Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf


As the Internet's cabinet of curiosities continues to expand, the "winners" in the battle for our attention are those who find ways to connect different interests in new, revelatory ways. We recently connected with a writer inspired by seeing someone in a different way.

The "street-wise stylish" Yahdon Israel lives in New York; one day, riding the A train, he saw a young guy, "wearing Reebok Kamikaze IIs, camouflage pants, a flannel shirt tied around his waist, a black graphic tee and a pair of lime green headphones." The thing that stuck out most, though, was his book--To Kill a Mockingbird--and the way he was completely wrapped up in it. Israel snapped a photo of him, and shared it on Instagram because, as he puts it, "there was this paradox growing up where the kids who were cool didn't read and the kids who read weren't cool. A lot of this had to do with the fact that writing--and literary culture--isn't as glamorized as acting, sports, music and fashion. And for years I was told, 'Yahdon, it's just different.' But I always was curious as to why." He tagged the picture #literaryswag, in case he (or maybe a couple of other people) might want to post more pictures  that blurred the line between fashion and reading.

Thousands of pictures later, #literaryswag has, as the saying goes, gone viral, to the point of spawning #myliteraryswag, a series of interviews with the likes of Junot Diaz, Roxane Gay, Karl Ove Knausgaard, Phillip Lopate, Maggie Nelson, Dinaw Mengestu and Phil Klay, engaging anyone interested in breaking down the ideas of "the type of person who reads." If that sounds like you, next time you're online (i.e., right now) do a search on Instagram for either of those hashtags--and start adding your own photos. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

The Writer's Life

Sara Solovitch: Playing for Excellence

photo: Richard Scheinen

Stage fright, speech anxiety, a fear of having feelings in front of people--whatever it's called, it can either prevent people from pursuing their passions or it can derail years of planning and practice. Journalist Sara Solovitch was, at one point, headed toward a career as a professional pianist, but developed an intense fear of performance in her teenage years and gave up those dreams. Then, in her late 50s, she decided to try to overcome the fear (and write a book about it). In Playing Scared: A History and Memoir of Stage Fright (Bloomsbury USA, $26) Solovitch writes about the causes of stage fright, ways to overcome it, and her eventual performance for 50 guests the day before her 60th birthday.

Easing back into playing the piano and then doing so in front of other people was a gradual process. Had the stage fright from your adolescence changed?

On returning to the piano, I realized that my stage fright was totally intact. It was like I'd unpacked a box of family china that had been pushed aside for four decades; you open it and it's all right there, exactly where you'd left it. Sometimes when I practiced, I could recall precise failures with terrible clarity. The music was almost a trigger to my memory of stage fright. I guess I really must love it to have kept playing despite all that. For some time, even piano lessons were painful to get through. It took months of practice before I became comfortable enough to play easily in front of my teacher. The irony is that I've always been an independent and competent person in other aspects of my life. I've been a journalist for 35 years and still love the adrenaline rush of deadline writing. I like to travel alone. Yet I found it almost impossible to apply that same competence to the piano. I was a different person when I sat down at the keyboard. Sometimes, when I returned to certain pieces that I'd played as a youth, I made mistakes in the very same passages where I'd made them 40 years ago. These mistakes had nothing to do with technical difficulty; they were more about cellular or maybe emotional memory. A lot of what I had to do at the piano, then, was to create new memories.

The research you did into perfectionism was fascinating. Is "perfect" the enemy of "good," and are we selling people short by letting them strive for "good enough?"

I like what the pianist Gwendolyn Mok told me: it's not about perfection, it's about excellence. The two are so different. Once I understood that and started working toward excellence, I listened and heard differently. It's still a process, something I have to remind myself about constantly. That demand for note-perfect playing is ingrained deep inside me. On the other hand, I do believe that if we can instill in our children a sense of what it takes to be excellent in just one field (whether it's soccer or the saxophone), it will carry over into the rest of their lives.

You had a lot of help in overcoming your fear. For somebody looking for a place to start, what would you recommend?

I approached it as I have so many things in my life: as a journalist. It's about asking questions, seeking help, reading everything on the subject and finding the right teacher. Once I became passionate about the piano, pianists seemed to be everywhere around me. They directed me to the Alexander Technique, told me about the Taubman Approach, and guided me through neurofeedback techniques. I went online and found a wonderful performance coach, Noa Kageyama, at Juilliard, who agreed to meet with me once a week via Skype. One thing led to another. I was already doing yoga, but my practice deepened once I recognized how connected it was to issues of focus and posture at the piano. I think whenever one enters deeply into something, the possibilities emerge. --Matthew Tiffany, LCPC, writer for Condalmo and psychotherapist

Book Candy

Dinosaur Books and Other Summer Reading

"If you know you'll leave the theater after Jurassic World is over and still want more dinosaurs," Quirk Books featured "5 dinosaur books to add to your summer reading list."


To help put GoT's fifth season to rest, Mental Floss recalled "13 dead Game of Thrones TV characters who are still alive in the books."


The Huffington Post recommended "10 books to read before you see the movies this summer."


Buzzfeed highlighted "22 gifts every book lover needs."


"Before I got fired I used to tell my students that bad choices make for good stories," novelist Matt Sumell recalled in recommending his "top 10 fictional troublemakers" for the Guardian.

Book Review


Dinner with Buddha

by Roland Merullo

Otto and Rinpochet hit the road again in Roland Merullo's third novel featuring a 52-year-old New York editor and his Buddhist brother-in-law, spiritual leader to millions.

In 2008's Breakfast with Buddha, Otto Ringling humored his free-spirited, tarot-reading sister and drove her friend the monk across the country. In spite of his cynicism, Otto was charmed, even accepting spiritual lessons from his maroon-robed companion. In Lunch with Buddha, Otto's beloved wife dies, and as Dinner with Buddha opens, it's three years later, and Otto has also lost his job. Now married, Volya Rinpochet and Cecelia Ringling run a renowned retreat center on the former Ringling family farm in North Dakota. Otto visits for a restful vacation, but Cecelia has plans: she's had a dream directing her to send Otto and Rinpochet to the mountains to find a person who will change the world.

With little preamble, Otto and the jolly monk climb into the SUV and head west. Otto, skeptical of the quest itself, embraces the experience and the chance to introduce the Russian-Tibetan Rinpochet to more Americana. The monk, serenely confident their goal will reveal itself in time, savors the trip and slips in "wessons" to advance Otto's enlightenment. Diners, truck stops, Indian reservations, national landmarks, Las Vegas--all lead the duo down the road to both prayerful seeking and hilarious adventure. Otto's first-person narration lends a memoir-like tone, and references to current events (Pope Francis, the 2016 election, fracking) offer a sense of immediacy. Likable Otto and wise Rinpochet lead readers on a thoughtful and memorable journey. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: Gentle spiritual lessons and laugh-out-loud misadventures as the skeptic and the Buddhist monk traverse middle America in their third road trip.

Algonquin, $24.95, hardcover, 9781565129283

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty

by Vendela Vida

"You stand in the middle of the small square, thinking about your options." Vendela Vida's (The Lovers) vivid fourth novel, The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty, is surprising in several ways, beginning with its unusual second-person perspective: you are the protagonist.

"You" are a woman traveling alone from Florida to Casablanca, fleeing troubles at home that are only gradually revealed to the reader. What you seek is unclear: a vacation? An escape? But what you find instead is the immediate theft of your passport and wallet--in short, everything you need to travel or return home. This abrupt change in circumstances is terrifying but also strangely freeing.

As the rest of the story unfolds, the unnamed protagonist spontaneously reacts to situations as they present themselves. You accept a passport and wallet that was stolen from another American woman, offered by the Casablanca police in lieu of your own, and take on that woman's identity. You accept an unlikely job offer as the stand-in for a famous American actress. You hang out backstage with Patti Smith, date an older Russian businessman, even undertake a little acting. When circumstances get hectic, however, you are tempted to use your newfound skills in spontaneity and anonymity to disappear again.

The Diver's Clothes Lie Empty is a complex, enigmatic fable about starting over, the nature of identity and the possibility of escaping the past. Vida's meticulous release of details, knowing use of suspense, colorful evocation of Morocco and tantalizing characterization make this a singular, revelatory and deliciously satisfying novel. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A vibrant, thought-provoking literary puzzler about identity and self-determination.

Ecco, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062110916

The Unfortunates

by Sophie McManus

One doesn't have to respect a book's principal characters to appreciate the story. In Sophie McManus's admirable first novel, The Unfortunates, the pettiness of the privileged and their sense of entitlement take center stage.

In her late 70s, overbearing philanthropist matriarch CeCe Somner suffers from a degenerative disease that threatens her micro-management of the fund-raising social events that once filled her calendar. Her illness prompts her stay at the tony Institute for Clinical Research campus, where she berates nurses and doctors while desperately hoping an experimental treatment will slow her disease's pace.

Her son, George, however, has been under her critical thumb for so long and is so dependent on her deliberately limited financial support that, in her absence, he barely manages an undemanding foundation job, where he idly scribbles at what he believes is a breakthrough modern opera. In debt and hounded by bill collectors, George's wife, Iris, sells their Somner heirloom jewelry and antiques, and invests their meager savings with George's former classmate's private equity fund--just before it is charged with securities fraud. It would appear that this financially fortunate family's follies turn them into "unfortunates" indeed.

But McManus knows the wealthy well. When the Somner backs are to the wall, their money salves a lot of wounds. The Unfortunates is an irresistible novel about old money and the sometimes wayward, sometimes admirable behavior of those who have it. The Somners are an upsetting lot, but as Iris says about a disturbingly graphic novel she is trying to read: "It's a book. The more upsetting the better." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A knowing, often funny saga of a wealthy New York family and its presumptions, privilege, secrets and regrets.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $26, hardcover, 9780374114503

The Pinch: A Novel, a History

by Steve Stern

Steve Stern (The Book of Mischief, The Frozen Rabbi) dazzles again with his inventive novel The Pinch: A Novel, a History. He loves mischievously to play with "story," and this concoction is a hilarious romp set in an actual, once-thriving Jewish community in Memphis, Tenn. In the late 1960s, Lenny Sklarew, its last resident, peddles drugs and works at the Book Asylum while avoiding the draft. One day he discovers a big, musty, privately printed book from 1952 entitled The Pinch: A History. Flipping through it, he realizes, "I'm a character!" and slams it shut.

The chapters alternate between Lenny in the 1960s and the 1910s Pinch of Jewish immigrant Muni Pinsker, author of the book Larry finds. Muni works in his uncle Pinchas Pin's store and becomes smitten with Jenny Bashrig, a barefooted, high-wire walker who "gamboled above the alley between Rosen's Delicatessen and Pin's Merchandise."

Deep into reading Muni's history, Larry "approached the book with an ostrich-egg lump in my throat, since, in reading The Pinch, I was conscious of also approaching a rendezvous with myself." He's also falling in love with Rachel Ostrofsky, who fancies herself a folklorist, and together they begin to unravel the book's mysteries.

Stern draws upon the rich, Talmudic world of demons, spirits, ghosts and magic. An impressive literary conjurer, Stern twists and turns his story every which way. It dazzles as it befuddles, keeping readers off-balance in this multilayered, Alice in Wonderland history of families and the Pinch. The book's challenges are many, but its end is richly rewarding. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: The Memphis Jewish community called the Pinch is at the heart of Stern's witty novel about history, families and odd love.

Graywolf, $26, hardcover, 9781555977153

Language Arts

by Stephanie Kallos

Nothing can crush a parent like the discovery that his child suffers an incurable disorder--and nothing can strain a marriage like the demands of and potential conflicts in caring for such a child. A meaty saga of a Seattle couple's struggles in raising a son born on "the autism spectrum," Stephanie Kallos's third novel, Language Arts, tackles head-on the life-changing impact of the diagnosis that confirms their worst fears.

Son Cody is born to Charles and Alison Marlow shortly after they marry and move into a quaint "storybook cottage" in Seattle, where Charles begins a career teaching high school Language Arts. When Cody's growing vocabulary seems suddenly to vanish, "Charles and Alison looked on, useless." They join support groups. They read the latest medical studies. They investigate special care facilities and treatment options. And they argue. Charles prefers to think of Cody as he is, not as a patient. Alison wants to attack his condition aggressively with the latest weapons. They divorce. Cody settles into the circumscribed world of institutional rules and routines. Nobody is particularly happy. On this basic framework, Kallos builds a more complex story.

As the novel unfolds, the importance of language connects the digressive stories of the Marlow family and those who intersect it--the therapists, students, colleagues, neighbors, caregivers and Cody's institutional housemates. Language, however, is not the only path to communication and understanding. Kallos closes the circle and knits the novel's disparate threads into a place of modest contentment for Charles, who writes, "just because one has no expectations doesn't mean one has no hope." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: A Seattle family struggles to raise a son on the autism spectrum.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27, hardcover, 9780547939742

The Harvest Man

by Alex Grecian

Hobbling along with the aid of a cane as a result of his previous encounter with Jack the Ripper, Inspector Walter Day, Alex Grecian's Scotland Yard Murder Squad hero, returns in The Harvest Man, book four of the mystery series. Day is working a desk as he recovers from his injuries, but the emergence of a gruesome serial killer has the medical examiner clamoring for Day's skill and expertise.

A deranged individual, nicknamed the Harvest Man, hides in attics until he can strike the homes' inhabitants, tying them up and mercilessly slicing off their faces. No one can identify the murderer until two boys escape while he's slaughtering their parents. Day is determined to protect the young witnesses and bring the Harvest Man to justice. But he has more than a knife-wielding psychopath to contend with. Jack the Ripper is back, with more of his cat-and-mouse game in store for Inspector Day.

The Harvest Man will be most completely appreciated by those who have read the previous books in the series. However, this won't stop new readers from devouring the story and becoming hooked, heading back to the beginning to fill in blanks. Grecian's vivid characters draw on universal attributes, so while his historical setting is essential to Jack's presence, the audience is still likely to connect with them on personal and emotional levels.

In a novel packed with plenty of thrills and chills, Alex Grecian gives his readers a suspenseful, fascinating read. They just may need to double-check their attics before bed. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: A battered Inspector Day hunts a new serial killer while Jack the Ripper continues to hunt him.

Putnam, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399166440

Food & Wine

The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon: Simple and Inspired Whole Recipes to Savor and Share

by Sara Forte

In her food blog, Sprouted Kitchen (and cookbook of the same name), Sara Forte focuses on recipes using whole foods and seasonal ingredients; her second cookbook, The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon, takes this approach a step further, creating recipes that can be served in a single bowl. Based on Forte's own preference for one-bowl dishes and requests from readers and fans for recipes that are "delicious, healthful, and practical," the collection offers ideas and inspiration for home-cooked meals that fit into busy schedules.

The Sprouted Kitchen Bowl and Spoon is organized by meal type: breakfasts (Mushroom and Leek Soft Egg Bake), side dishes (Marrakesh Carrots), entrees (Herbed Falafel Bowl) and desserts (Peach Derby Ice Cream). In line with Forte's approach to whole foods, all of the dishes are centered on produce, though tofu, tempeh, fish and poultry do make a few appearances. Forte encourages readers to adjust recipes as needed, and includes recommendations for changes based on preference, ingredient availability, dietary restrictions and occasion. (Don't shy away from a recipe with cheese because of a dairy intolerance, for example; it's okay to leave it out. Or leave the eggs off of the Baby Potato and Asparagus Tangle with Green Harissa to make a perfect dinner side dish.)

In the introduction, Forte notes that she hopes "to encourage people to eat at home with people they care about, to compose produce-focused meals, and to value their health." The recipes in this cookbook do just that--and stunning food photography from Forte's husband, Hugh Forte, makes the collection all the more enticing. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A collection of one-bowl dishes centered on whole foods and produce from the food blogger behind Sprouted Kitchen.

Ten Speed Press, $25, hardcover, 9781607746553

The Plantpower Way: Whole Food Plant-Based Recipes and Guidance for the Whole Family

by Rich Roll, Julie Piatt

In his foreword, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN chief medical correspondent, calls The Plantpower Way "the best book I have read on the topic" of a plant-based diet, and "so intuitive... it provides answers before you even ask the question." The Plantpower Way began on the eve of Rich Roll's 40th birthday--he was 50 pounds overweight and out of shape; within two years, Roll was one of Men's Fitness "25 Fittest Men in the World" after finishing the Ultraman World Championships.

Rich and his wife, Julie, believe food has a vibrational energy, positive or negative, and "the nature of the frequency we ingest has an indelibly profound impact on every aspect of how we feel, interact, behave, comprehend, and appreciate the world around us." They present more than 120 original recipes representing three paths to wellness (vitality, performance or transformation) to "repair, restore, energize, and invigorate your body, mind, and soul." Each lifestyle path has a timed schedule for each meal, snack and drink, as well as an explanation of the intention behind each. In addition, tips for raising healthy kids with a plant-powered lifestyle, the emotional landscape surrounding food and our responsibility as stewards of the planet and its residents (human and animal) are addressed. Each section presents two related elements (e.g., Blends + Juices and Soups + Salads) and provides instructions and rationale for each recipe. Luminous photographs of Rich and Julie's family, as well as benevolent, compassionate writing throughout, reflect the recipes and support the reader's journey to a holistic, plant-based life. --Kristen Galles from Book Club Classics

Discover: "A book about hope, and the universally shared belief that any one of us can be better," Sanjay Gupta says.

Avery, $39.95, hardcover, 9781583335871


MAD's Greatest Writers: Frank Jacobs: Five Decades of His Greatest Works

by Frank Jacobs

A lot of what makes MAD magazine fun for readers is its anarchistic counterculture appeal. In the 1950s, it was the antithesis to Ozzie and Harriet, edgy and unabashed in its skewering of public figures. And for more than 50 years, its voice came from the gifted pen of Frank Jacobs, a former ad man and freelance journalist whose scalpel-like wit and scathingly funny satire set the direction for what would become the golden age of MAD. He was the genius lyricist and poet laureate behind the magazine's biting musical and verse parodies; the guy who got Irving Berlin's goat by setting the great songwriter's lyrics to a medley of politically taboo laments. Jacobs turned "West Side Story" into the wry and surrealistic "East Side Story," where the ideological standoff between the Communists and the Capitalists mirrored American national politics: "If they thought the gangs on the West Side were tough, they should have taken a look at... those two rival gangs at the U.N.!" Another subject to derision was Charles Schulz's Peanuts; writing from the point of view of the Red Baron battling "der American beagle," Jacobs gave new meaning to "happiness is a warm puppy."

In this collection, Jacobs selects highlights from the nearly 600 pieces he contributed to MAD, including some of his favorites--"Babar's Final Adventure"; "The Reagan," based on Poe's "The Raven"; and his 1961 songbook of show tune parodies that spawned a copyright lawsuit. Not every piece works, but the ones that do reap huge rewards. "You never know when you've hit one out of the park or popped up to the infield while you're writing them. You have to always give it your best shot." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The influential genius behind MAD magazine's verse and song parodies offers highlights from his 50-year career.

Running Press, $30, hardcover, 9780762456574



by Michael Broek

As one wouldn't gulp down a finely aged wine, one shouldn't throw back Michael Broek's book of poetry in a single sitting. In this collection of wonderfully complex poems meant to be slowly savored, Broek imagines how citizens of the world relate to some of humanity's more horrifying truths. His nuanced work offers a glimpse into the human psyche while passionately covering politics, domestic matters and erotic urges.

War and suffering are common themes interwoven in this three-part collection, but love is just as present amid the turmoil Broek lays out. The images he paints here are unforgettable. One poem concerns a veteran's struggle to adjust to everyday life after unimaginable trauma. Another makes reference to thousands of barrels of DNA evidence in police warehouses that Hurricane Sandy destroyed. Through quilt patterns with hidden messages used on the Underground Railroad and the nuisances of bees and burned toast, Broek demonstrates that daily life endures while massive wars are being waged overseas. He juxtaposes the annoyance of removing a beehive from one's home to servicemen dying abroad. 

Like a perfectly shot and detailed movie, in which viewers notice something new with each screening, Refuge/es can be read again and again, and another beautifully rendered phrase will steal out and snag you. Poetry lovers will appreciate this collection, and Broek's determinedly innovative point of view may transform those new to this form into believers. --Natalie Papailiou, Author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A collection of darkly intriguing, politically relevant and deeply stirring poems.

Alice James Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781938584121

Children's & Young Adult

The Book Scavenger

by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman

In her first novel, Jennifer Chambliss Bertman introduces a smart, resourceful 12-year-old who makes her first true friend through a mutual passion for solving puzzles.

Emily Crane's parents are determined to live in all 50 states. As a result, Emily wonders, "How do you open yourself up to hellos when you're already preparing to say good-bye?" But when the Cranes move to San Francisco, Emily meets James, who lives upstairs and enjoys puzzles just as much as she does. They take turns passing messages in a pail, up and down past their open windows. James teaches Emily about decoding tricks and Emily teaches James about the game Book Scavenger, invented by Garrison Griswold, who (like Emily) moved to San Francisco when he was 12. When Griswold gets mugged in a BART station, Emily finds a book he left behind: The Gold-Bug by Edgar Allan Poe. She suspects it's the key to a new game Griswold had planned to launch, and her obsession to prove her theory sets in motion a literal scavenger hunt with stakes far higher than any game Emily has played thus far.

Bertman takes readers on a cable car, the BART and a tour of San Francisco's Lombard Street, plus much more, as Emily balances code-breaking with the challenges of figuring out how to be a friend. Fans of Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library will appreciate the abundant literary allusions, and readers will hope for more adventures, hinted at in the book's final lines. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Twelve-year-old Emily loves to solve puzzles but needs to figure out how to make a friend.

Christy Ottaviano/Holt, $16.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 9-14, 9781627791151

A Chicken Followed Me Home! Questions and Answers About a Familiar Fowl

by Robin Page

For youngest science lovers, Robin Page's (My First Day) enticing introduction to chickens explains their habitat, anatomy, diet and predators.

Each double-page spread features a question in large bold type at the top, a large image of a chicken at rest, in flight or running from predators, and a clear, concise response to the question. For "How do I keep my chicken safe?" a brown chicken with marbled wings flees a hawk, also rendered in full color. Three inset monochromatic images depict other predators, alongside the answer ("For a chicken, danger can come from any direction...") and explains why a chicken coop is important. A turn of the page features the question, "What does a chicken coop look like?" then details the basics of a coop. One of the funniest exchanges asks, "What if I want baby chickens?" and answers, "Then you'll need to get a rooster!" (A clearly labeled image of both a hen and a rooster on an earlier spread shows their differences and shared characteristics.) Page gives youngsters juicy vocabulary, explaining that 8-12 eggs are a "clutch," and a female chick is called a "pullet" and a male a "cockerel." She creates an eye-grabbing graphic of 260 eggs (the average number of eggs laid annually by one hen). Her digitally rendered images look more like collage, with textured feathers on the adult birds, and a fuzzy sheen on the chicks.

Additional information and step-by-step illustrations show what happens inside a fertilized egg and the variety of chickens' combs. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An enticing first science book with fun facts about chickens.

Beach Lane/S&S, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 5-10, 9781481410281

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