Also published on this date: Wednesday, April 24, 2013: Maximum Shelf: The Son

Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, April 24, 2013


St. Martin's Press: The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

Houghton Mifflin: Wild Game: My Mother, Her Lover, and Me by Adrienne Brodeur

DC Comics: Heroes in Crisis by Tom King, art by Clay Mann

John Scognamiglio Books: The Long Flight Home by Alan Hlad

Harper Paperbacks: The Starlet and the Spy by Ji-min Lee

DC Zoom: The Secret Spiral of Swamp Kid by Kirk Scroggs

Beach Lane Books: Fly! by Mark Teague

Sterling Children's Books: Momentous Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

News

World Book Night: 'Y'all Are Made of Awesome'

World Book Night U.S. generated plenty of book passion yesterday. The #WBN2013 Twitter hashtag was working overtime for @wbnamerica, and WBN Facebook posts streamed in with enthusiastic commentary and photos of happy book givers. Here's a sampling of WBN U.S. reactions from various sources and locations, proving the event was a nationwide celebration indeed.


First thing yesterday morning, WBN U.S. executive director Carl Lennertz was "spreading the love of reading with Al Roker in the Today Show. Such fun!"

The Vernon Area Public Library District, Illinois, shared copies of Population: 485 with the Lincolnshire-Riverwoods FPD.

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From My Shelf Books & Gifts, Wellsboro, Pa.: "Happy World Book Night!!! (err... WBN day...) Today & tonight, 19 book givers will go out into our communities, in Tioga and Potter counties, and give out free books to those folks who would benefit most from some encouragement to read! The givers will be at schools and churches, laundromats and coffee shops, prisons and hotels, bars and convenience stores. Thanks to all the authors & publishers who gave up royalties on these books; thanks to those who organized all this; thanks to all the WBN volunteers!"

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Goddard Riverside Community Center, N.Y.C.: "It's @wbnamerica at Goddard and the giving has already started!" And: " 'You mean we don't have to pay?'--Members of our senior center are pleasantly surprised with a free book!"

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The Christian Science Monitor: "At tonight's performance of the current Broadway revival of the musical Annie--which tells the story of a plucky orphan living during the Depression--books will be given to each audience member with a ticket. The books' recipients will be encouraged to pass them along to someone who isn't necessarily drawn to reading." (WBN's photo of seating arrangements)

WBN Givers ready to go at Wellesley Books,
Wellesley, Mass.

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Book giver's comment on WBN's Facebook page: "I gave all my books away! What a joy it brings me to give books! I actually had a SUV pull up and ask me if they could have two books! They had seen my sticker saying I was a book giver. The young man working the window at McDonalds also saw my sticker and asked about it. I gave him a book. I had set out for my usual book giving place and never made it there as the books were given before I could get there!"

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@karen_g: "Just dropped off some books with the Transit Police here in Boston. Can't think of some more deserving folks this wk!"

 Chris Wolak shared this photo of her friends at the Hines [Ill.] VA hospital.

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Liberty Bay Books, Poulsbo, Wash.: "Thank you to everyone who spent this April 23rd spreading the love of reading across Kitsap County!"

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@HemngwayHeroine: "Is the #wbn2013 market seeded? More people taking without asking too many questions this year." And: "My #wbn2013 goal from last year was to approach a more diverse group of people. I got young, old, male, female this year." And: "Next year my goal is to encourage more conversation. Maybe get some photos."

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Maria's Bookshop, Durango, Colo., shared its first WBN U.S. photo "from a Durango giver! Former Maria's bookseller Lindsay, up at Fort Lewis El Centro de Muchos Colores Hispanic Resource Center this afternoon. Looking forward to more photos from our 39 awesome local givers!"

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@AnnKingman: "About 300 attended the @FoxboroughRCS World Book Night celebration. So many happy families!" And: "The @FoxboroughRCS student readers. Each read one of the #wbn2013 books and answered questions." pic.twitter.com/RgVBVA3OwB
 
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@librarian_erinw: "Books were given out on the Butler Freeport Trail via bike tonight!"

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Book giver's comment on WBN's Facebook page: "Went to Gus's a local Grog 'n Grill and gave away THE TENDER BAR, everyone seemed pleased, I had fun and even gave one to a gentleman having a birthday... told him he was in great birthday company. Saved one for a man who told me he got back to reading after receiving a book from me last year, and had asked if he could have one this year!"

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@MarianLaPage: "One guy declined, and the stranger next to him on the bus leaned over and said, 'Are you sure? It's David Sedaris!' He took it!"

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Magers & Quinn Booksellers (@magersandquinn): "World Book Night giver braves April blizzard in Minneapolis!"

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@jennadoesbooks: "An empty box of #wbn2013 books is sitting in front of the YMCA that they happily went into!" http://instagram.com

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@realjohngreen: "Thanks to all the #wbn2013 volunteers sharing books with people. Y'all are made of awesome."


G.P. Putnam's Sons: Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live) by Eve Rodsky


Barbara's Bestsellers in Boston Closed

photo: hipharp.com

The small Barbara's Bestsellers store in Boston's South Station has closed, Boston Business Journal reported. The store, which opened in 1994, was empty yesterday. The landlord and Barbara's headquarters did not respond to inquiries.

Barbara's Bookstore first opened on Wells Street in Old Town in Chicago in the 1960s, and expanded in the Chicago area and the Northeast to include branches in railroad stations, airports, office towers and a hospital. Barbara's also has several stores and book sections in a range of Macy's stores across the country.


Ecco Press: Sontag: Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser


Obituary Note: Ian Miller

Ian Miller, former bookseller and one-time director of the U.K.'s Book Trade Benevolent Society (now the Book Trade Charity), has died, the Bookseller reported. In addition to his career in the book trade, Miller was the co-author, with Deborah Elliott and Philip Grey, of Teach Yourself Bookselling.


KidsBuzz for the Week of 06.24.19


Politics and Prose and a 'Smooth Transition'

This is the final part of a three-part series. You can read Part 1 here; Part Two is here.

One of the biggest surprises for Bradley Graham and Lissa Muscatine has been how good business has been since they bought Politics and Prose nearly two years ago. "Revenues are up and profits have stayed strong," Graham said. When they were buying the store, "there was a lot of doom and gloom. We heard warnings to be prepared for the bottom to fall out." But the store got a "Borders bump" and benefited from a range of good books appearing while customers stayed "buoyant" and continued to buy lots of printed books. "We've had a cushion, and it's been very nice."

Another surprise was what Muscatine called "the collegiality and camaraderie of fellow booksellers and bookstore owners." As journalists and people involved in politics, she said, "It is not the norm to be so collaborative with people who might be considered competitors. It's so great to be able to call up just about anyone and say, 'How do you do your membership program or do bargain books?' It's a smart, generous group of people."


Graham, who in the beginning was most interested of the two in buying Politics and Prose, did research by visiting bookstores around the country and talking with booksellers. "I was impressed from the start," he commented.

"The common denominator" of the successful stores Graham visited was that they are "gathering places, community centers and platforms for civic discussion," Muscatine said. "They matter more and more in the Internet age, when so many experiences are becoming homogenized and more virtual, when there are fewer interactions and algorithms tell people what to buy."

By contrast, she continued, independent bookstores offer a place where people "can engage with other humans, can talk with the author, can be in a book group, can see each other, can ask a human for a book recommendation and can go on trips with others."

"When we came into the business, we learned there is no silver bullet solution, which has been reinforced by our experience and guides our thinking about strategic moves," Graham said. "We don't think 'if only we did this or that, all would be perfect.'" Instead he said, "We're satisfied with hitting singles, doubles and triples, not home runs."

One challenge is educating customers about the importance of local bookstores. Muscatine outlined some of the usual horror stories, particularly customers scanning titles on the store shelves to buy online. For now, the store doesn't charge for event admission or require the purchase of a book, an approach that Muscatine said "we may have to address at some point."

At events and informally, the store reminds people that "we have staff and expenses," as Muscatine put it. "When people stop and think about it, they say, 'Oh, I get it.' " She promised ongoing reminders, adding, "I regret to say we probably have to be a broken record about this."

Graham explained that becoming a bookstore owner "was not as much of a leap from journalism as people think. In journalism, you deal with words and ideas, and here we're still dealing with words and ideas. It's partially why we feel so at home in the business." In addition, he said, so many of the store's customers are "our neighbors and colleagues and friends." The pair live about 10 minutes away from the store.

photo: Linda Davidson/Washington Post

When the pair talked about what it's like to work together, there were echoes of former owners Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade, who when interviewed together often had conversations that featured Cohen making observations or statements with Meade diplomatically disagreeing or correcting her.

"This is my first time working together with Lissa other than raising three kids together and building a home," Graham said when he broached the topic.

Muscatine commented, "Brad did the home."

With a laugh, Graham said, "The kids say the store is our fourth child."

Muscatine responded, "Brad thinks that's funny." After a pause and with a hint of a smile, she added, "Working together has its plusses and minuses."

They both say that with different strengths and weaknesses, they complement each other well. They have no formal division of responsibilities, although Graham, who has an MBA that "I never used," tends to handle the numbers and finance while Muscatine is especially interested in events and sidelines. But on most matters, such as personnel and strategy, they work together.

Perhaps because of their journalistic and government backgrounds, "We're very good at briefing each other and handing off different tasks," Graham said.

When Politics and Prose was put on the market, the couple were originally not interested in buying it. Graham was working on a third book, whose subject has become very topical: the defense budget. For her part, Muscatine was thinking of leaving the State Department, where she had been working for two years (she had earlier been a journalist and worked in the Clinton White House with Hillary Clinton), and wanted to teach and write.

Thinking he would make a good owner, friends nudged Graham, who missed the initial deadline. He then threw his hat in the ring and was in the final group of six. Graham called the process "more audition than auction," involving interviews and writing memos. (One memo involved describing how he and Muscatine would divide responsibilities.)

For a while, Muscatine was wary about buying the store, but she accompanied Graham to the first interview, which he called "a brilliant move. They liked me, but they loved Lissa." In part, this was because, considering that the store was founded and run by two women, "they were not uninterested in having a female presence in the store," Muscatine said.

As she researched to see if the deal would make sense for Graham, she got more and more interested, too.

Graham and Muscatine have a range of projects on their to-do list. They're redesigning the store's website to make it "cleaner, user friendly, with less text, informational, easier to deal with," Muscatine said. They also want to have more space for classes; improve signage and display; possibly change the café menu and the loyalty/membership program; and improve strategic planning.

Another intriguing, but distant possibility is opening a branch. Because of "a lack of bookstore outlets now," Graham and Muscatine are approached "at least once a month" with inquires about opening branches in the Washington area, particularly downtown, Capitol Hill, Georgetown, Silver Spring, Old Town Alexandria and "the airports." Graham called the idea "tempting," but said, "So far, we felt it important to focus on the existing store." Muscatine added that it would be difficult to "replicate the store." --John Mutter


Publishers! Last call for the One California Holiday Catalog Campaign! Learn more>


G.L.O.W. - Galley Love of the Week
Be the first to have an advance copy!
The Truants
by Kate Weinberg

In Kate Weinberg's The Truants, set in East Anglian academia, three students, a seductive journalist and a charismatic professor fascinated by Agatha Christie are swept up and battered in a whirlwind of friendship and passion. Helen Richards, associate editor at Putnam, knew from the first page she wanted to introduce Weinberg's incredible debut novel to American readers. Her writing is "so potent--so delicious, so atmospheric and at times so heart-achingly vulnerable--that it creates a world all its own on every page. I found it impossible to drag myself away! It offers the best of two worlds: a seductive mystery wrapped in an unconventional coming-of-age story." She says everyone at Putnam is "obsessed with the dark vibe and the smart, juicy writing." Campus obsession, editor obsession, sales force obsession--all will surely be joined by reader obsession. --Marilyn Dahl

(Putnam, $26 hardcover, 9780525541967, January 28, 2020)

CLICK TO ENTER


#ShelfGLOW
Shelf vetted, publisher supported

 


Notes

Happy 15th Birthday, river's end bookstore!

Congratulations to river's end bookstore, Oswego, N.Y., which is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a series of events during the month of May. Co-owners Bill Reilly and Mindy Ostrow and the staff thanked the community "for embracing the bookstore and making it their own!"


Berkley: Man's 4th Best Hospital by Samuel Shem


Bookyard: An 'Outdoor Library' in Belgium

Colossal showcased Bookyard, a "public outdoor library installed in the middle of a Belgian vineyard" that was built by Italian artist Massimo Bartolini for the art festival TRACK: A Contemporary City Conversation in Ghent.


Personnel Changes: New Chief Editor for OED

Simpson

RETIRED. adj. John Simpson, chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, effective October. After 20 years as chief editor. Joined OED in 1976.

PROMOTED. adj. Michael Proffitt, to chief editor of the Oxford English Dictionary, effective October. Currently editorial project director. Joined OED in 1989.


Media and Movies

Media Heat: David Sedaris on Fresh Air

Today on NPR's Fresh Air: David Sedaris, author of Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls (Little, Brown, $27, 9780316154697).

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Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Barbara Rose Brooker, author of The Viagra Diaries (Gallery, $16, 9781451688610).

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Tomorrow on KCRW's Bookworm: David Shields, author of How Literature Saved My Life (Knopf, $25.95, 9780307961525). As the show put it: "The title of David Shields' recent essay collection, How Literature Saved My Life, makes an extraordinary claim. He elaborates here, telling not only how reading rescued him, but along the way tackling contestable writerly questions, like the merits of realism versus imagination. Shields dislikes books that 'bubble-wrap' reality, and explains why his favorite kind of literature exposes its author."

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Tomorrow on Dennis Miller: Carol Burnett, author of Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story (Simon & Schuster, $24.99, 9781476706412).

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Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Tim Gallagher, author of Imperial Dreams: Tracking the Imperial Woodpecker Through the Wild Sierra Madre (Atria, $26, 9781439191521).

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Tomorrow on PBS's Newshour: Michael Pollan, author of Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation (Penguin Press, $27.95, 9781594204210).

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Tomorrow night on the Colbert Report: Gene Robinson, author of God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage (Knopf, $24, 9780307957887).


TV: Shakedown

FX is developing Shakedown, a drama based on James Ellroy's novella "set in the tabloid world and underbelly of Los Angeles circa the late 1950s," Deadline.com reported. The show will feature a "fictionalized version of legendary Hollywood vice cop-turned-private eye [Fred] Otash, who exposed the sins of the rich and famous in the 1950s magazine Confidential" and appeared in Ellroy's novels The Cold Six Thousand and Blood's a Rover. The project is being written by Joel Gotler, who will executive produce with Joe Roth, Clark Peterson, Steven Hoban and Palak Patel.



Books & Authors

Awards: Arab Fiction; Plutarch; Graywolf

The Bamboo Stalk by Saud Alsanousi has won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction 2013, marking the first time the prize has been won by a Kuwaiti author. Alsanousi, who is 31, is also the youngest author to win the prize. The Bamboo Stick is his second novel; his first, Prisoner of Mirrors, was published in 2010. He wins $50,000 and is guaranteed an English translation of the novel.

Prize organizers described the book as "a daring work which looks objectively at the phenomenon of foreign workers in Gulf countries" through "the story of Issa, the son of a Kuwaiti father and a Filipino mother."

The Prize is supported by the Booker Prize Foundation and funded by the TCA Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, which marks its first year as the new sponsor of the Prize.

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Biographers International has created a new award, the Plutarch Award, the winner of which will be determined by a vote of members from a list of nominees selected by a committee of biographers. The books nominated for the inaugural Plutarch Award are:

Saul Steinberg: A Biography by Deirdre Bair (Nan A. Talese)
The Passage of Power by Robert Caro (Knopf)
All We Know: Three Lives by Lisa Cohen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)
Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis by Timothy Egan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
A Difficult Woman, The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman by Alice Kessler-Harris (Bloomsbury Press)
Barack Obama, The Story by David Maraniss (Simon & Schuster)
The Lives of Margaret Fuller by John Matteson (Norton)
The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss (Crown)
On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder (Crown)
American Tapestry: The Story of the Black, White and Multiracial Ancestors of Michelle Obama by Rachel L. Swarns (Amistad)

The winner will be revealed at BIO's Compleat Biographer Conference in New York City on May 18.

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Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Lazarus Dean has won the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize, "designed to honor and encourage the art of literary nonfiction, and is given to an outstanding manuscript by an emerging author who has published no more than two previous books of nonfiction."

Judge Robert Polito commented: "Something analogous to Bob Dylan's temporal and spatial freewheelin' propels Margaret Lazarus Dean's smart, spirited, and elegiac new book, as she tracks the trajectory of the final three manned space shuttle orbiters of the 21st century. For his spaceflight story, Mailer proved skeptical, if ultimately exuberant, whereas Dean emerges as a poet of a belated, cooler, perhaps more clear-eyed and rueful tone: 'Sometimes it seems as though Norman Mailer's generation got to see the beginnings of things and mine has gotten the ends.' "

Graywolf will publish Leaving Orbit in early 2015.


Book Brahmin: Fiona Maazel

photo: Andreas Lamm

Fiona Maazel, author of Last Last Chance, is the winner of the Bard Prize for Fiction and a National Book Foundation "5 Under 35" honoree. She teaches at Brooklyn College, New York University, Princeton and Columbia, and was appointed the Picador Guest Professor at the University of Leipzig, Germany, in 2012. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. Her new novel, Woke Up Lonely, is from Graywolf Press (April 2, 2013).

On your nightstand now:

The Dead Fish Museum by Charles D'Ambrosio, A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers, My Name Is Red by Orhan Pamuk and Exercises in Style by Raymond Queneau.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The Sunbeam Library's Holly and Robby Visit Valentine Valley. This was actually the first book I ever read. It's about these kids who go looking for the perfect valentine, but who can't find it until they realize the perfect valentine is actually the person reading the book. So there you go: a lesson in empathy for a five-year-old (though I didn't actually start reading until I was seven or something grossly delayed like that). Point is: this little book was trying to make explicit--even to dramatize--what the reading experience is supposed to be like when it works: a chance to see yourself ennobled or flayed, indicted or at least appraised.

Your top five authors:

Dante, Homer, Dostoevsky, Faulkner, Thomas Hardy.

Book you've faked reading:

Ulysses by James Joyce. I just can't do it. And I don't even feel that badly about it. I love Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man--"The ticking went on unceasingly; and it seemed to this saint that the sound of the ticking was the ceaseless repetition of the words--ever, never; ever, never. Ever to be hell, never to be in Heaven; ever to be shut off from the presence of God, never to enjoy the beatific vision...."--but Ulysses? I once went to an exhibit of first-edition Ulysses. Half the books hadn't even been cracked (which you could tell because the pages were still uncut). So, Ezra Pound? I'm saying he read half of Ulysses, tops.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Ogre by Michael Tournier. Not everyone's cup of tea. And for good reason. The novel's about a mechanic turned pederast turned Nazi who's also the Christ bearer, in one way or another. Unbelievably beautiful, rich prose. Dark--so dark--but clear-eyed when it comes to observing the world; e.g., "There's probably nothing more moving in a man's life than the accidental discovery of his own perversion." Or, more spectacularly, the following paragraph, which I've though about so much over the years, it's pathological:

"April 20, 1938. Happiness? That entails comfort, organization, a constructed stability altogether foreign to me. To have troubles is to feel the scaffolding that is happiness shaken by the blows of fate. In this sense I am safe. Trouble cannot reach me because I have no scaffolding. I am a man of sadness and joy, a completely different alternative to that of happiness-unhappiness. I live naked and solitary, without family or friends, keeping alive by a trade so beneath me that I need think about it no more than I think about my breathing or my digestion. My usual moral climate is jet-black sadness, opaque and somber. But this darkness is often shot through by flashing joys, unexpected and unmerited, which swiftly die out but leave my eyes full of gold and dancing fireflies."

Dancing fireflies! What joy, in its aftermath, feels like for a man locked in comprehensive and unremitting despair.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I have never done that!

Book that changed your life:

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. I probably read this novel in high school. It's overwrought and melodramatic, but never mind that. It's painful. It's hugely intelligent about people. Characters in a Hardy novel are complicated and confused. And the governing voice in Tess is mindful of the universe's disregard for us to the point of tragedy. I probably wanted to become a writer after reading this novel, though it would take me years to admit it. I certainly want all of my novels to read like Thomas Hardy, though I'm pretty sure this isn't going to happen.

Favorite line from a book:

Cruel! I have so many favorite lines, I can't choose just one. But, okay, I will, with caveat that it's just one favorite among many. So:

"Bill Houston sat still, enjoying and enduring the tick of his heart through a day of rain." --from Angels by Denis Johnson.

Enjoying and enduring? If that doesn't distill our experience of life on earth, I don't know what does.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

Madame Bovary by Flaubert. It was a revelation then--I was in college--and you know what I could use right about now? A good revelation.


IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:

Hardcovers
Woke Up Lonely: A Novel by Fiona Maazel (Graywolf Press, $26, 9781555976385). "Woke Up Lonely is a wild thing of genius, so funny and so smart. Maazel presents us with a warped mirror of our country and the time we live in. The Helix, a cult of the lonely, and its founder, Thurlow Dan, along with his ex-wife, Esme, and their daughter, Ida, head a superb cast of characters. The story unfolds in a winding, fun-house fashion, sporting locales from Washington, D.C., to North Korea to Cincinnati. I envy those who are about to read this truly one-of-a-kind work of fiction." --Cody Morrison, Square Books, Oxford, Miss.

The Andalucian Friend: A Novel by Alexander Soderberg (Crown, $26, 9780770436056). "Fans of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, rejoice! A new high-octane thriller--the first in a trilogy--has arrived. Sophie Brinkmann, a single mother and nurse, finds herself in the middle of a war between international drug dealers when she meets and starts dating book publisher Hector Guzman. Sophie turns to an ex-boyfriend for help, but he is an arms dealer whose latest deal has angered his clients, unpredictable Russian mobsters. All these people collide in a tightly woven and highly suspenseful story that will keep you reading long into the night." --Pierre Camy, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Paperback
Dust to Dust: A Memoir by Benjamin Busch (Ecco, $14.99, 9780062014856). "In this powerful memoir, Busch muses on life both concrete and abstract. He traces his life--as a boy, a marine, a son, a father, an actor--through a prism of materials: stone, ash, water, blood, and bone. Each chapter is a different view into the same life, taking us deeper and deeper, letting us up to breathe, then pulling us back down to the heart of things. No matter if he's rebuilding a farmhouse in Michigan or training marines in North Carolina, Busch focuses completely on the moment and takes us there, and then connects us back to the wide world. A book to savor, to appreciate, and to be changed by." --Kate Reynolds, Colgate Bookstore, Hamilton, N.Y.

For Ages 9 to 12
My Summer of Pink and Green by Lisa Greenwald (Amulet, $16.95, 9781419704130). "Lucy is excited to see work begin on her family's new spa business, and her sister is coming home from college. But all is not as Lucy wants it when her sister brings home an annoying boyfriend and she is pushed out of the new business plans by an outsider. Her 'perfect summer' has been ruined--or has it? With lots of humor and insight, Greenwald's follow-up to My Life in Pink and Green once again captures life as an early teen, with all of its highs and lows." --Sam Droke-Dickinson, Aaron's Books, Lititz, Pa.

[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]


Book Review

YA Review: Far Far Away

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Knopf, $17.99 hardcover, 384p., ages 12-up, 9780375849725, June 11, 2013)

Tom McNeal puts a highly imaginative spin on the Brothers Grimm tales in this novel, which casts the ghost of Jacob Grimm in the role of godfather to a contemporary teenage boy.

Jacob Grimm does not understand why, upon his death, he was not immediately greeted by his brother, Wilhelm, whose death preceded his own. Instead, Jacob finds himself in the Zwischenraum, a kind of purgatory for "those who are agitated and uneasy." In the village of Never Better, Jacob finds a raison d'être in protecting 15-year-old Jeremy Johnson Johnson. Jacob narrates the novel, and Jeremy is his hero: "In the old tales, kindness is the purest form of heroism," Jacob says.

McNeal (author, with his wife, Laura McNeal, of Crooked, Crushed and Zipped) strikes an impressive balance between a small-town setting with modern amenities such as televisions, telephones and cars, and the timeless quality of a society that predates cell phones and computers. Kids still play Monopoly and pull pranks, such as the one attractive and adventurous Ginger Boultinghouse convinces Jeremy to pull on the town's baker. Jeremy has always avoided the bakery, ever since his mother succumbed to the "Legend of the First Bite": whatever living thing you look upon during your First Bite of the baker's legendary Prinsesstårta (princess cakes) will  steal your heart. (Jacob's mother left town with a Canadian stranger she looked upon at First Bite.) In a redemptive parallel event, Ginger's eyes land on Jeremy during her First Bite.

Jeremy is one of the rare humans who can hear ghosts, and McNeal exploits the comic possibilities. Jacob gives helpful hints to Jeremy on his exams, and advice (which Jeremy often ignores, when it comes to Ginger). When Jeremy asks Jacob what he thinks of Ginger, for instance, the narrator shares with readers his belief: "Over my long life as a mortal I had learned that it is best to answer such questions as positively as the truth will allow." McNeal shows off his bounty of Grimm facts when Jeremy chooses fairy tales as his specialty for the TV quiz show Uncommon Knowledge, and again at a much darker hour, when Jeremy, Ginger and another boy from town get kidnapped.

McNeal slowly builds the incremental incidents that lead up to the kidnapping--Jeremy ostracized by his peers for "hearing voices," and shunned for the prank he pulled on the baker. When the baker chooses not to press charges, Deputy McRaven decides to mete out his own form of justice. McNeal humorously describes the deputy as "a man who accumulated bits of information about villagers and hid them away, as a miser might money." Jenny Applegarth, one of the few kind souls in the village, says it best: "Problem is, in a town like this, the appearance of doing something wrong can be as bad as actually doing it."

McNeal  structures the novel like a fairy tale, and the overwhelming sense of danger surrounding the village like a deep forest will keep readers glued to the edges of their seats. --Jennifer M. Brown

Shelf Talker: A 15-year-old boy can communicate with the ghost of Jacob Grimm and finds himself in a predicament to rival a tale from the Brothers Grimm.


Ooops

Seduction: No Time Travel; Perseus in India

M.J. Rose's "seduce your customer" campaign runs from now through May 9, not March 9, as we mistakenly wrote yesterday. Under the campaign, bookstore customers who order or buy the hardcover of Rose's upcoming novel, Seduction, receive a free e-book of the story collection In Session and a limited-edition manuscript page signed by Lee Child, Steve Berry, Barry Eisler and Rose.

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The deal under which Penguin India will begin distributing books from Perseus International in the country July 1 does not include e-books, as we erroneously stated yesterday. Our apologies!


KidsBuzz: Viking BFYR: The Art of Breaking Things by Laura Sibson
KidsBuzz: The Way the Light Bends by Cordelia Jensen
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