Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Roaring Brook Press: Juniper's Christmas by Eoin Colfer

From My Shelf

Books About Books

There's been a lot of discussion recently about the act of reading--how many books are being purchased and read, and how the transmission of text affects the experience of reading. And there seems to be more information about books and reading, with so many websites and blogs devoted to the discussion. We welcome to that the current abundance of books about books.

Last year, we enjoyed Nina Sankovitch's memoir, Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading (now out in paper). Three years after her older sister died, Sankovitch, still deeply grieving, decided to read one book a day for a year. She and her sister loved books, and the author thought of using books as a way not to escape from life, but to escape into life. Her eclectic reading list and unalloyed delight in reading are catnip for booklovers.

In a similar vein, Will Schwalbe has written The End of Your Life Book Club (our review is below) about the joy and tenderness he and his mother shared while sharing books, as she was treated for fatal pancreatic cancer. Later this month, Joe Queenan's memoir One for the Books will be published (October 25). The famously sarcastic writer loves reading books, buying books at bookstores, checking out books from libraries. Along with his trademark sharp prose, he includes a bushel of his favorite titles.

November 13 brings My Ideal Bookshelf, edited by Thessaly La Force, illustrated by Jane Mount. LaForce asked authors and other celebrities what titles they would choose if they had to fill a short shelf with books that represented them. Michael Chabon, Tony Hawk, Alice Waters, James Franco--it's a potpourri of readers, titles, essays and delightful colorful drawings.

This is just the beginning--there are, happily, more books about books to come. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

BINC: Read Love Support Campaign

Book Candy

Candid Librarians; 25 Creative Bookshelves; Found Recipes

What do librarians look like? Check out a photo blog that is "challenging the librarian stereotype one post at a time."


"Bookshelves will not disappear," Ebook Friendly reassures us, and submits as evidence "25 creative bookshelves and bookcases, which can be found on the web. Have a look and get inspired!"


Brain Pickings highlighted Emily Dickinson's poetry set to song by Israeli singer-songwriter Efrat Ben Zur.


"As a buyer, seller, sorter, and cleaner of used books," Michael Popek finds many items between the pages. He shared "6 recipes found in old books" in the Huffington Post.

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars

by Katherine Marsh

Katherine Marsh's (The Night Tourist) captivating tale transports readers to 16th-century Astraveld, in the Netherlands, and places us in the shoes of 15-year-old Jepp, a dwarf with a loving innkeeper mother and an unknown father. Jepp searches the faces of the inn's guests to see if one of them might be his father. (He's already ruled out townsfolk men.) Then one night Don Diego arrives in town. He is a man of means, and when Jepp asks him if he knows his father, Don (as Jepp comes to call him) denies any such knowledge. But he does make Jepp an offer, to take him to the Infanta's court--"to see the world, and learn your place in it," as his mother tells him by way of encouragement.

Where Jepp was raised in Astraveld free to roam and pursue his own interests, at the royal court (the Infanta is a descendent of the Hapsburgs in Spain), he's forced to pop out of pies and play the buffoon. He comes to think of it as a "counterfeit paradise." But he also meets others like himself for the first time. Pim, one of the (normal-sized) court favorites, invites Jepp to be part of a dance lesson with Lia, a golden-haired dwarf with the voice of a songbird. Lia dances beautifully and Pim gently corrects her steps, and focuses all of his attentions on her. Jepp quickly surmises that Pim plans to make Jepp the clown with two left feet and asks Lia to give him private lessons so he can dance well, too. In the process, Jepp falls in love with Lia, and they form a friendship and confide in each other. Their friendship remains chaste, but teenaged Lia becomes pregnant. Jepp is crushed. A gnawing suspicion begins to grow in Jepp's conscience. And Jepp worries for Lia's well-being. Lia enlists Jepp's help to escape the court and sets in motion a sequence of events that forever changes him.

Marsh's exquisite writing achieves a formality of language that hints at antiquity without sacrificing accessibility. Her use of the cutaway from Jepp's present journey to past events that led him on this road, "imprisoned" in a coach, helps build suspense and allows us to watch as his life experiences and maturity chip away at his small-town innocence and innate sense of trust.

The author divides the book in three parts, and in the second part, the flashbacks cease--readers become immersed in Jepp's present. His coach's destination is the estate of Lord Tycho Brahe, an odd fellow with a prosthetic nose, who becomes an unlikely champion for Jepp, inviting him into his laboratory with the other scholars. "What I first took to be sorcery is actually science, man's own magic," Jepp observes.

Through Jepp, readers experience the dawning of the ideas at the root of the Renaissance, where science and art commingle. Tycho's daughter, Magdalene, creates the astrology charts for courts across Europe, and Tycho and his team of scientists track the coordinates of stars in the sky. Eventually, Jepp earns the task of cleaning the celestial globe, the map of the heavens where Tycho and the scientists record their discoveries of the stars. "I gently touch the stars," Jepp thinks, "wondering if they hold my fate or whether holding them, as I do now, allows me to create my own."

And this is the central question for Jepp. While Jepp believes human beings make our own fates, Magdalene believes the stars determine our course. As the story progresses, they come to respect one another, and open up to the possibilities of the other's point of view. Because her father married for love, not station, Magdalene cannot take her father's name nor inherit his lands. Like Jepp, she knows what it means to have no true place in society.

Marsh creates a world in which science and faith in humankind's possibilities rest side by side, and not always peacefully. She places Jepp at the heart of these shifts, and allows him to truly experience them; as he tells Magdalene, "Is not our capacity to choose, to chase, to dream of becoming other than we are, more powerful than the patterns of the stars?" Even as Jepp continues his search for his father and true heritage, readers will feel confident that whatever he discovers, he has seen the world and will find his place in it. His story may be set in 16th-century Europe, but his journey is timeless. --Jennifer M. Brown

Hyperion Books, $16.99, hardcover, 382p., ages 12-18, 9781423135005

Katherine Marsh: Fate and Free Will

Katherine Marsh was born exactly as charted by an astrologer whom her mother, then 30, consulted back in the 1960s. The astrologer predicted that her mother would have a girl late in life, and that she'd be a Scorpio. Marsh struggled with the idea of fate but also believed she could make her own decisions. "That struggle was something I wanted to write about," said Marsh. "I did some research and discovered there was this time when science and astrology were one and the same." That time is the 16th-century setting for Jepp, Who Defied the Stars.

Did you base Jepp on a historical person?

Yes. I became fascinated with Tycho Brahe (pronounced TEAK-o BRA-hay). He had a castle with running water, which no one else had, a prosthetic nose and a dwarf jester named Jepp. I thought, he'd be such an interesting observer of this world. As a dwarf, he'd believe in fate and his life being determined by his form. Jepp is a footnote [in Brahe's story], but that's a great entry as a novelist.

Tell us more about Tycho.

He was both an astrologer and an astronomer. He drew up charts for the King of Denmark. He also struggled with fate and free will. Jepp discovers a book Tycho had written, in which he finds "Elegy to Urania." In it, Tycho writes, "few will take the way of the mind on earth,/ So, very few can bend the heavenly force." That really is Tycho's poem. He really struggled himself with these issues. He struggled with alchemy, too. He was smack in the middle of this debate.

That also goes to the heart of the Renaissance, doesn't it?

I wanted to capture that feeling of awe, the scene when Jepp gets to go up to the observatory--that moment of discovery, seeing the heavens.

For Jepp, that's the moment when science and faith intersect.

As I was writing the book, I thought, "This is a quirky personal story," but there are still these resonances that we're grappling with today, these questions of science and faith that we wrestle with. Getting back to astrology, there's the question of how to live in an uncertain world. For Jepp. If you accept some of the science and get away from some of the faith, you realize there's wholeness in the universe. How do you look at the world with a clear eye and still find comfort in it?

The story starts out with this question of who Jepp's father is. It's a search for a father, then a much larger search: What do our origins say about who we are and what we can be?

How did you find Jepp's narrative voice? The syntax is just antiquated enough so we know that he's from another time, yet it's still accessible.

I first just sat down and tried to write from his perspective and get it in my head. It is a first-person book and he carries it. I went off into the etymological dictionary, and I tried not to use words that came into use after 1600. I also read some of Tycho's letters and used them when I was composing letters between Jepp and Magdalene.

How did you land on the idea of flashbacks to fill in life before Jepp arrives at Tycho's household?

I wanted to pull people right into it: Here's Jepp, he's in trouble, and he doesn't know where he's going. At the point we meet him, he's had some education, he's seen the larger world, he's had some disappointments. The first part of the book is largely flashback, though we see him moving toward something. The second part is the heart of the book. I wanted to get to Tycho's castle. There I felt I could slow down and be in the present. The third part ties up all the threads of the first two.

Tell us about Magdalene Brahe, Tycho's daughter.

Magdalene is an interesting mix of being bold and unconventional, yet she has an inner terror of being displaced. She's spent her life on this island, in a way she's less experienced than Jepp. She's a huge help to him because she has a confidence he doesn't. I wanted there to be a first love, Lia, and a second love that's deeper, richer and more surprising. First love, it turns out you're more in love with your idea of that person--you're more in love with yourself than the other person. In the beginning he doesn't like Magdalene. The intellectual sparks call up the romantic ones. They don't agree. That's what makes them such an interesting couple.

Magdalene's comment to Jepp regarding Lia's fate--"If you love someone, you must believe that they know what is best for themselves"--gives Jepp permission to forgive himself.

One of the other themes of the book is this idea of forgiveness. There are a lot of wonderful things in the world, and it's uncertain, but if you go in with compassion and forgiveness, there's much to look forward to. Growing up is about making mistakes. And Jepp forgives others, but he has to also forgive himself. I want readers to debate a lot of things, debate the ending, debate did Jepp do the right thing by Lia? Closure and forgiveness are important for Jepp, regardless of whether you think he did something wrong or not.

Magdalene also asks Jepp, "Is it not our imperfections that forge our characters?"

That's the moment when he accepts being a dwarf. He grew up in a loving household and he didn't see himself differently. But as he gets older, he feels a sense of alienation. When he starts to see that as a strength, it's a turning point. Your weaknesses are your strengths, and your strengths are your weaknesses. One of the things I do like about astrology is this idea that even if you have a good chart, it can make you an indolent person, and if you have a weak chart, you develop strengths to overcome them. Everybody has fate, in that you're born into a set of circumstances, certain parents, certain things out of your realm of control. How you deal with those challenges is the important, relevant question. --Jennifer M. Brown

author photo: Julian E. Barnes

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Great Reads

Further Reading: Mysteries, Italian-Style

The best thing about a good international mystery is its ability to transport you to a location far away. Longing to visit Italy, but unable to afford the exorbitant air fare? Tour the country with a few of these delicious mysteries.

Perhaps the best known Italian detective is Commissario Guido Brunetti, the thoughtful, socially conscious, gourmet creation of Donna Leon. He, his fiery wife Paola, their two bright children, and his phlegmatic assistant Inspector Vianello have now appeared in 21 books. Brunetti's love for his native Venice flavors every investigation he undertakes, including his latest excursion: Beastly Things. Brunetti wanders the streets and canals of Venice, dodging tourists, and frequently eating at enticing restaurants and coffee shops.

At the other end of the country, Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano is fiercely proud of Sicily, in spite of its Mafia connections. In The Potter's Field he must contend with a recalcitrant subordinate and the intertwined, corrupt layers of Sicilian society while trying to solve a crime that draws him to the mainland and back in his quest for truth.

The busy Italian capital shines in the Commissario Alec Blume series by Conor Fitzgerald. Originally from Seattle, Blume now works for the Roman police force, and is obstinately determined to catch killers, no matter the odds. In his latest adventure, The Namesake, Blume struggles against both Mafia interference and the perpetual construction that defines Italian highways as he tries to solve a murder.

Even Tuscany, portrayed as idyllic in countless movies and books, was once plagued by a vicious serial killer. Author Douglas Preston tells the true story of this person who terrorized the Tuscan countryside in the 1970s and 1980s in The Monster of Florence. The real Monster was never caught, but Preston's detailing of the case brings Tuscany disturbingly to life. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm


Literally or Figuratively; Books for Book Nerds

Literally vs. Figuratively. Lit Reactor explored "10 words you literally didn't know you were getting wrong" and noted that "even those of us who actively try to get it all right sometimes still get it wrong."


"What makes a book nerd?" asked Flavorwire before recommending "10 essential books for book nerds."


Inspired by the release of Chris Ware's "unbelievably wonderful graphic novel" Building Stories, Flavorwire showcased "10 books to restore your faith in print."


A Banned Books Week postscript: The Hairpin offered a list of "things to ban instead of commonly banned books," including "rope swings over rain-swollen creeks" and "heartbreak."

A Dam Against Insanity

Jim Heynen is the author of the collections The One-Room Schoolhouse, Boys House, Fishing for Chickens and The Man Who Kept Cigars in his Hat; he's also written poetry and young adult fiction. His novel The Fall of Alice K (Milkweed) is about a 17-year-old farm girl who falls in love with the son of Hmong immigrants, set against the background of the girl's collapsing family and farm. Heynen lives in St. Paul, Minn., with his wife, Sarah T. Williams.

"Why do I write?" and "Why do I write what I write about?" are--whether we like them or not-- two questions that follow most of us through our writing lives.

Some years ago when I was leading a writing workshop for gifted teenagers, I asked them why they wrote. One answer from a 15-year-old still haunts me. She said, "I write as a dam against insanity." For the rest of the week, I read her stories and poems about a child struggling to survive a ghastly home scene. By the end of the week, the characters in her writing had not gotten much happier, but she had! The dam was doing its work. I don't know if she is still writing today, but when she was 15, she certainly knew why she wrote and why she wrote what she wrote about.

I don't much like the idea of writing as therapy, but the longer I write, the more I am aware of the relationship between my inner life--the nagging voice that tells me to write--and the outer life, where the inner life finds expression on the page. It's as if the subjects and themes of my writing are metaphors to satisfy the inner life's hungers. 

I might rephrase the young woman's troubling answer by saying, "I write to increase the flow of sanity." In The Fall of Alice K, I know that my inner voice was calling out for harmony between races and cultures, between a young woman's dreams of dramatic change and the tugging reality of a tradition that will not let her go. Like the young woman building her dam against insanity, when I finished the novel, my characters weren't much happier--but I certainly was.

Book Review


It's Fine by Me

by Per Petterson, trans. by Don Bartlett

First published in Norway in 1992, two years after the death of Per Petterson's (Out Stealing Horses) parents, brother and nephew in a fire, It's Fine by Me mines both the adolescent struggle to form an identity and the emotional defense mechanisms built by the grieving to protect them from the pain of loss.

On 13-year-old Audun Sletten's first day at Veitvet School, the headmaster asks him to remove his sunglasses. Audun simply and firmly demurs: "I have scars." Though he is lying and has no physical scars, he has also told a deeper truth. Audun carries his scars inside, and he has no intention of revealing the stories behind them. Even his best friend Arvid Jansen--the main character of Petterson's previous novels In the Wake and I Curse the River of Time--finds Audun an enigma, a boy who uses the refrain "It's fine by me" to disguise his perturbation at the misfortunes of his life and the unfeeling actions of others, even from himself.

Readers who love deep examinations of character will find themselves caught in Audun's voice like a ray of light in a prism, their emotions filtering through in a spectrum of compassion, commiseration and admiration. Petterson's prose is brisk and unornamented, perfect for evoking the austere beauty of the Norwegian landscape and yet packed with emotions both powerful and subtle. --Jaclyn Fulwood, blogger, Infinite Reads

Discover: Acclaimed Norwegian writer Per Petterson’s early, powerful novel about adolescent grief and loss, and the struggle to mature and create a life worth living.

Graywolf Press, $22, hardcover, 9781555976262

In Sunlight and in Shadow

by Mark Helprin

Lush, poetic and elegant, Mark Helprin's writing has garnered accolades and a legion of loyal readers. His work has often featured elements of magic realism and satire that complement his extravagantly lovely prose. While In Sunlight and in Shadow proves a departure from those elements--its action, setting and characters are quite straightforward--it does return to themes that Helprin has explored before: post-World War II America (specifically, a gorgeously detailed New York City), class division in society and, perhaps most importantly, the nature of love.

In Sunlight and in Shadow begins with a chance encounter. It's May 1946 and Harry Copeland spies a beautiful young woman dressed in white: Catherine Thomas Hale, the only child of one of New York's wealthiest families. They fall in love, then Catherine reveals that she is engaged to the mean and vengeful Victor Marrow. But war veteran Harry has been renewed by love and will not be deterred. Throw in a mob boss who is squeezing Harry for money, and a dangerous all-or-nothing plan is formed.

At 700 pages, this is not a novel to rush through--it unfolds like a particularly intricate dreamscape with characters and plot revealed in small, jewel-like details. Helprin's gift for description cannot be overstated and his ability to convey the effects of war on both the micro and macro levels is extraordinary. The freighted love that Harry and Catherine share and the specter of violence form a delicate counterpoint, the sunshine and shadow of the title. Richly atmospheric and beautifully written, In Sunlight and in Shadow is a paean to love that will linger long in the imagination. --Debra Ginsberg, author

Discover: A rich, languorous novel about the effects of war and the power and pull of love.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28, hardcover, 9780547819235

Peaches for Father Francis

by Joanne Harris

It has been eight years since Vianne Rocher left Lansquenet, where she charmed some villagers and made enemies of others in Joanne Harris's Chocolat. Now, after facing down her own demons in Paris, Vianne receives a letter: her old friend Armande Voizin urges her to return to Lansquenet because someone there needs her help. Arriving with her daughters, Vianne is pleased to be back among friends; even her old enemy, Father Francis Reynaud, has softened with time. But a new settlement of Moroccans by the river has caused tension among the townspeople, and a mysterious veiled woman may be behind it all.

Harris expertly draws readers back into Vianne's world, with mouthwatering descriptions of the chocolates Vianne makes and the exotic, spicy foods of her new neighbors. She contrasts the quiet Catholic village with its new Muslim neighborhood, touching on issues of religious freedom--including the wearing of the face veils known as niqab. Vianne finds herself drawn into her neighbors' affairs, unsure whether her presence will help or hurt. And although Father Reynaud is inclined to mistrust the newcomers, he must confront his long-held prejudices if he wants to remain in the community he loves.

Fans of Harris's work will delight in her lush descriptions, vividly drawn characters and the bits of magic visible around every corner. Tension melds with joy into a finely crafted bittersweet ending, as rich and unforgettable as one of Vianne's dark chocolate truffles. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: Return to the world of Chocolat, as Harris probes the tensions between French villagers and their new Moroccan neighbors.

Viking, $26.95, hardcover, 9780670026364

Down the Rabbit Hole

by Juan Pablo Villalobos, trans. by Rosalind Harvey

Juan Pablo Villalobos's short debut novel, Down the Rabbit Hole, is a galloping, violent fairy tale. Tochtli, the sheltered young son of a drug lord, shaved bald and too macho to cry, has a lavish collection of hats from all over the world and enjoys reading the dictionary and using new words like "sordid," "pathetic" and "devastating." He lives in a palace in the middle of nowhere with a gym, a sauna and a swimming pool. Because of his father's fortunes in pesos, dollars and euros, Tochtli has met only 14 people in his life, including armed guards.

His disturbing account of daily life amid limitless wealth is peppered with casual executions, sheltered by the love of a ruthless criminal father who lectures his son on how many bullets are needed to turn people into corpses and who assures him that "gangs are about not hiding things and seeing the truth." Then one day Tochtli discovers that one of the locked "empty rooms they don't use" is really the gun and rifle room. His father is lying to him.

Suddenly we're on a flight to Paris, with the characters disguised (even from the reader) under fake names modeled on the Honduran soccer team, en route to Africa to get the boy the pet he wants, a Liberian pygmy hippopotamus. Wandering the drug lord's compound in his pajamas (he's a samurai), Tochtli makes the best of his life, like a captive Little Prince, incontestably loved by a brutal, sociopathic father who tries to grant his son's every wish. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle

Discover: A darkly humorous child's-eye view of life in the palace of a ruthless, fabulously wealthy drug lord.

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $12, paperback, 9780374143350

Goldberg Variations

by Susan Isaacs

Susan Isaacs (Compromising Positions) has created a perfect setup in Goldberg Variations. Gloria Goldberg Goldberg Garrison (born Goldberg, married to Joe Goldberg, changed her name to Garrison) is looking for someone to take over Glory, Inc., her beauty makeover business. At 79, Gloria is friendless, cranky, imperious, hyper-critical and unrepentant.

She summons her three 20-something grandchildren, whom she barely knows, so she can vet them even more closely than the private eye she hired. They arrive in Santa Fe, lured from New York by curiosity and business-class airline tickets. Siblings Daisy and Matthew are children of Glory's son Bradley; Raquel is the only child of Trevor, the favored son, who died when Raquel was four.

On the evening of their arrival, Glory tells the cousins about the company she started from nothing and built into an $11-million-a-year success story. They listen attentively when she invites them to take over the business. Then, surprisingly, they turn her down; they are all reasonably satisfied with their chosen work. Glory is not amused; she decides that she will send them all home the next morning.

Of course, there would be no story if that happened. In typical Isaacs style, the story expands and characters reveal themselves. Chapters are narrated alternately by Gloria, Matthew, Daisy and Raquel, interspersed with conversations between and among all of them.

Gloria's narcissism knows no bounds. She has gotten away with it for so long because there has been no one to challenge her. But after spending time together, Isaacs's characters begin to question long-held assumptions. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Three grandchildren are summoned to their grandmother's estate so she can look them over and offer one of them her fortune. Things do not go as planned.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781451605914

Science Fiction & Fantasy

Between Two Fires

by Christopher Buehlman

Fans of Those Across the River hoping for another chilling horror story will be caught off guard--and then likely delighted--by Christopher Buehlman's followup, Between Two Fires.

France, 1348: A former knight, his land and family taken from him, wanders with a pack of brigands across a countryside decimated by plague, the dead left to rot where they fall. When they come across a nearly adolescent girl still alive, Thomas feels compelled to save her from his colleagues, but his mood promptly sours when she insists on accompanying him. He's even less thrilled once she tells him the dream she's had: "I have to go to Avignon. I'm not sure why. I have something I have to do. And you have to make sure I get there safely."

If you know your medieval history, you'll recognize the significance of their destination: Avignon was the home to a string of 14th-century popes, and the real-life pontiff Clement VI will eventually play a key role in the drama. Long before then, however, the story becomes increasingly dark, downright phantasmagoric. And yet, while demonic forces throw one horrific obstacle after another at the unlikely partners--accompanied by an alcoholic priest facing a severe crisis of conscience--Buehlman stays focused on Thomas and his inner turmoil, and though the trials Thomas faces are severe, we never doubt he will rise to the occasion as the girl's holy mission becomes clearer.

By combining modern horror dynamics with a convincing medieval setting, Christopher Buehlman secures his status among today's leading dark fantasy authors. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: Beuhlman's second novel starts out as a medieval variation on True Grit, but shifts into a horror story with welcome echoes of early Stephen King.

Ace, $25.95, hardcover, 9781937007867

Biography & Memoir

The End of Your Life Book Club

by Will Schwalbe

After reading The End of Your Life Book Club, you'll be grateful to Will Schwalbe for sharing for his exceptionally thoughtful book list, but even more so for the story of his extraordinarily good and brilliant mother and their tender relationship.

We know Mary Ann Schwalbe will die of pancreatic cancer, and we mourn her from the opening pages. When her son Will offers to accompany her to appointments and treatments, he starts an early waiting-room conversation with a familiar question: "What are you reading?" Thus, their book-club-for-two was born, as they agreed to share whatever books captivated either of them.

The story of the two years of Schwalbe's mother's illness, The End of Your Life Book Club is also an homage to her remarkable life: in theater, as director of admissions at Harvard and Radcliffe, as an organizer of refugee rescue efforts and as a wife and mother. We see her wit and acceptance, the strength she gives to others. Schwalbe's accounts of their book discussions lead to reflections on life, as well as insights into the works and the authors. (Early on, they literally passed Alan Bennett's An Uncommon Reader back and forth, sharing passages that expressed the passion for books they, too, felt.)

Ultimately, though, The End of Your Life Book Club is about Mary Ann: How is she feeling in this chapter? Will she have a good report? We love her early on, and not weeping is not an option. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: A writer's loving tribute to his mother through the books they read together in her last years.

Knopf, $25, hardcover, 9780307594037


Object: Matrimony: The Risky Business of Mail-Order Matchmaking on the Western Frontier

by Chris Enss

After the Civil War, it was difficult for young women in the eastern United States to find a spouse; so many young men had been killed in the war or had traveled west in search of gold. The gold hunters also wanted mates, but found a shortage of ladies out west. A prosperous business emerged from this mutual need: the mail-order bride. Like her previous book, Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, Chris Enss's Object: Matrimony delves into 19th-century personal ads, bringing to life more of the stories behind their stoic black-and-white photographs.

With humor and sensitivity, Enss introduces us to some of the women who traveled hundreds of miles by wagon, stagecoach or steamship in search of love--a quest based at times on only one photo and one letter. Sometimes a woman discovered her betrothed was already married, or that he was simply after her money; false information was also a frequent problem. In 1929, one bride, Eva Brandon, made the news when she poisoned her new husband during the wedding party; this murder case was one of the earliest where scientists examined evidence for poisoning, leading to today's forensic toxicology.

Still, most of these women accepted the unusual situation and began families with their new spouses. From these rustic beginnings, personal ads and online dating evolved. Although brief, each essay is sympathetic to the plight of women in the late 1800s and early 1900s as they searched for a good husband. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Thoughtful tales of Western frontiersmen shopping for spouses in late 19th-century America.

Two Dot/Globe Pequot, $14.95, paperback, 9780762773992


The Best Buddhist Writing 2012

by Melvin McLeod

Every year, Melvin McLeod and the editors at Shambhala Sun cull the best magazine pieces and book excerpts for one of the most thought-provoking Buddhist anthologies around. The 2012 edition of The Best Buddhist Writing continues the streak with a diversity of voices and visions that offer a wonderful entry point to modern Buddhist wisdom.

The anthology effortlessly weaves different strands of Buddhist thought and practice--Tibetan, Zen, Theravada and Mahayana traditions--and varying degrees of awareness, from the novice practitioner to renowned spiritual masters like Thich Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama. Callie Bates writes with great emotional discernment of her cancer diagnosis in "The Purple Wig," describing how Buddhism provided a critical support network and helped ground her in the event. Barry Boyce gets right to the heart of Chogyan Trungpa Rinpoche's crazy wisdom and almost dangerous charisma in a short memoir of Shambala Sun's guiding spirit, "Ocean of Dharma." "Wide Awake" offers an energetic take on the Buddhist way from Noah Levine that adds a healthy dose of punk D.I.Y. ethos to the path of liberation.

The Best Buddhist Writing 2012 is admirable in the breadth of voices it offers and the cohesive way the pieces are pulled together. For long-time practitioners, sympathetic fellow travelers and those just beginning an inquiry into the Buddhist way, this anthology provides good writing and deep wisdom to engage, entertain and maybe even plant a first foothold on the path to enlightenment. --Donald Powell, freelance writer

Discover: A thought-provoking and spiritually fulfilling anthology of Buddhist wisdom and good writing.

Shambhala, $17.95, paperback, 9781611800111

Children's & Young Adult

The Last Dragonslayer: The Chronicles of Kazam, Book One

by Jasper Fforde

Jasper Fforde, a bestselling author for adults (The Eyre Affair), smoothly makes the transition to a younger audience with this humorous and heartwarming tale.

As we meet 15-year-old narrator Jennifer Strange, magic is slowly leaking out of the world. Once-great wizards now deliver pizzas on magic carpets, charm moles out of gardens and remove illegally parked cars. Jennifer is the acting manager for the wizards of Kazam Mystical Arts Management in the Kingdom of Hereford of the Ununited Kingdoms. "My job... was less about spells and enchantments, diplomacy and bureaucracy, than about babysitting," Jennifer admits. The dragon population is decreasing, and many believe that its diminishment is related to the dwindling magic. One dragon, Maltcassion, remains, and a wizard predicts that Maltcassion will "die by the sword of a Dragonslayer" within a week. Once the dragon dies, the Dragonlands become open territory--anyone can claim a piece of it. That's not all: it seems that Jennifer is the Last Dragonslayer.

The story proceeds at a breakneck pace, as royalty, corporate henchmen and everyday people vie for a piece of the Dragonlands. The author creates an Arthurian-style tale set in modern times, where the memory of once-strong magic still lingers and the possibility of its restoration is tantalizing to some, while the lure of wealth dazzles others. Greed and integrity, fate and free will battle it out, and Fforde keeps readers guessing to the final page. Readers will be eager to return to this magical world that shares much in common with our own. --Jennifer M. Brown, children’s editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An modern Arthurian-esque legend for young readers that pokes fun at corporate greed by the author of The Eyre Affair.

Harcourt, $16.99, hardcover, 296p., ages 12-up, 9780547738475

The Other Normals

by Ned Vizzini

Ned Vizzini (It's Kind of a Funny Story) brings on the laughs with an unlikely hero recruited from our world to save the World of the Other Normals.

Fifteen-year-old Perry Eckert is not excited by the "normal world." Perry, a role-playing game enthusiast, would much rather indulge in Creatures & Caverns all summer than attend Camp Washiska Lake, where his divorced parents hope he'll become "emotionally mature" around normal kids. Once he's at camp, though, a red-skinned, yellow-haired being named Mortin Enaw from the World of the Other Normals enlists Perry's help in a matter of universal importance: their princess is in the clutches of Ophisa, "a horrific mutant beast that combines insectoid and reptilian, with a hundred ten eyes and poison fangs, as tall as a tree."  In order to save her, Perry's task is to kiss a real girl at camp, though he'd prefer to battle Ophisa in the Badlands than attempt his "decent romantic kiss" with Anna.

Vizzini's gaming-obsessed hero interrupts his adventure with hilarious returns to Camp Washiska Lake to complete his mission with Anna (though he'd really rather kiss Ada Ember, Mortin's elf-eared, full-lipped intern) and to face universal problems of adolescence by developing social skills. The brief, page-turning chapters in this imaginative novel will provide escapism even for gamers who rarely take a break for books. --Adam Silvera, reviewer and former bookseller

Discover: An unlikely hero recruited to save the world of his favorite role-playing game.

Balzer + Bray, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 13-up, 9780062079909

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