Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 1, 2013

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Further Reading: Updated Classics

Author Kevin Smokler (in "Inklings," below) claims that "time is good to good books"--a fitting sentiment for the classics. Most readers will readily name several books in their lives that have not only stood the test of time, but have gotten better. These authors would not disagree, though their revisiting of literary masterpieces takes a different form than simple re-readings:

Philip Pullman, most cherished for the His Dark Materials trilogy, has revisited the classic fairy tales in Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm: A New English Version. His is not an attempt to modernize or change the original tales, but to present 50 of what he terms the "cream" of the crop in the clearest terms possible. The result is a collection of stories packed with crisp dialogue, witty commentary and an accurate sense of the other-ness of the original tales.

Peter Ackroyd has approached several classics with the intent of "re-telling" them. Though he might prefer the modern reader to learn enough Middle English to read The Canterbury Tales in the original, he acknowledges the improbability of such a trend--thus, his stunning translation of the tales into modern English. In his more recent retelling of The Death of King Arthur, Ackroyd offers a more contemporary idiom. Both retellings are proof of the author's dedication to the originals, preserving as much as possible while inviting modern readers into stories they may otherwise have missed.

Where Pullman and Ackroyd have attempted to stay true to the originals, Nick Hayes has instead used a classic poem as inspiration for a more modern tale. The resulting The Rime of the Modern Mariner is a graphic novel based loosely on Coleridge's original Rime of the Ancient Mariner, but set now in a world of environmental disaster. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Book Candy

Novels Inspired by Shakespeare; Needed Punctuation Marks

To read or not to read. Flavorwire recommended "10 contemporary novels inspired by Shakespeare."


"We know what we're reading in America, but what about the rest of the world?" asked Flavorwire before unveiling the "bestselling books in 10 countries around the world."


College Humor introduced "8 new punctuation marks we desperately need."


Which author's apartment would you most like to move into? asked Flavorwire, which showcased "25 fascinating photos of famous writers at home."


Noting that "we're pretty big fans of literary street art," Flavorwire offered a collection of "books on buildings: 20 bookish murals from around the world."


Will this be on the PED drug test, professor? "I don't advocate drug use--unless it leads to great works of literature," Grant Snider noted to introduce his poster depicting "performance-enhancing drugs for writers."


Time Is Always Good to Good Books

Kevin Smokler is the author of Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School (Prometheus, February 2013). Smokler has been called "a publishing visionary" by the Huffington Post, and his writing on the arts and technology has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Fast Company and on NPR. Here he offers advice for rereading some classics.

Choose. Practically.
You're a busy person, job, family, friends, a life. You have a reading queue that makes the DMV look speedy. Start then with a short book, briskly paced, easy to purchase or borrow. There's plenty of time in life for marathons. Limber up with a light jog. 

If you're a reader who cannonballs instead of dog-paddles, start with Middlemarch. And gloat a lot. Middlemarch, while brilliant, is hefty enough to ward off a charging honey badger. 

Choose. Generally.
Everyone's got a friend who insists there's only one edition of Lolita that counts. Don't see that friend for a while. Rereading is very much about momentum. Getting uptight about editions and typesetting and whether your grandmother rescued your copy from a burning dance hall will only slow you down.

An edition with notes--yours or someone else's--complicates matters. You may get a kick out of seeing what 10th grade-you thought of a book. Or they may be like the book's last reader nattering on in your ear.

Like notes, a split decision. I like to reread in a radically different spot--a dark bar, say, rather than an unflatteringly lit study hall--because I like the feeling of time passing and growth. But there's nostalgia in this exercise, too, and if that's where you're at, enjoy "at."

Pair with a themed dessert.
Because why wouldn't you? 

When rereading books from high school reminds you of acne and bad dates, stop and walk over to a mirror. Notice how grown up you are. Notice you are probably holding at least one item that would have been science fiction back in high school. Remember that time is always good to good books. And has been to you. And will be again.

Book Review



by Kent Haruf

Once again, Kent Haruf (Eventide, Plainsong) takes readers to the small town of Holt, Colo., where ordinary people live with daily pain and sadness, grief and joy, underpinned by compassion and concern for each other.

The centerpiece of the novel is Dad Lewis, who's dying of lung cancer. His wife, Mary, is caring for him, along with his daughter, Lorraine, who has hurried home from Denver to keep the vigil. Lorraine's brother Frank is long estranged.

Dad's neighbor Berta May has just taken in her granddaughter, Alice, whose mother died of cancer. Lorraine, who lost her daughter at 16 in an accident, is drawn to Alice, inviting her to visit whenever she wants. But Alice is reminded of her mother when she sees Dad, and is thus reluctant to spend time with the Lewises.

The Johnson women, Willa and Alene, do all that they can to make life more pleasant for Dad and his family, as well as for Berta May and Alice. Their own stories form part of the warp and woof of the tapestry that is life in Holt.

Meanwhile, a new minister preaches about the Sermon on the Mount as if it should be taken seriously: turn the other cheek, love your enemies. The congregation bolts, calling him a terrorist for not hating the people with whom we are at war.

In trademark Haruf style, there is no high drama--just the playing out of life stories as they happen. The cadence and the tales are irresistible. The benediction here is that the reader is allowed to follow along. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Kent Haruf returns to Holt, Colo., illuminating the lives of friends and neighbors whose lives intersect around the death of Dad Lewis.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 9780307959881

The Storyteller

by Jodi Picoult

"Inside each of us is a monster; inside each of us is a saint," says one of the characters in The Storyteller, a powerful, beautifully crafted novel by Jodi Picoult about a young woman's ardent search for meaning and justice. "The real question is which one we nurture the most, which one will smite the other."

Mainly set in Westerbrook, N.H., near the site of a bustling Catholic shrine to Our Lady of Mercy, The Storyteller centers on the town bakery, which is a community center and safe haven for Sage Singer, a 25-year-old baker who is floundering in life, scarred--literally and figuratively--by the death of her parents. At a grief support group, Sage meets Josef Weber, a nonagenarian, a respected member of the community and a "grandfatherly Good Samaritan" who takes a shine to her. Despite the differences in their ages and backgrounds, the two become fast friends and intimate confidants. But when Josef reveals a shocking, hidden secret from his past and asks Sage for a favor that would change both their lives, Sage faces a moral dilemma. She is forced to question and confront her identity and integrity, delving into the history of her own family--specifically, her much-beloved grandmother's experiences during World War II. In the process, this multi-layered drama intensifies, building to a chilling conclusion.

Picoult presents multiple points of view and rich historical subplots that enhance the idea that stories have power--whether they are told or not. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A profound and moving novel about secrets, lies and how the power of stories can change the course of history.

Atria, $28.99, hardcover, 9781439102763

Last Days

by Adam Nevill

As Adam Nevill's Last Days begins, Kyle, an indie British filmmaker on the verge of bankruptcy, accepts an unusual commission in hopes of revitalizing his never-quite-successful career: the CEO of a New Age company offers him £100,000 to investigate the Temple of the Last Days, a heinous cult ruled by Sister Katherine, who led her devout followers from a London townhouse to a farm in Normandy, and eventually to a horrific mass murder/suicide near an abandoned Arizona mine in 1975. Kyle is directed to visit these locations, interview the last living cultists and craft a definitive narrative of the descent from hippie collective into bloodthirsty sadism. His patron adds one further instruction, almost as an afterthought: focus on the story's "paranormal" aspects.

Kyle and his partner Dan are plagued by bizarre manifestations on their first night of shooting, anomalies that escalate quickly into physical danger as the duo must confront the unsettling prospect that Sister Katherine's sanguinary spiritualism successfully conjured something--or somethings--into our world.

Nevill's prose gives a visual flow to the terror and viscera splattered throughout Last Days. The fluid pacing builds suspense and a growing dread, while the audiovisual jargon and personal eccentricities add authenticity to characters beset by unreal circumstances. Readers will find themselves turning on extra lights and scrutinizing darkened hallways as Kyle's world comes undone. This is not a novel for the faint-of-heart or those averse to disturbing subject matter. It does, however, reward avid horror fans with an engrossing mystery and memorable scares. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A struggling documentary filmmaker becomes perilously involved in the story of a murderous cult.

St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99, paperback, 9781250018182

Mystery & Thriller

The Beggar's Opera

by Peggy Blair

Peggy Blair's The Beggar's Opera, the first in a series featuring Inspector Ricardo Ramirez, is so well plotted it could be her 10th. "The dead will come," Ramirez's grandmother tells young Ricardo on her deathbed, "messengers from the other side. Eshu, the orisha, will send them to help you so you can help them. You will be a policeman, Ricky." Her prediction comes true, but middle-aged Ricardo, now an inspector in charge of the Havana Major Crimes Unit, has just discovered that he is dying from the same illness that killed his grandmother.

Havana is the perfect setting for Blair's series. Santería, practiced by many Cubans, is a combination of West African, Caribbean and Roman Catholic religions. Orishas are the religion's saints; Eshu is one of them. His messengers take the form of dead people, ghosts whose cases Ramirez has not yet solved, that only he can see.

Canadian policeman Mike Ellis and his wife arrive for a vacation in Cuba, whereupon his wife announces their marriage is over. Distraught, Mike goes to a bar and what happens after that is anyone's worst nightmare. He is accused of the rape and murder of a boy who followed the couple earlier asking for money. Pornographic pictures found under the mattress in his hotel room and physical evidence point to him as the killer. The case, naturally, is Ramirez's.

Mike's chief in Ottawa sends attorney Celia Jones to save him. This gives Blair license to clue the reader in to Havana's hardships and make some not-so-sly references to the American embargo. The ensuing revelations are surprising but entirely credible, keeping the reader enthralled right to the end. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: The beginning of a series starring a police inspector in Havana--a city of corruption, shortages, old cars, music and hope.

Pintail/Penguin, $16, paperback, 9780143186427

The Day Is Dark

by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, trans. by Philip Roughton

The Day Is Dark, the fourth book in Yrsa Sigurdardóttir's series featuring Thóra Gudmundsdóttir, takes the Icelandic lawyer and her significant other, Matthew Reich, on an adventure to the east coast wilderness of Greenland, where Reich's bank is investigating the disappearance of two Icelanders working on a mining project. The remaining project workers refuse to return to the job site, claiming the area is cursed, leaving Reich's bank on the line to pay out a contractual insurance claim. When Thóra, Matthew and the team they are traveling with arrive, they discover there may be more to the curse claim than meets the eye. The two workers aren't the first people to go missing from this area--and they may not be the last.

The cold, dark environs of Greenland parallel the tone and title of The Day Is Dark. The chilling effect of the novel is almost as strong physically as it is psychologically. The spiritual tones woven throughout add a layer of complexity to the plot. Sigurdardóttir's treatment of this spirituality is both respectful and intriguing, with the contrast between the science and the myth beckoning readers to challenge their own beliefs.

The prose is at times awkward and wordy, but this may be attributable in part to the translation, and the dark beauty of the story is still clear. Scandinavian thriller fans looking for a variation on their usual fix need look no further. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: When two men disappear in the wilds of Greenland, are they casualties of the weather or is something more sinister at work?

Minotaur, $27.99, hardcover, 9781250018991

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Water Witch

by Juliet Dark

The Water Witch is the second novel in a trilogy by Carol Goodman, using the pseudonym Juliet Dark, and though it's filled with callbacks to the events of The Demon Lover, the wider scope of the overall story requires a previous reading. As the sequel begins, Callie McFay barely has time to recover from the emotional trauma of banishing her incubus lover from the mortal plane when she is thrust into an intrigue that centers around Fairwick, the upstate New York community that holds the last gate to the land of Faerie. Callie has already joined the faculty of the local college, which is filled with witches, fairies and other uncanny creatures; now, she is called to side with her friends against her own grandmother, a bigoted witch who seeks to shut down the connection between the two worlds. Oh, and you didn't think the incubus was really gone, did you?

If the narrative arc of an orphaned female academic discovering her magical gifts in the midst of a turbulent affair with a supernatural antihero seems reminiscent of Deborah Harkness's A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night, Callie's role as the gatekeeper between our world and Faerie also has strong echoes of Black Swan Rising and its sequels, which Goodman co-authors with her husband as Lee Carroll. Much of the plot is driven by Callie's naïveté, which borders on an emotional unintelligence implausible in a woman her age. Luckily, her shortcomings are effectively counterweighted by the entertaining details of her richly imagined surroundings, which we'll see at least once more, in the forthcoming The Hallowed Door. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: As Juliet Dark, Carol Goodman (The Lake of Dead Languages) continues her foray into paranormal romance with a contemporary fantasy series set in a small college town.

Ballantine, $15, paperback, 9780345524249


Three Sisters

by Susan Mallery

Three beautiful, historic Queen Anne-style Victorian homes on the Pacific Northwest's Blackberry Island are the setting for Susan Mallery's Three Sisters, a novel that brings together three neighbors, women in their 30s, each with a troubled past.

Pediatrician Andi Gordon is new in town and has recently purchased a house that is "a testament to neglect and indifference." Having been jilted by her fiancé, Andi is eager to take on the house as her pet project, especially since "falling for a house seemed a whole lot safer than falling for a man." But when a handsome contractor shows up to begin the renovation, Andi is forced to rethink the prospect of romance.

Next door to Andi lives Boston King, an artist and native of the island, and her husband, who have been trying to move on with their lives since the death of their only son six months before. But confusing movement with action is taking a significant toll on their marriage. 

The third member of the trio is Deanna Phillips, a wife and mother who "makes her own bread, only buys organic and doesn't let her girls watch TV unless it's education." She is so fixated on perfection that she doesn't realize her own life and marriage are falling apart.

The second installment in Mallery's Blackberry Island series (after Barefoot Season), Three Sisters gives equal weight and prominence to each of these plotlines as it sensitively delves into the emotional landscapes of characters grappling to overcome personal crises. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A set of houses on an island in the Pacific Northwest are the common bond uniting three very different women facing personal challenges.

Mira, $14.95, paperback, 9780778314349

Biography & Memoir

Vera Gran: The Accused

by Agata Tuszyńska

Vera Gran was a wildly popular Jewish lounge singer in the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. In 2007, she died in an apartment in Paris--filthy, claustrophobic, paranoid and hateful. For decades, despite being found innocent by several tribunals, she had faced accusations of collaboration with the Gestapo.

Agata Tuszyńska was 19 when her mother, also a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, first told her she was Jewish. In her approach to a profoundly sad and traumatized old woman, Tuszyńska seeks the truth but realizes it cannot be pinned down. Vera Gran: The Accused is not a biography, but a shifting portrait of Gran, the Ghetto and survivors' guilt; it is a contemplation of what we will do (and should do) to survive. Readers unfamiliar with Vera Gran may be more familiar with Wladyslaw Szpilman, the subject of Roman Polanski's award-winning film The Pianist: Szpilman was Gran's piano accompanist, but he cut her out of his memoir--later becoming one of her most vocal accusers. The nature of memory and memoir, the power of the stories we tell when those stories outlast memory of the events themselves, becomes a central theme in Tuszyńska's book.

Charles Ruas's translation from the French is subtly poetic and adds to the quiet tones of Tuszyńska's musing as well as Gran's anger. It is this atmosphere, along with the unknowable questions surrounding Gran, that makes Vera Gran: The Accused a remarkable and memorable contemplation. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The unanswered questions surrounding the life of a lounge singer in the ghettos of Warsaw, as seen through the gauze of memory.

Knopf, $28.95, hardcover, 9780307269126

Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary

by Michael Schumacher, Denis Kitchen

John Updike, a wannabe cartoonist, once described Al Capp's "Li'l Abner" as a "comic strip with fire in its belly and a brain in its head." Illustrator Frank Frazetta said Capp was "a brilliant guy--but a little screwed up." Indeed, Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen, two guys who know their comics, admit Capp was a "contrary individual" and their probing, critical Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary demonstrates why.

Capp (1909-1979) suffered a life-changing experience when he was nine years old and lost his leg to a trolley; he became a fairly cynical and sardonic person and it influenced his work. (A brief, autobiographical memoir was titled My Well-Balanced Life on a Wooden Leg.) He secured a job in 1933 working on the "Joe Palooka" strip, and in his spare time began his own strip about a handsome, stupid and likable guy who would become America's most famous hillbilly, Li'l Abner. Officially launched in 1934, the strip ran for 43 years on a regular basis. At its peak, one-half of all Americans couldn't get enough of Hogpatch, Daisy Mae, the Shmoos and the whole Yokum family; the strip's cultural impact includes the concept of Sadie Hawkins dances and slang like "hogwash" and "going bananas."

Capp became popular, rich and--in the 1960s--an insufferable, conservative bore. He used his strip to lash out at the counterculture and people like Joan Baez (caricatured as Joanie Phoanie) and Ted Kennedy (Senator O. Noble McGesture). A sex scandal finally destroyed a great career. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: An authoritative, entertaining biography of one of America's greatest cartoonists, Al Capp--brilliant, creative and a "contrary individual."

Bloomsbury, $30, hardcover, 9781608196234


The Year Without Summer: 1816 And The Volcano That Darkened the World and Changed History

by William K. Klingaman, Nicholas P. Klingaman

Historian William K. Klingaman and his son, meteorologist Nicholas P. Klingaman, combine forces in The Year Without Summer, weaving together modern scientific explanations and 19th-century speculations into a compelling historical account of what happens when weather goes wrong.

The book begins with the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in the Indonesia archipelago on April 5, 1815, and the immediate impact on the surrounding region. But that eruption is only the background to the disruption of weather that followed: more than 12 months of heavy rains in Europe, drought in North America and unseasonable cold everywhere. The Klingamans follow the extreme weather and its consequences month by month, drawing on reports from witnesses such as Jane Austen and Thomas Jefferson, as well as newspaper accounts, sermons and government reports. They describe the cumulative impact of failed harvests, failed relief efforts and apocalyptic fears. Perhaps most importantly, they draw connections between the weather and historical events that are seldom considered as part of the same story: the outbreak of religious revivalism in New York State known as the Second Great Awakening, the westward expansion of the U.S., political battles over the Corn Laws in England, growing unrest in post-Napoleonic France--even the creation of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein.

The Year Without Summer is a fascinating blend of science and story, particularly relevant in the current era of climate change. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: The fascinating story of the year known as "eighteen hundred and froze to death."

St. Martin's Press, $27.99, hardcover, 9780312676452

Children's & Young Adult

Crash and Burn

by Michael Hassan

Michael Hassan's timely and tragic debut novel chronicles the genesis and aftermath of a school hostage situation with authentic and unforgettable characters.

Readers know the outcome at the start of the book: on April 21, 2008, Steven "Crash" Crashinsky thwarted his troubled classmate David "Burn" Burnett from blowing up Meadows High with explosives. Crash's ADHD originally hindered any chance at college, but his heroic deed opened the door to first-tier schools, put him in the media spotlight and garnered him a book deal to reveal the last words Burn whispered to Crash before he was taken down and arrested.

Crash meets Burn for the first time in elementary school; shortly after, Burn tries to destroy the school with rocket fuel and fireworks. Antisocial and bipolar, Burn returns to school on more meds and a promise for Crash that will terrorize him for years: "And one day, I am going to kill you." Crash dictates his on-and-off friendship for inclusion in his book, and makes the case that Burn isn't necessarily a product of bullying but instead has suffered from traumatic events in his angry and disillusioned life. Another key player is the girl Crash is falling for: Roxanne, Burn's sister. A heart-pounding scene unfolds where Burn, holding a gun on him, forbids Crash from dating her.

The revealing of Burn's secret makes the ending all the more hard-hitting, even though Crash gave readers a heads-up on the first page. Not to be missed. --Adam Silvera, former bookseller and Paper Lantern Lit intern

Discover: Michael Hassan's timely and tragic debut novel chronicles the genesis and aftermath of a school hostage situation with authentic and unforgettable characters.

Balzer + Bray/Harperteen, $18.99, hardcover, 544p., ages 14-up, 9780062112903


by Teri Terry

Teri Terry's debut novel, Slated, is a tense and darkly compelling look at government control of young adults, set in the near future.

Sixteen-year-old Kyla is new to the world. She has no memories, no idea as to who she was or what she did to deserve being "slated." She's re-learned how to walk and talk and is part of a family she's never known, living in a house she's never seen before. Kyla's entire memory and personality were wiped--slated--by the government for a crime she doesn't remember committing. Could she really have been a terrorist, as she's been told? As Kyla begins to forge a new life, relearning how to draw and indulging in thoughts of romance, fear and doubt creep in. Her fear seems justified, as her classmates are disappearing, she is closely watched by the government and flashes of what she thinks could be memories are forming in her head. What do those wisps of memory mean? Could they get her, and maybe even her new family, permanently wiped?

Slated will keep readers pinned to their chairs. This thought-provoking book will have fans waiting impatiently for the sequel, Fractured. --René Kirkpatrick, bookseller, blogger and co-owner of Eagle Harbor Book Company

Discover: A thrilling adventure full of twists set in an all-too-possible future, perfect for fans of dystopian fiction.

Nancy Paulsen Books, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 12-up, 9780399161728

Open This Little Book

by Jesse Klausmeier, illus. by Suzy Lee

Books that extoll the virtues of reading often fall flat, but Open This Little Book succeeds on two counts: it is a vivid, dramatic work of art and, upon concluding, it will cause readers to scramble excitedly to open another book.

The title page of first-time author Jesse Klausmeier's text asks readers to "Open This Little Book." Turning the page reveals a "Little Red Book," with a slightly smaller trim size, featuring a Ladybug who, like readers, opens a slightly smaller "Little Green Book," starring a Frog who opens an orange book, etc. The smallest book, "Little Rainbow Book," is 3" x 2", and the Giant featured in the preceding "book" can open it only with the help of her smaller-handed animal friends. At this midway point, the borders of the previous "books" form a rectangular rainbow of bold watercolors that begs readers to pull out crayons and create their own rainbows.

Youngest readers can learn, name and explore colors even if they do not understand the book-within-a-book concept; readers aged five and up will likely take away more, including a sense of imaginative wonder sparked by Suzy Lee's (Wave) masterful work. Her illustrations do not merely enchant; they exemplify what heights picture books can achieve. The power of Lee's artwork lies in the reader's act of turning the page: a simple but oft-underestimated motion that can yield surprise and emotional impact. Each time readers turn a page of Open This Little Book, they are rewarded with another piece of the artistic puzzle. --Allie Jane Bruce, children's librarian, Bank Street College of Education

Discover: A picture book that rewards every page turn with another piece of the artistic puzzle.

Chronicle, $16.99, hardcover, 9780811867832

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