Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 8, 2013

Sourcebooks Landmark: Long After We Are Gone by Terah Shelton Harris

From My Shelf

Gift Books: From Grrrrr to Awww

It may be just the first week in November, but it's never too early to think about gift books.

Across the Ravaged Land by photographer Nick Brandt (Abrams, $65) is the final volume in his trilogy (On This Earth; A Shadow Falls) documenting the disappearing natural world of East Africa. It's majestic in both size and scope, and dismaying--10% of African elephants are slaughtered every year. A photo of elephants walking through grass is echoed in another by a line of rangers holding tusks of killed elephants. Mighty lions are juxtaposed with calcified bats and a snake twined on a branch.

Out of the Wild: Zoo Portraits (Glitterati, $60) is Boza Ivanovicis's self-described reimagining of zoo animals around the globe, in stunning black-and-white images. Some animals are lit so only an outline is seen--a mere hint of a black rhino or an okapi; others, like a pensive lemur, are more detailed. All distill the essence of the beast while insinuating their captivity.

Barron's has published two striking books by Tamsin Pickerel and photographer Astrid Harrisson: The Majesty of the Horse and The Spirit of the Dog. Finally, it has come out with The Elegance of the Cat ($35), and elegant it is--cats definitely have a "pose" gene. Balinese, the longhaired version of Siamese, with silky tails; the rare Kurilian Bobtail from the Kuril Islands; the graceful Turkish Angora; the trainable (!) Toyger--a treat for ailurophiles.

Some of these animals mesh in One Big Happy Family by Lisa Rogek (Thomas Dunne, $15.99 paper) and Unlikely Loves by Jennifer S. Holland (Workman, $13.95 paper)--stories and photos of improbable interspecies friendships: A fox and kittens, a Dalmatian and a spotted lamb, even a boa constrictor and a pit bull. Charming.

And for really charming, check out Much Loved by Mark Nixon(Abrams Image, $17.95). Photos of well-worn stuffed animals that have been "lovingly abused" will melt hearts. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

The Writer's Life

Andre Dubus III: Sacred Relationship Between Reader and Book

photo: Kevin Harkins

Andre Dubus III is touring the country for his newest book, Dirty Love (Norton), a collection of linked novellas whose characters fight with the darker side of love and the very possible realization of their deepest fears. A risk-assessment manager discovers his wife's infidelity after 25 years of marriage. An overweight young woman falls in and out of love, losing her innocence in the process. A bartender/failed poet betrays his pregnant wife. And in the title novella, a teenage girl named Devon flees the fallout from a dirty video of her posted online by living with her widowed great-uncle Francis, who suffers a silent battle against trauma and guilt himself.

I sat down with Dubus before his reading with Nicole Hardy (Confessions of a Latter-Day Virgin) at the Seattle Town Hall to talk about our hometowns, technology and loneliness, writing adolescent characters, Alice Munro and the virtues of the book tour.

Dirty Love takes place on the New England coast nearby your home in Newburyport, Mass. (and my hometown of Hampton Beach, N.H.). House of Sand and Fog was set in California, The Garden of Last Days in Florida. You got to write more of New England in Townie: A Memoir and now in Dirty Love. How have you found writing the land you call home?

Here is the weird thing that happened. Growing up in the early 1970s, Vietnam still limping to a finish, taking drugs and having sex, no father around and hair down to your waist, I knew there was a novel there, but I could not write it.

After 20 years of trying, I finally accepted that I seemed to do better as a fiction writer when I went far afield and didn't write directly about my life. So I wrote Townie as a memoir. By writing directly about the Merrimack Valley and the mill towns I know so well, it freaked me out to actually set my fiction there. It's a mystery, but I like writing about it because I know it so well.

You had to confront your feelings about New England and sort out how you felt about your past before you could approach it directly in your fiction?

Exactly. I think it was a blockage and I don't know why. Part of it was that I absolutely hated where I was from. When I went into my dream world I wanted to flee it. But I've grown into loving where I am from and now I can write about it.

Technology figures prominently in Dirty Love. You use it to juxtapose the physical landscape your characters are isolated in--the dark beaches and crashing sea, the smell of salt wind and garbage. You also use it to articulate this peculiar brand of alienation we have these days--Mark has television and the videotape his wife's infidelity is captured on; Dennis has video games and the movies Marla doesn't want to watch; and Devon has her headphones, smart phone and online chat rooms. What was it about technology that stuck with these characters?

I try not to insinuate my own beliefs into my fiction, but it may have seeped in a little bit with Dirty Love. I am just not a fan of the times we are in. Don't get me wrong, as a writer, I like Google. Research is easier. In the old days it was a lot more work. How can you not love that? And I know people shut in with ill health have a life because of the Internet. We have the Arab Spring in part because of Twitter and information is democratized across the world. There are a lot of positives and we aren't going back.

But, for instance, I think the smart phone is such an ominous invention. We are all just so addicted to these crack-gadgets and they are making us stupid and rude. I think they cast us in more of a trance than anything illuminating, edifying or good does. It is endlessly depressing watching grown adults walk down the street staring down at screens in their hands.

When it wasn't that way even five or 10 years ago.

It's just changing so fast. In Dirty Love the main characters are 18-year-old Devon and her 81-year-old great uncle Francis, who has missed the digital train and will die before becoming part of it. Devon is filmed doing a sex act with an ex-boyfriend and now is a porn star online and she is ashamed. She tries to reclaim her strength by going on Chat Roulette and blowing off men. It is weird and endlessly interesting. I enjoyed exploring those generational differences.

I find it so interesting how you placed Devon in her great-uncle's house. Francis has his generation's symptoms of alienation--PTSD, war trauma, alcoholism, guilt, retiring, living and dying alone, etc.

These parts of Francis's character are from a pre-Internet era where people were forced to deal with their problems a bit more directly--or not at all--and not sublimate them into technologies, which is what he sees his grand-niece doing in his own house. Devon is there, living right next to him, dealing with her alienation and shame through chat rooms and smart phones in an attempt to escape what happened to her.

It is not totally hopeless, right? She does meet a man online, which may be a possibility for her and could lead to something good. Although, it doesn't look like it's going to be easy for her....

I have an 18-year-old daughter who is nothing like Devon. In some ways she might be, in other ways she's not. One of the joys of being a dad is getting to see your kids with their friends. I've just watched so many young women navigate the world and I find it to be a tough time to be a girl or a young woman.

There is an increase in the objectification of women and I think it has to do, frankly, with the easy availability of porn. I think it's that simple. I don't have any moral problems with porn. But I am against the reality of a 14-year-old boy being able to push a button and watch a prostitute have sex with a donkey. It's not good for young men learning how to view the women in their lives. I think Devon is a victim of that. I wasn't trying to say that, but I was happy to let it emerge.

What was it like for you writing in Devon's adolescent voice? Any surprises?

I'm married in my 50s with two boys and a girl. I felt fatherly toward Devon while writing. But, trying to be her... trying to let go of being the old guy writing her character.... I felt even more tenderness when I was writing from the point of view of Francis. I was so pleased to find a non-judgmental love for this child that existed in this old man. The last thing he would ever do would be objectify or sexualize his niece. He has his demons, his wife is dead and he doesn't totally miss her and feels guilty about it. You know, it's life.

You seem so comfortable writing the domestic universe. What do you find essential about it?

Well, in The Garden of Last Days I wrote from the point of view of a Saudi Arabian 9/11 hijacker. I've written from the point of view of an Iranian colonel, a cop, a bounty hunter. I started outside of the house. If anything, I actually feel like I'm writing about domestic life for the first time.

There is a wonderful line from Willa Cather, "A writer is at her best only when writing a character in range of her deepest sympathies." I love that. You have got to care about what you are writing. When I was younger my first stories were loaded with physical violence, because I knew a lot about violence, both as a victim and a perpetrator.

My preoccupations now are very much that of a middle-aged man. I'm worried about tuitions and my kids' health and their love lives. It's all about the kids and my wife and my elderly mother and mother-in-law. This is why the dream world is yielding more domestic stories, which is fine with me, because our domestic lives are rife with high-stakes drama.

Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize!

She's the real deal. Nobody deserved it more than her. I think I was more excited than when the Red Sox won the World Series.

In Too Much Happiness she said, "In your life there are a few places, or maybe only the one place, where something happened, and then there are all the other places." Do you find that relates back to writing the domestic life, where we spend so much time hoping and trying, not necessarily doing?

I love that quote, and she is a master of that. It is what's at the heart of character-driven fiction. Although, John Irving had a really interesting line about novels. He said, "Novels should be about all the high points and low points in life but nothing in between." But then he also writes these 19th-century Victorian, but very entertaining novels, which are different than what we're talking about.

How has your tour been so far and what do you enjoy most about reading on tour?

My favorite thing is the q&a, I love that dialogue you get to have. You can read the book at home, so I try not to read more than 18 minutes. There's a great Tolstoy line where he said, "Art is transferring feeling from one heart to another."Isn't that great? How do you make the reader feel something? You have to illuminate the small truths. You do get asked the same six questions, but so what? I'm not going to bitch about it. I haven't been asked that question by that nice lady or this nice man....

These are people who have never heard your answers to these questions before.

It is a continuation of the sacred relationship between reader and book. Not even reader and writer so much, but reader and book, that flows through the writer. It is a continuation of the act of composing a story.

So my favorite part is that conversation, after I said what I'm going to say at the podium, and then signing books and meeting people one-on-one and hearing about their lives. I get tired of hearing myself talk, but I don't get tired of other people. --Jarret Middleton, editor-in-chief, Dark Coast Press

The Valley of Amazement

by Amy Tan

"You must learn all the arts of enticement," a veteran courtesan advises Violet Minturn in The Valley of Amazement. Successful courtesans seduce not just with beauty but with words, as Amy Tan does in this beguiling, gorgeously written novel, her first in eight years. An adventure-filled story of family and friendship, fate and forgiveness, decisions and consequences, The Valley of Amazement spans four decades and takes readers from the inner chambers of a Shanghai courtesan house and the remote mountains of China to San Francisco and New York's Hudson Valley. At the novel's heart is a cast of female characters fiercely, bravely making their way in a world where they're often at the mercy of men.

The daughter of the only white woman to own a first-class courtesan house in early 20th-century Shanghai, Violet--who inherited her mother Lulu's brown hair and green eyes--has grown up believing her parents were both American and that her father is deceased. "When I was seven, I knew exactly who I was: a thoroughly American girl in race, manners, and speech," she declares in the novel's opening line. When a courtesan spitefully reveals the truth about her lineage, Violet is shocked and dismayed to learn she is half-Chinese, a revelation that leaves her suspended between two cultures. As she struggles with her dual identity, she begins to doubt her mother, questioning why Lulu would have hidden the truth if she weren't ashamed of her daughter's Chinese blood and wondering what else she is hiding.

Like Tan has done so compellingly in previous works, including her debut novel, The Joy Luck Club, she treads into the always intriguing territory of mother-daughter ties. Despite the misunderstandings and cultural divide that cloud Violet's relationship with Lulu, she discovers it's a bond that is inescapable even after their paths diverge.

Lulu has a say early in the story, shedding light on her unusual place in Shanghai society. She "broke taboo rather extravagantly" by opening a courtesan house, Hidden Jade Path, that caters to both Chinese and Western clientele, many of whom are wealthy players in foreign trade. In addition to providing pleasures of the flesh to patrons, she is sought after for the connections she brokers among businessmen. Readers don't hear directly from Lulu again for more than a decade, as the story follows Violet on a harrowing, heartrending journey. Through the cruel deception of one of Lulu's former lovers, Lulu is sent sailing for San Francisco solo while teenaged Violet is sold to a Shanghai courtesan house. Told by a trusted source that her daughter is dead, Lulu never returns to search for her.

Held against her will, Violet is forced into her mother's former trade and groomed to be a courtesan. Scared, angry and helpless, she finds an unexpected ally in Magic Gourd, an older woman who used to work at Hidden Jade Path and who becomes her mentor and close friend. Out of necessity Violet transforms from a petulant adolescent into a highly popular courtesan and savvy businesswoman.

When Violet later falls in love with Edward, the married American heir to an international shipping conglomerate, and becomes pregnant, she leaves the courtesan life for domesticity. Her bliss is short-lived, and the family she has found shatters, when she loses Edward to illness and her child to circumstance. Much like her mother years earlier, she makes an error in judgment that leads to her three-year-old daughter, Flora, being spirited away. Seeking to support herself, Violet returns to her previous profession. But age is a courtesan's dreaded enemy, and when a lover proposes, she agrees to marry him, grasping at what she sees as a last chance for respectability and a stable future. Instead she finds herself in an arduous situation during which she makes a vow to herself: if she makes it out alive, she will find Flora and get her back.

Both Violet and Lulu engender admiration for their gutsy determination, strength in challenging circumstances and ability to reinvent themselves, while other times they infuriate with reckless behavior and misguided choices. Tan takes her time reuniting the two women, who resume their relationship through correspondence after Violet--knowing what it's like to lose a daughter--softens her long-held resentment toward her mother for abandoning her, letting her know she is alive and asking for her help locating Flora.

Tan's fans will likely find The Valley of Amazement well worth the wait. A feast of a novel at 600 pages, it rarely loses its grip on the reader. Being immersed in the vividly told tale is a deeply felt experience--laughing at a little girl's antics, heart pounding as a mother flees with her child in her arms, flinching as a fist delivers a blow. Tan deftly draws the reader along as she explores the nature of identity, the joys and pitfalls of love, the ripple effects of the choices we make and the role of fate in our lives.

"I'm not saying fate happens without blame. But when fate turns out well, everyone should forget the bad road that got us here," a character advises in The Valley of Amazement. Years of complicated circumstances can't be undone, though, and Violet ultimately comes to a crossroads, faced with deciding whether her future lies in China or America--and with whom. Like her life, this story is bittersweet. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Ecco, $29.99, hardcover, 9780062107312

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: The Ministry of Time by Kaliane Bradley

Amy Tan: Gifts from Muses

  Photo: Rick Smolan/Against All Odds Productions

Amy Tan's many books include the novels The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife; the memoir The Opposite of Fate: Memories of a Writing Life; and two children's books, The Moon Lady and Sagwa, which was adapted into a PBS Kids production. Tan was also a co-producer and co-screenwriter of the film version of The Joy Luck Club. Her essays and stories have appeared in many magazines and anthologies, and her work has been translated into 35 languages. She lives with her husband in San Francisco and New York.

The Valley of Amazement is your first novel in eight years and is causing a stir in the publishing world and among readers. What is it like to be back in the literary fiction spotlight?

It's a relief to finally have a novel out--one that others like--in part to prove to myself I had not lost my writing brain. It's also exciting to see the early reviews and responses. And it's frightening to be out there, vulnerable to opinion--thousands upon thousands through social media that has mushroomed as a force of influence. I try to remind myself of what my mother said in regard to anything I did, from fashion to how I think about myself: Don't follow what other people think. Think for yourself. I certainly don't see my book as perfect. But I remind myself of all the reasons I wrote the book and what cannot ever be changed by either criticism or praise.

The Valley of Amazement was partly inspired by the knowledge that your grandmother may have been a courtesan. How did you go from making that discovery to deciding to write a novel set in the world of Shanghai courtesan houses?

I've long believed that who I am has been influenced to some degree by my mother. In turn, she was influenced by her mother, and certain emotional, psychological and habitual patterns of my grandmother have also been passed to me. Curiosity makes me want to know more--not only what might be similar but what might have been deliberately altered. I imagined the circumstances that might have led to my grandmother becoming a courtesan. Young girls did not go into that profession as a career choice. I imagined what my grandmother would have done to not simply survive but to succeed. And I searched for those traits that were strong in my mother and in me, one of them being an intolerance of betrayal, condescension and meanness to others. I have a bad trait, one I used to hate in my mother but realize is firmly entrenched in me, and that is difficulty in forgiving someone I trusted who has betrayed me. However, I am not limited by my mother's and grandmother's pasts. For one thing, my circumstances differ vastly. I can choose my life.

Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass features in Violet's romance with Edward. What meaning does Whitman's work have for you personally?

I have a few books of poetry in a teetering stack of books by my night table. Sometimes a poem suits the mood of the night. And so one night I ran across a Whitman poem that perfectly encapsulated who Edward and Violet are to each other. It begins: "Not I, nor anyone else can travel that road for you." The poem was an epiphany during the writing of that particular chapter. It reflected something I have always felt: the nature of dependency, loneliness and independence needed to move forward. I always take helpful coincidences as gifts from my muses--my grandmother and my mother. During this period, another poem came along, "Quicksand Years," that captured what I have felt about my own life at times, and the expression of that became an autobiographical intersection with the character.

Courtesans 1910, winners of "The Ten Beauties of Shanghai"

Tell us about the intriguing title, The Valley of Amazement?

About seven years ago, I was in Berlin briefly and had a chance to go to several museums, one of which was the Alte Nationalgalerie. They have an impressive collection of German painters, whose work bears some similarity to the paintings of artists who were part of the Hudson River Valley School. I saw one particularly dramatic painting: a fantastical landscape with a man standing over a ledge surveying a valley at either sunset or sunrise and either before a storm or after it. That ambiguity led to discomfort.

The title was The Valley of Amazement. The only reference I found to the title was in a Persian poem, "The Colloquy of Birds." I read two interpretations: that the Valley of Amazement is the sixth of seven valleys, and the one in which you become enlightened and are thus ready to enter the Valley of Death. In the other interpretation, the Valley of Amazement is where you lose all sense of yourself and are reduced to nothing. You are then ready to enter the Valley of Annihilation. I regret I did not write down the name of the artist. I did not yet know that I would use the title of the painting as the title of my book. Despite much searching, I have not located that exact painting. But given its fantastical style and reference to classical texts, I believe the artist was Carl Blechen.

I needed the character to have some familiarity with the poem, and it was not unlikely that an educated young man would have encountered it in China. The Chinese had a great fondness for Persian culture and translated numerous writings. "The Colloquy of Birds" is a masterpiece and would conceivably have been among them. To further the connection with the German painting, I included several characters who had some affinity with the Hudson River Valley School of painters. Their lives lie within valleys of illusion and ambiguity as well.

The author's grandmother, 1910

The Valley of Amazement is rich with historical detail and a vivid sense of place. What research did you do for the novel? What can you tell us about your visit to the remote village in China that served as the model for Moon Pond, where Violet spends a harrowing several months?

I visited a Dong minority village in the mountains of Guizhou, China's most remote and poorest province and became entranced with its singing culture and the village's beauty. I decided to write a piece on it for National Geographic. Shortly after, a fifth of the village burned down and a man was banished to a cowshed. There went my story--until I realized that this tragic event was the story. My novel started off with this setting and tragedy in mind, but when I discovered the photographs of my grandmother suggesting she might have been a courtesan, I changed the novel drastically. The village became an illusion of peace and beauty, and quite unlike the place that inspired it.

Moon Pond village was also influenced by my stay in a very small village in Anhui province, where I went with my sister, husband and friend Lisa See. We stayed in a 400-year-old mansion that had belonged to a merchant and discovered its fascinating features and its discomforts. The furniture was typical of the period, the rooms were tiny, and there was no glass on the windows. I suffered for my art!

Among the many other sources for my research, I visited a museum with an exhibit on Shanghai. It included illustrations of courtesans who helped influence the introduction of Western culture, including fashion, décor, food and pastimes. I also accumulated numerous academic books related specifically to courtesan culture in Shanghai during the 19th and early 20th century--and it was specific to Shanghai, since the customs were different in, say, Suzhou or Guangzhou. I also had extensive e-mail exchanges with the authors of three of those books, including one whose research focused on courtesan photography.

To further study the details of photographs, I visited the archives of the George Eastman House in Rochester, N.Y., which is arguably the greatest repository of the image in the U.S. The staff there gave me a special screening of a rare and recently restored Chinese movie from the early 1900s about a country girl tricked into becoming a Shanghai prostitute. I read two novels about courtesans and their clients, including Han Bangqing's semi-autobiographical novel Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai, translated by the estimable writer Eileen Chang (aka Zhang Ailing), as well as by Eva Hung after Chang died before completing the work. For the novel, I used the convention in Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai of rendering names into a Western counterpart based on meaning--hence, names such as Magic Cloud, Perpetual and Loyalty. I also viewed the film adaptation of Han Banqing's novel, renamed Flowers of Shanghai.

Ironically, I found little documentation on sexual practices in courtesan houses, let alone techniques. The researchers said that they uncovered little as well. Thus, the tricks of the trade will remain their trade secrets. However, I did find source materials on aphrodisiacs and sexual positions used by men with their wives and concubines. And I read erotic novels, including Jin Ping Mei ("The Plum in the Golden Vase"), which included quite a bit of trickery and sadism. Li Shang-yin, the Tang Dynasty poet, also provided instructions on correct behavior of men in a courtesan house; for example, to not brag about one's penis size or urinate in front of a courtesan. In addition, I found old maps of Shanghai and traced the locations of the courtesan houses in the former International Settlement.

There was much more research. But that should give you an idea of what went into writing this novel!

What would you like people who haven't yet read The Valley of Amazement to know about the novel?

The time period and its particular social structure, political upheavals and global disasters were significant in my family. My grandfather, for example, was among the young men who participated in the overthrow of the Qing dynasty. He died of Spanish Influenza in 1919. My grandmother later became the fourth wife (concubine) of a wealthy man and, within a year, she killed herself. My mother felt abandoned because of her mother's suicide. And years later, for complicated reasons, my mother left her three daughters behind in Shanghai when she immigrated to the U.S. and married my father. Those daughters suffered from abandonment, and that is a theme in the novel. I am also intrigued whenever I see Chinese people with green eyes. Two nephews have them. Evidently there was at least one person among our ancestors who was not purely Chinese. I am still searching for who that was and where he or she might have come from. -- Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

Butterbeer at Starbucks; Authors' Last Words; Bookish Tattoos

Attention Muggles: Butterbeer is coming to Starbucks. Entertainment Weekly reported that while it isn't on the menu, Starbucks will make the drink for anyone who provides the recipe, though "spoilsports will note that this basically just means Starbucks will make you whatever drink you want, provided they have the ingredients. But no one likes a fun-sucking Death Eater."


Buzzfeed showcased "23 famous authors' last words."


Bookish tattoo alert: Mashable discovered "20 'Bookmarks' to show off your literary love."


"How much do you know about conspiracy literature?" The Guardian featured a quiz on the literature of conspiracy.

Showcasing "13 sculptures made out of books," Mental Floss noted that "these artists have managed to improve on perfection."

Book Review


Vintage Attraction

by Charles Blackstone

Bottoms up! There's no way to read Charles Blackstone's debut novel, Vintage Attraction, with its scrumptiously crafted details about the ins and outs of wine tasting, without craving a glass of fine vino and a hunk of aged cheese.

Peter Hapworth is an adjunct English professor in his late 30s who doesn't bother to read his students' papers and often assigns top marks to female students just for being pretty. Even with his parents still paying his credit card bills, he's an unapologetic cheapskate who never met a free buffet he didn't like and has, on occasion, passed out in his car.

But Hapworth's redemption comes in the form of a gorgeous, accomplished celebrity sommelier named Isabelle Conway. By some miracle, she falls hard for his pithy bon mots and they embark on an affair that's as uncertain as a bottle low-grade merlot. While it's intriguing to watch the ebb and flow of their relationship, the real star of the novel is the wine.

Blackstone brings out the flavor of something truly riveting as the tale pours through various wine tastings and winds through vineyards. (Blackstone is married to one of Chicago's master sommeliers, which lends credence to this fictional guided tour of all things wine.) Clearly, Vintage Attraction proves the maxim that "in wine there's truth," because it's spot-on with explanations of the many varietals in the fascinating world of wine. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A debut novel filled with riveting information about wine.

Pegasus, $24.95, hardcover, 9781605984827

Brother and the Dancer

by Keenan Norris

Keenan Norris's debut novel, Brother and the Dancer, follows two African American teenagers in Southern California along the winding route through high school and into adulthood. Erycha Evans, from the poor, crime-riddled neighborhood of West Highland, dreams of dancing ballet, while Touissant Freeman, living on the other side of town, is preoccupied with belonging, trying to connect his middle-class privilege with his black heritage.

As Erycha and Touissant follow divergent trajectories, Norris develops an intricate, looking-glass narrative. Erycha works hard to earn enough to buy ballet shoes, only to be held back at every turn--by her boyfriend and her parents, by expectations and obligations. Meanwhile, Touissant keeps his grades up, hits the clubs with his older sisters and stars on his high school football team. The rare instances when their lives intersect potently show more of the disparity between their experiences than the similarities.

The alternating narrative structure and leaps in time can be jarring occasionally, but Norris nevertheless succeeds in thoughtfully portraying the powerful tension between privilege and poverty in the variety of black experience as Touissant's internal struggle to maintain the integrity of his identity synchronizes beautifully with Erycha's fight to dance the way she wants. --Dave Wheeler, bookseller, The Elliott Bay Book Co., Seattle, Wash.

Discover: Norris's debut novel about ambitious Californian teens struggling to forge their own identities won the 2012 James D. Houston Award.

Heyday Books, $15, paperback, 9781597142458; $25 hardcover 9781597142441

Mystery & Thriller

The Creeps

by John Connolly

For readers who like their dark fantasy light on fright and big on laughs, The Creeps, the third of John Connolly's Samuel Johnson Tales (following The Infernals), should be just what the demon, er, doctor, ordered.

Samuel Johnson and his faithful dachshund, Boswell, may have saved the world--again--from the legions of the Great Malevolence, but the course of his life never did run smooth. Nurd, Samuel's bad-at-evil demon friend, and his minion Wormwood are lodging with Samuel and his mum, but Nurd seems morose lately. Samuel finally lands the gorgeous Lucy Highmore as his girlfriend, only to find that her beauty is definitely skin-deep. Oh, and then there's the brand-new evil threatening Samuel's village. Shadows gather, the veil between universes continues to thin and the Great Malevolence sends an emissary to reassemble the atoms of his most feared lieutenant, Ba'al, who most recently went by the name of Mrs. Abernathy. The storm breaks when a toy store opening unleashes a plague of pointy-toothed toy elves--and an old foe seeks to destroy Samuel for good.

Connolly is the Terry Pratchett of horror, right down to his mastery of the sardonic footnote. Vampire eyeballs (or are they eyeball vampires?), evil reindeer and one very polite monster make The Creeps a macabre giggle-fest to delight fans of horror and humor in equal measure. Connolly also manages the neat trick of wrapping up the series in a way that still leaves room for more stories of Samuel and his motley crew of demon-busting heroes. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: The dark and hilarious world-saving adventures of Samuel Johnson, Nurd the demon and other unlikely heroes in the town of Biddlecombe.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $22, hardcover, 9781476757094


When the Marquess Met His Match

by Laura Lee Guhrke

Popular romance author Laura Lee Guhrke begins a new series with When the Marquess Met His Match, a fun and frothy romp through London featuring straight-laced matchmaker Belinda Featherstone and a charming rake who proves to be more than a match for her. When Nicholas, Marquess of Trubridge, comes knocking on Belinda's door, looking to alleviate his suddenly penniless state through marriage to a rich young American heiress, Belinda sees only his apparent resemblance to her own cold and selfish late husband, and sends him packing. With a bit of devious manipulation, Nicholas manages to engage her, but over the course of their business arrangement finds his plans decidedly inconvenienced by a ferocious attraction. Ultimately, Nicholas must overcome his own personal case of arrested development to prove to his matchmaker that there is no match so perfect for him as Belinda.

Guhrke is a seasoned hand at the romance game, and it shows in the seeming ease with which she constructs her stories. Plot and pacing are deftly handled, and her characterization in particular is delightfully vibrant. From their first meeting, Nicholas and Belinda sizzle with wit and vivacity, and it's great fun to watch them strike sparks off each other. When the Marquess Met His Match makes for a charming addition to Guhrke's highly entertaining body of work--and an exciting start to a new series. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: The lively start of a new romance series by RITA winner Laura Lee Guhrke.

Avon, $7.99, paperback, 9780062118172

Food & Wine

The New Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

by Jeff Hertzberg, Zoe François

In 2007, amateur baker Jeff Hertzberg and his Culinary Institute-trained partner Zoë François published Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, introducing a technique that would launch a community of online fans who regularly visit their website, For the updated edition of their cookbook, the duo has added new recipes, a q&a section and a chapter on gluten-free baking.

Daily bread baking should be stress-free, and a batch of pre-mixed (not kneaded!) refrigerated dough that keeps for two weeks goes a long way toward that goal. This dough (flour, yeast, salt, water) yields about four loaves of basic bread. The real fun, though, begins with François  and Hertzberg's new recipes, including crock-pot bread, pretzel buns and European peasant bread. Since ardent bakers can't live on bread alone, they pair their recipes with other foodstuffs, such as kabob accompanying naan, or gazpacho and Moroccan bread. With detailed directions, a review of ingredients by brand names, conversions from American to metric measurements, suggested tools, black-and-white how-to photos and color shots of mouthwatering finished products, even the inexperienced baker is guaranteed success.

While baking bread is an old-fashioned skill, the authors encourage their readers to join in the conversation on social media platforms, listing Facebook and Twitter accounts along with their website. You, too, can post a picture: "Hey, look at my baguette!" --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Anyone with a kitchen and an oven can enjoy fresh bread every day following these recipes.

Thomas Dunne Books, $29.99, hardcover, 9781250018281

Biography & Memoir

Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure

by Artemis Cooper

Widely recognized as one of the 20th century's great English prose stylists, Patrick Leigh Fermor led a life most people only dream of. In 1934, the 18-year-old Leigh Fermor set out on foot from Britain to walk the breadth of a Europe teetering on the edge of catastrophe. On just a £5 allowance per major city, he dined, conversed and slept under the roofs of diplomats and farmers, aristocrats and parish priests, making friends and kindling an insatiable curiosity for the lives, lore and languages of the diverse groups and lost civilizations across the continent. After serving in the Irish Guards during World War II, he resumed his peripatetic lifestyle, travelling through and writing about the Caribbean and the Peloponnesus, steadily adding to his treasure trove of knowledge.

Artemis Cooper's Patrick Leigh Fermor: An Adventure deftly brings its subject to life, drawing on Leigh Fermor's own memoirs and travel narratives--including A Time of Gifts, the memoir that brought enduring literary fame upon its 1977 publication. Wide-ranging conversations and interviews with Leigh Fermor and his acquaintances, along with access to their letters and journals, flesh out the portrait of this remarkable citoyen du monde. Cooper has written a riveting biography sure to captivate any reader. --Benji Taylor, freelance writer, student, blogging at Destructive Anachronism

Discover: A wide-ranging biography of a master prose stylist, traveler and witness to the sweep of 20th-century European history.

New York Review Books, $30, hardcover, 9781590176740

How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life

by Scott Adams

Scott Adams may be best known as the creator of Dilbert, but he's also a fascinating entrepreneur. Full of humor, but also surprisingly useful advice, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big succeeds on multiple levels. Adams finds ways to remain optimistic even in the most devastating failures, like losing the ability to speak, the failure of one business venture after another and his complete lack of artistic ability. "Most failures involve bad luck, ignorance, and sometimes ordinary stupidity," he writes. "One day in college I managed to combine all three into one experience. It was breathtaking."

This is also a markedly good, wide-ranging self-help book, with advice on how to see the world, approach risk and eat right and exercise. In line with the theme of personal growth, Adams writes with a purpose: to make readers feel good and raise their energy. The book succeeds here, too, resulting in an enjoyable, engaging read most readers will be loath to put down.

This is a fantastic book full of useful and uncommon recommendations for daily living and becoming happier, fitter and more marketable. If nothing else, if How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big may raise reader energy levels--and who can complain about that? --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A witty yet serious guide to living life the Scott Adams way, full of clever moments of surprisingly practical advice.

Portfolio, $27.95, hardcover, 9781591846918

Essays & Criticism

The Most of Nora Ephron

by Nora Ephron

The Most of Nora Ephron is an enormous compilation of the late writer's wit, perception and, most of all, her honesty about everything--even being flat-chested. The collection is divided into nine sections, each reflective of a part of her personal and professional life, from "The Journalist" and "The Screenwriter" to "The Advocate" and "The Blogger."

If you didn't make it to Broadway to see Tom Hanks in Lucky Guy, the entire script is included in the "Playwright" section. "The Foodie" shows Ephron trying out recipes, reading Gourmet, discovering the folly of an egg-white omelette, taking part in the Pillsbury Bake-Off and having guests for dinner. (Keep it easy, serve four things, make it fun.)

Everything was grist for Ephron's mill, and it's all here in this tremendous volume--including the complete screenplays of Heartburn and When Harry Met Sally. Her essays and journalism are filled with fascinating details, from the time that Las Vegas tycoon Steve Wynn put his elbow through a Picasso to the observation that the gap between Condoleezza Rice's front teeth is not as bad in person as it is on television.

Ephron was raised, she tells us, by an indifferent mother and a father who looked at everything as potential material. At the dinner table, he would say: "That's a good line; write it down." She took his advice--and we are all richer for it. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A diverse selection, from essays to screenplays, of the wit, wisdom and unfailing sense of humor of Nora Ephron (1941-2012).

Knopf, $35, hardcover, 9780385350839

Reference & Writing

Writers Between the Covers

by Shannon McKenna Schmidt, Joni Rendon

Ian Fleming was a sadomasochist. F. Scott Fitzgerald was worried about his measurement; Hemingway allayed his fears. Edith Wharton carried on, while married, a long-term affair with Morton Fullerton. Did Dickens have a thing for his sister-in-law?

Following their tribute to literary landmarks in Novel Destinations, in Writers Between the Covers Shannon McKenna Schmidt (a Shelf Awareness contributing writer) and Joni Rendon have compiled a very different compendium of information about authors--gossipy and surprising, filled with all kinds of salacious stories about the writers we know and love (or think we know, at any rate).

Among the intriguing stories is that of Agatha Christie, who married a dashing aviator when she was 21. A decade later, her husband blindsided her with the news he was leaving her for another woman. They argued, he left to keep an assignation with his lover and Agatha disappeared. All available means were deployed to find the missing author--who was enjoying herself at a spa in another part of England, using the name of her husband's mistress. When she finally surfaced 11 days later, doctors diagnosed amnesia, but she would never speak of the incident. She divorced her him and later married Sir Max Mallowan, with whom she spent 40 happy years.

Few of the stories end so tidily. Much of the drama recounted in these pages was fueled by alcohol, drugs, bad tempers, confused gender roles--all the things that drive people to wild behavior. Sexual adventurism is an equal opportunity pastime, and the authors have a deft hand at portraying both men and women at their moral nadir--and, oh, how much fun it is to read about. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon reveal the love lives of literary figures, sparing no detail--and no author.

Plume, $15, paperback, 9780452298460

Performing Arts

Beatles vs. Stones

by John McMillian

John McMillan recounts an anecdote early on in Beatles vs. Stones, his entertaining history of the epic battle between what many consider the two greatest bands in popular music. In the summer of 1968, Mick Jagger brought an advance copy of Beggars Banquet to the grand opening of a hot new club in London. People were "leaping around," until Paul McCartney strolled in with an advance copy of the single "Hey Jude"/"Revolution." They played it all night long. "Mick looked peeved," McMillan writes. "The Beatles had upstaged him."

McMillan (Smoking Typewriters) lovingly tells the story of the rivalry between the songwriting teams of Lennon/McCartney and Jagger/Richards, between England's north (Liverpool's Beatles) and south (London's Rolling Stones). "The Beatles want to hold your hand," Tom Wolfe once quipped, "but the Stones want to burn down your town."

The Stones, McMillan tells us, marked their success against the Beatles; the latter transformed pop into art, and the Stones were always watching. Early on, they got along fine; less so later. The Beatles didn't feel threatened by the Stones, but there was competition. Rubber Soul came out, then Aftermath; Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band was followed by Let It Bleed--it was one record counterpunch after another.

In 1975, Mick Jagger said you'd never see him singing "Satisfaction" when he was old. He does, still. The Beatles, on the other hand, never grew old--as McMillan observes, "they didn't have the chance." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: McMillan's breezy, insightful chronicle of a decade-defining battle of the bands--and, maybe, who won it--is a fascinating trip through pop music history.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781439159699

Children's & Young Adult

Reality Boy

by A.S. King

Printz Honor winner A.S. King (Everybody Sees the Ants) here explores the cost of fame and the power of narrative in the life of Gerald Faust. A reality TV show about dysfunctional families made Gerald both famous and infamous. Cast as the young villain for his "acting out"--most of which was actually an attempt to defend himself from his psychotic older sister, Tasha--he lived up to expectations and then some.

Gerald has grown into a friendless 17-year-old, afraid of his emotions and still subject to Tasha's tyranny. He often escapes into a fantasy world where everything is perfect. His real life seems designed to keep him enraged--and stuck. His mother treats him as if he is deficient and unmanageable. His father is disaffected, made powerless by his wife's obsession with keeping Tasha happy. The bright spots in Gerald's life take place primarily at his concession-stand job at a nearby stadium. That also happens to be where his crush works--if he were allowed to have crushes, which he's not. The rules that Gerald lives by, the only things keeping him from life in prison (or so he believes), don't allow for much interaction. But his walls and his rules start to crumble.

King's ability to show all sides of the story is a marvel. Reality Boy is as much about parental depression and denial as it is about teen rage. It's also about first love, celebrity, therapy and finding your own narrative despite the story your family--and sometimes the world--tells about you. --Jenn Northington, events manager at WORD bookstore

Discover: A Printz Honor author tells a story of a young man struggling with anger as he seeks a new identity for himself.

Little, Brown, $18, hardcover, 368p., ages 13-17, 9780316222709

The Animal Book: A Collection of the Fastest, Fiercest, Toughest, Cleverest, Shyest--and Most Surprising--Animals on Earth

by Steve Jenkins

Author and artist Steve Jenkins (My First Day) caught the animal appreciation bug at age six, and--luckily for readers--it's never left him.

In his introduction, Jenkins describes cutting out pictures from a Life magazine article about Darwin's 1835 voyage to the Galápagos Islands, and he continues to cut and glue paper in ways that captivate curious minds and esthetic eyes from preschoolers through adults. "So far, more than 1½ million species of animals have been named. Another 17,000 or so are added every year," he writes. "One of every four living things is a beetle," he adds, a few pages later. A pie chart depicts the mind-boggling visual that compares the number of insects (one million species) with mammals (a mere 5,490 species).

His innovative segues (he ushers in various animal families with headings such as "I'll do it myself" and "Fighting for love"), bar graphs (the numbers of eyes of each animal--a giant clam has thousands) and "an ecological pyramid" (with "producers" like algae at the bottom and "apex predators" such as tigers at the top), along with brief chunks of text chock full of facts will captivate even the most distractible youngsters. He breaks down big ideas into digestible chunks (his series of four bird beaks on the Galápagos illuminates Darwin's theory of evolution). But the greatest treasure is Jenkins's backmatter: 14 pages of additional animal facts with thumbnail illustrations and page references, a glossary, the importance of research and how he makes books. This luxuriously designed, sumptuously illustrated book is for every child. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A nature lover's guide to creatures great and small, luxuriously designed and sumptuously illustrated.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $21.99, hardcover, 208p., ages 6-10, 9780547557991

Don't Say a Word, Mamá/No Digas Nada, Mamá

by Joe Hayes, illus. by Esau Andrade Valencia

This bilingual tale of sisterly generosity by master storyteller Joe Hayes (Ghost Fever) brims with humor and love, while Esau Andrade Valencia's Mexican folk art matches the siblings' affection and playfulness.

As children, Rosa and Blanca helped each other with the chores their mother assigned. Blanca accompanied Rosa to buy flour for tortillas; Rosa helped Blanca sweep the sidewalk in front of their house. Their proud mother proclaims, "I think I'm the luckiest mother in the whole wide world." Rosa marries and has three children; Blanca lives alone. But both sisters still live on the same street, on either side of their mother. Hayes describes how each helps the other harvest corn, tomatoes and "good hot chiles"--and secretly takes half her yield to the other. "Don't say a word, Mamá!" each of them makes her promise. (Rosa and Blanca of course share with Mamá, too.)

Hayes makes the most of the repeated phrases ("The night was dark. The sisters didn't see each other when they passed right in front of their mother's house"), and Valencia heightens the comedy when Rosa and Blanca see their bounty in the morning ("Did my tomatoes have babies during the night?" Rosa says), depicting tomato parents in dresses and jeans pushing baby carriages, and corn cobs in top hat and bridal veil. In a clever climax, Mamá breaks her silence--but without breaking her promise to her daughters. Author and artist celebrate family and abundance in a story that will be a favorite read-aloud at harvest time or anytime. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A funny, affectionate tale of two sisters who let their mother in on their secret gift-giving mission.

Cinco Puntos Press, dist. by Consortium, $17.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9781935955290; $7.95 paperback 9781935955450


Author Buzz

Every Time We Say Goodbye

by Natalie Jenner

Dear Reader,

EVERY TIME WE SAY GOODBYE was the hardest book I will ever write, and the most rewarding. I packed everything I could into this book: love and conflict, faith and religion, censorship and resistance, art and moviemaking, fashion and food, cameos by favorite actresses and characters from my earlier books, and above all Rome, my favorite city in the world. I hope that my novel gives you the entertainment and inspiration that nourished me throughout its writing.

Email with the subject line "Every Time Was Say Goodbye Sweeps" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Gratefully yours,
Natalie Jenner

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: Every Time We Say Goodbye by Natalie Jenner

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
May 14, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Happily Ever Maybe
(A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella)

by Carrie Ann Ryan

Dear Reader,

What happens in a bodyguard romance when both characters are a bodyguard?

All the heat and action!

I love writing workplace romances because things get tricky. And when a one night stand ends up burning up the pages, things get... explosive.

Gus and Jennifer are fiery, kick-butt characters that made me so happy to write.

I hope you love them!

Carrie Ann Ryan

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Happily Ever Maybe (A Montgomery Ink Legacy Novella) by Carrie Ann Ryan

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
February 13, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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