Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, December 16, 2011

Tor Books: The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab

From My Shelf

Special Effects

There was a recent New York Times article about publishers "gilding" books with special effects in order to present a "value package" to compete with e-books. Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 (Knopf) is a prime example, with its semi-transparent dust jacket giving the face underneath a disconcerting visage. The first edition of The Last Werewolf (Knopf) has deckled edges the color of dried blood--it's certainly worth searching out. Stephen Mitchell's dynamic new translation of The Iliad (Free Press) is enhanced by the rough-cut pages, red silk ribbon bookmark and gold foil-stamped cover. A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich, though written in 1935, has become "one of the treasures of historical writing" since its first publication in English in 2005. Yale has printed an edition that is sumptuous, from its cloth cover with half-wrap dust jacket to its plentiful illustrations. At $29.95, it's a bargain.

Less opulent are "stocking stuffer" gift books, although The Big Book of Visual Sudoku by Maki Kaji (Workman) would need a very large stocking: 273 puzzles that are both catnip and Waterloo for Sudoku fans. No numbers here; instead, there are sign language letters, Braille dots, Japanese characters, the nine positions on a baseball field, the first nine elements. A real brain workout.

A better fit for a stocking would be Hot Guys and Baby Animals (Andrews McMeel). A dark-haired hunk, David, "likes to talk about his feelings." He's nuzzling a tabby cat, Isis, who "likes to purr it out." Men with dogs, cats, even chickens and a rabbit (Mocha, a shiatsu massage therapist). Very cute.

A few other books that will fit stockings: In Praise of Chickens by Jane Smith (Lyons Press). Chickens are the animal this year (The Chicken Whisperer's Guide; The Way of the Hen), and this little book is filled with both practical and frivolous information. Or try Killer Verse: Poems of Murder and Mayhem (Everyman). From the early 1800s to a poem called "Facebook Psycho," there are verses both amusing and chilling. --Marilyn Dahl

Arcade Publishing: A Mysterious Country: The Grace and Fragility of American Democracy by Normal Mailer, edited by Michael J. Lennon and John Buffalo Mailer

The Writer's Life

Jesmyn Ward

In the summer of 2005, Jesmyn Ward was visiting her family in Delisle, Miss., after having received her MFA in creative writing from the University of Michigan. Hurricane Katrina was expected to hit just a few days before the beginning of the fall semester, when Ward was returning to campus to take up a teaching position--her plan was to leave as soon as the storm was over. "I'd lived through a Category 3 hurricane," she recalled. "I thought it would be like that."

She ended up staying in Mississippi for more than a week; her car had washed away in the flood, and she didn't make it back until she could get a ride to Mobile, the nearest place she could pick up a rental car (and wound up taking several younger relatives to stay with her in Michigan until the power was restored back home). But it took several months and the urging of a mentor before Ward wrote an essay about her Katrina experience, after which it would be years before she revisited the subject when she began writing her second novel, Salvage the Bones.

"That experience was so terrifying I don't think I came to terms with how terrifying it was," she said. "How demoralizing it was to witness that devastation and then live with it every day afterward.... You watch the hurricane unmake the entire world, all around you. But there was something essential about home that the storm could not take. The community endured. And I had to realize that in order to write about that experience."

The odds that people would read that story, though, were not initially strong. Salvage the Bones was Ward's first novel with an imprint of a major commercial publisher (after debuting at Agate in 2009 with Where the Line Bleeds) and, despite the best efforts of Bloomsbury's publicity department, review attention was scant. Her recent National Book Award for fiction, though, may change all that.

It's already far more success than Ward ever expected, or hoped for, as a writer--and may serve as a powerful reassurance to any of her loved ones concerned about her career choice. "I remember when I was five years old, my mother was trying to teach me to read and telling me I would go to college one day," Ward reflected a few days after receiving the award. "Most of the people in my town are poor and working class, so my mom and my family had other hopes for me [besides writing]. They wanted me to go into something that was more stable, and I tried to fight the urge I had to write in high school, and especially in college." She also struggled with feelings of inadequacy when comparing her background to that of her more affluent college classmates. Then her younger brother was killed by a drunken driver, and she realized that she had to try to do something meaningful in her life, however much time she might have. "When I finally decided to try to write, I realized that this is what I wanted to write about--the place I came from and the people in that place."

Ward is currently teaching at the University of South Alabama, and that gives her plenty of opportunities to return to Delisle to visit family and friends. "For them, I'm still little Mimi who used to run around barefoot in the summer and play in ditches and read books all the time," she said. "They don't let me forget it and I don't want to forget it." --Ron Hogan

Zonderkidz: The Smallest Spot of a Dot: The Little Ways We're Different, the Big Ways We're the Same by Linsey Davis, illustrated by Lucy Fleming

Book Candy

Bookcase of the Day: The Motion

Designed by Hyunjin Seo, The Motion's underlying concept is "space beyond the predominant view that furniture is just arranged in a room," the Bookshelf blog wrote, adding that it "has not only a storage function but also space for reading and relaxation."

RP Mystic: Magic, Diversified


Movies: Sherlock Holmes and Saviors in the Night

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, loosely based on Arthur Conan Doyle classic detective tales, opens today. Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) battle the dastardly Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris).


Saviors in the Night, based on the memoirs of Marga Spiegel, also opens today. Veronica Ferres and Armin Rohde star as members of a Jewish family sheltered from the Nazis by farmers.

Gift Books and Gifts for the Bookish

Flavorwire offered some "Gift ideas for the book lover who's read everything," including "art, tools and trinkets sure to please any literary nerd."


America's favorite librarian Nancy Pearl recommended "7 books with personality" on NPR's Morning Edition. Pearl said she is always on the lookout the sort of book that "leaves you with a longing to find out what happened to the characters after the book ended. Here are some books--six novels and a work of history--that have marvelously evoked characters."


H.M. Castor, author most recently of VIII, selected her "top 10 dark and haunted heroes and heroines" for the Guardian, noting that she loves "books that draw me into identifying with a character who's not all good (to put it mildly), or who has some particular fault-line running through his or her personality. After all, beneath our social smiles we're all pretty complicated--it's part of the human condition. We all have our dark side."


"Books are good--books are always good--but book lovers cannot live on books alone," noted Jacket Copy in presenting its "eclectic list of gifts that aren't books, but could please the bookish."

Book Review

Mystery & Thriller

Rain Falls Like Mercy

by Jack Todd

Jack Todd returns to the Paint family, the central characters of his previous novels, Sun Going Done and Come Again No More, in a taut crime thriller with a dash of family saga set against the backdrop of World War II.

When a hired hand on the Paints' Wyoming ranch finds a girl's savaged corpse in an outbuilding, Sheriff Tom Call has only one clue to go on--the sadistic killer's shoe size. A distracting affair with Juanita, the beautiful, neglected younger wife of the Paint family patriarch, further hampers the investigation. Tom suspects a dangerous young man from a neighboring ranch, but after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he abandons the case to join the Air Force. Meanwhile, the killer--caught and convicted for a lesser crime--sits out the war in prison until freedom allows one last psychotic spree that leads to a deadly showdown with Tom Call.

Readers unfamiliar with the earlier Paint family novels may be distracted by scenes featuring characters unessential to the immediate story, but Todd's flair for elaborating historical context gives Rain Falls Like Mercy drama and depth, just as his talent for sweeping natural scenes brings Wyoming's beauty and harsh weather to life. His rich prose captures the minutiae of each character's thoughts and emotions and renders murder scenes far more grisly than any gory description alone could. This tale of land, life and terror will please fans of both mainstream literature and the crime genre. --Jaclyn Fulwood, graduate assistant, University of Oklahoma Libraries

Discover: A small-town sheriff's determination to bring a vicious killer to justice, set against the backdrop of World War II.

Touchstone, $25, hardcover, 9781416598510

When Elves Attack: A Joyous Christmas Greeting from the Criminal Nutbars of the Sunshine State

by Tim Dorsey

"The most exciting holidays are the ones where not everybody is going to make it." Serge Storm's quirky bit of wisdom could never be more appropriate than it is in this festively themed installment of Tim Dorsey's hilarious series centered on a plucky, well-intentioned serial killer. It's time for Serge and his sidekick Coleman to haul out the holly along with the trash in Tampa, and the approaching holidays have Serge rethinking his life. He decides to try settling down, and what better place than across the street from his old pal Jim Davenport? While watching Jim closely to emulate what he believes to be the typical suburban lifestyle, Serge notices some rather unsavory characters taking a peculiar interest of their own in Jim's house and family, and decides to investigate. Armed with elf suits, a little know-how and a hefty dose of Christmas spirit, Serge and Coleman set out to take down any and all threats to the yuletide comfort and joy.

Dorsey's usual outlandish wit makes for a madcap caper on par with previous books in the series, though When Elves Attack is, perhaps, slightly less violent. The absurd menace of two skipping elves, the exploits of the tenacious retired ladies comprising the "G-Unit" and Jim's farce of a consulting job--he fires people, only to rehire them to fill the vacancies created by their absence--combine for an entertaining and appropriately ludicrous story sure to spread holiday cheer. --Sarah Borders, librarian, Houston Public Library

Discover: A wickedly funny tale of Christmas cheer featuring Florida's (other) favorite serial killer.

Morrow, $16.99, hardcover, 9780062092847

Death Comes to Pemberley

by P.D. James

In Death Comes to Pemberley, the incomparable P.D. James has drawn a puzzling mystery around the characters from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Six years after her marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy, Elizabeth has settled easily into her new life as the mistress of Pemberley. Her sister Jane has settled with Charles Bingley within a comfortable distance, as have Mary (yes, Mary, not Kitty) and her husband, the Reverend Theodore Hopkins. Just before Pemberley's annual autumn ball, a thundering coach screeches to a halt at the front doors. Out stumbles a hysterical Lydia. Her husband, George Wickham, lies dead somewhere in the estate's woodlands, and a disturbing murder investigation begins.

James draws heavily upon Austen's early 19th-century Pemberley and London for inspiration, but her signature mesmerizing style brings new life to the settings and the characters as the story progresses. She doesn't attempt to replicate the distinctive voice of Pride and Prejudice, but she does deliver authentic dialogue that carefully avoids anachronism. Of all the stories written based on the works of Jane Austen, Death Comes to Pemberley seems one of the most likely to win approval from the authoress herself. --Sarah Borders, librarian, Houston Public Library

Discover: A compelling new addition to Austen-inspired fiction from one of the masters of modern mystery and detective fiction writing.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 9780307959850

Science Fiction & Fantasy

I, Robot: To Protect

by Mickey Zucker Reichert

I, Robot: To Protect tells the story of the early medical life of Dr. Susan Calvin, a frequent protagonist in the science-fiction short stories by Isaac Asimov that redefined the genre's concept of robotics. To Protect is the first in a planned trilogy (authorized by Asimov's estate) by fantasy novelist and pediatrician Mickey Zucker Reichert where, as in Asimov’s vision of the future, the Three Laws of Robotics--"A robot may not injure a human being," etc.--are beyond reproach as an ethical system, and humankind is invariably at fault, not science or robots. In fact, a profound level of optimism and faith in science is on display throughout To Protect.

The novel may be set in Asimov's universe, but Reichert applies her own vision to the material. As a first-year psychiatric resident, Susan Calvin is given the most hopeless pediatric cases. She's also involved in secret research involving nanorobots, bringing her closer to U.S. Robots and Mechanical Men, the secretive company her father has worked for all his adult life. Calvin's plotline eventually intersects with a broader story about terrorists out to destroy any thinking machines, especially those indistinguishable from humans, but Reichert gives equal weight to the details of Calvin's pediatric work and the robotic developments, and both aspects prove fascinating and ring equally true in the novel's near-future setting. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A novel of medical and ethical ideas based on a science fiction classic, but equally accessible to first-time readers.

Roc, $24.95, hardcover, 9780451464194


Carrie Goes Off the Map

by Phillipa Ashley

Sending two prickly strangers on a vacation together may be a terrible idea in reality, but it's a delightful premise for a love story. Less than a day away from marrying Huw, her farmer-boy fiancé, Carrie finds herself unceremoniously jilted. Adding insult to injury, she learns he's marrying someone else. In need of a diversion, she plans a tour of the Continent with her best friend, who then gets a last-minute job offer. Desperate to stop Carrie's moping, she taps Dr. Matt Landor, who is idling in the U.K. on forced R&R from his do-gooding work in the tropics, to go in her stead.

Full-on rom-com insanity can wear thin fast and alienate the reader, but Phillipa Ashley (wish You Were Here) strikes just the right tone, and then maintains it through the shenanigans that follow. Carrie is by turns heartbroken and furious, but remains fundamentally likable and relatable. Crashing Huw's wedding, she restrains herself from disrupting the ceremony (but does demolish a flashy flower arrangement). The good doctor, for his part, is hunky without being a stereotypical Prince Charming. For example, when rescuing Carrie from where she's been abandoned on a beach, stoned out of her mind, he doesn't panic, and just laughs. The bickering-but-attracted plot is nothing new, but it's enjoyably executed. Anglophile readers will also enjoy across-the-pond references to rugby fandom and jokes about David Tennant's hotness. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer

Discover: A romance between entertainingly cranky protagonists, madcap without lapsing into lunacy.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $9.99, trade paper, 9781402241451

Biography & Memoir

Tolstoy: A Russian Life

by Rosamund Bartlett

In her introduction to Tolstoy: A Russian Life, Rosamund Bartlett writes that "the greatest task facing the biographer of Tolstoy is the challenge of making sense of a man who was truly larger than life." Bartlett is no stranger to the sort of meticulous research required of a biographer who chooses to delve into such a vast project: an authority on Russian cultural history, she has already written an acclaimed biography of Anton Chekhov and translated much of his writing. Yet Tolstoy is more than a well-researched synopsis of a great writer's life and works. As the subtitle suggests, Bartlett has written a superb history of one of Russia's most famous and influential men of all time.

As might be expected in a Tolstoy biography, Bartlett's book is lengthy, with nearly 100 pages just for notes and bibliography. For all its size, though, it is rarely slow or weighed down by its scholarship. Bartlett is careful to include details about Tolstoy's family, friends and surroundings as they influenced his maturation, both as a man and as a writer. She is honest in discussing Tolstoy's flaws and equally compelling as she examines the spiritual and intellectual journey that ultimately culminated in his rejection of both personal possessions and relationships at the end of his life. A final chapter exploring Tolstoy's global impact, even after his death, provides an unexpected and satisfying ending to this engaging biography. --Roni K. Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: A new, modern, and thoroughly engaging biography of Tolstoy by a leading Russian cultural authority.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $35, hardcover, 9780151014385

Sergeant Rex: The Unbreakable Bond Between a Marine and His Military Working Dog

by Mike Dowling

Rex may not have Rin Tin Tin's star power, and Mike Dowling won't jeopardize Tim O'Brien's literary accolades, but between them they give readers a first-rate buddy story from the front lines of the Iraq war.

Joining the Marine Corps at 22, Dowling quickly aspired to qualify as a military working dog handler. He and Rex tenaciously trained to become one of the first K9 teams deployed to Iraq. Their job was to be the first to enter a road or town, searching for deadly bombs before the rest of the troops moved in, and he shares their suspenseful searches for explosives and bomb-making supplies hidden near Mahmoudiyah, their 24/7 togetherness and stories of Rex's loyalty and skills. Mike anthropomorphizes Rex, and their "conversations" become credible. "Seek seek seek," Mike whispers; Rex freezes momentarily: "Wait a second; I think I got something!"

Sergeant Rex's first-person accounts of deployment--the heat and dust of the Triangle of Death south of Baghdad (Rex required gallons of water for each mission, to drink and to be poured over his heavy fur), the vigilance against insurgents and the alternate boredom and action of a war zone--read like a letter home. Dowling writes to honor his canine partner and his comrades, and offers a quick-paced, realistic and poignant glimpse of the lives of a U.S. Marine and his dog (and an epilogue providing details of their post-deployment years reassures readers that they made it home safe). --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: A first-person (and first-dog) buddy story about a bomb-searching Marine K-9 team in Iraq.

Atria, $26, hardcover, 9781451635966

Travel Literature

Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries

by Tim Anderson

"Why would a college graduate with such impeccable credentials such as a BA in English, diabetes, credit card debt, and a fierce and unstoppable homosexuality leave the boundless opportunities available to him in the USA (temping, waiting tables, getting shot at by high school students) for a tiny, overcrowded island heaving with clever, sensibly proportioned people who make him look fat?"

The travel genre is bloated with books clamoring to answer variations on that question, and they usually have to do with romance, redemption and the quest for personal growth through encounters with another culture. Tune in Tokyo: The Gaijin Diaries, Tim Anderson's account of the two years he taught English in Japan, stands out among such stories because his stint abroad has very little to do with personal growth--focusing instead on funny stories about classroom mishaps, bad roommates and chemically enhanced adventures in Tokyo nightclubs. If you're looking for insight into Japanese culture, this is likely not the book for you.

But it's so much fun. Anderson refuses to take himself too seriously, and he's unafraid to let his status as a gaijin (outsider) who "doesn't speak a lick of Japanese" get in the way of seeking out experiences that make great stories, like joining an all-Japanese rock band on the viola. He also puts his wit to work in commentary on Japanese pop culture (like the national obsession with characters from "the Hello Kitty School of Aggressive Cuteness"), gay manga comics and the mysteriously ubiquitous pairing of dorky white guys and super-hot Japanese women. Anderson moved to Tokyo to have a good time. His Gaijin Diaries are your invitation to the party. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice

Discover: A tall, Southern gay man teaching English in Tokyo delivers the antidote to shelves-full of earnest travel memoirs.

AmazonEncore, $14.95, trade paper, 9781612181318


The Last Testament: A Memoir

by God with David Javerbaum

Absurdity reigns in The Last Testament, a wickedly funny tell-all written from God's point of view as channeled via David Javerbaum (former head writer for The Daily Show with Jon Stewart). The book resembles a Holy Bible in language, text layout, font style and structure, its seven sections rendered like scripture, complete with numbered chapters and verses--a wise choice as the sentence spacing allows the reader to stop laughing long enough to come up for air.

God offers His hilarious 21st-century take on topics such as sports, celebrities, prayer, natural disasters, homosexuality, abortion, social media, sex, love and marriage. New Gospels shed light on His unmitigated feelings about Jews, Christians, Jesus, Mohammed, Islam--and everything in between. There is also a graphics section (a photograph of the Holy Grail is credited as "courtesy of the Mel Gibson Collection"), a chapter devoted to "Godlibs" (a fill-in-the-blank word game) and some of God's favorite things, including a cocktail called a "72 Virgins Colada."

The smartly funny pseudo-memoir culminates in "Revelation," an in-depth accounting of the signs foretelling the apocalypse scheduled for 2012: the "Brangelina" family will finally separate, gas will go up to $6.66 per gallon, the SATs will introduce a fourth section on tweeting, and "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter" will admit it was butter all along. In the end, no religion, believer or nonbeliever is spared as "King of the Universe" unleashes His zany wrath. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A wickedly funny introduction to the opinions and modus operandi of God, "King of the Universe."

Simon & Schuster, $23.99, hardcover, 9781451640182

Children's & Young Adult

Red Sled

by Lita Judge

If the goal in The Mitten is to fit as many creatures as possible inside, the mission of Red Sled is to pile as many creatures as possible on top!

The sounds of crunching snow ("scrinch scrunch scrinch scrunch...."), the utterance of discovery ("Hrmmm?") and the screams of a thrill ride ("Rooooeeeeoeoee") provide the sole accompaniment to Lita Judge's (One Thousand Tracings) story told in pictures. A red sled leans against a snow-covered cabin with a light in the window and a wisp of smoke from the chimney. A bear finds the sled ("Hrmmm?") and tucks it under its paw. A rabbit peeks at the bear from the bottom of the page, and in the next illustration, bear and rabbit glide downhill in a thrill ride. Other animal onlookers join in, and Judge plays with size and color contrast to heighten the comedy. At one point, a moose balances the bear on its antlers while protecting the rabbit between its hoofed legs, and the larger animals' brown fur pops against the full moon. In another funny scene, a porcupine grabs two points on the moose's antlers, and its quills give the appearance of a person's hair standing on end. Bear and rabbit kindly return the red sled to its rightful owner (a red-capped child who, up to now, has been glimpsed only on the opening pages). A closing shot shows that not only is it nice to share, it's also a whole lot more fun. Like the red sled's riders, young readers will be pleading, "Again!" --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An exuberant foray into the snow with a “borrowed” red sled and a host of forest creatures with a need for speed.

Atheneum, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 2-5, 9781442420076

Above New York

by Robert Cameron and Nina Gruener, photos by Robert Cameron

Robert Cameron (1911-2009) was a passionate photographer known for his gymnastic contortions out of helicopters to get the best panoramic shots of American cities. Here his granddaughter Nina Gruener offers clever captions aimed at young readers to accompany her grandfather's magnificent views of the five boroughs.

"They've been down in the subway, and seen buildings so tall/ Cam's having a blast, but he feels rather small" accompanies an aerial view from the southern end of Manhattan (you can see how Washington Square Park anchors Fifth Avenue) looking north to a patch of green that we can make out as Central Park. While Cameron's photos capture New York City at different times of day and in its many moods, Gruener's text retains a child's-eye view of the Museum of Natural History (which "looks lovely and old/ A castle-like dollhouse where mysteries unfold"), the Brooklyn Bridge ("its cables look like spider webs") and Wall Street ("No bulls or bears that he can see from up here/ Silly grown ups, there's nothing to fear"), among other highlights. Toward the end, the narrator becomes more reflective as he "wonders how it must have been/ to be a kid on Ellis Island, waiting for a new life to begin."

This smartly designed board book with thick matte corrugated pages is made for repeated readings. It's a great introduction to New York that doubles as a travel guide for children who are Big Apple–bound or armchair travelers. See also last year's Above San Francisco. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An ideal photographic companion to New York City's five boroughs for the Manhattan-bound or the armchair traveler.

Cameron & Company, $12.95, hardcover, 32p., ages 4-8, 9780918684882

12 Things to Do Before You Crash and Burn

by James Proimos

Perhaps because of all of his experience with picture books, James Proimos (Todd's TV) uses just 122 pages to pen a funny, poignant YA novel that takes place over two weeks.

Readers will know they're in for a treat when 16-year-old James "Hercules" Martino breaks the saintly spell at his father's funeral by calling the man as he saw him: "a complete and total ass." It does not help that his father was a bestselling self-help author. Hercules pretends to be upset when his mother sends him to his father's brother, Uncle Anthony, for the last two weeks of summer, but we quickly discover how well they get along--especially when his uncle gives Hercules the list of the "12 Things" referenced in the book's title. It's a mix of the sublime ("choose a mission") and the ridiculous ("clean out the garage"), but it accomplishes the goals of both uncle and nephew. Herc's goal, of course, is to find the "Strange Beautiful Unattainable Woman" he sat next to and who would not speak with him on the train from New York to Baltimore.

Even at his most macho, Herc shows a vulnerable side. In addition to his father's death, the novel probes some mature themes (e.g., in what we'll call the "mission accomplished" scene), but Proimos handles them with humor and a respect for his audience. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A teen named Hercules grapples with his complicated father's death through his accomplishments of 12 feats.

Roaring Brook, $14.99, hardcover, 124p., ages 14-18, 9781596435957


Author Buzz

Bond of Passion
(A Demonica Novella)

by Larissa Ione

Dear Reader,

I'm so happy to be back in the Demonica world, especially with the people and the hospital that started it all. You'll find hints of what's to come in the new series, and you'll catch up with old friends. And best of all, Tavin gets his story!

Larissa Ione

Available on Kobo

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
November 1, 2022


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

Powered by: Xtenit