Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Mariner Books: The Blue Hour by Paula Hawkins

From My Shelf

Reading & the Art of 'Rerouting'

We've mentioned the incomparable pleasures of re-reading here before, but lately I've been intrigued by another book habit you'll probably recognize and understand. Let's call it the art of "rerouting," which happens when you are fully engaged with a great book and then discover--after, during or, in one recent case for me, before--reading it that you have been sent in unanticipated new directions.

For example, earlier this winter I read Pico Iyer's The Man Within My Head, a brilliant meditation on how years of reading Graham Greene affected the author's own life and work. When I finished, I was naturally rerouted to Greene himself and bought Orient Express, one of the few titles I'd not read before. I also pulled Shirley Hazzard's Greene on Capri from my bookshelves, and now I'm in the middle of one of Iyer's earlier works, The Lady and the Monk.

Rerouting happened again last week when I started Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, a book I probably never would have read had I not been so intrigued by Adam Johnson's novel The Orphan Master's Son.

Then there is Geoff Dyer's Zona, an extraordinary meditation on Alexander Tarkovsy's classic film Stalker. With this one I was advised to follow an alternate route and watch the movie before reading the book, since Dyer offers a scene-by-scene re-creation, accompanied by irresistibly Dyer-esque commentary.

And what about Teju Cole's Open City? This book not only rerouted me to Mahler's Ninth Symphony and a return trip to the wonders of W.G. Sebald's The Rings of Saturn, it also literally altered the way I walk the streets of Manhattan now.

You just never know where a great book will lead you. So many routes, so little time. -- Robert Gray, contributing editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Ted Bell: Foreseeing the Future

In his latest Alex Hawke adventure, Phantom (Morrow), Ted Bell takes on some brain-bending concepts: cyber warfare, artificial intelligence and "the singularity," a technological-evolutionary jump. This is not simply a narrative exercise. He told Shelf Awareness, "There's a line in the afterword: 'The only difference between science and science fiction is timing.' And that's one of the key thoughts in the book." In a recent phone conversation, he discussed how he chooses what to write about--and how he differs from other thriller writers (other than being a former chairman of the board and worldwide creative director of the ad agency Young & Rubicam, and, currently, a visiting scholar at Cambridge).

Why this particular constellation of topics: the singularity, artificial intelligence and cyberwar?

With these books, I try to get out in front of things before they happen. I look for things I see coming down the road that are going to be good or bad or both or problematic. I think AI [artificial intelligence] is coming and not a lot of people are really aware of how it's going to be transformational.

The other thing, cyber warfare, is related to artificial intelligence, and it's definitely happening as we speak. Maybe one day it'll just be machines fighting machines. We've already got airplanes with no pilots. We've got tanks with no drivers. Putting [cyberwar and artificial intelligence] together, I thought, was a good combination for an Alex Hawke novel because it's not about now. It's about a little while from now.

When I wrote Tsar, which is about Russia under Putin, nobody was talking about Russia. Everybody was talking about Iraq or Afghanistan. I wanted to write a book about Russia under Putin, because I find it interesting and I think Russia in this century will become another threat to us. One of the plotlines was that Russia was going to start taking back all of its old Soviet client states. Then I was on Fox News, talking about Tsar, when the news came over the wire that Russia had invaded Georgia. The host asked me, did you send an advance copy of this book to the Kremlin?

That has come true with a lot of my books. In Spy, I had the drug cartels digging huge tunnels under the border in Texas and New Mexico, and I just made it up. Then, like a year later, there's this TV show about tunnels under the border.

How do you go about researching your topics?

Well, the first thing I read was The Singularity by Ray Kurzweil. Then I started reading other things by Ray, and there's a documentary called Transcendental Man. I Googled AI and found everything I could, and either bought the book or read the magazine article or watched the documentary. I got sufficiently immersed to feel I understood it and the implications, to feel comfortable enough to write the book. I usually spend about three months researching before I start writing. I'll go to Russia or Cuba or the border or whatever.

The good news is that being here at Cambridge as a scholar, I'm exposed to amazing information and intel coming over the wire every day. For instance, tomorrow the former chairman of the KGB is coming to Cambridge and he's going to talk to our little group. My new book is going to involve Russia, so it's just perfect for me to meet this guy.

How has your time as a visiting scholar at Cambridge influenced your work?

I'm a visiting scholar at POLIS, which is the political science and international relations department of Cambridge University. I'm constantly attending lectures and briefings and going into London to spend a day at the Royal College of Defense, the Naval War College, Chatham House, which is where the most influential figures in the U.K. government meet.

I'm getting access to information and intelligence that no other thriller writer has access to. We were in a briefing on Gaddafi within 24 hours of his death. There's a knock on the door about halfway through the presentation, and this guy comes in with what looks like a huge pizza box. The guy who was presenting (who was a former MI6 guy) opens the box and it's filled with solid gold platters as big as a large pizza, with images of Libya embedded with emeralds. And we're passing them around the table! They're from one of Gaddalfi's palaces, and he hasn't even been dead for 24 hours, and we've got these things in our hands. That wouldn't happen if I was just sitting at my typewriter wherever. --Kelly Faircloth, freelance writer

Book Candy

Shakespeare IQ; Literary Party Animals; Dissing the Copy Editor

Test your Shakespearean IQ. The Huffington Post celebrated the Bard's birthday yesterday with a quiz where you can "put your Shakespeare chops to the test."


Women's travel diaries. The Sallie Bingham Center for Women's History and Culture at Duke University has made available a new digital collection featuring more than 100 diaries written by British and American women who documented their travels around the globe.


The Fitzgeralds were just one of the 10 "most notorious literary party animals" showcased by Flavorwire.


If, however, your partying mood tends more toward the fantasy fiction genre, a "Drinking Game of Thrones" was served up by Buzzfeed.


Best putdown of a copy editor ever award goes to Raymond Chandler, who, in a 1947 letter to the editor of the Atlantic Monthly, wrote: "By the way, would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of barroom vernacular, this is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive." 


Great Books on Young Women, to Read Aloud, to Help Writing

Flavorwire showcased "10 great books about young women."


Noting that "reading a book out loud to someone else is one of the best ways to truly share and give a love of reading," Flavorwire suggested "10 great books to read aloud."


Last year's list of the "10 most disturbing Shakespeare deaths" was revived by the Huffington Post to celebrate his birthday.


For NPR's Three Books Series, Jonathan Gottschall, author of The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, recommended "three fun-to-read books that helped my writing."

My Pseudonym and Me: A Love Story

Two years ago, I was asked by Denise Roy at Plume to write a series of novels under the pseudonym Rain Mitchell. The series was to revolve around five women who meet at a yoga studio in Los Angeles. There would be pregnancies, bad boyfriends and lots of sun salutations.

I was on board. I started doing yoga as a teenager, and for several years, I'd been longing to write something radically different than what I'd been writing since my first novel, The Object of My Affection, was published in 1987.

I'll confess, though, that I had a slightly condescending attitude toward Rain Mitchell. I'd published six novels. Rain Mitchell? A neophyte! I'd been teaching creative writing for 20 years. Rain's employment history was as vague as Rain's gender. I was clearly going to have to teach Rain a lot.

As it turned out, I was the one who learned from Rain.

I've always written agonizingly slowly, producing a novel every four years. Rain sat down each morning with confidence and produced 10 or more pages before dinner.

I avoid big, plotty developments, preferring small emotional shifts to drive the narrative. Rain made things happen--affairs, miscarriages, drunken binges--with a gusto that left me gasping in admiration.

Rain openly laughed, cheered and wept along with the characters.

Rain completed the first novel in six weeks.

Whenever I finish a book, I can barely stand to open it. Rain is proud of Tales from the Yoga Studio and Head over Heels. Although not exactly enduring literary masterpieces, Rain thinks they're engaging entertainment, with a lot of humor, heart and insight into the world of yoga.

The final novel in the series is under way, and Rain Mitchell and I are about to part company. I've started to miss her already.

My only comfort during this period of anticipated departure is knowing that a part of Rain will always be with me--in the confidence, energy and enthusiasm I felt while draped in Rain's androgynous identity.

Thank you, Rain. I will always be grateful to you. And a little bit in love.

--Stephen McCauley and Rain Mitchell, authors of Tales from the Yoga Studio and Head over Heels

Book Review


The Song Remains the Same

by Allison Winn Scotch

Nell Slattery is one of only two survivors of a horrific plane crash. She sustained few physical injuries, but can't remember a thing about her life before the crash. However, as she attempts to put the pieces of her former life together, Nell realizes what a bleak existence she was living.

Allison Winn Scotch (Time of My Life) deftly gives a light touch to what could be dour material in The Song Remains the Same. The cast of supporting characters (whom Nell has no memory of) suspiciously seem to be working to hinder Nell's search for her own identity. Nell's New Age mother keeps getting caught in one lie after another; Nell's cheating husband is determined to turn his wife's amnesia to his advantage.

Specifics of the crash are barely discussed in favor of Nell's disheartening discovery of her uptight previous self--nicknamed "The Ice Queen"--and her closet full of beige clothes. She becomes determined to reinvent herself as a vibrant, self-expressed woman who lives her passions; music is the only thing that jogs her foggy memory. (Hence the book's title.)

Winn Scotch's novel will cause any reader to daydream about the possibility of starting over and breaking free from the identity we present to the world. While there is surely frustration in forgetting one's past, The Song Remains the Same is a reminder that there is also a strange liberation in the obliteration of all that we know. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Allison Winn Scotch shows how sometimes you need to forget the past to remember who you are.

Putnam, $25.95, hardcover, 9780399157585


by Patrick Flanery

Patrick Flanery's first novel, Absolution, asks a modest familiarity with South Africa's history of racial, ethnic and political strife to appreciate the nuances of paranoia and deception that drive the characters' search for understanding. In exchange, this ambitious, multilayered novel rewards the reader with insights into memory and the tricks its plays to carry us over the hurdles of our past mistakes.

Clare Wald is an aging, successful writer finishing a new memoir disguised as a novel ("the irony of the imagined and the real grating against each other"), through which she explores the fate of her politically active daughter who disappeared at the height of the overthrow of apartheid. She has agreed to allow Sam Leroux, an aspiring young author recently returned to Johannesburg from New York, to write her official biography. This setup is clearly reminiscent of the bitter dispute between Nadine Gordimer and her once "authorized," then "de-authorized," biographer, Roland Suresh Roberts; indeed, their dispute showed the same political complexity portrayed so well in Absolution. But in Flanery's narrative, the bond between Clare and Sam strengthens as the biography unfolds--revealing a mosaic of desperate confession in search of absolution couched in a language of ambiguity and circumspection.

Flanery's themes have a universal component as well: South Africa is a country of settlers, including the Bantu and Zulu, the Dutch and British, and Indians and Pakistanis. Ethnic and racial frictions led to years of war and violence. In the course of unraveling the personal histories of Clare and Sam, Absolution forces us to confront questions of our own willingness to resist injustice--or do as Clare has done, hide our opinions in fiction and veiled autobiography. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Patrick Flanery's nuanced, multilayered narrative unravels the mysterious pasts of two South African writers embroiled in their country's political conflict.

Riverhead, $26.95, hardcover, 9781594488177

A Land More Kind Than Home

by Wiley Cash

In his debut novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, Wiley Cash has written a superb story of good and evil in a small town in North Carolina. He's a natural storyteller, and his penchant for detail never slows the narrative; it gives dimension to his characters, provides fully nuanced situations and makes it all eminently believable.

The story is told in three voices: Jess Hall, a nine-year-old boy; Clem Barefield, a middle-aged sheriff; and Adelaide Lyle, an octogenarian midwife who has been in the town most of her life. It all begins innocently enough when Jess and his older brother--everybody calls him Stump--are snooping around, as kids will, and see something they shouldn't. Stump is mute since birth, so there is little danger he can communicate what he saw, but the person observed cannot be sure. Jess, unseen by the person observed, is powerless to stop the juggernaut that has been launched.

Stump and Jess's mother, Julie, attends a local church whose charismatic leader, Carson Chambliss, is evil incarnate. He gives orders to his mesmerized flock requiring what amounts to ritual sacrifice. One Sunday evening, after Stump and Jess's unfortunate viewing, Stump goes to the service with his mother, at Carson's request, presumably for a "healing."

The sadness, guilt, anger and thirst for revenge experienced by right-thinking people not in Chambliss's thrall brings many long-hidden stories to the fore, and the precipitating event involving Stump brings about a cataclysmic ending as the story moves inexorably to its tragic consequence. Wiley Cash has written a beautifully rendered novel with a necessary catharsis and no happy ending. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Three contrapuntal voices tell a tragic tale of innocence, hypocrisy, evil and faith misapplied.

William Morrow & Company, $24.99, hardcover, 9780062088147

Ambiguous Adventure

by Cheikh Hamidou Kane, trans. by Katherine Woods

Praised by Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka but never before translated into English, this 1962 African classic opens in the Diallobé country of Senegal in colonial times. Eight-year-old Samba Diallo is pinched and gouged by a Koranic teacher while learning from the holy Book. Battling for his soul are the old schoolmaster who kneels in prayer 20 times a day and Samba's aunt, the six-foot-tall Most Royal Lady, who calls an assembly of the Diallobé to urge them to send their children to the school of the enemy who has defeated them.

Young Samba Diallo is facing an educational crisis: to cling to the old ways or go to the new foreign school to learn "how better to join wood to wood" and "the art of conquering without being in the right." The second half of the story finds Samba Diallo in Paris, wondering, "Is what one learns worth what one forgets?"

The writing style is formal, lyrical and occasionally elliptical, revealing information after the fact. Still, the story's philosophical concerns are nakedly human and timeless: How do you push away the anxiety of approaching death and get up in the morning to go to work? How do you make your working life into a prayer? Violating all stereotypes, these are African tribesmen who discuss Pascal and Descartes.

This dense little book has layers of cultural depths that Western eyes can't easily penetrate. There's a climactic murder for rather obtuse spiritual reasons and an inexplicable conversation in the last chapter between two unnamed characters who may be in the afterlife. Still, Ambiguous Adventure is hauntingly urgent, provocative and occasionally overpowering. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: The first translation of the 1962 Senegalese classic novel about Samba Diallo, torn between the old Koranic ways of his people and the Western world of modern education in Paris.

Melville House, $15, paperback, 9781612190549

The Spoiler

by Annalena McAfee

The vacuity of the celebrity press and the hubris of old-school, high-minded print journalism collide in Annalena McAfee's first adult novel, The Spoiler, a dark satire set in the pre-Internet London of 1997. Enjoyable to read but disheartening to contemplate, this tragicomedy suggests that Kevlar-clad war reporters and Fleet Street vultures alike are too circumscribed by their visions of what a story should be to put the real truth into words. 

Tamara Sim is an ambitious young writer for a gossip rag who has a chance to interview a legendary war correspondent for an upscale Sunday magazine. Unfortunately, Tamara's journalistic instincts consist mostly of ferreting out sexual proclivities and embarrassments, and her subject, the venerated and once-glamorous Honor Tait, is loath to cooperate with such tasteless muckraking. McAfee portrays Tamara as woefully uncultured and not a little bit dim, but Honor's carefully maintained image as esteemed witness to the great horrors of the 20th century gives her a grating air of superiority that becomes as repellent as Tamara's crassness.

McAfee, a former arts and literary editor at the kind of publications where an Honor Tait might work, makes Tamara surprisingly sympathetic in contrast to the dour Honor. A larkish spirit of farce, as well as the wicked fun of following a hack who equates "who's hot" lists with serious journalism, dances the story along. But as misunderstandings escalate and the inevitable life-destroying lies reach print, the amusement recedes, revealing The Spoiler's ultimate gift: a bitter reminder of the ugly consequences unleashed by the puerile taste for scandal. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

Discover: An enjoyable but disheartening satire of low vs. highbrow journalism in late 1990s London.

Knopf, $25.95, hardcover, 9780307957344

Memoirs of a Porcupine

by Alain Mabanckou, trans. by Helen Stevenson

Don't look for any periods in Memoirs of a Porcupine, Alain Mabanckou's rushing, frothing, darkly comic narrative. It's a one-sentence, madcap plunge into African lore with a porcupine harmful double (like a spirit animal, only more wicked) telling his sad story--the tale of his human counterpart's short, murderous life--to a baobab tree.

The tale begins with the porcupine narrator defying the old patriarch of the porcupines, and his brave defection to the village of the child Kibandi. The boy's father drags his 10-year-old son off into the forest and forces him to drink a potion called mayamvumbi. His harmful double, the porcupine, stays hidden outside the village and goes to him only late at night for special missions.

By age 17, Kibandi has become a skinny, intelligent, inquisitive young man who has learned everything there is to know about roofing. Though he sets out to be different from his father, his harmful double makes his life just as murderous. Brick makers and palm wine tappers fall from the porcupine's quills, as well as pretty girls who refuse Kibandi's advances, postmen, farmers and tam-tam makers. Even the blind old witch doctor who knows the dark arts can't stand up to him. Slowly these deaths become more and more disturbing, but Kibandi and his harmful double continue to rampage unchecked until he makes one mistake, ignoring a basic prohibition of Congolese magic: never attack twins.

Although this is the chronicle of an unstoppable serial killer, Mabanckou keeps it light and haunting, a tale to amuse adults and terrify children on long dark jungle nights. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: In this darkly comic tour de force, a porcupine teams up with a Congolese serial killer.

Soft Skull Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781593764364

Biography & Memoir

Letters to a Friend

by Diana Athill

Diana Athill is perhaps best known for her memoir Somewhere Towards the End, but Letters to a Friend could eclipse it. It's a collection of letters written between 1981 and 2007 to the American poet Edward Field. Athill was introduced to him through their mutual friendship with the eccentric American author Alfred Chester, whom she published in the 1950s and '60s as an editorial director at the London publishing house André Deutsch, a position she held from 1952 to her retirement four decades later. Athill, now 94, is happily living in an "old people's place," as she calls it.

Each letter is an unalloyed delight; articulate to the point of eloquence, and candid, even about the naughty bits and her frustration with her long-time lover, Barry Reckord (a Jamaican playwright now deceased). They were together for years, in a relationship so open that, at one point, Athill invited one of his girlfriends to live with them.

Field reads Athill's letters to his partner of more than half a century, Neil Derrick, who was blinded by an operation for a brain tumor. Athill cheers the couple when they decide to write a commercial novel, and revels in their success when they pull it off. In France for Princess Di's funeral, Athill mixes her compassion for Di's boys with her contempt for the royal family. She has little sympathy for Di, a "foolish, flighty, unhappy girl being turned into a saint just because she was pretty, and affectionate to children and sad people."

Every letter in Letters to a Friend is a small masterpiece; chatty, companionable and very, very intelligent. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: An epistolary memoir filled with Diana Athill's wit and humor, celebrating a 30-year friendship.

W.W. Norton, $24.95, hardcover, 9780393062953

Write Hard, Die Free

by Howard Weaver

Howard Weaver began his career as a journalist in the early 1970s as a cub reporter in Anchorage, Alaska. He spent the next 23 years uncovering corruption in the increasingly cosmopolitan city, battling with rival newspaper the Anchorage Times, and contributing to two Pulitzer Prize winners for his own paper, the Anchorage Daily News. He eventually became the managing editor, steering the paper's editorial content during two decades of important Alaskan history.

In Write Hard, Die Free, Weaver tells the story of the great Alaskan newspaper war, and how he leveraged his brand of "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable" journalism to win it. The Daily News, currently the only big newspaper in the city, wasn't always as big or as popular as it is today. Weaver's team of investigative journalists, editors and publishers fought, drank and bulled their way through to win the hearts, minds and--above all--subscriptions of the people of Anchorage with stories about and for the people of the great northern land, including challenging Big Oil and Big Labor and calling attention to the epidemic levels of poverty and suicide among the native peoples of Alaska.

Weaver is the starring player in this story, yet his account is infused with a bit of humility and a genuine passion for doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences. Howard Weaver's story is a fascinating one, to be read by aspiring journalists and Anchorage residents alike, not to mention anyone interested in real stories about modern Alaskan history. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: An absorbing tale of journalism in the last frontier--the real tale behind Alaska's biggest newspaper.

Epicenter Press, $14.95, paperback, 9781935347194

Essays & Criticism

Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation

by Tom Bissell

Tom Bissell is a multi-genre writer (Extra Lives, God Lives in St. Petersburg and Other Stories), but his essays are especially good, and the collection in Magic Hours proves that like John McPhee or John Updike, a good writer can even dazzle by describing how to light a match. If, as he quotes Matthew Arnold, journalism (which these essays are) is "literature in a hurry," Bissell can run fast, very fast.

Bissell takes on a wide variety of subjects under the general heading of creation; all his efforts are entertaining, informative and exquisitely readable. He takes us to the set of the TV sitcom Mike and Molly and introduces us to its successful producer, Chuck Lorre. "Sitcoms," Bissell writes, "if they show us anything, show us people we might like to know." It's a medium designed to reassure. Then he visits his Upper Michigan home town, where the movie Escanaba in da Moonlight is being made, and riffs beautifully on small-town America. He also visits a director who just keeps on making "frustrating, beautiful, always mesmerizingly strange" films, the "Updike of contemporary cinema"--Werner Herzog. From a piece on the voiceover queen for the popular video game Mass Effect 3 to a penetrating essay on documentary films about Iraq ("partial maps drawn while still within the maze of war") to a touching portrait of writer/friend Jim Harrison, Bissell proves over and over that, like Harrison, he, too, can write "like a force of nature." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: An amazingly eclectic collection of entertaining essays on creativity from an amazingly good writer.

Believer Books/McSweeney's, $14, paperback, 9781936365760

Travel Literature

Le Road Trip: A Traveler's Journal of Love and France

by Vivian Swift, Swift

Readers may recognize Vivian Swift as the talented author and illustrator of When Wanderers Cease to Roam, an original book full of musings and watercolors depicting the pleasures of simply staying put. Much of Swift's life, though, has actually been spent trekking across the globe; she accumulated 23 temporary addresses within a span of 20 years. She has returned to travel as the subject of her second book, Le Road Trip.

Swift falls in love and marries a man named James; they quickly embark on a honeymoon trip to France. Both are experienced travelers; Swift, a lifelong Francophile, has previously lived and worked in Paris. As they travel through Normandy and Brittany to Bordeaux, and back to Paris via the Loire Valley and Chartres, Swift chronicles their adventures in words and pictures. Le Road Trip is a charming mix of contemplation of all things French, humorous travel tips and ruminations about new relationships. The book is typeset by hand and supplemented with beautifully illustrated watercolors in both black-and-white and color.

Like Swift's first book, Le Road Trip can be difficult to categorize; it is not quite a travel guide and not quite a memoir. Instead, it is perhaps best described as a wonderfully illustrated recollection of a near-perfect road trip, as told by a woman obviously in love with both her new spouse and the country of France. --Roni K. Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: A charming illustrated chronicle of a French honeymoon, plus practical advice for travelers.

Bloomsbury, $24, hardcover, 9781608195329

Children's & Young Adult

I Hunt Killers

by Barry Lyga

Imagine Dexter Morgan of Showtime's Dexter if he were melded with Matt Saracen of Friday Night Lights, and you'll have an inkling of what you're in for with Barry Lyga's latest novel, I Hunt Killers. It's not safe to read this book right before bed, unless you enjoy murderer-themed nightmares.

Jasper was raised by his father, serial killer Billy Dent, to be the ultimate killer--until Billy was captured, and Jazz was suddenly free from his abusive control. Jazz wants nothing more than to move on with his life, just to be a normal kid, no matter how hard it is for him (and it is, in fact, quite difficult). So when a string of murders with his father's M.O. terrorizes his home town, and all eyes are on him, he can't rest until he finds out who is responsible. But the truth is more complicated than he could have imagined, and Jazz must face several of his personal demons along the way.

This is, without a doubt, a dark and gory book. But with Jazz's no-nonsense girlfriend, Connie, and smart-aleck best friend, Howie, providing counterpoint to Jazz's brooding, it's also clever and entertaining. Lyga is no stranger to the dark side of teen life and doesn't sugarcoat, but he also doesn't wallow. Jazz's struggle to find his own humanity and to see it in those around him is painful to watch, but it's impossible not to root for him. --Jenn Northington, events manager at WORD bookstore

Discover: The son of a serial killer, who struggles to use his dark past for the good of his town.

Little, Brown, $17.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 15-up, 9780316125840


by Marissa Burt

With fairy tale retellings trending in books and television, debut author Marissa Burt's Storybound, with its metafictional humor, makes a terrific addition to the genre.

Twelve-year-old orphan Una Fairchild finds a book in the basement of her school library called The Tale of Una Fairchild. Soon, she finds herself pulled from the land of Readers into the land of Story, where she meets young Lord Peter, a Hero-in-training she was previously reading about. In Story, kids train to be characters in fairy tales in either Heroics or Villainy with specialized lessons, whether they're slaying dragons as Heroes-in-training or, like Lady-in-training Snow, practicing to be the next Snow White (since the real one "finished her Tale ages ago"). But Una is a dangerous exception to the rule--she was Written In, which hasn't happened since before the Unbinding, when Story's greatest enemies, the Muses, Wrote people in at whim.

Una's youthful curiosity is delightful. She proves to be an admirable role model who refuses to be a damsel in distress (unlike Lady Snow). Una is intent on solving the mystery of who Wrote her into the land of Story while avoiding the terrible fate of other Written Ins. Readers seeking action will enjoy accompanying Una through Perrault School, where children attend simulated examinations with scenarios tailored to their Tale craft.

Fans of series such as Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann will find in Storybound a new world awaiting their discovery, and look forward to the planned sequel. --Adam Silvera, assistant coordinator, Books of Wonder, New York

Discover: A 12-year old orphan written into the land of Story, where kids train to be characters in fairy tales.

Harper, $16.99, hardcover, 416p., ages 8-12, 9780062020529

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