Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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

From My Shelf

Beyond Borders

On Sunday, the last Borders and Waldenbooks stores closed their doors forever. Many eulogies and obituaries have been written about the company. Our own analysis was published in February, when Borders declared bankruptcy--and the writing was already on the wall. CNN also had a more recent, thoughtful tribute.

Now many booksellers are stepping in to fill some of the gaps left by the collapse of the company that once had 1,400 locations across the country. Many indies are reaching out to former Borders customers in a variety of ways (see Powell's Books' particularly direct invitation below!), with special offers, with deals for Borders Rewards members, with reminders that there are other stores eager for their business.

Some booksellers are literally moving into Borders and Walden spaces. For example, Ferguson Books & Media, Grand Forks, N.D., just opened a second store in a former Walden location at the Columbia Mall. Likewise, Rivendell Books, Montpelier, Vt., has opened a second store, in space that used to house a Walden, in the Berlin Mall. And Bookworks, Whitefish, Mont., will open a branch next month in Kalispell, where a Borders just closed.

Today Books-A-Million takes over the leases of 14 Borders stores after having made an offer in bankruptcy court that wasn't refused. The chain has also taken over nearly as many other old Borders and Walden sites by dealing directly with landlords.

Many booklovers will miss Borders, but they shouldn't forget that there are plenty of other bookstores with thousands of booksellers who know their stuff and eager to talk about and recommend books. And even for those of you who read most books digitally, so long as you don't have a Kindle, you can buy e-books from most bricks-and-mortar bookstores both instore and online.

Happy reading! --John Mutter

Book Candy

Book Art: Edinburgh's Beautiful Paper Sculptures

The mysterious case of Edinburgh's beautiful paper sculptures, which have been placed by an anonymous artist in various locations as gifts "in support of libraries, books, words, ideas," began last March, when the staff at the Scottish Poetry Library discovered a "poetree" left on a table, Central Station wrote.

In June, the National Library of Scotland "found themselves the recipient of a similar piece," and since then new works have made their stealthy appearance at the Filmhouse and the Scottish Storytelling Centre. In late August, two more were found during the Edinburgh International Book Festival, followed by yet another in the Central Lending Library on George IV Bridge.

Great Reads

Further Reading: Habibi

Graphic novels have come such a long way in the past five years or so--not necessarily in how they're written and illustrated, but in how they're received. Readers who once would have scorned "comic books" are embracing works of graphic fiction and nonfiction rich in character development and artistic detail. Along the way they're also realizing that editorial cartoons of all sorts and subjects have a long literary tradition.

This week's lead title, released today (and reviewed below), looks so traditional that readers might believe it's a vintage book. Habibi by Craig Thompson has a gorgeous red-and-gold "tooled" cover that draws attention to a cameo portrait of its protagonists, Dodola and Zam. The pair, originally child slaves in Arabia, must follow a mythical and fated path that involves multiple transformations until they assume new human forms and can be together at last. It's an intricate and culturally sensitive look at Islamic culture, art forms, and beliefs.

Here are a few more graphic books that examine other cultures, with remarkably different editorial and illustrative approaches:

Japanese manga: Love as a Foreign Language. Authors J. Torres and Eric Kim combine the manga tropes (large eyes, stylized clothing) with a more American comic-book narrative sensibility. Joel, an English teacher and Amercian expat, thinks he hates Seoul, until his feelings for a new school secretary named Hana lead him to see a Korea beneath the urban brusqueness and commercialism. Any reader who has traveled to a place that confused him or her will relate to this tender story, even if you didn't happen to fall head over heels in love while traveling.

European chic: French Milk by Lucy Knisley tells the story of six weeks she and her mother spent in a Parisian apartment to celebrate their respective 22nd and 50th birthdays. Knisley's pastiche style, which combines quick sketches with more highly detailed narrative sequences as well as photographs, lends itself well to an experience that many readers have had: a youthful stint in a magical place filled with unfamiliar foods, people, even light switches. It's also a terrific title for girls who might be unsure about where to start when reading graphic novels.

Rugged-travel raw: To Timbuktu: Nine Countries, Two People, One True Story by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg may be the technically least-accomplished book on this list (that's not necessarily a bad thing; it's written by two very young people, which is its strength), but its big heart and big ambitions overcome any weaknesses. Scieszka and Weinberg meet in Morocco and wend their way toward Mali, where Scieszka has a Fulbright grant. Their travelogue is in Scieszka's voice, accompanied by Weinberg's almost retro charcoal sketches. --Bethanne Patrick

Txting Mks U Stupd. Rd Thes Bks.

In a Newsweek essay,  author Niall Ferguson offered a dire prediction: "Seconds before the earth is hit by a gigantic asteroid or engulfed by a super tsunami, millions of lithe young fingers will be typing the human race's last inane words to itself: C u later NOT :( ."

Contending that "children who don't read are cut off from the civilization of their ancestors," Ferguson advised parents to "take a look at your bookshelves. Do you have all--better make that any--of the books on the Columbia University undergraduate core curriculum? It's not perfect, but it's as good a list of the canon of Western civilization as I know of." With the list in hand, a four-step solution is then required:

  1. Order the ones you haven't got today. (And get War and Peace, Great Expectations, and Moby-Dick while you're at it.)
  2. When vacation time comes around, tell the teenagers in your life you are taking them to a party. Or to camp. They won't resist.
  3. Drive to a remote rural location where there is no cell-phone reception whatsoever.
  4. Reveal that this is in fact a reading party and that for the next two weeks reading is all you are proposing to do--apart from eating, sleeping, and talking about the books.

"Welcome to Book Camp, kids," Ferguson added.


Bookish Emmy Winners

Many moviegoers are aware that many movies have their roots in books. The bookish foundation of much TV fare is less well-known. Sunday's Emmy awards were a reminder of the importance of books in what we watch. Here are Emmy winners with book connections:

Game of Thrones, based on A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin: Peter Dinklage (r.), who plays Tyrion Lannister, won best supporting actor in a drama series.

Mildred Pierce, based on the book by James M. Cain and the movie based on the book, won two awards: Kate Winslet, who plays Mildred Pierce, won for best actress in a mini-series or movie, and Guy Pearce, who plays Monty Beragon, won for best supporting actor in a mini-series or movie.

Friday Night Lights, based on the book by Buzz Bissinger and the movie based on the book, scored two awards: Kyle Chandler, who plays Eric Taylor, won for best actor in a drama series, and Jason Katims won for best writing in a drama series.

Boardwalk Empire, the series based on the book by Nelson Johnson, was a winner in the best directing for a drama series category: Martin Scorcese won for the series pilot.

Justified, based on a character in several Elmore Leonard novels and a short story, claimed one award: Margo Martindale, who plays Mags Bennett, won best supporting actress in a drama series.

Found: Unpublished Novel by James M. Cain

It took years to track down a rumored lost manuscript by James M. Cain, author of Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, among others, but Charles Ardai, founder and editor of the small publishing house Hard Case Crime, finally found it and then obtained publishing rights. The Cocktail Waitress will be released by Hard Case Crime in the fall of 2012.

"Together with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain is universally considered one of the three greatest writers of noir crime fiction who ever lived," said Ardai, "and for fans of the genre, The Cocktail Waitress is the Holy Grail. It's like finding a lost manuscript by Hemingway or a lost score by Gershwin."  

In The Cocktail Waitress, a beautiful young widow whose husband died under suspicious circumstances takes a job as a waitress in a cocktail lounge, where she meets two new men: a handsome young schemer she falls in love with and a wealthy older man she marries.

Songs Inspired by Poets

Poets as unintentional songwriters. Flavorwire showcased "15 wonderful songs inspired by poets," noting that "musicians have long been enchanted by the masterminds behind poetry. Whether it be the mention of a poet's name, appropriation of lines from their works, or some other tribute, literary references pervade many bands' lyrics."

Interior Design: Oxford University Meets Harry Potter

Traditionalists may be aghast, but Oxford University "has put its name to a range of sofas, dining tables and interior accessories to capitalize on its links with the Harry Potter films," the Telegraph reported, noting that the "400-year-old Bodleian Library gives its name to a £3,800 bookcase while John Radcliffe, physician to William III, is commemorated with a £1,700 red leather writing desk. A £2,650 refectory table in the range, called the Oxford Collection, is described as a 'Harry Potter-style dining table.' Many of the scenes set in the Great Hall of Hogwarts in the blockbuster wizarding franchise were filmed in Christ Church's dining hall."

Serge Gander, managing director of Halo Licensing, which bought the rights to manufacture the furniture, said, "It is inspired by 800 years of history and archives.... The bookcase was inspired by a doorway. The sofa was a reproduction of one I found in a senior common room. We have an amazing coffee table inspired by the ceilings of the colleges and a rug inspired by the floor of Christ Church. We want to introduce the brand as a home and lifestyle brand. The possibilities are endless."

But Peter Oppenheimer, an emeritus professor at Christ Church, was more than a little perturbed by the idea: "Words fail me. It is vulgar, inappropriate and unauthorized by the university at large. This does absolutely nothing for the university other than cheapen its image."

Movies, Books & Music: Adapting Soundtracked Novels

While conceding that a consensus "Great Rock Novel" may not exist--and citing the adage that "writing about music is like dancing about architecture"--Word & Film nonetheless put together a list of "what we consider some of the best adaptations of soundtracked novels."

"Arguably, the best novels about rock are grounded in existing music, rather than creating a fictional band from scratch," Word & Film observed. "These soundtracked novels are less about detailing the music than about expressing its pleasures, tapping into the personal shorthand we have with a favorite song or artist."

If Only Characters Could Meet; 10 Books About Censorship; Snooki

What do Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye) and Draco Malfoy (Harry Potter series) have in common? How about "Jo" March (Little Women) and Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)? They were among Flavorwire's choices for "literary characters who would be best friends in real life."


In anticipation of Banned Books Week, September 24-October 1, the Huffington Post showcased "ten books about censorship for kids & teens," noting that despite the "high visibility of the event, there are few stories for kids and young adults with censorship as the theme."


Tanned and tome'd. Fast Company offered its picks for the "10 best Amazon reviews. Ever." The only book to make the list was Snooki's A Shore Thing, which one reviewer called "an oeuvre d'art, one that outshines all of the former greats such as Shakespeare, Melville, Austen, or Pamela Anderson.... A coming of age tale filled with romance, love, friendship and enlightenment."

Book Review



by Neal Stephenson

There's this moment about a third of the way into Neal Stephenson's gargantuan new novel, REAMDE--we've been following Zula Forthrast, who's been kidnapped by Russian mobsters along with the boyfriend she'd just dumped because she found out he sold them a batch of stolen credit card numbers. The problem is, when Peter handed over the computer files with the credit card numbers, he accidentally infected the bagman's computer with a virus (named REAMDE, a deliberate misspelling of the common README file name). Once Zula and Peter figured out that the hackers who created the virus are in the city of Xiamen, the Russians smuggled them into China and forced them to help pinpoint the hackers' exact location. The confrontation is just about to take place, when Stephenson suddenly punches the literary equivalent of the nitro button, and this already engrossing technothriller is escalated into an even more amazing action extravaganza, with a jaw-dropping effect on the reader.

But wait: that recap left out all the equally fascinating plot threads about T'Rain, the massively multiplayer online role playing game founded by Zula's uncle Richard. T'Rain has a thriving economy based on trading virtual gold for real cash that the hackers are hoping to exploit, and it's also undergoing a massive cultural upheaval rooted in a dispute between the two bestselling fantasy authors Richard and his company retained to create the MMPORG's backstory. Granted, this sounds a bit confusing when you try to boil it down to 200 words, but Stephenson doesn't have any of those constraints. He can, and does, go into extreme detail about everything from technical processes to the intricate choreography of a gunfight. It's not just about showing readers that Stephenson knows his stuff, but about a genuine effort to make sure that they get it, too, and can thus better appreciate its awesomeness.

Stephenson handles all these storylines with a narrative structure that resembles a Quentin Tarantino film, with every backtrack or digression serving a precise, clarifying purpose. The comparison is also apt given how many of the novel's characters seem to recognize that, by accident or choice, their lives have become an action movie, and how quickly they embrace its patterns (along with its dialogue). Although Stephenson does eventually ease off the throttle after the major plot twist hinted at above, by then he's already built up enough momentum to keep readers engaged for another 700 pages. Bracket out a long weekend for yourself; once you get started on REAMDE, you'll want to see it all the way through. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: Neal Stephenson set the bar high for fictional virtual realities nearly 20 years ago with Snow Crash, and REAMDE raises it even higher.

Morrow, $35, hardcover, 9780061977961

Mystery & Thriller

Or the Bull Kills You

by Jason Webster

In Or the Bull Kills You, Jason Webster introduces Chief Inspector Max Cámara, "a dope-smoking... proverb-quoting, flamenco-loving, Valencia-based murder detective." Webster brings the complicated Cámara and his Spanish backdrop to vivid life in this intriguing first novel.

Max Cámara normally takes his annual vacation during Valencia's Fallas festival, to escape the weeks of drunkenness, music and explosions. Unfortunately for Cámara, this year he was not only unable to take time off, but he also has to officiate at a bullfight. Unlike the adoring crowds around him, Cámara does not appreciate getting to watch Jorge Blanco, the most celebrated matador in Spain.

Later that night, Cámara ends up back at the bull ring, but this time instead of a dead bull, he sees the mutilated body of a dead Blanco. As the case unfolds, Cámara is forced to delve into the secretive bullfighting culture, a world he has always despised. There are no obvious suspects: Blanco's grieving fiancée, his rival matadors, his rumored lover and the bull-breeding family that raised him all seem to be genuinely mourning the loss of the popular celebrity. Then, there's a second brutal murder and the pressure from City Hall to solve the case increases. As Cámara grapples with its intricacies, he is also forced to confront a startling revelation from his girlfriend and the displeasure of his boss. Will the noise of Fallas drive the introspective Cámara over the edge or will he be able to solve the case before someone else dies? --Jessica Howard, bookseller, Bookmans Entertainment Exchange

Discover: Valencia, Spain, as Chief Inspector Max Cámara tries to find out who killed the country's most famous matador.

Minotaur, $24.99, hardcover, 9780312581831

A Single Shot

by Matthew F. Jones

John Moon is a likable, "good-looking guy... gentle and with a good sense of humor" whose late father owned, and lost to the bank, a large farm. John managed to buy enough of it back to house his trailer, in full view of his lost inheritance. This is not all John has lost: his beloved wife, Moira, has taken their son and left him to forge her own future, training as a teacher. John--for all his good qualities--is perhaps not the sharpest knife in the block, but he does manage to eke out a living pouring tarmac and hunting for his meat. A Single Shot chronicles one week in John's life, starting with tracking a 12-point buck in the woods near his cabin. He hears a twig snap, sees a flash of brown-and-white behind a bush, fires a shot--and then sees the buck leaping away in another direction. He has killed a teenage girl.

The reader is led from one harrowing choice John makes to the next, as predetermined, John realizes, as a row of falling dominoes--and as impossible to stop. In geometry, the most crucial part of a drawing is the initial line; any error here, even the smallest, and the end result is a hideous deformity of the original shape. This is what happens with John's life. A Single Shot is a welcome reissue, with Reading Club notes, of the original 1996 edition by Matthew F. Jones (Deepwater). The author's skillful plotting and writing, reminiscent of Hemingway, make the book impossible to put down; it's a classic in modern suspense writing. --Judith Hawkins-Tillirson, proprietress, Wyrdhoard books, and blogger at Still Working for Books

Discover: The inevitable unwinding of a life from one critical mistake in judgment to its shocking conclusion.

Mulholland Books, $14.99, trade paper, 9780316196703

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Prospero Regained

by L. Jagi Lamplighter

When Prospero Lost came out in 2009, L. Jagi Lamplighter's modern version of the characters from Shakespeare's The Tempest seemed to draw inspiration from Neil Gaiman, especially the Sandman comic book. It wasn't just that Prospero's daughter Miranda--now the head of a multinational corporation that keeps supernatural powers in check so they don't wreak havoc upon the earth--had a full contingent of equally immortal siblings, each with their own magical weapon. A more profound similarity lay in Lamplighter's efforts to create a totalizing worldview, one in which all mythologies and folklores are equally valid and capable of commingling.

Lamplighter built that premise up slowly in the first book and its sequel, Prospero in Hell, as Miranda struggled to reunite her estranged siblings after discovering that her father was being held captive by demons. Their rescue mission was disrupted on the very last pages of that second novel, and Prospero Regained picks up the story almost exactly where it left off, as the family slowly reassembles itself once more and then heads to the tower where their father is being held captive.

Prospero Regained also pushes the trilogy's theology in a new direction. From the beginning, Miranda has maintained that her devotion to the unicorn goddess Eurynome is not incompatible with her professed Protestant faith. During this final novel's long treks across Hell, there is much occasion for religious debate and Lamplighter eventually puts forward a scenario that strives to reconcile pagan pantheons with Christian views on salvation.

Unfortunately, this isn't a story you can jump into mid-stream, although Lamplighter recaps as much of the previous two novels as she can without dragging everything to a complete halt. To appreciate fully the magnitude of Miranda's dramatic transformation over the course of Prospero Regained, readers need the earlier books--but for contemporary fantasy fans who enjoy a healthy dose of the epic, that won't be much of a burden. --Ron Hogan

Discover: After a slow buildup, Lamplighter brings her Prospero fantasy trilogy to an epic close.

Tor, $26.99, hardcover, 9780765319319


Red Velvet and Absinthe

by , Mitzi Szereto, editor

In Red Velvet and Absinthe, editor Mitzi Szereto has collected a mixed bag of "paranormal erotic romance." Many of the 15 short stories predictably feature the standard werewolf and vampire fare that has been so popular lately, and these are perfectly serviceable pieces, sure to please fans of the genre. The collection as a whole is eerie and atmospheric, but mixed in with the standard paranormal are tales so wonderfully strange and imaginative that they defy categorization. They are evocative and provocative and a whole host of other adjectives, all of them good.

Among the standouts are "Painted" by Anna Meadows and "Dolly" by Charlotte Stein. In the first, a young man becomes obsessed with an oil painting depicting a striking and sensual woman. His fantasies grow more and more vivid until art and life merge. Stein's "Dolly" tells the story of a young woman who crafts (literally, out of wax and straw) the perfect man and makes a mysterious discovery about her own existence.

Because these are all short stories, the details and characters tend to be vague, but that only adds to the feeling that we are dealing here with universal desires. Characters are confronted with, or create, their wildest dreams, and often they are just exactly good enough to be true. A word of warning though: when they say erotic, they mean it. These are not for the faint of heart. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: The chilling excitement and mystery of gothic-inspired erotic romances.

Cleis Press, $14.95, trade paper, 9781573447164

Graphic Books


by Craig Thompson

Habibi is a confident, powerfully drawn graphic novel, telling its tale with passion, humor and an endless understanding of the human condition. Themes of spirituality help inform a distinctive epic tale. While his earlier, award-winning Blankets displayed the work of a talented up-and-coming storyteller, Habibi shows us a brilliant artist who has come into his own.

Dodola is sold as a child bride to a scribe, who teaches her to read and write in Arabic. Soon widowed and taken by roving slavers, Dodola escapes with an young African slave boy, Zam, and they hide in the desert just outside the city of a powerful sultan. Separated by Zam's forays into the desert as an adolescent and Dodola's capture by the sultan for his harem, the two live separate lives, told through lush and complex drawings. Both the plot itself and correlated stories of the Qur'an--strikingly similar to Judeo-Christian biblical stories--play a role in engaging the intellect and the emotions of the reader.

The themes in this book include the struggle between powerful men and the women they control, the poor underclass and the rich palace city and, of course, the struggle of all humans between their inner and outer selves. Industry arrives in the area as well--a silent, malevolent presence in the background, affecting the people in its implacable way. Love conquers all, yet not always in the manner the characters--and by extension, readers--wish it to. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A graphic novel masterpiece that explores what it means to be human through religious story, slavery, prostitution and personal and societal struggles within the industrial and third worlds.

Pantheon, $35, hardcover, 9780375424144


In the Light of Darkness: A Photographer's Journey After 9/11

by Kate Brooks

In the weeks following the attacks of 9/11, Kate Brooks, a 23-year-old photographer living in Moscow with her boyfriend, got a four-day assignment from People and took off for the Middle East armed with just a small backpack, her camera, a film scanner and $800. Thus began a 10-year odyssey that resulted in the publication of her first photography collection, In the Light of Darkness.

The collection juxtaposes the stark and harrowing aftermath of the battlefield against the haunting beauty of the birthplaces of civilization. It also serves as a testament to Brooks's loss of innocence and subsequent disillusionment with war, in an environment that tests survival skills as much as it does a budding photojournalist's abilities. The book explores, too, Brooks's experiences as a Western woman in a society where women are neither seen nor heard, and the fear and fascination she feels because of the contrast to her own background, her loss of sense of place and belonging, and how the fragmentation of war seems to lead to her own personal fragmentation.

As she is leaving Afghanistan in late 2010 to cover the unraveling of the Mubarak and Qaddafi regimes in Egypt and Libya, a military officer tells Brooks that "there is nowhere else where the beauty of God and the folly of man are so evident." Through her, we are all witness to the global aftermath of 9/11. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: How a photojournalist's documentation of the post-9/11 Middle East changes her sense of place and belonging, forcing her to come to grips with a global landscape forever altered by war.

Schilt Publishing/IPS, $45, hardcover, 9789053307588

On Bicycles: 50 Ways the New Bike Culture Can Change Your Life

by Amy Walker, editor

Editor Amy Walker is joined by some 30 authors--policy-makers, researchers, business owners, activists, parents and/or cyclists--in this instructive manual. On Bicycles is not concerned with colorful Spandex, racing bikes or speed. Rather, this is a handbook for North Americans who want to use bicycles for commuting, transportation and fun.

The book covers a range of subjects and possible needs. First, why we ride: for better health, for the environment, for a better connection with our communities. Next, chapters cover what gear is needed, how to ride safely in various conditions, how to make the transition away from the car; how to transport kids by bike and how to get them on bikes themselves; how to use a bicycle for cargo needs; different kinds of bicycles; community services and connections including and beyond the retail bike shop; and redesigning our infrastructure and culture to allow for more and better biking. Your experienced-cyclist-and-book-reviewer learned new things; the novice rider will be thoroughly equipped with information and empowered by the enthusiasm pouring off these pages.

Walker's examples come largely from that exemplary bike town, Portland, Ore., and some of her discussion feels a bit removed for cyclists in, say, Houston--but her arguments and advice are more, rather than less, relevant for cities (and riders) with further to go before reaching cycling nirvana. The only caveat: if you are in the camp that occasionally resents Portland's reputed smugness, you may find a touch of that here. But it might be worth the stellar and scrupulous advice. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: An exhaustive how-to manual and impassioned plea on behalf of riding bicycles for transportation and as a way of life.

New World Library, $16.95, trade paper, 9781608680221

Biography & Memoir

Newspaper Titan: The Infamous Life and Monumental Times of Cissy Patterson

by Amanda Smith

Amanda Smith's (Hostage to Fortune: The Letters of Joseph P. Kennedy) exhaustively researched biography of Cissy Patterson begins several decades before her birth, with her grandfather Joseph Medill and his creation of the Chicago Tribune. The extended family of Medills, Pattersons and McCormicks would be newspaper royalty for several generations; but perhaps none cut a stranger figure than Cissy.

Eleanor Medill Patterson, known as Cissy, led was born in 1881 into a fractious, influential newspaper family and married a dissolute Polish count who turned out to be broke and who kidnapped their daughter, Felicia. With great effort and the interventions of powerful political figures from around the world, she regained her daughter and divorced. The countess then had a series of unsatisfying relationships and grew estranged from Felicia; published two acclaimed novels; and married a Jewish man despite her apparent anti-Semitism and eventual sympathy with the Nazi cause in World War II. Late in life, she began a newspaper career as journalist, editor and, finally, publisher and owner of the enormously successful Washington (D.C.) Times-Herald, which she created out of two failing papers. When she died in 1948, alcoholic, vindictive and erratic Cissy left a fortune, including ownership of the Times-Herald, whose disposition was held up by court battles sparked by conflicting wills and accusations of her insanity.

Called "perhaps the most powerful" and the "most hated" woman in America in the 1940s, Cissy's fascinating and curious life is examined here in detail. But this lengthy book is never boring, because its subject is such an outrageously flamboyant and historically significant figure. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: The exhaustive--but not exhausting--biography of a complicated and difficult woman, heiress to a newspaper dynasty and a fascinating and controversial figure.

Knopf, $37.50, hardcover, 9780375411007

One Day It'll All Make Sense

by Common, with Adam Bradley

In May, hip-hop artist Common was invited to perform at the White House as part of an event celebrating young people and poetry. Outraged critics--Sean Hannity and Sarah Palin among them--responded by amplifying and misconstruing out-of-context lyrics, labeling Common a "vile rapper" and decrying the Obamas' association with him.

Anyone familiar with Common's work recognizes these claims for what they are. A self-styled "conscious artist," Common promotes a message of peace and social justice. In One Day It'll All Make Sense, he explains how that message developed, and how Lonnie Rashid Lynn became rapper, actor and activist Common.

One Day is more autobiography than memoir, beginning with his childhood on Chicago's South Side and closing with his account of the recent controversy. In between, we learn about his personal renewals, transformative relationships and ethos as an artist. He writes of faith, love, fame and fatherhood, all rooted in his relationship with his mother, Mahalia, who made significant contributions to the book.

Each chapter begins with an intimate letter to an important influence in his life--Mahalia, his daughter, close friends and ex-girlfriends, and even to hip-hop itself: "You are here to provide a voice for the voiceless, hope for the hopeless, life for the lifeless, love for us all," he writes.

Fans of Common will gain the most from One Day, but anyone interested in the history of hip-hop or in contemporary black icons will find something to appreciate here, as the book is chock-full of stories of his encounters with everyone from Tupac and Biggie to Nelson Mandela and Maya Angelou. --Hannah Calkins, Unpunished Vice

Discover: Rapper Common's straightforward and sincere account of his life, his work, and his hopeful vision for the future.

Atria Books, $25, hardcover, 9781451625875

Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine

by Lou Ureneck

After years of comfortable suburban life, Lou Ureneck found himself reeling from a series of crises: a divorce, a job loss, a health scare and his mother's death. In desperate need of both a project and a place to get away and rest, Ureneck purchased five acres in western Maine, enlisting the help of his brother and nephews to build a simple cabin retreat.

A longtime journalist, Ureneck has a keen eye for facts: he takes readers methodically through the building process, including details (sometimes too many) about windows and doors, roofs and foundations. He records the beauty of each season in New England, noticing birds and other creatures as they construct their own homes. He weaves these scenes together with reminiscences about his boyhood on the Jersey shore, when he earned money trapping for fur in the winter and fishing for blue crab in the summer. These nature meditations prove more lyrical and ultimately more interesting than the step-by-step building process.

While definitely inspired by Walden, Cabin is more than a "go to the woods" memoir; it is the story of a man who moved around frequently as a child and has always struggled with the concepts of home and family, even avoiding contact with his brother for some years. As the cabin takes shape and the work crew deals with equipment problems, bad weather and several personal crises, it becomes clear that this is not simply about building a cabin, but about rebuilding a life and a family--together. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A meditation on building a home and rebuilding a family, set in the woods of western Maine.

Viking Books, $25.95, hardcover, 9780670022946


The Concussion Crisis: Anatomy of a Silent Epidemic

by David Rosner, Linda Carroll

Last fall, Sports Illustrated splashed a cover story declaring football to be on the verge of changing forever. Based on what science is discovering about the lasting effects of repeated blows to the head, SI said, it's going to become impossible to defend the kind of hard hits that drive the National Football League's raucous popularity. As the NFL ponders its responsibility to its players as well as its role as an example to millions of college and high school players, researchers are also finding that seemingly safer sports such as soccer and basketball put players at risk of serious head injury as well. Parents are beginning to question whether they should allow their children to play any contact sports.

Lynda Carroll, a health writer for MSNBC, and David Rossner, a former sportswriter for Newsday, wade into the discussion with a book compiling the most salient research as well as some truly chilling anecdotes. Carroll and Rossner detail such serious phenomena as post-concussion syndrome, which can have debilitating effects on mood, personality and brain function long after a blow to the head; second impact syndrome, which has caused death when a concussed athlete returns to play; and the dementia that haunts the ranks of retired boxers.

There are a few alarmist digressions into sketchy cases, but Carroll and Rossner for the most part assemble a thorough accounting of what science is telling us now about the frightening effects from what used to be considered "mild" head injuries. This is required reading for sports-minded families. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

Discover: An alarming--and occasionally alarmist--collection of current research and anecdotes about the lasting effects of "minor" head injuries.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781451627220

Children's & Young Adult

Hound Dog True

by Linda Urban

Linda Urban (A Crooked Kind of Perfect) once again creates a snapshot of a young person's life that focuses sharply on her emotional evolution.

Mattie Breen is about to start fifth grade. This will be her fourth school. Mattie is excited about her latest move, however, because she and her mother are back in her mother's childhood home, and Uncle Potluck is there. As the "director of custodial arts" at Mitchell P. Anderson Elementary, Uncle Potluck will be at her new school, too. Mattie follows him around, meticulously taking notes in her notebook, which she calls "Custodial Wisdom." These range from practical pointers ("When going to investigate a leak, bring a bucket"), to advice that also applies to larger situations: "Fix things before they get too big for fixing."

Uncle Potluck likes to tell stories. He says that when he talks to the moon, the moon talks back. "Hound dog true," he explains. Mattie used to tell stories, until last year, when a classmate got hold of one of her stories and bullied her ever after. Now Quincy, a neighbor's niece who loves to draw as much as Mattie loved to write, seems to be making overtures of friendship. But Mattie doesn't know if she dares open up again. Uncle Potluck helps a bit behind the scenes, but Mattie also learns to help herself. She discovers she may have something important to say after all. A masterpiece of understatement. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: The uplifting story of a fifth-grader's journey to be true to herself, no matter how much her circumstances may change.

Harcourt, $15.99, hardcover, 176p., ages 9-12, 9780547558691

Down the Mysterly River

by Bill Willingham, illus. by Mark Buckingham

Bill Willingham's (the Fables series) storytelling here (a slightly different version of which was published by his Clockwork Storybook collective in 2001) is reminiscent of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Twelve-year-old Max the Wolf (who's not a wolf) is not carried into another world by a twister, as Dorothy was. Instead, he has no recollection of how he appeared in the Heroes Woods. A quintessential Boy Scout who doesn't panic about his amnesia, Max relies on his "five most important rules of detection" to determine his surroundings. He realizes he's landed in a very different world when Banderbrock, a warrior badger, talks to him. Banderbrock, who suffers from amnesia, too, believes they are in the afterlife.

As they search for home and answers, Max and Banderbrock realize they're being hunted down in the Heroes Woods by Blue Cutters, a gang that uses their swords to change the essence of their prey. They're rescued by one of the book's most memorable characters, McTavish the Monster, a barnyard cat known by many exaggerated titles, including Lord Mousebane and Dogkiller. Soon they meet the affable Walden the Bear, which completes a collection of eccentric characters that readers will likely fall in love with and long remember.

Instead of journeying down a yellow brick road, this band of fugitives travels down the Mysterly River, to seek the Wizard Swift for sanctuary from Blue Cutters and answers about how to return home. The wizard behind this curtain is genre-breaking. --Adam Silvera, a bookseller and intern at Figment.

Discover: An action-packed and quirky middle-grade fantasy that will appeal to old and new fans of The Wizard of Oz.

Starscape/Macmillan, $15.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 10-up, 9780765327925


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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