Shelf Awareness for Monday, May 24, 2010

Disney: Rogue Wave by Jennifer Donnelly

Perigee: Procrastinate on Purpose by Rory Vaden

Grove Atlantic: Richard Flanagan

Georgetown: Daigler and Warner

St. Martin's: First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen

Harper: Cane and Abe by James Grippando

Shadow Mountain: Kingdom & the Crown by Gerald N Lund

 

Editors' Note

BEA Week Begins!

BookExpo America begins officially tomorrow--although it feels as if it started weeks ago!

On the eve of our fifth anniversary and for the first time, Shelf Awareness will publish throughout the show but perhaps not as early as usual, depending on how our evenings play out.

If you're going to BEA, have a great show and we hope to see you at the Javits Center! If you aren't attending, stay in touch here.


Poisoned Pen: Question of Death by Kerry Greenwood

Quotation of the Day

McLean & Eakin: 'As Rare and Ordinary as Really Good Pie'

"I know this is a modern world where books are overnighted to your doorstep and beamed to your hand-held device in under a minute. But even if I went to Petoskey [Mich.] in February and there were no morels and no cherries and no pie, I would still have a good vacation at McLean & Eakin. It is just so thrilling to be around people who read, people who will pull a book off the shelf and say, 'This is the one you want.' People who want to know what I'm reading and will tell me what they're reading so that while we talk, stacks of books begin to form around us. It's my own personal idea of heaven. It is also, in this age of the overnighted electronic hand-held, a bit of Americana you aren't going to see everywhere. Like the town of Petoskey itself, a very good bookstore feels a little nostalgic, a place out of time. Look at all those people looking at books! It is at once as rare and ordinary as really good pie."

--Novelist Ann Patchett in her essay, "As American as Cherry Pie,
yesterday in the New York Times Style Magazine

 

 

KidsBuzz for the Week of 10.27.14

News

New Investor/Chairman Aims to Light Up Borders

More change at the top at Borders Group.

Bennett S. LeBow, chairman of Vector Group, a tobacco holding company that owns the Liggett Group and has real estate interests, is investing $25 million in Borders and will become chairman of the board. Howard Lorber, president and CEO of Vector, is also joining the board.

Richard McGuire is resigning as chairman. He is a former partner of Bill Ackman, head of Pershing Square Capital Management, who has had de facto control of Borders for several years. Ackman is supporting the LeBow investment.

Under the deal, Borders will grant LeBow warrants to buy 35.1 million more shares of Borders for $2.25 each. The Wall Street Journal estimated that LeBow will now own about 15% of Borders's shares, with a potential to increase his stake to 35%. Borders is also issuing Pershing Square 2.7 million warrants for 65 cents per share, and may give another 8.6 million warrants at the same price. The deal could dilute the value of current shareholders' stakes in the company.

Borders said that LeBow's investment and recent new financing "will strengthen Borders' balance sheet and provide capital to help fund the transformation of the Borders brand. Mr. LeBow's investment will support several important financial and strategic initiatives such as improving the company's capital position, addressing the store network to maximize productivity and profitability, maximizing the digital opportunity including growing Borders.com, and developing strategic business partnerships."

Interim president and CEO Mike Edwards commented: "As an astute investor and business operator with a strong technology background and proven experience with driving company turnarounds, [LeBow] will play an extremely important role in helping us redefine the Borders brand that is so critical to unlocking a turnaround for Borders."

Other Press: The Fall by Diogo Mainardi

Indie Bookseller to Launch Independent Press

Susan Novotny, owner of the Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza, Albany, N.Y., will launch Staff Picks Press, a new indie publishing house, this fall. The press's debut release will be a novel, Comeback Love by Peter Golden.
   
"Independent booksellers have been making readers aware of good novels for a long time," said Novotny. "We can't discount books like online sellers and the chains, but we have over 40 reading groups connected to our stores and customers who have been with us for decades. My staff reads and confidently recommends the books they love all day long. The Staff Picks section in our bookstore says it all--the books sell faster than the reported bestsellers. Now, some of those books will come directly from us."

"Comeback Love is the perfect fit for our launch," added Novotny, who called the novel "a story about one man’s search for the woman he loved and lost in the 1960s. Fans of Nicholas Sparks will enjoy this bittersweet tale of love, regret, and hope."

Golden noted that "Susan's credibility in the book industry gives me great confidence this partnership of author and independent bookseller will go well. I'm honored to be a part of this launch. I hope her fellow independents will join her in this venture.”

Novotny, who has been thinking about forming a publishing company for 15 years, called the establishment of Staff Picks Press "my anniversary present to the Book House." Her bookstore is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. She also owns Market Block Books, Troy, N.Y., and is co-owner of digital POD service Troy Book Makers, which has printed more than 300 titles in its four years of operation.

As to future titles for Staff Picks Press, Novotny observed that she has a few books in mind and is not accepting submissions right now, "except maybe from Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, Scott Turow... or other independent booksellers."

 

IPS: Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell

BEA Bytes and Bits

Cool BEA idea of the week: Posman Books, which has stores in Grand Central Terminal and the Chelsea Market at 75 Ninth Ave. at 15th St., will give people with a BEA badge a 25% discount on their entire purchases through Saturday.

 

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More than 26% of independent bookstore customers browse at their favorite indies and then buy books they've discovered there online or at chain stores. Some 10% of indie customers do this "frequently," and the phenomenon is "more pronounced" among book buyers aged 18-34. More than a third of this age group have browsed at indies but bought elsewhere within the past year. Such "sales leakage" could be costing indies more than $260 million in sales and 1.8% of market share.

These are among the findings from Verso Digital's 2010 survey of book-buying behavior, which was developed in conjunction with the ABA and follows up on Verso's surveys last November and December, which were a highlight of the Winter Institute in February.

Jack McKeown, director of new business development for Verso Digital and president of Books & Books Westhampton Beach, concluded that independent booksellers "need to close the gap between their customers' browsing preferences or 'mindshare' and their ultimate purchase behavior."

McKeown will present the full results tomorrow at a session 10:15–11:45 a.m. at the Javits Center as part of the ABA's Day of Education.

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As an introduction to BEA, Larry Hughes's Classics Rock!: Books Shelved in Songs highlights Al Stewart's "Elvis at the Wheel," the first stanza of which is a sympathetic nod to independent bookstores. The rest of the song features Elvis, Jesus and Stalin, and the post covers a couple of books, too.

 

Princeton Architectural Press: Worn Stories by Emily Spivack

Notes: In Bed with Book Bloggers; 'Most Beautiful Tweet'

Cool idea of the day: "Get In Bed With A Book Blogger!" is a new promotion from the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance "that encourages booksellers to seek out partnerships with book bloggers to enhance their presence on the Web and extend their online visibility, not to mention help turn the Internet from something that’s 'work' to something that’s fun."

The initiative was inspired by a mutually beneficial partnership between Kelly Justice of Fountain Bookstore, Richmond, Va., and Rebecca Joines Schinsky of the Book Lady's Blog (@bookladysblog on Twitter). Joines Schinsky interviews selected authors from among the many events at Fountain, then reviews and promotes the chosen books and events via her blog and on Twitter. The two women also work together to promote books they are particularly excited about and recently started a Twitter book club  to discuss favorite "under the radar" titles.

"Kelly and I have created a partnership that works so well for us we want to share it with the whole book world in hopes that other independent bookstores and book bloggers will try it," said Joines Schinksy. "As the owner of an indie bookstore, Kelly is focused on connecting to the local and national book community, bringing in fabulous authors, and maximizing opportunities to grow her store. As a blogger, I'm all about writing content, getting the word out, and sharing news with my readers, who hail from all over the planet."

This successful partnership caused SIBA to encourage other bookstores to use it as a model for developing their own relationships with book bloggers. To assist members in finding bloggers in their area, SIBA is developing a directory of Southern Book Bloggers. Booksellers and book bloggers who are interested in being a part of the project should contact SIBA executive director Wanda Jewell at wanda@sibaweb.com.

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Artists John Brodie and Blair Saxon-Hill have opened Monograph Bookwerks, Portland, Ore., a fine arts bookshop that "specializes in new and used monographs on modern and contemporary artists. The store also carries books on related subjects including architecture, fashion, design and art criticism," the Oregonian reported.

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Twilight Saga author Stephenie Meyer "is setting out to meet her most rabid fans next month," the Guardian reported. Meyer "put the names of all her U.S. fansites into a hat, and picked out four. She's invited each site to send two members of staff to her 'fan-centric mini-junket' on June 18--the week before the Los Angeles premiere of Eclipse--and is promising to answer all of their questions.

"We'll have lunch, hang out, and hopefully have a fantastic time," Meyer said.

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In their ongoing quest to improve your vocabulary and entertain you at the same time, Maria's Bookshop, Durango, Colo., presents the most recent episode of "The Word," this time exploring "aleatoric."

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The Australian reported that London rare book dealer Rick Gekoski, speaking at the Sydney Writers' Festival, said, "There are already too many books. If half of them die, that's good.... It will become harder and harder for the big publishing companies to publish quality things for niche audiences. But people are already hiving off and starting up small independent presses, which will start to create quality books for niche markets.... Once a book is beautifully produced, it's almost a sign no one wants them. I'm interested in a big book, with a big cultural moment and a big narrative behind it."

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Book trailer of the day: The Singer's Gun by Emily St. John Mandel (Unbridled Books). The video was made by Unbridled's own Libby Jordan.

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"Opening an independent bookshop, quite simply, is not for sissies or people who value eight hours of sleep every night. But for those of us who have done it, we wouldn't want to be doing anything else," said Ann Donald, owner of Kalk Kay Books, in the Times of South Africa. 

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"The most beautiful Tweet ever written" will not only be an award category at this year's Guardian Hay Festival, but it will be judged by actor, author and Twitter celebrity Stephen Fry, who has more than one and a half million followers. The Guardian reported that nominations must be posted on Hay's Twitter account, @hayfestival. A winner will be named June 6.


Image of the Day: It Must Be Fate

Nearly 40 eager fans of Susane Colasanti came to Books and Greetings, Northvale, N.J., for a party earlier this month, where they ate pizza and socialized with the author, whose latest title is Something Like Fate (Viking).

 

Frommer's Restaurant Picks for BEA Attendees

The immediate area around the Javits Center isn't exactly bustling with restaurants, but with a little travel you can quickly find yourself in many of New York City's best restaurants.  Here are some of Frommer's favorites.

Barbetta. Italian. The debate over which is New York's oldest restaurant rages on, and Barbetta (est. 1906) is in the thick of it. But there is no debate over Barbetta's sustained excellence. The first, and still one of the few, New York restaurants to serve cuisine from Piemonte (the Piedmont), Italy's northwesternmost region, Barbetta's food, like the decor, is richly elegant. At Barbetta, if you dine in the autumn or winter, you might have the pleasure of white truffles, flown in from Piemonte, and shaved over your already decadent gnochetti ai formaggi, freshly made gnocchi in an unforgettable cheese sauce, or the stunning creation of an edible quail's nest filled with fonduta cheese and surrounded by three tiny, speckled quail's eggs. On the menu you can choose from one of the restaurant's 1906 creations such as the bolliti misti, a mix of boiled meats and broth served from an antique silver cart (order 48 hr. in advance). Barbetta also features an impressive Italian wine list and, in the warmer months, one of the city's most romantic outdoor gardens. Though this is a Theater District restaurant, and many come for the pre-theater prix fixe, Barbetta is best experienced at a relaxed, leisurely pace. 321 W. 46th St. (btw. Eighth and Ninth aves.); 212-246-9171. Reservations recommended. Prix-fixe dinner $49; main courses lunch $22-$29, dinner $28-$36.

Becco. Italian. If you're a fan of Lidia Bastianich's PBS cooking shows, you can sample her simple, hearty Italian cooking here. Becco, on Restaurant Row, is designed to serve her meals "at a different price point" (read: cheaper) than her East Side restaurant, Felidia. The prices are not rock bottom, but in terms of service, portions and quality, you get great bang for your buck. The main courses can head north of the $20 mark, but take a look at the prix-fixe Sinfonia de Pasta menu ($18 at lunch, $23 at dinner), which includes a Caesar salad or an antipasto plate, followed by unlimited servings of the three fresh-made daily pastas. There's also an excellent selection of Italian wines at $25 a bottle. If you can't make up your mind about dessert, have them all: a tasting plate includes gelato, cheesecake and whatever else the dessert chef has whipped up that day. 355 W. 46th St. (btw. Eighth and Ninth aves.); 212-397-7597. Reservations recommended. Main courses lunch $13-$25, dinner $19-$35.

Bombay Talkie. Indian. Try to imagine you are on the streets of Bombay and you are hungry. There are inexpensive food options everywhere on those streets, and at Bombay Talkie, with a Bollywood movie playing behind the bar and a soundtrack on the speakers to match, some of those options are replicated in a much more comfortable environment. You can munch on a dosa, a thin, lightly fried bread stuffed with coconut and mustard-seed chicken or spiced potatoes. Or you might want to try the Pau Bhaji, grilled bread served with mixed, gingery vegetables. Wash it down with one of the restaurant's innovative cocktails, such as a passion fruit margarita or an Indian beer. The restaurant has two levels, a few booths on the lower level and a long communal table, which is fun for large groups. 189 Ninth Ave. (btw. 21st and 22nd sts.); 212-242-1900. Reservations recommended. Street bites $6-$9; main courses $11-$16.

Cookshop. American. On far West Tenth Avenue, Cookshop is brawny and boisterous, with food to match. Seating can be tight, and you would hear your neighbor's conversation if it the whole place weren't so loud. But never mind: enjoy the chef's creations. A pizza with shaved king oyster mushrooms and stracchino cheese or the grilled Montauk squid in a salsa verde make good starters to complement the restaurant's innovative cocktails. Or combine a few snacks, like the fried spiced hominy or the smoked pork tacos as starters for the table. Cookshop offers entree options in four categories: sauté, grill, wood oven and rotisserie. The whole roasted porgy, head and all, cooked in the wood oven, is moist and full of flavor, while the chili-braised beef short ribs, served over cheddar grits, from the sauté section, are tender to the bone. Service is casually efficient and helpful. 156 Tenth Ave. (at 20th St.); 212-924-4440. Reservations recommended. Main courses $21-$36.

Frankie & Johnnie's. Steak. When restaurants spin off other branches, red flags go up. Does that mean the restaurant has become a chain and quality has eroded? In the case of Frankie & Johnnie's, the legendary former speak-easy turned steakhouse in the Theater District, the answer is "no!" There are now two other outlets, one in Westchester and the other in a two-story town house once owned by actor John Barrymore. Just try their signature sirloin. It also helps that the dining room on the second floor of the town house is gorgeous, especially the Barrymore room, the actor's former study, with stained-glass ceiling panels, dark-wood walls and a working fireplace. Not only are Frankie & Johnnie's steaks underrated in the competitive world of New York steakhouses, but the other options are superb. The crab cake appetizer had a high crab-to-cake ratio, while the sides of hash browns were the best I've had. Pastas and seafood are also on the menu, but what's the point? Service is steakhouse old school, and if you are staying in Midtown, the restaurant provides complimentary stretch limo service to and from the restaurant. 32 W. 37th St. (btw. Fifth and Sixth aves.); 212-947-8940. Reservations recommended. Main courses $25-$36

Keens Steakhouse. Steak. Until the latter part of the 20th century, Keens, which was established in the same location in 1885, referred to itself as a "chop house." They are now known as a steakhouse, but I wish they had remained true to their roots. To their credit, they are a steakhouse in name only. They serve the basics of a steakhouse--the porterhouse for two, aged T-bone and filet mignon with requisite sides such as creamed spinach and hash browns--but they still serve chops: lamb chops, prime rib, short ribs and, most notably, mutton chops. It is the mutton chop that has made Keens famous. The monstrous cut has two flaps of long, thick, rich, subtly gamy meat on either side of the bone that look kind of like mutton-chop sideburns. So which came first, the sideburns or the chop? Keens is no gussied-up remake of old New York: It's the real thing, from the thousands of ceramic pipes on the ceiling (regular diners were given their own personal pipes, including such celebrities as Babe Ruth, George M. Cohan, and Albert Einstein) to the series of rooms on two floors with wood paneling, leather banquettes, fireplaces, a clubby bar with a three-page menu of single malts, and even the framed playbill Lincoln was reading at the Ford Theater that infamous evening in 1865. Keens has been there, done that, got the playbill. 72 W. 36th St. (at Sixth Ave.); 212-947-3636. Reservations recommended. Main courses $26-$45.

Marseille. French. Lively and casual with open, high ceilings and a tiled floor that creates a Casablanca-like ambience, this restaurant, named after the port city in France, features the food of that city, including its North African influences. That means you'll find such entrees as Moroccan chicken, couscous and tagine on the menu, along with Provençal specialties such as bouillabaisse, which comes in three varieties (chicken, vegetarian and traditional, made with fish--stick with the traditional), short-rib daube, salad niçoise and soup au pistou. You can make a meal of the mezes (small plates), which feature a tangy grilled merguez sausage, anchovies and roasted peppers; brandade (whipped salt cod); tapenade; and broiled sardines wrapped in lardo (thick bacon). In the Film Center building on Ninth Avenue, this is a good pre-theater choice, but even better when the pre-theater rush is over. 630 Ninth Ave. (at 44th St.); 212-333-2323. Mezes $4-$13; main courses $16-$28.

Mandoo Bar. Korean. The heart of Manhattan's Koreatown is 32nd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues--and the number of Korean restaurants on that block is dizzying. You'll know you've found Mandoo Bar when you see the two women in the window rolling and stuffing fresh mandoo (dumplings). The dumplings, stuffed with a variety of ingredients, are always incredibly fresh. There's mool mandoo (basic white dumplings filled with pork and vegetables), kimchee mandoo (steamed dumplings stuffed with potent Korean spiced cabbage, tofu, pork and vegetables), green vegetable mool mandoo (boiled dumplings filled with mixed vegetables) and goon mandoo (pan-fried dumplings filled with pork and vegetables). You really can't go wrong with any of these, so sample them all with a Combo Mandoo. Soups are also great; try the beef noodle in a spicy, sinus-clearing broth. With seating that is nothing more than wooden benches, Mandoo Bar is better suited for quick eats than a lingering meal. 2 W. 32nd St. (just west of Fifth Ave.); 212-279-3075. Reservations not accepted. Main courses $7-$17.

Nizza. French/Italian. You won't do much better for pre- or post-theater dining than Nizza. Nizza offers the cuisine of the French Mediterranean, the city of Nice specifically, and its Ligurian-Italian influence. It's a restaurant where you can fill up on appetizers and salads, starting with the tangy tapenade of black olives served with freshly baked focaccia chips and socca, a chickpea pancake cooked in a brick oven and sprinkled with fresh herbs. Or savor a glass of wine with a plate of salumi, a selection of cured meats such as coppa, mortadella, prosciutto and a variety of salamis, including duck. The romaine salad I had in a garlic vinaigrette with anchovies and shaved pecorino cheese made me swear off Caesar salad forever--well, almost. From that same brick oven come pizzas, including a Provençal pie with ratatouille, goat cheese and pesto; entrees such as the delicate polpette (meatballs), served on a bed of polenta and garnished with a hot green pepper; and wild-boar lasagna that is much less ferocious than it sounds. The restaurant is loud and seating is tight, but you'll love the memorable food and the easy-on-your-wallet prices. 630 Ninth Ave. (at 45th St.); 212-956-1800. Main courses $12-$20.

Zuni. American. This restaurant is Off-Off Broadway central; each evening waves of actors, directors, techies and audiences flood the place from various theaters in the neighborhood. They make the bar a fun scene, with the booths in the back quiet enough to hear yourself talk, but with enough room to table-hop if you see friends. The menu is American/eclectic with a tilt toward Mexican (ask about the quesadilla of the day). Also recommended are the sandwiches (grilled salmon with wasabi aioli, an excellent burger) and solid entrees with daily specials and soups. The bar makes good, strong drinks. It's a bargain for the area, which means it'll cost more than a hole in the wall but a lot less than the Italian trattoria across the street. 598 Ninth Ave. (at 43rd St.); 212-765-7626. Sandwiches $10-$13; main courses $12-$21.

From Frommer's New York City 2010. For more information about Frommer's, visit booth #4141, where Arthur and Pauline Frommer will sign guides on Thursday, May 27, 10 to 11 a.m.

 


 

 

Media and Movies

Media Heat: Elizabeth Gilbert on Oprah

This morning on MSNBC's Morning Joe: Daniel Okrent, author of Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (Scribner, $30, 9780743277020/0743277023).

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This morning on the Early Show: Charla Krupp, author of How to Never Look Fat Again: Over 1,000 Ways to Dress Thinner--Without Dieting! (Springboard Press, $26.99, 9780446547475/0446547476).

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Today on Oprah: Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (Penguin, $15, 9780143038412/ 0143038419) and Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage (Viking, $26.95, 9780670021659/0670021652). The movie version of Eat, Pray, Love, starring Julia Roberts, will be released August 13.

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Today on E!'s Chelsea Lately: Damon Wayans, author of Red Hats (Atria, $19.99, 9781439164617/1439164614).

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Tomorrow morning on Good Morning America: Louis Gossett Jr., author of An Actor and a Gentleman (Wiley, $26.95, 9780470574713/0470574712).

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Tomorrow morning on the Today Show: Danielle Staub, author of The Naked Truth: The Real Story Behind the Real Housewife of New Jersey--In Her Own Words (Gallery, $25, 9781439182895/1439182892).

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Tomorrow on NPR's Talk of the Nation: Scott Higham, author of Finding Chandra: A True Washington Murder Mystery (Scribner, $26, 9781439138670/1439138672).

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Tomorrow on the Tavis Smiley Show: Victoria Rowell, author of Secrets of a Soap Opera Diva (Atria, $16, 9781439164426/1439164428).

Also on Tavis Smiley: Ayaan Hirsi Ali, author of Nomad: From Islam to America: A Personal Journey Through the Clash of Civilizations (Free Press, $27, 9781439157312/1439157316).

 

Books & Authors

Awards: Desmond Elliott Shortlist; Theakstons Longlist

Finalists for the £10,000 (US$14,465) Desmond Elliott prize for debut novelists include Before the Earthquake by Maria Allen, Talk of the Town by Jacob Polley and The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw, BBC News reported. The winner will be announced June 23 in London.

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The longlist for the £3,000 Theakstons prize, a major U.K. crime writer's award, has been named, the Guardian reported. There will be a public vote at theakstons.co.uk; the winner, who will receive a handmade, engraved beer barrel along with the check, will be announced July 22. See the complete longlist here.

 

 

IndieBound: Other Indie Favorites

From last week's Indie bestseller lists, available at IndieBound.org, here are the recommended titles, which are also Indie Next Great Reads:
 
Hardcover
 
Miss You Most of All by Elizabeth Bass (Kensington, $20, 9780758235107/0758235100). "This wonderful novel has all the necessary ingredients of a good story: family, friendship, rejection, unfulfilled love, rivalry, jealousy, and most important, the depth of connection that binds sister to sister through it all. A very enjoyable read!"--Dee Moeller, Volume One Book Shop, Dickson, Tenn.
 
Unbillable Hours: A True Story by Ian Graham (Kaplan, $24.95, 9781607146292/1607146290). "This is the story of a first-year law associate juggling a pro bono murder case on top of the long hours and numerous issues going on in the firm where he works. I'm recommending it for anyone who has experienced the legal system from the inside--or out."--Dave Anderson, Redbery Books, Cable, Wis.
 
Paperback
 
The Other Family by Joanna Trollope (Touchstone, $15, 9781439129838/1439129835). "Richie Rossiter had two families, the family he left behind over two decades ago and his second family with three beautiful daughters and the woman he would not marry. They revolved around Richie like planets orbiting a hot sun, never intersecting. He was the star of their firmament; life spun around him until one day it stopped. Now because of a strange bequest in his will the two orbits must cross."--Deon Stonehouse, Sunriver Books, Sunriver, Ore.
 
For Ages 9 to 12
 
Raymond & Graham: Bases Loaded by Mike Knudson, illustrated by Stacy Curtis (Viking, $14.99, 9780670012053/067001205X). "Fourth graders Raymond and Graham are back, and their dealings with school work, teachers and friends (including girls--yikes!) are true to life and very funny. Don't miss the latest in this hysterical series!"--Christopher Rose, Andover Bookstore, Andover, Mass.
 
[Many thanks to IndieBound and the ABA!]
 
 

Book Review

Book Review: Murder in the High Himalaya

Murder in the High Himalaya: Loyalty, Tragedy, and Escape from Tibet by Jonathan Green (PublicAffairs, $26.95 Hardcover, 9781586487140, June 2010)

Thornton Wilder employed a highly effective narrative device in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Bridge of San Luis Rey (1927): a disaster in a remote area results in the death of many; the novel's narrator investigates the lives of all present at the disaster and the events that led to their being at the site when disaster struck. Jonathan Green works a modern variation on this time-tested structure to recount this tale of tragedy in Tibet.

On September 30, 2006, near Cho Oyu mountain in the high Himalaya, Chinese border guards opened fire on a group of Tibetans attempting to flee to Nepal via the Nanga La, a mountain path popular as an escape route. Many of those in the group died. In Wilder's novel, the collapse of the bridge at San Luis Rey killed everyone involved. Green has the benefit of a large number of surviving witnesses, including Tibetan refugees, sherpas, Western mountaineers and a Romanian documentary maker who captured the horrifying incident on film.

Green provides extensive background on the diverse elements that contributed to and converged in the final confrontation at Nanga La: life in the Tibetan village of Juchen where the teenage girls Dolma Palkyi and Dolkar Tsomo grew up; the business of mountaineering in Tibet; Chinese policies to obliterate Tibetan tradition, religion, language and nomadic culture after the invasion of October 1950; and the code of silence enforced by the Chinese government regarding its human-rights violations in Tibet. With so many different stories to tell, Green adopts the kaleidoscopic approach currently popular for television series and action movies. Within two pages he can skip from, "According to Tibetan tradition at least one child in each family should join the monastic life to ensure an accrual of merit for the family" to "in August 2007, a [Chinese Communist Party] decree was passed that prohibited tulkus (reincarnated lamas) from reincarnating without prior permission from the Communist Party." At times, the effect of absorbing so much information on so many topics can be as dizzying and exhilarating as a high-altitude climb.

At the center of Green's gripping story stand Dolma Palkyi and Dolkar Tsomo and their determination to journey to Dharamsala to meet the exiled Dalai Lama. Off to one side are the mountaineers who witness atrocities but remain stonily silent (Green asserts that many don't want to endanger future access to the mountains by alienating Chinese authorities). In the end, distressing moral dilemmas of our time emerge from this tale of religious pilgrims gunned down on an icy mountain path within view of self-absorbed climbers thinking only of their next summit.--John McFarland

Shelf Talker: A shattering tale that will appeal to readers of all things about Tibet, mountaineering, human rights and the preservation of cultural integrity.

 

KidsBuzz: The (Almost) Perfect Guide to Imperfect Boys by Barbara Dee
KidsBuzz: LUG: Dawn of the Ice Age by David Zeltser
KidsBuzz: Things to Remember by Janna de Lathouder

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