Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 10, 2012

William Morrow & Company: End of Story by A.J. Finn

From My Shelf

In Praise of Young Booksellers

The Old Dogs of bookselling, when we're not reminiscing about our libertine behavior in the glory days (late '60s to early '90s), are passing the mantle, entrusting talented young booksellers to carry on this increasingly difficult business. And we have a pretty good feeling about it because the current generation is the best in many years. They're smart--actually, they're really smart--and creative and knowledgeable.

They might be standing behind the counter in your local bookstore because of the economy, not able to find jobs in a higher paying field. But I think it's something better and bigger and more positive than that. Most of them are there because they want to be there. I'm not saying they don't have designs on the publishing side of the business, which has slightly better pay and benefits--but they're not treating their bookselling job like a placeholder. And they're taking a risk: being a bookseller in the current bricks-and-mortar world is sometimes precarious.

These young booksellers are iconoclasts. Their lexicon is different. They use curate to describe how they choose and maintain inventory; gateway to describe helping customers discover new subjects and new genres. They are more likely to read a review on the Millions, the Quarterly Conversation and Three Percent, and (nepotism alert) Shelf Awareness than in the New York Times Book Review.

Networking has made them adept at handselling books and creating word-of-mouth successes. Many of them are well read in what a friend of mine calls "the pennies," minor classics that will never hit the bestseller list, books that may not even end up on a digital reader.

For the past few months, I've interviewed some young booksellers for Shelf Awareness for Readers' sister newsletter, Shelf Awareness Pro for the book trade. Meet Jeff Waxman, Stephen Sparks, Jenn Witte and Danielle Borsch. --George Carroll, an independent publishers' representative (and Shelf soccer editor) and longtime bookstore worker

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Lisa Unger: Understanding Dysfunction

Lisa Unger is the author of 11 crime novels. In Heartbroken (Crown), her latest, three women find themselves connected by forces beyond their control. Willingly or not, they are thrown together and discover as much about themselves as they do about each other. Heartbroken will appeal to readers on many levels: the complexity of characters and themes will beguile the literary lover while the strategic plot twists and suspense will tantalize the thriller fan. Devoted Unger fans will not be disappointed, and as a stand-alone, new readers can easily make their Unger introduction with Heartbroken.

The psychology behind dysfunction has been a frequent theme in your books and shows up again in Heartbroken. Why the strong pull toward this theme?

We have this cultural ideal of the family all gathered around the holiday table in harmony and love. It's an iconic image. But the ideal is only a glittering surface. Beneath the table is all this psychology, all these mingling personalities. In every family there is conflict, bad chemistry, psychological symbiosis. There are predators and prey--albeit usually on a very small, personal scale.

It's the dichotomy of the ideal and reality that keeps me coming back to this theme. And there are as many variations as there are families.

I find the idea of family and how we are all intertwined endlessly fascinating. When two people come together as a couple, they haul in all this baggage from separate families. They carry with them heavy loads of history, possibly dysfunction, expectations and ideas that have been passed down through generations. Then, if those two people stay together and have children, they create a new family. And the mess of those two other families twist and wrap around each other. Meanwhile, that couple, over years creates their very own universe--there's a mythology, an evolving history--which may or may not be healthy and whole.

There is another strong theme in the novel, and that's the "haves" vs. the "have-nots"--at many levels, not just monetary. What inspired you to develop that theme so extensively in Heartbroken?

The idea of poverty of spirit is something that obsesses me. I see people with so much who are able to give very little. People who judge others harshly, but never question their own behavior. I see terrible snobs who nonetheless donate money to charity and consider themselves generous. And I have a ferocious curiosity to understand why.

In Heartbroken, Birdie has had every privilege and yet she can't even manage to be kind to her daughter. Kate, raised by the harsh and exacting Birdie, still turns out to be a wonderful mother to her own children. Emily, abandoned by her father and mistreated by her mother, doesn't really have the tools to make good choices. She easily falls prey to a dangerous man... and yet she knows right from wrong, is responsible for her actions. And her actions have terrible consequences. Why couldn't (didn't) she choose to do better?

There are no easy answers to these questions. We are all mosaics of our biology, environment, psychology--no two people are identical. And our choices often have consequences we can't predict. Whether we're talking about the layers of dysfunction or about the "haves vs. the have-nots," I find that complexity, that Gordian knot of the human condition, endlessly fascinating and never tire of exploring on it the page.

Several times in the novel the idea of "there's a bit of autobiography in every novel" comes up. What does that mean to you and your books?

The germ for a novel can come from anything--a line of poetry, a news story, a photograph, even a flyer in the mail. Then it's followed by a voice in my head or an image I see again and again. When that happens, I know that I'm connected to it in some really personal way. Without that personal connection, there's no novel. I simply wouldn't be able to sustain the passion it takes to write a book if I weren't personally invested in the journey.

On the page, I answer the questions I have about life, or at least I explore them in great depth. That's where the autobiography comes in for all my novels. Heartbroken isn't about a real place, or about a real family. But it is, in part, inspired by a painful encounter that led me to wonder why people behave as badly as they do, why some people have such a hard time loving and being loved, and why our hopes for family harmony are so often dashed upon the rocks of difficult personalities.

Have you ever had a writing experience where you started with that passion but it didn't maintain itself the entire time and you walked away from the project?

I have a few partials, stories that started and yet couldn't resolve themselves into novels. But it wasn't about a lack of passion. For example, the story I told in Fragile had tried to find its way out in a couple of different ways. But looking back, I realize that I wasn't ready in some sense to tell it. I wasn't the writer I needed to be; I didn't have enough life experience--the intellectual, emotional or mental tools I needed--to do the story justice. So I had to grow into Fragile. And the voices that wound up driving me through Fragile were much older than the voices I had abandoned in earlier drafts.

Passion alone isn't enough--faith, hard work and craft are also necessary to take you the distance in a novel. Like any organic process, there's ebb and flow to writing. There are days when the house burning to the ground couldn't keep me from the keyboard. And there are days when I lie around my office wondering if I'll ever figure out what's going to happen next. But I show up every day and have faith that the story is there and I'll write my way to it. Passion is at the core of what I do, and the heart of every story I tell. But it's tenacity that gets the job done.

Did the germ for the various plot lines Heartbroken come from the same inspiration or did you find separate inspirations that you ultimately thought fit well together?

I see Heartbroken as having three key players: Birdie, Kate and Emily. Though Kate is Birdie's daughter and Emily has a connection to the family as well, they couldn't be more different from each other. Each woman has experiences that set her completely apart from the other two. And yet, they all find themselves headed toward the same point on the map and connected in ways large and small. The same is true for the inspiration for the various elements of the plot and the characters that populate the novel--all very different, and yet connecting at the heart of this book.

Inspiration is tricky and slippery. And though there was an experience that was the impetus for the novel, what evolved from there has its roots in my various experiences, memories, and, of course, my very dark and twisted imagination. Emily, for example, came from a question I have been asking myself for years: Who is the person who sets fire to your life? And when you are unlucky enough to cross paths with her, where does she get her power? Even when you're doing everything "right," you could still wind up being a victim of someone--who in some ways may also be a victim. I wanted to know what happens when someone like Birdie and Emily collide. It's so easy to judge, to say that this type of person is good, and this other type is bad. But these intersections impress me as impossibly complicated, and Heartbroken is, in part, an exploration of that theme. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Sleeping Bear Press: Junia, the Book Mule of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, illustrated by David C. Gardner

Book Candy

Austenizing; Criminal Vacations; DIY Bookshelves

Want to nurture your Jane Austen obsession? "Your first goal is to Austen-ize your house," Buzzfeed advised, offering a selection of "items that can help." And if money is no object, you might consider bidding on a ring once owned by the author, which will be auctioned by Sotheby's later this month and is expected to sell between $31,000 and $46,000, Jacket Copy reported.


"It used to be safe to say that most of us don't go looking for crime on our vacations, but that's not true anymore," CNN noted in recommending "five trips for crime fiction lovers."


At some point in your life, you've probably been subjected to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The Huffington Post employed the classic personality test to discover "16 fiction book characters' Myers-Briggs personality types."


To keep the Olympic spirit alive for muggles and wizards alike, the Quidditch Summer Games were held over the weekend in Oxford, England, as the official Olympic torch passed through town, the Huffington Post reported. 


Buzzfeed gathered "25 awesome DIY ideas for bookshelves."


Bill Gates; Quirky Romances; Cozy Catastrophes; Dog Reading

What is Bill Gates reading this summer? GeekWire featured the Microsoft co-founder's summer reading list, which includes "a wide variety of nonfiction titles that cover everything from life in urban slums to the economics of energy to the life of Chinese communist leader Deng Xiaoping."


If "you like a little quirk with your romance," Flavorwire suggested "10 great off-kilter love stories in literature."


Jane Rogers, author of The Testament of Jessie Lamb, selected her "top 10 cozy catastrophes... where the world as we know it comes to grief" for the Guardian.


NPR's Morning Edition explored several recent dog memoirs that "will fetch, sit and stay on your shelf." And who's reading those books? Well, Buzzfeed did find "25 dogs that love reading."


The Financial Times asked its writers and a few guests to "select their books of the year so far, from Anne Boleyn's fall to the crisis in the Eurozone."

If You Can't Beat Them, Write a Book

Susan Fales-Hill is former executive producer of the TV show A Different World, and the author of the novel Imperfect Bliss (reviewed below), about a mixed-race family with four marriageable daughters.

At several points over the past year, I've had to check my wall calendar to make certain it was in fact 2012 and that we had not all somehow been transported back in time against our wills to the Mad Men era of women as bullet bra-clad geishas with typewriters, rampant segregation and cigarettes and martinis touted as beneficial to one's health. One such moment was of course the surreal debate over contraceptives in the hallowed halls of Congress. The other was the controversy over the beautifully produced but distressingly monochromatic HBO series Girls. The series delves wittily into the lives of disaffected recent college graduates living in Brooklyn. Its gifted creator, Lena Dunham, is 26 and a graduate of Oberlin College, the first university regularly to admit blacks way back in 1833. And yet the series features not a single character of color. This was not the only new show about 20-somethings to use Alabama Country Club casting standards. Because it was the most noteworthy, it received the most criticism. What shocked me as a biracial woman born in 1962 was that young people raised in the postracial, "kumbaya" age of Obama could be leading lives of not so quiet segregation.

Allowing for the possibility that the writers of these series grew up in predominantly white neighborhoods, I wondered, did they not take notice of all the Indians, Asians, Blacks, Latinos and "In-betweenos" roaming their university dining halls? Part of the blame for this cultural apartheid lies with Hollywood decision makers who refuse to wake up and smell the demographic coffee. As the census reports reveal that births of children of color now outpace white births, will Hollywood adjust the picture, or continue to give us Mad Men in modern garb? While they decide, I'll just keep writing books. --Susan Fales-Hill

Book Review


Alif the Unseen

by G. Willow Wilson

Known for her graphic novels, G. Willow Wilson (Cairo) uses the talent and imagination that garnered her an Eisner Award nomination to great effect in her debut novel, an intriguing mix of fantasy, romance and spirituality wrapped up in cyberthriller packaging.

In an unidentified Muslim security state, a young hacker using the handle Alif--the first letter of the Arabic alphabet--specializes in protecting dissidents, Islamists, bloggers and anyone else willing to hire him from state surveillance. Alif is good at his job, but his private life has taken a sour turn. Intisar, the beautiful aristocratic girl he loves, has broken off their liaison to marry a prince chosen by her family. But when Intisar sends Alif a mysterious book called The Thousand and One Days, rumored to be the djinn-authored companion to The Thousand and One Nights, his love life becomes the least of his worries. Suddenly the elusive entity known to the hackers as the Hand of God catches up to Alif, and he finds himself on the run from the secret police. Along for the ride is Alif's childhood friend Dina, whose constant exasperation with Alif masks a deep affection, and whose cleverness and spiritual conviction will prove a boon. Aided by a brutal and mercurial djinn called Vikram the Vampire and a Western woman who has converted to Islam, Alif and Dina race to stay one step ahead of the Hand. Along the way, Alif tries to unlock the cipher that is The Thousand and One Days, which he believes could change the face of computer technology. But the Hand also knows about the book and will go to any extreme of pursuit, torture or dark magic to possess its secrets.

Don't miss this one-of-a-kind story, both contemporary and as ancient as the Arabian sands. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Read more about Alif the Unseen and G. Willow Wilson in our Maximum Shelf.

Discover: A desert fantasy combining elements of a thriller, mythology, technological evolution and spiritually, as Alif the Unseen runs from the secret police with the help of friends and an ancient djinn.

Grove Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802120205

Up Jumps the Devil

by Michael Poore

Readers of magazines like Glimmer Train and Asimov's may recognize Michael Poore's name from his short fiction, but if you're among the uninitiated, you'll have the joy of discovering a wise and witty voice in his wickedly funny debut novel, Up Jumps the Devil.

"Everybody knows the devil is American." John Scratch, the Devil himself, has spent centuries brokering deals with souls as collateral to shape America into the greatest place since Paradise, all in the name of wooing back his girlfriend, a glamorous angel who finds Earth too coarse and violent. Scratch's great experiment begins with the Puritans and a herd of amorous cows, continues with Benjamin Franklin and reaches its zenith with a trio of young musicians hungry for fame, fortune and the power to change the world. Handsome, devious and powerful, Scratch thinks he has fate under control, but his misjudgment of humanity may cost him not only his plans, but his life.

Poore resurrects not the Devil of the Bible or of Milton, but the Devil of tall tales and Washington Irving, a greasily charming but fallible trickster as tempted as he is tempting, less a creature of evil than one of sheer opportunism. Up Jumps the Devil is an irreverently hilarious and sinfully smart love letter to the history and folklore of the United States, but John Scratch's charismatic and outrageous personality steals the show and will have readers cheering for the fiendish hero as he attempts to mend the original broken heart. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Discover: How the Devil helped build America--to win back his angelic true love.

Ecco Press, $13.99, paperback, 9780062064417

Imperfect Bliss

by Susan Fales-Hill

Forsythia Harcourt, despite her Caribbean heritage, is so obsessed with the English royals that she's named her daughters (ranging in age from 17 to 35) after queens and princesses. Victoria and Elizabeth are as regal and respectable as their namesakes, while the calculating Diana and promiscuous Charlotte do not behave in a manner befitting majesty.

Susan Fales-Hill's Imperfect Bliss centers on the divorced Elizabeth (nicknamed Bliss) as she tries to rebuild her life after being left by a cheating husband. Financial straits force her to move back with her four-year-old daughter to Maryland with her indifferent father and delusional mother--who's still trying to get her daughters to marry up. When ambitious Diana is chosen as America's most desirable virgin for a reality show, the entire family is sucked into a madcap adventure that has their home crawling with pompous producers, egotistical directors and an irresistible host who seems to have the hots for Bliss. (Meanwhile, the dignified Victoria is harboring a secret that won't stay hidden for long under the constant glare of the cameras.) This story parallels Pride and Prejudice, but it has a completely modern feel.

Fales-Hill address issues of race only once or twice, but when she does, they are fascinatingly compelling. Elaborating more about what it's like to look "white," as Bliss does, but actually identify as African American, would have been a welcome addition to this unusual tale. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A mixed-race family with four marriageable daughters meets reality TV in a modern, humorous Cinderella tale.

Atria, $24, hardcover, 9781451623826

Science Fiction & Fantasy


by James Treadwell

Gavin Stokes, 15, the hero of James Treadwell's Advent, is a haunted boy. For as long as he can remember, he has been visited by the apparition of a young woman whom he has fondly come to think of as Miss Grey. Though she has been a comforting presence over the course of his childhood, Gavin's ability to see that which others cannot has led to an emotional estrangement from his parents and, as the story opens, suspension from school. At the end of their rope, Gavin's parents send him to stay with his aunt in Cornwall. In this evocative and chimerical setting, Gavin discovers not only that are there others who can interact with Miss Grey, but that she is the harbinger of a dark and magical world.

In many ways Treadwell's novel, the first in a planned trilogy, defies description. With its young and troubled protagonist, it initially feels a bit like a young adult novel. But the complexity of the story--which includes a subplot told in reverse chronological order and focusing on the legend of Faust--and the sophistication of the language seem to call for an older audience. The fantasy at the heart of the story is intricately imagined; sometimes so intricately that it verges on unintelligible. But it is also intriguing, strange, dark, occasionally incoherent and absolutely worth a read. Maybe even a second one, to figure out all the things you missed the first time. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: The dark and complex tale of a boy charged with returning magic to the world.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 9781451661644


by D.B. Jackson

D.B. Jackson has created an astonishing world in Thieftaker, the first in a series of novels centered on Ethan Kaille, a disgraced sailor and former prisoner now working as a thieftaker--hunting down stolen merchandise for citizens of colonial Boston. But Ethan is also a conjurer, a fact he tries to hide because 1765 is the wrong time to admit to using dark magic in New England.

Ethan is mostly content with his lot--grateful to have been released from slave labor in Barbados and enjoying a comfortable relationship with a local tavern owner. He's intrigued, though, by a request to find a brooch for wealthy merchant Abner Berson. Berson's daughter Jennifer was killed in the confusion when revolutionary radicals attacked the home of leading British officials; Berson wants Ethan to find her missing brooch, while quietly looking into her death. When he agrees, Ethan suddenly finds himself in danger on all fronts--from Sephira Price, the most powerful thieftaker in Boston; from those who fear his magic; and from a mysterious conjurer he suspects is Jennifer's murderer.

The beginning of Thieftaker is a little slow, as Jackson fleshes out Ethan's complicated past and explains how the conjuring works, but it quickly picks up to a pace that's almost dizzying as Ethan crisscrosses Boston, repeatedly being attacked by the various people out to get him. The clever blend of history, mystery and fantasy makes this a book not to be missed. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A new variation on the private investigator story, dazzling murder and magic in pre-Revolutionary Boston.

Tor, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765327611

Biography & Memoir

Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety

by Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith's "memoir of anxiety," Monkey Mind, begins with a section on "why I am qualified to write this book," describing his walk to a therapist's office--a mental flagellation that ends with the therapist asking if he can tape their session, presumably as a case study of just how bad anxiety can become.

Smith then explores what he believes may be the cause of his anxiety: the loss of his virginity involving a dysfunctional coworker and an unfortunate threesome. The images are startling and repugnant, but the reader, thoroughly disarmed by the humor in the first section, is reassured that even during Smith's darkest moments, redemption is possible.

After the first chapter, the memoir is loosely chronological, shifting from hilarious moments from Smith's childhood with his psychotherapist mother ("It was not unusual, when I was young, for a procedure as routine and noninvasive as a strep culture to set me off like a pig in a barn fire") to his present hard-earned success as a writer, husband and father who has learned to live with anxiety as an amusing, if not entirely welcome houseguest. "If this all sounds melodramatic," he writes, "well that, too, isn't a bad metaphor for anxiety--as a kind of drama queen of the mind."

Beyond the entertaining vignettes, Monkey Mind is a serious exploration of an affliction that affects most people to a certain extent and provides helpful insights as well as the reassurance that even the most neurotic are in good company. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: A witty memoir about living with anxiety that is inspiring as well as entertaining.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781439177303

My First Coup d'Etat: And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa

by John Dramani Mahama

When Ghanaian vice-president John Dramani Mahama recounts being sent to boarding school at the tender age of six, he downplays the emotional toll of that early isolation by praising the lifelong gifts that forced independence taught him. But the heartbreaking image of that bereft little boy burns through Mahama's careful and measured tone. Likewise, all of Mahama's erudite remembrances in My First Coup d'Etat, though ostensibly meant to illuminate the larger story of the so-called "Lost Decades" of the 1970s, '80s and early '90s, are as moving for the essential humanness underneath his clear-eyed telling as they are for what his memoirs say about West Africa's post-colonial milieu.

Mahama's childhood, with its elite boarding schools and chauffeur-driven luxury cars, was undeniably privileged. But his large, disparate family kept him connected to the less-modern north of the country. Mahama's understated but evocative descriptions of visits there, a place and time where lions roamed at night and animist traditions were still followed, enchant almost as much as his descriptions of his teenage years, when he and his brothers discovered funk and hung out at discos.

It is when he describes his higher education and a flirtation with socialism, however, that Mahama seems to be speaking as the voice of a generation. After spending two years studying in the Soviet Union, he finds he no longer believes in ideological absolutes. In this way, Mahama's journey, from strong but lonely child through an unstable adolescence and a doctrinaire young adulthood to a nuanced maturity, seems to mirror that of his beloved Ghana. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

Discover: A clear-eyed, enchanting and insightful coming-of-age memoir by the current vice-president of Ghana.

Bloomsbury, $25, hardcover, 9781608198597

American Gypsy

by Oksana Marafioti

Gypsy: for many, the word evokes a picture of women in colorful, long skirts, their dark hair wrapped up in scarves, telling fortunes through a crystal ball while dark, swarthy men gamble at cards. For Oksana Marafioti, Gypsymeans her semi-dysfunctional family. For the first 15 years of her life, Marafioti's parents were part of a traveling ensemble run by her grandparents. Despite their talents, the Marafiotis endured prejudice for being gypsies. Hoping for a better life in the United States, the family emigrated from the Soviet Union, their knowledge of American society based on MTV videos.

Within months, Oksana's parents divorced, leaving her ill-prepared for a typical American high school and having to act as translator for her non-English-speaking mother. With honesty and humor, American Gypsy exposes the life of Marafioti's Roma kinfolk--from the constant fighting of her parents and her mother's drinking problems to her father's new business of conducting séances and exorcisms and her stepmother's gambling addictions. Throughout it all, Marafioti continues to search for her own identity. She discovers love in all the wrong places--but also discovers her own talents as a musician. Eventually, she gains a sense of pride in her ethnic background when a fellow student calls her "exotic," a word she adds as its own separate entry in her journal: "exotic--strikingly, excitingly, or mysteriously unusual. Me." Rich in details, this memoir opens a window into the veiled and intense world of Marafioti's cultural heritage. --Lee E. Cart, freelance book reviewer

Discover: The candid reminiscences of a young Gypsy girl brought to America in search of a better life.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16, paperback, 9780374104078

Current Events & Issues

Too Much Magic: Wishful Thinking, Technology, and the Fate of the Nation

by James Howard Kunstler

In Too Much Magic, the followup to his 2005 The Long Emergency (and a pair of post-apocalyptic novels), James Howard Kunstler takes Americans to task for "ongoing fantasies about a technological rescue from the very predicaments already spawned by the misuse of technology." He methodically skewers what he asserts is the misguided thinking of people like Ray Kurzweil (The Singularity Is Near) who reassure us we can craft benign, inexpensive fixes that will permit us to continue to live in the way we do today.

One of Kunstler's chief villains is suburban sprawl, built on cheap gasoline and (in the case of the Sun Belt) cheap air conditioning. When those common features of modern life disappear, he predicts, whole swaths of the country will revert to a pastoral past.

Kunstler also colorfully expresses his lack of confidence in the nation's political and business leadership. He's equally critical of Democratic policies ("a complete merging of corporate rapine with government assistance") and Republican ideology's "persistent ethnocentrism, xenophobia, institutionalized ignorance, paranoia and parochialism."

Kunstler doesn't paint a clear picture of how we might face the looming deprivations beyond inevitable conflict over dwindling resources and the struggle to develop small-scale, locally oriented ways of coping with our diminished circumstances. Unlike many futurists, however, he doesn't lodge his predictions in some far-off time. According to Too Much Magic, we're already in the midst of the collapse he confidently predicts, and if it plays out as quickly and dramatically as he describes, it will not be pleasant. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Futurist James Howard Kunstler offers a disturbing picture of the decline of American society, as our current lifestyle collapses in upon itself.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802120304


Extreme Cosmos

by Bryan Gaensler

Australian astronomer Bryan Gaensler lands squarely in the "Goldilocks zone"--where in-depth science and layperson readability meet--with his first book, Extreme Cosmos. He explores objects as exotic as supermassive black holes and neutron stars, managing to find examples so extreme as to make other parts of the heavens look mundane. Neutron stars are especially fascinating--remnants of post-supernova stars, these balls of neutrons are just 15 miles wide with densities in the hundreds of millions of tons per cubic centimeter; one of them has been found with a rotation speed of 716 times per second.

Gaensler acknowledges that these numbers can be so far beyond everyday experience they become meaningless. His solution is the frequent use of analogies, simple enough to explain the grandest of concepts without feeling forced or condescending. "Astronomy is a dynamic and burgeoning field," he points out. "New discoveries are made on a daily basis, and records are invariably shattered." There are so many of these that many record-holding astronomical objects are named with seemingly inane strings of letters and numbers. (For example, the rapidly spinning neutron star is "PSR J1748-2446ad.") They are relatively fresh finds, and this book will surely need updating in the future.

Gaensler displays his specimens like an interstellar curator, careful to explain the context and measurements used in determining each record. His lifelong passion for astronomy is evident in his contagiously energetic prose. At times he turns from scientific curator to giddy schoolboy, as though dragging the reader through galactic galleries and exclaiming the awesomeness of every exhibit. Gaensler toes the fine line between his "professor" and "pupil" voices with care, creating an intellectual foray that readers with even passing interests in astronomy will find enjoyable. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: An intimate tour of our universe's most intriguing outliers.

Perigee, $16, paperback, 9780399537516

Children's & Young Adult

Minette's Feast: The Delicious Story of Julia Child and Her Cat

by Susanna Reich, illus. by Amy Bates

Susanna Reich (Clara Schumann: Piano Virtuoso) tells the captivating story of the path to good food and a calling for Julia Child, through the eyes of her cat, Minette.

Amy Bates's (The Dog Who Belonged to No One) watercolor-and-pencil illustrations re-create post-World War II Paris, when Julia and her husband arrived from America for Paul Child's work with the U.S. Information Agency. Julia begins her quest to concoct good meals from the scrumptious ingredients at her disposal. Bates illustrates the city streets like scenery for a play, with fresh bread on exhibit in the windows of the boulanger and beef hanging on display in the boucherie. From Julia's pots and pans, Minette could detect "the delicious smells of mayonnaise, hollandaise, cassoulets, cheese soufflés, and duck pâtés." The cat might take the occasional nibble of cheese or a sip of milk, "But of course, mouse and bird were much preferred," as the book's refrain goes. One day, however, Julia rubs meat with salt and pepper, herbs and spices, and marinates it for three days. Even Minette cannot resist these leftovers.

Reich's internal rhymes make the proceedings feel festive, while her overall prose conveys Julia's seriousness of purpose. The smooth flow of her narrative belies the impressive amount of research she undertook to relate actual conversations and events. Reich and Bates make it seem inevitable that Child would become the most famous cook in the United States and use her own culinary journey to lead other women along her path. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A delectable banquet that charts Julia Child's culinary progress through the eyes of her cat, Minette.

Abrams, $16.95, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-up, 9781419701771

Jersey Angel

by Beth Ann Bauman

In this smart and sexy summer beach read for teens, Beth Ann Bauman (Rosie and Skate) writes about a group of friends the summer and fall of their senior year, when they know that everything is about to change.

On Angel Cassonetti's 17th birthday, her half-siblings, Mimi (age 10) and "little man" Mossy (age 8), wake her with greetings and gifts. Angel, who narrates, loves her family. But there's trouble of Angel's own making with her on-again, off-again boyfriend Joey Sardone. Occasionally Angel needs space and tells Joey so. But this time, Joey's had enough of Angel "toying" with him. While Angel and Joey are "off again," Angel is on with someone else. Bauman makes no judgment--Angel is responsible (she's on the pill and keeps a couple of condom packets with her) and she enjoys her sexuality; it's part of exploring who she is. Angel's best friend, Inggy Olofsson, has only ever been with John Cork. Inggy will be heading for a top college out of town, and Angel worries their friendship will change. When Angel and Cork begin a secret tryst, she worries that if Inggy discovers it, their friendship will also be affected.

Bauman's authentic characters speak frankly about their sexuality and weigh its impact on other areas of their lives. With humor and keen perception, her novel respects teens' need to explore their feelings and desires and the complexities that go with them. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A sensual and intelligent novel about discovering one's sexuality and the complexities that accompany it.

Wendy Lamb/Random House, $15.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 14-up, 9780385740203


Author Buzz

Visions of Flesh and Blood:
A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium

by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Dear Reader,

Today is the release of VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, the Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium, and I am so excited that you finally get to see and read it!

I saw the love you had for Miss Willa, watched how following along with all the series twists and turns brought you joy, and thought... wouldn't it be nice to have a book to help with that, yet give even more new stuff?

So, my publisher and I came up with a plan. It included loads of stunning art commissions, strategic disclosures, and brand-new material. When it all came together, it was even better than I imagined.

VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD is so much more than a series bible. It's a journey and a work of art. A collector's item for sure!


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Visions of Flesh and Blood: A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
February 20, 2024


List Price: 
$7.99 e-book

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