Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 18, 2013

William Morrow & Company: End of Story by A.J. Finn

From My Shelf

'Pass the Knowing Down'

With her insightful, candid book Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (Gotham), author and teacher Beth Kephart puts herself in the shoes of aspiring writers and lifelong learners. She describes the very first writing class she took and recalls of the experience, "It would make me want to find a way to pass the knowing down." This book suggests that she's found the way.

She shares with readers the texts that have taught her how to approach humor (such as Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods), childhood memories (The Liar's Club by Mary Karr; Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy) and boundaries: "With Just Kids, Patti Smith teaches how much room memoir can make to preserve the integrity (and privacy) of others," Kephart writes.

Kephart speaks candidly of her own journey, filled with growing pains and difficult life lessons, learned firsthand and by observing her students. Divided into four parts with large themes (e.g., "Raw Material," "Get Moving"), the book also includes subsections that allow readers to dip in and out and circle back as needed. She illustrates her points about perspective or setting with examples from fellow writers.

The first of her five memoirs was A Slant of Sun, a National Book Award Finalist; Kephart has also written young adult novels. She knows the difference between telling the truth and using truth as a kernel for fabricating fiction--and she asks her readers to parse these, too. She's astonishingly well read and explains precisely how each book she cites can serve as a guide along the way. "The job of a teacher, most of all (I think)," writes Kephart, "is to know what others have written and what another must read, right now, this second, in the midst of the long journey." --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Kate Bernheimer: A Lifelong Infatuation with Myth

photo: Brent Hendricks

Author and editor Kate Bernheimer has come up with a worthy successor to the World Fantasy Award-winning anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me: Forty New Fairy Tales. Her new book, xo Orpheus: Fifty New Myths (Penguin, $18 paperback), is a visceral, many-faceted collection of retold myths. Bernheimer shows a deft and cohesive touch in the stories she has chosen here; it is a beautiful, sometimes sad and harrowing collection. Her books include the novel trilogy The Complete Tales of Ketzia Gold, The Complete Tales of Merry Gold and The Complete Tales of Lucy Gold; the story collection Horse, Flower, Bird; and the children's book The Girl in the Castle Inside the Museum. Bernheimer is the founder and editor of the literary journal Fairy Tale Review and teaches in the MFA program at the University of Arizona.

What was your first encounter with myth? Do you remember a particular collection you loved or experience you had that resonated with you?

As a reader, I fell in love with mythology through the iconic D'Aulaires's Book of Greek Myths--the illustrations were so mysterious and grown up and scary. I pored over that volume. And at a young age, I discovered Edith Hamilton's Mythology, which I read cover to cover many times. I thought of it no differently than I thought of the Audubon field guide to birds of North America I also had by my bedside. The myths were that real to me--still are, really. I wouldn't have been surprised had I looked out my suburban window and seen a Pegasus among the American crows.

Myths and retold myths are good stories, but they can be so much more. In your foreword to xo Orpheus, you note that myths resonate so much with modern audiences because we've lost our sense of the sacred.

Certainly there are people and movements that try to maintain a sense of the sacred, but these are isolated exceptions to the presiding ontology of the 21st century that privileges the human species above all other forms of life, real and imagined. There can be little room for the sacred in the Age of the Anthropocene.

Do you think this loss of myth and story is one reason that young readers (and others) connect so passionately with tales of wizards and vampires?

Yes--most young readers have not fallen from wonder. As small and often powerless creatures, they easily accept fictional worlds where power lives in strange places, and where bad luck and good luck are not always logically or fairly distributed.

How did this volume come together? Were there any guidelines you gave the authors?

I invited all of the authors whose stories appear in the book to write a new work of prose based on what I referred to as "an old myth," and then I went on to establish that they could also work from a myth trope, a mythological character, a particular version of a particular myth or a favorite mythology book. All of the stories were written based on that invitation to myth. I wanted to see what "mythology" meant to as many writers as I could include in the book, as a way to see what "mythology" might comprise to contemporary authors--I wanted to see if there is something in the air about myth in this moment. I realized as the stories came in, often with apologies from the writer ("I'm sorry this is so dark"), that there is.

In your foreword, you also talk about how, earthy, real and visceral many of these tales are, that even though they are mythic they are very much of the moment. Did any stories surprise you more than others?

Thank you so much for noticing this. I felt the same way as I read the manuscripts. I was genuinely surprised by all of the stories--the down-to-earth quality of the writing was lyric and new. I felt a deep connection, emotionally, to the writers, most of whom I never have met--and to the old myths, which I was reading and researching in tandem. It was a profound experience, truly. I was in conversation with thousands of years of literature and 49 incredible current-day authors for around 11 months, around the clock--it affected my entire existence. My students heard about myths in the classroom; my nine-year-old daughter read them with me at bedtime.

What was it like working with a publishing house like Penguin?

My experience with Penguin has been fantastic--my editor, John Siciliano, has an intrinsic respect, a reader's real pleasure, in the innovative art form of fairy tale and myth. He's been immensely supportive of my mad desire to gather as many voices together as I can, which means collecting writers who are usually "relegated" to genre alongside those marginalized in the avant garde alongside those who might be household names (but shunned by "literary" readers) with decorated literary writers... in the same volumes. Fairy tales and myths cannot be boxed, cannot be contained. Everyone I've worked with at Penguin has been a delight.

What place does myth and fairy tales hold in your writing and teaching life?

It might be easier to talk about the place that myth and fairy tales do not hold in my writing and teaching life--because my answer would be silent! As a professor of creative writing, I find my students at all levels, and working in all styles; I find their art form illuminated and strengthened by the unusual and identifiable techniques of mythic literature, which I so love to teach. My writing comes directly out of my lifelong reader's infatuation with fairy tales and myths. From this love, too, I began Fairy Tale Review to provide a home for diverse literary works from around the world.

What's your next creative endeavor?

I'm putting the finishing touches on a story collection called How a Mother Weaned Her Girl from Fairy Tales that will be published next year by Coffee House Press, which has been super supportive of my strange fairy ways, and I am working hard on a grim novel called Happy Hour--an excerpt of it called "Floater" has just been published as a beautifully designed chapbook by Origami Zoo Press. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

The Lion Seeker

by Kenneth Bonert

The epigraph to Kenneth Bonert's bold, ambitious debut novel, The Lion Seeker, comes from an 1884 report from Lithuania published in HaMelitz, a Hebrew journal. It describes a traveler going to South Africa "from our land, tired and weary of the oppressor." In Africa "he breathes a new life, a life of freedom and liberty, a life of wealth and honour." Here there is "no discrimination between a Hebrew and a Christian.... Every man can attend to his labours diligently and find a just reward for his toil." Perhaps.

The Lion Seeker deals with a mass exodus that few have heard about: in the late 19th and early 20th century, thousands of Jewish Lithuanians emigrated to South Africa in the hope of finding a new life. In Bonert's novel Abel Helger, a Lithuanian Jew from a shtetl in Dusat, arrived in the 1920s. The young man with a scuffling foot set up a modest watchmaking shop in Doornfontein, Afrikaans for "fountain of thorns." Later, his wife, the oddly veiled Gitelle, and their two children, Isaac and his sister, Rively, follow. On the day they left, Rively was quiet, Isaac was squirming. This bright five-year old, red-haired boy "hadn't stopped jerking and kicking from the second he came out of her."

In Cape Town Gitelle saw "human beings burned the color of coal or dark-brewed tea or cured leather." Johannesburg was two hot dry days north, pierced by that "red sun, a madman's glowering eyeball." They arrive at a self-made Jewish ghetto in the "baking dust of the deepest south." Abel has a shiksa girl to help with cleaning, cooking. "Is that what she calls it," Gitelle says; she fires her that afternoon and sets to work.

Isaac is our "hero" in this bildungsroman, but his mother, Gitelle, with the "dense power of her unmoveable being," is the most intriguing, the most mysterious. Behind her veil she is scarred, literally and figuratively--something happened in her past that she never talks about. Later, she saves enough money to have a procedure that gives her "half a mouth, half a scar." Burning her veil in the yard, she smiles at last.

One day she wields an axe on the couch that Abel's lazy, do-nothing friends always sit on, destroys it, chases them away. All the insults she has endured rip out of her in a fury; she calls them nochshleppers, kleps, kuylikers. Befitting a novel about many cultures, Bonert draws upon languages, words, phrases to help create his characters and their cultures, going back and forth from one to another: catty, moochoo, biltong, churuman, bladderfool, reinforcing his representation of the social complexity of individual worlds.

Isaac is Gitelle's Clever, "my boy, my beautiful," not a Stupid. She tells him he can't play with his friend Skots: "A Coloured is half of a Black. It's coffee in your blood. We are Whites. We are Jews but we are Whites here." People will try to stop you, but "you go forward and make and do." One day, Isaac brings home a puppy he took away from the Puppyman, who was going to kill it for food. Gitelle is furious: Where will they get the money for food, who will take care of it, this dirty animal makes diseases. "Nu, zog mir," she says. "Zog mir der richtike emes." So, tell me. Tell me the real truth. Isaac knows his mother is right--the dog has to go. "Today he's done like a Stupid." Isaac does her bidding, and continues to do so, with an unrelenting desire to please her, bring her family here, build her a house they can all live in together.

He goes to high school, which he hates. He lusts after a female teacher; one day at school he's caught masturbating with her nearby; he's expelled. Abel is mad; Gitelle says Isaac can work, earn money. Like Bellow's Augie March, Isaac ventures forth and begins his adventures in this complex world.

Always the entrepreneur, as a young boy he sold cold soda to drivers, but the lack of a license ended that. He takes a job supervising Black movers but another money-making plan he concocts backfires. He learns how to repair cars and partners with a schemer to sell scrap metal. Then he meets and falls in love with an upper-class English girl, always striving for more. The Second World War looms and Gitelle fears for her family in Lithuania, while Isaac is fearful of Nazi sympathizers in their midst.

The Lion Seeker is a powerful tale, beautifully told. Bonert's prose demonstrates sureness and confidence. At more than 500 pages, it's a long tale, and compelling. Mingling comedy and sadness, Bonert creates a huge world filled with many memorable characters. Like other great Jewish immigration epics, this novel has plot twists, surprises and unexpected revelations. He also posits a brooding mystery that hides in the dark. When you live for a while with Isaac--his family and his friends, in his South African world--you will come to appreciate Bonert's accomplishment, how he has been able to bring us along, entertain us, and move us in an authentic way that only a skilled writer can. --Tom Lavoie

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, hardcover, 9780547898049

Kenneth Bonert: Balancing Act

photo: Richard Dubois

Kenneth Bonert's fiction has appeared in McSweeney's, Grain and the Fiddlehead, and his journalism has appeared in the Globe and Mail, the National Post and other publications. His story "Packers and Movers" was shortlisted for Canada's Journey Prize. Born in South Africa, Bonert is the grandson of Lithuanian immigrants. He lives in Toronto.

Prior to this novel you wrote short stories. How did they prepare you to write your first novel?

When I began to write fiction, I wrote many short, fantastical, allegorical pieces in the style of Kafka. I experimented with language and form; some of these came close to being published but ultimately were not. I gradually began to write longer, more realistic stories drawn more directly from my own life's experiences. This wasn't a conscious or strategic decision, just a progression that flowed naturally from the work.

The first story I published was about a Jewish family leaving South Africa, set in the late '80s. I think the story worked because the characters were very real to me; the story showed how wider political forces were squeezing one family, moulding the life of the young protagonist. It had a harsh energy and raw feel to it that I liked. I had become very interested in voice and dialogue and I began to see the potential in making use of the slangy mishmash of languages that I had grown up with. The success of that story--it was shortlisted for a major award--showed me that I was on the right track.

I published other South African pieces, then decided to stretch into new territory with a novella set in Bosnia during the war there in the mid-'90s. (I had visited the conflict as a reporter for a small Canadian newspaper.) All of this short fiction helped to build up my capacity to tackle a novel in the same way that running progressively longer distances can prepare a jogger to take on a marathon. It built up my patience and resolve, and helped to shore up my confidence that the work I was interested in doing could find an audience.

The novel is huge, coming in at some 550 pages. When you started out did you think it would end up being that long?

The original idea that I had for the novel was a kind of triptych: the first part would be set in Lithuania and would feature a character who dies there; the second part would be a character who emigrates; and the last would be about the new generation born in South Africa.

As I worked on this, I found the characters had more and more to say, events and insights accumulated, and the story expanded until it was too big for a single book. So I thought of a trilogy of novels. I wrote the first novel of this projected trilogy, set in the shtetl of Dusat in Lithuania, but was not satisfied with it. Then I worked on the emigration story and began to write about a certain Isaac Helger. I struggled for a time to find his voice, but once I tried the present tense he came alive on the page to me and soon became the dynamic centre of the entire project, which coalesced into a single novel, The Lion Seeker.

The work I'd done on the shtetl novel was not wasted: it gave me depth and background, and an interesting way to render Yiddish into English. This background became the substance of Isaac's story, a secret past that he discovers as we advance with him through the narrative.

I don't think I had any particular length in mind, though I was conscious that it was becoming a long book as I wrote it. I think as long as the narrative is well-paced and suspenseful, as long as the writing holds up and draws the reader forward, a long book can only be a bonus. (Also it's perhaps worth noting that the length of pages can be a slightly misleading measure: a book as dialogue-heavy as The Lion Seeker, for example, contains a lot of white space.)

Stylistically, one of the fascinating things about the book is your use of many languages, terms, and phrases. Did it present any particular challenges?

South Africa is a country with 11 official languages, not to mention the multitude of tongues spoken by immigrants, present and past (such as Yiddish). One of my main aesthetic goals for The Lion Seeker was to find a unique way to capture the authentic feel and sound of South African speech in all of its many idioms and vernaculars.

A lot of South African literature, I have found, uses a kind of highbrow British-accented speech, and I wanted to break with that and get to the gritty everyday slang of ordinary people. I wanted to stick with the authentic terms and to capture the way that people, particularly emigrants, glide between the various dialects. The challenge was to pull that off without becoming opaque or cryptic. I worked a long time at getting this right.

I chose to use long dashes instead of quotation marks as direct speech markers in order to visually demonstrate this fluid movement between languages. Also, with no quotation marks to break up the text there is less of a separation between translated words and direct speech. It has always been interesting to me that language, like water, has a way of flowing around obstacles between people, so that even though ethnic groups were ostensibly segregated in South Africa, the speech of everyday life tended to argue against the legitimacy of this apartness.

A lot of the dialogue in The Lion Seeker is translated Yiddish. I wanted to find an interesting way to capture the flavour of the original without sounding clichéd. I had in mind something akin to that which Ernest Hemingway had accomplished in For Whom The Bell Tolls where the decorous, formal feeling of Spanish is retained in the English translation (sometimes by being quite literal, using thee and thou, for example). John Hersey in the novel The Wall had also done some interesting translating of Yiddish that made me alive to other possibilities. I was able to refine my own method during the early novel draft that was set wholly in a Lithuanian shtetl.

Is your main character, Isaac Helger, autobiographical? Can you talk a little about your Jewish heritage and the Lithuanian connection as it relates to the novel?

I grew up in a household that included my late grandmother, a woman born in 1901 in the village of Dusat in Lithuania, who later emigrated to South Africa with her two young boys. Bohbee, as we called her, spoke only Yiddish. I was close to her, and grew up steeped in her nostalgic stories of the old country. The village, with its frozen lakes and snow-covered forests, always seemed to me, sitting with her in our suburban garden under the hot African skies, to be a fairy-tale kind of place, not quite real but entirely fascinating. Part of my motivation for writing this book was to research the reality of what Dusat had been, to compare the facts to the mythological village that existed in my imagination

I also grew up listening to my late uncles, who would visit my grandmother every Sunday without fail. They had both dropped out of school and come up poor in Johannesburg, both eventually becoming businessmen in the auto industry. In fact, the autowreck company that one of them founded is still in operation under the family name in Johannesburg today, though he sold it a long time ago.

I think this latter uncle in particular made a profound impression on me. He was a tough, forceful character who had fought in the Second World War and worked as a panelbeater before starting his own body shop. Some of the inspiration behind the character of Isaac Helger can certainly be traced back to him.

The complex portrait you paint of Gitelle, Isaac's mother, is superb. Where did she come from? How difficult was it to bring her to life, the good and the bad?

Gitelle was a character that was entirely invented.

The Yiddish-speaking grandmother that I had in real life was a very gentle and loving soul, sweet-natured and soft-spoken, a woman who was always baking treats for her grandkids. When it came to creating a mother figure for Isaac Helger, I decided to form a character who was the exact opposite of my grandmother. However, in early drafts I found this woman to be too flat and nasty to be believable. I had to let go of any kind of a scheme that I had, and instead allow Gitelle to emerge organically from the scenes I was writing, from the history I had made for her, the life she had been through.

In the end, writing the last chapter in which she appears was emotional for me; the character had acquired enough depth that she was alive, and I was full of sympathy and sadness for her predicament.

What do you want to achieve with this book?

I think overall with The Lion Seeker I want to achieve a balance between serious insight and poetic expression on the one hand, and telling a ripping good story that will completely absorb the reader on the other. I think my literary ideal is to try to achieve a perfect combination of these two impulses.

What about the book's literary influences? Is there some of Saul Bellow's Augie March here, or some Robert Stone? Did any South African authors, like Nadine Gordimer (her father was a watchmaker from Lithuania, just like Isaac's father) influence you and the writing of this novel?

The Lion Seeker perhaps represents a mixing of different literary lineages, an attempt to produce something unique that has not been done before by taking more familiar stories and giving them a new twist.

The Jewish-American story has a long and wonderfully distinguished tradition that I admire. Writers such as Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, Cynthia Ozick, Mordechai Richler (Canadian), Budd Schulberg, Isaac Bashevis Singer and others, have produced a body of work that at its best crackles with verbal energy, sardonic humour and exuberant intelligence.

But The Lion Seeker concerns a different Jewish experience. An African one. I wanted to borrow the focus of these other writers in order to bring to life the Jewish community that I come from, a community that has not previously been represented in literature. I wanted to bring to literature a new kind of character, tough African Jews, sharing the same Ashkenazi background as more familiar characters yet owning profound differences, too--an exotic branch of the Jewish family tree.

Most of all, I wanted to try to create a main character in Isaac Helger that would be so unforgettably vivid and memorable that he could transcend the book and become known as a unique figure in literature in his own right.

I would say compared to South African literary antecedents, The Lion Seeker represents a break with Southern African writers who have over the past decades been concerned almost exclusively with the politics of racial oppression. (Writers such as Doris Lessing, J.M. Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, all of whom have won the Nobel Prize.) Now that apartheid is on the scrap heap of history where it belongs, it seems to me there exists a new cultural space for South African writers to tell other kinds of stories, and the Jewish experience in South Africa is the one that I've chosen to go back and to explore. Not that the politics of race are avoided--that would be impossible--but they form only one element (albeit a major one) of Isaac's story.

As a writer, are there some books that you reread regularly to prime your creative juices, or just because you love them?

There are many that I'll pick up and dip into for just that reason. Tolstoy's short novels and Hemingway's short stories share a certain quality of flawless truthfulness for me that brings me back to them time and again. There are also some big books that I read when I was younger that bring back a good feeling when I read them again now--James Jones's Go to the Widow-Maker is one of them. John Updike's Rabbit Redux and Rabbit at Rest are two more. Robert Stone's A Flag For Sunrise always seems to have the power to draw me in. Don Delillo's End Zone is a short one, but lovely indeed to dive through.

What's next for you?

I'm polishing a collection of short fiction, and finishing a draft of my next novel. --Tom Lavoie

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

Nobel Winners; Jaw-Dropping Photos of Women Reading

To celebrate Alice Munro's Nobel Prize in Literature, the Huffington post recommended "13 past Nobel Prize in literature winners you must read."


"Women who love books too much. Or not enough. We can't tell," Buzzfeed observed in showcasing "13 jaw-dropping stock photos of women reading."

GPS for readers; The Business Insider featured a map showing "the most famous book set in every state," and noted that whether "you come from Florida, New York, Texas, or any other state, reading a book set there can make you feel a warm nostalgia for that beloved place."


The Huffington Post offered "7 unconventional reasons why you absolutely should be reading books."


Oxford Dictionaries book quiz: "Can you recognize these classic last lines?"

Sleeping Bear Press: Junia, the Book Mule of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, illustrated by David C. Gardner

Book Review


More Things in Heaven and Earth

by Jeff High

Fresh out of medical school at Vanderbilt, Luke Bradford reluctantly takes up a post as the town doctor in Watervalley, Tenn. Though he longs for a research job at a prestigious hospital, Luke's extensive student loan debt and his small-town heritage propel him toward tiny, unsophisticated Watervalley. What he finds there--including a sharp-tongued housekeeper, a bitter recluse with a keen intellect and a muddy, affectionate stray dog--is both more challenging and more charming than he expected.

More Things in Heaven and Earth draws on Jeff High's medical experience in its deft portrayal of Luke's profession, with scenes ranging from infant vaccination to the resuscitation of a local farmer whose heart stops in the clinic's waiting room. Readers gradually learn Luke's history as he struggles to find his place in Watervalley, longing for connection but not willing to set down roots. Several comedic moments (some of them veering into slapstick) and a few not-so-dark town secrets provide relief from Luke's routine of seeing patients, until a baffling flu epidemic upends his life and leaves him both exhausted and determined to help his new community.

Though High's forays into Luke's inner life are often clumsy, even clichéd, his twin strengths lie in drawing likable, recognizable small-town characters and providing just enough medical detail in the clinic scenes. Watervalley is reminiscent of Jan Karon's Mitford or James Herriot's Yorkshire, and High's debut novel sets the stage for an enjoyable new series. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: The story of a reluctant small-town doctor in rural Tennessee makes for a charming debut.

NAL Trade, $15, paperback, 9780451419262

Blood a Cold Blue

by James Claffey

The stories in James Claffey's Blood a Cold Blue are very short--most less than two pages long. A few are just a paragraph; some composed of a single, winding sentence. Each is a separate, fully realized morsel, and each is better than the last. It's hard to know where to pause for breath, but read them all at once and you run the risk of rushing past the luscious, inspired sentences and riveting imagery.

Many of the stories take place in Claffey's native Ireland. Others are set in his adopted home of California, or somewhere very much like it. In the U.S., Elvis's voice screeches from the radio and summer is "rippled and barbaric." The American stories have a bright, grotesque edge to them, distinct from the shimmering, surreal wonder of the Irish world that Claffey has "known and forgotten now, all this life-long later." His writing feels deeply autobiographical, and his narrators' voices ring with a hard-earned history. These are stories to savor and devour.

Claffey's lilting, circuitous prose blends an almost conversational tone with a Joycean attention to the malleable beauty of the written word. In "Ireland in Four Acts," he writes of "a cabin in Sligo, brass tub, the shining carapace of an old typewriter." A nameless writer will sit there and "vote for meaning, tap the ampersand." Claffey himself is in the business of "voting for meaning," of describing the joy and horror of life's bruised and bristling underbelly. --Emma Page, bookseller at Wellesley Books

Discover: A compelling, at times unsettling short story collection combining Irish and American literary sensibilities.

Press 53, $14.95, paperback, 9781935708919

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Necromancer's House

by Christopher Buehlman

Christopher Buehlman (Between Two Fires) has given readers a spine-tingler in The Necromancer's House, wrapped in dark magic and a touch of folklore.

When the sexy but murderous rusalka (a Slavic water nymph) in the lake beside Andrew Blankenship's house claims a Russian widower as her latest victim, she draws an ancient and unstoppable evil down upon Andrew and his closest friends. Having spent the last few years in relative comfort, teaching witchcraft to a woman he met in AA and secretly loves, Andrew has more practice with youth spells and speaking to dead celebrities through VHS tapes than the magical artillery he'll need to survive a battle with a witch straight out of legend. To make it through the coming confrontation alive, he'll need to face his present, his past and the truth behind an entity he summoned and couldn't send back.

While Buehlman's chill-filled romp boasts entertainment value aplenty in the form of magical iPhone apps, deadly creatures and battles galore, its deeper layers explore the darker side of human nature--as all good horror must. Andrew's vices and vanity echo the imperfections that keep all of us from reaching our full potential, and an exploration of body-snatching echoes the loss of self that frightens everyone. Smart and scary, this seamless blend of horror and urban fantasy will satisfy thrill-seekers at Halloween--or any other time of year. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A modern-day warlock must find the strength to battle an ancient evil in Buehlman's atmospheric blend of horror and urban fantasy.

Ace, $25.95, hardcover, 9780425256657

Ancillary Justice

by Ann Leckie

Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice is a large, complex space opera with a brilliant take on identity and gender. All characters are described as "she," though several of them are expressly male, as the language of the far-future Radchaai does not distinguish between genders. Leckie builds a vibrant and colorful universe, inhabited by diverse human cultures and populations; nothing less of a setting would match the masterfully told plot that spans thousands of years, with an engagingly conflicted--and somewhat alien--character at its core.

One Esk, part of the sentient spaceship Justice of Toren, has a problem. As Breq, a foreign traveler on a secret mission, she has to avoid detection while facing overwhelming odds. The only surviving ancillary body of the ship mind, One Esk must somehow function as an individual, yet is unable to trust even the Radchaai emperor who may not have the citizens' best interests at heart. One Esk's only remaining task is one of vengeance, and perhaps even she is unaware of the reasons for it. And why, in the midst of all this, she chooses to help a minor captain from her earlier life is as confusing to her as her apparent need to sing all the time.

Leckie's debut novel introduces a fresh voice to "hard" science fiction, one that will continue with the next two planned novels in this series. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A stunning, fast-paced debut set within a far-flung spacefaring empire in desperate need of a conscience.

Orbit, $15, paperback, 9780316246620

Biography & Memoir

Saffron Cross: The Unlikely Story of How a Christian Minister Married a Hindu Monk

by J. Dana Trent

Dana Trent grew up in small-town Baptist churches and was ordained as a minister at the age of 21. She sometimes struggled with her faith, but her experience and worldview were solidly Christian. When she signed up with an online dating site, she could hardly imagine being matched with someone from a different background, and was astonished to be introduced to a former monk--a Hindu monk, at that.

Saffron Cross is Trent's account of the early years of her relationship with her husband, Fred, who had learned that while the monastic life didn't suit him, the spiritual practices of Hinduism certainly did. Learning to communicate across the gulf between their belief systems adds another layer to the everyday challenges of newlywed life, and at times Dana wonders whether they can make their interfaith marriage work without compromising their respective values. Eventually she realizes that her Christian spiritual journey is enriched, not diminished, by the influence of her husband's Hinduism.

Trent's story is one in which the personal is not so much political as it is interdenominational, and in the widest possible way. In Saffron Cross, she introduces readers to the Hindu beliefs and practices she has learned through Fred, and explores how they have reshaped and strengthened her own Christianity. Saffron Cross is not an interfaith marriage handbook, but as Trent relates how she and her husband have made their relationship work, it develops into a genuinely inspiring and enlightening story. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: The unusual spiritual journey that results when a Southern Baptist minister marries a devout Hindu.

Fresh Air Books, $16, paperback, 9781935205166

Current Events & Issues

Thank You for Your Service

by David Finkel

In The Good Soldiers, Washington Post writer David Finkel documented the lives of the men of Infantry Battalion 2-16 during a 15-month tour along the front lines in Baghdad. In Thank You for Your Service, Finkel continues to shadow the men as they return to the United States and battle post-traumatic stress disorder while struggling to reintegrate into domestic life. Finkel even follows the men into their homes and introduces the wives who deeply yearn for the men they knew and married before the deployment.

As Thank You for Your Service unfolds, the irony between promise and reality is never lost. The men arrive home to an overtaxed care system, a life of pills and uncertainty about the future. Finkel manages to earn enough trust from the soldiers to slip into the minutiae of their daily lives, observing and recording an exceptional narrative of veterans' disintegration within the throes of PTSD. The soldiers' personal struggles are a searing indictment of the existing support infrastructure and the toll that diminishing prospects have on shell-shocked families struggling to survive. If bitterness, stigma and shame are the sentiments greeting the soldiers' return from war, Finkel forces us to consider an alternative: that gratitude be returned in equal measure to the sacrifices they have given for the protection of our freedoms and for the liberties we continue to enjoy. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A heartbreaking portrait of soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan coping with PTSD as they try to reintegrate into society.

Sarah Crichton/FSG, $26, hardcover, 9780374180669

Health & Medicine

Disease-Proof: The Remarkable Truth About What Makes Us Well

by David Katz

David Katz is trying to change U.S. culture--one body at a time. As an expert in chronic disease prevention and weight management, Katz (The Way to Eat et al.) knows preventive medicine begins with changing our habits. Disease-Proof focuses on guiding readers through concrete, attainable changes in diet and exercise: "lifestyle as medicine... no prescription required!" Katz also debunks the idea that our destiny is determined by our genes, believing they indicate only a possibility of risk that can be reduced by as much as 80% through healthy habits.

However, instead of emphasizing willpower, Katz believes we need more skill-power. He and his colleagues at Yale's Prevention Research Center have developed a "pressure system model" of behavior management that takes people's motivation and resistance to change into account. "If you want to change your habits, one approach is to try really, really hard," Katz writes. "The other is to follow the rules until that external discipline becomes internal discipline," transforming the healthy actions into "part of your personal skillset."

Each chapter begins with a challenge--such as not recognizing what healthy eating is--and describes the "right response" (learning to love foods that love us back), and "relevant skills" (portion control), after which Katz provides a to-do list focused on making the right choice easy. Even health-conscious readers would benefit from the fresh perspective on diet and exercise provided in Disease-Proof. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Dr. Katz believes we can overcome any obstacle to better health if we apply the right strategies and resources.

Hudson Street Press, $25.95, hardcover, 9781594631245

Reference & Writing

The Horologicon: A Day's Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language

by Mark Forsyth

Are you lying awake before dawn, worrying about the day to come? Old English had a word for that: uhtceare. If your worries are too big, you may egrote, or feign sickness in order to avoid responsibility, and stay in bed, browsing Mark Forsyth's Horologicon.

Arranged in the chronological order of the average day, Forsyth's clever tome gathers dozens of the most poetic forgotten words in the English language. From the moment you throw on your pantofles (slippers) and stare blearily at yourself in the tooting-glass (mirror), through your morning aristology (the study of breakfast), the afternoon amell (lunch hour) and the doldrums in which your work is done frobly (indifferently well) at best, Forsyth offers a pitch-perfect way to describe your day.

Perhaps the most delightful element of The Horologicon is that, in addition to presenting some of English's most onomatopoeically apt and wonderfully versatile "lost words," Forsyth comments on their potential uses in ways that range from humorous to downright silly. Happily he does more than just list words like latrinogram (a rumor started in a lavatory), since most of us have a use for such terms, whether we care to admit it or not. After a trampoose (commute) through The Horologicon, few readers will see an ordinary day in quite the same way again. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: A witty, lighthearted collection of "lost" English words, organized to run the course of an extraordinarily verbose day.

Berkley, $16, paperback, 9780425264379


Swoop: Poems

by Hailey Leithauser

After reading just two or three poems from Swoop, Hailey Leithauser's debut poetry collection, it's easy to see why this gathering of sleek, precise verse won the Poetry Foundation's Emily Dickinson First Book Award. The talent and craft exhibited here is cause for sheer glee. Leithauser has the rare ability to assemble phrases in such a way that the reader not only enjoys her facility with language but instantly recognizes the world depicted in her words, as her imagery clicks into perfect place.

Leithauser's agility of expression and biting sense of humor shine through, whether in a vignette of a discarded lover merrily torturing a voodoo doll of her ex or the imagined thoughts of a scythe longing to give its wielder a sharp caress.

More than once, Leithauser offers interludes on words "From the Grandiloquent Dictionary," lengthy or rarely used terms she plays upon so nimbly that readers may not come away with a definition of the word, but they will nonetheless have its essence. For example, in "Katzenjammer," whose title is a German word for a cat's wailing that may also mean any discordant sound or hangover, she encourages readers:

"Think of the yowl of three senile felines.
Think of a buzzsaw's black, sauerkraut whine.
Imagine ten screeched, unleashed violins.
Imagine the dawn that follows the gin."

Unfettered by allegiance to a single poetic form, Leithauser also shows her willingness to embrace both traditional rhymed forms and more playful experimentation with long, narrow slivers of verse that trickle down the page in a stream of upbeat rhythm. Here's hoping this confident and deft collection is the first of many from a powerful wordsmith. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: This shrewd debut collection showcases Hailey Leithauser's precise and clever verse.

Graywolf Press, $15, paperback, 9781555976576

Children's & Young Adult

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

by Catherynne M. Valente, illus. by Ana Juan

At the start of this third book in Valente's Fairyland series, most readers will be just as eager as heroine September to find the way back to Fairyland and all of its marvelous and frightening things.

Alas, it is not to be, for on this adventure, September must go to the Moon. She first visits the town of Mercator with the cruel Blue Wind, where she learns a few secrets about money and is declared a Criminal and a Professional Revolutionary. Then, against her desires, September is on her way to the Moon in her beloved Model A Ford (who, as it turns out, is named Aroostook).

Many new friends aid September on her journey, and she discovers her mission may not be what she was told it was. And so, too, is the content of this third book different from the first two. September is, unknowingly, part of "the bustle of thirteen-year-olds becoming fourteen-year-olds," with all the confusion that implies. She rejoins her beloved A-Through-L, the Wyverary, and tangles again with her fate and her temper--but she also meets Ciderskin, the Yeti, and does battle with her self-identity and the choice of whether or not to fall in love. Though some readers may not be ready for the larger ideas tackled here, Valente's sumptuous writing fits readers of any age. For even as the tale grows darker, it is a pleasure to be immersed once more in the lives of the characters and places she so ably brings to life. --Stephanie Anderson, head of readers' advisory at Darien Library and blogger

Discover: Catherynne M. Valente's third book in what is fast becoming one of the best fantasy series of the 21st century.

Feiwel & Friends/Macmillan, $16.99, hardcover, 256p., ages 10-14, 9781250023506


by Brandon Sanderson

What if the supers from The Incredibles were real? But instead of fighting bad guys, they were the bad guys? That's the question posed by Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart, the first in a trilogy.

Ten years ago, David watched his father murdered by Steelheart in a bloody bank robbery. As an Epic superhuman, Steelheart was deemed invincible. But David saw the Epic bleed that day, and he's the only human alive who knows that Steelheart has a flaw. Now 18, David has spent the past 10 years studying the Epics and learning their weaknesses and their patterns. Every Epic has a distinct power, but David has discovered that every Epic also has a fatal flaw. He joins up with the Reckoners, humans who are the only armed insurgents foolish enough to challenge the Epics. David must convince the group he has a plan that will bring down the Epics one by one, until they can take on Steelheart.

Adult author Sanderson (the Wheel of Time series) delivers a thrilling YA debut. He creates interesting, multidimensional bad guys, and the good guys (especially David) evolve throughout the story. The author moves from battle to battle, deepening the characters as he goes. In a crowded space of dystopian adventures, Sanderson gives readers a fresh, exciting story fueled by adrenaline. This plot-driven fantasy with a sympathetic teen protagonist and a powerful love interest will lure even reluctant readers. It's a confection with enough high-tech gadgetry and action sequences to keep everyone entertained and waiting for more. --Nan Shipley, literary scout

Discover: Brandon Sanderson's YA debut is a fast-paced thrill ride and should appeal even to reluctant readers.

Delacorte, $18.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 12-up, 9780385743563

Ol' Clip Clop

by Patricia McKissack, illus. by Eric Velasquez

With the cadence of a true storyteller, Newbery Honor author Patricia McKissack (The Dark-Thirty) describes a haunting to rival the headless horseman, in time for Halloween and just right for a year-round fright.

It's Friday the 13th in October 1741 New England, and John Leep shuts his shop early in order to toss out his tenant, the widow Mayes. The thought makes him smile. "Smiling didn't come easy to a man like John Leep," writes McKissack, "He had a mean streak in him that ran the length of his long, thin body." Eric Velasquez depicts the landlord in a suspicious-looking posture, engulfed by dusk shadows. En route on his steed, John Leep hears someone in pursuit ("Clip. Clop. Clip. Clop"), yet finds no one behind him each time he turns around. Still, whenever he resumes his ride, he hears "the muffled sound of another horse's hooves."

McKissack's skilled pacing and eerie refrain build the tension as Velasquez deepens the darkness; only John Leep's stricken face and white ruffled collar and cuffs reflect the moonlight. At the door of the widow Mayes, the artist uses golden light to convey the woman's kindness as she hands over her rent. Leep's fear sends the money skittering across the floor. The suspense mounts as he retreats (Clippity-cloppity, clippity-cloppity, clippity-cloppity"), and readers can predict that justice will be done. Velasquez's final terrifying image will linger in readers' minds. This will be a favorite read-aloud all year long. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A frightful picture book read-aloud from master storyteller Patricia McKissack.

Holiday House, $16.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 6-9, 9780823422654


Author Buzz

Visions of Flesh and Blood:
A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium

by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Dear Reader,

Today is the release of VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, the Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium, and I am so excited that you finally get to see and read it!

I saw the love you had for Miss Willa, watched how following along with all the series twists and turns brought you joy, and thought... wouldn't it be nice to have a book to help with that, yet give even more new stuff?

So, my publisher and I came up with a plan. It included loads of stunning art commissions, strategic disclosures, and brand-new material. When it all came together, it was even better than I imagined.

VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD is so much more than a series bible. It's a journey and a work of art. A collector's item for sure!


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Visions of Flesh and Blood: A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
February 20, 2024


List Price: 
$7.99 e-book

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