Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 31, 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

Anatomy of a Soldier

In Harry Parker's unconventional debut novel, Anatomy of a Soldier (Knopf), Captain Tom Barnes, aka BA5799, is leading British troops in a war zone. Here there are two boys and a man who trains boys to fight the infidels; here and back home are medical teams; at home are families and friends. Parker, a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, tells their stories through 45 narrators, all inanimate objects, beginning with Barnes's ID:

"My serial number is 6545-01-522. I was unpacked from a plastic case, pulled open, checked and reassembled. A black marker wrote BA5799 O POS on me and I was placed in the left thigh pocket of BA5799's combat trousers. I stayed there; the pocket was rarely unfastened." Unneeded for eight weeks, two days and four hours, until lifted into the sky in dust and confusion. "I was on the ground beside him... I was beside him as rocks and mud fell around us. I was in the dust as a dark red liquid zigzagged towards me over the cracked mud.... I clung to him while he was lifted onto a stretcher… as we flew low across the fields and glinting irrigation ditches and the wind rushed around the helicopter, when he pleaded with God to save him and metal pads were placed on his chest and his body jolted.... I was there when they hung the bag of blood above BA5799 and they cut the remains of his leg away." When BA5799 no longer needed 6545-01-522, "I was at the bottom of a surgical bin and then I was burnt."

The story continues through, told by a bag of fertilizer: "I waited in that dark room until I was opened and used"; Chinese knock-off trainers ("alien among a sea of worn leather sandals"); a breathing tube; BA5799's mother's purse; a fungal spore; a gun; a wheelchair; snow; an IED ("trashing all that should be sacred"); a prosthetic leg: "You pressed your stump into me and we became one for the first time."

Harry Parker's novel is a stunning concept, with stunning execution.

--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

See the Telegraph's interview with Parker here.


Akashic Books: Me by Tomoyuki Hoshino


Book Candy

The Bookish Summer Bucket List

"Visit a new or your favorite bookstore once a week" is just one of Bustle's "11 bookish things to add to your summer bucket list."

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Page 69 quiz. The Guardian asked: "Can you identify the classic book from a single paragraph?"

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"Poetic WordClouds": Check out the "most common words in poetry," according to research done by My Poetic Side.

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Actress Helena Bonham Carter's "10 best book-based characters" were screened by Signature.

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Eight-year-old Madison Reid "might just be the new unofficial spokesperson for child literacy," the Huffington Post noted.

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"What does your bookshelf organizational technique say about you?" asked Quirk Books.


Before the Fall

by Noah Hawley

Scott Burroughs is feeling fortunate when he arrives at the Martha's Vineyard airport just in time to catch a private jet. A friend, Maggie Bateman, has invited Scott to join her and her family on their flight back to New York City where Scott--a struggling painter--has meetings scheduled for a potential art show.

Maggie is married to David Bateman, a television news executive. They have two children and a bodyguard, who are also on the plane, along with another couple, Ben and Sarah Kipling. For the Batemans and the Kiplings, the company jet is commonplace. Still, Maggie expresses some concern about the weather. So when Maggie's nine-year-old daughter, Rachel, tells her mother, "It'll be fine, Mom.... It's not like they need to see to fly a plane," the stage is set for something not fine to happen. And Noah Hawley (The Good Father) doesn't disappoint. Two short chapters later, the plush jet has crashed spectacularly into the Atlantic and Scott is swimming for safety with four-year-old JJ Bateman clinging to him--the only two survivors.

"A plane crash is not simply the sum total of time line + mechanical elements + human elements. It is an incalculable tragedy, one that shows us the ultimate finiteness of human control over the universe, and the humbling power of collective death."

Hawley's skill as a screenwriter has undoubtedly spilled over into his novel writing. The breathtaking post-crash scene he crafts directs readers' imaginations in constructing a chilling scene of chaos, panic and frenzy.

"The waves are quilted with froth, not the hard triangles of children's drawings, but fractals of water, tiny waves stacking into larger ones. Out in the open water they come at [Scott] from all directions, like a pack of wolves testing his defenses. The dying fire animates them, gives them faces of sinister intent."

Then Hawley builds a psychological stage for his protagonist--"the data stream of memory is clogged with indecipherable fragments, pictures with no order, and right now [Scott] has no time to clarify anything."

Scott may not have been so lucky in his transportation choice, but his childhood interest in swimming serves him well. Against the odds, in the dead of night, he and the child make their way miles through the cold Atlantic water, reaching shore only to discover that the nightmarish odyssey Hawley has in store for them has only just begun.

As the title insinuates, Before the Fall focuses largely on the lives of all the plane's passengers prior to the fateful night. The plot alternates between backstories, the present fallout from the crash, and art. Theories about why the jet went down circulate; David Bateman's news station ignites a conspiracy theory; and Scott is dragged through the mud of a media circus because the subjects of his paintings are disasters: car collisions, train wrecks... plane crashes.

The various layers and directions of this rich plot reflect a complex story that doesn't follow a neat path. Hawley experiments with timeline or, as Scott contemplates, "what if instead of a story told in consecutive order, life is a cacophony of moments we never leave?"

Hawley's creative approach enables him to flesh out his dynamic characters and strong themes. Scott and JJ develop a special bond through their shared experience; both desperately desire to hide from a world that is determined to shine a spotlight on them. JJ's lack of speech--he stops talking after the crash--is as telling a characteristic as Scott's prickly wit. Both defense mechanisms are protecting the fragile innocence underneath.

The theme of what constitutes a hero is reflected in this relationship as well. Scott regularly reminds JJ that he is Scott's hero. But when the crash inspector refers to Scott as a hero for saving JJ, Scott responds doubtfully, "So because I was on the high school swim team I'm some kind of hero?" Hawley adds a more sinister and elitist twist to this theme through the highly narcissistic news anchor from David Bateman's Fox-like partisan news station--a venal amalgam of the worst of tabloid journalists. In reference to Scott he says,

"He's a fraud, I'm saying. A nobody. Muscling his way into the spotlight, playing the humble knight, when the actual heroes, the great men, are dead at the bottom of the deep blue bullsh#t. And if that's what we call a hero in two thousand fifteen, then, buddy, we're f*#ked." 

Hawley thickens this unsavory stew with Ben Kipling's impending indictment for money laundering, government surveillance that leads to outlandishly false assumptions, and income inequality that drives desperate people to desperate measures.

Profound and often humorous dialogue complements the intricate workings of a psychologically insightful examination of tragedy; the story continually builds in suspense, populated by authentic characters treading the waters of life. Before the Fall is Hawley at his best. --Jen Forbus

Grand Central Publishing, $26, hardcover, 9781455561780

Noah Hawley: Claiming His Identity

photo: Leah Muse

Noah Hawley is an Emmy, Golden Globe and Peabody Award-winning author, screenwriter and producer. He has published four novels and penned the script for the feature film Lies and Alibis. He created, executive produced and served as showrunner for ABC's My Generation and The Unusuals and was a writer and producer on the hit series Bones. Hawley created and is currently executive producer, writer and showrunner on FX's award-winning series Fargo. His novel Before the Fall was just published by Grand Central.

You decided to give up music and try your hand at writing.

Well, writing music is also writing, but in popular music the target audience is around 14 years old. I found myself attracted to telling more complex stories for adult audiences. I had always dabbled. Both my mother and grandmother were writers. Neither had a college education, so I just assumed one claimed the identity of being a writer by declaring oneself a writer. Which I did.

What drew you to crime and thrillers?

Like a lot of young men, I started as a literary snob. But then, as even Don DeLillo has written, "all plots lead deathward." What happened to me is I started writing a novel about a professor of conspiracies whose wife is killed, and realized that for the story to earn a novel there needed to be an actual conspiracy, which required planning and plot. And then I realized how much harder it is to be a literary novelist who writes books that have a dramatic story drive. That said, in later years I had to figure out how to give these books "plot" without becoming a slave to it, otherwise in your last act your characters become agents of the plot, pulled in by its gravitational force. Instead, I found my way to writing what I call "emotional thrillers" where the most important drive in the last act is to resolve a character mystery or problem, rather than save the world.

You've written feature film scripts, television scripts, novels and music. How do the mediums compare?

Each medium is unique. For the most part, a feature film is the most linear. The clock works against you. There is less room for diversion or distraction, less room to explore character. TV, at least the 10-hour movie version I've been lucky enough to make, is a medium of exploration. You need a strong central story, but you can improvise around it, experiment with structure. A novel is similar. It is the most flexible of the mediums, because the reader does half the work, imaginations engaged. Much of the time we spend in books we spend inside a character's mind. Time can be compressed or unpacked.

Writing for television is a demanding job; where do you fit in the time to write novels?

Well, before I had kids, I was definitely a morning guy. I liked to roll out of bed and get started before I felt like my real life intruded. Now that I have kids, I don't really have that luxury. But writing for TV has trained me to write whenever, wherever, because obviously when you're running a show and they say, "Okay, from four to six you can rewrite episode five," that's when you rewrite episode five. So it's good. I wrote my last book in a restaurant, basically, on my off hours. It's a business, and it's a skill--so it's not about waiting for the muse to strike. It's about getting it done.

The idea of "hero" comes up subtly and from different perspectives throughout Before the Fall. How does Noah Hawley--son, brother, father, husband--define a hero?

There is the moral spectrum where you have a very good character on one end and a very bad character on the other. Then in the middle, there's someone who is on the fence--a sort of ordinary person who shows us that they're capable of even greater evil than the villain, on some level. That's the interesting moral dynamic, to take a character that's sort of a combination of those two people to see, well, what if we turn this paradigm into a relationship with a give and take, you know. Would they still come out? Will they do the right thing or the wrong thing? Where will they all come out? --Jen Forbus


Shelf vetted, publisher supported.


Great Reads

Rediscover: Generation Kill

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Rolling Stone journalist Evan Wright was embedded with the 1st Reconnaissance Battalion of the U.S. Marine Corps. He spent two months riding in the lead Humvee with Sergeant Brad "Iceman" Colbert and other members of Bravo Company. Wright carried a weapon and experienced frequent combat, starting with the 10 rounds that hit his door during his first firefight. His Rolling Stone dispatches, titled The Killer Elite, won the 2004 National Magazine Award for Reporting. Wright expanded these articles into Generation Kill (2004), which was adapted into a seven-part miniseries by HBO in 2008 starring Alexander Skarsgård and co-written by David Simon, creator of The Wire.

Generation Kill chronicles a close-knit group of young men at the spear tip of a new era in American warfare. Wright's book is not about grand strategy or command decisions, but individuals in war--in tedium and terror--the single soldiers whose multitudinous sacrifices are honored each Memorial Day. Generation Kill was last published by Putnam in 2008 ($16, 9780425224748). --Tobias Mutter


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


Book Review

Fiction

Villa Triste

by Patrick Modiano, trans. by John Cullen


Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano again journeys through nostalgia and lost youth. Villa Triste ("Sad House") portrays the lies people tell themselves and the ones they love. Fans of Modiano's previous work will find the same haunting quality to this novel, translated into English by John Cullen.

Alone in a vacation spot on the French-Swiss border, Modiano's narrator encounters an old friend, Meinthe, from his previous stay in the town. When visiting as a young man, he fell in with Meinthe and Yvonne Jacquet, two bohemians who had never left their idyllic hometown. Looking back to his youth, the narrator relates his intrusion into their lives, and how his need for growth eventually led to a reckoning with their passive ways.

As in many of Modiano's novels, the narrator's motives remain mostly secret, but his urge to remake himself is the clear defining force for the narrative. Arriving in town under an assumed name, he presents himself as a count, and ultimately cannot stay in the easy existence Yvonne and Meinthe have created for themselves, all too aware of how fragile it is. With the layers of secrecy surrounding each character, the reader must always peer through the narrative at what their aims truly are. Villa Triste is like a mystery with no solution; the enigma of the major characters provides enough tension to pull the story along, finally ending where it began, with the narrator looking back. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Nobel Prize winner Patrick Modiano examines youth and nostalgia in a haunting story of young love in a resort town.

Other Press, $13.95, paperback, 9781590517673

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


Hot Little Hands

by Abigail Ulman


Hot Little Hands, the debut short story collection from Abigail Ulman, concerns young women and girls at tipping points. In "Same Old Same As," Ramona struggles to discern whether she experienced what her therapist vaguely refers to as "abuse." In "Chagall's Wife," Sascha flirts with her lonely teacher; in "The Pretty One," Claire near-obsessively pursues a beautiful, much younger man. The stories are often about either clinging desperately to youth or falling into maturity, although their themes are subtle and hidden beneath slice-of-life exteriors. The vague melancholy of growing up has hardly gone unexamined in fiction, but Ulman's millennial take is genuinely insightful. She seems to have a particular grasp of the way technology and postindustrial society hurriedly rush girls out of childhood, and then trap women in an odd liminal state between adolescence and adulthood.

Ulman, an Australian, also has a soft spot for women caught between worlds--minorities, immigrants and expatriates. "Jewish History" features a young Russian girl struggling to fit her family's history of struggle into the accepted narrative of persecution shared by her Jewish Australian classmates. Another Russian protagonist in "Warm Ups"--the stories in the collection are very loosely interconnected--is a 13-year-old girl taking advantage of a gymnastics event to travel to the United States. Ulman portrays her characters as unknowingly determining their places in the world, and she manages to depict this process absent self-seriousness and with a healthy dose of wry humor. Hot Little Hands is the rare collection that portrays how life pivots around mundane moments as readily as earth-shaking events. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Hot Little Hands is a promising debut story collection focusing on how a diverse group of young women make the difficult transition between childhood and adulthood.

Spiegel & Grau, $26, hardcover, 9780812989175

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


Last Ride to Graceland

by Kim Wright


Blues musician Cory Beth Ainsworth has always known that her mama, Laura Berry, spent one wild, glamorous year as a backup singer for Elvis. Known as "Honey" during her brief singing career, Laura was at Graceland the night Elvis died. She returned home to South Carolina, married her high school sweetheart and settled down to raise her daughter. But after Laura's death, Honey discovers a vintage Stutz Blackhawk in her stepfather's shed: a mint-condition car that clearly belonged to the King himself. Fueled by a need to delve into her own history and discover how it might be bound up with Elvis's story, Cory takes to the road, retracing Laura's journey in the opposite direction. In her fourth novel, Last Ride to Graceland, Kim Wright follows Cory's circuitous and illuminating pilgrimage from Beaufort, S.C., to Memphis, through the key places of her mother's life.

Wright (The Unexpected Waltz) tells her story in both Cory's and Laura's voices, shifting back and forth between 1977 and the present day. Several characters--Laura's sweetheart Bradley, her fellow backup singer and friend Marilee--appear in both narratives, with different aspects of their characters highlighted through Laura's and Cory's eyes. Elvis himself, both the man and the myth, is also a prominent figure, as flawed and human as any of Wright's less famous characters.

With a tone as Southern as its geography, Last Ride to Graceland is a treat for readers who love the King, enjoy a good family saga or long for the open road. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A blues musician heads for Graceland in a car that belonged to Elvis, searching for clues about her own identity.

Gallery Books, $16, paperback, 9781501100789

Crown Publishing Group: The Little French Bistro by Nina George


The One That Got Away

by Leigh Himes


It's a universally considered premise: What would have happened if we made different choices in life? In her first novel, The One That Got Away, Leigh Himes humorously unravels the ramifications of such a possibility for Abbey Lahey, a 20-something, stressed wife and "suburban sweatpant mom" of two. Abbey's fraught, middle-class Philadelphia life includes a muffin top; a job in public relations that demands as much attention as her five-year-old bedwetting daughter; a rambunctious toddler of a son; an out-of-work husband, Jimmy; and stacks of unpaid bills.

When Abbey sets off to Nordstrom to return a $598 designer pocketbook to ease the strain on the family bank account and pay for running water and pediatrician co-pays, she falls over the side of an escalator en route to customer service. Blacking out, she suffers a head injury and wakes to someone else's life: Abbey van Holt, the wife of rich, handsome and well-connected Alexander van Holt, who's running for Congress. Abbey and Alex met years before; she considered him "the one that got away." With Abbey suddenly entrenched in an alternate reality of plastic surgery corrections to her former bodily flaws, lavish privilege and high society life--with problems of its own, including the pitfalls of politics and a meddlesome mother-in-law--the culture shock ultimately offers a renewed sense of perspective and unexpected appreciation for her once ordinary, however challenged, middle-class life. Himes's well-constructed comic novel adds thought-provoking depth to a charming be-careful-what-you-wish-for story. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A struggling, middle-class wife and mother suffers a freak accident that allows her a chance to have an eye-opening alternate life.

Hachette, $26, hardcover, 9780316305730

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


Remember the Ladies

by Gina L. Mulligan


Remember the Ladies, Gina Mulligan's debut novel, focuses on Amelia Cooke, a savvy lobbyist working for the National Women's Suffrage Association, starting in 1887, and takes its title from Abigail Adams's letter to her husband, John, as he was drafting the Declaration of Independence. But the accounts of backroom bargaining and legislators' vote swapping in Washington, D.C., remain topical in the 21st century.

After losing her parents at four, Amelia honed her survival skills in a Montana orphanage. Aged out at 18, she labored in an Arkansas cotton mill, where a brash speech for workers' rights earned her a dismissal and a path to Washington. She cajoled a prominent lobbyist into mentoring her and, after a decade, became a formidable political player. Not above using a strategically angled hat or a demure deference, lovely Amelia was well aware of the drawbacks and advantages of her gender.

As a neophyte, Amelia had a brief affair with a dashing young legislator; years later, when Amelia needed the now-powerful senator's vote, his pledge to keep women "in the bedroom and out of the voting room" hurt her cause and underscored her personal vulnerability. His anti-suffragist political finagling spelled defeat for the 19th Amendment, which didn't pass until 1920, long after Amelia left Washington.

By limiting her scope to the suffrage movement, Gina Mulligan strengthens her story; she mentions the recent Civil War, threats to develop Yellowstone commercially, the "greedy steel industry," styles and trends, but focuses on Amelia and her work for the vote. An entertaining character study of a strong woman, Remember the Ladies also reminds us to appreciate the right to vote. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Amelia Cooke, lobbyist for women's suffrage in the late 19th century, acts on the adage "Remember the Ladies" in an often hostile Washington, D.C.

Five Star Publishing, $25.95, hardcover, 9781432831769

Mystery & Thriller

The Fireman

by Joe Hill


Joe Hill's great strength as a horror writer has always been his ability to play out finely observed interpersonal and emotional conflicts within the constructs of the genre. His fourth novel, The Fireman, expands the scope of his worldbuilding, but maintains his near-perverse level of compassion for characters that Hill (Nos4a2) constructs only to relentlessly pull apart.

It is an apocalyptic epic that depicts modern society falling apart in the face of a devastating plague. The culprit is Draco Incendia Trychophyton, a fungal infection that characters colloquially refer to as Dragonscale for the oddly beautiful scale-like patterns the fungus forms on infected skin. The 'scale also has the unfortunate side effect of burning the host alive. Harper is a young nurse as eager to help Dragonscale victims in the early days of the plague as she is to escape her domineering husband, Jakob. When she becomes infected, Jakob is--let's say--less than supportive, leading to the first of many exceptionally staged, utterly frightening scenes that lend The Fireman the nerve-jangling urgency of great horror.

Hill's knack for dark, offbeat humor also makes an occasional appearance. For example, Jakob, who becomes an enduring villain for Harper to tackle, is a failed novelist with a hilariously pretentious manuscript called Desolation's Plough. Harper models herself after Mary Poppins and sings her favorite Disney tunes to calm herself in moments of crisis. And then there are the many, many fire-based puns that characters employ as gallows humor.

The Fireman is a dark and grueling novel, but likable characters and sparks of humor give it a warm, humane core. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: The Fireman is popular horror writer Joe Hill's inventive, highly successful foray into the genre of post-apocalyptic epics.

Morrow, $28.99, hardcover, 9780062200631

The Second Life of Nick Mason

by Steve Hamilton


In a stark departure from his Alex McKnight novels, Steve Hamilton kicks off an impressive new series featuring Nick Mason, a former car thief from Chicago who tries to go straight for the sake of his family, but is convicted of a murder he didn't commit. Now Mason is sitting in Terre Haute Penitentiary for 25 years to life. He learns the ropes of general population, doesn't make waves, but also doesn't let anyone get the better of him. Then everything changes when Darius Cole summons Mason to the Secure Housing Unit.

Cole is the powerful head of a Chicago criminal enterprise, in federal prison on a RICO conviction. Despite being locked up, his reach extends far beyond the walls of USP Terre Haute, and he's offering Mason a deal. Cole will arrange for Mason's conviction to be overturned, his slate wiped clean. In exchange, Mason works for Cole for the remaining 20 years of his original sentence.

The desire to return to his wife and daughter convinces Mason to trade his soul to the devil. But when the reality of his deal finally becomes clear, Mason discovers he may have put himself and his family in the worst danger possible.

The Second Life of Nick Mason is a new chapter in Hamilton's career, and it's intensely exciting. The concept is fresh, the action is heart-pounding and Nick Mason is a solid protagonist. His halo is tarnished but his intentions are gold. Readers will connect with him and clamor for his return. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: In the start to a new series by Steve Hamilton, a man learns the hard way that metal bars aren't necessary to steal a person's freedom.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 9780399574320

The Sisters

by Claire Douglas


Abi and Lucy were identical twins, and then a tragic accident took Lucy's life. In the aftermath, Abi struggles to comprehend and adjust to her sister's death, facing survivor's guilt and sister-lookalikes around every bend. When by chance she meets Beatrice, who bears a striking resemblance to Lucy, Abi is eager to enter her privileged circle of friends, and is even happier when she meets Beatrice's brother, Ben. But when she fails to notice the peculiarities that suddenly surround her--the loss of some of Lucy's letters and hostile messages--Abi is forced to question reality and her sanity.

In this gripping psychological debut, Claire Douglas has braided the concept of twins with that of friendship into a taut line that fills each page with tension. Almost every character plays twisted mind games, and readers gain insight into them through the viewpoints of Abi and Beatrice, both of whom vie for Ben's affection in a jealousy-laced, push-me-pull-you game of one-upmanship.

While descriptions of fashion, art and architecture root this manipulative cerebral game of chess in Bath, England, Douglas also uses interesting imagery to help portray events and emotions. She writes, "Returning to my cold, empty flat after the warmth, noise and babble of Beatrice's vibrant house makes me feel like a dog that's been banished from its family home to a kennel in the garden."

Humming with anxiety and friction, The Sisters keep readers guessing as to who is doing what to whom until the very end. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The Sisters is an edgy thriller full of curls and kinks that shift on every page.

Harper, $15.99, paperback, 9780008163310

Food & Wine

Ăn: To Eat: Recipes and Stories from a Vietnamese Kitchen

by Jacqueline An, Helene An


Behind every family recipe is a revelatory story. Helene An's involves a privileged upbringing in Vietnam before the war, the hardship and sacrifice she experienced as a refugee settling in San Francisco, her work as an accountant by day and running her mother-in-law's Italian deli by night. Slowly, An made her mark on the deli, tossing in a favorite dish from her beloved Vietnam here and there until the Italian deli became Thanh Long, and a restaurant empire transformed An into the grand dame of Vietnamese fine dining.

In Vietnamese, Ăn means "to eat," and the joy and love of eating permeates the pages of this cookbook. Co-authored by An's daughter Jacqueline, it includes classic Vietnamese comfort foods like homemade beef pho, bánh mi and lemongrass beef vermicelli. They add fusion twists to turn an ordinary dish into something otherworldly--mouth-watering pork chops, for instance, with caramel marmalade, or Mongolian fried chicken. Tidbits of Vietnamese history and culture, too, provide context for recipes. While the lengthy ingredient lists, multi-step preparations and slightly unwieldy organization (recipes for pho appear near the beginning, but the recipe for broth is in the appendix) may prove challenging for the novice cook, the reward for those willing to follow through is a delightful explosion of flavors. A friendly primer of herbs, pantry ingredients, tools and methods helps steer home cooks through the more involved processes.

At its very heart, Vietnamese cuisine is sensual and elegant, and who better to present its seductive powers than the first ladies of Vietnamese fine dining? --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Jacqueline and Helene An's comprehensive collection of recipes shows home cooks the ins and outs of Vietnamese cooking through family memories.

Running Press, $35, hardcover, 9780762458356

Biography & Memoir

Joe Gould's Teeth

by Jill Lepore


Joe Gould is best known through two profile pieces Joseph Mitchell wrote for the New Yorker. In 1942, Mitchell introduced a harmless eccentric engrossed in writing "The Oral History of Our Time"--at some nine million words, supposedly the longest unpublished work in history. In the second piece, in 1964, Gould (then deceased) is a dirty, sinister man, and Mitchell asserts that there had never been any such manuscript. Jill Lepore (a staff writer at the New Yorker and author of numerous works of nonfiction), like so many before her, was intrigued. Was there an oral history, or wasn't there? Who was Gould, really?

Joe Gould's Teeth is a biography of Gould, a study of the record he left behind and the story of Lepore's search. Gould was a graphomaniac; his written legacy includes letters, diaries, essays, ramblings but rather little oral history. Lepore seeks the mythical manuscript, but finds the mystery of a man. She describes herself as stumbling, falling into the "chasm" of Gould, who claimed to be "left-handed in both hands" and whose thinking was "sticky" with details. She follows him through archives and memories, and into his obsession with African-American sculptor Augusta Savage. Savage, as a secondary character, is more sympathetic (and sane), and possibly more enigmatic than Gould.

Lepore's contribution to this undeniably riveting story lies in her research, but even more in her wise, nuanced telling. Joe Gould was a genius, a madman, destitute, beloved of e.e. cummings and Ezra Pound, by turns likable and malicious. Joe Gould's Teeth is an astonishing, wide-ranging and thoroughly enthralling work of history. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The author makes an astonishing, enthralling investigation of whether a man made famous in a 1942 New Yorker profile by Joseph Mitchell did or did not write a nine-million-word oral history.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9781101947586

Children's & Young Adult

Draw the Line

by Laurent Linn


Former Sesame Street Muppets creative director Laurent Linn's debut YA novel combines graphic novel and prose formats for a funny, sexy and moving experience.

Sixteen-year-old Adrian Piper knows how to fly below the radar better than anyone else at Rock Hollow High School, near Dallas, Tex. He wears monochromatic outfits, keeps his homosexuality firmly in the closet, and never signs his name to Graphite, the Renaissance-era superhero webcomic he draws in his spare time. When a school bully brutally attacks an openly gay student, though, Adrian slowly realizes moments choose heroes, and this moment has chosen him.

By his side are his best friends Trent, a goth boy with an alcoholic, Jesus-obsessed mom, and the glamorous Audrey, whose past experience with bullying "as a plus-size black girl" leads her to push Adrian to do the right thing the right way. A devout sci-fi/fantasy nerd, Adrian prays to Jedi deity Obi-Wan Kenobi that he might defeat injustice, take his creativity public, stand out from the crowd, and date a cute boy, all while not getting pummeled to death by the captain of the football team.

As witty and engaging as Linn's prose is, the true hero here is his electrifying black-and-white pencil art. Adrian's custom-made superhero Graphite rockets across the page, curlicues of ribbon spiraling around him like Spider-Man's webbing, in scenes and sketches he draws to work through his fear and grief, or celebrate his love. Teen and adult readers of contemporary stories should set aside time to fall into Linn's world. Non-comic fans be warned: Linn will make you a believer. --Jaclyn Fulwood, lead librarian at Del City Public Library, Okla.

Discover: A gay teen finds the hero in himself through his webcomic about a Renaissance-era superhero.

Margaret K. McElderry/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 528p., ages 13-up, 9781481452809

Professor Astro Cat's Atomic Adventure: A Journey Through Physics

by Dr. Dominic Walliman, Ben Newman, illus. by Ben Newman


"Why is the sky blue?" "How does a boat float?" "Why can't I jump as high as this house?" In the big and bold picture book Professor Astro Cat's Atomic Adventure, by the creators of Professor Astro Cat's Frontiers of Space, the blue feline Professor shows young readers how "physics is all around us, all the time!" His enthusiasm is catching.

In colorful, energetic double-page spreads with headlines such as "Gravity," "The Scientific Method," "Measurement," "A World of Atoms," "Newton's Laws," "Electricity," "Magnetism," "Sound Waves" and "The Science of Light," Professor Astro Cat breaks the basics of physics into small, enticing tidbits, presented in clear, conversational style: "If there was no gravity on Earth then we would all float around, which would make it difficult to eat and drink or see our friends" and "I use kinetic energy when I judo chop super villains."

Mind-bending facts are sure to inspire torrents of "did you knows." Readers will learn why humans float better in salty seawater, how everyone is "hurtling through space at colossal speeds" (even while seated in a nice comfy chair), what lightning is, how the Earth is a giant magnet, why things cast shadows, and that the word physics comes from the Greek physis, which means nature. Each spread bubbles over with cartoonish mini-dramas, instructive graphics and punchy captions that illuminate physical concepts. The groaners ("Elementary, My Dear Atom!") make this entertaining primer all that much more endearing. As Professor Astro Cat says, "Knowledge Awaits!" --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Professor Astro Cat demystifies the basic principles of physics with plenty of panache in this effervescent, oversized picture book.

Flying Eye Books, $24, hardcover, 56p., ages 8-12, 9781909263604

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