Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, April 6, 2012
From My Shelf
April 15, a week from next Sunday, is the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.
Already the wave of commemorations has begun, marked by the launch this week of the 3D version of James Cameron's blockbuster movie, which set records when it appeared in 1997 in mere 2D, including 15 weeks in a row at #1 and 11 Oscars. As if that's not enough, there's a new four-part ABC miniseries, Titanic, from the writer of Downton Abbey, and Titanic: Blood and Steel, a 12-part series focusing on the construction and sinking of the Titanic.
Dating back to 1912, the Titanic tragedy has inspired a fleet of books. The best known is A Night to Remember by Walter Lord, the basis for the 1958 film. A century after the tragic sinking, books about it continue to appear. Here is a selected roundup of new Titanic tomes:
• The Titanic for Dummies by Stephen Spignesi.
• Build Your Own Titanic, a paperback out of which the "reader" can build a 1:200 cardboard scale model of the ill-fated ship.
• Titanic: The Tragedy That Shook the World by the editors of LIFE Books.
• Voyagers of the Titanic: Passengers, Sailors, Shipbuilders, Aristocrats, and the Worlds They Came From by Richard Davenport-Hines.
• Titanic Tragedy: A New Look at the Lost Liner by John Maxtone-Graham.
• A Rare Titanic Family: The Caldwells' Story of Survival by Julie Hedgepeth Williams, the story of a couple with a three-year-old son who all survived the Titanic's sinking, written by their great-niece, a historian.
• The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic by Allan Wolf.
• Titanic: Voices from the Disaster by Deborah Hopkinson.
• Voices from the Titanic: The Epic Story of the Tragedy from the People Who Were There by Geoff Tibballs.
• Kaspar the Titanic Cat by Michael Morpurgo, a middle-grade tale of a four-legged passenger.
There are many more. These are--forgive us--just the tip of the iceberg. --John Mutter
Edible Cookbook; Shelf Chair; Book Accessories; Brontë Bomb
An edible cookbook. Inhabitat showcased "The Real Cookbook" from German design agency Korefe, "a delicious creation made of 100% fresh pasta. Flip it open for some toothsome inspiration, and tear out the pages to use as sheets of lasagna. For both the seasoned chef and the novice cook, just bake the book and eat!"
Bookcase of the day: "Almost all stacking chairs will lose a reason for their existence if they are stacked," but Jun Markoshi's Shelving Chair is a shelf that "will become a chair when you need it," Bookshelf noted.
Krrb blog's 5 Easy Pieces series featured book accessories, including green thumb bookmarks and cozy book covers.
The 'Cocktail Party Cheat Sheets" series from Mental Floss featured tasty tidbits about the Brontë sisters, including this conversation starter: "Before they became famous, the Brontë sisters wrote poetry together. Using their gender-ambiguous pseudonyms, the Brontës published a book of poems in 1846. It sold exactly two copies."
Further Reading: Past and Present
Most novels are set either in the past or the present, but some novels weave the two together, incorporating multiple storylines, moving skillfully between past and present.
Jonathan Evison's West of Here (now in paperback) is an expansive, generous and engrossing novel that takes readers into the small town of Port Bonita, Wash., jumping from the present-day dismantling of the Elwha Dam to its original construction in 1880 and back again. These narratives are interspersed with tales of James Mather's 1889 expedition into the Olympic Peninsula, where he is determined to be the first to penetrate the previously uncharted territory. The three storylines come together seamlessly to complete the history of building a dam--and a nation--over time.
When two scholars discover a secret love affair between two Victorian poets in A.S. Byatt's Possession, they seek to unravel the mystery of the literary figures they have come to know so well. Byatt incorporates the poetry and letters of these poets within the text of her own story, resulting in a novel of parallel romances that is enticing, compelling and insightful.
In her debut novel, Obedience, Jacqueline Yallop explores the long-lasting impact of World War II on a remote convent in the French countryside. As the convent closes its doors, casting its last three residents into the vast, secular world, Sister Bernard must face for the first time in decades the consequences of her affair with a soldier of the German occupation. With its interwoven narratives, Obedience explores important questions of memory, faith and the inescapable past. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm
The Writer's Life
Jonah Lehrer: What's Behind Creativity?
In late January, the New Yorker published "Groupthink," an article by Jonah Lehrer that directly challenged, in the words of its subheadline, "the brainstorming myth." Drawing upon material from his third book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, Lehrer discussed the ways in which research has demonstrated that brainstorming in groups, rather than freeing the participants' imaginations, actually makes them less creative than they might be if they tried to tackle the subject themselves. The idea was hotly disputed.
When I met Lehrer in the offices of his publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, on the first day of his Imagine book tour, I asked if he'd been caught off guard by the vociferous reaction. "Brainstorming is the most popular creativity technique of all time," he said. "There's a whole industry built around it. So I understand that people would want to defend it." He even conceded that there's a practical aspect to an environment where anyone can bring an idea to the table. "In a real workplace, you need to see these people every day," he said; keeping a critical culture from descending into a recurring cycle of nasty criticism is a real challenge. (Although, as the sections in Imagine on the Pixar morning meetings show, it's not an impossible one.) "What the data is pretty clear on, though," he said, "is that brainstorming holds us back."
Imagine tackles the science behind creativity from a number of angles, always drawing upon real-life examples; as Lehrer joked, "I wanted an excuse to hang out with Yo-Yo Ma and talk to Milton Glaser and loiter at the Pixar studios." Some readers may see it as a return to the blend of science and art that marked his debut book, Proust Was a Neuroscientist; for his own part, Lehrer said, he's "always just been drawn to the mystery" of creative inspiration, and let the subject guide him as he went along. "I tried to go into these interviews totally naively, totally ignorant of what role in the story they might play," he explained.
While Lehrer can be charmingly self-deprecating about his work--"most of what I write about is three pounds of meat"--he's careful when it comes to the growing subgenre of "the New Science of X" books, into which his own work might be loosely placed. "I try to avoid a lot of those books to avoid the anxiety of influence," he said, preferring to skip over them and head straight to the peer-reviewed journals to learn about the latest research. He wants, when he writes, to avoid the easy trap of using neuroscience as a crutch, like suggesting that since men are aroused by looking at pictures of women in bikinis, that imagery could be used profitably in advertising. That so-called insight isn't any more original, he said, just because you could describe the phenomenon in terms of stimulating the visual cortex.
What about potential roadblocks to creativity? "I'm not of the 'Google is making us stupid' school," he said. "Attention is feeble. Even before Google, we were distractible creatures. But I also don't think the Internet is a replacement for the connections we already have." Despite enthusiastic predictions of mass "telecommuting" at the beginning of the dot-com boom, he sees cities as more valuable in their role as creative incubators than ever before. The stakes are higher in the 21st century, and the answers we think up to the problems we face have to rise to the occasion. To that end, "There's something magical when people get together in person, bumping into other people."
"What surprised me," he added, "is how much of [Imagine] turned out not to be about the brain, but about the sociology of creativity.... It's about culture, and context, and collaboration." The book's later chapters, which probe topics like the reliability of certain types of urban environments as creative hotbeds, led to changes in Lehrer's own work dynamic. "The second half of the book made me much more willing to talk to strangers," he said, "to pursue the random conversation standing in line for a latte, to talk to the person sitting next to me on a plane... I now force myself to make small talk."
That's not the only change in his routine. "I used to have a very puritanical notion," he continued. "When I was stuck, I would force myself to work. Now I'm much more willing to take a break." He cited a quote from Einstein, about creativity as the residue of wasted time. "I'm much more willing now to waste some time." On the other hand, despite research that shows blue walls can help spur insightful thinking, the walls in his office are still white. "Writing, like so many pursuits, is a little bit red room, a little bit blue room."
Red is supposed to heighten alertness and attention to detail; much like, as Lehrer discusses in one chapter, the poet W.H. Auden would start each morning with coffee and Benzedrine, producing increased levels of dopamine in his brain synapses that would enable him to focus on his verse with laser precision. "Being able to fixate on an abstract metaphor for hours at a time.... It's going to make your poetry cleaner," Lehrer explained. He envies that quality of the poems Auden produced during this period, but not enough to follow him down that path, "although I do envy it enough to do a triple espresso now and again." --Ron Hogan
The Big Con
I've always been fascinated with con artists. With the Curse Workers series, I finally got to explore that. As the final book, Black Heart, publishes, I say goodbye to my con artist antihero, Cassel Sharpe, tormented by his love for a mobster's daughter, by the myriad secrets of his past and by his desire to be a good person--even though he's not sure he knows how. But I learned a lot along the way.
The most important lesson: writers are all con artists.
Like writers, con artists must create characters that they must inhabit. Like writers, con artists have to know how to make people want something and to believe they'll get it if they hang around. And like con artists, writers have to make real people care about fake situations, be it the dangerous life of a morally conflicted assassin or a counterfeit deed to the Brooklyn Bridge.
And all readers are their marks. Not all readers, of course: just the right readers. Con artists don't have to fool everyone... they just have to fool some people, find the right victim who will fall for their scheme and lend a willing ear to their story. The mark has to want to be conned.
The biggest trick of all is to make the mark collude in their own con, to make the mark both care and want to be tricked, delight in being tricked, as does the reader who cries over imaginary pain and crows over imaginary triumphs.
The characters in a book aren't real. Their adventures aren't real. Neither their suffering nor their joy is ever real. But if the writer and the reader both believe in the con enough, they can trick themselves into caring for the unreal, and ultimately making it real enough to last until the book is closed, and perhaps even beyond that.
That's real enough for me. I'll do my best to trick anyone who picks up one of my books: I'll work so hard to make them think it's all real that I end up convincing myself too.
And like any good con artist, I'll love every second of it. --Holly Black, author of Black Heart (reviewed below)
Children's Books; Precocious Authors; Erotica; Musician Memoirs
"From Professor Branestawm to Hermione in Harry Potter," the Guardian featured "10 of the best geeks in children's books."
Noting that "even some of the biggest names in the industry are practically seeding our children's brains with impending personality disorders," Cracked.com found "6 popular children's books that teach kids horrible lessons."
The Atlantic gathered writing samples from "10 of the most precocious authors in literary history."
From Entrepreneur magazine, a pair of reading lists offered "10 insightful books for career changers" and "seven business books to inspire you on Spring Break."
E.L James's bestseller Fifty Shades of Grey is not the first novel in which "steamy relationships captured imaginations." Entertainment Weekly looked back at "10 erotically charged books."
Flavorwire showcased "10 great memoirs by musicians."
The Master Blaster
by P.F. Kluge
In the restless American search for the vagabond freedom of "the West," from the beginning, we encountered obstacles--the Appalachians, the Mississippi, the Rockies and, finally, the Pacific coast--until, refusing to let something like an ocean stop us, we proceeded to gather up Alaska and Hawaii. What is the next western frontier? P. F. Kluge, novelist (Gone Tomorrow) and travel journalist, knows just the place: the island of Saipan in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas.
A tiny island occupied in succession by the Spanish, Germans, Japanese and Americans, Saipan is the perfect setting for Kluge's microcosmic tale of greed, power, provincial politics, immigration and arrogance--all running roughshod over paradise. His story opens with the arrival of four outsiders on the midnight flight from Guam, each searching for that mystical fresh Manifest Destiny start to their lives. Academic Stephanie Warner accepts an appointment at Saipan's small college to put some distance from her faltering marriage. Travel writer George Griffin is desperate for a story beyond resort fluff. Kahn is a Bangladeshi hungry for a decent job. Max Brodie is a developer with a nose for money.
Kluge's novel follows an increasingly entangled plot as it alternates among the quartet's voices, with interruptions by diatribes from an anonymous local blogger, The Master Blaster, self-appointed guardian of the island's soul. From the often amusing clutter of all these voices, Kluge not only crafts a first-rate mystery, but also demystifies the ways our personal histories and ambitions seem inevitably to debunk even the noblest of our myths. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.
Discover:A novel by a seasoned storyteller about an island paradise lost.
The Lion Is In
by Delia Ephron
In The Lion Is In, Delia Ephron's first novel for adults since Hanging Up, three women seeking escape find themselves with the help of each other, a failing bar and a retired circus lion named Marcel.
Lana has looked out for her best friend Tracee since childhood, but the two young women never expected to find themselves on the run from the law. After they pick up Rita, a middle-aged stranger Lana hopes will provide camouflage from police on the lookout for two women, a car wreck strands all three at The Lion, a rundown bar whose only attraction is an elderly caged lion. Broke and desperate, the trio accepts waitstaff jobs from The Lion's slovenly, depressed owner and try to plan their next move. Instead, luck and love bloom in the most unlikely places as Rita slowly wins the trust of Marcel the lion, Lana tries to face her addiction and Tracee falls for the local driving instructor. Despite the new lives they carve for themselves, though, all three women will have to face their pasts sooner than they think.
Readers seeking a heartfelt, offbeat adventure will adore Ephron's fragile but feisty heroines, each of whom struggles with her own demon: Tracee's kleptomania, Lana's alcoholism and Rita's sense of inferiority. Rita's intuitive ability to reach out to Marcel particularly shines in a series of private bonding moments between woman and lion. The perfect getaway for readers who long to reconnect with their inner selves, this quirky comedy's sense of wonder will delight and inspire. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads
Discover:A kleptomaniac, a recovering alcoholic and a repressed minister's wife walk into a bar... comedy ensues.
by Ted Heller
As anyone engaged in creative writing will tell you, the Internet has been a boon to the procrastination that seems inherent in the process. The urge to look up the etymology of "élan" can lead into a rabbit hole of page links. Ted Heller's Pocket Kingsconcerns one writer, Frank Dixon--and yes, much hay is made of the similarity of this name to Franklin Dixon of Hardy Boys fame--who, after a pair of moderately well-received novels, finds himself struggling to land a publisher for his latest work and turns to online gambling on a whim. Dixon's income increases immediately and dramatically, and he begins spending more time online, forging relationships and riding a winning streak, all the while telling himself he's just positioning himself to write that third novel.
Heller captures the vagaries of online friendships and flirting very well, with an eye for the increasingly shortened style of communication that comes from familiarity. He also writes with a breezy style that is both a strength and a weakness; it gives the impression that he's making it all up as he goes, which (given the result) suggests an improvisational talent--but also results in some of the humor becoming repetitive. The "embittered writer" shtick occasionally lurches into overkill but, as a whole, Pocket Kings delivers its laughs with an acerbic humor that struggling scribes will appreciate. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo
Discover:A wry account of a stymied writer who finds solace--and trouble--in the distraction of online poker.
Mystery & Thriller
The Truth of All Things
by Kieran Shields
Drawing inspiration from the Salem witch trials, a crazed killer stalks the streets of late 19th-century Portland, Maine, in Kieran Shields's impressive debut novel, The Truth of All Things. When a dead prostitute is found speared through the neck with a pitchfork, her body arranged in the shape of a pentagram, Deputy Marshall Archie Lean knows he is looking at something much more sinister than a simple crime of passion. Lean engages the unofficial assistance of brilliant Pinkerton detective Perceval Grey, a man almost as controversial for his Abenaki Indian heritage as he is for his newfangled methods of detection. With further help from historian Helen Prescott, Lean and Grey follow 200-year-old clues in a race against time to track the killer down.
Shields skillfully balances the intricate plot with just enough character and detail to immerse the reader in Lean and Grey's world. His evident knowledge of Portland and its history serves him well, as the surroundings come to life through the eyes of his characters. The influence of Arthur Conan Doyle is apparent; Perceval Grey is enjoyably Holmesian in his methods and manners, making use of the latest detective techniques and clever disguises. As a representative of local law enforcement, Archie Lean exhibits the eager determination of Doyle's Inspector Lestrade, though he strays from his original, thankfully, to incorporate some of the more agreeable personality traits typical of Dr. Watson. Together, this compelling duo is sure to leave readers hoping for a sequel. --Sarah Borders, librarian at Houston Public Library
Discover:A debut novel's grisly trail of ritualistic murder set against the gothic backdrop of 1890s Maine.
Death of an Artist
by Kate Wilhelm
When retired New York City detective Tony Mauricio arrives in the small coastal town of Silver Bay, Ore., it is with the intention of settling down and indulging his long neglected hobby of woodworking. Unfortunately, his plans are sidetracked when brilliant local artist Stef Markov dies under questionable circumstances. On the brink of a nasty divorce, Stef has taken a fatal tumble down the stairs, leaving her potentially priceless collection of artwork in the hands of her unscrupulous husband. Although there is no evidence to support their theories, Stef's mother and daughter are convinced that she was pushed, and it's up to Tony to find the truth and protect the artist's legacy.
Kate Wilhelm (Heaven Is High) is never one to skimp on details, and she doesn't disappoint here. Death of an Artist is an intricate and engrossing mystery but, more importantly, it is an elaborate exploration of character. While Tony Mauricio attempts to discover what happened in the moments leading up to Stef's death, his investigation also reveals who and what she was in life--a deeply talented, volatile woman constantly searching for a perfection that even she believed was unattainable. Wilhelm's supporting characters are equally well drawn, and they populate a story that is both suspenseful and bitterly poignant. --Judie Evans, librarian
Discover:A pensive thriller about protecting what we love... even after it's gone.
Biography & Memoir
Eyes Right: Confessions from a Woman Marine
by Tracy Crow
When Tracy Crow joined the U.S. Marine Corps right out of high school, she had no idea what she was getting into. Running from a childhood that included an abusive father and a drinking problem, she longed for rules, boundaries and the chance to prove herself. The Marines provided all that--though, as she would learn, at great personal cost.
Eyes Right, a memoir that incorporates two Pushcart Prize-nominated essays, examines the life of a woman Marine in the 1980s and '90s, during a relatively quiet era in American military history--except, as she notes wryly, for the Noriega coup, the Iran-Contra affair and constant Cold War threats. As a public affairs officer, Crow learned to be everywhere: writing stories, conducting interviews, snapping photos, pushing her way in. And as a woman, she learned to keep quiet about harassment, loneliness and the toll her career took on her marriage and family, including two miscarriages and eventual divorce.
Eyes Right provides fascinating details about Marine life, from training exercises in the high desert to the intricacies of relationships with superiors, subordinates and officers. Though the book repeatedly hints at an affair with a general that ended her career, Crow stops short of revealing details, still protecting the man for whom she gave up everything. Although that reticence makes the ending feel a little unsatisfying, her memoir still provides a clear-eyed insider's perspective on military life and a thoughtful examination of what it truly means to pledge oneself to God, Corps and Country. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams
Discover:A memoir about life as a woman Marine and the constant tension between country, family and self.
Sex and the Office: A History of Gender, Power, and Desire
by Julie Berebitsky
Since women first began taking regular positions as stenographers and secretaries in the 1860s, the popular American conception of the "office" has been of a place charged with sexual tensions and possibilities. In Sex and the Office, Julie Berebitsky traces the development of both the myths and realities of office sexual politics from the late 19th century into the present day.
Although it's arranged more or less chronologically, Sex and the Office is not so much a descriptive history as an analytical one. At each step, Berebitsky explores popular ideas about what went on sexually in offices through her analysis of popular novels, newspaper and magazine articles, cartoons, plays and other pop culture ephemera. Intertwined with these imagined scenarios is a discussion of the actual experiences of both male and female office workers at the time, drawn from interviews, personal letters and other primary sources. Berebitsky also takes the opportunity to look at how sex and gender expectations in the office affected both men and women. Though women, particularly those at the bottom of the pay scale, often bore the brunt of sexual expectations and escapades, men also suffered under restrictive gender norms and paid the price for indiscretions.
Berebitsky's scholarly tone makes Sex and the Office an unlikely candidate for light reading, but the thorough analysis of its subject over a 150-year period, drawing on primary and pop-culture sources, make it both an interesting read and a valuable resource. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Literary Cricket
Discover:A thoroughly fascinating exploration of sexual politics in the office from the 1860s to the present.
The Story of English in 100 Words
by David Crystal
In The Story of English in 100 Words, prolific linguist David Crystal (Txtng: The Gr8 Db8) uses contextualized definitions to create an erudite but accessible view of how the English language has developed over 16 centuries. Crystal, an honorary professor at the University of Wales in Bangor and a recipient of an Order of the British Empire for services to the English language, treats each word to a linguistic miniprofile, noting its native source, its transformation through usage and its historical and cultural context.
Aimed at the lay language enthusiast, The Story of English in 100 Words starts with an introductory chapter that surveys the early occupants and invaders of Great Britain and summarizes the ascending forms of English. Crystal attributes English's "diversity and individuality" to its speakers' penchant for borrowing, bending and inventing words (with a nod to master word-bender Shakespeare).
Crystal begins his "wordbook" begins with "roe" (illustrated by a photograph of the runic word scratched onto a fifth-century deer bone), then proceeds to alight on two to three words per century. He mixes the enduring ("loaf," ninth century) with the evanescent ("bodgery," 16th century) and the boomeranging ("dinkum," 19th century to Australia and back) before winding up with the 21st-century terms "chillax" and "Twittersphere." The discrete word entries, each two to three pages long, provide interesting etymologies, but they also offer a working introduction to linguistic terminology and a smattering of British history. Crystal's eclectic selection of humble, pragmatic, exotic and even naughty words conveys a lifelong affection for the English language that is likely to rub off on readers. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts
Discover:Crystal's enthusiasm for his selection of humble, pragmatic, exotic (and even naughty) English words is likely to satisfy both inveterate and neophyte word buffs.
Nature & Environment
The Last Great Ape
by Ofir Drori , David McDannald
Ofir Drori was named for an ancient African land mentioned in the Bible, and his love affair with the continent began early. "Nearly from the time I could talk," he writes, "I'd planned to travel to Africa, a place as different as I wanted to think I was." The Last Great Ape, Drori's account of many years' travels through East Africa, takes readers on safaris in Kenya--where he sees his first Thomson gazelles, zebras and elephants--and to meetings with the Maasai and other "bush" people. Crossing the land on foot, Drori details his suffering from lack of food and water and an accident on a public bus that almost costs him his life. He brings readers into African war zones, including graphic descriptions of amputations in Sierra Leone where people, "slashed to pieces in the war," struggle to exist, as well as accounts of murders performed by children in Liberia.
Despite these dangerous adventures, Drori forsakes his native Israel, and the love of an Israeli woman, when he realizes he can't sit idly as endangered animals are slaughtered for bush meat. Drori launches an organization, the Last Great Ape, to help enforce anti-poaching laws that exist but are rarely implemented. The nerve-wracking rescues of chimps and gorillas are followed by months of red-tape and court appearances, but eventually LAGA brings an end to a fraction of the corruption rampant in East Africa. Drori's memoir juxtaposes an accurate account of Africa's natural beauty and the inhumane ways it is often treated with the story of one man determined to change things for the better. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer
Discover:A lifelong love of Africa leads to a compelling blend of travel memoir and environmental activism.
River in Ruin: The Story of the Carmel River
by Ray A. March
The Carmel River is barely a stream at its source, less than 40 miles long, and likely known only to the residents of its immediate surroundings. But it has a rich and telling history--from early Spanish explorers to its eventual place on the nonprofit environmental organization American Rivers' top 10 list of Most Endangered Rivers in 1999. But the Carmel is especially important to journalist Ray March because he grew up nearby; with River in Ruin, he makes an excellent case for its story being an archetype of endangered rivers everywhere.
The paradise that is California's Monterey Peninsula has attracted settlers since 1602, when Sebastian Vizcaino first discovered the Carmel River. Later, railroad magnates adopted the area as a site for profitable tourism, quickly followed by real estate speculators and the development of several small towns. The original Spanish mission and agriculture, followed by the later hotels, golf courses and townships all relied upon the Carmel for water, requiring the construction of dams and reservoirs and the flooding of idyllic valleys. Ecological implications abound: forest fires were exacerbated by a no-burn policy; the local steelhead population is nearly extinct. March details these and more consequences of local development while showing how the growth of the environmental movement nationwide has paralleled local awareness of the plight of the Carmel River and Monterey Peninsula. March's treatment of the history, the politics and the personalities involved is heartfelt and personal; several times he consults diaries and includes individual stories (including his own), making the Carmel's story resonate with his readers. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia
Discover:One American river's well-researched journey from trickling stream to environmental disaster.
Children's & Young Adult
After the Snow
by S.D. Crockett
In this standout post-apocalyptic adventure, 15-year-old Willo learns to find hope in a hard, barren world.
Now that the polar ice caps have melted, "the sea stop working [and the snow] fall and fall and fall and don't stop," life is hard for Willo and his family. But they are better off than most. They are "stragglers" living in the mountains, hunting and trapping, and making their way with as little outside help as possible. It's better than being "stealers," who take what they desire. Willo's family steers clear of the city, where the government and the gangs vie for control. But when government trucks take away Willo's family, he is left to fend for himself. He knows he can make it on his own, but shouldn't he search for his family? Avenge their betrayal? When he finds a girl called Mary, starving and abandoned, all his instincts say to run. Still, Willo tries to help her, and they are both picked up and trucked into the city. Separated from Mary, Willo feels helpless and unprepared. None of his skills seems to be of any use here.
Willo's first-person narrative reflects both his lack of formal education and also his keen survival skills, and his lyrical voice pulls readers into his world. He hears a dog spirit that guides him, and along the way, he learns some important secrets about his father and his own place in the world. S.D. Crockett's debut novel marks her as a writer to watch. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for SCBWI
Discover:A powerful picture of life in a new ice age, in which Willo is put to the test, but finds his own way.
The False Prince
by Jennifer A Nielsen
This first book in the Ascendance Trilogy begins at a breakneck pace--nearly literally for orphan Sage--and never lets up until the finish.
In the first scene, we meet a thief who has stolen a roast and winds up part of a plot to steal the crown of the long-missing prince, Jaron Artolius Eckbert III of Carthya. Sage has two weeks to prove he's the best candidate of four orphans purchased by Bevin Conner, one of the king's regents. Conner plans to have one of the orphans impersonate the prince, thought to have gone down with a ship attacked by pirates (though his body was never found), and to install the new leader in an attempt to keep the peace in the region--and gain a measure of power for himself, of course.
Sage, nearly 15, narrates with keen perception and a biting sarcasm, and quickly suspects the man's nefarious plot. Nielsen lays out the dynamics from the boys' first meeting and builds their characters as the plot thickens. Conner educates the boys, and feeds and dresses them well. But they also remain imprisoned in a shared room. Sage, however, discovers a maze of hidden passageways that gives him a clear advantage.
Sage displays no end of talents to ensure his survival, but also a large measure of integrity. This gains him allies, but also rabid enemies. Nielsen ratchets up the suspense to a satisfying climax while still leaving plenty to explore in the next two installments. Readers will be eager to see what's in store. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover:Fifteen-year-old Sage, an orphan conscripted into a plot to overthrow the kingdom of Carthya--if he can survive a life-or-death audition.
by Holly Black
In this thrilling conclusion to the Curse Workers series, 17-year-old Cassel Sharpe discovers who he is and where he fits into his family and society.
If you have not yet read White Cat, the first in Holly Black's trilogy, stop right here and read that first. Here goes the spoiler: Cassel Sharpe thought he was the only curse worker in his family who was not born with a curse, or talent. Instead, he discovers that he has the most dangerous (or most sought after, depending on what side you're on) curse of all. In the followup, Red Glove, the Feds recruit Cassel to help him find his brother's killer. But his instinct is to keep protecting Lila Zacharov, the love of his life and the white cat of the first title, even after she's ordered her first murder for the Zacharov family.
Cassel has never been able to discern who's telling him the truth--starting with his own family, who has not only lied to him but also used him in the past. Now both his mother and brother Barron need him. "Love changes us, but we change how we love too." Cassel is referring to Lila, but he could easily be talking about his family, too. Holly Black portrays a teen on the brink of adulthood who must decide for himself whom he can trust and what path he will take. Must he choose between Lila, his family and the Feds? Or is there another way? Black stretches the tension to a breaking point, and readers will be mesmerized. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness
Discover:The smashing ending to Holly Black's Curse Workers trilogy will keep readers guessing to the final page.
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