story, what do you think the truth is?

Because Cassatt burned their letters, no one can definitively say what happened between them. If you read their biographers carefully, you will see their statements regarding this mystery couched in terms like: it is possible that, it is most certainly the case that, it's thought that. The reality is that no historian knows for certain what happened. And in the end, every historian has a point of view. Mine is that they were a man and a woman who shared an obsession with art, worked closely together as collaborators, relied on one another professionally, and developed a close friendship. These elements are the breeding ground for love and passion. Later in their lives, they became estranged, which sometimes speaks of a passionate relationship betrayed. In the absence of documentary proof, which would be impossible to ascertain without a film crew recording their every move, I've chosen to imagine that they fell in love.

The title of the book seems to contradict the final conversation between Degas and Cassatt. How did you choose it?

My initial working title for the book was I Never Loved You, as a way to help me evoke the kind of ambivalence I imagined Degas entertained not only about Cassatt, but about all women. (He is sometimes deemed a misogynist because his portraits of women often depict them in unflattering positions. However, I reject this analysis. I believe he was instead a realist, responding to the classical ideations of women in the mainstream Paris Salon.) He was a complicated man. If you read the book carefully, you will see that though he has tremendous affinity for Manet, he never betrays his affection while Manet is alive. Kathryn Court, my editor, inverted the word never to always. She suggested this simple (and brilliant) change, because in the entangled group of Impressionists, the sentiment "I never loved you" could just as easily have meant "I always loved you." --Judie Evans, librarian


Avery Publishing Group: The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams


Book Review

Fiction

An Unnecessary Woman

by Rabih Alameddine


Lebanese-American writer Rabih Alameddine is best known for The Hakawati (2008), a fabulously inventive novel splicing classic and reimagined Middle Eastern tales with his modern protagonist's stories and memories. The narrative of An Unnecessary Woman may be more conventional, but it soars with passion, intelligence and literary celebration. The novel's constants are Alameddine's unswerving devotion to a crumbling Beirut, his belief in the ability of books to guide us through the most human of experiences and his compassion for his characters.

Childless, divorced and estranged from her traditional Lebanese family, Aaliya Sohbi has finally retired from her job at a bookstore in Beirut. A recluse, she prefers her memories and her solitary practice of translating her favorite books--English translations of international classics--into Arabic, a double remove that reverberates throughout the story. When she finishes each translation, she seals the handwritten pages into boxes stored in an overflowing corner of her apartment.

Books are the lens through which Aaliya understands her life; her memories and observations the novel's connective tissue. One at a time, each a small, dazzling world, they suggest the reasons for her isolation. When war and family intrude on her fragile existence, she is faced with the possibility of participating fully in a life that is not, after all, so small--and accepting that her creative expression matters despite its invisibility.

Full of humanity and compassion, An Unnecessary Woman is a paean to books, the need to create and the surprise of life. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Rabih Alemeddine, who trained as an engineer before turning to writing, evokes the interior life of an aging Beiruti book lover in this vaulting story of a woman in crisis.

Grove, $25, hardcover, 9780802122148

Trellis Publishing: Gift from the Garden by Bernie DuBois


One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories

by B.J. Novak


Actor and writer B.J. Novak (The Office) bucks the linked-short-stories trend in his first collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, but that doesn't mean the pieces here have nothing that unites them. While his stories lack recurring characters or common narrative threads, they have a consistency in tone, a similar worldview and--perhaps not surprisingly, given Novak's background as a comedic writer and performer--a shared sense of humor.

Some of the strongest stories in One More Thing are driven by character. "One of These Days" reunites three college friends with a mission to "do something" about the fourth member of their old group; a young boy is puzzled when his parents won't let him claim the prize he wins from a cereal company in "Kellogg's"; the titular protagonist of "J.C. Audetat" finds his poetry is best expressed in translating the words of other writers. Others stand out conceptually: the hare tells his side of the story in "The Rematch" with the tortoise, and love always wins "The Best Thing in the World Awards"... except for that one time.

Some of One More Thing's short stories are very short--several run only a few lines--and even the longest barely reach 20 pages. However, word count has little to do with what makes them work. Novak's writing is intelligent and assured, conveying a sense of compassion toward its subjects that gives the funny lines unexpected depth. The result is an engaging, imaginative collection of stories difficult to read just one at a time. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: A humorous and heartfelt collection of short fiction from actor B.J. Novak.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9780385351836

Legend Press: Lose yourself in a legendary classic - Click to win a copy


I Always Loved You

by Robin Oliveira


Robin Oliveira, author of the celebrated Civil War novel My Name Is Mary Sutter, offers another provocative look at the past in I Always Loved You. The novel explores the unusual relationship between the Impressionist painters Mary Cassatt and Edgar Degas, set against the glittering backdrop of Belle Époque Paris. As the novel opens, Cassatt is floundering amid financial troubles and rejections from the Paris Salon. Plagued by doubt, she is on the verge of giving up and returning to Philadelphia in disgrace, when a fateful meeting with Degas changes the way she looks at life and art. The two embark on a turbulent and deeply creative relationship that spans decades and defies categorization.

The absence of their personal correspondence, which was burnt by Cassatt before her death, has left lingering questions among art historians as to the true nature of her relationship with Degas. Oliveira breathes life into the historical gaps, imagining a creative and emotional intimacy that alternately challenges and fortifies them as both people and artists. As Cassatt and Degas struggle for and against each other, they face the bittersweet truth, in life and art, that reality is never quite as vibrant as our imagining. Backed by evocative prose and thoughtful characterization, Oliveira has created a quiet gem of a novel. Particularly noteworthy is her beautiful translation of visual imagery and meaning to a written medium. I Always Loved You is a must read for fans of historical fiction. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: The compelling possibility of an artistic romance that might have been.

Viking, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670785797

Prospect Park Books: Addicted to Americana: Celebrating Classic & Kitschy American Life & Style by Charles Phoenix


Mystery & Thriller

The Mangle Street Murders

by M.R.C. Kasasian


Well-researched and fun to read, M.R.C. Kasasian's The Mangle Street Murders is a deft blend of accuracy and frivolity, sure to please lovers of historical mysteries. March Middleton's father has died, so she moves to London to live with the godfather she's never met. It turns out, though, that her new guardian is none other than Sidney Grice, the most famous private detective in England. Rude, opinionated, but undeniably brilliant, Grice is caught up in the investigation of the murder of Mrs. Sarah Ashby within hours of Miss Middleton's arrival.

Grice refuses the case, sure that Sarah's husband, William, is guilty, but March, feeling pity for William and for Sarah's mother, agrees to pay Grice's fees if he'll take the case. To her dismay, he manages to prove William's guilt beyond a shadow of a doubt, ensuring his path to the hangman's noose. Can March outwit the world's smartest detective and prove him was wrong?

The Mangle Street Murders is a fast-paced, witty book, written in an almost slapstick style.  While March must overcome both the prejudices of those who see her as "mere Miss Middleton" and her irritation with her overweening guardian, Grice has to readjust his ideas about the intelligence and capability of women as he begins to accept his goddaughter as a possible assistant. There are tongue-in-cheek references to Conan Doyle, but although the parallels are unmistakable, Grice and Middleton are refreshingly different from Holmes and Watson. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A haughty Victorian detective and his intrepid goddaughter investigate a series of brutal stabbings in the first novel of a new mystery series.

Pegasus, $25.95, hardcover, 9781605985398

Sounds True: Practice You: A Journal by Elena Brower


Biography & Memoir

Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir

by Penelope Lively


"I am interested in the way that memory works, in what we do with it, and what it does with us," the 80-year-old Booker Prize-winning author Penelope Lively writes in her memoir, Dancing Fish and Ammonites. "And when I look around my cluttered house.... I can see myself oddly identified and defined by what is in it: my life charted out on the bookshelves, my concerns illuminated by a range of objects. These, then, are the prompts for this book: age, memory, time, and this curious physical evidence I find all around me as to what I have been up to--how reading has fed into writing, how ways of thinking have been nailed."

Lively came into the world under one set of assumptions and, as she notes, will be leaving under quite another. Society changed drastically during her lifetime, with changing class and social distinctions in England, the upheavals of feminism and the seismic shift in attitudes toward sexuality. She offers insightful and entertaining thoughts on all three topics.

Lively never loses sight of what is going on in the wider world. She looks out around her and then back at herself in it, examining everything through the scrim of a prodigious intelligence and a memory that is "the mind's triumph over time." Dancing Fish and Ammonites is chock full of anecdote, opinion, insight, lore and the sheer delight of a life lived fully. --Valerie Ryan

Discover: Booker Prize winner (Moon Tiger) Penelope Lively's memoir explores the intersection of age, memory and time.

Viking, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670016556

Crown Publishing Group: Artemis by Andy Weir


Romance Is My Day Job: A Memoir of Finding Love at Last

by Patience Bloom


Patience Bloom, an editor for Harlequin, chronicles her search for love in Romance Is My Day Job. The memoir commences in 1984 at a high school dance, when the bookish sophomore is ditched by Ken, her good-looking date. Sam, a popular, fun-loving senior, rescues Patience, the two of them taking to the dance floor and even posing as a couple for the event photographer.

The picture is all that remained from the thrill of that night. For the next 25 years, Patience endures a series of bad relationships as she moves around the United States (plus some time in Paris) until she lands in New York City and her job at Harlequin. By the time she turned 40, Patience--professionally successful, but still single--had concluded, "My life is nothing like these books, not even a little bit."

References to popular romance books and movies infuse Bloom's memoir as she offers a clever, humorous take on hero archetypes and compares them to the lessons she's learned, often the hard way, from her own romantic entanglements. When Sam contacts Patience via Facebook shortly after her 41st birthday, the two, living on different continents, court each other via Skype for four months. They share an intimacy that affirms Patience's faith in love, encouraging her to reflect upon her life and open her heart. But is Sam too good to be true? Once they meet face to face, will they be compatible? Suspense deepens as Bloom's beautifully rendered love story illustrates that real life can often be as engrossing as romance novels. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A successful editor for Harlequin shares a real-life romance story about her journey to true love.

Dutton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780525954385

Portable Press: Uncle John's Old Faithful 30th Anniversary by Bathroom Readers' Institute


Paris Letters

by Janice MacLeod


Tired of being an overworked cog in a corporate wheel, Janice MacLeod followed her gut and, in a move that seemed totally implausible, quit her job and moved to Paris. There she started a job she likes--writing letters, painting them and selling them online--and fell in love with and married a hottie Paris butcher.

Paris Letters lays out MacLeod's simple plan for escaping to the City of Lights. First, she listened to her heart, a pivotal step that helped her realize how unhappy she was in the life she had chosen. Next, she had to raise capital. She calculated that in order not to work for a year, she'd have to save $100 per day. She takes readers through some of her cost-saving strategies, from skipping group dinners out to selling excess items at consignment shops. Giving up material possessions proves a key element to achieving her goal.

And then, voilà! MacLeod successfully saves the cash and jets off to Paris. Besides falling in love, she obtains the elusive happiness and peace she's been missing in life. She even gives up her carb-free lifestyle; since she walks everywhere, fromage and baguettes don't go to her thighs.

Paris Letters will inspire people who think they are stuck in an unsatisfying life. MacLeod's finding her bliss gives everyone else hope that the impossible is anything but. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: One woman's quest to quit her stressful career and create a beautiful life in Paris.

Sourcebooks, $14.99, paperback, 9781402288791

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Land Beyond by Leon McCarron


Current Events & Issues

The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America

by Jed Rubenfeld, Amy Chua


Amy Chua burst into the national spotlight with her unapologetic advocacy of strict parenting techniques in 2011's The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. Now, in The Triple Package, Chua and her husband (and fellow Yale law professor), Jed Rubenfeld, theorize about the personality traits that distinguish successful cultural groups in the United States from the less successful ones, a subject certain to spark controversy.

Three characteristics--a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control--comprise what Chua and Rubenfeld call, somewhat inartfully, the "Triple Package." When these "distinct forces come together in a group's culture," the pair assert, "they propel that group to disproportionate success." Drawing on what they call a "well-substantiated and relatively uncontroversial body of empirical evidence," reflected in extensive endnotes, they explain in clear and persuasive terms how these at times paradoxical traits have contributed to the undeniably outsized accomplishments of minority groups as disparate as Mormons, Jews and Nigerian immigrants to the U.S.

As impressive a spur to achievement as it may be, Chua and Rubenfeld acknowledge the Triple Package is anything but an unalloyed good. With their relentless focus on "material, conventional, prestige-oriented success," the cultures that value the three traits risk fostering a countervailing set of pathologies, from intolerance to deep neurosis. The authors also take pains to disassociate themselves from those who advance arguments for the inherent superiority or inferiority of any religious, cultural or ethnic group.

If Chua and Rubenfeld succeed in touching off a spirited debate about the best path to that goal, the pair will have accomplished something of real value. --Harvey Freedenberg

Discover: Husband-and-wife law professors at Yale offer an intriguing explanation for the disproportionate success of certain groups in American society.

Penguin Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594205460

Health & Medicine

Extreme Medicine: How Exploration Transformed Medicine in the Twentieth Century

by Kevin Fong


In Extreme Medicine, Kevin Fong weaves together historical anecdotes and his experiences as a NASA-trained physician, anesthesiologist and astrophysicist to demonstrate how the efforts of 20th-century explorers to reach the ends of the earth have inspired medical advancements enabling us to prolong human life.

He uses examples such as Robert Scott's ill-fated expedition to the South Pole to highlight the cellular and metabolic changes that occur in hypothermia; a century later, understanding these changes allowed a doctor to survive being trapped under icy waters. He also discusses how war acted as a catalyst for the development of antibiotics, anesthesiology and plastic surgery--and in the launch of trauma and intensive care units. Not all of Fong's examples are success stories, however. A story of scuba diving off the coast of Fiji shows that despite medical advancements, there are limits to what the human body can endure--some frontiers are not meant to be conquered.

"In retelling the story of twentieth century medicine, we often superimpose a narrative of steady progress," Fong writes, "when in truth physicians, surgeons, and scientists did little more than stumble ahead, as all explorers do, solving and creating problems as they went." Using his skill and insight, Fong does a tremendous job of distilling the important historical tidbits of human exploration and medical science into digestible nuggets of prose. These stories attest to a humanistic bedside manner and a continuing curiosity in human exploration that has led to his success as a writer and documentarian. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A specialist in dealing with extreme environments reveals how 20th-century explorers paved the way for medical breakthroughs that help us all.

Penguin Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594204708

Children's & Young Adult

Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out

by Susan Kuklin


Five transgender teens share their journeys in their own words, with intimate revelations about their inner struggles, their loves, their challenges with family and peers--even crises of faith. It is a testament to Susan Kuklin's (No Choirboy) gifts as a listener and interviewer that her subjects describe their lives with such candor.

The first chapter, "Jessy," may be the most accessible for readers ("At first I thought maybe there is something psychologically wrong with me because I was thinking this way, because I was feeling this way. Am I abnormal?"). Christina's voice is brasher, and 19-year-old Mariah describes her violent leanings. The accounts reveal the teens' feelings of being out of place in their bodies, as well as the considerations for those contemplating hormone therapy. A therapist at Callen-Lorde Community Health Center in New York City explains to Jessy that before he could transition, he must be 18, and must go through four months (16 sessions) of counseling. Not all of the teens' stories involve hormone therapy. Sixteen-year-old Luke, for instance, finds a life preserver in Proud Theater in Madison, Wis.

The teens identify subtle negotiations with society attached to gender; two of the teens' parents discuss coming to grips with their children's journeys. Whether readers are contemplating hormone therapy or wish to support those who are, copious resources provide information to help sort out such questions. Kuklin's book provides both reassurance and answers to questions that teens may not even realize they have. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A window into the loves, struggles and victories of five transgender youth.

Candlewick, $22.99, hardcover, 192p., ages 14-up, 9780763656119

Why We Took the Car

by Wolfgang Herrndorf, trans. by Tim Mohr


With humor and insight, the late Wolfgang Herrndorf, making his U.S. debut, provides a window into German society through this universal story of growing up.

Fourteen-year-old narrator Mike Klingenberg sets the stage for a mystery by describing the strong scent of blood and coffee in the police station where he's being held. "Where is Tschick?" he wonders. "I'd last seen him on the side of the autobahn, hopping into the bushes on one leg." Who is Tschick, and what was Mike doing with him on the autobahn? Mike reveals the answers in a coming-of-age story disguised as a road trip in a hot-wired Lada ("a small Russian car shaped a little like a jeep"). Mike is in love with Tatiana Cosic, "the prettiest girl in the world"--or at least the prettiest in his eighth grade Berlin public school. She's having a birthday party at her uncle's in Wallachia, in Romania, and invites everyone but Mike, Tschick and a few other "losers." Mike, assuming he'd be invited, worked for weeks on a drawing of Beyoncé, Tatiana's favorite singer. Tschick decides it's only right that Mike give Tatiana her present, and they set out (without a map) in the Lada to find the party.

The pair's misadventures give readers insight into German history and topography. They meet, among others, a sexy runaway who helps them pilfer gas, and a Communist conscripted by the Nazis for his marksmanship. Tschick is raising himself, but Mike's parents leave him alone in the house. Are they so different? --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A universal coming-of-age story disguised as a road trip two teens take from Berlin to Wallachia (with a few detours).

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 14-up, 9780545481809

Here Comes the Easter Cat

by Deborah Underwood, illus. by Claudia Rueda


This clever picture book stars a cat that resents the Easter Bunny's elevated standing and has a plan to take his place.

The humor stems from Deborah Underwood and Claudia Rueda's absolute fidelity to the hero's feline nature. Underwood structures the text as if it's a conversation between the narrator and the (silent) cat, while Rueda's rendering of the furry fellow's posture and expressions provides his responses. First, the cat sees a poster: "Here comes the Easter Bunny." His expression registers his processing of this information. Paws crossed and a frown on his furry face, the protagonist begs the narrator's question, "What's wrong, Cat? You look grumpy." He holds up a drawing of the long-eared source of his disdain. "The Easter Bunny? What about him?" When it's suggested that the feline could be the Easter Cat and "give children something nice too," the cat starts plotting.

Underwood and Rueda continue the conversation, as the narrator coaches Cat for the job and Cat expresses himself wordlessly. But as Cat finds out just how much work is involved, and just how little time there is for napping, he decides there's another way to help celebrate Easter. The ink and watercolor pencil illustrations keep the focus on Cat and Bunny, chronicling Cat's transformation from cranky to content. And a Santa suit at book's end hint at more adventures in Cat's future. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A comical cat's spin on one of the holiday's most beloved traditions--a visit from the Easter Bunny.

Dial, $16.99, hardcover, 80p., ages 4-8, 9780803739390

Poetry

Sound of the Ax: Aphorisms and Poems

by William Stafford, Vincent Wixon, Paul Merchant, editors


This year marks the centennial of the birth of William Stafford, the former United States poet laureate--and, later, the laureate of his adopted state of Oregon as well. Sound of the Ax is one of many new books by and about Stafford we can expect to mark the occasion.

Fellow Oregonians Vincent Wixon and Paul Merchant have gone through Stafford's archives to compile 26 poems and nearly 400 aphorisms--the kind of statement, Stafford said, that "delivers groceries." Among the poems are such classics as "Things I Learned Last Week" ("Ants, when they meet each other,/ usually pass on the right") and "Sayings of the Blind" ("Velvet feels black"), both excellent examples of one of his favorite forms, the "list poem." For Stafford, poetry is the "kind of thing you have to see from the corner of your eye.... If you analyze it away, it's gone. It would be like boiling a watch to find out what makes it tick."

In his aphoristic mode, Stafford could be funny: "A rejection slip: 'This is too good for our readers.' " Or wise: "When the snake decided to go straight he didn't get anywhere." Or witty: "Every mink has a mink coat." He learned from the best--Pascal, Nietzsche, Sandburg (maybe even Groucho Marx?): "A box arrived. It said, 'Any side up.' " Or: "I live in a foreign country."
Stafford's concise and provocative "statements" explore everything: war, peace, honesty, faith, history, work, fears. "My life isn't what I thought it was. But the world isn't either." Touché. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A glorious collection of wise and witty poems and aphorisms from William Stafford (1914-1993).

University of Pittsburgh Press, $15.95, paperback, 9780822962960

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