Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, March 22, 2013

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

From My Shelf

The Well-Told Cocktail

Amy Stewart, author of The Drunken Botanist: The Plants That Create the World's Best Drinks (Algonquin Books), is also the co-owner of Eureka Books in Eureka, Calif. Thus she is uniquely qualified to create a cocktail for booksellers, to be purely enjoyed or taken as needed. She says:

"After three years of grueling research in bars and distilleries, it occurs to me that bartenders could learn a thing or two from booksellers. While the book business--and the book itself--has been in a process of continuous change for over 400 years, booksellers keep getting it right. We show up in the morning and put great books in the hands of readers. No matter what else happens, that's our job, right?

"Bartenders, on the other hand, have lost their way recently, taking classic, well-made ingredients and transforming them into a mess of a thing called the Modern Cocktail. The Modern Cocktail might have a dozen or more handcrafted, artisanal, obscure ingredients. It might call for such additives as freshly pressed celery water, dandelion-cardamom simple syrup, a rinse of absinthe, a mist of rose essence, a few drops of housemade birchbark bitters and the frothy whites of a freshly laid egg from a young Ameraucana hen who has been named after a member of the Algonquin Round Table.

"We know better. A well-told story stands on its own. So for you, I have the simplest cocktail imaginable, a mixture of a delightful French aperitif wine called Lillet and a modern French gin, also made from grapes and flavored with the blossoms of grapevines. Two fantastic spirits that are only better together. Like books in the hands of booksellers. Cheers!"

The Well-Told Tale

3 oz. Lillet blanc
1 oz. G'vine Floraison gin
Lemon peel for garnish
Shake and pour into a short glass with ice. Add more gin if you feel like it. Drop in a lemon peel. Drink.

For more on botany and booze, check out this NPR segment.

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

The Writer's Life

Kristopher Jansma: Beautiful Lies and Invented Truths

The narrator of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards may claim authorship of his own story, but he owes his beguiling spiel of half truths, doppelgänger characters and slanted biography to first-time novelist Kristopher Jansma. A graduate of the Writing Seminars at Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University's M.F.A. Writing Program in Fiction, and currently a lecturer at Manhattanville College and SUNY-Purchase, Jansma plays with narrative expectations and ventures far off-campus in his ingenious debut (see our review below). In addition to virtual air miles, the book has calories to spare: one Penguin sales rep vowed to eat her advance copy of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards if it didn't make the Indie Next List of bookseller-endorsed handsells. (Update: April's list is expected to save Wendy Pearl from actually eating Jansma's words.) In our interview, Jansma tells that he leapt from writing short stories to constructing a big-game novel any narrator would be proud to claim, if not chew.

The 10 chapters in The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards replicate and enlarge the themes established in the initial "Author's Note": travel, storytelling, love, loss, time's passage and escape. Did you plan the novel's fractal structure from the outset?

I wish I could say that I had it all planned out from the first step, but in fact it happened the other way around. I wrote each chapter separately over the course of a year-long story writing project. Julian and Evelyn just kept coming back to me, in odd ways, and so I'd write a little more about them and a little more. Finally I had all these fragments I wanted to put together, but I didn't quite see how to assemble them. It was only then that I came across the idea of the "Author's Note" in the beginning that could frame the chapters and introduce the themes that are at play in the rest of the book.

What (if any) organizational tools did you use to keep all the interlocking details and characters consistent?

I scribble down a lot of notes, but I have to confess they're often so disorganized that they're of little use to me later. Mostly it came down to keeping it all in my head at the same time. The novel was so intricately constructed by the end that, as my editor and I worked on it, I had to be very careful. Changing one detail in chapter 8 might involve going back and adjusting details in chapters 2, 10 and 4. But with the help of many friends and early readers, I was able to maintain that consistency.

How did you choose the exotic destinations in your novel: the Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Iceland and Luxembourg? For the places you might not have visited, how did you create their verisimilitude?

From the beginning, I wanted the reader to really be taken on a journey, but of course I couldn't afford to actually go to all those places myself. Writers are often told to write what they know, but I really like to write what I want to know. So I did a lot of research and tried to describe them until they felt real to me. Dubai was just a place I'd read about in a George Saunders essay. I ran across an article about the Tamil people in Sri Lanka in an issue of the New Yorker--that sort of thing. But then later on, I talked to friends and family who had traveled to these places and was able to get them to help me check my facts and translations. I did actually go to the Grand Canyon with my family, and to Ghana with my in-laws, who taught one semester in Kumasi, but in both cases I'd already written the chapters based on my research... and so I wound up just mainly checking my facts while I was there. After I sold the book, my wife and I took a trip to Paris to celebrate, and we took a day-trip by train to Luxembourg... but, again, I'd already written the whole chapter before arriving.

Why, in a book where most of the main characters appear under two names, did you keep the reader ignorant of the narrator's name?

Unnamed narrators have always been a special favorite of mine in literature. There's something about listening to someone confess all these emotions and crimes and hopes to you, when in the back of your mind, you know they've withheld the most basic and intimate detail about themselves. There's an unnamed narrator in Henry James's novella The Aspern Papers that I particularly love. He makes up a fake name to seduce a young woman who might help him get access to some letters belonging to a poet he's obsessed with, but he doesn't even tell the reader what the fake name is. Then there's a scene where he breaks down and confesses his real name to the woman, but he still doesn't tell us what it is! As a reader you just feel so betrayed! How could he tell her and not me? Any book that can get you to react that way to an imaginary person is doing its job perfectly. 

Please elucidate the metafictional distinction between "lies" and "fictions" in this sentence from the "Author's Note": "Yet I feel certain that somewhere in this empty space, between my lies and my fictions, is the truth."

Certainly. In a way, that's something I hope the book itself defines by the end. A lie is something untrue which leads someone farther from the truth. Fiction is also something untrue, but which leads you closer to the truth. The narrator doesn't understand the distinction throughout most of the novel, and believes that being a gifted liar is essential to being a gifted fiction writer. Yes, a fiction writer, like a liar, must be able to fabricate something so skillfully that the reader finds it believable, but the liar wants only to fool the reader, and maybe him or herself. The fiction writer wants to enlighten the reader, and maybe him or herself as well. 

When you write, do you find the Internet to be a biddable muse, an efficient research assistant or a wicked temptress?

I have a very hard time writing when I can't use the Internet to help me with research. I love finishing a story and then looking back at the tabs I've had open: a history of Washington Square, a summary of The Cherry Orchard, effects of coumarin, map of the Crimean peninsula, lyrics to Fiddler on the Roof...etc., etc. If it seems totally random at the end of the day, then I feel really good about the ride the reader is going to go on. But there is the dark side of the Internet as well. When I get stuck on a moment in a story, it's not uncommon that I'll look up, three hours later, having read half the New York Times Opinion section, Googled myself 10 times, read 300 tweets, looked at friends' baby pictures on Facebook, etc., etc. In the end, if I'm more interested in all that than I am by what I'm writing, that's sometimes a sign that I need to back up a few steps.

Which aspect of The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards matters to you the most: the travel adventure, the literary friendship/rivalry story, the love story or the exploration of the nature of fiction, lies, thievery and truth?

I don't know that I can separate them, to be honest. They're all so tightly connected in my mind at this point. The philosophical explorations of the nature of honesty and lies would be a little dry without the rivalry and the love story, and those things might be a little too melodramatic without the travel and the ideas about fiction they're built on. I think that at the end of the day they all have to matter equally, or none of it does.

Do you believe that people can change their spots even if leopards cannot?

I absolutely believe that people do have the ability to change their spots, though I think it happens rarely--maybe only a few times in one person's life, if that often. It's not as simple as picking up better eating habits or working out more or buying a new wardrobe... it's about fundamentally reevaluating yourself and your assumptions and your views. A lot of people would say it's just not possible, but I do think it is. What is literature anyway, if not a long, long history of people trying to change their lives? Sometimes a story might end with just the smallest glimmer of a hope that a change might occur. But that's huge.

Finally, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards features one of the brashest unreliable narrators in recent contemporary fiction. Are you an equally unreliable author interviewee, or can we believe some of the answers you've given above? 

Thank you very much! I myself am a terrible liar.... I never manage to pull the wool over people's eyes. That's one of the reasons that the narrator was so much fun to write. It was great to inhabit someone else for a while who could do all the things I couldn't get away with in real life. I can lie when I'm writing fiction, because there's no guilt about misleading people, no fear of getting caught. The reader knows it's all made-up, and wants it to be so beautifully made-up that they begin to believe it... and there's nothing I enjoy more than that. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Book Candy

Iraq War Titles; 'Weird Girl Reading List'; Literary Graffiti

Marking the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq War, the Washington Post recommended 10 fiction and nonfiction books that offer, "if not solace... at least a measure of wisdom for those of us who have the responsibility of remembering and understanding what happened."


Flavorwire offerd a "weird girl reading list: 10 of the best outsider books for teenagers."


Buzzfeed discovered "20 awesome examples of literary graffiti" and thanked the artists "for making our streets a little bit smarter."


"Back from the Dead and Taking Selfies: Classic Authors on Instagram" were imagined by Quirk Books, which noted that with "its insta-social, insta-vintage snapshot-sharing network, Instagram would be the ideal way to keep up with the lives of your favorite authors... if it weren't so biased to authors who are still alive, that is."


Ranging from silent movie stars to presidents, "35 bookplates belonging to famous people" were showcased by Buzzfeed.


Fans' notes: Flavorwire collected "10 illuminating fan letters from famous authors, to famous authors."

Book Review


A Tale for the Time Being

by Ruth Ozeki

Ruth Ozeki (My Year of Meats) takes readers on a journey of laughter, sorrow and enlightenment in A Tale for the Time Being. On a remote island in the North Pacific, novelist Ruth has left her beloved New York behind for the secluded life her husband, Oliver, prefers. The transition has left Ruth feeling adrift and even resentful toward Oliver. When Ruth finds a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed ashore, the items inside provide welcome distraction--especially the diary of 16-year-old Naoko Yasutani. Ruth is caught up by Nao's irreverent, charismatic voice and deep despair. Nao's plan for the diary is simple: after chronicling the amazing life of her centenarian great-grandmother--an anarchist, feminist, novelist and Buddhist nun--Nao will end her own life.

Ruth reads about Nao's father, who lost his job in the U.S. (forcing the family to return penniless to Tokyo) and his failed suicide attempts. She learns about the merciless bullying Nao suffers at her school. As Nao's life grows ever more out of kilter, Ruth feels desperate somehow to save her, but since the diary is 10 years old, she is too late to help--unless she can harness her power as a "time being."

Zen philosophy and quantum theory mingle with Japanese pop culture as all of Ozeki's characters converge, revealing surprising truths about their inner goodness as they bring each other exactly the healing touch each of them needs. Do not miss this beautiful, intricate world or the characters who inhabit it. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A Zen Buddhist priest as well as a novelist, Ozeki weaves together the stories of a writer lost in life and a suicidal Japanese teenager who must reach across years to save each other.

Viking, $28.95, hardcover, 9780670026630

A Thousand Pardons

by Jonathan Dee

Call it the Age of Apology: politicians, sports stars and entertainers have all had to choke out reluctant mea culpas to save a career or an endorsement contract. In his sixth novel, A Thousand Pardons, Jonathan Dee (a Pulitzer finalist for The Privileges) cleverly explores this phenomenon, mostly through the eyes of a victim whose life has been blown apart by her husband's misbehavior and who must find her way to forgiveness.

In a single misbegotten evening whose highlights include a clumsy sexual advance on a summer associate at his New York law firm and an arrest for drunk driving, Ben Armstead spectacularly applies a torch to both his legal career and his foundering marriage. His wife, Helen, takes a position at a nondescript public relations firm, where her knack for getting miscreants to offer sincere apologies for their wrongdoing brings a parade of clients through the door. But Helen's skill at "apology wrangling" doesn't translate into an ability to connect with her sullen teenage daughter or to understand her husband's attempts to salvage their relationship. Helen's biggest challenge arrives when she's thrust into a PR disaster created by Hamilton Barth, a controversial actor with serious self-esteem problems.

In this fast-moving, consistently entertaining story, Dee's depictions of his characters--all of whom are possessed of intelligence and wit, if not always the best judgment--never fall back on condescension. If you read A Thousand Pardons, the next time you watch a disgraced public figure shuffle up to a bank of microphones, there's a good chance this coolly intelligent novel will spring to mind and you'll see with fresh eyes as that well-rehearsed scene plays out. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Jonathan Dee's sixth novel is a smart, witty look at the rites of apology in contemporary America.

Random House, $26, hardcover, 9780812993219

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards

by Kristopher Jansma

In The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards, Kristopher Jansma takes a common subject for debut novelists--the sentimental education of a writer of slender means--and renders it uncommonly entertaining through two literary devices. The first is to catapult the protagonist out of a gently funny and duplicitous bildungsroman into a globe-scorching picaresque tale. The narrator's madcap mendacities escalate across adventures in the Arab Emirates, Sri Lanka, Ghana, Iceland and Luxembourg, yet he remains sympathetic in his pursuit of literary achievement and the only two people who truly matter to him. It's a refreshingly swashbuckling approach, full of energy and surprises, not the least of which is the way the leopard of the title finally bounds into view.

Jansma's second, more complicated cleverness is to abdicate all authorial control to his unreliable narrator. It begins innocently enough as the narrator, sitting in the same airport where he used to wait for his flight attendant mother, tells the story of losing his first "book" at the age of six. He has since lost "a novel, a novella, and a biography," he continues, and is arranging their fictional and nonfictional remnants next to each other "to try to get them to add up to something true." Thus begins a metafictional puzzle in which the narrator's texts mingle with quotations from literary greats to construct an elegant argument about the truth-telling power of fiction.

The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards' intricate narrative game and its carbon-burning escapades add up to a novel that is wise about identity and aspiration, competitive storytelling, romantic obsession and the assertion that "all these stories are true, only somewhere else." --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: An unusually clever debut novel that romps through a writer's coming of age while simultaneously exploring the relationship of fiction to truth.

Viking, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670026005

Swimming at Night

by Lucy Clarke

As Lucy Clarke's Swimming at Night begins, Katie Greene opens the door to two policemen late one night to be told that her sister, Mia, is dead in Bali. According to two eyewitnesses, it was definitely a suicide: she jumped off a cliff into the sea.

The sisters could not be more different, they've had their difficulties, especially when their mum was dying. Katie, three years older than Mia, is the structured, make-a-list type. She's dependable, holds a good job, is engaged to a suitable man; Mia is the wild child, fearless, irresponsible, with nary a thought for tomorrow. Six months before her death, she set out on an open-ended trip with Finn, her best friend since childhood.

Mia's belongings are returned to Katie. Among them, she finds a journal that records everything about the trip--until Mia left Finn and traveled to Bali alone. Why? Katie leaves her home, her job and her fiancé to travel in Mia's footsteps, following the journal, looking for answers. Clarke takes the reader through Mia's interior journey, alternating between her revelatory journal passages and Katie's discoveries. The journal provides a window into Mia's psyche, her low self-esteem and her reasons for acting out. Its entries form the heart of Clarke's narrative, leading us to an understanding of who Mia was--and how she got that way.

Despite their differences and difficulties, Katie and Mia were sisters to the end, sharing bonds of love and friendship, strained but never broken. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: One sister steps way out of her comfort zone to find out what really happened to the other.

Touchstone, $24.99, hardcover, 9781451683394

Mystery & Thriller

Rage Against the Dying

by Becky Masterman

The opening scene of Becky Masterman's debut thriller, Rage Against the Dying, announces the arrival of a major talent on the crime fiction scene. As a killer preys on a seemingly fragile old woman, the scene is fraught with tension; the reader wants to scream for the woman to save herself, but it's the killer who's unlucky, because he just picked the wrong person to mess with.

Masterman's heroine is Brigid Quinn, a 59-year-old retired FBI agent who still carries guilt about an unsolved case from years earlier, in which her protégée disappeared and is presumed dead. Then a man is arrested and confesses to being the serial killer in that case, spouting information only the murderer would know. When young FBI agent Laura Coleman doubts his confession, her life is endangered. Brigid refuses to let history repeat itself, and realizes she may be the only one who can close the case.

Masterman, an acquisitions editor at a publisher of forensic medical textbooks, knows about the creepy, perverse stuff murderers are into, but she doesn't go too far, using just enough detail to chill readers' spines. Brigid seems as if she sprang fully developed from Masterman's imagination, striding confidently into the world despite using a walking stick. The title is a reference to the Dylan Thomas poem about how one should "not go gentle into that good night" and instead "rage, rage against the dying of the light." Brigid's light isn't even close to dying, and hopefully she'll continue raging for a long time. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, writer and editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A confident debut author introduces a fierce new character in the crime fiction world.

Minotaur, $24.99, hardcover, 9780312622947

The Andalucian Friend

by Alexander Soderberg, trans. by Neil Smith

The Andalucian Friend, Alexander Soderberg's debut novel, begins with a chance encounter in a hospital between a nurse, Sophie Brinkmann, and her patient Hector Guzman. Sophie and Hector's relationship continues past his stay in the hospital. As Sophie finds herself drawn in by Hector's charms, she also finds herself pulled into the unfamiliar world of gang warfare--Hector is the head of a powerful international crime ring smuggling drugs and weapons out of South America.

When members of a German crime ring target Hector, intent on stealing his smuggling routes for themselves, Sophie begins to question their relationship. Then she is confronted by the police and asked to spy on Hector, becoming the center of a major investigation. Sophie, used to a quiet life with her son, is suddenly unmoored, facing a world full of uncertainty, and must choose her way carefully or risk her life--and her son's.

Soderberg has packed The Andalucian Friend with everything a thriller fan could want: deranged cops, gang warfare, gun smuggling, drugs, bribery and even secret romances. With so many characters and storylines, it can be hard to keep track of everything without taking notes--but it all comes together in the end, resulting in a satisfying thriller that is successful because of its convoluted concepts, not in spite of it. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A debut thriller from Sweden packed with action, dirty cops, smuggling, bribery, gang warfare and secret romances.

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780770436056


Snake Oil: The Art of Healing and Truth-Telling

by Becca Stevens

Snake Oil delves into both personal memoir and traditional history, explaining how Becca Stevens, an Episcopal chaplain at Vanderbilt's St. Augustine, came to found both Magdalene, a network of homes for abused women, and Thistle Farms, the all-natural cosmetics company that both funds Magdalene and employs its residents.

Stevens refers to both enterprises as "snake oil selling," but she doesn't mean it in the pejorative sense. Before "snake oil" became a catchall term for shady characters hawking questionable remedies, she explains, it described concoctions--including oil blends containing real snake venom--known for centuries for their ability to heal a number of ills. Snake Oil uses this original meaning as both theme and metaphor. Not only does Thistle Farms create oil blends intended to soothe and heal, the very process of creating both the blends and the organization itself are powerfully healing to the women Magdalene serves.

In Snake Oil, Stevens introduces readers to the concept of healing work through her own stories about the creation of Magdalene and Thistle Farms, as well as through the stories of those who live and work there. She describes how her own childhood experiences with abuse and her father's untimely death equipped her to understand that, while many lives seem broken, no life is irredeemable. Snake Oil is a powerful testament to the limitless capacity of love and dignity to heal even the most wounded lives. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: A heartfelt exploration of the power of healing expressed not only through natural remedies, but through community and service.

Jericho, $21.99, hardcover, 9781455519064

Mad Men, Mad World: Sex, Politics, Style and the 1960s

by Lauren M.E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky and Robert A. Rushing, editors

Mad Men has won several Emmys and has a loyal following of viewers that dissect the television show's every retro outfit, chauvinistic comment and sip of scotch. But you don't have to love the series to enjoy Mad Men, Mad World--although, if you don't watch it already, you may very well start after reading the essays Lauren M.E. Goodlad, Lilya Kaganovsky and Robert A. Rushing Goodman have brought together.

Every theme in the series--from infidelity to gender roles to homosexuality--is laid bare against the intense backdrop of its 1960s setting, such as the civil rights movement, the Kennedy assassinations and the discovery that smoking was in fact hazardous to one's health.

But Mad Men, Mad World's brilliance is that it analyzes storylines and characters from completely unexpected angles. In "The Homosexual and the Single Girl," for example, male feminist and queerness expert Alexander Doty takes the show to task for its shoddy treatment of show's only lesbian. One essay delves into the role of fashion as empowerment; another particularly poignant piece examines the way the show portrays its Jewish characters. Cultural scholar Lynne Joyrich offers a fascinating dissection of protagonist Don Draper and his relentless shifting from one identity to another in "Media Madness." And, of course, this collection tackles the wild sexcapades at Mad Men's fictional Manhattan ad agency. These are deeply considered pieces that truly spark intellectual discussion. It's a mad world, indeed, but this book helps to bring some order to the chaos. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A sassy collection of insightful essays on the critically praised television show Mad Men.

Duke University Press, $27.95, paperback, 9780822354185

Biography & Memoir

A Long Day at the End of the World: A Story of Desecration and Revelation in the Deep South

by Brent Hendricks

Powerful, evocative imagery and prose infuse Brent Hendricks's haunting, ruminative memoir, A Long Day at the End of the World. This compact, carefully crafted book centers on the Tri-State Crematory in Nobel, Ga. The owner had stopped cremating the bodies he received and, until he was caught in 2002, dumped the corpses in sheds, vaults and in the woods around his property--339 bodies in all. One of those decaying bodies was Hendricks's father, who had lain abandoned for five years after he was supposed to have been cremated.

The reasons behind the crematory owner's decisions seem as elusive as the closure Hendricks seeks in packing up his father's burial flag and setting off on a pilgrimage across Alabama to revisit the crematorium site. During the road trip, Hendricks, now a middle-aged man, grapples with the past. He reflects on life and death, his familial and cultural upbringing in the South, the biblical stories of Lazarus and the apocalypse and even the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto.

An ironic twist of fate leads to the identification of the remains of Hendricks's father, unearthing feelings that had been left unreconciled. Ultimately, the story of Hendricks's turbulent relationship with his father--the "dislocated son of a dislocated father"--emerges as a searing, deeply personal portrait of one man's quest to understand, love and let go. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A deeply personal memoir by the son of one of the victims in the largest mass desecration of human corpses in modern American history.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $14, paperback, 9780374146863

An American Caddie in St. Andrews: Growing Up, Girls, and Looping on the Old Course

by Oliver Horovitz

An American Caddie in St. Andrews opens at Oliver Horovitz's high school graduation. He's awaiting a decision from Harvard, which finally comes. He's in--but next year. So he decides it would be an adventure to spend a year at St. Andrews University, in Scotland near the historic Old Course, the most famous golf course in the world. Once established, he decides to enroll in the course's caddie trainee program--he has caddied before--and is accepted.

For golfers, this is where the story gets good. We learn what it's like to caddie at this legendary course, with all kinds of inside scoops on caddie life, great stories about the people from all over the world he caddied for and, most importantly, advice on how to get big tips--upward of £100 for one round.

After 30 rounds of looping, Oliver passes his tests, including a written exam. Can you (for example) name the small bunker on the Old Course's 17th hole? Yes, he still goes on to Harvard, but he's back at St. Andrews every summer, loving the experience of working on a piece of sacred land. (And frequently playing the course, too--lucky guy!) This is an enjoyable and hilarious tale from a young man many golfers will envy for living his dream. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A thoroughly enjoyable and funny inside story from a caddie at the most famous golf course in the world.

Gotham, $26, hardcover, 9781592407293

Children's & Young Adult

Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball

by John Coy, illus. by Joe Morse

John Coy (the 4 for 4 series) here blends his proven knowledge of sports with a fascinating picture-book history of basketball.

Following in the footsteps of two failed teachers, James Naismith hopes that three's the charm. In December 1891, he takes on a "rowdy" gym class in Springfield, Mass. The first day, Naismith tries indoor football, the next day, indoor soccer, and on the third day, lacrosse. All are too rough, but Naismith will not give up. Instead, he comes up with a whole new game. Coy shows that, for Naismith, necessity is the mother of invention. Building on a game from his childhood in Canada, "Duck on a Rock" (for which "accuracy was more valuable than force"), Naismith added the idea of a goal that required "an arcing throw." On December 21, 1891, with a soccer ball, two peach baskets and a posted list of rules, he found success. Joe Morse's (Casey at the Bat) illustrations in a limited palette stay true to the era in style and detail, yet also convey the unbridled enthusiasm and kinetic energy of the players.

Readers will quickly see why the young men couldn't wait to teach their friends and neighbors the new game, and why it caught on. Naismith was also ahead of his time in permitting women to play the game (and it paid off--one of them later became his wife). Naismith's original rules of the game on the endpapers top off a terrific story to share with basketball fans of all ages. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A handsomely designed picture-book history of the invention of basketball that will appeal to fans of all ages.

Carolrhoda/Lerner, $16.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 7-11, 9780761366171


by Sherri L. Smith

Inspired by her mother's own experience with Katrina and its aftermath, Sherri L. Smith (Flygirl) offers dystopian realism in Orleans.

By 2025, after the storms, the fever and the quarantine, the "Delta States" have been cut off from all other society. Vestiges of the modern world still exist, but a new society has emerged as well--a primitive, violent place where blood tribes mean more than family.

Twenty years later, Fen de la Guerre aligns herself with a blood tribe. After an ambush, Fen is left with the newborn of the tribe's former leader. Fen knows that the infant's only chance of survival is for them somehow to breach the wall to the Outer States before the plague can enter the child's blood stream; they have only two weeks. Fen is helped by Daniel, a scientist from the Outer States who has entered the delta to find a cure for the disease. Daniel is protected by a bio-suit and stocked with some food, but without Fen to guide him, he'll never survive. They make a deal: Fen will help him in exchange for taking the baby to the Outer States for a chance at a normal life.

The book brims with adrenaline-pumping action, high-stakes escapes and depictions of a faded city cut off from civilization and eroding from within. The author's details take us into a chilling world that we recognize as one possible future. --Nan Shipley, literary scout for the film industry

Discover: Smith's vision of post-plague New Orleans, which feels both frightening and realistic.

Putnam, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9780399252945

The Matchbox Diary

by Paul Fleischman, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline

A man asks his great-granddaughter to pick an item from among his miscellany of antiques, books and knick-knacks, and he will tell her its story. It's an engaging way for them to get to know each other, and to draw in readers.

The child chooses the man's matchbox collection, from the days when matches were wooden and each box opened like a secret drawer. The matches are long gone, and in their place are everyday objects. The man tells his great-granddaughter the collection is his diary, "a way to remember what happens to you." At her age, he had a lot he wanted to remember, but he couldn't read or write. So these matchboxes served as a record of daily events. As a boy, the great-grandfather promised his own grandmother he'd never forget her or Italy and, as he waited for the steamship to take him across the Atlantic, he hit on the matchboxes a way to record his memories: his first soda (a bottle cap), the steamship (a hairpin from a wealthy passenger) and 19 sunflower shells, one for each day of the ship's journey.

Bagram Ibatoulline gets the vintage look of the matchboxes just right, while also planting both protagonists firmly in the present. Scenes of the man's impoverished childhood in Italy appear in sepia tones to distinguish his memories from the present-day exchange between the girl and her great-grandfather.

At the center of Fleischman's (Joyful Noise) story is a love of family and respect for education, which leads to the great-grandfather's vocation--and inspires an avocation for the young heroine. A heartwarming, universal immigrant story made poignant through specific details. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A poignant immigrant story brought to life through a matchbox collection a man shares with his great-granddaughter.

Candlewick, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 6-10, 9780763646011


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

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

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


Available on Kobo

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

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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