Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

More Fall Books: South Africa, North Carolina, India...

Here's another installment (part 1, part 2) listing some of the books we're looking forward to this fall:

A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett (Scribner, September 10). A memoir from a young, adventurous reporter who spent 15 months captive in Somalia--chained, starved, abused--and who turned her story into one of forgiveness and compassion.

Identical by Scott Turow (Grand Central, October 15). Identical twins Paul and Cass Giannis, and the complex relationships between their family and their former neighbors. Paul's mayoral race coincides with Cass's release from prison 25 years after confessing to the murder of his girlfriend. Vintage Turow.

Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death by Katy Butler (Scribner, September 10) Butler explores the line between saving a life and prolonging a dying with these accounts of her parents' very different deaths--one protracted and agonizing, the other met head-on.

The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, October 15). An epic coming-of-age story set in South Africa, where Isaac Helger is burdened with his mother's expectations for moving the family out of a Johannesburg slum and bringing her sisters out of Lithuania before World War II. Brutal, searing, mesmerizing.

Local Souls by Allan Gurganus (Norton, September 23). Gurganus returns to his mythological town of Falls, N.C., with three novellas. Adultery, incest and obsession are limned in Gurganus's elliptical style; his sleight-of-hand brings surprises at every turn.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri (Knopf, September 24). Two brothers, a brilliant woman haunted by her past, a family saga set in India and the U.S. Jhumpa Lahiri is, simply, always brilliant.

Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS by Rebecca Eaton (Viking, October 29). For more more than 25 years, Rebecca Eaton has presided over PBS's Masterpiece Theatre. She interviews many of the writers, directors, producers and other contributors and shares personal anecdotes. Catnip for Masterpiece fans. --Marilyn Dahl

The Writer's Life

Book Brahmin: Peter Stenson

photo: Robbie Lane

Peter Stenson received his MFA from Colorado State University in 2012; his stories and essays have been published in the Sun, the Bellevue Literary Review, the Greensboro Review, Confrontation, Post Road, Fugue, Harpur Palate, the Pinch, Blue Mesa Review and elsewhere. His debut novel, Fiend (Crown July 9, 2013), gives a fresh twist to the zombie apocalypse, with meth addicts as the unlikely survivors contending with hordes of the undead. Stenson is a recovering addict and has been sober for 10 years. He lives with his wife and daughter in Denver. 

On your nightstand now: 

Being reared in the Sesame Street Generation, I'm a reader who likes to be working his way through two books at the same time. Call it ADD. Call it matching mood to reading material. Really, I have no idea, only that inevitably, when I'm attempting to read a single novel at a time, my mind wanders. So right now, I'm reading Philipp Meyer's The Son and George R.R. Martin's A Game of Thrones. Meyer's ability to add beauty to violence is unparalleled (except, of course, by Cormac McCarthy), as is Martin's gift of creating the most intricate alternative worlds since Tolkien.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I have a four-month-old daughter. She's our first. The moment my wife told me she was pregnant, I pretty much ran from the bathroom straight to the bookstore (side note to expecting fathers: this was not a good reaction). I bought Steve Kroll's The Biggest Pumpkin Ever. It's about two field mice who, unknown to one another, nurture the same pumpkin. I remember the intense anxiety I felt as a child about what would happen when the other found out, and what the fate of the pumpkin would be (win the village contest or be carved into a massive jack-o-lantern). And, still, 30 years later, reading it to my daughter made my chest all sorts of tight.

Your top five authors:

I've always felt that music heads are much better at the top five questions than writers (top five albums, top five guitar solos, top five bass riffs, etc.). I feel like writers are a bit reluctant to actually commit to the listing of greatness, as if somehow ranking them shows our literary heroes/influences too much, or maybe out of a sense of guilt for those left off. With that said, I would have to say Lawrence Durrell's Justine has been my favorite novel over the past 15 years. It's the one book I can restart as soon as I finish it. Nabokov's playfulness with words makes me sincerely happy. I want somebody to read Cormac McCarthy's prose to me when I'm on my deathbed. The final scene of James Baldwin's Sonny's Blues is the most magical bit of writing I've ever come across. And nobody knows the complex darkness of humanity like Dostoyevsky.

Book you've faked reading:

I've read a little of all of Jonathan Franzen's books, yet haven't finished a single one (lied about each). Something about his overindulgence in internalization makes me want to die. And I still haven't finished a book by James Joyce. I find them maddening; I'm simply not smart enough.

Book you're an evangelist for:

I've been a fan of Stephen Elliott for a while now. I think in his memoir, The Adderall Diaries, something clicked, and it came out with so much energy, so much passion, so much pathos, while also being clean and full. It's absolutely phenomenal. I tell everyone to read it. On a very different note, the same is true for Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. This book is obviously a major hit, so my evangelizing is usually pointless, but I do it nonetheless. It is the one book over the last five years that I happily gave up my writing time to read.

Book you've bought for the cover:

Back when Borders was alive, I stumbled across James Boice's MVP. The cover showed a giant man dressed in a suit shaking hands with a smaller man (obviously an athletic draft of some sort). But both of their faces were blotched out with a large orange circle with the book's title. And the image on the cover was kind of done in a pixilated/pointillism style, also adding to the mystery. I didn't even read the back, just picked it up and walked to the counter (turned out to be a great read).

Book that changed your life:

In my late teens, I was walking around Minneapolis during my lunch break. I was working at a travel agency, living in a halfway house for recovering addicts and not really in love with life. I stumbled across a free book bin outside of a used bookstore. There was one book left: Herbert Gold's The Great American Jackpot. I read the book in a day. I loved it. I fell in love with San Francisco and with run-on sentences and with broken characters going to extremes because they'd messed up all of their other options (i.e., I fell in love with a fictionalized version of what I was going through). I'd always wanted to be a writer, but this book, serendipitously found, and read during a somewhat desperate time in my life, affirmed that desire, somehow making it a fact--I would be a writer.

Favorite line from a book:

As I mentioned earlier, Durrell's Justine is my favorite novel. So it's only fitting that my favorite line comes from its pages. Durrell writes, "These are the moments which are not calculable, and cannot be assessed in words; they live on in the solution of memory, like wonderful creatures, unique of their own kind, dredged up from the floors of some unexplored ocean." Not to sound corny, but I believe this line pretty much pinpoints that unnameable quality that makes up a person (soul or psyche or whatever the hell you want to call it) in a beautiful and profound way. This quote is tattooed along my left ribs (cool now, probably won't be when I get fatter and text tattoos become the lame equivalent to barbed wire tattooed around one's bicep in 10 years).

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I've been meaning to reread Dennis Cooper's The Marbled Swarm for the past two years. The book haunted me--the language, the perverse desires, the absurdity that for some reason seemed anything but. I was blown away by this novel. It wouldn't leave my mind for months. Which, when I think about it, is probably why I haven't reread it yet (not sure I want my dreams once again plagued by the nightmares of people living in hollow rooms behind my walls).

Book Candy

Dumbledore's Words of Wisdom; Fictional Dynamic Duos

What would Dumbledore do? The Huffington Post offered 10 comforting words of wisdom from Albus Dumbledore, who "always knows the right thing to say when we're feeling sad or confused about things that are happening around us."


Offering a "mini syllabus for, like, life," Buzzfeed recommended "21 books that will teach you something important."


Elizabeth Wein, author most recently of Rose Under Fire, chose her "top 10 dynamic duos in fiction" for the Guardian.


Diagnosis: terminal bibiliophile. Lit Reactor found "7 horrifying ailments named after literary characters."


"10 literary authors you didn't know wrote science fiction" were revealed by Flavorwire.


Latest design trend: The writing's on the wall. Apartment Therapy toured several living spaces that are "great examples of custom projects that celebrate the written word. Who says cursive writing is a lost art?"

Book Review


Blood and Beauty: The Borgias

by Sarah Dunant

Still capturing the imagination after more than half a millennium, the Borgias have been the subject of several new books; easily the most appealing and addictive of these reads is Sarah Dunant's Blood and Beauty, a meticulously researched and beautifully written novel that not only re-creates the late 15th-century Vatican in exquisite detail, but explores the psychological and spiritual landscape of its inhabitants with extraordinary depth and subtlety.

The story begins in the summer of 1492 with the death of Pope Innocent VIII and the ascension of Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, a Spanish "outsider" who has been plotting and biding his time for years. He promptly installed his offspring--Juan, Cesare, Lucrezia and Jofré--in the Vatican and moved in mistress #2, the exquisite Guilia Farnese. Borgia was unabashed in his adoration of his children, for whom he had great political aspirations. He made Juan the commander of the papal army, Cesare a cardinal (who, a fighter at heart, later became the first man to ever resign the position), and arranged a variety of strategic marriages for Lucrezia all in an attempt to bring the warring city-states of Italy under papal control.

The basic outlines of the story alone are enough for a captivating tale, but Dunant's ability to blend historical facts with their emotional and psychological underpinnings lifts Blood and Beauty to another level. Among details largely missing from other accounts of the Borgias, the most fascinating perhaps is the role that syphilis (a new and confounding scourge of the time) played in the lives of those afflicted with it, especially Cesare Borgia. The result is an engrossing and wildly entertaining novel that has the added (and rare) benefit of being very smart. --Debra Ginsberg

Discover: An engrossing, smart and subtle novel about one of the most fascinating families in history--the infamous Borgias.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 9781400069293

Lillian & Dash

by Sam Toperoff

Sam Toperoff (Jimmy Dean Prepares; Queen of Desire) brings Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett back to life in Lillian & Dash. Much has been written about these two writers, playwrights, political activists, drunks and lovers, but nothing better than this novel.

They met in 1930, when Lilly was 24 and Dash 36, at a party given by Darryl F. Zanuck at Hollywood's Brown Derby. They were both married, but went to his place that night and were together, more or less, until Dash's death in 1961. They both had other affairs but always got back together again.

Dash was not formally educated, having left school at 13, but he had a canny knack for reproducing the seamy side of life and seeing through hypocrisy. His first novel, Red Harvest, is a classic treatment of corruption and violence in America, and was followed by his best-known works, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man. Lillian successfully took on controversial themes as a playwright--a teacher accused of a lesbian attachment in The Children's Hour; anti-fascism in Watch on the Rhine; the family dispute of The Little Foxes. She also wrote memoirs and screenplays, making her living with her pen all of her life.

They were both political activists on the left; Lillian testified before the HUAC, where she famously said, "I cannot and will not cut my conscience to fit this year's fashions." Dash was imprisoned for five months for "advocating the overthrow of the United States government."

Toperoff has interwoven the lives of these two larger-than-life people and brought us an understanding of their wit, humor, intelligence, talent and care for each other. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A novel that closely follows the lives of Lillian Hellman and Dashiell Hammett during their 30 years together.

Other Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781590515686

Mystery & Thriller

No Regrets, Coyote

by John Dufresne

John Dufresne's (Love Warps the Mind a Little) fiction is filled with story-telling misfits in the tradition of Faulkner, O'Connor and Toole. In No Regrets, Coyote, he extends his reach into Carl Hiaasen and Tim Dorsey turf with a Florida crime novel swarming with crooked cops, Russian thugs, Mafia lawyers and a naïve but dogged therapist who untangles the messy corruption... and more or less rights the wrongs.

In Melancholy, Fla., Wylie "Coyote" Melville runs a one-man therapy practice with a short list of very troubled clients. Wylie is a mess: divorced and living alone in an eerily empty house after the death of his beloved cat, Satchel. His almost clairvoyant ability to see behind appearances leads to his occasional retention by the local police to take a second look at particularly befuddling crime scenes. Called in on what seems a simple family murder-suicide, his instincts tell him there is more to the story, and he's proven right.

Dufresne's cast of villains and weirdos is both funny and frightening. The mobbed-up cops are "heavy set guys in Dockers with buzz cuts and brushy mustaches, wearing their polo shirts a size too small, trash-talking about the Dolphins, and arm wrestling." A dead victim's wallet tells a life story: "He shops at Winn-Dixie, flies Delta, has just one more hot dog to buy at 'Wiener Takes All' before he gets a free one."

If No Regrets, Coyote sometimes gets a little overwhelming, it may be because Dufresne has so thoroughly embraced the eccentric exuberance of the South. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Southern raconteur John Dufresne's fifth novel is a fresh Florida crime story of edgy villains and an endearingly persistent detective/therapist.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393070538

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Best of Connie Willis

by Connie Willis

There isn't one story in The Best of Connie Willis that feels like filler. Each and every solid, well-crafted, beautifully rendered bit of speculative fiction is the utmost, the very best, of Willis--who writes with verve, wit and laugh-out-loud silliness as she brings joy and love, warmth and chills, truth and life to all her wordy children. This greatest-hits collection is a triumph of short form speculative fiction, an oeuvre of passionate work collected into one must-read volume.

"A Letter from the Clearys" is a poignant post-apocalyptic tale, told through the eyes of a young woman just starting to understand the doomed, dead world around her. "At the Rialto" is a scattershot tale about a professor at the Quantum Physicists Annual Meeting in Hollywood, Calif., a place where reality is often suspended, only more so in this short story. A super short story revolving around dead Emily Dickinson and Orson Welles's Martians will reward close reading with genuine laughter on every page, while another tale of the ghost of famed skeptic H.L. Mencken is both instructive, politically astute and a delight to read.

Every story, whether dealing with the London Blitz or with angry, glaring aliens who've come to tell us off, is a complete world unto itself--and none of them ever actually feels "short." Willis is a masterful sculptor of infinite variety, and the many works in The Best of Connie Willis show just how much of a grand master she is. --Rob LeFebvre

Discover: A rich and varied collection of engrossing speculative short fiction from a master of the genre.

Ballantine, $28, hardcover, 9780345540645


by Peter Stenson

Rarely are the survivors in apocalyptic fiction as frightening the monsters they face. In the case of Peter Stenson's Fiend, however, the protagonists are perhaps even more repulsive than the zombies that have overrun the world. Chase Daniels emerges from a meth binge to find a little girl disemboweling a Rottweiler with her teeth outside his friend's house. Chase, along with fellow speed junkie Typewriter, can't be sure if this horrifying spectacle is real or the product of their drug-addled minds--until the bloodied girl crashes through the window and a heavy door, laughing as she attacks. Chase and Typewriter escape into a world plagued by the walking, cackling dead, called Chucks, and a scattered handful of survivors with one thing in common: they are all addicted to methamphetamine.

Stenson's first-person, present-tense narrative, with a writing style evoking Cormac McCarthy, propels Fiend at a dizzying pace. Stenson's depictions of zombie apocalypse violence and acute drug addiction are graphic, and the stomach-churning miseries will turn off some readers. Others will become ensnared in a tale far deeper than most zombie fare, in which the antihero's inner demons are fiercer than the monsters attacking him. Despite his long history of failure and disappointment, Chase may finally redeem himself by saving his last friend and a lost love. This satisfying love story quickly becomes the novel's emotional core, leading to an ending as inescapable as it is traumatic. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A zombie apocalypse where the only survivors are meth addicts.

Crown, $22, hardcover, 9780770436315

Graphic Books


by Steven T. Seagle, illus. by Teddy Kristiansen

Steven T. Seagle and Teddy Kristiansen's Genius grapples with the idea of being human--what Shakespeare calls "this quintessence of dust." In this profound graphic novel, Ted Halker, who possesses extraordinary knowledge but for a long time lacks "knowing," perfectly embodies the uncertainty principle in quantum mechanics. Faced with professional impasse and family crises, Ted suddenly realizes a prickly truth: a genius is still an incomplete, even impotent man.

Meanwhile, Ted's father-in-law, who suffers from dementia, reveals that he worked as Albert Einstein's bodyguard in the 1930s and was entrusted with Einstein's "terrible secret." Ted imagines Einstein's secret as the end of the world, but his wife dismisses it as something prosaic and tawdry, for Einstein, reputedly a womanizer, "diddled about everything he could diddle." Ironically, the essence of Einstein's truth is also the great man's "failure." Einstein argued that quantum mechanics could not be an objective representation of the natural world, given subjective definitions of "realism," "locality" and "completeness." While Einstein's discomfort with the indeterminacy of quantum physics has long been derided by the scientific world as archaic, Ted's ultimate grasp of Einstein's error affirms his present and ensures his future. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

Discover: A thought-provoking graphic novel explores the rich duality between mind and matter, wave and particle, intellect and flesh.

First Second, $17.99, paperback, 9781596432635

Biography & Memoir

Blue Plate Special: An Autobiography of My Appetites

by Kate Christensen

Food has always been a source of comfort and creative muse for Kate Christensen (The Astral; The Great Man). It figures predominantly in her novels, moving characters along major story arcs, and exerts the same centering force in her satisfying memoir, Blue Plate Special--a title that reflects the happiest times in her life and the old-fashioned, home-cooked dinners of her youth.

These nostalgic recollections, the healing ingredients of Christensen's life, are the sources of the memoir's emotional strength. She writes of childhood memories of domestic discord fueled by an abusive absentee father and an emotionally needy mother. She goes through broken, fractured relationships and seemingly impossible romances that include a rocky, 14-year marriage to an artist that survives beyond their mutual interest in food, only to disintegrate from her own self-sabotage.

Christensen's iron-clad will and fierce independence play strong roles in her survival from self-imposed desolation, although fork and plate are the primary forces that bridge and resolve these internal conflicts. Writing about food is, for Christensen, "in some ways better than eating the forbidden items in real life," like fine music or a literary epic to be savored and treasured for all its transcendant pleasures.

"To taste fully is to live fully. And to live fully is to be awake and responsive to the complexities and truths--good and terrible, overwhelming and miniscule," Christensen writes. "To eat passionately is to allow the world in; there can be no hiding or sublimation when you're chewing a mouthful of food so good it makes you swoon." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Christensen's fresh, intriguing memoir reveals the role of food has played in bridging the emotional gap in her life and her writing.

Doubleday, $26.95, hardcover, 9780385536264


The Love-charm of Bombs: Restless Lives in the Second World War

by Lara Feigel

The Love-charm of Bombs is Laura Feigel's expansive, immersive look at the lives of five writers--Graham Greene, Elizabeth Bowen, Rose Macaulay, Henry Green and Hilde Spiel--in World War II-era London. Feigel weaves in generous quotes from her subjects' diaries and letters, amplifying them with her own astute and gracefully written observations. She captures the sexy madness of the time, when bombs fell like locusts and memories could become rubble in an instant. She also offers many examples of how these writers came wonderfully alive during the Blitz--their lives charged with meaning, emotion and renewed creative vigor.

Feigel demonstrates her own considerable skills by zooming in on one particular bomb-drenched night in September 1940 to observe her subjects and their actions, then pulling back to follow their ebbs and flows through the remainder of the war and beyond. Continuing beyond the war gives The Love-charm of Bombs most of its pathos; Feigel makes a compelling case that even though the writers would achieve great things in later years, they would still look back on this murderous time with great longing. All their best future work, she argues, would deal with the war either specifically or tangentially.

The Love-charm of Bombs is a wonderful evocation of a vanished yet still completely modern time--a great work of cultural depth and literary analysis, readable and thought-provoking to the last page. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: How life in London during the Blitz shaped the lives and works of five writers.

Bloomsbury, $35, hardcover, 9781608199846

Essays & Criticism

Blue Mythologies: Reflections on a Colour

by Carol Mavor

Carol Mavor's quirky Blue Mythologies reveals an inherently paradoxical color. Blue sings the purity of the Virgin Mary but also brands a movie as obscene. It is eternity and death, innocence and corruption, fullness and emptiness, triumph and defeat, happiness and tragedy, insularity and boundlessness. A post-modern Ariadne, Mavor employs her blue "yarn" as a means to banish cultural amnesia. She defines the concept of blue as both silence and powerlessness via Pietro Longhi's Exhibition of a Rhinoceros at Venice, in which a masked woman in a blue robe echoes "Francis Bacon's silent scream," and the "voiceless" Albertine in Proust's In Search of Lost Time.

On the other hand, blue can also evoke resilience and transcendence. Mavor's description of Nabokov's life-long study of Blues--a species of brown and gray butterflies that subtly radiates a "celestial [blue]" on its upper surfaces, evolves to "the blue mournful knots of ink... tiny heartbeats of blue" that compose Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, then gives way to the blue lollipop-as-Communion symbolism of Krzysztof Kieślowski's Blue.

Sometimes, in its somber hue, blending into gray, blue embodies stoicism. A resident of the Aran Islands describes the milieu as a "[blue] place where it is hard to find anything missing with its big high walls. People are better off who have no pets." Analyzing the depth and complexity of blue, Mavor concludes that while blue is self-contradictory, its paradox reflects truth. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

Discover: An exciting literary treasure hunt that maps out the color blue as a pathway to experience and memory.

Reaktion Books, $35, hardcover, 9781780230832


Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth

by Reza Aslan

Like the rock star or the famous artist, the revolutionary leader is inevitably misconstrued after death. In Zealot, Reza Aslan makes the case that Jesus Christ was a radical revolutionary who was responding to oppressive Roman rule. Though Aslan (No god but God) is not the first to posit Christ as a political figure, his examination of the period after his crucifixion focuses on how the gospel writers strategically reconfigured Jesus's image and, in doing so, depoliticized the movement.

Using the meticulous research skills on which his reputation is built, Aslan elaborates the context of Jesus's rise to glory. While he reached prominence in life, it was not until after the crucifixion that Jesus's followers began to write the gospels and propagate their vision of him as the Messiah. "Crucifixion was a punishment that Rome reserved almost exclusively for the crime of sedition," Aslan observes, yet Jesus's followers deliberately distanced themselves from those political implications--an understandably cautious move after the failed Jewish rebellion of 66 CE. Their apolitical portrait, transforming Jesus from a "revolutionary Jewish nationalist into a peaceful spiritual leader with no interest in any earthly matter," both warded off the vengeance of the Romans and opened the possibility of converting them.

Through this detailed historical narrative, Zealot illuminates the growth of what continues to be the most widely practiced religion on Earth. --Annie Atherton

Discover: The author of No god but God reintroduces us to Jesus, the revolutionary political leader.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 9781400069224

Children's & Young Adult


by Matt Phelan, illus. by Matt Phelan

Matt Phelan (The Storm in the Barn) showcases the ideal subject for a graphic novel: a young Buster Keaton. He takes a real-life setting--Bluffton, Mich., where the Keatons spent their summers--and tells Buster's story through the eyes of fictional 12-year-old Henry, whose father runs Harrison's general store in nearby Muskegon.

In June 1908, a troupe of talented acrobats and trapeze artists arrive in Bluffton by train, and Henry is captivated by them. Phelan portrays Buster as an instinctive prankster (he and Henry pull a couple on Henry's principal), a gifted baseball player (his elasticity allows for seemingly impossible catches) and a magnetic young man (he and Henry both vie for the affections of the same girl). Through cinematic panels and exquisite timing, Phelan conveys the effortlessness with which Keaton executed his airborne antics and cat-like landings. These wordless sequences also cleverly foreshadow Keaton's later triumphs in silent film.

An inspired Henry, in a solo series of panels, adapts the curtains that mask Harrison's storage closet into a makeshift stage. Soon after, Henry asks Buster to teach him a few tricks for being an acrobat; the lessons quickly convince Henry--and readers--that Buster's achievements are far harder than they look. Henry does, however, find a way to stay connected to show business. This inspiring tale of blossoming talent and friendship may be enjoyed by the entire family--and will likely spark a string of Buster Keaton movie rentals. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An inspiring graphic tale of blossoming talent and friendship starring a young Buster Keaton, who summered in Bluffton, Mich.

Candlewick, $22.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 9-12, 9780763650797

Eruption! Volcanoes and the Science of Saving Lives

by Elizabeth Rusch, photos by Tom Uhlman

Ever since she watched the coverage of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens at age 13, author Elizabeth Rusch has been obsessed with volcanoes.

In Will It Blow?: Become a Volcano Detective at Mount St. Helens, an addition to the Scientists in the Field series, Rusch follows volcanologists Andy Lockhart, John Pallister and their team as they try to unlock the mysteries of volcanic eruptions. She follows a small group with the U.S. Geological Society, the VDAP (Volcano Disaster Assistance Program), as they investigate eruptions in Colombia, the Philippines, Chile and Indonesia. Her accessible, dense account sets the context for why scientists study the history and geology of volcanoes, and an airy layout and clear maps help guide readers through the events.

Rusch finds the balance between the technical and risk-taking work of the VDAP, and the personal nature of their situation. Readers will appreciate the human insights and analogies she uses to describe the geology--Rusch uses peanut M&Ms as a way of understanding the Ring of Fire, and a sidebar entitled "Don't Forget the Toilet Paper" to list supplies needed in the field. Rusch's writing style incorporates insightful information alongside the chronology of each of the featured volcanic disasters, as well as explanations of how the VDAP and local scientists use data from the events to predict the next eruption. Tom Uhlman's abundant photographs document the landscape of the volcanoes and the way these "hot spots" impact the lives of the people who live there. --Susannah Richards, associate professor, Eastern Connecticut State University

Discover: A lava-laden journey into the scientific and human implications of volcanic eruption.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18.99, hardcover, 80p., ages 9-up, 9780547503509

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