Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, September 16, 2011

William Morrow & Company: Southern Man (Penn Cage #7) by Greg Iles

From My Shelf

Moveable Book Feasts

The opening this weekend of the Brooklyn Book Festival marks the launch of what we at Shelf Awareness think of as the fall book festival season. In the coming weeks, fairs devoted to bringing books, authors and readers together include the National Book Festival, sponsored by the Library of Congress and held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (September 24-25); the Texas Book Festival, held in Austin October 22-23; and the mother of all book festivals, the Miami Book Fair International, which, marking its 28th anniversary, takes place November 13-20. There are also book fairs this fall in Boston, Baltimore, West Hollywood, Minneapolis, Connecticut, Kentucky and Ohio. (For more information on these and other fairs, check out our website listing.)

Only six years old, the Brooklyn Book Festival is already a sterling example of what these fairs have to offer. The Festival "proper" takes place this Sunday and features vendor booths and a full schedule of concurrent readings, signings and panels. As if that weren't enough, starting last night, a series of "bookend" events began in the borough, including "an evening of wine and literary talk" with author Jay McInerney at the Brooklyn Winery; PEN American Center's Literary Pub Quiz; concerts; an independent book publisher party; and Community Bookstore's 40th anniversary party tomorrow. Altogether nearly 300 authors are participating in the Festival, including Russell Banks, Jonathan Safran Foer, Joyce Carol Oates, Larry McMurtry, Jennifer Egan, Terry McMillan, Edmund White, Wallace Shawn, Jon Scieszka, Mo Willems, John Sayles, Terese Svoboda, Susan Isaacs and more.

Like other fairs around the country, the Brooklyn Book Festival is a full community effort, supported by local bookstores (which are hosting many "bookend" events), publishers, authors groups, cultural and arts organizations and the city government. Hotels have even jumped on the bandwagon, offering discounts to out-of-towners.

Book festivals are a great place to meet authors, learn about books, discuss issues and mix with other booklovers. We'll keep you updated about individual book festivals as they approach.

Happy reading! --John Mutter

The Writer's Life

Portrait of the Artist: Diana Abu-Jaber

"I can honestly say that this book is a big leap forward for me," said Diana Abu-Jabar,  author of the just-released Birds of Paradise (Norton). "This novel is more layered than my previous books, it has more richness to it, and more dimension. I like that I'm painting on a big canvas with it, that I took more chances with it, especially more emotional risks." Abu-Jaber's previous work includes the novels Crescent and Origin, and the memoirs Arabian Jazz and The Language of Baklava.

While Birds of Paradise is set in Miami (where Abu-Jaber now lives) and depicts that city's seamy underside, the risks that the author refers to are the emotional ones she took while creating the character of Avis Muir. Avis, a perfectionistic patissier, is so driven that she has literally driven her teenage daughter, Felice, out of the house. Felice has lived apart from her family and mainly on the streets, rarely seeing her mother, and only on her terms. "Avis has a kind of edge to her, a kind of darkness to her character," Abu-Jaber said.

"I find that I chase my terrors and my demons through my writing, and I began to understand, as I wrote, that I was afraid that any child we raised would do to us what I had done to my own parents," she continued. The child of a strict Jordanian immigrant, Abu-Jaber skipped two years of school and started college at 15, and left home a year later.

"That phenomenon of leaving home too soon was very much on my mind as I wrote about Felice," she said. "My father was a very traditional Jordanian immigrant and I was raised in a stern patriarchal household. I wanted to portray some of the anxieties and emotional bargaining that went on between a child and a strict parent."

When Abu-Jaber and her husband decided to start a family, she started thinking about how children find their places within families, both nuclear and extended. "We start setting plans for our children even before they're born. My characters Brian and Avis assigned roles for the children, and they want a lot for Felice: to be kind of magical. They're actually intimidated by their own child! Felice is so beautiful that Avis never really sees her, never really connects with her."

She recalled the the mental "inventorying and exploration" she did before adopting Gracie, who's now three. "I really had to ask myself what I was so afraid of, why it had taken me so long to come to terms with wanting to be a parent. For a lot of my life, I had heard that if you want to be a writer, you should not have children. You have to choose between parenting and writing." She feels this is why she was so tough on her protagonist: "I wanted to have her experience this loss is which you know your child is out there, that they can pop up at any time and draw the boundaries."

If Avis is all about strict measurements and placements, and Felice is all about beauty and boundaries, then Stanley--Felice's older brother--is all about substance. "Stanley is into organic vegetables, and I had fun with that while writing, since in my family of bakers and sugar fiends, sweet things are beauty, seduction, poison. It's demonized in a way that I don't remember from childhood, and I found it useful in delineating characters."

There are other characters of importance in Birds of Paradise, including an enigmatic and self-contained neighbor of the Muirs, a Haitian immigrant named Solange. "I knew at the outset that it was going to be a secret sharer kind of book," Abu-Jaber said. "I like the idea of learning a whole new way of looking at the world by watching another person, existing through another portal."

Interestingly enough, for the multicultural mother of young Gracie, one of the last characters we meet in Birds of Paradise is Stanley's pregnant girlfriend, Nieves. "She is the kind of modern multiracial character I see coming from a place where you don't fit into any pre-existing boxes--so you're forced to create yourself, or be at the mercy of others," Abu-Jaber said. "Do you let other people make your identity, or do you do so? Nieves claims hers, and she is stronger for it. --Bethanne Patrick

Great Reads

Further Reading: There but for the

There but for the by Ali Smith is a novel told from multiple perspectives--a technique that Smith, a relatively young British novelist, used in her last book, The Accidental. This new novel follows the story of Miles Garth, who decides to lock himself in a bathroom during a dinner party. Four of the other guests, each of whom has some kind of tie to Miles, narrate what happens next.

Smith's use of these narrators is well done, but she certainly didn't invent the idea. Here are some suggestions that you'll enjoy if you've already read novels with multiple perspectives by other authors.


If you like Paul Scott (The Raj Quartet) and William Faulkner (As I Lay Dying), try: The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. Durrell's famous novel-in-viewpoints consists of Justine, Balthazar, Mountolive, and Clea, bringing 1940s Cairo to life. Like Scott and Faulkner, Durrell paints on a broad canvas--but with small strokes.


If you like Sarah Waters (Fingersmith) and Chris Cleave (Incendiary), try: The Death of Artemio Cruz by Carlos Fuentes. Fuentes's great work tells the story of a man named Cruz on his deathbed, and its themes of social change and power manipulation are reminiscent of his younger, English fiction-writing colleagues.


If you like Kate Atkinson (Case Histories) and Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), try: The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, a classic tale of suspense in which a 19th-century drawing master and his two pupils (sisters) attempt to solve a mystery, but themselves become drawn into the action.


If you like Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club), Kathryn Stockett (The Help) and Jodi Picoult (House Rules), try: The Girls by Lori Lansens. Lansens's novel is told in alternating chapters by a pair of Siamese twin sisters whose lives may be conjoined, but whose individual stories are ultimately not.


If you like Bram Stoker (Dracula, natch) and Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), try: World War Z by Max Brooks, in which characters around the world share the horror of a zombie takeover apocalypse. While Brooks doesn't achieve the plot coherence of his elders, his pacing is dead (sic) on. --Bethanne Patrick


La Casa Azul Goes for the Green

Aurora Anaya-Cerda, who founded La Casa Azul Bookstore online in 2008, has launched a campaign to raise $40,000 in 40 days to open a bricks-and-mortar store in East Harlem in New York City. A donor will match the money raised.

The 40K in 40 Days campaign is intended to finance inventory, fixtures and café equipment and, most important, provide the deposit for the retail space, all of which would allow La Casa Azul Bookstore to open its doors next year. Incentives for the campaign, which is being conducted on, include gifts such as autographed books, T-shirts and naming a bookshelf. All donors will automatically become Founders' Circle members and their names will be added to the store's donor wall.

For 10 years, Anaya-Cerda has worked and volunteered in six bookstores, taken many business classes, attended two booksellers schools and traveled around the country studying bookstores and meeting with authors and publishers. The bricks-and-mortar store, she said, will offer author signings, book clubs, story times for children and a community meeting space. The store will sell new and used books, coffee, pastries, art, clothing and locally made cards and gifts.

Since the online store was established, La Casa Azul Bookstores has hosted more than 60 events in local cultural institutions, schools and cafes. The bookstore also established the annual East Harlem Children's Book Festival and works with schools and non-profit organizations to promote literacy.

On her website, Anaya-Cerda wrote, "I need your help to get this project off the ground. Help me establish La Casa Azul Bookstore in East Harlem to continue connecting people, books, and the ideas they bring together. I can't do this work without you."

Cool Idea of the Day: The Book Swap

The Guardian and Observer Book Swap, a project with the goal of "setting 15,000 titles free in the wild," will be launched this weekend in the U.K. The Guardian collected thousands of books from publishers and authors and is "distributing them around the country for free. Books will be left in public places where readers are liable to chance upon them, from stations and coffee shops to galleries and museums." The Book Swap launches a six-week Guardian and Observer Book Season.

The "swap" aspect of this effort also involves getting readers and writers to give away their own favorite reads. "After inserting a bookplate sticker (which will come free with the papers on Saturday and Sunday, or can be downloaded online) into the front of their book, and writing a message for the finder, readers can then leave the book somewhere it will be picked up by a new owner and upload the details of where they left it at or on Twitter (#guardianbookswap)," the Guardian wrote.

Top 10 Pick Up Lines to Use on a Girl Reading on an E-Book Reader

As e-readers grow in popularity, some people are already missing the days when it was easy to tell what book a person was reading in public. Here author Larry Dorfman shows that there is plenty of opportunity to use e-books as a way to break the ice.

1. Think your Kindle is compatible with my PSP?
2. The light from that Kobo doesn't really do justice to your face.
3. There are days when all I want to do is stay in bed and download.
4. I only Nook on the subway.
5. Mine can really take a charge--MasterCard or Visa.
6. I'm definitely starting Wuthering Heights. Right after A Game of Thrones and Lost Tribe of the Sith #1.
7. How many books do you have in there? A few dozen? Gonna start to get pretty heavy soon?
8. I bought a camouflage cover for my Nook. Now I can't find it.
9. Any way I can get high-speed access?
10. Your iPad or mine?

Larry Dorfman is the author of the Snark Handbook series. The latest title, The Snark Handbook: Sex Edition: Innuendo, Irony, and Ill-Advised Insults on Intimacy, is just out from Skyhorse Publishing.

The Most Popular Book Club Books

The following were the most popular book club books during August based on votes from readers and leaders of more than 31,000 book clubs registered at

1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
2. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
3. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
4. Room by Emma Donoghue
5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
6. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
7. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
8. The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
9. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
10. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

Top two risers:

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (new to list)
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan (new to list)

Wrong Take on The Taker

In our review a week ago of The Taker by Alma Katsu (Gallery Books), a work of historical fiction with a supernatural element, we assumed that the 200-year-old narrator was a vampire. Our mistake.

Movies from Books: I Don't Know How She Does It; Drive; Straw Dogs

Three movies based on books open today:

Straw Dogs, starring James Woods, James Marsden and Alexander Skarsgård, is a graphic tale of outsiders under attack by violent locals, based on the book The Siege of Trencher's Farm by Gordon Williams and the 1971 movie starring Dustin Hoffman. This version has been moved from the English countryside to the American Deep South. The movie tie-in edition is from Titan ($12.95, 9780857681195).

I Don't Know How She Does It, based on the book by Allison Pearson, stars Sarah Jessica Parker as a working mom juggling a slew of professional and personal obligations. Also stars Pierce Brosnan, Kelsey Grammer and Greg Kinnear. The movie tie-in edition is from Anchor ($14.95, 9780307948564).

Drive, based on the book by James Sallis, stars Ryan Gosling as a Hollywood stunt man moonlighting as a getaway driver. The movie tie-in edition is from Mariner ($12.95, 9780547791098).

Top 10 Books Set in Istanbul; Top 10 Books Set in College

The Guardian's Malcolm Burgess picked "10 of the best books set in Istanbul," ranging from "a history of Constantinople to a literary trail through the city by Nobel Prize-winner Orhan Pamuk."


No time or money for college? Flavorwire has a homework assignment for you: "How to Approximate the College Experience in 10 Books."

Book Review



by Bonnie Nadzam

Lamb is a tale told from the depths of its title character's self-centered loneliness. In his 54 years, David Lamb has wanted for little and suffered less. So when his marriage crumbles and his father dies, Lamb copes by disappearing from Chicago to his cabin out west. Instead of taking the time for some much-needed soul-searching, however, Lamb takes along Tommie, an unexceptional 11-year-old girl he meets in a Lombard parking lot.

But Lamb is no titillating crime drama. With the reflexive self-deception born of unexamined privilege, Lamb picks up Tommie because he needs to believe that he can, somehow, save her--that he can waltz into the life of a girl who will amount to nothing and give her the benefit of a Rocky Mountain vacation, a yellow sweater, a slice of a world she's never seen. What Lamb doesn't realize, however, is that he cannot give Tommie the honest and intimate friendship she needs without first facing the demons--privileged as they are--that lurk in his own past.

Lamb is difficult to sympathize with, which can make the book dislikable at times, but Nadzam's genius is in creating a character who is as compelling as he is tiresome. Lamb has sparse settings and very little plot, but these don't feel like losses so much as discretion. Everything that matters happens between Lamb and Tommie, and in forging this relationship, Nadzam has done well indeed. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at Intractable Bibliophilia

Discover: A remarkably gentle first novel about the brutality of self-discovery.

Other Press, $15.95, trade paper, 9781590514375

There but for the

by Ali Smith

Far beyond merely clever, Ali Smith (The Accidental; Hotel World) has devised a wise and punny, witty story of people caroming off one another like billiard balls on a table. Their connections, and lack thereof, make up the import of this quirky, modernist tale.

Once a year, Genevieve and Eric Lee give an "alternative" annual dinner party, to which they "invite people who were a bit different from the people they usually saw, as well as friends they saw all the time." Maybe a Muslim, a Jew or a Palestinian--a foray into diversity. This year a friend of a friend, Mark Palmer, brings Miles Garth with him. The title of the first section is "There," followed by "was once a man who, one night between the main course and the sweet at a dinner party, went upstairs and locked himself in one of the bedrooms of the house of the people who were giving the dinner party." That man is Miles. And thereby hangs the tale.

Suspend disbelief that anyone would allow this situation to continue for three months and enjoy the ride through words, concepts, figures of speech and the idiosyncrasies, rhyming, singing, foibles, eccentricities and downright oddments of all the characters. The story unfolds through the eyes of four people who have known, ever so slightly, Miles Garth. Who he is remains ambiguous as we read the account of Anna, an age-mate who knew him perhaps 30 years ago, briefly. Oh, but then she remembers another, more telling encounter.

Next in the recounting is Mark Palmer, a gay man, who meets Miles and, on a lark, invites him to this dinner he doesn't want to attend. Of course, we learn more about Mark then we do about Miles, which is the way of things in this book. Miles is a memory catalyst, a prism through which to focus certain times, people and events. May Young, an octogenarian, has the most poignant tale to tell and also gives the reader insight into Miles. Precocious 10-year-old Brooke Bayoude is a constant through several narrations, and the only person who connects with Miles in any meaningful way.

Ali Smith is probably some kind of genius--and way entertaining in the bargain. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A dinner guest excuses himself from the table, goes upstairs and locks himself in a bedroom, where he remains for three months. We wonder why. Four people try to tell us.

Pantheon, $25, hardcover, 9780375424090

Bear Down, Bear North

by Melinda Moustakis

There are fish stories... and then there are fishing stories. In this stellar first collection by Alaskan-born Melinda Moustakis we get a little of both. The linked stories of Bear Down, Bear North (winner of the 2010 Flannery O'Connor Award for Short Fiction) follow the lives of three generations of homesteaders in the raw and rugged landscape of Alaska.

Whether she is describing what seems like a preposterous tale of a teenage girl mushing a dogsled through a blizzard in search of a lost Malamute or a brother and sister landing a 60-pound chrome salmon on the Kenai River or still more siblings rescuing a frozen eaglet trapped in the stinking muck under the hole of an outhouse, Moustakis crafts memorable characters with the raunchy dialogue of those who must grow up fast in the wilderness--"bear down"--or slink off to "the lower 48 in places like Nashville and Omaha."

Moustakis's stories are rich in local lore--the hospital lobby holds a dressmaker's manikin pierced by dangling fishing lures in the body locations where they were removed from patients; where the "Mathew brothers, called Doormat and Hazmat,... backtroll for kings... tossing back a few beers, waiting for the big one to hit"; and where, down at Good Time Charlie's, the regulars "all have stories full of funny accidents and slips and remember-whens and they laugh about it all, but their hands tell a darker truth."

That darkness comes long in Alaska: "It's, as Jack says, F***ing February, when everyone goes crazy and shoots themselves in the head." --Bruce Jacobs

Discover: Exceptionally well-written stories of a colorful Alaskan family making its way.

University of Georgia Press, $24.95, hardcover, 9780820338934

Mystery & Thriller

Temporary Perfections

by Gianrico Carofiglio

Criminal defense attorney Guido Guerrieri makes a welcome return in this fourth novel in Gianrico Carofiglio's series set in Bari, on the Adriatic coast of southern Italy. Sardonic, ironic and laconic, Guerrieri is good company when he isn't busy. Since people are still getting into trouble, though, he keeps his nose to the grindstone as he strives to represent his clients well.

Manuela Ferraro has disappeared, and her parents are distraught that the Carabinieri are closing the case on her. They ask Guerrieri to help. Years of criminal defense practice come into play as Guerrieri interviews the Carabinieri, the prosecutor who has been handed the case and Manuela's friends. Fans of legal thrillers will be fascinated by his preferred methods and will truly believe and accept that his best friend is literally a punching bag (nicknamed affectionately Mister Bag) to whom he confesses all. The punching bag takes a beating, can keep secrets and never criticizes, making their relationship the most beautiful one in his life.

Guerrieri conducts a series of interviews that seem not to add much to the facts of the case, yet certain discrepancies nag at Guerrieri's inner prosecutor. Guerrieri shakes up one person by stating, "No one ever tells the whole truth, especially when they're talking about themselves," and flushes out more than he had hoped for. Persistence in pursuing hunches is key to answering the questions about Manuela Ferraro's disappearance, and finding those answers, Guerrieri tells Mister Bag, is all the proof he needs that "There are times when it is indispensable to do things the right way." --John McFarland, author

Discover: An intricate and satisfyingly leisurely legal mystery that also lays out how a sardonic criminal defense attorney runs a busy practice in Bari, Italy.

Rizzoli, $24.95, hardcover, 9780847836307

The Headhunters

by Jo Nesbo, trans. by Don Bartlett

Norwegian mystery writer Jo Nesbo's latest novel, The Headhunters, is a fast-paced thriller with enough twists to make your head spin and your hand flip back the pages to find what you missed.

Roger Brown is the king of his heap. A headhunter who grills his corporate clients via FBI interrogation tactics, he always, always places his man. But the yin of his professional success is matched by the yang of his personal insecurity. Brown is a short man who has married above himself, literally. When the financial pressures of his marriage mount, he seeks extralegal funds through art theft, and catapults head on into battle with a hunter far more dangerous than himself.

Although not as widely read, Nesbo's Harry Hole mystery series shares accolades on par with fellow Scandinavian writers Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell. But don't bring the same expectations of moral depth and serious theme to this novel. In Headhunters, the moral compass that guides Hole is absent and there are few similarities between the protagonist of this novel and the crusading Blomqvist/Salander duo or the melancholic Inspector Wallander. Brown has the scruples of Tom Ripley and the ego of Gordon Gekko. If you grow to like him at all, it's solely because the rest of the characters are even more revolting. But this book is purely about survival. With suspense that makes you sweat bullets, it will keep you guessing until the very last page and don't be too surprised if you find yourself rooting for Roger along the way. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: What happens when two headhunters face off in a fight to the death in this stand-alone thriller from the popular Norwegian mystery writer.

Vintage, $14.95, trade paper, 9780307948687

The Coldest Fear

by Rick Reed

Rick Reed (author of the true crime Blood Trail) brings back Detective Jack Murphy from his first novel, The Cruelest Cut, in this suspenseful ride. Most of a woman's body is found mutilated in a bathtub at the Marriott in Evansville, Ind.; mere hours later, Jack is looking at the woman's right hand, arranged alongside the similarly abused body of a young mother in the projects. The bodies stack up quickly as Jack and his partner struggle to with the investigation. A local newspaper reporter scoops them at every turn, and his source just might be their serial killer. The investigators are taken to a small town with a two-man police department, and then an FBI profiler is brought in, as the case quickly grows bigger and bigger and spans jurisdictions.

Reed, a former police detective, brings his professional expertise to this thriller in which the vantage point shifts between Jack's criminal investigation and the perspective of the killer, providing a distinctive reading experience. The murderer remains nameless, but we get glimpses into what drives him and what makes him hesitate. When his identity is finally revealed, the shock is not lessened, but the tale gets an interesting twist from the shifting viewpoint.

Reed's second crime thriller delivers with fast-paced suspense, twists and turns, the humor of several witty detectives and that rarity of fiction, a likable FBI agent. Gruesome serial killings are balanced by banter, the sweet if harried relationship between Jack and his parole officer girlfriend and an ending with a note of hope. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: A fast-paced crime thriller involving a serial killer; likable, witty detectives; and a mess of body parts.

Pinnacle Books, $7.99, mass market, 9780786024841

Biography & Memoir

Loose Diamonds... and other things I've lost and found along the way

by Amy Ephron

When Amy Ephron's jewelry collection was stolen from her Los Angeles home, she grieved its loss twice--once for the tangible objects themselves, once for the memories. Each piece was a touchstone of a former time--the years she spent struggling to make a living as a writer, the birth of her second child, the wedding bands from her first marriage. Even if she hadn't worn them in years, they gave her a feeling of security. Then suddenly, they were gone.

Turning her collector's eye to her memories, novelist Ephron (One Sunday Morning; A Cup of Tea) pulls out a handful of anecdotes to examine--some she relates with a fond but clear-eyed nostalgia (where her writing is strongest), some with a determined cynicism (where it falters). Each essay, like a bracelet or pair of earrings, contains a memory--perhaps untouched for years, but still an important part of the collection. Like her jewelry, some pieces have more inherent and sentimental value than others; her reflections on life with her mother and her children are far superior to her experiences as a "psychic" or tales of decadence in 1980s Los Angeles, where her friends bought champagne by the case.

Underneath Ephron's biting wit and cavalier attitude lie a deep love for family and a fondness for objects and places that bring back memories such as egg cups, her Filofax and Saks Fifth Avenue. Like the loose diamonds of the title, these essays are a little scattered, but taken together, they sparkle. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A frothy, lighthearted, often witty collection of essays about marriage, motherhood and the power of a good piece of jewelry.

Morrow, $19.99, hardcover, 9780061958748


The Makers of the Modern Middle East

by Robert McNamara, Andrew Mango, Tom Fraser

In The Makers of the Modern Middle East, historians T.G. Fraser, Andrew Mango and Robert McNamara tell the story of how today's Middle East was created from the remains of the Ottoman Empire during the peace negotiations at the end of the First World War.

The future of the Middle East was a side issue in the Paris peace talks, which an American diplomat described as "the great loot of the war." The Allies came to the table prepared to divide the region among themselves. France had its eye on Syria. Britain was concerned with securing the oilfields of modern Iraq and the route to India. Greece and Italy wanted pieces of Ottoman Europe.

The Allies weren't the only powers that had an interest in the future of the region. Prince Feisal, who led the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire with British aid, hoped to build an Arab kingdom based on Syria and Palestine. Dr. Chaim Weizmann had laid the groundwork for British support of a Jewish National Home in Palestine. Mustafa Kemal, later known as Ataturk, created the modern, secular Turkish republic against Allied opposition.

Fraser and his co-authors weave the details of competing territorial claims, conflicting political agreements, ignored reports and colorful characters into a narrative as intricate as an Oriental rug, with a warp of Allied imperial ambitions and a weft of the emerging Arab nationalism, Turkish nationalism and Zionism. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Discover: How the modern Middle East was divvied up at the end of World War I, a clash of Allied imperial ambitions and emerging regional nationalism.

Haus Biooks/Consortium, $19.95, trade paper, 9781906598952

Nature & Environment

The Tarball Chronicles: A Journey Beyond the Oiled Pelican and into the Heart of the Gulf Oil Spill

by David Gessner

Nature author David Gessner (My Green Manifesto) didn't plan to write about the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, but when he heard the Gulf called a "national sacrifice zone," Gessner had to know who and what had been sacrificed. He traveled the Gulf states in search of the story beyond "the oiled pelican": the perception of the spill as a finite crisis, solved by dispersants and a capped well.

With a journalist's attention to detail and an engaging conversational style, Gessner offers readers a walk along the stained but beautiful Gulf and the chance to hear stories and fears of the hardworking Americans BP chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg called "the small people." Whether he's speaking of human or dolphin culture, Gessner's passion and eloquence is irresistible as he explains that the idea of working with nature is not a political agenda but a practical ability our species is losing. Equally adept at communicating the wonders of the ocean and the far-reaching consequences of destroying a single habitat, Gessner at times paints a bleak picture but also remains hopeful that the aspects of human nature that led us to this pass will be the very aspects that save us in the long run.

If you read only one book about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill this year, it should be this one. If you plan not to read any books about it, make an exception for this blunt, funny, eye-opening quest to find the real stories behind the Gulf crisis. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries

Discover: Both environmental and human stories of the Gulf oil spill as observed by savvy and engaging nature writer David Gessner.

Milkweed Editions, $24, hardcover, 9781571313331



by Jeffrey Yang

The poems in this book are fairly difficult, allusive, language-driven, nonnarrative works that try to create an idea or feeling or image in your mind from a rich world of words, juxtapositions and snippets of history. Yang is something of a pointillist--he uses words as small dots and dashes, pure color, applied to form a pattern that gradually reveals something to the reader: "wynde-hidden words/ there the island, there the sea/ / floating island mass of the mind/ vanishing beyond the vanishing-line." At times his language play harkens back to Gerard Manley Hopkins: "shield sheds shard/ green-glazed, lost whole."

Yang's first collection of poetry, An Aquarium, was very well received. His position as poetry editor at New Directions and his work as a translator certainly help him in his quest for new and original ways to create poetry. This collection pushes his technique further. Here are a mere seven poems, largely about history and language itself. The final poem, some 50 pages long, deals with the poet walking around a village on eastern Long Island named Yennecott by the Native Americans. The poem has some beautiful, descriptive passages, but it also has grisly descriptions amid a searing indictment of the Europeans' terrible mistreatment of the Indians. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A poet in love with words and language as he shapes his sometimes difficult works into art.

Graywolf Press, $15, trade paper, 9781555975944


by Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry is language, rhythm and song. In the voice of Naomi Shihab Nye, prolific Texas poet and National Book Award finalist (19 Varieties of Gazelle), poetry is also a way to connect generations and cross borders. Her newest collection, Transfer, generously pays homage to her Palestinian heritage; her much-loved father; her late, long-lived grandmother; the streets of San Antonio; and the little things in life that can lift us up or let us down.

For Nye, language is like the transfer tickets her father saved from his many travels. She finds them after his death, stashed in a drawer--not only international luggage tags but also the simple city bus chits needed "Because this bus/ only goes so far, then we need another one./ ...We need a/ different direction bus." Language is where she goes when there is nowhere else to go: "Adjectives polished and combed./ How beautiful they were,/ in their same suits, a crowd of men you knew/ would help you if you were falling...."

Transfer exemplifies Nye's broad stylistic reach and explores her frustrations with the politics of terrorism and war--but only in the language of the personal. Her poetry accepts our weaknesses. "So, the years go by, we find our doors and windows./ Some are always open, some never were./ Because we are stubborn, we love/ the ones that won't open most." These new poems gently pry open a few more windows in the world. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: New poems by a versatile and big-hearted champion of language as linkage among all peoples of the world.

BOA Editions/Consortium, $23, hardcover, 9781934414644

Children's & Young Adult

Following Christopher Creed

by Carol Plum-Ucci

In Carol Plum-Ucci's debut novel, The Body of Christopher Creed, high school nerd Christopher Creed disappeared. This companion novel takes place four years later, when a body is discovered in Chris's hometown of Steepleton, Ind. College reporter Mike Mavic heads to the site to see if there is a connection between the body and Chris, and to see how the town has handled Chris's disappearance.

Torey Adams, introduced in The Body of Christopher Creed, established a blog after Chris's disappearance as a way of coping. When she posts an entry about the discovery of a body, Mike is drawn to Steepleton. He becomes embedded in the story after coming face to face with Chris's younger brother, Justin, a bipolar teen just out of rehab. Justin believes that Chris is still alive and that he can bring Chris back to Steepleton with the power of his thoughts. As Justin's mental stability hangs in the balance, it becomes clear that the mystery of Christopher Creed is far from over.

Though this is a companion to The Body of Christopher Creed, it stands on its own as a chilling and wonderful mystery. Mike's recollections of what he read on Torey's blog ensure that readers will quickly and easily catch up with the events of the first book without the story slowing down. The characters may not all be likable, but all are believable. In telling the story through Mike's eyes, Plum-Ucci gives readers an outsider's perspective on a town that hasn't let go of the past and offers what may be one of the most surprising endings imaginable. --Kyla Paterno, retail coordinator and blogger, Garfield Book Company

Discover: A mystery starring a college reporter who travels to Steepleton, Ind., to see if a newly discovered body could be connected to a teen who disappeared four years ago.

Harcourt Children's Books, $16.99, Hardcover, 9780152047597

With the Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley, Virginia, 1954

by Andrea Davis Pinkney

As the author of engaging nonfiction and historical fiction for young people, Andrea Davis Pinkney (Sit-In) seems like a natural choice to pen a Dear America novel, and this stands out as one of the finest in the series.

With the Might of Angels takes readers to the heart of the battle over school integration in the fictional town of Hadley, Va. (inspired by the integration of a school on the Fort Myer military base). Seventh-grader Dawnie's diary entries begin May 18, 1954, the day after Brown v. Board of Education made public school segregation illegal, and cover the events of one year. Dawnie is determined to become a doctor, though she has "never seen a colored doctor." She calls her plan "Dawnie Rae Johnson's Intention." When she is chosen, as one of the three brightest students at her school, to attend the town's previously all-white school, Dawnie is thrilled that she'll have access to a science lab. She ends up integrating the school alone, however, when the parents of the other two students chosen are too stubborn or afraid to send their children. In the face of discrimination from her classmates and teachers, Dawnie Rae Johnson's Intention grows ever stronger, and her courage is inspiring and convincing.

Historical figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. make cameo appearances, and Dawnie composes letters to her idol, Brooklyn Dodgers star Jackie Robinson. Excellent historical and author notes provide further insight, as does an epilogue and period photographs. This is historical fiction for young readers at its best, with a brave and unforgettable narrator at its center. --Molly McLeod, middle school librarian

Discover: An unforgettable journey into the heart of the school integration battle during a year in the life of African American seventh-grader Dawnie Rae Johnson.

Scholastic, $12.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 8-14, 9780545297059

The Shattering

by Karen Healey

"This is what evil looks like... ordinary people doing terrible things." Evil seethes beneath the surface of the impossibly beautiful, improbably prosperous New Zealand vacation hamlet of Summerton, cloaked from the tourists and suspected by but a few misfit residents. The fractures appear only when three teens compare their suspicions after they each lose a beloved older brother to suicide. Hero Sione joins 17-year-old Keri and Janna in a quest and helps them rekindle a lost childhood friendship. The narrative shifts among their three perspectives, and their relentless investigation elevates the plot from a suspected murder mystery to gritty black fantasy. Supernatural forces appear to be responsible for the suicides, which might really be murders.

Karen Healey (Guardian of the Dead) taps into her native New Zealand for the multicultural cast and setting of her second novel, and the exotic locales and cultures imbue the novel with depth and intrigue.  For readers unfamiliar with cultural references to the Maori, the native New Zealanders, and Samoans, she provides a glossary in the back. Healey seamlessly weaves together several psychological subplots that address the impact of bullying on those with a different cultural background, sexual orientation or spiritual practice. This fresh cultural take on the young adult paranormal quest will shatter your preconceptions of the genre. --Jessica Bushore, public librarian.

Discover: A fresh cultural take on the young adult paranormal quest that will shatter your preconceptions of the genre.

Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, ages 12-up, 9780316125727


Kids Buzz

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

Butternut, the brave storytelling rabbit, is back--and this time her home is on fire!

In my family read-aloud THE PERILOUS PERFORMANCE AT MILKWEED MEADOW, a merry troupe of turkeys organizes a summer show in the meadow, but a fire burns their playhouse to the ground. Who started the fire and why? Called "witty, whimsical, wise" in a Kirkus starred review, this middle-grade animal adventure sequel about trust and forgiveness features show-stopping illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati.

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024


Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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