Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 6, 2014


Grove Press: Ayiti by Roxane Gay

From My Shelf

Mira Books: Slowly We Die by Emelie Schepp

St. Martin's: Bring Me Back by BA Paris

What to Give for Mother's Day (Books, of Course!)

Mother's Day is a grand occasion to offer to cook, to clean, to cater to mom (or mom-equivalent) while she relaxes with a book, like the ones in our reviews, below. But we never have enough room to review all the good books we get, so here's a few more.

A creative and environmentally friendly gardening book, Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise Between the Sidewalk and the Curb by Evelyn J. Hadden (Timber Press) is a fine choice for both dreamers and doers. Hadden has ideas not only for that awkward (and presumably hellish) space between person and street, but also for medians, parking lot islands, community gardens--anyplace there is land to plant.

Hopefully, the gardens will attract hummingbirds. These beguiling creatures are showcased in Hummingbirds by Michael Fogden, Marianne Taylor and Sheri L. Williamson (Harper Design). Color photos of all 338 species of hummingbirds with flight maps, key information and (really!) life-size, full-color images.

More life-size birds--or almost-birds--are in The Book of Eggs: A Life-Size Guide to the Eggs of Six Hundred of the World's Bird Species, edited by John Bates and Barbara Becker, photographed by John Weinstein(University of Chicago Press). This lavish book devotes a page to each egg, with maps, habitat information and clutch (nesting) size. The prose is often charming: the Vermilion Flycatcher attracts mates by "bouncing across the sky, calling all the way."

Never Stop to Think... Do I Have a Place for This? by Mary Randolph Carter (Rizzoli) may be the ultimate book for collectors who want to show off their "beloved junk." An American flag made out of tin coffee canisters, myriad candlesticks, grain sacks as chair covers, colorful dishes, books, vintage military patches--it's all here, except for a helpful Swiffer collection. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Loyola Press: The Prayer List: And Other True Stories of How Families Pray by Jane Knuth


Book Candy

Literary Tattoos; Lessons from Little Women

Is a literary tat worth a thousand words? Buzzfeed highlighted "30 perfect tattoos for word nerds."

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"No matter how hard it may be, try to forgive" was one of the Huffington Post's "13 essential lessons Little Women can teach you about living well."

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The A.V. Club offered some adaptation clarity: " 'Well actually, in the books...' 15 differences from text to TV in Game of Thrones."

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Sally O'Reilly, author of Dark Aemilia, recommended her "top 10 novels inspired by Shakespeare."
 
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Noting that we find the secret lives of others fascinating," especially if those others are writers, Apartment Therapy showcased "15 writers' bedrooms."

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"Books are not made for furniture, but there is nothing else that so beautifully furnishes a house." Those words from Charles Francis Richardson are among the "13 quotes that truly describe the joy of old books" featured by HLN.


The Bees

by Laline Paull

In the tradition of Watership Down and Redwall, Laline Paull's debut novel, The Bees, is an enthralling story that explores the intricate and brutal social order of the beehive. Paull's hive is a place of mystery and complexities, where religion holds sway with an array of strictly codified laws that coalesce around worship of the Queen, who sustains the hive with her Love. Of the many laws dictating the lives of the bees, paramount is Only the Queen may breed--a law enforced with horrendous efficiency by the fertility police. Individuality is also forbidden, a principle encapsulated in the oft-repeated mantra Accept, Obey, and Serve. So when Flora, a despised sanitation worker bee, discovers her ability to lay eggs, her life is immediately placed in jeopardy. Even more dangerous is Flora's determination to protect her offspring--at any cost.

Flora is different from the other sanitation workers--she was born with abilities that set her apart and almost lead to her execution at her hatching, but ultimately she is saved by the precept that "Variation is not the same as Deformity." The priestesses who hold the power of life and death in the hive see a use for Flora's unusual talents. The population of the hive is much reduced and food is becoming scarce, so Flora is put to work filling roles that would have otherwise been assigned other types of bees, including the risky task of foraging for nectar, which involves dodging wasps, spiders, and--perhaps most deadly of all--poison set by human hands.

Interweaving science with myth, The Bees immerses readers in a world that is intensely foreign and fraught with intrigue--in fact, the novel resembles Game of Thrones as much as Watership Down, with scenes of shocking violence and death. When the drones' mating season has passed, the worship they enjoyed from the female bees turns to nightmare, in a moment that seems inspired by the Maenads of Greek mythology who tore Orpheus to death. The religious elements are continued here, as the Queen illustrates: "And as you slew my sons your brothers, in sacrifice to Winter, so did I slay your several fathers, in sacrifice to Spring. Each one's life I took for love, and each year I tell this tale."

The bees will proceed to forget the horrors they have wrought against the drones, renewing their innocence for the next cycle of the seasons, in what is clearly an ancient rite. When the next generation of drones is born, the female bees will worship the males with the same enthusiasm as before, without a hint of what is to come. A single drone will emerge as a character who begins as Flora's enemy, but who will over the course of time become her only ally in her deadly game of hiding her eggs from the priestesses.

In addition to myth, the dialogue between Flora and other creatures is reminiscent of Aesop's fables; similarly, she must be clever to thwart their hostilities or occasionally benefit from their generosity. There is a lofty tone to these exchanges, perhaps because each creature is not an individual character so much as a symbol of that creature's characteristics. The wasp tends to be the boastful enemy who might be won over with appeals to its ego. The spider, which is much more dangerous, can see the future and delights in the prospect of the hive's destruction, bringing to mind the archetypal wicked witch. And like a witch, it trades constantly in hard bargains.

While hive life is filled with mortal dangers, Paull never loses focus about the most omnipresent danger: the outside world and the threat it poses not just to this hive, but to all bees worldwide. The spectre of global warming looms over the proceedings, making itself felt in numerous ways, from the diminishing number of bees to the harsh conditions of winter. Nature is cruel, The Bees reminds us, but that is because it must fight uncompromisingly for survival. This is especially true of the hive, a system so complex and delicate. Its rule of law must be brutal for its own protection in an increasingly hostile world. After all, even the human beekeepers who occasionally make an appearance are hardly equal to the task.

Yet despite the emphasis on violence and survival, the most vital thread of all does not turn out to be either one. Flora is willing to risk her own survival for the good of her eggs, of her companions, and of the hive as a whole. All the bees are willing to die for their Queen, whose devotion nurtures them. Even in the ruthless teeming of the hive, where execution is labeled a Kindness, the value that surfaces most powerfully in the end is love. --Ilana Teitelbaum

Watch The Bees trailer here.

Ecco, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062331151

Laline Paull: The Magic Door to the Hive

photo: Adrian Peacock

Laline Paull studied English at Oxford, screenwriting in Los Angeles and theater in London. She lives in England with her husband, photographer Adrian Peacock, and their three children. The Bees is her first novel.

How did you become inspired to write about bees?

My beekeeper friend Angie Biltcliffe opened the magic door to the hive for me. She was dying of cancer, and she said she hoped there would be a flowering of creativity when she had gone. I took that very much to heart. Immediately after her funeral I started reading about the honeybees she loved so much and called "her girls." That was it for me; intrigue became fascination became obsession with the incredible ancient social order that is the hive, and the extraordinary process of making the unique substance that is honey. Bees are quite miraculous creatures.

One of the most remarkable aspects of The Bees is the complex gender politics. How close is this to the reality of the hive?

I'm neither beekeeper nor biologist, but I have tried to do my research as well as I can and I believe that I've got it more or less accurate: the Queen is the only fertile female in her society, the huge majority of the workforce are sterile females, and the small minority of drones exist solely to fly out to inseminate a queen or princess (unmated queen) from another hive. And, yes, when their summer of love has passed, the remaining drones are driven out of their home hive, to certain death. And imagine being the queen--the only one of your kind. The power, and the loneliness.

An even more charged issue in the novel is fertility--only the queen may breed, a law enforced with violence. The effect is of a dystopian society--but it's complicated because the hive is a very fragile ecosystem.

You're right; by human standards it's dystopian--but this is a social order that's existed almost unchanged for about 40,000 years, so in the evolutionary world of the honeybee, it works. A kind geneticist did explain this reproductive altruism to me in detail during my research--but I would have to delve through 20 files to find the precise definition. The reproductive set-up of the order of hymenopterae (bees, wasps, ants) deeply perturbed Charles Darwin, too.

Speaking of which, there's a lot of violence in this book. Has anyone described it yet as Game of Thrones with bees?

Game of Drones--I love it. I suppose there is a lot of violence, though I imagined that as truthful to honeybee life. They face predators, poison and all the dangers of their distant sorties. Everyone has seen a spider's web--fear is a matter of scale. And the "fertility police" are a real biological fact of hive life, though of course I've anthropomorphized them.

There are echoes of fable and mythology throughout the book. What are some of your literary influences?

There are so many: my mother told me bedtime stories from Greek myths, then my favourite book for ages was Thorne Smith's Nightlife of the Gods--a comic treat for anyone who can find a surviving copy--reprint time surely? Books are like food for me, and I'm a greedy omnivore, so it's hard to say what my predominant influences are. Oh, and in my late teens I really enjoyed Jacobean revenge tragedies. Perhaps that shows.

Is your extensive background in theater manifest in your work as a novelist?

Amongst many other dramatic lessons, theater teaches you the power of compression in dialogue, and the power of what is not said. And in rehearsal or work-shopping a play, interaction with a cast and director encourages, if not forces you, to hone your language to a fine edge.

That bees are dying worldwide is an important touchstone in the discourse on climate change. Throughout the book there is an ominous tone, portending the destruction of the hive. Were you thinking about the possibility of bees' extinction when you were writing?

Absolutely. It was impossible to go forward in my research without becoming much more environmentally aware. Learning about honeybees and their plight made me look around and realize how much the natural world is exploited. I always thought "I care," but now I have become more active in my attempt to make a difference and protect our environment. Having said that, I still sometimes get caught out without one of those now-ubiquitous linen bags, and use a plastic one. Then feel so guilty. And the more campaigns and petitions you sign on to, the more you get sent, until it becomes as demoralizing as watching the news 24-7. So I have become pro-active, but selective.

On your website you mention that having a shed changed your career--that's so interesting. Can you elaborate on that?

Ah, my wonderful shed. 8'x10', though I wanted bigger. But my husband worried if it were long enough to have the day-bed I wanted, I might love it so much I'd go and live in it. Some days towards the end of writing The Bees, I was working such long hours that I probably would have slept there if I could have done. Having a shed changed my career because I left the domestic arena of the house to go to work. The location of the shed, right down out of sight at the end of the garden, in a plot that is still intentionally unkempt, meant it was completely my space. The other reason my shed changed my career is because I don't take my phone there and there's no internet. No connection to the outer world = easier access to the inner one.

What's next for you?

My next novel draws very strongly on the natural world again, but it also tells a human story. I can't say any more at this time. --Ilana Teitelbaum


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


The Writer's Life

Julia MacDonnell: A Search for Truth

photo: Gabriel P. Chang

Throughout her life, author Julia MacDonnell has been "trying to piece scraps of secrets and stories" together. The fact that her mother never spoke about the experiences of her own painful childhood and upbringing--she was one of five daughters, losing her own mother in childbirth when she was six; her father died just a few years later; and she and her sisters were "taken in" and raised by a paternal grandmother--seems a "take-off point" for MacDonnell in the creation of her novel Mimi Malloy, at Last! (See our review here).

MacDonnell's first novel, A Year of Favor, was published in 1994 and centers on a young journalist caught up in a dramatic saga set in Central America. MacDonnell has worked as a freelance reporter, journalist and is a tenured professor of Creative Writing at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J.

It's been 20 years between books. Why such a large gap?

Believe me, it wasn't a gap I ever planned for or wanted! The reception of my first novel was a heartbreaking experience. At the time, my publisher was in the midst of a huge transition. My editor left, and my novel ultimately became something of an "orphaned book." In the end, it fell through the cracks. It wasn't championed as I had hoped, and it was a crushing experience. But I never stopped writing, never stopped longing to be published, and never stopped believing that I would, sooner or later, be published again. During those years, I wrote about 15 short stories, eight of which have been published. My story "Dancing with Ned" was recently published in the spring issue of Alaska Quarterly Review. I also have two other novels in various states of completion.

How did Mimi Malloy, at Last! germinate? What was the inspiration?

I recently found journal notes dated 1992 that I wrote right after my mother's death. I'm the second oldest in a brood of eight children. My mother and I had an enduringly contentious relationship, though we squeezed in a few happy years after my kids were born. But once she'd passed--unexpectedly from a stroke at the age of 64--I realized I knew almost nothing about her life. And by then I could not ask. Years of confusion and false starts passed. Then I wrote a story called "Diana's Dresses," in which a 40-something daughter takes her ailing, grouchy mother to an exhibit of Princess Diana's gowns. I found Mimi in that story. But only once my novel was finished did I realize that I'd imagined for myself the necessary mother, a mother I understood, loved, appreciated and respected, and who returned all those feelings back to me.

Tell us about how you write.

Before I begin to write, I stake out certain perimeters and parameters for the story. Sometimes, I'll scribble these out by hand and tack the pieces of paper to the wall. As the late John Gardner said, a bad plan is better than no plan. Usually, I know how the story will end, but I don't know how I'll get there. For me, everything that really matters happens during the writing itself, and everything is open to change. I listen hard to my characters--I'm a good listener--and I've learned to let my stories grow and change; to not impose my ideas on them or try to control them too much.

The setting and characters are always easiest for me. As with Mimi, the characters come at me, hooting and hollering like hungry children, demanding to be taken care of. Then I've got to figure out how to entertain and appease them, keep them busy, give them something worthwhile to do. Figuring out the plot and structuring the novel are always the hardest things for me.

Did the story of Mimi Malloy change over the course of the writing?

Drastically! Yes! The first time through, I imposed upon Mimi my own, much harsher, perspective on her life story. But then I began to hear her voice--a pungent brew of wisdom, snark and cliché--that emerged during the writing. She began to talk to me and tell me how she wanted her story to unfold. The early drafts of Mimi were quite dark. She was, in a sense, foretelling the story of her own death.... But Mimi mutinied. She told me in no uncertain terms that she wasn't done with life, with love, with mothering her children.... She was mad as hell about me trying to kill her off, and she switched on a big torchlight to show me where the story had to go. Mimi insisted that her life take a more joyful path. Thank God I had the good sense to listen to her, though we argued often.

Faeries and banshees (female spirits) play a part in Mimi Malloy. What is your experience with beliefs of this nature?

Angels and faeries have so much in common as to be almost indistinguishable, especially to a child with a vivid imagination. They're both invisible winged creatures with great power. My Irish-Catholic family considered assimilation into the middle class of the United States the ever-to-be-strived-for goal: we were Americans; we were required to melt into the melting pot. Those left in the "old country" were uneducated, ignorant even if through no fault of their own, and not to be trusted for any information at all about how the world worked. In other words, we most definitely did not believe in faeries, which would have been a form of blasphemy, though we knew people, including family members, who did. We knew about faeries to the extent that we knew we didn't believe in them. What we believed in were angels, winged spirits who were everywhere, reporting back to God on our every move.

Your two novels are vastly different, yet both deal with a search for truth. Is this a coincidence?

I was trained as a journalist and, like the protagonist of my first novel, I worked as a reporter, determined always to find the "truth" behind the official story, whatever that might be. I think I became a reporter because I intuited that my truth hunger could be put to good use. No such luck. Rather, I was frustrated and constrained by hard news, by journalistic ways of telling a story. So I moved on to fiction and memoir. But my tireless and, at times, obnoxious "truth search" is an essential part of who I am--even though I learned long ago that "truth" can never be fixed and is as stable as the slush in my backyard after a big snow melt. My need to find out the truth, the real deal, has often marginalized me among my siblings and my work colleagues. But there you have it, I can't help myself.

To me, what the novels share--and they share this with my stories, too--is the struggle of the main characters, all of them women, to find a way to be in the world. These are smart, uncertain, anxious women, locked in combat with their intelligence, their sexuality, their empathies, their inchoate values...they search to find a meaningful way to be in the world.

Will readers have to wait another 20 years for your next book?

I'm refining my story collection, which includes stories about a couple of Mimi's daughters. I've also got two novels in the works--and the less said about them, the better! It's that fear they'll wither on the vine if spoken of too soon. No, it won't be another 20 years! --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines


Little Brown and Company: The Perfect Couple by Elin Hilderbrand


Book Review

Fiction

The Snow Queen

by Michael Cunningham


Michael Cunningham (The Hours) once again elevates the commonplace and makes it important. This quiet, thoughtful novel is a cross section of the lives of two brothers in the early 21st century, both caught between possible miracles and dying dreams.

Before she died when they were young, Tyler and Barrett's mother separately cautioned each of them to watch over the other. Now grown, both brothers struggle with their own demons. Barrett left a promising Ph.D. program to pursue dreams of a less-conventional future that never materialized. Instead, he lives with Tyler, a musician struggling to find inner genius and a fan base, and Beth, Tyler's beloved, terminally ill fiancée. When he spies what he believes to be a sentient green light over the park, Barrett uncharacteristically keeps it secret from Tyler, who in turn has a secret or two of his own.

Cunningham adds the vaguest echoes of the titular frosty fairy tale as grace notes to this story of the mundane and the miraculous. While questions about the existence and impact of miracles occasionally surface, Cunningham's overall theme is love's transience: whether due to death, time or carelessness, love slips away no matter how hard humans try to hold onto it.

Whether taking readers along on an ecstatic drug trip or picking over the fine line between creative genius and maudlin tripe, Cunningham's masterful eye for human observation leads the way. Once again, he shows his talent for picking away the crust of familiarity and revealing the diamond brilliance at the heart of every moment of our lives. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Heartbreak and the miraculous in the lives of two brothers in the early 21st century.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374266325

Running Press: Cats on Catnip by Andrew Marttila


Delicious!

by Ruth Reichl


Ruth Reichl (Garlic and Sapphires; Tender at the Bone) has been synonymous with "food writing" since 1972; the former New York Times restaurant critic, restaurant co-owner and food-show host has informed the way the U.S. thinks about cooking and dining for decades. In Delicious!, her first novel, a young woman works for an ill-fated food magazine, reminiscent of Reichl's days as editor-in-chief of the now-defunct Gourmet. The story soon goes beyond the autobiographical to become both a richly detailed historic fiction of the U.S. home front during World War II and a poignant exploration of love and loss.

It's unclear why Billie Breslin has fled California for New York, but her immersion in the magazine world includes the fellowship of the quirky staff and an iconic family-operated Italian cheese shop. A self-deprecating loner, Billie is most honest in letters to her beloved sister. Reichl repeats this epistolary theme in the novel's delightful second plot: in a hidden room in the magazine's headquarters, Billie discovers a cache of letters an Ohio girl wrote to her idol, James Beard, in the early '40s.

Billie opens her heart and imagination to the correspondents and is slowly coaxed from her unexplained melancholy by a very present-day admirer. Her devotion to the history she uncovers is rewarded as she follows clues to Cleveland to solve mysteries the letters raised. By the well-plotted end, Billie's curiosity and loving nature lead her to truths about herself as well. Don't expect any of Reichl's enticing recipes, though; most included here feature World War II surplus ingredients, with the exception of a special gingerbread. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Culinary celebrity Ruth Reichl's poignant, humorous first novel serves up a young food writer.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 9781400069620

Chestnut Street

by Maeve Binchy


Readers will smile with somewhat bittersweet satisfaction while they page through the latest (and perhaps the last) work by Irish fiction powerhouse Maeve Binchy (Circle of Friends). Binchy's stories of everyday life are just as outstanding as they've always been. But the great writer passed away in 2012, and this newly released collection of short stories is billed as a series of tales that she had stowed away for a rainy day. This anthology of charming chronicles will make many readers fervently hope that more of Binchy's writing is socked away somewhere to enjoy at a future date. She's that good.

While each of these distinctive stories is set in Ireland, they involve a variety of characters and time periods. What all of the characters have in common, however, is that they call Chestnut Street home. It's an avenue where philandering husbands tango with zealous cab drivers and over-sensitive psychics. It's a place where unusual friendships can spring up to save people from themselves. Chestnut Street is a venue in Binchy's imagination where the rich can learn from the poor and family ties are both tested and twisted, sometimes triumphantly so. The loosely related tales here range from enjoyable and humorous to achingly poignant.

The addition of quaint Irish vernacular helps transport the reader. Take a stroll down this street and you'll see ordinary people facing extraordinary situations that only Binchy could execute so effortlessly. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: The late and great Maeve Binchy's collection of marvelous "lost" stories set on one Irish street.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9780385351850

The Blessings

by Elise Juska


If Tolstoy is right that "Happy families are all alike," the Irish-Catholic Blessing family might stand in for a universe of families. In a rich novel of family stories, Elise Juska (One for Sorrow, One for Joy) chronicles the goings and comings of this large close-knit Philadelphia family--dinner by dinner, marriage by marriage, generation by generation. Only when third-generation Abby goes off to college does she discover that not everyone grows up in family like hers: a family that annually vacations together on the Jersey Shore, a family that gathers for holiday dinners to exchange "mild conversations about ordinary things" and share "predictable, unpretentious ham salads and roast beef, potatoes in hollowed-out brown skins, cobbled chunks of pickle wrapped in ham, speared with toothpicks," a family that takes its measure in its "response to sad things."

If the Blessings are not a blissfully "happy family," they are also decidedly not the dysfunctional family of Franzen's The Corrections or that of St. Aubyn's Patrick Melrose novels. The Blessings have their struggles with disease, dementia, divorce and death, but always they close ranks in mutual support. They are at their best when difficult circumstances create "a determined stirring: to be on the cusp of a crisis, to rise to it, as a family." In time, an older Abby comes to discover the value of family just being there, that "if everybody is ok, it is enough." With a keen eye for detail and character, Juska shows us that, Tolstoy notwithstanding, a happy family can be happy in its own way and make for great storytelling. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: An exquisite portrait of a large family dealing with its various troubles in a large-family supportive way.

Grand Central, $24, hardcover, 9781455574032

All the Light We Cannot See

by Anthony Doerr


This second novel from Anthony Doerr (About Grace) will likely draw comparisons with Markus Zusak's The Book Thief. It's set during World War II and features a girl who stands firm in the face of evil, thanks to the power of literature and learning. All the Light We Cannot See, though, is its own creature: an intricate miracle of invention, narrative verve and deep research--but above all a miracle of humanity.

It's August 1944 in the last Nazi stronghold in Brittany. Marie-Laure LeBlanc and Private Werner Pfennig are both trapped within Saint-Malo as the Allies prepare to destroy it. Marie-Laure--a blind 16-year-old, unable to read the leaflet urging residents to depart--is preoccupied with keeping her great-uncle's house safe from intruders. Werner, an 18-year-old German soldier, is holed up only five streets away, desperate to find the source of one particular radio transmission. This desire, we learn, has nothing to do with national allegiance and perhaps everything to do with Marie-Laure. These two exceptional innocents share a strange, star-crossed history.

Flicking back and forth between 1944 and the protagonists' very different 1930s childhoods, Doerr writes in the historic present throughout. The novel has several monsters, not least the driven Sgt. Major Reinhold von Rumpel, who is among those charged with relieving France of its heritage. Yet this man is allowed his moments of fear and humanity, as is most everyone in this abundantly peopled novel.

Doerr harnesses what only the finest artists can: the power to create, reveal and augment experience in all its horror and wonder, heartbreak and rapture. --Kerry Fried

Discover: Near the end of World War II, the fates of a bright, blind French girl and a young German soldier collide.

Scribner, $27, hardcover, 9781476746586

Food & Wine

Done. A Cook's Guide to Knowing When Food Is Perfectly Cooked

by James Peterson


James Beard Award-winning cookbook author James Peterson (What's a Cook to Do?) aims to expand the new or intermediate cook's ability to assess the doneness of food beyond toothpicks stuck into cakes and spaghetti thrown against the fridge with Done, a hybrid reference-recipe book. First, one must grapple with Peterson's occasionally contrary opinions. For instance, while the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and most cooking guides advise that poultry is safe to eat once it has reached 160º F, Peterson prefers 140º F. A two-pound lobster, he says, will be cooked to perfection after only four minutes (compared to the standard 20 minutes, and after a knife-delivered coup de grâce). But Done surveys far more than birds and crustaceans. After an introductory section that explains various cooking methods, the book marches pithily through sauces, eggs, side dishes, entrées (organized by protein type) and desserts.

Peterson explains how precise cooking times and the cook's eyes, ears, nose and fingertips--or a humble dipping spoon or wooden skewer--can be deployed as effectively as a standby thermometer. The attractive color photographs illustrate preparation steps and exactly where to place a probe when necessary. While Done would make an excellent primer for an omnivorous beginner who wants to prepare sophisticated yet streamlined Eurocentric cuisine, almost every entry contains a tip, technique or insight that would edify cooks who already know their roux from their choux. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: An instructively illustrated primer on how to cook traditional foods just enough, but not too much.

Chronicle, $27.50, hardcover, 9781452119632

Biography & Memoir

The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones

by Sandra Tsing Loh


There's a moment in Sandra Tsing Loh's autobiographical narrative on "the change" when, in an attempt to stave off the middle-age belly fat that's a byproduct of her slowing metabolism, she takes every class her gym offers. Loh (Mother on Fire) winds up maniacally screeching "No More!," but her hilarious, absurd memoir will leave readers demanding the opposite, and laughing until they weep (even if their hormones are perfectly balanced).

This brutally candid account of the transition from fertile young'un to seasoned lady may give readers hope that there's a hidden benefit to menopause: becoming courageously outspoken. Loh, a radio host and humorist, writes frankly of the fallout from her extramarital affair, her efforts to support her angry father and the precise timbre of her preteen daughters' voices (which make her completely nuts). She tries everything from yoga to a Greek yogurt diet to calm her careering hormones, but ultimately realizes that acceptance is the true path to enlightenment.

Beyond the bold humor in Loh's everyday life as she tries (sometimes in vain) to steer the roller-coaster of her perimenopausal emotions, the real impact here comes from her moments of personal revelation: Prince Charming sometimes goes back to his wife, parents still have the power to break our adult hearts, and there is no shame in taking a little estrogen to cope. Uproarious but with real notes of human failing and self-examination, The Madwoman in the Volvo offers a raw assessment of an unavoidable change. --Natalie Papailiou

Discover: A humorist's take on her menopausal crack-up that will cause readers to crack up.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393088687

Social Science

Men Explain Things to Me

by Rebecca Solnit


In this collection of essays, activist and Lannan Literary Award winner Rebecca Solnit says of feminism, "some battles are won, some are engaged, and some women are doing really well while others suffer. And things continue to change in interesting and even auspicious ways." Tonally, that sentiment reflects the collection as a whole in all its multifaceted glory. Depending on the piece (and the subject) at hand, Solnit is alternately grim, hopeful, humorous, scientific or personal, discussing everything from commonplace cultural phenomena to specific passages of Virginia Woolf with the dexterity of a writer at the peak of her abilities.

Though these pieces dance between the personal and the global, their common thread is Solnit's thorough and thoughtful analysis of modern culture. In "Pandora's Box and the Volunteer Police Force," which deals with feminism's historical progress, she considers the intersection of the civil and gay rights movements alongside the fight for women's rights, noting that the Supreme Court justices cited the anti-slavery 14th Amendment as part of their decision to allow a woman control over her body. In "Worlds Collide in a Luxury Suite," she considers the larger global symbolism of French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn's sexual assault of an African maid at a New York hotel.

Where opponents would argue that feminism is humorless and superfluous, Men Explain Things to Me is a compelling argument for the movement's necessary presence in contemporary society. It approaches the subject with candor and openness, furthering the conversation and opening a new Pandora's box that's apt to change the way we talk about women's rights. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer and bookseller at Flyleaf Books

Discover: Candid, thoughtful essays that make a compelling case for feminism in the modern world.

Haymarket Books, $11.95, paperback, 9781608463862

Nature & Environment

A Sting in the Tale: My Adventures with Bumblebees

by Dave Goulson


As it skips from the small town of Shropshire, England, to Tasmania and its wildflowers, Dave Goulson's debut treatise delights and informs readers on the varied lives and intricate behaviors of bumblebees. Although "it is a common misapprehension that there is just one species of bee: they have yellow and black stripes and they sting," Goulson tells us that there are 27 distinct bumblebees living in England alone and "perhaps 25,000 species of bee in the world."

Goulson--founder of the Bumblebee Conservation Trust in the U.K.--serves up a lifetime of observations and analysis in an accessible and often humorous format. We learn many quirky details: bees have smelly, oily feet that leave scent patches on flower petals; bumblebees and honeybees have distinctly different mating habits; it is possible to measure the length of a bumblebee's tongue to determine which flower species it might visit. But Goulson also examines the impact bumblebees have on the world. They are effective pollinators of such cash crops as tomatoes--plants pollinated by bumblebees yield bigger and better tomatoes than those pollinated by humans. More than 30 factories worldwide breed bumblebees for crop pollination, though the environmental effect of such insect production has yet to be fully determined, especially when these bees escape a greenhouse and compete against native species for plant nectar.

Fascinating and in-depth, Goulson's story of bumblebees will inspire readers to plant cottage gardens full of non-hybrid flowers to attract these complex creatures so they, too, can have a closer look. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A charming and highly informative narrative about the anything-but-humble bumblebee.

Picador, $25, hardcover, 9781250048370

Gardening

Chasing the Rose: An Adventure in the Venetian Countryside

by Andrea Di Robilant


As a title, Chasing the Rose packs a double punch. At one level it refers to Andrea di Robilant's search for the identity of a rose that grows wild on his family's former country estate near Venice. It also describes the mindset of rose-fanciers, embodied here by old-rose collector Eleonora Garlant.

The search began when Di Robilant described a pink rose with a distinctive peach-raspberry scent in A Venetian Affair, his biography of an 18th-century ancestor. That casual aside caught the interest of Garlant, who thought the rose might be one of the long-lost China roses that fueled a rose-breeding frenzy in late 18th-century Europe. Spurred on by Garlant's enthusiasm, Di Robilant soon found himself on the hunt for the name and history of his rose.

Di Robilant's quest leads him to Josephine Bonaparte's rose gardens, the China trade, rose smuggling during the Napoleonic wars, the disappearance of "old roses" in the 19th century and their rediscovery in the 20th. He considers orphan roses, natural hybrids and the politics of registering and naming roses today. At each step of his quest he returns to the gardens of Eleonora Garlant, whose own chase of the rose led her to acquire more than 1,000 varieties of old roses--with names and without.

Written and illustrated in a style reminiscent of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence, Chasing the Rose is a charming account of a modern obsession and its historical roots. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: The author goes on an entertaining search for the identity of an old rose without a name.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9780307962928

Children's & Young Adult

The Baby Tree

by Sophie Blackall


In Sophie Blackall's The Baby Tree, words and pictures remain firmly planted in the boy narrator's consciousness as he attempts to understand the impending arrival of a new sibling.

A series of images chronicles his routine. A black cat sleeps on the end of his bed and follows the boy on his rounds to wake up Dad, wake up Mom "and wake up Dad again." The child gets dressed, feeds the cat and, at breakfast, Mom and Dad "tell me they're going to tell me some news. And then they tell me the news. A new baby is coming." The boy asks various trusted sources about where babies come from. Olive, the teenager who walks the boy to school, says, "You plant a seed and it grows into a Baby Tree." The child imagines babies hatching from bulb-like blossoms. His teacher says babies come from the hospital. Grandpa says the stork brings the baby and "leaves it in a bundle on your doorstep." Yet every morning, when the child opens the door, "there are no babies, only the mail." Finally, he simply asks his mom and dad, "Where do babies come from?" Their explanation is well-suited to preschoolers and kindergartners. In a humorous twist, the boy finds the kernel of truth in everyone's explanations, except for one: "I'm going to have to tell Grandpa where babies come from." Blackall's (Big Red Lollipop) endnotes suggest additional age-appropriate responses.

With just enough concrete information and whimsy, this will be the go-to book for families who are expecting a second child. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This poignant picture book will comfortably open a discussion of where babies come from, particularly for children with a new sibling on the way.

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-8, 9780399257186

My Bus

by Byron Barton


One of the great masters of words and pictures for youngest book lovers takes a favorite topic--vehicles--and adds a simple math lesson.

A bus driver named Joe sports a navy-blue uniform and cap, and drives his red bus on a yellow road. "At my first top, one dog gets on my bus," he says, as a spotted, wagging pup climbs aboard. At his second stop, a black cat and purple cat enter the bus. Three more felines get on at the third stop. Youngsters can clearly see the spotted dog at the back of the bus, and the five cats lined up along the right-hand side. Four dogs wait at the last stop, and sit on the left side of the bus, in front of the first dog. Author-artist Byron Barton (My Car) knows children will count the passengers and pulls no punches: "Five dogs and five cats are on my bus." He makes it easy for children to keep tabs on the animals. A magenta boat waits while the bus drops "one dog and two cats" at the dock: "They sail away." Youngsters can see the trio through the boat's windows, and also the seven animals still on the bus.

Children will grow in confidence as they keep tabs on the whereabouts of cats and dogs and a running tally as they board the train and plane--until one sole pup remains on the bus. Not to worry! We soon discover where that last pooch belongs. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An ideal book for preschoolers and kindergartners--a vehicle plus a simple math lesson involving cats and dogs.

Greenwillow/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780062287366

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Kids Buzz

Everything I Know About You  

by Barbara Dee

Dear Reader,

Like my award-winning 2017 middle grade novels, STAR-CROSSED and HALFWAY NORMAL, my newest, EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU, treats a serious topic--tween eating disorders--in an entertaining, kid-friendly way. During the seventh grade trip to Washington, math nerd Tally suspects roommate Ava has an eating disorder.  Is Ava's secret hers to keep?

Elly Swartz (Smart Cookie) calls EVERYTHING, "A beautiful and meaningful book that will be loved by many and needed in school libraries."

“A poignant and hilarious slice of middle-grade life.” -- Kirkus

Happy reading!

Email barbara@barbaradeebooks.com to enter to win a copy.

Barbara Dee


Buy this book



PUBLISHER:
Aladdin/S&S

PUB DATE: 
June 19, 2018

ISBN: 
9781534405073

TYPE OF BOOK: 
Middle Grade  

PRICE: 
$17.99

 

Summer Supper

by Rubin Pfeffer

Dear Reader,

SUMMER SUPPER sees stars! “Vivid colors, a multiracial cast, and seamless alliteration make this book a wonderful read.”—*Kirkus. “…this farm-to-table picture book is a lively classroom read-aloud choice.”—*Booklist.

I’m fascinated by the way picture books magically merge story, information, illustration, and design into a reading experience. SUMMER SUPPER was an idea planted by rolling an alliteration in my head of “sun, soil, seed” and letting that grow into the full story of a joyful group whose hard work and tender care yield bountiful meals and reasons to be to be thankful. “ a vibrant celebration of gardening, nature’s bounty, family, cooperation—and the letter S.” I hope readers will eat this up and agree that it’s “a simple, satisfying—and ultimately sweet—offering.” —Publishers Weekly.

Rubin Pfeffer


Buy this book



PUBLISHER:
Random House

PUB DATE: 
May 8, 2018

ISBN: 
9781524714642

TYPE OF BOOK: 
Picture Book 

PRICE: 
$17.99

 

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