Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, November 16, 2012

Dutton: Sunderworld, Vol. I: The Extraordinary Disappointments of Leopold Berry by Ransom Riggs

From My Shelf

The Silver Linings Playbook

After some early festival showings, the movie The Silver Linings Playbook opens today, and I will be at a theater--with anticipation because The Silver Linings Playbook is one of my all-time favorite novels; and with trepidation, because we all know what can happen with screen adaptations. I asked author Matthew Quick what he thought about the movie, and he had no hesitation with his enthusiasm.

Quick loves David O. Russell's adaptation and feels as though "the spirit of what I was trying to do is respectfully preserved. It's a Russell film, and he had to make changes to make the story work in two hours of visual time, but my friends and family have seen it and they saw me and my story up there as well, which is a beautiful thing. Like the book, it's a love song to Philly, my home city. Jennifer Lawrence is amazing as Tiffany, and her interpretation is closest to the book. Anupam Kher plays Dr. Cliff and he also stays very close to the book. He has starred in hundreds of Bollywood films, but it was his dream to be in a film with De Niro. When he got the part, he wrote me an e-mail thanking me for writing a well-rounded Indian character that gave him a chance to fulfill his life-long dream. When you put art into the world, you create opportunities for others. I never dreamed that would happen when I was writing, but it did. So as you can see, it's been an exciting time. I fully embrace the film, and encourage people to read the book first. You need both for the complete experience."

Now in a movie tie-in paperback, the novel--engaging, poignant and sweetly funny, with some wild forays into the blood sport of Eagles fandom--is about a man's search for happiness after heartbreak, and learning about true silver linings, not pretty happy endings. It's a gem. --Marilyn Dahl, book review editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Katrina Fried and Paul Mobley: Doing the Right Thing

Everyday Heroes: 50 Americans Changing the World One Nonprofit at a Time (Welcome Books) brings together 50 provocative and inspiring stories of nonprofit organizations working for social change and justice across United States. Each of these nonprofits responds to a specific community, yet each has grown out of one person's experience that revealed an unaddressed social need; each organization was founded because an individual felt his or her talents as an entrepreneur and leader could make a difference. Passion and persistence (and success) are the watchwords that writer Katrina Fried and photographer Paul Mobley (American Farmer: Portraits from the Heartland) capture on every page as they celebrate these dedicated agents of change. Everyday Heroes will serve to inspire readers to have faith, hope and new kinds of charity.

Katrina, what sparked your initial interest in nonprofit organizations that have sprung out of an individual's drive be an agent of social change?

The idea for the book was born about five years ago; America was in the early grip of the recession and confidence in our political and governmental leaders was deeply compromised. The notion that we had to become architects of our own destiny--both as individuals and as a country--seemed more critical than ever. By spotlighting the everyday heroes among us--individual agents of hope and change who had committed themselves to improving the lives of others--I hoped to challenge and empower others to lead and give within their own communities.

As you began to pull together the list of possible individuals and organizations to include in Everyday Heroes, what challenges did you face?

Each stage of developing the book presented its own kind of challenge. When I began exploring potential subjects, I knew relatively little about the modern landscape of domestic philanthropy, and so the first and greatest challenge I faced was to educate myself, to become as expert as possible within the limited amount of time available. Even after a year of research and hundreds of hours spent interviewing accomplished social entrepreneurs, I was still on a steep learning curve.

With hundreds, if not thousands, of worthy individuals and organizations whose contributions are deserving of recognition, the process of narrowing down my selections to just 50 nonprofit leaders was unquestionably the most difficult part of the second stage of developing the book. Once the heroes were chosen, the third significant challenge I faced was how to make each hero's profile distinct and equally compelling. Success relied greatly on getting each of these men and women to openly share their personal stories with me, as well the stories of their organizations. The goal was to weave together these two narratives and thereby put a unique human face on every cause.

What criteria did you use to select the 50 nonprofit leaders?

They are all founders and/or leaders of successful nonprofits that represent a diverse range of causes and demographics. Offspring of the marriage of entrepreneurship and community service, they nearly all self-identify as social entrepreneurs. They range widely in ages and backgrounds. They are all Americans. They are also what I would categorize as "out of the box" visionaries, whose often unorthodox techniques set them apart from the traditional nonprofit model.

The ultimate goal was to curate a group of individuals and causes whose diversity provided as many opportunities for self-identification as possible. My hope is that everyone who picks up this book will discover a story and a cause that speaks to them, no matter their background, their politics, or their personal values.

Paul, following your trip to Haiti to photograph Dr. David Vanderpool and his work there, you said, "I looked through the camera in a different way after that experience." How did you made your visual choices?

I spent time learning about their missions, what they were doing to give back. That seemed to "shape the photograph." I posed, lit and expressed my vision for each picture after I had read the backgrounds of each. Sometimes my favorite photographs are made without knowing anything about my subject. For this project, though, it was important for me to know about them. I think it helped complete the final image.

The photographs accompanying each profile are superb in capturing the energy, personality and context of each person. And so many exhibit great graphic wit, too--like the one of Adam Braun, the director of Pencils of Promise, with its hanging mobiles of pencils. How did you develop an approach to capture and communicate the essence of the person or organization?

Throughout the project, I wanted to mix location pictures with strong graphic images in the studio. In the case of Adam Braun, the choice came pretty quickly. Adam's a young, smart, energetic guy, fun and easy to work with. I asked him if he would try my idea of a stylized graphic image featuring those assemblages of pencils. He was completely on board. When you get that kind of trust from your subject, you can get a great picture. The picture with Taryn Davis, executive director of the American Widow Project, came about in a completely different way. I wanted it to "scream" with emotion. When she arrived with the flag and her husband's boots, I knew it was going to be good. Photographing at the location we used was imperative in that case. It reinforced where she was from and her story much better.

If each of you were invited to a presentation and you were allowed to read only one of the profiles from Everyday Heroes, which one would you offer to the audience? And why would you have chosen that particular one?

Katrina: That's a very tough question--like asking which one of my children I love the best! But if pressed... what I will say is that as an example of an individual whose compelling personal story truly captures the spirit of everyday heroism, and whose organization has achieved astonishing success and scalability, Geoffrey Canada, CEO of Harlem Children's Zone, stands as an inspiration. Like many of the heroes in this book, his commitment to help others is deeply motivated by his own early experiences, and his achievements are proof positive that one person truly can make a difference.

Paul: I would choose either a story about Dr. David Vanderpool and the Mobile Medical Disaster Relief work in Haiti or one about Taryn Davis and the American Widow Project--and choosing between them would be hard for me.

I was especially struck by a quote in the book from Michael Weinstein that reminds us, "People don't do a lot of things if they think they can't or that the world won't allow them to.... people will want to do the right thing, they just don't know how or where to go to do it." Do you have a favorite quote that you feel exemplifies an aspect of what these organizations have done to open up new avenues for lasting change?

Katrina: When Robert Egger founded DC Central Kitchen, he reinvented the model of feeding the hungry by training the homeless to prepare the food they were feeding to themselves and others like them. Egger says, "A great nonprofit doesn't try to solve the problem, it tries to reveal the power we have as a community to solve the problem." That, to me, epitomizes the philosophy of nearly every organization featured in Everyday Heroes. And after talking to dozens of successful social entrepreneurs, I'd say the most universally defining quality of philanthropy today is the shift in the relationship between the giver and the receiver. Gone are the days of the traditional donor-beneficiary relationship. The handout has been replaced by the handshake. Today's nonprofit reformers are interested in creating meaningful equal partnerships to empower communities and individuals to raise themselves out of poverty.

Paul: I was humbled by Dr. Vanderpool's telling me that he could have "three nice cars and a big house" but he lives very simply so he can do this kind of work. That sticks with me.

If you encountered a skeptic who said that the profiles in Everyday Heroes highlight a limited number of feel-good success stories that impact a small population, what would you say to them to get them to pick up the book and read a few profiles that might challenge their preconceptions and biases?

The variety of causes, ideas, and narratives chronicled in Everyday Heroes does go to prove that there are as many different ways to give as there are human beings. With each hero's story, there is yet another entry point to the undercurrent of generosity that flows around us. The contributions being made by each of these heroes far transcends their literal impact. The real take-away is this: There is no contribution too small or insignificant. Whether you choose to show kindness to a loved one or a neighbor, to volunteer, to donate, or to build your own movement—you are helping to grow a culture of giving, from which--to use a favored phrase among these entrepreneurs--a thousand flowers will bloom. --John McFarland, author

Book Candy

Dream Homes for Books; Best New York Bars for Reading

"Dream homes built for books and the nerds who love them" were showcased by Flavorwire.


Drink up and read! Philip Greene, founder of the Museum of the American Cocktail shared "Hemingway's favorite cocktail recipes" in the Huffington Post.


"Drink a beer, open a book," advised the Daily News' Page Views blog in recommending the "best bars for reading in New York."


"At what age do young witches and wizards receive their Hogwarts invitation letters?" Mental Floss conjured up a Hogwarts quiz to "test your knowledge of the preeminent fictional school for magical folk."

Great Reads

Now in Paper: November

Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway (Vintage, $15.95)
Most of Angelmaker, Nick Harkaway's second novel (after The Gone-Away World), takes place in a fantastical London that combines edgy urban fantasy with cerebral action-movie pacing as a particularly weird assignment drops Joe Spork into a world of robot bees, killer esthetic monks (no, that's not a typo) and an aging ex-spy named Edie, who roams around London with her blind dog. With a sleek retro style and a sexy sense of humor, Harkaway's world is one in which readers will gladly immerse themselves.

Blood in the Water by Jane Haddam (St. Martin's Paperbacks, $7.99)
Retired FBI agent Gregor Demarkian is back with another deceptively tricky mystery in Blood in the Water, the 27th novel in Jane Haddam's series. Struggling with a recent loss in his personal life, Gregor confronts the dirty secrets that lurk within a respectable upscale community, and is forced to contend with small-town ineptitude, monstrous egos and upper-middle-class hypocrisy to get to the bottom of a case of not exactly mistaken identity.

History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason (Vintage, $15.95)
Piet Barol is the eponymous hero of Richard Mason's History of a Pleasure Seeker, a novel set in belle époque Amsterdam. The handsome, sexually adventurous Piet is eager to leave provincial Holland behind; he's well-educated, fluent in several languages and musically gifted, so he becomes tutor to the young scion of one of the wealthiest families in Amsterdam. Indulging in erotic adventures before moving on to a bright future, he's in a set-up made in heaven, or thereabouts, for a randy young tutor.

The Cove by Ron Rash (Ecco, $14.95)
Four years after the publication of Serena, Ron Rash returns to the mountains of western North Carolina to tell a love story set in the waning days of the First World War. Basing his novel in part on a true incident involving German sailors interned in a prison camp in the state, Rash leaves the strong impression he's only begun to mine a rich lode of memory and imagination his region has delivered to him.

The Healing by Jonathan Odell (Anchor, $15.95)
In the pre-Civil War South, Master Ben Satterfield's plantation has been ravaged by cholera. His daughter dies, his opium-addicted wife takes a newborn slave, Granada, from her mother to keep as a pet, and he purchases a reputed healer, Polly Shine. Seventy years later, Granada recounts past history, recalling the influence Polly had on the plantation and its occupants. Jonathan Odell uses the language of the day, its idiom and its music to great advantage in a compelling work in the pantheon of Southern literature.

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (Reagan Arthur/Back Bay Books, $14.99)
The Snow Child by debut novelist Eowyn Ivey (a bookseller in Alaska) is a fresh and exquisite adaptation of the snow maiden folk tale in which a child is brought to life from a figure made of snow. This version is set against the cinematic backdrop of 1920s Alaskan territory and follows Jack and Mabel as they build a homestead in the untamed wilderness. Nature in this tale is cruel and awe-inspiring; however, it also brings unexpected moments of joy. One of those is the snow maiden who becomes like a daughter to the couple, albeit one who thrives in the same wilderness that is so at odds with them.

Those Who Love Night by Wessel Ebersohn (Minotaur Books, $15.99)
Ebersohn has written four thrillers set in his native South Africa; The October Killings introduced readers to Abigail Bukula and her friend and associate, Yudel Gordon. Like too many of her South African countrymen, Advocate Bukula of the Justice Department is no stranger to the shared memories of the harrowing and often deadly struggles to overthrow the apartheid regime. When she is told that a cousin she thought slain by death squads is alive, in a Zimbabwean prison with six other political activists, she has no option but to travel to Zimbabwe with Yudel Gordon, a criminal psychologist, and his wife, Rosa, to try to free them.

Shockaholic by Carrie Fisher (Simon & Schuster, $13.99)
Carrie Fisher has made a cottage industry of her addictions--think Wishful Drinking--and has no inhibitions about sharing. After rehabs and the death of a good friend, she was having troubles again and submitted to Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy. Fisher's only complaint about it is that it zaps the memory, although that isn't apparent from this memoir, whose underlying theme is "celebrity." Fisher peppers her excellent yarns with bon mots and insight.

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man's Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs (Simon & Schuster, $16)
A.J. Jacobs has shared his quest for self-improvement over the course of several books: The Know-It-All, The Year of Living Biblically and The Guinea Pig Diaries. Having conquered the mind and the spirit, Jacobs turned his attention to the body in a memoir of his efforts to become the healthiest man in the world. Drop Dead Healthy, like Jacobs's previous books, is often laugh-out-loud funny. For many enthusiastic readers, though, it might also be surprisingly informative and, hopefully, motivating.


Evolutionary Reads; Difficult Books to Fini--

"Evolutionary theory teaches us that life never remains the same," so io9 recommended "20 essential books about the next step in human evolution."


Operating on the theory that sometimes it's the person closest to a celebrity who has better stories to tell, Flavorwire suggested "10 great biographies and memoirs spotlighting right hand men."


Crayons ready? Mental Floss showcased "10 bizarre coloring books for adults."


The Guardian offered its choices for the "10 most difficult books to finish."

Book Review


Flight Behavior

by Barbara Kingsolver

"Hope in all its versions went out of stock, including the crummy discount brands," Dellarobia Turnbow thinks as she hikes up the Tennessee mountain behind her ranch house one autumn day, "and the heart had just one instruction left: run." What happens next, in Barbara Kingsolver's eighth novel, Flight Behavior, alters Dellarobia's life, with ripples extending far beyond the valley.

Like Dellarobia, fleeing into the unknown, thousands of monarch butterflies hang from the trees, a spectacle like "a lake of fire" foreign to this hardscrabble sheep farm. She takes it as a sign and hurries home, awed by her discovery--but soon learns about her father-in-law's agreement with a logging company to clear-cut the mountain. News of the butterfly influx spreads, drawing an entomologist from New Mexico who invites Dellarobia to help research the phenomenon and encourages her intellect, suppressed since her hasty marriage to Cub at 17.

Wintering butterflies are just one oddity this year; it rained all summer and December feels like "the season of burst and leaky clouds." Climate change is the newest in a lifetime of struggles for these Appalachian folks, and Kingsolver brings them vividly to life: upbeat best friend Dovey, with her texted church signs ("Get right or get left!"); hapless Cub, still obeying his domineering parents; Bobby, the charismatic "no-hell" young preacher; and especially Dellarobia, smart and good-humored, loving and determined, who eventually charts a new flight plan of her own. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: Kingsolver combines scientific expertise and affection for Appalachia in the story of an errant monarch butterfly migration to a young family's Tennessee farm.

Harper, $28.99, hardcover, 9780062124265

Prosperous Friends

by Christine Schutt

Prosperous Friends is a beautifully painted picture of a very ugly couple. The ugliness isn't physical. In fact, Ned and Isabel Bourne are both attractive; they are young, they are writers, they are of indeterminate means and they travel the world. But the Bournes' outwardly glamorous life is rotted--beautifully, elegantly, descriptively rotted--by their yawning emotional emptiness and destructive disregard for one another.

The progressively nasty implosion of the Bournes' marriage is presented by Christine Schutt (All Souls), an author known for the strange poetry and intimacy of her writing. In her hands, what could have been a frankly tiresome novel about self-involved, self-loathing, undeservedly affluent people and the ways they hurt each other daily becomes a compelling, almost voyeuristic, study of two complicated relationships.

The second, older couple is Clive and Dinah Harris, who grant the Bournes use of their empty house in coastal Maine. Clive is a celebrated, arrogant painter with whom Isabel has had a strange and unsatisfying affair; Dinah is a poet who, in all her underappreciated graciousness, may be the book's only appealing character. The four of them seem to lack connection, but Clive and Dinah's marriage appears to work--while Ned and Isabel are just doomed.

Written in a dreamy, fragmented style highlighted by frequent shifts in perspective, this is not a book to read if you seek sympathetic characters or a satisfying, conventional plot. But if you want to get lost in writing rich with ringing, sensual descriptions--and observe superficially successful lives you won't envy--drop in on Prosperous Friends. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice

Discover: Marriage and sex, art and ambition, fidelity and betrayal--these are a sticky mix in Schutt's beautifully rendered, discordantly poetic portrayal of a young couple's collapse.

Grove Press, $24, hardcover, 9780802120380

Mystery & Thriller

The Marseille Caper

by Peter Mayle

Peter Mayle is part tour guide and part food critic. In The Marseille Caper, he weaves a plausible plot around sleuth Sam Levitt (introduced in Anything Considered) and the gorgeous Elena Morales.

Ultra-wealthy Francis Reboul has called Sam from Los Angeles to help him win the bid on a hotly contested piece of waterfront real estate in Marseille. The catch? Reboul's involvement must remain secret because Patrimonio, the man who heads the committee that will decide the winner, is not a friend of Reboul. After the dummy corporation set up with Sam as its representative wins the contract, Reboul explains, it will somehow mysteriously fall upon bad financial times and he'll swoop in and bail it out. By that time, his presence--and his money--will not be disputed. Sam's group contends for the property against Lord Wapping, who needs this contract to continue his gilded lifestyle.

Reboul's plan--terraced low-rise apartments, retail and a marina--is intended for locals, not tourists. Lord Wapping, on the other hand, envisions a glass and steel high-rise. The committee favors Reboul's plan, endangering Patrimonio's lucrative relationship with Lord Wapping, to whom he has promised success.

Wapping can see the development project slipping away from him, so he puts both money and thugs into play. Danger and intrigue proliferate as Wapping becomes more and more desperate. Before the satisfying conclusion, we have had a Mayle-led tour and history lesson through Marseille and the surrounding area, dined fashionably and simply, sampled grand vintages and eschewed, with Elena, a delicacy made of sheep's intestines. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Sam Levitt cruises through the south of France in a new romp from Peter Mayle, confronting dirty tricks from land developers on the hustle.

Knopf, $24, hardcover, 9780307594198

Return of the Thin Man

by Dashiell Hammett

When the film version of Dashiell Hammett's first and only Nick and Nora Charles novel, The Thin Man, became a hit for MGM, the studio begged him for more. The contract they offered was substantial enough (in the post-Depression late 1930s) that Hammett stopped drinking long enough to write two novellas, After the Thin Man (1935) and Another Thin Man (1938).

These stories, which remained unpublished for nearly three-quarters of a century, are only slightly more substantial than pure screenplay or play, consisting primarily of dialogue, sets, some descriptions and very little reflective prose. But his trademark tight, intriguing plots and sharp dialogue did the trick. Hammett had broken new ground with The Thin Man by mixing comedy with intrigue and social fiction with crime fiction, with a hedonistic hero who was also a disciplined detective.

Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett do a very good job of describing how Hammett's original stories were changed and altered to suit the screen. They also include one more story outline, but it's a weak effort that clearly shows how fed up Hammett was by then; as he himself once said of Nick and Nora, "nobody ever invented a more insufferably smug pair of characters." Nevertheless, Thin Man fans will find these recovered stories welcome reading. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: Two previously unpublished Thin Man stories from Dashiell Hammett's stint as a contract writer for MGM.

Mysterious Press, $25, hardcover, 9780802120502

Food & Wine

Wineocology: Uncork the Power of Your Palate with Sensory Secrets from Hollywood's Sommelier

by Heidi Shink, Caitlin Stansbury

Caitlin Stansbury and Heidi Shink's witty Wineocology opens with a promise to use wine as "a catalyst to sharpen and enhance the way you use your senses... heightening the way you experience everything that brings you pleasure." Then Stansbury, a sommelier with more than 20 years' experience, confirms that the "mercurial and transporting experience" of wine is about much more than taste. In fact, Wineocology won't address the taste of wine until well after the other four senses have been thoroughly dissected.

Even before that, though, a fascinating history lesson on the Erasian Vitis vinifera grape (the source of 99.998% of all wine) leads to a discussion of how "terroir" (earth, climate and topography) affect the color, aroma, taste and feel of the wine, and from there to the process of vinification--including why grapes were crushed underfoot for so long and why one bottle of wine can hold so many disparate scents.

However, the heart of Wineocology is Stansbury's "Simple Sommelier System," a "workout regimen for your eyes, nose, and mouth" that brings a zen-like attention to each sense, from how a wine's color, clarity and cling reveal how much time the grapes spent in the sun to what the nose imparts about its condition, concentration and complexity, as well as how texture, temperature and taste reveal the balance of sugar, acid, tannins and alcohol in each vintage.

Wineocology would be an entertaining and informative gift for any oenophile. --Kristen Galles blogger at Book Club Classics

Discover: Wineocology uses a blend of science, sensory exploration and humor to help even the most inexperienced drinker appreciate wine.

Skirt!, $18.95, paperback, 9780762779017

Biography & Memoir

Clearly, I Didn’t Think This Through

by Anna Goldfarb

Meet Anna Goldfarb: 30-something, grad school-educated, unemployed and living with her parents. While all of her friends are getting jobs, getting married and generally getting on with the business of adulthood, Goldfarb can't seem to nail down a job or even a direction. Not one to let an empty bank account and family interventions get her down, Anna simultaneously exercises her two greatest talents--dating short men and dissecting said dating process in hilariously excruciating detail--on the Shmitten Kitten blog and now in Clearly, I Didn't Think This Through.

Goldfarb's preferences don't stop at height (or rather lack of it; suitors above 5'10" need not apply); while her mother would love to see her settled with a Jewish doctor, Goldfarb is more impressed by a man's ability to recite sitcom theme song lyrics or justify a choice of favorite dinosaur over his personality or career choice. The result is a never-ending train wreck of man-children, commitmentphobes and garden-variety jerks that leaves the reader helplessly cackling at Goldfarb's dating trench anecdotes and spot-on analyses of her beaus and herself.

While the reader will occasionally wish for the opportunity to sit Goldfarb down and have a serious discussion about her life choices, beneath her comedic mishaps lies the voice of a generation. Like many young people, she faces the dilemma of what do when the advised route of getting a higher education yields no results. Chatty, funny and timely, her memoir is sure to amuse and touch an audience beyond her regular blog readers. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A chatty, funny and timely collection of adventures in the dating life of the single, well-educated and unemployed creator of Shmitten Kitten.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 9780425245323


by Larry McMurtry

Larry McMurtry is best known for his fascinating stories of the American West. In Custer, he draws on an extensive personal collection of memorabilia and other references as he delves into the life of General George Armstrong Custer, and his famous last stand at the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Although he was reluctant at first to tackle yet another look at "Long Hair" (as the Cheyenne called Custer), given so many books on the subject already, McMurtry's expertise is evident in this short biography of the stubborn and complex man. From Custer's dismal record at West Point and his ambitious rise through the ranks during the Civil War to the final moments (or what is known of them) at the Little Big Horn, McMurtry offers readers a well-defined life study--richly illustrated with many paintings and newspaper clippings. Two hundred and sixty men died as a result of tactical mistakes brought on by Custer's ambition--yet he still became larger than life after his death, thanks in part to the rapid spread of the news via telegraph.

Little Big Horn was "really the beginning of the end for Native American culture, while at least allowing them [the Indians] one last surge of native pride," McMurty writes. "Long Hair casually underestimated them, and, by golly, they showed him." As McMurtry adeptly shows, Custer may have the last laugh, as his name is still recalled while those of the Cheyenne and Sioux at the battle have all but disappeared. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A refreshing reevaluation of Custer's life from a master storyteller of the American West.

Simon & Schuster, $35, hardcover, 9781451626209

The Queen of Katwe: A Story of Life, Chess, and One Extraordinary Girl's Dream of Becoming a Grandmaster

by Tim Crothers

In 2011, Tim Crothers wrote about Phiona Mutesi, a teenage girl from the largest slum in Kampala, Uganda's capital city, who was ranked second among the nation's women chess players, for ESPN the Magazine. She is, he said, "the ultimate underdog. To be African is to be an underdog in the world. To be Ugandan is to be an underdog in Africa. To be from Katwe is to be an underdog in Uganda. To be a girl is to be an underdog in Katwe."

The Queen of Katwe expands that article to book length, enabling Crothers to probe into Phiona's background family. He also tells us about Phiona's mentor, Robert Katende, an evangelical missionary who started a youth outreach in Katwe.

Phiona followed her brother to the chess club and became fascinated by the game, emerging as one of the group's fiercest players. She was sent to the women's national tournament to gain experience competing against highly skilled players; she qualified for international competition and could have been the Ugandan champion if she hadn't given away a victory to help a teammate.

Chess has shown Phiona a world beyond Katwe--where one person can have an entire mattress to herself--but it hasn't provided her with a full escape. Returning home after winning her first tournament in another country, the young champion's main concern was whether her family would have enough food for breakfast the next morning. By the end of The Queen of Katwe, you'll join the ranks of those rooting for her success. --Ron Hogan, founder of

Discover: An inspirational profile of an amazing chess player from one of the world's worst slums.

Scribner, $26, hardcover, 9781451657814


The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675

by Bernard Bailyn

The Barbarous Years is the third volume in historian Bernard Bailyn's account of the growth of British North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, which includes the Pulitzer-winning Voyagers to the West. In this book, Bailyn sets the settlement of British North America within the context of both the Native American cultures and political tensions in Europe. He gives as much importance to Powhattan's expansionist policies in Virginia as to the Dutch rebellion against Spain, the Thirty Years War and England's subjugation of Ireland. The resulting "conflict of civilizations" occurs on many fronts over nearly a century of brutal encounters not just between European settlers and native peoples, but among the Europeans themselves.

In addition to what Bailyn argues is a "single, continuous Euro-Indian war" from 1607 through the 1670s, settlers suffered continuous and destabilizing conflicts within and between the colonies. British settlers found themselves at odds with the Dutch, Finns, Swedes, Walloons, Germans, Danes and French Huguenots over religion, culture and commerce. Large-scale landowners of all nationalities competed with both small planters and land-poor freedmen.

Bailyn's style is a successful balancing act between erudition and storytelling, large-scale history and telling detail. The general framework and many of the characters in Bailyn's stories are well known to anyone with a basic knowledge of early American history; the details are not. Poised as a refutation of what Bailyn describes as "gentrified" histories of the early colonies, The Barbarous Years is a blood-soaked--and illuminating--version of a familiar story. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: A two-time Pulitzer-winning historian tells the story of early North American colonization stripped of its myths.

Knopf, $35, hardcover, 9780394515700


You Tell Your Dog First

by Alison Pace

Alison Pace has walked the canine storyline through several novels, but this doesn't detract from her first book of essays, which once again rely on dog tales. Readers met Carlie, a West Highland white terrier, in City Dog; now, Pace's autobiographical stories reveal how the real Carlie came into her life in You Tell Your Dog First.

From the prologue, in which Pace lovingly describes her family pets from the day she was born through the present, it's obvious she's a dog person in need of a dog. In New York City, though, the first step to dog ownership is a dog-friendly apartment, and even a non-city-dweller can relate to Pace's house hunting stories. At last, she meets and claims Carlie, and begins to live the maxim her father offers: "It's wonderful, isn't it, the way that dogs connect you to the world."

Carlie and Allison make friends in their daily Central Park outings; one Westie turns out to be Carlie's half-brother, one dog walker becomes the author's therapist. Romance might blossom with a fellow dog-lover--or not. Pace unself-consciously describes her date with the obsessive master of two Chinese Cresteds ("Do I talk to Carlie like that?" she wonders), while Carlie, who bares her teeth at another date, shows good instincts ("You were right all along!" Pace tells her).

Heartwarming and funny, these 18 essays reflect Pace's optimism, and zip by as fast as an off-leash Westie. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller

Discover: A delightful essay collection about a city dweller's life with the perfect canine companion.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 9780425255872

Children's & Young Adult

Unusual Creatures

by Michael Hearst, illus. by Jelmer Noordeman; design by Arjen Noordeman and Christie Wright

Young animal lovers and science fans will glom onto this paper-over-board information book, brimming with facts and humor.

An inviting design allows readers to dip in and out or read straight through the profiles of 50 fascinating creatures, which appear in alphabetical order. Each creature's treatment gives the scientific name, the Kingdom, Phylum, Class, etc., a map of its habitat, a brief description and fun factoid, plus a picture of the creature with a scale of inches or feet. The factoids might be his "short poem" tributes to animals of land, sea and sky (the bilby, blobfish, dugong, etc.), or it might be more visual--such as mapping out a process exclusive to the creature. A series of images depicts the regeneration of the axolotl's tail, for instance. For the Chinese giant salamander, which can measure up to six feet, Hearst delivers a playful "Pop Quiz," and for the platypus he lists "Platyfacts" (e.g., "The platypus bill is rubbery and flexible. It is not recyclable"). Jelmer Noordeman's artwork illustrates each animal with scientific accuracy, while playing up its unusual feature, such as the blobfish at rest on land, when gravity pulls its jellylike features into a decrepit-old-man grimace.

Hearst brings extreme situations into a child's realm, such as his comparison of a pair of male giraffe-necked weevils fighting to "two excavator construction vehicles at war." With its quirky facts and creatures and the sense of a world waiting to be revealed, this book may well inspire a new generation of budding scientists. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: This invitingly designed volume featuring 50 eclectic creatures will inspire young readers with enthusiasm for the natural world.

Chronicle Books, $16.99, hardcover, 112p., ages 8-12, 9781452104676

Nic Bishop Snakes

by Nic Bishop

The cover image of a parrot snake about to strike is just one of the stunning photographs in this breathtaking volume from veteran Nic Bishop. These pictures together with brief blocks of meaty facts set this book about reptiles a cut above the rest.

From the cozy curled-up green tree python, looking quite benign at rest (and found primarily in Australia), to the venomous feathered bush viper of Africa with huge light green scales, these reptiles' looks are as diverse as their wide-ranging habitats. A gorgeous photo of a yellow anaconda, slinking through the water, makes a sharp contrast to the Asian sand viper hiding on the desert floor, yet both lie in wait to ambush their prey. One striking photo of an African egg-eating snake depicts the creature after the egg has just cleared its mouth. (A closing author's note says this was Nic Bishop's most challenging photograph to take; he had to try four different snakes.) Many snakes eat only a few times a year.

Bishop uses a sunset image of a king snake from North America, with its hundreds of touch sensors under the skin, and an emerald tree boa about to prey upon an opossum, which it located through heat-seeking pits in its mouth, to demonstrate different ways snakes compensate for poor vision. Children will pick up this book for the striking photographs and stay for the fascinating facts. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A stunning array of snake photographs alongside concise blocks of text brimming with fascinating facts.

Scholastic, $17.99, hardcover, 48p., ages 4-8, 9780545206389


by Fiona Paul

Debut author Fiona Paul transports readers to Renaissance Venice to witness a mystery both sensational and dangerous in this launch to the Secrets of the Eternal Rose series.
When Cassandra Caravello visits the crypt of Liviana, a contessa from one of Venice's most prominent families, she finds her fair-haired friend's body is missing. In its place is a raven-haired corpse with an X carved over her heart. Cass also finds Falco inside the crypt, an artist who sleeps in graveyards and claims to disturb the dead to learn more about life. The two spend their nights traveling through canals into Venice, a city of human madness, to investigate these murders before the predator can get his hands on Cass.

Cass has been promised to Luca da Peraga for marriage, but the fiancé she never loved has been away for three years. So she gives in to the excitement of Falco. Falco gestures to paint an entire chapel inspired by Cass, and readers will become rapturous whenever the two are on the same page. Their exploits take them through Venetian graveyards, districts with courtesans, a masquerade ball and canals where "evil flows silently among us like venom," all described with lavish prose.

Fiona Paul stocks her historical thriller with red herrings to divert readers from unmasking the villain, right up until the bold conclusion, which hints at a secret order in the sequel, Belladonna, due out next July. --Adam Silvera, reviewer and former bookseller

Discover: A historical thriller where a killer is running loose in renaissance Venice.

Philomel Books, $17.99, hardcover, 448p., ages 14-up, 9780399257254

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