Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, March 29, 2016


From My Shelf

Crown Publishing: Star of the North by D.B. John

Sterling: John McCain: American Maverick by Elaine S. Povich

Life of Pie

Roy Blount, Jr., is smart and witty, no matter what subject he tackles (from football to travel to literature), and his new book, Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) adds to his stature as an absolute delight. Take his rumination on pie: "Save room for pie. Pie being the highest form of food.... One's room for pie is like one's capacity for love, in this sense: few life-affirming people underestimate their own." His codicil to his rule about eating gravy--"Eat less gravy than you want. Wait--consider this: you can't, possibly, eat as much gravy as you want."--states, "After five potato chips you are just trying to reclaim the glory of the first two--and you know it." Lest you think Blount is all about "bad" food, he likes kale, "And it's healthy, which is fine with me."

He writes songs about oysters, catfish, bacon ("The smell of it cooking's worth two bucks a pound"), catsup, decent pizza and drink ("I know it is wrong, it gets out of hand/ I don't recommend it, isn't it grand?"). He deals with okraphobia, he goes to Japan, he lauds the importance of bees.

Julia Child famously said that with enough butter, anything is good. Blount agrees:

Bananas are yellow in their season.
Butter is always. And better on peas, on
Toast, on corn bread, on corn on the cob.
A baked potato begins to throb
With life, with juice when butter melts.
Down, down into each crevice and...
Oh! Nothing melts
Melts the way butter melts.
Truer words were never uttered:
Anything good is better buttered.

He returns often to pie. When I was little, I painstakingly wrote a  school "paper"  about Thanksgiving: "We. Turkey. Pie. Eat." Blount and I are in agreement: "Apple and pumpkin and mince and black bottom, I'll come to your place every day if you've got 'em. Pie."

--Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Aladdin: Day at the Beach (Jeter Publishing) by Tom Booth


Book Candy

Spring: Poems, Chocolate & Books

Think Spring! Flavorwire shared "10 poems to greet the Spring (that aren't Wordsworth's 'Daffodils')."

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"From improving your vision to preventing memory decline, chocolate has incredible powers. Plus, of course, it tastes amazing!" the Guardian noted in offering "10 reasons why you should eat chocolate while reading."

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"Writers' wedding tips: 6 [book-to-film] adaptations to guide you" were recommended by Signature.

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Buzzfeed featured "17 Tumblr posts all book lovers will feel in their soul."

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Bustle introduced "10 book characters who shaped your identity."

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Check out this funky bookshelf, which "transforms to any space as it is created to stand horizontally or vertically with nine adjustable shelf fitting any which way," Bookshelf reported.


Harper: Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces by Michael Chabon


Great Reads

Rediscover: The Persian Bride

The Persian Bride by John Buchan was published in Britain in 1999 (the TLS reviewer called it the "best novel of the year") and in the U.S. in 2000. The book is something of a memory puzzle as the narrator, John Pitt, recalls with a sort of hallucinatory clarity his trip as a young Englishman to Iran in 1974. He's apolitical, hippie-ish, mostly ignorant of history--which immediately catches hold of him as he falls for Shirin, a 17-year-old schoolgirl, protected child of a wealthy and powerful family, who are also about to be caught up in the churning politics of the time. The two marry in secret and run away, and through Shirin, the beauty and poetry of Iran's past opens up for John (and the reader) even as the corruption and revolution and religious fanaticism of the present overtake the couple, who are violently separated, leaving John to lurch through war and upheaval, in Iran, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, searching for his wife.

Filtered through John's tormented memory, the story is as haunting as a beautiful dream seen through a nightmarish reality. It has the rare quality of life learned and history lived, a precise and personal experience of a world brutally, inexorably becoming the one we know. The Persian Bride was last reprinted by Mariner in 2002 ($19.95, 9780618219230). Despite its dreamlike, timeless quality, it seemed remarkably timely then and seems if anything even more so now. --Ellen Akins, author of Home Movie, Little Woman, Public Life and Hometown Brew


Lion Forge: Oothar the Blue by Brandon Reese


The Writer's Life

M.J. Carter: The Past as a Foreign Country

photo: Roderick Field

M.J. Carter lives with her partner and two sons in London, about five miles from where she was born. After spending many years working for newspapers and writing lengthy nonfiction books (Anthony Blunt: His Lives; The Three Emperors), in 2010 she turned to fiction, beginning with the Blake and Avery series, set in the early years of Victoria's reign. The first was The Strangler Vine, and the second, The Infidel Stain (reviewed below), has just been published by Putnam.

Your Blake and Avery series is set during a transitional time in English history, as the railroad and the telegraph connected the world more quickly. What made you choose this era for your series of detective novels?

I think transitional periods are intrinsically compelling--there's an inherent friction as one period gives way to another. Some are left behind, some find it hard to adapt, and the new is both exciting and full of unforeseen consequences. 

I find the first 13 years of Queen Victoria's reign (1837-1850) particularly fascinating. In the space of just a few years, horse and cart gave way to railways; letters to telegraph. London became the biggest city and the biggest trading centre the world had ever seen. There are lots of great things to write about: London journalism and its gutter roots; politics and sex; foreigners in London--from the Irish to Karl Marx; the amazing corruption and bank failures and bubbles of the mid-1840s. And the cultural climate changed too: the rowdier, less polite and socially more easy-going Georgian era gave way to the more prudish, less tolerant, preachy, money-oriented Victorian one. There were winners, and a lot of losers, especially among the poor. People were worried that the world was changing too fast. 

I think there are fascinating parallels with the last 15 years, with the Internet and the growth of the global economy. 

The first book, The Strangler Vine, is set in India, while the second, The Infidel Stain, takes place in London. Why did you move the series? Was the London setting easier to research?

I always knew I wanted to put my detective (or inquiry agent, as he's called) in London and write about Britain in the 1840s. Then I discovered the Thugs and the question of what they really were, and what the British did to them in India, and I really wanted to write about that. So I decided to start Blake off in India, with a sort of origins story. The frontiers of the British empire were places where people from unconventional or lowly backgrounds could find opportunity and reinvent themselves--rather like the American West. Also at this time, the British were just beginning to look upon the people in the countries they occupied as beneath them, but there were still places where the British could encounter different cultures and interact with them. I thought it was a perfect place for Blake to have got himself educated and trained and also to have become alienated from the less appealing parts of British society.

I went [to India] for two weeks with my family--frantically taking notes--read vast tomes, and had a really good time doing it. Then I put all of it into the book. I had to come back to England for the next book because I'd used up everything I knew about India! 

As for whether it's easier to write about London, there's a great phrase: "the past is a foreign country"--all writing about the past, wherever you're locating it, involves rendering a time and place you will never be able to see for yourself. 

Has the past become such a foreign country that modern London doesn't connect to your novels? Or do you wander the streets to help you with your writing?

I was up by the Strand just last week. I love walking in London and thinking about the layers of history that underlie what I'm looking at. Much of the topography in the bit I write about in The Infidel Stain is still the same, though the Strand is certainly not the glamorous street it was in the high Victorian period, and there's almost nothing left of any buildings from the 1840s, though there are still a few theatres and a couple of publishers. The area where the lowlife Holywell and Wych streets were located was cleared at the beginning of the 19th century and replaced by new streets and a large crescent, but the two churches around it are still there, as is the rather beautiful old Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. 

There are many tragic instances of social injustice in The Infidel Stain, and some of them (such as transportation for minor crimes) seem especially appalling to modern sensibilities. Is it important to you to highlight social injustice in your books, or is it a natural byproduct of writing about the era?

I partly want to give readers a sense of what the world was like at that time, in particular what would shock us but was regarded as quite acceptable then. It's easy to romanticize the past, especially this period, which is absolutely what we think of as Dickensian England. I think if you're writing about a period, part of your job is to give a really vivid sense of the sensibilities of the time--it's both interesting and important to know what attitudes we share with that time and what was different. I must admit also that I did want to write about some of the more horrible conditions in which people lived. The books are meant to be implicitly political--but not overstatedly so.

Blake and Avery are an engagingly disparate duo--Avery's upper-class naiveté is a nice foil for the brilliant, curmudgeonly, working-class Blake. Is one of them more fun to write than the other? 

Avery comes easier to write, he's so fallible and reminds me a bit of me. Blake is really a fantasy character--cool, silent, brilliant, and therefore harder to make credible and very much not like me. But actually I love writing him more, even though it's a bit harder. 

There are tantalizing hints of trouble in Avery's personal life in The Infidel Stain. Can we expect to find out more about his life and marriage in the future?

Ooooh, yes.

Wow, speaking of tantalizing hints! Anything more specific about what you're working on now?

I'm almost at the end of the third Blake and Avery novel, which will be called The Devil's Feast. It is set in London again, but in high-end London, in the gentlemen's clubs of Pall Mall. It's about food and one of the first celebrity chefs, a Frenchman called Alexis Soyer (who features briefly in The Infidel Stain), who really did exist. He was a genius, and having made himself the most famous chef in the London, he organised a soup kitchen to help in the Irish famine. He completely re-organised the provisioning of the British army and invented a portable gas stove that was used by the British army until 1950s.

After that, I'm toying with putting Blake and Avery on one of the new iron ships that Isambard Kingdom Brunel invented for the Atlantic crossing from Britain to the U.S. in the 1840s and maybe sending them to New York. But it's all up in the air right now. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm


Bitter Lemon Press: Beside the Syrian Sea by James Wolff


Book Review

Fiction

The Summer Before the War

by Helen Simonson


In the summer of 1914, Beatrice Nash arrives in Rye, East Sussex, to take up a post as Latin teacher at the local grammar school. Sharply intelligent and fiercely independent, she has spent years as her professor father's assistant and amanuensis. But his death has left Beatrice at the mercy of vindictive relatives who control the income he left in trust for her. Helen Simonson (Major Pettigrew's Last Stand) paints a lyrical, sensitive portrait of a young woman and a country on the brink of cataclysmic change in her second novel, The Summer Before the War.

Beatrice finds herself at the center of controversy almost immediately, since her appointment is the source of a spat among several town leaders. Under the wing of the formidable but kindhearted Agatha Kent, her staunchest supporter, Beatrice begins to find her way in Rye. Agatha's beloved nephews, Hugh and Daniel, quickly become Beatrice's friends. Sober, hardworking Hugh is on his way to becoming a respected London doctor, while charming, bohemian Daniel dreams of moving to Paris to found a literary journal. The outbreak of war on the Continent changes their plans dramatically, and Beatrice and the citizens of Rye struggle to make their way in a newly somber world.

Simonson's skill is best displayed in her keen observations about daily life, witty aphorisms and subtly resonant truths. "It is the unexpected note that makes the poem," Daniel tells Hugh toward the end of the book. Simonson's novel is full of unexpected notes, which combine to form a harmonious, deeply moving and--yes--poetic whole. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Helen Simonson's second novel paints a sensitive, witty, luminous portrait of England at the outbreak of World War I.

Random House, $28, hardcover, 9780812993103

St. Martin's Press: Black Star Renegades by Michael Moreci


Specimen: Stories

by Irina Kovalyova


Irina Kovalyova, a professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, makes full use of her background in these eight stories and one novella, combining science with a strong and empathetic understanding of human vulnerability. "The Side Effects" confronts the casual and cavalier application of medicine. Paula visits a dermatologist for a rash on her back. Uninterested in the rash, the doctor pushes Paula to try Botox treatments on her forehead. Post-injection, the doctor offhandedly mentions that she may notice a difference in her moods--before she loses her emotional complexity and is absorbed into a numbness that permeates her life. In "Peptide P," Kovalyova brings readers uncomfortably close to new scientific possibilities, with fatal and disturbing consequences that victimize children. The story examines the artificial food industry, corporate power and ethics. It calls to mind Huxley's Brave New World, but Kovalyova's more experimental format holds a chilling clinical detachment.

In "Mamochka," nominated for the 2012 Journey Prize, she highlights the domestic desire for familial relationships with stirring empathy. The story explores the cultural and generational gaps between a woman living in Minsk, Russia, and her daughter studying in Canada. The mother attempts to understand her daughter's world, but is unable to bridge the chasm between them. With a range of themes and influences, Specimen is an entertaining and thought-provoking literary gem. --Justus Joseph, bookseller at Elliott Bay Book Company

Discover: Irina Kovalyova writes richly imagined stories with influences that include Russian avant-garde, American gothic and dystopian works.

House of Anansi, $15.95, paperback, 9781770898172

Shelf Awareness Giveaway: Between You and Me by Susan Wiggs


Distant Light

by Antonio Moresco, trans. by Richard Dixon


Antonio Moresco offers an otherworldly story of isolation with Distant Light, translated from the Italian by Richard Dixon. The unnamed narrator opens with the statement that "I have come here to disappear." He is the sole resident of an abandoned village in the mountains, and spends his day wandering the ruins of houses, sheds and a cemetery that are fast returning to nature. He contemplates the forces around him, described in sinister terms: evil, savage plants strangling and fighting one another in "this slaughter, this blind and relentless torsion they call life." While bothered by these thoughts, and the noises of the wild animals, he is most tormented by the mystery of the light across the gorge. Deep in a thick forest, the light comes on each evening at the same time. What could it be--human, bioluminescence, alien?

Distant Light combines poetry and philosophy, and employs a setting both threatening and teeming with life. In a plot where not much happens, with few characters and no names, Moresco nevertheless evokes profound concepts and deep emotions. His quietly anguished protagonist claims to seek seclusion but cannot put down the question of the "maelstrom of little lights." When the man finally crosses the gorge and meets the small boy living alone in an ancient house, he finds only another puzzle. Lonesome, dreamy, desolate, this is a novel of reflection on humanity's place in the universe and the fluid relationship between life and death. Patient readers of philosophy will appreciate this brief but deliberately paced meditation. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: A man on a remote mountain puzzles over a mysterious distant light in this gently disquieting novel.

Archipelago Books, $18, paperback, 9780914671428

Confessions

by Rabee Jaber, trans. by Kareem James Abu-Zeid


Rabee Jaber's Confessions is set during the Lebanese civil war, a confusing, factional, multi-party conflict waged in fits and starts from around 1975 to 1990. The narrator finds himself similarly confused, the fog of war seemingly settling over his own scattered recollections of the period. The key themes of memory and identity reveal themselves to be disquietingly fluid as the narrator anxiously interrogates his own soul.

Confessions is slim, and Jaber keeps the plot to a minimum. The novel opens brutally with the line, "My father used to kidnap people and kill them," but even that blunt admission does not disclose the full truth. The man the fitful narrator thinks of as his father is in fact the murderer of the narrator's real family--he massacred them as part of a Christian militia and kidnapped the narrator to replace his own young son, a child brutally murdered by a Muslim militia. From that initial premise, Jaber hops back and forth through time, following the erratic trail of memory: "Certain memories evoke certain other ones--they're joined by strings invisible yet real." Confessions is about the narrator coming to terms with this violent adoption: the revelation shatters his sense of identity in a world fraught with sectarian divides, including the demarcation line that splits Beirut in half.

Jaber has fashioned an achingly beautiful coming-of-age story, both for his narrator and for a generation of Lebanese forced to try to craft a national identity out of a murky past. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Confessions tells the story of a boy coming of age during the Lebanese civil war with both the blunt candor of memoir and narrative audacity of the best experimental fiction.

New Directions, $14.95, paperback, 9780811220675

Mystery & Thriller

The Watcher in the Wall

by Owen Laukkanen


Adrian Miller, tired of being tormented at school, hangs himself while home alone. But there's a witness to his act--someone watching via videocam on his computer. Not just watching but encouraging him to do it, apparently so she could muster the courage to do the same.

One of Adrian's classmates is especially upset about his suicide, and she happens to be the daughter of Kirk Stevens, special agent with Minnesota's Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, whose partner on a joint FBI-BCA task force is FBI agent Carla Windermere. The girl pleads with her dad to investigate Adrian's death and make someone pay.

Stevens and Windermere aren't sure a crime has been committed--until they realize that they have an online predator on their hands, someone who targets vulnerable teens on suicide message boards and talks them right over the edge. And it looks like the perp has hooks in two more victims who are ready to jump. Can the agents find the kids in time to save them?

It's clear early on in Owen Laukkanen's The Watcher in the Wall that this fifth outing is a departure in the Stevens and Windermere series. Yes, it has the previous novels' high-octane action and thriller-fast pace, but the descriptions of the teens' inner lives feel raw and personal. As it turns out, it is--the author's note at the end reveals intimate knowledge of the subject matter, and offers hope to those struggling with depression. Watcher is a moving reminder for sufferers that they have a different kind of watchers in their lives--loved ones who can provide support and let them know they're not alone. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, blogger at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: Special agents Stevens and Windermere race to stop an Internet predator who's persuading troubled teens to kill themselves.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 9780399174544

Cambodia Noir

by Nick Seeley


Propulsive, entertaining and slightly psychotic, Cambodia Noir is an enticing blend of politics, drugs and mayhem. This ambitious first thriller from Nick Seeley, a journalist who spent a decade in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, is not for the faint of heart.

As the story begins, nearly vagrant newspaper photographer Will Keller is living in a drug- and drink-induced haze in Phnom Penh when a strange woman approaches him, asking him to help find her missing sister, June.

Will is surprised to learn that June was an intern at the same newspaper he works for, but given the pervasive lawlessness throughout Cambodia, and the rather staggering amount of drugs most of the newspaper staff are ingesting, no one noticed anything unusual about June being missing for a few weeks.

Complicating matters is a recent record-breaking drug bust, in which many high-ranking military officials were arrested. The parliamentary government is in a standoff, and June may have gotten tangled up in news stories that were well beyond her purview. With only June's inchoate journal as guide, Keller sets out to trace her whereabouts.

Cambodia Noir is a fast-paced, surreal journey through an out-of-control nation. Will must outsmart corrupt officials, scared co-workers, murderous thugs and his own hallucinations in order to get to the truth of June's disappearance. And given the violent, dizzying nature of Will's trip, readers are sure to be glad that they're visiting this setting merely via novel. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Cambodia Noir is a violent, unforgettable thriller set in the drug-soaked underworld of Cambodia.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781501106088

The Infidel Stain

by M.J. Carter


M.J. Carter's first novel, The Strangler Vine, was set in colonial India. In her second, The Infidel Stain, her heroes--Jeremiah Blake and Captain William Avery--have left the army and returned to Victorian England. Blake, a working-class jack-of-all-trades has reinvented himself as a private investigator, easily mingling on the mean London streets. Avery, however, is struggling to adapt to the life of a gentleman in Devon, so he eagerly answers Blake's call for assistance in an investigation.

Blake is being employed by Lord Allington, who uses his fame and fortune to aid London's most destitute. Allington has learned of the gruesome murders of several printers, to which the police have turned a blind eye in spite of the clear similarities among the mutilated bodies. As Avery assists Blake with his investigation, the two men are quickly drawn into the seamy underbelly of the printing world, uncovering ties to pornography and sedition. Avery's naïve, genteel worldview is especially disrupted by the shocking secrets they begin to uncover.

Meticulously researched and quickly paced, The Infidel Stain is sure to appeal to fans of mystery and historical fiction. With clear explanations of the political problems plaguing England in the 1840s, sad stories of social injustice and a host of unforgettable and funny characters, including reporters, beggars and shop-owners, Carter's novel is both informative and entertaining. Reading it is a bit like time traveling to the noisy, dirty London of Victoria's early years on the throne. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: The Infidel Stain's historical details add authority to a well-plotted Victorian mystery.

Putnam, $27, hardcover, 9780399171680

Biography & Memoir

Dimestore: A Writer's Life

by Lee Smith


Lee Smith's intimate Southern charm has graced her work for the 45 years she's been publishing novels and stories. In her first memoir, Dimestore, Smith looks back on her life, beginning with her Appalachian upbringing. She was born in the isolated mining town of Grundy, Va., and intentionally raised to leave her small-town way of life, which has since vanished. Through 15 candid and entertaining essays, Smith recaptures and embraces the life she left behind, aspects both good and bad, and paints an evocative, well-rounded portrait of times and people gone by. Her parents and the love they shared were strong influences, as was her father's dime store. Smith's task of tending to the dolls in the store provided fertile ground to cultivate her early imagination. There, she became a perceptive observer of people--their quirks, foibles and motivations--forming a firm foundation for a lifetime of telling stories.

Smith (Guests on Earth) probes her heart and soul, recounting rich details of real-life characters; leaving the nest and making a life beyond Grundy; her college years, learning her craft and her own teaching experiences; her favorite books; and the genesis of many of her stories. The challenges and stigmas of depression and mental illness, which have pervaded generations of Smith's family, are threads woven throughout. Ultimately, the grip of reading, writing and storytelling--which have sustained and inspired Smith through it all--will captivate her fans and draw many new ones. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A great Southern writer recounts her life in this wise, evocative and moving collection of essays.

Algonquin Books, $24.95, hardcover, 9781616205027

Social Science

The Way of the Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of Firearms

by Iain Overton


"[C]ommunities living with guns at their epicentres often lay far removed from other communities with guns. Gun lobbyists never got shot at, American hunters don't meet Salvadoran gangland killers. Gun makers focused on the minutiae of a barrel's width, while doctors frantically focused on stemming the blood from the imprecise holes caused by a bullet's spin," explains British investigative journalist Iain Overton as he brings together the results of his global study of the firearm "from its metallic cradle to its blood-tinged grave."

The Way of the Gun is the culmination of Overton's extraordinary efforts to understand humanity's relationship with weapons. The former head of a gun club, Overton traveled around the world--including war-torn areas like Palestine and ganglands like El Salvador--to examine the gun as an instrument of pain, power, pleasure and profit, with a special emphasis on the world's largest manufacturing country, the United States.

Steeped in research, data and first-hand observations, The Way of the Gun provides a window into this deadly sphere. Overton's efforts to touch every aspect of the gun--from creation, to use, even lobbying--and his desire to understand the viewpoints opposite his own make this a compelling and comprehensive analysis. Meanwhile, Overton's perspective from outside the U.S. political divide offers readers a glimpse of how one country's ideology can profoundly affect all other countries.

Persuasive and graceful, The Way of the Gun peers down the dark barrel in a search for hope. If readers peer back, that hope might be just be possible. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Discover: An investigative journalist travels the globe to understand gun laws, politics, usage--and offers a bit of hope.

Harper, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062346063

Science

Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space

by Janna Levin


In Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, Janna Levin, a celebrated astrophysicist who has written both fiction (A Madman Dreams of Turing Machines) and nonfiction (How the Universe Got Its Spots), recounts the epic scientific quest to detect gravitational waves. At the time of writing, Levin's major protagonists and interviewees--including physicists Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss and Ronald Drever--couldn't be sure that the search for gravitational waves wouldn't turn out to be a horribly expensive wild goose chase. Levin chronicles the enormous amount of brainpower, hard work and luck that went into the successful creation of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and its recent detection of the ripples in space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago.

Levin is adept at writing with clarity and even lyricism about conceptually difficult topics. She refers to gravitational waves as "a sonic record of the history of the universe, a soundtrack to match the silent movie." Quasars are a "luminous jet propelled millions of light-years out, a cosmological signal we saw from Earth for the first time in the 1960s and didn't know what the hell could possibly do that." Apart from her clever descriptions, Levin excels at explaining and dramatizing the interpersonal conflict at the heart of just about any large-scale cooperative endeavor. Levin is careful to see both sides of every squabble, and judicious in giving credit to the troubled, fractious scientists who contributed to what might prove to be one of the greatest discoveries of the last century. --Hank Stephenson, bookseller, Flyleaf Books

Discover: Black Hole Blues documents the ambitious quest to detect gravitational waves, ripples in space-time that could allow scientists to hear the workings of the universe.

Knopf, $26.95, hardcover, 9780307958198

Children's & Young Adult

The Bolds

by Julian Clary, illus. by David Roberts


In this very funny British adventure by debut author Julian Clary, two African hyenas steal the passports of two English tourists (who are eaten by crocodiles while on safari) and decide to begin a new life in human society.

Thus, two English-speaking hyenas (they learned it at the nearby tourist camp), come to be Fred and Amelia Bold. "Amelia" has always fancied living in England, with its cooler weather and custom of "lining up" vs. "fighting and diving in for scraps of meat." So they stand up on their hind legs, put on safari clothes, tuck in their tails, laugh less and prepare to fake it. They pull it off: "It is true to say that people in Teddington considered them to be an unusual couple. But no one jumped to the conclusion that they were a pair of hyenas." What follows is a fabulous send-up of human society--undiggable gardens, having to pay for everything ("What a nuisance!") and "things called 'jobs.' " The new Fred and Amelia do get jobs, and after what Amelia thinks is a "moldy burger" stomachache, she gives birth to twins: "And the Bolds laughed and laughed with joy." It's an ongoing struggle--and a goldmine of humor--not to blow their cover in suburban England, especially under the ever-watchful eye of their suspicious neighbor Mr. McNumpty.

Middle-graders will revel in the low-brow silliness, with delightful illustrations of the joyful, sharp-toothed hyena family by British artist David Roberts. The Bolds is not pure frivolity, it's also a celebration of ingenuity, tolerance, untiring good humor and big hyena hearts. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Two African hyenas steal the passports from a human couple who are eaten while on safari and fake their way into British suburban society.

Carolrhoda, $16.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 8-12, 9781512404401

Summerlost

by Ally Condie


Twelve-year-old Cedar Lee of Iron Creek, Utah, knows she shouldn't call people names, partly because she's Chinese American and has been on the receiving end of that, but mostly because she had a special-needs brother who never quite meshed with the world. But that doesn't keep her from spotting a happy-looking boy cyclist wearing a ruffly blouse and feathered hat and thinking: "Nerd-on-a-Bike."

Cedar is curious about the boy, fortunately, because following him leads her to Summerlost, a local Shakespeare festival... which explains the boy's costume and proves to be an excellent distraction for a girl who is mourning the deaths of her father and brother. She learns that "Nerd-on-a-Bike" is actually a charming, good-hearted boy named Leo Bishop who's obsessed with the legendary late actress Lisette Chamberlain. Leo ropes Cedar into his money-making venture as a tour guide for Lisette's superfans, and while he shares his big dreams with Cedar, he helps her realize she has big dreams, too. With a particularly clean and engaging style, Ally Condie (the Matched trilogy, Atlantia) does a splendid job of balancing Cedar's grief and her need to move on.

Threads of mystery wind through the story as well, giving Summerlost a dreamy, haunting quality. As Leo and Cedar try to unravel questions surrounding Lisette's premature death, Cedar wonders if the gifts that keep appearing on her window sill are from Lisette's ghost. Or maybe from Leo? What matters in the end is that Cedar starts to glimpse a fascinating world beyond her heartbreak and finds a true-blue soulmate in Leo. --Karin Snelson, children's & YA editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: As 12-year-old Cedar Lee grapples with the deaths of her brother and father, she befriends a charming "Nerd-on-a-Bike" who gets her a summer job at the local Shakespeare festival.

Dutton, $17.99, hardcover, 253p., ages 10-up, 9780399187193

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