Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 11, 2013

William Morrow & Company: Southern Man (Penn Cage #7) by Greg Iles

From My Shelf

Lighthouses: Escape and Discovery

At once welcoming and splendidly isolated, helping sailors find safe passage yet often warning ships away from dangerous coastlines, lighthouses have long captured the public imagination.

M.L. Stedman's evocative debut novel, The Light Between Oceans, tells the story of Tom, a World War I veteran who takes his new bride to a lighthouse posting off Australia's western coast. Deeply in love and captivated by their island home, they long for a child. When a boat washes up on shore carrying a dead man and a live baby girl, they bury the man and raise the child as their own. But Tom is haunted by their choice, and the possibility of the child's other relatives, until he makes a fateful decision. Stedman's lyrical writing evokes the island's charm and utter isolation, as well as Tom's heartbreaking dilemma.

Christina Schwarz's novel The Edge of The Earth follows Trudy Schroeder, raised in middle-class Midwestern comfort and frustrated by the tidy life plan laid out for her. When Trudy escapes to a lighthouse off the coast of California, she discovers the unpredictable beauty of a world entirely different from her own.

In the early 1800s, Augustin Fresnel, French physicist and engineer, shocked the Parisian scientific elite with his unconventional experiments on light. In A Short Bright Flash, Theresa Levitt traces Fresnel's work and his invention of a lighthouse lens that refracted light, producing beams far brighter than the reflector systems then in place. Although he met with resistance, Fresnel's lenses eventually graced lighthouse towers on five continents, playing a pivotal role in several wars. Levitt's account sometimes bogs down in detail, but includes helpful diagrams and fascinating historical anecdotes.

With their powerful metaphors of light and dark, solitude and connection, lighthouses provide a striking backdrop for fictional and real-life stories of escape and self-discovery. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

The Writer's Life

Lauren Beukes: The Ripples of Violence

photo: Ulrich Knoblauch

Lauren Beukes was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, and lives in Cape Town with her husband and daughter. Besides three novels, she has written short stories, journalism, and television scripts. Her first novel, Moxyland (2008), envisions a cyberpunk world in a future Cape Town. Her second, Zoo City (2010), mixes a crime noir thriller with magic and won the Arthur C. Clarke Award in 2011 and was long-listed for the 2012 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award. The Shining Girls (see our review below) is a twisty thriller about a time-traveling serial killer and the survivor who turns the hunt around.

You're known as a writer who likes to bend genres almost to the breaking point. Were you trying to do something similar in your new novel?

I write the stories that occur to me and readers and reviewers define them afterwards. They do tend to come out as strange crossover mash-up beasts.

It's a reflection of all the things I'm interested in and probably some indication of how weird the inside of my head is--like a hoarder house full of pop culture and history and social influences that sometimes come together in alchemical ways.

Were you influenced by other time-travel novels?

I loved The Time Traveler's Wife, which I read years ago, but I specifically avoided any other time travel novels, including Stephen King's. I didn't want to be unduly influenced, and I learned my lesson after reading Oryx & Crake while I was writing my first novel, Moxyland. It was so brilliant (Margaret Atwood, natch) and on such similar territory, that it scared me off writing my own novel for about six months. I think if there's one very obvious influence in The Shining Girls it's actually Christopher Nolan's film Memento, which jumps around in time and memory and you have to trust that he knows where he's taking you.

How did your serial killer, Harper Curtis, come about? Is he based on any real-life killers?

Harper is informed by characteristics and traits from a number of real killers from Richard Speck to BTK. I read a lot of nonfiction and listened to a ton of true crime podcasts (usually on the treadmill, which proved more effective at getting me to run faster than any personal trainer).

The reality is that most serial killers are not sophisticated, intelligent über-predators, a la Hannibal Lecter. They're often damaged, vile, contemptible men expressing their impotence through violence. Frequently, there is no deep motivation, no underlying explanation, which possibly makes them more frightening. They're not monsters. They're broken people with very little inner life or insight into themselves, and the most interesting thing about them is the horrific violence they do to other people.

The subject of violence has become a very sensitive topic in the U.S. Had you considered toning down some of your violent attack scenes?

We've become inured to dead bodies in movies and books, and I specifically wanted to kick back against the tired trope of the pretty dead corpse who is only a sum of her wounds, a bloody puzzle for the detective to solve. I was interested in creating women who breathe on the page. The chapters on each of the shining girls are much more about who they are and then, finally at the end, the horror and loss of having their lives cut short.

Yes, it's violent. It's supposed to be shocking. Because real violence is shocking. And coming from a country where femicide and rape is endemic, I'm not going to downplay that. I want to show the real horror of what violence is, what it does to us, the ripples it sends out through society. And, of course, I have to show the unraveling of Harper's mind, that serial killers do become more elaborate and more violent as the thrill wears off.

But there is a difference between "shocking" and "gratuitous." I try to get at the horror with a few powerful details, and the attacks generally are written from the victim's perspective. You're with her, feeling her fear, her outrage, what this is doing to her, rather than riding along in the killer's head, complicit in the sick thrills.

The attack on Kirby is written in depth. But I needed readers to know what she'd been through, why it's f**ked her up the way it has. I wanted you to have to put the book down during that scene. I wanted you to have to step away and go fortify yourself with a cup of tea or a double Scotch. Because this is the reality of violence. And when we see a murder on the news, the person who was killed would have gone through something similar.

I based Kirby's chapter on the story of a South African survivor who lived through an even more horrifying attempted murder in the '90s and managed, incredibly and inspiringly, to find reconciliation--Alison: I Have Life. Of course, if Kirby had managed to find peace with what happened to her, she would have had a much better life, but it wouldn't have been much of a novel.

The idea of having Curtis leave small mementos at each murder scene from different time periods is a very nice touch. How did that come about?

It was obvious to me the moment I had the idea for the novel. It was the only way Kirby would be able to figure out what the hell was going on--and no one would ever believe her. It's also a very nasty play on the usual serial killer trophy-taking and reflects Harper's thinking, that he's creating this murder constellation that links the girls through time.

Where did the "shining" girl idea come from? Did it originate with the "radium" dancing girls of the '30s?

I worked with two part-time researchers, Adam Maxwell in Denver and Zara Trafford in Cape Town, who would dig up the nitty gritty details and find source material for me (like oral histories of the Great Depression or books about the Red Scare or the "herstory" website on the real-life '70s underground abortion group, Jane).

Adam Maxwell was looking into 1930s hospital care for me; what the wards looked like, what uniforms doctors wore, how much they charged, how they would treat a ripped tendon. He sent me all that, including photos and articles and a link to a creepy crutch from 1931 on eBay in case I wanted to buy one, but he also included an article he'd turned up that he thought I might find interesting from the Milwaukee-Sentinel in 1936 on a burlesque dancer who performed in radium paint and was recuperating in hospital from radiation burns.

It's something I learned as a journalist--that the real world is often more surprising and inventive than anything you could make up. It was great plundering real details from Chicago's history for the novel. For the Glow Girl, I changed the woman's name, brought her back to 1931 and got permission from the Milwaukee-Sentinel to borrow some quotes from the original article.

Why set the novel in Chicago and not South Africa?

I was interested in exploring the 20th century and how it's shaped us, how much changed in that time, but also how much has stayed the same, the loops of history that twist back on us, from recessions to the fight for women's rights to control their own bodies.

Time travel allowed me a way of playing with that, but if I'd set the story in South Africa, apartheid would have overshadowed all those other things.

I lived in Chicago in 2000 and 2001, so I felt I had enough of a sense of the city to be able to write about it, and I went back on a research trip to interview cops and '90s punk musicians, zine experts, historians and music and sports journalists and to scout the places I wanted to write about.

At the heart of the novel, despite its time travel and serial killer elements, there is a strong feminist theme. Did that come first or the other elements?

The story comes first, always. But if I can use a cool story to also explore the issues I'm interested in, that's great. Everything I'm passionate about, from architecture to segregation is going to leak into the story anyway, just because that's who I am and where I'm coming from.

Faulkner had a detailed time flow chart above his desk when his was writing Absalom, Absalom. How did you handle the many time shifts and the subtle revelations of information scattered throughout your story?

I had a murder wall above my desk, which looks like something out of Homeland or A Beautiful Mind. It tracks the three different timelines: Harper's killing timeline, which becomes increasingly violent and elaborate as he goes on; the actual historical timeline; and the novel's timeline, which jumps between eras and character perspectives.

The whole thing is crisscrossed with red yarn to connect the murders and yellow and black yarn to track the movement of the murder trophies he takes from his victims and leaves on others, and all surrounded by reference pictures, including photographs I'd taken on my research trip, images I'd found online, medical diagrams of how to wire up a broken jaw in 1931, floor plans for tenement houses, maps of Chicago and the elevated line routes across the different eras and evocative photographs I'd found online, as well YouTube screengrabs of how they launched landing ship tanks or from a documentary that went inside the County Cook prison. It all looks quite mad, but it all comes together when you look closely.

It was critically important to me that while there are loops and overlaps and paradoxes, it all makes sense and there aren't plot holes.

You're on an ambitious author tour right now. How does it compare to an author tour in South Africa? How has the book been received there?

Living the dream. Racking up the air-miles and jet lag! It's amazing to go on a serious tour. I've attended literary festivals and conventions and cool tech/culture conferences before and my publisher sent me on a sort-of victory lap around South Africa after winning the Arthur C. Clarke Award, but never on this kind of scale.

It's a huge privilege. It's exhausting. I love getting to hang out with other authors at festivals, but the best part of touring is getting to meet readers.

Can you say a little about the state of literature in South Africa? Is it rich in SF and fantasy authors? Any authors from there we might not be familiar with and should be reading over here?

I think South African genre fiction is exploding right now, a bit like Scandi crime fiction has in recent years.

There are some big and fantastic books coming out in the next year, including Sarah Lotz's crossover thriller about evil children and plane crashes, The Three [Hodder, 2014] and Charlie Human's Apocalypse Now Now [Random House, July 2013], but you should also be reading Lily Herne's YA zombie apocalypse series Mallrats and S.L. Grey's razor-sharp horror with a social conscience, The Mall and the Ward. And it's not SF, but I suspect Helena S. Paige's A Girl Walks into a Bar choose-your-own-adventure erotica is going to be huge. And, of course, our crime fiction is already doing pretty well, too, from Deon Meyer and Margie Orford to Mike Nicol and Andrew Brown.

But if I can recommend some lesser known "straight" contemporary fiction: Diane Awerbuck, Henrietta Rose-Innes, Jamala Safari, Siphiwo Mahala, Thando Mgqolozana, Zukiswa Wanner, Kgebetli Moele, Sifiso Mzobe and Richard deNooy are all writing smart, excellent books that will challenge whatever preconceptions you might have about what SA literature is. They're a far cry from the cool, dry, elegant J.M. Coetzee mold--full of verve and spark.

Cue: lots of author friends upset with me for not mentioning them too.

Your book is getting an unusual promotional bump from students' reviews of the book done in a class that are then being sent out to various places for publication. Could you say a little bit about this new marketing approach?

If only we were that sneaky and cunning.

I'm afraid it was all the lecturer's idea. She's a major journalist, and when I met her at a book launch, it was her suggestion to set it as an assignment for her students, because, I think, of the scope of the book's subject matter and all the different angles you could take approaching it.

Of course, it's going to be totally subjective, based on the students' insights and opinions, and some of them may well hate it. It'll be interesting to see what comes of it. It's a fun project to watch unfold, even if we have nothing to do with it. And amazing to get that kind of boost.

It's always cool when students study my novels or riff off them. I've seen short stories and screenplay scenes inspired by Moxyland produced by the creative writing students at the University of the Western Cape and the University of Cape Town. The University of the Witwatersrand got their art curator masters students to put together a Zoo City-inspired exhibition. And both Zoo City and Moxyland have been taught as setworks from the University of London to Princeton and the University of Alaska.

The only time it bothers me is when students tweet me asking me to do their homework for them or explain the major themes the day before the exam.

What's next for you? Is there another genre-bender in the works?

Yes, indeed. I suspect my work will always have an element of the weird about it. With this one, I'm aiming for Jennifer Egan meets Stephen King. Although, of course, the book in your head is a platonic ideal and it may turn into something different on the page. It's about a police detective and her daughter and weird taxidermied bodies turning up in Detroit. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Book Candy

Summer Beach Reads; the Stones and Downton Abbey

More summer beach reads, this time from NPR. Susan Stamberg asked "three of our go-to independent booksellers"--Rona Brinlee of the BookMark, Neptune Beach, Fla.; Daniel Goldin of Boswell Book Co., Milwaukee, Wis.; and Lucia Silva, a former bookseller--to "help fill our beach bags with good reads." And introducing a feature headlined "Moments of Truth: 6 Memoirs Written with Heart," NPR observed that "summer vacations are where we do some of our most serious thinking."


Buzzfeed recommended "38 perfect books to read aloud with kids... or to revisit yourself whenever you need an extra dose of wonder."

The Huffington Post found "10 classics that won't put you to sleep" and "9 books that people will judge you for reading (and why they're wrong)."


The publishers of popular French dictionary Le Petit Robert have released a list of new words to be included in the 2014 edition. Mental Floss highlighted "11 mots merveilleux" that are recent additions.


"Mick Jagger can play Edith's boyfriend." Are the Rolling Stones headed for Downton Abbey? Entertainment Weekly considered five potential storylines for the rockers, who are big fans of the series.

Book Review


The Execution of Noa P. Singleton

by Elizabeth Silver

As titles go, Elizabeth L. Silver's The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is bluntly straightforward, and the directness continues as Noa introduces herself to us from death row in the Pennsylvania Institute for Women, where she's been sentenced after the murder of Sarah Dixon. Her guilt is never in question: "I know I did it," she says. "The state knows I did it, though they never asked why.... I was lucid, attentive, mentally sound, and pumped with a single cup of decaffeinated yellow zinger tea when I pulled the trigger. Post-conviction, I never contested that once."

And yet, six months before her scheduled execution, Noa receives a visit from Oliver Stansted, a British attorney, whose boss is Marlene Dixon, Sarah's mother--who petitioned the court vigorously for the death penalty at Noa's sentencing. Ten years later, though, Marlene has created Mothers Against Death, or M.A.D., in an effort to secure clemency for her daughter's killer.

At this point, the straightforwardness ends. It's clear from their initial conversation that both Noa and Marlene are holding back from each other--and from Oliver--and Silver dedicates the novel to exposing their secrets.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton depends on Noa's strength as a character--and, to a lesser extent, Marlene's--to keep us caring long enough to get to the why of Sarah's death, and why Noa believes that she deserves to die. Why does she eventually allow Oliver to raise her hopes? What secrets is she taking with her to the grave? In her debut novel, Silver gives Noa a voice powerful enough to make us want to know the answers. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: In Elizabeth Silver's debut novel, a sympathetic anti-heroine reveals a story that is ultimately tragic, yet flecked with dark humor.

Crown, $25, hardcover, 9780385347433

Good Kings Bad Kings

by Susan Nussbaum

Susan Nussbaum's debut novel, Good Kings Bad Kings, invites readers into the dysfunctional world of ILLC, an institution for juveniles with disabilities. The residents of ILLC, tucked away in an isolated corner of Chicago's South Side, are alone in the world or come from families that cannot afford to give them the care and attention their disabilities demand. There is Yessenia, an aggressive but also witty teen with no one to care for her after her aunt's death. There's Mia, who has lived at the center since she was 11 after being removed from an abusive family. And Teddy, who dresses in a suit every day and is madly in love with Mia; his father visits regularly but cannot afford to bring Teddy home.

Nussbaum brings these and other characters to life, moving from one perspective to the next flawlessly, building a voice for each character that is so authentic it is easy to forget they are fictional. Ultimately, their voices come together to tell a heartbreaking story of cruelty and hardship, but also a hopeful tale of resilience, love and friendship. Good Kings Bad Kings will make readers stop and reconsider--or perhaps consider for the first time--what it means to be disabled and why we fear those who are different from us. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: The 2012 winner of Barbara Kingsolver's PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction centers on a dysfunctional institution for juveniles with disabilities.

Algonquin, $23.95, hardcover, 9781616202637

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls

by Anton Disclafani

In 1930, as the Great Depression sets in, 15-year-old Thea Atwell is sent away from her secluded Florida home after a family tragedy that leaves her estranged from her parents and twin brother. The title of Anton DiSclafani's debut novel, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls, reveals her destination.

DiSclafani's lush descriptions evoke the rich, unspoiled acres of Thea's Florida home, contrasting it sharply with the spare, beautiful setting of Yonahlossee, a camp-cum-boarding-school in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Thea's narrative voice is compelling; she may be naive and sheltered, but she is far from innocent. Although she accepts some responsibility for the scandal that shattered her world (the details of which are gradually revealed to the reader), she also begins to question the wisdom of her parents and teachers--as well as the norms of a society that limits the power of women to direct their own lives. Headstrong and impulsive, Thea gains a new sense of the impact of her actions on others, though this wisdom does not stop her from relentlessly pursuing what she wants.

At Yonahlossee, Thea earns distinction in her riding lessons while making sharp, incisive observations about her fellow campers and their artificial world of Southern gentility. Despite her efforts to keep her distance from others, Thea eventually must leave Yonahlossee and face both her family and the prospect of a life in the wider world. DiSclafani's debut is a vividly written, heartbreaking story of one girl's struggle to grow up. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A vivid, heartbreaking story of a family tragedy, an equestrienne boarding school and one headstrong girl's struggle to grow up.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594486401

Big Brother

by Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver elevates the "issue novel" by unleashing her literary imagination on the latest controversies--whether she's tackling school shootings from the mind of the shooter's mother (We Need to Talk About Kevin) or looking at a family trying to cope with the American health care system (So Much for That). With Big Brother, Shriver turns to the American obesity epidemic and asks what we owe to our siblings, spouses, and children--and what we are willing to sacrifice.

The novel's protagonist is Pandora Halfdanarson, the daughter of an almost-famous television actor whose claim to fame was a sitcom portraying a facsimile of Pandora's own family. "Refusal to forge views for social consumption made me dull," Pandora says, "but I loved being dull. Being of no earthly interest to anyone had been a lifelong goal." Despite her attempts to remain anonymous in Iowa, however, Pandora has become a successful entrepreneur of hand-crafted, pull-string gift dolls who spout customized exclamations modeled after the recipient ("ridicule paired with affection"). She has found happiness with her husband and his two children. Then her brother arrives--but he's not the dashing, accomplished jazz pianist she expected.

What follows is not just the cutting humor and unflinching wisdom we expect (and find) in all of Shriver's novels, but an unsettling exposé of the myriad ways we deceive ourselves and those we love. --Kristen Galles, blogger at Book Club Classics

Discover: Lionel Shriver delivers searing truth with biting wit, effulgent imagery and characters too familiar to be imaginary.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780061458576

Flat Water Tuesday

by Ron Irwin

What John Irving has done for prep school wrestling, Ron Irwin does for rowing in Flat Water Tuesday. Rob Carrey is a tightly wound singles sculler at the blue-collar Black Rock Rowing Club in upstate New York. After barely graduating from high school, he is recruited by Charles Channing, the old-school coach of the tony Fenton School, who needs a strong third seat in his varsity four to beat rival Warwick Academy.

To lure Rob and convince his widowed father to let him leave the family construction business, Channing dangles a full ride to Harvard (unofficially promised by its rowing coach) if Fenton wins. Rob arrives on Fenton's campus, with its "immense, unending, perfectly manicured splendor" and "kids and parents with good forehands and firm handshakes," feeling as out of place as he does in a four-man boat.

Before Irwin dives into this coming-of-age plot, though, he opens with an e-mail sent to Rob 15 years later, from another member of the four-man crew--hinting at a fatal event at Fenton that caused the team members to split apart without any future contact. Rob, too, suffered from this event, refusing the Harvard scholarship and instead shooting freelance documentary films. Weaving past and present, Rob tells a story of learning to win and to lose--on and off the river. Sports metaphors permeate our lives. In rowing, Irwin has found one that is not only original, but also engaging. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A debut novel where a young man's passion for competitive rowing leads both to celebration and suffering.

Thomas Dunne, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250030030

The Shining Girls

by Lauren Beukes

South African author Lauren Beukes loves genre-bending. Her first novel, Moxyland, created a futuristic cyberpunk world; Zoo City is a noir thriller with magic. The Shining Girls, her best yet, turns The Time Traveler's Wife upside down with a mixture of time travel and serial killing that works wickedly well.

Beukes offers 62 short chapters in a nonlinear time sequence. At the story's center are Harper Curtis, a sadistic killer, and Kirby Mizrachi, one of his victims. Harper first visits Kirby in June 1974, giving the 6 1/2-year-old girl an orange plastic pony that she thinks looks "kinda dopey." When he leaves, he tells her: "I'll see you when you're all grown up."

1931: Harper kills an old woman in Chicago and steals her big warm coat. The pocket holds an old key--for The House. Inside The House is a room filled with souvenirs. Why do they seem familiar to him? Harper soon understands the time-traveling power of the room--and its demand for "potential."

Harper uses the room to pursue strong women--his "shining girls"--like Zora ('43), Alice ('51) and Jin-Sook ('93). Then he visits a grown-up Kirby. This time, however, it's different. His brutal attack fails, and she survives. He returns to the room and the past, to escape--for now.

Kirby gets a job as an intern at the Chicago Sun-Times. Through old newspaper files, she learns about similar attacks and odd souvenirs left by the bodies of the women who died over the decades.

Interesting subplots add depth to Beukes's powerful and unsettling hybrid of a story, as she crosses a feminist novel with narrative twists and turns reminiscent of Alain Robbe-Grillet's The Voyeur. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Readers will unwind the subtle narrative knot as a serial killer and his only surviving victim hurtle toward each other across time for a second confrontation.

Mulholland, $26, hardcover, 9780316216852

Mystery & Thriller

The Doll

by Taylor Stevens

In The Doll, Taylor Stevens (The Informationist) brings mercenary Vanessa Michael Munroe back to eager readers for another round of full-speed international intrigue. At the start, Munroe is tranquilized, kidnapped and forced to deliver a Hollywood starlet overseas as part of a human trafficking ring. Munroe's boyfriend, Bradford, and the associates at his security firm are hot on the case, but the task of rescuing Munroe is complicated because all the other people she loves most in the world have also been kidnapped as collateral against her cooperation. Additionally, "the doll" turns out to be a spitfire with past trauma of her own, determined to give Munroe a run for her money.

With her near-savant linguistic skills, almost obsessive love of and skill with weapons and androgynous appearance, Munroe is a formidable tool in the hands of the "Doll Maker," the mastermind behind the trafficking trade. But he hasn't figured on her unpredictability. Even faced with difficult decisions and with her loved ones held hostage, Munroe might be capable of anything.

Stevens again crafts a lightning-swift plot that races across continents and inflicts extreme trauma upon characters she's taught us to care about. Intelligent action and pacing are a bonus, and other characters like those on Bradford's team are engaging and provide banter; but it's Munroe herself who stars, with her wondrous and myriad abilities and her surprisingly soft heart. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The latest international exploits, daring escapes and rescues of Taylor Stevens's heroine for hire.

Crown, $24, hardcover, 9780307888785

The Square of Revenge

by Pieter Aspe, trans. by Brian Doyle

Pieter Aspe, well known in Belgium for his series of novels starring Assistant Commissioner Pieter Van In, makes his English-language debut with The Square of Revenge, the first Van In mystery (originally published in 1995). A bit dated technologically because of its delayed translation, The Square of Revenge is nevertheless a gripping thriller.

Ludovic Degroof, owner of one of the most exclusive jewelry stores in Bruges and one of the powers-that-lurk in Belgian politics, has asked the police not to investigate a robbery at his store. Nothing was removed from the premises, but the entire inventory was taken to the back room and dissolved in aqua regis, a powerful acid.

The bizarre nature of the crime, along with Degroof's even stranger request, sparks Van In's curiosity. The fact that the beautiful new DA, Hannelore Martins, is also interested doesn't hurt. Van In and Martins decide to do a little digging on their own to see what the Degroof family is hiding.

What they discover are disturbing secrets that run back half a century, including strange connections to the Templars. There are also extremely complicated Belgian politics at play, which force Martins and Van In to pursue the case in an unorthodox fashion in order to stay beneath the radar.

Pitted against such political powers, Van In is a dogged, yet likable, force of nature. Surprisingly erudite, stereotypically alcoholic, happily quick-witted, Van In is a welcome addition to the pantheon of international detectives. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: The first Pieter Van In mystery, which pits the wily detective against one of Bruges' most powerful families.

Pegasus, $24.95, hardcover, 9781605984469

Psychology & Self-Help

The Human Spark: The Science of Human Development

by Jerome Kagan

Jerome Kagan, emeritus professor of psychology at Harvard University and author of The Nature of the Child, is one of the pioneers of developmental psychology and among its most influential thinkers. His focus has been in the area of children's cognitive and emotional development, especially the genetic or environmental roots of temperament. In the thought-provoking The Human Spark, Kagan identifies the development of cognitive, emotional and moral stages that children reveal at common ages and shows what variances can be traced to environmental factors like parenting, birth order or social norms.

Far more than another round in the nature/nurture debate, Kagan describes how flawed research based on cultural assumptions can lead to widely accepted conclusions that influence public policy. For example, he presents research that disproves infant determinism, the common notion that certain negative early childhood experiences doom a child to an unhappy adulthood. In one of many fascinating asides, he suggests that this idea developed out of a larger historical trend favoring a middle class with nuclear families, where a new class of stay-at-home mothers were given social responsibility for infant emotional and intellectual development and behavior--an idea that continues to drive policy and shape cultural expectations.

Authoritative and surprising, Kagan guides us through the most current research in the field, tracing its shifting intellectual fashions from emphasizing "nurture" to the current reliance on neuroscience and showing how these fashions play out culturally. This wise and affirming book is essential reading for anyone interested in what makes us human. --Jeanette Zwart, freelance writer and reviewer

Discover: Jerome Kagan, a leading developmental psychologist, offers a fascinating assessment of the factors that contribute to a child's individual and cultural development.

Basic, $28.99, hardcover, 9780465029822

Performing Arts

Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America

by Leslie Zemeckis

Despite the pornographic reputation attached to it, the original intent of burlesque served a much deeper purpose. Burlesque had its roots in European commedia dell'arte and vaudeville, but the Americans took the comedy and embellished it with the striptease in the 1920s. At its height, between the 1930s and 1950s, burlesque was a pre-feminist movement offering women economic empowerment and escape from poverty, as well as a "show that cost a few pennies and gave out-of-work men some semblence of hope." This era enthralled filmmaker Leslie Zemeckis, inspiring her to capture burlesque in all its naked glory. Behind the Burly Q is a companion volume to her 2011 documentary, which in turn arose from her own one-woman Mae West–style burlesque show.

Zemeckis introduces us to performers like Lili St. Cyr, Blaze Starr and Tempest Storm, as well as the comedians who opened for them, including Red Buttons, Phil Silvers and Abbott and Costello, and theater managers like Harold Minsky who promoted the tease to wider audiences. Alan Alda and Erik Lee Preminger, sons of straightman Robert Alda and Gypsy Rose Lee, respectively, provide intimate details of life in the shadow of parents always "on the wheel."

Zemeckis's easy rapport with the women who teased and seduced their way into the hearts of America gives voice to a generation of performers whose reputations have been maligned and largely forgotten--until now. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A well-researched, intimate portrait of burlesque and the women who teased and seduced their ways into the hearts of the American public.

Skyhorse, $24.95, hardcover, 9781620876916

Children's & Young Adult

The Testing

by Joelle Charbonneau

In Joelle Charbonneau's taut psychological novel, the Earth has been ravaged by the Seven Stages War, and its inhabitants suffer--economically, ecologically and emotionally. Few people own cars; food, fuel and paper are precious, and water is scarce. But 16-year-old narrator Malencia ("Cia") Vale remains hopeful that if she's selected for the Testing, she'll be able to change things for the better.

When Cia is chosen, her father confides to her his recurring nightmares that seem to be connected to his own experience of the Testing. He tells her that her mother's distance stems from the possibility that the Testing could mean the family will never see Cia again. Her father cautions Cia to trust no one. This dystopian novel stands out for its nuanced exploration of the tension that often develops between parents and children on the cusp of adulthood. The author fully exploits the possibilities of standardized testing as a gauge to determine a young person's future in our own society, and asks teens to question whether it's truly a measurement of their self-worth. Charbonneau puts her characters through not just tests of physical, ethical and emotional stamina, but also tests their loyalties to friends, family and to the Commonwealth itself.

There is nothing standardized about this Testing. Charbonneau's imagination will surprise readers at every turn, including the chilling ending. She wraps things up satisfyingly while still hinting at other revelations to come in books two and three of this planned trilogy. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A strong teenage heroine must endure every imaginable test by her government to see if she is leader material.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 12-up, 9780547959108

The Enduring Ark

by Gita Wolf, illus. by Joydeb Chitrakar

This beautifully designed and intelligently produced retelling of the flood expands the bounds of bookmaking. Illustrated by Joydeb Chitrakar (Tsunami) in the Bengali Patua–style of scroll painting, the story of Noah and the flood literally folds out like a giant mural between hard covers and tucks snugly into an attractive slipcase.

Each "page" may be read like a book by turning its accordion folds. But the book's true genius comes to light when it's laid out end to end. Each individual scene connects to the larger story of the flooding of the world and the receding of the waters to begin a new life. Gita Wolf (Do!) writes with the voice of a true storyteller. Chitrakar portrays Noah and his wife Na'mah building the ark together, as fish float by on a calm river. In a perfectly engineered shift, as soon as the reverse side of the accordion fold begins, with the animals herded aboard the ark, the rain arrives in a gray sheet. As the rain continues for 40 days, water sweeps away the trees, people and animals as if they are sleeping comfortably. The dove brings back the olive branch ("an offering of peace, a sign of trust from God"), and the author makes their last act "to set the creatures they had nurtured free."

With a text that pays homage to a time-honored oral tradition in a mural-like sequence of interconnected scenes that calls to mind Egyptian scrolls and the Bayeux tapestry, The Enduring Ark is a testament to what great bookmaking can do. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An eloquent retelling of Noah and the ark with scenes that unfold--literally--as a Bengali Patua–style scroll.

Tara Books, dist. by PGW, $21.95, hardcover, 34p., ages 6-up, 9789380340180


Kids Buzz

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

Butternut, the brave storytelling rabbit, is back--and this time her home is on fire!

In my family read-aloud THE PERILOUS PERFORMANCE AT MILKWEED MEADOW, a merry troupe of turkeys organizes a summer show in the meadow, but a fire burns their playhouse to the ground. Who started the fire and why? Called "witty, whimsical, wise" in a Kirkus starred review, this middle-grade animal adventure sequel about trust and forgiveness features show-stopping illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati.

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024


Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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