Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers: The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust #1) by Philip Pullman

From My Shelf

William Morrow & Company: Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams / The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

Mira Books: Lie to Me by J.T. Ellison

Celebrating Black Poetry

To honor Black History Month, we'd like highlight some recent volumes of poetry. In January, Alice B. James Books published Chicago poet Phillip B. Williams's serrated first collection, Thief in the Interior. A gay black boy's dismembered body forms the centerpiece, and Williams twists tactile, electric lines about brutal hate crimes into ornate and compelling verse: "the boy's first word for pain/ is the light's/ new word for home," indicting the violence black bodies are subjected to. Yet as unflinching as his gaze is toward human cruelties, Williams also adorns his writing with moments of tenderness: "O darling, the moon did not disrobe you./ You fell asleep that way, nude."

Parneshia Jones begins her debut poetry collection, Vessel, with the important subject of her name. "Parneshia [par: knee: she a] n/ i. 1980--daughter of high school sweethearts," she explains in the poem "Definition." From there she makes clear the inextricable nature of poetry to her life. Our reviewer said this is "a book of family, history, storytelling, the South, romance, Chicago, music and tradition. Each entry opens like a delectable advent calendar of Jones's heritage; each a surprise, each a treat.... Vessel is a satisfying, lyrical chorus of both black struggle and personal revelation, swirling with regional sights and sounds, and sizzling with the burn of whiskey."

National Book Award finalist and PEN Open Award winner Kevin Young's poetry collection Book of Hours is "a work of great emotional power and beauty. Circling around the themes of grief (the loss of his father) and new life (the birth of his child), Young has crafted a rare work of art that is both immediately accessible and deeply philosophical." Our reviewer wrote: "Young fully embraces the dichotomies of this dance with death and birth. His language achieves an almost zen-like simplicity, wise with the blues of life.... Book of Hours is a major work by an important writer at the top of his game." --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Akashic Books: Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino


Book Candy

Happy Groundhog Day!

Happy Groundhog Day! In the spirit of the day, Signature offered "9 author quotes on the slippery nature of time." In addition to watching Bill Murray's cult classic movie, of course.

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To get ready for Oscar's red carpet night, Bustle showcased "12 of the most iconic gowns in literature."

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Pop quiz from the Guardian: "How well do you know royalty in literature?"

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Refugiado and Sjoemelsoftware, for example. Mental Floss collected "11 words of the year from around the world."

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Author Francesca Kay picked her "top 10 books about the cold war."

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On her Pottermore website, J.K. Rowling shared details regarding some of the non-Hogwarts magical schools across the world, including Mahoutokoro in Japan, Castelobruxo in Brazil, Uagadou in Africa and Beauxbatons in the Pyrenees.


Fabled Films: The Nocturnals by Tracey Hecht - 11 Fun summer boredom buster activities!


Great Reads

Rediscover: The Making of the President 1960

The Making of the President 1960 by Theodore H. White is a pivotal entry in the annals of American political reporting. It chronicles the 1960 election of John F. Kennedy, through his primary battle against Hubert Humphrey and Stuart Symington, convention challenges from Adlai Stevenson and Lyndon B. Johnson (who became his running mate) to the general election against Richard Nixon. White's narrative nonfiction style and penetrating insights into political trends made The Making of the President 1960 a bestseller and won it the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

White (1915-1986), a journalist who spent the first half of his career reporting from war-torn China, continued the Making of the President series with the 1964, 1968, 1972 and 1980 presidential elections. The Making of the President 1960 remains the quintessential account of JFK's presidential run and the predecessor of modern presidential election books. With the 2016 primary season in full swing, White's book is a look at how differently elections used to be--Kennedy's sustained campaign was a break with tradition but pales in comparison to today's well-funded marathons. The Making of the President 1960 was republished by Harper Perennial in 2009 ($16.99, 9780061900600). --Tobias Mutter


Akashic Books: Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach, illustrated by Ricardo Cortes


The Writer's Life

Ross Howell Jr.: Guilt and Hatred Under Jim Crow

Ross Howell Jr. has taught essay writing, fiction and literature at Harvard University, Simmons College, the University of Virginia and currently at Elon University. He earned an M.F.A. at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. He lives in Greensboro, N.C. Forsaken (NewSouth Books, February 1) is his first novel.

Forsaken is the heartbreaking true story about the arrest, sentencing and execution of 17-year-old housemaid Virginia Christian for the murder of her employer, Ida Belote. She was found guilty of the crime in 30 minutes by an all-white jury of 12 men and sentenced to die by the electric chair.

When "Virgie" came to Mrs. Belote's house to do laundry the day of the murder, Mrs. Belote confronted her about stealing a locket. Virgie denied it and an argument ensued. Mrs. Belote struck Virgie with a piece of crockery. Virgie knocked Mrs. Belote down with a sawed-off broom handle used to prop a window. When Mrs. Belote wouldn't stop screaming, Virgie forced a dishcloth down the woman's throat with the handle, suffocating her.

A black girl had taken the life of a white woman in her home. This was one of the most reprehensible crimes imaginable in Jim Crow Virginia. The crime was a threat not only to whites in Hampton, but also to blacks, since many depended upon domestic work in white households for their livelihoods. There were calls to lynch the girl, prompting officials to move quickly to avoid mob violence.

You wrote the book from the perspective of Charlie Mears, the young reporter who covered the case for the local newspaper. Who was Charlie Mears?

Narrator Charles Mears is based on a young man from Hampton who was a freshman at William & Mary College the year before the murder. His involvement in the Temperance movement and Bible study groups, and his use of tobacco came from his college yearbook. I invented a reason for him to leave school and become the Charles Mears who was the Hampton Times-Herald reporter covering the Christian case. Mears was one of two journalists who interviewed Virgie after her conviction. She wanted to tell her story because she was upset that her attorneys had not allowed her to testify in her own defense. As for Mears's writing, we have only his newspaper articles and two letters he wrote to the governor of Virginia.

Even though the girl confessed her crime to him, Mears was the only journalist who intervened to try to save her life. The novel is really his story. What can he do in the face of evil?

How much of Virgie's story was known before you started and when did you make the decision that you wanted to write about her?

Researching an article about the 1912 "Courthouse Massacre" in Hillsville, Va., where five people died in a shoot-out during a trial, I came across a notation that attorney George Washington Fields had referenced the event in a petition for clemency that same year. He explained to Gov. William Hodges Mann that he had not called his client to the stand for fear that a description of the murder from the lips of "an ignorant, blunt, negro girl" might result in a similar outbreak of violence in Hampton.

His client was Virginia Christian. That was the first time I'd seen her name. I learned she was the only female juvenile executed in Virginia history.

I found there was a dissertation by Derryn Moten at the University of Iowa about her case. Since I was headed to Iowa City for a Writers' Workshop reunion, I decided I'd read his dissertation while I was there. When I finished, I felt the story was so important, I needed to bring it to life.

Were there any major gaps in the story? If so, how did you deal with them?

The major gap in the story was Virgie. Little is known about her. I wanted the novel to suggest her as she was, so readers would grasp the futility and tragedy of her situation. And I was stumped by how a child never known for causing trouble could commit so brutal a murder.

In newspaper accounts, Virgie was described as "sullen," "dim-witted" and "simple-minded." While these statements reflect Jim Crow stereotypes, in fact, the girl never seemed to comprehend the enormity of what she had done. Shortly after the murder she was seen buying candy with money she had taken from Mrs. Belote's purse.

I asked a child psychologist about these descriptions and the savagery of the murder, and she said it was possible Virgie suffered from Asperger's disorder. The psychologist explained that a loud sound, like screaming, would affect an Asperger's sufferer in ways so extreme they're difficult to imagine. I suggested this disorder in drawing aspects of Virgie's character.

As a fiction author, what was it like working with historical events?

The Belote murder and Virgie's trial were front-page headlines. But just as the girl's death sentence was announced, the story disappeared. Why? Because RMS Titanic struck an iceberg and sank on her maiden voyage. But as I was studying the front page of Charlie's newspaper the day the Titanic news broke, I noticed in the right-hand column at the very bottom a two-inch announcement that the coroner's son, little George Vanderslice Jr., had died. Since the doctor was so respected in Hampton, I decided to work his son's funeral into the plot. This led me to other small events that I wove into the narrative. When we think of history, we tend to think of great events without a backdrop. And that's not the way life is.

How much or little historical documentation was there for you to work with? Did your material come from many different sources? Any surprising sources or information that you didn't expect to find?

Having read Derryn Moten's dissertation, I was able to save time locating original sources. Also, the Library of Virginia in Richmond had assembled files with court records, personal documents, letters, and newspaper articles in one location, which was tremendously time-saving. Still, the research and writing of the first draft took three years.

A great unexpected online discovery was Ajena Cason Rogers, a relative of attorney George Washington Fields. Ajena is an historical reenactor and the senior ranger at the Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site in Richmond. She was kind enough to send me a PDF of the unpublished autobiography Fields wrote late in life.

Fields is a fascinating character. I knew I had to tell his story. A slave in Hanover County, he escaped as a boy with his family to freedom in 1863. He would go on to become the first African American to receive a law degree from Cornell University, and returned to Hampton, where he ran a successful law practice. Some newspaper articles reported that he was blind; others were silent on the matter. When I read his autobiography, all Fields noted was, "In 1896 I had the great misfortune to lose my sight." I was never able to discover how.

The release of Forsaken coincides with recently inflamed racial tensions and renewed questions of social justice in the United States. What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book?

I came of age during a period of terrible racial turmoil. I attended a segregated elementary school and remember Massive Resistance [the policy to block desegregation] and the closing of schools in Prince Edward County, Va. I remember the murder of Medgar Evers. I remember the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and riots in cities throughout the country. But I also saw progress, especially with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

When Ted Nugent recently called the president of the United States a "subhuman mongrel," he was using language straight from racial purity screeds of Virgie Christian's era. We have more young black males incarcerated than in any time in our history. We've seen videos of black people being killed by police officers with such frequency that it's mind-numbing.

The language of white supremacy hate groups in this country comes as no surprise. But the rhetoric of some politicians does. Virgie Christian's life and death were shaped by the distrust and hate of one race for another. I saw that distrust and hate as a young man. And now, a full century after her death, I see hate and distrust growing.

I hope readers take away from this novel empathy, hope and the resolve to honor human dignity. --Jarret Middleton


Silver Dolphin Books: Kisses for Kindergarten by Livingstone Crouse, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan


Book Review

Fiction

The Man Without a Shadow

by Joyce Carol Oates


In the first pages of The Man Without a Shadow, 23-year-old graduate student Margot Sharpe meets her research subject: Elihu Hoopes, handsome, charming, successful and suffering from severe amnesia. Over the course of the next 30 years, Margot spends most of her waking hours studying Hoopes, trying to learn every nook and cranny of the man's brain, which, by the very nature of his condition, is impossible. But while Hoopes couldn't possibly know or contextualize his own injuries, Margot's are always fresh, always nagging and impossible to vocalize.

As a woman, starting her research in the 1960s, Margot is at a constant disadvantage. Her life is dictated by men, by professional pressure, by fear and by self-loathing. Because Hoopes is the only man who can't know her, he might be the only man she can love.

Some readers judge a book by its treatment of its characters' psychology, and often this refers simply to whether characters' motivations are clear--why they make the choices they make. Joyce Carol Oates shows clearly why the scientific Margot Sharpe does what she does. The entire subject matter of Margot's career is the human psyche, and Oates penetrates much deeper than the woman's immediate actions, concerning readers more fully with the source of her loneliness and isolation. Much like her main character, Oates looks at the entire human tragedy and traces its victories and defeats through memories, both latent and painfully apparent. --Josh Potter

Discover: Joyce Carol Oates uses one woman's research into memory to examine the sources of loneliness, desperation and love.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062416094

Crown Publishing Group: The Little French Bistro by Nina George


Thomas Murphy

by Roger Rosenblatt


A recently widowed poet of some renown, Thomas Murphy lives in an iconic rent-stabilized apartment building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. He's into his mid-70s and feeling it. His daughter, Máire, is worried that he's losing his marbles. The oft-repeated phrase "Have I told you about this?" in his conversational narrative suggests that Máire may be right. Roger Rosenblatt's novel Thomas Murphy features the very funny, often corny, occasionally melancholic musings of this smart, sensitive man who's drifting a little absentmindedly into the tail end of his life. Rosenblatt was a columnist for the Washington Post and Time, essayist for PBS NewsHour and, more recently, memoirist (Making Toast) and novelist (Lapham Rising). His eclectic curiosity, wit, warmth and good taste carry the day.

"Murph" likes his Jameson--especially at his favorite neighborhood bar, At Swim-Two-Birds, where he runs into Jack, who recognizes him from a poetry award ceremony. When Jack tells him: "I could use a good poet," Murph retorts: "I never heard of anyone who could use a poet, good or bad." Jack talks Murph into advising his blind wife, Sarah, that he has an accelerating terminal disease. It turns out Jack really just wants to leave Sarah for his mistress. Jack takes off, Murph and Sarah hit it off.

As Murph says of his award acceptance speech, Thomas Murphy delights us with "its wit and flow, its mixing of sincerity and self-effacement, the warming anecdote, the dip into pun, the soar into high seriousness here and there, a splash of poetry, a flash of skin." To which one might add, great compassion. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Essayist Roger Rosenblatt delivers a funny, smart, conversational novel about an aging poet confronting mortality, forgetfulness--and a new girlfriend.

Ecco, $24.99, hardcover, 9780062394569

Shelf Awareness Sign-up Giveaway: The Lake House by Kate Morton


The Forgotten Room

by Karen White, Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig


A female doctor in 1944 treats a wounded soldier in a New York City hospital. A young woman works as domestic staff for a rich family living in a resplendent mansion in 1892. A secretary at a law firm in 1920 searches for the truth about her paternity. What connects these women? Karen White (The Sound of Glass), Beatriz Williams (Along the Infinite Sea) and Lauren Willig (The Other Daughter) answer this question in their collaborative novel, The Forgotten Room.

Kate's patient is Captain Ravenel, whose leg she saves from amputation. But he looks at her with more than gratitude; it's as if he knows her from somewhere. Olive gets a job in the Pratt family household. She has an ulterior motive, but her vengeful plans are complicated when she catches one of the sons' attention. Lucy, defying her grandmother by getting an education and a job as a secretary, also has secret reasons for being at the law firm that employs her. Their stories, told in alternating chapters, share an exquisite ruby pendant and the titular room, which somehow connect them all.

White, Williams and Willig have pulled off an impressive feat: combining their voices seamlessly. Even if their respective fans think they know each author's style well, it's difficult to discern who wrote what. While the stories are engrossing and the narrators strong-willed women, a suspension of disbelief is needed because the arc of the novel depends on coincidence occurring more than once. Then again, maybe it's not coincidence, but fate. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Three women living in New York City in different time periods are linked by a mysterious ruby pendant and secrets in an attic room.

New American Library, $26, hardcover, 9780451474629

Moonlight over Paris

by Jennifer Robson


After recovering from a broken engagement and a near-fatal illness, Lady Helena Montagu-Douglas-Parr is aching for a fresh start. It's 1924, and while Europe is still reeling from the aftereffects of World War I, Helena is weary of London society and intrigued by the burgeoning art scene in Paris. Jennifer Robson's third novel, Moonlight over Paris, chronicles Helena's year of personal and professional discovery in the City of Light.

Under the benign guidance of her aunt Agnes, widow of a Russian count and a well-connected socialite, Helena begins to come out of her shell. When she enrolls in an art course under the irascible Maitre Czerny, she enjoys both stimulating (albeit often painful) artistic instruction and a few fellow students who encourage her in her work. Adding to the intrigue is Sam Howard, an enigmatic American journalist who shares Helena's fierce determination to build a new life in Paris, away from familial expectations.

Robson (After the War Is Over) sprinkles her narrative with cameos by Lost Generation luminaries: Gertrude Stein, Sara and Gerald Murphy, the Fitzgeralds, the Hemingways. (Helena's fictional artist friends, however, are rendered more vividly on the page.) Though Helena often retreats into her natural timidity, she gradually begins to blossom, navigating the city on her own and daring to explore new territory in her art. Robson's plot contains few surprises, but Helena's journey will charm readers who enjoy stories of artistic ambition, self-discovery and la belle France. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Jennifer Robson's third novel tells the engaging story of a young Englishwoman who pursues art and love in 1920s Paris.

Morrow, $15.99, paperback, 9780062389824

Ginny Gall

by Charlie Smith


"We all been scared. We been scared to death over here for the last three hundred years. All day every day," Delvin Walker thinks. Novelist and poet Charlie Smith (Jump Soul) finds rich inspiration in the Scottsboro Boys cases as he depicts the volatile struggles of Southern blacks during the Depression in his novel Ginny Gall.

Delvin's mother abandons him in Chattanooga, Tenn., at age five when she flees murder accusations. Mr. Oliver, the local Negro mortician, takes him in, teaching his protégé about literature, preparing the dead and human nature. In the funeral home, under the wing of his mentor, Delvin thrives. But an encounter with a group of white boys during a hunting excursion leaves Delvin believing he's in mortal danger. So he takes to the rails to escape.

Through Delvin's travels as a teenager, Smith details the South in all its natural beauty and man-made hideousness. The trains and their castaways hum with the heartbeat of a struggling nation. It is on one of these trains that Delvin and his fellow African American drifters find themselves accused of raping two white women, and this time Delvin can't escape the charges.

Smith's lyrical prose composes a strong sense of place--combined with the book's title, meaning "Hell"--as well as a vivacious soul in his protagonist. Devlin's world is a constant threat to him, creating the haunting undertones of his life's story. His determination reminds readers that character is not defined by skin color. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: An African American teenager faces brutal racism in the Depression-era South when he's accused of raping white women.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062250551

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Sons of Sora

by Paul Tassi


Paul Tassi's final novel in the Earthborn trilogy tells the story of Lucas and Asha's sons, Noah and Erik, 16 years after the events of the second book, The Exiled Earthborn. The couple had rescued Noah as an infant from a cannibal war camp on Earth in The Last Exodus, the first book, before Xalan forces destroyed the planet's environment; they later created Erik in a birthing capsule from his parent's genetic material. Both young men are living in the Earthborn enclave on Sora, a compound built on the humans' adoptive world to keep this next generation safe--as well as out of local politics.

Noah is larger and stronger than his brother, while Erik is bitter and much more willing to break the rules. When Noah discovers a plot to kill his childhood friend Kyra (a Soran with plenty of secrets), the brothers must put aside their rivalry to keep her safe, save their adopted planet from Xalan forces, and somehow become leaders in their own right as they ultimately face the Archon, an impossibly powerful creature who has had a hand in the Soran-Xalan conflict from the very beginning.

Tassi raises the stakes for his characters and their planets with this satisfying and action-packed conclusion, while leaving open the possibility for more connected stories in the future. The Sons of Sora is a thrilling finale to an exciting series that is sure to please its fans. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Paul Tassi brings an exhilarating close to his excellent post-apocalyptic space opera, the Earthborn trilogy.

Talos, $15.99, paperback, 9781940456393

Biography & Memoir

The Inner War: A German WWII Survivor's Journey from Pain to Peace

by Gerda Hartwich Robinson


Much has been written about World War II from the perspective of Jews who suffered atrocities during the war. In The Inner War, Gerda Robinson opens the door on what it was like to be a German child during the long years of conflict, growing up in a land governed by fear and hardship. She writes, "I want to be a voice for all the blameless German children who were denied a childhood." When her father was called to serve in the armed forces, Robinson was one of several small children her mother had to raise on her own. They often had nothing to eat, no new clothes or shoes or fuel to heat the home. When the air raid sirens went off, they spent hours huddled with their neighbors in bomb shelters, not knowing if their house would still be standing when the all-clear siren went off.

The years of physical and mental trauma took their toll on Robinson, who immigrated to the U.S. as a young woman to escape the memories of her childhood. But the stresses incurred in Germany followed her to her new home, forcing Robinson to seek medical help for constant physical pain and to turn to God for assistance and guidance. Written with frankness and integrity, Robinson's memoir is filled with sadness due to her childhood, and joy as she rediscovered God as an adult. It illuminates the trauma anyone might suffer after enduring physical and emotional upheavals, and pinpoints the damage done to children who experience war on a personal level. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A woman describes her life-long struggle to overcome the physical and mental ordeals she lived through as a German child during World War II.

Skyhorse Publishing, $14.99, paperback, 9781634504195

The Firebrand and the First Lady: Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice

by Patricia Bell-Scott


The Firebrand and the First Lady is the first book written about the friendship between the brilliant African American activist, writer, lawyer and priest Pauli Murray and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. It offers a fresh perspective on their times as well as their lives, spanning the worlds of the American elite, educated urban radicals and the working classes.

Professor and author Patricia Bell-Scott (Life Notes: Personal Writings by Contemporary Black Women) offers a lively portrait of this friendship and Murray's life story. When she first met Roosevelt, Murray was a college-educated grassroots activist with direct experience in poverty, racism and New Deal work and welfare programs. In 1938, she wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and cc'ed his wife, who replied. A few letters later, Eleanor Roosevelt invited Murray to tea. "As ER listened, her blue eyes alert with interest, Murray had the sense that she was 'talking with an affectionate older relative.' " They bonded over the unsuccessful death sentence appeal of sharecropper Odell Waller, and built their friendship on a foundation of mutual sympathy, respect and honesty. Through sharing their perspectives on subjects including integration, labor, war, legal cases and political campaigns, they expanded their worldviews and fueled their passions for revolutionary social change. "It is because of people like you that I still cling to the democratic ideal--symbolized by the American family," wrote Murray in 1946. "It is possible to have every political shade from Republican to 'revolutionary pacifist' (that's me) within the same blood ties and yet move forward toward a common ideal." --Sara Catterall 

Discover: This is the first book about the extraordinary and mutually inspiring friendship between Eleanor Roosevelt and the brilliant African American activist and writer Pauli Murray.

Knopf, $30, hardcover, 9780679446521

History

Gangster Warlords: Drug Dollars, Killing Fields, and the New Politics of Latin America

by Ioan Grillo


British-born Ioan Grillo has spent more than a decade doing remarkable firsthand reporting through face-to-face interviews with cartel bosses and assassins, embedding with DEA agents, and arranging sit-downs with two Mexican presidents. His first book, El Narco (a runner-up for a 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Award), is perhaps the definitive study of the Mexican drug trade.
 
In Gangster Warlords, Grillo extends his reporting about the drug war to the the notorious Red Commandos of the Rio de Janeiro favelas, the Shower Posse in Kingston, Jamaica's slums and the Mara Salvatrucha cartel covering the Northern Triangle of Central America's Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. He also catches up with the more recent Mexican violence by the State of Michoacán's Knights Templar (aka La Familia). Methodically, Grillo chronicles the history of these cartels and the political and social environment that nurtures them. He doesn't mince words about the horrendous human cost of the violence caused by poverty, ineffectual governments and the misguided global "War on Drugs." Gillo's diligently researched story has as many colorful characters and as much dramatic plot as any good piece of fiction might, but his is the real deal. No wild-eyed ideologue, he takes a measured look at the international gangster world and even suggests practical first steps toward taming it. Gangster Warlords is journalism at its finest. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Veteran drug war journalist Grillo methodically exposes the violent reach of modern gangster cartels in Jamaica, Brazil, Mexico and Central America.

Bloomsbury, $28, hardcover, 9781620403792

Social Science

Blood and Earth: Modern Slavery, Ecocide, and the Secret to Saving the World

by Kevin Bales


Kevin Bales (Disposable People) is a slavery abolitionist and the author of Blood and Earth, which exposes the simple link between modern slavery and the destruction of natural resources worldwide: both are perpetrated by criminals seeking quick profits. Bales writes with passion and clarity, combining gorgeous travel writing and painful descriptions of violence, interviews and facts from his seven years of research and travel. He tells of slave labor camps in India, Bangladesh, Ghana, the Congo and Brazil that produce rare minerals, cheap seafood and fine lumber from national parks and "protected" forests, using the most destructive, poisonous and bloody methods possible.

Slaves are not hard to find among impoverished people, especially in areas where war, corruption and poverty have weakened the rule of law. "The environmental destruction, death, and slavery feed into each other in cycles that... stop only when they hit the limit of annihilation."

Cheap consumer products may have cost human lives, but that connection is rarely visible in the store. Bales details what it would take to end slavery, how societies can rebuild and balance industry with nature so that local communities benefit, and how important it is for First World consumers to find and demand products made by workers who are paid fairly. "Yes, each choice is small, like a tiny drop of water. But the act of choosing is repeated every day of our lives.... These millions of little choices turn into a great river of economic pressure, a powerful river that can either erode or sustain people's lives and the natural world." --Sara Catterall 

Discover: This well-researched and vivid book studies the connection between slavery and environmental destruction, and what it will take to end both.

Spiegel & Grau, $27, hardcover, 9780812995763

Children's & Young Adult

Pax

by Sara Pennypacker, illus. by Jon Klassen


Although 12-year-old Peter didn't name his beloved pet fox Pax after the Latin word for "peace," his instincts were canny. A war over water rights, "a human sickness," has swept the country, and Peter's father enlists. Just before Peter is sent to stay with his grandfather, he is forced to release Pax, the orphan kit he's raised for five years, into the wild. Immediately filled with regret, the boy begins what he estimates to be a week-long, 200-mile trek to find his fox. He and Pax are one, inseparable, and that is all that matters.

Pax, too, is desperate to find "his human." Author Sara Pennypacker (the Clementine series, Summer of the Gypsy Moths) gives the two protagonists--Peter and Pax--equal play by allowing them alternating chapters. Pax needs his boy: "His boy would feed him." But when days go by and the boy does not return, Pax's obsession with finding him is shared with the desperate need to survive in the war-torn, coyote-haunted landscape. Inevitably, Peter and Pax, both out of their element, experience heartrending adventures of self-discovery.

Set somewhere in the near future in a Western country like the U.S., this strikingly original novel, illustrated by Caldecott artist Jon Klassen, takes on themes of loyalty, anger, memory, grief, trust and truth. Anyone who's ever experienced the feeling of being "two but not two" with an animal will feel the agony of Peter and Pax's separation, and the even deeper ache of the truth each learns about himself. --Emilie Coulter, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Separated by war, 12-year-old Peter and his pet fox, Pax, embark on quests to find each other.

Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 9-12, 9780062377012

Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)

by Julie Falatko, illus. by Tim Miller


Even those who thought they couldn't abide even one more self-referential picture book will not be able to resist debut author Julie Falatko and illustrator Tim Miller's delightful, ever-so-clever Snappsy the Alligator. This one goes to the top of the meta-heap.

Snappsy the alligator "did not ask to be in this book," so when the narrator blithely describes his life, without compassion, or even accuracy, Snappsy is understandably upset. "Snappsy the alligator wasn't feeling like himself," says the narrator. "His feet felt draggy. His skin felt baggy." Snappsy interrupts with a cartoon bubble: "This is just terrible! I'm just hungry! Why is this rude narrator trying to make it seem like I need a nap?" When Snappsy questions the narrator's integrity, the narrator gets even by suggesting the harmless, necktie-wearing reptile is a cold-blooded predator: "Snappsy, the big, mean alligator, kept looking for food. He liked to eat tiny, defenseless birds and soft, fuzzy bunnies." (The truth is, Snappsy shops at ABC Grocery, where the food is alphabetized. He particularly likes aisle "L, M, N, O, P" because he likes pretzels, pears and peanut butter.) The interaction between Snappsy and the narrator grows increasingly heated and hilarious until the satisfying, sweet-and-sassy denouement, when the two meet face to face.

Miller's cartoonish illustrations in plums and greens, often in comic strip-style panels, are silly, inviting and bursting with funny details such as the "No Narrators Allowed!" sign on Snappsy's front door. Snappsy the Alligator is a wonderful exploration of subjectivity... and a lot of fun. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: As a narrator tells the story of Snappsy the alligator, Snappsy vociferously protests his characterization, thus beginning an amusing mini-feud.

Viking, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 6-9, 9780451469458

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