Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, October 17, 2014

Mariner Books: Briefly Perfectly Human: Making an Authentic Life by Getting Real about the End by Alua Arthur

From My Shelf

Authors in the Flesh

One of the harder things for booksellers to admit is the number of acclaimed authors they haven't read. Sure, you can't read everything, but a book like Joseph O'Neill's Netherland (Vintage, $15.95), winner of the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award, certainly blips on the radar. Last week, I enjoyed lunch at Ravenna Third Place Books in Seattle while O'Neill spoke to a small crowd of us readers about his new novel, The Dog (Pantheon, $25.95). Following the often comic adventures of an American called only by his initial, X, in the startling metropolis of Dubai, O'Neill's fourth novel landed on the longlist for the 2014 Man Booker Prize. It was about time I became acquainted with his work.

What's remarkable about an author event is the opportunity it affords a reader to experience the work in the writer's own voice while engaging with other readers in attendance, who are quite likely already avid fans. In one sense, we're allowed to sample a book, or an author's oeuvre, without yet investing in a reading experience we're unsure of. In another sense, a reading is a place to introduce yourself to a new world of possibility.

Many bookstores offer author events, free of admission, many times a year. I can't tell you how often I have overwhelmingly enjoyed a reading by an author I knew next to nothing about at the time. Plenty of them now rank among my favorite books: The Orphan Master's Son (Random House, $15), Alif the Unseen (Grove, $16), Incarnadine (Graywolf, $16), A Tale for the Time Being (Penguin, $16), History of a Pleasure Seeker (Vintage, $15.95). The list goes on, but I think you get the picture. I can't recommend author events highly enough. Check out your local bookstore's events list, and maybe pick a couple to go to this month. You might just find your new favorite author! --Dave Wheeler, publishing assistant, Shelf Awareness

Sleeping Bear Press: A Kurta to Remember by Gauri Dalvi Pandya, Illustrated by Avani Dwivedi

The Writer's Life

Brenda Peterson: "Our Lives Have Meaning"

photo: Jeff Smith

The author of more than 18 books, including two memoirs, Brenda Peterson teamed up with her literary agent, Sarah Jane Freymann, to offer aspiring memoirists advice and inspiration. In Your Life Is a Book: How to Craft & Publish Your Memoir (Sasquatch, October 14), the duo helps writers craft the best memoir possible from the often confusing, exhilarating and unexpected raw material of their lives.

Peterson's works include the memoirs Build Me an Ark: A Life with Animals and the recent I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, which was selected by independent booksellers as a "Great Read" and named a "Top Ten Best Non-Fiction Book of the Year" by the Christian Science Monitor. She teaches private writing classes and delights in seeing many of her students published.

As a New York City literary agent, Freyman shepherds books onto bestseller lists, mentors fledgling writers and helps authors transform their lives through memoir. She and Peterson have worked together for years, including teaching a "Life Story" seminar.

What makes a great memoir, for the reader as well as the writer?

For both writer and reader, a memoir is like a love story, with all the ecstasies, disappointments and turning points of any relationship. In memoir, we come home to ourselves and realize that our lives have meaning. For the memoirist, crafting a life story that others will want to read is not just about skillful techniques--like finding your narrative arc, creating authentic characters and dialogue, or hard-won epiphanies--it is soul work. What do we really possess if not our life stories? In writing memoir, we don't just ask "Who am I?" but also "Who am I in this story?"

For the reader, a memoir offers another fully realized and vivid world we also want to inhabit. It is a mirror, another path, sometimes even a lifeline. As both the writer and reader "get it," we share a bond of catharsis and self-discovery. In the words of the late Maya Angelou, the best memoirists teach us how to "stand on their shoulders."

In Your Life Is a Book, you note that memoir surpassed fiction in popularity during the last century, a trend that still continues. Why do you suppose this is?

We're endlessly curious about one another's lives; and now through the Internet and media, the whole world's stories are open to us. Everyone is writing memoir. Blogs are mostly memoir, reality television is a kind of personal narrative, even social media sites tell the stories of our lives--and sometimes even our revolutions in real time. In all media, we're turning more to "real-life" and to our peers, what we call "the egalitarian memoir" to better understand how to live. Because of all this living out loud and online, we're familiar with the intimate tone of personal revelations. We also know from the West's fascination with therapy--a kind of characterization and self-discovery--that we gain some truth by sharing our lives.

Sarah Jane and I always teach aspiring memoirists to write their life story like a novel--one that just happens to be true. As in fiction, the memoir's main character--the evolving self--grows and changes. Just like a good novel, a memoir must start at a point of dramatic action or tension that will be resolved. A memoir is not like the facts-on-file dutiful march of an autobiography. Sometimes the personal narrative is organized by an emotional chronology or by a theme or historical event. Anything other than a legacy memoir, anything you want to sell or self-publish, has to read like a terrific novel.

Tell us about the structure of Your Life Is a Book.

In our "User's Guide" we advise reading our book from beginning to end to build upon the solid ground that it has taken us years to discover. But a reader may choose to review the chapter headings and sample content in a different way. For example, if you are writing a travel memoir based on a spiritual journey, you might begin with Chapter 7, "Eat, Pray, Love," and then Chapter 11, "Travel Memoirs: Journeys in and Out," and then Chapter 11, "Spiritual Memoirs." That would give you the foundation for your narrative arc. Part One is "Crafting Your Memoir," with many exercises, writing prompts and examples of setting, dialogue, characterization and finding your own unique storytelling voice.

Part Two is "Getting Serious about Publishing," with interviews and chapters on agents, editors, publishers, book proposals, better blogging and navigating traditional as well as indie publishing. In this digital age, there are many more options for publication. Many "hybrid authors," like myself, publish both traditionally and independently. I've reissued my out-of-print traditional books as e-books; in a congenial partnership with Perseus, which originally published I Want to Be Left Behind, I just brought out my memoir in paperback with a new cover by renowned book illustrator Wendell Minor. Sarah Jane's expertise and long-time experience is with publishing houses, so her insider's advice is invaluable for anyone taking the traditional route.

Throughout the book you include examples, advice and inspiring quotes from successful memoirists. What are some of your favorite memoirs? Which ones would you especially recommend to aspiring memoirists?

We've included in Your Life Is a Book an extensive bibliography of recommended memoirs. It's impossible to list all the memoirs Sarah Jane and I love, but some of our favorites include The Good Good Pig, the delightful story of how a pet pig taught author Sy Montgomery to be "more human," Jarvis Master's eloquent That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row and the inspiring Rena's Promise: A Story of Sisters in Auschwitz by Rena Kornreich Gelissen, which will soon be a documentary. Also wonderful are The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food by Julia Child's editor, Judith Jones; Native author Linda Hogan's beautifully wise The Woman Who Watches Over the World; and Diane Ackerman's poignant One Hundred Names for Love.  

What is the most important piece of advice you have for someone who is considering writing a memoir?

We believe that everyone has a life story to tell. The trick is creating a memoir that will be a pleasure for others to read. Take your time, apprentice yourself to the craft and learn the business of publishing. Most of all, remember that telling your story will change you. As the renowned psychologist C.G. Jung said, "The encounter with the creature changes the creator." When the mature narrator encounters the younger self, you are not simply observing and reporting--you are reliving along with the reader. Both on the page and in life, you will not be quite the same person at the end of a memoir as at the beginning.

We often talk about "Writing with the eye of God," calling upon that larger vision and more generous understanding of our own life and the lives of those around us. If you can see your own story with the engaged and sympathetic point of view of the master storyteller, at every moment you can transform your life. And then, your reader's. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt

The Accidental Highwayman

by Ben Tripp

Ben Tripp's funny, wise and suspenseful first novel for young people, The Accidental Highwayman, takes readers through the perilous paths of 18th-century stagecoaches, riddled with bandits and populated by faeries.

Tripp admits in an opening "Editor's Note" to discovering the jottings of Kit Bristol, the tale's narrator, in an old sea chest that belonged to one of his ancestors, unopened for 150 years. Kit--whose full name is Christopher Bristol--recounts his youthful adventures with the benefit of hindsight. As an orphan taken in by Master James Rattle, Kit discovers that his master doubles as the notorious highwayman Whistling Jack. But there's nothing accidental about him. No, the title refers to then 16-year-old Kit, who rides to get help for his injured master on the man's majestic black horse, Midnight, and is mistaken for Whistling Jack. Unable to save Master Rattle, Kit receives from the man a legacy: a strange map that he can't make sense of, his French bulldog, Demon, and, of course, his horse, Midnight.

Along the way, Tripp explains the odd workings of the British aristocracy. James Rattle, as the third son of a wealthy and influential lord, nonetheless had no claim to his father's estate, and therefore resorted to this strange vocation (robbing the rich by night). Kit finds himself pulled into that life out of necessity--his horse and boots are identifiable as his master's and he has no other means of income.

His master's dying wish is for Kit to travel to the deepest part of Kingsmire Forest, to an old witch who'll keep Rattle's beloved French bulldog safe while Kit goes on a quest of the woman's making--a mission left incomplete by his master. Along the way, Kit has many adventures, the first of which is an encounter with the Princess Morgana, daughter of a human mother and the Faerie King, who has promised her to King George III. Kit, who never knew Faeries existed, accepts the help of Faeries Willum and Gruntle in order to free Princess Morgana. Alas, she lets him know in no uncertain terms that she has no further need of him. She is proven wrong. (A wonderful, humorous scene depicts Kit rescuing the royal from certain death in a bull's pen.)

Kit had a previous life as a trick-rider in a circus. His skills on horseback are what first attracted Master Rattle, and they serve the teen well now. Kit's path becomes entangled with one of his friends from that era, Lily the high-rope dancer. Her Uncle Cornelius has an "extraordinary conveyance" that they use as a "cover" to further their mission, sneaking into towns and eluding the Goblings of the Faery world. Fred the baboon also joins up from their former circus life.

The author combines all the elements of farce, yet achieves a highbrow blend of literary mystery, buoyed by clever use of language and Old-World 18th-century English locution. At one point Kit says, "Forgive my pride: Respectability is like wine. It goes straight to the head of one who hasn't had it before." The hero gets pulled into a world of Faeries he never knew (or believed) existed, and receives lessons from Willum and Gruntle on the pecking order within the world of magic, and on the Eldritch Law, a code of ethics that guides the magical creatures.

Tripp's deliciously drawn villains include Captain Sterne, who hates Whistling Jack because his fiancée fell in love with the brigand, and who's obsessed with capturing him, and a one-eyed pirate duchess, whose soul was captured by the Faerie King and resorts to true horror tactics in an attempt to capture the Princess Morgana. And at times the Princess Morgana is her own worst enemy.

How Kit deals with these situations shows readers his true nature--kindness and integrity prevail. He is an orphan with no special talents (save for trick-riding), yet in each situation, he does the right thing. His constant questioning of himself (does he really love the princess or is he merely enchanted by her--literally?) endears him to readers. And his sense of humor about his inexperience and naïveté telegraphs his compassion for his less experienced self. His voice comes through as a mix of intelligence and naïveté, wonder and understanding. And his command of language puts readers in mind of a time when words were used more precisely. (Footnotes define archaic words and contraptions; these never intrude, but rather illuminate the goings on. One example is the delectable word "slubberdegullion," which means "all-around wretch, completely without virtue.")

While this novel comes to a rousing, thoroughly resounding close, two more books will star Kit and his further adventures. --Jennifer M. Brown

Tor Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 12-18, 9780765335494

Ben Tripp: "You Choose Your Own Adventure"

photo: Tanya McClure

Ben Tripp describes growing up in a household where "fairytales were stock in trade," as the son of children's book illustrator Wallace Tripp (best known for his artwork on Peggy Parish's Amelia Bedelia books). "I grew up immersed in all this stuff, faeries and pixies, and reading Tolkien at an age when I could still be frightened by it," he explains. As the author of horror books for adults, Tripp shifts gears quite dramatically for his first YA novel, The Accidental Highwayman (Tor Teen, October), about 16-year-old Kit Bristol, mistaken for his master, a notorious brigand. Tripp and his wife live in California.

How did you decide to write a book for young people?

I wrote the book as a whimsical outburst as a response to writing a horror novel [for adults]. I thought, "I can write this jolly story." It didn't have any "language" in it, because it wasn't required, and it didn't have grisly bits because Kit wouldn't have described that kind of thing; it turned out to be completely suitable to YA.

What was the genesis for The Accidental Highwayman?

I had the premise, the idea of a young fellow stumbling into the role of a highwayman and then into the world of magic and the rescue and all that, but I didn't know what all the incidents would be--sort of like the Nicholas Nickleby type story: the moment you move somewhere else, you have a new subplot.

I come from screenwriting originally, where plotting is absolutely rigorous. The minimum shooting unit is an eighth of a page, and the writing is more like haiku than prose. It's a different form, and you have 90 pages to tell any story, from the end of the world to the Bible. You need colossal discipline. In a novel, you can wander off for a while and you can come back, and you haven't broken it. You can take the room you need.

Some of your drawings appear in the book. What was that like for you?

Somewhere about halfway through writing a novel, I get sick of it, so what I'll do is draw the cover. I'll go into Photoshop and do the type and the drawing, and then it looks like a real book and then I'll finish it. Writing is 1/10 writing the story and 9/10 convincing yourself it's true.

I didn't really envision illustrating it. Then I thought I should illustrate it because then it would be a true adventure story, like the Wyeth storybooks. This represented a happy collision of interests. My father liked the drawings for this book. He's an actual genius, so I never pursued illustration as a course.

We loved Kit's voice and command of language, with words like "slubberdegullian"--which is a real word, we discovered.

Kit's voice emerged whole, in a lot of ways. A person like him would speak in a particular way. He's writing this as an older person, looking back at his naïveté in a lovely, nonjudgmental way.

We've put up a Web site with a glossary of lesser-known words, obsolete words, then words more advanced than a typical YA book--which arises from the fact that I didn't know who I was writing the book for. [The designer of the web site] keeps thinking I've made things up--like slubberdegullian--so I've had to prove it. It's fun, 'cause I get to write my own definitions for words like tatterdemalion and galligaskins. The use of "tharn," the whole thing about the Feyín, that etymology is completely made up. We talked about this when we were doing the audio book with Steve West, a lovely English actor. He and I were in correspondence about exactly the stuff you're talking about: What is this word? How is it pronounced? And did you make it up? Just because I can write it doesn't mean it can be said.

Where will Kit go next?

In the second book, you get to go to Faerie. That takes things in another direction. There was a tradition in the 18th century where novels take you in other directions and then describe them. The only one surviving is Gulliver's Travels. They'd go to Africa and come back and tell people what they'd seen and it was usually a pack of lies, of course. I'm taking that tradition and cheerfully updating it.

And how did you come up with the Eldritch Law?

I'd be in hard shape if someone were to ask me to publish the Eldritch Law, because I wrote the bits that I thought of, and assigned them chapters and pages and things. The faeries are forbidden from kissing or they're considered to be married, which complicates things. That's a norm, whereas the fact that they're rendered senseless in the presence of water is more a question of their biology. But it all falls under the category of Eldritch Law.

The Red (Blind) Duchess is such a fascinating villain. To take her soul seems like the worst sort of punishment.

There was a passage I'd taken out because I thought it was too scary and weird, and I put it back in--the scene with the phantalorum and the looking glass. That's true horror. The duchess is a mad pirate and has no reservations about anything. Fitting her into the book is a challenge. You have to treat the scenes carefully or they're out of bounds of the genre.

When I worked at Disney Imagineering [designing theme parks for five years], there was a huge reference library; they'd taken Walt Disney's personal library into this larger library. There was a 17th-century book on piracy. It had a library card pasted into it, and had been taken out by four people: two animators, me and Walt Disney. I think I memorized the entire book. These were real pirates, not Pirates of the Caribbean. The duchess is a distillation of all of them. You read about Blackbeard and what he really did, and we're getting into all of it but the bits about the burning at the stake and the burning shoes. You wonder, "What on earth would make you behave like that? You couldn't have a soul and do that." And that's where the duchess came from.

Do you believe in Destiny? Free will? That we can alter our destiny through choice? That's a big debate in this book. Is the map altering Kit's destiny? Or is Kit altering the map?

According to quantum physicists, time has all already happened. From that standpoint, there is no free will. On the other hand, they also say there are an infinite number of outcomes. All will occur. If you look at it that way, you choose your own adventure. In your life, you're born into certain circumstances, you overcome them or you don't, you make peace with the things you can't change, and you win or lose. At the end of it, other people decide whether it was fate or not. In fact, I think writers do that. That's our job: we decide what was fate and what wasn't.

Kit's a good example of that. He's a variation on the theme of the orphan with a mighty destiny; he's just some guy who's good with horses. But he chooses to engage with every event that comes to him, and in doing so forges an unusual fate for himself. What if you aren't somebody special, what do you do then? If you rise to the occasion, maybe you are somebody special after all. --Jennifer M. Brown

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

Halloween Reading; Gone Girl Further Reading

More Halloween prep work: Jac Jemc, author of A Different Bed Every Time, suggested "13 ultra-creepy books to avoid before bedtime."


Cosmopolitan magazine recommended "10 books you must read if you loved Gone Girl. All written by women, to boot."


"The pure enjoyment of spending hours wandering around charming, independent bookstores" was just one of "22 things everyone who loves paper books understands," highlighted by Buzzfeed.


Infographic of the day: Yoga for Writers. "Ever considerate of the perils of the literary life," Electric Lit showcased an infographic of "yoga poses for writers that'll help you avoid those hazards while you hide from distracting student e-mails."


"The literary United States: A map of the best book for every state" was featured by Brooklyn magazine, which noted that "there are those stories that so beautifully evoke a time and a place and a way of life that it becomes close to impossible to separate the literary perception of a place from its reality--one winds up informing the other."


"Test your knowledge of fiction's bad guys, from Hannibal Lecter to Nurse Ratched," with the Guardian's villains in literature quiz.

Book Review


The Prince's Boy

by Paul Bailey

In 1927, 19-year-old Dinu Grigorescu arrives in Paris from Bucharest, sent by his father to spend a summer adventuring in the City of Light and recovering from the unexpected death of his mother. In the late 1960s, an elderly Dinu sits down in London to write the story of that summer in Paris, recalling with tenderness his first visit to a whorehouse known to offer men the services of men; the lover he found at that establishment and kept for a lifetime; and the unexpected ways that a forbidden affair could span the worst times of early 20th-century Europe and last beyond even death.

This is the premise of The Prince's Boy, which Paul Bailey (Chapman's Odyssey) wrote as Dinu's account of his love decades after the fact. The novel's length--a mere 160 pages in hardcover--serves as a credit to Bailey's ability to pack an astounding amount of information and emotion into very few words; The Prince's Boy covers more than 40 years and three countries, and contains a lifetime of Dinu's love. Though large swaths of information are necessarily glossed over, no detail ever feels forgotten, no trembling hand or rapid heartbeat untold.

As an account of Bohemian times in Paris in the 1920s, The Prince's Boy is delightful; as a story of two unlikely lovers in a time of tumult and chaos in Europe, it is a compelling examination of sexuality and love; as the reflection of an aging man as he nears the end of his life, it is an emotional exploration of memory and history. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A short, powerful story of one man's unexpected summer in 1927 Paris and how it shaped his life.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620407196

Gretel and the Dark

by Eliza Granville

Eliza Granville's debut novel, Gretel and the Dark, is a grim, spooky fairy tale, but it boasts another layer: it is also a meditation on historical good and evil, set both in Nazi Germany and fin-de-siècle Austria.

In 1899, a shockingly beautiful young woman is rescued off the street and delivered to the home of celebrated Viennese psychoanalyst Josef Breuer. She is emaciated, beaten, shorn, with numbers inked on her arm; she claims to have no identity, so the besotted Josef calls her Lilie. Her story seems impossible: she claims to be a machine, sent to kill a monster, whom she must find before he grows too large. She frightens Josef with her dreamy plans, but casts an irresistible spell, and he is driven to puzzle out the truth of her history and the abuses she has experienced.

In the parallel plot, set several decades later, a little girl named Krysta pouts as the world around her changes. Her father works in a "zoo" during the days and can't stop washing his hands at night; she retreats into her imagination to avoid what she can't understand. As her personal situation deteriorates and her circle of trusted acquaintances shrinks, Krysta hopes to save herself using the fairy tales on which she was raised--even, or especially, the nasty ones, with wolves, witches, beheadings and gore.

Gretel and the Dark is a lyrical masterpiece of fantasy, horror, childhood innocence and the evils of both our innermost imaginings and our shared history. The chilling, fantastical tale will simultaneously entertain and provoke serious contemplation on the depths of human depravity. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: Two historical storylines, great evil and an abiding mystery in one sinister and memorable fairy tale for the stout of heart.

Riverhead, $27.95, hardcover, 9781594632556

The Wilds: Stories

by Julia Elliott

Julia Elliott's debut collection is aptly named; these short stories are undoubtedly wild. A woman attends a caveman-themed weight-loss camp, only to discover that a pack of Neanderthals takes the rumor of caveman cannibalism seriously; a young girl is caught up in the chaotic rants and fortune-telling of her friends' dying grandmother; a neighborhood boy transforms himself into a wolfman, wearing a mask and howling at the sky every full moon. Elliott dives into this wildness with abandon, never afraid to push the limits of reality in order to make us think, really, about the crazy world in which we live.

In "The Love Machine," a scientist uploads information about gender, love and romance to an androgynous robot, leaving readers to think more deeply not only about artificial intelligence but also the intersection of "love, knowledge, language and consciousness." In "LIMBs," an elderly woman is undergoing experimental new treatments for dementia at her nursing home, and the success of the treatments forces everyone, from the woman's doctors to Elliott's readers, to consider the role of memory in our identity.

Some of the stories in this collection border on the fantastical, while others, like "LIMBs," are more grounded; some are beautiful while others are slightly horrific. All 12 pieces are ultimately a testament to Elliott's skills with language, as she tames the words of The Wilds into enticing and affecting stories about the everyday and the extraordinary. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A collection of short stories that pushes the boundaries of conventional storytelling, from a new voice in fiction.

Tin House, $15.95, paperback, 9781935639923

The Lodger

by Louisa Treger

Louisa Treger's debut novel, The Lodger, opens in 1906. Family tragedy has left Dorothy Richardson living hand-to-mouth. She is relieved when Jane, an old friend, extends an invitation to visit her country estate for a weekend of relaxation. Jane has recently married an up-and-coming writer, H.G. Wells. Bertie, as he is called, turns out to be a strong personality, and Dorothy is not sure at first whether she is attracted or repelled. The comfort of an intellectual who listens seriously to her ideas, however, proves irresistible, and between arguing about science and admiring Bertie's writing, Dorothy finds herself helplessly falling for the husband of her best and oldest friend.

Dorothy is then torn between her hard-won independence, which she feels is worth the high price of poverty, and her love for a man who needs more of her than she can give. When the beautiful Veronica Leslie-Jones moves into Dorothy's boarding house in London and becomes a singular new friend, Dorothy's energies and loyalties are still more divided. Writing becomes the outlet for her pain; Bertie has long encouraged her to make such an effort but, fittingly, Dorothy discovers this outlet, and her talent, on her own terms and schedule.

The Lodger is based on the real life of Dorothy Richardson, a groundbreaking but little-known author of the early 20th century. Treger's taut evocation of Dorothy's life and emotional struggles is gripping from the very first page, and readers are thrust into Bertie's overwhelming presence just as helplessly and thoroughly as Dorothy is. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A lively debut novel about H.G. Wells's lover, the rebellious Dorothy Richardson.

Thomas Dunne, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250051936

Mystery & Thriller


by John Sandford

As a favor for a friend, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension agent Virgil Flowers looks into multiple dognappings that have occurred in the small town of Trippton, where his friend lives. Someone is stealing the residents' pets, and rumor has it the canines are being sold to medical labs.

Before Flowers can make much headway in the investigation, he also stumbles upon a meth lab and some school board members who have been stealing millions of dollars of school funds. When a local reporter comes close to exposing them, he's murdered. Turns out it's only the first murder in a string, as Virgil takes up where the reporter left off and the crooked board members resort to extreme means to cover up their corrupt activities.

There's a lot going on in Deadline, John Sandford's eighth Virgil Flowers outing (after 2013's Storm Front). The biggest joys of this series are Flowers himself (his boss is Lucas Davenport from the Sandford's Prey novels), the cast of eccentric supporting characters and the humorous dialogue. In one conversation, one of Flowers's fellow BCA agents observes that since "half of all shoot-outs are inside buildings," he'd get rich if he invented "office camo," so "you'd look like a cabinet, or maybe a water cooler." Readers familiar with Flowers's profane nickname will appreciate the name he gives a new friend at the end, but the uninitiated can also enjoy this installment without having read the previous books. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Another funny Virgil Flowers mystery, which follows his investigations into dognappings, a meth lab and corrupt school officials.

Putnam, $27.95, hardcover, 9780399162374

Crooked River

by Valerie Geary

Sam McAlister, the 15-year-old narrator of Valerie Geary's debut novel, has her hands full. Her mother recently died of a heart attack and her 10-year-old sister, Ollie, obsessed with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and shadowed by the ghost of their mother, refuses to talk. After disappearing from their suburban family life for two years, their father, Bear, now lives in a teepee and keeps bees along the Crooked River outside rural Terrebonne, Ore. With few options, Sam and Ollie move in with Bear, and almost immediately discover a woman's brutally beaten corpse snagged in a tree branch hanging over a river eddy.

When the local deputy sheriff puts together enough evidence to lock up the odd and reclusive Bear for the murder, Sam's bad summer takes a turn for the terrible. It's hard enough being a teenager with a "regular" family, but now she has to take care of herself and Ollie and try to prove Bear's not a murderer. Crooked River is as much a coming-of-age novel as it is a well-paced mystery. Metaphorically punctuated with strategic quotations from Alice and nuggets of bee lore, it is also a story of family--in whatever shape it may come.

Despite the deputy's admonishment that she not be "a Nancy Drew," Sam uncovers clues suggesting her father's innocence, as well as secrets about Bear and the reason for his two-year disappearance from their lives. Geary takes teenage Sam through a looking-glass and then pulls her back with an adult's sense of loyalty and compassion--a journey equally worthwhile for all of us. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Two young sisters learning the challenges of adulthood and the essence of family while they solve a murder mystery.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062326591

Dick Francis's Damage

by Felix Francis

British horse racing is under attack from an unknown foe willing to resort to extortion and even murder. Jeff Hinkley, an investigator for the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), must go undercover to find and catch those responsible for the increasingly dangerous occurrences at major races around the U.K., which endanger horses, jockeys and spectators--not to mention threatening the billions of dollars invested in horse racing and gambling.

Race horses have been dosed with low levels of illegal performance-enhancing drugs, and no one knows who's doing it. Soon after, anonymous letters are mailed to the BHA, threatening even more mayhem if the demands for large sums of money aren't met. Hinkley and an older mentor from the BHA join forces to flush the perpetrator into the open, but they must manage their investigation without much support; afraid of ruining their own reputation and the gambling business on the whole, the BHA board refuses to go to the police. While trailing a suspicious trainer through the Cheltenham Racing track, Hinkley witnesses a murder, and though he's tried hard to do his snooping silently, he eventually becomes a target himself.

Felix Francis wields all of his father's tools of the trade here, telling a satisfying story of murder and intrigue that barrels along without losing sight of the details. This is his fourth stand-alone novel since Dick Francis's Gamble in 2011, and its gentle storytelling and just-complex-enough mystery will keep the pages turning. While the final reveal comes rather abruptly, this satisfying novel is worthy of the Francis name. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A rollicking, very British tale of modern horse-racing, murder and intrigue by Dick Francis's son and heir to his literary empire.

Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399168222

Biography & Memoir

Raising Girls in Bohemia: Meditations of an American Father

by Richard Katrovas

Richard Katrovas (The Year of Smashing Bricks) is a poet, essayist and novelist. Raising Girls in Bohemia, his third memoir, is a slim, poetic collection of more than 20 essays about his family life in both the Czech Republic and the United States.

Before his divorce, his family divided their time between Prague, New Orleans and Kalamazoo, flying back and forth at least once a year. Katrovas often uses the word bifurcated to refer to the cultural divide evident in his two daughters' lives, his struggles with their cultural upbringing, and the divide in his own nature.

Kastrovas wants his daughters safe, but doesn't want to control them to insure their safety. "A reflective person cannot be an American father of females and not be, in the most fundamental sense, feminist, even if he considers himself a social conservative, which I do not."

Each essay begins with an anecdote that he spins into a broader commentary, as in "School in Nature," which first addresses the Czech practice of sending young children away for several days to study in the outdoors and then develops into a meditation on preparing children for the larger world away from family. "Adjacent Room" compares his American parents' circumstances to those of his daughters' maternal grandparents in the Czech Republic--they divorced but lived in separate rooms in the same apartment--as a way to examine the two cultures' different attitudes about death.

Raising Girls in Bohemia is by turns political and personal, honest and full of insight into the human condition, all filtered through a poet's thoughtful lens. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A poet's take on raising his daughters in two countries is an insightful rumination on being human across geographical and emotional divisions.

Three Rooms Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781941110065

Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakeable Love for New York

by Sari Botton, editor

If the soundtrack for editor Sari Botton's previous collection of writers talking about leaving New York, Goodbye to All That, might be Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," her new collection paying homage to the city deserves no less than Sinatra singing the inspiring "Theme from New York, New York." As Botton explains in her introduction, Never Can Say Goodbye is her attempt to set the record straight: "I love New York City." So do the 27 others she has selected to describe why they are "permanently, irrevocably cemented to the place." Among them are well-known New Yorkers like Chelsea residents Rosanne Cash and Whoopi Goldberg, Brooklynites Nick Flynn and Colin Harrison, and lit-stars Elizabeth Gilbert and Susan Orlean--as well as less-but-perhaps-soon-to-be famous writers like former Jezebel scribe Anna Holmes and novelist Adelle Waldman.

Botton's contributors follow similar themes when describing their Big Apple experiences. There are plenty of misguided love affairs, lots of crappy apartments on the Lower East Side, lists of New York-centric movies and many dark clouds of 9/11 despair. Two of the best essays are by relative newcomers: Milwaukee-raised Kathleen Hale (whose religious upbringing consisted of "knowing by heart a few undeniably catchy Jesus songs") and former San Franciscan Isaac Fitzgerald (who left behind "beautiful, well-dressed kids my own age having loud sex on the tops of piles of money"). Although nearly all of these New Yorkers aptly write of the city's character-building "toughness," those of us living elsewhere may wonder how much more character they might build if they packed up and moved somewhere less glamorous--like, say, Detroit. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: An eclectic collection of essays praising life in New York City, in counterpoint to editor Botton's previous collection about leaving the city.

Touchstone, $16, paperback, 9781476784403


The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock

by Lucy Worsley

Those who haven't had the pleasure of watching BBC Four's entertaining history of English murder, A Very British Murder, narrated by the amiable Lucy Worsley (If Walls Could Talk) can now enjoy the material in print by reading The Art of English Murder, with Worsley as our wise, witty and sometimes delightfully wicked guide.

Her historical account covers two centuries of murder, mayhem and the writers whose detectives solved the cases. Worsley starts in 1827 with Thomas De Quincey's influential essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts," which revealed the ways in which the grisly act can be both performance and entertainment. This led to the rise of sensational journalism, plays, murder-site tourism and the "whole body of detective fiction." The popularity of Madame Tussauds house of wax horrors in the 1840s demonstrated what the working classes wanted to do in their leisure time: "come face-to-face with murderers." If that wasn't possible, then they wanted to read about them.

Worsley's survey moves through several infamous 19th-century murder cases and then covers how great writers such as Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins incorporated grim mysteries into their hugely popular works. By the 1930s, the murder rate had fallen to the lowest level Britain had ever seen, and yet, after World War I, the country experienced a "great explosion of fictional death by the novelists of the so-called 'Golden Age' of detective fiction."

Reading Worsley's simple, breezy prose is like sipping hot tea from a delicate British teacup: it takes little effort to digest the heartless criminals and their grisly crimes. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A vivid account of the art of British murder rendered with style and aplomb.

Pegasus Books, $27.95, hardcover, 9781605986340

Children's & Young Adult

The Young Elites

by Marie Lu

A Game of Thrones meets X-Men in this 14th-century fantasy from Marie Lu (the Legend trilogy), in a world where "fear is power."

Sixteen-year-old Adelina Amouteru is a malfetto, one whose appearance is "marked" by the blood fever that crippled the country of Kenettra and claimed her mother's life. The blood fever took Adelina's left eye, turned her hair silver and gave her a power that's remained dormant--until the fateful night her merchant father agrees to trade her to a suitor in exchange for cleared debts. Adelina flees, and once her father catches up with her, she conjures phantoms that cause his death. The Inquisitors arrest Adelina and sentence her to burn at the stake for the murder of her father.

Teren Santoro, the 19-year-old Lead Inquisitor, works to cleanse the world of malfettos. When it comes time to burn Adelina in the central market square, Enzo Valenciano, a malfetto known widely as The Reaper, melts her shackles and takes her to Estenzia, the northern port capital. He introduces Adelina to the Dagger Society--a group of Young Elites with dangerous powers. It's here that she discovers that her ability to conjure illusions is rooted in darkness. When Teren Santoro takes her younger sister hostage, Adelina must choose between her sister and the Dagger Society.

Lu's compelling new novel introduces morally complex characters (the Young Elites are not fully innocent, and there are depths to Adelina's darkness and layers to the cross Teren bears). No one is safe in the book's final conflict, and the many twists, cinematic battles and the overriding epic fantasy will keep readers hooked for book two, which teases to be a game-changer. Bring it on. --Adam Silvera, children's bookseller

Discover: In a Renaissance-like world, children marked by a blood fever gain dangerous powers and become prey to hunters.

Penguin, $18.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9780399167836

The Only Thing to Fear

by Caroline Tung Richmond

Caroline Tung Richmond's engrossing debut novel imagines an alternate history in which the Nazis and the Axis powers won World War II and now rule the United States.

The year is 2024, and 16-year-old Zara bristles under punishing Nazi rule over her small farm in Virginia. She and her Uncle Red work long hours to meet their production quotas, and Zara must work additional hours cleaning at the local Nazi boys' school. But their hard work only ensures that the wealthy German population prospers while everyone else suffers. But Zara has had enough. She wants to follow in her mother's footsteps and join the Alliance to fight for revolution. The failed mission that killed Zara's mother decimated the Alliance, and it's taken years to regain strength. Now an opportunity has arisen to strike the Nazis, and Zara is key to the plan. For years, she's been keeping a secret: she, too, has manifested the rare powers of an Anomaly. Her powers could mean the Alliance has a chance for victory that would free the United States and possibly the world from oppression.

The author's love of history lends the novel accuracy and style. The alternate story line, rooted in a pre-1944 reality, imagines a Nazi and Axis powers–dominated global environment, backed by the German Anomaly Division of genetically enhanced soldiers. Rich details such as extensive German slang and intricate battle sequences will entice a wide readership of history buffs and sci-fi fans. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: In this engrossing alternate history/science fiction debut, one girl takes on a worldwide Nazi Empire in 2024.

Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 288p., ages 12-up, 9780545629881

Cast Away on the Letter A: A Philemon Adventure

by Fred

In one of the inaugural titles from Toon Graphics, Fred (aka French artist Frederic Othon Aristides, who passed away last year) introduces Philemon, "an imaginative teenager." Fred's original tale and sophisticated palette chart the hero's rescue mission, integrating elements of Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Greek mythology.

Phil's "grouchy" father sends him to check on their well after something goes wrong with the pump. In the well's bucket, the teen finds a message in a bottle--a cry for help. Anatole, Phil's "trusty friend" and donkey, advises, "forget the whole thing" when Phil spies a second bottle--but then the teen falls into the well. A series of realistic panels and full-spread illustration charts Phil's entry into shark-ridden waters. He surfaces in a world with two suns that cast two shadows of him onto a sandy beach. Next Phil meets a gnome-like man called Bartholomew--the "well digger" who disappeared through Phil's well 40 years ago, and author of the message in the bottle--and Bartholomew's butler, a centaur named Friday.

Psychedelic colors set off the island of A, where Bartholomew resides. Phil's host points out the literal "A" on which they stand, the first "A" of "Atlantic Ocean" spelled out on a map. As Bartholomew says, "On an island that doesn't exist, anything can exist!" Phil helps Bartholomew decode a unicorn's cryptic clue about how to get home, and one of Fred's greatest visual inventions is a labyrinth that leads to a destination with a "liquid ceiling." Thoughtful endnotes provide further reading and ruminating. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This wild graphic novel adventure, which integrates Greek mythology references, offers food for thought and a feast for the eyes.

Toon Graphics, $16.95, hardcover, 48p., ages 8-12, 9781935179634


Author Buzz

The Wild Card
(A Rivers Wilde Novella)

by Dylan Allen

Dear Reader,

"What if…?" is my favorite question to ask myself when I start writing a book. The answers that Cassie and Leo's story delivered were unexpected and heartwarming. Adding a heist and serendipitous reunion into the mix took my tried and true favorite trope, second chance, to a whole new level. Theirs is a classic case of right person/wrong time. Whether you're a Rivers Wilde newbie or expert, watching them overcome some pretty steep hurdles is a wild, thrilling, feel good ride.

I hope you love every word. xo,

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: The Wild Card (A Rivers Wilde Novella) by Dylan Allen

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 16, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book


Kids Buzz

Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night

by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons
illus. by Ruth E. Harper

Dear Reader,

My newest and latest in a three-book series, Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night?, came from seeing the fascination so many kids have with the ocean and ocean creatures. How do a whale, octopus, dolphin, clownfish, great white shark and so many other undersea animals get their rest?

After all, they need to get their rest and sleep, just like all of us. So dive into this rhyming STEM picture book to encourage a love of nature and the environment--and under the covers for a great bedtime story.

"What do animals do when children are sleeping? Featuring creatures young children are likely to know, this book has the answers....[and] unusual nighttime facts are a plus." --Kirkus

Steve Simmons

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: Where Do Ocean Creatures Sleep at Night? by Steven J. Simmons and Clifford R. Simmons, illus. by Ruth E. Harper


Pub Date: 
April 16, 2024


Type of Book:
Picture Book

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

Powered by: Xtenit