Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, July 3, 2015

Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster: A Short Walk Through a Wide World by Douglas Westerbeke

From My Shelf

What Was Your First Summer Book?

"Hot!" said the conductor to familiar faces... "Some weather!... Hot!... Hot!... Hot!... Is it hot enough for you? Is it hot? Is it...?" --F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

"Beach read" is the operative term for all discussions about summer reading list season, which unofficially begins on Fourth of July weekend. But many of us were landlocked when we were young and associate hot weather reading with cheap, sun-drenched folding chairs scattered across the lawn. These were our summer reading thrones, upon which we draped our lazy bodies and buried sunburned noses in irresistible books.

For the Guardian last week, author Tim Lott chose his "top 10 summers in fiction," observing that in an ideal summer, the "world is a place of slow motion, of repose, of transcendence, of sex. Water is there too, in every imagined summer--cooling, rejuvenating, the capturer of light.... And at the edges, the darkness."

I like his picks, especially L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, Michael Frayn's Skios and, for personal reasons, The Great Gatsby, which he calls "this most perfect novel... Set in 1922, like all great summer novels it creates an atmosphere of heat and water and mystery."

Gatsby was my first "summer book," the one that decades later still intensely evokes a specific moment in time. I read it in 1968 because it was on a required pre-semester reading list for the college I'd be attending. In the novel, Nick Carraway has "the familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer." He observes, with what would prove to be ill-fated "beach books" optimism: "There was so much to read, for one thing." I was 18; he was speaking to me.

"Get outdoors!" our mothers would collectively yell when we were young, and outdoors we'd go to claim reading space on the weathered, transient furniture of summer. Now, as we enter another long, lazy Fourth of July weekend, I find myself wondering: What was your first summer book? --Robert Gray, contributing editor

Sleeping Bear Press: When You Go Into Nature by Sheri M Bestor, Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

The Writer's Life

Don Winslow: Location and Character

photo: Michael Lionstar

Don Winslow has published more than 12 novels, including Savages (which was turned into a hit film directed by Oliver Stone), and its prequel, The Kings of Cool. His new book, The Cartel (see our review below), is a brutal look at the drug wars along the Mexican/U.S. border and a sequel to his epic The Power of the Dog.

As a crime writer, you've written mostly about Southern California's surf culture and its seedy underbelly. How much has your familiarity with Solana Beach and the general area affected your work?

Greatly. I think that location is inseparable from character and plot. The history of the place, the feel of the place, all inform how characters develop, what they do, what they think. Even a few miles can make a difference. The dress changes, the slang changes, if only a little bit. That fascinates me. I never get tired of driving around that area, walking, hanging out, hearing stories. I think just being at the coast also has informed my work. I got the idea of writing in the present tense from the ocean itself. In the water, the wave coming at you is vertical, it's in your face, it's happening in the moment and you can't see the next wave behind it. It has an immediacy and a suspense--same with writing in the present tense instead of the past--the story unfolds in front of you, as it's happening, like a wave. You put enough of those waves together, you have a book.

The Cartel is the sequel to your 2006 crime novel The Power of the Dog. Did you originally plan a sequel? Or did that idea come to you later?

I never intended to do a sequel to Dog. When I was done with that book--which took close to six years--I thought I was through with the topic of drug trafficking. At the time, I thought I had written about some of the worst things that human beings could do to each other. I was so wrong. As I watched developments in Mexico--the unbelievable escalation of the violence to levels that we could have seen only in our worst nightmares--I was reluctant, to say the least, to get back into it. I knew it would be another epic, and I knew what it would cost in terms of time and psychic energy. I really didn't know if I had it in me. I certainly resisted the idea. But I kept researching--reading books, articles, blogs, talking to people. I was starting the book without admitting to myself or anyone else that I was going to do it. I started to keep a day-by-day notation of events going on in Mexico. Those events kept getting more and more horrific, but I thought I could see patterns in what otherwise looked random. Then one morning I was writing. It's funny, the main character of The Cartel, Art Keller, starts off in a monastery, tending bees. I was living on an isolated old ranch, writing books, raising cattle and horses and doing Shakespeare with kids. We both ended up coming back.

There are humanizing touches in Adan Barrera, the ruthless drug lord, and a villainous fury in Art Keller that make both men fully realized characters. How hard is it to achieve that in the context of the corrupting power of "the war on drugs?"

Of course, I have thoughts, and opinions, about characters. I stand back and make judgments about them--their place in the story, what they represent, their relative measure of good or evil. That's unavoidable, particularly given the circumstances of the Mexican drug wars. But when I actually write most of the scenes--there are rare exceptions--I have to forget all that. I have to write from inside their heads and their hearts. I have to try to see the world through their eyes. Very few people see themselves as "evil"--they see themselves as good people forced to do evil things. I think if you sat down with Adan Barrera, he would describe a step-by-step walk toward the horrors he commits or orders. I think he would tell you these things were necessary for the survival of himself and his family. He might not be wrong about that. Art Keller is more self-aware of the evil he commits in the name of doing the greater good. But he still believes it is the greater good.

Details move characters from stereotypes into real people. When we see them eat, take walks, shower, get dressed, whatever, we see people like ourselves, doing the "normal" things that we do. A lot of times, I try to introduce characters at the smallest moment possible. That lets the reader into the character's real life, and then you can expand from there.

While researching The Cartel, did you come across any events you considered using in the book but then discarded because they wouldn't be believed?

There was a story about a cartel that lined people up in a field and then ran over them with buses. I wasn't sure I believed it, but even if it were true, it came after another series of horrific events all happening in a single day and it just seemed like more than any reader could take in. The fact is that the cartels' activities can be so surreal as to be literally beyond comprehension. I would often get notes from the editor saying that this or that was "over the top" and I'd have the same response, "I agree, but that's what really happened." Then you get to the point where even if something is believed, it loses impact because of what else has already happened, so I had to try to look at these events through different points of view. In The Cartel, I often wouldn't write the event itself, but have someone come in afterward, and then write that character's reaction to the event, which, when you think about it, is closer to the reader's experience and therefore maybe more accessible. But I can't tell you how many times I had the reaction, "Well, that's just unbelievable," only to find out later that it was all too true.

In The Power of the Dog and The Cartel, you're tackling something bigger and more ambitious than in your previous novels.

I sure knew that they were ambitious projects, time- and soul-consuming, and that they had to be long books--epics, really--to tell the full story. In that sense, I knew I was playing "long ball," but I couldn't let myself think that way on a daily working basis. To mix sporting metaphors, maybe it's a little like a marathon; runners can't let themselves think of the entire distance, but concentrate on just putting one foot down after another. To me, these were the chapters--lay one down at a time, one after the other. The novel is organized into five separate books, and that's the way I tried to write it--make sure that each book was complete, told a story, and then moved on to the next one. When that was done, I went back and looked at the whole thing to make sure that it hung together and told a complete story, and that the five parts weren't disjointed. I think at that point, I really started to realize that I'd written a long and complex--ambitious--novel.

You had some unusual jobs and experiences before your writing career took off.

When you go to law school, you're a lawyer; medical school, you're a doctor. But nobody stamps your diploma "WRITER." I knew that's what I wanted to be, but I needed to make a living while the world came to the same conclusion. So I went to New York to be a writer and, of course, was a "starving writer" within weeks. I got a job as an assistant manager at a movie theater, which, oddly enough, evolved into becoming a PI when a friend asked me investigate theft in a chain of movie theaters that he managed in and around Times Square. That was before Disney, it was the wild, wild west then. When we went into the alleys, we'd press against the wall because guys were dropping cinder blocks from the roofs. Much later, I did investigative work at a much higher level in California--arson cases, murder, fraud, "bad faith" insurance cases--and was a consultant on trials. That's when I first got to know, and fell in love, with Southern California. In between, I did a stint as a guide for a friend's photographic safari company in Kenya--a great job, riding around finding elephants and leopards, living in tents, eating outdoors. The cook on one of my first safaris had been a cook on Hemingway's last safari, and used to tell me stories about "Papa" in Swahili. I think both jobs taught me some things about being a writer. Investigative work is a lot like researching a book--you look at a ton of documents, and you interview people to get answers--the same thing I did with The Cartel and most of my other books. Being a safari guide taught me to closely observe--to find certain animals, you had to look at certain kinds of trees, marks in the grass, know which way the wind was blowing (apologies to Mr. Dylan), anticipate what the animal was going to do next. That's a lot like crime writing.

Which writers made you want to become a writer? Which writers do you read today?

My mom was a librarian and my dad was a voracious reader, so we always had books in the house and were allowed to read anything we wanted at any age. As a child, I only wanted to read biographies and history. When I was 12 or 13, my dad turned me on to novelists like James Michener, Leon Uris and Robert Ruark, and I began to see the value of fiction, particularly when it was close to the bone factually and historically. Those guys really sparked my imagination. Then when I moved to New York, I started to read crime fiction and that was that--Raymond Chandler, Lawrence Block, Elmore Leonard, Charles Willeford, John D. McDonald, James Ellroy... the list goes on and on. I decided I wanted to do that. I fell in love with the genre, and it's still a romance. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Book Candy

Fourth of July Reading Recommendations

For your holiday weekend reading pleasure! Bustle found "8 perfect cookbooks to jazz up your fourth of July BBQ." The Atlanta Journal-Constitution showcased "Beer Town: Five beer books for summer reading." The Telegraph highlighted the "best summer reads: 90 books chosen by 40 literary luminaries." The Huffington Post suggested "15 books that should be on every teen's radar this summer."

Albertine: Books in French & English bookstore in Manhattan recommended "five novels to improve your French."


"Read around the world with these 8 great kids' books," Brightly suggested.


For Pride and Prejudice devotees, Buzzfeed featured a "definitive ranking of actors who have played Mr. Darcy."


Pop quiz: "Which fictional home is for you?" asked the Reading Room. "Whether it's the Burrow or Gatsby's mansion, fictional homes are pretty amazing."

Book Review

Mystery & Thriller

The Cartel

by Don Winslow

Set amid a splintered Mexican drug trade, The Cartel is Don Winslow's ambitious sequel to his critically acclaimed The Power of the Dog, and that ambition pays dividends on every page.

Art Keller, the hard-driving federal agent, and Adan Barrera, the lethally savage drug lord, return from The Power of the Dog. Barrera was imprisoned and seemingly powerless at the end of the previous novel. Keller has also lost a great deal, he's been marginalized at his agency due to sins of the past, and his fellow agents may have ordered a hit on him. Barrera and Keller's malevolent dance of one-upmanship as they attempt to reestablish their respective powers is at the heart of Winslow's novel, serving as both incisive insight into their particular psychologies and a demonstration of how ludicrously over-the-top both the drug traffickers and the men who hunt them have become. Winslow depicts the corrupting influences at play in the "war on drugs," on both sides of the law and both sides of the border. And he develops seamless plots, truly cinematic action and effortless, flowing dialogue.

In the last 10 years, Winslow has become a master of the American novel, and he ranks alongside current luminaries like James Ellroy or past masters like Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald. The Cartel is worthy of careful, uninterrupted reading, enjoyable though harrowing and violent, and it will stick with you like a bad but illuminating dream. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: Don Winslow's sequel to The Power of the Dog details the corrupting influence of power and the cat-and-mouse dance between the law and a master criminal.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 9781101874998

Marry, Kiss, Kill

by Anne Flett-Giordano

Anne Flett-Giordano, one of the writers and producers behind television favorites such as Frasier and Desperate Housewives, makes her first foray into novel-length fiction with Marry, Kiss, Kill, a spunky whodunit, and could become Southern California's answer to Carl Hiaasen. 

The first victim is blues busker Charley Beaufort. Late-30-something Santa Barbara police detective Nola MacIntire and her partner, Tony Angellotti, take the case, and Nola doesn't buy the theory that a junkie found with Charley's guitar is the killer. Next, a wealthy man seemingly commits suicide, but Nola thinks his unbelievably beautiful and vapid "Viagra wife" pulled the trigger. As more victims turn up, Nola and Tony find themselves smack in the middle of a conspiracy involving film festivals, ecoterrorism and a real estate scheme--but hopefully not the gorgeous Air Force major Nola meets in the course of the investigation. With Nola's razor-sharp instincts and Tony's charm, the pair of sleuths might just manage to catch a killer, avert a major catastrophe and untangle their love lives before it's too late.

Flett-Giordano proves that the rapid-fire banter and tight plotting required for a television sitcom translate perfectly to the mystery genre. Nola and Tony's camaraderie refreshingly eschews romantic tension in favor of true friendship. A smart, occasionally snarky woman who values the wisdom of maturity but simultaneously searches for the perfect anti-aging cream, Nola is a character after many readers' hearts. We expect that after watching her take on bombshells both literal and figurative, Flett-Giordano's leading lady will win those hearts handily. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: There's mile-a-minute banter between police detectives Nola and Tony as they attempt to catch a killer in sunny Santa Barbara.

Prospect Park Books, $15, paperback, 9781938849497

Food & Wine

Tex-Mex from Scratch

by Jonas Cramby

The term Tex-Mex often conjures negative connotations of fast food tacos and burritos, but according to food writer Jonas Cramby (Texas BBQ), real Tex-Mex--the stuff he discovered in towns along the Texas/Mexico border on a road trip--can be downright revelatory. "Real Tex-Mex is, like so many other things, the result of a culture clash," writes Cramby in his introduction. It is a mix that rose from the German immigrant's smoky sausages and creamy potato salad, cowboy prairie grub and the rich food cultures of the Mexicans, Spanish and Native Americans.

Tex-Mex from Scratch presents the traditional Tex-Mex dishes in accessible recipes. There are no-cook ceviches, chunky guacamoles made with mortar and pestle (or a mixing bowl, should mortar and pestle be unavailable); scratch-made salsas that make store-bought jars look like "eating spaghetti hoops straight out from the can while watching a reality show"; and, of course, pages and pages of tacos. Cramby highlights cooking barbacoas using a $75 smoker assembled from an oil drum, a few fine tools and bags of wood chips; the flavors "remind you of German polka, country twang, and the Mexicans' giant guitars." Recipes are well-organized gems showing how to prepare a simple tortilla out of flour, baking powder, butter, salt and water, or whip up a tasty salsa and a bowl of pickled onions, all to go with a plate of sweet and smoky al pastor tacos.

These recipes are authentic and inspired, made out of fresh ingredients by a pro who knows his stuff, understands the cuisines' origins, and who has worked diligently to elevate Tex-Mex beyond mere game day favorite. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A self-professed taco addict offers authentic Tex-Mex recipes inspired by the delicious cuisines of Texas border towns.

Sterling Epicure, $24.95, hardcover, 9781454916291

The New Mexico Farm Table Cookbook: 100 Homegrown Recipes from the Land of Enchantment

by Sharon Niederman

New Mexico journalist and photographer Sharon Niederman (A Quilt of Words: Women's Diaries, Letters and Original Accounts of Life in the Southwest) has written a gorgeous cookbook that doubles as a culinary roadmap and travelogue of the Land of Enchantment. The recipes that comprise The New Mexico Farm Table Cookbook serve as a who's who of the state's finest restaurants, historic inns, local farmers and mom-and-pop shops along Route 60 and the Rio Grande who have continued to honor the farm-to-table traditions of their forefathers. Niederman draws from all corners of the state, including several recipes from Pie Town (green chile apple pie and Pie-O-Neer Pecan-Oat Pie with Sweet Potatoes), Santa Fe (Caffe Greco's Frito pie and Epazote New Mexican mole served over lamb, and Café Pasqual's Green Chile Stew), the mountains (lamb roasts and beef fajitas, courtesy of Los Vallecitos Ranch) and a green chile cheeseburger that bested celebrity chef Bobby Flay in an episode of Throwdown. Some recipes are complicated and require preparation; others are one-pot, simple meals easily replicated in home kitchens.

Niederman profiles the history of New Mexico's family-owned farms, describing how the state's remote location and infrequent trade routes forced inhabitants to survive by adapting, sharing and repurposing limited resources. This resulted in a melting pot of staple crops--corn, garlic, beans, wild fruit and game, and famous chiles--drawn from the Native American, Spanish, Mexican and Anglo cultures that would define Southwestern cuisine. Leaken's photographs make the Land of Enchantment's charming history pop on the printed page. "Food is our best medicine... nourishing body and soul." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: The flavors and tastes from New Mexico that go beyond its famed red and green chiles.

Countryman Press, $19.95, paperback, 9781581572087

Biography & Memoir

In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind

by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind is neither a biography of Browne nor a critical study of his writings. Instead, it is the intellectual equivalent of a buddy road trip.

Science writer Hugh Aldersey-Williams (Anatomies) became interested in Sir Thomas Browne--a physician, scientist and debunker of popular myths--more than 20 years ago. In the intervening years, he found himself stumbling over Browne at unexpected moments. Finally, feeling "haunted" by Browne, he decided it was time to haunt Browne in return. Using Browne's writings, rather than his life story, as a framework, Aldersey-Williams travels in the physician's footsteps, both literally and intellectually. He looks for traces of Browne's life in modern Norwich (home to both men) and explores the echoes left by Browne's varying preoccupations in modern thought. He explores questions of scientific certainty, uncertainty and error, the meaning of order in nature, the reconciliation of science and religion, and the extent to which truth is knowable. He uses Browne's fascination with the recurring form of the quincunx, his efforts at cataloguing the birds of the Norwich marshes and his role as the expert witness in a witch trial as tools for understanding the intellectual landscape of both the 17th century and the modern world.

In the end, Aldersey-Williams argues that Browne is important not because of his answers or his baroque prose style, which inspired writers as diverse as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Jorge Luis Borges, but for the questions he asks. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Science writer Hugh Aldersey-Williams discovers what a 17th-century scientist can teach us about critical thinking.

W.W. Norton, $26.95, hardcover, 9780393241648

More Fool Me: A Memoir

by Stephen Fry

Comedian Stephen Fry's personality has always been his greatest asset. Starting with his early career at Cambridge (alongside other future stars Emma Thompson and Hugh Laurie), he's managed to create a persona that is both somehow unabashedly blunt and delicate, deeply intelligent but overly modest. This delightful mixture has gained him a worldwide following (especially on Twitter, where he is much-loved), and is the selling point of his third memoir, More Fool Me.

While his first two forays at autobiography covered his childhood and time at college, More Fool Me follows Fry just as he's made it big, a published novelist and TV star in Britain while still a young man. The first half of the book lays out how he got that far (briefly recapping his previous memoirs, Moab Is My Washpot and The Fry Chronicles) and the back half is a collection of entries from his diary in 1993. Fry attempts to provide an overarching theme to his life in the early '90s, but aside from a heartfelt diatribe against the use of cocaine, the connections between what he chooses to relate feel thin. This leads to a rather disjointed narrative, but readers won't be picking up More Fool Me for its adherence to a particular form. The only unifying theme is the fact that these events happened to Fry, but that's more than enough reason to devour the book. One gets the sense that he could make any story from his life interesting. --Noah Cruickshank, marketing manager, Open Books, Chicago, Ill.

Discover: Another delightful memoir from one of England's funniest comedians.

The Overlook Press, $29.95, hardcover, 9781468311334


Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle That Gave Birth to the Globe

by Chris Laoutaris

Lady Elizabeth Russell is the star of Shakespeare and the Countess: The Battle That Gave Birth to the Globe. She was born into a family of assertive women and was educated by her father, a humanist scholar. She and her sisters all married influential husbands, and she became one of the best-connected individuals in Elizabethan England. She was a radical Puritan activist, an admired poet and linguist, a famous designer of monuments and the first woman keeper of an English castle. She also owned a large house around the corner from Shakespeare's Blackfriars Theatre.

The Blackfriars district was governed by its residents, and in this time of economic instability and riots, theaters were suspect as gathering places for seditionists. Shakespeare and Russell had opposing political and family alliances, and he put satirical references to her and her relatives into his plays. She circulated a petition to have the theater closed, even winning signatures from some of Shakespeare's previous supporters. His troupe spent the next three years playing minor venues before moving across the river to build the Globe.

Historian and biographer Chris Laoutaris tells the story of Russell's life, her epic legal battles and her capricious, violent world with sympathy, scholarship and vivid description. He has done extensive original research to piece together new insights and map the complex connections of Elizabethan society. Shakespeare's story is a central incident that doesn't begin until the second half of the book, but by then it is strengthened and illuminated by the broad and deep context Laoutaris has built up in the first. --Sara Catterall 

Discover: The energetic life of the ambitious and accomplished Lady Elizabeth Russell and her attempt to put Shakespeare out of business for good.

Pegasus Books, $29.95, hardcover, 9781605987927

Pirate Hunters: Treasure, Obsession, and the Search for a Legendary Pirate Ship

by Robert Kurson

Joseph Bannister lived a life of comfort and respectability as an English merchant captain in the late 1600s. His ship, The Golden Fleece, plied the profitable transatlantic route between London and British-controlled Jamaica. But in 1684, for unknown reasons, Bannister turned pirate. He was captured and tried, though not convicted, and, on the eve of his re-trial, he staged a daring escape with The Golden Fleece. Two Royal Navy ships chased him to what is now the Dominican Republic, where they caught The Golden Fleece careened (set on its side to clean and repair the hull). Bannister set up cannon batteries on land and fought for two days until the navy warships, ammunition nearly spent, retreated. This victory was short-lived: Bannister's ship was destroyed in the fighting and he was hanged not long after being recaptured. The location of The Golden Fleece's wreck was lost to history.

Enter veteran divers John Chatterton and John Mattera. Chatterton (one of the subjects of Robert Kurson's book Shadow Divers, about identifying a U-Boat wreck off the coast of New Jersey) and Mattera had planned to search for a Spanish galleon, but another wreck hunter offered an even rarer prize: the potential location of a renegade ship from the golden age of piracy (about 1650-1720). In Pirate Hunters, Kurson chronicles Chatterton and Mattera's hunt with the addictive pacing of a thriller and a masterful eye for detail. The result is an extraordinary adventure, as Chatterton and Mattera contend with rival treasure hunters, local criminals, a looming government crackdown on ship salvaging and the mystery of The Golden Fleece's final resting place. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer

Discover: A thrilling account of the search for a sunken pirate ship.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 9781400063369

The Cost of Courage

by Charles Kaiser

When the Nazis invaded France and took over Paris on June 14, 1940, thousands of Parisians fled the city. Of those who remained, many joined the French Resistance, including André Boulloche and his two sisters, Christiane and Jacqueline. Charles Kaiser has written a highly detailed account of their acts of espionage during the four years of the occupation in The Cost of Courage, a story that has not been told in full until now.

The girls gave wrong directions to the Nazis to mislead them, carried weapons to Resistance fighters in their bicycle baskets, transmitted coded messages and narrowly escaped capture. André was even more daring and managed to avoid arrest on more than one occasion, ending up in Britain in 1943. He became the personal military delegate for Charles de Gaulle and returned to France to continue his underground fight against the Germans. Unfortunately, he was betrayed by a fellow Resistance fighter who had been tortured, and was seized by the Gestapo.

Kaiser has expertly interwoven historical facts about World War II--particularly what the British, Americans and French were doing to fight the Germans--with the personal narratives of the Boulloche family and of some of their closest friends to create a well-rounded, behind-the-scenes portrayal of their wartime lives. He does an excellent job of bringing readers right into the depths of anxiety and despair felt by the Boulloches and their countrymen as they did what they felt they had to do: fight for France's freedom. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: The suspenseful story of three members of the French Resistance who did everything possible to obstruct the Germans while they occupied Paris.

Other Press, $26.95, hardcover, 9781590516140


Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France

by Max Leonard

Even non-cycling fans recognize the Tour de France as the sport's biggest annual event. Naturally, the attention of the press and the viewer is focused at the front of the race, where attacks, group sprints and winners are born. In Lanterne Rouge: The Last Man in the Tour de France, Max Leonard directs overdue consideration to a different segment of the Tour, where he finds a less fairytale-like but very sincere story.

Ever since the Tour was founded in 1903, as a struggling newspaper's publicity stunt, someone necessarily has come in last place. The usage of lanterne rouge, or red lantern, is generally accepted as having come from the railroad, where a red lantern lit the last car, letting signalmen know the line behind was clear. Over the last century and more, the lanterne has been variously a joke, a dishonor, an achievement to be sought after and a source of controversy, conflict and myth.

The Tour has always had a high rate of attrition. Many men withdraw from the race over weeks of mountain passes, long days and severe weather. The lanterne may be the man who finishes last--but he finishes, a respectable feat.

Lanterne Rouge is an engaging, exhaustive survey of the last man in the Tour de France, a history, a collection of appealing anecdotes and a psychological consideration of winning and losing. An obvious choice for serious cycling fans, Leonard's study will also please general sports fans, history enthusiasts and those who root for the underdog. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An amiable history of a largely unsung hero, the last-place finisher of the Tour de France.

Pegasus Books, $26.95, hardcover, 9781605987866

Children's & Young Adult


by Daniel José Older

In his first novel for young adults, Daniel José Older (Half-Resurrection Blues) infuses modern Brooklyn with magic and mythology in a fresh urban fantasy.

Sierra lives with her mother, Maria, and her abuelo, Grandpa Lázaro, in a Bedford-Stuyvesant brownstone. She's looking forward to spending her summer partying with her best friend, Bennie, and painting a mural off the Junklot where her abuelo's friends spend their days playing dominos. Her plans go south when she sees the subject of an adjoining mural (literally) cry tears, and her grandpa, who hasn't spoken in months, suddenly tells her about the shadowshapers, warning that "they are coming for us" and urging her to paint faster and ask Robbie for help. Robbie seems willing, but they are attacked by a corpuscule ("a dead body with someone else's spirit... shoved into it," Robbie tells Sierra). From there, Sierra finds herself a key player in the struggle between shadowshapers and those who would enslave ancestral spirits for their own purposes. Summer in Brooklyn suffuses the story, with fantastic scenes set in Coney Island and Prospect Park, as well as a gentrifying Prospect Heights (which Bennie perfectly dubs "the Takeover").

The people (largely of Caribbean or Afro-Caribbean descent) who populate Older's novel come to sparkling life thanks to pitch-perfect dialogue, pacing and a generous sense of humor. There are rich friendships, family and neighborhood relationships, plus a delicious romance. He addresses the growing pains of adolescence, including exceptional passages about body image and the struggle for self-acceptance, with refreshing candor. --Angela Carstensen, school librarian and blogger

Discover: In Daniel José Older's first YA novel, modern Brooklyn is infused with magic and mythology, and populated with a cast of many characters.

Arthur A. Levine/Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 14-up, 9780545591614

Circus Mirandus

by Cassie Beasley

In Cassie Beasley's poignant debut novel, 10-year-old Micah Tuttle finds out that magic is real at the same time that his grandfather's health begins to spiral downward.

Grandpa Ephraim is the only family Micah has, since his parents died when he was very young. For years, his grandfather has told Micah stories about the magical Circus Mirandus. Now the man admits to his grandson that he's written to the Lightbender to call in the "miracle" promised to him when he was a boy. Micah needs to believe that miracles can happen; Aunt Gertrudis, Ephraim's sister, is a horrid guardian. Micah can't bear the way she bars him from his grandfather's room. He becomes determined to seek out the Lightbender himself, and enlists the help of quirky and smart classmate Jenny Mendoza. As a child, Ephraim realized, "It's important, when you first see magic, to recognize it. You don't often get a second chance." But Ephraim misunderstands magic's purpose, just as Micah misunderstands the nature of the miracle his grandfather wishes.

Beasley takes the idea of running away to the circus and explores the implications of wishing to escape one's reality. Just as a young Ephraim missed his father fighting in a faraway war, Micah wishes for his ill grandfather to be restored to health. And the Lightbender and his circus denizens wish to keep magic alive in the world. Will Micah's faith in the Lightbender's ability to grant a miracle be enough? And can one person's miracle be the same as another's? Beasley probes themes of responsibility, passion and choice in this first entry from a promising writer. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A poignant debut novel in which young Micah discovers magic is real at the same time his grandfather begins to fail.

Dial, $17.99, hardcover, 304p., ages 9-12, 9780525428435

I Will Take a Nap!

by Mo Willems

Most children resist naps. Gerald knows better. Mo Willems's (Waiting Is Not Easy!) latest spot-on beginning reader flips children's expectations.

"I am happier when I am rested," says Gerald in a gray speech balloon, laying out his blanket and holding onto his Knufflebunny. "I hope I have good dreams." Willems indicates Gerald's shift into a dream state with a mint green–tinted thought balloon in which Piggie slips in sideways. Next, the green-tinted "dream" balloon grows to nearly overtake the page, with just a bit of white showing at the edges. Gerald smiles and slumbers as Piggie approaches. "GERALD!" cries Piggie. Gerald jumps from his blanket shouting ("Huh!?! What! Where?...") and sending Knufflebunny and Piggie flying. "I am trying to take a nap because I am TIRED and CRANKY!" the elephant says. The friends' banter spells out the plusses of resting, and Piggie returns with her "special buddy" for napping (a stuffed elephant that makes Gerald blush). But Piggie's loud snore wakes up Gerald. Piggie, however, rises refreshed: "How are you enjoying your nap, Gerald." Gerald denies he's napping, but Piggie points out, "If you are not napping, how can I be floating?"

Willems conveys a complex idea simply--Gerald is conscious of dreaming while still in dream mode. Eventually, Willems depicts Gerald waking as the green tint shrinks back from the white background. Gerald wakes rested, and Piggie greets him, "Oh, hi, Gerald! Did you have a good nap?" The elephant's reply neatly pulls together the two story threads. Another winner from the master of beginning readers. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A comical addition to the smashing Elephant & Piggie series in which Gerald hails the benefits of napping.

Disney Hyperion, $9.99, hardcover, 60p., ages 6-8, 9781484716304


Author Buzz

Dragon Kiss
(A Dragon Kings Novella)

by Donna Grant

Dear Reader,

Welcome back to the Dragon Kings! I'm thrilled to bring you DRAGON KISS. The world of the Dragon Kings keeps expanding, and this story brings us Alasdair and Lotti, a powerful couple who have overcome all odds to find love. But a deadly enemy intends to rip them apart.

I can't wait for you to fall in love with Alasdair and Lotti as I have.


Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Dragon Kiss (A Dragon Kings Novella) by Donna Grant

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
January 9, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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