Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Battle of the Books

In the era of round-the-clock cable TV, talk radio and social media, it's easy to forget that books provide a rare forum for thoughtful--or at least detailed--examinations of national issues. In the past weeks, there were reminders of the power of political books--and some unusual twists.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney's memoir, In My Time, published last week, may not have led to "heads exploding all over Washington," as he promised, but it resulted in heated discussions of issues that cast long shadows over the country. Not surprisingly, Cheney defended his hawkish views, but surprisingly he criticized fellow members of the Bush Administration.

One of Cheney's targets, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, firmly disputed sections of the book, particularly one depicting her as tearfully telling Cheney that he had been right and that the administration shouldn't have apologized for misleading arguments in the rush to go to war against Iraq. Rice is in an enviable position for people criticized in such a way: her political book, No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington, appears November 1 and may include some quickly re-written sections concerning the Office of the Vice President.

In an unusual twist, an obstacle to the presidential ambitions of Texas Governor Rick Perry may be two books--his own. The most recent is Fed Up!: Our Fight to Save America from Washington, which appeared last November (and whose foreword is, in another twist, by current rival Newt Gingrich) and takes positions that, diplomatically put, might not fly in the general election: senators should again be elected by state legislatures, the Governor writes; federal income tax is "a great milestone on the road to serfdom"; Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are all Ponzi schemes. Love his ideas or abhor them, there they are in black and white in Fed Up!

Some people say books are irrelevant in the modern world. Hardly.

Happy reading! --John Mutter

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Portrait of the Artist: Yvvette Edwards

Yvvette Edwards's debut novel, A Cupboard Full of Coats (trade paper, OneWorld), made it on to the Man Booker Prize longlist. Unlike some of her peers on that list, though, Edwards hasn't spent her life in writing programs and retreats, or even working as a journalist. Instead, Edwards, who was raised by a single mother from Montserrat in the London suburb of Hackney, herself became a young single parent who needed to work full time to support her daughter. (That daughter is now pursuing a master's degree; Edwards also has two girls, nine and 10, with her husband, whom she married when her eldest was 12.)

One of the reasons we've been discussing single parenthood is because of her novel's subject matter. The protagonist, Jinx Jackson, is trying to make sense of her mother's death at the hands of her abusive boyfriend, Berris. It's been 14 years since Berris killed Jinx's mother, and his friend Lemon shows up to tell Jinx that Berris is about to be released from prison. Should Jinx run? Will she run? Will her choices mirror her mother's, who wound up with "a cupboard full" of new coats, one given to her each time Berris hurt her?

Jinx's mother was a single parent and, as Edwards explains, both Berris and Lemon were raised by single mothers, as well. "When they were young, it's unlikely in that generation that they had two parents at home, ever. Someone in every family, it seemed, was an economic migrant. "

Edwards has gone deep into a relatively unexplored corner of life in London with her book--in fact, she was genuinely shocked when her agent pointed out that the book contains not a single white character. Yet also ultimately nonplussed: "I actually didn't think about it. I don't think my objective was to have a diverse or 'not diverse' representation of Hackney. I just had a plot in mind, and my characters happened to be from one kind of background."

However, Edwards does believe that it took some subconscious effort to get to a place where she could write a full narrative without thinking about whether or not it was diverse. "Years ago I wrote a screenplay that had two white English main characters, and I had a black character who came in to do some carpentry or whatever... that was my way of including a black character, through the back door.

"I must have gone through some sort of internalization, some kind of transition process, because by the time I turned to this book, it just wasn't an issue," she continued. "I think that my own transition tallies with the one in English society. We're all now aware that there are black people, black communities, black artists."

At first, Edwards recalled, "I wrote out of wanting to enjoy my own work, and to deal with issues that at the time were confusing or complex for me." Although Edwards wrote for years, it wasn't until she was about to turn 40 that she decided to become quite serious about writing something to be published. "When I got to my 39th birthday, that was the most reflective year of my life," she said. "I thought about all the things I'd ever said I wanted to do, and making a living from writing was and is my absolute dream."

She decided she was not going to find another full-time job, and instead focused on writing a book. "I surprised myself by discovering that I really love doing the revisions and editing, that that's where books come together--in the refining process."

"In a way, writing or creating a piece of work is probably not that dissimilar to giving birth and trying to get that child to grow up to be a person you genuinely like not just because they're related to you, but because they are lovely on whatever terms you judge people," Edwards said. "The difference between parenting and writing a book is that you do get this opportunity to go back and refine things. It's not quite so easy with parenting!"

Fortunately for this new voice in fiction, things are working out well with her children and her book. --Bethanne Patrick

William Gibson: An Author in Hollywood

In an interview with Boing Boing, William Gibson, whose novel Zero History was released last month in paperback, reflected on his experience with the film industry: "Liking the Hollywood movie industry is like liking war. Some people do like war, though, and I've sometimes enjoyed my own experience of the Hollywood movie industry. People who haven't actually been there, been fully in it, with some paid role on which something actually depends, really have very little idea. One of the more oddly hellish things about it is that so many of its civilian consumers assume that they understand exactly how it all works. There's a huge subsidiary industry filmgoers pay to keep them convinced that they have insider knowledge, actual experience of the beast itself. They don't.

"You don't really get it until you're in a situation in which some entity has invested sixty or seventy million dollars in something and seems to be in the process of deciding that your creative input may be endangering that investment. It's an experience that will definitely get your fullest attention."

Great Reads

Further Reading: Irma Voth

Today is release day for Irma Voth: A Novel by Miriam Toews. Some of you will remember her delightfully quirky and poignant 2007 novel, The Flying Troutmans (Soft Skull Press), about an eternally adolescent 28-year-old's journey with her sullen teenaged nephew and precocious tweenage niece.

Irma Voth is quirky, too--but far darker, harder and ultimately meaningful. Irma is a young Mennonite woman living in a tiny orthodox community in Mexico. When she marries a Mexican man and then gets involved in the making of a film, things between Irma and her family get complicated.

Since the scenes of Mennonite life in Toews’s new novel hearken back to her own upbringing in the more modern Mennonite world of Steinbach, Manitoba (which she described in her memoir of her father's manic depression, Swing Low: A Life), this week's book selections have to do with how other Mennonite writers have dealt with their pasts.


Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen is a memoir of growing up in a modern Mennonite community in California, but chafing under the bonds of her loving and service-oriented minister father and loving and frugal-minded mother. While Janzen left home, seeking a more artistic and bohemian way, after a life-altering car accident she returned to live with her parents and bask in their love--and service and frugality. None of which description does any justice to the author's lively, learned voice.


I Am Hutterite: The Fascinating True Story of a Young Woman's Journey to Reclaim Her Heritage by Mary-Ann Kirkby can be seen as the "anti-Rhoda Janzen" story in some ways. Kirkby's parents chose to reenter a "worldly" community when their daughter was 10; she and her six siblings knew nothing about packaged foods, modern music or hairstyles. Eventually, Kirkby chose to revisit her old life; she self-published her memoir to such acclaim that it found a U.S. home at Thomas Nelson.


In Of This Earth: A Mennonite Boyhood in the Boreal Forest, Rudy Wiebe--one of Canada's most esteemed novelists--describes his childhood up to age 12 in the deep woods of the north, following his family's Low German (Polish and Ukrainian) Mennonite traditions. Wiebe's narrative only appears to be stream-of-consciousness; it's actually quite carefully constructed to show the strata of an almost entirely bygone way of life that nourished his creative psyche. --Bethanne Patrick


Book Candy: Book Igloo; Passing of the Seasons

Bookshelf Porn showcased the book-inspired work of Colombian artist Miler Lagos. For an upcoming show in New York City, Lagos will create, among other installations, his "piece Igloo, a 9-foot domed structure... constructed of layers of reference books laid like bricks in a cylindrical shape. The igloo symbolizes the transfer of knowledge through generations at the same time serving as a shelter to protect from nature, despite its own fragility."


"And summer's lease hath all too short a date." As Labor Day Weekend signaled the unofficial end of summer, the New Yorker's Book bench blog offered some literary solace because this season's "passing, though it happens every year, because it happens every year, is one of life's minor tragedies. Like a left-behind lover, perhaps we'll feel better if we cry and mutter along to a bleak soundtrack by those who can say all of it better."

From John Cheever's story "The Swimmer": "Looking overhead he saw that the stars had come out, but why should he seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had become of the constellations of midsummer? He began to cry."

Club Read: Connecting Readers and Writers

Imagine spending the weekend eating, drinking, reading and schmoozing with authors like Adriana Trigiani, Matthew Norman, Joyce Maynard and Gretchen Rubin--along with some reading tastemakers, including Book Club Girl, Reading Group Choices and FridayReads.

Such an event is taking place in Huddleston, Va., Saturday and Sunday, October 15-16. The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association have teamed up to create "Club Read: A Reader's Retreat Where Books Mean the World." Twenty-four hours, a dozen authors, meals, lodging, Internet access and more are included in the $500 fee. Tickets are limited, and can be purchased only through participating independent bookstores.

Club Read isn't just about sitting around and reading--although there will be time for that. The event is designed to allow participants to get to know authors, their books and their interests, too. For example, Dolen Perkins-Valdez (Wench) will host a cooking hour and teach attendees how to make her family's favorite coffee cake; Greg Olear (Fathermucker) will hold an astrology session; and Jessica Anya Blau (Drinking Closer to Home) will teach people how to play her favorite game, Bananagrams. (The entire schedule is here.)

For more information, contact vs. California

Sunday's New York Times offered an overview of the fight between the State of California and about sales tax collection--and showed a combative side of the giant e-tailer that is unfortunately familiar to many in the book business.

In state after state over the past several years, Amazon has bitterly fought laws and regulations designed to force it to collect sales tax that purchasers are supposed to pay but rarely do. The company has gone so far as to cut ties with affiliated companies to reduce states' legal claims. In California, Amazon has taken the effort to new levels.

When the state passed a law earlier this year requiring Amazon to collect sales tax, the company created an organization that gathered enough signatures for a state referendum on the subject, an effort that has cost the company at least $5 million. Legislators are now trying to pass another law that will override the possible referendum, leading Amazon to make a counteroffer last week: in exchange for a three-year moratorium on collecting sales tax, Amazon will open two warehouses in the state, creating 7,000 jobs.

Amazon's thinking appears to be that if it has to collect sales tax in California, it will be easier for other, financially pressed states to join the campaign. That could reduce the company's price advantage over retailers who collect the tax--and who thereby help local and state governments pay for all kinds of services.

Coolest Book Apps; Iconic Book Covers; Fall Books

USA Today recommended the 10 coolest book apps for fall, noting that each offers "significant clues about what books of the future may look like."


The "20 Most Iconic Book Covers Ever" were showcased by Flavorwire, which noted that "one of the things we love best about the book as art object and experience is the way well-designed covers complement and enhance your reading, and the way they figure in your mind when you remember a book."


"It was in Europe after the war. We were depressed. We drank a lot. We were still depressed." Buzzfeed unearthed "11 awesome ultra-condensed literary classics" from the website Book-A-Minute, which reduces novels "into their purest essence."


Noting that as "summer fades to fall, publishers pivot from beach reads to weightier books," the Atlantic recommended 24 new releases to look forward to this fall.


For back-to-school season, Flavorwire recommended 15 great novels set at real-life colleges, "whether explicitly stated or thinly veiled in their fictional forms. If you’re starting school this fall, you’d do well to check out what other people think of your new home and what you might expect from your next few years there, and if you’ve already finished, well, everyone likes to read about their alma mater, hopefully shouting out, 'that’s not how it was!' and 'look, that’s me!' in equal measure."

The Labors of the Authors; Moby Dick Mixtape

In a literary homage to Labor Day, Open Road Media offers a video featuring writers Lawrence Block, John Lutz, Andre Dubus III (speaking about his father), Mary Glickman, Don Winslow, Kevin O'Brien, and M. William Phelps talking about the jobs they held before becoming full-time writers. They range from reading manuscripts and copy writing to working as a machinist, theater usher, delivery man and even selling blood!


Mogwai's "Hunted by a Freak" was a natural selection for Moby Dick's literary mixtape from Flavorwire, which noted that Captain Ahab's nemesis "is not inherently bad. Rather, he is a frustratingly inscrutable foil for the other characters, and for the reader. We think Moby Dick would probably listen to heady, complex music, mostly instrumental, with a little metal thrown in there for flavor."

Book Review


Birds of Paradise

by Diana Abu-Jaber

As Hurricane Katrina approaches Miami, the storm that regularly revisits Avis and Brian Muir's marriage is brewing again. Avis wants to meet with their 17-year-old daughter, Felice, who ran away five years before, remaining hopeful of a reunion, while Brian resists opening old wounds. In this richly layered novel, told in alternating chapters by Avis, Brian, their son, Stanley, and Felice, Diana Abu-Jaber captures the tropical heat, sensuality and diversity of Miami. As in her three earlier novels and memoir, The Language of Baklava, she uses food to define characters: Avis is a renowned pastry chef, Stanley owns a health-food grocery, and their enigmatic Haitian neighbor tends a garden of mysterious plants. While the family keeps busy and has moved beyond the initial despair of Felice's abandonment (Brian struggles with his role in the gentrification of ethnic neighborhoods), she has an emotional hold on each of them. Readers will feel an affection and optimism about the family, especially Felice--whatever drove her to run, we want to trust that her intelligence and savvy will lead her safely home.

In Birds of Paradise Abu-Jaber skillfully matches setting with story to create an atmospheric whole. The anxiety and threat of destruction are palpable in the city and in the family; readers will be eager to step into the story, hoping for a satisfying conclusion for the characters they've come to know. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: Love, loss and longing in a contemporary Miami family five years after their teenage daughter runs away.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393064612

The Twelfth Enchantment

by David Liss

It's a testament to David Liss's confidence that, deep into The Twelfth Enchantment, he can set up a meeting between Lord Byron and William Blake and then have them barely acknowledge each other's presence, let alone talk about poetry. It doesn't matter: by then, you're totally involved in the story of Lucy Derrick, an orphaned young woman with a precarious reputation who must track down the pages of an alchemical manuscript that will play a critical role in the fight between the Luddites and the Rosicrucians over England's industrial revolution.

Laid out like that, it may sound a bit silly, but from the opening pages, Liss carefully builds up his scenario; as the convincing Regency setting begins to accumulate more and more supernatural features, you may share Lucy's skepticism, but like her you'll become gradually convinced of its plausibility. (No surprise there; Liss has built a loyal fan base on the verisimilitude of historical thrillers like The Whiskey Rebels and A Conspiracy of Paper.) Lucy is guided out of her initial position of helplessness with training in the magical arts from Mary Crawford--yes, Austen fans, that Mary Crawford--but the tight restrictions for a woman in 1800s British society always loom over her adventures. Deftly blending historical facts, folklore and literary allusions, Liss creates a story that refuses neat genre categorization: The Tweltfh Enchantment works equally well as Regency romance and occult thriller. Think The Da Vinci Code, set 200 years in the past... and, truth be told, a rather more elegant prose style. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: David Liss adds romance and fantasy elements to his historical thriller palette with compelling effect.

Random House, $26, hardcover, 9781400068968


by Sam Savage

Glass is a novel less concerned with linear plotting and development than presenting a psychological portrait of Edna, an elderly woman typing compulsively in her decaying apartment. The clatter of her keys taps underneath every word of the book--pages and pages about her lonely childhood, her unhappy marriage, the empty misery of her day-to-day.

"I used to think the mute incoherent daily suffering of ordinary life was too big for words," she types. "Now I think the words are too big for it. There are no words trivial enough to say how terrible it is."

A sense of looming death hangs over every sentence and in every corner of her dingy home. Edna does her typing behind dirty windows, surrounded by the wilting plants and sick rat a neighbor has left in her reluctant care. She reveals her history in fragments that slowly fit to form the bleak picture of her present.

Edna is a tragic character, though not a particularly sympathetic one; she is pathologically reclusive, snobbish, possibly of questionable moral character. But she is a true writer, and Savage devotes much of Edna's typing--it is always just "typing"--to careful examinations of phrases, astute observations and literary references. She often writes about the word choices she would make "if this were a story."

But, of course, it is a story--one riddled with uncertain memories, strange qualifications and alarming omissions. By its abrupt end, the only thing made clear is that Edna's side of it may not be the right side at all. --Hannah Calkins, Unpunished Vice

Discover: Sam Savage's examination of the truth of memory, the effects of self-imposed solitude, and the churning verbal mechanics of a writer's mind.

Coffee House Press, $15, trade paperback, 9781566892735

Duty Free

by Moni Mohsin

Duty Free is like a tasty lemon tart--sweet, but with a bite. Concocted by Moni Mohsin, an author making her debut in the U.S. with this witty satire, the unnamed diarist of the book is determinedly shallow, silly and oddly endearing. She's a Pakistani society fixture obsessed with fashion, gos sup and image--think The Trophy Wives of Lahore. One charming trait is her constant malapropisms. Her husband, Janoo, is an "oxen," which is, of course, the title for those who have graduated from Oxford. Our heroine has been charged with finding an appropriate wife for her cousin Jonkers. "Appropriate" in this case means from the same "bagground"--rich.

One delightful scene has the narrarator, in a fit of charity, filling a box for refugees with tranquilizers (it's hard to sleep in a noisy camp), copies of Vogue and a local society rag (so the poor will be heartened by the lovely clothes and parties) and her Barbara Cartland paperbacks (for the kids who need books). For clothes, she adds all of Janoo's old Armani ties, since she knows it will cheer the refugees to finally be able to wear Armani, and her chiffon saris for the women. 

With the help of the bridal chase, a terrifying attack by a terrorist, the steady wisdom of Janoo and the refusal by Jonkers to factor anything but love into his marriage, the narrator discovers a dollop of her own good sense and an even better heart. Witty, bright, charming and wise, Duty Free is a delightful find. --K.C. Martin, blogger at The Readable Feast

Discover: Unforgettable characters who light up this witty satire about Pakistani high society.

Broadway Books, $13, trade paper, 9780307889249

Mystery & Thriller

The Cut

by George Pelecanos

George Pelecanos begins another series with The Cut, introducing new protagonist Spero Lucas, a 29-year-old Iraq War veteran who does investigations for a D.C. defense attorney. One of the attorney's clients, a drug dealer, hires Lucas to find and retrieve his stolen shipments of marijuana. The job seems standard fare at first, with Lucas canvassing neighborhoods and looking for witnesses. But then a double murder occurs, and Lucas finds he needs all the warrior skills he learned while fighting in Fallujah to go up against his formidable opponents.

Lucas is an appealing lead, made more so by his contradictions. He's a tough guy who regularly dines with his mother. He has an iPhone but likes reading the print version of the newspaper. He may have witnessed horrors in Iraq but can be refreshingly naïve when it comes to women. And he can work on both sides of the law, as long as the job pays well.

Pelecanos has the amazing ability to cut to the heart of something in very few words. Witness the following: "They kissed standing up in her living room. Her mouth was made for it." Are any more words necessary to describe how perfect the kiss is? As always, the author has a great ear for dialogue, giving Lucas witty banter with his brother Leo, and rarely relying on tags and character attribution to indicate who's talking in any given scene. The dialogue does get too expository at times, but the pace is fast enough that those instances can be overlooked. Readers will want to add The Cut to their Pelecanos collections, and it's good to know Lucas will be back to fight another day. --Elyse Dinh-McCrilllis, freelance writer/editor, blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A hip, modern hero to headline Pelecanos's promising new series.

Reagan Arthur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9780316078429


by Deon Meyer

Trackers, Deon Meyer's latest thriller, travels from deep in the Karoo to the mean streets of post-apartheid South Africa. In this tale of multiple betrayals, a disparate band of characters have a shared instinct for survival. Freelance bodyguard Lemmer (Blood Safari) returns, this time to protect a pair of endangered black rhinos from poachers. In Cape Town, Milla Strachan, newly divorced and struggling to escape the suburban banality of her former existence, joins the lower echelons of national security. Meanwhile, former police superintendent Mat Joubert is learning the hard way that in the private sector the only thing he's expected to protect and serve is the bottom line. All three are drawn into a violent web of intrigue linking Islamic terrorists to urban gangsters, black-market weapons and blood diamonds.

A boon for the mystery/thriller connoisseur weary of the same old New York/Los Angeles backdrop, Meyer's South Africa is palpable, a world at once achingly beautiful yet torn still by deep-seated racial hatred and injustice. An American audience may find the Afrikaner author's lack of "coloured" or black protagonists jarring, but Meyer in no way hides from the remnants of apartheid; his unflinching take on South Africa reads as reality.

Trackers is a thick, meaty mystery so full of twists and subplots the reader could easily forget where the story began. Don't worry--Meyer skillfully ties up even the most frayed of loose ends. Be warned though, he waits until the last pages to do it. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: How to survive when trouble finds you in South Africa.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $24, hardcover, 9780802119933


The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place

by Hill Harper

Hill Harper's face on the cover of this book might be familiar from his long-running role playing Dr. Sheldon Hawkes on CSI: NY. But he's not just a pretty face: in addition to acting in many movies and TV shows, Harper graduated cum laude from Brown, has a law degree from Harvard and master's in public administration from Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. He also has devoted much of his spare time and energy to helping others manage their lives and achieve their dreams. This is his fourth book that aims to help in that challenge.

"I hope to dispel some of the confusion and anxiety around money and show how it can be an effective tool," Harper writes. "But most important, I want to help reinvent the fundamental understanding of wealth in order to help us achieve a balanced happy and healthy life."

Although Harper does include excellent resources for making and managing money responsibly, The Wealth Cure is not only about financial wealth. To Harper, "wealth" involves the pursuit of "unreasonable happiness"--finding and following one's passion, connecting to loved ones, maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

This last element of wealth became a particular focus for the author when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Before his surgery, Harper decided to take a cross-country train ride from Los Angeles to Chicago to visit a friend struggling with his marriage. This transformational journey allowed Harper to contemplate his own path to success, as well as ways to help others find their own fulfillment. The result is The Wealth Cure--a wonderful gift for anyone starting out in life and a helpful resource and reminder for all Americans during challenging economic times. -–Kristen Galles, blogger at Book Club Classics

Discover: An inspiring guide to managing true wealth in life.

Gotham Books, $26, hardcover, 9781592406500

The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation

by Elizabeth Letts

Elizabeth Letts has two novels to her credit--Quality of Care and Family Planning--as well as a children's book, The Butter Man. She's been an equestrian since childhood, so her first nonfiction book, The Eighty-Dollar Champion, about a remarkable horse, is a good fit, and the story is thrilling.

In the 1950s, Harry de Leyer, a young Dutch immigrant teaching riding at a girl's school, was looking for lesson horses. By chance, he spotted an old plow horse in a truck bound for the slaughterhouse. The calm expression on the horse's face caught Harry's eye, and he bought him for $80. Thus began a lifetime bond of trust and love. When Harry, needing money, had to sell Snowman to a nearby farm, Snowy, on his own, jumped five miles of paddock fences, once dragging an old tire, to get back home. So Harry began working with Snowy, training him to jump. After many tries, Harry unlocked the secret to the horse's gift.

Letts's taut, detailed writing vividly recounts the excitement of the shows; the heights these underdogs climbed; the world of the Eisenhower '50s; and what Snowman and Harry meant to the everyday people they inspired. This book is not only for horsemen and -women; we can all appreciate the beauty of a special bond in the way author describes show jumping: "On any given round, the horse's heartbeat melds with his own, the hoof beats becoming his own rhythm. The world around them melts away. All that remains are motion, flow, silence, and that incomparable feeling that is flight." --K.C. Martin, blogger at The Readable Feast

Learn more about The Eighty-Dollar Champion.

Discover: The true story of a horse saved from the slaughterhouse that went on to become a world-class champion jumper, and the man who rode him to victory.

Ballantine, $26, hardcover, 9780345521088

Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer

by Alexander Maitland

Alexander Maitland was not only Sir Wilfred Thesiger's (1910-2003) biographer, but a friend of 40 years who accompanied Thesiger to Buckingham Palace in 1995, when Thesiger was knighted. Maitland's respect for his friend shines through all 544 pages of Wilfred Thesiger: The Life of the Great Explorer.

Born in Abyssina (now Ethiopia), Thesiger attended Eton and Oxford, but he began plotting as early as age 14 to return to the Africa he always referred to as "home." This he did, exploring the length of Ethiopia's Awash River in his 20s and then embarking on a life of exploration in northern Africa and the Middle East. He visited England only to see his beloved mother and brothers, and never more often than he had to.

In this biography, Maitland paints a portrait of Thesiger detailed in a way that only the work of a close friend could be. At some points, however, Maitland quotes so prolifically from Thesiger's own books that one wonders why one shouldn't skip the middleman and read the explorer's own works. Nevertheless, Maitland puts his work in order, preserving Thesiger's calm fascination with his travels while filling in the accounts with excerpts from letters, photographs, reports and interviews. The result is a striking and thorough biography of one of Britain's last great explorers. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at Intractable Bibliophilia

Discover: A richly detailed journey through northern Africa and the Middle East with one of Britain's last great explorers.

Overlook Press, $37.50, hardcover, 9781590201633

A Song at Twilight--Of Alzheimer's and Love

by Nancy Paddock

In this memoir, Minnesota playwright, poet and environmentalist Nancy Paddock gives a poignant account of one of life's cruelest fates. Detailing her experiences in guiding her parents through Alzheimer's disease, Paddock's story is at once a heartbreaking tribute and a tender love story. Through letters, old photographs and reminiscences, the author recounts her parents' 60-year romance and her own efforts to provide the best possible care for them as they become lost to the debilitating disease.

Paddock and her two sisters find themselves in conflict with an over-extended health-care system that focuses on efficiency and practicality to the detriment of a patient's dignity and independence. They are likewise forced to juggle the responsibilities of work and home life with their parents' ever-increasing vulnerability. Perhaps most affecting are the descriptions of Ralph and Lois Pearson struggling with what should come naturally--everyday decisions or behaviors that suddenly become treacherous and confusing. Through their daughter's eyes we see them grasping to find a reality and an identity that they can trust. In Paddock's telling there is evidence of a struggle that is all the more urgent because it is futile. But the story is not without hope. Though Ralph and Lois eventually succumb to age and illness, in her memories of them Paddock reminds us of the precious and ephemeral joy to be found in simply living one's life. --Judie Evans, librarian


Discover: A daughter's quest to define meaning and truth in the face of her parents' battle with Alzheimer's.

Blueroad Press, $18, trade paper, 9780979650949

Children's & Young Adult

The Man in the Moon: The Guardians of Childhood

by William Joyce

William Joyce invents a breathtaking landscape for his history of the original guardian of childhood: the Man in the Moon. As a baby, MiM, as he is called, travels the skies in a golden-sailed Moon Clipper with his mother, father and Nightlight, a kind of fairy godfather. Each night, the vessel transforms into the Moon.

One day, Pitch, the King of Nightmares, with jet-black hair in up-floating coils as menacing as Medusa's snakes, hunts down this legendary child who has never had a bad dream. Nightlight whisks MiM away to safety, just before Pitch captures the child's parents. As Nightlight plunges his diamond dagger into Pitch's heart, an explosion results, and when MiM later reaches the Moon's surface, he sees the image of his parents etched in the stars. Their constellation offers MiM comfort, and the moon creatures rally around to educate and protect the baby.

Joyce's fans will relish the parallels with his earlier tour de force about a mythic man in a magical land, Santa Calls. Santa rides in his sleigh; MiM flies on his moth. Santa learns of children's wishes through letters; their hopes and dreams travel to MiM by helium balloons. When MiM comes up with a solution to children's nighttime fears, he recruits the Moon's minions and his team of earthling Guardians (Santa, the Tooth Fairy, etc.). Pitch and Nighlight's fates will be the subject of subsequent episodes, but this first adventure in the Guardians of Childhood series offers a visual feast and a complete mythology of the Man in the Moon. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

For more on The Man in the Moon, check out our Maximum Shelf.

Discover: A fully imagined mythology of the original Guardian of Childhood, and his mission to dispel the nightmares of the children on earth.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $17.99, hardcover, 56p., ages 4-8, 9781442430419

All These Things I've Done

by Gabrielle Zevin

Gabrielle Zevin (Elsewhere; Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac) continues to write smart, captivating novels. Her latest is a wicked combination of star-crossed love, whodunit, coming-of-age and dystopia that will keep you turning the pages. In the future of Zevin's crafting, life is not as we know it: chocolate and caffeine are controlled substances, camera phones are illegal, and no one remembers what OMG means. New York City, bankrupt and deteriorating, is home to Anya Balanchine, a no-nonsense 16-year-old and daughter of a crime lord. With both of Anya's parents dead, her grandmother's health failing rapidly, and her siblings relying on Anya to be the head of the household, she has more than enough responsibilities to keep her busy. She's managing pretty well, all things considered--until her brother unwittingly gets mixed up in "the family business."

When a batch of poisoned Balanchine chocolate starts to land people in the hospital, Anya's family is immediately suspect. To make matters worse, Anya is falling for the new district attorney's son--the DA who has sworn to crack down on organized crime and families like the Balanchines. As events spiral out of control and Anya tries to discover who is responsible for the frame-up, she will also discover how far she is willing to go to protect herself and her own. Zevin has created a frank, entertaining and thought-provoking read that will appeal to teens across the board. The best part? It's just the first installment! --Jenn Northington, events manager at WORD bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Discover: The first book in a new series, introducing the indomitable Anya Balanchine, which will satisfy teens looking for action, romance and adventure.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $16.99, hardcover, ages 12-up, 9780374302108

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