Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Workman Publishing: The ABCs of Queer History by Seema Yasmin, Illustrated by Lucy Kirk

From My Shelf

Karl Marlantes on War and Peace

Today Grove/Atlantic is publishing What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes, in which the author of Matterhorn considers the ordeal of combat and how young soldiers are--and should be--prepared for war. Like Matterhorn, the novel published last year that was based on the author's experiences in the Vietnam War, this nonfiction book is powerful, humane and important.

Already the book has been getting well-deserved attention. An excerpt ran in the Wall Street Journal. Hundreds of advance copies have been sent to military leaders who spread the word about Matterhorn. (Publisher Morgan Entrekin also plans to send copies of the finished book to members of Congress, White House staff, policy makers, journalists who cover the military and war reporters.) At Shelf Awareness, interest in the book was so high that the process of assigning the review resembled a bidding war. See our review--and who won that battle--below.

We at Shelf Awareness have long had a proprietary feel for Karl and Matterhorn, a book that he spent 35 years writing and trying to get published. (Happily, it found its audience: it's sold almost 400,000 copies since it came out 17 months ago.) Book review editor Marilyn Dahl was an early champion, and we ran a dedicated issue just before publication that included a revealing author interview, a q&a, a review--and a playlist of mostly '60s music chosen by Karl to accompany the tale. See that issue here.

Karl is one of the nicest and most thoughtful authors we've met. A great speaker, he is embarking on a tour for What It Is Like to Go to War. If you can attend one of his events, we heartily recommend it. If not, you can meet him through his wonderful books.

Happy reading! --John Mutter

Frog & Toad: Now Streaming on Apple TV+

The Writer's Life

Portrait of the Artist: Justin Torres

When Justin Torres, author of the new novel We the Animals (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), appears on September 13 at McNally Jackson Books in New York City as part of his national book tour, it'll be a homecoming of sorts for the debut novelist: Torres is a former bookseller at that exceptional bookstore. Told through a series of vignettes, We the Animals (see review below) is the story of three brothers growing up in the shadow of their young parents' passionate, sometimes violent marriage.

Torres began writing the novel as a way to help understand his confusion and anger about aspects of his past. "You arrive at forgiveness through understanding," he explained. Creating characters and exploring their motivations and reasons for treating one another the way they do "helped me in my own personal life, to get past grudges I held."

Woven into the novel are some details from Torres's own life, what the 31-year-old author called "the hard facts." Like the narrator in We the Animals, he has two brothers; his father is Puerto Rican; his mother, who is white, worked in a brewery; and he spent his childhood in upstate New York.

Several years ago, while living in New York City and between jobs, Torres took the last of his savings and signed up for a creative writing class. Interested in pursuing the craft further, he was referred to Jackson Taylor, an instructor at the New School and a novelist (The Blue Orchard).

"Jackson really challenged me. I was engaged in all kinds of self-destructive behaviors and wandering through my life," Torres said. "He asked me, 'What do you want five years from now?' I had not even considered that. I just wasn't thinking about the future. That was the moment when I was like, okay, this writing thing; I'm going to pursue it seriously."

In the five years since Torres's exchange with Taylor, he has made good on his declaration to dedicate himself to writing. His work has been published in Tin House, Granta and Glimmer Train, and he received a fellowship to attend the Iowa Writers' Workshop. "It all happened really quickly once I buckled down and was given the chance to sit with my thoughts and do the work," he said.

Torres has studied creative writing with the likes of Marilynne Robinson, Dorothy Allison and Michael Cunningham. "My favorite hobby is finding teachers to admire, then admiring the hell out of them," he wrote in the acknowledgments section of We the Animals, which Cunningham has called "a dark jewel of a book."

It's not only those heavyweight scribes Torres credits for aiding him on the path to publication. He also gave a nod to his high school English teacher, who helped him through some tough times and with whom he still keeps in touch. "Even more than never giving up on me, I think she spotted some potential within me and really nourished it," Torres said.

The publication of We the Animals caps off an exciting summer for Torres, who not only had his first short story appear in the August 1 issue of the New Yorker but also spent time trekking across glaciers in Alaska. A fall left him with a concussion, and his computer was off limits for a time because of a light sensitivity. He took the opportunity to rest up before setting out on a tour that's taking him to more than 20 cities. "I love traveling. I love bookstores. Whenever I'm in a new town I always stop into the local bookstore, so this is basically a dream vacation," said Torres.

A customer recently called Eagle Harbor Book Co. on Bainbridge Island, Wash., asking if copies of We the Animals had arrived. After being told Torres is making an appearance there on October 27, the eager, honest reader responded, "Finally, you have an event I want to attend." Debut novels that staffers at Eagle Harbor are particularly enthusiastic about tend to do well, like Karl Marlantes's Matterhorn--which bodes well for We the Animals. Events coordinator Mary Gleysteen and others have been won over by Torres's tale, which she described in the store's newsletter as "a breathtaking book about family, love, poverty and coming of age, told from the viewpoint of the youngest of three brothers. The characters are all too human, and the language is stark and plain and real."

Along with McNally Jackson and Eagle Harbor Book Co., other stops on Torres's itinerary include Prairie Lights in Iowa City (September 21); Politics and Prose (September 15) in Washington, D.C., where Torres once delivered vegetables to customers while working as a farm hand in Virginia; BookPeople in Austin (October 25), where he lived with a friend for a time while applying to graduate schools; Green Apple Books (September 29) in San Francisco , his current city of residence; and the campus bookstore at Stanford University  (November 30), where he is a Wallace Stegner Fellow.

While on tour, Torres is looking forward to connecting with readers and hearing what they have to say about We the Animals. "It's been my experience so far that folks can ask some surprisingly difficult questions," he said, "and I like that challenge." --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Great Reads

Skippy Dies Reborn in Paperback

Skippy Dies by Irish writer Paul Murray was one of our favorite novels of 2010 and is being published today by Faber & Faber for $16 in trade paper. It turned up on many "Best of..." lists and is slated to be a Neil Jordan movie adaptation.

Setting his story in a Dublin boys' school, Murray has crafted a rich potpourri of string theory, the Irish in World War I, Robert Graves, fart jokes, Kipling, spiritualism, teenage psyches, cigarettes, drugs, sex, and Ireland in the 2000s--mochaccino sippers in love with high tech and out of love with the Church. But he has a serious agenda: What is sin? What is the price of maintaining an institution? How do young people navigate the world? Is there redemption for an evil life? His dazzling prose creates a dark backdrop for these questions in his inventive, haunting, and brilliant novel laced with broad humor and subtle wit. He confronts the "grinding emptiness" at the heart of the adult world, and mourns for the boys being pushed into that world without a moral compass.

To read our Maximum Shelf review, plus an interview with the author, click here.

Further Reading: Just My Type

Whether you're a font aficionado like blurber Maira Kalman ("Did I love this book? My daughter's middle name is Bodoni. Enough said.") or a mere text gawker, Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield is great fun and great education, too. You'll discover the truth about the Ikea "fontroversy" of 2009; why one font can sell candy and another is better suited to obituaries; why professional typographers have long arguments about serifs; and much more

This is also a beautiful book, since author Garfield is a professional typographer--a different breed, especially in these days of computer-generated typeface. No wonder our industry's most famous book designer, Chip Kidd, wrote the foreword.


Other great titles on fonts include:

Anatomy of a Typeface by Alexander Lawson might seem at first to be a professional's handbook, but closer perusal will delight font lovers at all levels. Lawson has information-packed chapters on different varieties of typefaces, so if you don't find a crucial detail in Garfield's book, this one is a great reference.


In her title essay in The Crystal Goblet: Sixteen Essays on Typography, Beatrice Warde argues that one drinks wine from crystal because "everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than to hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain." Thus, typeface should be designed to reveal content and not to show off the shapes and flourishes of individual letters. Older and wiser, this book.


Typographie: A Manual of Design by Emil Ruder is a textbook in its sixth printing, and while it is meant to be a tool for teachers and students, any reader will delight in flipping through its pages and getting a better understanding of which elements of text and typography stand out in different contexts. --Bethanne Patrick


Travel with The Snow Leopard

Last week, well before Hurricane Irene could disrupt her travel plans, Jynne Dilling Martin left her office at Random House, where she was the associate director of publicity, for the last time and set out for the Himalayas. It's a well-deserved break--if roundabout route downtown in Manhattan--before she starts her new job as the director of publicity for Riverhead Books next week.

"In addition to a water filtration system, mismatched socks and 10 pounds of snacks from Sahadi's (my favorite Middle Eastern grocer)," Martin e-mailed just before heading to the airport, "I've packed Peter Matthiessen's travel writing classic The Snow Leopard. I am inspired by his curiosity and sense of wonder, and think it will be reassuring to have his companionable voice along with us."

She's already picked out a passage emblematic of her journey: "I feel great gratitude for being here, for being, rather, for there is no need to tie oneself to the snow mountains in order to feel free. I am not here to seek the 'crazy wisdom'; if I am, I shall never find it. I am here to be here, like these rocks and sky and snow, like this hail that is falling down out of the sun." --Ron Hogan


The Most Popular Books You Can't Find's ninth annual list of the top 100 most sought after out-of-print books during the past 12 months features "a fair share of out-of-print mainstays such as Madonna's nearly perennial number one Sex, but also a host of interesting newcomers." Here are the top 10:

  1. Sex by Madonna
  2. Promise Me Tomorrow by Nora Roberts
  3. Rage by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)
  4. My Pretty Pony by Stephen King
  5. In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting by Ray Garton
  6. Codex Seraphinianus by Luigi Serafini
  7. Man in Black by Johnny Cash
  8. Marilyn: A Biography by Norman Mailer
  9. Arithmetic Progress Papers by H. Henry Thomas
  10. Mandingo by Kyle Onstott

Tennis Books, Anyone?

To celebrate yesterday's start of the U.S. Open in New York, Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life blog suggested five books for tennis lovers, noting that in "literary contexts, tennis can play a more nuanced role in exposing a character's passive aggression or self-defeating tendencies. Tennis requires pounding a projectile at an adversary, exposing and taking advantage of an opponent’s shortcomings--but these epic battles can take place in a Waspy, country club setting, complete with tennis whites. All fertile ground for below-the-surface tension."

Books-A-Million Nabs 14 Borders Stores

Ever since Borders Group filed for bankruptcy earlier this year, Books-A-Million, which has about 200 stores, has wanted to take over some of Borders's stores, particularly ones outside of Books-A-Million's traditional Southern base. In recent months, BAM picked up a few Borders outlets that closed earlier this year, and yesterday it won court approval to assume the leases of 14 Borders stores that have been in the process of closing, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The 14 stores are in Bangor, Maine; Portland, Maine; Concord, N.H.; West Lebanon, N.H.; Waterford, Conn.; Mays Landing, N.J.; Columbia, Md.; Scranton, Pa.; Canton, Ohio; Edwardsville, Ill.; Traverse City, Mich.; Davenport, Iowa; Eau Claire, Wis.; and Rapid City, S.D.

Captain Ahab's Literary Mixtape

Flavorwire's Literary Mixtape for Captain Ahab, "the tyrannical sea captain of all our dreams," was crafted for a man whose "obsession dooms him to a watery grave, tethered to his would-be prey, but we don't think he'd have it any other way. He's a weathered, gruff, man's man to be sure, so no airy music for Ahab, only manly beats, we imagine. But whatever he listens to, it's a pretty good bet that he listens to it over and over and over and over again."

Book Candy: DIY Manicure; Grid Bookshelf; Silmarillion

From Trashionista comes this bookish manicure that you can do at home.


Bookcase of the day. Nendo's Scatter Shelf is "a towering bookshelf (yes, bookshelves can look like art!) with thin sheets of glossy, black acrylic stacked into an irregular grid. Inspected from different vantage points, the grid plays all sorts of freaky visual tricks; think of it as a kaleidoscope that just happens to be able to hold a whole lot of books," Fast Company reported.


German art student Benjamin Harff hand-illuminated and bound a copy of J.R.R. Tolkien's Silmarillion. Make magazine reported that it took Harff six months of work to produce the manuscript in "very 21st century elvish-monk style."

Book Review


What It Is Like to Go to War

by Karl Marlantes

Widely praised as one of the best novels written about the Vietnam War, Karl Marlantes's 2010 debut, Matterhorn, was packed with heartrending scenes inspired by his experiences as a young Marine. In What It Is Like to Go to War, Marlantes reveals the intimate details of the real-life moments he fictionalized for Matterhorn and skillfully deploys them to support his call for a paradigm shift in how we prepare soldiers for combat.

"The Marine Corps taught me how to kill, but it didn't teach me how to deal with killing," he writes. Citing Homer, Jung, the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita, among other thinkers and texts, Marlantes contends that "compassion must be elicited consciously in warfare" and suggests that we incorporate mindfulness training into combat preparations and discourage warriors from depersonalizing the enemy. He emphasizes the necessity (and current dearth) of post-combat rituals to demonstrate respect for the lives taken during battle, and recalls how the men in his unit wept as they obeyed his order to bury an enemy soldier after a particularly brutal encounter. Marlantes also recommends the implementation of mandatory counseling to prevent post-traumatic stress disorder, remove the stigma of needing help and enable veterans to rejoin their communities successfully.

What It Is Like to Go to War can be read as both a letter to young warriors and as a catalyzing call for change. But this is not a book about politics; it is about humanity. Using his own experiences to provide context, Marlantes advances, with startling openness, a revolutionary strategy to preserve the humanity of those who fight for our nation and to honor the humanity of those they kill. --Rebecca Joines Schinsky, blogger at The Book Lady's Blog

Discover: Matterhorn author Karl Marlantes writes about the necessity of preserving the humanity of those who fight for our nation and honoring the humanity of those they kill, with proposals on how to do so.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802119926

The Leftovers

by Tom Perrotta

The town of Mapleton functions as a microcosm for the entire United States in Tom Perrotta's new novel, with its clever premise: people have literally disappeared, in the style that many fundamentalist Christians believe will happen during "The Rapture." By calling his characters "leftovers," Perrotta both nods at Jerry Jenkins and Tom LaHaye's bestselling Left Behind series, and puts his own wry spin on it. The trouble in Mapleton--and everywhere else--is that the people who vanished weren't necessarily righteous believers. Some of them were, some of them weren't. Everyone who remains is puzzled, or grief stricken, or vengeful, or....

You get the picture, and that's what Tom Perrotta does best: paint careful, ironic portraits of life as we really know it. Survivors we follow include Kevin, whose nuclear family remains behind, but not intact: his daughter, Jem, was with her childhood best friend who vanished, and she can't quite cope with fashioning her high-school identity. His son, Tom, has left college to follow a character named "Holy Wayne," a combo platter of Jim Bakker and David Koresh. Saddest of all, Kevin's wife, Laurie, has joined a new religious movement known as the "Guilty Remnant," or "G.R.," people who wear all white, follow townspeople whom they suspect of sin, and smoke at all times in public "to remind people of what happened."

When Perrotta focuses on characters, he can't be beat. Kevin's love interest, Nora Durst (who lost her husband and two small children), is so real that you might find yourself searching a mental Rolodex to remember how you know her. The friendship that grows between Laurie and her fellow G.R. member Melissa has real poignancy. Unfortunately, it's in the subplot involving those two that Perrotta has the most trouble maintaining his otherwise laser-keen tone.

Fortunately, the plots (which also include Tom's cross-country journey with one of Holy Wayne's very young and beautiful wives) come together at last, seamlessly. The final pages have a sweet humanity, the kind we all hope for before the sweet by-and-by. --Bethanne Patrick, freelance book critic, aka @TheBookMaven

Discover: One of our premier comic novelists sounds a darker note without losing his light and compassionate touch.

St. Martin's Press, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312358341

We the Animals

by Justin Torres

This debut novel's titular "animals" are three boys, nine, eight and six, fighting each other, their parents and life in general. Their Paps is Puerto Rican, big and strong and violent, a serial womanizer; Mami is white, barely five feet tall, fragile and fierce, and works the graveyard shift at the brewery. The boys are left, unsupervised, without food, waiting for Mami to come home, wondering if she will be drunk or sober. When Paps disappears for weeks, Mami is too desolate to work, so their situation becomes even worse.

Mami was 14 when Paps, 16, convinced her that what they were up to would not make her pregnant. Despite Paps's reassurances, Manny was born, followed by Joel a year later and then the narrator, Justin, the odd boy out. The disillusionment, desperation, fear and anger felt by these too-young parents is frequently mitigated by their love for each other and for their boys. When Torres writes of the occasional calming influence of their love, it is as if a cooling rain has suddenly fallen on a raging fire. The three brothers are wild animals, out-of-control marauders in hand-me-down camo clothes, playing war in the woods--who then use all their pocket money to buy milk for a stray cat.

Torres's first-rate prose will leave you gut-socked and breathless. Narrator Justin tries so hard to be macho for his Paps and his Mami, his brothers and--mostly--himself. But macho is not who he is. In "The Night I Was Made," he returns home from cruising the bus station to find his family gathered, his mother reading his journal. He is filthy, unkempt, reeking of sex and the street, wounded in too many ways and now raging at his family. His father bathes him tenderly; they pack his suitcase and take him to a hospital where his wounds, internal and external, will be cared for. Everyone is exhausted, including the reader, but the redeeming factor here is that the writing is exquisite, making the painful trip so worthwhile. --Valerie Ryan

Discover: A touching, frightening story of three boys who grow up amid neglect, poverty, violence and occasional moments of pure, radiant love.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $18, hardcover, 9780547576725

The Absent Sea

by Carlos Franz, trans. by Leland H. Chambers

"Where were you, Mama, when all those horrible things were taking place in your city?"

This accusation from her daughter plunges Laura, the heroine of Carlos Franz's English-language debut, set in post-Pinochet Chile, into an abyss haunted by terror and shame. The provincial shrine city of Pampa Hundida is panic-struck when Laura, a former magistrate, returns to the post she fled two decades ago. How will she judge the townspeople who bore witness to atrocities committed in the wake of the military coup that ousted Allende and drove her into exile?

The Absent Sea is not easy to read but it's important to do so. A dark and complex psychological novel along the lines of Dostoyevsky, it dissects dichotomies between past and present, logic and desire, good and evil. Laura is not likable at first; she doesn't even like herself, having cowered in Germany for 20 years rather than remember. And when she allows her memories to return, her recollections, labyrinthian and laced with recurring mantras, are trance inducing. But if Franz's language sometimes sounds overwrought in translation, it also has moments of subtle beauty.

A victim of torture and rape, Laura reserves her harshest judgments for herself. "She sat down when she should have remained standing"--she was complicit. But through her efforts to close the growing gap between herself and her daughter, Laura comes to recognize shades of gray and that the burden of history, both the innocence and the guilt, is shared by all of us. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: This new Chilean novelist shows what happens when you look into the abyss and it stares back.

McPherson, $25, Hardcover, 9780929701943

Mystery & Thriller

The Stranger You Seek

by Amanda Kyle Williams

A terrifying and sadistic killer stalks the unsuspecting citizens of sweltering Atlanta, Ga., in Amanda Kyle Williams's suspenseful debut, The Stranger You Seek. Chinese-American and Southern to her core, Keye Street, a former FBI analyst and dry alcoholic, makes her living as a private detective, with a sideline in bail bond enforcement. When her close friend, homicide detective Lieutenant Aaron Rauser, asks for help to track down the vicious killer, dubbed "Wishbone" by the local press, Keye instantly feels her analytical profiling instincts take over. Along with her assistant/resident computer hacker, Neil, she works meticulously to unravel the psychology behind the killings.

As the stress and tension mount, she finds the pressure building to fall off the wagon and have a drink--just one drink. While she struggles with this urge, Wishbone strikes again and again, each murder bringing the killer not only closer to justice, but dangerously close to Keye. Williams deftly re-creates the fictional world of crime and law enforcement in Atlanta, right down to the oppressive heat of August and complete with fully formed and convincingly flawed characters. Perceptive and sharp, Keye is a complicated, engaging main character, as revealed through her episodic entanglements in amusingly odd cases and through the eyes of her colorful friends and adoptive family. With Keye's unveiling, Williams has fashioned an appealing sleuth as unlikely as Stephanie Plum, as resourceful as Precious Ramotswe, as focused as Eve Duncan--and with the tenacity to match all three. --Sarah Borders, librarian, Houston Public Library

Discover: A page-turning, suspenseful read by an exciting new voice in thriller writing.

Bantam, $25, hardcover, 9780553808070

The Adjustment

by Scott Phillips

The Adjustment by Scott Phillips (The Ice Harvest), picked up by Counterpoint after Phoenix Books went out of business, is a noirish tale of a petty criminal plying his trade in Wichita after World War II. Wayne Ogden (we met him briefly in Phillips's The Walkaway) is now out of the army and needs a little adjusting from all the crimes he committed in Europe. He works for the rich owner of Collins Aircraft, a warped man he despises, doing everything nefarious and dirty the old man asks of him.

We first meet Ogden cleaning up another Collins mess--he's driving a young woman to St. Louis to have an abortion. Ogden seems a reasonable sort but he quickly reveals himself to be a self-centered, smart-ass jerk, ready to bed any woman he meets (he's married with his first kid on the way) and beat or kill anyone he dislikes, fulfilled in a perverse sort of way by his sordid and dull existence.

Ogden tells his own story in a dry, distracted, I-couldn't-care-less tone, which makes all his violent actions seem ordinary. The monologue is delivered in short, choppy sections, giving the book a quick, bang-bang narrative pace, with some tension created by a subplot about Ogden receiving unsigned, accusatory letters from an apparently wronged army acquaintance now out for revenge. Ogden is a well-drawn, reprehensible character who's now ready to ply his "trade" on a bigger stage. --Tom Lavoie, retired publisher and poet

Discover: Post World War II Wichita and the dark and seedy world of a petty criminal getting away with murder.

Counterpoint, $25, hardcover, 9781582437309

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Postmortal

by Drew Magary

Right about now, according to the timeline of Drew Magary's debut novel, a genetic researcher in Oregon is trying to figure out a way to counteract the gene that produces red hair, and he's going to accidentally hit upon the key to halting the body's aging process permanently. (It's not immortality: you can still get sick, and you can still be killed.) As The Postmortal begins, it's the summer of 2019, and "the cure" is still illegal in the U.S., but readily available on the black market, and John Farrell, a 29-year-old attorney in Manhattan, is taking the plunge.

Magary has carefully thought through both the short-term and long-term consequences of functional eternal youth, and the world that's fleshed out in John's 60 years' worth of journal entries has many dark twists and flourishes, especially once the American president reluctantly lifts the ban. For every disturbed mother who wants her daughter to be eight months old forever, there's a "troll" who's ready to make the lives of the eternally young miserable. Russia loads up its army with postmortal soldiers and pushes its way into Eastern Europe and Canada, while China tries to preserve its dwindling resources by not just banning the cure, but branding every citizen with their birth date. John's crises may be on a smaller scale, but their power comes from their intimacy: his best friend and roommate is killed when a doctor's office is bombed by pro-death terrorists; he's not sure he has what it takes to get married when "forever" becomes a lot longer than it ever was. "Every morning I look in the mirror and see a body that's a lie," he says decades into the story. "I feel like this skin of mine is just a shell.... You could peel it away and all you'd see underneath would be a sick, wrinkled old man."

John's journal entries are the core of the novel, but Magary really sells his dystopian future with the other "documents" sprinkled throughout the story--pitch-perfect parodies of newspaper and TV articles, religious brochures, even medical bulletins. (As the world's population grows out of control, pharmaceutical companies develop a drug to treat "overcrowding anxiety disorder.") He understands that satire is most effective when it gives the real world a gently absurd nudge, then lets its characters react much as we ourselves might under the same circumstances. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: This debut from a popular sports blogger and humorist (Men with Balls) puts a darkly comic spin on a sci-fi premise, hitting the sweet spot between Margaret Atwood and Kurt Vonnegut.

Penguin, $15, trade paper, 9780143119821


The Sinner Who Seduced Me

by Stefanie Sloane

Stefanie Sloane (The Devil in Disguise, The Angel in My Arms) continues the daring adventures of the Young Corinthians spy organization with this latest installment in her Regency Rogues series.

Five years ago, James Marlowe broke Clarissa Collins's heart and disappeared from her life--according to Clarissa. In James's recollection, Clarissa broke his heart and sent him away. Now a British double agent concealed within the French espionage organization Les Moines, James is shocked when Les Moines' attempt to force a Parisian artist into helping them results in his reunion with Clarissa, now apprenticed to the artist. In a matter of moments, Clarissa is pressed into service in place of her injured mentor, and the couple find themselves attempting to maintain a disguise, paint a portrait, dodge hostile spies and control a debutante bent on debauchery. If they fail, not only will the lovers lose all hope of a happy reconciliation, but Les Moines will kill Clarissa's mother.

Sloane's intricate plot makes for a more satisfying read than a tale of love and lust alone. James and Clarissa must rebuild their trust in each other, and the obstacles they face together give them plenty of opportunity. Undoubtedly the most charming obstacle is Iris, the society miss who steals the show with her scandalous behavior. Deadlier concerns--such as a rogue spy with a vendetta against James--keep suspense high until the final confrontation, but the reader will mainly look forward to seeing a happy resolution of the two soul mates' long-standing quarrel. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries

Discover: The passionate reunion of parted lovers in a dangerous Regency spy game.

Ballantine Books, $7.99, mass market, 9780345517418

Seven Years to Sin

by Sylvia Day

Are you thinking this summer can't get hotter? Sylvia Day's latest erotic romance may change your mind.

Lady Jessica Sheffield's passion was awakened when she caught devilish Alistair Caulfield in flagrante delicto with an older countess. Though intrigued, Jessica held her tongue and dutifully married another man. Now widowed after seven years of pleasant, uneventful matrimony, Jessica sets sail for the plantation her husband left her, not realizing until after departure that Alistair is also aboard the ship. Free from the prying eyes of Regency society, Jessica and Alistair will succumb to years of buried attraction, but when the voyage ends, will Jessica see Alistair as more than a secret indulgence?

Seven Years to Sin embodies every great quality of a good romance novel, from its gorgeous yet torrid love scenes to its era-appropriate overtones of women's empowerment. Jessica and Alistair's intense connection both in and out of the bedchamber will make you believe in the power of love as they repeatedly tell society and convention to take a hike. Day has created a damaged but honorable hero, a heroine with a tortuous past and the strength to face it, and made each a complete person who is still stronger with the support of the other. On the other side of the coin, secondary characters struggle with difficult marriages and unrequited love, leaving the reader yearning for them to find the same happiness as Jessica and Alistair. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries

Discover: The moment when seven years of denied passion come to a rolling boil.

Brava/Kensington, $14, trade paper, 9780758231741


A Merciless Place: The Fate of Britain's Convicts After the American Revolution

by Emma Christopher

It's common knowledge that Australia was founded by British prisoners. It's less well-known that before the American Revolution, convicts were shipped to the colonies in the New World. Even less known is the boondoggle right after the colonies broke away, when a few hundred unfortunates were sent from Britain to the wilds of West Africa to help defend the realm's slaveholding interests. Author Emma Christopher is a University of Sydney professor and an expert on the transatlantic slave trade and therefore well prepared to offer the historical context for this bizarre episode.

Christopher opens with an exhaustive and fascinating recitation of the prisoners' lives and crimes. Some of the condemned committed murders and other heinous acts, but many simply skirted too close to stealing goods worth 40 shillings or more, which mandated a death sentence. The prison system was overloaded, and the government needed a replacement for the American colonies dumping ground, but Australia wasn't yet considered. Thus was born the solution of sending convicts to serve as soldiers in West Africa. It ended poorly.

Enlightening and compelling for such a dense, well-researched work, A Merciless Place offers a sobering illustration of the harsh and often capricious nature of 18th-century justice as well as a clear examination of a massive failure of governmental planning. But the story also borders on black comedy, populated as it is by inept bureaucrats, opportunistic criminals and downright villainous authority figures. This rogues' gallery was shockingly unprepared for guard duty anywhere, much less the harsh tropics. When Christopher focuses on colorful characters like the Fagan-ish Patrick Mandan and the gentleman crook William Murray, her tale is even outright entertaining. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer

Discover: A history rich with historical detail and loaded with borderline unbelievable characters, providing a fascinating look at a forgotten historical episode.

Oxford University Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9780199782550

The Beautiful and the Damned: A Portrait of the New India

by Siddhartha Deb

In The Beautiful and the Damned, Indian-born novelist and journalist Siddhartha Deb attempts to understand the realities of the New India that has emerged with the rise of computer technology and international call centers.

Deb, author of The Point of Return, which was a 2003 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, presents his findings in a series of character sketches. A Gatsby-like businessman is famous for being famous. A computer engineer composes poetry in binary code and inscribes it on the blank portions of the computer chips his company manufactures. A desperate seed broker teeters on the edge of bankruptcy. A young waitress in New Delhi agonizes over her future. The author introduces us to those who have succeeded in the new economy, those who have forgotten and--most vividly--those who aspire to success.

Ultimately, The Beautiful and the Damned tells us as much about Deb as it does about India. He admits from the beginning that questions about his own identity are part of the larger puzzle of what India has become. Deb's interactions with the Indians he interviews are a critical part of each story. The book takes the form of an expatriate journey in which Deb travels through an India that is "sometimes intimately familiar and sometimes completely unknown."

The Beautiful and the Damned is De Tocqueville in miniature, with beautiful prose, thoughtful analysis and strong characterization. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A beautifully written portrait of an India poised between the modern world and the past.

Faber & Faber, $26, hardcover, 9780865478626

True Confessions: Feminist Professors Tell Stories Out of School

by Susan Gubar, editor

Volumes have been written--and careers built--on investigating the origins of feminism, but what of the origins of feminists? In True Confessions, groundbreaking academic feminist Susan Gubar presents essays from more than two dozen women's studies pioneers about the personal experiences that ground their theories and the professional repercussions of their feminist identities.

Nancy K. Miller and Jane Marcus identify ties between their fathers and their struggles against patriarchy, but Tania Modleski and Shirley Geok-lin Lim cite their mothers as the impetus for their pursuit of feminist sisterhood. Meanwhile, Dyan Elliott explores the relationship between feminism and religion, a recurring theme that touches on many disciplines of the humanities.

The intersection of race, class and gender looms large in these pieces, as it does in any Women's Studies curriculum. Among contributors who address sexual harassment in academia are Martha C. Nussbaum, who recalls crashing the gates of an all-male philosophy department, and Ann Douglas, whose male colleagues frequently interpreted her enthusiasm for their shared studies as sexual interest in them. Jane Gallop presents another side of the issue, asking what it means--and if it is even possible--to be a feminist accused of sexual harassment.

Frances Smith Foster and Tey Diana Rebolledo reflect on the tension between an individual's feminist and racial identities. Lillian Faderman explores links between feminism and lesbianism, and Nancy Chodorow synthesizes her remarkable career in feminist-oriented psychoanalysis into a stunning essay.

Intellectual giants who changed history fill these pages with remarkable stories of the personal liberations, sexual awakenings and professional challenges. True Confessions is a must-read for all feminists, a master class in the origins and evolution of women's studies and feminist activism. The contributors establish that the personal is still political; if we think feminism's work is done, we must think again. --Rebecca Joines Schinsky, blogger at The Book Lady’s Blog

Discover: A fascinating anthology about the personal experiences that changed the women who created women's studies and changed feminist history.

W.W. Norton, $29.95, hardcover, 9780393076431

Children's & Young Adult

The 39 Clues: Cahills vs. Vespers, Book 1: The Medusa Plot

by Gordon Korman

They're baaack! Yes, for those who couldn't get enough of the popular 39 Clues series, here's the first volume of the new six-book series: Cahills vs. Vespers.

Brother-sister team Amy and Dan Cahill are now head of their family. Their hunt for the 39 Clues leading to the source of power is over. But before they have time to rest, reports arrive of strategic kidnappings taking place in Paris, London, Tel Aviv and elsewhere. Amy and Dan receive an ultimatum from the Vespers: they must steal the valuable Medusa artwork, or their kidnapped family will be killed, one by one.

The action will feel familiar, with challenges, escapes and plot twists that stretch Amy and Dan to their limits (and beyond!), and with the use of their special abilities they continue to surprise and delight readers as they overcome these obstacles and accomplish their mission. Without giving away the mystery, let's just say there is a kidnapping, an art robbery, an amazing getaway and even a little romance for Amy. Fans will also recognize many returning characters, including Saladin the cat, Nellie Gomez and Fiske Cahill. But even if you haven't followed the first series, you can pick up here and enjoy this book without any trouble. As with the 39 Clues, the story unfolds through a multi-platform approach, with an accompanying website and two packs of cards that integrate into this interactive middle grade series. --JoAnn Jonas, public librarian and blogger

Discover: The return of Amy and Dan Cahill as they take The 39 Clues adventure to the next level, and begin a battle with the Vespers.

Scholastic, $12.99, hardcover, ages 8-12, 9780545298391

Grandpa Green

by Lane Smith

In what may well be his greatest achievement thus far, Caldecott Honor artist Lane Smith introduces Grandpa Green and the garden that tells his heart-tugging story.

The opening image introduces a baby sculpted in greenery, with a spray of what looks like tears where the eyes would be. "He was born a really long time ago," the book begins, "before computers or cell phones or television." A turn of the page reveals a boy in overalls and boots, holding a hose--the source of the "tears." Playful discoveries like these abound.

Roughly halfway into the story, we learn the boy is the narrator, describing his great-grandfather. Each topiary tells a story, and additional colors call attention to important details of the man's life, such as a daisy that doubles as the fuse on a cannon-shaped hedge representing his "world war" experience. As the boy fills a wagon with stray items he finds, we gradually realize he is picking up after someone ("He used to remember everything"). An image of the boy reaching from the top of a ladder to retrieve a floppy straw hat from the brow of an elephant topiary, the image resonates with the cover portrait of his great-grandfather. An elephant never forgets, and neither does the garden. Its evergreen monuments hold Grandpa Green's memories when he cannot.

Opening this book is like opening a gate to a secret garden, filled with the treasures of a life well lived. In his portrait of a boy who adores and honors his forgetful great-grandfather, Smith shows us that the things that are meaningful to the ones we love become part of our garden, too. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A loving tribute from a great-grandson to his "Grandpa Green" and the garden that tells his story.

Roaring Brook/Macmillan, $16.99, hardcover, 32p., 9781596436077


Author Buzz

My Royal Showmance
(A Park Avenue Promise Novel, Book 2)

by Lexi Blake

Dear Reader,

The reality TV setting made writing My Royal Showmance so much fun. Anika is expecting a boring time on her latest job but things turn when she has to step in for one of the contestants. It's supposed to be one night, but Luca has other ideas. He's looking to bring tourism back to his small country, but when he sees Anika he realizes he might do something remarkable--find love on the set of a TV show.

Lexie Blake

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Blue Box Press: My Royal Showmance (The Park Avenue Promise #2) by Lexi Blake

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
June 4, 2024


List Price: 
$5.99 e-book

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