Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Novel Baseball

People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring. --Rogers Hornsby

I spent many summers at baseball games in eastern Washington, where the weather is hot and dry, perfect for night games. One evening we watched a fire in the hills, entranced by both ballgame and shooting flames. A few years ago, on Vieques Island in Puerto Rico, we found a triple-header at the local park, complete with families, chickens and horses. Memorable.

There is something about baseball that inspires literature, be it the venue, the sounds, the community, the pace--deliberate, suspenseful, then a burst of excitement; I read that basketball is jazz, baseball is classical music. (The two genres are melded in the jazz opera Shadowball, about segregation, baseball and the heyday of jazz.)

After a column in April about baseball books, I got an e-mail from author Margot Livesey about The Might Have Been by Joseph Schuster. She said, "It's ostensibly about baseball but really about all the things that good novels are about--ambition, loss, longing, love." The same could be said of a last year's bestselling The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, now out in paperback. Or of The Entitled, a novel by Frank DeFord about old school meeting the modern game--reflective, funny, poignant. Author Lawrence Block nominated The Only Game in Town by Charles Einstein as the best baseball novel he's ever read. O Holy Cow, Phil Rizzuto's utterances turned into free verse, is not strictly fiction, but since it's poetry, slides in under the glove.

Baseball shows up frequently in a supporting role, too. Kristan Higgins, author most recently of Somebody to Love (HQN Books), was interviewed by ABC news on Yankees Opening Day. They spotted her as a fan, but didn't know that she works baseball into almost every book she writes. --Marilyn Dahl, reviews editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

The Writer's Life

Amanda Padoan and Peter Zuckerman: K2's Deadliest Day

Buried in the Sky is an in-depth look at one of the most devastating climbing expeditions in the history of K2, the world's most dangerous peak. Amanda Padoan and Peter Zuckerman spent years researching the day in 2008 when 11 climbers died and traveled across the world to interview eyewitnesses. But their book has a special twist--it examines K2's deadliest day from the from the perspective of the men who set the ropes and carry the loads--high-altitude workers of the Sherpa, Bhote, Shimshali and Balti ethnicities.

Buried in the Sky (just out from W.W. Norton) actually started for Padoan years earlier when her brother William, her climbing teacher and partner, died just before his 24th birthday. The two had been planning a trip to the Himalaya.

She recalled, "His death completely unhinged me. I shaved my head, left my mother a note on the kitchen table and went to climb in Tibet. I had no idea when I would come back. In the summer of 2004, I made my way to Pakistan where I attempted a 26,400-foot peak called Broad Peak, the mountain that faces K2. I didn't connect to the American and European climbers who shared my permit. They were there for a summit; I was there for an answer, maybe. I spent most of my free time with the Pakistani high-altitude porters. I appreciated their spirituality and enjoyed watching them perform salaat (prayer)."

One of those high-altitude porters was a man named Karim Meherban. "Karim reminded me of my brother because he was always looking out for me. After the climb, he returned to Shimshal, a village in the Karakorum, and I returned to Los Angeles to resume normal life as an attorney."

Four years later, Karim died on that tragic day on K2. As Padoan watched news reports from her home in Los Angeles, she felt that great loss again. "Perhaps it was like losing William a second time."

It was Karim's anonymity in all the news coverage that frustrated Padoan and made her want to pursue his story for the world to hear. However, Padoan was also nursing a newborn at this time. So she called in reinforcement, her cousin, journalist Peter Zuckerman. But Zuckerman had never climbed a mountain: "You can learn only so much by reading and watching people climb. I needed to do it. I had two of the main characters--Chhiring and Pasang--give me climbing lessons, using the same gear they used on K2. I hardly became the world expert on mountaineering, but the experience was invaluable. It also helped that my co-author is a mountaineer and that I spent several months trekking around Nepal and living with the Sherpas and high-altitude workers. This background shaped the kinds of questions I asked, the descriptions I wrote, and the angles I took, making the book more precise and compelling."

It also provided Zuckerman with some unrelated experiences, including eating yarsagumba. He explained in an article for Rock and Icemagazine, "Nobody knew what this thing was, but it looked harmless.... It resembled a shriveled caterpillar with a tumor growing from its forehead." The world's only half-plant, half-animal is believed to be medicine and eating it was all in the name of research, right? "It treats sunburn, strengthens nails, regenerates the hairline! It's the well-known Himalayan Viagra!"

When both Zuckerman and Pasang thought they were dying as a result of eating the yarsagumba, they phoned Padoan in the middle of the night for help. "So you're in a village in the Himalaya. You just OD'ed on a caterpillar with shrooms growing out its head--and want an evac on a Soviet-era helicopter?"

Zuckerman and Pasang obviously both lived through that experience, but even with Zuckerman learning to climb, the pair still had many obstacles to overcome to tell their story; a language barrier was one of the greatest. "In all we conducted interviews in 14 languages, at least four of which are considered rare or dying languages," Padoan explained.

Zuckerman added, "Interpreters were crucial to the research: some of the dialects the Sherpas and high-altitude porters spoke were so rare they were only used at one village. As a result, the interviews were excruciating. It often took weeks of trekking to get to a village and days trying to find the right person at that village. From there it might be several more days of drinking tea and hanging out to gain the trust of the person I wanted to interview. When the interviews started, questions and answers sometimes had to go through two layers of interpreters before they could be translated into English.

"Despite all that work, I still did not ask every question I should have, and there were no second chances in many instances. Like the disaster on K2, aspects of the story will probably always remain a mystery."

What made Padoan and Zuckerman's work so different from the extensive media coverage? Padoan explained, "There were blind spots in the initial coverage. It's extremely difficult to get accurate information unless you speak directly with eyewitnesses in their native language. 

"I moonlighted as a mountaineering journalist for years, but my day job was working as a deputy district attorney. This background in trial law was useful when culling through the evidence to write Buried in the Sky. It taught me to seek out every witness I could, study every photo, video and audio recording I could find, while asking the basic questions: What hearsay is reliable or unreliable? What factors make a witness reliable or unreliable? K2 wasn't a crime scene, per se, but there were similarities--11 deaths, traumatized eyewitnesses, perceptions altered due to extreme physical and emotional stress."

And the other benefit Padoan had that many journalists did not was her network:

"I have been climbing in the Himalaya and Karakorum since I was a teenager, and my most enduring friendships are there. Maybe that's the definition of 'friends in high places,' because mountaineers went out of their way to help us. Nazir Sabir, a legendary mountaineer from Hunza, managed to get us critical interviews within Pakistani military bases and other highly restricted areas. Peter and I must have been the envy of the C.I.A."

Their hard work and determination paid off. Buried in the Sky, while the story of great devastation, is also a beautiful tribute to Padoan's friend Karim Meherban; he and and the other indigenous mountaineers no longer remain anonymous. --Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts

Book Candy

Authors' Childhood Homes; Bookshelves; Summer Reading

The childhood homes of 20 famous authors were explored by Flavorwire, which noted that "their early homes are just as varied as their writing styles."


Bookshelf objects of the day: From the Right Bank contended that "the best bookshelves are ones that hold mostly books with some decorative objects thrown in here and there."


Bookish apartment of the day: Design Milk showcased the Potts Point Apartment in Sydney, Australia, with its "large partition wall/bookcase/hidden bed unit that reconfigured the space and tackled the lack of privacy."


A "Summer Reading Flowchart" was offered by to help you decide what to read on your break.

Great Reads

Further Reading: More Shades

Most of the what-to-read-next lists for those who've whipped through Fifty Shades of Grey are unfulfilling. Readers already know about The Story of O, Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin and Erica Jong.

Having written an erotic novel that caused some controversy--as much for how it was published as for its story--I've done my share of reading in and about the genre. I believe we read erotica for the same reason we read mystery, horror, romance or literary fiction--because it's exciting and turns on that part of our brain that wants to be turned on.

It's popular to criticize Fifty Shades because it promotes a BDSM relationship and worry that it's going to turn women into spineless slaves. But that's like suggesting Jeffery Deaver novels encourage readers to become sadistic serial killers. Many people read to escape into lives they would never want to live but enjoy visiting. For them, here's a list of some mainstream and not so mainstream erotica.

The Sleeping Beauty Trilogy by A.N. Roquelaure (pen name of Anne Rice). Wonderfully imaginative sexuality and plot, which is one of the things that makes good erotica stand out--it's more than one-handed reading.

Belinda by Anne Rampling (ibid). A highly controversial novel about a 44-year-old painter obsessed with a voluptuous 16-year-old. Highly sensual, it has the author's signature lush writing and tightly woven plot.

100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by Melissa P. A sexual coming-of-age novel that tells all. First published in Italy where it sold almost a million copies, it's been translated into 30 languages. The author claimed it was based on her own life. True or not, it's hot.

The Black Dagger Brotherhood by J.R. Ward. If your pleasure runs to vampires, you can't do better than this series. It's as addictive as vampiric lust and longing can get; there are 10 books in the series so you can keep indulging.

Master of the Mountain and the Masters of the Shadowlands series by Cherise Sinclair. My friend Liz, who told me about Fifty Shades about 50 weeks before anyone else had heard of it and who has read more erotica than anyone I know, swears Sinclair's series will more than satisfy any Fifty Shades addict.

The Bride Stripped Bare by Nikki Gemmell. A bored housewife has disappeared and left behind a diary of lessons to help fellow wives avoid the kind of tedious marriage she endured. This book has sex, suspense, psychodrama, anger, tenderness and terror.

Vox by Nicholson Baker. Yes, erotica can be highly literary and still titillating. Baker's sex is all telephonic. This novel is a series of hot and then hotter phone conversations between two strangers.

Endless Love by Scott Spencer. Forget the movie. This is first love and first sex at its most furious and fiery. A beautiful, sexy and heartbreaking book.

Damage by Josephine Hart. What happens when passion overtakes your entire life? This is one of most powerful tales of sexual obsession I've ever read (and re-read). This dark gothic is utterly frightening in its unsettling intensity.

The Harrad Experiment by Robert H. Rimmer. This book sold more than three million copies when it came out in the late 1960s. The experiment takes place at a private college that allows the students to think for themselves and experiment in whatever way they choose. Of course, many of the experiments include sex.

M.J. Rose is the author of a dozen novels, including Lip Service, which was included in Susie Bright's Best American Erotica 2000, and Lying in Bed, chosen as one of the 10 best erotic novels by the Women's Erotic Reading Society.


Authors Lives As Awesome Books; Mad Men Replacements

Flavorwire suggested "10 famous authors whose lives would make awesome books."


To get you through those long months until next season, the Millions recommended "10 books to read when Mad Men is over."


Author Jennifer Weiner shared "three of my favorite novels that center on, or feature, disastrous vacations" in the Washington Post.


Introducing "Book Party for One: A Loner's Summer Survival Guide," NPR's Maureen Corrigan observed that summer is "an especially trying time for those of us who'd rather stay indoors and read a book."

Book Brahmin: Christopher Moore

Christopher Moore's new book, Sacré Bleu (Morrow, April 3, 2012), is a romp through Belle Epoch Paris, where Toulouse-Lautrec and Lucien Lessard open an artist's Pandora's Box while trying to solve the murder of their friend Vincent van Gogh. Moore is the author of 12 other novels covering topics from Shakespeare's King Lear to cetacean biology. He was born and raised in Ohio, and now divides his time between San Francisco and Hawaii. When he's not writing, Moore enjoys ocean kayaking, scuba diving, photography and sumi-e ink painting.

On your nightstand now:

Raylan by Elmore Leonard; Shylock, A Legend & Its Legacy by John Gross.

Favorite book when you were a child:

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss or The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary or The Mysterious Island by Jules Verne, depending on what size kid.

Your top five authors:

John Steinbeck, Shakespeare, Kurt Vonnegut, Carson McCullers and William Butler Yeats.

Book you've faked reading:

Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre. I used to crib quotes from it and walk around all clench-jawed and angsty, while wearing a long coat, but I actually never read it.

Book you're an evangelist for:

The Last Days of Summer by Steve Kluger. It's an epistolary novel about a kid writing to a baseball player during World War II to try to get him to hit a home run for him on the radio. It's hilarious. A sales rep from the publisher forced it on me several times after I tried to chuck it at a trade show, but he kept picking it up and giving it back to me. I read it, and it turned out to be one the funniest things I'd read in 10 years. Really a joy, and I wasn't a baseball guy.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I used to buy a lot of books for the covers when I was in my teens. I bought a whole series of H.P. Lovecraft books because they had extraordinarily creepy covers. I fancied myself a horror-story writer in those days, so creepy was good.

Book that changed your life:

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck. It taught me about narrative voice and the power of having a forgiving attitude toward one's characters.

Favorite line from a book:

"All human actions are equivalent and all are on principle doomed to failure." --Jean Paul Sartre from Being and Nothingness (probably).

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

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee.

Book Review


Gone Girl

by Gillian Flynn

Gillian Flynn's (Dark Places) excellent new novel has so many twists and turns that describing it, even in broad strokes, runs the risk of giving some of them away; it would be a disservice to deny any reader the joy of slowly peeling away the layers of deceits wrapped around its deliciously dark heart. This is part of the genius of Gone Girl, where Flynn places her readers on a sea of constantly shifting sand.

On the day of their fifth wedding anniversary, beautiful Amy Elliott Dunne disappears from the sterile Missouri house she shares with her husband, Nick. He finds the front door wide open, signs of a struggle in the living room and a freshly mopped floor in the kitchen. The police draw what seems an inevitable conclusion: the husband did it. Nick agrees that he looks guilty and readily admits--to the reader--to being a liar. 

Amy's diary might hold some clues--she wrote that she was beginning to become frightened of Nick's dark moods. Nick, naturally, tells a different story. According to him, it was Amy who had changed, becoming cold and bitter, not at all the vibrant, cool girl he'd fallen in love with. How, he asks himself--and us--could he be blamed if...? Our sympathies and suspicions pinball as Flynn thickens her plot with an expert hand.

It is a rare breed of writer who can combine suspense, an intricately crafted plot and deeply developed characters without sacrificing nuance, but Flynn makes it look easy. Gone Girl is her best work yet. --Debra Ginsberg, author

Read more about Gone Girl in our Maximum Shelf.

Discover: Gone Girl delivers in spades the thrill and suspense that define Gillian Flynn's work. Her stunning portrait of a marriage collapsing in on itself is a tour de force.

Crown, $25, hardcover, 9780307588364

Five Miles South of Peculiar

by Angela Hunt

Five Miles South of Peculiar takes place in the fictional town of Peculiar, Fla., where butternut squash festivals and potluck picnics rule supreme. Amidst the sweet tea and church intrigues, you're not quite sure what decade Angela Hunt's story takes place in, until a character makes a reference to Celebrity Apprentice.

Hunt's story focuses on three very different sisters. Darlene, the prickly type A, is a member of nearly every committee in Peculiar. Her twin sister, Carlene, a gifted Broadway singer, lives in Manhattan. When the estranged twins are brought together for a surprise 50th birthday party orchestrated by the wistful younger sister, Nolie, they must finally attempt to heal the 30-year-old rift between them.

The dynamics between any set of sisters are complex, and Hunt deftly shares the viewpoint of all three without playing favorites. The angry, sometimes spiteful Darlene is resentful of her twin's beauty and talent, but Hunt manages to reveal her vulnerable side, too. Carlene may be self-centered and entitled, but her love for her twin sister leads her to make a noble sacrifice. And you can't help but fervently hope that the kind yet timid Nolie will take life by the horns. And it's all done against a backdrop of mouth-watering Southern cooking--complete with a glossary of recipes. Yum! --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Angela Hunt ponders love, both lost and rediscovered, in a delectable read set in a Southern town.

Howard Books, $14.99, paperback, 9781439182048

Little Night

by Luanne Rice

A famous song warns, "Lord help the mister comes between me and my sister." In the case of Luanne Rice's Little Night, Clare is sent to prison for the attempted murder of her older sister Anne's abusive husband. While Clare's attack on the violent man probably saved her sister's life, a part of Clare died that day.

Twenty years after the attack, Clare lives quietly in Manhattan as an urban bird enthusiast. Her brainwashed and ungrateful sister hasn't spoken to her since that horrible night. Clare longs for family but she's alone--until her long-lost 21-year-old niece, Grit, shows up on her doorstep. Watching Grit become the family Clare was yearning for (and vice versa) is stunning to behold, as Rice weaves a tale of forgiveness, second chances and unconditional love.

The only dubious part of the story is abusive husband Frederik, a character so depraved he made Anne burn a teenage Grit with a hot poker before forcing her to disown her daughter. Why anyone would ever choose to stay with a character like this isn't an easy question to answer, although Rice attempts it with excerpts from Anne's journal.

Rice, who has published dozens of novels, makes Little Night feel fresh and engrossing. It's thrilling and poignant and you just don't want it to end, but it does--with a bang you won't predict. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Luanne Rice writes about the unbreakable bond between sisters, no matter the cost.

Pamela Dorman Books, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670023561

The Dream of the Celt

by Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. by Edith Grossman

Nobel Laureate Mario Vargas Llosa abandons his familiar Latin American settings in The Dream of the Celt to tell the story of one of the most controversial and enigmatic figures in Irish and British history, Roger Casement (1864-1916). Casement is legendary, showing up in Joyce's Ulysses and as the titular subject of a William Butler Yeats poem defending the reputation of "this most gallant gentleman" after his execution for treason against Great Britain during the First World War. Vargas Llosa says Casement's story "shoots up, dies out, and is reborn after his death" like fireworks; though The Dream of the Celt is a historical novel, it's also a "novelistic" biography that closely re-creates Casement's life while shifting back and forth in time, often returning to the prison where he awaits hanging after being convicted for negotiating with Germany to support an Irish rebellion. It's a powerful tale brilliantly told.

We read about the young Irish boy's love of the explorer Sir Henry Morton Stanley--which turns to hatred when the adult Casement sees firsthand the terrible treatment Congolese natives receive at the hands of the rapacious Belgians. The scenes detailing Casement's deep friendship with Joseph Conrad are excellent, as are the sections dealing with his homosexuality, as detailed in the controversial "black diaries" which the British government seized and then circulated to undermine the movement to have his death sentence commuted. The Dream of the Celt is the fifth Vargas Llosa to be translated by Edith Grossman (who also translated many of Gabriel Garcia Marquez's books), and it's hard to imagine her peerless work is a translation, so smoothly does it read. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A master writer's poignant account of a famous Irish rebel--a compelling, novelistic biography.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $27, hardcover, 9780374143466


by Martine Desjardins, trans. by Fred A. Reed, David Homel

In Latin, maleficium refers to "an evil deed, injury, sorcery," and Martine Desjardins acknowledges that her novel's title was inspired by the Malleus Maleficarum, the infamous 15th-century treatise on witches. Constructed like a Chinese box puzzle, Desjardins's Maleficium contains confessions from seven men stricken by repulsive ailments--and one "demonic, harelipped" woman responsible for bringing these ailments upon the men.

Set in the heyday of empires, the novel's central theme--the ruthless exploitation of cultures and natural resources for commercial and scientific purposes--still resonates with 21st-century readers. The "evil deed" in Maleficium is civilization itself. Civilization is "evil" because it often gravitates toward plunder and rape. Fueled by perpetual desire, the male confessors--collectors of rare insects; traders of spices, tortoise shells, fragrant soaps, Persian carpets--only want to violate or accumulate, not to connect on a human level. On the other hand, civilization means retributive justice for the disenfranchised, even if this notion of justice--from the oppressor's view--resembles sorcery or usurpation.

Mannered and ornate, the novel's multi-framed narrative yields facets of a deeply conflicted self. Maleficium's core mystery is Vicar Jerôme Savoie, a Montreal priest who transcribes the confessions, thus breaking the vow of secrecy that the sacrament of confession requires. Since there is no other proof regarding the existence of the priest, or even for the veracity of the recorded confessions, the novel becomes an intricate game involving the nature of truth and fiction. --Thuy Dinh, editor, Da Mau magazine

Discover: A sly, postmodern fable, a cabinet of wonder that embraces heresy in all its splendor.

Talon Books, $14.95, paperback, 9780889226807

Mystery & Thriller

Into the Darkest Corner

by Elizabeth Haynes

Elizabeth Haynes's chilling debut, Into the Darkest Corner, alternates scenes from a woman's violent past with her struggle to rebuild her present-day life while stalked by her abuser.

When Catherine Bailey met Lee, he seemed like the answer to a single woman's wildest dreams: gorgeous, attentive and sexually insatiable. Although his work as an undercover police officer made their dating schedule erratic, the relationship quickly deepened. Catherine's friends couldn't believe her luck, and a happily-ever-after life seemed certain. Then Catherine realized Lee was following her and picking the lock on her apartment when she was away, and soon her fairy tale became a violent nightmare.

Now Catherine has moved, taken a new job and begun calling herself Cathy, but none of it alleviates her need to check the locks dozens of times before leaving home or her sense of being stalked despite knowing Lee is behind bars. A tentative new romance with a psychologist inspires Cathy to seek counseling, and she begins to improve. When Lee is released from prison, though, her fears are made flesh as the man who nearly killed her decides he wants her back.

Haynes's frank portrayal of domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder will both horrify and compel. The alternating time frames quicken the book's pace rather than confuse the plot, heightening the suspense as past and present both hurtle toward terrifying climaxes. Readers will find themselves eerily spellbound, although side effects may include a sudden urge to lock your doors. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Discover: Amazon UK's Best Book of 2011 is a tense thriller about a woman desperate to escape her violent past.

Harper, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062197252

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas

by John Scalzi

Redshirts begins with a simple premise science fiction fans have been pondering since the original Star Trek series aired in the 1960s, when the extras on away missions always wound up dead, and they always wore a red uniform shirt. John Scalzi takes this idea and runs with it--showing a mastery of the extrapolative process while building a tale that's equal parts hilarious and thought-provoking.

Ensign Andrew Dahl is excited about his posting to the Universal Union's flagship, the Intrepid, until he begins to notice something about every away mission. Though the captain and chief science officer always survive the alien encounters, and chief astrogator Lt. Kerensky is always injured (but miraculously heals before the next mission), at least one crew member of lower rank is killed, every time.

As he joins forces with other low-ranking crew members to uncover an explanation, Dahl eventually turns to a reclusive former officer hiding below decks who has theories of "the narrative" and advises the whole crew to stay off the bridge. As Dahl and his friends begin to suss out the truth of their situation, they must bend space and time to save all of their lives.

Redshirts is fast-paced and infused with loads of humor and Star Trek lore. A set of "codas" after the main story concludes show a poignancy rarely seen in comic novels, but Scalzi handles the potentially jarring disconnect with care, extending his established themes and plotlines as he winds down a multi-layered story that will appeal to a broad range of readers. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: New arrivals on a starship notice a disproportionate number of deaths among the lower-ranking crew members; when they look for explanations, they uncover a wildly existential conundrum.

Tor, $24.99, hardcover, 9780765316998

Food & Wine

Savory Sweet Life: 100 Simply Delicious Recipes for Every Family Occasion

by Alice Currah

Food blogger Alice Currah describes herself as an everyday home cook. The description is deceiving: Currah's approach to food is simple and family-friendly, but she elevates everyday from ordinary to extraordinary.

In Savory Sweet Life, Currah offers 100 recipes, organized by family occasions and highlighted by personal anecdotes. This is not the cookbook to turn to if you want a menu for an elegant spread on New Year's Eve, but it's the perfect choice if you're looking for ideas for a festive Christmas breakfast after a late night wrapping presents, fun food for family game night, a warming dinner after a day of playing in the snow or an uncomplicated but romantic Valentine's Day dinner for a pair of exhausted parents.

The recipes themselves are simple and clear. (A few are so simple that they seem unnecessary, like grilled cheese sandwiches or bagels with cream cheese and smoked salmon.) Most use ingredients found in any American grocery store; many call for a microwave. In addition to recipes, Currah include suggestions designed to make the cook's life a little easier: she explains which dishes freeze well and how long they take to thaw. She offers ways to adapt recipes to make them more (or less) kid-friendly and explains where to buy less common ingredients and supplies. In particular, her "avoiding disaster" tips have the tone of hard-won experience.

Savory Sweet Life is a good choice for the home cook who wants to feed his or her family delicious food that is easy to prepare. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: Simply delicious ways for your family to celebrate both everyday and special occasions.

Morrow, $24.99, paperback, 9780062064059

Biography & Memoir

The Cost of Hope: A Memoir

by Amanda Bennett

At first, The Cost of Hope seems like an economic accounting of the seven-year struggle Amanda Bennett and her husband, Terence Bryan Foley, waged to save his life after his diagnosis of kidney cancer. But the truth lies in the memoir's subtitle: "The Story of a Marriage, A Family, and the Quest for Life."

Amanda, on assignment for the Wall Street Journal, met eccentric businessman Terence in Beijing in 1983, and she relates their tumultuous courtship in hilarious detail. The story of their China years, and their joyous (but still volatile) marriage, parenthood and careers, reveals a loving and vivacious family. The revelation of Terence's cancer feels as stunning to the reader, who knows it's coming, as it must have felt to them.

Throughout his illness, Bennett diligently researched options and was a well-informed advocate. After Terence's death in 2007, she scoured her notes and records, analyzing their choices and the costs of his treatment--$618,616 in all. She doesn't regret their decisions, but she does conclude that health care in the U.S. resembles "payers and providers bargaining like car salesmen or Chinese vendors," noting puzzling discrepancies. For example, her insurance initially paid 80% of the $3,232 billed for one procedure. Later, she discovered that an uninsured patient would pay $1,657 for the same procedure--about $1,000 more than she had to contribute.

At its heart, The Cost of Hope is an homage to a man and the family who relished their life through his sickness, but Bennett leaves no doubt that the financial cost of hope, in the form of American health care, must be examined. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: A poignant yet funny memoir of a couple's struggle through his cancer, and the frightening financial costs of American health care.

Random House, $26, hardcover, 9781400069842


The Price of Gold: The Toll and the Triumph of One Man's Olympic Dream

by Marty Nothstein and Ian Dille

Marty Nothstein's athletic accomplishments include dozens of national championships and several world championships. His event is the relatively obscure match sprint in track cycling, and he is the most accomplished American sprinter of the modern era. The Price of Gold details his journey from childhood to Olympic gold and silver, with serious injuries, deep disappointments and unimaginable intense training along the way.

The story begins with Nothstein's silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, then backtracks to a sleepy Pennsylvania town where a bored teenager seeks an outlet for his aggression. Nothstein's natural talent, powerful physique and hostile, hyper-competitive spirit perfectly suit him for track sprinting. This sport combines cunning tactics with raw power, and Nothstein would become an exemplar of its reputation for ruthlessness. Relationships are built and sometimes broken, but the intense drama is blunted by a surprisingly sweet note, as Nothstein's wife, Christi (herself an elite junior racer), provides constant and complete support.

Cycling fans familiar with Nothstein's reputation for belligerence may be surprised at the thoughtful tale he has to tell here and will be tickled to recognize many cycling greats threading through his story. The Price of Gold focuses on hard work, competition and achievement, pulling no punches in conveying the rough edges, but also communicating great emotion. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pages of julia

Discover: A story of competition and commitment that will raise readers' heart rates as it brings the antagonistic world of velodrome racing to life.

Rodale, $25.99, hardcover, 9781609613372

Children's & Young Adult

Never Fall Down

by Patricia McCormick

What if the only way to survive is to join with your enemies?

In April 1975, 11-year-old Arn, who narrates, describes his town of Battambang, Cambodia, this way: "Music is like air, always there." From Cambodian love songs to Elvis and the Beatles, music brings joy to Arn and his fellow villagers. But then the Khmer Rouge arrive, and Arn and his four siblings march with their aunt for days. The family gets separated, and Arn does whatever he must to survive. He is chosen for a band and has five days to learn the khim, a wooden instrument with strings that one hits with a bamboo stick. Once his teacher has taught Arn to play, the man is killed; the authorities do not want anyone around who knows the old songs--only songs that praise "the Angka" ("I don't know this word Angka, but I know not to ask"--and Arn never does).

Patricia McCormick (Purple Heart) bases Arn's story on that of a real survivor of Cambodia's infamous Killing Fields. The soldiers turn even young Arn into a murderous accomplice. The boy heartbreakingly likens his baiting big frogs with small ones, in more carefree times, to being sent ahead with other armed children as the "Little Fish" to flush out Vietnamese soldiers for the "Big Fish," the Khmer Rouge, to mow down. This carefully crafted novel is a chilling reminder of how war can shatter an entire country and generations of its people. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A chilling account of a child who survives Cambodia's Killing Fields, based on a true story.

Balzer & Bray/Harperteen, $17.99, hardcover, 224p., ages 14-up, 9780061730931

Summer of the Wolves

by Polly Carlson-Voiles

In Carlson-Voiles's suspenseful and realistic debut novel, two orphaned children survive thanks to the care of their uncle, the beauty of Minnesota's wilderness and their love for the wolves who live there.

Carlson-Voiles tells this story from the point of view of two orphans: 12-year-old Nika and an unnamed female wolf, adding gravitas to what could have been a predictable story. When Nika and her younger brother, Randall, leave Pasadena, Calif., for rural Minnesota to live with their Uncle Ian, a wildlife biologist, Randall adjusts quickly to his new living arrangements. But Nika, a true city kid, is slower to accept the change. Helping raise an abandoned wolf cub, making a friend and caring for an escaped female wolf, open up Nika to the possibilities of her new situation. Nika's ignorance of the wilderness, her conflicts with her Uncle Ian and her confusion about another life change boost the tension, while suspense about the female wolf's fate propels the narrative. A nail-biting climax and an unexpected conclusion nicely tie up the story. This will especially appeal to fans of Julie of the Wolves, of Clay Carmichael's Wild Things and of Gary Paulsen's books. --Ellen Loughran

Discover: Appealing characters (both human and wolf) in a wilderness tale that will charm animal enthusiasts.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $15.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 10-up, 9780547745916

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