Also published on this date: Wednesday, October 23, 2013: Maximum Shelf: Someone Else's Love Story

Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, October 23, 2013

William Morrow & Company: The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley

Shadow Mountain: The Witch in the Woods: Volume 1 (Grimmworld) by Michaelbrent Collings

Hell's Hundred: Blood Like Mine by Stuart Neville

Delacorte Press: Last One to Die by Cynthia Murphy

Margaret Ferguson Books: Not a Smiley Guy by Polly Horvath, Illustrated by Boris Kulikov

Indiana University Press: The Grim Reader: A Pharmacist's Guide to Putting Your Characters in Peril by Miffie Seideman

St. Martin's Press: Lenny Marks Gets Away with Murder by Kerryn Mayne


Shipping Wars: Amazon Rate Hike, Warehouse; E-Bay Competes

Amazon has raised its minimum order for "Free Super Saver Shipping" from $25 to $35, saying to customers that "this is the first time in more than a decade that Amazon has altered the minimum order for free shipping in the U.S."

"Free shipping has long been a cornerstone of's growth strategy," observed Paulo Santos in a post at Seeking Alpha. "Moving this threshold is a borderline desperate measure. A measure which would only be taken if internally was looking at some seriously ugly numbers." The company reports third-quarter results tomorrow, which had already been expected to be in the red.

In addition, the New York Times reported the online retailer had made another "at the edges" change earlier this summer, when "devoted Prime users discovered that the company had started charging variable amounts according to size and weight, with a minimum of $2.99," rather than the previous deal through which Prime customers received free two-day shipping service, but could get next-day delivery for an additional $3.99 per item.


Amazon plans to open a one million-square-foot fulfillment center in Baltimore that will create more than 1,000 full-time jobs. In its announcement, the company said, "We are grateful to the state and local elected officials who supported Amazon coming to Maryland and we look forward to being a part of the community."


On another shipping battlefront, eBay has acquired Shutl, a "marketplace that uses a network of couriers to deliver local goods on a same-day basis," ReadWrite reported, adding that Shutl, "which lists its speediest delivery to date as a little under 14 minutes after purchase, could give eBay a leg up on same-day shipping rival, Amazon. Currently, Amazon offers same-day shipping in select American cities."

Harper: Our Kind of Game by Johanna Copeland

Customers Rally for Storybook Cove

"Thanks to the support of longtime customers," Storybook Cove, Hanover, Mass., which had issued an appeal in September asking patrons to shop early for the holidays because of cash-flow issues, "will remain in business for the foreseeable future," Wicked Local Hanover reported.

"People really came through. It was amazing," said Bibeau. "We saw customers we hadn't seen in a long time.... It made me feel very good and I really appreciated it. I was amazed and so touched that people thought so highly of me." She has also been able to work out a new agreement with her landlord to remain in the space.

Local resident Andrea Lovett said, "People really rallied around her, which is wonderful. People will need to be reminded that Christmas is coming and to continue to shop there. She doesn't want to get in that position again. This whole incident has made me think, and I want to shop more locally now."

Chronicle Books: Life Wants You Dead: A Calm, Rational, and Totally Legit Guide to Scaring Yourself Safe by Evan Waite, Illustrated by Paula Searing

New Café for Mysterious Galaxy Redondo Beach

Mysterious Galaxy's Redondo Beach bookstore "will once again have a café," called Cork'er, according to yesterday's e-newsletter announcing that the store has signed a lease and demolition on the space is slated to begin this week. The bookstore will be open during the construction, which is expected to last "no more than a week or two."

Larry Killian will be creating a "whole new setting for us when he opens Cork'er," Mysterious Galaxy wrote. "Cork'er will feature locally roasted seasonal coffee and custom loose leaf tea blends. From his kitchen you can expect fresh, locally sourced comfort foods made from scratch daily. He will offer fresh daily baked goods with many gluten free and natural whole grain options. And in the evening, stop by and try local Micro and Nano brews rotated frequently and centered around pairing/tasting dishes. To complete his offerings, family-owned California wine selections and weekly and monthly events are guaranteed to be fun and educational."

GLOW: Tundra Books: We Are Definitely Human by X. Fang

Books and Bagels: Shakespeare & Sons, Berlin

After graduating from university, Roman Kratochvila, a native of the Czech Republic, worked for a year at the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, France. He had never worked as a bookseller before; a friend who worked at the store was leaving and set Kratochvila up with the job. After that, there was no looking back. "I loved it," said Kratochvila. "I decided [bookselling] was what I wanted to do."

He returned to the Czech Republic in 2002 and opened an English-language bookstore in Prague. He named it Shakespeare & Sons, a nod to the institution where he fell in love with bookselling. Since then, he's opened a second bookstore in the Czech Republic and, in May 2011, he opened the third Shakespeare & Sons, in the Prenzlauer Berg neighborhood of Berlin.

Roman Kratochvila

Katrochvila owns and operates the store with his wife, Laurel, who is American. They spend most of their time in Berlin, but travel back to the Czech Republic a few times per month. There are two other employees as well, one who helps with baking and running the cafe and another who helps with the book side of the business.

The approximately 1,100-square-foot store features a full cafe, with homemade bagels as a specialty, and stocks between 20,000 and 30,000 volumes. Although the overall inventory is split roughly in half between new and used books, the makeup of certain sections varies. Fiction, for example, consists almost entirely of new titles, and is the store's strongest section.

According to Kratochvila, contemporary fiction, particularly books by "youngish American authors," tend to do extremely well. The Marriage Plot, Jeffrey Eugenides's most recent novel, has been Shakespeare & Sons' bestselling title to date. Fiction and nonfiction pertaining to Berlin also do very well, along with "expat writers" such as Fitzgerald and Hemingway.

The store has a very inviting, living-room type of feel; it is the sort of place customers come to relax and read all afternoon. The front room contains the cafe and, against one wall, the fiction section. The next rooms are replete with couches, comfy chairs and coffee tables, and house the history, YA, children's and genre sections, among others. The back room is the reading room, and holds the drama, poetry, philosophy, science and used fiction sections.

Although the cafe has proven to be a good draw, Kratochvila described it as a "work in progress." Bagels were added to the menu recently, and he plans to continue expanding the food offerings.

Shakespeare & Sons also hosts occasional events, including film screenings and poetry readings. This week poets Donna Stonecipher, Laurynas Katkus and Shane Anderson will read their work. Last month, Marianne Elliott, author of Zen Under Fire: How I Found Peace in the Midst of War (Sourcebooks), read from and talked about her book. Kratochvila is planning for a big event early next year, which will feature designers from the Curved House, a design company that works primarily for publishers. Each visiting designer will be given shelf space to fill with books they like and books they designed.

Asked how he went about planning the event and recruiting the designers, Kratochvila shrugged. "I'm just friends with them. It's fun." --Alex Mutter

Harper: Sandwich by Catherine Newman

Managing Director Exits the Book Depository

Two years after being acquired by Amazon, the Book Depository is losing its managing director. Kieron Smith, who has held the position for five years, "is expected to leave the company to pursue new opportunities" November 15, the Bookseller reported. The Office of Fair Trading had originally approved the merger "after a lengthy investigation, deciding that it would not lead to a lessening of competition within the U.K. book industry."

Not everyone agreed. Several organizations, including the Booksellers Association, Publishers Association, the Bookseller Group and Independent Publishers Guild charged that the merger would create a monopoly.

Obituary Note: Diane 'DeDe' Gallagher

Bookseller Diane "DeDe" Gallagher, who worked for many years at Book Ends, Winchester, Mass., died October 19. She was 74. From the shop's Facebook page: "We are very sad to announce that we lost a beloved member of the Book Ends family.... DeDe was loved by all who knew her. She was the first one to greet each one of us, customers and fellow staffers alike, with a warm greeting and an easy smile when we came through the front door. She was also the most well-read person that most of us had, or will ever, meet and was quick to offer the perfect book suggestion for any occasion! DeDe was a beautiful human being, both inside and out, and she will be sorely missed. We love you, DeDe!"


Image of the Day: Small Feet, Big Author Tour

Appropriately for a book about a family's adventures in the wilds of Alaska, author Erin McKittrick, her husband and their children are promoting her new book, Small Feet, Big Land: Adventure, Home, and Family on the Edge of Alaska (Mountaineers Books), with an author tour via camper van, starting last month in Seldovia, Alaska, and making their way through southeastern Alaska, Washington State and Oregon, aiming to arrive in California by Thanksgiving.

Earlier this month in Juneau, Hearthside Books hosted an event at Centennial Hall for McKittrick and her family that drew 150 people. The family talked about their adventures, did a slide show, displayed some of their equipment (in the photo above, Hig, Katmai, Erin and Lituya with a tent that's similar to the one they used for two months on their Malaspina Glacier trek), showed a short movie called A Life on Ice by Greg Chaney about their story--and sold 28 copies of the book, as well as some of her previous book, A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles by Boot, Raft, and Ski.

Melville, the Award-Winning Bookstore Cat

Melville, who spends his days at Battlefields & Beyond bookstore, Gettysburg, Pa., has acquired "newfound celebrity status" as Arm & Hammer's October pet of the month, the Evening Sun reported.

The two year old, long-haired gray and white rescue cat gained the honor shortly after his owner, Bernadette Loefell-Atkins, "came home to find Melville sitting on top of a box of Arm & Hammer cat litter, so she snapped a photo and shared it on the company's Facebook page," the Evening Sun wrote. 

Katie Fleming Promoted at Penguin Random House Audio

Katie Fleming has been promoted to director of publicity for Penguin Random House Audio, Fodor's and Living Language. She joined the Random House Audio publicity department six years ago.

Book Trailer of the Day: Melt

Melt: The Art of Macaroni and Cheese by Stephanie Stiavetti and Garrett McCord (Little, Brown), a book that "reinvents the American classic, macaroni and cheese, with gourmet ingredients, handcrafted artisan cheeses, and unique flavor combinations." Or as Stiavetti says, "This is mac and cheese all grown up." Yum.

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Veronica Roth on the Today Show

This morning on the Today Show: Veronica Roth, author of Allegiant (Katherine Tegen Books, $19.99, 9780062024060). She'll also be E! News tonight. 

Also on Today this morning: Gavin MacLeod, co-author of This Is Your Captain Speaking: My Fantastic Voyage Through Hollywood, Faith & Life (Thomas Nelson, $22.99, 9780849947629).


Tomorrow morning on Fox & Friends: John Lithgow, author of Never Play Music Right Next to the Zoo (Simon & Schuster, $17.99, 9781442467439).


Tomorrow morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe: Alan Greenspan, author of The Map and the Territory: Risk, Human Nature, and the Future of Forecasting (Penguin Press, $36, 9781594204814).


Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Robynne Chutkan, author of Gutbliss: A 10-Day Plan to Ban Bloat, Flush Toxins, and Dump Your Digestive Baggage (Avery, $26, 9781583335222).


Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Pat Conroy, author of The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son (Nan A. Talese, $28.95, 9780385530903).

Also on Good Morning America: Rachael Ray, author of Week in a Day (Atria, $24.99, 9781451659757). She will also appear on the View.


Tomorrow on VH1's Big Morning Buzz: Deborah Norville, co-author of The Way We Are: Heroes, Scoundrels, and Oddballs from Twenty-five Years of Inside Edition (Inside Edition Books, $16.99, 9781476757360).


Tomorrow on Inside Edition: Hannah Luce, co-author of Fields of Grace: Faith, Friendship, and the Day I Nearly Lost Everything (Atria, $25, 9781476729602).


Tomorrow on KCRW's Bookworm: Nicholson Baker, author of Traveling Sprinkler (Blue Rider Press, $26.95, 9780399160967). As the show put it: "Nicholson Baker, poet of small accuracies, shows us how if you assemble enough of these small accuracies--the song you're humming, your anger at the war, your admiration for your lawn sprinkler--lo! and behold, you've got a novel. Traveling Sprinkler even creates a love bond out of the need for a hysterectomy."


Tomorrow on MSNBC's PoliticsNation with Al Sharpton: Joshua DuBois, author of The President's Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama (HarperOne, $24.99, 9780062265289).


Tomorrow on NPR's Diane Rehm Show: Wally Lamb, author of We Are Water (Harper, $29.99, 9780061941023).


Tomorrow on NPR's On Point: Terry Teachout, author of Duke: A Life of Duke Ellington (Gotham, $30, 9781592407491).

Also on On Point: J. Craig Venter, author of Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life (Viking, $26.95, 9780670025404).

Movies: Griffin & Sabine

Renegade Films has acquired the rights to the bestselling epistolary novels, Griffin & Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, written and illustrated by Nick Bantock. This is the first time the series, the first book of which was originally published by Chronicle in 1991, has been optioned for a film project. The series will be adapted into a film that travels through the three novels--Griffin & Sabine, Sabine's Notebook and The Golden Mean. Renegade Films is in the process of confirming a screenwriter, director and cast, with production slated to begin in 2014.

"This the first time I've felt comfortable that the essence of the story is understood," Bantock said. "Transitioning this tale from a novel to a movie will test the bounds of dreams and creativity, providing an opportunity to create something intelligent, entertaining and visually extraordinary."

Chronicle publisher Christine Carswell noted: "With over 100 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and published in 10 languages, the Griffin & Sabine series is one of our most popular ever. Not only popular, but also beloved, for the mystery of its storytelling and for characters who live long in the imaginations of the millions of readers who've enjoyed these utterly distinctive novels."

Books & Authors

Awards: Bard Winner; DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

Bennett Sims has won the 2014 Bard Fiction Prize, intended to "encourage and support promising young fiction writers." The prize includes a $30,000 cash award and appointment as writer in residence at Bard College for a semester.

Sims won for his debut novel, A Questionable Shape (Two Dollar Radio), which the prize committee praised for the way it "represents a powerful (and very readable) fusion of genres--a story about the vagaries of human perception which is also a wild romp of zombies biting through a curiously lyrical apocalypse. The writing is intricate, thoughtful, its characters are like most of us obsessed with games and devices, the text bejeweled with footnotes. The author was one of the last students of David Foster Wallace, who was the first reader of the first version of this haunting novel of love and estrangement."


A longlist of 15 books has been released for the $50,000 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, reflecting "a rich and healthy diversity of publishers across geographies." A shortlist will be announced November 20 and the winner named in January at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival. The DSC Prizejury panel includes Paul Yamazaki, head buyer at City Lights Books, San Francisco, Calif. This year's longlisted titles are:

The Book of Destruction by Anand, translated by Chetana Sachidanandan
Goat Days by Benyamin, translated by Joseph Koyippalli
Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer by Cyrus Mistry 
The Watch by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph
How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid
The Blind Man's Garden by Nadeem Aslam
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera
The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy
Scenes from Early Life by Philip Hensher  
On Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman
Cobalt Blue by Sachin Kundalkar, translated by Jerry Pinto
The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai
Foreign by Sonora Jha
Thinner Than Skin by Uzma Aslam Khan

Portland Bookseller's Debut Novel

In the next few months, when Kevin Sampsell isn't working at Powell's Books in Portland, Ore., where he is an events coordinator and head of the small press section, he'll be busy promoting his debut novel, This Is Between Us (Tin House, $15.95, 9781935639701, November 12).

The novel chronicles five years of a troubled romance, following a couple who have recently divorced--with children and emotional baggage in tow--from the euphoric days of their initial attraction to the complexities of piecing together a family. Confessional, funny, poignant and sensual, This Is Between Us is told through vignettes in which the narrator addresses his lover.

The narrative style, a series of recollections threaded together to unfold the tale, is similar to how Sampsell constructed his memoir, A Common Pornography. (He also wrote the short story collection Creamy Bullets and was editor of the anthology Portland Noir.) The novel had its beginnings in 10 flash fiction-type pieces he wrote, each capturing a particular moment in a relationship. He then decided to keep going, ultimately amassing several hundred short chapters touching on various themes.

"I wanted each theme to evoke or represent a slightly different kind of feeling, a slightly different kind of joy or insecurity or whatever," explained Sampsell. "I've always loved writing about relationships and about people, and writing these turned into a really exciting and fun thing to do."

The next step was determining in which order the chapters should flow. "It's like when a band records a bunch of songs and then has to figure out what sequence they go in on an album. This is like a concept album, but it's a novel," Sampsell said.

Writing books isn't the only literary moonlighting he does. Sampsell is the publisher of the micropress Future Tense Books, which he founded in 1990. In addition, a piece he wrote that appeared on, "I'm Jumping Off the Bridge," is included in The Best American Essays 2013. This year's volume is selected and introduced by Cheryl Strayed, another Portland resident.

The opening scene of Sampsell's essay takes place at the Powell's flagship store. While he was working at the information desk one day, a young man came in and confided that he was planning to jump off a nearby bridge. Sampsell played it calm and talked the stranger out of suicide, but the unexpected encounter then triggered a personal crisis of his own.

Sampsell is taking part in an event at Powell's store at Cedar Hills Crossing on October 29 to promote The Best American Essays 2013, along with Strayed and other contributors to the anthology. He'll do an encore performance at the flagship Burnside store on November 15, reading from This Is Between Us before heading out of town to talk up the novel. Stops include Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Skylight Books in Los Angeles, Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., and BookCourt in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Portland Monthly magazine recently dubbed Sampsell "a longtime kingpin of the local literary scene." In his spare time, he might attend or perform at one of the many reading series in the city or even organizing one. This fall he co-produced the inaugural LitHop PDX, which combines a bar crawl with book events. The extravaganza was the unofficial kickoff to Portland's Wordstock Festival and is intended to take place twice a year.

When he gives talks at writing classes, Sampsell encourages students to be involved in multiple aspects of the book world. Whether they're aspiring wordsmiths or looking to pursue a publishing career or other literary endeavors, "I tell them to surround themselves with books and with reading and writers," he said. "I'm super fortunate to have the life that I do where I'm surrounded by all of these different book-related things." Another piece of advice: "I've been working on it for over 20 years, so 'stick-to-it-iveness' pays off." --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Book Brahmin: Nick Lake

photo: Idil Sukan

Nick Lake won the Michael L. Printz Award for his 2012 YA novel In Darkness, the story of a 15-year-old waiting for rescue in a collapsed hospital in Haiti after a devastating earthquake. The book weaves together the teen's present with the country's past--including Toussaint L'Ouverture and his fight for independence. Lake's new book is Hostage Three (Bloomsbury, November 12, 2013) , in which Somali pirates take 17-year-old narrator Amy, her wealthy banker father and his new wife hostage. Lake lives in Oxfordshire.

On your nightstand now:

I keep books on my nightstand but also in my shoulder bag: hardcovers for the nightstand, usually, and paperbacks for the bag, which I carry to work. I also have an e-book reader, but only use it for submissions (my day job is as an editor). I'm not sure why that is.

My current hardcover is James Salter's All That Is. He's a fascinating writer, even if I'm not sure that I precisely enjoy his books. There are authors--like Alice Munro and Marilynne Robinson--who write prose that is beautiful in its rhythm and inflection that flows like music. Salter generally writes more matter-of-factly and in short, simple sentences. But he also has a remarkable ability to depth-charge his books with startling lines that act like little detonations, compact and surprising as poetry. Such as when the protagonist of A Sport and a Pastime notices someone in rural France who has "the face of a girl who might move to the city."

With All That Is, he's apparently tried to move away from that. He has said that he wanted to write a book "where nobody underlines anything," presumably because he feels that pulling out these individual lines, as people tend to do with his books, frays the fabric of the whole, or misrepresents it. But he can't resist one or two. I have been mulling for days now over this astonishing sentence, describing the aftermath of a battle in the Pacific theatre of World War II: "...swollen bodies lolling in the surf, the nation's sons, some of them beautiful."

Why is that final coda--"some of them beautiful"--so arresting? I think because it's an abrupt transition on several levels. In terms of narrative perspective, it takes you from general narration to--presumably--the opinion of the character through whose eyes you are seeing the scene. But also it's a sudden shift from abstract cliché--"the nation's sons"--to specificity. At the same time, I suspect it's deliberately puncturing another cliché, the idea of beautiful young men senselessly killed by war. Here, only some of them are beautiful. It's a reminder that death is not going to magically render every corpse aesthetically pleasing. And all of this in four words.

That said, and as much as I admire the writing and the aim to record the real, with all the shapelessness and banality that goes with it, I am fundamentally a philistine who likes storytelling. So the paperback I'm currently reading is the latest Fred Vargas. I love crime and I've been on a French kick since reading Alex by Pierre Lemaitre. A few fellow editors recommended it to me, and I can see why: it's a book likely to be especially appreciated by those who have read and worked on a lot of stories because it's so original and clever in its structure. I won't say much about it because this answer is far too long already, but it pulls off at least one twist that I haven't seen before.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Roald Dahl's The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me. We had it on tape and would listen to it on car journeys. There's still a part of me that believes one day a pelican will come along and carry me off on adventures in its beak.

Your top five authors:

Five is really hard. But okay: Marilynne Robinson, Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, Margaret Atwood, Jonathan Franzen. Ask me again another time and it would probably be different.

Book you've faked reading:

All of Thomas Hardy. I studied English language and literature at university and was generally very good about reading the required texts. But I just couldn't get into Hardy. It was like swimming in cement. I read the York notes and pulled a sickie for one of my tutorials, I think.

Book you're an evangelist for:

John Crowley's Little, Big. It deserves to be in the canon of great literature but carries a fantasy stigma. It's just a great, beautiful, sprawling world of a book, full of characters you fall in love with, and dealing with enormous ideas about myth and magic and memory and the wonder of all the things we take for granted--the wonder of being a human with a thinking, conscious mind and an unconscious capacity for story. It's a fairy story that gradually reveals that we are the fairies. We are magic, because our imaginations have invented magical things.

If it's not cheating I'd also throw in The Sterkarm Handshake by Susan Price. It did win various prizes when it was published so it's hardly unknown, but I don't see it mentioned much now. It's such a stunning YA novel, though--beautifully written, intelligent and incredibly moving.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I think I maybe bought How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff for the cover--that is, the U.K. cover with the foiled butterflies. It was so beautiful and unusual, at the time. I'm glad I did, too, because I think it's one of those rare, perfect books.

Book that changed your life:

It's not a book, per se, but I'd go for Shakespeare's The Tempest. I vividly remember seeing it when I was 17, and thinking, "This is the most beautiful thing that has ever been written." That was a very teenage thing to think, but I still think it's true. Shakespeare poured a whole lifetime of talent and experience and heartache into that play. The visceral power of it, as a testament to human imagination, is just breathtaking.

Favorite line from a book:

That changes all the time, too, but at the moment it might be "and the walls became the world all around," from Where the Wild Things Are. Every economical line of that book is pure poetry.

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

There are so many: Middlemarch, Coraline, Gatsby. All those books that had a huge impact on me, and which it would be lovely to experience again for the first time. But most of all would probably be Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. I have a daughter named Lyra, after all. Most people who read a lot do it for different reasons at different times: to admire great technical skill; to learn; for entertainment; to experience a different perspective; or simply for escapism. But occasionally a book manages to utterly transport you to another world, while giving you characters you will love forever, and expanding your perspective with surprising ideas. Pullman did that, for me. The intellectual ambition married to the sheer storytelling joy is something quite special.

Book Review

YA Review: The Living

The Living by Matt De La Pena (Delacorte, $17.99 hardcover, 320p., ages 14-up, 9780385741200, November 12, 2013)

In Matt de la Peña's (Mexican WhiteBoy) compulsively readable thriller, a new disease attacks and runs rampant through the poor population in the U.S. on the border of Mexico, and a tsunami threatens the lives of passengers and crew on a luxury liner.

High school student Shy Espinoza, who narrates, takes a summer job aboard  a Paradise Cruise Lines vessel to make money for his family back home in San Diego, Calif. Six days into the voyage, a passenger says something cryptic to Shy ("This is the face of your betrayer," the man tells him, "Me, David Williamson"), then climbs over the ship's railing. Shy tries to save him by grabbing the man's arm. But the man's sleeve rips, and he falls to his death in the ocean. What was the meaning behind the man's words?

De la Peña gradually reveals a complex set of connections between the man who committed suicide, several passengers aboard the ship, and Shy himself. Shy feels helpless when he finds out from his mother that his cousin now shows the same symptoms his late grandmother exhibited. The whites of her eyes turned red and her skin began flaking off--Romero's Disease. Shy has rarely left his hometown, and has never been exposed to the casual way in which the wealthy talk down to the crew. Friendships blossom among the crew members as they work together in close quarters to keep the passengers happy. One of them tells Shy he's being followed. De la Peña paints a few secondary characters in broad strokes, especially the mysterious Shoeshine and Carmen, a crew member who becomes Shy's crush. When the tsunami hits, Shy winds up in a damaged lifeboat with the daughter of David Williamson's business partner, and an oilman who had boasted to Shy--just hours earlier--that he planned to propose to a woman, but she stood him up at dinner.

The breakneck plot will draw readers in, but Shy's personal discoveries about how the world is skewed toward those in power, and his decisions to do the right thing, will hold their attention. At one point, Shy observes, "Some people's lives mattered more than others." The book ends with unanswered questions to be resolved in a sequel, but Shy emerges with a clear conscience and a bittersweet understanding of where he belongs--even if he hasn't quite decided which is more destructive: Mother Nature or human nature. --Jennifer M. Brown

Shelf Talker: Amid disasters, a  teen must come to terms with the chasm between the classes while serving as crew on a luxury liner.

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