Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 17, 2013

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

From My Shelf

Football Mania

I just read and can't stop extolling The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian (reviewed below). I expected scandal, I expected feel-good stories; what I didn't expect was a book so riveting that I missed my bus stop.

The scandalous bits will get the most press. Some surprised me, like colleges employing "hostesses" to squire high school recruits around campus, take them out to parties, then stay in touch until they commit, dazzling them with the carrot of a relationship. There's also academic fraud, rogue boosters, private planes, untraceable big money and third parties involved in recruiting and eligibility, especially in the "shadowy world of 7-on-7," the spring and summer touch football extravaganza of player evaluation. And the money! In the cathedral of college football, "there is just one church, one road leading in a single direction. To Austin and the University of Texas." The football program generated $103.8 million in revenue during the 2011-12 season, and $78 million in profit. Make no mistake: this is definitely not amateur hour.

There are good stories too, good people--players, coaches, athletic directors. It's easy to forget that we are talking about boys, boys with dreams, boys unformed, boys with problems. Boys with injuries. That gives me pause in my football ardor--players risking, at the least, subconcussions on every play. Writer and editor Rodney Clapp, in his essay "Would Jesus Love Football?" says this:

"I am sure that true fans do not watch the game primarily to see spectacular hits or the mangling of bodies. What's exciting is the long pass, the almost impossible fingertip catch, the stealthy interception... the runner's ability to dodge tackles.... At such moments it's clear that what fans really love is not the collision but the avoidance of a collision.... That's what gives the game its beauty and its thrills." In The System, Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian have given us a thrilling read. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

The Writer's Life

David Schickler: The Pull Between Art and Faith


photo: Martha Schickler

David Schickler is the author of the linked story collection Kissing in Manhattan and the novel Sweet and Vicious. In those works he has proven an adept chronicler of modern life, its joys and corresponding sorrows, the places attraction can turn into obsession and how the intensity of relationships can turn from transformative to dangerous. These gifts for balancing dark and light are on wonderful display in Schickler's new memoir, The Dark Path (our review is below). In addition to Schickler's usual adept handling of earthly romantic entanglements, he shows that he can handle another intense relationship with equal skill--the pursuit of God--making the book sexy and profound in equal measures. Schickler is also the co-creator and executive producer of the new Cinemax series Banshee.

One of the central themes of The Dark Path is an idea you had from childhood, that God can be found in darkness and in the shadows just as easily as in more traditional places. What role has this idea/experience played in your life?

Like anyone else I've ever met in the world, I want to be loved. To be loved, you have to feel special, unique. To feel special, you sometimes need to feel that you are in on a secret. I never feel more keenly that I am in on a secret than when it is nighttime and I am alone somewhere with a woman, or else when I am in a dark or quiet church, and I close my eyes and pray to, or merely listen for, God. I prefer the dark to the light so often because I love intimacy (whether with the divine, or with former girlfriends, or now, with my wife) and intimacy can be so fragile. We think of light as something that can reveal truth, but sometimes it can wreck and ruin truth or chase it away by being too direct, too glaring, too eager to see everything at once rather than being suspensefully glad to see truth revealed one feature, one whisper, one unbuttoned button at a time.

I love truth, but I love excitement, too. And God and women and life are more exciting to me in the dark.

The priests you were drawn to in The Dark Path were Jesuits. Do you think their model of spirituality was an attraction for your own developing gifts and sense of self?

One joke about Jesuits is that they create atheists and other Jesuits. What I think that means is that Jesuits challenge you to know and be able to articulate and live out to their fullest natural consequences your feelings, intuitions and understandings about God and whether He exists and if He does, how He relates to you, personally, daily. Your beliefs about the divine make requirements on you and how you live, Jesuits might say. It is each person's job to realize that, to face it and to have an answer, Jesuits might say. You are shirking the most vital responsibility of living if you don't, Jesuits might say.

I was educated by Jesuits in high school and at Georgetown, and so I internalized that challenge of theirs very deeply. I came to feel that I had to scour the depths of my own heart and mind and life and I believed that doing so had both temporal and eternal consequences. This led me to discernments and discoveries about myself, but it also led me to put great (and definitely self-obsessed and maybe even un-Christian) pressure on myself to know, to quest, to understand, to apprehend truth as entirely as possible. This memoir is about a time in my life when doing all that exhausted me and broke me, and I had to learn a more patient way, a way that would leave room for unanswerable mystery, especially in my relationships with women.

The intensity of your relationship with Mara suffuses the whole book. You talk about trying to keep God and her "in fierce parallel." What does that phrase mean to you?

Prayer and sex were always the two things that called to me most deeply and they still are. But when I was in college, dating Mara, the different powers of those two forces (prayer and sex) were not something I had fully come to terms with yet, and so, out of fear, I thought of them as separate tracks inside me: fierce, parallel tracks. I feared that if the tracks ever crossed, the voltage of one would short out the other. I was thinking about both too rigidly, too clinically. Even the word "parallel" is a mathematical one, and it's wrong here, as is the idea of prayer or sex as a fixed track toward anything.

What they really both are, prayer and sex, are paths inside me, dark, winding, often inscrutable paths. They probe forward more than they lead forward (sort of like the best fiction does), and that is their nature, and I know and love that now, without fearing it.

You had a spiritual director betray your trust and behave in an inappropriate manner toward you. Do you think this hastened your leaving the Jesuit path? If this hadn't happened, do you think you still could have ended up a priest?

We can call it out: yep, a Catholic priest grabbed my ass one day, and yep, it was a big wake-up call, but not in the way you might expect. Rather than launching me on a life of fury toward the Catholic clergy (which many people who got far more taken advantage of than I did both feel and are justified in feeling), it just brought to great, immediate clarity for me the fact that women and the intimacies I'd shared with them were going to be in no uncertain terms shut down for me forever if I became a priest. There are many wonderful women in the Catholic church, but the priesthood is a boys' club, period. It is a club with a lot of magic and allure to it, but the best parts of the magic are practiced only by men.

The magic I felt and feel in the company of women is a kind I needed full access to. No amount of canon law was going to legislate out of my days and nights the laughter and skin and glorious mystery of women. So, while I'm not glad a priest grabbed my ass, I'm glad I had all the above brought powerfully home to me. Yes, maybe I could have been a Catholic priest if that incident hadn't happened. But I would likely have been an unhappy, half-human one, and the God I believe in would not have wanted that. There are excellent celibate priests in the Catholic church who have true vocations to celibacy. I wouldn't have been one of them.

Midway through The Dark Path you discover your gift for writing and the solace you find in others' stories. Do you think your book is as much about that discovery--the pull between art and faith--as it is about the balancing of flesh and faith?

Absolutely. The pull between art and faith remains the central drama or at least fascination inside me. On many days, I don't know how it is tenable for me to believe so deeply in Jesus Christ and simultaneously to need so deeply to laugh my ass off at Louis C.K.'s rawest routines or to have the sh*t scared out of me by The Shining or to write violent, sexy screenplays for my TV show Banshee. Tertullian allegedly said of Christianity, "I believe this because it is impossible." I feel the same way about it, and I feel that way about Breaking Bad and The Great Gatsby (the novel). Christ transgressed audaciously upon or elevated to glory the mundane: that's what great comedy, great fiction and great sex do, too. I'll spend the rest of my life wondering gladly how all those things can be simultaneously so.

There is a wonderful "warts and all" quality to your work. You are not afraid to show your missteps, of looking like an jerk or a dweeb. Did you ever wonder if you were going too far?

I am an easily bored reader of literature and lover of movies and television and art. It has always been the case for me that only stories that "go too far" (to borrow your phrase) hold any interest for me. I love Jesus Christ for going too far and Ron Burgundy in Anchorman for going too far and Mother Teresa for going too far and Kristen Wiig in her best SNL sketches for going too far.

Since I have never written a memoir, I don't know how other people go about it, but what I did was look back and try to recount almost exclusively the times when I or my life went too far: when my heart broke, when my body broke, when I laughed so hard I fell down, when my first lover and I found sexual ecstasy together, when God swept me off my feet, when my faith ended up in the gutter. That is the only way I know how to get to the truth.

I have spent my whole life almost mortally terrified of niceties and tepid social conventions: not genuine kindness or friendliness, mind you, but the kind of middling, how's-the-weather brand of conversations or interactions. Such things make me afraid that all the great hopes and fears and wonders and perversities in the human heart might get blotted out or glossed over via polite handshakes. I would rather come off as the world's greatest ass or dweeb or hero than bore people. It may be a serious sin of pride that I feel that way. But I know what kind of storytelling works for me.

My favorite Boston songwriter ever, Jonathan Richman, once wrote in his song "A Plea for Tenderness": "I don't want to hear about your stupid cats. Just talk about love or sex or starving hearts. Or just shut up, and I'll go." That pretty much sums up how I felt while I was writing this memoir, and how I feel much of the time, period. Bring on the love and sex and starving hearts!

What's the difference between being a "Saturday night writer" and a "Sunday morning writer?"

Being a "Saturday night writer" means, for me, that I'm attracted to the edgiest, most fringe elements and flavors of human nature because they are the ones that slap me awake and make me take notice and empathize and laugh and cry and sit bolt upright. I like big stakes and dire consequences. I am drawn to murder, orgasms, crazy unbridled laughter and soul-baring declarations of love (the things you might see in the movie you go to late on a Saturday night), because in moments like those, it is almost impossible for characters (and for us in the audience) to lie to one another. We are flush with truth and that jazzes me, and I think many people agree whether they confess it or not. In the song "Candy Everybody Wants," Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs wrote: "If lust and hate is the candy... if blood and love taste so sweet... then we give them what they want." Amen to that.

It is clearly the case that not every reader or TV/film viewer or patron of the arts agrees with me. Someone out there is writing gentler, spirit-calming stuff, the kind of thing you might associate more with a spiffy, proper Sunday morning. But I don't look to fiction or memoir or movies, etc., to have my spirit calmed. I can get that by praying or by (depending on the day) taking a walk or being with my wife or children or certain other family and friends. I write and read to shock myself away from self-deception about what I and humans in general are capable of. I don't think that that boils down to prurience: it is just what keeps writing and reading invigorating for me.

Looking back over your spiritual journey and your writing life, to what degree is "the dark path," the sense of God's presence in shadows and darkness, the same place you've got to enter to write good, lasting work?

I only enter a dark place when I write because I find the truth hides in dark places and I have to go there either to ferret it out or simply to gaze at it and report on what it's up to. As to the question of whether the truth I search for in the dark shadows is God or not depends upon the kind of writing I am doing.

When I wrote this memoir, I went particularly in search of God because this was and is the story of my Christian faith and the upheavals I've endured in pursuing that faith. I couldn't tell the story without plenty of whiskey and sex and violence and freaky side characters (i.e., things that might be considered dark) because those are simply things that are me or are things I can't help loving. In other words, there's a chance that the only reason in this memoir that I was so desperate to find God in the darkness is because I was in the darkness already and I wanted not to be alone there and so I hoped that God was in there with me.

But when I write fiction (books or screenplays) I don't enter a place where I purposefully find God or look for God or acknowledge God's presence. It is far too creepy and false to do that, and it will kill preemptively any chance the writing has of proceeding on its natural merits or shortcomings. When I write fictively I have to forget about God, at least consciously, the same way that I have to forget about God if I'm having sex, or trying to enjoy watching a movie or reading a novel. I just try to tell the truth in as original and entertaining a way as possible, and if God is in that truth, that is His doing and not mine. This may sound like a minor point, but to me it is vital. When I hear what is referred to as Christian rock and roll or read a fictional story that has some planned allegorical agenda to testify to Christian (or any other religious) dogma, I cannot run away fast enough. Others may derive great comfort or pleasure from such offerings, but to me they are insults to the imagination. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Book Candy

Bookish TV Characters; Punk Lit

Buzzfeed featured "13 bookish TV characters."


"Books for a young wannabe dog owner" were prescribed by the Guardian's Book Doctor.

"Motherhood: 3 Books on Work, Life and Too-Small Pool Towels" were recommended by author Curtis Sittenfeld for NPR.


Noting that it "doesn't take name-dropping Black Flag or writing a scene where a character gets her first mohawk to know that the book you're reading is influenced in some way or another by the punk scene," Flavorwire recommended "an essential Punk literature reading list."


Jordan B. Nielsen, children's book buyer at Brooklyn's powerHouse Arena, shared her picks for the "15 greatest kid detectives" on the Huffington Post.


Cush Design Studio's Balance Bookshelf "is hand-made and designed to keep read books on one side and unread on the other," wrote.

Book Review



by Alice McDermott

Alice McDermott's intimate character study Someone is the latest in a line of works, including her National Book Award-winning Charming Billy and At Weddings and Wakes, that should be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the 20th-century Irish-American experience.

Someone is an episodic journey through the life of Brooklyn-born Marie that spans from the eve of the Great Depression almost to the end of the century. Plagued by poor eyesight from birth, Marie is a "shy child and comical-looking," overshadowed by her intense, intellectual older brother, Gabe, who is destined for the priesthood, a vocation he inexplicably abandons. Marie is a dutiful daughter and eventually a devoted wife and mother of four children. But she possesses an independent streak that surfaces in her comical rebellion against her mother's efforts to teach her how to make soda bread. "Once you learn to do it," she protests, "you'll be expected to do it."

Marie seasons her first-person account with memorable supporting characters: a Syrian-Irish woman with the improbable name of Pegeen Chehab; Bill Corrigan, a man blinded in a World War I gas attack, who serves as the "umpire" of the neighborhood stickball games; and a compassionate funeral director named Fagin who hires Marie to serve as the "consoling angel" to grieving families. Incidents like an accidental death, a suicide and a shocking revelation that follows the wedding night of a teacher from the neighborhood ensure the novel never loses its narrative momentum.

McDermott shows how the simple people who populate this working-class world deal humbly and honorably with the inevitable reversals and tragedies of life, and invests their stories with a quiet dignity and, in their best moments, transforms them into something approaching heroism. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Alice McDermott offers the intimate story of an Irish-American woman's life in 20th-century New York.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25, hardcover, 9780374281090

Nine Days

by Toni Jordan

Toni Jordan's Nine Days is an Australian family saga focused on a handful of moments in the lives of the Westaway family between 1939 and 2001. The book begins with Kip Westaway, 15, who lives in a working-class Melbourne suburb. He's recently quit school to work at the furniture shop next door after his father's death (his twin brother, Francis, is still in school and mighty haughty about it). His mother, a sourpuss and a bad parent, has taken in a boarder. Every scintilla of information the reader receives about this first day--Kip's day--is important and relevant through the years, even the shilling given to Kip by the good-hearted Mr. Hustings, his employer.

In the story's eight other days, we learn of life-changing decisions. One is about Kip's daughter, Stanzi, who is a counsellor. Today's client is a kleptomaniac, and when Stanzi leaves her office, she realizes that her father's shilling, which she was going to have framed for him, has disappeared. A logical conclusion is drawn, but it is the wrong one--with immediate consequences.

The days skip back and forth in time, touching on the lives of Mr. Husting's son Jack, who returns to Melbourne from a rural sheep station and becomes smitten with Kip's sister Connie; Francis, who never lived up to the expectations of others; Kip's grandson Alec, who performs a kindness to his grandfather--and saves his own life in the process. Jordan (The Addition) renders this extended family's interwoven story in gorgeous layers of warmth, understanding and casual cruelties, interspersed throughout with good humor and perfectly rendered dialogue. ---Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: In spare but rich prose, Toni Jordan shows all the love, fear, tenderness, disappointment, joy and sadness any life could hold.

Text Publishing Company, dist. by Consortium, $15.95, paperback, 9781921922831

Subtle Bodies

by Norman Rush

The sudden death of an old friend leads Ned, a political activist, to leave his California home for the funeral in the Catskills. Furiously pursuing Ned is his wife, Nina, who is trying to get pregnant and, currently ovulating, needs her husband. As Subtle Bodies, Norman Rush's first novel in a decade, begins, then, the main character flies toward death with a representation of life (or the potential for life) at his back. This sort of symbolism pervades the novel, which has the feel of an allegory ripe for decoding.

Douglas, whose accidental death sets Ned (and the plot) in motion, was the charismatic leader of a group of friends at New York University. It becomes apparent that Ned has always measured himself against Douglas, most sharply manifest in Ned's relationship prior to Nina with the beautiful Claire, once Douglas's lover.

In keeping with the highly cerebral nature of Subtle Bodies, Rush's characters appear to represent ideas. Ned, in Nina's mind, is a "secular Jesus," a role he tirelessly enacts throughout the book in organizing a rally against the war in Iraq. Ned spends the time leading up to Douglas's funeral attempting to convince his friends to sign a petition against the war. Nina may be Mary Magdalene--nurturing, unshakably loyal and strongly sexual. Meanwhile, Ned's long-lost friends (the apostles, perhaps?), now reunited, are each defined by specific qualities: the cynical intellectual, the faithful if rather simple-minded friend, the pragmatist. And as Nina and Ned investigate the past, the identity of Judas--a betrayal to which Ned blinded himself for years--is at last revealed. --Ilana Teitelbaum, book reviewer at the Huffington Post

Discover: The National Book Award-winning author of Mating presents an examination of friendship, sexual fidelity and the tragic limits of idealism.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9781400042500

Mystery & Thriller

The Bones of Paris

by Laurie R. King

Laurie R. King is perhaps best recognized for her novels starring Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell, so it is perhaps not surprising she's a master at creating--and solving--intricately detailed historical mysteries. The Bones of Paris, which re-introduces Harris Stuyvesant, the star of her 2007 novel Touchstone, is no exception.

It's 1929, and Stuyvesant, a former federal agent now working as a private detective, is broken-hearted in Berlin--and broke. When the opportunity to work a plush case locating a missing girl in Paris comes his way, he leaps for it. His search leads to a series of encounters with the great cultural figures of the period: Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Man Ray, Sylvia Beach. As the days drag on and he turns up less and less about the missing girl, his simple, cushy case gradually becomes something much more sinister.

King's knowledge of the era and the Surrealist art scene, and her appreciation of the minute details that make up a well-crafted mystery, work to create a thoroughly entertaining mystery that mixes fact in with the fiction. The story is peppered with references to Stuyvesant's past, providing background for those not familiar with Touchstone but occasionally slowing the pace. Nevertheless, readers will soon find themselves racing ahead, following carefully placed clues to a shocking conclusion nobody--except Harris Stuyvesant, of course--will see coming. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A private eye confronts the dark side of the movable feast that was 1920s Paris in Laurie King's finely detailed mystery.

Bantam, $26, hardcover, 9780345531766

The Wrong Girl

by Hank Phillippi Ryan

Hank Phillippi Ryan's The Wrong Girl is a sequel to her 2012 novel The Other Woman--and it's another mile-a-minute mystery featuring star-crossed sleuths Jane Ryland and Jake Brogan.
With her Boston newspaper preparing for a round of layoffs, Jane has more motivation than ever to nail a lead story. Her ex-colleague Tuck's sudden assertion that an adoption agency has just reunited her with a woman who isn't actually her birth mother won't make the front page, but Tuck is insistent that only Jane can help her investigate.

Meanwhile, Jake initially believes the murder of a young woman is a cut-and-dried domestic violence case, but the true story behind the two small children and empty crib found at the scene will rock his assumptions. While others shrug off the crib's presence, Jake keeps thinking an empty crib could mean a missing baby.

As always, Ryan's plot doesn't stall for a second, and she deftly presents the realities of the foster-care system with a reporter's objectivity. While the mystery is excellent, fans of the series will no doubt want to know if Jake and Jane will finally find a way to be together. The two continue their tightrope walk between friendship and something more as their separate investigations cross paths again and again, each constantly weighing their careers against matters of the heart. Fans of mystery's cutest non-couple will love this second outing, and readers new to the series will have no trouble starting with The Other Woman. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: The second installment in Ryan's smart, romantic and fast-paced Jane Ryland mystery series.

Forge, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765332585

Food & Wine

Pastry: A Master Class for Everyone, in 150 Photos and 50 Recipes

by Richard Bertinet

If you discovered the fun and ease of baking bread through Richard Bertinet's debut cookbook, Dough, or its follow-up, Crust, you'll be thrilled to hear that the French-born British chef and cookery teacher has turned his attention to showing home cooks his tried-and-true methods for producing delicious pastries. In Pastry, a series of professional pointers, step-by-step photos and skill-honing recipes, Bertinet shows that while making perfect pastry at home may not be exactly as easy as opening a can of refrigerated pie crust, it's not the arduous process most of us imagine.

Bertinet's instructions cover a range of techniques for preparing savory, sweet and puff pastries--as well as choux, the light, airy base needed for éclairs and profiteroles. Readers will primarily find classic European recipes here, such as pork pies, churros and tarte Tatin, but may be surprised by variations that change pastry dough into the base for shortbread and other cookies.

The gorgeous photography alone makes Pastry worth a look, the perfectly browned and sugar-dusted miniature mince pies spilling forth from a parchment-lined gift box and peaks of blowtorch-kissed meringue on lemon tartlets begging the reader to fire up the oven and dig out the piping bags. Since the text runs the gamut from simple how-tos to complex recipes, novice bakers and veterans who know the way around a tart pan will both find a treasure trove of flaky, scrumptious possibilities from a master chef and wise teacher. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: Lessons from a master chef and cookery teacher on making the perfect sweet, savory, puff and choux pastries.

Chronicle, $30, hardcover, 9781452115498

One-Dish Vegan: More than 150 Soul-Satisfying Recipes for Easy and Delicious One-Bowl and One-Plate Dinners

by Robin Robertson

Robin Robertson calls One-Dish Vegan, a revision of her 2007 cookbook One-Dish Vegetarian Meals, "new and improved" in health, ease and taste. Her recipes now include less oil and fat and more whole grains, as well as a focus on gluten and soy-free options and globally inspired recipes.

One-Dish Vegan focuses on main dishes that include "a green, a grain, and a bean." Robertson gives a short but thorough overview of how to store and prepare grains (rice, quinoa, barley, oats, bulgar) and beans, as well as other proteins like tofu, tempeh and seitan (with an easy recipe for homemade seitan that is low in fat and calories and high in protein, vitamin C and iron). Unconventional tips include adding Kombu seaweed to the water when soaking beans to enhance flavor, aid digestion and add minerals; it also efficiently tenderizes the beans and decreases the cooking time. She provides a list of ingredients for the vegan pantry, recipes for vegetable broth and chili powder and easy-reference charts for cooking both grains and beans.

The 150-plus recipes include "soups that make a meal," main-dish salads, stovetop simmers and stews, chili, pasta dishes, stir fries and sautés and "oven to table" meals like artichoke spaghetti pie and spinach and quinoa tart. Her focus is on quick and nutritious meals that are just as delicious the next day. Any cook looking for easy, efficient, healthy meals is sure to enjoy Robertson’s latest offering. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Robin Robertson's fans will love her latest attempt to make healthy cuisine easier, healthier and kinder.

Harvard Common Press, $16.95, paperback, 9781558328129

Biography & Memoir

The Dark Path

by David Schickler

David Schickler's The Dark Path is a soul-searching memoir--a sometimes humorous, sometimes harrowing look at one man's pursuit of God, the writing life and a good lay. Schickler, who grew up in a devoutly Catholic family, recalls his boyhood fascination with God and his burgeoning obsession with becoming a priest. However, this is not a traditionally pious autobiography; as a child, Schickler finds solace in "the dark places" away from church, in the out-of-way lots and parks of his boyhood. Then, as Schickler matures and heads to a Jesuit college, encountering women in an intimate and lasting way for the very first time, it becomes an almost mystical event, something as soul-nourishing and God-revealing as anything he's felt in a physical church.

The Dark Path asks tough questions about religion and the presence of God in Schickler's life, yet he never descends to name calling or easy judgments. Schickler is hip to the disparity that sometimes exists between normal, pious behavior and the way God or "lack of God" manifests in the world, and he writes about the transcendent aspect of courtship and sex as well as anyone. He is a master scene setter, quietly finding the emotional jugular time after time, and conveys emotional bravery as he fumbles between faith and flesh, between art and making a living as a writer, with the searing honesty central to all great memoirs. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A powerful memoir about God, writing and the pursuit of women.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594486456

Health & Medicine

Knocking on Heaven's Door: The Path to a Better Way of Death

by Katy Butler

In Knocking on Heaven's Door, science writer and journalist Katy Butler has rendered a beautifully balanced, stirring memoir of a dutiful, middle-aged daughter, one of three siblings, who traces her life-long relationship with her parents and how she stood by, often powerlessly, through their prolonged illnesses and deaths. Woven into the details of Butler's impassioned personal story are thoroughly researched facts and staggering statistics about the money-driven, technologically advanced, biomedical U.S. health-care system and how it tends to overtreat illness and prolong the process of death--often to the point of "medical torture."

Butler centers her story on the decision to have a pacemaker implanted in her elderly father, Jeffrey, after he has a stroke. The medical intervention aided a minor heart arrhythmia, but over time, it extended Jeffrey's suffering as his physical and mental decline accelerated and his quality of life diminished. Her mother, Val, who acted as her husband's full-time caregiver for years, ultimately asked to have Jeffrey's pacemaker disabled so he could experience a merciful death. Initial requests were denied, prompting Butler to investigate the troubling aspects of modern medicine and the tendency to maximize costs, forgoing "slow medicine" and honest, more natural ways of letting go via "old-fashioned" dying.

Other peoples' stories and an extensive compendium of additional books and resources supplement the text, which will benefit readers facing similar situations. The contrast Butler paints between Jeffrey's death and, later, Val's, supports her case, which is both compassionate and convincing. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A concerned daughter--a science writer and journalist--chronicles the contrasting deaths of her elderly parents.

Scribner, $25, hardcover, 9781451641974


The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football

by Jeff Benedict, Armen Keteyian

In The System, investigative journalists Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian have written an explosive book about America's most popular sport. In 2012, Johnny Manziel ("Johnny Football") was on his way to a Heisman (his star now tarnished by an autographs-for-money mini-scandal; the NCAA tarnished by benching him for a mere half game); the child abuse sex scandal at Penn State University blew up; Ohio State was "bruising" its way to an undefeated season while barred from competing in a bowl game; dozens of schools were on probation for academic cheating and money shenanigans. Major conference realignments meant a bigger share of TV revenue but eroded the trust and friendships college presidents and athletic directors had fostered for decades. And "student-athletes" are still essentially slaves, working an 11-month-a-year job with the benefits of season-ending injuries and long-term brain damage.

Benedict and Keteyian write with depth, insight and graceful prose ("long, languid Louisiana athleticism"). They leaven the scandalous (and merely eyebrow-raising) with the glory they allude to in their subtitle--the coaches who care about their guys, who actually want them to graduate and thrive; the players for whom football may be the only thing to save them; the college presidents who make difficult decisions, knowing that football revenue benefits more than football. In Ricky Seals-Jones, we meet an upstanding, outstanding honor student, a new touchstone for recruiting madness: $600,000 offered (and refused) under the table. And Ezekial Ansah from Ghana, who asked for a walk-on at BYU, having never played football or lifted weights. Two years later, he got a scholarship and is now a pro player.

This book is definitive and, even better, as addictive as the sport it covers. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Discover: A fittingly hard-hitting account of college football--the money, the cheating, the pain and the magnificence.

Doubleday, $27.95, hardcover, 9780385536615

Children's & Young Adult

The Year of Billy Miller

by Kevin Henkes, illus. by Kevin Henkes

Kevin Henkes, master at conveying the interior life of a child, here introduces Billy Miller, who begins second grade "worried that he wouldn't be smart enough for school this year." Billy has good reason: when his new baseball cap flew off during a visit to the Jolly Green Giant statue, Billy leaned over the guardrail to catch it and wound up in the hospital when he fell and hit his head. Later at home, Billy overhears his mother tell his father that she's worried that "down the line something will show up. He'll start forgetting things."

Henkes's characters always solve their own problems. Billy confides his worry to his teacher, and she tells him he's smart: "That one word said in Ms. Silver's voice made him feel as if he were filled with helium like a balloon and might rise off the floor." In each of four sections, Billy has a conflict to resolve with the most important people in his life: his teacher, his father, his three-year-old sister and his mother. Henkes's incisive writing gets to the heart of a second-grader's thoughts, hopes, worries and dreams. Billy grows from being someone who reacts before he thinks to someone who can sit quietly with his emotions. The spare language leaves room for children to read between the lines of what Billy says and does. They will close this book with renewed confidence that if Billy can steer his way through his life at home and school, they can, too. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Kevin Henkes's latest novel, which gets to the heart of second-grader Billy Miller's thoughts, hopes, worries and dreams.

Greenwillow, $16.99, hardcover, 240p., ages 8-12, 9780062268129

The Fantastic Family Whipple

by Matthew Ward

Eleven-year-old Arthur Whipple, one of 13 children in the famously record-breaking Whipple family, is not the fastest. Or the slowest. Or the shortest or tallest or anything-est.

In fact, the "extraordinarily ordinary" Arthur is well on his way to a record-breaking number of failed attempts at world records, painstakingly logged by his ever-disappointed father. It seems Arthur will never be immortalized in Grazelby's Guide to World Records and Fantastic Feats: even as his older brother Simon is attempting "Longest Continuous Time Playing an Accordion" in the bedroom next door, Arthur can't even manage "Longest Time Without Sleeping." Still, as a rash of disasters plagues the Whipples--from a near-deadly giant French toast incident to a violently explosive birthday cake--it is Arthur who steps up with record-breakingly good instincts. The story of his courage and "hopelessly decent" conduct in the face of "bitter failures, terrifying encounters, and horrific catastrophes" will have readers cheering for the likable underdog.

While the premise and plot of this action-packed novel are as wild, elaborate and appealingly ridiculous as rhinoceros polo, the finely wrought, deadpan-funny narrative never strays too far from the unlikely hero and his struggle for acceptance. Along the way, readers will learn about curiosities from leap years to penny-farthings as they contemplate the existence of undomesticated hamsters, whether clowns really are evil, and how the heads of the World's Smallest Moose and the World's Largest Mouse might be roughly the same size. A superlatively giddy debut. --Karin Snelson, freelance writer and children's book editor

Discover: An absurdist, extravagant, whip-smart debut novel tailor-made for anyone who's spent hours poring over Guinness World Records.

Razorbill, $16.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 8-12, 9781595146892


Kids Buzz

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

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

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

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos

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

Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024


Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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