Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Delacorte Press: The Explorers: The Door in the Alley by Adrienne Kress

From My Shelf

W. W. Norton & Company: The Outrun: A Memoir by Amy Liptrot

Park Row Books: Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Out into the World

Graduation season is upon us, and with it, commencement speeches. With any luck, every graduate will be moved by his or her commencement speaker to look at the big, daunting world and go forth with confidence; for those not so lucky, a few favored speeches of recent years are available in print.

Neil Gaiman's speech from Philadelphia's University of the Arts, Make Good Art, is perfect for any grad pursuing a creative career, be it writing or sculpture or film; the message speaks to the creative process, but the book itself is downright beautiful, with highly stylized fonts and layouts presenting Gaiman's already highly creative ideas. George Saunders's moving speech from Syracuse University is also available for this year's grads to read and cherish in Congratulations, by the way: Some Thoughts on Kindness.

Lean In offers insight and wisdom for women entering the workforce for the first time, and Sheryl Sandberg's updated edition, Lean In for Graduates, provides even more. The new edition features expanded sections on résumé writing and building, interviewing and negotiating, and making the most of one's first job. Continuing the theme of Gaiman's Make Good Art, Sandberg's graduate advice also centers on being true to one's self.

For those still pondering what "true to one's self" really means, Picador's School of Life series offers a wealth of practical tips for making the most of the one precious life we have. For grads who want to make a difference in the world, there's How to Change the World by John-Paul Flintoff; those uncertain of their next step might appreciate Roman Krznaric's How to Find Fulfilling Work. Either volume, along with Daring Greatly by Brené Brown, would make the perfect graduation gift, encouraging those embarking on new adventures to do so with courage and self-assurance, even when the world can seem a scary place. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm


Chronicle Books: Happiness Is... 200 Things I Love about Mom/Dad by Lisa Swerling and Ralph Lazar


Book Candy

'Fantastic' Literary Fiction and Nonfiction; Book Sequels

"Despite rumors about the death of the literary novel, there's never been more fantastic literary fiction and non-fiction being produced," the Huffington Post observed in featuring "9 contemporary authors you should be reading."

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Play it again, Sam. Mental Floss unearthed "11 book sequels you probably didn't know existed."

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Dea Brovig, author of The Last Boat Home, shared "10 of my favorite Norwegian books available in English translation. Each is worthy of being pored over and admired."

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"Love Twilight? Gothic romances have got your name written all over them!" the Guardian reported in recommending "brilliant classics for young adult readers."

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A classic who-read-it? Buzzfeed asked: "How many of these thrilling classic mystery novels have you read?"

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Open book and open house: Flavorwire listed "8 literary homes you can buy right now."


Tor Books: Skullsworn (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne) by Brian Staveley


The Writer's Life

David Peace: Telling Real Stories About Real People

photo: Naoya Sanuki

David Peace grew up in Ossett, in the U.K., near where the Yorkshire Ripper went on his murder spree. The killings had a profound influence on him, leading to a strong interest in crime. His quartet of Red Riding books, which were adapted into a BBC TV series, grew from this obsession with the dark side of Yorkshire. Peace has taught English in Istanbul and Tokyo, where he now lives with his family. In 2003, Peace was named by Granta magazine as one of 20 "Best Young British Novelists." His new novel, Red or Dead (Melville House, May 27, 2014) celebrates the coaching career of Liverpool's legendary football manager, Bill Shankley.

Your novels are an unusual blend of fact and fiction. Red or Dead is a novel, but Bill Shankly, his coaches, his team, his family--they're all real people. The events in the novel are actual events, down to the scores of the matches. Why fictionalize it?

My understanding of the origins of all art--drama, poetry and prose, as well as painting, sculpture and music--was that it told the stories (histories) of people. I am of that tradition (if not quality!). The modern so-called literary novel, with its fictions and with its fantasies, is a very recent bourgeois phenomenon. I reject that completely; I want to tell real stories about real people. But I believe that the novel can be the most honest way to do that; any so-called nonfiction book, no matter its intentions or its qualities, can never be "the whole truth" about its subject anyway; it will always be subjective, too. I also believe the novel has the potential to resurrect and illuminate its subject with an emotional intensity and visceral power that is much harder--though not impossible--to do in nonfiction. In short, I want Red or Dead to be a living, felt experience for any reader.

You started writing Red or Dead because of a screenplay offer. Was that the first time you considered Bill Shankly as a subject or had he crossed your radar before?

Just to be clear, I wrote Red or Dead as a novel. Full stop. Not a screenplay. But yes, the spark came from a very brief discussion about the possibility of a screenplay; the minute the producer said those two words "Bill Shankly" it was as though Shankly had been sitting in the room all along and I had not noticed him; he once managed the club I support, Huddersfield Town, and so I grew up with my grandfather and father telling stories about him; he is also on the inside cover of the first edition of [my novel] The Damned Utd, as well as featuring in that novel; and, finally, he was friends with Sir Harold Wilson, the former Prime Minister, whom I one day plan to write about. So Bill Shankly had certainly crossed my radar before, but the timing of that call about the screenplay was everything; I was at a very, very low point and knew I needed to write a very different book about a very different man. And Bill Shankly, sitting there all along, was the man and the book I needed to write.   

Why did you feel you had to write a novel about Shankly first?

I am not a screenwriter; it's a completely different art form. If I was to have any hope of ever writing a screenplay, then I knew I would have to have written a novel first.

Will you now go on to write that screenplay?

I've done one draft so far but I've a long, long way to go and a lot to learn.

In your research, did you discover anything that surprised you about Bill Shankly?

This is very hard to answer briefly but, in short, his absolute selflessness; he worked and he worked, he struggled and he sacrificed, day in day out, for other people; the people who supported Liverpool Football Club, to make them happy. Every single day he lived, every single thing he did, he lived and did for other people.

You had the opportunity to use recordings and transcripts from Shankly's ghostwriter, John Roberts. What other research did you do for this book?

Yes, the recordings and the transcripts were a very generous and very wonderful gift from John. And I also met some other journalists who had known Shankly well, and some players who had played under him. And then there were all the books already written about him and about Liverpool Football Club. And, finally, there were the newspaper match reports; every game of every season, Shankly managed Liverpool Football Club. I think the year I spent researching was probably the happiest year of my life.

Why is now the time for people to know about Bill Shankly? What are you hoping your readers will take away from the "Red Saint?"

A different man and a different way of living. With his selflessness and with his socialism, on and off the pitch, Bill Shankly was the very antithesis of much of modern football and most of modern life. And so I hope readers will see this different way of living, this different narrative, and realize that things do not have to be the way they are now. There is an alternative and his name is Shankly: Bill Shankly.      

Red or Dead is a hefty work, but is there anything you wish you could have included that you didn't?

Well, the published edition was actually edited down from a much, much longer book. But I don't regret that; so no, I'm happy with the edited, slimmer version.

You've said that there are always elements of Japanese culture in your writing. Is that true for Red or Dead?

One of my favourite films is Ikiru (usually translated as To Live) by Akira Kurosawa and I think there are perhaps echoes of that film in the book. Maybe. I was conscious, too, of the way so many "salary men" in Japan dedicate their entire lives to their companies and their work and then how they struggle to adjust and to cope with life in retirement, after the work has finished.

You wrote the novel The Damned Utd, which also deals with football. Did writing that book influence Red or Dead?

Well, I think maybe The Damned Utd was perhaps a "negative influence"; I am fond of repetition, but I really did not want to write the same book again. So in that way The Damned Utd influenced me to make the books almost polar opposites.

In Red or Dead, football is very important to so many people. Why do you think professional sports become so important to people?

Narrative, tradition and community. People need the narratives that sport provides--in the endless cycles of games and seasons, winning and losing--and then the traditions of these narratives--the myths, the legends and the histories that fire the imagination and give hope--and, most importantly perhaps, these narratives and traditions are all communal and shared; you are part of a community, you are not alone.

Prior to publishing your first book, you were a teacher. Was writing always a goal for you?

Yes, since I was seven or eight years old, and I have always written every day since then, and when I was teaching, too. But I enjoy teaching and I still teach Contemporary Literature once a week at the University of Tokyo; it is the highlight of my week because teaching is also always an opportunity for me to keep learning.

The final installment in your Tokyo Year Zero trilogy is next. What are you hoping to tackle after that?

Yes, I am now writing the third book in the Tokyo Trilogy and hope to finish it by the end of the year, God-willing. After that, I hope to write UKDK, which will be the fourth book in a loose quartet formed with GB84, The Damned Utd and Red or Dead.

Do you still plan to stop writing novels after the 12th?

No, I made that remark at a particularly low point, and even then it was with the caveat that the Red Riding Quartet was one book and the Tokyo Trilogy one book. But writing Red or Dead, one of the many things I learnt was don't stop. Never stop. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts


Atria Books: Beartown by Fredrik Backman


Book Review

Fiction

The Last Illusion

by Porochista Khakpour


Porochista Khakpour's second novel, The Last Illusion, is ambitious, bursting with ideas, vivid characters and lush language. Rooted in the Persian epic poem the Shahnameh, The Last Illusion is the tale of Zal, a boy raised among birds. Born as an albino to a woman obsessed with her feathered "children," Zal is immediately banished to a birdcage for the first 10 years of his life and becomes a feral, fragile thing. Rescued by man who becomes his surrogate father, Zal makes his way to New York City on the cusp of the new millennium.

His heroic quest for normalcy despite his avian imprinting (he still has a hankering for insects) is sad and funny in turn, real and poignant on every page. He meets chic hipster girls with death wishes, an illusionist with the grand idea to make the Twin Towers disappear (how could that go wrong?) and always the city, overflowing with its residents' contradictory impulses. Khakpour's vision of a bustling, multicultural New York--stuffed with layers of idiosyncratic detail, fully alive and fully overwhelming--is literature of the first order. Through Zal's struggles, she is able to state valuable truths about the protean nature of identity and how even those who are trying to heal us can undermine our deeper essence.

Khakpour's disparate characters are drawn together by their shared rootlessness and achieve adulthood only after jettisoning each illusion. Her daring new book is a testament to the relentless search for self and connection to others, no matter how daunting the journey. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A major new work of fiction, incorporating myth and the grand character of New York City in the days and years leading up to 9/11.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620403044

Roaring Brook Press: Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick


Closed Doors

by Lisa O'Donnell


Lisa O'Donnell follows up her award-winning The Death of Bees with Closed Doors, another novel featuring a young narrator. Michael Murray, age 11, lives on the Scottish island of Rothesay and likes to listen behind doors because adults don't tell him everything. One night, he hears his mom screaming downstairs, and when he runs to find her, he sees her face is bloodied.

His father and grandmother tell him Rosemary saw a flasher while walking home from work in the dark and she fell running away from him. Michael believes the story, but is not allowed to tell anyone about the flasher. When his mother refuses to go to the police or discuss what happened, people in the small town start whispering ugly rumors about Michael's father, reaching their own conclusions about Rosemary's facial bruises. Michael is torn between his promise to keep the family secret and the need to defend his father's honor, especially with Dirty Alice, the neighborhood girl he hates.

O'Donnell deftly writes from this young man's point of view; Michael's observations are realistic and often laugh-out-loud funny. Confused when Dirty Alice suddenly bursts into tears at one point, he thinks, "I've heard her cry before but only after a fall or that time I threw a rock at her head." The levity balances out the darker elements, and Michael's innocence spares readers the full horror of "the flasher's" deeds. Michael loses some of that innocence over the course of the story but remains an engaging narrator to the end. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: An engaging young narrator tries to keep a family secret.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062271891

St. Martin's Press: No Easy Target by Iris Johansen


The Girl in the Road

by Monica Byrne


In her debut novel, The Girl in the Road, Monica Byrne introduces a near-futuristic Earth where global power has consolidated in East Asia and political tensions are shockingly high. In India, a young woman named Meena wakes in her bed with snakebites on her chest. The orphaned daughter of Ethiopian parents, she assumes political antagonists are out to kill her and decides to flee. She heads for a manmade energy bridge known as "the Trail" that spans the sea between Mumbai and Djibouti, planning to brave the thousands of kilometers alone, on foot--a journey that no one has ever completed. At the same time, Miriama, a young slave girl in western Africa, runs away from her master and seeks refuge in a truck convoy carrying oil to Ethiopia.

The Girl in the Road alternates between Meena's and Miriama's stories, highlighting the significant differences between the two women, but also making their commonalities apparent. Given the first-person narrative, it is easy to confuse the two protagonists as their timelines become blurred, but it's hard to believe this was unintentional. While the stories of these two women are enticing in their own right, what is most impressive about Byrne's debut is the way she builds a story without ever telling readers outright what they are encountering. In this elusive way, she explores sexuality, memory, honesty and self-discovery. The Girl in the Road moves forward to a conclusion that offers as many questions as it does answers, but the one thing no reader will doubt is Byrne's place as a strong new voice in science fiction. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The lives of two young women unexpectedly overlap as they take long journeys to flee the past.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780804138840

Doubleday Books: Unreliable by Lee Irby


Mrs. Hemingway

by Naomi Wood


"Each Mrs. Hemingway thought their love would last forever. Each one was wrong." A man of famously outsize appetites, Ernest Hemingway married four times, eventually destroying each relationship through his hunger for another woman. In deft, elegant prose, Naomi Wood (The Godless Boys) tells the intertwined stories of Hemingway's wives: Hadley, Pauline, Martha and Mary. The saga of Hemingway's meteoric career, his many exploits and his tragic end is well known, but Wood fills in the details, drawing on letters and telegrams to create dynamic portraits of the four women behind the man.

Wood opens each section of the novel with the end of a marriage: the holiday in Antibes, France, where Pauline triumphed over Hadley; the hot day in Key West, Fla., when Pauline first met Martha. Each section shifts back and forth in time, tracing the arc of each affair from the glorious, passionate beginning to the final, bitter denouement. Each woman reacts differently to her displacement, from Hadley's gracious abdication to Martha's furious exit. But they remain bound to each other by the man who inspired such passion and heartbreak. Hemingway himself is central but opaque, an unknowable sun who pulls women--wives, lovers, mistresses--into his orbit.

"Each decade has its triptych," notes Mary Welsh, the final wife, after Hemingway's death. Wood's intimate portrayal of all four triptychs is at once a meditation on marriage and a rare treat for Hemingway devotees. Fans of The Paris Wife and Hemingway's Girl will be captivated by this elegiac, exquisitely drawn novel. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: An exquisite novel about the famous writer's four marriages, their beginnings and endings inextricably intertwined.

Penguin, $16, paperback, 9780143124610

Mira Books: Any Day Now (Sullivan's Crossing #2) by Robyn Carr


Mystery & Thriller

The Hidden Child

by Camilla Läckberg, trans. by Marlaine Delargy


Amid the recent wave of successful Scandinavian mystery writers, such as Henning Mankell and Arnaldur Indriðason, Swedish author Camilla Läckberg (The Stranger, The Ice Princess) stands apart from her peers thanks to her dual protagonists. Detective Patrik Hedström and his wife, crime writer Erica Falck, can't help but get involved in each other's cases.

As The Hidden Child opens, Patrik has taken paternity leave to care for their daughter while Erica returns to writing. But Erica becomes sidetracked when she inherits a trunk that belonged to her mother, Elsy. To her bewilderment, the trunk contains not only a set of diaries, but a Nazi medal. Meanwhile, Patrik is having a hard time focusing on childcare and keeping his nose out of police business--especially once he realizes that Erik Frankel, an old man whose death seems linked to a virulent neo-Nazi group, is the Nazi-relic expert that Erica recently consulted to analyze Elsy's medal.

The Hidden Child alternates smoothly between the modern-day life of Erica and Patrik and the dramatic situations Elsy and her friends experienced during World War II, and soon 60-year-old secrets begin to unfold. Fans of the other four books in the series will be happy to see interesting developments in the personal lives of Erica's sister and Patrik's coworkers. New readers are bound to be hooked by Läckberg's unusual blend of personal drama, social commentary and mystery. The Hidden Child is an excellent entry in this appealing series. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A small Swedish town is rocked by murders with an apparent Nazi connection.

Pegasus Crime, $25.95, hardcover, 9781605985534

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less (Poorcraft #1) by C. Spike Trotman


Science Fiction & Fantasy

My Real Children

by Jo Walton


Patricia Cowan is very old, and, according to her medical charts, very confused. As she lies in her nursing home, uncertain of the day or the week or even the year, she recalls distinctly two lives: one in which she married her college boyfriend and had four children, and one in which she never married and raised three children with a woman named Bee instead. She remembers a world torn apart by nuclear warfare, and a world at peace. She remembers a wedding on the moon; she remembers Russia, the U.S. and Europe fighting over proprietary space technology.

My Real Children is an exploration of both of Patricia Cowan's lives, or rather, an exploration of what happens when one life splits in two possible but completely distinct versions. Jo Walton (Among Others) uses the two lives of Patricia Cowan to explore the consequences of decision-making: What would have happened had you chosen another option? Though it can feel heavy-handed at times, Walton's exploration of not only the what-ifs but the what-could-have-beens is brought to life by the multilayered lives of Patricia Cowan, whose experiences as a woman, a mother and a partner are at once incredibly different and yet strikingly similar. Both lives unfold at a rapid pace, but the nuance of the characters, family dynamics and political situations in each keep the two story lines distinct--at least until Patricia's own memories collapse into one, leaving readers and Patricia to ponder the question: What if? --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A dying woman has memories of two distinct alternate lives sprung from one seemingly small decision.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765332653

Graphic Books

The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft

by Reinhard Kleist


Reinhard Kleist's The Boxer is a violent, sinewy tale of survival and triumph against the odds. Biographic comic artist Kleist (Johnny Cash: I See a Darkness) follows Harry Haft from his hardscrabble youth in Poland on the eve of World War II and his wartime experiences in concentration camps to a boxing career and a middle-class life in the U.S. Haft is tough from the beginning, and while no one was ever raised to survive Auschwitz, Haft's pugnacious attitude served him well. In scenes that Hollywood wouldn't dare to imagine, Haft became a boxer in the camps and was forced to fight other Jews to the death while his Nazi captors laughed and placed bets.

Kleist presents everything simply, with artful lines and seamless storytelling. His panel arrangements move the reader from the broadest strokes of horrific history to the whispered intimacies of inmates on the verge of death. Haft's wartime exploits are balanced with his domestic life in the U.S. as he tries to connect with his son despite his natural macho reticence and the way his experiences have warped his psyche. There is a wonderful last scene that draws the story full circle and points to possible catharsis, underlining what generations of Jews lost when they were dispersed.

The Boxer is a fast-moving graphic work, drawn with aplomb, scripted with the staccato rhythms of a boxing gym. It is also a valuable piece of Holocaust literature, a testament to those who survived and those who didn't--a graphic witness to man's endless capacity for cruelty and man's equally endless fight to withstand that cruelty. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A fast-paced work of graphic nonfiction offers an important lesson from a dark corner of history.

SelfMadeHero/Abrams, $22.95, paperback, 9781906838775

Biography & Memoir

Tibetan Peach Pie: A True Account of an Imaginative Life

by Tom Robbins


Tom Robbins, best known for writing flamboyantly imaginative novels (Even Cowgirls Get the Blues) with half-hilarious, half-metaphysical leanings, dishes out a juicy-parts version of his full and unusual life in this collection of autobiographical essays. In the preface, Robbins remarks, "My editor claims some of this stuff is so nuts even I couldn't have made it up," and readers will agree as they join Robbins for a stroll down a version of Memory Lane populated by circus performers, bohemians, the occasional celebrity and a variety of interesting women.

Robbins begins with his upbringing in Appalachian North Carolina during the Great Depression. His childhood nickname, Tommy Rotten, seemed to guide his formative years, and some of his earliest recollections are also his most colorful, including the time he briefly ran away to join the circus--with parental consent. As an adult, Robbins has maintained his habit of telling convention to go do rude things to itself. Readers who hop on board solely to hear about the evolution of a writing career might be surprised at Robbins's unconventional path to selling his first novel.

Robbins defies tradition yet again by throwing the usual linear autobiography format out the window, jumping instead from story to story in a manner that often seems disjointed but repeatedly becomes part of a greater train of thought. His trademark style is earthy and conversational yet simultaneously intellectual; fans and newcomers alike will guffaw and marvel at this most extraordinary life. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: These clever, funny, subversive autobiographical essays prove Tom Robbins's love of the unusual is not limited to fiction.

Ecco Press, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062267405

Political Science

Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China

by Evan Osnos


When New Yorker writer Evan Osnos (son of PublicAffairs founder and editor-at-large Peter Osnos) moved to China as a foreign correspondent in 2005, the country had already captivated him with its sweeping metamorphosis into a free-market global superpower, thirsty for new sensations and new ideas despite its thick veil of authoritarian control. He set about trying to understand the changes from the point of view of ordinary citizens. There is the soldier who defected from Taiwan and became the chief World Bank economist; a peasant farmer's daughter whose marriage prospects inspired her to start China's largest online dating service; a young blogger and novelist who became an overnight sensation by sharing youthful views on the current cultural climate.

The reportage goes beyond these everyday men and women to include the controversial figures whose online social critiques and probing questions of party politics have resulted in indefinite imprisonment: Nobel Prize-winning author Liu Xiaobo, internationally renowned artist Ai Weiwei and Chen Guangcheng, a peasants' rights advocate whose defection to the United States embarrassed the Chinese government.

"The hardest part about writing from China was not navigating the authoritarian bureaucracy or the occasional stint in a police station. It was the problem of proportions: how much drama was light and how much was dark," notes Osnos. Despite its great leap forward in progress and wealth, China continues to be shrouded in contradictions, a capitalist society whose stability is maintained through censorship and intimidation. Osnos never settles for simple explanations in his struggle to comprehend such dividing forces; there are always currents of sadness, wonder and deep-seated anticipation about what the China of his experience will become. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A revelatory and thoughtful look at the new China and its changing landscape.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 9780374280741

Essays & Criticism

Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times

by Andrew D. Kaufman


Don't be put off by the inspirational title of Andrew D. Kaufman's book about another book, War and Peace. It's a serious, thoughtful inquiry into how literature can affect and change people's lives, focused on one great novel. Kaufman knows Russian and he knows his Tolstoy; when Oprah picked Tolstoy's other massive novel, Anna Karenina, as one of her book club selections, Kaufman served as teacher answering her readers' questions.

Here, Kaufman combines biography, history and human interest with literary appreciation to guide us through this "loose, baggy monster of a book." Tolstoy was a 26-year-old soldier when he fought a losing battle with the Russian army during the siege of Sevastopol in Crimea. The war left a deep mark on the writer and influenced War and Peace. The brutal Napoleonic Wars, which ended 13 years before Tolstoy's birth, serve as a key part of the author's classic. As Kaufman points out, it is a war novel, but it's also a family saga and a love story; at its core, it's about "people trying to find their footing in a ruptured world."

Though Tolstoy has been dead just over a century, the wisdom of his most famous novel is relevant today. The specter of war has been too close for too long, we've come close to financial disaster, and the future is uncertain for so many: The "existential angst of Tolstoy and his characters is entirely familiar." Do give this fine, perceptive book a chance; it'll leave you more than ready to tackle Tolstoy's triumphant work. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: How Tolstoy's great, daunting literary classic can reward with wisdom and understanding.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781451644708

Children's & Young Adult

The Night Gardener

by Jonathan Auxier


Jonathan Auxier (Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes) creates a twisted tale both creepy and suspenseful, in the tradition of Washington Irving. 

Fourteen-year-old Molly and 10-year-old Kip McConnachie, two Irish orphans, make their way through the English countryside in search of the Windsor estate, where Molly has secured a place for them as servants. They find the rundown mansion, where a tree has "insinuated itself into the very architecture." Molly cares for the lady of the house and her two spoiled children, while her brother creates a glorious garden from the remains of what felt like "the memory of one." The house and its family are haunted by this mysterious tree with a mind of its own, and the Night Gardener who tends it. The tree casts a spell on those around it, granting them a wish of their choice. However, nothing comes without a price.

Auxier builds suspense through twists and turns, with just the right amount of watering, like the magical tree--just enough so the story thrives but not so much that it drowns in a pool that rots the roots. The eerie setting, the pacing of the plot and the cast of characters--each of whom, in his or her own way, evolves as a storyteller--makes this an ideal family read-aloud and a vacation pleasure. This will appeal to fans of Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz, Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance trilogy, and The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart. --Susannah Richards, associate professor, Eastern Connecticut State University

Discover: An eerie story of a magic tree that will captivate readers with its Victorian setting and cast of eccentric characters.

Amulet/Abrams, $16.95, hardcover, 368p., ages 10-up, 9781419711442

Abuelo

by Arthur Dorros, illus. by Raúl Colón


Together, Arthur Dorros and Raúl Colón capture the way an intimate bond between boy and grandfather can feel like a magical, private world.

As the boy narrator and his Abuelo "ride with the wind, 'el viento'" across the plains ("La Pampa") and into the clouds, "with the sky, 'el cielo,' wrapped around [them]," they discover they have everything they need. When it rains, Abuelo shows his grandson how to use his poncho to take shelter ("tu propia casa"/ your own house), and when a mountain lion threatens, Abuelo models how to stand strong ("fuerte"). Dorros peppers the story with just enough Spanish words for emphasis, and when the boy learns that his family plans to move to the city, Colón's signature swirling watercolors, scratched with color pencils, suggest the whirlwind of feelings that engulf the child. "'No te preocupes,' don't worry," Abuelo tells him. In his new home, the boy remembers all the things Abuelo taught him. A bully threatens him, and he stands strong ("fuerte"), and the wideness of the city stretches like La Pampa. The echoes of the Spanish words close the distance between boy and grandfather, connecting the familiar experiences with the unfamiliar, and making the boy feel at home wherever he is.

This deceptively simple story with its universal appeal reminds children that love and comfort can cross many miles. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A magical, private world shared between a boy and his grandfather.

HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780061686276

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Pub Date: 01/17/2017

ISBN:9781945920073

List Price: $2.99

 

AuthorBuzz: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo

Dear Reader,

In Renaissance Italy, Simonetta Cattaneo comes to Florence to marry Marco Vespucci, and soon finds that the entire city has fallen in love with her. Not only is her beauty and intelligence praised by the wealthy and powerful Medici family, but she also makes the acquaintance of a young painter named Sandro Botticelli. He promises her immortality, and Simonetta finds that she cannot refuse him, even as she grapples with the politics of beauty, desire, and art.

Email me at alyssa@alyssapalombo.com to win one of five copies.

 

Alyssa Palombo

 

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AuthorBuzz: The Most Beautiful Woman in Florence by Alyssa Palombo

Publisher: St. Martin's

Pub Date: 04/25/2017

ISBN:9781250071507

List Price: $15.99

 

AuthorBuzz: The Standard Grand by Jay Baron Nicorvo

Dear Reader,

My former sister-in-law deployed to Iraq during the Surge. When she returned stateside, she severed all communication. In that absence, I imagined what might’ve happened to her. THE STANDARD GRAND is the result.

Dennis Lehane thinks it’s “bracingly original.” Booklist, in a starred review, calls it “an important and deeply human contribution to the national conversation.” Kirkus says it’s a “seamless blend of road-trip saga, love story, and critique of military contractors.” Library Journal named it the “spiritual heir to Robert Stone's Vietnam-era classic Dog Soldiers,” and booksellers say, simply, it’s “a book I’ve been awaiting.”

Write me at jay@nicorvo.net for the chance to win 1 of 5 copies!

 

Yours,

Jay

www.nicorvo.net

 

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AuthorBuzz: The Standard Grand by Jay Baron Nicorvo

Publisher: St. Martin's

Pub Date: 04/25/2017

ISBN:9781250108944

List Price: $26.99

 

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