Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, December 16, 2009


DC Comics: Catwoman Vol. 1: Copycats by Joëlle Jones, Fernando Blanco, and Laura Allred

Greenwillow Books: A Wolf Called Wander by Rosanne Parry

Candlewick Press: A Piglet Named Mercy by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Chris Van Dusen

Zonderkidz: A Kite for Moon by Jane Yolen and Heidi E.Y. Stemple, illustrated by Matt Phelan

Flatiron Books: The Guest Book by Sarah Blake

Soho Crime: The Satapur Moonstone (A Perveen Mistry Novel) by Sujata Massey

Little Brown and Company: The Good Immigrant: 26 Writers Reflect on America edited by Nikesh Shukla and Chimene Suleyman

Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers: The Animal's Companion: People & Their Pets, a 26,000-Year Love Story by Jacky Colliss Harvey

St. Martin's Press: Under Currents by Nora Roberts

News

Borders Teams Up With Shortcovers, Now Called Kobo

Canada's Indigo Books & Music has spun off its Shortcovers e-book service, which has been renamed Kobo (an anagram for "book"), and sold interests in the new company to Borders Group; REDGroup Retail, the private equity company that owns bookselling chains in Australia and New Zealand, including Borders, Angus & Robertson and Whitcoulls; and Cheung Kong Holdings, a Hong Kong property development and strategic investment company.

Kobo is a reader and e-book supplier that has been popular on mobile devices like the iPhone and BlackBerry, computers and e-readers like the Sony Reader. Since Shortcovers began in February, its reader has been downloaded more than a million times. Through an agreement with the Internet Archive, Kobo offers 1.8 million free e-books; it also sells several hundred thousand e-books. Kobo said it has "relationships with thousands of publishers and is actively adding book, newspaper and magazine publishers worldwide." Kobo plans to add more smartphone support, desktop and tablet apps and introduce its own e-reader device a la the Kindle or Nook.

Next year Borders and REDGroup's booksellers will begin using Kobo to sell e-books to customers. Borders will launch an e-book store on Borders.com and through Borders-branded apps.

Borders Group CEO Ron Marshall stated: "Our partnership and investment in Kobo is a significant step in our digital strategy of providing eBooks however our customers want to consume them. Kobo's global, device neutral and open approach will allow Borders-branded software applications to be downloaded on a variety of devices and is the right move for Borders as the digital market continues to evolve.  We look forward to building on this key element of our digital strategy as we address the growing eBook opportunity while also remaining committed to improving our brick and mortar superstore business."

 


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Her Daughter's Mother by Daniella Petrova


Notes: Macmillan to Add Enhanced E-Books

Macmillan is joining the ranks of large publishers delaying the electronic versions of some major titles--but with a twist. According to the Wall Street Journal, early next year the company will begin selling enhanced e-books that include such material as author interviews and reading guides at the same time that major titles are released and will price them slightly higher than the hardcover book. After 90 days, a standard e-book version of those books will be made available, replacing the enhanced e-book. Macmillan currently sells e-books the same day hardcovers appear.

Books that the company believes will not be bestsellers will have e-book editions that are available the same day the hardcover goes on sale.

"Our goal is to give the consumer what they want, when they want it, at a fair price," Macmillan CEO John Sargent told the Journal. He added that Macmillan will adjust the number of enhanced e-books it publishes based on market response.

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In a post on its website yesterday, the Authors Guild disputed Random House's assertion that it holds e-rights to many backlist titles, saying that the publisher "quite famously changed its standard contract to include e-book rights in 1994. . . . Random House felt the need to change its contract, quite plainly, because its authors did not grant those rights to it under Random House's standard contracts prior to 1994."

The Guild added, "A fundamental principle of book contracts is that the grant of rights is limited. Publishers acquire only the rights that they bargain for; authors retain rights they have not expressly granted to publishers. E-book rights, under older book contracts, were retained by the authors."

The Guild suggested Random "start offering a fair royalty for those rights. Authors and publishers have traditionally split the proceeds from book sales. Most sublicenses, for example, provide for a 50/50 split of proceeds, and the standard trade book royalty of 15% of the hardcover retail price, back in the days that industry standard was established, represented about 50% of the net proceeds of the sale of the book. We're confident that the current practice of paying 25% of net on e-books will not, in the long run, prevail.  Savvy agents are well aware of this. The only reason e-book royalty rates are so low right now is that so little attention has been paid to them:  sales were simply too low to scrap over. That's beginning to change."

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"I wanted to be in more of a community-oriented area," said Sharon Dlubala, who moved her bookstore, A Novel Idea, to historic downtown Berlin, Md., from the outskirts of Ocean Pines, and re-opened the day after Thanksgiving. "Independent book stores have a hard way to go. We're competing with department stores and online, so the best way to compete is with service."

The Daily Times reported that to "provide even more service to her customers, in the spring Dlubala plans to turn the store's back office into a reader's room, which would be open to individuals as well as reading clubs. She said although places like the local library offer space for readers, it's not always convenient for the public."

"I want to make myself accessible for the community," said Dlubala.

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Richard and Judy strike back. In response to the announcement that the TV Book Club would debut next year on Channel 4 (Shelf Awareness, December 2, 2009), displacing legendary U.K. book clubbers Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan, the couple "have now declared that they are launching their own book club and have agreed with publishers that their sticker--on which the commercial success of so many titles has depended--will continue to go on the front covers," the Telegraph reported.

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Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time was the bestselling novel of the decade by a U.K. writer, according to the Telegraph, which noted that, "In a separate list for children’s books, the top seven places were taken by J.K. Rowling with her Harry Potter novels. At the top is The Deathly Hallows, her final book in the series. Since it came out in 2007, it has sold 4,369,994 copies, just beating The Order of the Phoenix, followed closely by The Half-Blood Prince."

Top 10 U.K. fiction bestsellers for the noughties:

  1. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (5.2 million copies sold)
  2. Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (3.17 million)
  3. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (2.06 million)
  4. Deception Point by Dan Brown (1.97 million)
  5. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown (1.85 million)
  6. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (1.6 million)
  7. Atonement by Ian McEwan (1.52 million)
  8. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini (1.51 million)
  9. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini (1.43 million)
  10. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger (1.34 million)

 


Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers: Lion Down (Funjungle) by Stuart Gibbs

Holiday Hum: Humorous and Helpful Events

Is there an appropriate missive for people whose birthday coincides with the holidays? David Ellis Dickerson suggests, "With your birthday at Christmas you may only get half the presents, but you get four times the love." And inside the card: "What a rip-off."

A Christmas birthday was one "Greeting Card Emergency" Dickerson addressed while appearing earlier this month at WORD in Brooklyn, N.Y., to promote his memoir, House of Cards: Love, Faith, and Other Social Expressions, about his days working for Hallmark.

The event came about after a customer brought up the idea. "We love suggestions like that from our community, so I checked out David's book and website and thought he was a good fit," said Kelly Amabile, the store's events coordinator. On his website, DavidEllisDickerson.com, the funnyman (and regular on NPR's This American Life) has created a series of videos in which he writes cards for awkward or unusual occasions like an ex-fiancée's wedding. Every day this week, Dickerson is sharing solutions for Christmas-related greeting card emergencies.

The gathering was one of several in WORD's December line-up that provided holiday help for customers. Rachel Kempster and Meg Leder, authors of The Happy Book, led an ornament-crafting party. Cal Patch, author of Design-It-Yourself Clothes: Patternmaking Simplified, offered tips for taking proper measurements and making last-minute gifts.

Like WORD, other bookstores have beckoned customers this month with events offering advice and information. A cookie recipe exchange was part of the festivities at a soirée with Ann Pearlman, author of The Christmas Cookie Club: A Novel, at Schuler Books & Music in Lansing, Mich. It was part of a monthly Girls' Night Out series featuring female authors and women-focused literature. Attendees were asked to bring cookie recipes, and they each received a copy of all the contributions to take home.

At an event hosted by Just Books in Old Greenwich, Conn., Patricia Lee, author of The Wrapping Scarf Revolution, demonstrated how to use fabric scarves to wrap items decoratively and knot them at the top for easy toting. "In Korea and Japan, this is the traditional way to wrap and carry everything," said Lee during a local radio interview with store owner Marion Holmes to promote the event. Even odd-shaped items like wine bottles can easily be swathed in scarves. Aside from an elegant way to give a gift, it's also eco-friendly. "You totally reduce the waste involved in wrapping with disposable paper," Lee noted. "It's a really fun way to go green."

Recipients can then use the scarf to wrap a gift they're giving or keep it for themselves--using it to cover a purse for a new look or to spruce up household items like throw pillows and tissue holders. The various techniques and uses are demonstrated in Lee's book. And no creative skills are required. "Anybody who can tie their shoes can tie a wrapping scarf," said Lee. She's scheduled to appear on Good Morning America next Tuesday, December 22.

The Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, N.J., held a Tibetan Singing Bowl Workshop with Sandee Conroy. The quartz crystal bowls, similar to ones used for centuries by Tibetan monks, emit sounds that are calming and induce a sense of peacefulness--just the thing during the hectic holiday season.--Shannon McKenna Schmidt

 


GLOW: Atria/Emily Bestler Books: The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal


Media and Movies

Media Heat: Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present

Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Gene Simmons, author of Kiss Kompendium (Collins, $75, 9780061728198/0061728195).

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Tomorrow on Hannity: William Bennett, author of The True Saint Nicholas: Why He Matters to Christmas (Howard Books, $16.99, 9781416567462/1416567461).

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Tomorrow on KCRW's Bookworm: Part 1 of a two-part series with Orhan Pamuk, author of The Museum of Innocence (Knopf, $28.95, 9780307266767/0307266761). As the show put it: "Infidelity and adultery are two of the great subjects of the novel tradition--think of Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary. In this conversation, Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk discusses his own stunning contribution to this tradition. The concern about virginity at the time of marriage--a concern still vital in 1970s Istanbul, where the book is set--allows for a novel in which virtue and vice are paramount."

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Tomorrow on ABC News Now: Emma McLaughlin, co-author of Nanny Returns (Atria, $25, 9781416585671/1416585672).

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Tomorrow night on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, in a repeat: Mike Huckabee, author of A Simple Christmas: Twelve Stories that Celebrate the True Holiday Spirit (Sentinel, $19.95, 9781595230621/1595230629).

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Tomorrow night on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson: Hank Stuever, author of Tinsel: A Search for America's Christmas Present (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24, 9780547134659/0547134657).


Amulet Books: Ada Twist and the Perilous Pants (The Questioneers #2) by Andrea Beatty, illustrated by David Roberts


Movies: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Dueling versions of Dragon Tattoo on the horizon? Sony Pictures has optioned English-language screen rights to Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Steve Zaillian is in talks to write the script, which would be produced by Scott Rudin with Ole Sondberg and Soren Staermose of Yellow Bird Films. Variety reported that the "deal hasn't closed yet; it's been gestating for six months because of a rights dispute between Larsson's parents and his longtime partner Eva Gabrielsson. Sony's pursuit began last summer, when Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal sparked to the novel series."

The first novel in Larsson's trilogy is already available in a Swedish-language film version produced by Yellow Bird. "Released last February, it's racked up nearly $100 million across Europe. Swedish version was acquired by Music Box Films in the U.S.," Variety wrote.

The Wrap added that "Music Box Films plans to release the film in the U.S. in March and is screening it in Los Angeles this week."

 


Sourcebooks Fire: A Place for Wolves by Kosoko Jackson


Books & Authors

Awards: Too Big to Fail, Best Business Book of the Year

Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System--And Themselves by Andrew Ross Sorkin (Viking) has won the Best Business Book of the Year award, sponsored by 800-CEO-READ. In addition, winners and runners up have been chosen in 11 categories and can be seen here.

Company founder and president Jack Covert commented: "For the past 25 years, we've been the only bookseller in the country focused exclusively on the business audience. This experience has put us in the unique position to highlight the best of the genre."

The winners will receive their awards at a celebration in New York City January 25.


Freeform: The Everlasting Rose (Belles #2) by Dhonielle Clayton


Children's Book Review: Zeus: King of the Gods, Olympians #1

Zeus: King of the Gods, Olympians #1 by George O'Connor (Neal Porter/First Second, $16.99 hardcover, 9781596436251/1596436255; $9.99 paperback, 9781596434318/1596434317; 80 pp., ages 9-12, January 2010)

Here it is! The book you've been waiting for: the first in a 12-book graphic novel series about the Greek gods, called Olympians. And it's just in time to satiate the kids waiting anxiously for The Lightning Thief's movie release (and aimed at the same age readers). Going back to sources from antiquity, including Homer and Hesiod, George O'Connor begins his story with the creation of the gods and lays the foundation for their famous jealousies and rash actions. For starters, Ouranos (the sky), husband to Gaea (Mother Earth), favors his Titan offspring ("They were ageless and beautiful and so tall that their heads scraped the sky") over the one-eyed Cyclopes and Hekatonchieres (each of which has 50 heads and 100 hands). So Ouranos condemns the latter two lines to a chasm deep within the earth. Gaea (pronounced GHEE-uh), however, wants all of her children to be free. So, at her urging and with Kronos in the lead, the Titans "cut open the sky" and drain Ouranos of power. Much to Gaea's dismay, Kronos, now ruler of the Titans, "has too much of his father in him," and he, too, refuses to free his brothers below the earth. So she appeals to the next generation--Zeus.

O'Connor, who early on demonstrated his love of comics with his debut picture book, Kapow!, taps into the more complex visual characterizations he explored in his artwork for last fall's Ball Peen Hammer (by Adam Rapp) here. Kronos and Zeus, even at their most chilling, never lose their dimension or their charisma. The artist uses long vertical cartoon panels in wine, rust and midnight-blue tones to emphasize the commanding grace of the Titans, as well as the "new life" that arises from the drops of Ouranos's blood (and the text plants seeds to further installments: "What came from that [pink froth] is a tale for another day"). The first sight of a maturing Zeus warrants a full page and a much lighter palette in terra cotta, forest green and robin's egg blue. Eight equal panels chronicle Zeus's transformation into an eagle ("To be an Olympian... was to be able to change shape as others change their mind"), and when Zeus meets Metis (a daughter to Oceanus and future mother of Athena), the story shifts from the omniscient narrator's voice to direct dialogue between the pair. But the climactic duel between Kronos and Zeus (father and son) is O'Connor's crowning achievement here. While carefully adhering to the Greek legends, O'Connor endows these mythic characters with a freshness and magnetism that will attract even today's visually savvy youth.--Jennifer M. Brown


Book Brahmin: Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde is the author of the Thursday Next and Nursery Crimes series. He lives in Wales. Shades of Grey, to be publlished December 29 by Viking, is part social satire, part romance, and part revolutionary thriller. In it, a fragmented society struggles to survive in a color-obsessed post-apocalyptic landscape--but don't worry, it's not that serious.
 
On your nightstand now:
 
Better Aerobatics by Alan Cassidy, the bible of aerial maneuvers, a sport to which I remain, despite hours of practice, utterly useless. Kluge by Gary Marcus, a fascinating nonfiction book that attempts to explain how much of human thought is compromised by a brain that has been cobbled together by evolution. It offers an explanation of our appalling memory and how many decisions are based on emotion rather than careful thought. Beyond the Blue Horizon by Jonathan Frater, a book that retraces the steps of the 1929 Empire flying route to Australia and how much the world has changed since then--and how much it hasn't. Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse, a first edition, but very dog-eared. It pays to have a Wodehouse within easy reach in case of night-time emergencies.
 
Favorite book when you were a child:
 
Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Still fresh after all these years. After battling my way through endless dull reading primers, I could finally read and chose this book from my parents' bookshelves. It was like borrowing the car after passing my driving test. I was reading for its own sake and nothing more. I moved on after that--or sideways, perhaps--but never lost my affection for the book and its bizarre mix of high erudition and surreal humour.  I still have that same book in my library today.
 
Your top five authors:
 
P.G. Wodehouse because he makes me laugh; Bill Bryson because he makes me think; Mark Twain because he makes me think and laugh; Kurt Vonnegut because he's got a wild imagination; Alexander McCall Smith because he displays a degree of compassion and humanity rarely seen in popular books these days
 
Book you've faked reading:

 
Any technical manuals regarding DVDs or computers. It's a guy thing. 
 
Book you're an evangelist for:
 
The Reason Why by Cecil Woodham-Smith, Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome and West with the Night by Beryl Markham. Whenever I see a copy of any of these, I buy it, so there is always one in the house to give away. It's no good lending books; you never see them again.
 
Book you've bought for the cover
 
Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland. I'd never read him before. And it certainly didn't disappoint. I saw him give a talk about the book, and he had us all set our phones to ring so that we'd know the sound you hear when the fire alarm finally stopped ringing after a school shooting. Very eerie.
 
Book that changed your life:
 
Tiger, Tiger by Alfred Bester. (U.S. edition: The Stars My Destination, which is a rubbish title.) The book that made me want to be a writer. 
 
Favorite line from a book:
 
"She entered the room like a galleon in full sail." --P.G. Wodehouse.
 
Book you most want to read again for the first time:
 
Catch-22. Didn't want it to end, but it did. Second reading was fun, but it never had the frisson and excitement of first discovery.

 





Deeper Understanding

Our Top 10 Lists 2009, Part 3

We asked Shelf Awareness people for their 10 (or so) favorite books of the past year. Most of these titles were published in 2009, but not all, since we wanted to know what gave them reading pleasure no matter the pub date.

Nick DiMartino

Between the Assassinations by Aravind Adiga (Free Press). By the author of the Booker Prize-winning The White Tiger, this superb collection of stories unfolds like a tour guide to a small town on the southwest coast of India, each separate, spellbinding story sharing the same geography, taking place between the assassination of Indira Gandhi (1984) and that of her son, Rajiv Gandhi (1991)--a torrent of exhilarating, endlessly surprising, morally complicated narrative.

Tokyo Fiancée by Amelie Nothomb (Europa Editions). Young Belgian superstar Amelie Nothomb's fast-paced, light-hearted, frequently hilarious account of returning at age 21 to the Japan of her early childhood, where she teaches French in order to learn Japanese. She's promptly hired by a polite, good-looking, wealthy young student who falls in love with her. A delightful, touching cultural collision.

That Mad Ache
by Francoise Sagan, translated by Douglas Hofstadter (Basic Books). One side of the book is a fresh, airy translation of Francoise Sagan's perceptive, ironic 1965 French novel about love in the upper classes, then flip it over and you'll find another book on the other side: a warm, funny, brilliantly written 100-page essay on the controversial art of translation by the translator himself--Douglas Hofstadter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning genius who created Godel, Escher, Bach.
 
Translation Is a Love Affair by Jacques Poulin (Archipelago Books). Take an abandoned little black cat with a note begging for help hidden behind its collar. Add a stuffy old author with a fondness for cemeteries writing what could be his last novel. Include a lovely free spirit who likes bikinis and is determined to translate the author's masterpiece into French. They add up to an honest, charming story about the everyday mysteries all around us in a novel full of grace and light and pure reading joy.
 
Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's Books). Written with photorealism intensity, derived from hundreds of hours of taped interviews, this is nonfiction that reads like a thrilling novel, the infuriating account of hard-working, idealistic, utterly likable Zeitoun, a Muslim from Syria who's started a prosperous painting company in New Orleans, when Hurricane Katrina separates him from his wife and four kids. Zeitoun and three other survivors, rescuing their neighbors, are accused of being al Qaeda, stripped of their rights and thrown into a small cell in a makeshift FEMA prison. Nonfiction at its disturbing best.
 
My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy
by Andrea Askowitz (Cleis Press). There's nothing Andrea Askowitz wants more than to become a mother, and her no-holds-barred account of that journey is the most upbeat, heartwarming memoir in years, bursting with laugh-out-loud humor, enriched by the author's deeply touching vulnerability, with a delightful cast of big-hearted women characters who accompany her on her mission toward motherhood.
 
Waltz with Bashir by Ari Folman and David Polonsky (Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt). Adapted from the Academy Award-nominated film, this brilliant graphic memoir is a moody masterpiece of art styles and narrative sophistication, telling the true story of Ari Folman's attempt to regain the lost memories of his participation in the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon and of the day the Israeli troops began to realize they were participating in a genocide.

 

The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefevre and Frederic Lemercier (First Second/Roaring Brook Press). This oversize, gorgeous account of 29-year-old French photographer Didier Lefevre's three-month journey on foot with a caravan of Doctors Without Borders into northern Afghanistan, traveling illegally by night to avoid the invading Soviet army, combines boldly colorful graphic panels with Lefevre's actual black-and-white photos, some still in long proof strips, to create a compelling, one-of-a-kind reading experience.

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos H. Papadimitriou, art by Alecos Papadatos and Annie DiDonna (Bloomsbury). With Proustian ambition and exhilarating artwork, this titanic achievement of more than 300 pages is a visual banquet chronicling Sir Bertrand Russell's lifelong pursuit of the Royal Road to Truth, of "certainty in total rationality." It's a tale within a tale, with the two authors and the two graphic artists ardently pursuing their own search for truth and appearing as characters in their own book, as their quest revolves around a lecture given by Russell at an American university in 1939, as the U.S. teeters on the edge of war.

 

Robin Lenz

Makers by Cory Doctorow (Tor). Doctorow's vision of the near future is so scarily real that I literally had to walk away from this book and take a deep breath. When I plunged back in, I was exhilarated, intrigued and inspired. Basically two geeks reinvent the world--out of trash. Is this science fiction or a new business model?

Crazy for the Storm: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad (Ecco). Ollestad recounts the plane crash that cost three lives, including his father's, in 1979. Ollestad, just 11 years old, had to make his way alone down an icy mountain. He cuts back and forth to his California childhood, when his dad taught him to surf and ski and persist--skills that saved his life.

Godfather of Kathmandu by John Burdett (Knopf, January 12, 2010). While this may not be the strongest of his thrillers, I'm taking this opportunity to recommend Burdett's entire Bangkok series (starting with Bangkok 8). This one finds Thai police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep investigating the gruesome murder of a Hollywood director--but that's just the very beginning. Sonchai, a struggling Buddhist with a wicked sense of humor, narrates this journey through a seedy yet spiritual land.

A Gate at the Stairs
by Lorrie Moore (Knopf). Moore's first novel in 15 years was worth the wait. Tassie Keltjin, a naïve Midwestern college student, is hired to be a nanny by an upscale couple hoping to adopt a baby. Tassie comes of age amid revelations about marriage, love, class, race and so much more, all in spare, beautiful, occasionally hilarious language.

Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood (Doubleday/Talese). Though Atwood doesn't describe her work as science fiction, this dystopic vision of the future fits squarely in that category. Set in the same damaged world as Oryx and Crake, Year of the Flood expands on the consequences of catastrophic climate change and global pandemic, focusing on a small group of survivors and their developing beliefs.

The Dark Horse
by Craig Johnson (Viking). Johnson vividly sets his Walt Longmire mysteries in the rugged landscape of Wyoming, and his characters become more complex and interesting with each noirish, witty volume. This is the fifth, in which the memorable Sheriff Longmire goes undercover to ascertain a woman's innocence.

Magicians by Lev Grossman (Viking) has been described as "Harry Potter for adults," and that's not inaccurate or bad. Quentin Coldwater, a slacker Brooklyn high school kid devoted to a children's series set in the Narnia-like world of Fillory, is selected to enter exclusive Brakebills College, where he's taught magic. Grossman's characters grow up a lot more than Rowling's, and there are some wonderfully entertaining moments--loved the scene where Quentin and friends turn into geese and fly halfway across the world.

Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls (Scribner). In prose so dry you can almost taste the dust, Lily Casey Smith, born in West Texas in 1901, narrates this "true-life novel" by her granddaughter. As resourceful, outspoken and fiercely independent Lily recounts her hardscrabble frontier life, Walls (The Glass Castle) evokes her character so thoroughly that I still can't get her out of my head.

The Believers by Zoe Heller (Harper). When patriarch Joel Litvinoff suffers a stroke, his seriously screwed-up, über-liberal Jewish family attempts to deal. You probably wouldn't want to spend time with any of these characters in real life, but you won't be able to resist turning the pages to see what happens next.

Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson (Knopf). I probably shouldn't count these as one title, but I will, since I plowed through them pretty much in one swoop. Rather than overdosing, I'm now addicted. While his prose (or perhaps the translation) can be clunky, the late Stieg Larsson's quirky characters are unforgettable.

 

Jennifer M. Brown


Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic). How did Suzanne Collins up the ante and further the characterizations from The Hunger Games? We discover there's even more to Katniss, Peeta and their mentor, Haymitch, than we thought (and there was a lot to begin with) as they travel from district to district on their Victory Tour... and even more is asked of them.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice
by Phillip Hoose (Melanie Kroupa/FSG). Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Ala., on December 2, 1955, a 15-year-old named Claudette Colvin took the same brave action. This stirring account affirms Colvin's rightful place in history and gives young people a reason to stand up for what's right, even if the laws are not.

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate
by Jacqueline Kelly (Holt). This debut novel introduces a turn-of-the-20th-century heroine for modern times: an 11-year-old girl stuck in the middle of three older brothers and three younger brothers who would much rather be observing grasshoppers than cooking and sewing. Luckily, she finds a champion in her naturalist grandfather. He sides with Mr. Darwin's theories, but his discussions on the subject with the family's minister serve as a model for respectful debate.

If I Stay by Gayle Forman (Penguin). Mia, a gifted 17-year-old cellist, winds up in a coma after her parents and brother perish in a car accident. Are the things she loves on earth--Beethoven, her rock musician boyfriend, her grandparents--enough to hold her here? Each memory serves either to pull her back to her life or toward her family. After you read Mia's description of hearing Yo-Yo Ma in concert, just try to experience his music the same way again.

The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney (Little, Brown). Jerry Pinkney's wordless spreads show us that a lion's footprint can be as vast to a mouse as the Serengeti plains are to a wildebeest. In full-bleed spreads, the lion sets free the mouse that disturbed its sleep, and a series of panel illustrations follows the mouse as she releases the great beast from a hunter's trap. Pinkney's watercolors have never been more masterful--or heartfelt.

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick). Peter, a 10-year-old orphan in the city of Baltese, believes that his sister still lives, despite his guardian's insistence that she does not. A fortuneteller tells Peter that an elephant will lead him to her. And when an elephant crashes through the glass ceiling of the Bliffendorf Opera House, it changes everything--and everyone. Kate DiCamillo invents a new emotional landscape with every novel, and here she creates a fable in which the impossible can happen if we'll only ask, "What if?"

Moonshot: The Flight of Apollo 11 by Brian Floca (Richard Jackson/Atheneum). During this year that marked the 40th anniversary of the moon landing, Brian Floca's picture book somehow captures not only the scientific achievement of Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin on their historic mission, but also the poetry of the experience of being on the moon ("cold and quiet,/ no air, no life,/ but glowing in the sky"). I will long remember the full-bleed spread of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon's surface, looking up at "the good and lonely Earth, glowing in the sky."

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small (Norton). As a child, David Small contracted throat cancer, caused by his radiologist father. As an adult, he courageously steers us down the rabbit hole and deep into a childhood filled with silence, secrets and fear, then shows us how art can help us survive, make sense of and heal from seemingly cavernous wounds. He blows open the graphic novel format with a memoir that redefines the genre.

Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic). A water buffalo in an empty lot wordlessly dispenses advice until, forgotten, he disappears. A leaf-like exchange student, who stays in his host family's cupboard, leaves as a parting gift a small garden planted in castoff caps and peanut shells. Scraps of many citizens' discarded poetry gather together in a "distant rain" over cement sidewalks and box-like houses. With these images, rendered in an array of oil paintings, pencil drawings and collage, Shaun Tan wakes us up to a suburban landscape filled with possibilities.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb/Random House). Sixth-grader Miranda doesn't completely understand how time travel works, though she loves her weathered copy of A Wrinkle in Time. Nor why her friend Sal, who's lived in the same Manhattan apartment building since they were in strollers, no longer speaks to her--though she's making some new friends. But messages seemingly from the future tell her that Sal's in danger. All she knows for certain is that everything is changing. Rebecca Stead perfectly captures that moment in a child's life when the boundaries get bigger and she must find her way on an unknown path.

 


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