Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Ecco: You Are Not Special by David McCullough, Jr.

From My Shelf

Remembering Maurice Sendak

Legendary picture-book creator Maurice Sendak died on May 8 at age 83. Though he illustrated more than 80 books for children, he is perhaps best known for his 1964 Caldecott winner, Where the Wild Things Are, a watershed title in children's literature.

What will we do without Maurice Sendak?

With Where the Wild Things Are, he told us it was okay to be angry, that our dinner would still be warm after we got the rumpus out of our systems. He gave us permission to storm the night kitchen. Naked. With Ruth Krauss, he showed us "a hole is to dig" and "rugs are so dogs have napkins," and "mud is to jump in and slide in and yell Doodleedoodleedoo." And sometimes there is more to life than a round pillow upstairs and a square pillow downstairs.

He loved Mozart and Melville and Blake and Dickinson. He didn't write for children. He wrote, and someone said, "That's for children." He had great mentors: Ursula Nordstrom and Michael di Capua, Ruth Krauss and Dave "Crockett" Johnson. He loved what they taught him, and he loved teaching others.

The truth is, he taught us all. We are all changed by Sendak's vision. And we need not do without him. Because he is within us. We have only to look.

"I have nothing now but praise for my life," he told NPR last fall. "I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more."

May you be with those you love, Maurice Sendak. We have nothing now but praise for your life.

And we miss you already. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

This piece is adapted from a longer work, first published in Shelf Awareness Pro.

Roaring Brook Press: Marcus Sedgwick

Harper: Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 by Francine Prose

Amy Einhorn: The Untold by Courtney Collins

Book Candy

Bookshelves; NBA Playoff Reading; Literature Quizzes

The skull-shaped bookshelf sculptures by James Hopkins "seem to make a comment on the way our materialistic lifestyles are destined to do us in. But also they’re cool to look at," Flavorwire wrote.

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Just in case you ever need to recycle a bookcase (unlikely as that possibility may seem to most readers), Instructables offered plans for a "Bookcase Bed with Hidden Storage."

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Because it's the playoffs, man. NBA star LeBron James of the Miami Heat was reading The Hunger Games in the locker room before Sunday's Game 4 against the Indiana Pacers, Buzzfeed noted. Must have been inspirational, since LeBron scored 40 points in the Heat's 101-93 win.

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"Who, in Shakespeare's words, is 'as full of spirit as the month of May, and as gorgeous as the sun in Midsummer?' " Take the Guardian's "literature quiz: the merry month of May."

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"Ten questions on Jane Austen" were asked by the Guardian, which noted: "If you ask very specific questions about what goes on in her novels, you reveal their cleverness. The closer you look, the more you see."

Harlequin: The Saint by Tiffany Reisz

The Writer's Life

Craig Johnson: Walt's World

Craig Johnson is the author of the Sheriff Walt Longmire novels, including The Cold Dish, Death Without Company, Kindness Goes Unpunished, Junkyard Dogs, The Dark Horse and Hell Is Empty. Another Man's Moccasins received the Western Writer's of America Spur Award for best novel of 2008 as well as the Mountains and Plains award for fiction book of the year. The A&E TV series Longmire, based on Johnson's novels, premieres Sunday, June 3.

Johnson is a board member of the Mystery Writers of America. He lives in Ucross, Wyo., population 25.

His latest Walt Longmire mystery, As The Crow Flies (Viking), begins as Sheriff Longmire--scouting locations for his daughter's wedding--watches in horror from below as a young  woman falls to her death from a cliff on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. The baby she clutched in her arms survives the fall, and the rest of the book follows Longmire's investigation of the crime while his daughter arrives in town to finalize her wedding plans.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I have the advantage of waking up in Walt's world every morning. I walk out and I hear the meadowlarks calling, I smell the same air that he smells, I look at the same snow on the mountains that he sees. It's nice. I think if I was trying to do this from New York or L.A. it might be a little bit more difficult. But being in his world is helpful. I think it also grounds the books to a certain extent.

As The Crow Flies is your eighth Walt Longmire book. How does it compare to the previous books?

This one is a little bit different from any of the others. Usually the books take place in fictitious Absaroka County down here in Wyoming. There's a lot of Indian interaction in my books because my ranch is centrally located between the Lakota, the Northern Cheyenne, the Crow, the Shoshone and the Arapaho reservations. They're pretty much all around us, so this one was an opportunity to actually go on the Northern Cheyenne reservation, where I have a lot of friends, and have the whole book take place on the reservation.

The impetus for As The Crow Flies was this story I had read about an Iraqi war vet who had come back and the difficulties he was having, and the domestic violence that was rampant in a lot of these situations. Then up on the Rez, it becomes even more poignant, because you're talking about an area that's the size of Vermont or New Hampshire that only has about 2,000 people in it and each one of the issues that these people face becomes very personal very quickly.

What I found interesting about As The Crow Flies was that it didn't feel like a cowboy novel--not to disparage cowboy novels in any way, but it felt very much like a modern novel.

I think what it is a lot of it is that I'm kind of walking a fine line between two genres. I mean, I'm writing two types of books: I'm writing westerns and I'm also writing crime fiction. Those are two very big genres with very weighty histories and both these genres have a great deal of baggage that you'd better be aware of. When you go into writing about either one, you have to have a knowledge of the history of the genre, because people have preconceived notions, stereotypes and clichés, and all these things that they are carrying with them.

I think the trick at that point is to acknowledge that baggage, acknowledge that high context kind of a relationship that both you and the reader have with the material, and then do something different with it. Try and make the characters supersede the cliché, let them become more real than the cliché allows them to be. It kind of allows you to lampoon a little bit, but also to treat it with a certain amount of respect. One of the things I think is really important is to surprise yourself and to surprise the reader, because if you're not doing that, then, my god, why do it?

The novel has some amazing characters in it, most notably Walt's friends who live on the reservation. Tell us about them.

I basically steal all of these people I know from up on the Rez--Henry Standing Bear is based off of a good friend of mine, Marcus Red Thunder. The amazing sense of humor that Marcus has, I just steal it completely for Henry.

One of the big things for me, especially with the Northern Cheyenne, is their incredible sense of humor. Nine times out of 10, Indians are portrayed as these humorless, dour kind of characters. Boy, that's none of the Indians that I know.

For example, I was up on the Rez last summer, I spent a couple of weeks up in a cabin up there just hanging out with my buddies and everything, and we were driving up 212 from the Black Hills up to the Custer battlefield. It's the main road that cuts through the Northern Cheyenne and Crow reservations. And we're driving along, and we look on the side of the road and there's this kid walking on the side of the road. And he's like 10 or 11 years old and he's only got one shoe on! And so Marcus says, "Pull over, I know this kid."

So I pull the truck over, Marcus hangs out the window and goes, "HEY YOU LOST YOUR SHOE!" and this kid turns around with this big, beatific smile on his face and goes, "No, I found one!" That's a classic example of the humor, it's so emblematic of this defeated but spirited will-not-be-destroyed kind of attitude that the Indians have. Which to me is just really impressive as hell cause of what they've gone through and what they've put up with. The fact that they still have that kind of a sense of humor is astounding to me.

Why do you tell these particular stories? What are they about in the big picture?

I think one of the main precepts that Walt has for enforcing the laws in his county is that there isn't any sliding rule for justice; he's very evenhanded. Everybody gets a fair shake, everybody is on the same level playing field. I think that's one of the things that comes across in every one of the books.

It's also another kind of opportunity to reveal something about the place where I live. Because to me, everybody pretty much thinks that Wyoming/Montana is cowboys and Indians. But there are a lot of different layers to the society and the culture out here. This book particularly revealed a lot of things simply because it takes place up on the reservation. I couldn't overly romanticize the place or the people. If you love a place and you love a people like that and you want to write about it, the only thing that it really demands of you is a sense of honesty. --Rob LeFebvre

Part 2 of our interview with Craig Johnson will run Friday.

Consortium: Bookslinger

Inklings

Validation and Redemption

When I received the galleys of A Simple Murder, I burst into tears of joy. Then I ran around the house screaming. A crazy reaction for an adult, yes? Especially since I already knew Minotaur Books would be publishing the book, and I'd already attended the Edgars and won the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books Best First Novel Contest.

But it didn't seem real until I held that physical galley in my hand.

I've always been an avid reader, and at the age of 10 I wrote my first story. I don't remember anything about it except that it was fantasy and every paragraph began with the word "suddenly." From then on, when anyone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always answered, "a writer."

People usually smiled in that annoying way that indicated this was a phase or a nice dream, but I would grow out of it.

As with most writers, early encouragement was scanty. In college, creative writing classes insisted on literary fiction, please, no genre writing permitted. My creative writing teacher, who referred to mysteries as "detective fiction," called genres the last resort of the empty mind. My father-in-law, after assuring me that most beginning writers never made it into print, wondered audibly why there were so many famous male artists and writers and so few women. And rejections from publishers for whom my stories weren't quite right were plentiful.

But I didn't give up. I wrote every day. This was my guilty secret, something I toiled upon in private and spoke of very little. A family and a job (as a librarian) slowed me down but didn't stop me. While I commuted to work, I pondered knotty plot problems, and I set aside a little time every day to live inside my head and transcribe what I saw there on paper, even if the actual printed word never matched my bright and shining vision.

But the galleys; they were my visions in physical form. Tangible proof that dreams really do come true. Somebody pinch me.--Eleanor Kuhns

Kuhns is the author of A Simple Murder (Minotaur Books, May 8, 2012) and a public librarian in upstate New York.

Loyola Press: The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis

Literary Lists

China; Weirdest Children's Books; Feminist Poets; Cookbooks

Evan Osnos recommended "five books on China" for the New Yorker's Page-Turner blog, where he wrote: "The following are all by deeply knowledgeable writers with original observations (rather than a pastiche of the conventional wisdom), and, most unusually, there is not book among them with a dragon on the cover."

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"Weird people are the best," Flavorwire observed in showcasing "10 of the weirdest children's book authors of all time."

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Fred Pearce, author of The Landgrabbers, chose his "top 10 eco-books" for the Guardian.

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Flavorwire recommended "10 feminist poets you should know."

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What was cooking? Mental Floss showcased "11 vintage cookbooks (1861-1920)."

Reed Exhibition: Bookcon

Book Brahmin

Book Brahmin: Steven John

Steven John spent five years working in Hollywood at a top talent agency before he decided to become a full-time novelist. Born in Alexandria, Va., he now lives near Los Angeles with his wife. His first novel, Three A.M., a dystopian noir thriller, was recently published by Tor.

On your nightstand now:

The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and Journey to the End of the Night by Céline. How I wish I could sit down for that proverbial beer with Campbell and pick his brain for hours. And how I would fake a cold to get out of the beer with Céline. Great writer--don't get me wrong--but cheer up a bit, man.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Anything and everything by Brian Jacques. My father reading those books to us as children (replete with funny voices et al.) had a profound impact on my own reading and later writing.

Your top five authors:

Faulkner: I can't stand when people speak ill of him; what stellar prose. Henry Miller: he opened my eyes to pretty much everything. Hemingway: maybe an obvious choice but with good cause. Vonnegut: I admit I have not read him in several years, but I have read and re-read more of his books than any other author (it helps that this can be done in a single day without breaking a sweat). Flaubert: I have read only Madame Bovary so far, but I can hardly believe he created that book with, essentially, not a single modern novel from which to take cues. He is the giant upon which other giants stand.

Book you've faked reading:

I talk about The Brothers Karamazov like I finished it, but frankly after 400 pages, I had given it enough time. I'll try again some year.

Book you're an evangelist for:

Anna Karenina. So very worth your time and effort. Tolstoy puts into perfect prose thoughts we have all tried in vain to put into even muddled understanding. And he does it dozens and dozens of times.

Book you've bought for the cover:

War and Peace. It wasn't that the cover attracted me, exactly (it was red leather with gold print), but more that I wanted others to see the cover. On my shelf. Hey, I was 17. And no, I still haven't read it.

Book that changed your life:

Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. I'm sure thousands and thousands of people would say the same. They'd all be right.

Favorite line from a book:

Near the start of Tropic of Cancer Miller writes this line that I have never been able to shake from my head: "I have no money, no resources, no hopes. I am the happiest man alive." Now, granted, I think he may have been just a bit, say, ironic there... but what a take on it all.

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

For Whom the Bell Tolls. Knowing the end makes each re-read all the more bittersweet. The closer you come into communion with Robert and Anselmo and the rest... well, I'll leave it alone in case others still have the pleasure of a first-time read ahead of them.

Thomas Nelson: Love of Story

Book Review

Fiction

The Taliban Cricket Club

by Timeri Murari

Although the Taliban are well known for violence and intimidation, few people are aware of their brief flirtation with cricket. Many Afghans were baffled when the regime lifted its own ban on sports in 2000, promoting cricket in a bid for international political acceptance.

Timeri N. Murari (Taj, My Temporary Son) spins a compelling fictional narrative around this odd fact, telling the story through the eyes of Rukhsana, an outspoken journalist who fell in love both with cricket and an Indian man in Delhi. Furious at the Taliban's growing oppression of journalists and worried about her mother's declining health, Rukhsana disguises herself as a young man to teach her brother and cousins to play cricket. If they win the national tournament, they can escape to Pakistan, and Rukhsana can avoid a forced marriage to a Taliban official.

Murari endows Rukhsana with his own love of the game, explaining that it represents freedom, individual responsibility, the ability to be creative--all principles the Taliban longs to crush. He tenderly portrays the bonds between an ill mother and her children, and the tightly knit team of cousins who rally around Rukhsana. While most of the book takes place in Rukhsana's home and on the cricket fields, the Taliban and their reign of terror lurk in the background--a constant, menacing shadow.

A love letter to cricket and to Kabul, The Taliban Cricket Club dares to imagine a different Afghanistan, where a simple game could bring about fair play, peace and a measure of freedom for all. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A compelling novel about cricket in war-torn Kabul, narrated by a young woman who refuses to be silenced by the Taliban.

Ecco Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9780062091253

Tarcher: Carried In Our Hearts by Jane Aronson

The Colonel

by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi , trans. by Tom Patterdale

Policemen knocking on the door in the middle of the night have summoned an old Iranian colonel to bury his executed 14-year-old daughter. Two of the colonel's sons have already been killed, one in the 1979 revolution, one in the war against Iraq. His eldest son, Amir, released from prison a year ago, is hiding in the basement, having lost faith in everything he ever believed. Hiding with him is a brutal man with a gun in his shoulder holster, a former torturer and secret policeman. To complicate matters, the colonel has murdered his wife.

Dowlatabadi's characters struggle to live in a hostile, paranoid world where people have lost their dignity and all sense of self-worth, constantly making sure everyone considers them beyond suspicion. Their story unfolds in an atmosphere of perpetual fear and insecurity.

The reader, like the grieving old colonel, is soon no longer sure what is really happening, what is a flashback and what is an hallucination. Family members are swept away in a procession of coffins carried on the shoulders of a wailing throng. The baffling ending includes a talking cat, a suicide and a poem about severed heads. Iranian readers would know what to make of all this, and might be deeply moved. A Western reader will be left wondering just exactly why the colonel felt justified in murdering his wife. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: A surreal nightmare in which dead characters mingle with the living, as an Iranian family is destroyed by revolution and one repressive regime after another.

Melville House, $17.95, paperback, 9781612191324

Ménage

by Alix Kates Shulman

Heather and Mack have it all: a gorgeous home, two beautiful children--a boy and a girl--with nannies to tend them, and money enough for everything else they want. Still, they are both restless, looking for something to spice up their days--and nights.

Mack is a developer and wants to build a legacy, not just another mall, something that screams Culture. Heather is a frustrated writer, a stay-at-home mom who writes the occasional column for an online "green" journal.

On a trip to Los Angeles, Mack meets Zoltan Barbu, a writer, a political refugee and a charmer with no money and no prospects. Mack impulsively invites him to come to New Jersey and stay with him and Heather in their too-big house. He believes Zoltan will provide literary companionship for Heather and might provide Mack with the cachet he has been looking for.

At first, it is heady stuff to have Zoltan's company and conversation far into the evening. "Sleepiness seemed a small price to pay for the exhilarating uplift of Zoltan's presence," Shulman (Memoirs of an Ex-Prom Queen) writes. But his presence soon begins to pall. He sleeps half the day and goes out at night. There is no tangible proof of a book being written. Heather and Mack begin to feel duped by their star boarder. This trio, with their belief in their own entitlement, play out the scene in an amusing way, and no one teaches anyone how to live--primarily because none of them has yet figured it out. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: A wealthy developer and his wife play host to a writer with results both comic and quasi-tragic.

Other Press, $14.95, paperback, 9781590515204

Food & Wine

The Good Food Revolution: Growing Healthy Food, People, and Communities

by Will Allen

In 2008, Will Allen received a MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." Two years later, Time magazine said he was among the 100 "Most Influential People" in the world. Forbes has included him in their list of the seven most powerful foodies. Clearly, he is somebody we ought to be familiar with.

The Good Food Revolution is an account of Allen's journey from his family's sharecropper past to his present position as CEO of Growing Power, a nonprofit organization that strives to inspire communities to build sustainable food systems that are equitable and ecologically sound. In an easy and honest tone, Allen takes the reader on a trip through his Southern roots, past his career in professional basketball, then corporate marketing and sales, and on to his start as an urban farmer with a desire to help his community grow and eat healthy but affordable food. By the end of the book, Allen is head of a nonprofit that has three active farms, multiple satellite training sites, an amazing number of educational and youth programs, a huge volunteer base, and a food production and distribution program that supplies needy families, as well as local grocery stores and restaurants, with fresh produce, honey, and animal and fish products. Readers will find themselves hungry as they finish Allen's book, ready for both personal sustenance and for participation in the Good Food Revolution. --Roni K. Devlin, owner of Literary Life Bookstore & More

Discover: An enthusiastic account of Will Allen's incredible journey from pro basketball player to food activist and nonprofit CEO.

Gotham Books, $26, hardcover, 9781592407101

Biography & Memoir

To the Last Breath: A Story of Going to Extremes

by Francis Slakey

Francis Slakey was a physics professor at Georgetown University who paid more attention to his blackboard than he did to his students. He described himself as withdrawn and considered it a good thing. Then, as he tells it in his memoir, To the Last Breath, a chip on his shoulder sends him hunting a world record. His goal--to climb the highest peak on every continent and surf every ocean--was intended to be a physical test, a self-absorbed, even narcissistic pursuit of excellence in sport.

Along the way, though, Slakey experiences many cultures, flirts with spiritual enlightenment and comes to suspect that seeming coincidences along the way mean something. The physical challenge turns out to be the least significant aspect of his journey, as the threat of guerrilla warfare becomes as real as the fear of falling off a cliff. Slakey ends up changing his ideas about what matters most in life; his experiences with the power of nature and the power of human contact turn his world upside down--for the better.

Slakey brings a scientist's matter-of-fact treatment to a tale of international travel and cultural interaction. He transports his reader to Yosemite, Kilimanjaro and Everest (as well as Antarctica), encounters violence in Indonesia and terrifying driving habits in Morocco and returns home more intact than he began. A love story, an athletic journey, an introspective process of discovery, To the Last Breath is Slakey's evolution. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: What begins as a self-satisfied adventure story becomes an account of personal transformation.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781439198957

Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad

by Dan Zevin

Dan Zevin is a funny guy. Dan Gets a Minivan is his second book, and the stories of his family life in Brooklyn are brilliant examples of the humor often associated with Dave Barry--or even David Sedaris. Whether he's talking about having to institute date night with his wife (read: shopping for a new bed at Crate & Barrel) or he's giving Some Friendly Advice to the Aloof Hipster Dad at the Playground, Zevin somehow manages to sound both wise and foolish at the same time.

He's not concerned with looking good, letting readers glimpse what a doofus he truly is as his inner voice continually provides a neurotic patter to counterpoint his actual behavior in the moment. Though he's never as full-blown neurotic as Woody Allen's film persona, Zevin does share some common ground with the famous filmmaker.

One of the best things about Dan Gets a Minivan is the journey Zevin takes readers on. He begins talking about his life pre-children, a carefree existence that included travel, interesting restaurants and the joys of Brooklyn nightlife. Along the way, his family grows to four, the city becomes less and less attractive for parents of young children, and Dan finds that he defines himself more and more as Dad, not Dan. One smart takeaway? "The older I get, the less of a sh*t I give." --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A once-cool city dweller suddenly finds himself with a wife, a mortgage, two young children and the ultimate in uncool, a minivan--and likes it.

Scribner, $24, hardcover, 9781451606461

Religion

Tracking Bodhidharma: A Journey to the Heart of Chinese Culture

by Andy Ferguson

Since the end of World War II, there has been a flowering of Eastern thought in the Western world--a spreading of Buddhism and other philosophies that has inspired multiple generations of new practitioners and scholars. One such figure is Andy Ferguson, an American Buddhist and scholar who follows in the footsteps of a venerated, near-mythic patriarch of Chinese Buddhism in Tracking Bodhidharma.

Bodhidharma arrived from Southern India in 500 C.E., bringing with him a no-nonsense version of Buddhism that emphasized sitting and observing one's own mind, the core teachings that would underpin Ch'an or Zen Buddhism. Bodhidharma's life is so enshrouded in myth that some scholars consider him more of a legendary figure, and one of Ferguson's primary concerns as he undertakes his journey is to make the historical Bodhidharma real so that he can assume his proper place of veneration among Buddhist practitioners and lovers of Chinese culture.

Ferguson packs Tracking Bodhidharma densely with all sorts of tidbits, never ceasing to amaze with the breadth of his knowledge. While there is certainly an aspect of the "fish out of water" tale to his romp through China, Ferguson often knows more about his subject than the native Chinese he encounters. Yet he is never less than respectful toward his host country, and his observations about modern China and its place in the 21st century are every bit as judicious and level-headed as his historical insights. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A great travelogue combining a history of Buddhism in China with a penetrating look at the country's modernization.

Counterpoint, $26, hardcover, 9781582438252

Psychology & Self-Help

10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said

by Charles Wheelan , illus. by Peter Steiner

Anyone who has donned a robe and a tasseled mortarboard and walked across a stage is familiar with the often yawn-inducing tradition of the commencement speech. With few exceptions, commencement speakers play it safe, offering vague platitudes but no real advice to graduates facing uncertain futures in an ever-changing world. Charles Wheelan (Naked Economics) aims to correct that fault with a succinct collection of practical advice you won't hear in most keynote addresses.

With optimism and humor, Wheelan offers advice that manages to remain both broad and clearly applicable. His 2011 Class Day speech at Dartmouth (his alma mater) forms the basis for 10½ Things No Commencement Speaker Has Ever Said, including the irreverent assertion that time spent at parties was not time wasted and the suggestion that marrying someone smarter than you may lead to less stress and more success. Wheelan also asks graduates to consider their future impact on society by striving not to make the world a worse place and, should they become parents, not to participate in what he terms "the Little League arms race," in which parents vent their competitive urges through their children's extracurricular activities. He urges graduates to take some risks and remain alert to serendipity, sharing the story of the most memorable moment of his trip around the world, which occurred before he and his wife left the country.

New Yorker cartoonist Peter Steiner contributes 15 illustrations to this funny and insightful guidebook to life after academia, the perfect gift for any grad. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Discover: A funny and insightful antidote to the yawn-inducing tradition of the graduation day speech.

W.W. Norton, $15.95, hardcover, 9780393074314

Health & Medicine

Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History

by Florence Williams

Breasts provide the human animal with many vital functions, including nutrition, beauty and sexual pleasure. As one of the major organs that make mammals different from other species, breasts also provide a record of our environmental history. That makes boobs very important to the future viability of mankind. "Breasts are us," Florence Williams writes. "Our breasts soak up pollution like a pair of soft sponges."

The story is personal: while nursing her second child, Williams became incensed by an article about the dangerous levels of flame retardants in breast milk. She enrolled in a University of Texas Public Health Study and discovered a maelstrom of poisons brewing in her orbs.

Williams sets out on a passionate crusade to expose the history of the breast, noting, for example, the connection between the age of a young woman's menarche and the age of her first full-term birth and the subsequent possibility of contracting breast cancer, along with new information about residues in the products we use that linger in the breast milk passed to our children and grandchildren. Disturbingly, much of the science behind what is known of the breast is rooted in what Williams calls S.W.A.G.: "scientific wild-ass guesses. "

Part memoir, part anthropological manifesto--and all fearlessly entertaining medical journalism--Breasts marries deadpan humor with gross anatomy in a romp through human history's most coveted and ogled over body part. "If to have breasts is to be human," writes Williams, "then to save them is to save ourselves." --Nancy Powell, freelance writer

Discover: How the organ responsible for nutrition, beauty and sexual pleasure has become the most important instrument for the survival of mankind.

W.W. Norton, $25.95, hardcover, 9780393063189

Children's & Young Adult

Code Name Verity

by Elizabeth Wein

"I am a coward." That is the opening line of Wein's (The Winter Prince) extraordinary novel, and the first confession written down by Verity for her Nazi captors.

Verity is a Scot working for the Allies. She was captured when her plane went down in France, where she's being held by SS-Hauptsturmführer von Linden. But her small acts of rebellion betray her bravery. Fräulein Engel translates Verity's account from English to German for von Linden, and SS-Scharführer Etienne Thibaut metes out Verity's punishment for various transgressions. Verity calls them "Laurel and Hardy," and believes that von Linden hopes she'll "do some ratting" on them ("He does not trust Thibaut because Thibaut is French, and he does not trust Engel because Engel is a woman"). Thus Verity amuses herself--and readers.

Most of Verity's account, however, weaves in episodes from her friendship with Maddie Brodatt, a pilot she met when they teamed up to bring a German-speaking pilot down safely on an English landing strip. Their friendship sustains Verity throughout her imprisonment. At one point, she writes, "It's like being in love, discovering your best friend." Verity's recollections of it serve as a record of the rare moments of pleasure during wartime. Wein conveys a complexity with her characters that may at first elude us, and the ground shifts with each revelation. Like Megan Whalen Turner, Wein creates a captive who uses wit as a weapon, and makes us feel that, at least intellectually, Verity has the upper hand. Wein's work is mesmerizing. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

For more on Code Name Verity, check out our Maximum Shelf.

Discover: A written confession of a translator for the Allies who's held prisoner by the Nazis, with surprises at every turn.

Hyperion, $16.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 14-up, 9781423152194

The Wrath of Zozimos: Stickman Odyssey, Book 2

by Christopher Ford , illus. by Christopher Ford

In Christopher Ford's series, the Odyssey meets Fractured Fairy Tales with a little Diary of a Wimpy Kid thrown in.

In the first book, Zozimos' stepmother, an evil witch banished Zozimos and denied him his rightful place as heir to Sticatha. Here his uncle kidnaps Zozimos, and they're "off to Sticatha to get revenge on the witch who killed his father." Once there, the hero learns that he can become king. However, in order to prove he is worthy, he must go on a quest for the golden feather that holds the power of the gods and return it to the wicked queen. He is also on a personal mission to control his anger and to find peaceful alternatives to war.

For those who have not read the Odyssey, this is not a replacement, but it will give readers some idea of the tale's scope, with endless trials and tribulations, and the humor and zany adventures here will hook many young readers. The book brims with characters with funny names, moral dilemmas, extraordinary situations (such as Zozimos being turned into a goat) and foes aplenty to hold the attention. When Zozimos returns to Sticatha and shares his epic tale with his son, Zotikos, the boy scoffs, "That's the fakest story I've ever heard!" This introduction to outlandish tales should find welcoming readers in Percy Jackson fans, with their fascination with mythology. And Zozimos and the Sticanauts are off on another adventure! --JoAnn Jonas, public librarian and blogger

Discover: A humorous and original take on Homer's Odyssey, in graphic novel format, peopled with stick figures.

Philomel, $12.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 11-up, 9780399254277

Education

How to Succeed in College (While Really Trying): A Professor's Inside Advice

by Jon B. Gould

Some of Jon B. Gould's advice in How to Succeed in College (While Really Trying) is, well, depressing. Why are students being accepted into higher education if they lack knowledge about how to edit, how to revise and the difference between the two? Shouldn't they already have a good sense of what it means to plagiarize and why it's a bad idea? Does anyone, anywhere, think "grammar check" software will save their bacon?

Nevertheless, we know that what teenagers hear from their cohorts usually carries more import than finger-waggling advice from high school teachers, and so we have this guide to easing into the first year of college with a minimum of culture shock. Gould brings many years of college-level teaching experience to bear on providing answers to questions that many students won't even realize they have--until they find themselves on campus and confused. He gives a general overview of the responsibilities facing a new college student, and where generalities aren't enough, he explains how to go about finding answers at the new school.

Where the book truly shines, though, is in its clear distinction between what is expected in high school and how those expectations will be raised (or not) come the first semester of college. Supplying teenagers with this guide will go a long way toward preparing them to make the most of their college experience. --Matthew Tiffany, counselor, writer for Condalmo

Discover: A straightforward guide for students heading off to college that tackles many of the ins-and-outs of what awaits.

University of Chicago Press, $14, paperback, 9780226304663
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