Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, August 22, 2014

William Morrow & Company: End of Story by A.J. Finn

From My Shelf

Juggling Writing and Bookselling

Michaela Carter's debut novel, Further Out Than You Thought (just published by HarperCollins), began as a memoir. Carter's agent at the time read the completed manuscript, and suggested that writing a novel would be the best way for Carter to distill the story. "It worked," said Carter, who is the head buyer and co-owner of Peregrine Book Company in Prescott, Ariz. "The facts, in a way, obscured the story. I found the truth by fictionalizing it."

Carter describes the novel as a "character-driven, grayish comedy," focusing on a trio of listless, bohemian characters living in Los Angeles in the early 1990s: a 25-year-old poet who strips to pay her way through graduate school, her boyfriend--a stoner and musician--and their neighbor and best friend, a nightclub singer. The action takes place over three days, during the 1992 Rodney King riots; the sudden outbreak of violence in L.A. forces them all to face a "reluctant adulthood."

Carter's poetry has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes, and she won the Poetry Society of America Los Angeles New Poets Contest. In 2001, she moved to Prescott, Ariz., and began teaching poetry and creative writing at Yavapai College. It took her roughly three years to write Further Out Than You Thought, completing most of it before opening Peregrine Book Company with her partner and co-owner, Ty Fitzmorris, in 2012. She currently juggles writing with being the store's head buyer, which has exposed her to so many great writers, some of whom she might not otherwise have encountered. And encountering a particularly strong voice, such as Anthony Doerr or Brian Doyle, occasionally has unexpected effects on her own writing. "I'll read Brian Doyle, and all of a sudden my sentences will become half a page long," she said, laughing. "I love getting to read, and having to read, so many galleys. There's so much great writing going on right now. It could be daunting, but I find it really exciting." --Alex Mutter

Jewish Book Council: 73rd National Jewish Book Award Winners

The Writer's Life

Richard Bausch: Enthralled by Storytelling

photo: Jebb Harris

Richard Bausch is the author of 12 novels and eight volumes of short stories. He's received many awards, including the PEN/Malamud Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lila Wallace–Reader's Digest Writers' Award, the Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Dayton Literary Peace Prize and the Rea Award for the Short Story. He is currently professor of English at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. 

His new novel, Before, During, After, is a powerful account of a relationship threatened by secrets, set against the backdrop of the national tragedy of 9/11. Natasha Barrett is vacationing in Jamaica with a friend when the attacks occur. Fearful about the fate of her fiancé, Michael Faulk, who was visiting New York City that day, and unable to reach him by phone, she makes an error in judgment that leads to a private trauma of her own when she is raped by a fellow hotel guest.

Reunited with Faulk a few days later, Natasha keeps silent about what happened to her. As the nation reels from the terrorist attacks, she and Faulk navigate a once-idyllic relationship now fraught with anxiety and suspicion--one that may not survive the new reality that has split their lives in two.

Why did you decide to use 9/11 as a pivotal part of the plotline in Before, During, After? Had you been thinking about it for a while, or was there a particular moment when you realized you wanted to incorporate it as a backdrop in a novel?

I never really think about anything in the process of composing a novel as something I am deciding. It just doesn't work that way with me. I know it's easy for people to think of novelists as intellectual impresarios who make conscious, rational choices about themes and subject matter, and there are even some novelists who will talk about it that way--and for all I know may work like that. But for me, it is always a form of exploration, and I almost never know, when I begin, where a story, long or short, will lead me. Consequently, I've learned to trust the subconscious as completely as a child trusts a faithful, gentle adult. Things occur to me, and I follow them.

In this case, I began with the aftereffects of a rape in what has come to be called the "rape culture." The 9/11 part of the story, when it happened, surprised me, and I followed it, and began to feel the way our own personal catastrophes are mirrored in such national cataclysms. But it was all by way of feeling my way through it.

The main characters are Michael Faulk, an Episcopal priest who resigns his position, and Natasha Barrett, a congressional aide and amateur artist. Which one came to you first?

Natasha came to me first, and the first line, which I thought was the first line of a story, was "She had been dreaming about flying again." That scene as it played out had her in her apartment, with the attacker already having made his way in, though she doesn't know it yet. That was all part of a story called "Christmasville"--which is a tiny little principality, if that, in Tennessee. I wrote the scene out to the point where she discovers the attacker, and then I realized, or came to discover, that it is stronger if she and the reader know the attacker; that it is only sensationalism if he's just "the attacker." So I began with the young woman going home to tend to her grandmother in Christmasville. I left the project to finish up a couple of shorter stories, and when I started back up, the whole thing began to shift. And I knew then that it would have to be a novel and that I would trace her reaction to the attack, and that I would have the reader see it from her point of view, but know the attacker, too. Give him a name, or as Willy S. the great put it in a far different context, to bring it to the point where "imagination bodies forth the forms of things unknown" and "turns them to shapes, and gives aery nothing a local habitation and a name." God, I do love that passage.

What can you share with us about the novel's title?

It was while we were living in Knoxville, and I was teaching a semester at the University of Tennessee Knoxville, that the 9/11 scene came to be written, and I said to my wife, Lisa, "I have my title: Before, During, After." The title is in relation to Natasha's personal tragedy, not the nation's. 9/11 is before, the attack is during and after is when she's reunited with Michael.

It has been nearly 13 years since 9/11. How did you go about re-creating the events and the emotions of that day, particularly as they pertain to Faulk, who is in New York City when the terrorist attack happens?

I watched it all several times again on YouTube, painful as it was. And it was terribly painful. And in fact I was in New York when it all came down. I had come there to be at the memorial service for my publisher, Robert S. Jones. Much of what Faulk sees--though by no means all of it--is what I saw, heading south and trying to go home to Virginia that day. But an awful lot of it is made up, too, and that is simply my using my experience to imagine myself away from myself, and take on the experience of made up people.

A relative says to Faulk about Natasha being in Jamaica on 9/11: "Imagine. Stranded in paradise." Why did you decide to have her be on a Caribbean island that day rather than Stateside or elsewhere?

I really don't have an answer to that one. It just seemed right that she be far away. Jamaica seemed good because it is an hour earlier there than in New York, and it is close enough to get moment-to-moment news reports. I've never been there, by the way. I have often written about places I've never physically been--West Africa and London, for instance, in Hello to the Cannibals. And, in my novel Peace, Palermo, Salerno and Cassino in Italy in 1944, the year before I was born. 

You're also the author of 11 previous novels and eight story collections. What drives you as a storyteller?

It's something I came to fairly early, hearing my father and mother tell stories, seeing people in rooms listening to them, enthralled by it. And from having developed from all that wonderful energy a habit of reading everything I could get my hands on. Finally, reading obsessively and serially--reading writers, not just random books (if I liked a book by a writer, I read everything I could get by that writer)--provided a kind of nourishment I couldn't get anywhere else, and it gave me so much pleasure. It just seemed a natural progression to end up wanting to write them, too. Every writer knows when he begins that he will never come close to the intellectual and soul deep majesty, the sheer music and power of Shakespeare--but you would like to wrestle with the forms of expression enough to be worthy of his company, just another laborer in the beautiful vineyard, among all the other laborers. 

What would readers be surprised to learn about you?

I did very poorly in middle and high school--not because I was too smart for it or not challenged enough. I didn't get it. I could draw, and I got through English in the 11th grade by drawing a mural of Byron, Keats and Shelley on the blackboard. All three of whom I hated at the time, and all three of whom are now among my favorites of all the poets. Anyway, the mural was worth a "kindness" grade C. Which, as Jean Shepard says, is "all I ever really wanted out of life." --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Sleeping Bear Press: Junia, the Book Mule of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson, illustrated by David C. Gardner

Book Candy

Life Advice from Literature; Daring, Adventurous Girls

"You've got to work with your mistakes until they look intended. Understand?" Those lines from Raymond Carver's story "Fever" are one of Flavorwire's "25 great pieces of life advice from literature."


"Eight favorite books starring interesting, exciting, daring, adventurous girls" were showcased by the Huffington Post.


The Interesting Adventures of a Hackney Coach, (as Related by the Coachman) is just one of "100 actual titles of real Eighteenth-Century novels" gathered by the Toast.


Virtual road trip: Fans of the new Starz network series based on Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series "can now follow along with the characters' adventures through a new interactive map from VisitScotland," Variety reported. The online guide highlights real locations in the first two novels, as well as attractions and historical sites that have a strong connection the the Scotland-set series.


Design Taxi featured an infographic that charts the "word counts of Harry Potter novels & other famous books." Shakespeare's Hamlet, for example, is "approximately 30,000 words in length, while Jane Austen's novels often exceed 100,000 words."


Michael Gibney, author of Sous Chef: 24 Hours in the Kitchen, chose his "top 10 restaurants and bars in modern literature" for the Guardian.

Great Reads

Now in Paper: August


You Are Now Less Dumb: How to Conquer Mob Mentality, How to Buy Happiness and All the Other Ways to Outsmart Yourself by David McRaney (Gotham, $16)
Want to know how much money it takes to be a happy American or how the environment can affect your degree of sexual arousal? You Are Now Less Dumb digs deep into the annals of scientific investigations, debunking a variety of commonly accepted "misconceptions" on human behavior.

The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave Up Sex by Sophie Fontanel (Scribner, $14)
A bestseller in France, Fontanel's reflections on choosing to become celibate are marked by her quirky, elegant voice in dozens of short vignettes. The refusal was initially euphoric, giving way to a rich inner life and powerful sense of liberation. Yet the reactions from others ranged from confusion to misguided pity.

Down in the Chapel: Religious Life in an American Prison by Joshua Dubler (Picador, $20)
An entertaining, thought-provoking look at religious life behind bars, Down in the Chapel recounts one week at the chapel, focused on Dubler's interactions with four African-American prisoners: a Protestant, a Catholic and two Muslims. There are degrees of faith in prison, and that faith is often an elaborate dance between the authentic and the artificial.

Hothouse: The Art of Survival and the Survival of Art at America's Most Celebrated Publishing House, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux by Boris Kachka (Simon & Schuster, $17.99)
Boris Kachka's lively history of publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux will delight any book lover. From T.S. Eliot to Flannery O'Connor to Isaac Bashevis Singer, FSG attracted a roster of literary superstars, nurturing them both creatively and financially. Kachka offers a spirited and well-informed history and dishes plenty of gossipy fare.

The Handoff: A Powerful Memoir of Two Guys, Sports, and Friendship by John Tournour (Center Street, $15)
An earnest remembrance of a friend and the wisdom he passed on to a sports talk radio anchor. Andrew Ashwood mentors John Tournour through an ascending career. When Ashwood is diagnosed with cancer, Tournour naturally gets the call to be his chemo buddy and "main go-to guy" in those final months.

How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times by Roy Peter Clark (Little, Brown, $15)
Although you may be familiar with a modern text message or a tweet, Clark shows the history of short writing goes back thousands of years. "Short work," Clark says, "need not be a compromise forced on the writer by technology, evolving social habits or shrinking resources," and demonstrates that sparse writing doesn't have to mean stark writing. 


It Happens in the Dark by Carol O'Connell (Berkley, $9.99)
Truth turns out to be stranger than fiction as a murderer stalks a Broadway cast. In the 11th Kathy Mallory novel, Carol O'Connell tests her heroine's strange talents with a twisted mystery about an even more bizarre play, making the cops crazy as they try to figure out who is acting and who had a reason to kill.

Sweet Thunder by Ivan Doig (Riverhead, $16)
Another yarn of ordinary Montana folks from the days when the West was still a bit wild, told in his characteristic rich language by master storyteller Ivan Doig. Sweet Thunder follows feisty wordsmith Morris Morgan leading the fight for miners' rights against a copper mining giant in 1920s Butte.

The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Loyd (Picador, $15)
Celia, a young widow, comes back to life through her involvement with the four tenants in the small apartment building she buys. Amy Grace Loyd has created a protagonist who is enigmatic, shy, aloof--and passionate and sexually reckless. The good news is that Celia is beginning to "move on" after the death of her husband.

The Truth by Michael Palin (St. Martin's Griffin, $15.99)
Michael Palin--yes, the Monty Python Michael Palin--returns to fiction with The Truth. A once-decorated journalist turned corporate sellout gets a chance to redeem himself when he's asked to write the biography of an environmental activist. The catch? Hamish Melville, the activist in question, leads a life of fanatical privacy.

The Skull and the Nightingale by Michael Irwin (Morrow, $14.99)
An epistolary tale of manipulation, sex and adventure set in 18th-century London. Orphaned at a young age, Richard has long been under the care and protection of his godfather who means to put him up in London with a generous allowance. Of course, the arrangement is too good to be true.

Book Review


The Miniaturist

by Jessie Burton

With her father dead and the family in debt, 18-year-old Nella Oortman is married off to Johannes Brandt, a high-ranking merchant powerbroker for the Dutch East India Company in September 1686. She moves from her countryside home to Amsterdam, but Johannes isn't waiting to meet her. Instead, she is greeted by her husband's severe sister, Marin, who grudgingly welcomes Nella into the household.

Kind but distant and frequently absent, Johannes does little to appease his new wife or tame his overbearing sister, whom Nella overhears telling Johannes how to make trades and other business decisions. She has many questions she'd like to ask her frugal sister-in-law, but Marin answers in riddles. Aggression increases between the two women, and when Johannes presents his bride with an extravagant gift--an exact model replica of their home--the balance of power begins to shift.

Nella finally leaves the house in search of a miniaturist who can help her decorate Johannes's gift, but the shop is always empty. In response to her notes, the miniaturist sends her cryptic messages and unsolicited parcels: uncannily precise furniture reproductions and eerily accurate replicas of the inhabitants of Nella's world. How does this mysterious craftsperson know so much about the complex relationships in the household? Can this artisan/prophet see into the future, or have some sort of ominous control over Nella's fate?

In Jessie Burton's atmospheric debut, The Miniaturist, the powers of love and obsession, sins and secrets, loyalty and forgiveness bind together a cast of sympathetic characters who all have a part to play in a collectively chilling conclusion. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Dark shadows, whispered secrets and glimpses of life through ancient keyholes in an engrossing story of independence set in the Dutch Golden Age.

Ecco Press, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062306814

Lisette's List

by Susan Vreeland

In 1937, newlyweds Andre and Lisette Roux move from Paris to the pastoral southeastern town of Roussillon to care for his grandfather, Pascal, who has written that he is dying. A passionate Parisian, Lisette is at first miserable in the backwater town, and infuriated when Pascal turns out to be healthier than he let on: he simply wanted their company.

But Lisette is as fervent about art as she is about Paris, and she's captivated by Pascal's collection of seven paintings by Cézanne and Pissarro, and one possibly by Picasso. By the time Pascal eventually dies, Lisette has made a home of sorts in Roussillon; her love for the paintings further compels her to stay in Provence when Andre hides them (fearing their destruction or seizure by German troops). He enlists to fight for France--but doesn't tell Lisette where they're stowed.

Over the next decade and more, Lisette keeps a list of "Lisette's Hungers and Vows." Inspired by Pascal and his paintings, Andre's love and the quiet strength and beauty of the Provençal surroundings, she pledges to "learn what makes a painting great," "learn how to be self-sufficient" and "love without reservation." Lisette will experience love and loss, joy and deep pain; learn animal husbandry as well as art history; and parse the moral questions raised under Vichy French rule, as the years go by. Readers will likely rush through Susan Vreeland's (Girl in Hyacinth Blue) lovely Lisette's List, only to be bereaved when the final stroke is painted and the portrait is complete. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: The author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue lovingly portrays Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist French art by way of a modest fictional character in Provence.

Random House, $27, hardcover, 9781400068173

The Story Hour

by Thrity Umrigar

Therapist Maggie Bose is adept at keeping a professional distance from her clients. But when she meets Lakshmi, a young Indian woman whose loneliness drove her to attempt suicide, Maggie's boundaries dissolve. Agreeing to treat Lakshmi in her home, for free, Maggie helps the younger woman learn to drive and start a catering business. Soon the two women become friends, after a fashion--but each has secrets that will jeopardize their relationship and ultimately rock both their marriages.

Thrity Umrigar (The Space Between Us) shares both women's viewpoints, telling Maggie's story in detached third person and Lakshmi's story in first person. (Lakshmi speaks a simplified pidgin English, even when narrating to herself, so the switch is sometimes jarring.) Umrigar provides glimpses of the India Lakshmi left behind: her pet elephant Mithai, her beloved younger sister Shilpa, and the disastrous events that tore their family apart and sentenced Lakshmi to a loveless marriage. Maggie is happily married to Sudhir, a kind Indian man, but a brief, passionate affair threatens to destroy everything they have built. When Lakshmi discovers Maggie's secret, her actions carry consequences for both women.

Umrigar deftly highlights the contrasts between Maggie's American upbringing and Lakshmi's traditional Indian heritage, and while Maggie is better educated, she often lacks the kindness and self-awareness shown by Lakshmi. At times, both characters seem generic, like the houses in the bland college town where they live. Despite minor flaws, The Story Hour is a thought-provoking meditation on marriage, friendship and the ramifications of small actions. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: The thought-provoking friendship between a therapist and her client leads to complex and ultimately painful consequences.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062259301

Mr. Tall: A Novella and Stories

by Tony Earley

Aspects of human frailty and damaged psyches permeate the stories in Mr. Tall, the latest collection of short works by Tony Earley. Earley's fiction (Jim the Boy) delves into the lives of ordinary people and addresses complex themes in a pared-down style. This time around, Earley's characters include, in "Yard Art," a divorced 28-year-old midwife and a rough-around-the-edges, bluegrass-singing plumber who spend an afternoon searching for what may or may not be a valuable piece of sculpture, while "The Cryptozoologist" centers on a widow who believes she has spied a "skunk ape," a type of Bigfoot creature, near her home. The presence of the wildly elusive beast compels her to reconcile her past and her true feelings for her misunderstood artist husband.

In the suspenseful "Mr. Tall," a young woman living in the 1930s marries a man who whisks her away from her family into a new life filled with uncertainty. Lonely, she is drawn to a mysteriously widowed, reclusive neighbor nicknamed Mr. Tall, who inhabits the only other farmhouse nearby. She is warned to stay away, but can she resist learning more about this man's past?

Earley deftly compresses life histories into just a few pages that successfully blend humor and poignancy, reality and myth. All of the stories feature Southeastern locales and characters who are ripped from the familiarity of their lives--the comfort, however good or bad, they know and depend upon--to be thrust, oftentimes unwillingly, into new realities. Along the way, unearthed secrets and epiphanies lead to revelatory moments infused with regret and grace. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: Tony Earley's vivid, well-crafted short stories speak volumes about the startling realities of life and the complexities of human relationships.

Little, Brown, $25, hardcover, 9780316246125

Flings: Stories

by Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor's second collection of stories, Flings, centers on human relationships, particularly romantic ones, and the myriad ways they define and redefine us. The leading story, "Flings," sets the overall tone for the volume: recent college graduates make big life decisions--what job to take, what city to live in--based on what their friends and significant others are doing, only to find that none of these relationships are what they once seemed. "A Talking Cure" introduces two newlyweds who struggle to define marriage, and wonder whether or not it matters if their definition matches the rest of the world's. In "Carol, Alone," a lonely widow finds odd companionship with an alligator lurking in her backyard.

All of the stories in Taylor's collection are direct, though they sometimes lack enough description that they leave the reader with questions about motivation. In "Poets," for example, a couple breaks up, gets back together, breaks up again--and it is never clear exactly why any of this happens. The characters in "Sungold" are so deadpan as to feel flat, though the story overall is humorous in its absurdity. As in relationships, though, sometimes the less-successful moments make the good ones shine even brighter, and the gems here make Flings well worth one's time. Taylor's insightful stories illuminate the many ways we fall in love--and out of it--and how romances shape our identity both while they last and long after they conclude. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: An insightful collection of stories centering on relationships and how they shape us.

Harper, $23.99, hardcover, 9780062310156

Mystery & Thriller

Don't Look Back

by Gregg Hurwitz

If there's a dip in Mexican tourism this year, fingers might point at Gregg Hurwitz (Tell No Lies) and his chilling new standalone thriller. In his recent novels, Hurwitz terrorizes his everyman characters in the midst of civilization, but Don't Look Back drops Eve Hardaway, a nurse and single mother, into the jungles of southern Mexico.

What's supposed to be a fun vacation turns into an unfathomable nightmare when Eve wanders from her tour group and stumbles on an isolated house. She observes the inhabitant throwing machetes at a human-shaped target. The sight is frightening enough, but it doesn't begin to compare with the life-threatening horrors about to rain down on her--a result of the trip-wire she's innocently triggered.

Hurwitz has a history of creating smart, driven female characters, but they usually take a supporting role. Don't Look Back puts a woman firmly in the driver's seat. Eve's fears and doubts, her motivations and emotions all ring true for a struggling American parent.

The Mexican setting takes on a character-like role as well. From the unforgiving weather to the punishing terrain, Hurwitz brings to life the sights, sounds, smells and even the involuntary shivers inspired by the jungle's occupants (sweeper ants, termites, bats).

Nonstop action in a exotic locale keeps the adrenaline pumping from beginning to end. In one of his darkest books yet, Hurwitz pokes a stick into a hornet's nest of American fears to excite and entertain. Just don't read this one on the plane to Mexico. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: An American woman vacationing in the Mexican jungle encounters an evil greater than her worst nightmares.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 9780312626839

Food & Wine

Yummy Supper: 100 Fresh, Luscious & Honest Recipes from a Gluten-free Omnivore

by Erin Scott

Read this title just to the word "recipes" to get the essence of this collection; skip the part that hints of deprivation. Freshness, lusciousness and honesty--most recipes include blogger Erin Scott's anecdotes and advice--are at the heart of Yummy Supper, which appeals to eaters, gluten-free or not. ("Omnivore" is key, as well. Vegans and vegetarians might elect to skip this book, but the abundance of recipes featuring fruit, veggie and non-wheat grains are worth any cook's second glance.)

Scott's introductory essay reveals her evolution as a passionate advocate for healthy eating, from her childhood in Seattle and the Sierra Nevadas, then Berkeley--all with a family that embraced the local bounty and food trends of the areas. Following a successful fashion and design career in New York, she and her husband returned to Berkeley, where her diagnosis of celiac disease and her kids' gluten intolerance led her to Bay Area markets and her own creativity.

"An Abundant (gluten-free) Pantry," a chapter of tips on what to stock and where to buy it, is enlightening. Her take on various vinegars, yogurts, nuts, oils and more is inspiring and underscores the adjectives in the subtitle. Scott's own full-page photos add to the allure. Mixed grains with asparagus, favas, watercress and toasted pine nuts; wild salmon with dill butter and fennel; Lilah's little apple galettes; zucchini ribbon "pasta": gluten-free eaters may find their ranks expanding once more cooks discover the secrets of Yummy Supper. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Yummy Supper blogger Erin Scott's first cookbook isn't just for those allergic to gluten.

Rodale, $24.99, paperback, 9781609615444


An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments

by Ali Almossawi, illus. by Alejandro Giraldo

If you're reading this, you're likely a frequent enough user of the Internet to have been exposed ("subjected" might be a better word) to the vicious arguments, debates and disagreements that often spread like wildfire across the comments sections of newspapers, blogs and social networks. Ali Almossawi, fed up and tired of blocking out the comments sections, chose to review some "rules of the road" for logical debates. His project began--logically--as a website, but quickly took off; 650,000 page hits later, we have An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments.

Each explanation of a mistake--which he calls "an abuse of reason"--takes up a page at most, and is illustrated with anthropomorphized animals. The "appeal to fear" fallacy, in which the speaker "plays on the fears of an audience by imagining a scary future that would be of their making if some proposition were accepted," is coupled with a picture of what looks to be the white-collar, harried, school-principal relative of Frog from the Frog and Toad children's books. "Guilt by association" features a donkey, also dressed for work, pointing at a poster of a bulldog dictator, trying to discredit an idea that was embraced by a socially demonized individual. Each of the selected missteps here should be avoided by anyone seeking to win an argument on more than bluster. Time will tell if it reaches those who could benefit most from its lessons, but this slim volume is nonetheless a whimsical, straightforward primer on good online discourse. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

Discover: Spurred by irrational online "debates," a whimsical guide to how to strengthen--and how not to weaken--your arguments.

The Experiment, $14.95, hardcover, 9781615192250

Psychology & Self-Help

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload

by Daniel J. Levitin

Given the constant barrage of information and the infinite distractions of technology, neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin (This Is Your Brain on Music) says it's no wonder people regularly lose their keys or forget appointments. The flow of information isn't going to slow, so what's the solution? Understand your brain.

The human brain's natural tendency is to categorize and sort all incoming information--a tendency that served us well until the current information explosion. Now the brain takes in an overwhelming amount of data, experiences and knowledge and organizes it in such a way that memories are difficult to retrieve or are altered to the point of unreliability. To battle this phenomenon, Levitin says people need to move some of the brain's systems outside the body. He examines how these external systems can work to organize the human environment, everything from the physical (homes) to the theoretical (time).

The Organized Mind is packed with methods readers can immediately put into action, but it also contains concepts readers may struggle to accept. It calls into question the value of multitasking and challenges readers to make rational decisions about life-changing events, such as cancer surgery--situations where a rational choice seems obvious in theory but in practice emotions play a persuasive part. However, Levitin does an excellent job of showing different perspectives and driving home the idea that an organized mind can have more control over emotion because it has control over the information.

Anyone who's ever asked themselves, "Now, where'd I put those keys?" will likely find The Organized Mind an invaluable resource. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A neuroscientist offers feasible solutions for organizing the information overload of the 21st century.

Dutton, $27.95, hardcover, 9780525954187


Final Frontier: The Pioneering Science and Technology of Exploring the Universe

by Brian Clegg

Brian Clegg (Gravity, Extra Sensory) explores the past, present and potentially promising future of space exploration in Final Frontier. He invokes the United States' pioneer spirit and past spaceflight accomplishments, building a step-by-step outline for how we could plausibly become a spacefaring civilization using the latest scientific and technological advances. Clegg is also a realist, devoting only a scant final chapter to the faster-than-light-speed technology that's still based more on science fiction than science fact. He creates a comprehensive (and easily comprehensible) vision of realistic space projects for the near and long term (from within this decade to mid-century), like interplanetary outposts and asteroid mining.

The most immediate advances will almost certainly come from private companies. Clegg respects NASA's history of achievement, but external political forces and a defunct bureaucracy have split the U.S.'s space agency into two parts: one of starry-eyed plans, the other of actual projects, with both sides rarely meeting. It will be up to the likes of billionaire Richard Branson and his company Virgin Galactic to push past the disappointingly stagnant last few decades of space exploration. However, anything beyond the commercialization of low-Earth orbit will require considerably greater resources. Clegg deftly explains the challenges facing outposts on the moon and Mars, beyond even the as-yet-unsolved engineering puzzles; how, for example, could a Mars colony justify its existence economically?

Final Frontier is thorough without being overly complex. Clegg gives brief overviews of the science involved in space flight--just enough information to keep casual readers from getting lost without boring science buffs. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A comprehensive journey through the future of space exploration.

St. Martin's Press, $26.99, hardcover, 9781250039439

Children's & Young Adult

The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone

by Adele Griffin

Bright and talented Addison Stone is a rising star in the New York art world. By the time she's 18, she's living on her own in New York City--where she dies under mysterious circumstances. To unravel the mystery of Addison's death, Adele Griffin structures the novel as a series of interviews with and photographs of Addison's friends, family and colleagues. The resulting work resembles an in-depth article one might read in the New Yorker, and is just as compelling.

Through this layering of e-mails, text messages and interviews, readers realize some of Addison's supporters are thrilled with her opportunity, but many, including close friends from home, grow concerned that Addison is spiraling out of control. Although her talent rapidly becomes legendary, so do her antics. Addison fights a constant battle to balance her medication--which she feels inhibits her--with her productivity. Despite one or two caring friends and mentors, Addison has very few healthy relationships. Her journey to the top of the New York art scene illuminates the world of fame, where the motives of agents, art dealers, patrons and groupies are questionable. As Addison struggles between creativity and sanity, readers will likely sense what's coming and wonder if anyone will step in.

Griffin creates a compelling fictional biography in which Addison's cause of death ultimately remains unresolved. Was she pushed? Did she jump? Was it an accident? Regardless of the answer, one thing is certain: Addison was a flame who burned too brightly, whose madness fed her art and ultimately consumed her. --Cathy Berner, children's and YA specialist, Blue Willow Bookshop, Houston, Texas

Discover: A compelling fictional biography told through photos, artwork and interviews exploring the brief, tumultuous life of an 18-year-old artist.

Soho Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 9781616953607

Brave Chicken Little

by Robert Byrd

Chicken Little, whose fears are triggered by an earthbound acorn to believe "the sky is falling," turns heroic by the end of this upbeat, exuberantly illustrated retelling of a classic.

Chicken Little skips off to market to buy ingredients for his mother to bake a cake. When a bop on the head interrupts his errand, he rushes to tell the king and meets the traveling companions of the traditional tale. Exquisitely detailed pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations conjure an old-fashioned village whose inhabitants wear proper attire even to sweep the front walk or head out for a stroll. A two-page spread of Chicken Little, Henny Penny, Ducky Lucky and Turkey Lurkey about to cross a nearby stream (to Piggy Wiggy, Rabbit Babbit, Natty Ratty, Froggy Woggy and Roley and Poly Moley--but no Cocky Locky or Goosey Loosey in Byrd's version) brims with enticing details: a bridge adorned with fish sculptures, and dragonflies and butterflies hovering over lily pads. Foxy Loxy remains the villain ("Good day and cheers! Where are you off to, my scrumptious little dears?" says he), and successfully leads them back to his house. But here the story takes a turn: after Foxy Loxy shoves his "guests" into the dark cellar, they band together and outsmart their captor.

Byrd leaves it to readers to decide whether the feathered hero truly believed the sky was falling. What matters is that he was smart enough to convince Foxy Loxy and save his friends. A sumptuously illustrated reinterpretation of a delicious read-aloud. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A sumptuously illustrated reinterpretation of a delicious read-aloud about Chicken Little, who believes the sky is falling.

Viking, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-up, 9780670786169

Frank Einstein and the Antimatter Motor

by Jon Scieszka, illus. by Brian Biggs

Jon Scieszka (Science Curse) combines scientific principles and classic science fiction in a page-turning mystery starring kid genius Frank Einstein and his best friend, Watson.

Frank designs a SmartBot with scraps from the household and his Grampa Al's Fix It! shop. Hoping to route the energy of a lightning strike to give his invention a necessary charge, Frank attaches the robot with a rope harness, looped over a pulley and wired into the motor of Grampa Al's garage-door opener. Once the lightning hits, he explains, his robot "will be able to think, learn, and become smarter and smarter." Sadly, a power failure intervenes, and the SmartBot falls to the floor ahead of the required jolt. But during the night, scientific serendipity strikes, and the SmartBot comes to life. Klink, "the self-assembled artificial intelligence entity," creates a companion, Klank. Together, Frank, Watson and the two robots invent the titular antimatter motor. They feel certain they'll win the Midville Science Prize. But on the day of the Science Fair, Klink and Klank go missing, and more trouble follows.

In this launch of a new series, Scieszka introduces a formidable number of science ideas and explains them all easily and accessibly. (Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, from I, Robot, form an essential plot element.) Brian Biggs's red-and-black illustrations contribute to the aura of humor and inventiveness, including diagrams that demonstrate matter and antimatter. Author and artist emphasize an atmosphere of playfulness in Frank's lab, along with the idea that happy accidents contribute as much to science as planned experiments. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Jon Scieszka's excellent launch to a new series that combines scientific principles and classic science fiction in a page-turning mystery.

Abrams, $13.95, hardcover, 192p., ages 8-12, 9781419712180


Author Buzz

Visions of Flesh and Blood:
A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium

by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Dear Reader,

Today is the release of VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD, the Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium, and I am so excited that you finally get to see and read it!

I saw the love you had for Miss Willa, watched how following along with all the series twists and turns brought you joy, and thought... wouldn't it be nice to have a book to help with that, yet give even more new stuff?

So, my publisher and I came up with a plan. It included loads of stunning art commissions, strategic disclosures, and brand-new material. When it all came together, it was even better than I imagined.

VISIONS OF FLESH AND BLOOD is so much more than a series bible. It's a journey and a work of art. A collector's item for sure!


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: Visions of Flesh and Blood: A Blood and Ash/Flesh and Fire Compendium by Jennifer L. Armentrout with Rayvn Salvador

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
February 20, 2024


List Price: 
$7.99 e-book

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