Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 3, 2014


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

From My Shelf

Clarkson Potter Publishers: Exciting Games for Readers and Word Lovers

Quirk Books: Holiday Gift Guide

The Joy of Re-reading

Re-reading is a particular delight--we know what we're getting, and we look forward to it. And there is often a deeper connection when we re-read years later, with additional life experience.

I remember reading Mark Salzman's charming memoir, Iron and Silk, about his time in China as an English instructor and student of one of China's foremost martial arts teachers. It was so delightful that after I finished the last page, I turned to the first and started over. That was an unusual case. Other books I've revisited have "rested" a while before I've enjoyed them again (and again).

Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books are a touchstone for many, and reward repetition. The series is now available for the "grown-up" market in a two-volume set from the Library of America, but many readers will fondly recall the editions with their favorite illustrations. Another classic that some re-read on a regular basis is To Kill a Mockingbird--it's almost a religious ritual. (I have a friend for whom the Betsy-Tacy books are a religious ritual.)

I read the 600+ pages of Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes in a mad rush; it was so compelling. I then had to re-read it in order to review it, and was (happily) surprised that it was even better the second time around. It may be time now for a third reading.

Some authors I never tire of: Mary Stewart, Edmund Crispin, Robert B. Parker (Ace Atkins recalls finding a mentor in Parker and Parker's Spenser when Atkins was young and "lost on all fronts"), Mary Wesley, Elinor Lipman (who writes the best endings ever), Philip Yancey. A few recent books that I know I will be re-reading: Truth in Advertising by John Kenney; Lucky Dog by Mark Barrowcliffe--both funny and poignant; Purgatory by Ken Bruen, for its dazzling dark wit; Salvage by Jane Kotapish, a quirky, tender mother-daughter novel.

As winter approaches, it's comforting to know there are treasures on my shelf ready to hunker down with. Again. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


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

No Royalty: Novelists on Bank Notes

Show me the money. Mental Floss showcased "8 novelists who were featured on international banknotes."

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Adapting books-to-film: ShortList magazine featured "9 great adaptations you've probably never seen." And the Guardian offered a pop quiz: "Can you identify the film adaptation from the book's cover?"

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To feed your lifelong quest get an " 'A' in book nerdery," Buzzfeed asked: "Can you guess the famous book from the first line?"

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Muggle sets Guiness World Record: Menahem Asher Silva Vargas of Mexico City "has spent nearly 15 years hoarding memorabilia related to British author J.K. Rowling's young-adult wizard-fantasy series," the Guardian reported. Guinness World Records has officially recognized his collection "as the world No. 1, at 3,097 pieces. The old mark was 807."

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"With a little planning there are plenty of attractive ways to store your books, no matter how limited your space," the Melbourne, Australia Herald Sun observed in a piece on "how to create a mini library in your home."


A Sudden Light

by Garth Stein

In his first novel since the beloved The Art of Racing in the Rain, which spent more than three years on the New York Times bestseller list and has been translated into 35 languages, Garth Stein delivers A Sudden Light, a richly layered, atmospheric epic brimming with ghosts, family secrets, a dark legacy and a tragic love affair that alters the course of several generations of the fictional Riddell family.

The narrator of Stein's tale is the adult Trevor Riddell, who recalls the summer of 1990 when he was a precocious, curious, bookish 14-year-old, first visiting his family's ancestral Pacific Northwest estate. While growing up in Connecticut, Trevor has heard stories of how his patriarchal forebears built and lost their fortune in the Northwest timber industry. He has heard stories about the Riddell family curse.

In that fateful summer, Trevor's father, Jones, is dealing with his failing marriage in the fallout of a forced bankruptcy--he's lost his wooden boat–building business as well as his family's house in the Connecticut countryside. While Trevor's mother is visiting her native England during a trial separation, father and son set out on a momentous journey.

For the first time in more than two decades, Jones returns to Riddell House, an impressive but dilapidated mansion on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound. He's back in the family fold on a mission. He and his younger sister, Serena, plan to place their father, Samuel, who is rapidly declining from dementia, in a nursing home after having him sign over power of attorney. Once in charge of his affairs, they plan to sell Riddell House and the surrounding acreage to a developer and split the profits.

Trevor, too, has an agenda--he wants to keep his parents together. If his father has some cash, Trevor believes, his estranged parents will reunite. "My strategy was to fix my father by helping him to fix his broken life. It was a simple plan, because I thought it was just about money," he confides. He has another reason for accompanying his father to Washington State. He wants to learn about the past in the hopes of forging a closer relationship with his father, who has always been a distant figure in Trevor's life.

Trevor is struck speechless at his first sight of Riddell House, a three-story mansion with a pillared façade constructed of whole trees, "a regiment of silent, glaring giants." He barely crosses the threshold when he senses there is something different about this residence, which is "alive, almost, and breathing." It's not long before he hears his name whispered while he's alone, along with other signs of a supernatural presence. His fear at being sought after by a ghost is trumped by his desire to know who is trying to reach him and why.

A self-described truth seeker, Trevor roams Riddell House, searching for answers about the dead and the living. How did his grandmother die, and why won't anyone talk to him about it? Why did his father leave Riddell House and never return? Has Serena forgiven Brother Jones for not coming back for her as he had promised? Trevor eavesdrops on conversations and decodes spirit-guided missives scribbled on scraps of paper by Grandpa Samuel. He explores secret passageways, stumbling on a hidden study and unearthing long-forgotten diaries.

This is where Stein really adds depth to the novel, weaving the contemporary storyline with an intriguing historical narrative and using Trevor to tie the two threads together. We take a trip into the past with the boy as he reads journals, field notes and letters penned by his great-great grandfather, Elijah Riddell, founder of the family timber empire; Elijah's son, Ben; and Ben's lover, Harry.

In the early 1900s, Ben's passionate environmentalism is at odds with the family livelihood, while his love for another man goes against the mores of Victorian society--both proclivities of which Papa Elijah disapproves. But after Ben dies unexpectedly, Elijah vows to fulfill his son's wishes and preserve the land surrounding Riddell House.

Ben has his own reasons for wanting the land preserved. He blames himself for the accidental death of his lover and fellow conservationist, Harry, and won't pass into the spirit realm until he assuages his guilt. This is why he seeks Trevor's help--as an ally to keep the land pristine and undeveloped. The legal time limit on Elijah's mandate that future generations of Riddells adhere to his wishes has run out. The only thing standing in the way of Serena and Jones's desire to raze the property is their father, Samuel, who refuses to let the house go.

Swayed by Ben and Harry's personal story, and by their vivid descriptions of the lush Pacific Northwest woods where they find joy and adventure communing with nature and scaling sky-high trees, Trevor is determined to help his "uncle of some level of greatness" fulfill his heart's desire. But to do so means going against his father's needs and wishes, and possibly destroying the only chance his parents will reunite.

While Trevor is wrestling with his conflict, disturbing facts come to light about his mysterious Aunt Serena, who has her own plans for the family's future. Realizing it's not ghosts he has to fear but the living, Trevor sets in motion a plan that is both brave and foolhardy. The tension level rises dramatically as the novel spirals toward a powerful, poignant conclusion. When all is said and done, the Riddell curse might finally be broken and the debt settled. But at what cost?

Part epic family saga, part ghost story and part mystery, A Sudden Light explores the fragile yet complex ties that connect people to one another, the weight of generations past on generations present, and the idea that what makes us human doesn't end with death. Like The Art of Racing in the Rain, it's heartrending and uplifting, entertaining and thought-provoking--a beguiling novel about love, tragedy, hope and redemption.

Simon & Schuster, $26.95, hardcover, 9781439187036

Garth Stein: Soul-Stirring Fiction

photo: Susan Doupe Photography

Garth Stein is the author of the novels Raven Stole the Moon, How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets and the New York Times and international bestseller The Art of Racing in the Rain. Before turning to writing full-time, he was a documentary filmmaker, directing, editing and/or producing several award-winning films, including The Lunch Date, winner of an Academy Award for live-action short in 1990, and The Last Party, starring Robert Downey, Jr.

Stein is a co-founder of Seattle7Writers, a nonprofit organization dedicated to energizing readers and writers and their communities by providing funding, programming and donations of books to shelters, halfway houses and correctional facilities, and generally inspiring enthusiasm for reading books. Stein lives in Seattle with his family.

It has been six years since your last novel for adults, The Art of Racing in the Rain, was published and went on to become an international sensation. What is it like to have a new publication on the horizon? What would you like readers to know about A Sudden Light?

It certainly has been a fun ride with The Art of Racing in the Rain, and I won't forget a bit of it. I've connected with so many readers and booksellers and librarians, it's been a true pleasure, and I am grateful for it.

Still, new books must be written, and I've written one.

It has no dogs and no race cars. It does have four generations of a once terribly wealthy and influential timber family, since fallen from grace; a mysterious, majestic, yet crumbling mansion on a bluff overlooking Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains; a love affair so powerful, it reaches across planes of existence; the free-climbing of some of the tallest trees in the world; a present-day family so mired in their conflicting and confusing emotions that they can't function; and a young man who simply wants his parents to once again experience the moment they first fell in love, hoping that if they feel that moment again, maybe they won't get divorced after all. 

Jones Riddell previously featured in a play you wrote, Brother Jones. Why did you decide to bring back the character, and his family, in a novel?

The experience of putting up the play at a small theater in Los Angeles was fantastic. I loved working with the actors and the director, and the performances were outstanding. And yet, the play wasn't perfect. I knew it needed work.

The theater is about the "now." It's about the drama that unfolds in real time, in front of you on the stage. Novels are about how we got to the "now." So I wanted to dig deeper into these characters, and I wanted to go back generations and learn the entire history of the Riddell family. It was a long journey to discover all the tentacles of my family, but I'm glad I took it.

Some of the most compelling characters in A Sudden Light aren't human but rather supernatural. What appealed to you about writing a novel that is part ghost story? Do you believe in ghosts?

When I was sorting out the title for A Sudden Light, I had a striking dream. I remember it very clearly even now. A dark-haired man came to see me--I believe he was Ben, but his image was vague and difficult to see; he was blurry. He whispered something into my ear. He said: "How the mighty have fallen."

I woke up the following morning with that phrase imprinted on my mind. Could Ben be giving me the title of my book, I wondered. I did some research into the origin of the phrase. It's from the Bible: the story of Saul and Jonathan and David (of Goliath fame). It's a story of fathers and sons and a love stronger than anything on earth.

The more I read of Jonathan and David's story, the more I was struck by the parallels with my own story, and how, without my conscious intention I had written a story that resonated with books I and II Samuel of the Bible. Ben hadn't given me the title, but he had come to teach me something about my book that I hadn't known--that I couldn't possibly have known, having been raised in a mixed-religion secular family, and having read only specific parts of the Old Testament for a humanities class in college.

The process of writing a novel can be a strange and mystical thing. If a writer is of a mind to embrace this mystical paradigm, he will reach a point where the balance tips; he will no longer be writing the book, but the book will be writing itself through him. When he feels that shift, the writer must embrace it. For it means that souls have taken root in his characters--real souls have stepped into his characters and are breathing them full of life. And then it is the writer's obligation to be true to those characters and to their stories so that others may hear what they have come to say.

So in answer to your question about ghosts: yes. I've experienced beings from non-physical dimensions, both the spirits who embody the characters in my books, and ghosts, who are stuck and need help moving fully to another realm.

The setting of Riddell House is pivotal to the plot and is described in such wonderfully atmospheric detail, from hidden staircases and a secret study to a sprawling ballroom and a dramatic location on a cliff overlooking Puget Sound. Did you base Riddell House on one that actually exists?

There are two houses in A Sudden Light. There's Riddell House, the mansion on the North Estate, and there's Elijah's city house on Minor Avenue. The Minor Avenue residence was based on the Stimson-Green Mansion in Seattle, designed by Kirtland Cutter. Also, many features of Riddell House were taken from the Stimson-Green Mansion--servants' stairs, pantries, a smoking room, a ballroom, false walls for hiding things.

I got the idea of Riddell House from a photograph I had seen of the Forestry Building, which was built for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition in 1909. The building used entire tree trunks for pillars. They called it "a temple to timber," and when I saw it, I thought: "Ah, yes, this is where my family lives. This is where my ghost dances."

Something important is hidden on a bookshelf behind three volumes of Eugene O'Neill's collected works. Of all the books you could have chosen for this scene, why these particular ones?

There are no accidents in fiction; everything is there because the writer had a reason to put it there. So I do have a reason for choosing Eugene O'Neill. However, I firmly believe a writer does not get to dictate meaning or interpretation to his reader; each reader will read a book differently, based on his or her experiences, values and beliefs. Therefore, my reason for using O'Neill is less important than your thoughts on why I might have done it.

Ben Riddell vividly describes what it's like to scale trees that are several hundred feet tall: the adrenaline rush, the exhilaration of being so close to nature and so far removed from humanity. How far did you go for your research or, more accurately, how high? Did you climb the trees like Ben, Harry and Trevor do in the novel?

I did climb trees as research. I worked with tree climbing guru Tim Kovar, and I went down to Oregon to learn both single-rope and double-rope climbing techniques. I think about 150 feet was as high as we got. And that's plenty high for me. Still, I really did experience the effect of being held by the tree. When you're in the middle of a climb, the limbs and greenery are so dense it almost feels like you're in a room, even though you're a hundred feet in the air, dangling by a thin length of rope.

Ben and Harry didn't have access to the technology used in recreational tree climbing today: synthetic ropes and ascenders and saddles. They had to climb the old-fashioned way--spikes and a flip line. While that would damage a younger tree, they were climbing trees hundreds of years old, and the bark would have been so thick their spikes wouldn't have done harm to the tree.

 A Sudden Light lovingly depicts the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest and touches on the conflict between development and preservation. Would you like readers to consider the issue of conservation even after they finish reading the novel? Was that something you had in mind while you were writing the book?

It was not my goal to write an "issue" book, and yet my book raises several issues that we grapple with as a society and a culture. Conservation is certainly one of them. I have my feelings, but, again, I don't think it's my place to tell the reader what to think. Rather, my job is to reveal the complexity of these issues through the thoughts and actions of my characters so that the reader can form a thoughtful understanding of his or her own positions on the subjects. So, yes, I would like the reader to consider the many issues in my book--conservation being an important one. I think we all need to lead thoughtful and deliberate lives. And if I can provide a catalyst for that thoughtfulness in the form of an engaging and entertaining read... well, then I've done something to help make things better. And isn't that something we should all strive to achieve?  --Shannon McKenna Schmidt


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Book Review

Fiction

Full Measure

by T. Jefferson Parker


Over many years, Archie and Caroline Norris built one of the finest avocado farms in Fallbrook, Calif., but drought and a devastating wildfire put them on the edge of bankruptcy. Their oldest son, Ted, is partially lame and mentally unstable. When their youngest son, Patrick, returns home a local hero after his deployment in Afghanistan with an acclaimed Marine battalion, Archie hopes the can-do Pat will help salvage the trees and take over the farm. Unfortunately, Pat's tour in the Sangin District has broken his optimism and hardened his heart.

Full Measure is a hard look at the effects of war, the bonds of both brothers and brothers-in-arms, the fate of the family farm in modern society, and the economic stress on small American towns after 9/11 and the Great Recession. If that sounds like a lot of weight for one novel to carry, T. Jefferson Parker's 30 years of crime writing equip him to pack the load. When it turns out that the wildfire is the result of arson, the pace quickens: Ted begins to crumble, Archie and Caroline sell their retirement funds to save the farm, and Pat must put aside his own plans for the future to save his family. A reluctant hero, uncertain what to do, he instinctively follows his Marine training "to just put one foot in front of the other and get the mission done."

Though this isn't the kind of crime novel we've come to expect from Edgar Award winner Parker (California Girl), there's plenty of crime (arson, vehicular homicide, prostitution, robbery, assault) and it's a damn fine novel. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A celebrated crime writer's take on extremism, post-war nihilism, guns, broken families and recession in the U.S.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250052001

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


Romance

Indecent Proposal

by Molly O'Keefe


Molly O'Keefe (Between the Sheets) completes her Boys of Bishop series with a piquant marriage of convenience between a political dynasty's golden son and a failed model/actress-turned-bartender.

Ryan doesn't sleep with her bar patrons, but something about gorgeous, worried Harry lures her into breaking that rule. After one amazing night, her mysterious lover vanishes but leaves a memento: Ryan's pregnant with his baby. She plans to raise the child alone until her one-night stand turns up again, this time on television. When she learns Harry is Harrison Montgomery, congressional candidate, Ryan is doubly determined to keep mum about the baby. What does a down-on-her-luck barkeep have to offer a man like him? Then her big brother spills the beans.

Harrison refuses to follow in the scandalous, corrupt footsteps of his father, the governor. To tidy up the potentially image-shattering story, he offers Ryan marriage in name only and financial security in exchange for her silence. Stunned that her tender lover is really cold and calculating, Ryan nevertheless agrees for the sake of their child. As Ryan proves herself an asset to the campaign and a true companion, though, Harrison slowly lowers his guard, and their rekindled passion will not be denied.

While the relationship develops realistically and O'Keefe's love scenes burn up the pages, the true pleasure lies in watching high school dropout Ryan prove herself smarter and tougher than Harrison--or his formidable mother--ever imagined. Harrison is a lust-worthy hero, but Ryan's strength and sass will win readers' hearts. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: The Boys of Bishop series winds up with a blazing hot one-night stand and a marriage of convenience between a failed actress and a well-heeled politician.

Bantam, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 9780345549051

Trellis Publishing: Gift from the Garden by Bernie DuBois


Graphic Books

Sing No Evil

by JP Ahonen, KP Alare


Life for the metal band Perkeros begins to change when Aksel's bandmates decide they want a new singer so he can focus on just playing the guitar. Hoping to dominate the Finnish metal scene, they think a shift in the lineup will bring the success they crave. Aksel, worried about losing his place as frontman, begins spending more time with Lily, the keyboardist. His wife is resentful of his relationship with the beautiful musician, so Aksel ends up moving in with the drummer (an actual brown bear who lives in Perkeros's rehearsal space).

Though Aksel's singing sounds like a "bloody, violent barfing," his guitar playing is transcendent. Kervinen, the bearded old bassist, knows that the true, raw power of music is within Aksel's grasp, but cautions him against connecting with the demonic forces his songs can unleash. Once their charming new lead singer is in place, Aksel can focus on learning to control the mystical energy of his music and rearranging his life into something more consistent with his aspirations. When a rival metal band full of actual demons threatens Lily, Aksel must choose between the wife from whom he's growing apart and the keyboard player who seems to be a kindred spirit.

Finnish artists JP Ahonen and KP Alare, who met in metal bands when they were younger, wrote and illustrated this graphic novel in English. The authenticity of their voice is impressively matched with the solid, realistic style of the artwork. The warm earth tones of every panel help ground the more fantastic passages depicting supernatural connection through the power of the vibration of music. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A beautiful, authentic graphic novel that focuses on a young metal band in Finland.

Abrams ComicArts, $24.95, hardcover, 9781419713590

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


Biography & Memoir

All or Nothing: One Chef's Appetite for the Extreme

by Jesse Schenker


Owner and executive chef at two high-end eateries in New York City (Recette and the Gander), Jesse Schenker has accumulated quite a few awards in the industry, landing a spot on top-young-chef lists in both Forbes and Details magazines in 2011. He won a battle on the hit TV show Iron Chef America and continues to astonish foodies and fellow chefs alike with his approach to fine dining and comfort food.

His autobiography tells the harrowing story behind the success. Schenker has been anxious and uncomfortable in his own skin since he was a young teen living with his well-off family. At first, he turned to marijuana and alcohol to help manage these feelings, but then followed the classic addict's path to rock-bottom homelessness, using cocaine, heroin and other drugs on his way down.

He gained a passion for the culinary arts from his grandmother, taking refuge in the kitchen from the stress and worry of his regular life. Each time he found some respite from the horrifying downward spiral of his addiction, he was able to secure jobs in high-end restaurants in Florida and New York, where he honed his skills and ultimately became motivated to start his own haute-cuisine empire.

From the depths of despair, Schenker rose above his dependency to become a well-respected young chef, successful business owner, doting father and loving husband. His tale of woe may not be unusual, but his eventual victory over his demons is told with authentic warmth and honesty. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: An authentic autobiography of addiction, anxiety and the rise to fame of one of the U.S.'s hottest young chefs.

Dey Street Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062339300

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


Business & Economics

Seven Bad Ideas: How Mainstream Economists Have Damaged America and the World

by Jeff Madrick


In his introduction to Seven Bad Ideas, Jeff Madrick (Age of Greed) says that economists could benefit from advice Henry James once gave his students: "Any point of view is interesting that is a direct impression of life. You should consider life directly and closely." Madrick's stance is that mainstream economists rely too heavily on theory that doesn't hold up in practice. To illustrate and support his position, he explains seven economic principles that have driven policy since the 1970s and offers evidence of how they have failed not only the American people but the entire world. If politicians continue to follow these damaging ideas, he warns, they could hold the United States back for decades.

Throughout the country, most colleges teach the same conservative economic notions, passing these problematic theories along to the future economists; very few include a course on the development of these theories. Madrick says, "history is rarely a cherished discipline among economists, and case studies are too often neglected." Here, he uses historical examples and data to show government's leading role in innovation, the results of deregulation, flaws in low inflation and austerity economics, and the need for community-mindedness in a successful economy.

Readers don't need to be finance specialists to understand Seven Bad Ideas. Industry jargon, when used, is clearly explained and Madrick often provides vivid analogies to make the concepts even more accessible. Dishing up more than just blunt criticism, Madrick offers alternate approaches. If there were an eighth bad idea, it would be ignoring this book. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: An intelligent, provocative look at seven dominant economic notions that drive U.S. policy.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9780307961181

Sounds True: Practice You: A Journal by Elena Brower


Science

How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World

by Steven Johnson


In several of his eight previous books, Steven Johnson (Future Perfect; The Ghost Map) has applied his fertile mind to exploring various aspects of creativity and invention. His ninth, How We Got to Now, the profusely illustrated companion to an upcoming PBS series, offers a fascinating glimpse at how a handful of basic inventions--such as the measurement of time, reliable methods of sanitation, the benefits of competent refrigeration, glassmaking and the faithful reproduction of sound--have evolved, often in surprising ways.

Johnson's treatment of each of his chosen innovations follows a similar pattern: he introduces the subject with an anecdote (as with the discovery of whale oil) or a brief sketch of a character--some obscure (Ellis Chesbrough, who solved Chicago's sanitation problem in the 1850s), others well-known (Galileo, Edison)--and then traces how "an innovation, or cluster of innovations, in one field ends up triggering changes that seem to belong to a different domain altogether." Though in part this is a history of ideas, it's much more the story of the collaborative process, one that's often unintentional and diffuse.

Though Johnson describes himself as "resolutely agnostic" on whether all the changes wrought by these chains of innovation ultimately have been for the better, this is a fundamentally optimistic book, if only in the way it pays tribute to our creativity as a species. And when you put on your eyeglasses to read it with a glass of clean, icy drinking water in your hand, you'll be less likely to view these and other features of modern life as commonplace instead of the marvels they are. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Six chains of innovation that have profoundly reshaped our world.

Riverhead, $30, hardcover, 9781594632969

Crown Publishing Group: Artemis by Andy Weir


Sports

Salt, Sweat, Tears: The Men Who Rowed the Oceans

by Adam Rackley


Transoceanic rowing is an extreme endurance sport as dangerous and demanding as climbing Mount Everest. Athletes spend months in tiny boats on the open water, battling currents and storms with sheer physical fortitude. In pairs, teams or alone, rowers test themselves against the power of the world's largest bodies of water and the strength of one another in racing competitions. London-based financial worker Adam Rackley partook in one such race across the Atlantic in 2010. Salt, Sweat, Tears, his first book, chronicles his transformative experience at sea and the fascinating history of ocean rowing.

The first transatlantic rowers were an unlikely duo with little chance of success. In 1896, two Norwegian fishermen set out from New York in a wooden fishing boat, seeking fame and fortune by making a human-powered voyage across the north Atlantic. Despite capsizing in a hurricane, they persevered for 55 days across 2,500 miles, landing on the Isles of Scilly southwest of Great Britain. Their feat remained unmatched for many decades (and their record time unbeaten for 114 years), until a wave of adventurers in the 1960s established the modern sport of ocean rowing. These early competitors were colorful characters, such as a freewheeling smuggler/shark hunter and a stern British paratrooper.

Rackley alternates between this historical narrative and his personal journey. His own ordeal is equal parts adventure and introspection, charting a satisfying arc of preparation, execution and spiritual growth through adversity. The monotony of months at sea is peppered with struggles both physical and philosophical, giving Rackley's already thrilling journey surprising depth. Salt, Sweat, Tears should find broad appeal among nonfiction readers. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: What it takes--both mentally and physically--to row across an ocean.

Penguin Books, $16, paperback, 9780143126669

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


Children's & Young Adult

The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

by Jen Bryant, illus. by Melissa Sweet


The team behind A River of Words offers a fascinating picture-book biography of Peter Mark Roget (1779–1869), who collected words from the age of eight and published his famous Thesaurus at age 73. Everything about the book's elegant design reinforces Roget's passion for list-making and his search for the mot juste: "Words, Peter learned, were powerful things. And when he put them in long, neat rows, he felt as if the world itself clicked into order."

Melissa Sweet hand-letters much of the text, echoing young Peter's handwritten lists, and Jen Bryant's spare, poetic narrative similarly winds down the page in one-word lines. By age eight, "Instead of writing stories, he wrote lists." In one standout spread that includes "The Four Elements," Sweet's vertical-panel representation will jump start children with any inclination toward recording their thoughts in words or pictures. The levels of "earth," in varying shades of brown, and the volcano that symbolizes "fire" sandwich the deep blue of the ocean ("water") and the sky-blue of "air." Meanwhile, an inset image shows Peter's mother confiding to a friend her concern about her son's constant "scribbling." But readers quickly observe how Peter's lists help him make sense of his world.

Like Bryant and Sweet's earlier subject, William Carlos Williams, Peter Roget was a doctor by day and devoted wordsmith by night, and was driven by his belief that "everyone should be able to find the right word whenever they needed it." The story of this passionate man's life will inspire budding artists and writers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An elegantly designed picture book that conveys Peter Roget's love of words and ideas, from the creators of A River of Words.

Eerdmans, $17.50, hardcover, 42p., ages 7-up, 9780802853851

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


Nest

by Esther Ehrlich


Esther Ehrlich makes a debut with an impressive novel. Her evocative prose shines in the descriptions of Cape Cod's flora and fauna that make up the natural world in which her heroine is most at home.

in 1970s Cape Cod, Mass., 11-year-old narrator Naomi Orenstein is nicknamed "Chirp" for her love of nature. She lugs around a birding guide and binoculars everywhere, and is known to camp out in the brush at all hours. Encouraged by her artistic mother, a dancer, and her psychiatrist father, Chirp is happy--until her family is struck by tragedy. Chirp's mother is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and loses her ability to dance and to care for herself or her family. Her illness affects each family member in different ways. Chirp's father becomes distant, her mother descends into depression, and her older sister spends more and more time with friends. Chirp's secure household "nest" falls apart. Yet she finds support in the unexpected camaraderie and friendship of classmate and neighbor, Joey, who allows her to see beyond his tough-guy exterior. Chirp discovers in Joey a kindred spirit: "Someday I'm going to kiss you,' I say, before I even realize it. 'Someday I'm going to let you,' Joey says."

This complex literary saga chronicling the Orenstein family's journey through tragedy to acceptance will appeal to all age groups. Due to the mature themes of death and suicide, the novel may not be appropriate for younger readers. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: Eleven-year-old "Chirp" navigates the transition to adolescence while coping with tragedy, comforted by her love of nature.

Wendy Lamb/Random House, $16.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 8-12, 9780385386074

Druthers

by Matt Phelan


In Matt Phelan's (Bluffton) winning antidote to rainy-day doldrums, Penelope does not let the weather confine her. At her father's invitation, her imagination takes flight, leading them into a series of shared adventures.

The gray of stormy skies dominates the opening trio of images, as a girl and her bunny stare out at the relentless rain. "I'm bored," says Penelope, slouching against the doorjamb of the room where her father reads a book. "If you had your druthers, what would you do?" he asks, seated on the floor facing her. Their golden-tinged clothing and matching red hair visually seal their connection. In answer to his daughter's question, "What are druthers?" he answers, "Druthers are what you would rather do if you could do anything at all." Penelope thinks about this, then offers a world of possibilities: a trip to the zoo (Dad uses the columns in the banister like a cage and acts like a gorilla) and an outing as a cowgirl (Dad doffs a ten-gallon hat and says "Howdy-do!"). The toys on the floor double as props for each imagined scenario. As the girl's ideas become more rapid-fire and far-fetched, Dad looks worn out, and the once-orderly living room falls into chaos.

Still, her father knows he's met with success when his daughter tells him what she'd want "if I really had my druthers" (another rainy day tomorrow). Matt Phelan's message that there's no need for boredom when you can tap into your imagination is a welcome alternative to electronic placation. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A winning antidote to rainy-day doldrums.

Candlewick, $15.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780763659554

Performing Arts

How Star Wars Conquered the Universe: The Past, Present and Future of a Multibillion Dollar Franchise

by Chris Taylor


The Star Wars franchise is no small thing, with an estimated 1.3 billion tickets sold to the six theatrically released movies worldwide, $6 billion in VHS/DVD sales and $20 billion in merchandise sales. But how did it grow from the impossible dream of a young filmmaker to a multibillion-dollar franchise? Journalist Chris Taylor answers that question in How Star Wars Conquered the Universe, which covers not only the "past, present and future" of what might be the world's most ubiquitous franchise, but also how it has made an impact on--and been influenced by--its ever-growing fan base.

Taylor weaves George Lucas's biography with a history of science fiction and space fantasy in print and on screen, which he then fits into an exploration of Lucas's creative approach to each of the six films and the timely political undertones in each story. He then turns to the Expanded Universe (the body of Star Wars books, games, TV shows and other sanctioned stories) and how it interacts with Lucas's big-screen creations.

Taylor doesn's shy away from criticisms of Lucasfilm or the movies themselves, such as flaws in the plotlines or tensions on the film sets. But at its heart, How Star Wars Conquered the Universe is a love letter to a franchise that has become entrenched in contemporary culture in more ways than we could possibly count (just think how difficult it would be to find someone, anyone, who does not know the identity of Luke's father), and a testament to the power of space fantasy to capture our imaginations. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A history of the Star Wars franchise packed with trivia and anecdotes that will delight any fan.

Basic, $28.99, hardcover, 9780465089987

Poetry

Collected Poems

by Mark Strand


To live in the world of Mark Strand's poetry is to inhabit a dream (or a nightmare, depending on your tolerance for the bizarre). In his Collected Poems, which spans the breadth and depth of his work as a Pulitzer Prize winner and former poet laureate, camels wander through suburban back yards and women undress mid-conversation. Strand morphs quotidian moments into revelations, a series of existential shrugs at life's absurdity and wonder.

Collected Poems traces Strand's career from infancy to establishment; while some other artists' collected works reveal a quantum leap from the first piece to the last, Strand's oeuvre remains remarkably high in caliber, with his earliest poems nearly as masterful as his most recent. Part of the pleasure of following his career is watching thematic interests shift and recur, reappearing throughout the years like coats buried at the back of a closet. Wind, moons, sleep, breath: all of these symbols cycle through volumes between 1962 and 2012, their meaning and menace varying with each use.

From his disturbing dreamscapes to his subtler quips on artistic ambition, the poet's voice is as inviting as it is uncanny. The intricate gives way to the bluntly truthful. In "The Good Life," from his 1970 collection Darker, Strand writes, "The good life gives no warning./ It weathers the climates of despair/ and appears, on foot, unrecognized, offering nothing,/ and you are there." Where? Well, that's not entirely clear, but the reader is lucky to occupy this space alongside an iconic national voice. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer and bookseller at Flyleaf Books

Discover: A masterful panorama of a Pulitzer winner's life work in poems both dreamy and anchored in day-to-day reality.

Knopf, $30, hardcover, 9780385352512

Trespass

by Thomas Dooley


Thomas Dooley's first book of poetry, Trespass, was one of five to be selected for publication in the National Poetry Series' open competition; Dooley's was chosen by poet Charlie Smith.

"Separation," the second of the three sections into which the book is divided, is a sequence of 15 untitled poems. Very confessional and often painful, they explore a relationship between the narrator and his male lover: "Our first time back together,/ magnets, my body/ pushed into you and your eyes/ rolled back." The love is deep, but the relationship fails, bitterly: "I keep you/ alive even though I try/ to kill you every day."

The other two sections, also apparently quite personal, address a home, parents and family. These are poems of place and memory. "Ingalls Avenue" deals with a family's house: "the house lit of blue television of snow/ the house where my father got tall/ house of sturdy pipes house a home/ for his sisters." The poem's last lines, which refer to the house, could just as easily describe this collection: "this/ is a closet for tall and small things."

Dooley also records the stuff of childhood--"Cedar Closet," "Warinanco Park," "Aunt Peggy," "Guest Room"--and the selling of a beloved family home: "I look out curtainless/ windows, in a house with rooms/ and closets that never knew to be/ unlived in." Herewith, poems written in sharp-edged, flowing, mostly unpunctuated lines demand to be reflected upon and savored. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: An auspicious debut by a poet whose collection reads like a poetic autobiography, filled with love, loss and pain and exquisite memories.

Harper Perennial, $15.99, paperback, 9780062338822

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