Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Poetry Month: A Reader of Poems Confesses

There are many poets in the world. Poetry readers? Not so plentiful, and much easier to discourage when young. Although I've been a reader of poems for a long time, I still nurse a grudge regarding an incident that could have stopped me before I'd really begun.

Four decades ago, in an undergrad creative writing course, we were asked to bring in collections by our three favorite poets. I opted for books by Theodore Roethke and John Berryman that I'd been assigned for another English class that term.

My third choice, Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows, turned out to be more problematic. At the time, Rod McKuen was the best selling and--though I didn't know it until I was caught in deadly academic crossfire--least respected poet in the U.S.

Since he'd been the first poet I ever wanted to read, I arrived completely unarmed for a classroom poetry battle. The encounter was swift, derisive and one-sided--a critical assault by my instructor and classmates that could easily have rendered my subsequent life as a reader of poetry mere collateral damage.

But it didn't. I continued to read poetry in spite of, rather than because of, my "lesson." I sometimes wonder how many of my classmates still do. Recently I purchased Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert, Ghost in a Red Hat by Rosanna Warren, Head Off & Split by Nikky Finney and Selected Poems by Adonis.

Happy Poetry Month to me.

As it turned out, McKuen was my gateway drug to a life of reading poetry. Although Roethke and Berryman are still in my bookcase, McKuen is long gone. I regret this fact as a betrayal of my roots. So, for what it's worth, consider this both an apology and a thank you note, Mr. McKuen. And Happy Poetry Month to you, too. --Robert Gray, contributing editor

The Writer's Life

Grace McCleen: Darkness and Light

In Grace McCleen's debut novel, The Land of Decoration (Holt), 10-year-old Judith McPherson lives an isolated life. To fill the void she creates a world of her own, the Land of Decoration, constructed with bits and pieces of rubbish and other discarded treasures she finds. Judith takes on the role of God in her microcosm and soon learns there are unforeseen consequences to every action, no matter how good that action initially seems.

McCleen was born in Wales and grew up in a fundamentalist religion where she did not have much contact with nonbelievers. Her family moved to Ireland when she was 10, where she was schooled at home. When Grace and her family moved back to Britain she studied English Literature at Oxford University and the University of York before becoming a full-time writer and musician. She lives in London.

You began writing this novel during a period of illness--was this the first opportunity you had to take the leap?

I'd always wanted to write a novel; I wanted it so much in fact I might never have got around to it (as is often the case with the most consuming ambitions) unless I had been laid up ill and not able to do much else. It wasn't the first opportunity; I could have made time before but I was so terrified of beginning and wanted it to be astonishing and enduring, so I didn't.

How was taking that first step in reality as compared to the fears in your mind?

I was able to overcome the terror because I realized that this was life forcing me to do what I would otherwise always run away from. Taking the step was just as awful as I had imagined and nearly every sentence I wanted to stop. It was a sort of agony. I'd rather go through extreme physical pain than do it again.

Based on your life story, The Land of Decoration seems to have an autobiographical feel to it. How close are Judith's experiences to your own?

Not very close at all, if you are talking about particular instances or events, but the emotions are very similar--emotions such as grief, fear, rage, etc. I was also extremely isolated and create worlds.

Like Judith, you create "little people." Judith's are creatively fashioned from rubbish but yours are more expertly crafted. What started the fascination with these little people? How did creating worlds become a coping mechanism for you?

Why I began making the little people I have no idea; six months down the line it has become an obsession, I was waking to make more at night, waking up in a sweat, trying to finish them, having panic attacks. Every project is that way for me. I suppose I would have always made the little people at some point, I love tiny things and so it was inevitable. 

I don't know how much making other "worlds" helped me cope but I did it--do it--continually, so I guess my subconscious thinks it serves some purpose; I find it pretty difficult interacting in the real world, I suppose.

You've also written songs. If you were to give Judith a theme song, what would it be?

An unusual question--I don't think any of my songs on my website suit her but the childlike sound of "The Boat of Sound" would work well, as would the subject matter of "Holy Smoke," which is all about faith.

Growing up, what kind of experiences did you have reading?

I read mostly children's picture books until I was 16, which are still one of my favourite types of literature, and I wanted to write one and illustrate it for many years. The atmosphere in my favourite children's picture books is still unsurpassed by anything else I have read, probably because in childhood we are so much more susceptible to impressions. I also read the Bible and was very well versed in it as a religious text. But when I began writing The Land of Decoration, I saw that I had imbibed just as much from it in a literary way.

When I was 15, I began reading literature and haven't stopped since. I read literature at Oxford and afterwards did an MA by research at York University.

Do you have authors you especially favor or specific types of books?

The Brontes, Herman Melville, Woolf, Cormac McCarthy, Marilynne Robinson, J.M. Coetzee, Franz Kafka, W.G. Sebald. Books that attempt to express the spiritual experience we humans have in the world--not religious experience; it could be the experience of being in love, the experience of drinking a cup of tea, the experience of picking up excrement from a pavement, the experience of breaking apart. All these writers are also masters of metaphor; metaphor becomes the guiding principle in their work, pointing to something higher than us, something transcendent. They all go as deeply into the darkness of the soul as they can, they deal with extremes (Robinson in the subtlest way of all), and some of them come back. (I don't think Kafka and Sebald do; Robinson definitely does; Melville--well, seeing as he is the god of gods, it's anyone's guess).

You hit a pretty significant depth of darkness in The Land of Decoration--and in your own personal faith as well, it seems--how difficult did you find it to come back?

That's a good question. I haven't come back at all. It is a particularly dark time of my life at the moment.

We truly hope the publication of The Land of Decoration can bring some light to your life. It's a stunning work. What, if anything, do you hope people can take away from the experience of reading your novel?

Thank you so much for your kind words. If people take anything away from it, I hope it is to ask questions: How closely related are belief and imagination? Can we ever take any action that will not affect us in turn? Can the bravest thing in the world be to open ourselves up to love and to confess it? And lastly I hope they stop a moment to digest the short metaphysical passages in between some of the chapters, in which all the dichotomies of life as we know it are explored. Inside and out, something and nothing, energy and matter, space and time, darkness and light--basically all the marvels of our universe, which are very moving when you think deeply about them, and to some people point to some higher power, some beauty, some order, some majesty at work. They draw on the spiritual writers I was reading when I was ill because I was desperately looking for something other than this world, writers like Einstein and Emmanuel Swedenborg and William Blake and Emily Dickinson and Dame Julian of Norwich and Walt Whitman.

What's next for you?

What's next for me is to finish writing my next book, and then music, performing it. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Book Candy

Hemingway; Book Landscapes; Honest Bookshelves

An "incredible hand-drawn stop-motion version" of Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea was showcased by Flavorwire, which noted that the "effect is less like watching a movie than reading a picture book as it’s being created."


And if that's not enough Papa H. for you, Buzzfeed asked Hemingway to preview the upcoming National Football League Draft.


Still life with tomes. Joel Robison really loves books... and photography. Book Patrol noted that "one of the objects he consistently pays homage to are books as they permeate many of his landscapes."


Tom Cox explained how to "reorganize your bookshelf using the honesty system," noting that for his own collection, he "wanted to find a scheme where I didn't get the constant sense that the worthy books I'd repeatedly chickened out of reading were getting together to look down their noses and whisper about me."  


The Harry Potter Alphabet. Buzzfeed asked: "How well do you know the characters?"


To celebrate National Stuff That Was Popular When You Were a Kid Day last week, Mental Floss gave readers the Bobbsey Twins quiz.    


Sherwood Anderson fires himself. In 1918, while working as a copy-writer for an advertising agency, the future author of Winesburg, Ohio wrote a resignation letter that began: "You have a man in your employ that I have thought for a long time should be fired. I refer to Sherwood Anderson."


Design Milk featured Ka-Lai Chan's limited edition SheLLf bookcase, praising "the cool visual effect of the shelf growing big in the center and tapering on the edges."


New Parents; Father & Son; Myths for Grown-ups

For the PageViews blog, Minh Le compiled a literary guide for the new parent, choosing "some complementary book pairings: a 'grown-up' book and its picture book counterpart. These pairings offer a bridge between reading worlds by featuring recognizable characters, similar styles, and parallel themes. And most importantly, none of these pairs feature any (overt) messages about the joys of pooping."


Children's author Tony Bradman, who has written several books with his son Tom, shared his top 10 father and son stories in the Guardian.


In the latest edition of NPR's Three Books series, Lyndsay Faye, author of The Gods of Gotham, recommended a trio of magical myths for grown-ups, noting: "For some, the tingling sensation of magical lands fades after leaving childhood behind. But I still peer curiously into wardrobes, and thus here are three blazingly intelligent adult novels for the untamable Alice in all of us."


Leah Konen suggested five "young adult books adults will love" at the Huffington Post.


Glenn Patterson, author of The Mill for Grinding Old People Young, chose his "top 10 Belfast books" for the Guardian.

'Not That Again'

Remember when you were small and stuck at family gatherings, parked next to dear old Uncle Frank, hearing for the umpteenth time his story of how he blew out all the tires on Grandfather's car?

I try not to be Uncle Frank. But if you pick up one of my series novels (Mrs. Murphy, Sister Jane, Six of One or the Nevada series) without reading the first, what do I do? Well, pray, perhaps. But I recall Mother intoning, "God helps those who help themselves." So you need to know about those four blown tires, so to speak, because facts are essential to character and series. Back in the 6th century B.C., Heraclitus said, "Character is destiny." A writer would do well to memorize that. So would a politician.

The other fence a writer must vault over is the relationships between standing characters. Are they married? Did they ever have an affair? Are they best friends? What do they share? Class or racial bias? Are they hiding something like homosexuality? Are they emotionally honest?

A character can be a moral paragon and deeply unlikable. What do the other characters make of this person? In the South, the response will be consistent; the South has a place and a phrase for such people which every other Southerner understands just as they understand you never call your unmarried aunt who is ugly as a mud fence just that. If you have a scrap of breeding, you will refer to her as "an unclaimed treasure."

Somehow I have to transmit this without bogging down the plot. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't. That is why one has editors.

Often a person will ask me how I keep returning to the same territory. Do I get bored? No more than I get bored with my family and friends, which is to say sometimes yes, sometimes no. And sometimes, I could just kill them. In the books, I really can.

The reward for all this is I laugh when I write; sometimes the smoke comes out of my ears, and sometimes I cry. I love the English language, so I generally have a wonderful time. The other reward and one I never considered when I started writing in high school was that many people hear an echo in my books, whether it is the series or the stand-alone books (e.g., Rubyfruit Jungle and The Sand Castle).

It really is call and response, but then, I'm a Southerner. It's second nature. --Rita Mae Brown, whose latest book, with Sneaky Pie Brown, is The Big Cat Nap: The 20th Anniversary Mrs. Murphy Mystery (Bantam)

Book Review


The Good Father

by Noah Hawley

Noah Hawley's fourth novel, The Good Father, mingles psychodrama and political intrigue in a story that raises questions about the scope of parental responsibility. When an adult child's life takes a horribly wrong turn, how much is the parent at fault? Can a parent have too much blind faith in a child--and can that "blind faith" be a willful blindness to the parent's own failings?

Dr. Paul Allen's eldest son, Daniel--the child of his first marriage, which has been over for 13 years--dropped out of college months ago. Although his phone calls have been infrequent and his whereabouts uncertain since then, Paul wants to believe he's doing okay. But then a TV news report shows Daniel being captured by Secret Service agents after a presidential candidate is shot--and Daniel makes a full confession not long after. Paul can't believe that Daniel actually committed this act; his intense search for the truth begins to undermine his second family and his own sense of self.

Although Paul's efforts to comprehend the incomprehensible are what drive the story, the mysteries of The Good Father are psychological rather than plot-driven, as Hawley roots out emotional truths in a father's struggle for acceptance and a son's misdirected search for identity. At the same time, Hawley's background in TV crime drama (including Bones) contributes to well-paced storytelling that never gets bogged down in its complex emotional underpinnings. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: A conflicted family faces an unthinkable crisis in a timely, provocative novel.

Doubleday, $25.95, hardcover, 9780385535533

Divorce Islamic Style

by Amara Lakhous, trans. by Ann Goldstein

Amara Lakhous, the author of Clash of Civilizations over an Elevator in Piazza Vittorio, has written another Roman comedy, Divorce Islamic Style, with a similar cast of immigrant characters in a neighborhood of "the Italy of the future," crowded with illegal Africans and Arabs.

Christian Mazzari, a young Sicilian who speaks perfect Arabic, has been hired by the Italian secret service to pose as "a young Tunisian immigrant in search of his fortune." Terrorists have imported 50 kilos of the explosive Goma-2 Eco into Rome, and it's been traced to a neighborhood call center named Little Cairo. Christian has been given a new identity as Issa.

The story unfolds in alternating first-person narratives. Although Christian/Issa is charming, it's Muslim housewife Safia who steals the show. Her humorous candor is illuminating, as she defends a religion she believes in while struggling with its strictures on women. A few days before her wedding, her fiancé surprised her by asking her to wear the veil. When outraged Safia refused, his family threatened to ruin her reputation by saying she wasn't a virgin. To her own surprise, Safia comes to accept and ultimately defend the veil as her right. Watching the two narratives intersect is half the fun.

Amara Lakhous's frothy soap opera tap-dances its way over touchy prejudices to create an international commedia for the age of terrorism, laced with tributes to Federico Fellini, Vittorio De Sica, Sophia Loren and Marcello Mastroianni--a heartwarming tale of immigrants in collision served up with Italian gusto. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: An Italian spy and an unhappily married Muslim woman cross paths in an immigrant Roman community.

Europa Editions, $15, paperback, 9781609450663

A Surrey State of Affairs

by Ceri Radford

Who is Constance Harding? She's a conservative Englishwoman obsessed with her pet parrot and fervently passionate about church bell choir. Constance signs her (clearly gay) son up for a heterosexual dating service and bakes her sullen teenage daughter fairy cakes in a failed attempt at bonding; she's also clueless to that fact that her housekeeper may be doing more than just her husband's laundry.

But in Ceri Radford's debut novel, A Surrey State of Affairs, we simply can't help but like this daffy character. With her unappreciative grown children and cad of a husband--who won't even accept her friendship on Facebook--you'll find yourself rooting for Constance to have a Bridget Jones-like pivotal moment of transformation. The kindhearted Constance, freshly baked shortbread in hand, marches through suburbia, trying to improve the lives of those around her. Her schemes are often misguided, however, causing you to spout Earl Grey out your nose.

Though Constance is a throwback to another time, she is modern in one respect--she's started a blog. The story is told through this device, making readers privy to the inner workings of Constance's mind, which lends Radford's tale a delightful confessional tone.

This may be chick lit for married women, but it's still the most hilarious book you will read all year. The clinging-to-tradition Constance could be your mother or your aunt but, honestly, in our attempts to adjust to a modern world that sometimes seems to be spinning out of control, there's a little bit of Constance in all of us. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A debut novel chronicling the travails of a zany Englishwoman that will have you laughing out loud.

Pamela Dorman/Viking, $25.95, hardcover, 9780670023424

Mystery & Thriller

Elegy for Eddie: A Maisie Dobbs Novel

by Jacqueline Winspear

Private investigator Maisie Dobbs has come a long way from the gritty Lambeth streets of her childhood over the course of Jacqueline Winspear's previous eight novels. But when five former colleagues of her father's visit Maisie's office at the start of Elegy for Eddie, they bring her a case that hits close to home. Gentle Eddie Pettit, a little "slow" but a gifted handler of horses beloved by his neighbors, has been killed, and his friends believe it was no accident.

The case leads Maisie from the paper factory where Eddie died to the library of a press mogul whose newspapers may be reporting some facts and hiding others. London in 1933 is clinging to an uneasy peace, still bearing scars from the Great War. But Adolf Hitler has been named chancellor of Germany, and a politician named Winston Churchill is urging the nation to stay alert. As Maisie searches for Eddie's killer, she wonders who was manipulating this innocent man--and what sensitive information they were trying to hide.

Maisie never solves a case without also facing a personal issue; this time, she confronts the growing tension in her relationship with James Compton, whose family once employed her as a maid. Although class distinctions (and Maisie's fortunes) have shifted since the war, she struggles to balance her working-class roots with her more comfortable present and her desire to solve the problems of her loved ones.

Like its predecessors, Elegy for Eddie combines an intriguing mystery with richly detailed history, and a determined heroine seeking justice for her clients and peace for herself. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: An unsolved death in 1930s England takes Maisie Dobbs from Covent Garden to London's halls of power.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062049575

Blood in the Water

by Jane Haddam

Retired FBI agent Gregor Demarkian is back with another deceptively tricky mystery in Blood in the Water, the 27th novel in Jane Haddam's series. Struggling with a recent loss in his personal life, we find Gregor ruminating on the irrationality of death and the inevitable progression of time when he is suddenly approached by the Pineville Station police department. Two bodies have been discovered in the elite, gated community of Waldorf Pines and an unexpected DNA result has left local forces completely at a loss. Gregor is forced to contend with small-town ineptitude, monstrous egos and upper-middle-class hypocrisy to get to the bottom of this case of not exactly mistaken identity.

Despite the fact that the plot hinges on a less than shocking twist, Haddam writes an engaging, plausible mystery. Her real strength, though, is in succinct and evocative character portraits. Haddam populates Waldorf Pines with the kind of narrow-minded, socially conscious but apparently harmless people we've all had as neighbors, but under the surface run seams of dangerous ignorance and violent egotism. Perhaps most disturbing is the neighborhood tyrant, Walter Dunbar, whose calm detachment and self-righteousness as he imagines grinding his wife's face beneath his heel when she irritates him is truly frightening. With such a varied cast of suspects, it's little wonder that the good men and women of the Pineville police force had to call in specialized help! All in all, Blood in the Water is a solid addition to a tried and tested series. --Judie Evans, librarian

Discover: Gregor Demarkian confronts the dirty secrets that lurk within a respectable upscale community.

Minotaur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312644345

Ashes to Dust

by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Ashes to Dust is Yrsa Sigurdardottir's third thriller starting Icelandic lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. A busy single mother and recent grandmother, Thóra thought she had taken on a relatively simple new case: her client, Markús Magnússon, engaged her to help him stop excavations into his family's former home, which had been buried under a volcanic eruption along with most of the Westmann Islands 30 years ago, when Markús was just a teenager.

But it turns out that what Markús didn't want the archeologists to discover was a cardboard box containing a human head. A girl named Alda, whom Markús had had a crush on, asked him to hide the box for her the day before the eruption. To complicate the gruesome situation: the basement also contains three complete bodies, which Markús claims he had never seen before. The four dead men couldn't be Icelandic--the country's population is so small they would've been missed--so the search is on to find out who the victims were. As Thóra is learning the hard way, though, Iceland's small, insular society has a long memory and is good at keeping secrets.

As Thóra attempts to clear her client's name, she seeks out Alda--who turns up dead, an apparent suicide. Now no one can back up Markús's story, unless Thóra can convince the islanders to finally come clean about what happened just prior to that eruption three decades earlier. As Thóra's investigation continues, surprising truths emerge, and Ashes to Dust will keep you guessing until its last few pages. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: An Icelandic lawyer must uncover the secrets behind four bodies found 30 years after their deaths.

Minotaur Books, $14.99, paperback, 9780312641740

Current Events & Issues

The Crisis of Zionism

by Peter Beinart

Unlike some Jewish commentators who are highly critical of Israel's policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank, Peter Beinart, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, is a committed Zionist. He contends that nearly 45 years after it began, the occupation of the West Bank endangers the liberal Zionist vision that animated the formation of the Jewish state. For him, "Israel's legitimacy is bound up with its democratic character," a perspective antithetical to those who harbor a "dream in which Jewish ethics no longer hinder Jewish power."

Beinart makes a persuasive case that Zionism's future is at risk from two segments of American Jewry: Orthodox Jews tolerant of Israeli policies he considers antidemocratic, and other Jews whose connection to their heritage is so tenuous as to lead them to indifference. He urges "American Jews most committed to democratic values [to] remain Jews and pass Judaism on to their children." To that end, he argues for increased enrollment in Jewish parochial schools, even proposing support for something resembling tuition vouchers. That view is unlikely to garner much support among his liberal cohort, and his suggestion that those who want to ratchet up the pressure of the BDS (boycott, divest from and sanction) movement to reform Israel's policies refuse to purchase goods and services produced in the territories (which he prefers to call "nondemocratic Israel") is also bound to provoke harsh criticism.

Beinart's argument is passionate, but his tone is sorrowful, not belligerent. His perspective, he believes, offers the last, best hope for the preservation of a liberal democratic Israel that most American Jews can eagerly support. A critic as intelligent and thoughtful as this deserves a serious audience for his perspective. --Harvey Freedenberg

Discover: A journalist and political scientist makes a passionate argument to restore a liberal democratic Israel.

Times Books, $26, hardcover, 9780805094121


The New American Haggadah

by Jonathan Safran Foer, editor, trans. by Nathan Englander

With thousands of versions of the Passover Haggadah in existence, it's fair to ask whether we need yet another one to narrate the familiar story of the Jewish people's exodus from Egypt. Even a cursory perusal of the striking New American Haggadah created by Jonathan Safran Foer and Nathan Englander provides an enthusiastic affirmative answer to that question.

As Foer puts it in his introduction, the Passover seder is not meant to be a dry recitation of distant historic events. Instead, the essence of the ritual is to make the ancient story come alive for the participants in a "radical act of empathy." To help achieve that goal, in addition to Englander's fresh translation of the traditional narrative, at key points in its text the New American Haggadah delivers concise, lively commentaries by journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, Jewish scholar Nathaniel Deutsch, philosopher/novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein and even Lemony Snicket.

Among the most distinctive features of the book is the striking design of Israeli artist Oded Ezer. The Hebrew calligraphy that graces the book subtly shifts throughout, a "graphic record of Jewish history" corresponding to the style prevalent at each era, noted in Mia Sara Bruch's timeline of more than 3,200 years of Jewish life running along the top margins of each page.

Foer and Englander's handsome work is unlikely to replace the proliferation of wine-stained Haggadot that will be thumbed lovingly when families gather around the Seder table. But it should find its way into many Jewish homes, there to become a cherished heirloom for generations to come. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: A striking, thoroughly modern version of the traditional Passover Haggadah.

Little, Brown, $29.99, hardcover, 9780316069861


Kitty Cornered

by Bob Tarte

"[Cats] know us better than we know them, and a lot of them have a sense of humor. They're exactly like us minus our useless mental power and thumbs." This wisdom from a friend of Bob Tarte sums up Kitty Cornered, which examines the feline aspects of the Tartes' Michigan household as it grew from one to six cats--some entering their lives via happenstance, others by design.

Tarte (Enslaved by Ducks; Fowl Weather) is a wry, engaging storyteller who profiles the idiosyncrasies of each cat and their ever-changing roles in the domestic hierarchy. This includes his efforts to woo Lucy, a rescued alpha cat and surly biter who lacks affection for both the Tartes and the rest of her cat mates, such as Moonbeam (aka "Moobie"), an aging snow-white cat suffering a tumor and vexed by an Elizabethan collar, and Frannie, a traumatized feral stray who plays an emotional tug-of-war with Bob's sympathies.

Beyond the heartwarming humorous stories of litter box mishaps, scuffles, sleep disturbances, food conundrums, cat carrier challenges, vet bills, damaged property and tattered psyches, profound insights emerge into the soul connection between domestic animals and the people who willingly share their lives--and love--with them. Tarte illustrates how cats are complicated creatures, "more intelligent than most people." The attentiveness (or lack thereof) of his four-legged family ultimately teaches Bob, a self-proclaimed anxious person, lessons about trust, patience, tenacity, socialization, resilience, contentment and even healing. -- Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: The story of six felines who rule one Michigan household.

Algonquin, $13.95, paperback, 9781565129993

Parenting & Family

I've Had It Up to Here with Teenagers

by Melinda Rainey Thompson

Be afraid, parents. Be very afraid. Whether you're currently suffering through your teen's angst-filled years, already made it through the war, or will one day be facing a time when your adorable toddler morphs into an obnoxious specimen of the teen persuasion, I've Had It Up to Here with Teenagers is a must-have. Teenagers might also get a kick out of Melinda Rainey Thompson's book, although according to her they would express their approval by rolling their eyes and pronouncing it "doesn't suck" before retreating to their iPhones.

Rainey Thompson, with her trademark Southern charm and saucy down-home lingo, takes a frank look at the moody, fridge-raiding prima donnas for whom she does mounds of laundry, chauffeurs around town and bakes endless pound cake. She leads by example, showing, not telling, her methods of taming these teenage beasts, and it's a mighty welcome wake-up call to indulgent parents who simply want to be their children's best friends instead of doing the hard work of being a parent.

It's clear that Rainey Thompson loves her teenage children fiercely. (After all, she devoted an entire book to them.) But she cares about them enough to commit to raising them up into loving, responsible adults--which means she's not always the most popular mom. Her exasperated children will thank her one day for teaching them how to dress appropriately and arrive home by curfew. We can thank her now because her tales of life with teens are horrifyingly uproarious. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: How Melinda Rainey Thomson handles her biggest challenge yet--her teenagers.

John F. Blair Publisher, $14.95, paperback, 9780895875693

Children's & Young Adult

Caddy's World

by Hilary McKay

Devoted readers of McKay's Casson books (Saffy's Angel; Caddy Ever After) will welcome this installment, and newcomers will be swept up in the lives of this captivating English family. The novel looks back to Caddy Casson's 12th year, when many changes in her life (and those of her three best friends) challenged her sense of security.

Each of the four friends, who started primary school together, contributes something to their alliance. "Alison... hates everyone./ Ruby is clever./ Beth. Perfect./ Caddy, the bravest of the brave." Secondary school brings change into their lives and the dynamics of their friendship. Alison trades conformity for detention. Ruby's test results put her on an intellectual fast track that separates her from her peers. Beth grows too tall for her pony. More important to Caddy is the premature birth of a baby sister, which keeps her mother in the hospital and prompts her father to move home full-time from his flat in London. Saffy and Indigo add to the family chaos. They seem to know everything their parents don't want revealed and are totally willing to tell all to the world. McKay combines all these elements in an exciting plot sprinkled with lots of tears but also scenes of laugh-out-loud humor. The ending may be bittersweet, but it's also very satisfying.

McKay's warm, charming family story will please fans of the previous five books, and will attract a new generation to enjoy them. --Ellen Loughran, consulting librarian

Discover: A challenging year in the life of Caddy Casson, as she grapples with changes in her nuclear family and among her best friends.

McElderry/S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 10-up, 9781442441057

Grave Mercy: His Fair Assassin, Book 1

by Robin Lafevers

Part spy novel, part feminist coming-of-age tale, LaFevers's riveting story set in 15th-century Brittany will keep readers at the edge of their seats.

Ismae Rienne describes a "deep red stain that runs from my left shoulder down to my right hip." It's a trail left by the herbwitch's poison at her birth. "That I survived... is no miracle but a sign I have been sired by the god of death himself," she says. With the help of the herbwitch, Ismae flees a dangerous arranged marriage to find refuge at the convent of Saint Mortain, the patron saint of death. Chancellor Crunard, a member of Brittany's inner council, believes that one of the duchess's most trusted confidants, Gavriel Duval, is leaking the secrets of Brittany's court to France, which seeks control of Brittany. Crunard enlists the convent's help, and the responsibility falls to Ismae.

The convent trains Ismae in weaponry, poisons and "the womanly arts," and teaches her that their victims bear a mark from Mortain that only Ismae and her sisters can see. During one of her early assignments, Sister Vereda, the convent's seer, tells Ismae, "Remember, true faith never comes without anguish." As she gets drawn deeper into court, Ismae begins to believe Duval's loyalty to the duchess. Is her growing attraction to Duval muddying Ismae's perceptions? LaFevers's (the Theodosia mystery series) story of betrayal, intrigue and romance will keep readers burning the midnight oil and leave them impatient for the next two tales, which follow fellow pledges in the convent. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A tale of court intrigue, betrayal and romance, narrated by a trained assassin in 1485 Brittany.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 528p., ages 14-up, 9780547628349

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