Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

An Affinity for the Dead

Our recent review of Love Story, with Murders by Harry Bingham, second in a series featuring Welsh Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths, caught my attention. The first thing that made me pause: "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." Hmmm, seems to be some humor in the book (or at least in the reviewer). Later, "a smile is described as 'so thin it was probably manufactured in an Apple design lab,' " so there's fine writing. Then, "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." That was the final hook for me, and I happily recalled I had the first book on hand, Talking to the Dead (Bantam, $15).

I've now read them both, and they're excellent, and portend what I hope will be a long and successful series for Bingham and Fiona. Cotard's syndrome, along with an early childhood trauma, affects Fiona in unusual ways--she has problems living on "Planet Normal," sometimes she can't feel her feet, she has a quirky sense of humor, and she has an affinity for and comfort with the dead. Furthermore, her exuberant, protective father owns strip clubs and has a problematic background with Fi's employer.

Bingham's wit and deft descriptions enhance his plots and fascinating, unusual characters. Fiona winds herself in so much woolen outerwear that "she starts to resemble an accident in a knitting factory." In a cottage in a snowstorm, against a gray sky, she notices "the flakes look black. Like imperfectly burned coal ash settling back over a mining village." The trees have "given up color and volume for the purity of shape."

Bingham's third Fiona Griffiths novel is out in the U.K. I'll be begging one from a British friend. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Book Candy

Typewriter Love; Coolest Places to Read a Book

For Olivetti, Remington, Smith Corona and Underwood lovers, Pop Chart Lab is offering A Visual Compendium of Typewriters, a chart that "features over 60 beautiful hand-illustrations of some of the greatest typewriters from antiquity to recent history. "


The Pop Chart Lab created "25 literary opening lines diagrammed on one giant poster," and Mental Floss recommended we "get lost in the meandering syntax of Cervantes' Don Quixote, marvel at the powerful simplicity of Melville's Moby Dick."


"OMG imagine discovering you were secretly a European royal." Buzzfeed featured "13 books every '00s teen girl has read."


Latin Times highlighted its choices for "top 20 Latin American books to read before you die."  


The Huffington Post found and shared its choices for the "coolest places on earth to read a book."


Bustle found "13 bookshelves that make us want to drop everything and read poetry."

The Accident

by Christopher Pavone

The book publishing industry has never seemed this sexy and dangerous. Chris Pavone follows up the international success of his debut, The Expats, with a new escapade that blends the worlds of espionage, publishing, corporate corruption and human relationships in one nonstop day of pursuit, flight and struggle among those trying to make a fortune off a manuscript, those trying to prevent its publication, and those just trying to survive the sudden crisis it's brought into their lives.

"But the author isn't one of those possible witnesses. Because if what you are reading is a finished book, printed and bound and distributed into the world, I am, almost certainly, dead." So reads the manuscript of a book entitled The Accident drafted by a shadowy author whose intention to write a sanitized biography of Charlie Wolfe, wunderkind-turned-media-mogul, grew into the decision to expose Wolfe's darkest secrets to the entire world. Beneath Wolfe's veneer of self-made success lies a past of entitlement and cover-ups so vile and far-reaching, Wolfe would kill to keep the truth from seeing the light of day, and he's not the only one. In Copenhagen, a veteran CIA operative will use every means at his disposal to destroy all copies of the manuscript and forever silence the author and anyone unfortunate enough to have read the real story. His lethal determination and cadre of professionals, including Kate from The Expats, will send the lucky scurrying to escape, and leave the unlucky or unaware dead.

When literary agent Isabel Reed receives a copy of the manuscript, it occurs to her to wonder if it's an elaborate hoax aimed at defaming Charlie Wolfe, especially in light of the horrific accident detailed in its pages. Her instincts say otherwise, and they also say possessing a draft of the book could put her in grave peril. Isabel knows if she can get the manuscript published quickly and quietly, its dangerous secrets will be out and the involved parties will no longer stand to gain anything by her death. She passes the draft on to Jeff Fielder, an editor whose love of conspiracy theories is rivaled only by his unspoken but widely known love for Isabel. Unfortunately, Isabel's ambitious assistant had the manuscript long enough to make copies, and suddenly the secret spreads, from the assistant to a ruthless rights director, and on to a Los Angeles producer and a New York publisher in need of a big hit. In one day of action, tension and murder, a tell-all memoir will reshape lives around the world. Throughout the chaos, the anonymous author stays hidden in Zurich, protecting his life and one more excruciating secret.

Wrapped up in this mile-a-minute thriller, meditations on various themes await the reader. Pavone gives us a close look inside the embattled world of publishing and the cutthroat competition for the best manuscripts, backed up by a plot that makes the reader believe life and death really could hinge on the publication of a book. In a business where stars rise and fall as meteorically as those in Hollywood and segments of the industry are disappearing into the maw of the Internet, a tell-all about a media giant could change a career.

At the same time, Pavone paints a stark contrast between the world of the corporate conglomeration, epitomized by Wolfe Media and its privileged, corrupt CEO, and small businesses such as independent bookstores, which his characters revere as champions of literacy and the lifeblood of the publishing industry. The message never becomes didactic, though; the action and mystery develop far too quickly to allow the prose to step into preachy territory.

First and foremost, though, the story explores the layers of betrayal human ambition creates--betrayal of strangers, of loved ones, of our own ideals. Isabel and Jeff have both suffered failed marriages to partners who put work before their relationships or saw them as stepping stones. In their flight from their would-be assassins, both suspect everyone and trust no one, a lesson they both learned prior to these events. However, secondary characters also blunder into the snares and double-crosses that drive the hairpin plot twists, too quick to trust in apparent good fortune. In the end, unforeseen traitorous bargains, shocking truths and revealed connections may leave readers themselves feeling as though they were the true victims of a masterful deception.

Although the story's constant suspense encourages a swift reading pace, setting aside a solid block of time in which to inhale it is advised. When Isabel finishes the in-story manuscript The Accident, she muses, "People in the book business are constantly claiming that 'I couldn't put it down' or 'it kept me up all night' or 'I read it in one day.' This time, all of that was true." Having read the real-world novel The Accident, we know exactly how she feels. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Crown, $26, hardcover, 9780385348454

Chris Pavone: Sharp Turns

photo: Nina Subin

Chris Pavone is the author of The Expats, which was a New York Times, USA Today and international bestseller, published in 20 languages on five continents. The Expats is in development for a movie, and won the 2013 Edgar Award for Best First Novel. Pavone grew up in New York City, attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn and Cornell University, then worked at a number of publishing houses over nearly two decades. He's married and the father of twin schoolboys, as well as an old cocker spaniel, and they all live in Greenwich Village and the North Fork of Long Island. Pavone recently spoke with us about his adventures in publishing, his passion for local businesses, and his penchant for sharp plot turns.

Like The Expats, The Accident involves expat spies. How were your experiences writing the two novels alike and different?

Everything about writing the two books was completely different. I began working on The Expats while I was an actual expat, a stay-at-home parent in Luxembourg, a first-time novelist writing completely on spec, with no publisher, no confidence, no experience, no sense of whether what I was doing was anything other than crap. I revised the manuscript forever; I added 200 pages, and then deleted 199 of them. This whole thing was like sitting in the dentist's chair for two years straight: constant discomfort, and pain possible at any moment.

I learned a lot of lessons writing The Expats, mostly about how I might avoid torturing myself in the future. Work on The Accident was much smoother, with a lot less time and effort--and pages--wasted. In the end I'm very happy with how both books turned out, but the process for the second was much more enjoyable; it almost never felt like dental work.

The Accident is mainly set in the publishing world. Tell us about your experiences in this arena.

Beginning in 1990, I worked at eight publishing outfits of vastly different sorts. At my first position at a book publisher, Jackie Onassis had the office at the end of the corridor. I copyedited Pat Conroy's passages as he wrote them out of a hotel on the Upper East Side; I read printer's proofs for John Grisham books while on-press at the plant in West Virginia; I revised newspaper articles in a Times Square office wearing my winter coat, when the heat had been turned off because we could no longer pay the rent. I edited with Giada De Laurentiis at her house in L.A., then went to a Beverly Hills party to hammer out a book tie-in to a TV show with an author whose publicity appearance on Today I watched a few months later--from the hospital delivery room where my wife was in labor with our twins. She asked me to turn off the television when the doctor couldn't hear the babies' heartbeats over the noise. I was a copy editor and a managing editor and an acquisitions editor, a proofreader and an associate publisher, a ghostwriter, and the author of a little book about wine [The Wine Log] that consists almost entirely of blank pages. I've done a lot of different publishing things, in a lot of different places, and nearly all of them were fun.

While the publishing industry plays an enormous role in the book, as does espionage, you also shine a hard light on corruption in the corporate world. What made you decide to include this aspect?

The Expats was an espionage novel that's fundamentally a book about marriage--about intimacy and honesty. The Accident is a thriller that at heart is a book about ambition, about the people we really become on the path from our ideals to our realities. I think very few ambitious people emerge from successful careers unscathed by corruption--not only the corruption that surrounds us, but also the ways we allow ourselves to be corrupted. To me this is a central theme of life; I wanted it to be central to this book.

How do you keep your plot twists so tightly ordered when you have so many?

The outline is my best friend, and I spend a lot of time nurturing our relationship, revisiting and revising the chapters, the sequence of reveals. But like any friendship, we sometimes have disagreements, and I end up wanting to do things of which the outline does not approve. Luckily, the outline is a one-page word-processed document, while I'm a person who can hit the delete button. Which is to say that I always win these disagreements. I'm not rigidly bound to my plan, but it really helps me to have one.

Your characters speak fondly of independent bookstores. Do indies hold a special place in your heart?

I prefer independent shops in general, especially my local ones, and I try to buy everything within a half-mile radius of home. I want to live in a vibrant neighborhood, and vibrancy is created in large part by retailers, who, of course, need customers to survive. So I make sure that I am one.

Beyond these selfish motivations, I'm also inclined to transfer my money into the cash registers of small-business owners who are hardworking members of local communities.

And of course, yes, there's something very special about an independent neighborhood bookstore, about a business based on curatorial expertise and knowledgeable hand-selling and long-term customer relationships.

What are your plans for your next project?

In The Expats, my goal was for readers to be mostly in the dark about what was at stake for the better part of the book; the question wasn't simply who did it, but what it was. In The Accident, I wanted to create a microcosm in which there are antagonistic characters--life-threateningly antagonistic, in fact--but not really any bad guys. And for the project I'm currently fiddling with, I'm constructing a world in which the protagonist--and readers--are for a good long while completely wrong about what's going on. I like stories that take enjoyable sharp turns, and those are the types of books I'm trying to write. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review



by Wesley Stace

Wesley Stace's Wonderkid is many things--a comical novel of the rock 'n' roll lifestyle, a coming-of-age tale and an extended meditation on the nature of creativity and its necessary, but often destructive, relationship with commerce. Stace knows what he's writing about; as John Wesley Harding, he's recorded several critically acclaimed albums.

Wonderkid follows the adventures of Blake Lear, a Syd Barrett-like genius, and his cohorts in a struggling group that is reimagined and relaunched as a kids' band, becoming a Wiggles-like phenomenon. Sweet, an orphan teen whom Blake has adopted on one of his many whims, observes the Wonderkids' descent into mild debauchery, rock-star posturing and fractious tour buses in a way that recalls Behind the Music as much as it does children's television.

Stace has a sure ear for musical banter and the weary and jaded observations of the road. He cuts humorously to the bone, showing how tedium and creative ennui can lead to low-level acts of insanity and career self-sabotage. He also innately gets the mysterious alchemical process where musical magic is born, the way record companies bleed dry the very thing that gives them monetary life and purpose, and he captures perfectly how hard it is to break the contract once you've sold your soul to the devil.

Wonderkid is a blast for all lovers of rock 'n' roll, revealing how three-minute pop songs can take you on the ride of your life even when your fans are screaming soccer moms and snot-nosed kids. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A rocking novel, with a heartfelt take on music, fathers and sons, and the perils of selling out.

Overlook, $26.95, hardcover, 9781468308013

The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals

by Wendy Jones

Occasionally, the stories that seem most quiet and humble are the ones that leave the loudest din in their wake. That applies to Wendy Jones's The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals--and to Wilfred, whose marriage proposal is the catalyst for a series of events both heartrending and profound. The novel's sweet and simple premise initially belies the tumultuous, perilous world of its 1920s Welsh countryside setting, where townspeople bicycle to and from the local general store, families cope with the loss of loved ones in the First World War and locals struggle to keep their private dramas from entering the town's formidable rumor mill.

For Wilfred, the tumult makes navigating the channels of engagement and marriage that much trickier, as his spontaneous proposal sets off a chain of events that ultimately forces him to choose between honor and passion. Though the story alone is a sturdy drama with many moving parts, the novel is most potent for its fearlessness; what initially seems to be a whimsical, cheeky European romance finds gravity in Jones's refusal to skim the surface, diving into the inner lives of those around Wilfred. The reader follows Jones's characters as they wade through crises as grave as they are private, including pregnancies, broken hearts and an inability to swim against the tide of small-town judgment. While the process might be slow, it leads to a highly rewarding--and unflinchingly candid--slice of early 20th-century Welsh life. --Linnie Greene, bookseller at Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, N.C., and freelance writer

Discover: A multifaceted glimpse at the lives and loves of residents in a 1920s Welsh town.

Europa, $17, paperback, 9781609451851

On Leave

by Daniel Anselme, trans. by David Bellos

Daniel Anselme's On Leave has just a single paragraph describing the atrocities committed during France's war with Algeria, but the damage of that combat, the casualties and emotional scars, are everywhere apparent. The novel--written before Algerian independence, published in 1957 in France and now available in English for the first time--is a brave testament to a generation of French "under thirty-twos" forced to die in a war they didn't want to fight. Anselme's technique is brilliant; he builds his entire case off the battlefield, watching three conscripted 20-somethings try to enjoy a too-brief reprieve, from Christmas to New Year, a 10-day break from the carnage.

These utterly different, damaged young men try to reconnect with a world that has already marginalized them. Anselme expertly crafts their interactions with a wealthy childhood friend, a former pupil, an evangelizing neighborhood Marxist trying to enlist them into collecting signatures for peace and an ex-serviceman, not to mention frustrated family members struggling to show their love but not understanding.

This immaculate short novel tells it all in a few scenes and heartbreaking simplicity. It doesn't try to persuade you of anything, just lets you experience the charm and youth and private longings of three young men briefly escaping from atrocities they can hardly bear to witness, much less perpetrate. The reader is left with an intimate glimpse into the wrecked lives of three human beings who no longer connect with anyone but each other. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: A new translation of a 1957 novel that details three vulnerable, endearing young soldiers on reprieve from the Algerian War.

Faber & Faber, $24, hardcover, 9780865478954

The Enchanted

by Rene Denfeld

Rene Denfield's debut novel, The Enchanted, offers a fresh approach to the crime novel: though the story is heavy with criminals, it is never clear what crimes they may have committed. Rather than focusing on what led her characters to prison, Denfield tells the story of the prison itself--and the lives of the death row inmates in this corrupted place.

We meet "the priest," a fallen cleric who works with the inmates on a spiritual level, and "the lady," an investigator hired by lawyers to aid the appeals of their death-row clients. "The warden" goes home every night to his wife, who is dying of cancer. "The guard" earns a small fortune smuggling contraband into the prison, while "the boy" finds himself offered to the meanest of inmates as a prize for cooperation in the guard's scheme. Meanwhile, the inmates all suffer in their own ways in their lonely cells.

Each character's perspective contributes to the multifaceted life of the prison, which one inmate believes to be enchanted. Their experiences with different aspects of the prison building--the interview room, the cells, the yard, the crematorium--reveal the seedy underbelly of prison life. The result is heartbreaking yet captivating, a study of one of the darkest places in our society--a place that, despite the despair, is always tinged with hope. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Rene Denfield draws on her experience as a death row investigator to capture the seedy underbelly and heartbreaking emotions of prison life.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062285508

Mystery & Thriller

The Disappeared

by Kristina Ohlsson, trans. by Marlaine Delargy

Kristina Ohlsson's The Disappeared has one of the most disturbing openings to a mystery novel in recent memory, as an unnamed woman watches an old film clip of another woman being hacked to death. Is it fake, or a real snuff film?

The story doesn't ease up, either, as Stockholm police find dismembered body parts, soon identified as belonging to Rebecca Trolle, a literature student who went missing two years earlier. Inspector Alex Recht and his team, including analyst Fredrika Bergman, discover that at the time of Rebecca's death, she was obsessed with the topic of her dissertation--a former beloved children's book author who went to prison for murdering her ex-lover. Rebecca was convinced of the author's innocence and may have stumbled upon information proving her theory.

While working the difficult case, the investigative team is also grappling with personal conflicts. Alex, still mourning his dead wife, finds himself attracted to Rebecca's grieving mother. Fredrika, who has just given birth, suspects her partner, Spencer, a literature professor, is hiding something when he suddenly takes paternity leave. She becomes more alarmed when his name surfaces in relation to Rebecca.

The Disappeared is the third novel in a series (following Unwanted and Silenced); though some recurring characters' stories aren't fully explained here, the protagonists are well defined and the enthralling case stands on its own. The complex plot keeps readers in the dark with a sense of dread, but the unsettling aspects are balanced by the investigators' persistence in the face of depravity, their determination not to let humanity disappear. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, crime-fiction editor, The Edit Ninja

Discover: Kristina Ohlsson's third Stockholm thriller begins with a disturbing scene featuring a possible snuff film--and the sense of dread never lets up.

Emily Bestler/Atria, $25, hardcover, 9781476734002

A Circle of Wives

by Alice LaPlante

After her stunning debut novel, Turn of Mind, Alice LaPlante is back with A Circle of Wives, an engrossing psychological thriller where almost nothing is as it seems.

Dr. John Taylor, a well-known reconstructive surgeon, is found dead in a hotel room--in his hometown. Whip-smart detective Samantha Adams is assigned to the case. At first, it seems straightforward--an overweight, middle-aged man who worked too hard had a heart attack--but the autopsy reveals John died from an injection of potassium chloride. For a detective accustomed to investigating bicycle thefts, this is a major change.

There's no shortage of suspects. John's three wives--concurrent, not sequential--were all neatly located in different cities, instructed as to when and where they might call him, under the careful orchestration of Wife #1, Deborah. She long ago discovered his dalliance with a nurse, confronted him and scared her off. They worked out a deal. "He could seek true love," Deborah explains. "He could even get married again, if he found someone who loved him back. But she was not to know about me." His first conquest (and second wife) was MJ, a hippie gardener. After six years, John wandered again and married Helen, a pediatric oncologist. Six months later, he was murdered.

Told in the alternating voices of Samantha and the three wives, the labyrinthine path to murder, the intricate relationships, and Samantha's own romantic tribulations all play out in an exploration of the nature of love, marriage, trust and expectation. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A psychological thriller about a prominent surgeon who keeps his three lives (and wives) separate--until he is murdered.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802122346

Murder in Pigalle

by Cara Black

Aimée Leduc, the private detective star of 13 previous books by Cara Black, is almost six months pregnant as Murder in Pigalle begins. She still hasn't told the baby's father, but she's distracted from her personal problems when her young friend Zazie tells her that several of her classmates have been raped.

Aimée is appalled to learn the police hadn't yet realized a serial rapist is targeting 12-year-old girls--and becomes even more focused when Zazie goes missing. On a quest to save Zazie and catch the rapist, Aimée will stop at nothing, engaging in shoot-outs with suspects, snooping around police headquarters, even going on a sleazy tabloid television show to get the word out.

Murder in Pigalle brings the red light district of Paris to the forefront as Aimée's search takes her through dodgy bars, old theaters and swanky houses. Although the text is occasionally choppy (perhaps reflective of Aimée's hormonal thought processes?), the pace is brisk, the plot intriguing; Black effectively captures the essence of the titular neighborhood. Aimée personifies fashion-conscious Paris, as she treks across the city in her high-heeled shoes, unfraid to bend the law when it suits her, desperate to find Zazie. Murder in Pigalle showcases both a memorable detective and an unforgettable city. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Aimée Leduc is determined to stop a serial rapist in the 14th novel of Cara Black's popular series starring the Parisian detective.

Soho Crime, $27.95, hardcover, 9781616952846

Science Fiction & Fantasy

The Weirdness

by Jeremy P. Bushnell

With a deft, self-deprecating touch, Jeremy P. Bushnell makes dealing with the devil, the world-ending threat of a lucky cat statue and shapeshifting demon sex-wolves seem plausible--perhaps downright inevitable--as The Weirdness manages to soar beyond the potentially familiar tropes of urban fantasy with a strong sense of style and character.

Billy Ridgeway is a writer, though he hasn't published much of anything, working at a sandwich shop in Brooklyn with his best friend, a non-practicing Hindu named Anil. His roommate has recently vanished, he's not sure his girlfriend really loves him and then one morning, Billy wakes up and finds Lucifer sitting on the couch, armed with a deal and a PowerPoint presentation to back it up. All Billy needs to do is to infiltrate a tower protected by the most powerful warlock in New York City and steal back a maneki-neko--one of those beckoning Japanese cat statues. It turns out the Neko is a perpetual motion engine that will burn the world, something even Lucifer doesn't want.

The Weirdness has a life of its own, due to the clever humor and realistic portrayal of each of the characters (even the supernatural ones). Readers will inhabit the story for a long time after finishing. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: Bushnell's debut novel is a clever, darkly satiric tale of the devil, literary Brooklyn and the human penchant for underachievement.

Melville House, $16.95, paperback, 9781612193151

Biography & Memoir

Prison Baby

by Deborah Jiang-Stein

Deborah Jiang-Stein was one of very few adopted, multiracial children growing up in Seattle in the 1960s. Her Asian features stood out awkwardly in a family of Jewish intellectuals; her impulsive behavior baffled teachers. When she was 12, she discovered she was born in prison to a heroin-addicted mother before passing through foster care and arriving at her adoptive home.

In Prison Baby, Jiang-Stein recalls how her fractured identity and jilted childhood directed the course of her life. Despite the stability of her new home, she was drawn to drug use, crime and, most of all, an overwhelming sensation of anger. Not until much later did she manage to transmute this anger into activism and compassion.

Jiang-Stein's memoir is remarkable in that she combines the messiness of memory with a clinical understanding of her own condition. As an adult, she learns that the feelings that have gripped her throughout life have official definitions: post-traumatic stress disorder, dissociative amnesia, reactive attachment disorder. These insights not only illuminate her own behavior, they allow her to see herself in the context of millions of others affected by incarceration. Ultimately, it is through embracing this connection that she finds meaning.

Jiang-Stein has since founded the unPrison Project, a nonprofit devoted to empowering women and girls in prison. It has served more than 10,000 women, with the goal of someday reaching all 150,000 women in prisons across the United States. --Annie Atherton

Discover: In her memoir, Deborah Jiang-Stein describes her journey from prison-born child to activist for imprisoned women.

Beacon Press, $14, paperback, 9780807098103

Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening

by Carol Wall

When Carol Wall met Giles Owita, she was embarrassed by her family's yard, but not enough to get her fingernails dirty. Their relationship, chronicled in Mister Owita's Guide to Gardening, is not only a primer on how to prune the azaleas, but a gentle lesson in patience, overcoming adversity and treasuring the joys of life.

A breast cancer patient, teacher, wife and mother, Wall resisted the pink-ribbon mantra to be upbeat: "Like the situation in my yard, the more I tried to ignore them, the more my fears grew and blossomed into anger." Eventually, she recognized the sorry state of her suburban Virginia yard and approached her neighbor's gardener for advice. They initially communicated through notes, and Mr. Owita's formal writing reflected his intellect. Wall discovered his background and the genesis of his gardening skill, as well as their shared trials.

Mr. Owita was actually Dr. Owita, a Kenyan immigrant to Virginia; he and his wife earned Ph.D.s, his in horticulture. Unable to secure jobs in their fields, they worked to provide for their two sons and to bring their daughter from Kenya. As Wall struggled with her illness, her friendship with Mr. Owita gave them both sustenance--he, too, was sick, and their gardening "seminars" were also metaphors for spiritual reflection.

The blossoming of the friendship between Wall and Mr. Owita unfolded through the seasons; as her plantings matured, she allowed optimism and gratitude to take root, despite the sorrows that befell them all. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: This memoir of an unlikely friendship between a woman and her gardener is a reminder that people are not what they may seem--and life lessons can be unexpected.

Amy Einhorn/Putnam, $25.95, hardcover, 9780399157981

Children's & Young Adult

Zane and the Hurricane

by Rodman Philbrick

Rodman Philbrick (Freak the Mighty) portrays the unlikely friendship Zane Dupree forms with Malvina Rawlins and her guardian, Truedell Manning, as they're thrown together in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina.

Zane leaves the idyllic summer setting of his native New Hampshire on a mission his mother has concocted for Zane to get to know his paternal great-grandmother, Miss Trissy. Zane's father died before his son was born, and Zane is Miss Trissy's only living relative. The two get on famously from the first, but hardly have time to get to know each other before the mayor is calling for everyone to evacuate New Orleans. Miss Trissy, Zane and Zane's beloved dog, Bandy, join her preacher's van. But when Bandy gets a fright and exits through a van window, Zane trails him--straight back to Miss Trissy's house in the Ninth Ward. High adventure follows, as Zane and Bandy try to stay above water, hitch a canoe ride with Malvina and jazz musician Tru, and search for dry high ground. Through Zane's eyes, Philbrick shows readers the complicated race relations in New Orleans, the economic strata, the horror of the Superdome ("shelter of last resort," as the mayor calls it), leavened by lighter moments, such as jazz funerals and Malvina's silly jokes.

It's a long way for this trio of humans and one devoted dog to make it to safety, but Philbrick takes readers through the storm, into the eye of Katrina and back out again. This will be read in one sitting. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Hurricane Katrina as seen through the eyes of visitor Zane Dupree, in a riveting novel by the author of Freak the Mighty.

Blue Sky/Scholastic, $16.99, hardcover, 192p., ages 10-14, 9780545342384

A Taste of Freedom: Gandhi and the Great Salt March

by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel, illus. by Giuliano Ferri

A great-grandfather describes to a young man what it was like to meet and follow Gandhi-ji, the Mahatma, as he calls him, in this lyrical homage to a legendary leader.

The narrator, then a boy, describes the day of Gandhi's arrival in his village of Aslali. Giuliano Ferri's watercolor illustrations portray the architecture and clothing of Aslali, while Elizabeth Cody Kimmel's text explains Gandhi's mission in accessible language: he "has pledged to make our Mother India free from the rule of the British Raj. And he promised that we will do so without hitting or hurting the British soldiers." Gandhi passes under the boy narrator's tree and "gazes up into my face." It is enough to compel the boy to follow him. As he packs to join Gandhi in his mission to gather salt peacefully, free of British authority, his oldest brother, Rajiv, catches him and decides to join his brother. Each night in every village, "the Mahatma gathers all the villagers together and talks of peace. And of salt." Thousands follow him to Dandi, to the edge of the sea, on April 5, 1930. A triumphant painting depicts Gandhi holding high a lump of sea salt, glistening as if engulfed in a halo.

The story ends like a poem, with the narrator coming full circle, describing what that day meant to him. It's a terrific introduction to Gandhi as a man and the strength to be gained in a simple yet powerful act to reclaim what was rightfully theirs. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A lyrical, at times majestic introduction to Mahatma Gandhi and the Salt March that led to India's freedom.

Walker/Bloomsbury, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 7-9, 9780802794673

Powered by: Xtenit