Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, December 22, 2015


Crown Publishing Group: American Wolf: A True Story of Survival and Obsession in the West by Nate Blakeslee

From My Shelf

Liveright Publishing Corporation: Women & Power: A Manifesto by Mary Beard

Thunder Bay Press: The Greatest Brick Builds: Amazing Creations in Lego by Nathan Sawaya

Gift Books: From Mysteries to Mitford to Arabic Literature

We have some down-to-the-wire gift book recommendations that are both a pleasure to read and look impressive on a shelf: win-win.

The Library of America can always be counted on for publishing significant books in stylish editions. One is the boxed set Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 1950s, edited by Sarah Weinman ($70). Murder in academia, a serial killer, plus the classic Laura--a timeless mix. For older mysteries, try Sherlock Holmes: The Novels, with an introduction by Michael Dirda (Penguin Classics, $25 paperback). French flaps and deckle edges decorate this classy edition, no matter which Sherlock one fancies. The delightful A Curious Beginning (NAL, $25.95) is a new mystery, but set in 1887 London. With Victoria and Stoker, Deanna Raybourn has created a cranky yet sexy partnership that recalls Sam and Diane on Cheers, or David and Maddie in Moonlighting. An absolute treat.

Sooying Park's passion provides a different thrill for the reader. Since 1995, he has been researching Siberian tigers--the most difficult to study--in Manchuria; he now has nearly 10,00 hours of footage. His account, in Great Soul of Siberia (Greystone Books, $27.95), is fascinating, exciting, even lyrical.

Wilberforce by H.S. Cross (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27) is an archetypal coming-of-age novel. At a 1920s English boarding school, Morgan Wilberforce endures bullying, boredom, rugby, headmasters and canings with drama and wit. A softer humor informs At Home in Mitford. Putnam has reissued Jan Karon's beloved first novel in her Mitford saga in a handsome hardcover edition ($27.95)--perfect for re-reading or for giving to someone who's not yet discovered this charming series.

Desert Songs of the Night: 1500 Years of Arabic Literature, edited by Suheil Bushrui and James M. Malarkey (Saqi Books, $18.95 paperback) is "the very first representative sample of all Arabic literature, ancient and modern, in English translation." Its epigraph reminds us of the importance of the written word.

Blood relations we may lack,
But literature is our adopted father.
   --Abu Tammam (c. 805–845)

--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Indiana University Press: UFOs, Chemtrails, and Aliens: What Science Says by Donald R. Prothero and Timothy D. Callahan


Book Candy

Christmas Cheer, Quizzes, Quotes and More

Check out the most popular Christmas-related Letters of Note, including a "cheery letter from John Steinbeck, on Christmas, gluttony and immorality."

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Author John Green presented his "Book Giving Guide for the Holidays" video, because books "really do make the best Christmas presents, and I am not at all biased in saying that."

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Holiday infographics: Personal Creations featured an infographic calculating "how long it takes kids to read popular Christmas books." And the Unplag team fashioned a Christmas story quiz: "It's high time to remember the admired plots and characters and find out if you can guess all of them."

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The Guardian showcased "the joy of children's Christmas books--in pictures."

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Taking holiday research to a whole new level, the Washington Post's Book World editor Ron Charles unearthed "12 Christmas books that will curdle your eggnog."

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For the cynics on your list, Bustle gathered the "12 worst holidays in books, because your family can't be the most dysfunctional."

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"From Scrooge to the Grinch: Why we love Christmas curmudgeons." Brightly explains.

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"Best feasts quotes in literature." the Guardian served up "mouthwatering quotes from the greatest literary feasts to whet your appetite for Christmas indulgences."


Johns Hopkins University Press: Victorians Undone: Tales of the Flesh in the Age of Decorum by Kathryn Hughes


Great Reads

Our Reviewers' Favorites: Fiction

In addition to our Shelf Awareness Best Books of 2015, we asked our reviewers for a few of their favorite books of the year. We started with nonfiction; today we feature fiction.

The premise of Act of God by Jill Ciment (Pantheon, $24) may seem zany--a fungus overtakes Brooklyn, beginning with a tiny mushroom that identical 64-year-old twin sisters find sprouting in the closet of their deceased mother's rent-controlled apartment--but the absurdity enriches thought-provoking insights into the human condition. --Kathleen Gerard

Marguerite Reed's debut science fiction novel, Archangel (Arche Press, $16 paperback), takes on vegetarianism, religion, gender and violence with confidence while it spins a compelling plot with a strong female protagonist who just might have bitten off more than she can chew, trying to fix her planet's problems while raising her daughter. --Rob LeFebvre

In The Book of Aron (Knopf, $23.95), Jim Shepard flawlessly channels the artless voice of an adolescent narrator observing the hardships of his family and friends in the early days of the Warsaw Ghetto, revealing the horror of that nightmare world while ennobling its unimaginable suffering through the gift of art. --Harvey Freedenberg

Bill Clegg's debut novel, Did You Ever Have a Family (Scout Press, $26), centers on a woman who loses everything--her boyfriend, her daughter, her home, her sense of self--in a devastating house fire. But it is, at the same time, so much more than that: a novel that explores grief and loss, humanity, and the many ways the horrors of the world push us apart and pull us back together again. --Kerry McHugh

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee (HarperCollins, $27.99): Sure, it's not To Kill a Mockingbird, but this first draft still showcases Lee's graceful, introspective and haunting writing style, and her gritty tale of dawning parental disillusionment and simmering racial tensions packs a modern-day punch. --Kevin Howell

Beginning in 1920 with Some Luck, Jane Smiley's Century trilogy covers a year in each chapter, through Early Warning (1952-1986) and ending in 2019 with Golden Age (Knopf, $26.95). Following the Langdon clan from their Denby, Iowa, farm is increasingly satisfying as characters grow up, move on and live through Smiley's spot-on depiction of history. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon

In poet Jill Alexander Essbaum's unsettling first novel, Hausfrau (Random House, $16 paperback), infidelity, psychoanalysis, linguistics and the dissolution of a marriage are delineated as carefully as are the streets and trains of Zurich. Her protagonist, Anna, is a smart, self-aware woman who nonetheless comes undone. --Bruce Jacobs

The Immune System (Akashic, $15.95, paperback) is the third in Nathan Larson's dystopian NYC trilogy featuring the clever, gimpy, OCD bagman and enforcer Dewey Decimal, and concludes one of the wackiest crime series in years. Holed up in the main branch of the New York Public Library, Dewey finally gets to the bottom of the Valentine's Day terrorist attack that decimated the city, and charts a new course for his life. --Bruce Jacobs

Mia Alvar's In the Country: Stories (Knopf, $26.95) is the rare sort of book that produces a physical reaction--breathlessness, ache, awe. Her stories are peopled by characters so vivid they rival their brilliant, Technicolor landscapes. Feast upon them and come away full, better at being alive. --Linnie Greene

Music, poetry and literature are J.M. Lee's vibrant rose among the deadly thorns of World War II in his first novel published in the United States, The Investigation, trans. by Chi-Young Kim (Pegasus, $24.95). Rich and poignant while also mysterious and suspenseful, The Investigation is intellectually provocative on multiple levels. More J.M. Lee, please. --Jen Forbus

Adrian Tomine, master of the "small gesture," challenged himself visually with the release of his ninth and most ambitious graphic novel to date: Killing and Dying (Drawn & Quarterly, $22.95). The six character-driven short stories of domestic conflict pull readers into familiar worlds with such discomfiting emotional rawness that this almost omniscient book is hard to put down. --Nancy Powell

Published four months after his death, Ivan Doig's 16th book, Last Bus to Wisdom (Riverhead Books, $28.95) is a sweet gift from the beloved author, a road-trip story inspired by a bus journey he took as a boy in 1951. Donal Cameron, 11-year-old red-haired word-loving Montanan, reluctantly sets off on a summertime adventure. While poignant, Last Bus to Wisdom is a rollicking, entertaining tale. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon

Shirley Jackson's Let Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays and Other Writings (Random House, $30): Arriving 50 years after her death, this hefty collection of Jackson's unpublished/uncollected work is an unexpected and delightful surprise. Shirley Jackson is still the queen of blending mounting dread with sublime wit. --Kevin Howell

C.A. Higgins's degree in astrophysics informs every page of her first novel, Lightless (Del Rey, $25), but never gets in the way of good storytelling. The thrilling tale centers on a mysterious military craft that starts showing signs of intelligence in the midst of a hostile boarding. --Rob LeFebvre

Set in the Falkland Islands, Sharon Bolton's haunting Little Black Lies (Minotaur, $25.99) is about a woman investigating the disappearances of little boys while still grieving the deaths of her own sons. Her former best friend and her ex-lover are struggling with their own demons, and the three characters collide in a climax that's almost O. Henry-ish. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

In Hanya Yanagihara's second work, A Little Life (Doubleday, $30), perceptive, friendly prose enriches the lives of her complicated and unruly characters. Her novel fully absorbs its readers into a world of lavish success and bitter cruelty, and moves them to tears. What an accomplishment! --Dave Wheeler

Martin Marten by Brian Doyle (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.99): Doyle's lyrical, fanciful novel set in the Oregon woods awards its nonhuman characters the same weight as its human ones. As young Dave comes of age alongside a marten named Martin, they and the rest of their neighbors find humor, natural beauty and a sense of wonder. --Julia Jenkins

Fredrik Backman proves he's no one-hit wonder (A Man Called Ove) with his delightfully charming, cleverly insightful sophomore novel, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry (Atria, $25). Quirky characters inhabit a complexly fantastic world. With tenderness, humor and spirit, Backman adds another twinkling star to the story heavens. --Jen Forbus

Two reviewers chose Our Souls at Night (Knopf, $24), the tender story of two elderly people seeking each other's solace in a most unconventional fashion. It shares with the late Kent Haruf's previous novels not only their Colorado High Plains setting, but the same meditative mood and acute sensitivity to character. He eloquently explores the terrain of this new relationship, touching on aging, regret, love and the choices we make in our lives. In this wise, bittersweet and beautiful book, he displays his masterly storytelling gifts one last time. --Harvey Freedenberg and Katie Noah Gibson

Video games are a cultural touchstone for millions of players the world over. Press Start to Play, edited by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams (Vintage, $15.95 paperback), collects some of the best short stories on the topic, brilliant and thoughtful short fiction about playing, designing and living within video games that will resonate with present and future readers. --Rob LeFebvre

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by J.H. Williams III (Vertigo, $24.99): 25 years after he wrote his first issue of The Sandman, Neil Gaiman returned to pen a six-issue prequel and swan song to his influential series that explains how the Master of Dreams became incapacitated by human occultists. J.H. Williams's art is psychedelic, transformative and a treat for long-time Sandman fans. --Nancy Powell

She Will Build Him a City by Raj Kamal Jha (Bloomsbury USA, $27): The stories of a mother and daughter intertwine with those of a troubled man and a missing orphan, in the sprawling metropolis of Delhi. Raj Kamal Jha has written thrilling, complex novel about the power of love in a cruel world and the need to belong. --Dave Wheeler

Cancer is never a humorous topic of conversation, but in The Story of My Tits (Top Shelf Productions, $29.95 paperback), Jennifer Hayden is able to turn her experience of cancer, and survival, into a magical and thought-provoking celebration of all things female with an artistic simplicity and quirkiness that evoke a child-like sense of vulnerability and wonder. --Nancy Powell

A charming mix of true history and wild steampunk fantasy, Sydney Padua's The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer (Pantheon, $28.95) is a cartoon joyride through the exploits of 19th-century computing geniuses Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage. --Sara Catterall

The Tsar of Love and Techno: Stories by Anthony Marra (Hogarth, $25) is another choice of two reviewers. In this collection of ingeniously linked stories, Marra returns to the devastated land of Chechnya, the setting of his gorgeous and gut-wrenching novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, while expanding his field of vision, with keen insight and humor, to the troubles of the Russian people in the post-Soviet era. He opens with an artist in Leningrad who works as a censor. Following his brother's death, the artist begins to paint subversive additions to the propaganda that create a ripple effect felt across a century, spanning countries and connecting Marra's diverse characters to each other in an extraordinary achievement. --Harvey Freedenberg and Justus Joseph

Angela Flournoy's debut novel, The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23), could have been a sprawling multi-generational saga or a reflection on urban decay, but it's wisely structured on a more intimate scale, centering on the members of the Turner family and the pull of their old home in a declining Detroit neighborhood. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez

Written in a hybrid "shadow tongue" of Old and Modern English, The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth (Graywolf Press, $16 paperback) is the story of an English landowner named Buccmaster on the eve of the Norman conquest of England. The novel is daunting at first, but before long Buccmaster's voice becomes both easily understandable and captivating. Few historical novels evoke the past as vividly as The Wake. --Alex Mutter


Shadow Mountain: Christmas Jars Collector's Edition by Jason F. Wright


Book Review

Fiction

The Restoration of Otto Laird

by Nigel Packer


In The Restoration of Otto Laird, Nigel Packer explores the relationship between people and the facades they create. A philosophical argument hidden in a rich, plot-driven narrative, the book begins when aging and reclusive architect Otto Laird discovers that one of his old buildings, Marlowe House, is being torn down. When he flies back to London to head an effort for its rescue, he's forced to deconstruct everything else from his previous life as a flawed husband, father and artist.

Packer's debut builds the perfect synthesis of character and theme, wherein Otto's megalithic concrete structure's demise stands in for the architect's failing health, body and soul. As he spends more and more time in Marlowe House and the posh, old London neighborhood, he reckons with the hard truth he'd spent his career avoiding: even the most beautiful and sturdy of structures break down in time.

Estranged from his son and still reeling from the long-ago death of his first wife, Otto wanders through the halls as though he's wandering through his own past. Everything in the building is a trigger for him, and as he rubs his hands along a tiled wall or falls asleep in the unfamiliar dark of his hotel room, Otto finds himself remembering more of his mistakes than his successes.

As Otto and Marlowe House move helplessly into the last days of both their lives, Packer takes his narrative back into Otto's past, so that someone--if not Otto--may take something positive away from man's hubris and shortcomings. --Josh Potter

Discover: An arrogant but brilliant architect nearing the end of his storied career takes himself back through his lowest moments.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250071545

Da Capo Lifelong Books: Veganomicon, 10th Anniversary Edition: The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero


Mystery & Thriller

Ornaments of Death

by Jane K. Cleland


It's nearly Christmastime in bucolic Rocky Point, N.H., and antiques dealer Josie Prescott is gearing up for her company's annual holiday bash. Having recently connected with a distant relative, Ian Bennington, Josie is thrilled when he appears in Rocky Point in time to attend her party. But the next day, when Ian doesn't show up for lunch with Josie or for a dinner date with her friend Lia, Josie begins to worry. Despite protests from the local police chief, Josie launches an investigation. Jane K. Cleland (Blood Rubies) stirs together a holiday confection of art theft, twinkle lights and murder in her 10th Josie Prescott mystery, Ornaments of Death.

Although Josie is an amateur sleuth (like most cozy-mystery protagonists), her day job as an antiques appraiser means she knows a thing or two about research. While fielding calls from customers who think they've found treasure in their attics, Josie dives into Ian's history and begins searching for his daughter, Becca, a marine biologist working nearby. Although Josie makes a few rookie mistakes, she does uncover vital information about Ian, Becca, Becca's dishonest ex-husband and two valuable miniature paintings that have also disappeared.

Readers of Cleland's series will enjoy repeat appearances by supporting characters, including Josie's colleagues and the auction-house cat, Hank. For first-time readers, Cleland gives enough context for a basic understanding of Josie's world. Josie is a likable heroine, and the mystery wraps up neatly--one might even say its ends are tied up in a festive bow. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Antiques appraiser Josie Prescott searches for a missing relative and two valuable paintings in Jane K. Cleland's 10th cozy mystery.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250074539

The Red Storm

by Grant Bywaters


Grant Bywaters employs his expertise as a licensed private investigator in his first novel, The Red Storm. William Fletcher was a 1920s black prizefighter whose ambitions for the heavyweight title were frustrated by the prejudices of his day. After the end of his boxing career, he becomes a P.I. in New Orleans, a city Fletcher credits with a "more lax view on segregation." He struggles to make a living, though, so when a contact from his old life shows up more than 15 years later requesting help, Fletcher reluctantly agrees to investigate, even though Bill Storm is a wanted murderer. Storm wants to find his estranged daughter. But as soon as Fletcher contacts her, violence breaks out around both Fletcher and Zella Storm. What, exactly, has Storm gotten him into?

Fletcher is a loner, with racial tensions adding to the distinctive anti-authority stance his profession tends to take. Zella is a peppery character, with an ambitious career singing in French Quarter establishments that would rather she just take her clothes off. Bywaters evokes a recognizable New Orleans and surrounding swamps, and the police are hard beset by organized crime, both local and inbound from New York City. Fletcher may be just the man to help out, if he can keep himself and Zella alive. The Red Storm's plot is solid, but it is the setting in both time and place that distinguish this classically styled noir P.I. story, which Bywaters flavors with period slang as liberally as a Creole cook spices food. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The case of a disgruntled P.I. with mysterious enemies is set in atmospheric 1930s New Orleans.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250073075

Food & Wine

First Bite: How We Learn to Eat

by Bee Wilson


As physical nourishment, a social bonding agent and cultural identity, food is central to human life. Although tastes and cuisines vary wildly across cultures, nearly all of us form powerful habits and attitudes about food from early childhood. These learned behaviors and principles, as well as cultural messages and conversations about food, can have a powerful effect on the rest of our lives. Food writer and social historian Bee Wilson examines eating patterns in the context of weaning, baby food, family meals, eating disorders and nutrition in her fifth book, First Bite.

Wilson (Consider the Fork) begins with a simple premise: humans are born with an innate hunger for food, but nearly everything else that concerns food--tastes, aversions, habits, disorders, attitudes--is learned. There are hundreds of reasons that people relate to food in complicated, often unhealthy ways. However, she argues, it is possible to change some of that behavior, to make food "a daily source of delight rather than something to fight against." She draws on a variety of research to explore the complex relationship humans have with food, which often begins as early as toddlerhood.

Wilson makes the case for thoughtful eating, intentional meal planning and a willingness to experiment with new foods. First Bite is both a rich social history for those interested in the relationship people have with food and an encouraging word for harried parents hoping to expand their children's culinary horizons. Since the human need for food is constant and vital, Wilson points out, there is always the opportunity for change and growth--one bite at a time. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Social historian Bee Wilson examines the complicated relationship humans have with food and its origins in early childhood.

Basic Books, $27.99, hardcover, 9780465064984

Biography & Memoir

Drawing Blood

by Molly Crabapple


If anyone has visually captured New York City's post-9/11 zeitgeist, it is artist, illustrator, ex-Suicide Girl, burlesque queen and political activist Molly Crabapple (née Jennifer Caban, which she legally changed to the nickname inspired by her "sour disposition"). Raised in Far Rockaway in Queens, N.Y., by her artist mother, Crabapple committed to art at age four. At 17, she was already on her way to Paris, alone, to find her idol Toulouse Lautrec's Moulin Rouge. Splurging on a leather sketchbook, she drew everything she saw. When she returned to New York in August of 2001, she had a portfolio of work and a calling. A month later the city was no longer the city she knew.

Drawing Blood chronicles how Crabapple survived poverty and insecurity to become a successful artist and illustrator. She lounged provocatively for sleazy amateur photographers. She posted nude photos on the semi-pornographic Suicide Girls website. She joined burlesque troupes. She wiggled her way into the notorious downtown club the Box, which became "My muse. My Moulin Rouge." And through the hustling and degradation, she kept drawing--including up-close scenes of the Occupy Movement in Zuccotti Park and, with increasing political activism, visits to Guantanamo Bay and labor camps in Abu Dhabi.

Candid, earthy, romantic, funny, omnivorous, Drawing Blood is the story of a young artist on the make in a New York City. Illustrated with many of Crabapple's drawings, Drawing Blood is a portrait of a tough woman winning (finally) in a tough profession in the toughest of cities. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: New York City artist and writer Molly Crabapple's autobiography is a candid portrait of a focused woman who has hustled and scrambled to pay the rent and feed her talent.

Harper, $29.99, hardcover, 9780062323644

History

Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries

by Kim MacQuarrie


Kim MacQuarrie (Last Days of the Incas) has long been fascinated by the vast region defined by the Andes Mountains. Having traveled and studied the length of these mountains, 4,500 miles of South America, he shares their stories in Life and Death in the Andes: On the Trail of Bandits, Heroes, and Revolutionaries.

Protagonists range over centuries and national borders, and include Pablo Escobar, the modern Colombian drug lord; Charles Darwin as an amateur naturalist in Ecuador's Galápagos Islands; the 1980s Shining Path guerrilla movement in Peru; a teenaged girl sacrificed by the Incas in the 1400s; Che Guevara, making his final stand in Bolivia; and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, whose lives likewise end in Bolivia. MacQuarrie explores cultural conflicts with sensitivity, as in examining Hiram Bingham, the "discoverer" of the Machu Picchu ruins in Peru, who conveniently ignored earlier local knowledge of the site. Finally, MacQuarrie introduces the Yámana people of the southernmost points of Chile and Argentina, and meets with the last speaker of the Yámana language.

Life and Death in the Andes is captivating, its fascinating tales told with enthusiasm as well as careful research when dealing with relatively straightforward facts or with the story of "Juanita"--a young woman who lived in the 15th century--told as "an imaginative reconstruction based upon historical, ethnographic, forensic, and archaeological evidence." This engaging history of dramatic stories and arresting characters is entertaining as well as informative, and its readability serves to recommend it widely. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This mesmerizing history of the Andes Mountains smoothly brings colorful characters and outrageous stories to general readers.

Simon & Schuster, $32.50, hardcover, 9781439168899

Business & Economics

Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves

by Adam Levin


"Every two seconds. That was the pace at which Americans became victims of identity theft in 2013--and that's just the cases we know about." This is Adam Levin's warning to readers in Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves. But his advice is not about how to keep your information completely hidden. He explains that if you're in any way plugged into the commerce of daily life, your information is almost certainly already out there, and that it's only a matter of time before identity thieves strike. His advice is for "realists"--people willing to acknowledge the inevitability and take practical measures to protect themselves.

While personal security can be a dry subject, Levin makes his case through intriguing anecdotes, like that of a teenage cashier ("Alex from Target") who became world-famous overnight when a stranger posted his photo to Twitter, and disturbing stories of adult children whose parents destroyed their credit under their noses. He argues that the current underfunding of the IRS leaves gaping vulnerabilities in our system (a problem that's estimated to lose the government $21 billion to identity thieves over the next five years). Most importantly, he offers straightforward advice that any layperson can use.

A founder and chairman of Identity Theft 911 and Credit.com, Levin has made informing and protecting consumers the focus of his career. As he stresses throughout Swiped, identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in the United States, and one that no one can afford to ignore. --Annie Atherton

Discover: An expert consumer advocate offers a practical guide to protecting your personal identity from hackers.

PublicAffairs, $24.99, hardcover, 9781610395878

Social Science

Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession, and How Desire Shapes the World

by Aja Raden


Aja Raden--jewelry designer at Tacori in Los Angeles, former House of Kahn auction director, historian and scientist--pretty much takes on the full history of the world in a fascinating story of the human passion for jewelry. Her title, Stoned, is apt: a slightly irreverent description of our addiction to glitter and the violent retribution men (and women) have pursued in finding, taking and hoarding it. In a clever, funny narrative laced with slang, footnotes and asides, Raden traces the impact of the quest for diamonds, emeralds, pearls and other precious stones on the political geography of the world. She focuses not so much on gold and silver (often just the infrastructure for elaborate settings), but rather on the gems that put the jewel in jewelry. Monarchs, explorers, conquerors, tycoons, marketers and scientists get their moment in her crosshairs and take their hits.

Stoned is not only an omnibus, sometimes snarky world history. Raden also explores the origins of jewels and the art of jewelry-making. She digs into the psychology behind our coveting: "You want it because everybody else wants it, and everybody else wants it because someone else has it. Nobody wants it if everyone can have it." Finally, she concludes with a history of the wristwatch--not just as jewelry, but as technology that helped decide victory in World War I and soon may strap access to everything on our wrists. Stoned is an intriguing take on world history with plenty of adornment and anecdote to entertain us along the way. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With wit and storytelling flair, Aja Raden explores world history through the prism of our universal and often violent obsession with jewelry.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062334695

Essays & Criticism

On Cats

by Charles Bukowski


Had there been a YouTube when Charles Bukowski was writing at his peak and sheltering a stream of stray cats, his musings on cat behavior and personality might have been lost in the endless cat video galaxy. Instead, he scrawled short verse and prose poems honoring whichever felines happened to find his door. He was a sucker for cats--almost as much as for whiskey, women and writing. On Cats is the second of a trilogy of selected Bukowski work (after On Writing and in anticipation of 2016's On Love), published on the anniversary of what would have been his 95th year. The poems cover dozens of his cats from the 1950s until his death in 1994, but they usually come back to the same observation: cats are remarkably resilient, self-sufficient and indifferent to people--the same foundation on which Bukowski built his writing career. As he writes in his later years, "They sleep, baby.... They know there's nothing to get excited about. The next meal. And a little something to kill now and then."

In true Bukowski form, his admiration for cats is presented with crude candor and plenty of raunch (one poem is titled "Looking at the Cat's Balls"). He frequently rescues his cats from fights and unknown nocturnal accidents. When the vet bills eat into his drinking money, he rants: " 'Jesus,' I told the vet, 'this is a ten-year-old/ de-balled alley cat. I can get a dozen of these for/ nothing.' " Aware that his cat poems are more amusement than literature, he concludes "My Cat, the Writer" with this self-deprecating insight: 

listen, relax, you've read
worse
poems than
this...

and I've written
them."

--Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Charles Bukowski's odes to his beloved cats are funny, coarse and, occasionally, surprisingly sentimental.

Ecco, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062395993

Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages

by Gaston Dorren


Languages have been shaped by geography, wars, political ideologies and policies, and their proximity to other languages. In Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty Languages, his first book translated into English, Dutch linguist and journalist Gaston Dorren offers what he calls "an amuse-bouche" of European language and linguistics, "a guidebook of sorts, but in no sense an encyclopedia."

Quirks of particular languages occupy some of his chapters: the profusion of belittling diminutives for women in Italian; awkward counting systems; the linguistic effects of mountains and the "astonishingly ornate" word forms of Welsh. In others, Dorren uses one language to illuminate a broader topic, such as the ongoing disappearance of grammatical cases across Europe. He is an enthusiastic polyglot who can speak six languages and read nine more, and although he sees many ways in which Europeans could overcome some of their linguistic differences, much of his book tells the story of a culturally fragmented collection of peoples devoted to staying that way. For example, he notes that there is no such thing as Norwegian, only regional dialects and four written forms "ranging from 'moderate' (more Danish) to 'radical' (less so)." Two of these written forms are official. Both are taught in their schools, including the two sets of spellings. "There are even Norwegian-Norwegian dictionaries."

For language lovers and those who enjoy obscure facts, European culture and politics--or all of the above--Lingo will be an entertaining book to dip into, a tasting menu of the pleasures of languages. --Sara Catterall

Discover: The histories, quirks and influences of 60 European languages are touched upon in brief entertaining essays by Dutch journalist and linguist Gaston Dorren.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802124074

Children's & Young Adult

This Raging Light

by Estelle Laure


High school senior Lucille Bennett mothers her nine-year-old sister, Wren, because she has no choice--her parents are AWOL. Her mom "needed a break from everything," and said she'd be back in two weeks, but it's Day 14 and there's no sign of her. And, as readers learn in bits and pieces, Lucille's too-cool rock 'n' roll father was checked into a mental facility after choking her mother; she doesn't even know if he's still in New Jersey. To complicate things further, Lucille has fallen "desperately, never-to-recover, twisted-up sick" in love with her best friend Eden's handsome, sonnet-worthy, taken twin brother, Digby, a boy she's known since she was seven but who lately makes "a fumbling moronic moron out of me, a full-on half-wit." More awkward still, it's increasingly difficult to hide the fact that she and her little sister are living on their own as the days turn into months.

Lucille's fresh, first-person voice spills over with metaphor, poetically capturing her emotional landscape with force and fury, frantic love and absolute exhaustion. Lucille needs to keep it together for Wren, and represses her emotions to such a degree that they occasionally erupt in the wild colors of her paintings, in her passion for Digby and in angry outbursts that only serve to alienate the ones she loves. Debut author Estelle Laure's This Raging Light starts with abandonment but ends with people caring for people, and the voice is tough and tender in equal measure. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: In this stirring debut novel, high school senior Lucille and her little sister are left to fend for themselves in small-town New Jersey.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 14-up, 9780544534292

One Today

by Richard Blanco, illus. by Dav Pilkey


The award-winning wordsmith Richard Blanco ("Made in Cuba, assembled in Spain, imported to the USA," he says) read his hopeful poem "One Today" to a crowd of one million for President Obama's second inauguration in 2013. In One Today, a picture-book ode to America, his soaring words are gloriously illustrated in jewel-toned acrylics and india ink by Captain Underpants creator and Caldecott Honor recipient Dav Pilkey (The Paperboy).

The poem begins "One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores,/ peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces/ of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth/ across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies." Blanco's hypnotically lyrical poem spans "one today," and that day is visually interpreted as sunrise to moonrise, and, with a little poetic license, seasonal shifts. Readers follow the meanderings of two children--one white, one black--and their black cat as they stay busy in the bustling city while their mother works at a local market. They draw with chalk on sidewalks, read books and watch boats until they rejoin their mother at the end of her shift.

Blanco celebrates universal human experiences--the light that wakes us, a morning yawn, the ground we walk on, one sky, one moon: "All of us as vital as the one light we move through...." He gracefully weaves his own childhood into the narrative as well, such as his mother's work as a grocery clerk, his father cutting sugar cane, his Spanish-speaking upbringing. This creative, moving fusion of poetry and painting is a lovely, thoughtful homage to the best parts of America. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Richard Blanco's poem "One Today," read at President Obama's second presidential inauguration, is beautifully captured in Caldecott Honor artist Dav Pilkey's lush, color-saturated illustrations.

Little, Brown, $18, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-9, 9780316371445

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