Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 1, 2012

William Morrow & Company: Southern Man (Penn Cage #7) by Greg Iles

From My Shelf

Touch This Book

Recently in Shelf Awareness, Grant Buday was quoted as saying that each book has a history: "As objects, they are tangible, tactile, solid. Their spines creak as you open them and their pages lie as individually as a woman's hair on a pillow." He mentioned things you can do with a book but not with an e-reader (e.g., throwing it at the cat). This reminded me of a German textbook I had in college--I can still recall the scent, slightly sweet and the cream-colored pages. Even in the throes of subjunctive tenses, I liked the book as an object. I even threw it, but not at the cat.

E-readers have their uses and are here to stay, but they will never be as tactilely wonderful as a book. Deckle-edged paper, different fonts--Knopf still cites the typeface for its books--smooth covers (but not the sticky matte ones that need a lint brush). I remember getting a new gold-edged Bible, riffling through the untouched pages as they stuck together slightly and then fell apart with a satisfying whoosh. The pages of Glen Duncan's The Last Werewolf had dried-blood-red edges in the first edition--a subtle touch for an elegant book. And cookbooks--the pristine page of a new recipe marked with bits of ingredients as a dish becomes a favorite.

Writing in the Millions, Tom Nissley confessed to being a reluctant book fetishist, in reply to Tim Parks, who praised e-books by saying they strip reading down to its essence. Nissley noted that an e-book can be ideal for evaluating literature, but "we don't only read to evaluate. We read to experience, to know, and to remember, and printed books are an aid, not a hindrance, toward those ends." Perhaps even a digital book can be read in conjunction with sensory associations, something "that keeps your books from being entirely pure, gets them a little dirty and adulterated." --Marilyn Dahl, reviews editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Rupinder Gill: On the Outside Looking Indian

In her new memoir, On the Outside Looking Indian, readers learn that while most of Rupinder Gill's friends were enjoying the experiences of childhood and adolescence, Gill was at home, watching television. Being the second daughter in a traditional Indian home didn't allow for many freedoms. "I was raised to be realistic. Indian women aren't dreamers," she explained.

And yet, Gill did dream. She compiled a list of things she wasn't allowed to experience in her childhood: taking swimming lessons, owning a dog, going to camp. And she decided at 30 that she was going to experience those things. So what made Gill different from her elder sister who was also "raised to be realistic" and desired to do exactly as her parents expected of her?

"I feel badly for eldest children because they have no example of how to navigate parental rules, whereas any subsequent child can look at to their older sibling and learn how to manipulate the system. But then, in fairness, eldest children never have to wear hand-me-down corduroys, so everyone wins in some aspect," Gill said. "My sister actually did a bunch of lessons herself as an adult, including horseback riding, so whereas I may be able to swim two strokes, she'll be the one saving us if our family is attacked in a wild-west saloon. Also, she's the one who got a dog, who we now consider our family dog because he has enough energy to exhaust seven people. So we've all created our ideal childhoods as adults in our own way, but I did it in the most extreme form."

On the Outside Looking Indian takes readers through Gill's experiences with her first list. Still, she said, "I have a revolving, evolving and ever-growing list of goals. I honestly feel like I'm just at the start of the journey. There are so many more things I want to do and see and experience. I hope to write another book in the next couple of years, continue on in TV (as a writer), get back to running, knock at least one spot off my Dream Travel List and if I'm really ambitious, finally organize my stacks and stacks of books." 

Gill's stacks and stacks of books don't come up much in her memoir. Instead, she focuses on the hours and hours of television she watched with her sisters. In fact, the chapter titles are all plays on '80s television shows and movies: "Dog Meets World," "Tennis the Menace," "Trying-to-stop Growing Pains." But writing and reading were in fact a large part of Gill's life. Like many aspiring writers, she was taught to believe it wouldn't provide an adequate income, and she shouldn't consider it a serious option for her future.

"I always enjoyed writing but it was usually just a part of extra-curricular activities. I wrote plays we performed in high school or joke speeches or articles for the school paper--I never thought of that as a career possibility. People always knew me as someone who enjoyed writing and humor but I never aspired to make a life of it, mostly because I wasn't interested in living in a cardboard box crying over the sentence structure of the perfect Mitt Romney joke." (She still hasn't cracked it, but believes "it may involve comparisons between his name and articles of clothing. Not sure how to play up jokes on his first name, though.") 

Gill's jokes did pay off for her early in life, though. "If I recall correctly, they used to have a contest on Letterman where you submitted something to a Top Ten list subject and I think mine was 'Top Ten Things Heard Inside the Matrix.' I believe my entry was something like 'I know you are The One, I just can't ever remember if you were Bill or Ted.' " And it won her a David Letterman T-shirt! Her television viewing paid off as well. These days, in addition to her memoir writing, she's writing for TV. Both allow Gill to weave in her whip-smart sense of humor, but does she have a preference?

"I love going back and forth between writing TV and writing books," she said. "TV is a collaborative environment where you can bounce ideas off of other people and debate important topics like which Perfect Strangers episode is the best and which Kardashian sister is the worst. It's a great opportunity to fine-tune your writing, but books give you the freedom of being in charge of the story to a greater extent. They both have their challenges and rewards, but I'd love to continue in both realms for as long as humanly possible, and if the robots take over in the foreseeable future, for as long as bionic humanly possible."

And having just wrapped This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the Canadian TV comedy show she's been writing, Gill is indeed at work on the next book.

"My show wrapped up April 2, and now I'm in the U.S. for the summer to work on book two and judge the women tanning in bikinis in Central Park. I'm not above citizen-arresting any women who look like models. I'm also working on pitching some other TV show ideas. It's been a great and interesting ride thus far, and although it used to be frightening, I now relish the fact that I don't know the final destination. It's freeing to give up control and just do what you love and hope for the best. I feel very lucky for all that has happened for me in the past few years and look forward to seeing what's next."

The immediate future involves what Gill calls "a prequel and sequel" to On the Outside Looking Indian. She said that it can "best be described as a work memoir. It details all of the fantastic jobs I've had to get me to this point, including telemarketing, temping and a summer of building tires in a factory after my first year of college."

Shortlisted for the Stephen Leacock Memorial Medal for Humour Writing, the rights to On the Outside Looking Indian have been optioned to be developed into a Canadian sitcom. For now, readers can enjoy On the Outside Looking Indian as a paperback original from Riverhead Books. It might, however, need a caution notice: "May inspire readers to pursue a second childhood and change their lives." --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

See Rupinder Gill's video here.

Book Candy

Hunger Games Thirst Quenchers; Kids' Cakes; Bookcase

"May the drinks be ever in your favor." For just the right liquid refreshment on those torrid days when you find yourself fighting for your life, Buzzfeed suggested a few "Hunger Games Inspired Cocktails."


Mental Floss featured "11 cakes based on kids' books, movies and TV shows."


"Quite the Nietzschean bummer" is how Boing Boing described an animated Russian version of Winnie the Pooh from 1972, featuring a title character who "is an annoying, aggressive hedgehog of a bear; Eeyore seems to be paraphrasing Nietzsche."


Lady Chatterley's literary mixtape includes, oddly enough, Madonna's "Like a Virgin" as one of the tunes Flavorwire thinks she would "have her affairs and find a little ecstasy to."


Bookcase of the day: Design website Dornob featured Cassina's Pagina bookcase, which looks "very much like pages from a book, particularly when you put the pair of symmetrical sides next to one another."

Great Reads

Further Reading: Revisiting Jane Eyre

"Reader, I married him." One of the best-known lines in classic English literature elicits contented sighs from readers who remember watching Jane Eyre fall in love with Mr. Rochester. But for those who haven't picked up Charlotte Bronte's masterpiece in a few years, other details may have grown fuzzy with time. The cruelty of young Jane's relatives, the damp misery and the unexpected transformation of Lowood School into her first home, the growth of Jane's confidence and her discovery of friends who become family all prove equally fascinating when reread. Jane, as she admits, is small, plain and poor, but her spunk, intellect and unimpeachable sense of self captivate Mr. Rochester and have won admiration from generations of readers.

Drawing on her own experiences in Scottish boarding schools, bestselling author Margot Livesey (The House on Fortune Street) provides both a retelling and a variation of Jane Eyre in The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Set in Scotland during the 1960s, Gemma's story begins by paralleling Jane's in many ways: both are orphans sent to boarding school, overworked and unloved. However, both Gemma and the story come into their own when she leaves her au pair job on the Orkney Islands and sets off for Iceland to discover the name and the family she has never known.

For an utterly-wacky-yet-literary twist on Jane's story, look no farther than The Eyre Affair, the first book featuring Jasper Fforde's ffearless literary detective, Thursday Next. Fforde sets his story in a 1980s alterna-Britain, where the Crimean War has dragged on for more than a century and dodo birds (such as Thursday's beloved Pickwick) are common household pets. When Jane Eyre is kidnapped from her own tale, Thursday must learn to "bookjump" into multiple narratives to find her, and then jump back into Jane Eyre to orchestrate the fateful meeting between Jane and Rochester in the lane near Thornfield. Denizens of Thursday's world are shocked--and readers will breathe a sigh of relief--to see the happy ending restored. Although Bronte's story is the true gem, Livesey's homage and Fforde's hilarious new angle will delight and entertain. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams


SF For Non-fans; New Mysteries; Terrifying French Kids' Books

Flavorwire recommended "10 great science fiction books for people who don't read sci-fi."


NPR's Maureen Corrigan touted "5 new mysteries [that]return to the scene of the crime," noting that they "are written by veterans of the form" and "all are standouts, either because of their distinctive literary delights or because of ingenious variations on familiar plots and characters."


Acknowledging that "this kind of thing often rests on chance, fashion and unforeseeable future circumstance," Flavorwire created a list of "contemporary authors we think we'll still be reading in 100 years."


A slide show of "terrifying French children's books" was presented by the Guardian's Jenny Colgan , who observed: "I don't know why so many French children's books are so bafflingly, needlessly frightening."

I'm a Journalist?

"I'm not a journalist."

For several years, this was my mantra. I'd been contracted to write a nonfiction book about the world's most polluted places, and it was freaking me out. Not only was it my first book; it was my first paid writing of any kind. As it sank in just how unprepared I was, I became immobilized with insecurity and neurosis.

And I mean immobilized. Sometimes I was so afraid I couldn't move my arms. More than anything, I was intimidated by the challenge of having to transform myself, overnight, into an expert on everything from nuclear meltdowns to Amazonian deforestation. It seemed insurmountable.

How to deal with such journalistic insecurity? Tell yourself you're not a journalist. A curious person? Sure. A writer? Maybe. A journalist? No, thanks.

It worked. Freed from the responsibility of striving for the investigative depth of a good newspaper, or aping the finely turned prose style of the New Yorker, I could get down to work. If I didn't know something, I could just say so. If I got bored, I could tell jokes. I could even make scenes up out of whole cloth. I'm not a journalist! Whee!

Then something changed. My ears would perk up every time I heard someone else claim they weren't a journalist--and I didn't like what I heard. There was John D'Agata arguing that, as an essayist and not a reporter, he didn't need to satisfy his fact checker. And then, of course, there was Mike Daisey, telling us that "what I do is not journalism," and that it didn't matter that he had fabricated entire interviews for his nonfiction theater piece about Apple's labor practices.

What was that instinctive revulsion I felt? My rejection of journalism, I realized, had been more about shedding a cold, dispassionate tone--not about giving up on the truth, in its most prosaic sense. The book I eventually wrote veers into silliness as often as possible, but its flights of fancy are plainly obvious for what they are. Meanwhile, I wrote with an obsessive need to get my facts right, to back up every contention with research, to quote interviews accurately and fairly, or not at all.

There was no escape: it was journalism, plain and simple. Without the least irony, I felt bound by a contract--and I don't mean the book deal. It doesn't matter if you think you're operating under "the rules of theater," as Daisey claimed. What matters is whether you're willing to mislead your readers. And that's true whether or not you're a journalist. --Andrew Blackwell, author of Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places (Rodale Books). See our review below.

Book Review


The Secrets of Mary Bowser

by Lois Leveen

When young Mary El and her mother are emancipated by their abolitionist owner in 1840s Richmond, they find themselves cast into a distrustful, uncertain state. They are free, but Virginia law requires them to relocate, and Mary El's father remains enslaved. Mary El's first taste of freedom, then, is bittersweet; though she goes on to Philadelphia for a proper education, she does so alone, her mother remaining behind with her father. The unfairness of this partial freedom infuriates Mary El and worsens as she faces the prejudices of the North and the increasing inaction of the abolitionists. As the country marches to war, Mary El soon finds herself heading back to Virginia to further the cause of the abolitionists from within the heart of the South.

The Secrets of Mary Bowser, Lois Leveen's debut novel, is based on the fascinating true story of a freed African American woman who voluntarily returned to Richmond during the Civil War to fight for emancipation. Through Mary El's complicated journey, Leveen gets to the core of the delicate issues surrounding slavery: the class system among the slaves, from "we in the house" to the cotton-pickers in the fields; racial prejudices; the emotional trials of those separated from their families; and the true definition of freedom. Leveen has clearly done her research: The Secrets of Mary Bowser is a rich, layered story of slavery, of the South and of what it means to fight for what we believe in, no matter the cost. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: A brilliant historical novel based on the true story of one slave’s fight for emancipation from within the heart of the South.

Morrow, $15.99, paperback, 9780062107909

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar

by Suzanne Joinson

Suzanne Joinson's A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar is a bewitching novel about the vertiginous chasm between East and West. Joinson's richly imagined characters and winding, unexpected plot turns offer a clear-eyed appreciation of how everyone bristles at proscribed geographical identities and not even the most open society can make a lost person feel at home.

In 1923, a trio of missionaries--Eva; her sister, Lizzie; and Lizzie's mentor, Millicent--arrive full of bluster and zeal in Kashgar, an ancient, mostly Muslim trading hub on the Chinese frontier, and are almost immediately imperiled after a cultural misunderstanding. What began as an adventure for Eva, who set out to write the titular guide while keeping an eye on Lizzie, becomes a desperate trek for survival across hostile terrain. In present-day London, a researcher named Frieda has just arrived home from Egypt to find Tayeb, a Yemeni immigrant, camped in her hallway--and the news that she's inherited the contents of an apartment left behind by a deceased woman she's never heard of.

Joinson tells the two stories concurrently, gradually illuminating the connections. It makes for an unusual, sprawling, but beguiling novel, filled with images of desert pilgrimages, pet owls, body painting as erotic expression and communards in a leafy English country town choosing to cut their tongues in order to find meaning in silence. These intriguing characters all think they know what they need from the other culture but, ultimately, are left unprepared for the blinding obscurity of the desert wind. --Cherie Ann Parker, freelance journalist and book critic

Discover: A sprawling and beguiling tale of three characters navigating the space between cultures of the East and West.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781608198115

Falling into Grace

by Michelle Stimpson

Sometimes a character comes along who is so bad she's finger-licking good. Meet Camille, the star of Michelle Stimpson's Falling into Grace. Camille lies like a rug. She makes up a fictional dying cat to shirk work duties and pretends to have a pacemaker to garner sympathy. She insists she's accepted Jesus Christ as her savior, but only so she can secretly record herself singing with a church choir and submit a demo tape to her agent.

See, Camille is broke. In the early 1990s, she had fame and beaucoup bucks as part of an all-girl pop group, but after her disastrous firing of her savvy and protective brother/manager, she hasn't seen cash money (or her hurt brother) since. It turns out the joke is on Camille, though. Ever since she accepted Jesus into her life as part of her ruse to make a comeback, she finds herself, well, acting Christ-like. She's volunteering with the church's teenage girls, making friendships and maybe even falling for her earnest choir director.

Falling into Grace is a story about faith--faith in God and God's unwavering faith in us. The brilliance of Stimpson's story is that Camille could be any one of us on our worst day. You know she's going to get her comeuppance, but you still root for her ultimate redemption. And there is something infinitely human about a protagonist who can cattily make fun of someone's shoes while still asking, in all seriousness, what Jesus would do. --Natalie Papailiou. author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A fun novel about an unforgettable bad-girl-gone-good that will make you reconsider how faith plays into your daily life.

Kensington, $15, paperback, 9780758246905

The Jane Austen Marriage Manual

by Kim Izzo

Katherine Shaw is confident, successful and unworried about her looming 40th birthday. But then Kate is blindsided by the loss of her job, her house and her grandmother. She's grieving and broke when she's offered the chance to write a freelance article about marrying for money. In Jane Austen's day, women frequently married to better themselves, so why not now? Is Kate too old, or can she still marry for money?

This sends Kate (now known as "Lady Katherine Billington Shaw" thanks to some scheming by her best friends) jetting off around the world, using the remnants of her dwindling retirement fund. She gets in with an international polo crowd and meets a handsome billionaire named Scott. Kate decides Scott is the man for her--only he can provide her and her family financial security--and pursues him from Palm Beach to St. Moritz to London, to the disapproval of her friends and family. But there's a flaw in Kate's plan: handsome, irritating Griff Saunderson, who works at a bed and breakfast and keeps cropping up in Kate's life in unexpected ways.

Kim Izzo makes this extravagant tale surprisingly believable, grounding Kate's story in the financial meltdown of 2008. And, in spite of Kate's occasional snarkiness and undeniable avariciousness, she remains likable; her antics to preserve the character of "Lady Kate" and worm her way into Scott's life are downright funny. The themes may not be new, but The Jane Austen Marriage Manual puts a timely, entertaining spin on the classic "love or money?" debate. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A Jane Austen devotee sets out on a mission to marry for money--but will love get in her way?

St. Martin's Griffin, $14.99, paperback, 9781250003454

Mystery & Thriller

Last Call for the Living

by Peter Farris

Peter Farris's debut novel, Last Call for the Living, is an in-your-face crime thriller that starts out with a simple heist: Hobe Hicklin, a violent ex-con, hits up an isolated bank branch in rural Georgia. For reasons that Hicklin can't quite explain, though, he takes one teller hostage, and the life of Charlie Colquitt, a quiet and nerdy college student, life will never be the same.

Hicklin takes Charlie to his hideaway in the woods, where Charlie lives in fear of his life, and yet is undeniably fascinated by the enigmatic Hicklin and his meth-head girlfriend, Hummingbird. As the days pass, the three of them fall into uneasy patterns of familiarity, and Charlie begins to feel a surprising bond to Hicklin. But Hicklin's Aryan Brotherhood pals, who set up the robbery, are very unhappy that he jumped the gun and took the cash for himself. They're torturing anyone who knew Hicklin to find out where he is, and the cops and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation are on Hicklin's heels too. Suddenly the hideaway is a lot less hidden, and Hicklin must run for it again.

Gritty and real, Last Call for the Living shows the dark side of rural Georgia's sketchy bars, trailers and snake-handling charismatic churches. As the cops and the villains work equally hard to find Hicklin, they showcase two very different sides of southern society. Readers along for the ride may be shocked and horrified, but never bored. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: A bank heist gone awry leads to shocking violence and murder in rural Georgia.

Forge, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765330079

Biography & Memoir

Dream New Dreams

by Jai Pausch

Randy Pausch was the Carnegie Mellon professor whose The Last Lecture, based on a farewell address to students and colleagues after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, became a smash bestseller. Now his widow, Jai Pausch, tells her story: Dream New Dreams is an exceptionally written memoir that details her struggle with watching the love of her life painfully slip away while she was left to rebuild.

Jai's memoir is not a tell-all, nor does it sugarcoat the reality of living with Randy--a brilliant and loving, yet stubborn, dying man. What's clear, though, is Jai's utter love and devotion to her husband and devastation at his death. What's also clear is that Randy, who became a inspiration to many readers in his final days, was no saint. She reveals that he had the audacity to suggest that she give up their infant daughter for adoption--it was his attempt to make her feel less overwhelmed by raising their other two children after his death. He also left a list of eligible bachelors for Jai if she ever considered remarrying.

Although startling, it's perversely comforting to hear these humanizing things about Randy, because they make the unfair death of a man in his prime with a young family somehow more palatable. Jai's voice is so heartwrenchingly real that Dream New Dreams will resonate with anyone who has ever acted as a caretaker, lost a loved one or loved deeply. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A powerful memoir from the widow of Randy Pausch, the co-creator of the inspirational bestseller The Last Lecture.

Crown Archetype, $24, hardcover, 9780307888501

Political Science

Our Divided Political Heart

by E.J. Dionne

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, in Our Divided Political Heart, offers a plea for thoughtful Americans to reject false choices between the individualistic and communitarian strains in our nation's history and instead restore them to their proper balance.

Whether discussing Alexander Hamilton's expansive conception of federal power, how that vision was pursued by Henry Clay and the Whig Party or the rise of the Populist and Progressive movements in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Dionne displays an impressive familiarity with the broad sweep of American history and of the work of Gordon Wood, Richard Hofstadter and other key scholars.

What he does most effectively is challenge the Tea Party's contention that so-called strict constructionist judges can discover the intent of the Founders under the rubric of "originalism," which led to decisions like Citizens United, signaling the "collapse of any controls over the campaign finance system" and distorting the Founders' republican ideals by opening the electoral system to the "intrusion of large sums of money."

Dionne suggests we should "turn to the past for enlightenment and encouragement," but his hope ultimately is that America will return to the relative stability of the Long Consensus--a period that extended through most of the 20th century--when the country succeeded in balancing "an irrepressible and ongoing tension between two core values: our love of individualism and our love for community." It's an argument he advances with both subtlety and quiet passion, and well worth contemplating as the political debates of 2012 become ever more shrill. --Harvey Freedenberg

Discover: An NPR and Meet the Press regular looks back at American history, with a plea to return a thoughtful balance to our political conversation.

Bloomsbury, $27, hardcover, 9781608192014


La Roja: How Soccer Conquered Spain and How Spanish Soccer Conquered the World

by Jimmy Burns

Jimmy Burns has an emotional relationship to the soccer teams and the legacy of his native Spain. He's written several books on the sport, culminating in La Roja, which sets out to tell the story of Spanish soccer, from the moment when the British introduced the nation to the sport in the 1880s to the present day, when the sport has become ubiquitous. Soccer acted as a major propaganda tool in the Spanish Civil War; Franco used it to maintain control of local populations, installing loyal political figures as club presidents and managers. During his rule, Spanish club teams fought fiercely amongst themselves, with regional politics playing a heavy role; in international play, Franco's politics were at the forefront of every interaction. These were underachieving, frustrating years for Spanish soccer. Only in the late 20th century did Spain begin to come into its own, winning Olympic gold in 1992 and, finally, the pinnacle of a World Cup championship in 2010.

Burns relates nearly 150 years of Spanish soccer history, capturing its roots, the regionalism, the racism, the politics, the bullfighting connections and even a cultural reminiscence of Don Quixote. He portrays personalities, rivalries, strong emotions--including his own--and moments of shining success for a much-beset nation. Often heavier on history than on sport, La Roja is a window into Spain and its component cultures, regions and histories as well as a celebration of soccer and its most recent champions. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: An examination of Spanish history through the filter of the beautiful game.

Nation Books, $16.99, paperback, 9781568587172

Travel Literature

Visit Sunny Chernobyl: And Other Adventures in the World's Most Polluted Places

by Andrew Blackwell

Chernobyl, the Chinese city of Linfen and the Yamuna river in India aren't must-see destinations for most of us. So why would journalist and filmmaker Andrew Blackwell spend his vacations in polluted places like this? Visit Sunny Chernobyl is hard to categorize--part travelogue, part memoir, part environmental exposé--but it is not hard to praise. It's wonderfully engaging, extremely readable and, yes, remarkably informative.

Blackwell purposely vacations in some of the world's most polluted places, informing readers of the relevant environmental issues as he reflects on his travels. In each of the disaster areas he visits, Blackwell immerses himself in the befouled environment (though he wisely chooses to avoid a bath in the sewage-filled Yamuna river), yet always manages, with a slightly irreverent wit, to find something worthy of his appreciation. As Blackwell notes while tracking giant floating masses of garbage at sea, "instead of finding degraded ecosystems that I could treat as though they were beautiful, I was just finding beauty. The world had gotten there first. I went looking for a radioactive wasteland and found a radioactive garden. I went looking for the Pacific Garbage Patch and found the Pacific Ocean." --Roni K. Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: An engagingly honest reflection on travel to some of the world's worst environments by a guide with considerable knowledge to share.

Rodale, $25.99, hardcover, 9781605294452


Cats Behaving Badly: Why Cats Do the Naughty Things They Do

by Celia Haddon

Have you ever wondered why your cat nips you unexpectedly? Has she suddenly decided that she doesn't want to use her litter box? Or are you wondering how to add a second feline to your household without a bona fide catfight? In her 11 years as a "pet agony aunt" for the Daily Telegraph, cat expert Celia Haddon (The Joy of Cats) gave answers to these predicaments and many more; her wisdom has now been collected in Cats Behaving Badly.

Despite the title, accusing your cat of behaving badly will not get you far with Haddon, who explains that most cats who misbehave from the human point of view are, from the feline perspective, doing exactly what they feel is right. The trick to modifying their behavior lies in understanding its triggers and motivations. With a knowledgeable, approachable voice, Haddon shows readers the cat's view of the world and gives simple solutions for common dilemmas as well as explanations. Beyond problem solving, Haddon also addresses issues such as the proper socialization of kittens, whether shy cats can ever become outgoing and how to make life easier for older cats. Sidebars offer humorous real-life anecdotes about the exploits of cats Haddon has known.

While this British book does not always reflect American sensibilities--for example, a strictly indoor cat is considered a deprived individual in the U.K.--cat owners of any nationality are sure to enjoy Haddon's friendly words of wisdom. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Discover: The secrets behind your cat's perplexing behaviors--and how to resolve them.

Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's, $23.99, hardcover, 9781250003720

Children's & Young Adult

Three Times Lucky

by Sheila Turnage

This page-turning debut involves a three-pronged mystery as steeped in Southern culture as a pitcher of sweet tea--and just as refreshing.

Eleven-year-old narrator Moses "Mo" LoBeau loves her life in Tupelo Landing, N.C., with the Colonel and Miss Lana, where she helps to run the Colonel's café. But she does wonder how she came to be rescued by the Colonel, as a baby floating down the river in a hurricane (hence her name). And the Colonel likewise has no recollection of anything before that night. But Mo, the Colonel and Miss Lana make a family, and with a best friend like Dale, Mo needs little more. She considers herself "three times lucky" for surviving the hurricane, for the Colonel snatching her from the flood, and for Miss Lana taking her in "like [Mo] was her own." But that doesn't stop Mo from sending out messages in a bottle to her unknown "Upstream Mother" in hopes of discovering her identity.

One day, the Colonel returns from a trip with a '58 "Underbird" (as Mo calls it, due to the missing "Th" on the front), and soon after, a stranger named Detective Joe Starr strolls into the café searching for clues to a murder case in Winston-Salem. Next, Mr. Jesse, a regular at the Colonel's café, turns up dead. The mysteries may drive the plot, but Mo's friendship with Dale and her bond to her foster family form the backbone of the novel. Sure to be a hit with middle-graders. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A narrator that readers will take to heart, and a trio of mysteries she's determined to solve.

Dial/Penguin, $16.99, hardcover, 324p., ages 10-up, 9780803736702

Of Poseidon

by Anna Banks

Debut author Anna Banks combines adventure, romance and an ocean backdrop in her first book, Of Poseidon.

When Emma literally runs into Galen, they both sense something different ("My pulse feels like electricity," Emma thinks), but neither is exactly sure why. Emma doesn't know that Galen is the prince of Syrena, an underwater world, and Galen is wondering if Emma is of Poseidon--someone who can communicate with fish. A terrible shark attack on Emma's best friend results in more Poseidon-like behavior, which Emma isn't even aware she has. Galen, however, is determined to find out if she's the one he has been looking for. Emma grows suspicious when Galen shows up at her high school, on the opposite side of the country from the beach where they met. After several encounters and with Galen there to help, Emma discovers there may be more to her than she ever knew.

Told in alternating chapters, Of Poseidon allows readers to follow along with both Galen and Emma as their relationship progresses and secrets come to light. Readers will quickly see why the narrative switch is invaluable once Galen's chapters start to explain the Syrena world and how it could be connected to Emma. Emma's chapters, told through her first-person narration, brim with humor: "I'm betting Cinderella didn't feel this foolish, but then again, Cinderella wasn't as clumsy as an intoxicated walrus." Combining mystery, romance and an undersea world, Anna Banks creates a solid opening to a series, leaving just enough unanswered questions to keep readers clamoring for more. --Shanyn Day, blogger at Chick Loves Lit

Discover: A magical underwater setting that mixes with mystery and romance, as a girl discovers she may be able to communicate with fish.

Feiwel & Friends, $17.99, hardcover, 336p., ages 13-up, 9781250003324

The Whispering House

by Rebecca Wade

Rebecca Wade's follow-up to The Theft and the Miracle revisits heroine Hannah Price, as well as the familiar theme of the haunted house--and adds some fresh twists.

Hannah Price and her parents move into old Cowleigh Lodge (modeled after the author's childhood home in England) while their home is being repaired. It's the ideal setting for a ghost-hunting adventure with her friend Sam Fallon. The story accelerates in no time from innocent discussions over homework to unraveling the mystery of 11-year-old Maisie Holt, who died in Cowleigh Lodge in 1877. First, the duo comes across a book of fairy tales inscribed to Maisie. Then they explore the attic and find a disfigured doll with human hair and "mad, staring eyes." These discoveries seem eerily timed to the anniversary of Maisie's death, and the suspense builds.

Wade spins the traditional spook story with fun devices, such as Maisie's ghost rearranging magnetic letters on the fridge, and a Scrabble set that functions in lieu of a Ouija board to get messages to Hannah and Sam. The author builds an intimacy among the characters quickly, and readers will likely appreciate the talents of the investigative heroes as they try to solve the mystery of Maisie's killer--comic-relieving Sam and artistic Hannah who is "quick, confident, scarily accurate" whenever she draws.

The Whispering House is a stirring story with an original supernatural flair that may well satisfy both mystery fans and horror-savvy readers. --Adam Silvera, assistant, Books of Wonder, New York

Discover: Two teens attempt to solve a long-ago murder mystery in a haunted house story refined with imaginative twists.

Katherine Tegen/HarperCollins, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9780060774974


Kids Buzz

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow

by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Dear Reader,

Butternut, the brave storytelling rabbit, is back--and this time her home is on fire!

In my family read-aloud THE PERILOUS PERFORMANCE AT MILKWEED MEADOW, a merry troupe of turkeys organizes a summer show in the meadow, but a fire burns their playhouse to the ground. Who started the fire and why? Called "witty, whimsical, wise" in a Kirkus starred review, this middle-grade animal adventure sequel about trust and forgiveness features show-stopping illustrations by Caldecott Medalist Doug Salati.

Enjoy the show!

Elaine Dimopoulos

KidsBuzz: Charlesbridge: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow by Elaine Dimopoulos, illus. by Doug Salati

Charlesbridge Publishing

Pub Date: 
May 21, 2024


Type of Book:
Middle Grade Fiction

Age Range: 

List Price: 
$17.99 Hardcover

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