Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 7, 2013

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

From My Shelf

Classy Classics

There seems to be a resurgence of bringing out-of-print books back into circulation, although it's always been a part of publishing, particularly with genre books: Chicago Review Press is reprinting Mary Stewart's romantic thrillers; Sourcebooks is doing Georgette Heyer's Regencies; Felony & Mayhem is searching out mystery authors, both well-known (Edmund Crispin, Reginald Hill, Ngaio Marsh) and less-known (Elizabeth Ironside, Nury Vittachi). Ig Publishing is launching a new imprint, Lizzie Skurnick Books, which will reprint young adult books from the 1920s to the 1980s. (Here's a nudge to a publisher seeking worthwhile authors: Mary Wesley, Patricia Wentworth.)

This week, newly minted Pharos Editions is bringing out its contribution to republishing with four books selected and introduced by four authors. Two years ago, Harry Kirchner met Aaron Talwar and Jarret Middleton from Dark Coast Press, in his role as director of national accounts for Ingram Publisher Services, DCP's distributor. They were curious about how to build a backlist, and Harry had a long-held dream of reprinting excellent books. A partnership was born: they would find authors to select books and write the introductions; they would emphasize print; the books would be affordable ($16--a price chosen because "the number looks classy. We didn't overthink it.") yet highly crafted (heavier stock, jacketed paperbacks, design work on the inside).

Jonathan Evison came on board early with McTeague by Frank Norris, a classic of American realism. Sherman Alexie joined in with the iconic basketball novel Inside Moves by Todd Walton. Matt Groening chose a '30s Hollywood noir-ish book called You Play the Black and the Red Comes Up by Richard Hallas, aka Eric Knight (yes, Lassie, Come Home. Really). Jess Walter picked The Land of Plenty, written in 1934 by Robert Cantwell--the gripping story of a Washington lumbermill town and worker unrest.

With a classy logo, classy authors, and classy classics, Pharos Editions is adding value to the book world. --Marilyn Dahl

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

The Writer's Life

Travis McDade: The Intersection of Literature and Larceny

Less than a century ago, Manhattan's Fourth Avenue was a highly concentrated cluster of used bookstores--and, to maintain the high volume of business, some of their proprietors were willing to overlook a valuable book's sketchy pedigree. Some thieves came to specialize in looting libraries across America of the rarest items in their collections. Travis McDade, who holds dual advanced degrees in law and library science, brings this intersection of literature and larceny to life in Thieves of Book Row (Oxford University Press); he also tells the story of how the New York Public Library and other institutions fought back... even when they had less than complete support from the criminal justice system.

When did you decide to make book theft--or, more precisely, theft of any printed cultural resources--your area of expertise?

I never really made a decision. It just dawned on me, at some point, that I knew more about this subject than anyone else did. I had been writing a blog, the original intent of which was classically optimistic: I thought my legions of readers would like to be kept up to date on the subject of my first book. My "legions of readers" somehow never materialized, so the blog became, instead, a way for me to write about unfolding criminal prosecutions of guys who stole from libraries and archives--at first, for my own edification, and later, for a small group of dedicated readers.

It was a great education, not least because I pretty quickly discovered that almost no one else was writing anything insightful or original on the subject of book crime. Federal sentencing, in particular, was turning into the most exciting development in a century, and no one at all was talking about it. So I started talking about it.

When you began teaching "Crime and Punishment" in the University of Illinois library science program in 2008, did you see it as a recurring class?

No. I had some trepidation about the class.... I knew there was enough material to fill the time, but enough different material? I didn't want the students thinking, "Here we go, another prosecutor's Sentencing Memorandum for someone who stole from the National Archives."

Of course, I ended up having the opposite problem, especially because we read a lot of secondary sources, too. Each semester I find myself leaving out things I'd like to include. This April, for instance, I read in Tablet magazine Lisa Leff's terrific article on the complicated story of archives thief Zosa Szajkowski. I immediately cancelled the next week's reading, teamed up Leff's piece with another World War II-era article, and we talked about those instead.

How did Thieves of Book Row emerge out of the research for your previous work, The Book Thief?

Actually, ToBR came from another book--a book I never wrote. About the time I started teaching the class, I decided to write a comprehensive account of American book crime, soup to nuts. One of the stories I came across was that of Harry Gold. My information consisted basically of a few New York Times stories and a New York appellate court decision. I wrote a few hundred words for what I thought would be a chapter in this larger book, and didn't think anything else of it. Then, about six months later, I was on a rickety ladder in an old, going-out-of-business used book store, perusing the high shelf of the "books about books" section, when I spotted Keyes Metcalf's memoir. I had quoted him, as a Harvard librarian, in my first book, so I knew the name. But I had no idea he worked at the New York Public Library--I especially did not know he worked there until 1937. I thought, "I wonder if he wrote about the Harry Gold theft...."

Sure enough, there were a few pages on the subject. All of the sudden I had enough for an interesting article. After more research, I had enough for a very long interesting article. After more research, some East Coast travels and a few years of work, I had a 90,000-word book.

The New York Public Library and its anti-theft efforts are a key part of this story. How much time did you spend on site for your research?

Not enough! I made two trips to New York for research and to do site visits. Fourth Avenue is almost unrecognizable compared to what it was as Book Row. A few of the buildings remain, but not in anywhere near the same state as they were in the 1930s. The New York Public Library, on the other hand, is magnificently the same. It's like a Civil War battlefield in that respect: you're standing in the same place, seeing the same things.

Including the escape route any would-be thief would have to attempt?

Oh yes. Because it is basically the same, I walked the route many times--with one notable exception. The place where the rare book collection was then housed--and so where the escape started--is now in an area gated from public access. Worse yet, the only thing in that hallway open to the public is a women's restroom. So, for obvious reasons, I didn't want to hang around there with a note pad and camera. For even more obvious reasons, I did not want to go past the gate and get caught trespassing on library property. So I eventually convinced a nice lady who worked there to walk me over and let me have a look at the staff-only area. --Ron Hogan

Cinnamon and Gunpowder

by Eli Brown

Any author who combines wildly disparate topics in one plot takes a risk. The resultant effect is either that of flint and tinder or that of oil and water. Eli Brown (The Great Days) combines a swashbuckling piratical adventure with gourmet cooking, and his risk pays off--the two go together like filet mignon and red burgundy for a scrumptiously entertaining romp on the high seas in the year 1819.

When renowned chef Owen Wedgwood accompanies his longtime employer Lord Ramsey to a business meeting at a seaside summer home, his greatest worry is the condition of the pantry inventory at their destination and his lack of support staff. Although Wedgwood manages to create a fine feast as usual, it turns out to be his master's last: pirates crash the dinner, murder Ramsey at table and take Wedgwood captive. Although he vows to escape, Wedgwood knows how desperate his situation truly is, for his captors are not just any pirates but the crew of the Flying Rose, captained by the ruthless pirate queen Mad Hannah Mabbot. While beautiful, flame-haired Mabbot possesses untold charisma, she rules her crew with an iron hand and a predilection for bloodshed. Furthermore, she will allow Wedgwood to remain alive on one highly specific condition: he must whip up a delicious meal for her every Sunday. Like Scheherazade's stories, each meal will buy Wedgwood more time on this earth. Unfortunately, the Flying Rose's galley has little in common with the well-stocked pantry Wedgwood needs. Weevil-infested flour and hardtack aren't the stuff of gourmet meals. With his life at stake, Wedgwood must draw on his own resourcefulness and the few fresh ingredients he can gather from the sea or the ship's infrequent ventures into port. With little chance of escape, his greatest hope for rescue is Laroche, a privateer hell-bent on blowing Mabbot out of the water.

But Wedgwood slowly learns Captain Mabbot's murderous actions aren't without purpose. Lord Ramsey owed his wealth to a large stake in the Pendleton Trading Company, a tea empire akin to the East India Company, which owes much of its profits to the opium trade choking the life out of China. Mabbot yearns to bring the company down, but first she must catch up to the elusive professional thief known as the Brass Fox, a difficult prospect even when one isn't being pursued by English warships. To make matters worse, the Flying Rose has a saboteur aboard. While he's glad for her troubles at the outset, the more time Wedgwood--whom Mabbot takes to calling "Wedge"--spends with the eccentric captain, the more he comes to understand and sympathize with her. He also begins to forge alliances with her oddball but effective crew: Mr. Apples, an enormous, gruff warrior and devotee of the manly art of knitting; Feng and Bai, Mabbot's twin martial artist bodyguards; and Joshua, the deaf cabin boy who becomes Wedgwood's surrogate son. Eventually, Wedge must choose whose side he's really on: that of a society contributing to the suffering of millions of people, or that of the lawless pirate with whom he's falling in love.

Brown's culinary/piratical epic is meant to be savored like--and if possible, with--a rich meal and a fine bottle of wine. Admittedly "obsessed with food" himself, Brown creates an engrossing first-person narrative as Wedgwood stretches his prowess in the kitchen not merely to stay alive, but because of a deep and enduring passion for the profession of nourishing the body with delicious, wholesome food. The prose particularly shines during Wedgwood's descriptions of his successful meals, such as "basil-beef consomme... with its rainbow sheen of delicate oils trembling on the surface and a flavor that turned the tongue into the very sunlit hill where the bulls snorted and swung their heavy heads." Wedgwood and Mabbot's relationship is nurtured by his respect for her love of food: "When she ate, I saw in her a radiant life, a deep hunger, and an almost pious reflection on each moment." Readers hungrier for action than romance will find plenty to satisfy their appetites as well, with bloody battles, narrow escapes and gunplay galore.

For pure escapist pleasure, Cinnamon and Gunpowder has no match. A word of counsel, though: with passages such as "The saffron warmed all together as sunlight through stained glass blesses a congregation, while the shrimp sauce waved its harlot's kerchief from the periphery," you'll want to have a napkin on hand so you can dab your watering mouth. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374123666

Eli Brown: The Pirate Queen and the Chef

photo: Melissa Michaud

Eli Brown lives on an experimental urban farm in Alameda, Calif. His writing has appeared in the Cortland Review and Homewrecker: An Adultery Reader. His first novel, The Great Days, won the Fabri Literary Prize.

Food and pirates: How did you decide the two belonged together?

I think the key to a really juicy story is bringing two disparate worlds crashing together. I was excited about taking an adventure with a pirate queen and seeing where that would lead, but I wanted to write about food at the same time and I thought, Why not? It hadn't been done before, and a begrudging chef would be a wonderful lens to see that world through. There is also the fact that I'm the kind of guy who packs a sandwich for a trip down the block. Maybe I just didn't want to get on the ship unless I knew there would be good eats aboard.

How do you write these magical descriptive passages about food that make the reader drool?

You could say I'm obsessed with food. In all seriousness, I could listen to people describing their lunches for hours. Very few topics are as engaging for me. Tell me about the grain of the bread, how long the peppers were roasted, what kind of vinegar you used.

It's actually terribly difficult to describe tastes and smells with words. Our language isn't designed for it and maybe our brains aren't, either. A rose might be the color of a sunset and the texture of wet silk, and the smell of... well, it just smells like a rose. But odors and tastes are important to me, and I didn't let myself take any easy outs in those passages. Those descriptions were the hardest-won imagery in the book by far.

You've heard the phrase "food porn?" It's a crude term but it does point to the height of sensuality that food can bring us. I got a lot of pleasure immersing myself in those scenes, and I hope readers do, too.

Tell us about developing the violent yet compelling Captain Hannah Mabbot.

Mabbot is the red, beating heart of the story. For a character to come to life, the author has to fall in love a little, and with Hannah that was easy. I'm lucky to have had examples of strong women in my life to draw inspiration from. I also had a bit of a crush on Pippi Longstocking when I was little—that girl was in charge and didn't care what other people thought. So she's peppered in there, too.

But Mabbot has chosen (in as much as any of us choose our path) a bloody route, and discovering the source of her rage was key to understanding the real story of the novel. In a way she answers the question: How far can you push a person before she pushes back?

Owen and Hannah couldn't be more different, which makes their relationship so fascinating. Did you develop them separately or design them to play off each other?

They grew simultaneously as the story developed, but they are both really products of their pasts. Owen Wedgwood plays the foil for Mabbot, and because she's so charismatic sometimes he falls into her shadow. But it's his story, too, and we couldn't really know Mabbot without him. They test each other, they clash, and that clash creates a spark.

What's your relationship with food?

As I hinted at before, I'm heavily invested. I can use a computer without understanding how it works, and I wear clothes I couldn't hope to make myself, but when it comes to food, I want to understand every little detail. A big part of this is hedonistic on my part, I'm just into it. But it is also, to a degree, ethical. The way we eat shapes us and our planet, and we'd be better off if we better understood where our food comes from. I've been a vegetarian, a vegan and done brief spells of raw foods and low-carb lifestyles. In the end, I think I'm healthiest and happiest as an omnivore, but I'm deeply concerned about factory farming, and would much rather spend nine dollars on eggs that I knew had come from genuinely happy chickens (which are very hard to find.) That's just how much eggs cost, and if we're getting them cheaper, we're deferring that cost onto the soil and the animals and our own bodies. So my relationship with food is an endlessly changing experiment influenced by issues of health, pleasure, what I can afford and what I think the world can afford.

Tell us about life on an experimental farm.

There's a growing movement of people taking more interest in where their food comes from, and it's an exciting time to be alive if you like to garden or just like to have fresh herbs handy. My sweetheart and I live in a suburban house with small front and back yards that we've turned into vegetable and flower gardens. We have chickens, worm composting, rainwater catchment, gray water catchment, a bee hive, and use recycled materials such as sidewalk concrete to build raised beds. We also can our own tomatoes, make our own sauerkraut and kimchi, jams, yogurts and kefirs. It's experimental because we're really learning as we go, but every year we manage to coax more and more delicious food out of this little plot. We have kiwis, pineapple guavas, blueberries, apricots, lemons, raspberries, asparagus, figs... the list goes on and on. We love knowing how our food was grown, and there are few pleasures greater than stepping into your own backyard to harvest a basket full of broccoli or kale or garlic. One of the unexpected perks is that gardens like this help build community. Passersby are very eager to ask questions or swap gardening tips. The neighborhood kids love to come and visit the chickens, and nothing make neighbors happier than receiving a little basket of produce or a jar of honey.

What's your next project?

Once I find a good home for my work-in-progress cookbook (The Feasts of Tre-Mang), I'll be turning my attention to a new novel set in pioneer California, which draws its inspiration from folklore and mythology as much as from history. It's an epic story which has been bubbling in the back of my mind for years and I'm not sure how I'll ever manage to do it justice, but then, that's how all projects feel in the beginning: a ripe mixture of exciting and overwhelming. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

Beach Reading; Gorgeous Home Libraries

'Tis the season... for beach reads. The summer book frenzy has begun with a "Summer Reading Guide" in the Los Angeles Times, the Guardian's "best books for summer" and Flavorwire's "20 highbrow books to read on the beach."


Speaking of getting away from it all, bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith "paid just under £300,000 [about US$460,335] for the Cairns of Coll in the Hebrides, which can only be reached by boat in good weather," the Telegraph reported.


Open Culture offered readers a chance to hear A.A. Milne reading a chapter from Winnie-the-Pooh in a rare 1929 recording.


Flavorwire shared "10 fantastic photos for book lovers from the Library of Congress."


You may have already seen HBO's Behind the Candelabra, based on Scott Thorson's book, but are you ready for Liberace Cooks!, the famed pianist's 1970 cookbook?


Operating on the theory that "a gorgeous home library would turn anyone into a bookworm," the Huffington Post featured "seven spaces whose owners didn't skimp on this home feature."

Book Review


Crazy Rich Asians

by Kevin Kwan

A first-rate satire, this fiction debut from writer, photographer, and visual consultant Kevin Kwan (I Was Cuba) manages to skewer the habits of both the discreetly and the conspicuously wealthy while posing serious questions about class divides and infusing the narrative with the trials and romanticism of young love. This hilarious send-up of the Asian jet set features good guys and gold-diggers, steely matriarchs and ruthless socialites, all with a heaping cup of opulence and a soupçon of Austenian sensibility.

Meeting your significant other's family for the first time is often a nerve-wracking experience, but for Rachel Chu, a down-to-earth ABC (American Born Chinese) career girl, it’s the shock of her life. Nick comes from one of the wealthiest old-money families in Singapore, and is considered heir apparent to the family fortune. Like any prince, Nick is expected to marry a girl of a certain class, and Rachel finds herself in a viper's nest of resentful young socialites and disdainful female relations.

Meanwhile, Nick's fashion-plate cousin Astrid, the It Girl of Singapore, has her own struggles with the class divide after marrying middle-class Michael, who may be having an affair.

Amid distastefully extravagant stag and hen parties, razor-sharp catty insults, and untold extremes of class snobbery as Rachel and Astrid's worlds spin out of control, disastrous revelations arise that will change the way both women view themselves, their families and their relationships with the men they love.

Kwan has created a stylish and intricate piece of comedy with a tender heart and the habit-forming tendencies of a soap opera. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Discover: Excessive consumerist culture and the genuine joys and struggles of young couples in love clash in a first-rate satire of first-class life.

Doubleday, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385536974

You Are One of Them

by Elliott Holt

Elliott Holt's You Are One of Them opens in 1980s Washington, D.C. Sarah Zuckerman is a troubled child, haunted by those who have left her behind. Her mother, obsessed with the threat of nuclear war, never leaves the house; her father has moved back to England and remarried. When Jenny Jones moves in across the street, Sarah is enchanted: the Joneses are a perfect American family, loving and happy, and Jenny is the perfect best friend. It's Sarah's idea to write a letter to the Soviet premier, asking for peace, but it's Jenny's letter that gets published and answered with an invitation to visit the Soviet Union. After the Joneses return, world-famous Jenny doesn't have time for Sarah any more. Then Jenny is killed in a plane crash, her body never recovered.

Ten years later, as Sarah graduates from college, she gets a letter from a Russian woman who suggests she may know something about Jenny's eventual fate. Their correspondence prompts Sarah to move to Moscow, and as she makes new friends in this strange foreign city, it seems that everyone has possible ties to the KGB. Could Jenny really be among these mysterious Russian women? And how far is Sarah willing to go to reclaim her friendship?

You Are One of Them is part thriller, part elegy, part study of place, as Moscow comes alive and Holt explores themes of lost and missing loves, within its echoes of the real-life story of Samantha Smith and the broader mystique and paranoia of the nuclear era. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A haunting debut novel that combines a young girl's coming-of-age, a lost friendship and the chill of the Cold War.

Penguin Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9781594205286

Looking for Me

by Beth Hoffman

Theodora Grace Overman, aka "Teddi," the narrator of Beth Hoffman's Looking for Me, always loved restoring old furniture. As a teenager, this farm girl with a big dream rebelled against her mother's push for secretarial school and ran away from her rural Kentucky home, setting off to Charleston, S.C., where she eventually opens a shop dedicated to the refurbishing of antiques.

"Old furniture speaks to me," says Teddi. "The older it is, the more it has to say." Such is the case with Teddi's life. When the workaholic finds herself successful but still single at the age of 36, she begins to reflect on the lost years while trying to understand the people she left behind: a mother who never understood her daughter's aspirations; a father who returned from war a completely changed man; and an enigmatic younger brother, Josh, whose love of nature and rescuing animals may have led to his mysterious disappearance and a final letter he left behind that read, "Don't come looking for me." 

When Teddi's mother takes ill, Teddi returns home, and strange occurrences indicate Josh might still be alive. Hoffman flashes back to events from Teddi's childhood in the 1960s and '70s, delving into the past in order to shape the contours of these interconnected, yet sadly detached, lives. As in Hoffman's debut novel, Saving CeeCee Honeycutt, Southern wit, charm and down-home characters add levity to a story of loss and broken hearts that are ultimately restored with love, hope and remembering. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A woman confronts the haunted mysteries of her past when she returns to her rural Kentucky home.

Pamela Dorman, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670025831

Mystery & Thriller

The Shanghai Factor

by Charles McCarry

As espionage writers go, Charles McCarry (Old Boys, Second Sight) is right up there with the best, and The Shanghai Factor does not disappoint. It keeps the reader wondering: Would the solution have been more apparent if she had been more attentive? McCarry doesn't cheat, though; all the clues are there.

A young American spy is sent to live in Shanghai to work on his Mandarin, absorb the culture and learn to "fit in." He is in the employ of "HQ," a murky U.S. intelligence agency. In a meet-cute bicycle accident, the sexy, mysterious Mei enters his life. That's probably not her real name, and where she goes when she isn't with "Dude," as she calls him, is a mystery--though she's probably related to someone high up in the deadly Guoanbu, the Chinese equivalent of the CIA, FBI and Homeland Security rolled into one.

The enigmatic head of HQ, Luther Burbank (yes, that's really his name), finally gives the rookie spy an assignment, and it's a dandy: go undercover in a massive Chinese conglomerate and learn the secrets of their powerful CEO, Chen Qi, whom HQ believes to be a front man for Guoanbu. The danse macabre among Chinese thugs, Chen Qi, Dude, Mei and various players for both sides is fascinating and puzzling. Many flights between Washington and China, coded meetings, midnight rambles and cat-and-mouse games finally bring understanding to what is really going on, what is at stake and just how fungible the players are. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: McCarry, a master at espionage thrillers, uses Shanghai as a backdrop for the need-to-know activities of intelligence agencies in both China and the United States.

Mysterious Press, $26, hardcover, 9780802121271

A Serpent's Tooth

by Craig Johnson

Craig Johnson goes on his ninth trip to the rodeo with Walt Longmire in A Serpent's Tooth. Taking his title from a line in King Lear, Johnson sets Walt off in search of a "thankless child"--Sarah Tisdale--whose teenage son, Cord, has shown up in Durant, Wyo. Sarah left her home in Short Drop to join the Apostolic Church of the Lamb of God, a polygamous group that's set up a compound in Walt's home state.

An enormously large cult leader, a man claiming to be the 19th-century lawman Orrin Porter Rockwell and a deadly poet all cross Walt's path in his efforts to reunite Sarah and Cord. And when his search uncovers a high-priced weapons cache as well as a stolen drill bit worth three quarters of a million dollars, Walt's certain this is more than just a "lost boy" case.

While devoted fans of this series wouldn't dream of missing an installment, each book in the Walt Longmire series can easily be read and appreciated independently of the others; A Serpent's Tooth is no different. Johnson employs his trademark humor, many literary allusions, a cast readers can't help but love and Johnson's obvious love of the land he's writing about. Readers will experience the West in all its grandeur while Walt battles the evils trying to encroach upon his beloved county.

Blending the literary novel with the western and the mystery, Craig Johnson continues to deliver exceptional reads. He's not just staying on the bull for eight seconds, Johnson's winning the whole rodeo. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts 

Discover: Walt Longmire and team investigate a suspect polygamous sect in an effort to find a missing woman.

Viking, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670026456

A Conspiracy of Faith

by Jussi Adler-Olsen, trans. by Martin Aitken

Jussi Adler-Olsen's Danish detective Carl Mørck and his Syrian assistant, Assad, are back with their third Department Q case in A Conspiracy of Faith, taking on an old mystery involving a message in a bottle. The note was written in blood in 1996, and the heading clearly says, "Help," but time and exposure to the elements have obscured the rest.

Mørck, Assad and the department's temporary assistant Yrsa slowly piece together the message. They track down the author's family, but the parents refuse to talk about their son or even confirm whether he is alive.

Despite their silence, the Department Q team discovers a serial killer who preys on the fears of certain religious sects to get away with murder. Mørck and Assad put their lives on the line to confront this cruel and violent man, but will they be in time to save his latest victims?

Adler-Olsen is well known for creating hideous villains, then giving them a background that makes readers almost sympathetic. The killer here is no different, with a horrific childhood that gives his crimes a strong motive. He's not just evil for evil's sake.

The main plot of A Conspiracy of Faith has holes--and several of the subplots seem unnecessary--but Mørck and Assad remain an engaging duo, trying to help sympathetic victims in a disturbing case that's timely in its portraiture of people who use religion to inflict unutterable grief on others. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, writer/editor blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A disturbing Danish mystery examines religious zealotry and the psychological ruin it can cause.

Dutton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780525954002

The Broken Places

by Ace Atkins

Ace Atkins's Quinn Colson novels have been exceptional from the start, but Atkins is finding his groove with the third offering, The Broken Places. He has found that quintessential balance in his portrayal of Sheriff Colson, allowing readers to easily forgive his transgressions because they lead to justice when the law cannot.

Colson has his hands full when three escaped convicts show up in Tibbehah County, Mississippi, to collect stolen money and exact revenge on the man who betrayed them. His predicament becomes personal when he learns the cons are pursuing Jamey Dixon, recently--and questionably--pardoned from his murder conviction. (Dixon also happens to be dating Colson's sister.) As federal agents and a tornado bear down on Tibbehah County, the sheriff races to protect his family and his jurisdiction from impending disaster.

The Broken Places gets its title from Hemingway: "The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places." Atkins merges this theme flawlessly with his uses of faith and nature. He simultaneously respects and questions both through the eyes of his hardened and oft-broken hero, Colson, and through Jason, Colson's uncorrupted five-year-old nephew. Whether readers are new to the series or fans from the start, The Broken Places will touch them the way all great novels do, profoundly. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: Ace Atkins throws criminals, lawmen and clergy together in his exceptional third novel featuring Sheriff Quinn Colson.

Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399161780

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Ghost Spin

by Chris Moriarty

When a sentient 400-year-old artificial intelligence named Cohen kills himself, scattering variously complete copies ("ghosts") into the void of space/time, it's up to his human wife to do the same. Catherine Li scattercasts herself across the known universe, and her various copies wake up in all sorts of places, each of them hoping to reunite with the consciousness, ultimately and incomprehensibly alien, that consumed her life until his death.

Chris Moriarty sets Ghost Spin in the same hard SF universe as his previous two books (Spin Control; Spin State), telling an intriguing story of artificial intelligence--a drama that's also an exploration of the ethics and social dynamics of a society that must contend with vast distances, astro-physical paradoxes and speculative technological marvels.

One version of Li ends up with a space pirate who is host to one of the more fully realized Cohen fragments; she ends up not just in his crew, but in his bed as well. Another version is reassembled from her constituent molecules on the mining planet where she was born. There, Li takes up her old name, Caitlyn, while connecting with the local law enforcement to find out more than she might have wanted to about the true nature of Cohen--and her own identity as a human being. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer & editor

Discover: A hard SF novel with a depth of speculative insight into the far future potential of humankind, with plot twists and character-driven drama to satisfy all comers.

Spectra, $16, paperback, 9780553384949

Biography & Memoir

Nine Years Under: Coming of Age in an Inner-City Funeral Home

by Sheri Booker

Sheri Booker knows a thing or two about death. After witnessing her Aunt Mary's death at the age of 15, seeking an avenue for her grief, she took a job as an administrative assistant in an inner-city funeral home, remaining there for the next nine years. Her experiences within this atmosphere of death and decay form the basis for her poignant and uplifting memoir, Nine Years Under.

Booker's tenure at the Wylie Funeral Home serves as the backdrop for the bigger issues haunting Baltimore's crime-ridden streets. She has a front-row seat to the casualties that result from problems of the 1990s--AIDS, gang violence and the war on drugs. The mortuary becomes a second home, an escape from the heartbreak and despair that lies in wait at home--and a sanctuary for her budding interest in the business of death and for her artistic aspirations. Meanwhile, the mortuary's director serves as a surrogate father and Wylie's son her first adolescent crush.

The faces of death in all their incarnations force Booker to come to terms with her own feelings and fears about the Great Beyond. Her darker moments also become the most poignant; the people around her breathe life into a universe filled with a reality that never seems too far away. "I see dead people" gets new meaning in this engrossing Six Feet Under-meets-The Wire drama that heralds the arrival of a fresh, new storytelling talent. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A teenager's darkly humorous adventures in the business of death, set against the backdrop of Baltimore's crime-ridden streets.

Gotham, $26, hardcover, 9781592407125

Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father

by Alysia Abbott

When Alysia Abbott was two years old, her mother was killed in a car accident. Her father, Steve, moved her across the country to raise her alone as a gay man and single father in 1970s San Francisco--a pioneer in several senses. Alysia's childhood and teen years took place against the backdrop of a magical Haight-Ashbury district filled with creative, adventurous people like her father (a poet and political activist), recreational drugs and minimal supervision.

Their father-daughter relationship was loving but rocky. When Steve develops AIDS and his health begins to plummet, he calls 20-year-old Alysia home from her studies in Paris and New York City to nurse him, a full-circle caretaking demand that she resents at the time.

Fairyland is foremost a daughter's memoir of a much-loved parent. She continues to become acquainted with him through her research, most notably in reading copious notebooks filled with his poetry and journal entries. She colorfully renders an iconic epoch in San Francisco, together with the city's gay culture and politics, and the early days of the nationwide gay rights movement. Alongside beautiful characterizations (often morphing into eulogies), Alysia paints a stark image of the AIDS epidemic and the Reagan administration's non-response to it. As a personal story and as a portrayal of an era, Fairyland is powerful, loving, authentic, and contains Steve's artistic legacy in its lyricism. It acknowledges Steve's impact on Alysia--and both their shortcomings--with gratitude and grace. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A daughter's tender memoir of her father's life as a single gay man in 1970s Haight-Ashbury.

W. W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393082524

Children's & Young Adult

The Thing About Luck

by Cynthia Kadohata, illus. by Julia Kuo

Newbery medalist Cynthia Kadohata's (Kira-Kira) moving novel of an intergenerational family unfolds through the eyes of 12-year-old Summer Miyamoto.

Her parents have gone to Japan to care for three dying elderly relatives. But it's harvest time, when the family makes the majority of their income working the wheat fields of the Midwest. So Summer, her 10-year-old brother, Jaz, and her Obaachan (grandmother) and Jiichan (grandfather) head off to work as "wheaties." Her brother (who "wouldn't be Jaz if he weren't obsessed with something") has been diagnosed with ADHD, PDD-NOS and OCD, depending on which doctor you ask. But his biggest fear is that he'll never have a friend. Summer's kindness toward him wins out over her impatience with him. A recent bout of malaria has given Summer a maturity beyond her years.

Kadohata's novel is a love letter to the flatlands of the Midwest. Summer connects with its beauty and shares her fascination with how the wheat gets from field to table, and her interest is infectious. Nature and mealtimes govern the rhythms of their daily lives. Summer's grandparents play a large role in the shaping of Summer's conscience and outlook. Her accumulation of wisdom through the harvest season results in an ending that sneaks up on readers in its impact and poignancy. Kadohota's novel opens a window into a multigenerational family that honors its own culture while also planting a firm foundation in America. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Newbery Medalist Kadohata's love letter to the Midwest, as 12-year-old Summer and her intergenerational family harvest its wheat fields.

Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 10-14, 9781416918820

Wild Awake

by Hilary T. Smith

Debut author Smith's precise and vivid narration of Kiri's life will appeal to readers who enjoy being inside a protagonist's head.

Kiri Byrd's brother was supposed to stay with her during the six weeks their parents were gone on an anniversary trip, but instead she's home alone. An excellent pianist, Kiri doesn't plan to do anything besides focus on her music--until she gets a mysterious phone call: "At the name Sukey, my attention snaps back to the phone. Sukey's my sister. My dead sister. The one we never, ever talk about."

Kiri desperately tries to discover what happened to her sister, all while slowly spiraling into a bad mind space. In addition to unraveling the mystery of Sukey, Kiri plays in a band that's attempting to make it big. Her decisions and thoughts are not those of a typical protagonist, as she straddles reality and madness. But through her actions and thought processes, she will come across to readers as an extremely genuine character.

Smith's beautiful language allows an immersive experience and will resonate with those interested in how the book got its impressively appropriate title. --Shanyn Day, blogger at Chick Loves Lit

Discover: A girl slowly losing herself faces reality enough to solve the mystery of what happened to her sister.

Katherine Tegen, $17.99, hardcover, 384p., ages 14-up, 9780062184689

Kelsey Green, Reading Queen

by Claudia Mills, illus. by Rob Shepperson

This first entry in the new Franklin School Friends trilogy is that rare book that can appeal to both reluctant and voracious readers.

Voracious readers will understand Kelsey in a heartbeat: she is one of the best readers in the third grade, except perhaps for Simon Ellis, and when Franklin School's principal announces a reading competition, she is determined to read more than anybody in the school. Given her mom's annoying habit of forcing her to attend family activities, this turns out to be harder than she thought, and Simon soon takes the lead. Kelsey is convinced he's cheating and enlists her friends to help her prove it.

Reluctant readers will be more attracted to another character: Cody. He hates reading, much to Kelsey's dismay, because she's hoping she and Simon's page counts combined will lift their class into the lead. Kelsey is torn between trying to help him see the glory of reading, and trying to win. Between that and a surprising revelation about Simon, she soon realizes that there is more than one way to love reading--and that not everyone has to.

Mills's writing is quick and readable without being simple, and the story is pleasingly complex. This combination makes the book a good fit for readers of varying reading levels, and the story will appeal to all of them as well. Readers will snap it up and look forward to the next two books in the series, about Kelsey's partners in crime: Annika Riz, Math Whiz, and Izzy Barr, Running Star. --Stephanie Anderson, head of readers' advisory at Darien Library and blogger

Discover: The first in a promising new series of early chapter books for readers of all stripes.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $15.99, hardcover, 128p., ages 7-10, 9780374374853


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

Powered by: Xtenit