Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, June 8, 2012

Viking: Etta Mae's Worst Bad-Luck Day by Ann B Ross

From My Shelf

Have You Audioread Any Good Books Lately?

June is Audiobook Month, the best reason I can think of to celebrate the art of reading with your ears. I'm an audiobook addict. I listen everywhere, including the car, of course, but also while exercising, vacuuming (highly recommended) and before falling asleep at night.

When I was a bookseller, customers occasionally asked if I thought audiobooks counted as "real reading." I do. Absolutely. In a 1953 interview in Harper's magazine, Raymond Tierstein, founder of the Audio Book Company, made the best case for audioreading I've ever heard: "Like to listen to a little bit of The Iliad? You know it was meant to be spoken in the first place." We've been telling each other stories for a long time.

Most recently, I audioread Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, with Simon Vance narrating. My marathon listening record--more than 80 hours--was achieved a couple of years ago with an aurally monumental audio pilgrimage through Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, read by John Lee.

No matter how good the book may be, however, a great narrator is the key element. My audio gold standard is Jeremy Irons's interpretation of Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov.

At an audiobooks panel last year, Karin Slaughter confessed that while listening to one of her books on audio, she discovered "there were things in the story that I didn't know were there"; she subsequently wrote her narrator a fan letter.

And Brad Meltzer introduced his audiobook narrator, Scott Brick, who read from The Inner Circle. "Now does that make me sound tough or what?" Meltzer asked, adding that he doesn't interfere with Brick's approach because audiobook narration "is an art, and I don't want to mess with the artist."

Happy Audiobook Month. Have you audioread any good books lately? --Robert Gray, contributing editor, Shelf Awareness

 

Picador: The Kills by Richard House

Poisoned Pen Press: The Spirit and the Skull by J. M. Hayes

Riverhead: The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Book Candy

The Iron Throne; Bangkok Bookshelf; Illuminated Initial Cookies

Game of Thrones: the furniture. For only $30,000, you can take possession of the Iron Throne. Wired reported that "HBO is offering a life-size replica of King Joffrey's seat from the hit fantasy series, made of 350 pounds of fiberglass and resin. (No, it's not actually iron. That would have required a crane for delivery.)"

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Bookcase of the day: An "acrylic bookshelf inspired by the roadmap of Bangkok" was featured on the Bookshelf blog.

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When rare illuminated manuscripts just aren't filling enough, the Luminarium blog recommended you treat yourself to some Medieval Illuminated Initial Cookies, printed "on edible paper with edible ink."

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For word geeks, Mental Floss offered "17 winning words from past National Spelling Bees" like "esquamulose" and "succedaneum."

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Bernie Su and Hank Green have put a "modernized spin"--via YouTube--on Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice with a series of vlog entries called The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Wired noted.

AuthorBuzz: Blood Feud by Daniel Harris

The Writer's Life

Enrico Moretti: Economic Sense

Enrico Moretti first became interested in economics as a high school student with a passion for environmental policy, drawn to the field's practical nature and real-world relevance. "Making an argument based on moral grounds is useful," he said, hanging out in the offices of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt during a recent visit to New York City. "But being able to make an argument based on economic grounds is even more useful."

As he went on to college in his native Italy and then to graduate school at U.C. Berkeley--to which he returned as a professor in 2004--Moretti began to concentrate his attention on labor markets and the role of education in economic prosperity--a field of study that has culminated with the publication of The New Geography of Jobs. Why do some cities thrive while others remain economically stagnant? Since the 1980s, he argues, the average education of the local workforce has been the best predictor of a city's economic success. When a well-educated workforce is combined with local centers of innovation and research, a new cluster of prosperity can develop: think Hollywood 100 years ago or Silicon Valley and Seattle in the 1990s.

The problem is that these factors are not distributed evenly across the United States. As a result, Moretti warned, "we're not just one nation, we're several nations, and we're drifting apart." Education reform is one solution to this "Great Divergence," but it's not enough. (Consider Santa Barbara, for example: great universities, a perfect climate and an excellent cultural scene, but, he notes, "an economy that hasn't generated any jobs outside tourism in decades.") Local economies need to learn how to be flexible, to adjust as industries wax and wane. Otherwise, he said, they could meet a fate similar to Rochester, N.Y., or Detroit, Mich.

Subsidizing innovative start-up companies is one way to grow a new prosperity center, but as the controversy over federal loan guarantees to the failed solar energy developer Solyndra demonstrates, government funding won't ensure success. "It's hard to know what the next big thing is," Moretti said, "even for those whose job it is to do that." Venture capitalists spend their professional lives looking for the best start-up investments, and even they get it wrong plenty of times. "So the best industrial policies that we can come up with for the U.S. today are probably not choosing one industry over another, but investing in clusters and investing in research and development."

One solution that Moretti takes issue with is the notion, popularized by authors like Richard Florida, that cities can spur economic growth by attracting a "creative class" of workers. "Coolness and sexiness are a great thing for cities," Moretti said, "but they won't necessarily generate good jobs." He cited Berlin as an example of a city that attracts plenty of talented people, but hasn't seen the expanded job market to match. By contrast, he proposes, an innovation cluster will not only create jobs in the originating industry, but also lead to the ancillary jobs--including "creative" positions--that emerge to provide local services.

The New Geography of Jobs is Moretti's first work for general audiences after years of writing for fellow economists. "Our careers depend almost exclusively on the papers we write and the intellectual impact they have on the profession," he said. "After 18 years thinking about these questions, I felt an incredible urge to reach a broader audience." He enjoyed writing in a new voice ("dealing with the meat of the problems") and, though unimpressed by Paul Krugman's current op-ed writing, he drew inspiration from the Nobel laureate's earlier work, especially the 1995 book Peddling Prosperity. "His books from the 1980s and '90s were an example of how to take complicated economic ideas, and make them compelling to a general reader," Moretti said. "He didn't back down from the technical issues, but described things in a deep way."

Moretti has also been reading Steve Jobs, the biography by Walter Isaacson, and finding a lot in it relevant to his own theories about innovation systems. The emphasis on close collaboration among highly talented individuals, and the belief that good ideas are never born in a vacuum, is also essential to understanding Moretti's own relationship with the Berkeley economics department, which he describes as "probably one of the best places to do the type of research I'm interested in." After his book tour, Moretti will continue his research on labor markets, particularly the influence of policies intended to spur growth in specific locations--another example of how, he said, "economics is one of the most powerful lenses we have for interpreting our current reality." --Ron Hogan

Morrow: Boomerang by Noelle August

Literary Lists

Summer Reading and Graduate Picks; Art Books

Ten summer reading picks "that will inspire, enlighten and entertain adults, teens and youth" were recommended by Cindy Dach of Changing Hands Bookstore, Tempe, Ariz., in the Republic.

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Roxanne Coady, owner of R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, Conn., suggested "10 books for my son the graduate" for the Daily Beast.

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Michael Bracewell, author of The Space Between: Collected Writings, chose his top 10 art books for the Guardian.

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Inspired by the news that Guy Ritchie will direct a film adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson's Treasure Island, Flavorwire listed some other "classic novels and the filmmakers who were born to direct them."

Bookperk: Bookperk

Book Brahmin

Book Brahmin: Wiley Cash

Wiley Cash is the author of A Land More Kind Than Home (Morrow). The novel tells the story of the bond between two young brothers and the evil they face in a small North Carolina town. A native of North Carolina, Wiley and his wife live in Morgantown, W.Va. This is his first novel.

On your nightstand now:

I have advance copies of both Shine, Shine, Shine by Lydia Netzer and Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain. I'm really enjoying them, and I think they'll both be big books by two very talented writers. Because they're advance copies, I feel like I know a secret that a lot of other folks don't know yet.

Favorite book when you were a child:

The earliest book I remember reading and having read to me was a Star Wars book for young readers. It was accompanied by an audiotape that included a narration and sound effects taken from the film. I listened to that tape and flipped through that book relentlessly. One evening, as my mom began to read it to me, I asked her if I could read it. I picked it up and read the entire thing. She was shocked because I was only four, and I hadn't yet learned to read. Turns out that I hadn't learned; I'd just memorized the audiotape. I even made a ding sound when it was time to turn the page. My rise from "normal" to "exceptional" lasted about three minutes, but they were glorious.

Your top five authors:

This is pretty tough. I'll give it a shot by listing the top five Southern authors whose work has affected me the most: Ernest J. Gaines, Thomas Wolfe, Jean Toomer, Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner.

Book you've faked reading:

I'm glad you only asked for one book because there are actually several dozen.... The summer of 2011 was supposed to be my summer of "Books I Haven't Read or Books I've Lied About Reading," but I managed only to read a couple before moving on to books I found more interesting. But that summer I actually read Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, which I loved. But the book I've faked the most is probably Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Here I'll attempt to quote Jerry Seinfeld: "It's like the sun. I look long enough to get a sense of it, and then I look away." I bet I just offended a lot of literary folks out there.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Over the past year, I've been an evangelist for two books: Chad Harbach's The Art of Fielding and Karl Marlantes's Matterhorn. As a reader, I'm someone who reads for a sense of place and I'm interested in how that place affects characters. While these books are very different--The Art of Fielding takes place on a small college campus and Matterhorn in the jungles of Vietnam--their settings were both very real to me, and as a result, the characters were very real as well. I missed them when the books were over.

Book you've bought for the cover:

One book was The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. I bought it for the front cover, the back cover and all the pages in between; it's beautiful. Another book was The Book of Basketball by Bill Simmons. The cover said "basketball" and "Bill Simmons," so I bought it. It's fascinating.

Book that changed your life:

Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon really changed my life. I read this book the summer after my freshman year of college when I was going through a particularly difficult time. I read it in just a couple of days, and when I finished I immediately read it again. In that novel, Morrison creates a palpable world and peoples it with characters you come to know and believe in as if they exist outside the book. I was so thankful that she gave me refuge where I could hide from my own world during that time. It made me want to be a writer so I could offer people the same thing.

Favorite line from a book:

The final line of Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward, Angel:
"Yet, as he stood for the last time by the angels of his father's porch, it seemed as if the Square already were far and lost; or, I should say, he was like a man who stands upon a hill above the town he has left, yet does not say 'The town is near,' but turns his eyes upon the distant soaring ranges."
That line changes my life every time I read it.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

One is Bobbie Ann Mason's In Country. I'm a child of the 1980s, but at the time I wasn't quite old enough to be aware of the societal and cultural repercussions of the Vietnam War. This book made both of those very clear to me. And the final scene? While reading that I was sitting by a pool with my mother-in-law in Las Vegas. I was weeping uncontrollably, but I kept trying to hide it. She was like, "What's wrong with you?" I think I told her I had sunscreen in my eyes. And then I kept weeping.

Your feelings on your book jacket:

I absolutely love my book jacket, and if I ever have the chance to meet Mary Schuck, the designer, I'm going to buy her a beer or some flowers or a big cake that says, Thank You! I've heard horror stories about authors hating their covers, and I was nervous that one day I'd be telling a similar story. After my editor called and said he was e-mailing the jacket to me, I got off the phone and went into the kitchen and knocked back a beer before checking my e-mail with shaking hands and a pounding heart. Turns out I should've saved that beer to celebrate. A friend of mine said, "Your book jacket makes me feel homesick and scared at the same time." That's exactly how I want readers to feel after they've finished A Land More Kind Than Home, so I suppose William Morrow got the design just right.

Book Review

Fiction

Equal of the Sun

by Anita Amirrezvani

Pari Khan Khanoom was a 16th-century Iranian princess, the favored daughter of the long-reigning Tasmahb Shah. Brilliant, powerful and ambitious, she was a shrewd political player in a time and place where being a woman meant seclusion and disempowerment. Yet Pari Khan Khanoom hasn't made many appearances in historical fiction, in spite of living a life ripe for it. In fact, unmarried and childless at the time of her brutal assassination at the age of 30, her name is unrecognizable to most anyone unfamiliar with Iranian history.

Anita Amirrezvani (The Blood of Flowers) tries to correct this injustice with Equal of the Sun, a novel that speculates on Pari's brief but extraordinary life. Pari ("a princess by birth... fierce but splendid in her bearing; a master archer, an almsgiver of great generosity; a poet of uncommon grace, the most trusted advisor to a shah, and a leader of men") was a major political force in the chaotic, bloody aftermath of her father's death, and the novel follows her as she navigates--and manipulates--the explosive tensions and calamitous betrayals of the court.

Equal of the Sun isn't just Pari's story, however. It's narrated by her closest servant and ally, a eunuch named Javaher whose (fictional) history rivals hers in drama and scope. As the two of them plot to restore peace and prosperity to the court, they develop an intense friendship--and that complex, powerful bond is just as fascinating as the politics that dictate it. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice

Discover: Exhausted the available novels about the dramas of the Tudor court? You'll love this enthralling story set in 16th-century Iran, based on the life of a fascinating princess.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781451660463

What Dies in Summer

by Tom Wright

Like his literary antecedent Huck Finn, Jim Bonham ("Biscuit"), the young narrator of Tom Wright's What Dies in Summer, is a fatherless adolescent being "civilized" by a sharp-tongued older woman, his grandmother Gram. Rather than the Mississippi River, however, he navigates a 1950s south Dallas turf of petty crime, sneaked cigarettes and beer and sex fantasies involving the public swimming pool. Biscuit's world abruptly changes when his cousin Lee Ann ("L.A.") shows up at Gram's house after running away from her abusive father and hard-drinking mother. Biscuit and L.A. form a strong bond when they stumble on the naked body of a mutilated girl in the weeds along the railroad tracks and are caught up in a local manhunt for a sadistic serial killer.

While Wright's first novel has the bones of a murder mystery, its power is in the refreshing voice of Biscuit as it carries us through the murkier mystery of adolescence. Wright brushes his young hero up against a motley cast of characters who give the often bewildered Biscuit the chance to reflect on their frequently humorous eccentricity and occasionally sordid violence.

As Biscuit and L.A. struggle with their own broken families, their involvement with the police and their recognition of the power of sex, Biscuit finds himself growing up. Although he helps solve the murder mystery, the mystery of life remains before him. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: With echoes of the voice of Huck Finn, Biscuit Bonham tells his own story in an ambitious and often brilliant debut novel of a young man growing up in Dallas in the 1950s.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393064025

Inside

by Alix Ohlin

One of the great attractions of reading fiction is getting inside a character's head--it's a level of access we rarely have with anyone else. In the psychologically astute, emotionally resonant Inside, Alix Ohlin allows the reader to know her characters more fully than any of them will ever know each other.

The linchpin of Inside is Montreal therapist Grace Tomlinson. Recently divorced, preoccupied with a teenage client, Grace is skiing alone when she almost literally stumbles across a man in the midst of a suicide attempt. He survives, and she is drawn to him, leading to a relationship that blurs the lines between personal and professional. Her ex-husband, Mitch, also a therapist, is attempting to move on; despite living in the same city, he and Grace won't cross paths again for several years. Meanwhile, charismatic teenage Annie slips away from Montreal and winds up in New York City, trying to pursue an acting career. She stumbles across someone, too--an uncomfortably familiar teenage girl--and finds herself recalling her old therapist.

While they are physically apart for stretches of the novel, Ohlin's characters remain inside one another's heads, and their stories have parallels and connections that they may never know about--although the reader, having an inside vantage point, will want to find them. Inside is a quiet novel, populated with beautifully drawn, complex characters that get inside the heart as well as the head. --Florinda Pendley Vasquez, blogger at The 3 R's Blog: Reading, 'Riting, and Randomness

Discover: A novel exploring the imperfect yet enduring connections between two therapists, an actress and a troubled survivor.

Knopf, $25, hardcover, 9780307596925

Her Highness, the Traitor

by Susan Higginbotham

People may know that Lady Jane Grey was briefly the queen of England during the 16th century, but the story of how she came to the throne is probably unfamiliar to most readers. In Her Highness, the Traitor, Susan Higginbotham turns the story of Jane's short life into a fascinating novel.

Lady Jane Grey, King Henry VIII's great-niece, was fourth in line to the throne (after Mary and Elizabeth Tudor, then her mother Frances). As young King Edward visibly sickened, the scheming of those close to the throne became more complicated, and the Greys found themselves in the midst of it. Meanwhile, Jane Dudley, wife of the powerful Duke of Northumberland, loved her eight children dearly, but she has never liked the Grey family--until King Edward found it politically expedient to marry the teenage Jane to Northumberland's only slightly older son, Guildford. The marriage united the two pivotal families, and after Jane was crowned, their futures were bright--until Mary Tudor fought back against Jane's ascension. Suddenly, the Greys and the Dudleys were in a very precarious position.

Told in alternating chapters by Frances Grey and Jane Dudley, Her Highness, The Traitor tells the story of two mothers united in the quest to save their families from destruction. The language is occasionally a bit anachronistic, but what the modern tone lacks in historical accuracy it gains in making the dread of these two women all too real, letting the reader vividly experience the terror of the Tudor era. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: The drama and intrigue surrounding the crowning of Lady Jane Grey in 1553, as seen by her mother and her mother-in-law.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $14.99, paperback, 9781402265587

So Far Away

by Meg Mitchell Moore

Meg Mitchell Moore's debut novel, The Arrivals, was a well-received work that examined the complicated relationships that make up the modern family. With So Far Away, she will undoubtedly continue to engage readers while narrowing her focus to mothers and daughters.

So Far Away melds the story of three women, each struggling with separation from family, each burdened by a secret. Kathleen, a researcher at the Massachusetts State Archives, is a widow estranged from her runaway daughter. Natalie, a 13-year-old whose family has fallen apart after her parents' divorce, is the target of cyber-bullying by her former best friend. When Natalie discovers a long-lost journal in a box from the basement, she seeks Kathleen's help reading it for use in a school project. Through the journal Kathleen and Natalie are introduced to Bridget, a 20-year-old Irish girl who immigrated to the U.S. in 1925 to enter into service with a family in Massachusetts; she ends her time with the Turner family after a terrible tragedy--and with an untold burden.

Moore's prose allows the reader to move seamlessly between the women's stories, yet it is clear that Bridget's journal provides a circumstantial yet necessary connection between Kathleen and Natalie. This connection, between a mother and a daughter who are unrelated, may just provide the solace that both need to unburden themselves of their secrets, make peace with their families and move forward with their lives. --Roni K. Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: Three women divided by time yet connected in their separation from family, their unshared secrets and their need for compassion and comfort.

Reagan Arthur Books, $25.99, hardcover, 9780316097697

Mystery & Thriller

Kingdom of Strangers

by Zoe Ferraris

In Kingdom of Strangers, Zoë Ferraris (City of Veils) takes mystery lovers back to modern Saudi Arabia, where religion is law and forbidden passion carries a death sentence.

When 19 female corpses, their hands cut off, are discovered in the desert outside Jeddah, Inspector Ibrahim Zahrani must spearhead the hunt for a serial killer while his own life falls apart. Irritated with his wife's religious fanaticism and concerned about his son's failing marriage, Ibrahim also shoulders his daughter-in-law's terrible secret. Then Sabria, his Filipino mistress, vanishes without a trace, but Ibrahim is unable to make inquiries without confessing their affair. Desperately worried, he takes Katya Hijazi from the women-only police lab into his confidence, and she agrees to make inquiries for him.

Meanwhile, Katya is struggling to decide whether she can take her relationship with her Bedouin paramour, Nayir, to the next level without sacrificing any chance at furthering her career, already a difficult proposition for a woman in Saudi society. Beyond the scope of their personal worries, Katya and Ibrahim both work frantically to find the identity of the so-called Angel Killer before his next victim dies.

Ferraris lifts the veil from a culture where apparent virtue masks violence. Katya's struggle for professional advancement in the face of societal prejudice against women is eye opening, the lack of female empowerment in Saudi culture clearly exemplified. As the investigation reaches its surprising conclusion, Ibrahim and Katya's choices change their lives forever. This sensitive and enlightening mystery is sure both to move and to chill its readers. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Discover: Two talented detectives on the hunt for a serial killer in Saudi Arabia.

Little, Brown, $25.99, hardcover, 9780316074247

Dead Scared

by S.J. Bolton

Detective Constable Lacey Flint thinks she is going undercover as an attractive but neurotic student at Cambridge University in the hopes of exposing whoever might be driving students to commit suicide at an alarming rate and by violent means. The longer she spends living on campus and undergoing hazing and humiliation, however, and the more she learns about those earlier suicide cases, the less clear her role becomes. The university counselor who is her only contact is clearly living in fear, as are many of the women around her, and Lacey begins to undergo the same out-of-body experiences and gruesome nightmares described by the girls who've killed themselves. Is Lacey herself at risk?

The enigmatic DC Flint, introduced in 2011's Now You See Me, has a storied past that Bolton leaves largely unrevealed--a trait shared by many other characters. Alternating with Lacey's first-person perspective, the novel regularly checks back with her superior officer, Detective Inspector Mark Joesbury, who struggles with the truth of what he's sent Lacey into. They share a shadowy past and some chemistry, but this is one of several aspects left shrouded in mystery, adding to the compelling, suspenseful mood established by thematic elements like evil clowns, sexual abuse, gory scenes of suicide and a panoply of psychiatric issues. Fast-paced, spooky and uncomfortable, Dead Scared keeps its reader on edge until the final paragraph. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: A disturbing high-speed thriller involving a rash of university student suicides and a mysterious someone with the power to give bad dreams.

Minotaur, $25.99, hardcover, 9780312600532

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Amped

by Daniel H. Wilson

In a near-future America, technology that can artificially enhance the abilities of people with intellectual and physical disabilities is also used to amplify the abilities of some individuals far beyond un-augmented intelligence and skill. When a beautiful young student with amplified intellectual abilities jumps to her death, teacher Owen Gray comes face to face with the implications of his own device, implanted by his father ostensibly to control Owen's epilepsy.

After his father is killed in a bombing by anti-amp terrorists, Owen searches for his father's old medical partner, tracking him to a segregated trailer park where he lives surrounded by non-augmented humans with guns. As Owen settles into the park, making it his new home, he learns that his implant is far more than a simple control device.

The novel veers through themes of discrimination, disability and assistive technology with flair. As all good science fiction does, Amped asks tough questions, filtering them through intense action and human drama. At what point are we enhancing people to an unfair advantage? Is it jealousy or fear that motivates hatred and discrimination? Does technology of this type deny us our basic humanity? How do we cope with such advantages as a society and a species?

Daniel H. Wilson (Robopocalypse) does a fine job of posing these questions to readers without answering them himself. Amped is an action-focused, character-driven tale of technology and the human mind, enhanced or not. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: An action-packed yet thoughtful exploration of the conflicts wrought by plausible mind- and body-enhancing technology in a near-future America.

Doubleday, $25, hardcover, 9780385535151

Biography & Memoir

Full Body Burden: Growing Up in the Nuclear Shadow of Rocky Flats

by Kristen Iversen

In Full Body Burden, Kristen Iversen (Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth) tells the intertwined stories of her two greatest childhood fears: her father's alcoholism and Rocky Flats--for almost 40 years, the secret source of the plutonium "pits" at the center of hydrogen bombs. Located only a few miles from Iversen's childhood home in Bridledale, Colo., the plant loomed mysteriously in the local imagination. Few people actually knew what the plant produced; Iversen's mother guessed it made "cleaning supplies." While Bridledale and neighboring communities wore a veneer of suburban heaven, under the surface, children and adults were dying from exposure to the plant's radioactive contaminants--some quickly, others only after decades of exposure and long battles with cancer.

Meanwhile, within Iversen's own home, another kind of disintegration was at work in her father's unexplained nights "at the office," calls from the local police and the half-full bourbon bottles clumsily stashed throughout the house. Like her knowledge of Rocky Flats's radioactive threat, Iversen's realization that her father's alcoholism was the force tearing her family apart grew gradually.

Iversen weaves her lucid, heart-wrenching memoir of a family struggling to keep itself together with a keen exploration of the nuclear havoc wreaked by Rocky Flats. Together, the two tales create a powerful account of coming of age under a mushroom cloud. --Dani Alexis Ryskamp, blogger at The Book Cricket

Discover: A stunning and sobering account of growing up next door to the nation's biggest radioactive threat.

Crown, $25, hardcover, 9780307955630

Essays & Criticism

Loaded Words

by Marjorie Garber

Marjorie Garber is primarily a Shakespeare scholar, but she also takes on many other subjects and does them well. Loaded Words moves easily from "high" to "low" culture, drawing from a variety of sources. "Mad Lib," for example, draws upon Shakespeare (of course), but also Hitchcock (espionage), The Manchurian Candidate, Mad magazine and Mad Men (advertising) to show how culturally loaded a word like "mad" or "madness" is. Garber almost gushes with excitement over the famous Cranach edition of Hamlet, the "finest in the world," as she explores the historical impact of Shakespeare and his play, while "Our Genius Problem" chastises us all for the sloppy way we use the word "genius"--as she advises, "it may be time to go cold turkey for a while."

Three essays in the collection examine a subject dear to Garber's heart, the importance of the humanities; another on Shakespeare shows us how we can read in "slow motion." And conservative readers may not like her piece in praise of radicals and radical education--loaded words today indeed. You don't need to be a literary scholar to enjoy these provocative essays, as Garber demonstrates that "all words are loaded, and that they are, inescapably, both overbrimming and biased, or weighted." --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A gifted teacher and writer's guided tours into the magical world of words.

Fordham University Press, $26, paperback, 9780823242054

Children's & Young Adult

Keep Holding On

by Susane Colasanti

Susane Colasanti's (Something Like Fate; So Much Closer) latest lead character, a victim of bullying, narrates with an authentic voice in a novel that may well unite teens everywhere.

Noelle Wexler is counting down the days to high school graduation so she can escape Middle of Nowhere, USA. She hopes to make the world a better place, after it's been so harsh to her ("If we're not improving the world in some way, then what's the point?"). Since ninth grade, Warner Talbot has humiliated her for being so poor that she's eaten mayonnaise and mustard sandwiches during lunch. Carly, who's also been "obsessed with bullying" Noelle for three years, physically harasses her. Between getting publicly stood up by her almost-boyfriend Matt, and her neglectful and delusional mother, Noelle feels weak and "impossible to love."

Noelle knows that "[o]ne thing about being bullied is that you quickly learn how to avoid the people who make your life miserable." While this isn't always easy, Noelle does find friends who are true to themselves despite what anyone else thinks of them, such as Simon Bruckner, an "outsider by choice," who encourages Noelle to join the school's literary magazine, and Julian Porter, who cares for her, much to her disbelief.

Keep Holding On is a brave and sensitive novel for bullied teens that assures them that life gets easier, sometimes by finding the strength to speak up and take a stand. --Adam Silvera, assistant, Books of Wonder, New York

Discover: Colasanti's brave and sensitive novel about survival for the bullied and for the witnesses too afraid to speak up.

Viking, $17.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 12-up, 9780670012251

I, Too, Am America

by Langston Hughes , illus. by Bryan Collier

Caldecott Honor artist Bryan Collier (Dave the Potter) brilliantly reimagines a poem by Langston Hughes as a train ride through history, witnessed by an African American Pullman porter.

Fragments of stars, patches of stripes float on the endpapers. A train sweeps through a cotton field: "I, too, sing America." Readers then meet the narrator, a Pullman porter peering through the porthole window of the train's galley kitchen: "I am the darker brother." Stars and stripes create a veil over his soulful eyes, his pressed uniform and cap. Three other African American men prepare the food in that galley kitchen. Collage artwork incorporates photos of criss-crossed pie crust, vegetables and freshly baked rolls. Despite his service to wealthy white passengers in plush surroundings, the narrator "laugh[s] and eat[s] well,/ And grow[s] strong." Here Collier suggest a fortifying of the intellect, as the man collects discarded magazines and books. These he scatters along the train's path. Collier depicts the pages fluttering through the sky, landing in cotton fields, and later, along subway tracks that connect the city blocks of Hughes's native Harlem. The images end with a modern boy, his face full of hope, peering between the ghosted stripes of the American flag: "I, too, am America."

The exceptional visual imagery echoes the legendary train trip taken by an 18-year-old Langston Hughes to see his estranged father--the trip that inspired his "The Negro Speaks of Rivers" ("My soul grows deep like the rivers"). Collier, too, chronicles a journey from past to present, of hope and healing. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A three-time Caldecott Honor artist's inspired interpretation of Langston Hughes's poem as a journey through time.

Simon & Schuster, $16.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 4-8, 9781442420083

Shadow & Bone

by Leigh Bardugo

This gripping debut novel, with a touch of magic and romance, is about two orphans thrown together during a century-old war and will keep readers burning the midnight oil.

Leigh Bardugo sets her tale in a Russia-like land called Ravka, where Grisha (practitioners of "the Small Science," or "witches," as the peasantry calls them) aid Ravka's king, and peasants subsist in a wartorn land. The orphaned protagonists, Alina Starkov and Malyen Oretsev, grew up in the home of Duke Keramsov, who opened up his estate as a refuge for orphans and war widows. Now 18, Alina, who narrates, and Mal serve in the King's First Army. As they cross the dreaded Shadow Fold, which separates Ravka from its only shoreline, hundreds of volcra--vulture-like, sightless birds with slashing teeth--attack the crew. The volcra threaten Mal's life, and in Alina's effort to save him, she unwittingly unleashes a blinding light that scares off the predators. Her talent attracts the most powerful Grisha of all, The Darkling. He recognizes Alina as a Sun Summoner and whisks her away, separating her from Mal, the only sense of home she's ever known.

As Alina becomes seduced by the attentions of The Darkling himself, she must choose between using her powers in service of someone else's plans or embracing her power to do what she believes is right. This first book of a planned series feels complete, yet it beckons readers for the next installment for answers about the fate of Ravka and some key characters. --Jennifer M. Brown, children’s editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Two teenage orphans surviving a prolonged war in a Russia-like country must figure out who they are and where they belong.

Holt, $17.99, hardcover, 368p., ages 12-up, 9780805094596

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