Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 7, 2016


From My Shelf

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

Park Row Books: Ginny Moon by Benjamin Ludwig

Book Club Ideas: Historical Fiction

Orphan Train (paperback, $14.99, Morrow) by Christina Baker Kline remains a book club favorite. This story about the fictional friendship between a young Irish immigrant and a 91-year-old woman ties in with the history of the trains that transported 200,000 abandoned children put up for adoption in the U.S. at the turn of the 20th century.

The aim of historical fiction is to situate characters--sometimes real, sometimes imagined--amid actual events and backdrops that are accurately rich in detail and/or epic in scope. The genre continues to flourish. Here are some other titles worth a closer look:

Isabelle Allende examines the past and present, youth and old age, in The Japanese Lover (paperback $16, Atria, July), a novel about destiny, sacrifice and redemption. The story is set in a senior home, but the details are anchored in 1939, when an eight-year-old Polish girl flees the Nazis and goes to live with her aunt and uncle in San Francisco. There, the girl makes friends--and eventually falls in love--with a Japanese boy interned in the United States following Pearl Harbor.

Lee Smith sets Guests on Earth (paperback, $14.95, Algonquin) in 1936 in Highland Hospital, a noted psychiatric facility in Asheville, N.C. Smith examines ideas of sanity versus insanity, art and madness via her orphaned, 13-year-old protagonist, Evalina Toussaint. Evalina is institutionalized and falls under the spell of flamboyant Zelda Fitzgerald (wife of author F. Scott Fitzgerald) who was an actual patient in the hospital before a tragic, suspicious fire killed her and several other women.

The Civil War and the horrors of slavery infuse The Invention of Wings (paperback, $17, Penguin) by Sue Monk Kidd, a tale inspired by the life of 19th-century abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimké. Kidd tackles issues of race, gender, activism, religion and feminism via the creation of two richly drawn characters: the strong-willed daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner and her personal slave whom she seeks to liberate. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines


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


Bookselling News

Audiobook Month: Why Whoopi Loves Audiobooks

June is Audiobook Month, and to celebrate, Whoopi Goldberg, among other celebrities, speaks about why she thinks audiobooks are great. She says, in part, "One of the things I loved most as a kid was hearing somebody tell me a story. Because it engages you, and it's just you and narrator. And whatever the visual is that pops up in your head as you're hearing it is the visual that stays with you. Even if you've already seen a Harry Potter movie, when you hear it read, it takes you to a different place." Check out Whoopi's video here.


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


Book Candy

Poetry That Can Live Inside the Body

"An artist nano-printed a poem that can live inside your body," the Huffington Post reported.

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Flavorwire made "8 inspired book and film pairings."

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Exhibit A: Buzzfeed submitted "34 photos that prove all book lovers should live in Hay-On-Wye," the Welsh town that hosts the annual Hay Festival.

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Bookish fashion: Rooby Lane's "literature skirt" was featured on Bookshelf.


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


The Writer's Life

Negin Farsad: Fighting Stereotypes One Joke at a Time

photo: Andrew Walker

Negin Farsad is a writer, comedian and actor who has devoted much of her work trying to dispel cultural stereotypes. She was named a TED Fellow for her work in social justice comedy and holds an M.A. in African-American studies from Columbia University. Her work in television includes writing or appearing on Comedy Central, MTV, PBS, IFC and Nickelodeon. She is also director/producer of the feature films Nerdcore Rising, starring Weird Al Yankovic, and The Muslims Are Coming!, starring Jon Stewart, David Cross and Lewis Black. How to Make White People Laugh (Grand Central Publishing) is both a memoir of growing up Iranian-American and a funny primer for understanding the misrepresentation of Muslims in society. Blending the nuance of a social science text with the lighthearted candor of a sitcom, it brings serious issues to light.

In How to Make White People Laugh, you write about growing up in one of the few Muslim American families in Palm Springs, Calif. How has this experience shaped your comedic work?

Palm Springs is, in and of itself, a very weird place to grow up. It's a retirement community. My formative years took place among senior citizens. When I went out to play in the front yard, I witnessed neighbors on walkers taking very slow strolls down the street. I saw Cadillacs rolling through the neighborhood at minimum speeds. I did not, however, see any other children. I had to invent so many imaginary worlds to make things interesting for myself. Then, when I went to school, I was one of two Iranian-American kids in my class, and we weren't exactly peeps. I didn't have a "gang" or a "clique" or a "posse"--I had to create those groups from scratch because there was no natural fit for me. That led me to some interesting "goth" and "gypsy" phases on the fashion front, but it also pushed me face-forward into the drama department in high school. Everyone who looked weird and didn't have a solid peer group just ended up in drama. There, I was allowed to be a weird little ethnic girl with a stupid fashion sense. Once you're in that comfort zone, all you want to do is stay there.

You talk about how you used to "feel black." What caused you eventually to embrace your identity as a Muslim American? Why did it take until after grad school to make this shift?

I can't say what exactly changed because it wasn't as if 9/11 happened and then I immediately embraced my Iranian-American Muslim identity. It was a slow burn--little things started happening more and more. I remember trying to catch a cab [in New York] and a woman told me to be careful because "all the cabbies are Muslim." I said, "Hey lady, I'm Muslim." And then I got in a cab with a, sure enough, Muslim driver. It is New York, after all and the Muzzies have the taxi industry on lockdown.

While I was in grad school, little things like that kept happening and needling at me, like a mosquito bite that starts out on the lighter side of itchy and then moves to full-scale-insane-itchy. I also remember after doing comedy for a couple of years in New York, I had this strange realization that I might be the only Iranian-American Muslim comedian in NYC--maybe even the northeastern seaboard! And then I just kept looking for voices like mine on TV or in films or anywhere and we were so very few. I had this feeling that I needed to step it up. I needed to fully come out of the closet as an ethnic lady. I wasn't trying to hide it exactly, but I wasn't overt with it either. Being quiet wasn't going to help the burgeoning Islamaphobia. At some point, you say to yourself, "My silence is a little bit like tacit approval, huh?"

Given the Islamaphobia in much of the U.S., what are some things individuals can do to help society adopt a more nuanced and respectful view of Muslims?

If you find yourself enjoying yet another TV show--and yes, even the ones on "prestige cable"--where the bad guys are Muslim, you've got to ask yourself, why am I supporting this show? Demand better of your broadcasters. These narratives seep into our psyche and the average person begins to believe them. I know it's hard, because who doesn't want to watch Homeland? But those storylines can be reckless. Support work from minorities who are trying desperately to break into the mainstream.

But beyond the media, I like to think that the solution largely involves meeting people--meet someone from across the tracks, across town, across the ethnic divide. The more people you meet, the greater your chances of A) making friends B) getting laid and C) debunking any kind of misconceptions you have about "other" people. It's hard to hate people you know. So know more people. In the United States, this is tough, we're all so strewn about--our cities have sprawl and its not like you're going to naturally run into people. We have to be more intentional about it.

What's one example of a comment or question you hear a lot that people might not realize is offensive?

I'm not offended by much, actually. A lot of people have asked me, "Why don't Muslims denounce terrorism?" and that used to offend me. But now I realize that the question is mostly a product of how Muslims are presented in the media. People think Muslims don't denounce terrorism because the media doesn't like to show a bunch of reasonable people denouncing violence--that doesn't seem quite "newsworthy" especially when Taylor Swift could have a new video out or Kylie Kardashian may have posted a selfie with her hair in cornrows. So, instead of taking offense, I simply let them know that we do denounce terrorism. I've found that, at the end of the day, most people are not trying to offend me. They just don't have much exposure to people like me.

Is there any particular type of reader who you'd be especially excited to have read this book?

I like to say that this book is a perfect gift for your racist uncle. Everyone has one. He's your uncle so you might be able to see some of his good qualities--but you also cringe when he starts busting out the racial jokes. I think that bigoted uncle isn't actually bigoted. I think he just hasn't been given access to another way of thinking. And maybe a comedic book about identity is an easy access point for a guy like that. By the way, is your uncle Donald Trump? Please buy this book for him.

What were most formative texts you read while completing your M.A. in African-American studies at Columbia? If you had to make one text required reading for the general public, which would it be?

That's a tough question. There were so many texts that felt life-changing at that time. Although it wasn't the first time I read it, I'd say The Autobiography of Malcolm X was one. It chronicles the many stages of self-awareness that ring so true for minorities in America. I remember reading bell hooks's All About Love and feeling that her definition of romantic love is fundamental to our wider social and civic bonds. I think Manning Marable's How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America is one of those hardcore academic books that's definitely not a leisure read but a brilliant analysis of the role of African-Americans in our country's economic development. Come to think of it, I never read anything funny in grad school--I guess most people don't--but so much of what we read felt essential.

Even after a traumatizing experience with theater in high school, you persevered with comedy. How is live performance therapeutic or cathartic despite the risk of negative feedback?

The fear of public speaking is very common--it's still the number one fear of most Americans. The audience may heckle you, they might berate you, they might tell you how fat and ugly you are, or how stupid you sound, or that you should just die! Audiences can be BRUTAL. So I, too, share that fear. But it doesn't stop me from performing because the flip side of the fear is something very exhilarating: laughter. Audience laughter is otherworldly. It feels so totally wondrous that a comedian is willing to risk the possibility of being shamed off the stage for the chance of feeling that slice of wonder.

What advice do you have for those aspiring to professional comedy (either live or written)?

In the beginning, you will suck more than you get laughs. But comedy is a muscle. You have to keep working at it so it can turn into really hot six-pack abs. I've seen people start out bombing and end up with legitimate comedy careers. Oh, and it takes forever, the process will totally age you, and you'll question all of your life choices. So you might end up a shell of your former self. But you'll be a comedian. A half-shelled comedian. (Humph, I'm not sure if that was "advice" or a "warning.")

Tell us about your upcoming film, 3rd Street Blackout.

3rd Street Blackout is in select theaters now, but it will hit the digital platforms July 5, and there's nothing better to experience after the euphoria of our nation's birthday celebration than a romantic comedy! Well, Independence Day and rom-coms aren't strictly related, but you might be hungover and only capable of sitting on your couch and watching movies. This one is extra fun. It's set in the blackout after Hurricane Sandy in New York. Half of Manhattan was plunged into darkness for five days and strangely, it made everyone more delightful. The film features some romantic shenanigans with the very dreamy Ed Weeks--who most people know from The Mindy Project--and it has some absolutely hilarious turns by Janeane Garofalo, John Hodgman and Rachel Feinstein. And like most romantic comedies, it stars an Iranian-American Muslim female! (That's me.)

The movie generally follows that rule I mentioned above about meeting people. The blackout forced neighbors to meet neighbors. It made communities come together and help each other. In the modern digital context, blackouts are more inconvenient than ever, but they also remind us of an analogue world of social engagement that we've all but forgotten.

What's next?

I will be launching a political comedy podcast with the Earwolf network on July 8 called Fake the Nation. It's basically comedians talking about the news and giving the American political system a weekly crotch punch. I'm also developing a show with a studio, so you might hear more about that, too. I've got another movie in me and another book--but I also want to take more naps and take up knitting. It's very glamorous up in the Farsad world. --Annie Atherton


Atria Books: Beartown by Fredrik Backman


Book Review

Fiction

Untethered

by Julie Lawson Timmer


The unexpected death of her husband smashes Char Hawthorn's idyllic world into pieces, leaving her with myriad fragments, lacking the adhesive that once held them firmly together. Char and her stepdaughter, Allie, flounder as they try to find their way. Instead of handing Char a tube of super glue, however, Julie Lawson Timmer (Five Days Left) grinds the remnants of her protagonist's existence even further.

The prefix "step" meant nothing before Bradley's death. Char had taken on the role of mother completely, but now Allie's previously uninvolved biological mother wants custody and to move her daughter across the country. For her part, Allie is acting out, and Char struggles with her, too. Is Allie just a child mourning the loss of her father and needing space? Or is she crying out for a parent to enforce boundaries? What authority does Char have with Allie now? When the unlicensed 15-year-old steals her father's convertible and takes off with the 10-year-old girl she tutors, Char can no longer remain passive.

Untethered is a complex story about a nontraditional but often familiar family. It's about making choices in no-win situations. Readers may find themselves frustrated with Char's lack of action at times, but Timmer creates a legitimate, believable scenario for Char's paralysis. More importantly, Timmer handles the sensitive, emotionally charged nature of her plot with reverence and openness, avoiding harsh judgments. Untethered is a beautiful mosaic of love's many fragments, no matter how shattered. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: Julie Lawson Timmer explores the many meanings of family in her powerful sophomore novel.

Putnam, $26, hardcover, 9780399176272

Roaring Brook Press: Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick


End of Watch

by Stephen King


In the early 2010s, Stephen King pulled off a magic trick. Not content to be the greatest horror writer of his generation (maybe ever), he decided to turn his considerable skills to the crime genre. With Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, King introduced readers to retired Detective Bill Hodges, his assistant/partner, Holly, and Jerome, a young man who is often in the middle of the mysteries Hodges works to solve. Instead of resting on his laurels, King closes this trilogy by jettisoning realism entirely, thrusting his three heroes into a race against time against a deadly supernatural enemy.

Years after capturing the notorious Mercedes killer, Brady Hartsfield, Hodges gets a call from his old partner on the police force concerning a murder/homicide that seems eerily linked to Hartsfield's killing spree. Recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Hodges enters a new cat-and-mouse game with Hartsfield, who has acquired powers beyond the scope of human ability in the wake of his defeat at the hands of Hodges, Holly and Jerome. Over the course of three days, King tracks the gumshoes as they put together the pieces of Hartsfield's new insidious plot and scramble to protect his would-be victims.

At this point in the series, King's characters are well established, and he uses the warm connections among them to create moments of mirth and pathos. End of Watch has the great lived-in quality of many long-running detective series. While it's best for those new to the series to begin with Mr. Mercedes, fans of King's work will find another rip-roaring thriller in the author's late-career renaissance. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: The final chapter in Stephen King's Bill Hodges trilogy shifts genre from crime to horror without breaking stride.

Scribner, $30, hardcover, 9781501129742

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


Marrow Island

by Alexis M. Smith


Marrow Island begins at the end: the opening pages introduce Lucie as she is being rescued from Marrow Island by a park ranger and her best friend--who may have tried to kill her. Reflecting on the story she later tells FBI agents, state police, the park ranger and her family, Lucie considers Marrow Island and the small eco-colony she encountered there: "Marrow Colony as cult. Marrow Colony as failed utopia. Build, destroy, repeat."

This becomes something of a theme throughout Marrow Island, as Alexis M. Smith (Glaciers) moves Lucie's story backward and forward through time to reveal the many ways she has rebuilt her life after destruction: the loss of her father in the May Day quake 20 years earlier, the loss of her childhood best friend, the loss of her job, and her harrowing experiences at Marrow Colony. But it is also the story of how nature itself builds, destroys and repeats: the changed landscape of the Pacific Northwest following that May Day quake, the chemical spills that swept across Marrow Island and destroyed its ecosystem, the wildfires that burn though Oregon years later.

Lucie's experiences drive the plot of Marrow Island, pressing ahead to an alarming and somewhat open-ended conclusion as it leaps about in time and place to reveal what happened at Marrow Colony. But tucked into this suspenseful plot are stunning and important reflections on nature and the environment, its awe-inspiring power and the many ways humanity both detracts from that power and willfully ignores it--and how that shapes our lives. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: In Marrow Island, Smith offers a complex story of one woman's life while quietly reflecting on the power of the environment to shape our lives.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $23, hardcover, 9780544373419

Doubleday Books: Unreliable by Lee Irby


Autumn Princess, Dragon Child: Book 2 in the Tale of the Shikanoko

by Lian Hearn


Emperor of the Eight Islands, the first volume of Lian Hearn's medieval Japanese fantasy series, set the scene for an epic battle between warring clans and the redemption of a fallen hero. Warrior and budding sorcerer Shikanoko betrays the people he swore to protect--the Autumn Princess (Akihime) and the Hidden Emperor (Yoshimori)--and forms a union with the conniving Prince Abbot to strengthen his influence on the Lotus throne, before being attacked by a pack of horses loyal to Akihime and Yoshimori.

Autumn Princess, Dragon Child begins with mountain sorcerer Shisoku and the pregnant Lady Tora finding and nursing the injured Shikanoko back to health. When Lady Tora dies after childbirth, Shikanoko, against Shisoku's advice, raises the not-quite-human quintuplet boys as his own, intending to use their powers in his quest for redemption. Meanwhile, the two warring clans plot to capture and use Yoshimori and Akihime to advance their own agendas. The finale leads to a deadly showdown between the powerful Prince Abbot and Shikanoko, who stands to lose all that is precious to him.

Hearn's narration jumps among many points of views in plot twists so thickly and intricately woven as to resemble an Asian soap opera, paving the way to its cliffhanging end. One hopes that the series' final two novels answer the many lingering questions Hearn leaves. Yet there is much to appreciate about Hearn's efforts: she nails the mythological details of her alternate reality, and she imbues this story with the same sort of spirituality that won her Tales of the Otori series high acclaim. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The second volume of Lian Hearn's The Tale of the Shikanoko series mixes court intrigue with mysticism and magic in an epic showdown for power between two warring clans.

FSG Originals, $14, paperback, 9780374536329

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


Science Fiction & Fantasy

Spear of Light

by Brenda Cooper


Charlie Windar and Nona Hall are back in Brenda Cooper's Spear of Light, the sequel to last year's Edge of Dark. Charlie, a conservationist ranger, and Nona, who hails from space station Diamond Deep, must protect the last human-owned "wild" planet, Lym, from the brewing battle between humans and the menacing machine-based life forms known as the Next.

The anti-Next terrorists, the Shining Revolution, are recklessly committed to destroying the Next wherever they are. Nayli and Vadim, lovers and co-leaders of the violent group, plan to attack the Next presence on Lym with a group of planet-based co-conspirators.

Nona returns to Lym as an ambassador from the space-faring humans of her station, while Charlie must negotiate the distrust of the people on Lym, who blame him for the Next taking up residence on their planet, rather than the machines' superior technology and utter focus on their mysterious goals.

Meanwhile, Yi, one of the Next created from a human being (called a soulbot), feels an allegiance to his former species. In search of the Next's origins, he leads a team of both machines and humans into long-forgotten caves and facilities far beneath the surface of Lym. There they find some answers, but mostly more questions.

Spear of Light continues the story of Lym and the Next, revealing (and teasing) just enough to keep readers engaged in plot, characters and larger themes of what it means to be a person, regardless of the path of creation. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A worthy addition to the speculative Glittering Edge series that explores humanity's response to the continued incursion of machines upon the natural world.

Pyr, $18, paperback, 9781633881341

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


Biography & Memoir

Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises

by Lesley M.M. Blume


Many books have been written about Hemingway, but it seems there is still more to be learned. Lesley M.M. Blume's Everybody Behaves Badly zooms in on the creation of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway's first novel and the one that firmly established his reputations, literary and otherwise. As her subtitle promises, Blume seeks the true story: in this case, the real men and women whose lives inspired Hemingway's fiction, which some claimed was not really fiction at all.

Everybody Behaves Badly is not a biography of Hemingway; it skips his childhood to open with his marriage to Hadley Richardson, and the couple's move to Paris in pursuit of cheap living and a storied expat community. Blume portrays a devilishly charismatic young writer, ambitious and confident, who easily collected mentors and admirers. She follows that young writer to Pamplona with a group of friends in 1925, and through the weeks after in which he wrote feverishly. Unflatteringly immortalized, one of the people Hemingway transformed into a character spoke of lives divided into B.S. and A.S.: before Sun, and after. Blume's study concludes as Hemingway's career expands, his first marriage ends and his second begins.

A biography of a novel, then, Everybody Behaves Badly is itself an engrossing and varied tale: raucous and dissipated, pitiable and serious. Blume's research offers new detail to a well-studied story, and her narrative style is as entertaining as the original. Obviously required for Hemingway fans, this engaging work of nonfiction will also please a broad audience. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This study of the creation of The Sun Also Rises illuminates both the compelling story and Hemingway's complex and not entirely likable personality and behavior.

Eamon Dolan/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 9780544276000

Social Science

Magic & Loss: The Internet as Art

by Virginia Heffernan


Few amenities have shifted the landscape of modern living to the degree that the Internet has. And though the web boasts manifold interests, generating numerous books about its technological development, user experience, business purposes, potential health hazards and the like, Virginia Heffernan, digital culture writer for the New York Times Magazine, is much more concerned with the Internet's dynamic as a collective work of art.

With her keen focus set in turn on the web's design, text, images, video and music, Heffernan sketches a compelling narrative for that fickle network so many people have grown to depend on, from its creaky days of dial-up and command lines to the sleek information superhighway and app suburbs of Web 2.0. But what most fascinates her is what users have done with it. YouTube, once feared to be the harbinger of Hollywood's doom, serves as an ideal platform for professional music videos and amateur "fail" memes alike. The quality of iPhone photos has spawned monumentally popular apps like Instagram and Snapchat, making image-based networking the prominent paradigm and the text-centric Blackberry a relic of a recent past.

With magical advancements, there come unavoidable losses: the digitization of music cannot capture the full nuance of all sounds; rapid-fire instant messaging diminishes our need for phone calls. "Magic and loss, however, have always coexisted in aesthetic experience," Heffernan concludes. "Maybe they are aesthetic experience." Rather than pit "highbrow" analog against "lowbrow" digital, Magic & Loss suggests that art in the digital era is contiguous to artistic developments of the past. After all, a work of art has always needed its negative space. --Dave Wheeler, associate editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The author illustrates that the Internet is more than just a technological leap forward; it's an artistic marvel!

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781439191705

Essays & Criticism

The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks

by Terry Tempest Williams


Celebrated conservationist Terry Tempest Williams (RefugeWhen Women Were Birds) commemorates the centennial of the U.S. National Park Service with The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America's National Parks. In 12 chapters, she explores 12 parks, their histories and futures. Ecology forms a natural overarching theme, but Williams's topics are variously personal, global and political. The places she visits range from Alaska to Maine to south Texas, while her subjects span broadly, including biodiversity and water shortages; suicide and hopelessness; continuing unrest in U.S. relations with Native Americans; climate change; political prisoners from around the globe; and the legacy of the Civil War. Her writing is poetic, passionate and unexpected.

In each chapter, Williams describes a visit to a specific national park, and then investigates the place and her experience there, sometimes directly through narrative storytelling and sometimes metaphorically. She begins with Grand Teton National Park, where her family has often returned over the decades and generations. The history of that park's founding and the establishment of the Parks System melds with her family story: "Our national parks are memory palaces where our personal histories reside." In her journeys, Williams finds beauty and distress over the future, and opines, "We continue to evolve and transform who we are in relationship to where we are."

By turns sad, despairing and hopeful, even thrilled in the presence of natural beauty, The Hour of Land is emotive, intelligent and well traveled. Williams celebrates the Park Service's centennial with a remarkable collection of wisdom and scintillating lines. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Terry Tempest Williams turns her smart, poetic eye to the U.S. National Park System.

Sarah Crichton/FSG, $27, hardcover, 9780374280093

Nature & Environment

What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins

by Jonathan Balcombe


Jonathan Balcombe (The Exultant Ark) is an animal behavior scientist and an animal rights advocate. In his fifth book, What a Fish Knows, he proposes that "fishes are individual beings whose lives have... value to themselves quite apart from any utilitarian value they might have to us.... The profound implication is that this would qualify them for inclusion in our circle for moral concern." To persuade the reader of this, he offers an enjoyable, surprising and sometimes gruesome exploration of the world of fish, written with clarity and humor and grounded in many scientific studies. He presents a spectacular variety of fish physiology, biology and behavior, and challenges myths about their level of awareness, their memories and their sensitivity to pain. Their documented curiosity, playfulness, learning ability and emotional responsiveness are likely to surprise many readers. Wrasse use rocks to smash shellfish, archerfish learn from each other how to hunt insects by shooting water at them, tigerfish chase low-flying swallows and snatch them out of the air.

Humans kill billions and possibly trillions of fish every year, mostly through our fishing industries, more than enough to make an end-to-end line reaching to the sun and back. Balcombe ends with an appeal to include the fishes in our "moral community." Readers may not share all of his interpretations and conclusions, but the breadth and depth of his research and his enthusiastic storytelling may permanently alter how they look at a pet goldfish or a can of sardines. --Sara Catterall

Discover: An entertaining and enlightening study of fish behavior and sensibilities by a biologist and animal welfare advocate.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 9780374288211

Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History

by Dan Flores


Dan Flores (The Natural West) examines an iconic North American original in Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History. This small, clever, charismatic predator originally roamed the interior West, enjoying a mutual tolerance with the people who lived there. Some Native American tribes built creation myths around the coyote, "America's universal deity." After European colonization, coyotes became the enemy of ranchers and herders--undeservedly, as scientists would eventually show, as their prey is more bite-sized. Decades of extermination efforts only encouraged the diminutive canine, however, whose range now extends from Alaska and Canada into Central America, from coast to coast. Coyotes now live in every major city in the United States, which surprises many but, Flores argues, shouldn't: they were there first.

Styled as a biography, Coyote America follows its protagonist through history, geography, human perceptions and millions of years of American canid evolution, with detailed accounts of governmental policies regarding predators. Flores sees the coyote as an avatar for humankind. Like us, the coyote is highly flexible, can be social or solitary, and adapts well to changing environments. Coyote mythology, well documented in other books, plays a minor role here, although Wile E. makes an appearance.

Flores has a tendency to use nine words where two would do, but his slight long-windedness is well offset by the endless fascinations of his subject. Nature lovers, students of U.S. natural resource policy and those charmed by the native American "song-dog" will be engrossed. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: This biography of the coyote in biological, political and historical terms illuminates a much-maligned North American original.

Basic Books, $27.50, hardcover, 9780465052998

Children's & Young Adult

Julia Vanishes

by Catherine Egan


In the suspenseful, action-packed debut of the Witch's Child trilogy, Canadian author Catherine Egan (the Last Days of Tian Di series) spins out a dark and deep, pseudo-Dickensian world of magic and crime.

Sixteen-year-old Julia and her younger brother, Benedek, a brilliant, disabled inventor, make their way in the employ of Esme, an organized crime leader with a soft spot for talented, downtrodden youths. Most recently, Esme has embedded Julia as a maid in a well-to-do household to ferret out the secrets of its inhabitants, including a heretical professor and an aristocrat from whose room unearthly howls occasionally issue. Julia's gift of invisibility--inherited from her mother who was drowned as a witch--makes her the perfect spy, but the secrets she finds have shocking implications. Caught in a whirlwind of old world legends and politics as shadowy forces in the country of Frayne vie for a weapon of limitless power, Julia must make a terrible choice that will leave her wondering if the belief that all witches are evil applies to her as well.

Julia's complexities fascinate: she's a prickly, evasive liar who places her own interests first, but she's also a loyal sister, a teenager whose heart falters when she sees her lover with his arm around a prettier girl, and a personality in flux who's still fleshing out her own moral code. Teens will appreciate this fantasy/heist drama hybrid for its suspense, but Julia's personality and her world teetering on the brink of uprising may prove the biggest draws for the trilogy. --Jaclyn Fulwood, lead librarian at Del City Public Library, Okla.

Discover: In this dark, well-spun teen trilogy debut, Julia is a 16-year-old spy with the gift of invisibility, navigating a Dickensian-style fantasy world where witchcraft is punishable by death.

Knopf, $17.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 14-up, 9780553524840

Animals Are Delicious: 3 Foldout Food Chain Books

by Sarah Hutt, Michael Corridore, photographer, illus. by Dave Ladd, Stephanie Anderson


No worries, vegetarians. Animals Are Delicious is not a pro-carnivore manifesto. It is, however, a reflection of who's eating who, the food chain in action, in three alluring board books--Sky, Forest and Ocean. Each book identifies hungry animals that (mostly) eat other animals, stretches out accordion-style into a reversible six-foot-long book, and fits snugly into a colorful case.

The first volume, Sky, begins: "High in the sky, everyone is hungry." The woolly apple aphid eats the elm's green leaves, "but someone else is hungry...." Turn the page: "A ladybug! The spotted ladybug eats the woolly apple aphid, but someone else is hungry...." "A swallow! The barn swallow eats the spotted ladybug, but someone else is hungry...." This fun, repetitive, interactive format makes these books excellent read-aloud prospects, and, lest the squeamish are fearful, actual animal-gobbling is never shown. Cleverly, each book ends with a jaunty cumulative sentence, such as in Forest: "CHOMP! The bobcat eats the fox, who ate the skunk, who ate the shrew," etc.

The animals, all handmade figurines, float, fly or creep in crisp, colorful photographs of three-dimensional scenes mostly made of paper. The figurines are sometimes suspended with visible white strings for the flight or swimming scenes (in Ocean). The artwork is bright, cheerful, and somehow intrinsically comical... just as pointing out that these animals are just plain hungry softens the brutality of crunching on a creature that was alive just minutes ago.

Each book's flip side lists additional delicacies each animal likes to eat. (The great horned owl's "menu," for instance, features rabbits, geese and raccoons.) Is it time for a snack? --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Three colorful, accordion-folded board books introduce preschoolers to the food chain, revealing who is eating who in the sky, forest and ocean. Gulp.

Phaidon, $17.95, three foldout board books, 30p., ages 2-5, 9780714871448

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