Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Fright Night

With Halloween right around the corner, here are some goosepimply titles for readers from toddlers to teens.

Stephen Savage uses his trademark arresting graphic images to count down in Ten Orange Pumpkins, as a mummy and others make the pumpkins disappear one by one. Farmer Brown may not fancy Halloween, but his animals sure do, in Click Clack Boo! by Doreen Cronin. Betsy Lewin's watercolors portray the cow in a skeleton's cloak and the chicks dressed as ghosts; Duck (we won't give away his costume) precipitates the denouement. The stars of Five Little Monkeys Trick-or-Treat by Eileen Christelow pull a prank on Lulu, their baby-sitter, by switching their costumes, but the trick nearly costs them their treat.

Two standout read-alouds for a light fright: Can't Scare Me! by Ashley Bryan (reviewed below) and Ol' Clip-Clop by Patricia C. McKissack, illus. by Eric Velasquez. Pulling in the arts, the star of Crafty Chloe returns for Dress-Up Mess-Up by Kelly DiPucchio, illus. by Heather Ross, tailor-made for the child who loves to create costumes. Saint-Saëns's Danse Macabre by Anna Harwell Celenza, illus. by JoAnn E. Kitchel, describes how the composer created the perfect homage to the skeletons at rest in the Paris catacombs (includes a CD).

For early chapter book readers, Kylie Jean, Pirate Queen by Marci Peschke, illus. by Tuesday Mourning, proves that girls can pose as pirates, too; and in Captain Awesome Versus the Spooky Scary Noise by Stan Kirby, illus. by George O'Connor, the young caped crusader and his buddy overcome their fears. Joseph Delaney packs a big scare into a brief volume with The Ghost Prison, illustrated by Scott M. Fischer, set in the same world as his the Last Apprentice series and starring Billy Calder, whose first job is as prison guard on the night shift. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

Darrin McMahon: The History of 'Genius'

photo: Becki Rutta

Darrin McMahon is the Ben Weider Professor of History at Florida State University and the author of Enemies of the Enlightenment,on French opposition to the Enlightenment, and Happiness: A History, which explored the many definitions of the idea in different eras. His latest work, Divine Fury: A History of Genius (just published by Basic Books), is a comprehensive history of the many forms "genius" has taken, and sheds light on our modern views of the great intellects.

You write that "the truth is that we live at a time when there is genius in all of us, but very few geniuses to be found." Can you elaborate on this and how we've come to this point?

One of the themes I trace in the book is how the belief in the genius as the highest human type--a creature fundamentally different in kind from all others--was long in tension with a belief in human equality. Both beliefs emerged, paradoxically, in the same general period, the 18th century, when the genius rose to prominence as a new model of human perfection and when people like Thomas Jefferson declared that all human beings were created equal. Yet for a variety of reasons that I describe in the book, it was only after the Second World War that equality began to get the upper hand. We have grown less comfortable investing special individuals with exalted--even godlike--powers. Einstein was the last of the titans to be considered in this way, the genius of geniuses. Since his time, we have democratized and pluralized the concept in keeping with the thought that everyone has a genius for something. So now we face a situation in which a great many are afforded their 15 minutes of genius; we grant to all what was once concentrated in the majestic few. But a world in which all might aspire to genius is a world in which the genius as the exalted exception is dead.

You tell of Benjamin Franklin's mix of unease and pride at finding himself a "genius celebrity" and his punning on how, since dolls bearing his likeness were popping up everywhere, he was being "i-doll-ized." Is there anything similar to this "cult of genius" in modern life?

Well, as you know, we definitely have a cult of celebrity today, and it is true that genius and celebrity are frequently spoken of in the same breath in the media and popular culture. Think of Steve Jobs, who was definitely a celebrity and who is often described as a genius.

As your reference to Franklin suggests, the relation between celebrity and genius traces to the 18th century when the cult of genius was born and the word "celebrity" was coined in English and French. Contemporaries remarked on the "privilege of being known by people who don't know you," and Franklin and other geniuses like Jean Jacques Rousseau enjoyed that privilege, while at the same suffering its burdens in the form of prying eyes. Geniuses thereafter were frequently treated as celebrities. But there was something more to the adulation of genius than just the enthusiasm of the star struck. Geniuses were imagined as higher beings and regarded with a kind of veneration and awe that contemporaries themselves liked to a religion. Geniuses, if you like, served as a kind of modern saint.

This religion of genius flourished in the 19th and early 20th centuries and reached its apotheosis in Einstein. But after that, for reasons that I allude to above, the cult of genius fades. We may idolize our celebrity-geniuses today, but we no longer treat them as idols in the way the religion of genius made gods of men.

What lessons have you taken from your research in promoting the stirrings of genius in children?

Really since the time of the genius's emergence as a new human paragon in the 18th century, most commentators have tended to assume that geniuses are born, not made. In other words, that genius is an inherent quality that cannot be learned or acquired. There were, it is true, always dissenters to this opinion, who emphasized that nurture was stronger than nature, and recently psychologists have given that view further credence, stressing the way in which early exposure and training--what my colleague, the psychologist Anders Ericcson, calls "deliberate practice"--gives the lie to the longstanding view that you either have genius or you don't.

That said, I should stress that I am not a psychologist or a specialist on the pedagogy of children. My research doesn't really touch on the question you ask. Personally, I do think that there are good reasons to be skeptical of the view that our aptitude or capacity for high achievement is solely a function of birth. But one thing that I would say based on my study of the history of genius is that parents would be well advised to avoid the term. The label "genius" does more harm than good. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo

Book Candy

Most Famous Book in Each State; Stephen King Films

Room for debate. Business Insider has an interactive map of the "most famous book set in every state."


For NPR's Three Books series, Ursula DeYoung, author of Shorecliff, opted for a little "Prohibition-era passion: Three '20s books on trailblazing loves."


Feeling discouraged? Buzzfeed showcased "20 brilliant authors whose work was initially rejected."


With the remake of Carrie hitting theaters soon, the Guardian posed a Stephen King film adaptations quiz.


Seven "unconventional reasons why you absolutely should be reading books" were offered by the Huffington Post.


An impressive selection of "beautiful library chairs for literary abodes" were on display at Flavorwire.

Great Reads

Now in Paper: October

Blasphemy: New and Selected Stories by Sherman Alexie (Grove Press, $17)
In this superb collection of 30 short stories by National Book Award-winner Sherman Alexie (The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian), many characters suffer mightily. Thanks to Alexie's singular sense of humor and reverence for the historical greatness in the Indian way of life, the stories rise above ennui and sadness with the touch of a poet: "It was so quiet, a reservation kind of quiet, where you can hear somebody drinking whisky on the rocks three miles away." Blasphemy reveals an artist in full command of his material and style, able to astonish and move us in story after story.

Christmas in Cornwall by Marcia Willet (St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99)
An Anglican convent in decline brings together a host of characters in Marcia Willett's Christmas in Cornwall, a novel that explores the implications of loss, the complexities of family and friendship and the need to feel loved. She has written a perfectly balanced ensemble piece, a gentle, moving story about faith and trusting in God's presence via the generosity of strangers, the love of friends and family and the miracle of Christmas.

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke (Harper Perennial, $15.99)
Attica Locke's debut novel, Black Water Rising, garnered prize nominations and a devoted readership. The Cutting Season is just as good. It's set in Louisiana on Belle Vie, a former plantation--now hosting weddings and historical reenactments--that has been anything but a "beautiful life" for many of its inhabitants over the centuries, from slaves and freed blacks to the white family that owns it today. Now it's the scene of a migrant worker's murder, which drives plantation manager Caren Gray to investigate, save a man falsely accused and examine her own life.

The Heart Broke In by James Meek (Picador, $16)
James Meek's smart and generous look at contemporary morality is the kind of novel to press into the hands of someone who asks, "Why read fiction?" Set mainly in Britain, Meek's novel revolves around brother and sister Ritchie and Bec Shepherd. The questions raised by their lives have the ring of soap opera, but Meek's wise and occasionally humorous treatment is anything but, as he steers his troubled protagonists through what Bec thinks of as the "vast, alien moral landscape," all the while relishing the pleasures of their outwardly successful lives.

Ratlines by Stuart Neville (Soho Crime, $15.95)
"Ratlines" refers to the underground network that helped Nazis escape Germany after World War II, one of which led to the Republic of Ireland, which remained neutral during the war. The year is 1963: President Kennedy is planning a visit to his ancestral country, and Nazi war criminals living there are being murdered. The nation's Minister for Justice orders Lt. Albert Ryan, an agent in the Directorate of Intelligence, to investigate the killings. In doing so, Ryan finds that the lines between right and wrong are muddled, and the only moral compass he can follow is his own.

The Round House by Louise Erdrich (Harper Perennial, $15.95)
Louise Erdrich's novel takes readers inside the mind of an Ojibwe man, who looks back as an adult on a formative experience of youth. When Joe Coutts's mother is raped, she knows who attacked her, but is unclear exactly where it took place, leaving unresolved the question of which law enforcement agency has jurisdiction over the crime. The tribal legal system that Joe studied and respected through his father, a tribal judge, has failed. This horror changes his life, and the only thing Joe knows for certain is that he must do something, although he does not realize what the pursuit of justice will do to him and his family.

The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot by Robert MacFarlane (Penguin Books, $18)
Robert Macfarlane's lyrical account of walking ancient paths stretches to encompass poetry, cartography, sailing, science, birds, beasts, mountain climbing, folklore and many other topics, and he proves a knowledgeable and fascinating guide in every aspect. He traces dozens of ancient paths on land and sea, beginning in Cambridgeshire, England, and eventually stretching from the Outer Hebrides to the Himalayas. He renders each place and its inhabitants (human and otherwise) in precise, vivid detail, while exploring how outer landscapes shape our inner journeys, both as we walk a landscape and long after we have left it.

Because I Said So!: The Truth Behind the Myths, Tales and Warnings Every Generation Passes Down to Its Kids by Ken Jennings (Scribner, $15)
Ken Jennings, who holds the record for the longest winning streak on Jeopardy!, is a quintessential trivia junkie with a knack and passion for disseminating nerdy truths. In Because I Said So!, he sets about debunking or proving 125 of the white lies parents innocently pass onto their offspring, applying scientific research to evaluate each one, like the myth of the poisoned Halloween candy (absolutely no reported instances, ever). Fast-talking and witty.

Sugar in the Blood: A Family's Story of Slavery and Empire by Andrea Stuart (Vintage, $16.95)
In this absorbing, evocative history of slavery in Barbados, Andrea Stuart passionately and cogently argues that sugar--"more than any other commodity in human history"--has "shaped our tastes, transformed our landscape and influenced our politics." For Stuart, the story of sugar is complex, painful and profoundly personal: like many others with Caribbean roots, she is descended from a wealthy sugar plantation owner and a female slave. Stuart has a historian's respect for truth, an economist's skill for incisive analyses and a novelist's flair for color and detail.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente, illus. by Ana Juan (Square Fish, $7.99, ages 10-14)
In The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, September--one of the best heroines to enter the worlds of fantasy in the last few years--made an impulsive and heartfelt decision to remove her own shadow, and it seemed to be a fine reflection on her character and little more. In this sequel, Valente forces September to grapple with the consequences of this choice after she finds her way back into Fairyland. The settings and characters will delight readers, with strong writing that will appeal to adults as much as children.

Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind by Valerie Hobbs (Square Fish, $6.99, ages 9-13)
If you're reading this, likely you once had a teacher who changed your life. Minnie McClary Speaks Her Mind celebrates one of those teachers, Miss Marks, as well as the girl who changes the most as a result. As tensions mount from a group of parents working to oust Miss Marks, as well as escalating bullying and racism, Minnie finds herself torn between her need to act in the face of injustice and her fear of being embarrassed. She realizes she must figure out the answers to some of Miss Marks's questions and say them out loud.

Book Review


The Best American Short Stories 2013

by Elizabeth Strout and Heidi Pitlor, editors

The Best American Short Stories anthology series began in 1978 and has featured a who's who of guest editors, including Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Raymond Carver and Stephen King. This year, Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge) dons the judge's robes to render her literary verdicts.

In the introduction, Strout tells us her choices "had a great deal to do with voice," that "sound... has authority." The subject matter of her 20 selections varies greatly: trips to A.A. meetings, aging parents who require care, job losses, mortgage crises, divorce, computers and cell phones in the classroom. There's Steven Milhauser's "A Voice in the Dark," about a boy first hearing the story of Samuel, or Jim Shepard's "The World to Come," about a farm wife's only friend, who's forced to move away. These are mundane topics--until a voice brings them to life. As a short story, moreover, "the ride is quicker, the response heightened." Nearly half of the anthology's selections come from just two magazines--six stories from the New Yorker, three from Granta--yet Alice Munro's story has a very different sound from the George Saunders selection, or Junot Diaz's, or Joan Wickersham's. (This book is so selective that stories from great authors like Ann Beattie, Harry Crews, Colum McCann and Paul Theroux didn't make the cut.) Winners all, to capture a reader's ear. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: The literary "Oscars" features 20 outstanding examples of the best of the best in American short stories.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, hardcover, 9780547554822

Mystery & Thriller

Death on Demand

by Paul Thomas

Paul Thomas's Death on Demand is a perfectly paced thriller, full of gangsters and gigolos and people with secrets to hide. Maori detective Tito Ihaka--"unkempt, overweight, intemperate, unruly, unorthodox and profane"--has been in disgrace for the last five years. His refusal to give up on a hit-and-run case, and his hassling of the victim's husband, Christopher Lilywhite, led to his exile from Auckland to the boonies of New Zealand.

Now Lilywhite is dying of cancer, and he wants to talk to Ihaka. Lilywhite confesses he hired a hitman to kill his wife. The only catch? The hitman approached him, and Lilywhite has no idea who he was. He gives Ihaka a list of potential suspects, including several bigwigs in New Zealand business and government.

Ihaka's about to go back to the country, leaving Lilywhite's case to a former colleague, when two bodies turn up--a man and a woman, each brutally beaten, each wearing only underwear. The overworked Auckland detectives are forced to accept Ihaka's help as the bodies keep piling up. Ihaka discovers a lot can change in five years: some of his former enemies are now suspiciously helpful, and some of his former pals now seem to have agendas of their own.

Thomas brings the New Zealand underworld vividly to life, and has created an irreverent, sympathetic protagonist in Ihaka. The detective's stubborn tenacity makes the reader root for him to put the pieces together and solve the case, before even more people die. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Paul Thomas and his books starring Maori detective Tito Ihaka are very popular in New Zealand; this story of a string of murders that baffle police and gangsters alike should attract American readers.

Bitter Lemon Press, $14.95, paperback, 9781908524171


Starry Night: A Christmas Novel

by Debbie Macomber

Debbie Macomber, author of more than 150 romance and women's fiction books, is back with Starry Night, a Christmas-themed story that will please her many fans.

Chicago newspaper columnist Carrie Slayton longs to write "real" news, but is having trouble breaking out of the society page. Fed up with her job and with living so far from her family in Seattle, Carrie gives notice. Then her editor offers her an amazing challenge: if she can find, and interview, the reclusive Finn Dalton--author of a bestselling survival handbook that's been topping the charts for months--he'll let her have any job she wants.

Carrie sets off for the Alaskan wilderness to track down Finn. She ends up not only finding him--and getting trapped in a cabin with him--but falling in love. Finn doesn't trust women, though, and he doesn't trust reporters; a female reporter is at the bottom of his list. Can Carrie overcome Finn's doubts and prove that she really does love him?

While Starry Night's conclusion is perhaps inevitable, Macomber gracefully weaves Carrie's and Finn's stories together, making the reader root for them to put aside their differences and find happiness. Perfect for the holiday season, Starry Night is a sweet little story of family and romance. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A sweet Christmas tale of love and connection between an ambitious journalist and a reclusive writer.

Ballantine, $18, hardcover, 9780345528896

Graphic Books

We Won't See Auschwitz

by Jérémie Dres, trans. by Edward Gauvin

In We Won't See Auschwitz, first-time author Jérémie Dres has created a gorgeous work of graphic nonfiction, recounting the search for his Jewish-Polish roots. One year after the death of his grandmother, Dres and his brother, Martin, embark on a week-long trip to Poland, with warnings from Parisian relatives about relationships with Poles, complicated by lingering anti-Semitism. Dres's first encounters in Warsaw bear out this observation, while interviews with assimilated Jews provide a deeper perspective on Judaism in post-World War II Poland, a slow-melting frost that Dres impersonally depicts in stark black-and-white poetic images.

Their emotions change when the brothers visit a Warsaw cemetery to view the graves of their great-grandparents. A trip to the ancestral shtetl in Żelechów reveals more neglect, fostering anger and resentment. Yet Dres finds glimmers of hope that spark optimism for Judaism's rebirth in Poland, including a Kraków festival that honors and embraces the nation's Jewish history, and the joyous sound of old Jewish music unfolding in dreamy, revelatory layers in a Kraków synagogue. "Our family had a narrow view of things," Martin remarks. 'What we just heard shines a spotlight on everything we didn't know. It's like tripping over a mound of dirt to find it swarming with ants."

Dres sees no point in visiting Auschwitz and its sad Holocaust past when he and his siblings are heirs to a rich pre- and postwar legacy. His story is one that should resonate with the many Americans who have rediscovered and seek to embrace Jewish roots beyond their grandparents' suffering. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A beautifully illustrated document of two Jewish brothers who visit Poland seeking their cultural heritage.

Self Made Hero, $22.95, paperback, 9781906838638

Food & Wine

Better Homes and Gardens Baking: More than 350 Recipes Plus Tips and Techniques

by Better Homes and Gardens

Even the most confident chef can feel a bit insecure when faced with the alchemy of baking. Fortunately, Better Homes and Gardens has created the "first, last, and only baking book you'll ever need." Before Better Homes and Gardens Baking reveals recipes, it comprehensively analyzes the role and function of ingredients as fundamental as flour. If baking powder and baking soda cannot be substituted for one another, why do they both turn up together so frequently in recipes that involve brown sugar? How is it that different combining techniques can produce such different textures from the same basic ingredients? Why is whole wheat flour rarely used alone--and why should it never be packed when measuring?  Baking reveals all.

Although the focus of Baking is clearly on creating tasty treats, the inclusion of health-conscious tips, from ways to lower the fat content to flour alternatives and heart-healthy oils, are valuable additions. Each section begins with an iconic recipe, and then highlights "Make-It-Mini" and "Make-It-Mine" alternatives that allow for customization. Every recipe is accompanied by preparation, baking and cooling times, along with mouth-watering, step-by-step photos. Common questions are answered throughout the book--how to frost a cake, when to grease a pan, how to convert cake recipes to cupcakes, etc. Baking unveils the mystery behind the chemistry of cooking. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: Anyone befuddled by baking will love Better Home and Gardens' comprehensive bible on the subject.

Better Homes and Gardens, $29.99, hardcover, 9781118453261

Biography & Memoir

The Investigator: Fifty Years of Uncovering the Truth

by Terry Lenzner

Terry Lenzner's career began in the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division in the 1960s, and has ranged from the Senate Watergate Committee through private legal practice to his own company, Investigative Group International. A lawyer by training, he found his passion in research and sleuthing. The Investigator reads like a Forrest-Gump-style catalogue of cases that have caught the public eye--from the murders of three civil rights workers in Mississippi, to the Harrisburg 7's federal case for antiwar activism, to Watergate, the Unabomber, Monica Lewinsky and the death of Princess Diana.

Lenzner's clients include governments, politicians, businessmen and celebrities; the resulting wide-ranging subject matter in this memoir accounts in part for its appeal. Even the tedious financial fact-checking of an investigation into the Trans-Alaska Pipeline is brought to life by Lenzner's passion. He gives character sketches of public figures he's known, debunks public perceptions of certain events and offers investigative tips along the way. He is concerned with the truth, not satisfying the client at any price, and shares anecdotes in which the two goals were irreconcilable.

Impressively, this seasoned investigator is also a fine writer. His story opens compellingly, giving background while simultaneously jumping right into the action. Although "this isn't meant to be a history book," Lenzner writes, The Investigator is an absorbing and intelligent sampling of American history, told in puzzles and--sometimes--solutions. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An investigator's caseload over the decades offers a captivating glimpse of the intersection of politics, celebrity and money in the U.S.

Blue Rider Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9780399160554


Novelty: A History of the New

by Michael North

It is generally taken for granted that "newness" is a positive and necessary quality--yet where does this assumption come from? And why is it so easily accepted? In Novelty: A History of the New, Michael North dissects and deconstructs the notion of newness. Beginning with issues of why and how we have considered the new throughout history, North stretches this question to include the existence of newness itself. If everything comes from something prior, is the concept of novelty even possible? Can something truly be new, or merely a case of recurrence or recombination?

North's specialty as a scholar is 20th-century modernism (Reading 1922 et al.), but Novelty begins with the ancients, taking the reader from Plato up to the popular culture of the recent past. It's a rigorous analysis, but simplified in a digestible and entertaining manner. In his discussion of art, he points out that the distinction between modernist art and that which followed it was based on the possibility of novelty and associated qualities such as authenticity and originality. "All of these were blown away like so much dust, it seemed," however, "when Andy Warhol promoted some Campbell's soup cans from the supermarket to the art gallery."

As academic works should, Novelty pushes continually into the theoretical implications of its subject. It is not enough to consider novelty--we must consider why we consider it, and how. Consequently, Novelty is a challenging exercise in meta-cognition, one that will leave readers' minds feeling flexed and strengthened. --Annie Atherton

Discover: An intricate and challenging history of the concept of novelty and its shifting prominence in our culture.

University of Chicago Press, $26, hardcover, 9780226077871

Reference & Writing

The Best American Infographics 2013

by Gareth Cook, editor

We are in the "golden age of infographics," claims Gareth Cook, editor of The Best American Infographics 2013. These visual representations of data and stories can be found on television, online and in print, used to represent everything from the most-discussed sports stars on ESPN to gun ownership rights by country.

Presented in full color, the 69 infographics Cook has selected are a testament to the power of visual storytelling. Some are elaborate bar graphs and charts, such as "The Four Kinds of Dog," which shows dog breeds grouped by their DNA profiles; others show one set of data in relation to another, such as "Gay Rights in the United States, State by State." Flow charts document everything from "How to Be Happy" to answers to the question, "Should I Check My Email?" An entertaining introduction from former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne catalogues the various approaches and presents the pros and cons of each, allowing readers to ask important questions about how and why each graphic interprets the data on hand.

Infographics allow designers to compress a lot of data and information into a small space, which makes these graphics best explored in small doses. Spread out over multiple readings, The Best American Infographics 2013 proves a testament to the power of visual storytelling--and is an invitation to readers to question the myriad graphics they inevitably encounter each day. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: With the newest addition to the annual Best American anthologies, information has never looked so good.

Mariner Books, $20, paperback, 9780547973371

Art & Photography

How Architecture Works: A Humanist's Toolkit

by Witold Rybczynski

In How Architecture Works, Witold Rybczynski's practiced eye roams freely from the weathered metallic skin of Frank Gehry's Disney Concert Hall to the simple seamless pipe railings of the emergency stairways in Rem Koolhaas's Seattle Public Library. He is equally perceptive on pilgrimages to masterpieces like Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater or Moshe Safdie's Crystal Bridges Museum, which sits "fragmented, self-effacing, nestled into the landscape."

Rybczynski's voice, honed over nearly 20 books on architecture and related subjects, is eloquent and free of polemics or prejudice. His goal is simply to discover "what makes a building memorable.... Why does this building touch us?" He organizes his "humanist's toolkit" according to basics of good design, starting with an idea and working through the site, plan, structure, skin and finally the details. Because Rybczynski includes only buildings he has visited personally, How Architecture Works is more a stroll with a knowledgeable friend than a vigorous workout with a trainer. When he stops in Golden Gate Park between the Renzo Piano California Academy of Sciences and the Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron de Young Museum, he notes the contrasts. Piano's "axial symmetry and the mirroring of forms provide a clear and simple sense of orientation," while the de Young "doesn't have an obvious structure, but it has character, and the fractured spaces evoke earthquakes and shifting tectonic plates."

With Rybczynski as our guide, we see what makes cool buildings cool. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A user-friendly tour of the ins and outs of great buildings by a great architectural writer.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 9780374211745


Dog Songs: Poems

by Mary Oliver

Dog Songs is a collection of new and favorite poems by renowned poet Mary Oliver. The 35 poems, plus one longer prose poem/essay that caps off this slender volume, revolve around dogs and all they mean personally to Oliver, touching as well upon more universal themes of the human-canine bond and how the companionship of dogs anchors people to the natural world.

John Burgoyne's pen-and-ink drawings mirror the unadorned language that makes Oliver's poetry both intriguing and accessible. Each poem contains poignant observations about the dogs that have enriched Oliver's life and work. Often in just a few, carefully chosen phrases, simple dog pleasures such as daily walks, frolicking in the grass, smelling flowers, chasing mice, darting ahead and going off leash depict a dog's ability to live joyfully in the moment. These vivid metaphors will inspire readers to seek a similarly vibrant richness of life.

Oliver's poems about her beloved dog Percy--named after the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley--are succinct and clever. Percy's evolution is creatively explored with insight, compassion and humor as he mischievously eats books, has a rendezvous before he's neutered and even keeps the author company while she does her income taxes. "I am trying to live... the examined life," she writes. "But there are days I wish there was less in my head to examine." Dogs, in their carefree, unconditional friendship and adoration, offer Oliver--and readers--a hopeful respite. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Thought-provoking poems about dogs and the role they play in enriching the human experience.

Penguin Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9781594204784

Children's & Young Adult

Can't Scare Me!

by Ashley Bryan

Children will be chanting along with the "willful, thrillful child" at the center of this folktale about a brave boy who uncovers a healthy dose of fear.

The boy hero of this picture book, musically retold by Ashley Bryan (Beautiful Blackbird) from a collection of folklore from the Antilles, has worn out his parents, who send him to Grandma. The boy's grandmother holds him close and tells him the story of a two-headed giant and his three-headed brother, who come out after dark. The boy pays her no mind. He plays the flute ("Too-de-loo-de-loo-de-loot!") and sings a powerful song, "Tanto, tanto, I'm wild and I'm free./ Grandma's stories can't scare me./ I'm bold! I'm brave!/ And though I may be small,/ No many-headed giant/ Scares me at all." Anyone who has ever heard Bryan perform his poetry knows that he reveres both the spoken and written word. He choreographs his refrains into foolproof phrases that anyone may recite with confidence.

In a ploy that will be familiar to youngsters, Giant Three Heads urges the boy closer, the better to hear his song. Bryan's fiesta-bright colors keep the story from feeling too scary, even when the giant snatches him up and pops him into a sack. The captive boy successfully uses the Giant's tactic on the cook, Janey ("Open the bag a wee bit more,... you'll dance upon the tip of your toes, with tippity-tappity-tiddle") as he plays his way out of the sack ("Too-de-loo-de-loo-de-loot!"). The hero returns to Grandma a little wiser and more respectful, yet still that appealingly willful, thrillful child. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Consummate storyteller and artist Ashley Bryan's charming tale of a boy with bravado who learns that sometimes Grandma knows best.

Atheneum/S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781442476578

Unbreakable: The Legion, Book 1

by Kami Garcia

In Kami Garcia's (co-author of the Beautiful Creatures series) first solo effort, she combines a stylized mélange of gothic, ghosts and grimoires. After her mother's sudden heart attack, Kennedy Waters is orphaned. "I understood how it felt to be broken when everyone around you was whole," she thinks. But when twins Jared and Lukas save her from a vengeance-seeking spirit's attack, Kennedy's world is redefined to include the paranormal as she is thrust into the hunt for the demon Andras.

There are five members of the Legion of the Black Dove, charged with destroying supernatural threats, and Kennedy is believed to be the fifth. She feels untrained for battle, but her artistic background and photographic memory prove useful. Kennedy fights her personal demons while helping the team search for the Shift, a weapon believed to be strong enough to battle Andras. The twins serve as the heart of the team as well as competitors for Kennedy's heart. She's torn by their identical appearance and dissimilar personalities ("You can't choose the person who really sees you... The one you can't imagine being lucky enough to have, or unlucky enough to lose"). Lukas feels more like a friend and Jared a lover, but their secret could change, or destroy, Kennedy's heart.

This must-read title boasts alluring cover art, hunky twin love interests and a catchy phrase: "May the black dove always carry you." --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: Kennedy appears to find her place in the world, but is the Legion her salvation or her undoing?

Little, Brown, $18, hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780316210171


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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