Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 12, 2013


Callaway Arts & Entertainment: Theophrastus' Characters: An Ancient Take on Bad Behavior by James Romm, translated by Pamela Mensch, illustrated by André Carrilho

From My Shelf

Candlewick Press: Where's Waldo? the Spectacular Spotlight Search by Martin Handford

Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: The Wizards of Once: Twice Magic (Wizards of Once #2) by Cressida Cowell

Fictional Stories, Real Food

There has been a growing trend over the past few years to write novels and memoirs that include recipes, although now it's no longer a trend, it's a genre. Obviously, some books are more successful than other with this; really, how many recipes for chocolate chip cookies can the market bear? But when it works, it's very good. I still make the banana bread recipe (to great acclaim) from Molly Wizenberg's wonderful memoir, A Homemade Life. Check it out.

Recent months have seen many entries in the book-with-recipes category. Susan Wiggs's latest novel, The Apple Orchard, about a California apple orchard, an unwilling half-heiress to same, and the pleasures of food and family, is a captivating and charming story. So are the recipes, like lavender scones, and apple chutney. She says, "It's always lovely to come across a recipe that's good enough to share. My criteria for including a recipe in a book is that it needs to work thematically with the novel, it has to be delicious and it has to be reasonably easy to prepare. I like to picture my readers having their book club over and preparing something from one of my novels."

Meet Me at the Cupcake Café: A Novel with Recipes by Jenny Colgan is "a sweet story of love, new beginnings--and cupcakes." Issy Randall loses her job and her boyfriend, but gains a cupcake shop, some new friends and a cute banker. Besides the story, the reader also gets recipes for Heena's Secret Doughnuts (with ginger and lime curd), the Best Birthday Cake Ever and Strawberry Meringue Cupcakes.

Since July is National Blueberry Month, special mention must be given to The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Café by Mary Simses (see our review below). There are no recipes in the book, but the cover photo for this delightful read is downright scrumptious (and Little, Brown provided this). --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness


Quirk Books: Kid Scientists: True Tales of Childhood from Science Superstars by David Stabler, illustrated by Anoosha Syed


Book Candy

Bastille Day and Books; Diagon Alley on Google Street View

To celebrate Bastille Day this Sunday, Jonathan Grimwood, author of The Last Banquet, chose his "top 10 French Revolution novels" for the Guardian, noting: "There is--for me at least--something haunting about historical novels that deal with points where we say the world altered its course."

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Muggles can now explore Harry Potter's Diagon Alley on Google Street View. Taxi reported that virtual visitors can wander the set "from the Warner Bros. Studio Tour in London, and visit iconic shops like Ollivanders Wand Shop, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes and Mr Mullpepper's Apothecary."

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History of beach reads: The Christian Science Monitor featured "What were they reading?: Bestsellers from 1930-2000."
 
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Mental Floss found "11 weird books that really exist."

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Flavorwire noted "10 great multicultural children's books."

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Buzzfeed found "12 things famous authors absolutely hated," including cats, Coca-Cola and Tom Cruise.


Johns Hopkins University Press: The New Chesapeake Kitchen by John Shields, photographs by David W. Harp


The Writer's Life

Ron Carlson: 'Comprehensive in His Abilities'

photo: Tracy Hall

It's no accident that Ron Carlson has emerged as a master craftsman of American fiction: he's been working at it for almost 40 years. Since his first short stories appeared in 1974 Carlson has published five story collections, six novels, a book of poetry and a popular craft primer, Ron Carlson Writes a Story. He's also been a writing teacher: at the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut, at the University of Arizona and now as director of the MFA Program in Fiction at the University of California at Irvine. In his most recent novel, Return to Oakpine (see our review below), a group of former high school bandmates reunite in their Wyoming hometown and cope with misfortune by rediscovering the sustaining power of their glory day pursuits. Here Carlson reveals how he came to write Return to Oakpine, the trend-breaking setting of the story he's writing now and, in an exclusive Shelf Awareness scoop, the awe-inspiring number that graced the author's West High Panthers football jersey.

When you start writing something new, at what point do you know whether it's going to be a short story or a novel? Do you prefer one form over the other?

I know right away. The notion for a story will appear, and I watch it for a few weeks and then go in and see what it will be. With a novel, I gear up for a longer period, and when I commence, I adjust my stride for the marathon. I favor both forms, the story for the wonder of the surprises that unfold, and the novel for the world you get to work for months. I'm writing stories now.

Which character came to you first when you began writing Return to Oakpine? Did your conception of that character change in the course of writing the novel?

I thought of Craig Ralston fixing up Mrs. Brand's garage, and I started with a few small moments with him at work--sanding and laying tile--and I learned that he loved construction, but I saw then that it was going to be an ensemble book and that everybody was going to get part of the stage.

Who was your favorite character when the novel was finished?

I think if I had to answer right now, it might be Mason, because he's growing more grounded--or Jimm--but if you asked me tomorrow, it might be Wendy or Larry.

There is a satisfying symbiosis between the characters and the Wyoming landscape in Return to Oakpine. Was it a challenge to conjure the weather and terrain of Oakpine Mountain from sea level at Huntington Beach?

My head is full of mountains and the wind that approaches them. And I'm actually in them two or three times a year. I spent the first day of spring this year with my son and my brother digging two cars out of the snow in the Uinta Mountains of Utah. I'm finally just now (after seven years) writing a story set in this sweet old beach town.

Are the writing lessons Jimmy Brand gives to Wendy Ingram in Return to Oakpine similar to ones you use in teaching your MFA students? Did you have any reservations about including a writer as a main character?

You'd always worry about having a writer in the story. You'd make that person a painter--they have all that terrific equipment. But here he was a writer, and I listened to him; his notes are not my notes, but I might use some of them sometime. I wanted, if possible, a light touch, and I was careful with those scenes. He believes in being prolific, and I like that.

Larry Ralston's night running scenes in Return to Oakpine mimic the effortlessness of a born runner. Are you--like Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates and Don DeLillo--a writer-runner? If so, do you think about your work-in-progress while you run or...?

My knees are still good, but I run less and less. I have a magnificent old bicycle, and this town is made for it, miles of boardwalk, so I cruise around some every afternoon. Key is to ride into that late afternoon breeze, which sometimes can seem imperceptible, and ride home with it at your back, a little bonus. And yes: think.

Return to Oakpine celebrates the enduring power of high school friendships and hometown ties. Why do you think they remain so powerful?

I would love to know. So many of those people are our first people; we're trying on a life when we meet them and they see us as we go through some of the changes. We used to say at West High: wait until we get into the real world. And even at the time, I thought it was the real world.

The female characters in Return to Oakpine are as affecting as the male characters. Do you find it equally easy to write women and men?

As I said, everybody gets a turn. Before anyone can speak or act and you type it up from your regal distance, you need to take a minute and go around the table and stand or sit with them and find out if that beat is going to be true for the way he or she is thinking/moving right now. You have to sit in every chair. I don't understand men with the same depth and facility that I don't understand women, but I move as close to them as I can when I write from their position.

You've said that you "write to find out." What did you find out from writing Return to Oakpine?

In Return to Oakpine, I wrote until I understood the third thing about each of those people. I knew--generally--the arc of those three months, but I wanted each of those characters to assume a shadow, if I can say it that way. And I was surprised they ended up going to the Pronghorn Bar on that snowy night; that agenda grew.

You've also said that you draw on events from your own life to write your fiction. Has this practice brought any flak from the non-fictional people in your life?

You start with what you know and write toward what you don't; that way those people migrate and in the end, though they've helped you commence, it isn't them by story's end.

Finally, our most burning biographical questions: Were you in a garage band like the one in Return to Oakpine, and if so, what if any instrument did you play? Did you play high school football?

Marvin Wharton and Terry Hamblin asked me to join them and form a trio when we were in the ninth grade, and I bought a tenor guitar and learned three songs, two by the Kingston Trio, and we even got shirts. But then I made a realization: I could not sing. I thought I could sing (and I have sung while grooming and driving all of my lifetime), but I could not sing. I saw my two friends in concert all through high school; they were good.

I played football for the West High Panthers for Coach Jesperson, and I played tight end and defensive end. If you saw number 87 at one end of the line, you ran the other way, for he was 17 and that year comprehensive in his abilities. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts


Black Sheep/Akashic Books: Liza Jane & the Dragon by Laura Lippman, illustrated by Kate Samworth


Book Review

Fiction

Return to Oakpine

by Ron Carlson


Ron Carlson's  (The Signal; Room Service) fourth novel, Return to Oakpine, is a lean, weathered and big-hearted tale. Back in the day, in Oakpine, Wyo., Jimmy Brand, Mason Kirby, Craig Ralston and Frank Gunderson bonded as members of a high school garage band whose graduation celebrations were overshadowed by the tragic death of Jimmy's brother. The four bandmates dispersed: Craig to serve in Vietnam, Mason and Frank (briefly) to college and Jimmy to New York. Craig and Frank came back and settled in Oakpine; Mason, caught up in his Denver legal career, visited rarely. For 30 years Jimmy remained in exile, visiting Oakpine only in his fiction. When Carlson's novel opens, in the fall of 1999, illness has forced Jimmy to move into his parents' garage at the same time Mason decides to spruce up and sell his childhood home.

Carlson shares his empathetic scope across generations, from the elderly Mrs. Brand to 17-year-old Larry Ralston and his friends. Among the characters who strive to live with grace and meaning are a philosophical football star who runs off excess energy on dark streets; an adult novelist shut out by his father because it's too late to say the "five or six sentences" that needed to be said 30 years ago; a "together" mom whose second-phase career as a museum coordinator is quickened with adulterous possibility. In Carlson's expert prose, the adults' midlife reckonings are revelations and the teenagers' discovery of adult agency are touching and raw.

Return to Oakpine is suffused with evocative landscapes and the practical yet lyrical details of work, whether a character is renovating a garage or editing a short story. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: Carlson (The Signal; Room Service) delivers a moving novel about the importance of home, work and friendships forged in high school.

Viking, $25.95, hardcover, 9780670025077

University of California Press: Uberland: How Algorithms Are Rewriting the Rules of Work by Alex Rosenblat


The Resurrectionist

by Matthew Guinn


For centuries, every medical student's rite of passage has been the gross anatomy dissection class. Cadaver dissection was even more important 150 years ago, when it was the only effective way for potential physicians to see how the body works. In the late 1850s, however, there was no consistent process to obtain those cadavers.

Matthew Guinn's debut novel, The Resurrectionist, is the story of Jacob Thacker, a recent graduate of the fictional University of South Carolina Medical School, and his discovery of the school's unsettling past--the story of a Senegalese slave named Nemo Johnston, who was purchased by the founding faculty members a few years before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Jacob, serving as the school's public relations director while he waits out a postponement of his medical license for Xanax abuse, launches a PR campaign to celebrate the renovation of the original Medical School building, but the first day of excavation uncovers a mass cache of human bones. Library archives reveal Nemo's role as the "resurrectionist" who digs up freshly buried slaves for the school's dissection classes.

Guinn's narrative alternates between the story of Jacob's personal ambitions and discomfort with his past and the story of Nemo, shunned by his fellow slaves and damned by their local preacher as "hell-spawn." The novel effectively raises questions of how the country can transcend its own racially difficult past--and learn from those who have come before, as physicians do, that "the dead are the key to the living." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Guinn's first novel explores the use of exhumed slaves for 19th-century anatomy classes at Southern medical schools, and the impact of this practice on the reputation of those schools today.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393239317

Simon & Schuster Audio: The Thriller Audiobook Sweepstakes - Enter Now!


Tampa

by Alissa Nutting


Alissa Nutting's mind-blowing debut, Tampa, is, like Nabokov's Lolita, a story of illicit sexual obsession and corrupted innocence; its narrator a highly literate adult who preys on early adolescents. But Tampa is a slimy, sticky inversion of the classic old-man-meets-young-girl scenario--and Celeste Price, the novel's unrepentant narrator, has more in common with American Psycho than Humbert Humbert.

A self-admitted "soulless pervert," Celeste is 26, smoking hot and married to a rich, handsome idiot. Her marriage, like her new job teaching eighth-grade English, is a brutally calculated cover for her sole passion: a voracious lust for 14-year-old boys.

Tampa is not a confession--the word implies contrition--but rather an unadulterated account of Celeste's seduction of one of her students. Jack Patrick, "a stretch-limbed version of a younger boy," is the perfect mark: sweet, wholesome and absently parented by a single father. The contrast between Jack's innocence and Celeste's predatory, salacious manipulation is both repulsive and mesmerizing. In a testament to Nutting's stunning talent, the sex--and there's a lot of it--is extremely explicit and yet undeniably artful.

The story takes on the swampy, close heat of the Tampa suburbs as Celeste recounts her increasingly depraved transgressions, and the collateral victims pile up. She isn't interested in gaining the reader's sympathy, so--unlike Humbert--there is no reason to think she's anything less than chillingly honest, even though she deceives everyone else.

Celeste keeps getting away with it for the same reason that you'll keep reading about her: she's abhorrent, but she's fascinating--and Nutting has announced herself as a writer who is as gifted as she is bold. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice

Discover: In this sure-to-be-controversial debut, a sexy 26-year-old female teacher with a ravenous lust for 14-year-old boys recounts the seduction of one of her students.

Ecco, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062280541

Shelf Awareness Giveaway: House of Anansi Press: The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane, illustrated by Jackie Morris


The Lemon Orchard

by Luanne Rice


Some losses we never get over--and when a parent loses a child, the grief becomes all the more profound. In The Lemon Orchard, Luanne Rice explores this experience with creative compassion, telling the story of Julia Hughes, a mother whose 16-year-old daughter, Jenny, dies in a car crash that also claims the life of Julia's husband, a man whom she was in the process of divorcing. Five years after the deaths, Julia, a professor of cultural anthropology at Yale, is still unable to shake the loss. When a beloved aunt and uncle ask her to house sit their Malibu property and lemon orchard, Julia packs up with her dog and heads west.

The natural beauty of the Santa Monica Mountains intensifies Julia's memories of Jenny. When Roberto, the manager of the lemon orchard, takes an interest in Julia--and vice versa--the two bond through their shared pain of losing daughters. In Roberto's case, his daughter was lost and never found during their illegal immigration from Mexico to the United States. Julia and Roberto begin to fall in love, which inspires a renewed sense of purpose in Julia as she becomes determined to find answers about Roberto's daughter.

Alternating points of view lend intimacy to the romantic elements and suspense of the narrative. Rice has written a tender portrait of grief and loss that ultimately becomes a gateway to hope and healing, love and reinvention. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A grieving mother learns how to open her heart and live again while housesitting in California.

Pamela Dorman, $27.95, hardcover, 9780670025275

Mystery & Thriller

Summertime, All the Cats Are Bored

by Philippe Georget, trans. by Steven Rendall


A sure contender for best-titled novel of the season, Philippe Georget's Summertime All the Cats Are Bored takes place in and around the Mediterranean seaside resort of Perpignan. Half Catalan, half French, Perpignan is Languedoc at its most exotic.

The cats are not the only ones who are bored. Two detectives, Gilles Sebag and Jacques Molina, are consumed by dull routine. Nothing ever changes--until suddenly, a young Dutch woman is murdered and another one disappears. Sebag receives cryptic typed notes signed by groups known to have long-standing feuds with Holland, starting a cat-and-mouse game with the detectives. But are they a ruse? The case quickly involves the entire police department, including a hotshot from Paris, Cyril Lefèvre.

The two detectives also have lives outside of the police investigation: Molina's cranky ex-wife likes to play push-me, pull-you with the family; Sebag's wife is away on a cruise with girlfriends--at least, he hopes she is. With his two children also off to summer camp, Sebag concentrates all his efforts on his work. 

At first, Georget's story turns on whether or not three cases that the Department is working on are intertwined. Sebag holds one opinion; Lefèvre another. (Of course, Lefèvre treats the Perpignan constabulary like a bunch of hicks.) Sebag has moments of self-doubt, about both his career and home, but labors doggedly on through the blistering heat. In the end, his intuition and hard work pay off on the job--at home, however, lingering ambiguity remains. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Murder, kidnapping and egos-at-work combine to make this debut thriller a perfect selection for hammock reading.

Europa Editions, $17, paperback, 9781609451219

The Fire Witness

by Lars Kepler, trans. by Laura A. Wideburg


Like The Hypnotist, the first title in Lars Kepler's Joona Linna series, The Fire Witness opens with a terrifying scene, then proceeds through several twisty plotlines before the heart-gripping conclusion.

Linna, detective inspector with Sweden's National Police, is summoned to a home for troubled girls where a double murder has occurred, both victims' heads bashed by a blunt instrument. The suspect, a resident named Vicky, is missing and later seen stealing a car with a small boy inside.

Despite the strong evidence pointing to Vicky, Linna is disturbed by certain details that don't add up. He consults a medium who claims to know information not publicly released. Linna's colleagues write Vicky off as dead and the case is closed, but he believes she's alive, maybe even innocent, and continues his pursuit. What he discovers are old wounds and terrible secrets that someone would kill to keep hidden.

After the second Linna novel, The Nightmare, took on political topics, this third installment returns to form with more personal stories. The husband-and-wife writing team behind "Lars Kepler" wreak much tragedy and suffering on their characters, but instead of asking for pity by depicting the girls as victims, the authors paint them as nasty and vicious, somehow making their murder more devastating: What horrors have they endured to turn out this way? Readers also get to see more of Linna's past and learn why the man is such a loner. Everything is revealed with a pervasive sense of creepiness, causing welcome chills during hot summer reading. --Elyse Dinh-McCrilllis, freelance writer and editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A creepy thriller exploring systematic abuse and damage, with plenty of chills and plot twists.

Sarah Crichton, $27, hardcover, 9780374298661

The Fame Thief

by Timothy Hallinan


The Fame Thief is Timothy Hallinan's third novel starring Junior Bender, a professional burglar with a second calling as a crook's detective--because bad guys need their mysteries solved, too. Irwin Dressler, no less powerful a crime boss for his 93 years of age, hires Junior against his will for a strange 60-year-old case, the theft of a Hollywood actress's most valuable asset: her fame.

Dolores La Marr was a kid from Scranton, scarcely beginning to make it big in 1940s Tinseltown, when her association with that era's fashionable gangsters landed her in a nasty, full-color scandal. Strangely, no one but Dolly took the fall, and all these decades later, Dressler still wants to find out who set her up. Junior quickly learns that this mystery is not as dead as it seems, and that some dangers only increase with age.

The refreshingly unassuming Junior is a fun riff on the typical private investigator: his specialty--committing crimes, rather than solving them--brings him an unusual perspective. The elderly Dressler is a fabulous, deadpan wiseguy in "eye-agonizing" golf pants, backed up by two unusually domestic versions of the standard muscled goon. And Junior's own domestic concerns--a teenage daughter, her jokester boyfriend, an ex-wife and a randy new girlfriend--fill out the eccentric, likable cast. Fast-paced action and a building body count pair nicely with humor in this series, bound to keep the reader coming back for more. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Timothy Hallinan's quirky thief/detective (last seen in Little Elvises) is forced to delve into long-past Hollywood scandals by a nonagenarian crime boss.

Soho Crime, $25, hardcover, 9781616952808

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Humans

by Matt Haig


Matt Haig shifts his attention from vampires (The Radleys) to aliens in the sly and touching The Humans. Well, one alien: a Vonnadorian who's come to this "small, waterlogged planet in a very lonely corner of the universe" and taken over the body of a brilliant Cambridge mathematics professor, Andrew Martin. This alien, like Death in Meet Joe Black, is curious about having a human body better to understand, for good and bad, what it means to be human. He's also on a mission: to destroy evidence of the scientific "breakthrough" Martin's just made.

He teleports, naked, to a road at night and is promptly hit by a car. He's taken to a hospital, and after adjusting to the pain, sneaks away. Then, with his Gulliver-like ego in a Swiftian world, he proceeds to observe and critique, complain and mock. Humans have "middling intelligence" and are "prone to violence." Humans read books; Vonnadorians chew and eat them quickly. Human food is horrible; Vonnadorians drink only liquid nitrogen. Everything humans do, Vonnadorians do better.

Gradually, he comes to like some things about Earth--Emily Dickinson, Australian wine, dogs, crunchy peanut butter--and to love others, including Martin's wife and son. Haig invites us to join his alien's journey and observe him become Martin, adjusting and learning that humans aren't as inferior as he originally thought. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A funny and touching tale about an alien who visits and experiences the weird and often frightening beauty of being human.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781476727912

Romance

The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe

by Mary Simses


High-powered attorney Ellen Branford accidentally falls through an old dock in Beacon, Maine, and is swept into a dangerous riptide. She impulsively plants a passionate kiss on the handsome stranger who rescues her. Thus begins The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe, a pleasing debut novel by Mary Simses.

Ellen's kiss becomes big local news, which complicates what was supposed to be a quick visit to this sleepy little New England town to deliver a letter from her recently deceased grandmother to an old flame. Along the way, she encounters a cast of locals whose small-town ways seem foreign to her, but slowly become more endearing--especially as Ellen, whose wedding is just three months away, keeps crossing paths with her rescuer. Might that kiss have sparked feelings between the two strangers? While Ellen vows to focus on the objective of her visit, and as she learns more about the choices that shaped her grandmother's life, including her past connection to a nearby blueberry farm, stark parallels begin to emerge between their situations. Ellen's romantic dilemma soon leads her to question her place in the world.

Simses has crafted a wholesome love story, infused with the pull-and-tug of romance and elements of mystery and enhanced by humble, low-key themes and conflicts. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A big-city attorney, on a quest to deliver a letter from her grandmother to an old flame, falls under the spell of small-town life.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316225854

Food & Wine

A History of Food in 100 Recipes

by William Sitwell


Inspired by his acquisition of 19th-century cookbooks from a Sotheby's auction, food writer and BBC personality William Sitwell has amassed a wonderfully entertaining miscellany in A History of Food in 100 Recipes, complete with observations that blend the historical commentary of an Alton Brown with the gastronomic wisdom of a Jeffrey Steingarten.

Stillwell's anthology starts with bread recipes gleaned from Egyptian hieroglyphs and ends with the rise of modern celebrity chefs and the revival of ancient cooking methods, albeit with a modern twist. He cites the first formal mentions of foods we take for granted today, such as the desserts found in Genesis and the cheesecakes of the ancient Greeks. We learn of the formal references to pasta by Arabic cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi before Italy claimed the dish as its own, as well as Renaissance-era cookbooks and party-planning guides. Catherine di Medici's introduction of Italian recipes and cooking methods to France gave birth to French gastronomy, while William Kitchener's early 19th-century standardized measurements and food-handling methods enabled others to tailor cookbooks for wide audiences.

Despite its compactness, A History of Food in 100 Recipes is a cleverly constructed, gastronomic and scholarly heavyweight, a compendium of international cooking techniques that have spurred many a modern chef to fame and fortune--and a treasure that any cook (or non-cook) would appreciate. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A fascinating anthology that covers the historical roots of our favorite recipes--and of the cookbooks and cooking methods behind them.

Little, Brown, $35, hardcover, 9780316229975

Children's & Young Adult

45 Pounds (More or Less)

by Kelly Barson


First novelist K.A. Barson channels the voice of a real girl grappling with real issues.

Narrator Ann Galardi, age 16, is a size 17. She feels like she doesn't belong either with her svelte mother, her mother's husband, Mike, and their four-year-old twins, or with her absent father and his family. Ann hasn't spoken with her older brother in more than a year, and her best friend moved to a new high school. So she takes comfort in food. But now her beloved Aunt Jackie is getting married, and Ann has two months to lose 45 pounds to get to her ideal weight. Luckily, she has an ally in her chain-smoking, funny and supportive grandmother.

Barson chronicles one teen's realistic struggle with weight and body image issues. Ann believes the joke is always on her, even when it's not. Her awakening to the truth--that people value her for who she is--happens gradually and credibly, over the book's span from June to August. And it takes an innocent pretend tea party hosted by Ann's four-year-old sister for the teen to see how her attitude toward food and herself have affected those she loves.

Teens who struggle with their weight will find a funny, smart companion in Barson's charming heroine, and those who overlook or judge a classmate like Ann may find themselves taking a moment to get to know him or her. All readers will cheer for this winning character. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An uplifting first novel narrated by a 16-year-old who embarks on a mission to lose 45 pounds and winds up finding herself.

Viking, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 12-up, 9780670784820

Chantress

by Amy Butler Greenfield


Amy Butler Greenfield (A Perfect Red) makes a smooth transition to young adult literature with this coming-of-age tale set in an alternate 17th-century Britain.

Fifteen-year-old narrator Lucy lives alone on an island with her aging guardian, Norrie, who's explained that Lucy lost her mother in a shipwreck eight years ago. Norrie has one rule: that Lucy never sing. But on Allhallows' Eve, when Lucy detects a song on the wind, and Norrie's convinced she hears Lucy humming, Norrie shuts Lucy in the house while she finishes up the night's preparations. A tree crashes through the window, bearing a letter written by Lucy's mother that suggests Norrie has not been honest with Lucy. So Lucy allows the song to possess her, begins to sing, and she's transported to England, to the private library of Lord Scargrave, who serves the king. There she discovers she's a Chantress, a line nearly extinct, and hunted by those in power.

Greenfield sets up an England in which the enchantments of King Arthur's day live on, through the songs of the Chantress. The author melds a British history absent a Civil War with the natural-born gifts over which Lucy has no control. The strong subtheme of what can happen when one tries to thwart her instinctive talents makes this an unusual storytelling approach to historical fantasy. The lyricism of the narrative appropriately evokes Lucy's gift of song. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A historical fantasy that melds a surrogate 17th-century England and a 15-year-old with newly discovered gifts of magic.

Margaret K. McElderry/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 14-up, 9781442457034

Joone

by Emily Kate Moon


In her debut picture book, author and artist Emily Kate Moon gets the voice of her five-year-old heroine just right.

First, Joone introduces herself. She can count to 100 and wears only her orange dress. Next, she describes her Grandpa, who can count to 1,000. "He used to be a scientist," Joone explains, "Now he's just my grandpa." Moon depicts a warm household with quirky details. They live in a yurt with a curving bar for the kitchen, plenty of books, and an area rug and cozy chair by a wood-burning stove. She conveys Joone's energy with the girl's lean into the chess table and a kicked-out left leg. Joone's turtle, Dr. Chin, is always on hand, often at rest on her purple hat. No mention is made of parents; it's just Joone with Grandpa and Dr. Chin, and their daily routine. Their close relationship comes through in Joone's recounting of their exchanges, as when Grandpa takes pleasure in the multicolored feathers decorating Joone's treehouse ("Joone, I don't know where you find the energy," says he; "Grandpa, I don't know either!" she replies).

Moon's simple phrases reflect a childlike rhythm and sense of fairness. "If I'm good, I get dessert," the heroine says, in a twilight scene with evidence of a dinner al fresco. At bedtime, Joone reads him a story. "If he's good, I read him two." The deceptively simple artwork conveys myriad details about Joone's routine and her close relationship with Grandpa. Here's hoping for much more from this talented newcomer. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A charming, self-sufficient five-year-old and the loving Grandpa who encourages her.

Dial, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., ages 3-5, 9780803737440

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