Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Mariner Books: The Blue Hour by Paula Hawkins

From My Shelf

California Dream

No one knows for sure, but apparently Amazon has been punishing major publisher Hachette for the past two months because the e-tailer wants to keep at least half of the revenue of e-book sales and wants to charge Hachette for all kinds of "services," such as having buy buttons on the book's page--which is kind of like a bricks-and-mortar bookseller charging a publisher for each use of its cash register.

Still, we do know a couple things about the dispute. For one, it's a reminder again of the value of independent bookstores: no matter what tensions might exist between a publisher and retailer, indies would never do what has been done to Hachette. They will gladly let customers order any available forthcoming title in advance. They display all publishers' titles that they have in stock, and will special order any they don't have. For indies, it's more important to give customers access to books than try to improve their bottom line because investors are getting nervous.


Stephen Colbert displays the book California by Edan Lepucki
Stephen Colbert displays Edan Lepucki's California.

The other thing that we know about the dispute is that California by Edan Lepucki, published last week by Hachette's Little, Brown imprint (see our review below), is getting the kind of publicity that must be like a dream for the debut novelist. It began early last month on the Colbert Report, when, on a recommendation from author Sherman Alexie, Stephen Colbert touted Lepucki as the kind of author being especially harmed by Amazon's punishment of Hachette. Colbert asked members of the Colbert Nation to pre-order California at and other indie sites to show their support for the book, Hachette--and, of course, Colbert. Overnight, the book and author became the subject of news stories across the country, and many indies have done special promotions and displays.

Join the many other readers in showing support for retailers that truly serve customers: buy California--and other books--in print and/or e-book editions, in person or online, from your local independent bookstore! --John Mutter, editor-in-chief, Shelf Awareness

Book Candy

Rowling Live-Blogs the Quidditch World Cup; LOL Books

J.K. Rowling "live-blogged the Quidditch World Cup Final and it is magical," Buzzfeed reported from the playing fields.


The Huffington Post introduced readers to "11 beautiful friendships between classic authors."


"Not to get too philosophical, but it's hard to define what is truly funny," Flavorwire observed in highlighting "25 books guaranteed to make you laugh."


The "great children's books author bake off" was featured by the Guardian, which noted that "there's something of a glut of books with a central theme of baking around at the moment, so we thought we'd organize our very own bake off gallery."


Design Taxi featured the Capitol's "series of propaganda posters honoring each district in The Hunger Games. Titled 'District Heroes,' the collection features beautiful portraits of the people from the districts of Panem with their respective industry's motifs and message."


"Great books come to life in these funny self-portraits" by Pierre Beteille that were collected by 500px ISO.

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life with Harper Lee

by Marja Mills

Published in 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird spent nearly two years on bestseller lists and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Since then, its impact has been lasting and widespread: Atticus Finch, Scout, Jem and Dill, and Boo Radley are well-known names today, and the novel is still taught (and targeted for removal) in many high schools nationwide. With its themes of racial injustice, gender roles, mental illness, addiction, and class differences--and its remarkable ability to bring humor and compassion to such somber subjects--To Kill a Mockingbird has become an American classic. Its equally famously author, Harper Lee (full name Nelle Harper Lee, Nelle to her friends), is notoriously private. She stopped giving interviews just a few years after the publication of her only novel. Lee's relationship with Truman Capote has also attracted longstanding interest. The two grew up next-door neighbors, exercising their imaginations and storytelling talents on one another. Lee assisted Capote's Kansas research project that became In Cold Blood; Capote is rumored to have contributed to Lee's Mockingbird, but this rumor has always been hotly denied by Lee (and Capote himself never made such a claim).

Over 40 years after the publication of her masterpiece, Nelle Harper Lee continued to quietly reside in the small Alabama town that inspired it, splitting her time between Monroeville, where her elder sister, Alice, still practices law, and New York City. In 2001, a Chicago Tribune reporter named Marja Mills was assigned to seek out an interview. Knowing Lee's standing policy, Mills nevertheless traveled to Alabama, filed her request and toured the town for a day or two. She dutifully knocked on the door of Alice and Nelle Harper Lee's home--and was floored when the elder sister opened the door and invited her in.

The development of trust and friendship between Mills and the Lee sisters took time, but even in those first minutes, the relationship was nearly unprecedented. Alice, the more methodical and steady sister, was first to open up. She set up interviews for Mills with the Lees' friends and acquaintances, calling ahead to let them know it was okay to talk to the journalist, and what was acceptable to share. Nelle was known to those friends as being more mercurial; but eventually she, too, came around to the younger woman, who was cautious and respectful in approaching the famously cagey writer. Remarkably, Mills does not seem to have begun with any special interest in To Kill a Mockingbird or its author; but as a journalist, she was naturally attracted by the story. In the spirit of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Mills then immersed herself in a community that was only just willing to allow her access, and built trust haltingly, but eventually with great success.

Alice was in her 90s, Nelle in her 70s, when the three women become friends. But what could have been a problematic age gap was minimized by Mills's own chronic health condition, which both helps her identify with the older women, and gives her the dubious gift of leave from full-time work. Eventually, she expressed a tentative interest in moving to Monroeville; the Lees encouraged the idea, and she moved in next door to them. What was by then a close, rich friendship continued to develop: on a daily basis, Mills shared morning coffee with Nelle, drove the countryside, fed the local geese and ducks with the sisters (who kept close tabs on their numbers, and worried over missing goslings), and socialized with the Lees' close-knit and protective group of friends. This included accompanying Nelle to the Southern society events that made the reticent author nervous.

Alice is the keeper of Lee family lore, with a famously accurate memory. Mills's research is equally concerned with each of the two sisters, and involves their friends as well. The project that became The Mockingbird Next Door was conceived fairly early in the relationship, and in Mills's telling, Alice and Nelle are willing supporters; they went over her notes together, marking what was to be included and what was to be redacted. (Readers are left wondering how much fell into the latter category.)

The Mockingbird Next Door offers no big reveals, no shocking secrets about the life of Nelle Harper Lee, except perhaps that she is not a hermit or an incorrigible curmudgeon. Rather, she is a kind, down-to-earth woman, a voracious reader, loyal to her sister and friends--who simply prefers that her life not be such a public performance as was that of her famous former next-door neighbor. Told charmingly in the Lees' southern drawl and with the affection and closeness that the story reveals, The Mockingbird Next Door is quietly admiring and satisfyingly intimate, and will captivate not only fans of Lee's great American novel, but fans of real people living modest lives in small-town Alabama, or anywhere. --Julia Jenkins

Penguin Press, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594205194

Marja Mills: Making Acquaintances

photo: Chris Popio

Marja Mills is a former reporter and feature writer for the Chicago Tribune, where she was part of the staff that won a Pulitzer Prize for a 2001 series about O'Hare Airport entitled "Gateway to Gridlock." The Mockingbird Next Door is her first book.

Mills was born and raised in Madison, Wis. She is a 1985 graduate of Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service; a lifelong interest in other cultures led to studies in Paraguay, Spain and Sweden. Mills lives in downtown Chicago and often spends time in Madison and her father's hometown of Black River Falls, Wis. (pop. 3,500).

Did you have notions of what Nelle Harper Lee would be like? In what ways did she surprise you?

I didn't know what to expect. I thought she might be quiet and reserved. Not so. She was gregarious much of the time, and witty. She loved to laugh. When she was telling a story that especially amused her, she'd take her glasses off, tip her head back and just laugh until she could finish what she was saying.

Nelle and her sister Alice--an attorney she calls "Atticus in a Skirt"--loved to get in Nelle's Buick and explore the back roads. I'd read that the home she shared with Alice when Nelle wasn't in New York was more modest than one might expect for an attorney and an author of her remarkable and enduring popularity. That was true. They lived simply, didn't care about material things and had an eclectic group of good friends, from a Methodist minister and a librarian to a hairdresser and a bank president and his wife. Most were retired but still very active.

What about the Southern culture you encountered, in general? Any surprises there?

Being from the Midwest, I was surprised how many words in common usage in Alabama were new to me. Things such as mashing buttons instead of pushing them. Or using a buggy at the Winn Dixie instead of a grocery cart. That was a source of entertainment for the Lees and their friends: watching me learn local expressions. My favorite is an old-fashioned one that Nelle taught me: "journey proud." It's the excitement and apprehension before a trip that makes it hard to sleep.

How would you describe Harper Lee as you later came to know her?

My first day living next door in Monroeville, she left a note inviting me to dinner. That touched me. Soon she was calling to have afternoon coffee together, often at McDonald's.

And of course you can't know Nelle without knowing her sister Alice. Their lives were entwined and yet quite different, as were their personalities. Miss Alice, as she is known, is 15 years older than Nelle and there was another sister and a brother between them. As I wrote in the book, "even at their ages, it was clear Alice was the steady, responsible older sister, and Nelle Harper the spirited, spontaneous younger one."

Both gave generously to the Methodist church and various charities. Nelle had been donating large sums, quietly and behind the scenes, for many years. As their Methodist minister friend, Tom Butts, said, she educated many people who had no idea she was their benefactor.

In what ways, if any, do you identify with Harper and Alice Lee?

They got lost in books as children, pulled into another world where you're not just reading words on the page but living in the story, walking around in it. I was that way, too. Nelle's eyes would dance, 70 years later, when she talked about being absorbed in the adventures of the Rover Boys.

Aside from many hours spent talking with Nelle and Alice, what research was involved for this book?

Some of the most valuable and enjoyable research I did was around kitchen tables and on porches, interviewing Lee friends and family. There were people I needed to talk to "while they still had their marbles," as Alice put it. Or "while they're still above ground," as Nelle said. These were leisurely interviews but overall there was a sense of urgency, too, that if their stories about the town and the Lees weren't preserved they would go with them to the grave.

Books were part of the research, too, naturally. I have rows and rows of them at home. Many of the titles were recommended by the Lees, with Alabama history and Southern fiction being two major categories. I enjoyed memoirs by Horton Foote, the playwright who adapted To Kill a Mockingbird for the film, and Wayne Flynt, the Alabama historian.

How was writing a book different from your work as a journalist?

I had the opportunity to really get to know the people and the place I was writing about, to let them reveal themselves over time. That's a luxury most journalists don't have. Nelle and Alice did things on their own terms and on their own time. The way this experience unfolded gradually was more compatible with that. "You let the river run," was the way Rev. Butts put it.

You allude to the Lees' approving what went in the book and what didn't. How much were you asked to hold back?

Not as much as I expected. Much of what they said that was off the record was to spare the feelings of a friend or relative. When I lived next door, we talked about some of the things they especially wanted in the book. They resented Truman Capote's characterization of their mother, for example. Both sisters described her as a gentle soul. I went over with them stories I wanted to share as well. I was ready to do much more of that but their approach was "use your own judgment."

Has Nelle or Alice read this book? Any comment from them?

Because of their age and health--neither is able to live at home anymore--I don't know that they'll be able to read it, but I think they'd enjoy reliving some of the adventures we had together. Age and diminished vision do take their toll. I've wondered sometimes how many books each has read in her lifetime. A staggering number; both were avid readers since childhood. Even in her 90s, Alice often had four books going at once. She told me about the time she and Nelle decided they would donate some of their books to the Methodist church.

Nelle set her jaw and tried to keep up her determination to part with some of the books. But then she would have second thoughts and retrieve them from the boxes they were trying to fill. Alice was no better. For all their generosity over the decades, books were hard to give away, even for their church. The evidence of that was the rising tide of books in their house. They had all shapes and sizes of bookcases, crammed where they could find space, and it still wasn't enough.

In your book you make it clear that the Lees supported this project, but there was some press in 2011 regarding a statement from them indicating the opposite. Can you help us understand these conflicting reports?

I asked Alice Lee about it. Nelle was not living at home; she had a serious stroke in 2007. Alice issued a statement. She said that the first statement had gone out without her knowledge and did not represent her feelings or those of her sister. As far as I know, that put the matter to rest. --Julia Jenkins

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Review


Arts & Entertainments

by Christopher Beha

In his second novel, Arts & Entertainments, Christopher Beha (What Happened to Sophie Wilder) shifts his setting from the world of writers to that of unscripted reality television--two worlds that aren't really as different as they might seem. They're both about crafting stories; the players just use different tools to do it.

When he left St. Albert's School, "Handsome Eddie" Hartley thought that he and his girlfriend, Martha Martin, both had long careers of acting out other people's stories ahead of them, but he was wrong. Fifteen years later, Martha is a household name with a hit TV show, while Eddie is back at St. Albert's, half-heartedly teaching drama and struggling to start a family with his wife, Susan. This reluctant schoolteacher, who once made a sex tape with his now-famous ex-girlfriend, just might have a way to pay for his wife's infertility treatments.

When Eddie sells his old video of Martha to an Internet entrepreneur, he's not thinking about any anything but funding his and Susan's efforts to have a baby. He certainly never imagines that his wife's high-risk pregnancy will be played out on social media and reality TV, or that his role of a lifetime will be an edited-for-broadcast version of himself.

Beha's sharp observations on the intentionally crafted, carefully produced versions of private lives that become public property resonate in a time when it sometimes feels like a life unexamined by other people isn't a life properly lived. Arts & Entertainments is indeed entertaining, but it's also a thoughtful reflection on how we shape our own stories. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: The unscripted drama that results from the sale of a sex tape to fund one couple's efforts to conceive.

Ecco Press, $14.99, paperback, 9780062322463


by Rainbow Rowell

Separated by several states at Christmastime, Georgie and Neal talk on the phone every night. There's just one quirk: Georgie's nighttime calls from the landline in her old room at her mother's house don't reach Neal as she knows him in 2013. Instead of talking to her husband and the father of their two small daughters, Georgie finds herself talking to a Neal from the past, during a Christmas break when they'd broken up, days before Neal showed up to pop the question.

Neal thinks he's talking to the Georgie from his time and wants to fix their fight, but present-day Georgie knows their marriage turned out far from perfect. The opportunity to relive their past casts Georgie's mistakes in sharp relief, but she's not sure if she's supposed to use the opportunity to repair her relationship or end her marriage before it begins.

Rowell (Eleanor & Park; Fangirl) gives this seemingly fluffy concept a thoughtful treatment. Slipping effortlessly between Georgie and Neal's slow-blooming courtship and their complicated present, she explores how the seeds of strife are sometimes sown in the happy beginnings of a relationship when one partner sacrifices too much for love. At the same time, she reaffirms the power of love and shared history; Georgie imagines divorce as "lying side by side... while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems." Georgie may have the chance to right the wrongs of the past by simply undoing it, but readers will hope she instead has the bravery to fight for a rare and believable love. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A romantic comedy features a surprising gateway to the past through which old wrongs might be righted.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250049377

Alias Hook

by Lisa Jensen

Everyone knows how Peter Pan defeats his piratical foe: Pan throws the evil Captain Hook into the ocean, where he is eaten by a crocodile. But what if Hook did not, in fact, die? What if he could not die?

Lisa Jensen (Witch from the Sea) bases her second novel, Alias Hook, on this premise, turning the classic fairy tale on its head in much the same style as Wicked did for The Wizard of Oz. In Jensen's reimagined Neverland, Hook is Captain James Benjamin Hookbridge, an English gentleman and privateer caught in Neverland and forced to fight the Lost Boys against his will. Peter Pan, on the other hand, is a ruthless barbarian whose youth prevents him from understanding the cruelty of his actions as he kills Hook's men again and again.

Two centuries of fighting with Pan and not dying have left Hook wishing for nothing more than the sweet relief of death--until he encounters a grown woman in Neverland, an occurrence strictly prohibited by Pan. This presents Hook with something new: hope that the rules of the Neverland may not be as unbreakable as he had once believed them to be, and a renewed desire to leave the place forever and live the rest of his life in peace.

Told from Hook's perspective, Alias Hook can sometimes feel cluttered with overwrought pirate speak or ungainly with the outmoded vocabulary of an 18th-century gentleman. As the plot picks up pace, however, this potentially distracting language falls away to reveal a story of magic and romance, powerful in its ability to remind us to believe in the impossible, no matter the odds. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A reimagined version of the familiar Peter Pan story in which Hook is not the bad guy, after all.

Thomas Dunne, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250042156


by Edan Lepucki

In her debut, Edan Lepucki has imagined a disturbing vision of a nation devastated by natural disasters, whose people struggle to survive and compete in an increasingly segregated caste system. A crumbling Los Angeles has become a dangerous ghetto for the poor and disenfranchised as wealthier folks isolate themselves in resource-rich suburban "Communities." Cal and Frida, husband and wife, have each suffered personal tragedy: Frida lost her brother, Micah, in a suicide bombing, and Cal's parents died in one of the severe snowstorms rocking the Midwest. Together, they escape to the wilderness north of L.A. to live off the land in seclusion.

They meet and forge a friendship with the Millers, who harbor secrets of their own and warn Cal and Frida against seeking companionship with others. After the Millers die in an apparent suicide and Frida becomes pregnant, the couple decides to find safety with other survivors. At a resource-rich commune known as "The Land," they are shocked to learn that Frida's brother Micah is very much alive and the acting leader. But Cal and Frida uncover darkness beneath the Land's perfect façade that has grave implications for their family's future--and the world's.

Lepucki's narrative races furiously to reach the idyllic lure of utopia only to slow as the complexities of the new world order reveal themselves. Her characters are wistful, selfish and morally challenged in their desperation and in their pursuits of idealistic truth. The result is lush, layered sensations that peel back in stark black and white until Lepucki's vision reaches its Technicolor pinnacle. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A stunning debut novel of a nation's bleak future and the perils of a perceived utopia.

Little, Brown, $26, hardcover, 9780316250818

Emeralds Included

by Betsy Woodman

Scotswoman Janet "Jana" Laird, classical musician and sometime fortune-teller, has adapted to her new life in the Indian hill town of Hamara Nagar (introduced in Jana Bibi's Excellent Fortunes). Now, as she prepares to welcome her son, Jack, and his Hungarian fiancée, Katarina, for a visit, Jana sets out to spruce up her stately but dilapidated home. As the renovation project grows in scope and cost, Jana must also find the money to send Tilku, her young Nepali charge, to boarding school, while soothing the moods of her faithful but increasingly grumpy housekeeper, Mary.

Woodman brings back the quirky, warmhearted cast of characters featured in her previous two books, from Jana and Mary to assorted local tradespeople (and Jana's talking parrot, Mr. Ganguly). Set in 1962, the story frequently refers to the period of British rule over India, but skims over the ramifications of the country's independence. Cultural differences between Jana and her Indian friends are also treated with mild humor. The home-renovation project, though occurring in a different country, carries echoes of Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. While readers will quickly guess the secret Jana's new daughter-in-law is hiding, the eventual revelation is pleasant, as are the hints of potential romance for both Jana and Mary. An impromptu celebration for Jack and Katarina brings the village together for a night of eating and dancing.

Readers of Woodman's previous books and fans of Alexander McCall Smith will enjoy this gently humorous tale, spiced with curry and sweetened with friendship. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A sweet, playful story of village life, love and home renovation in 1960s India.

Holt, $30, hardcover, 9780805093582

Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands

by Chris Bohjalian

Readers expect three things from Chris Bohjalian (The Light in the Ruins, Midwives): a gripping story, memorable characters and a social issue. Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands delivers all three in a fast-paced tale narrated by Emily, who lived the life of a typical 16-year-old until her town's nuclear power plant exploded.

Emily begins by describing her current home--an igloo of trash bags stuffed with frozen leaves, built after she fled the site of the disaster, Vermont's Cape Abenaki nuclear plant. While the blast forced thousands to relocate, Emily's loss was even more extensive. Her father, the plant's chief engineer, was blamed for the meltdown, and her mother was the PR officer; both were killed in the explosion.

In alternating before-and-after passages that juxtapose Emily's childhood with her life on Burlington's streets, Bohjalian depicts his protagonist as a heartbreakingly good kid whose idol is Emily Dickinson and who looks after those even more endangered than she. When she encounters nine-year-old Cameron, escaping an abusive foster home, they form a team. She cares for him; he keeps her sights on survival.

Bohjalian has a keen ear for realistic dialogue. Emily is a credible teenage girl in a frighteningly plausible setting. Speaking directly to the reader ("You'll see" and "Been there. Done that."), Emily is a character we want to protect from the horrors that befall her. We hope her dreams of being a poet will come true, and that she'll discover her beloved dog has survived the radioactive wasteland. Bohjalian keeps us in page-flipping suspense until Emily reveals her fate. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: The fallout from a nuclear power plant meltdown forces a teenage girl to flee her town and survive on her own in Vermont.

Doubleday, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385534833

Mystery & Thriller

Dry Bones in the Valley

by Tom Bouman

Tom Bouman wants to do for rural northeastern Pennsylvania what Daniel Woodrell did for the Ozarks on the Missouri-Arkansas border. Dry Bones in the Valley is a contemporary mystery set in the Appalachians, a wild land of lumbering, hunting and the drug trade. Thanks to companies drilling for natural gas, it has become wealthier and dangerous. Officer Henry Farrell of Wild Thyme Township was born and raised in the valley, and he rents an old farmhouse on the ridge; it's where he belongs. The shy young man tells us his story in a straightforward, unassuming manner. Not much happens here--until now.

During an investigation of a domestic disturbance, Aub Dunigan, an ornery old coot, tells Henry there's a "fellow got killed in my woods," up on the mountain, "come on up and collect him... he's not my doing." Melting snow uncovered the torn-up body of an unknown young man, his fingertips removed, teeth smashed. Stranger still, he was shot with a muzzle-loaded musket. Soon, Henry's deputy winds up dead, shot in the head, his car next to a junkyard for reasons no one can fathom. Nudged by nosy friends and neighbors, Henry's investigation forces him down a road that leads directly to long-undisturbed, ominous territory.

This is an auspicious debut: a solid mystery, well told, with rich characters, an atmospheric setting and a surprise ending readers won't see coming. There's a good chance the Walt Longmire-esque Henry will be back for more. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: In this solid debut, an Appalachian policeman is confronted with a rural noir mystery.

Norton, $24.95, hardcover, 9780393243024

Food & Wine

Vodka: How a Colorless, Odorless, Flavorless Spirit Conquered America

by Victorino Matus

Victorino Matus, a senior editor at the Weekly Standard, presents a crisp and highly intoxicating account of how vodka--a spirit "without distinctive character, aroma, taste or color"--conquered the West, replaced gin and vermouth as the cocktail mixer of choice and spawned a billion-dollar industry.

Vodka ("little water" in Russian) began as a smelly, bad-tasting medicinal liquid introduced by a 15th-century Russian monk. If Pyotr Smirnoff had not isolated its pure form centuries later and marketed it worldwide, vodka might never have taken off. The spirit's popularity soared with the introduction of the Bloody Mary as the "hangover cure" and James Bond's "shaken, not stirred" martinis. Soon, vodka replaced gin as America's colorless spirit of choice. But it wasn't until Swedish distillery Absolut appeared with its clever "Absolut Perfection" ad campaign that vodka achieved its iconic heights. Entrepreneurs inspired to seek a piece of the action tested the market with premium brands and craft spin-offs; short production times made vodka's economic reach more immediate.

Though Americans drink more vodka than any other spirit, the liquor itself has received a mixed welcome among experts. Cocktail historian David Embrey went so far as to call it "a wholly characterless, dilute grain alcohol that has streaked across the firmament of mixed drinks like Halley's Comet." Some liken the use of flavored vodkas to "making paella with instant rice." Still, the country's love affair with the spirit continues. What does this say about American palates? Readers may just find themselves reaching for that bottle of Grey Goose in order to prove the snarky experts wrong. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: How vodka conquered the West and became the alcohol mixer of choice.

Lyons Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9780762786992


The People's Republic of Amnesia: Tiananmen Revisited

by Louisa Lim

On the morning of June 4, 1989, the People's Liberation Army opened fire on unarmed protesters in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, killing hundreds or even thousands of students and civilians. The Chinese government kept the truth hidden from public view, but NPR correspondent Louisa Lim was able to conduct her own investigation, interviewing insiders who directly witnessed or participated in the atrocities.

Lim's subjects include a soldier who, haunted by the events of June 4, now produces artwork that reflects his pain; a former top-ranking official whose sympathies for the students cost him his career and freedom; and student activists--an exile in Taiwan and a man who served three prison sentences for his decision to participate. She narrates the story of the Tiananmen Mothers, a grassroots political organization that demands government accountability for the deaths, despite threats of imprisonment. Finally, Lim offers little-known details about the violent student protests that took place in the interior city of Chengdu during the same time period.

Lim delivers a critical assessment of the massacre, demonstrating that the Party's promotion of economic dominance and "Technique of Forgetting History" have led to a moral crossroads, made more dangerous by shifts in the global economy. "When lies are taught in schools, passed unchallenged from one generation to the next, and truth-telling is punished, a moral vacuum gapes ever larger," writes Lim. "The debt grows greater, and the cost paid is the dearest of all: a loss of humanity." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Insiders' accounts of the Tiananmen massacre and its aftermath, 25 years later.

Oxford University Press, $24.95, hardcover, 9780199347704

Nature & Environment

Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and Its First Photographer

by Matthew Gavin Frank

Preparing the Ghost takes its name from an infantile stage of a squid's growth cycle, a tiny iteration of a potential behemoth. In Latin, this stage is called paralarva (para, "to make ready," and larva, "a ghost"). How fitting that such a small creature is already primed for its destiny as something larger than life, more specter than species. Matthew Gavin Frank's exploration of the giant squid's shadow on the human psyche takes on equal grandeur, veering from fact to lore with both verve and authority. Frank's blustery confidence and unabashed enthusiasm is infectious; he's as intrepid and exploratory as the people who first draped a squid over a shower rod in 1874, rendering it immortal with the click of the camera.

Initially, the book's structure might dismay certain readers. In sections that often span only a paragraph, Frank jumps from topic to topic, lingering briefly on one idea then lighting off to pursue another. The central figure in the story is Reverend Moses Harvey, squid enthusiast and owner of the shower in which the animal was photographed, but Frank embarks on tangents about contemporary scientists, memories of his dead grandfather, and the oddities and eccentrics in the Newfoundland area where Harvey and a crew of sailors dragged the beast ashore. The effect is akin to collage; we're fed clues until we can coalesce these bits and pieces into something fathomable. It's dizzying, occasionally frustrating, but mostly fascinating, like talking to a charming man at a party full of drunk academics. --Linnie Greene, freelance writer and bookseller at Flyleaf Books

Discover: An eccentric, tangent-filled literary analysis of the first photograph of a giant squid.

Liveright, $22.95, hardcover, 9780871402837

Children's & Young Adult

The Family Romanov: Murder, Rebellion, and the Fall of Imperial Russia

by Candace Fleming

Candace Fleming's (The Lincolns; The One and Only Barnum) fascinating, handsome book focused on the family of the last tsar of Russia is about words--not only the author's narrative, but those of the people who lived the events.

Readers enter a magical other world: Russia, February 1903, St. Petersburg's Winter Palace--a building three miles long--where a party is being held for the nobility, hosted by Tsar Nicholas II and the Empress Alexandra. In contrast to this extravagance, the author then moves to the countryside, where the peasants live in "dismal" villages. Sick, poor, desperate for food, some moved to the cities to work in factories, where conditions proved even worse. This section culminates with an excerpt from the autobiography of a 16-year-old boy who left his village for Moscow in 1895, as he describes his living and working conditions. Not a paragraph goes by without a quote from a letter, telegram, autobiography or eyewitness account seamlessly woven into the narrative. Captioned photographs appear in two discrete sections of glossy pages.

Fleming explains Russian politics; the origins of World War I; the tensions between Tsar Nicholas II and his advisers; anti-Semitism; Nicholas and Alexandra's relationship; and Rasputin's strange hold on the Romanovs. Her descriptions of Rasputin's assassination and Alexei's hemophilia will capture even the most reluctant readers, as will the daily lives of the five royal children, from the height of their popularity to their final tragic months under house arrest. --Angela Carstensen, school librarian and blogger

Discover: An award-winning author's account of the rise and fall of the last tsar, incorporating first-person accounts by Russians from all walks of life.

Schwartz & Wade/Random House, $18.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 12-up, 9780375867828

Shackleton: Antarctic Odyssey

by Nick Bertozzi

Nick Bertozzi (Lewis & Clark) here offers another graphic novel depiction of an intrepid explorer: Lieutenant Ernest Shackleton. He once again builds suspense through a brilliant man-versus-nature true adventure, while also realistically depicting the tensions between crew members.

Bertozzi begins with Shackleton's obsession with reaching the South Pole, as he attempts to raise money for his third expedition to the Antarctic. Shackleton interviews Frank Worsley to serve as his captain, then Bertozzi cuts to the full roster of crew plus "The Endurance and its lifeboats." The author-artist uses humor to lighten the mood of this challenging voyage, for which the men's lives are often at risk. For instance, Split Lip the dog's escape from the kennel occasions a cutaway view of the Endurance's interior, as Split Lip runs from one end of the ship to the other. But Bertozzi lays out the perils of their journey: winter's onset, killer whales, strong currents, potentially fatal icebergs. And he conveys Shackleton's love for this land of extremes--its all or nothing sunshine and vast expanses of snow and ice. Through it all, Shackleton stays calm and collected, a smart leader who draws upon his crew's expertise to keep the team alive.

Black-and-white and gray-scale panel illustrations toggle between vertical and horizontal narrow strips, as well as more traditional panel sequences. Maps and well-labeled dates and times show the expedition's progress. Bertozzi establishes clear voices and personalities for the crewmen. Even naysayer McNish converts to a Shackleton fan, and readers will be converts, too. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A brilliant graphic-novel biography of Ernest Shackleton and his third voyage to the Antarctic.

First Second/Roaring Brook, $16.99, paperback, 128p., ages 12-up, 9781596434516

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