Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 8, 2011

Touchstone: Crazy Love You by Lisa Unger

From My Shelf

A Sign for My Desk

Last week I appeared on the Hash Hags radio hour, hosted by three of my favorite authors: Julie Klam, Ann Leary and Laura Zigman (New York Times bestselling books, famous spouses, film adaptations and now an NPR affiliate program--these hags have it all!). We were talking about summer reading, which is all anyone wants to talk with me about at this time of year. Someone mentioned the perils of reading in the pool, and I said, "All you have to do is place your e-reader or Kindle or Nook in a Ziploc bag and you're set!" My kind hosts all murmured how smart I am, but really, I know better. It's not a matter of cleverness. It's desperation.

I am one of those readers who simply cannot be without a book, any more than an adolescent boy can be without his gaming device. My neediness leads me to believe that books of many sorts will survive. Allow me to explain, or at least expostulate for a bit. At different times in my life, different ways to read have prevailed. From well-worn library volumes whose battered spines would stay open while I ate cereal to compact mass-market paperbacks I could stuff in a backpack, on to brand-new hardcovers that my hands found easier to hold than other trim sizes, I've read things in the form and size that worked for easiest toting and easiest use.

When it comes right down to it, while one way to read may have slight advantages over another in a given situation--and I'd certainly be more comfortable leaving a battered paperback on my beach chair than a shiny new e-reader--what matters isn't the way I read. I think I'm going to imitate a former president and put a sign on my desk. Mine will say, "It's the reading, stupid." --Bethanne Patrick

Ecco: Tibetan Peach Pie by Tom Robbins

Viking: The Secret Place by Tana French

Atria: A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Bookselling News

The Hazards of Romance Reading

Will chunky paperbacks soon have to be stamped with a Surgeon General's warning? According to an article in the Guardian, some psychologists believe that reading romance novels may be hazardous to a woman's love life.

Yes, this steamy news is all contained between the covers of a decidedly unsexy academic journal. The Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care article was written by psychologist Susan Quilliam, who writes almost plaintively of why she believes Mills & Boon novels (the U.K. equivalent of Harlequins) send cross-productive messages: 

"We don't condone non-consensual sex. We want women to be aware of their own desires rather than be 'awakened'. We aim to reassure our female clients that their first time may not be utterly joyful and that they may not gain reliable orgasms through penetration, but that they themselves are nonetheless existentially valid and that with affection and good humour things can improve immensely...." 

After arguing for and against romance novels a bit, Quilliam goes on to conclude that "if readers start to believe the story that romantic fiction offers, then they store up trouble for themselves--and then they bring that trouble into our consulting rooms." 

Sarah Wendell of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books responded to Quilliam's article: "More than anything, I wish that Susan Quilliam had a better and more recent understanding of the complex and positive portrayal of female sexuality in romance novels. By using an outdated sample, she's maligned the genre, and judging by her credentials and expertise in women's sexual health, she'd be a wonderful asset to our side of the argument in support of romance fiction."

Book Candy: Games (Lit) People Play

Flavorwire offers a roundup of literary games for "bored book nerds." We like that they mentioned the wordplay that Christopher Hitchens and his circle indulged in (e.g., substituting the word "love" with "hysterical sex" in a book title so that you get "Hysterical Sex in the Time of Cholera"), along with board games, trivia and more. We'd to remind bookish types that anyone with a mobile device can amuse herself and holiday pals with the same sorts of hijinks on Twitter. This week alone there were hashtags such as  like #replacewordinafamousquotewithduck and #worstbook. 

FSG: Deep Down Dark by Hector Tobar

Great Reads

We Loved It: Anthropology of An American Girl

One of my very favorite novels of 2010 has just been published in paperback--Anthropology of an American Girl by Hilary Thayer Hamann (Spiegel & Grau, $16). Reading it last year was an exhilarating experience, and I will never forget this vivid story of growing up female in America. In reviewing it I said, "Where to start with this magnificent book? With the dazzling quality of Hilary Thayer Hamann's prose? With the themes of love and loss, trust and betrayal, innocence and maturity? With the tremendous satisfaction one feels at the end? There are so many ways to praise Anthropology of an American Girl, an exceedingly intense and passionate book; it's a romance in the grand sense, a rich, affecting experience" (Shelf Awareness, May 4, 2010). And it's a glorious and epic novel about integrity, heroism and abiding love. I may just have to read it again. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

Further Reading: A Dance with Dragons

The long-awaited A Dance with Dragons: A Song of Ice and Fire, Book Five by George R.R. Martin is out next week and is sure to be snatched up quickly by devotees of the current A Game of Thrones adaptation on HBO. Yesterday, one of my friends mentioned that her father was captivated by Martin's books and wanted more like them, which made me think there might be others out there with the same need. So, if you like Game of Thrones and want more books like it....

 

For more on divided kingdoms and plenty of historical detail, try Bernard Cornwell's the Saxon Chronicles series, which includes five titles so far and a new one, Death of Kings, due out in September. If you wind up enjoying Cornwell's writing, he has plenty of other series and standalones to choose from, too.

 

For clangs and clashes as fantasy, the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind satisfies--and goes on for 12 volumes. Goodkind, a master of his genre, knows how to deliver exactly what readers of war and political fantasy want, so if you get started, you'll have plenty of... further reading.

 

For something more recent and a little different, give Joe Abercrombie's the First Law trilogy a try. It hasn't been entirely well received, but the author's combination of humor and violence has plenty of fans. There is less "good versus evil" and more honor among thieves in these books.

Knopf: The Roosevelts by Geoffrey C Ward

Electronica

Letterpress Meets iPad

Just because you were born after the great age of the printing press doesn't mean you can't have fun sorting type and stamping paper--virtually. ArtDaily.com wrote that a new iPad app called LetterMpress allows users to "select and assemble vintage wood type and art images, mix colors and ink the type, select paper, and hand-crank the virtual letterpress to produce graphic designs for prints, posters, books, invitations, greeting cards, photo albums and more."

Riverhead: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Writer's Life

Portrait of the Artist: Jeff Abbott

Sometimes fictional characters spring from an author's creative subconscious. Sometimes they're based on historical people. And sometimes... they come from a doodle.

Sam Capra, the hero of Jeff Abbott's newly released thrilled Adrenaline, was born one day when Abbott doodled a picture of a globe. "For some reason, I drew a martini glass under it," said Abbott, speaking by telephone from his home in Austin, Texas. "I thought: What if I had a character who would own bars, bars around the world.... After all, bars are points of entry to communities. But how would this character come to own bars around the world? That's when Sam Capra was born."

Abbott, who has written more than a dozen books, said he knew when he came up with Capra that he'd be writing a series. "I'll only do a series if I find a great main character, because basically doing a series means that for the next few years--sometimes more than a few--you're going to be married to that person!" He knew he wanted to do something completely fresh, and to give this "Sam Capra" a reason to travel the world without merely wandering. "My choice of his name was deliberate, too. 'Sam' was sort of an internationally flexible name, and so was 'Capra'--plus, I love the movies of Frank Capra and they give me a sense of hope. I wanted to give that to Sam, too."

"I wanted someone who could walk away from an established career, but still be young," Abbott continued. "Readers will learn more about Sam's backstory in the next book, but basically he and his family lived all over the world while he was growing up because his mother and father worked for Episcopal relief missions. His mother did reparative surgery and his father was a financial administrator. So he had sort of a nomadic childhood that allows him to be comfortable in many different places."

Sam Capra is definitely a hero for the new global society, but Abbott points out that there are other things that make him a 21st-century hero. First, his enemies are different. "A lot of the suspense heroes still fight organizations that are very hierarchical, like the Mafia," Abbott noted.  "But today, with 20% of the world economy drawn from illicit sources, criminal organizations have changed. They've branched out into separate 'cells,' each with an expertise. Groups can snap together and apart like Lego blocks, which makes it very hard to break them."

Abbott emphasized that he was interested in finding a new type of protagonist who would have the skills to handle a new type of threat. "Criminals love it when society and community feel weak. That's an opportunity for them," he says. "Criminals with very large aspirations are really fun to write about, and they're also really fun to pit an individual against. Sam Capra doesn't want to give up on things. He wants to believe in the goodness of people, and he does believe there are things worth fighting for in this world."

Without giving away anything that happens in Adrenaline, we can say that Sam knows what it is to be wronged. "He doesn't want anyone to have that same feeling," Abbott said. "He may never have a normal life again, but he wants to have a normal life again, he wants other people to have that opportunity."

Interestingly enough, one of Capra's skills led Abbott to a person who gives others the opportunity for normal lives. In the first chapter of Adrenaline, we follow Capra as he engages in the sport of parkour, which originated in France and is a way of getting from one place to another by running, jumping and climbing without stopping, if possible. Says Abbott, "Parkour is a way to get from point A to point B with maximum speed; it's a good metaphor for what Sam needs to do." It's also a young man's sport: "Jack Reacher is not doing parkour!" Abbott said with a laugh, referring to his fellow author Lee Childs's famed protagonist.

When Abbott decided to use parkour and to set his book's opening in London, he also arranged to meet that city's top traceur, as parkour runners are known. "This guy took me through parts of the city where he does practice runs--but he also took me to training programs that he does for underprivileged kids. Not only does he show them fitness moves they can do in their own neighborhoods, he helps them to build confidence."

Sam Capra's athletic temperament means that he's not a big drinker, but he does love bars, their atmosphere and well-mixed cocktails. In the next Capra book, At the Last Minute, we'll learn more about Sam's new bars, as well as his motivation, family and intriguing good-guy (good-gal?) boss, Mila. Abbott already has a "cocktail of the week" featured on his blog, and a YouTube channel for Sam Capra's favorite cocktails. "At BookExpo, the drink--recipe cards, including the Sam Capra Cooler and the Adrenalin Martini, went instantly," Abbott said. Here's to Sam Capra and to author Jeff Abbott's success!"--Bethanne Patrick

Book Review

Fiction

A Good Hard Look

by Ann Napolitano

Flannery O'Connor is an endlessly interesting person whose life in Milledgeville, Ga., was circumscribed by chronic illness, yet was also one of keen observation and insight, informed by her strong Catholic faith.

Ann Napolitano (Within Arm's Reach) has created a series of characters with Flannery as their unwitting centerpiece. She writes, watches over her peacocks, ducks and other birds, spars with her mother and struggles with lupus. She has an abrasive personality, an acid tongue and no time for pretense. Because of these traits, lived out loud, some of her neighbors, nothing-but-polite-pretense Southerners, are forced to look at the progress of their own lives--and often find them wanting. They are also of two minds about her: proud of her accomplishments and dreading finding themselves on the page.

Prom queen Cookie Himmel returns to Milledgeville from two years in New York with a wealthy fiancé, Melvin Whiteson. She marries him, settles in to create the perfect home and has the perfect baby girl. Melvin, meanwhile, is drawn to Flannery, whom Cookie hates for reasons never really clear; in this regard, the author's cryptic style is annoying. Melvin gives her driving lessons and lies to his wife about it. He's fascinated by Flannery's peacocks, but what he enjoys most is being himself around her, when he feels that every other interaction is inauthentic. There is nothing improper about the friendship, except that he can't own up to it to his wife. When he critiques Flannery's stories by saying that she writes no happy endings, she replies: "I'm sure you didn't consider this... but it's possible that the characters are closer to grace at the end of the stories. Grace changes a person, you know. And change is painful." Much of the import of the novel is contained in that sentence.

Lona, a seamstress hired by Cookie, is married to a cop in an utterly soulless match. She falls in love with a young boy, and the change wrought in her brings several worlds crashing down. On the same afternoon, a tragic and hideous accident takes place at Flannery's that changes the lives of several people.

Flannery O'Connor was forced by illness to leave New York and return to Andalusia, the family farm, to live out her days. Dead at 39, she never realized the life she had anticipated. Instead of being bitter, she was occasionally saddened, but was buoyed by her faith and her writing. Her experience gave her an edge, an incisive quality that did not suffer fools gladly. There are plenty of fools to go around in Napolitano's book--but there is also realization, reconciliation and hope. --Valerie Ryan

Discover: Flannery O'Connor, peacocks, Southern discomfort and tragedy on a grand scale converge in this gothic tale of change laced with grace.

Penguin Press, $25.95, hardcover, 9781594202926

A Bouquet of Barbed Wire

by Andrea Newman

When this novel was first published in 1969, followed by a steamy TV adaptation, it was quite controversial. Now, the book is back and another TV version was recently screened in the U.K. The tale of a father's obsessive love for his daughter, A Bouquet of Barbed Wire is gripping.

Peter Manson is beside himself with anger and anguish when his beloved daughter, Prue, 19 and pregnant, insists on marrying layabout loser Gavin. In a daze of confusion and pain, Peter starts an affair with his new secretary, Sarah. She understands her position with Peter: "You're in love with Prue. Not me, or your wife, just Prue... you're obsessed with her." That sums up the pivotal conundrum of the novel. There is no actual incest, but it is patently obvious what is at the center of Peter's unregenerate rage.

Prue is selfish, spoiled and has a penchant for inviting a violent reaction to her taunting behavior. The night of a confrontation with her parents, she gets that reaction in spades. From there to the end, the melodrama is about knee deep, with several excursions into amateur psychology. There is much pain--psychic and physical--inflicted all around, and Gavin, the free spirit, has yet another arrow in his quiver and Cassie has her own secret to reveal. In spite of yourself, you will not be able to stop reading. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A father's obsessive love for his daughter and an affair with his secretary that tears his family apart.

Serpent's Tail, $14.95, trade paper, 9781846687723

Lola, California

by Edie Meidav

Edie Meidav's third novel, Lola, California, moves between the present of 2008 and the past of the 1980s and tells the story of two friends, Lana and Rose. Navigating the decade of their teens with confidence, the girls are inseparable. They seem to satisfy an unnamed need in each other, and are known as Lola One and Lola Two, or just "the Lolas." Orphaned Rose craves the dynamic of Lana's family, a triad of intellectual parents and an only daughter. In Rose, Lana finds the fuel to stoke her creative, though occasionally destructive, flame. While their friendship blossoms, they are also under a shadow: Lana's father, Vic, has a cultish fame as the prophet of California's burgeoning neuroethology movement.

As adolescents, the Lolas go through high school crushes, teenage hijinks and road trips with Vic. As they grow older, they experience more harrowing circumstances, including rape in a foreign country, employment as strippers and a stint in an asylum. With time, they grow apart, then, as adults, come together to deal with their life choices, including Vic's imprisonment for an inexplicable crime, Lana's false entry into motherhood and Rose's penchant for relationships based in the past.

At the outset, Meidav's writing style might seem difficult. However, readers who persist to the end of Lola, California will see any frustrations satisfied, and they will not be surprised to learn that Meidav is also a poet. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: An intimate and lyrical look at the choices that bind friends and family together, yet also push them apart.

Farrar Straus & Giroux, $28, hardcover, 9780374109264

Parts of a World

by A.G. Mojtabai

Most people in so-called civilized society believe a thick boundary exists between "normal us" and "them"--the homeless and mentally ill. Somewhere in the middle of this 10th book by the author of All That Road Going and A Stopping Place, the us/them boundary starts to seem pretty porous. Though art has long challenged the notion of "crazy" in the human condition, Mojtabai's elegiac story is a fresh, if sad, rumination on the questionable comforts of sanity.

New York City social worker Tom Limbeck has hit a midcareer, midlife crisis: his love relationship has disintegrated, he's sliding into depression and he has developed an unhealthy obsession with the well-being of one client over all others. That client, Michael, clings to delusions that cause him to live a street life of constant peril. Unable to effect positive change in his own life, Tom goes to great--and unethical--lengths to disabuse Michael of his false beliefs. But Tom's widening despair and Michael's seemingly charmed survival suggest that perhaps lucidity isn't the only path to a life.

Mojtabai's prose is stately and spare, evocative of the gray details of Tom's New York existence and the ugly realities of street life, yet devoid of distracting digressions. Before she is done, Mojtabai explores faith and the faultiness of childhood memories and suggests an uncomfortable distance in human connections. This is serious work by a seasoned writer; emotionally challenging, certainly, with its haunting themes, but intellectually stimulating and undeniably powerful. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

Discover: A gently devastating portrait of ruined lives and madness as a survival skill.

Triquarterly Books, $24.95, hardcover, 9780810127661

The Bolero of Andi Rowe: Stories

by Toni Margarita Plummer

This slim volume of 10 interconnected stories contains many lifetimes of love, longing and loss. Mostly set in Los Angeles's San Gabriel Valley with forays back to Mexico, the stories--evocative, poignant, sexy, funny and dense with ritual and celebration--center on the Rowe family. Andi, the title character, has a Mexican mother and Irish-American father; her "bolero" is a song such as the old troubadors wrote and sang, reflecting in its lyrics the loves and lives of their people. Some stories making up Andi's life song bridge the border between an old world and a new; others are set wholly in the New World, with all its attendant difficulties and none of the comforts of tradition.

Andi is an architecture student in New York, trying to stay connected to friends in L.A. Her sweetheart, Pete, is torn between career desires: becoming a doctor or a musician. Their separation is the occasion of Pete's own "bolero" for Andi. Her best friend, Inez Suarez, is looking for love in all the wrong places, asking, "A man? Do they come in faithful?" In "What Would Mary Do," Dulce considers a religious vocation because, at 35, she seems to be out of options; however, if she just opened her eyes and took in what is right around her....

If you listen closely, you can hear in these stories the haunting strains of the best Latin music; those long, mournful chords that tell the whole story of what happens to people as they try to make connections and succeed or fail--and try again. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A debut collection of 10 interconnected stories about Latinas in Los Angeles--their lives, loves and losses.

Curbstone Press, $17.95, trade paper, 9780810127678

Mystery & Thriller

The Hypnotist

by Lars Kepler , trans. by Marlaine Delargy

A Swedish thriller that's "phenomenal" and an "international sensation." You've heard this before, but it's not PR hyperbole. The Hypnotist truly is extraordinary--a heart-pounding, enthralling story of madness and malevolence. 

A 15-year-old boy lies unconscious in a hospital, suffering from hundreds of knife wounds, the only survivor of a vicious attack in his home that killed his mother and younger sister. The boy's father was found dead at a playground, and Evelyn, the older sister, is missing. Homicide detective Joona Linna thinks the killer is after her, and believes the boy would be able to identify the killer. He calls Erik Maria Bark, a physician who specializes in treating acute trauma. Bark examines the boy, Josef, and says it's not possible to question him. When Linna casually suggests trying hypnosis, Bark forcefully declines--hypnosis was a practice he had vowed a decade earlier to stop after being accused of planting false memories in the mind of a woman in a therapy group of trauma survivors. But Linna is determined to find the sister, and Bark finally capitulates. But with the response he elicits from Josef, the puzzle deepens--is it possible that the boy killed his family and mutilated himself?

Two men--Bark and Linna--with pasts they cannot escape, single-minded in their attempt to stop an unspeakable horror, are hurled through a riveting story of obsession and revenge. The Hypnotist is played out against the backdrop of a Swedish winter, where snow falls from a black sky, the trees are bare, and the chilling ice and slush are no match for the searing burn of evil. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A heart-pounding, enthralling story of madness and malevolence, played out against the backdrop of a Swedish winter.

Sarah Crichton/FSG, $27, hardcover, 9780374173951

You're Next

by Gregg Hurwitz

Gregg Hurwitz, author of The Crime Writer and They're Watching, takes his fast-paced, action-packed writing to a new level in You're Next. Alternating between past and present, Hurwitz reveals the history of Michael, whose father abandoned him on a playground at the age of four. By adulthood, Michael has fought for everything he has achieved, so when that life is threatened, he won't go down without a fight.

Wingate, a contented husband and father who has a solid future with a construction company, doesn't know that he's about to be haunted by events from a past he can't even remember. When danger stalks his wife and daughter, he turns to his one true friend, Shep. Unfortunately, Shep--the two met as boys in foster care--is as dangerous and unpredictable as the supposed villains.

In the end, relationships like Mike and Shep's charge this electrifying thriller. The themes and plot are built on the relationships, and the characters are defined by their relationships. It's Hurwitz's ability to illustrate the potency of these human connections that will make readers laugh, cry and stay up far past their bedtimes.

You're Next is Gregg Hurwitz's finest work to date. His passion shines through in tight plotting, witty dialogue and emotional imagery. Hurwitz goes beyond current issues and examines the very heart of human issues. Step right up and experience the phenomenon that is Gregg Hurwitz. You're next. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A tightly plotted thriller that will blow your hair back, knock your socks off and, if you're not careful, steal your heart.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9780312534912

Very Bad Men

by Harry Dolan

Anthony Lark has three names written down in his notebook, and he's hunting them down one by one as part of his mission to avenge a 17-year-old crime. David Loogan (introduced in Bad Things Happen) is content with his life in Ann Arbor, with girlfriend Elizabeth Waishkey (who's a police detective) and her daughter Sarah, and with his job as editor of a mystery magazine. Lucy Navarro is a tabloid reporter trying to dig up a story linking the old crime with a current political campaign. But David is drawn into the murky waters of Lark's crusade, and Elizabeth is assigned to the investigation, so David feels compelled to help Lucy in her inquiries--especially after she disappears suddenly.

This fast-paced and intelligent thriller is told in David's voice, but offers insight into Lark's troubled psyche as well, as he battles the demons that make the words in his notebook breathe and tremble. Readers of the mystery genre will have a little extra fun with David's work editing mystery stories; we even learn which authors Lark follows. Teenaged Sarah is a spunky addition to the diverse mix of characters trying to solve the crime: amateur David, tagging along with Elizabeth, the experienced professional; and indomitable Lucy, whose past holds a secret or two. Then there are the political players: an aging senator about to retire and his up-and-coming daughter-in-law, who may be tied to an old bank robbery. Complex and well-developed characters, a mind-bending plot and a wry tone make this novel impossible to put down. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A clever, complex thriller in which a killer hunts the perpetrators of a decades-old crime.

Amy Einhorn/Putnam, $25.95, hardcover, 9780399157493

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Vortex

by Robert Charles Wilson

Robert Charles Wilson's trilogy-ending followup to his Hugo Award-winning Spin is part ecological referendum and part political intrigue, meandering across disparate paths to ultimately reveal something profound about the human condition.

Vortex moves between an Earth post-Spin and an imagined future where Vox, a networked collective of minds, seeks the fabled "promised land" known as Earth to escape religious persecution. Earth is a dying planet whose fate lies in the decisions of its inhabitants and alien Hypothetical technology that stabilizes Earth's barometric rise.

In this 21st century of "Big Brother" politics, a troubled teen becomes the focal point of law enforcement and Martian drug dealers seeking to alter a wonder drug for personal gain. The teen's sole possession is a manuscript about Turk Findley (introduced in Axis), who happens to be the angst-ridden son of one of the dealers. Findley is transported 10,000 years into the future, drops onto the desert of a distant planet and is picked up by the Vox, who use Hypothetical time-traveling "arches" to traverse planets and seek redemption through fanatical worship of the seemingly benign Hypotheticals. Capitalistic self-righteousness and the futuristic march toward democratic, ecological and genocidal suicide provide the backgrounds for heated discourse about pitting sacrifice for the collective good against personal greed.

Wilson's bifurcated narrative does coalesce, and ultimately succeeds in doing what great science fiction does best: serves as a mirror of who we are, what we have become and what we can be. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A psychological, technological and apocalyptic time-altering thriller by Robert Charles Wilson, author of the Hugo-winning Spin.

Tor, $25.99, hardcover, 9780765323422

Nonfiction

Always On: How the iPhone Unlocked the Anything-Anytime-Anywhere Future--and Locked Us In

by Brian X. Chen

Brian Chen's Always On was sparked by a cab driver (a future assistant professor in social science) who told him, "The Amish are the smartest people on the planet" because technology was "dumbing us down." This brief conversation prompted Chen, who has worked for Macworld and Wired, to explore what we have lost--and gained--as a result of having the world in the palm in our hand: "The iPhone unlocked a reality in which we can potentially have anything we want, anytime and anywhere. And as a result, everything has changed...."

Chen provides a short history of the iPhone, including vignettes about how apps have saved lives, assisted law enforcement and shaped politics. He then explores the difference between vertical (closed) business structures--Apple vs. open-source--and ends with a discussion of privacy issues.

Always On is accessible to both techies and Luddites. Chen's focus is firmly on Apple throughout--but this should be expected, given the title, and he does explore critics' accusations about Apple "imposing censorship, holding developers hostage, stifling innovation, and fostering conformity." However, Chen clearly believes the benefits outweigh the costs of this new technology.

Chen ultimately reframes the question "Is the Internet making us dumber" to "perhaps the definition of intelligence is changing." While Chen's bias is evident, this does not interfere with his ability to examine many facets of this fascinating subject. --Kristen Galles, blogger at Book Club Classics

Discover: A compelling analysis of how the iPhone has revolutionized every aspect of our lives.

Da Capo, $25, hardcover, 9780306819605

Children's & Young Adult

Withering Tights

by Louise Rennison

In the hands of Louise Rennison (the Georgia Nicolson series), a summer camp for high school drama queens on the bluffs of Yorkshire becomes the stuff of high comedy. The title suggests a send-up of the Brontë Sisters, and readers will not be disappointed. Tallulah Casey, Georgia's cousin, shares some of the family knack for wit. Early on in the novel, Tallulah, who narrates and is in the midst of reading Jane Eyre, notices that the drama school's Dother Hall is on fire, and a figure resembling Mrs. Rochester is on the roof. She tells a fellow camper, "It all adds up, doesn't it? We're in Yorkshire on some moors at a big house, the roof's on fire, and someone, who may or may not have been banged up in the attic for years, has just come out onto the roof. I'm only stating the obvious."

Although Dother Hall accepts only girls, Woolfe Academy for Young Men is but a stone's throw away. Tallulah quickly endears herself to the other campers by summing up their collective experiences with boys: "Is that it then? A maybe fondling of a bum, a hit-and-run undone thing, and an ice cube incident?" Tallulah rents what she calls a "squirrel room" from the kind-hearted, slightly out of touch Dobbins family, who provide further fodder for Rennison's comedy. And fascinating bad boy Cain, who sings in a rock band, seems to turn up under Tallulah's window "snogging" with a different girl each night. Will Tallulah be one of them? It all adds up, doesn't it? --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A hilarious romp set in a summer drama camp by consummate comedienne Louise Rennison.

Harper Teen, $16.99, hardcover, ages 12-up, 9780061799310

Lost Voices

by Sarah Porter

First-time author Sarah Porter reimagines the mermaid myth in a thought-provoking tale of transformation. Fourteen-year-old Lucette lost her mother to a ruptured appendix, and her father to the sea, and she's left with her uncle in an Alaskan fishing village. One night, Luce is pursued by her drunken uncle, and he nearly rapes her. She flees him and steps off of a cliff. But instead of falling to her death, she transforms into a "metaskaza" and is immediately adopted by a tribe of beautiful young mermaids.

The mermaids not only transform physically but, like the sirens of legend, they also gain the gift of song, and Luce's song is spectacular. She immediately becomes indispensable to Catarina, queen of the tribe, and learns to follow the "timahk," or code of honor among mermaids. But Luce is torn: she loves singing and the power it gives her, yet she detests its purpose--after all, her beloved father died at sea. Porter's prose extolling the majesty of the ocean and the enchantment of the mermaids' music, plus the suspenseful series of shipwrecks, will keep readers turning the pages. At times, the secondary characters' actions can be inconsistent, such as Dana who at first aligns herself with Luce and seems to have a strong moral compass, but later abandons her. But the supporting characters' motives may be addressed in the planned later installments. Porter excels in her depiction of Luce struggling to master the voice she's been given as she tries to bend it into a tool of forgiveness rather than destruction. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An unusual and spellbinding take on the mermaid legend in which the sirens retain their human complexity.

Harcourt Children's Books, $16.99, hardcover, ages 12-up, 9780547482507

The Invasion of the Potty Snatchers

by George Beard , Harold Hutchins

Dav Pilkey's Captain Underpants helped pave the way for the graphic novel explosion in children's books--at least for that fragile age group that we often lose as readers. Fourth-graders George and Harold led a parade of reluctant boy readers into bookstores and libraries in search of the pair's latest capers. It's been nine years since the creative duo first invented Super Diaper Baby in lieu of a 100-page essay as penance to their principal for misbehaving. But they're back, in spades. After Mr. Krupp deemed their story garbage ("This is garbage!!!" he says), he challenges them to "write about anything else besides poop," and hands them a copy of "How the Grinch Stoled [sic] Christmas."

What do George and Harold write about this time? You guessed it: pee. As with the first of the Super Diaper Baby adventures, this is not just a scatological story--not at all. Well, there is a Dr. Dilbert Dinkle whose evil cat, Petey, inadvertently liquidates his owner into water--but water with a consciousness. Children learn about water's different stages (as Dr. Dinkle turns into ice and steam), plus what happens to water when it passes through a cat's system. Despite his new state, Dr. Dinkle hatches a diabolical plan (the title offers a clue), described in the rhythm and rhyme of Dr. Seuss's Grinch. An emotional subplot zeroes in on Super Diaper Baby's father, who feels useless next to his powerful infant and dog. Those who love the Flip-o-Rama feature will find a bounty of them here. Fans will welcome back George and Harold in a rip-roaring story, and novices will quickly become converts. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The first new Super Diaper Baby adventure in nine years, featuring George and Harold at their best.

Blue Sky Press/Scholastic, $9.99, paper-over-board, ages 7-10, 9780545175326

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