Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Further Fall Nonfiction

So many good books coming in the fall, and we'll be reviewing and highlighting all the best in the coming months.

One special treat: the previously unavailable Edward Gorey books coming from Bloomsbury: A Halloween Treat and Saint Melissa the Mottled--they'll make September a happy/morbid month.

Planet Taco: A Global History of Mexican Food by Jeffrey M. Pilcher (Oxford, September) Pilcher traces the history of Mexican cuisine and the rise of Mexican-American fast food, and discusses the question of authenticity--burritos and taco shells were created in the U.S. According to the author, now that Mexican-American food is global, Mexican elites are rediscovering their native cuisine.

Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler: A True Love Story Rediscovered by Trudi Kantner (Scribner, October) In 1938, Trudi--a beautiful, chic hat designer for the best-dressed women in Vienna--fell in love with Walter Ehrlich, but the world was falling apart for this young Jewish couple. Their story moves from Vienna to Prague to wartime London as they seek safety. Early readers are raving about this one.

The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford (Bloomsbury, November) Lest you think that espionage is a relatively modern invention, Alford takes us into the world of Elizabethan spies, double agents, cryptography and torture. He moves from London to Rome and back, in a time of dynastic conflicts and menace to the throne. Chills and thrills.

One Last Strike: Fifty Years in Baseball, Ten and a Half Games Back, and One Final Championship Season by Tony La Russa (Morrow, September) Morrow has several sports memoirs this season (Believe by Eric LeGrand, A Father First by Dwayne Wade), but this is the only one about baseball. La Russa is a legend--six pennant wins and three World Series crowns--and his recounting of his life in baseball and the 2011 World Series is a winner. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Andrew Gross: From Author to Suspect

Andrew Gross is best known for his collaborations with suspense writer James Patterson. He's also written several solo novels, including the Ty Hauck series and his newest, 15 Seconds (Morrow). In it, Henry Steadman, a Florida plastic surgeon on his way to speak at a conference, is stopped by the police for a traffic violation. The situation escalates, and he is handcuffed and told he is under arrest--then, suddenly, the officer is killed, and Henry is the main suspect.

The premise and catalyst of 15 Seconds--that one's entire life can change on a dime--is very intriguing. Can you tell us about your inspiration for the novel?

Well, most ideas for thrillers probably come out of the newspapers or from current events, but I have to admit, the one for this one came from a harrowing experience in my own life--and of all things, while on book tour in Houston. I was stopped for a minor traffic violation on my way to the hotel, and from there, things just escalated out of control, and I ended up being pulled out of the car, handcuffed, told I was under arrest, and thrown in the back of the officer's car. Within seconds, six or seven other cop cars arrive with their lights flashing; the street is blocked off; passersby staring at me in the car as if I'm some kind of terrorist, and if that was nerve-wracking, the subsequent questioning got even scarier. They obviously thought I was someone who the entire Houston police force seemed to be after!

After about 30 minutes, in cuffs, they realized I was who I said I was, and everyone left, but back in my car, waiting for the officer to give my summons, I realized that if something nasty happened to occur to him right then, there would only be one suspect: the person who had just been in the back of his car in cuffs--me! So, yes, 15 Seconds is the story of how even the best of lives can fall apart in that amount of time. And it doesn't end quite so benignly for the hero in my novel, Henry Steadman--and far less, I'm afraid, for the arresting officer. If you're interested, this two-minute book trailer describes what happened.

Was Henry Steadman a difficult character to write?

No, he wasn't difficult to write. I'm really caught up in the concept of everyday heroism and suspense more than I am with crime. I like to make my heroes ordinary but successful people who are smart, likable and, ultimately, courageous. People who you would admire in life and thus root for when the bottom falls out of their lives and they have to measure up with forces way over their heads. In this case, Henry is a successful plastic surgeon--my editor initially said, can't we make him a brain surgeon or something--but I wanted him to be someone who could poke fun at himself and his own success. What I think separates this story from others is that it evolves not only into a mission of survival, but also into a father having to save the person he loves most in the world.

The use and abuse of prescription drugs is a strong theme in 15 Seconds. Can you explain how this developed for you?

My wife and I have a place in South Florida, so we've seen the change there in the retail pain management market, basically legalized drug dealers, and I've also had some compelling examples in my life of prescription drugs hurting people we love. The book opens with a tragic sequence of events set into motion by a teenaged girl, whose drug abuse becomes the catalyst for the story. The key there was to make her both deplorable and human at the same time, and by midway in the book she's given back some dignity through our hero Henry that she was never able to find on her own. I'm enough of an optimist in life to believe more in affirmation than chaos.

What are the challenges and rewards of writing a series with a continuing character as opposed to stand-alone novels? Do you have a preference for one over the other?

Well, stand-alones are a bit more work. In a series, you know your hero, you know who he/she surrounds himself with, you know the angst and handicaps, you know where it's set--what you have to do is plug in a new crime! Stand-alones, of course, start at ground zero every book. But I prefer them, because it forces you to be fresh and dig deep every story. I always felt a bit handcuffed in a series--on my own and when I wrote with James Patterson. But new stories every year are what HarperCollins seems to want from me now, and where they think I do my best work.

There have been several recent news stories that reflect the kind of shocking event both you and your character experienced. Does the 24-hour news cycle and its proliferation of truth-is-stranger-than-fiction stories make the novelist's job easier or more difficult?

To me, all of this stuff--not to mention the growth of investigative technology--make it tougher for a thriller writer, especially where the story interacts with the public interest. Any time you see a story buried that you think might germinate into a plot, you can be sure the whole world will see it shortly after. It's forgivable in a TV series like Law and Order to be unabashedly "ripped from the headlines," but readers want more from their authors in terms of originality and imagination. And that is compounded by the fact that it takes close to two years from idea to publication. So you'd better make that public story a launching pad, not the payload! Additionally, with surveillance cameras EVERYWHERE today and phones and computers easily traceable, constructing a credible plot line is as much defeating the obstacles of real life as it is defeating the bad guy. Sometimes I just say, the hell with it, I'll put it in the character's head that he knows there might be cameras--just so the readers knows that I thought of it--then eliminate them, because it makes a better plot. --Debra Ginsberg, author

Book Candy

Bookish Names, Bookish Baby Names; Meals from Novels

Contending that "Bladorthin the Grey just doesn't have the same ring to it as Gandalf the Grey," Mental Floss featured "17 famous literary characters almost named something else."


"The hottest baby names of the year (so far)" have been, in many cases, inspired by fictional characters, with a strong influence coming from The Hunger Games and Game of Thrones, the Huffington Post noted.


In her project "Fictitious Dishes," graphic designer Dinah Fried's photographs "enter the lives of five fictional characters and depict meals from the novels The Catcher in the Rye, Oliver Twist, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Moby Dick."


"Judging a book by its cover: a six-year-old guesses what classic novels are all about" from their dustjackets. On her Strollerderby blog at, Sunny Chanel shared her daughter's first literary impressions.


Best of 2012 Fiction; Top 10 SF, Stylish Reads; Science Books

In the midst of what it calls "a stellar year for fiction," the Guardian featured the "biggest novels of 2012--an interactive guide."


"We SF fans are good at pretending," noted io9 before recommending "10 science fiction novels you pretend to have read (and why you should actually read them)."


Fashionable books: Sophia Bennett, author of Threads and The Look, picked her "top 10 stylish reads" for the Guardian.


Wired magazine highlighted the "classic, beautiful and controversial books that changed science forever."

Book Brahmin: Mark de Castrique

Mark de Castrique is a film and video producer whose work has aired on PBS, HBO and network-affiliate stations. He is the author of the Sam Blackman mystery series, the Buryin' Barry series and two mysteries for young adults. He lives in Charlotte, N.C. The author's first stand-alone thriller, The 13th Target, was just published by Poisoned Pen Press.

On your nightstand now:

Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer by Peter Turchi--I'm enjoying this fresh perspective on the writing process and its relationship to map-making. Both are finding the way into and through the unknown. Sister Bernadette's Barking Dog: The Quirky History and Lost Art of Diagramming Sentences by Kitty Burns Florey--I know. I sound pathetically boring. What can I say? I bought this book out of gratitude to my junior high teachers who forced sentence diagramming upon me. Decades later I realize what a treasure those exercises were. Red Shift by Alan Garner--this complex YA novel occurs simultaneously during three time periods in England: the Roman conquest, Cromwell's Civil War and the late 20th century. Geographical location and a stone axe head link the characters across time. I'm realizing it isn't a book to pick up and put down, but requires concentration. The nightstand probably isn't the best approach to appreciate the story.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I went through so many different reading stages. I liked the Jack stories to be read to me. Then at an early age I read The Hardy Boys. In junior high, when not diagramming sentences, I discovered Sherlock Holmes and ripped through the canon in a few months.

Your top five authors:

Tough question. I'll limit the list to favorites of 20th-century genre fiction: Isaac Asimov, Philip K. Dick, Dashiell Hammett, Patricia Highsmith and John le Carré.

Book you've faked reading:

Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. I guess I don't have the literary chops to get into it. I wound up skimming the end.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Keena Ford series, first chapter books geared toward inner city children and written by my daughter Melissa Thomson. Hey, what Dad would say anything else?

Book you've bought for the cover:

Any Mickey Spillane Mike Hammer. Do you have to ask why?

Book that changed your life:

Books constantly shape my life, so it's a matter of choosing the point in time. This question made me think about how I became an English major in college. I'd placed out of all my requirements except a second-year English lit credit. I thought I'd get that course over first semester freshman year and focus on my math degree. One of the works we read was Milton's Paradise Lost. Most of the class hated it. I loved it. The sheer scope of what Milton created with the epic was amazing. The next semester I didn't take an English class, hated my math class and realized a new meaning for Paradise Lost. I found my way back into the fold, earned a B.A. in English, and 30 years later, returned for my Master's.

Favorite line from a book:

"My receipt," Lucas said. It's the last line of Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust when Lucas Beauchamp has just paid his legal fee in pennies. He stands "intractable and calm" in front of lawyer Gavin Stevens. Exasperated, Stevens asks, "What are you waiting for?" It's probably also the shortest sentence in the book. A few pages earlier, Faulkner interrupts the simple description of Lucas rising from his chair by inserting a parenthetical sentence stretching over two pages. I'd like to see Sister Bernadette's diagram of that convoluted maze of clauses.

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

The Lord of the Rings. Discovering the inventiveness of the Middle-earth landscapes, characters and worldview was a remarkable reading experience.

A Purposeful Life

Anthony D'Aries is the author of The Language of Men (Hudson Whitman), a memoir about his Vietnam vet father and his search for who his father really was.

My father taught me about work. His lessons were unspoken. I learned by example.

Work began at sunrise with a cup of coffee and finished at dusk with a large dinner. Work required a uniform, some kind of tool or machinery--in my father's case, a gleaming meat slicer. Work had its location, its cast of characters. Work was something you washed off before bed.

Work fulfilled a financial responsibility, but also allowed one to enjoy free time. My father earned those Sunday afternoons floating in the pool or dozing off to Clint Eastwood on the living room couch. In this way, life was a trade, an exchange of time. Sometimes the trade was unfair, but it was important for this trade to occur.

As a kid, I understood this, and my father's lesson--work first, play second--trickled down to my world. I felt it most when I was lazy, when I'd fake sick and spend my mornings eating cereal and watching television. Guilt percolated in my chest. By late afternoon, any pleasure in the day had faded. My freedom was tainted. Worse, unearned.

So it seems fitting that when I wrote The Language of Men, a book in which my father figures prominently, I rose early in the morning. I brewed coffee. I had my tools of the trade--paper, pen, laptop. I had a location--my desk. I wrote until my brain hummed, and only after I'd put in a day's work did I reward myself with a movie or a run.

Years before I was born, upon returning from a vacation, my mother and father discovered that the supermarket where he worked had closed. I try to imagine my father during those months, sipping coffee, staring out the sliding-glass doors, not quite sure what to do with his time. In the months since turning in my book's final manuscript, I have hardly written a word. I feel unmoored. Though publishing my book has been a much more enjoyable experience than losing a job (even the most cynical writer would be hard pressed to equate the two), the absence of routine is unsettling.

Did my father feel the same way? Did he sense the scales of time tipping in the other direction? And when he found work again, did he sigh in relief, knowing that he'd rise the next morning with purpose? --Anthony D'Aries

Book Review


The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln

by Stephen L. Carter

In The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen L. Carter, Yale law professor and bestselling novelist (The Emperor of Ocean Park), the Union has won the Civil War but at a great cost. Andrew Johnson is dead and Secretary of State William Seward gravely injured. President Lincoln has survived Booth's bullet only to be impeached for offenses he committed to protect the United States.

Carter's story begins in February 1867. A young black woman, Abigail Canner, recent graduate of Oberlin, arrives at Dennard & McShane (the law firm Lincoln has hired to defend him), where she has just been hired as a clerk and hopes to study the law. She's intelligent, ambitious and attractive, but frustrated daily by the menial tasks she is given.

The trial is to begin in a few months and the firm is putting its case together when news arrives that partner Arthur McShane has been found murdered outside a colored brothel, along with a young colored woman, Rebecca Deveaux. Why was he there? Who wanted him dead?

Carter's novel now begins to twist and turn, as new characters are introduced, side plots unearthed and threats of various conspiracies wind their way through the story. What started out as a historical novel suddenly takes on all the intricacies of a legal thriller, along with the dark and brooding atmosphere and multitudinous characters of a Dickensian mystery, with Abigail as unwilling sleuth. That Carter can juggle all these genres simultaneously in this ambitious undertaking without any one falling and breaking is a testament to his storytelling skills. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Read more about The Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln and Stephen L. Carter in our Maximum Shelf.

Discover: A masterful speculation and mystery, based on the premise of Lincoln surviving the assassination attempt only to be impeached for offenses he committed to protect the union.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9780307272638

The Thread

by Victoria Hislop

One hundred years ago, Thessaloniki was a rich tapestry of cultures, bustling with commerce and ringing with the sounds of many languages. But the devastating fire of 1917, two world wars, civil unrest, the forced relocations of Jews and Muslims and, finally, a huge earthquake shook the city to its ancient foundations--all of which Victoria Hislop recounts in The Thread.

Hislop also tells the story of Dimitri Komninos, the son of a wealthy fabric importer, and Katerina Sarafoglou, a refugee from Smyrna, who spend their childhoods in the crowded, colorful, multiethnic neighborhood of Irini Street. Their paths later diverge as Dimitri heads to the university and Katerina begins a career as a skilled seamstress. But through the turbulence of war and natural disaster, their lives are bound together by a thread as fine and strong as the stitching Katerina does for her prosperous clients.

Hislop (The Island; The Return) writes in rich, vivid detail about the city by the sea, bringing its diverse population to life. She draws sharp contrasts between the lives of the wealthy and the poor, while making clear that catastrophe has no respect for social standing. Readers will appreciate the Greek perspective on the Second World War and the account of Greece's complicated struggle with communism, but even more appealing are the close-knit families of Irini Street and the intertwined stories of Dimitri and Katerina.

Sweeping in scope yet intimate in detail, The Island is a love letter to Greece and a testament to the courage and adaptability of its people. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A richly detailed novel of two families whose lives become inextricably intertwined in wartime Greece and for long after.

Harper Paperbacks, $14.99, paperback, 9780062135582

The Prisoner of Heaven

by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Fans of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books series finally have another installment to enjoy: The Prisoner of Heaven, which begins right before Christmas in 1957 Barcelona. A mysterious man with missing fingers comes into Sempere & Sons, the bookstore where Daniel (who was introduced to readers in The Shadow of the Wind) works, and buys an expensive edition of The Count of Monte Cristo. He leaves it at the store with a cryptic message inside for Fermín, Daniel's best friend and coworker. When Daniel presses for the meaning of the inscription, Fermín tells him the awful truth, including the real reason Daniel's mother died.

Fermín's sense of humor helps readers through some of the more horrific incidents when he talks about his prison stint in 1939-1940, when he met the writer David Martín (from The Angel's Game). Daniel's mother, Isabella, also makes an impression as David's friend, who tirelessly lobbies to get him out.

Part of the intrigue of these three books is to see how all the characters and pieces fit together (even if some details don't match what was disclosed in Game)--and, as a note says, they can be read in any order.

The story in The Prisoner of Heaven doesn't quite capture the magic of Shadow, but is more engrossing than Game. Like them, it's a tale about--and for--people who are passionate about books and the art of writing. It contains Zafón's usual wit and eye for period detail, and ends with a cliffhanger indicating that Daniel's journey down a dark path is just beginning. --Elyse Dinh-McCrilllis, freelance writer/editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A welcome revisit to Carlos Ruiz Zafón's Cemetery of Forgotten Books.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062206282

Evel Knievel Days

by Pauls Toutonghi

In his first novel, Red Weather, Pauls Toutonghi explored the world of a son of Latvian immigrants in Milwaukee (a background mirroring his own past as the son of Latvian-Egyptian immigrants). In Evel Knievel Days, he mines his personal history again to follow a confused young man coping with an absent Egyptian-born father, a decidedly non-American name (Khosi Saqr) and borderline OCD tendencies ("I'd once labeled my underwear according to the days of the week"). This time, the story is set in the mountain city of Butte, where a Stetson hat is a "guarantee of authenticity in Montana high society" and native son Evel Knievel is recognized by "America's only festival entirely devoted to motorcycle daredevils."

Khosi can barely get through the day, what with working as a guide in a local history museum, caring for his Wilson's disease-afflicted mother and pining for a local beauty named Natasha. Suddenly, like the slightly mad Knievel, he leaps from Butte to Cairo to run down his father and uncover his Egyptian roots. In the sweltering chaos of the world's second oldest city, Khosi meets the ghost of his great-great-grandfather, confronts his deceptive father, visits his Egyptian relatives and contracts yellow fever. Toutonghi manages to hold all this mayhem together with wit and compassion; in the end, Khosi recognizes that "inhabiting a place doesn't require being in that place," and that "an overflowing platter of falafel" can be "a special peace envoy." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A slightly madcap novel of a Montana immigrant's son traveling to the streets of Cairo to find the father who abandoned him.

Crown, $24, hardcover, 9780307382153

The Absolutist

by John Boyne

The Absolutist is the ninth novel by Irishman John Boyne (best known to American readers for the mega-bestselling YA title The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). Like most of his work, it deals with a serious subject, very serious.

The novel is elegantly laid out--divided into seven parts, each taking us to a different time, each revealing something new. It opens in September 1916, as 21-year-old Tristan Sadler takes a train from London to Norwich to meet Marian, the sister of Will Bancroft, someone he met during the Great War and was in love with, though it wasn't reciprocated. He's returning letters Marian wrote to Will.

Boyne takes us from the war to postwar, to prewar, and so on, to 1979. Each "time" Tristan (as narrator) reveals more of himself. We learn about his early mistreatment as a homosexual, his war training alongside Will, his pain and suffering during the grotesque war, as well as his fears and profound guilt. Will was the "absolutist," the one who stood up to the war's brutality and refused to fight, the one who paid the highest price for his integrity. Tristan is the one left behind to suffer.

This is a highly layered tale, nuanced and complex. Its telling, with much dialogue, seems a throwback to James, Forster, even Ford Madox Ford, but its modernisms belong to McEwan and Bainbridge. Beautifully crafted and wrought, The Absolutist is a story to be savored. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A powerful story about love, hate, courage, guilt and war where nothing is simple and everything might not be as it seems.

Other Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781590515525

Mystery & Thriller

The Crowded Grave: A Mystery of the French Countryside

by Martin Walker

On his way to investigate remains discovered at an archeological dig site, Chief of Police Benoit 'Bruno' Courreges gets stuck in a traffic jam caused by a road full of ducks and geese in the fictionalized town of St. Denis in the Perigord region of France. This rural area is noted for its cuisine, and it appears that the liberated fowl strayed from a vandalized farm. A leaflet at the scene reads, "STOP cruelty to animals. Boycott foie gras." This clue points to zealous activist students working at the archeology site. When Bruno finally arrives at his destination, he discovers that the unearthed skeleton is wearing a Swatch and has a bullet hole in the skull--clearly this is no prehistoric find. It is a crime scene.

In The Crowded Grave, as in the three previous installments of Martin Walker's informative, atmospheric mystery series, Bruno--proud, sensible and honest--believes his job is to take care of local matters that don't need the Police Nationale (or gendarmes). "We can settle things among ourselves," Bruno proclaims. This becomes a tall order, though, as the investigation becomes crowded by a complex storyline that encompasses terrorists, Franco-Spanish intelligence sharing, explosives and missing persons.

Walker writes taut, dramatic scenes where the past and present ultimately converge. Bruno's affection for his hunting-companion basset hound, his complicated love affairs with two women and his penchant for gourmet food, wine and cooking fortify the intensity of the suspense. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A war over foie gras begins an atmospheric murder mystery set in the Perigord region of France.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9780307700193

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury

by Sam Weller, Mort Castle

Sam Weller (The Bradbury Chronicles) and Mort Castle (On Writing Horror) have compiled (and contributed to) a collection of short stories in honor of Ray Bradbury, who died in June 2012 at age 91. The stories in Shadow Show are as varied as Bradbury's own vast range of speculative fiction; some are more successful than others, yet the strongest entries are enthralling enough to sustain the reader through the infrequent lulls.

Margaret Atwood's "Headlife," Joe Meno's "Young Pilgrims," Charles Yu's "Earth (A Gift Shop)" and Bayo Ojikutu's "Reservation 2020" recall Fahrenheit 451's use of science fiction as a vessel for exploring political and social issues. Dan Chaon's "Little America" and Robert McCammon's "Children of the Bedtime Machine" are refreshingly original takes on post-apocalyptic America and evoke the melancholy of Bradbury stories like "There Will Come Soft Rains." Other Bradbury cornerstones are paid tribute: "The Tattoo" by Bonnie Jo Campbell is heavily based on The Illustrated Man, while Alice Hoffman's "Conjure" and Julia Keller's "Hayleigh's Dad" feature menacing strangers in small towns. "By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain" by Joe Hill is an unexpected gem among the other sparkling entries of Shadow Show. It follows two imaginative children as they discover a beached lake monster, a creature reminiscent of Bradbury's "The Fog Horn."

Long-time Bradbury fans and the uninitiated alike are sure to find enjoyable experiences in this collection. The afterwords accompanying each contribution explain Bradbury's influence on the stories and on the author's life in general. These personal tributes, more so than any story, celebrate the life of Ray Bradbury and prove his impact on the literary world. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: Mystery, menace, wonder and adventure--all of it inspired by the works of Ray Bradbury.

Morrow, $15.99, paperback, 9780062122681

Shadow of Night

by Deborah Harkness

Deborah Harkness's debut, A Discovery of Witches, injected a conventional vampire-witch romance with enough propulsive plot to keep readers hanging on for more--right up until its frustrating non-ending. Shadow of Night picks up exactly where we left off, as Diana Bishop and Matthew Clairmont take a lengthy detour from their present-day troubles into late 16th-century Europe.

The couple are on a quest: since the alchemical manuscript that promises to unlock the mysteries of their supernatural existence is hidden by magic in the present, they've decided to look for it in the past. Matthew calls upon friends like Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Northumberland (with grudging help from Christopher Marlowe, who clearly resents Diana's presence). Meanwhile, Diana is also trying to come to terms with her untapped powers and searches for local assistance--not an easy task when anti-witch hysteria is on the rise. There's also a visit to Matthew's family castle in France, where his father, the overwhelming Philippe de Clermont, forces a reappraisal of their relationship.

Harkness packs the story with all-star figures and tantalizing historical tidbits, such as the Voynich Manuscript and the legend of Prague's golem. Still, the core of the story is the intimate bond between Diana and Matthew, two headstrong characters whose parallel journeys of self-discovery are an ongoing dramatic cycle of argument and reconciliation. Each makes a powerful breakthrough in Shadow of Night--emotional climaxes that are doubly important because, in true "middle volume of a trilogy" tradition, the outward plot mechanics are basically holding everything in place until the couple can return to the present and confront their enemies. This time, Harkness brings the story to a relatively solid conclusion. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: The follow-up to Harkness's bestselling debut sidesteps into Elizabethan England, where a modern-day witch and vampire make important discoveries about themselves and their love.

Viking, $28.95, hardcover, 9780670023486

Essays & Criticism

Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from 'Dear Sugar'

by Cheryl Strayed

It seems inadequate to call "Dear Sugar" an advice column, because it exists in a category all its own--as thousands of readers of Cheryl Strayed's pseudonymous biweekly column at the literary website The Rumpus can attest. Part memoir, part essay collection, the aptly titled Tiny Beautiful Things gathers together stunningly written pieces on everything from sex and love to the agonies of bereavement.

Strayed offers insights as exquisitely phrased as they are powerful, confronting some of the biggest and most painful of life's questions. Among the people who write to "Dear Sugar" are a father whose only son was killed at 22 by a drunk driver, a woman who lost her baby and another woman whose infant is about undergo surgery for a brain tumor. In her responses, Strayed shines a torch of insight and comfort into the darkness of these people's lives, cutting to the heart of what it means to love, to grieve and to suffer. Writing to the bereaved father, Strayed describes her own grief at the loss of her mother--a theme in all her work, including her memoir, Wild--and the "obliterated place" the loss created. Then, she tells us, "Sugar is the temple I built in my obliterated place."

The implication is that the power of Strayed's column comes from a previous, intense experience of annihilation. Perhaps it is for that reason that reading "Dear Sugar" can be such an emotionally grueling experience--when Strayed is at her best, the reader is, in some sense, obliterated. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post

Discover: A stunningly written collection of essays on life, love, sex and death by the author of the bestselling memoir Wild.

Vintage, $14.95, paperback, 9780307949332


Dream Team: How Michael, Magic, Larry, Charles and the Greatest Team of All Time Conquered the World and Changed the Game of Basketball Forever

by Jack McCallum

The U.S. Olympic basketball team of 1992 was known as the Dream Team because it had the game's biggest stars, including Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley and Michael Jordan.

Sports Illustrated's Jack McCallum (Seven Seconds or Less, Unfinished Business) brings these colorful personalities to life as he recounts the creation of the Dream Team and its path to Olympic gold. When a meat inspector from Belgrade came up with the idea of rescinding the amateurs-only clause of Olympics competition, it made it possible for the U.S. men's basketball team, traditionally made up of college players, to become a squad of NBA All-Stars, characterized by outrageous and iconic players and an unusual vision of the game. As McCallum tells it, this team took its ambassadorial role seriously, as the superstars relinquished their playing minutes to the greater goals of victory, teamwork and honor in a manner arguably absent from today's game.

Dream Team's tone is occasionally reverent, but just as McCallum begins to speak in mythic terms, he reminds us that these men were only human, tapping into their personal lives and private sides (when his shared history with them allows). McCallum is nothing if not opinionated, but always fair in his analyses, and the quotations and one-liners that pepper his text are pure gold in terms of entertainment as well as illumination of the fine sport of basketball. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: A funny, respectful, expert, complete--and literary--examination of 1992's Olympic Dream Team and its permanent effects on basketball.

Ballantine, $28, hardcover, 9780345520487

Children's & Young Adult

Such a Rush

by Jennifer Echols

This knock-out hit from Jennifer Echols (Forget You) will quickly rise to the top of recommendation lists.

Though Leah's mother has been moving the two of them from city to city, one thing has remained constant: they are always near an airport. When Leah turns 14, she makes a bold commitment: "If I was doomed to live in a trailer park my whole life, I could complain about the smell of jet fuel like my mom... or I could learn to fly." In Heaven Beach, Leah gets the chance to start her mission by getting a job for Hall Aviation, her current backyard airport. Run by Mr. Hall, who employs his two sons to tow banners, Leah works out a deal to start flying lessons with him and is soon in the pilot's seat. After tragedy strikes the Hall family, Leah is forced to work with the teenage Hall brothers--one who's a rule follower and seems interested in her, and another who seeks a good adrenaline rush (and on whom she's had a crush for years).

Echols hits the dynamics of teenage life on the head. Dealing with a mother who would rather please her boyfriend than care for her daughter and dealing with a self-absorbed friend, Leah is instantly endearing, even with her obvious flaws. The scenes between the brothers and Leah expertly reveal her confusion and struggle between friendship, romance and duty to her job. Most of Echols's readers will consider Such a Rush her best yet. --Shanyn Day, blogger at Chick Loves Lit

Discover: An emotional, intense coming-of-age story that combines aviation with romance and friendship.

MTV Books, $16.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9781451658019

Perfect Escape

by Jennifer Brown

Jennifer Brown (Hate List) has created a realistic and emotional sibling journey with Perfect Escape.

Kendra's life has revolved around her older brother, Grayson, whose OCD has forced him into breakdowns, therapy and routines. Feeling the pressure to be a "normal child" for her parents, Kendra has spent years attempting to be perfect. This drive for perfection takes her down a path of cheating and lies in an effort to receive an A in a class she's failing and ruins the image she has tried to uphold for her parents and her college dreams. Needing a moment to think, Kendra finds herself at Newman Quarry where her brother has come on hundreds of occasions to count rocks. Sure enough, he's there again. Soon Grayson and Kendra are 100 miles from home, with Kendra planning to drive all the way to California.

The main theme of Perfect Escape may be a road trip, but the real journey here happens in the relationship between Kendra and Grayson. Brown doesn't take the easy way out, weaving solutions together for a neat package in the end. Instead, we witness Kendra's extremely realistic inner monologues as she realizes her place in life and where Grayson fits, and the shattering of her previous perceptions. The story moves quickly enough to keep readers interested, but slowly enough to fully explore the importance of a sibling relationship. --Shanyn Day, blogger at Chick Loves Lit

Discover: Two siblings that take a journey both across the country and in their relationship.

Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 13-up, 9780316185578

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