Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

Cheers to James Patterson

Late last month, James Patterson made 55 bookstores very happy: the bestselling and prolific author sent checks of between $2,000 and $15,000 to 55 independent bookstores across the country, for a total of $267,000. This was the first round of a series of grants to bookstores that he announced last fall and that will total $1 million by the end of this year.

Patterson aims to support indies, he said, because "every day, booksellers are out there saving our country's literature. The work they do to support schools and the rest of their communities leaves a lasting love of reading in children and adults. I believe their work is vital to our future as a country. What are we if we don't have our own literature? I couldn't be happier to, very humbly, support booksellers in their mission. Maybe that's because it's my mission as well."

Patterson has been remarkably flexible with the grants, asking only that the stores be "viable" and have a children's section. Money can be used for just about anything--from building repairs to programs to bring authors to local schools to providing bonuses for staff members to upgrading computers.

Patterson also gave a $15,000 grant to California Bookstore Day, a new event taking place on May 3: 93 California independent bookstores will hold parties, signings, readings and more celebrating their individuality, and will sell books published exclusively for the Day.

Patterson will send out more grants during the course of the year and is still undecided about which stores to include. This allows indie bookstore fans like you to join the fun by nominating your favorite store on Patterson's website. In the meantime, and as often as you want, you can also vote in a less dramatic but highly effective way: by shopping at your local bookstore, for all the reasons that Patterson so eloquently described. --John Mutter, editor-in-chief, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

Book Brahmin: Brian Payton

photo: Alison Rosa/Doug Rosa Photography

Brian Payton has written for the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune and the Boston Globe. His debut book was the novel Hail Mary Corner. His second book, Shadow of the Bear: Travels in Vanishing Wilderness, was chosen as a Barnes & Noble Book Club pick, a Pearl's Pick on NPR and a National Outdoor Book Awards Book of the Year, and was followed by The Ice Passage: a True Story of Ambition, Disaster, and Endurance in the Arctic Wilderness, longlisted for the 2010 National Award for Canadian Nonfiction. Payton's new book is The Wind Is Not a River (Ecco, January 7, 2014). He lives with his family in Vancouver, B.C.

On your nightstand now:

I alternate between fiction and nonfiction and often find myself in the midst of both at once. Right now, my wife is reading Unconditional Parenting by Alphie Kohn aloud to me, because we have two children under the age of two and I am unconditionally confused. I am reading The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt, for the wild, exuberant ride, and The Once and Future World by J.B. MacKinnon, for a deep look at the nature of nature and the possibilities of "rewilding" our world.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Honestly, I can't remember much of what I read as a child, beyond the Hardy Boys mysteries, ghostwritten by authors collectively known as "Franklin W. Dixon." Then, as now, I loved being read to. I remember being mesmerized by my stunningly beautiful third grade teacher, who read E.B. White's Charlotte's Web to the class. I was hooked on every word.

Your top five authors:

In no particular order: John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Roddy Doyle and Ian McEwan.

Book you've faked reading:

I've never faked reading a book, aside from a few junior high school textbooks read by classmates who took excellent (and concise) notes. I don't skim. I will set a book aside rather than skim. That said, one summer in my 20s, I very publicly read Tolstoy's War and Peace while sun tanning, hoping to be seen reading this monumental work. I did not skim, but became completely lost (not in a good way) in the sweep of the Napoleon's Russian adventure. I was frequently and happily distracted by most anyone passing by. I got a great tan.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen. An account of a search for elusive beasts, it is both a physical and existential adventure story that wrestles with our place in nature, the nature of love and loss, the meaning of time, the meaning of meaning. And Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, the only book I've read that truly made me laugh and cry out loud all in the space of a single page. Brilliant. Neither title needs any help from the likes of me.

Book you've bought for the cover:

None. However, I am convinced of the power of good design. I've been attracted to countless beautiful or intriguing covers only to discover beautiful or intriguing stories inside. I often discover for the cover, but buy for the words.

Book that changed your life:

I read Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath when I was 14, and it shook me to the core. I vividly remember savoring the final scene while on the road, curled up in the hatchback of our Ford Pinto (infamous for having its gas tank behind the bumper) because there were not enough seats for all us kids. By the time I reached the ending, I was sobbing loud enough to require explanation. I knew then that I had magic in my hands and wanted to become a magician.

Favorite line from a book:

"How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live." --Henry David Thoreau.

So many of my favorite lines come from the eminently quotable Thoreau--lines that have challenged and inspired me throughout the years.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

The Grapes of Wrath.

Book Candy

Most Popular Book in Each State; Which Country Reads the Most

Scribd explored its database to discover "the most popular book in each of the 50 states," Parade noted; and Mental Floss answered the question: "Which Country Reads the Most?"


"10 compelling unnamed protagonists in literature" were revealed by Flavorwire.


"I just can't relate to female characters." At last week's Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Seattle, Buzzfeed discovered "19 things women writers are sick of hearing."

"The love of books is a love which requires neither justification, apology, nor defense." The Huffington Post shared "19 quotes that will make you fall in love with books all over again."


Noting that the impulse to write his first work of nonfiction, Geek Sublime: Writing Fiction, Coding Software, came from "my own lived experience as novelist and sometimes-programmer," author Vikram Chandra shared his picks for "top 10 computer books" in the Guardian.


Author Tahereh Mafi, who is married to Ransom Riggs (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Hollow City), "commissioned architectural model maker Michael DelPriore to construct a miniaturized version of Miss Peregrine's Home," USA Today reported, noting that "the result is pretty spectacular and took months of collaboration."

Book Review


Kinder Than Solitude

by Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li's second novel, Kinder Than Solitude, reconstructs the intense friendship of three Beijing teenagers in the 1980s and studies how their youthful connection to the poisoning of a young woman still reverberates 20 years later. Boyang, the only member of the trio who resides in China as an adult, manages his life with analytical dispassion while dutifully continuing to visit brain-damaged Shaoai; Moran and Ruyu attempt to quarantine themselves (separately) in American marriages and self-effacing careers. Narrated from the points of view of the three protagonists, Kinder Than Solitude executes a quadruple play: it's an attempted-murder mystery, a soft satire of modern mores across two cultures, a psychological exploration of tragedy's aftermath and, most trenchantly, a vivid re-creation of adolescent aspiration and claustrophobic social dynamics in the era of the Tiananmen Square protests.

The first chapter, set two decades after the poisoning, may introduce more information than a reader can easily process from a cold start, but the second reverts to a 15-year-old Ruyu; from there, Kinder Than Solitude alternates between the teenage and the adult timelines. Li, the recipient of a 2010 MacArthur "genius" fellowship, offers a rare pleasure: astute human characterization. Kinder Than Solitude teems with memorable individuals of all ages whose actions spring from their traits.

In one of the novel's many aphorisms, Li writes, "A secret that never heals makes a person, however close, a stranger, or worse, an intimate, an enemy." The secret that binds Boyang, Ruyu and Moran is presented with so much complex causality that even the reader experiences the contagion of implication. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

Discover: The indelibility of teenage experience and the loneliness that comes with secrets.

Random House, $26, hardcover, 9781400068142

The Headmaster's Wife

by Thomas Christopher Greene

The Headmaster's Wife begins on an early winter morning, with a man walking into New York City's Central Park. He takes off his hat, then his clothes and shoes, and continues his walk. He is taken to a police station and asked what happened. He says he must begin at the beginning, which he does.

Arthur Winthrop is the headmaster of a Vermont prep school, like his grandfather and father before him. His son, Ethan, chose not to follow the family plan and instead joined the army right out of high school. Arthur's wife, Elizabeth, is drifting away from him, interested only in tennis and sitting in Ethan's room, worrying.

Arthur tells the police about his obsession with a student, Betsy, their sexual encounters and her leaving him for Russell Hurley, a handsome basketball player her own age. Arthur plants alcohol under Russell's dorm bed, arranges a room search and has him expelled.

At this point, the policeman interviewing Arthur brings in a man he introduces as an attorney. Arthur hasn't asked for one, and the man's arrival turns everything upside down. The reader knows from Thomas Christopher Greene's clever foreshadowing that something monumental has happened--but only midway through do we learn what it is. The story turns, and it is as if a new book is being written, but such is not the case.

Slowly, our questions are answered and the truth comes out in this examination of grief, love, marriage, madness and hope. Before you pick up this book, clear the decks--because you will read it in one sitting. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: An unexpected, unpredictable, poignant narrative about a headmaster who has made foolish choices.

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250038944

Mystery & Thriller

The Stolen Ones

by Richard Montanari

A killer who seems to have the ability to vanish baffles Philadelphia detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano, and the city's residents live in constant fear as more victims are discovered, virtually under the department's nose. But the key to The Stolen Ones, Richard Montanari's seventh novel starring Byrne and Balzano, isn't supernatural at all.

Luther Wade was born and raised in a hospital for the criminally insane; when it closed, he remained, trolling the passageways underneath the city and carrying out the nightmarishly evil dreams of one of Europe's deadliest serial killers. A mute child found wandering in the street in the middle of the night carries with her a vital clue to the case, as well as a link between the past and the present. Byrne and Balzano have to race to put the clues together and find this mad man before he can wreak more havoc; as they do, Montanari steeps the story in the devious secrets of the hospital's past.

With a plot as eerie and contorted as the catacombs Luther inhabits, The Stolen Ones is a thriller fan's delight--a book readers will stay up late to finish, with all the lights on. Part thriller, part mystery, part horror, The Stolen Ones is a completely great story. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: Lurking beneath their city is a terror detectives Kevin Byrne and Jessica Balzano never imagined could surface.

Mulholland Books, $26, hardcover, 9780316244701

Love Story, with Murders

by Harry Bingham

Welsh Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths returns for her second outing (following 2012's Talking to the Dead) in Harry Bingham's Love Story, with Murders. She finds a female leg in the freezer of an old woman who died recently. Fi's investigation reveals the old woman was cranky with her neighbors but not that cranky. Then other body parts start showing up all over town--more from the original victim, who was apparently killed about seven years earlier, but also those of a more recently murdered man.

Because the body parts are so widely scattered around Cardiff, the detectives pin an entire phone book up on the board to represent the list of suspects. Fi gets to the bottom of things by going "off-piste"--following her own instincts more than protocol--but not before having her own chilling encounters with the killers.

Bingham combines sharp observations (a smile is described as "so thin it was probably manufactured in an Apple design lab") with an expanding portrait of his unusual heroine. The mystery of the body parts parallels Fiona's own struggles with Cotard's syndrome, a rare condition that makes the afflicted think they're dead or unable to feel certain parts of their body. Fiona is attempting to put the victims' bodies back together just as she tries to make herself feel whole. She has surprisingly poignant reactions to harrowing situations; if she fears dying, then she must still be alive. She sometimes thinks she's out of touch with her feelings, but Bingham is very much in control of his characters' inner lives. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, crime-fiction editor, The Edit Ninja

Discover: A Welsh police officer tries to put the dismembered pieces of multiple murder victims back together--along with her own life.

Delacorte Press, $27, hardcover, 9780345533760

A Killing of Angels

by Kate Rhodes

Kate Rhodes defies the sophomore slump in A Killing of Angels, the follow-up to 2013's Crossbones Yard, as psychologist Alice Quentin is unable to refuse Detective Don Burns when he comes to her for help on a new case. Someone is killing employees of London's Angel Bank, leaving an angel picture and white feathers at each scene. To find the murderer, Quentin and Burns must discover the connection between the bankers--the sin for which they are being punished--before another of them becomes the avenging angel's next mark.

Despite the plot's relentless summer sun, A Killing of Angels is a dark psychological thriller that's about more than a series of murders, delving into society's idea of what constitutes mental stability. Several supporting characters vie for attention with strong, colorful personalities. Rhodes infuses her whole cast with as much momentum as the plot, filled with strong twists and plausible red herrings. Alice Quentin's job is to analyze others, but her own psychology engages the reader as much as that of the criminals she observes. And Don Burns, forced to deal with department politics while his family life has deteriorated, views his job as the only thing he has left--but the angel killer may snuff that out as well. His devotion, sincerity and compassion will leave readers rooting not only for his success but his redemption. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A divine messenger terrorizes London's financial district in the second Alice Quentin thriller.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9781250014313


A Wicked Pursuit

by Isabella Bradford

Isabella Bradford's A Wicked Pursuit kicks off a new romance trilogy about three noble brothers with a bewitching tale of a most accidental match.

Harry Fitzroy, the future Duke of Breconridge, has finally met a perfectly bred, perfectly beautiful woman, Lady Julia Barclay, to make his wife. Before he can propose, though, a fall from his horse at the country estate of Julia's family leaves Harry injured, sick and abandoned to the care of Julia's younger sister, Lady Augusta.

Practical, capable "Gus" is used to the ways of her dazzling but spoiled older sister, but even she is shocked by Julia's desertion. As she nurses Harry back to health, Gus is further shocked by her own attraction to the arrogant, demanding nobleman, and soon she and Harry both realize he nearly proposed to the wrong sister. When Harry learns his injury may have left one of his legs permanently crippled, his self-confidence is shattered, and Gus will have to fight to convince him that a man is more than the sum of his parts.

While Harry's initially shallow outlook on marriage may seem a bit off-putting, Gus's steadfast sense of duty and wistful longing to be something more than second fiddle to her sister will have readers in her corner immediately. All that remains is the delight of watching Harry learn a woman's worth comes from within as Gus's faith in their love leads to a satisfying happily ever after. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A new historical romance series from the author of the Wylder Sisters trilogy (When the Duke Found Love et al.).

Ballantine, $7.99, mass market paperbound, 9780345548122

Biography & Memoir

The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT

by Debbie Stier

The Perfect Score Project chronicles Debbie Stier's year of exploring a variety of test-preparation strategies as she sat for the SAT seven times, with the goal of helping her son, Ethan, prepare for his own college-entrance exams. Stier knew Ethan's ability to obtain merit-based financial aid would depend on high scores on the standardized tests, but her last experience with the SAT had been nearly 30 years earlier, and an extensive test-prep industry has sprouted since then.

Stier tried a different study method before each test, from personal tutoring to online learning to self-directed practice using official College Board materials. The Perfect Score Project discusses the pros and cons of each approach, her test scores serving as the final verdict. Stier's evaluation of her SAT experience weighs its effects on her personal growth and relationship with her son at least as heavily as her test scores. While what she did comes across at times as a particularly intense example of "helicopter parenting," and readers might not agree with either her tactics or her conclusions, she offers many helpful insights about the testing process to parents of the college-bound--as well as to the test-takers themselves. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: What one mother learned about the SAT by taking it seven times in one year.

Harmony, $25, hardcover, 9780307956675

Dear Abigail: The Intimate Lives and Revolutionary Ideas of Abigail Adams and Her Remarkable Sisters

by Diane Jacobs

In Dear Abigail, Diane Jacobs returns to the topic of smart women in revolutionary times that she previously explored in Her Own Woman, her biography of Mary Wollstonecraft.

Readers are familiar with Abigail Adams thanks to her sharp-witted and loving correspondence with her husband--but John Adams wasn't the only person who benefited from Abigail's pen. In Dear Abigail, Jacobs uses the correspondence of Abigail and her sisters to build a picture of what it was like to watch the American Revolution from the sidelines.

Mary, Abigail and Betsy Smith were the daughters of a wealthy and influential Massachusetts minister. They were highly educated, well read and opinionated--and they married men who valued those qualities. In their letters, they complain about gender inequalities and household problems while discussing the intellectual issues of the time, from the theological questions of the Great Awakening to the philosophical underpinnings of revolution. They arrange to be inoculated for smallpox--a controversial issue at the time. They share news about the war. They worry about their parents, their husbands and their children.

Much of the book deals with the day-to-day difficulties of the war. Of the three sisters, Abigail suffered the most; some of the most poignant passages show her struggling alone with a difficult pregnancy and ultimate stillbirth. But all of them deal with shortages, lack of information and fear.

Dear Abigail is a perfect companion to David McCullough's John Adams. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: The American Revolution through the eyes of three of its Founding Mothers.

Ballantine, $28, hardcover, 9780345465061


Blood Royal: A True Tale of Crime and Detection in Medieval Paris

by Eric Jager

In Blood Royal, Eric Jager returns to the world of medieval true crime that he popularized in The Last Duel.

On a cold November night in 1407, a band of masked men assassinated Louis I of Orléans, the powerful and unpopular brother of the intermittently insane King Charles, on a dark street in Paris. Jager tells the stories of both the criminal investigation that followed and the subsequent impact of the assassination on French politics.

The first half of Blood Royal is presented as a medieval murder mystery, based on working notes of the investigation written by Guillaume de Tignonville, the provost of Paris responsible for finding the duke's killers. Except for the absence of modern forensic science, Tigonville's investigation techniques will be familiar to any fan of police procedurals, from interviewing witnesses to tracing physical clues. Jager maintains a high level of suspense throughout the inquiry as Tigonville and his men eliminate suspect after suspect until they uncover the shocking solution.

The second half of Blood Royal, equally interesting, is more traditional history. Jager examines the power vacuum in the royal family left by Orléans' death, the civil war that followed and Henry V's opportunistic invasion of France. He ends with the rise of Joan of Arc on the horizon.

Blood Royal will appeal to history buffs, true crime fans and anyone who loves historical mysteries or police procedurals. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A medieval historian recounts the investigation into a royal murder in 15th-century France.

Little, Brown, $29, hardcover, 9780316224512


A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants

by Ruth Kassinger

Ruth Kassinger (Paradise Under Glass), a frustrated amateur gardener, did what any reasonable science writer would do: research the question of how plants work. In hunting for a layperson's guide to botany, however, she came up short, finding mostly scholarly texts for which "Botany 101 is definitely a prerequisite." From these frustrations was born the masterful, engaging A Garden of Marvels.

Her greatest strength is unquestionably her quirky, conversational tone; even the most science-averse reader will be hooked. While A Garden of Marvels does contain the odd gardening tip, it is more concerned with Kassinger's travels to farms, conservatories and laboratories around the nation. A good student of both the humans she meets and human history, she points out that religious and societal philosophies caused our ignorance of and lack of interest in botany until recently, and highlights those few pioneering minds whose experiments, observations and strange machineries caught us up. Kassinger is properly amazed at the science she discovers in nature, as well as the men ("and they were all men") who broke ground with their scientific studies.

Topics like plant sex, the history of scientific exploration and the fundamentals of genomics are all equally accessible in Kassinger's capable hands. For some readers, though, she may be a trifle overenthusiastic about the possibilities of genetic modifications of plant life and dismissive of concerns regarding these technologies. That she makes botany so approachable is a feat; that she makes it downright enthralling is almost as miraculous as an adorable photosynthesizing sea slug. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A charmingly accessible history of botany for readers intimidated by science.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062048998

Children's & Young Adult


by Eliot Schrefer

Following up on his National Book Award finalist, Endangered, Eliot Schrefer delivers a riveting novel describing one boy's struggle to survive in the jungle, living with an adopted family of chimpanzees. 

With his mother and sister dead, Luc is alone on the streets of Franceville, Gabon, in Africa. One day, a researcher going by the name of Prof shows up. At first, all Luc sees is an opportunity to steal a locked case full of valuables. But Luc is offered a job, and a way out of Franceville, so he agrees to travel into the jungle to help Prof study chimpanzees. Almost immediately, they encounter a family of chimps who are both endearing and aggressive. While Prof prefers to watch and take notes, Luc is drawn into the dynamic of his new neighbors. He learns how to communicate with the "mock men," and becomes increasingly involved with Drummer, Mango and the other chimps nesting nearby.

Life in the jungle is a constant struggle. Hunters stalk the chimps, as do snakes, leopards and other aggressive groups of chimpanzees. Food is hard to find. Separated from Prof, Luc must always be on his guard, but the longer he stays, the more he feels at home. Disaster strikes, time and again, and when it does, Luc fights back, and ultimately learns all he needs to know about family. Schrefer's well-written, complex novel showcases an exotic plot that will keep readers thinking about the plight of the chimps long after the story's conclusion. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: Young Luc's daily struggles to survive in the jungle of Gabon, alongside a family of chimpanzees.

Scholastic Press, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 12-up, 9780545551434

Weeds Find a Way

by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, illus. by Carolyn Fisher

With a text that celebrates their perseverance, endnotes that describe their uses and illustrations that commemorate their beauty, this book invites young readers to re-examine their view of weeds.

"Weeds send their seeds into the world in wondrous ways: fluffing up like feathers and floating away on the wind," reads the text as a girl blows on a dandelion and sends its seeds soaring. The red sky and pine-green meadow in the mixed-media and collage illustrations make an ideal contrast for the white umbrella-like seed pods. Next, the girl's red sneakers appear in close-up alongside her dog's paws, moving through long grasses where dandelion seeds catch on "prickly burrs that stick to socks and fur." Elegant language and incidental rhymes make these pages as fun to read aloud as they are to pore over. Author and artist tour the seasons. "Weed seeds find a way to wait, sitting still in icy earth all winter," and others bake on the "white-hot sidewalk" in the summer heat. Fisher invents a visual story line that follows girl and dog through the pages, and tucks in magenta nodding thistle and orange hawkweed aplenty. The final spread erupts in fuchsia-colored fireweed, from which the girl twines a necklace.

Endnotes describe many of the weeds' medicinal and edible uses and make an incisive point: "any plant could be considered a weed if it is growing in a place where someone does not want it to be." This fact-filled picture book that reads like poetry may well cause young readers to rethink the idea of unwanted guests in the garden. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A fact-filled picture book that reads like poetry celebrates the humble weed.

Beach Lane/S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-8, 9781442412606


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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