Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 6, 2012


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

From My Shelf

Tarcherperigee: Holiday Must-Haves!

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

Dollars and Change: Decrease Your Financial Stress in 2012

As global economies continue to sputter, your own finances need more protection than ever. Here are three simple strategies for safeguarding your money in the new year:

1) Have your bank turn off overdrafting.
This is to keep you from accidentally racking up massive penalties while shopping. (You buy a latte for $5; your account has insufficient funds; your bank is happy to cover the difference... for a $35 fee, which means your $5 latte just cost you $40.) Tell your bank to disallow overdrafting altogether--to block any purchase for which there isn't enough money in the account. Make sure they confirm this change in writing/e-mail.

2) Keep a running tally as you shop.
When purchases are made via credit card, it's easy to lose sight of how much debt you're accruing. Keep track of what you're spending, and do it on paper. (No need for hyper-specifics--round the figures and add them as you go.) If you're actually aware of your total spending--if you see the figures climbing ever upward--it's a lot easier to step back and make your decisions with a more discerning eye. This will also help you avoid the painted-into-a-corner moment when the cashier announces a shockingly large total... and you feel obligated to pay it, rather than returning any items.

3) Make it harder to use your credit cards.
If you're grappling with excessive credit-card spending, don't make it any easier to use them. Don't auto-fill or "remember" your credit card information with any online retailer; adjust your settings so that you must manually enter the number, expiration date, etc. every single time. Then--freeze your credit cards in a bowl of water. It may seem silly, but trust us: if you find yourself chipping ice just so you can buy a bamboo steamer on eBay, you may very well have the all-important "moment of clarity." Have enough of those moments, and you'll find yourself on firmer financial ground than when the year began. --Rick Emerson, co-author (with Lisa Desjardins) of Zombie Economics: A Guide to Personal Finance (Avery/Penguin).


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


Book Candy

To Be Read Shelf; Carved Book Landscapes; Puppy Bookmark

Bookshelf Porn featured a delightful "Has Been Read/Will Be Read" bookshelf that it called "perfect for New Year Resolutions these could be that extra push you need to get through those books you've been meaning to read."

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Guy Laramee's beautiful Carved Book Landscapes were showcased by Colossal. "So I carve landscapes out of books and I paint Romantic landscapes," the artist observed. "Mountains of disused knowledge return to what they really are: mountains. They erode a bit more and they become hills. Then they flatten and become fields where apparently nothing is happening. Piles of obsolete encyclopedias return to that which does not need to say anything, that which simply IS. Fogs and clouds erase everything we know, everything we think we are."

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Bookmark of the day: In highlighting this Puppy Bookmark, Buzzfeed noted: "I'd read a lot more if a puppy would always hold my place like this."


Bonhomie Press: The Murderer's Maid: A Lizzie Borden Novel by Erika Mallman


The Writer's Life

Elliot Perlman Puts a Human Face on History

Elliot Perlman is a barrister in Melbourne, Australia, who has published two novels, Three Dollars and Seven Types of Ambiguity, and a story collection, The Reasons I Won't Be Coming. In his sprawling new novel, The Street Sweeper (Riverhead, January 5, 2012), Perlman puts a deeply personal spin on two of the 20th century's most fraught topics: the Holocaust and the American civil rights movement.

You're Australian, though you spent several years in New York City. What inspired you to tackle the civil rights movement?

I grew up thinking of the movement as a very recent chapter in the history of the enlightenment, that being an attempt by our species to rid ourselves of irrational ideas and act in the service of rationality and justice. I was always fascinated by that. And it's one of those rare examples, like the Holocaust, where it's fairly unequivocal which side the good guys were on.

Did your years in New York change how you thought about this?

It was never put to me quite this way, but I was taught that what might be called the golden age of black-Jewish relations in the U.S. never faded. When I moved to New York, I learned there are all sorts of schisms, not just between the black community and the Jewish community, but you almost can't talk about the "community" because each group is so riven with schisms. And this might sound incredibly naive, but I just didn't know about black anti-Semitism, and I didn't know that there was ongoing racism against blacks in New York, which I held to be the bastion of liberalism.

One of your characters is the first man to interview death camp survivors. Did you imagine yourself writing for people who didn't know as much about these events?

I have some enormously loyal readers in the U.S. Many of them will know much of what I was writing about. But some of them don't know quite as much as I put in there, even about U.S. history, let alone about European or Jewish history. Then there might be readers who know almost nothing about these. Growing up, it was often novels that alerted me to things which I would then learn about other ways. Novels are a form of entertainment, but they can also be a source of education and enlightenment. I've tried to tread a fine line.

How well-known are these events in your native Australia?

It's definitely less well known. And I'm writing for British, French, German, Danish audiences as well. You never know what part of the story they don't know.

I've had older Australians tell me that they lived through the civil rights movement from a distance, and they remember the turmoil and the turbulence, but not the detail. This reminded them. And I'm sure a similar thing could be said about the Holocaust.

Could you give us a bit of insight into your thinking about the relationship between history and memory?

It's often largely by chance that certain things become the received view of an event.

When finally survivors were being interviewed, if you'd interviewed the person next to the person you spoke to, you'd've gotten a different story. People think that they know about the Holocaust, but what they really know are certain images. People think, 'That's awful, and I've seen it, so I've "done" the Holocaust.' Most of that footage was taken by Western soldiers, and they didn't get to a single death camp, which were liberated by the Soviet Union. That footage actually isn't from the very worst places. What most people think of the Holocaust is frequently not quite right.

It's just a quirk of geopolitics, if you like, that one group of camps is better known. On a more personal scale, as the late Primo Levi said, not only can words not adequately put the reader in the position of a victim, even the survivors give a minority version of the events. Most victims died within 48 hours of arriving in Auschwitz. You can't hear that story because there's no one around to tell it.

In that way, it's quite random which memories become history. You get survivors who don't really want to talk about what happened to them. so their stories don't become history. Even in your own life, maybe something tragic occurred when you were nine and you remember that as characterizing the year or even your childhood. You become typecast in your mind as the person that experiences a tragic event. But the day before, a million kids were playing with you at your birthday party. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer


Lion Forge: Generations by Flavia Biondi


Literary Lists

Epigraphs in Literature; Fictional Lawyers; 'Kick-Ass Females'

"Behind every great fortune there is a crime." Mario Puzo used that line from Balzac as an epigraph for The Godfather. That's just one of the "25 Greatest Epigraphs in Literature."

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Simon Lelic, author most recently of The Child Who, chose his "top 10 lawyers in fiction" for the Guardian, noting that lawyers "work right at the heart of things. They bring an objectivity to events that was precisely the perspective I was looking for. And yet, contrary to rumor, lawyers are people too. They see, hear and cannot help but feel. They are, in many ways, the perfect protagonists, challenged daily by rights and wrongs. No wonder, I suppose, that lawyers appear in fiction as frequently, and as memorably, as they do."

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Word & Film showcased "Stephanie Plum and 5 other tales of kick-ass females" in book-to-film adaptations that "we truly found extraordinary."


Storey Publishing: Baking Class: 50 Fun Recipes Kids Will Love to Bake! by Deanna F. Cook


Book Review

Fiction

The Translation of the Bones

by Francesca Kay


Francesca Kay's second novel lives up to the promise of her debut, An Equal Stillness, winner of the 2009 Orange New Writers Award.

Mary-Margaret O'Reilly is a slow-witted young woman who cleans the Church of the Sacred Heart in Battersea, London. One day during Lent, she decides to wash the corpus on the crucifix in the chapel. While doing so, she falls, sustains a bloody head wound and is discovered unconscious on the floor by Stella Morrison, another parishioner. Stella is married to a member of Parliament and has two older children out in the world, but it is the youngest, Felix, away at boarding school, for whom she pines.

While in hospital, Mary-Margaret talks with Kiti Mendoza, an attendant on the evening shift, about how the Lord saved her from any real harm, how He opened his eyes to look at her, and she could see "how badly He was hurting." Kiti takes this news to her friends and a religious mania descends upon the quiet church. Father Diamond does not believe that a miracle has happened; he has always prided himself on keeping the church open and welcoming to anyone at any hour, but now he has to lock it to keep out the fanatics.

Mary-Margaret's mother, Fidelma, is an obese invalid, trapped on the 19th floor of a tower block. She is irreligious, dreaming of past glories as a femme fatale who could use her charms to get what she wanted.

Motherhood is very important in this sad story: Mary-Margaret will never have any children, so she baby-sits the child of immigrant neighbors; Fidelma knows that she was a bad mother to Mary-Margaret; Stella berates herself for allowing her son to be sent off to school.

The lives of these women and children intersect in one horrific incident that will forever change all of them. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Religious mania, motherhood and tragedy combine in this well-told tale, at times lyrical and always poignant.

Scribner, $24, hardcover, 9781451636819

The Last Nude

by Ellis Avery


Ellis Avery's  (The Teahouse Fire) The Last Nude tells the story of the love between art deco painter Tamara de Lempicka and her model Rafaela Fano. Although based on their real-life affair, which began in the late 1920s, the novel takes fictional leaps in its portrayal of a romance destined to fail and a country where, even with the First World War still fresh in people's memories, they could not foresee another war coming.

Readers meet Tamara when she picks up the beautiful, half-Jewish Rafaela in a park in Paris. The painter becomes fixated on painting the young woman, while Rafaela is just as obsessed with her feelings for Tamara. But The Last Nude is not just a love story. It is also Rafaela's memoir of regret, told predominantly from her perspective--until Avery gives voice to Tamara in the novel's final chapters. There are happy moments, but a discerning reader will know better. As peace so shortly lasts between wars, brightly burning love is eventually crushed by greed, envy and betrayal. --Sara Dobie Bauer, blogger at Wordpress

Discover: Heartbreak transcends the page in a beautiful novel of love and regret between painter and muse.

Riverhead, $25.95, hardcover, 9781594488139

Mystery & Thriller

The Darkening Field

by William Ryan


It's 1937, and Captain Alexei Korolev of Moscow's Criminal Investigation Division is involved in a complicated case. Korolev (whom William Ryan introduced to readers in 2010's The Holy Thief)  is sent by Communist bigwigs to the Ukraine to investigate the murder of Maria Lenskaya, a young production assistant on the set of the film The Darkening Field, who was found hanging from a sconce. Her death is worrisome for the Party because she was romantically involved with Ezhov, the Commissar of State Security.

Forensics quickly prove it was murder, not suicide, and Korolev, with the help of Slivka, a tough female sergeant, must figure out why Lenskaya was killed. Was it because of her ties to Ezhov? Her mysterious past? Or her rumored connections to German spies? All the characters are scared: not of a murderer, but of the unlimited power of the State in Soviet Russia. Korolev and Slivka are under pressure to solve the case or risk being sent to a gulag; their suspects are under pressure to tell the truth or be declared enemies of the people. Korolev must tread carefully in order to catch the killer and save his own neck.

Ryan's vast array of suspects, soldiers and police officers can be confusing at first, especially given the similarities of many Russian names, but it's worth persevering. The Darkening Field is an excellent mystery with unforgettable characters, and it brings to life the tension of a dark era in Russian history. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: An atmospheric murder mystery set in the bleak world of Stalinist Russia.

Minotaur, $24.99, hardcover, 9780312586515

The Invisible Ones

by Stef Penney


Ray Lovell is a fairly average private investigator; though he did have one prominent success early in his career, he's so haunted by its consequences that he's vowed to never take on another missing persons case again. Nevertheless, when a desperate father asks Ray to find his daughter, Rose, who disappeared seven years ago shortly after her marriage, he agrees--the missing woman is a Gypsy, and while most detectives might not be able to get any answers from the close-knit community, Ray has Gypsy heritage on his father's side.

Something, however, went wrong: as The Invisible Ones opens, Ray has woken up in a hospital, paralyzed after an apparent car accident. At first, the police think that he's overdosed on drugs, but eventually it turns out that he's ingested two powerful herbal poisons. While he recovers, he recounts the events that lead up to his accident--and introduces a second perspective to the story, that of JJ, Rose's teenage nephew, who lives with his extended family in trailers parked on a farmer's land.

Stef Penney's first literary thriller, The Tenderness of Wolves, won the Costa Book Award for debut novel in 2006. The Invisible Ones lives up to that pedigree, with a genuinely baffling mystery that takes Ray well along one path before veering into a direction that will catch most readers off guard.

By setting the novel in the 1980s, Penney takes away convenient technologies like cell phones and the Internet, forcing Ray to conduct his investigation with nothing but old-fashioned legwork. Meanwhile, JJ could easily be the protagonist of a sophisticated YA novel (think Robert Cormier) about a Gypsy family with a tragic past and a looming secret. Fused together, Penney's character studies make The Invisible Ones a truly distinctive suspense novel. --Ron Hogan, founder of Beatrice.com

Discover: Stef Penney's debut novel has many fans, and they won't be disappointed by her second--nor will anyone who likes their thrillers with a literary flair.

Putnam, $25.95, hardcover, 9780399157714

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Blueprints of the Afterlife

by Ryan Boudinot


Set in the years after the "Age of F****d-Up Sh*t," Blueprints of the Afterlife gives us a dystopic near-future of unchecked consumption and technological innovation. Designated "pharmers" are paid to grow foreign tissues on their bodies. Human nervous systems can be healed, stimulated and remotely controlled through an easily abused technology called the "Bionet." And New York City, long since destroyed, is being re-created on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle.

This sounds sinister, but Ryan Boudinot's (author of the novel Misconception and the story collection The Littlest Hitler) delightfully weird characters and wacky scenarios prove Blueprints aims more to entertain than disturb. The plot, a bit overburdened by Boudinot's inexhaustible imagination, revolves around Abby Fogg, who is having what can be delicately described as an identity crisis. Meanwhile, champion dishwasher Woo-jin Kan, dim but sincere, is writing a book called "How to Love People," while genetically engineered superstar Neethan Jordan walks a red carpet from Los Angeles to the Oregon Coast, and Al Skinner, an aging veteran, has erased the worst of his memories--but still has a mean case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

A mysterious interview with the man who innocently brought on the Age of F****d-Up Sh*t, transcribed in pieces, helps illuminate the connection between the characters, though the reader can relate to Abby, who "yearned for a plot, but instead absurdity after absurdity had been thrown at her, absurdities that alluded to obscure purposes." Boudinot's "purposes" may be murky, but the absurdities are cleverly crafted and highly entertaining. --Hannah Calkins, Unpunished Vice

Discover: An imaginative, heartfelt future where unchecked consumption and technological innovation survive the end of the world.

Grove Press, $14, paperback, 9780802170910

Biography & Memoir

MWF Seeking BFF: My Yearlong Search for a New Best Friend

by Rachel Bertsche


When Rachel Bertsche moves to Chicago, she's thrilled finally to live in the same city as her boyfriend. But since she left most of her friends behind in New York, she needs to find some local pals, stat.

Longing for a BFF to call for brunch or a pedicure or a gossip partner to dissect the latest pop-culture news, Bertsche goes on 52 friend-dates--one per week for a year. She scours her existing network for potential friends-of-friends, then branches out to joining an improv class, forming a cooking club, even going on a mortifying "date" with a "Rent-a-Friend." As she sizes up potential BFFs, Bertsche also delves into research on friendship--from how a person's number of friends affects her health to how our ultra-connected culture can propagate loneliness and isolation.

Throughout her quest, Bertsche's self-deprecating humor shines through as she recounts her adventures and admits that meeting girls, juggling schedules and maintaining new relationships can be exhausting. (Comparisons with dating memoirs are inevitable here, and Bertsche wonders: Why isn't there a better vocabulary for making friends?)

By the end of her Year of Friending, Bertsche has a slew of new phone numbers, several promising relationships and a renewed sense of confidence and warmth--because acting friendlier has made her a better friend. As they cheer Bertsche on in her quest, readers will appreciate the friends they have and even pick up useful--and entertaining--tips for finding new friends of their own. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A hilarious, thoughtful memoir of one woman's search for a new best friend.

Ballantine, $15, paperback, 9780345524942

The Real Elizabeth: An Intimate Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II

by Andrew Marr


Queen Elizabeth II is an enigma, despite spending six decades in the public eye--she is universally recognized, but remains little known to most people outside her inner circle. in The Real Elizabeth, BBC journalist Andrew Marr draws on his knowledge of British history, as well as many Buckingham Palace sources, to paint an intimately detailed and sometimes surprising portrait of the queen and her complex role in British politics.

Only 25 at her coronation, the queen has led the British state through the protests of the 1960s and '70s, the decline of the Empire, the formation of the Commonwealth and her own children’s indiscretions and tragedies. Through it all, she has maintained a stately, smiling public image, balancing her roles as head of state and ambassador of Britain around the world with those of wife, mother and grandmother.

Marr carefully explains the tricky balance of power between the British monarchy and Parliament, focusing on the queen's relationship and weekly audiences with the prime minister. While the Crown is not the government, it must work with the government, and Marr mixes history, politics and anecdotes to show the evolution of that relationship during Elizabeth's long reign. He also explores the shifting attitudes of the British public toward the monarchy and speculates about the future of the Windsor dynasty. His biography will give readers a deeper understanding of the British monarchy--and heightened respect for the monarch who keeps calm, carries on and does her job well. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: The woman behind the smiling public face and stately mien of Queen Elizabeth II.

Holt, $32, hardcover, 9780805094169

History

The Castrato and His Wife

by Helen Berry


Giusto Ferdinando Tenducci was an 18th-century Italian opera singer and a celebrity in England. Part of his mystique and mystery, and the reason both for his reportedly divine voice and his unusual social standing, was his status as a castrato. Tenducci had been castrated as a young boy in the hopes that he would make his fortune out of his singing. As historian Helen Berry explains, a surprising number of Italian youths underwent this dangerous operation in Tenducci's day, although (like today's hopeful rock stars) few actually succeeded. Tenducci not only beat the odds by making a (sometimes tenuous) fortune in opera, but also accomplished a surprising feat: he married a young English girl of good family.

The Castrato and His Wife is the story of that brief marriage and its annulment in an extremely curious extended legal case. It is also the story of Italian opera in the 1700s, both as an institution and as a business; of castration and its relationship with the Catholic Church; and of the institution of marriage and society's changing concepts thereof. Berry's prose can be a touch long-winded and academic at times, but Tenducci's heart-wrenching story is unusual and evocative. Berry addresses a topic we still find mysterious, and Tenducci's distinctive situation is surprisingly relevant to the ongoing question of what constitutes legal marriage. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: An intriguing story of a castrato's unprecedented marriage and its implications for society at large.

Oxford University Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9780199569816

Essays & Criticism

No Enemies, No Hatred: Selected Essays & Poems

by Xiaobo Liu


For years, visitors to China returned with stories of forests of construction cranes erecting skyscrapers as fast as the old hutongs could be emptied, and cars replacing rivers of bicycles and donkeys. China was the economic juggernaut driving the world economy into the 21st century, and the 2008 Olympics were the pinnacle of Chinese grandeur--including a record 51 gold medals.Yet behind this "miracle," a growing network of Chinese dissidents protested the throttling of free speech, the displacement of the poor and the channeling of riches to the Communist Party elite. Among these contrarian voices, the loudest belonged to Liu Xiaobo--poet, scholar, professor and informal leader of the Tiananmen Square protests. No Enemies, No Hatred is a selection of his essays and poems that bravely challenge his country's roughshod indifference to its people's freedom.

In 2009, Liu was sentenced to 11 years in a Chinese prison; the following year, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. His broad interests touch on everything from the sayings of Confucius ("clever... practical, even slick, but show no aesthetic inspiration or real profundity") to the Internet ("[its] contributions to freedom of expression in China have been... hard to overstate") to the Olympics ("a super-politicized, super-extravagant elite gold-medalism. A nation obsessed with gold medals will never turn into a great civilized nation").

There is no better way to temper our enthusiasm for everything China than to read these words of one Chinese man willing to speak his mind about what goes on behind the public relations wall of countless red and yellow banners. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: The brave contrarian voice of a Chinese dissident and Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Belknap Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9780674061477

Children's & Young Adult

Irises

by Francisco X. Stork


Mexican-American author Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo in the Real World) delivers another young adult novel steeped in the culture of the Southwest that explores the intertwined roles of familial love, duty and faith.

Sisters Kate and Mary have led studious and sheltered lives with their pastor father since their mother suffered a brain injury in a car accident, which left her in a permanent vegetative state. Although both struggle to pursue their passions, their world is constrained by their father. Then he suffers a heart attack and dies, leaving them to fend for themselves while continuing to care for their mother. The decisions that must be made to forge a life for themselves challenge their faith, their upbringing and their commitment to each other. Each sibling has a distinct personality and a passion that makes her question how correctly to fulfill their mother's belief: "No one can keep you from your dream unless you let them…. because you love them."

Stork excels at positing difficult questions without leading readers into a definitive answer. Irises intertwines issues of faith and love into a plot line that straddles the genres between mainstream young adult and Christian fiction. Could you make the difficult decisions at the heart of the novel, "For the truth of love may at times even require us to hurt the people we love"? Readers will find Kate and Mary's struggle for closure on their old life and the realization of a new one inspiring. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian

Discover: Two sisters struggle with issues of faith and love after their father dies.

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780545151351

Unraveling Isobel

by Eileen Cook


Eileen Cook (The Education of Hailey Kendrick) here creates a wonderfully creepy mystery.

With a family history of mental illness, Isobel constantly evaluates her feelings and actions for any sign of something being off. Then her mother marries a man she's known only a few months, and they move into his estate on "an island where there are more endangered birds than there are people," and emotions run high. Not only do Isobel and her stepdad not get along, but he also seems intent on convincing Isobel's mother that her daughter is crazy.

As Isobel tries to adapt to the huge change, she starts having weird dreams and possible visions. She decides to investigate further and discovers that her stepfather's former wife and daughter died in a boating accident not far from the house--and the vision could very well be his daughter. Unsure if it's mental illness or a connection to the world beyond, Isobel starts to unravel a mystery that could reveal truths never meant to be uncovered.

Snarky, funny Isobel's narration provides a perfect balance to the creepier side of events happening to and around her. Cook's combination of humorous protagonist, unusual mystery solving and utterly terrifying setting will keep readers up late into the night (at which point they will leave a light on, just in case). As the pieces begin to fall together, the distinct relationships between the characters come into play and display the exceptional story Cook has created. --Shanyn Day, Blogger at Chick Loves Lit

Discover: A thrilling, creepy puzzle with top-notch relationships and a haunting setting.

Simon Pulse, $16.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9781442413276

Why We Broke Up

by Daniel Handler, illus. by Maira Kalman


What makes Why We Broke Up so brilliant is that we know from page one that Minerva Green's relationship with Ed Slaterton is over, and yet we read on. We can't read Min's funny, insightful "Dear John" letter fast enough.

As Min recounts her relationship with Ed Slaterton, co-captain of the basketball team, we can see its end coming like a train wreck. Daniel Handler not only keeps readers riveted, we also start to see in Ed what Min saw in him--she brought out his best self. Min meets Ed when he crashes her best friend Al's Bitter Sixteen party, where Ed hides out after his team loses. "You didn't even say 'bitter birthday' to your host and give a present, and that is why we broke up," she writes. (By our count, that's reason #2 of 12 total.) Min's letter, which provides the entire text of the book, explains the contents of the box she is about to leave at Ed's front door. Maira Kalman's full-color illustrations endow these mementos with all of Min's emotion. The male and female bottle caps of Scarpia's Bitter Black Ale from the night they met pulse with tension; pages of rose petals nearly fall from the book.

Min brought out the best in Ed, and his best is what she fell in love with. His compromise is the real betrayal, and this book will resonate with teens--and even adults--because so many of us have stood in Min's shoes. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The voyeuristic pleasure of reading a "Dear John" letter that will make you laugh and cry, and marvel at the illustrations.

Little, Brown, $19.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 14-up, 9780316127257

Audio

Life Itself: A Memoir

by Roger Ebert, read by Edward Hermann


Life Itself is the opposite of the revenge-memoir, it's a cherish-memoir in which movie critic Roger Ebert revisits the people, places and events of his first six decades with great tenderness. He seems to cherish his voiceless present as much as his pre-cancer past. Detailed memories of his Urbana childhood and precocious journalism career segue into shenanigans among Chicago newsfolk, a serendipitous anointing as the Chicago Sun-Times's film critic, myriad celebrity encounters and a hijinks-filled collaboration with softcore auteur Russ Meyer. He sets the record straight on his working relationship with fellow thumb-wielding critic Gene Siskel and includes mini-profiles of Studs Terkel and Mike Royko. Though frank about fraught personal matters--his mother's scourging religiosity and drinking, his own struggle with alcohol, the no-win surgeries engendered by his thyroid cancer--Ebert maintains a steady joie de vivre, concluding with a celebration of his mature spirituality and marital bliss.

The audiobook of Life Itself is read in an upbeat, storytelling tone by actor Edward Hermann. Hermann's vocal resemblance to Ebert's televised voice is so uncanny it's easy to forget that you're not listening to the author himself (Hermann's also a gifted mimicker of foreign accents when required). Because Ebert has written his 55 chapters thematically within a very flexible chronological line, it's best to listen to Life Itself without worrying about the order of events. By writing so comprehensively about his own experiences, Ebert captures his generation and conveys his enthusiasm for the truly good things in life. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: The very full life of movie critic, author and blogger Roger Ebert.

Hachette Audio, $34.98, unabridged, 12 CDs, 14 hours, 9781609410353

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