Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 15, 2011

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Hungry for the Wolf

This week saw the release of Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf, which we covered in a Maximum Shelf--so don't worry, I'm not going to talk about the book again here. (Although I do recommend it.)

Partly because of this book's release, several people have asked me why I think we're all so entranced by vampires, zombies, robots, witches, werewolves, ghosts, et al. There are probably as many reasons as there are varieties of supernatural beings, but the one that leaps immediately to my mind is quite simple: contrast.

Years ago, I taught English composition, and the classic "compare and contrast" essay was one of my instruments of torture, er, I mean, teaching tools. I remember telling students that this form of argument was particularly effective because it mimics the process we all go through, whether choosing which car to buy or which course to take. But I also told them to remember that a writer doesn't have to convince herself of how valid a comparison is; she has to convince a reader.

Now, in fiction, writers are rarely trying to sell you something. Hahaha! Of course they are trying to sell you something: they want you to buy in to their premise. What's one of the fastest ways to make a character different? Make him magical. You might not read thousands of pages about a young English boy navigating his way through prep school, his best friends a wonk and a dork. However, give that boy a wand and faster than you can say "Wingardium leviosa!" you have the Harry Potter series--with its all-encompassing world.

For the record, I read those thousands of pages, and thoroughly enjoyed each and every one. There are plenty other books about supernatural beings that leave me colder than Bellatrix Lestrange's heart, but that's okay; they might warm yours. I believe that that contrast is somewhat magical. --Bethanne Patrick

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

Weird Writing Habits of Famous Authors

If you can hum "Lyin' in bed/ Just like Brian Wilson did..." think about substituting "Just like Truman Capote did" in those lyrics and you'll have an idea of what the fab folks at Flavorwire have dreamed up for their latest bookish gallery of authors' odd habits

Writing in bed, or even while wearing pajamas (as Francine Prose does), might not seem so odd in these days of telecommuting and freelance work, but a few of the examples are downright unsettling. For instance, T.S. Eliot tinted his face with green powder "to look cadaverous." Or perhaps "Like a patient etherized upon a table?" 

Authors on the Road: The People's Pharmacy Summer Prep List

Joe and Terry Graedon have written more than 14 books, author a weekly syndicated newspaper column and host a radio show, but they still take their act and expertise out on the road when they can. That's how I was able to sit down with the lettered duo (Joe has a Ph.D. in pharmacology, Terry a doctorate in anthropological medicine) and chat about their latest title, The People's Pharmacy Quick and Handy Home Remedies: Q&As for Your Common Ailments (National Geographic Books, May 2011). 

The Graedons may be doctors, but they're not medical doctors, and they're quite clear that no one should take any of the advice in their books as a reason to skip necessary visits to a physician. "Our philosophy is if it can't hurt and it might help and it's cheap, why not try it?" Terry said. 

By "can't hurt" they mean the ingredient or remedy has no other dangerous properties if used as suggested; "might help" means they've tested it themselves or had copious anecdotal feedback; and "cheap" means readily available to any of their readers of listeners. I asked the Graedons to come up with a list of the top 10 substances to stock in your summer cupboard, pantry and medicine chest to soothe a passel of seasonal ills.

Listerine: The popular mouthwash is recommended again and again to the Graedons and their listeners as a remedy for nail fungus. Joe says that it's the "inactives" in the rinse that do the trick, like eucalyptus oil. "The alcohol seems to make it easier for the antifungal ingredients to get into the nails."
Milk of Magnesia: For summer-strength B.O., the Graedons have a fix that's as cheap and easy as they come. "Just dab any kind of milk of magnesia under the arms and let it dry," says Terry. "It has no color or other odor, and it works as well as any deodorant. It's not an anti-perspirant, unfortunately."
Fresh onion: Joe says that a slice of onion seems to act as an anti-inflammatory for all manner of bug bites and stings. "Of course, meat tenderizer has the same results" he adds, "because of the papain. But if you haven't got any tenderizer handy, it's good to know about the onion effect."
Soy sauce: An army sergeant called in to say that after a training-accident burn, medics sprayed his hand with "a brown substance" before bandaging it. His hand healed very quickly, and when he asked what the medics had used, they said "Soy sauce. We learned that in Vietnam. Takes the pain away and heals it, too."
Yellow mustard: Depending on your pantry, you might choose to treat minor burns--"Not severe ones!" cautions Terry. "For those, go to the E.R."--with cold yellow mustard. Joe explains "We think it's the turmeric that does it. Researchers have discovered turmeric has remarkable regenerative properties."
Coconut macaroons: While there's no medical research to prove this, the Graedons believe that they've heard enough to suggest it: coconut in any form (originally Archway macaroons) seems to soothe severe digestive distress. "In 95 out of 100 cases, including people with Crohn's Disease, coconut stopped the diarrhea." 
Castor oil: If you're still averse to this gloppy stuff because your grandmother "dosed" you with it, never fear: The Graedons just want to suggest you to try it to help get rid of minor surface bruise. "Just rub a bit of it on a knee or forearm," says Terry. "It really does the trick! But don't try swallowing it for that purpose."
Black pepper: Bruises often come with cuts and scrapes. The Graedons' surprising suggestion? Pour on the black pepper--lots of it, and very finely ground, preferably from a supermarket canister. Joe says it stops the bleeding, and that two other options are rubbed sage and cayenne pepper (it doesn't sting).
Pickle juice: Summer means sports, and sports often mean painful leg cramps. The Graedons pass on a time-honored tip from football coaches, who keep jars of pickle juice and offer a swig to any team member sidelined with calf pain. "This might be because of its fermented state," says Joe, "but we don't really know."
Vitamin C: Some people swear by megadoses of "C" for warding off sunburn. If you're not sure, try taking aspirin before a day at the beach. "But first, bring and apply your sunscreen!" says Terry. If, she says, you forget and wind up nursing a burn, apply lukewarm green tea to take the pain away.

Great Reads

Further Reading: Don't Kill the Birthday Girl

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales from an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley (Crown, $23) is a memoir that mixes personal anecdote with research and analysis of food allergies to create a moving and meaningful book about what it means when the same food that makes everyone else happy is off limits to you.


If you read Beasley's book and want more:


Personal anecdote and research: Read Season to Taste: How I Lost My Sense of Smell and Found My Way by Molly Birnbaum. Weeks before the author was due at the Culinary Institute of America, she was hit by a car and lost her sense of smell. Her journey back to olfactory normalcy is her journey back to normalcy in the rest of her life, too. Great sections explaining smells, the nose and their role in taste.


Memoir, but with recipes: Try The Language of Baklava by Diana Abu-Jaber, a book that combines luscious food with family dysfunction. Abu-Jaber's father, a Jordanian immigrant, never made peace with his new country, but was as happy as he could ever possibly be when making the dishes of his homeland.


Fiction about food allergies: Run, don't walk, to read the disturbing yet brilliant Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross, in which a woman's severe food allergy is the catalyst for a sidewinding mystery and elegy for a marriage shattered by the very thing that should have held it together. A book you won't forget.


HP 7.5 Roundup

"This Friday officially marks the end of my prolonged childhood," wrote 24-year-old Matt Kiebus on the Death & Taxes blog. "On Thursday night at 12:01 I'll make the transition from man-child to grown-up-pseudo-adult-still-living-at-home. I'll be at a midnight showing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, bidding adieu to the wizarding world."

Word & Film saluted the unsung heroes of Harry Potter, including screenwriter Steve Kloves, producer David Heyman, production designer Stuart Craig, director David Yates and prosthetic makeup supervisor Mark Coulier, "the hard-working geniuses behind the camera."

HP movie marathon. The Guardian's Charlie Lyne "felt it necessary to rewatch a decade's worth of Quidditch, owls and magic in one sitting. Expecto delirium!"

Is Prince Charles a muggle? The Telegraph noted that Sue Warne, head of teaching and learning at a primary school the Prince recently visited, said, "He asked them whether they liked reading, whether they liked Harry Potter and whether they had read the books and seen the films. He said how awful it was that there were no more Harry Potter books to come."

If you're a really serious Harry Potter fan, this might be the ultimate piece of memorabilia for you--J.K. Rowling's childhood home. The Guardian reported that "Church Cottage in Tutshill, near Chepstow, a former schoolhouse built in the Gothic style in the mid-19th century, is on the market for around £400,000." Adding to the value for Potter enthusiasts is a message scrawled in one of the bedrooms: "a small inscription on the window frame reading: 'Joanne Rowling slept here circa 1982.' "

Production designer Stuart Craig gave Architectural Digest a tour of the Potter sets.

Edible Hogwarts. "This is a cake," BuzzFeed assured its readers. "No seriously, this is a cake. A sweet, delicious cake."

Bookstores: The Illegal, the Water Borne and the Temporary

It seems criminal to call Brazenhead Books illegal--but there it is. Owner Michael Seidenberg set up shop in his Upper East Side apartment after facing many different kinds of disappointment (including quadrupled rent) as an indepedent bookseller specializing in user and rare titles. Without a retail license, Seidenberg could face closure at any time, yet he perseveres.

Now, thanks to this blog entry at the Paris Review and its accompanying video, Seidenberg may gain many new fans and customers, who will discover through watching just how to find Brazenhead Books. Not everyone is thrilled with that prospect, however. The blogger and critic Ed Champion tweeted on July 14: "If Brazenhead has to close because of that video, then it will break my heart. Really, folks, must you publicize EVERYTHING on the Internet?"


"First we had slow food, then slow writing and now, quite naturally it seems, we have slow bookselling," the Guardian's Lee Rourke observed in his profile of the Book Barge, a floating bookshop on a canal boat.

"By setting up on a canal boat, we hope to promote a less hurried and harried lifestyle of idle pleasures, cups of tea, conversation, culture and, of course, curling up with an incomparably good Book Barge purchase," said owner Sarah Henshaw. "I hoped that by creating a unique retail space, customers would realize how independent bookshops can offer a far more pleasurable shopping experience than they're likely to find online or on the discount shelves at supermarkets."


The "pop up" bookstore in Washington Heights was supposed to close on July 14, but due to lease leniency from their landlord, the proprietors will be able to keep the temporary structure in place through September. The Word Up Bookstore at 4175 Broadway near 176th Street is a collaboration between the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance and Veronica Liu, a neighborhood resident and an editor at Seven Stories Press. 

"Now that we aren't moving out this Thursday, July 14, we need more help to sustain this space over the longer term,” Liu wrote on the store's site, asking for a computer, toilet paper and towels, fans and other supplies, as well as help fixing the store's broken air conditioner and doing other repair work.

Those who are interested can email for more information or to make a donation.

Travel Trend: Reading Retreats

We love Laura Miller's piece on reading retreats, which mentions several quite different types that take place in a castle, a monastery and a guest house in Bulgaria. These retreats, unlike the very successful Books on the Nightstand retreat last April, do not feature authors or events--they are all about silence, privacy and sometimes shared cooking duties. 

While Miller herself notes that she would not want to stay in a fine hotel or choose summer for her own reading retreat, the interesting thing about these retreats and the people who run them is the acknowledgement that many people are looking for permission to read more. It's the old dilemma... so many books, so little time! 

Book Review


The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

by Jenny Wingfield

As I devoured this spectacular debut novel, I couldn't help but think of the film To Kill a Mockingbird. The title character's spunky 11-year old daughter, Swan Lake (who rises above her name), is reminiscent of Scout, and screenwriter Jenny Wingfield (The Man in the Moon) has written an unforgettable 1950s Southern tale that would lend itself perfectly to a movie. (In fact, if this work isn't made into a motion picture I'll eat my hat with a side of grits.)

Samuel Lake, a preacher who has lost his parish, moves in with his beloved wife's quirky relatives, including sassy mother-in-law Calla, damaged brother-in-law Toy and a femme fatale sister-in-law determined to have Samuel for her own. Despite the dysfunction, there is abundant love within the family. That love and Samuel's very faith are tested when they encounter the chilling and remorseless Ras Ballenger. When this monster inflicts a sinister act beyond anyone's wildest imaginations, the family takes a stand--with dire consequences.

The book's captivating setting, authentic characters and enthralling plot make for an engrossing read that's both addictive and uplifting, despite several instances of violence that are not for the weak of stomach.

This tale of family loyalty and miracles will stay with you as Wingfield examines the question of exactly what we are willing to sacrifice for those we love. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake draws you in so completely you won't be able to put it down. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Screenwriter Jenny Wingfield's moving, memorable debut novel about family, faith and forgiveness set in 1950s Arkansas.

Random House, $25, hardcover, 9780385344081

Mystery & Thriller

Misery Bay

by Steve Hamilton

In this tale of gripping suspense, author Steve Hamilton returns to Paradise, Mich., for the eighth installment in his Alex McKnight mystery series. Sault Ste. Marie police chief Roy Maven and private investigator Alex McKnight have not always seen eye-to-eye in the past, but when Maven's former partner, Charles Razniewski, is too preoccupied with the peculiar circumstances of his son's death to move past his grief, Maven reluctantly approaches McKnight for help. It is with equal reluctance that McKnight, unable to move on from the grief caused by his own recent loss, agrees to investigate the three-month-old case of Charles Razniewski, Jr.'s apparent suicide near Misery Bay. He returns home from his investigation and finds the elder Razniewski murdered on Maven's kitchen floor. When McKnight and Maven team up to find the killer, they uncover the missing thread of a connection between the two deaths and other recent murders of law enforcement officers whose children, allegedly, have also committed suicide. To the pair's utter horror, they quickly discover that if they don't catch the killer soon, this tenuous thread will lead him to kill again--this time, too close to home.

Misery Bay is an electrifying adventure from start to finish, with clever heroes, disturbing villains and their seemingly uninhabitable surroundings advancing the chilling mystery. The intricate plot and various twists and turns will keep the reader guessing from the first unsettling clue all the way to the story's satisfying end. Two-time Edgar winner Steve Hamilton has created another evocative page-turner that will not disappoint faithful fans of the Alex McKnight books. --Sarah Borders, librarian, Houston Public Library

Discover: The latest enthralling thrill ride in a place so grim and with a villain so unhinged it could only be Alex McKnight's Paradise, Michigan.

Minotaur, $24.99, hardcover, 9780312380434

A Game of Lies

by Rebecca Cantrell

Intrepid German reporter/spy Hannah Vogel is back in Rebecca Cantrell's A Game of Lies, her third mystery set in 1930s Berlin. Posing as a Swiss journalist, Hannah sneaks back into Berlin to cover the 1936 Summer Olympics, and to meet with her mentor about a package he needs couriered out. The meeting goes awry, people die, and Hannah, hunted by the Gestapo, risks her life to find the mysterious package.

Cantrell, who studied in Berlin, easily drops the reader into Nazi Germany. She weaves period details and real people into the story, making it both fascinating and educational. Readers may not know that the only Jewish athlete allowed to compete for Germany in that year's Olympics was Helene Mayer, a fencer, and though Jesse Owens's gold-medal wins are old news, reading about the "Negro's" triumphs on Aryan soil is still satisfying.

Cantrell maintains a sense of danger throughout, not just for Hannah but for anyone who dares defy the Nazi doctrine. This makes it impossible for the reporter to trust even long-time friends fully. Further complicating her mission is her growing attraction to the SS officer Lars Lang, who poses as her lover and helps her spy for the British. Not only are his motives questionable, but he struggles with alcohol and his temper. Hannah's feelings toward Lang are fraught with red flags, but the tension between them is surprisingly sexy. Hannah's actions risk making her young son an orphan, but her fight for a better world is noble, and her perseverance is something to admire. --Elyse Dinh-McCrilllis, chief nerd and blogger at Pop Culture Nerd.

Discover: An absorbing tale of espionage set in Berlin during the 1936 Summer Olympics.

Forge, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765327338

English Tea Murder

by Leslie Meier

Lucy Stone--reporter for the Tinker's Cove, Maine, Pennysaver--is taking her first trip across the Atlantic. The tour of England, led by a local professor, is a chance for Lucy and her friends Rachel, Pam and Sue to see something of the world. When one of the tour members dies before the plane has even landed, Lucy can't help but wonder whether the death was indeed an unfortunate accident.

As she pokes around the Tower of London, bargains with vendors at Portobello Market and walks the pier at Bath, Lucy observes her fellow travelers and is left feeling uneasy. Is she allowing thoughts of a conspiracy get the better of her? After a couple of unexplained accidents and a second death, Lucy--and the police--are on the case.

Whether this is your introduction to Lucy Stone or you're caught up with the series, you'll find Leslie Meier's English Tea Murder a great escape. You'll sympathize with Lucy as she adjusts to the foods and customs of modern England and might be envious as she explores historic sites and shops in Harrods. Throughout the trip, however, Lucy can't shake the idea that she witnessed a murder, even though none of the Americans--including a grieving mother, troubled college students and a medical doctor--seems to have means or motive. Thanks to the complex relationships among the characters and an unexpected dilemma for Lucy, you'll find it difficult to predict the ending of this satisfying cozy. --Candace B. Levy, freelance editor blogging at Beth Fish Reads

Discover: Lucy Stone's latest adventure takes her across the ocean; instead of tea and scones, she finds unpalatable food, cagey tourists--and a spot of murder.

Kensington, $24, hardcover, 9780758229311


by Mark Billingham

American fans of Mark Billingham have had to wait almost two years to get the eighth installment in the Detective Inspector Tom Thorne series. The follow-up to Death Message, Bloodline came out in the U.K. in August 2009. Fans will find the wait well worth it.

Thorne is a London DI in his 40s, a member of the Metropolitan Police Murder Squad. He likes country music; his girlfriend, Louise Porter; and his best friend, Phil Hendricks, a gay, tattooed pathologist. He's tough but has feelings, and he's now dealing with a loss--Louise's miscarriage.

The book opens with a distraught mother taking her young son to a bridge where a train is fast approaching. Why? Cut to the hospital where Louise is; then cut to Thorne's new case, a strangled woman holding a piece of x-ray film in her hand. Why? Then cut to another murder and another piece of film. Gradually we learn that these victims are the children of serial killer Anthony Garvey's victims from years ago. Who is this new killer following in the perverse footsteps of the deceased Garvey? Is there a clue in the book's title? Billingham now has you in his grasp, and it's a firm one.

Billingham continues to grow as a novelist. He's in better control of his narrative and plots and his dialogue continues to be one of his strengths. Thorne is on his way to becoming one of the U.K.'s best (believable) fictional detectives. And American fans will have to wait again--for the BBC's new Thorne series. --Tom Lavoie

Discover: The latest in the DI Thorne series--a winner.

Mulholland Books/Little, Brown, $24.99, hardcover, 9780316126663


Better Than Great: A Plentitudinous Compendium of Wallopingly Fresh Superlatives

by Arthur Plotnik

Until recently, if a wordsmith or conversationalist wanted to convey an emotion in an over-the-top way--but felt awesomely tongue-tied (or awesomely tired of "awesome")--he or she had to rely on boring search engines or old-school dictionaries. Then, along comes this delightful, spankingly amusing little book from Arthur Plotnik, author of The Elements of Editing.

We have used our pleasant superlatives to death, says Plotnik. Fabulous is often said sarcastically. Unbelievable is trite. Incredible is boring. Spectacular is no longer all that great--and neither is great. Conversation is peppered with these words so much that they've lost their ability to capture the intended meaning and, to compensate, we feel a need to add on intensifiers: So great. Too cool. Totally awesome. Or we drag out a word until it's just aMAYYYYzing.

Using 15 generally generic ways of conveying basic goodness, as well as some appendices to help further a newfound lingual insouciance, Plotnik presents hundreds of words and phrases that will make any conversation a sojourn through paradise. This will make your words grovel-at-the-feet divine. Your listeners will find you pawky. They'll hang onto your every word with bum-clenching tenseness. You'll suddenly feel like you're in Celebrity City. And if you're a linguist, conversationalist, writer or just like quirky etymology books, this book is DAP. --Terri Schlichenmeyer, writer at The Bookworm Sez

Discover: A fun way to throw out old words and spice up your conversation, courtesy of long-time editor and writer Arthur Plotnik.

Viva Editions, $15.95, trade paper, 9781573446600

I'm Feeling Lucky: The Confessions of Google Employee Number 59

by Douglas Edwards

In I'm Feeling Lucky, Doug Edwards provides an engaging and entertaining inside look at how Google went from Silicon Valley start-up to a sprawling, S-1 corporation employing tens of thousands in just seven years. Edwards closes his work with these words: "After Google, I find myself impatient with the way the world works. Why is it so hard to schedule a recording on my DVR? Why aren't all the signal lights synched to keep traffic flowing at optimum speed? These are... solvable problems. Smart people, motivated to make things better, can do almost anything. I feel lucky to have seen first hand just how true that is."

What saves this memoir from becoming an insufferable love letter to his former employer is Edward's unusual position: a brand marketer in a company that disdains brand marketing. At Google, engineers rule and believe if they build the best product, users will come. Edwards, an outsider in many regards, is not afraid to point out the hubris of the company's founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who emphasize "efficiency, frugality, integrity" above all else.

I loved reading about Google's journey from an unknown search engine into an indispensable aspect of our daily lives. This peek at the masterminds behind Google is fascinating, as is learning about its corporate culture--playful and creative, yet competitive and extremely demanding.

Edwards is an English major with a great sense of humor, and readers do not need a technical background to enjoy I'm Feeling Lucky. This winning book belongs on the reading list of every entrepreneur, business student and, well, Google user, which is just about everyone. --Kristen Galles at Book Club Classics

Discover: An engaging, entertaining peek behind the curtain at Google.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 9780547416991

Haiti After the Earthquake

by Paul Farmer

Anyone who has read Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains already knows that Paul Farmer is a rare individual who not only seems to have more than 24 hours in his day, but spends those hours focused on the betterment of others, especially the disenfranchised.

Haiti After the Earthquake is Farmer's comprehensive study of why the 2010 earthquake was largely an "unnatural" disaster that has been challenging to overcome. Farmer asserts that "rebuilding capacity--public or private--in Haiti requires sound analysis of what, exactly, has gone so wrong over the past four decades." Farmer's history of Haiti--the first successful slave revolt that lead to the first black republic--illustrates the tenacity and determination of its people. He then discusses why Haiti's "history of outsourcing almost every project to NGOs and contractors made trying to help the public sector like trying to transfuse whole blood through a small-gauge needle, or in popular parlance, to drink from a fire hose" and has made "building Haiti back better" difficult.

After describing the often disheartening attempts to rebuild Haiti, Farmer suggests the successful reconstruction of post-genocide Rwanda may serve as a model for Haiti, and then examines best- and worst-case scenarios for Haiti, circa 2015.

Haiti After the Earthquake provides a complex, wholly accessible study of the factors driving Haiti's future. -–Kristen Galles, blogger at Book Club Classics

Discover: A must-read for anyone who hopes to gain greater perspective and wisdom regarding Haiti's complex past and future.

PublicAffairs, $27.99, hardcover, 9781586489731

Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom

by Jennifer S. Holland

In need of a feel-good book for the summer? Know an animal lover who is having a birthday soon? Want to explore a bit of quirky natural history with your kids? If so, Jennifer Holland's new book, Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom, is for you.

Holland, a senior writer for National Geographic magazine, has researched stories of relationships between animals of different species and collected 47 of them in a book consisting of brief, easily readable vignettes accented with full-color photographs. Each chapter concisely describes the history of a particular interspecies bond, the unique qualities of the relationship and the eventual outcome of the pairing. Most chapters include more than one descriptive photograph, and all chapters contain information on animal classification. A reference section at the end of the book provides bibliographic material and resources for further study.

Some of the animal pairings will be familiar to readers from previous publications, including Koko the gorilla with All Ball the kitten and Mzee the giant tortoise with Owen the hippo. Other pairings, though, are almost unbelievable, especially when bonding occurs between animals that would normally be predator and prey. Unlikely Friendships will hold interest for readers of all ages and would be particularly suited to a shared reading between adults and children, as the book encourages animal identification, exploration of animal behaviors and discussion of relationships and their outcomes. It will be a rare reader that puts this book down without pondering the power of friendship. --Roni K. Devlin, owner, Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: A collection of 47 compelling stories about interspecies friendships, accented with full-color photos, animal identification information and a reference section.

Workman, $13.95, trade paper, 9780761159131

Machiavelli: A Biography

by Miles J. Unger

Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) was labeled "the finger of Satan" by a prominent Cardinal in 1539, and his work was placed on the Papal Index of Prohibited Books in 1559. Miles Unger chronicles Machiavelli's rise to notoriety with the same flair that he brought to Magnifico: The Brilliant Life and Violent Times of Lorenzo de' Medici. From humble beginnings in Florence to his bureaucrat years and fame, on to his posthumous vilification by the Church,  Machiavelli's life is observed with a Renaissance-like attention to detail.

As Florence's Second Chancellor, Machiavelli observed his city through multiple crises and believed that classical principles of statecraft lagged behind contemporary needs. He was candid to a fault when he wrote The Prince, sharing everything he had learned with the Medici who were coming in to govern Florence, but the powerful family dismissed him as a nuisance. As Unger remarks, The Prince has achieved fame as perhaps the most unsuccessful job application of all time.

"A lie, convincingly told, is among the most powerful weapon in the ruler's arsenal," Unger writes, explaining that Machiavelli did not follow his own tips for rulers. "Pointing out uncomfortable truths turned out to be an unpardonable crime, while countless acts of cruelty, treachery, and violence... were passed over with barely a yawn." Machiavelli should have known what would happen to him for speaking so plainly to the Medici, but could he have had imagined he'd be influential for centuries? Cynic that he was, he'd have laughed and asked how much his monetary award was.--John McFarland

Discover: An engaging, authoritative bio of Machiavelli, who become a world-famous author, founded modern political science and was vilified by the Church--not bad for an government clerk in Renaissance Florence.

Simon & Schuster, $28, hardcover, 9781416556282

Children's & Young Adult


by Dan Santat

In this suspenseful, often humorous graphic novel, Dan Santat (Oh No! Or How My Science Project Destroyed the World) portrays a superhero running out of steam who decides to hold auditions for a sidekick. His dog Roscoe (aka Metal Mutt!) and Fluffy the hamster believe they're up for the roles, and set out to prove it to Captain Amazing--otherwise known as Harry, their owner. As Roscoe puts it, "Most superheroes dress like animals anyway. He'll just think I'm wearing a fancy dog outfit." When Dr. Archibald Havoc is released on parole and into the streets of Metro City, they all have their work cut out for them. A new addition to the clan, a chameleon that Harry names Shifty, tags along with Fluffy, and they both nearly become dinner to a group of tomcats. Manny (aka "The Claw"), feline former sidekick to Captain Amazing, shows up to set them free, and Fluffy hatches a plan to bring Manny back into the fold.

Santat brilliantly divvies up the pages into panels that speed up and slow down the action like a well-choreographed musical. Warm earth-toned colors, square-jawed heroes and wide-eyed animals call to mind early Hanna-Barbera cartoons. A highlight is a nightclub scene that could be right out of Star Wars except that it's peopled by penguins, rhinos and elephants, and run by a gorilla named Mungo. When a DNA transfer device goes missing, all fingers and paws point to... Dr. Havoc. But can they capture him before he defeats Captain Amazing? Kids will hope that Captain Amazing and his sidekicks will return for many more adventures. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A funny and suspenseful new superhero whose furry sidekicks nearly upstage him.

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $24.99, hardcover, ages 8-12, 9780439298117

Say What?

by Angela DiTerlizzi, illus. by Joey Chou

In this bouncy, rhyming introduction to animal sounds, Angela DiTerlizzi (the Adventures of Meno series, illustrated by husband Tony DiTerlizzi) imagines secret meanings behind the common "moo" and "baa." A blond-haired boy pictured with his mother starts with a question: "How do we know/ what animals say/ when they say what they say/ with their sounds every day?" Joey Chou (Crazy by the Letters) hints at the creatures to be introduced when they form a semicircle around the boy in the opening image. The first couplet introduces a cow and her calf: "When a cow says moo,/ does she really mean who?" Animal-shaped clouds (a bunny, a fish, an alligator) float in the sky above them. Next come a lion and his cub ("When a lion says roar,/ does he really mean more?") and a horse and colt forming the "hay" equivalent of snow angels ("When a horse says neigh,/ does she really mean hay?"). A trip-off-the-tongue refrain brings the three animals together: "They say what they say/ in their own silly way,/ when they say what they say/ with their sounds every day."

DiTerlizzi similarly introduces two more trios of animals and, at the refrain, shows the group of critters mentioned thus far. One meltingly sweet image in cotton-candy pink depicts a mother sheep peering through a nursery window ("When a sheep says baa,/ does he really mean Ma?") as a wide-eyed lamb reaches his hooves out to her. It ends with the human child relating back to his own mother with a message of love we can all understand. Delightful. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A very first book of animal sounds in which a boy imagines the meaning behind each "moo," "baa" and "roar."

Beach Lane/S&S, $15.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 2-5, 9781416986942

Melvin and the Boy

by Lauren Castillo, illus. by Lauren Castillo

You can almost feel the texture in Lauren Castillo's (What Happens on Wednesdays) images of an urban boy who adopts a turtle he finds in the park. The child pines for a pet as he sits on his stoop, watching wagging dogs go by on their walks. "I really want a pet, but I always hear 'No.' " says the boy narrator. The large dog that seems to be walking its master is "too big," says Mom. Dad says a monkey is "too much work." Castillo, in an impressive debut as an author, delivers a deadpan text that plays against her bustling city scenes. "Everyone else has a pet," the boy says while gazing at a leashed gerbil and llama (plus the usual cats and dogs). Then the boy finds a pet that fits the bill--not too big, not too much work: a turtle he names Melvin.

In Castillo's illustrations, the turtle stays true to its nature, much to the hero's disappointment. "Back home I try to play with Melvin, but he is hiding." He continues to "hide" in front of the boy's friends and their pets. Castillo milks the humorous possibilities. As Melvin takes a bath, he comes face to face with a rubber ducky. Still, the young hero can sense that Melvin doesn't seem at home among humans and must make a difficult decision. Castillo closes with two pages of "turtle facts." Her deceptively simple story conveys a child's respect for nature's creatures and also the importance of first-hand experiences with them. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A boy's bittersweet first experience as a pet owner.

Holt, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9780805089295


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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