Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 27, 2012
From My Shelf
Books as Vessels
When I was a little girl and my family would go to the beach, I wanted to somehow take it with me when we left. I'd try, by keeping the shells I'd found or a small glass jar of salt water or a handful of sand (which was extra special if it glittered with fool's gold), but whatever I chose lost its magic once we got home; no ocean, no gold. I learned early on that I couldn't contain the beach or the sea or the experience, but even now, years later and firmly in middle age, I still want to. I stare out at the blue expanse of ocean with longing, wishing I could keep it and knowing I can't. There isn't a vessel that can contain its beauty and mystery and vastness.
Which is where books come in, for they are wonderful and wondrous vessels for life and beauty and love and soulfulness, and they satisfy that childhood longing I still feel. Books let me keep what they portray for my very own: Pip and Magwitch will always be mine, as will Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester, and Scout and Atticus and Boo, and that lovely moment when Scout introduces her father to their neighbor in her brother's bedroom. If I am open to it, reading allows a sort of magical transference to occur: the characters and their story--their joys and sorrows and longings and loves--settle in my heart and become part of me, and I never have to say goodbye to any of it. For someone who hates goodbyes--whether to loved ones or experiences or places I love--this is gold, the real thing. It's like taking home a spice-bottleful of ocean, and still hearing it roar in my ear, miles and miles away. --Bo Caldwell, author of City of Tranquil Light and The Distant Land of My Father
Where the Readers Are: The Most Literate Cities in the U.S.
Washington, D.C. topped the list of the most literate cities in the U.S. for the second consecutive year, while Boston (up from #12 in 2010) and Cincinnati (up from #11) made significant gains in the statistical survey released annually by Central Connecticut State University President Jack Miller, and "based on data that includes number of bookstores, library resources, newspaper circulation and Internet resources," USA Today reported. The top 10 for 2011:
- Washington, D.C.
- St. Louis
- San Francisco
Dragons in Literature; Book Looks; Bookcases and a Bookshelf
Continue your celebration of Chinese New Year and the beginning of the year of the dragon by trying your hand at the Guardian's "dragons in literature quiz."
The Huffington Post offered tips on "style for book nerds: 10 literary-inspired looks for a well-read wardrobe."
If you are in a literary whaling mood, options this week include a bookcase featured by Apartment Therapy that "can store books in the belly of the whale and then swim him around the room on the casters." Or... there's Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick typed on nearly five full rolls of Cottonelle, and offered for sale on eBay.
Bookshelf of the day: Page Views discovered books on a string in this shelf with pins that lets books float.
Bad Girls of Literature; Books of the Night; Most Dangerous Novels
On the theory that female authors "are just as capable of badass behavior as their male counterparts," Flavorwire showcased "10 legendary bad girls of literature."
Ian Marchant, author most recently of Something of the Night, chose his "top 10 books of the night" for the Guardian, noting that it "strikes me as odd that the vast majority of reading gets done in bed, but that so few people have sat down to write about beds, reading in bed, or, indeed, the night itself."
Ranging from The Satanic Verses to A Clockwork Orange, Flavorwire started a certain debate by naming the "most dangerous novels of all time."
Movies: One for the Money; Albert Nobbs; Kevin
One for the Money, based on the Janet Evanovich novel, opens today. Katherine Heigl stars as Stephanie Plum, a freshly unemployed department store worker who gets a job at her cousin's bounty hunting agency. The movie tie-in is available from St. Martin's Griffin ($14.99, 9780312600730).
Albert Nobbs, based on the short story "The Singular Life of Albert Nobbs" by George Moore, also opens today. Glenn Close plays a woman living as a male hotel waiter in 19th-century Ireland. The movie tie-in novella has been delivered by Penguin ($10, 9780143122524).
We Need to Talk About Kevin, based on the novel by Lionel Shriver, opens nationally today. Tilda Swinton stars as the mother of a teenager who goes on a school shooting spree. A movie tie-in edition was published by Harper Perennial ($14.99, 9780062119049).
by Lysley Tenorio
Vibrant, ironic and often heartbreaking, the eight stories in Lysley Tenorio's debut short story collection, Monstress, are awash in the unmistakable blend of absurdity and fatalism that have blessed Filipino-American literature at least since the publication of Jessica Hagedorn's Dogeaters. For all the outrageous situations and ironic tragedy, however, Tenorio's stories are most noteworthy for the gentle care he takes with his doomed and yearning characters.
In the titular opening story, Lorena Valdez, a B-movie queen in the Philippines who has long since tired of donning monster suits for her director boyfriend's ridiculous films, finally gets a part in a Hollywood movie--except it turns out to be a joke, a no-budget mash-up. "Felix Starro" is about a medical charlatan who comes to America to ply his fake organ-extraction routine on Filipino immigrants. But the story that best encapsulates Tenorio's passion for his characters, "Save the I-Hotel," perfectly mixes the singularity of the Filipino-American experience with the universal experiences of longing, regret and heartbreak. In it, two old Filipino men are forced from a San Francisco residential hotel by redevelopment after 43 years. Though Tenorio raises righteous ire describing how emigrating Filipinos in the 1930s were unable to bring wives--and then, upon arrival, de facto banned from dating white women--what lingers from the story is the tender feelings these men have developed after living what amounted to a stunted life together. Like all the characters in Monstress, they suffer because they are Filipinos--but the soulful way Tenorio renders their suffering feels like an indictment of the human condition in general. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic
Discover: Short stories richly infused with the absurdism and fatalism of the Filipino-American experience.
by Penny Vincenzi
Penny Vincenzi's stories offer mystery and intrigue without crimes or violence; romance with a minimum of heaving bosoms; and carefully crafted family drama. A novel like Another Woman, originally released in the U.K. in 1994, is a perfect example for 21st-century American readers.
All is as lovely and serene on the eve of Cressida Forrest's wedding in the Oxfordshire valley. When she bids good night to her American groom, the handsome and successful Dr. Oliver Bergin, and their gathered families, who could predict that by dawn sweet Cressida would disappear without a trace? The celebrants are plunged into two days of anxiety--punctuated by the discovery of long-buried secrets and truths that will change all their lives.
Short, time-stamped chapters narrated by the various players (Harriett 6 a.m.; James 8:30 a.m.) provide suspense, and Vincenzi's subtle cliffhangers foreshadow the plot deliciously: "And it would be such a perfect day to tell him," runs one such passage. "Cressida's wedding day. When everything else was going to be absolutely right."
Old-money privilege, staid English families, a glamorous fashion model, a multimillionaire businessman... all are linked intimately with the bride, some in surprising ways. And Cressida herself? Ultimately, through a clever twist, Vincenzi leaves it to her readers to solve the mystery of the missing bride. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller
Discover: A family drama from Britain's queen of smart women's fiction.
Promise Me This
by Cathy Gohlke
Promise Me This opens as Owen Allen, preparing to travel to America on the maiden voyage of Titanic, meets Michael Dunnagan--an orphan, street thief and eventual stowaway. They spend the long voyage together, and Owen teaches Michael about the seeds he is carrying to contribute to his uncle's garden business in New Jersey. However, Owen is among those lost when the ship sinks, leaving Michael with the seeds and a promise to care for his friend's family and save enough money to bring Owen's sister, Annie, to America.
Though Annie resents Michael for living when Owen died, in time the two become friends and correspondents, and love grows in their letters as the First World War rages. Annie, now serving as a nurse, promises Michael she will come to him when the war ends. But when Annie disappears, Michael must cross the Atlantic again to search for the woman he has never met but come to love.
Two-time Christy Award winner Cathy Gohlke (I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires) does not disappoint with her third novel, a carefully researched story full of likable characters struggling to cope with the difficult realities of grief and wartime. Some characters--kindhearted Aunt Maggie, spunky best friend Constance--fall into predictable types, but the story's strength lies in Michael's transformation from a wary, abused, hot-tempered street lad into a kindhearted, determined man willing to risk everything for love. The seeds Owen gave Michael--of flowers and bushes but also of compassion and character--blossom fragrantly in this sweet, compelling story. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover: How a Titanic stowaway fulfills his promise to protect the sister of the friend who saved his life.
The Legacy of Eden
by Nelle Davy
Manipulation and greed war with love and decorum in The Legacy of Eden, Nelle Davy's debut novel about three generations of an Iowa farm family ruled by a scheming matriarch.
Aurelia: the name conjures images of grandeur for those who knew the Hathaway family estate in its glory days. Now it lies in ruin, its final owner has died destitute, and attempts to contact the surviving family meet with disdain. For 17 years, Meredith Hathaway has lived under her mother's maiden name, trying to hide from her tumultuous family even while hallucinating their ghosts. As she visits Aurelia one last time, Meredith resurrects every skeleton in her family's closet for the reader's examination.
Beginning with her indomitable grandmother Lavinia, who destroyed lives to elevate the family image, and continuing through two generations of Hathaway history, Meredith exposes the betrayal, scandals and heartbreak that built and destroyed her family. (By showing the means women once had to use to attain power, Davy's story is also a subtle indictment of materialism.) It all leads to a final confrontation that might bring reconciliation--or leave Meredith adrift forever. Although the reader will realize the unlikelihood of a happy ending, the Hathaways' morbidly fascinating dysfunction makes the book a fast read. Meredith's narration is gentle enough to evoke lace curtains and garden parties, but Davy creates suspense through the crafty schemes of Lavinia and strong doses of foreshadowing. The subdued yet powerful story of Aurelia will linger with readers long after the final chapter. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries
Discover: The secrets and betrayals that built and destroyed an Iowa family and their 3,000-acre estate.
Mystery & Thriller
A Corpse's Nightmare: A Fever Devilin Novel
by Phillip DePoy
When folklorist and ex-academe Fever Devilin wakes up from a three-month coma in a hospital bed at the start of A Corpse's Nightmare, the immediate mystery is why somebody tried to shoot him in his own home. He'll need to find the answer before the would-be assassin tries again, but the prolonged unconsciousness has called his mental health into question. Fever's uncertainty intensifies when he begins having visions of an African-American jazz musician, T-Bone Morton, and a white club owner, Lisa Simard, in 1920s Paris. What does their love story have to do with him?
This is the sixth book in Philip DePoy's Fever Devilin series, which has created a beautifully detailed world around the small town of Blue Mountain, Ga., and its inhabitants. DePoy is an Edgar-winning playwright (Easy), and it shows in the way the novel's characters are developed through strong dialogue, always tinged by humor and intellect. But he's also a master of tactile descriptions you can practically taste and smell. All these skills are on display in a masterful mystery that's difficult to unravel, hidden among the histories of war, race and jazz. --Sara Dobie, blogger at Wordpress
Discover: An intelligent mystery that invokes race relations and the birth of jazz--but turns on one man and a hidden family secret.
All I Did Was Shoot My Man
by Walter Mosley
Whenever you're hungry for a juicy, well-written mystery, you just can't go wrong with Walter Mosley. Like the chanteuse from the old blues tune, "with a lot a meat on the bone," Mosley's tales never fail to satisfy, and All I Did Was Shoot My Man, the fourth installment in Mosley's Leonid McGill series, upholds this reputation. Long haunted by the dirty deeds of his past, McGill looks to right an old wrong by arranging for the release of Zella Grisham from prison. True, she did kill her man, but what really got her hard time was a multimillion-dollar robbery-homicide frame-up orchestrated by McGill. Unfortunately, proving the old adage true, his good intentions set off a chain reaction of murder and mayhem that leaves few unscathed.
Set in present-day New York, the Leonid McGill stories are several decades and a full continent removed from the post-war Los Angeles of Mosley's acclaimed Easy Rawlins mysteries. In either milieu, Mosley exhibits the same subtle skill with his familiar themes of race and family, and McGill's life and times are every bit as compelling as those of Rawlins. And don't be afraid to start midseries: Mosley's nonlinear narrative structure, combined with McGill's obsession with his past, make it possible to jump in feet first anywhere. Just mind the landing. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher
Discover: A dark tale of a family in turmoil, and the many pitfalls on the path to redemption.
Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War: America's First Couple and the Second War of Independence
by Hugh Howard
As the title suggests, Mr. and Mrs. Madison's War recounts the War of 1812 as President James Madison and his wife experienced it. Hugh Howard (The Painter's Chair) toggles between battles and presidential politics; his depictions of skirmishes are presented as fairly standard military history, but whenever his detailed descriptions of troop movements threaten to devolve into tedium, he switches over to dispatches from the president and first lady.
This approach offers a thorough account of how the British forces managed to advance to Washington, D.C., but it also provides detailed character sketches--and Madison isn't even the most interesting player. Dolley Madison gets plenty of screen time, too, as Howard explains the vital role her Washington soirees played in supporting her husband's political goals. (Completists, take note: he also covers her famous rescue of Gilbert Stuart's portrait of George Washington.) Then there are the feuding personalities in Madison's cabinet, like Secretary of War John Armstrong--covetous of Madison's position, he resisted preparing for the invasion of Washington, D.C., and displayed a generally insubordinate attitude. On the other hand, Secretary of State (and future president) James Monroe comes off very well in Howard's account, riding out to scout British troop movements firsthand. In terms of sheer scene-stealing charm, however, the standout is Joshua Barney, whose ragtag flotilla couldn't fully prevent the British advance, but nevertheless created major headaches for the fearsome Royal Navy. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer
Discover: A thorough account of the War of 1812 that's both action-packed and intimate.
God's Jury: The Inquisition and the Making of the Modern World
by Cullen Murphy
God's Jury is an exploration of the Inquisition's many incarnations--not just the Spanish, but also the medieval and Roman versions, as well as more modern analogues--but it's most fascinating when Cullen Murphy (Are We Rome?) describes how we know what we know about the Inquisition. Murphy has a talent for character sketches, and some of his most intriguing introduce us to archivists and academics who've devoted years of their lives to the Holy Office's considerable stash of papers. We meet scholars like Carlo Ginzburg, an historian whose initial request promoted the opening of the 17th-century Roman Inquisition's archives from the "Archivio Segreto" (which is not so much "secret" as private to the pontiff), and Monsignor Alejandro Cires Gimenez, the friendly theologian who serves as the chief archivist for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. They watch over the priceless manuscripts from Galileo's trial, as well as relatively banal documents like an itemized expense report from a 1323 heretic burning. Murphy also delves into the history of these papers, reporting, for example, on how Napoleon's attempt to build a massive, centralized European archive resulted in the disappearance of everything related to Giordano Bruno.
Murphy covers the better-known chapters of the Inquisition's history, from the attack on the Cathar heretics to the persecution of Jews in Spain, but he also folds in less well-known moments, like the suppression of the benandanti: rural peasants in 16th- and 17th-century northern Italy whose fertility rituals, in which they walked the fields at night battling witches and spirits to ensure a bountiful harvest, led to their prosecution as witches. The sheer variety of prosecutable offenses is striking, and it's the inclusion of rarer instances like these, plus Murphy's eye for an eccentric, that makes God's Jury distinctive. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer
Discover: History and travelogue combine for a lively, informative account of the Inquisition in all its forms.
Glock: The Rise of America's Gun
by Paul M. Barrett
"Glock is the Google of modern civilian handguns; the pioneer brand that defines its product category," declares journalist Paul M. Barrett (American Islam). "Its boxy shape, black finish, and almost defiant lack of grace became the standard." His extensive, 15-year research into his subject has led to a riveting portrait of corporate intrigue and paranoia, political wrangling, Hollywood glam and deadly battle.
Once, Colt or Smith and Wesson revolvers, icons of the American West, were standard issue for law enforcement officers. But these heavy firearms had low load capacities and were difficult to shoot accurately in the best of circumstances. The 1980s cocaine gangs, armed with caches of semiautomatic and automatic weapons, began to "outgun" law enforcement, and a 1986 Miami shootout where armor-heavy men trained in militaristic combat killed two FBI agents and severely wounded two others was a turning point.
Brass fittings manufacturer Gaston Glock developed a large-capacity, molded plastic weapon to replace the Austrian Army's World War II-era Walther P-38. The weapon that made its debut in 1982 fit the army's criteria: large load capacity, maneuverability, durability and fast-shooting action. The Glock 17 initially spawned a maelstrom of negative publicity in the U.S., but its features and firepower earned the loyalty of police departments nationwide, replacing revolvers as the weapon of choice and becoming the symbol of American law and power.
In Glock, Barrett explores the life of the man, the machine he created, the empire it spawned and the inner circle responsible for its successes, scandals and politics. He makes a significant contribution to the ongoing discussion over gun ownership and gun control. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer
Discover: An Austrian icon who came to epitomize the American ideal for law and order.
Current Events & Issues
I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did
by Lori Andrews
Lori Andrews's comprehensively researched I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did uses a slew of eyeball-singeing examples to strip away every assumption you might have about what can be legally gathered and disseminated about your Internet activity. If you're a typical online voyager, all your clicks and searches are automatically commoditized by the most bottom-feeding of consumer data profiteers. Andrews lays bare the impermanency and inaccessibility of so-called privacy settings, explains how tracking sites reinstate cookies and shows how information is collated from multiple sites to create uncomfortably specific individual profiles.
The consequences of inadequate online privacy can be a lot more serious than being followed by a shopping bot, particularly for women. Andrews, a law professor, cites cases in which mothers have lost custody of their children because judges deemed their online behavior too racy. Judges currently have wide latitude in deciding whether social network postings can be used as evidence to discredit rape victims. Conversely, women who've brought legal complaints for cyberstalking have been advised to just look away from the screen.
I Know Who You Are and I Saw What You Did is both a consumer alert and a treatise, and could serve as a cautionary-anecdote resource for parents who need to convince their offspring that colleges and employers may easily see their frolicking photos and puerile pontifications. Andrews balances her argument between privacy rights and freedom of speech, concluding, "We need a Miranda-type privacy warning for social networks." Until her proposed "Social Network Constitution" (or something similar) becomes law, remember that on the web you are overexposed. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts
Discover: Alarming real-world examples of how puny your online privacy rights really are.
Children's & Young Adult
by M.E. Castle
Debut author M.E. Castle's humorous novel about a geeky science genius will impress middle-grade boys everywhere.
Twelve-year-old Fisher Bas fears he's "doomed forever to be a geek." He's routinely bullied by three boys, the Vikings (who "call themselves that to feel cool and tough"), he can't catch the attention of Veronica Greenwich, and his only friend is his pet FP, a flying pig. Having exceeded his sick days at school, Fisher turns to his Nobel Prize–winning mother's latest experiment, an accelerated growth hormone, to clone himself because, after all, "the best companion a boy can have is his own clone."
Soon, Fisher succeeds in cloning himself, dubbing him "Two," and educates him on how to imitate his every move so he can send him off to school while he relaxes back home with experiments and video games. Unexpected results occur: Two not only makes friends, but stands up to the Vikings--and the adventure really picks up when he's "clone-napped" by rival scientist Dr. Xander. Fisher will have to learn to accept himself if he's to rescue Two.
Castle never deters readers with challenging scientific terms and livens things up with Fisher's Clone Log and entertaining epigraphs. Paired with illustrations, Popular Clone is accessible to new chapter book readers and just right for fans of Michael Buckley's NERDS series. --Adam Silvera, events assistant, Books of Wonder, New York
Discover: Twelve-year old genius Fisher Bas, who creates a popular, troublemaking clone of himself.
by Brodi Ashton
In an era of paranormal overload, it's hard to find a new angle. But Brodi Ashton manages to do exactly that with her debut novel, Everneath.
Borrowing from the myths of Hades and Persephone as well as Orpheus and Eurydice, Ashton creates her own mythology of an underworld not tied to religion or gods. The Everneath is a place where Everlivings feed on the emotions of humans in order to maintain their immortality. Few survive the hundred-year process. The fact that Nikki lives through it and was able to Return to her life, essentially unscarred, makes her special. Not only does her Everliving host have his eye on her, so does the queen of the Everneath.
The memory of her ex-boyfriend made Nikki want to Return. But she has only six months to say goodbye to the people she loves before the Everneath claims her forever. As time runs out for Nikki, more than one person close to her makes a life-altering choice.
Like many YA novels these days, Everneath is the first of a trilogy. The story leaves us with several unanswered questions and a bit of a cliffhanger ending. That just means fans of this first book will have still have plenty to discover when the sequel comes out. --Sherrie Petersen, children's book reviewer and blogger
Discover: An achingly romantic blend of underworld mythologies set in modern times.
There Is No Dog
by Meg Rosoff
October snowstorms on the East Coast. Tsunamis in Japan. Katrina, Irene. Sometimes it feels like a lusty 19-year-old must be in charge. Well, in Meg Rosoff's (How I Live Now) wildly imaginative novel, that's exactly who's running the show. His name is Bob, and he landed the job of Earth's creator and keeper when his mother, Mona, won it in a poker game.
For those of you of faith, please hold your concerns for a moment. Adolescence is a pivotal time for exploring questions of religion, doubt and faith. This book allows teens to ask those questions from a safe distance and with a sense of humor. Besides, Bob has a responsible, experienced "assistant," Mr. B, and also "an odd penguiny sort of" pet called Eck to lend some compassion to the proceedings. Conflict A arises when Bob sees 21-year-old, Rubenesque Lucy. Conflict B comes when Mona wagers Eck's life in a losing hand of poker to Mr. Emoto Hed. Bob couldn't care less, except that Eck was not hers to wager. Hed's daughter, Estelle, however, is outraged and fights for the pet's life.
Fate always plays a key role in Rosoff's books, but here she refers to the biblical text to shape Bob's character. And Eck, faced with impending death, poses questions of mortality that could easily have come out of the mouths of modern teens. Perhaps most surprising of all (given where she began), Rosoff resolves these conflicts in ways that might restore one's faith in the planet's and humanity's future. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover: A novel that starts out as irreverent commentary on the state of the planet and ends with a sense of faith restored.