Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, February 15, 2013

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

From My Shelf

Austen Rules

Lately there's been a flood of books about Jane Austen. I wondered why, so I asked a few of our reviewers. Natalie Papailiou noted, "Austen's work is just as relevant now as it was when it was first penned. You're a smart, sassy gal trying to do it your way and a bunch of glamourpusses are trying to steal your man. Austen's work speaks to something vital in all women. There are so many expectations and restrictions placed on us as women (yes, even today), and her heroines always seem to have a dash of the unconventional (in varying degrees). Perhaps reading Austen makes you realize that you have the power and freedom not to have to rely on a man for your very survival as the women in her novel did. It's paradoxical." Additionally, the books are "fun, enjoyable and awesome." Nancy Powell wrote, "She remains the original chick lit writer with the most crossover appeal... and a pioneer of the conversational aside. And the greatest writer besides Shakespeare."

Today's issue features Nancy's review of What Matters in Jane Austen. Earlier this week, we reviewed The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things, which examines the minutiae of daily 18th- and 19th-century life to shed new light on the beloved author. Recent issues have covered The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, in which an Austen scholar unearths a lost manuscript in an English manor house, with the help of the house's handsome owner; A Dance with Jane Austen: How a Novelist and Her Characters Went to the Ball, a beautifully illustrated exploration of dance in the life and novels of Austen; The Jane Austen Marriage Manual, in which an Austen devotee sets out on a mission to marry for money; and Midnight in Austenland, a mystery set in a theme resort where one wears empire gowns, flirts modestly and lives like Elizabeth Bennet.

If one measures an author's worth and popularity by the quantity of homage-driven books, Jane Austen surely ranks in the very top. --Marilyn Dahl, reviews editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

Roger Hobbs: 'Crime Fiction Spoke to Me'

photo: Michael Lionstar

Roger Hobbs graduated from Reed College in 2011, after majoring in English and studying ancient languages, film noir and literary theory. He wrote the first draft of Ghostman (reviewed below) in the summer between junior and senior years, rewriting it throughout his senior year. He sent the manuscript to an agent the day he received his diploma. After vigorous bidding at the Frankfurt Book Fair, foreign rights have been sold to 14 countries; film rights went to Warner Bros. Knopf is starting off with a first printing of 150,000 copies. Hobbs lives in Portland, Ore.

When and why did you start writing?

I've been a writer since I was old enough to use a computer, at age 12. I don't know why I stuck to it--I think I enjoyed the feeling of playing God. When I'm behind a keyboard, I can create and control whole universes with the tips of my fingers. Between ages 12 and 21, I wrote seven full-length novels, two plays, a movie, and two spec television episodes. I have been writing four hours a day, every day, for 10 years.

Where did the idea for a crime thriller heist come from?

I wasn't always a crime fiction writer. When I was a teenager, I wrote a series of science fiction thriller novels. I didn't start writing crime fiction until I was 15, when I read Robert Crais's The Monkey's Raincoat, the first in a series of detective novels featuring Elvis Cole. For those who don't know, the Elvis Cole novels are written in this stunningly friendly, strong, funny, exciting voice. I found that voice so compelling that I immediately started writing my own private investigator novel. After that I moved on to other authors that I thought had strong, dark writing styles. I read everything from Dashiell Hammett to James Ellroy to Lee Child to James Patterson. Crime fiction, with its fast pace and brutal suspense, spoke to me like nothing else.

Your main character, Ghostman, or Jack--where did he come from?

Ghostman started out with a simple question: What would it be like to live without an identity? Every time I sat down at my computer, I'd try to keep that question in mind. What would he do with his spare time? How would he manage his self-esteem? How would he fall in love? How would he get attention? What would motivate him?

My character is a man with an extraordinary, one-in-a-million talent: he is completely unmemorable. You could walk by him on the street every day and never notice him. He represents the ultimate freedom--he can be whomever he wants. That idea, that freedom, is where Jack came from.

Did you do a lot of research for the novel? There's a lot of very specific and hard to find information about bank vaults, the Fed and its currency, weapons, etc.

First things first--I made a significant portion of the information up, off the top of my head. I know I'm going to get a lot of e-mails from folks saying I got stuff wrong, but I don't care. My research is in service of the story, not the other way around. It's a fantasy, after all.

That being said, however, I did a lot of research, and a great deal of the information in the book is factual, more or less. I traded cigarettes for stories with criminals in dive bars across the country. I talked with hitmen and bank robbers in secure chat rooms. I learned to pick locks and shoot guns and steal cars. I've been on the inside of more than a few high-level bank vaults. I've seen the inside of casino security. I got as close to the criminal world as I could without crossing over. I spent two years researching this book, so I could make it feel real. That's my goal--I didn't want to write nonfiction, but to write with an authentic ring to it.

There's quite a bit of violence in the novel. What are your feelings about this?

In my opinion, a lot of thrillers "clean up" their violence too much. Too much of it is bloodless and painless. People may die on almost every page, sure, but each individual death isn't very shocking. By taking away the blood and the suffering, I think a lot of books and movies trivialize the acts of violence they portray. I didn't want that for Ghostman.

I wanted Ghostman to be shocking to the core.

Murder is supposed to be bloody. Death is supposed to painful. Real violence, in my experience, is loud and close and way too personal. I wanted Ghostman to give the reader that same shock, excitement and horror that real violence does. I wanted it to be something you've never seen before--like killing a man by feeding him a jar of nutmeg, as I mention in one of the early chapters.

Time is almost a character in the novel--did you see it as a key element in creating your narrative?

Absolutely. I came up with the timeline before I came up with anything else. Giving characters a time limit forces characters who would otherwise deal with things slowly to take exaggerated risks and work on the fly. Time provides a clear shape to the narrative. The reader has a constant sense of what might happen next--and when something different happens, it's a surprise. I wrote the book to have no breaks, no seams, and no place to put the novel down. The timeline helped me do that.

What sets your book and its main character apart from others in a pretty crowded field?

There aren't a lot of unapologetic criminals headlining books or movies these days. Sure, every few months there'll be a book about a guy on the other side of the law, but most of the time these characters are redeemed in some way: this is their One Last Job, or they're only doing it to protect their family, or they've switched sides and now they're working for the "good guys," whatever that means. Jack isn't like that. He's a bad guy, and there's no denying it. There's no moral code here. There's no worn-out, rote sermon at the end about putting bad guys behind bars. My character is more like the rest of us--he does some good things, he does some bad things, and he doesn't worry about the rest of it. I think that's refreshing.

Finally, what's next for Roger Hobbs? Do you have a new novel in the works? Will we see a Ghostman Redux?

There will be another novel featuring the Ghostman, which I hope will come out in the next year or two. If you're still asking questions after Ghostman, don't worry. There are a lot of things I have yet to explain. I hope to work with this character for quite a bit longer. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Book Candy

Love Fiction; Science Books That Read Like Novels

A little post-Valentine's Day debriefing: "From Harry Potter to the Hunger Games, how well do you know love in fiction?" asked the Guardian in its love in fiction quiz. And Flavorwire offered to diagnose your romantic issues based on your favorite literary couple.

Boing Boing featured a video of master blacksmith Tony Swatton of Sword & Stone forging Jaime Lannister's sword for HBO's Game of Thrones.


"Some of the greatest nonfiction books about science read like novels," io9 observed in highlighting "23 science books that are so exciting they read like genre fiction."


Checking in, reader style. Noting that "book nerds need someplace cool to stay as much as art nerds do," Flavorwire showcased "10 of the world's greatest hotels inspired by literature."


Are you a booklover who would also like to "get your cat a cat tree but don't like the traditional ones?" Urban CatDesign's CatCase "stores books, DVDs, etc. while at the same time being the ideal playground for your cat."


For the Heavy Rabbit bookshelf bench, "each of the 31 steel elements is hand bended and welded together into a structural form with storage capabilities," the Bookshelf blog reported.


Stephen Dobyns: A Bad Attitude

Stephen Dobyns has published 13 books of poems, 20 novels, a book of stories and two books of essays on poetry. His most recent collection of poems, Winter's Journey, was published in 2010 by Copper Canyon. Two of Dobyns's novels, two short stories and his book of poems Black Dog, Red Dog have been made into films. His latest novel, The Burn Palace, was just published by Blue Rider Press. Dobyns teaches in the MFA Program of Warren Wilson College and lives with his wife in Westerly, R.I.

It was a bad attitude problem that got me started as a writer, or at least that's what my teachers might say, beginning with Mrs. Winter in first grade. I was a dreamy, imaginative and often distracted kid who spent more time looking out the window than up toward the front of the room. And I would occupy myself with "what if" stories: What if part of the ceiling fell on Mrs. Winter's head? What if an airplane flew through the window? Scarcely a week went by without a teacher telling me to pay attention, until my bad attitude problem got me kicked out of high school in 11th grade.

But the narratives improved. I read books and had many books read to me when I was three and four and five, not only by my mother but also by two pretty aunts whose fiancées were in the Navy.

So it seemed obvious I'd be a writer: a writer and a fireman, a writer and a jet pilot. Then those other professions dropped away and I would be a writer solo, though I didn't know what it meant, didn't know how hard it would be. But to me it meant telling stories. A lyric poem is a story; a newspaper article is a story. They stand at opposite poles, but for 60 years I've wandered between those poles.

To some degree one becomes the toy of what one loves, and after a short time I didn't feel alive unless I was writing. But that has kept me going me now through 37 books. When The Burn Palace came together in my head, I had an incredible sense of pleasure that sustained me through the writing process. Then I passed it on, because what is the point of any story if I can't pass it on to someone else?

Book Review


The Grammarian

by Annapurna Potluri

The dizzying high point of Annapurna Potluri's The Grammarian occurs when its two main characters, who differ greatly in origin and circumstance, reach a moment of near-sublime connection. One of them is a Frenchman, the other an Indian girl, and the moment--though innocent--is fraught with taboos.

The beauty and hope of this particular moment is fatally ruptured, but not before it encapsulates the ambitious themes of Potluri's sweeping debut novel--the limitations and possibilities of language, the struggle for love and freedom, an impassable cultural and political divide and the ultimately failed attempt to bridge it.

Written in supple, sensuous prose that aches with memory and regret, The Grammarian unfolds as handsome Alexandre, a young and ambitious academic, travels from Paris to southern India in 1911 to write a grammar of Telugu ("an agglutinating language; a sentence could stream off like bars of opera"). He is hosted by wealthy Shiva Adivi, an "aristocrat sympathetic to Europeans," who has two teenage daughters: the younger radiantly, unfairly beautiful, and the elder, Anjali, disfigured by a childhood illness.

Alexandre and Anjali, both outsiders, form an unlikely friendship. He is drawn to her curiosity and intelligence, while she yearns for love and recognition untouched by the pity and barely veiled disgust she's used to. Though Alexandre's impulsive and tragically misguided kindness has devastating repercussions for her, it also opens her to a joy and freedom she's never known.

Potluri writes with uncommon elegance, her keen empathy and flair for metaphor in artful marriage with her own background in linguistics. --Hannah Calkins, blogger at Unpunished Vice

Discover: A richly drawn portrait of the chaos and color of imperial India--a debut novel that spans more than half a century, three continents and the unreachable distance between two people.

Counterpoint, $24, hardcover, 9781619021020

We Live in Water: Stories

by Jess Walter

Following the success of Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter's We Live in Water collects 13 stories that previously appeared in literary magazines, Playboy and

We Live in Water is filled with life's losers: meth addicts, liars, rotten parents, con men--and a con woman--and one particularly heartbreaking story, "Anything Helps." A father "goes to cardboard," making a sign asking for cash and standing on a street corner, hoping to get enough money to buy his son one of the Harry Potter books. He succeeds, buys the book and takes it to his son's foster home, where he is met by a stern foster mother who informs him that such "Satanic" books are not acceptable. In the end, the boy returns the book because he has come to understand his foster parents' objection to its content; he is lost to his father in every way.

In another story, "Thief," a father hatches an elaborate plan to catch one of his three kids in the act of stealing from the Vacation Fund. The ending has an unexpected twist that will make you smile.

"Wheelbarrow Kings" features two druggies who pick up a TV from a dealer who wants to get rid of it. They steal a wheelbarrow and push it, with the TV riding precariously, six blocks to the pawn shop. The owner tells them that they are "like five years late."

Depressing? Not in Walter's hands. He can mine the least scintilla of humor and wit from his characters' broken lives--people whose dreams will surely not come true but who somehow keep trying. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: Thirteen stories filled with pathos, humor, despair, dead ends and hope from National Book Award nominee Jess Walter.

Harper Perennial, $14.99, paperback, 9780061926624


by Jim Crace

Jim Crace has written a dozen diverse novels infused with rich language and character particular to whatever story he is telling, whether it takes place in a Bronze Age village or on an imaginary continent. In Harvest, Crace is working at the top of his craft as he shows us the unraveling of a traditional English tenant farm.

Harvest is narrated by Walter Thirsk, a city man who came to the remote village 12 years before as a servant to Master Kent, but chose to join the villagers in the barley fields. Kent is a widower, so, under English law, the rights to the estate will now pass to his wife's brother from the city. Thirsk is a thoughtful, observant narrator who is both a part of the village yet also, always, an outsider. He struggles with the loss of his wife and the impending loss of the farm's paternalistic master.

When a surveyor arrives on behalf of the new master to map the estate and draw up a proposal to "fence and quickthorn all the land and turn everything... into gallant sheep country," Thirsk sees no way to avoid the impending changes. Itinerants set up camp in the "wasted woods" the same day that a fire destroys the master's barn, and the tenants' fears turn them violent.

With Thirsk as our witness, we watch a way of life dismantle before our eyes. Crace's imaginary world is as powerfully engrossing as anything the real world throws our way. --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: An isolated English tenant farm collapses in the face of economic and social upheavals in Crace's vividly created world.

Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $24.95, hardcover, 9780385520775

The House Girl

by Tara Conklin

In her debut novel, The House Girl, former attorney Tara Conklin uses art to connect the lives of two very different women separated by more than a century.

In 1852 Virginia, 17-year-old house slave Josephine looks after her dying mistress, Lu Anne Bell, while trying to dodge her master's fists. Although her last escape attempt ended in recapture, abuse and the stillbirth of her child, Josephine is ready to run away again. Waiting for her chance, she soothes half-mad Lu Anne by putting finishing touches on the paintings Lu Anne can't complete. Josephine's talent far surpasses Lu Anne's, but her world has no place for a slave with her talents.

In 2004, ambitious young attorney Lina Sparrow is assigned to a landmark slavery reparations case. If she succeeds, she could become a partner at her firm, but her supervisor's indifference and a backstabbing co-worker hamper her efforts. Then, through friends of her artist father, Lina learns of rumors that the celebrated Southern artist Lu Anne Bell's paintings may have been the work of a house slave. If Lina can find a descendant of Josephine to act as plaintiff, their case will have the perfect public face, but first she must solve the mystery of what happened to Josephine more than 150 years ago.

Alternating between Josephine and Lina's points of view, The House Girl draws two distinct portraits that intersect in surprising ways. Skillfully executed and packed with surprises, this novel of the ways in which art saves our humanity is an engrossing, do-not-miss adventure. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager, Latah County Library District; blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A deftly constructed debut novel about a young attorney trying to unravel the mysterious fate of a slave who may have been behind several acclaimed works of art.

Morrow, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062207395

Above All Things

by Tanis Rideout

Debut novelist Tanis Rideout mingles historical fact and fiction in Above All Things, alternating the story of George Mallory's part in the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition with the life of the loving wife he left behind.

Mallory, the last great English explorer, has already risked life and limb twice trying to become the first man to reach the summit of Mount Everest. When a third opportunity presents itself, he cannot say no. While his mission colors him a hero in the eyes of a British people still recovering from the First World War, his wife, Ruth, has a much different reaction. Mallory promised her he was done with his dangerous expeditions, that he wanted to settle down with her and their three small children for good.

Rideout subtly explores possible motivations for his obsession: a chance to give a taste of glory to war-ravaged Britain, an ultimate thrill ride, an escape from flashbacks to the war, even an obligation to Ruth to complete the goal that has kept him from her.

While Mallory and his fellow mountaineers endure freezing temperatures, the loss of comrades and prickly personality conflicts over many weeks, the juxtaposed scenes of Ruth's life in Britain are all taken from one day, the day on which she learns whether or not her husband will return. Interspersed throughout both narratives are flashbacks from the couple's courtship that reveal their love. This combination of nail-biting adventure and tender romance will thrill and move readers right up to the end. --Jaclyn Fulwood, youth services manager at Latah County Library District and blogger at Infinite Reads

Discover: A fictional account of George Mallory's third attempt to climb Mount Everest takes readers to the heights of mountains and the depths of the human heart.

Amy Einhorn Books, $26.95, hardcover, 9780399160585

Mystery & Thriller

Hammett Unwritten

by Owen Fitzstephen

One almost has to be a Pinkerton detective to unravel the double crosses and mysteries surrounding the falcon statue in Owen Fitzstephen's Hammett Unwritten--or is it Gordon McAlpine's? In fact, isn't Fitzstephen a character from Dashiell Hammett's The Dain Curse (though his name was spelled Fitzstephan)? 

Leaping around in time, the novel explores why Hammett never wrote another novel after The Thin Man. As he's putting the final touches on that book, he's visited by Moira O'Shea, on whom he based Brigid O'Shaughnessy, the femme fatale of The Maltese Falcon. She tells him the black bird sitting on his desk is made of a magical stone that grants the owner's wishes, and is thus the reason for Hammett's success.

When Hammett scoffs at this notion, O'Shea convinces him that the only way to prove the legend wrong is to give her the statue--and he promptly develops an impenetrable writer's block. Hammett searches for the bird, but O'Shea seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Could the mythology surrounding the falcon be true? Or is O'Shea exacting psychological revenge?

Readers may sometimes feel that Gordon McAlpine is messing with their heads, but it's fun to go along with Hammett as he investigates the legend. Fans of Hammett's work--and The Maltese Falcon in particular--should enjoy the many references to his work and the novel's blending of fact and fiction. In the end, it almost doesn't matter what's true, only that it's a story well told. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis, writer/editor blogging at Pop Culture Nerd

Discover: A meta-novel supposedly written by one of Dashiell Hammett's characters explains why he never wrote another book after The Thin Man.

Seventh Street Books, $13.95, paperback, 9781616147143

Three Graves Full

by Jamie Mason

In Three Graves Full, Jamie Mason has crafted an offbeat, menacing tale that is beautifully written and compulsively readable. Irony and dark humor propel the plot in ways that reinvigorate the crime novel, revealing sharp insights into the complexities of the human heart and mind.

"The world was short one human being because of Jason Getty," a lonely young widower and "crackerjack wallflower" who, on a moonlit October night, was pushed too far and killed a man who had it coming. Jason may have hidden the body, burying the corpse in his suburban Stillwater backyard, but he can't live with himself. For 17 months, he goes through the motions of living, most nights "watching through the dining-room window for the unavoidable squad car to turn down the street and ruin his life." But when landscapers come to do a routine clean-up of Jason's property, they discover not one body, but two--another man and a woman--in the flower bed out front. The guilt-ridden nightmare of Jason's life suddenly flares. He is thrust into a harrowing investigation to identify the two corpses--how and why they got there--and forced to shed his isolated existence. Will the authorities find the third body?

Jason's destiny becomes intertwined with a jilted woman looking for the missing pieces of her own life; an upstanding small-town detective and his astute police dog; and a mysterious loner whose own actions and past may very well dictate the fates of all involved. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: An offbeat, menacing tale about a criminal with a conscience who is forced to confront his past and shed his isolated existence.

Gallery, $24.99, hardcover, 9781451685039


by Roger Hobbs

Roger Hobbs's (a 2011 graduate from Reed College) debut novel, Ghostman, is a superbly written dark crime thriller. It's narrated by the smart, stoic Jack Delton, aka Ghostman, a fixer as meticulous and resourceful as Jason Bourne, who translates ancient texts in his down time. (His code comes from The Aeneid: "If you can't reach heaven, raise hell.") With a story told in short, James Patterson-like chapters  of addictive prose, it's as good a first noir as Nic Pizzolatto's Galveston.

An armored car heist at an Atlantic City casino goes wrong. Marcus, the brutal criminal mastermind who planned it, asks Ghostman--who owes Marcus after a botched heist in Kuala Lumpur five years earlier--to retrieve the money taken by one of the fleeing robbers. This has to happen fast: the money is tagged with an ink bomb that will go off in 48 hours, destroying the cash. As the clock ticks down, Hobbs inserts suspenseful flashbacks to that old job, where Ghostman was mentored by Angela, who taught him to cut off his "last ties with the normal world and how to live like a ghost."

After checking out the site, Ghostman concludes that there was a third person, a shooter, firing from a parking lot at the robbers below. Was this all a set-up, a double cross? Is he now in the cross-hairs? Is Marcus after him? Getting in Ghostman's way is Wolf, a sadistic killer, and a relentless FBI agent. Smart, gripping, shrewdly observed, and oh so well written, this is a sharp, standout piece of fiction. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: An entertaining noir crime thriller as sharp as bloody tacks, edgy, keen in intellect and trenchantly written--one heck of a debut novel.

Knopf, $24.95, hardcover, 9780307959966

Biography & Memoir

Sparkly Green Earrings: Catching the Light at Every Turn

by Melanie Shankle

If you're sick of high-strung parents bragging that their gifted children request sautéed brussel sprouts and conjugate German verbs for sport, Melanie Shankle's Sparkly Green Earrings will be like manna from heaven.

Shankle, creator of the Big Mama blog, paints a very different picture of motherhood than you'll get from the photos posted to Facebook by doting parents. Her daughter, Caroline, can be obnoxious, much like every other child on this planet--and, rather than insisting her beloved daughter is "misunderstood," Shankle freely admits the opposite, creating room for hilarious stories.

Reading this memoir could be the least alone you'll feel as a mother. Finally, there's someone else out there whose kid yells "poop!" at the playground at the top of her lungs. Shankle takes motherhood seriously, but she doesn't take herself too seriously. Her message is clear: if you love and care for your children, everything is going to be fine.

If you've ever wondered when parenting became a competitive sport--and one where we feel we are constantly failing, at that--or why we feel like we need to shield our kids from every disappointment and enroll them in 10 extracurricular activities, you'll marvel at how Shankle manages to keep you laughing while contemplating those questions. You may even find yourself nodding along and hooting "Amen, sister!--until the last couple of pages, where she delivers a whammy that truly underscores the pain, joy and indescribable power of motherhood. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: A hilarious, no-holds-barred memoir from the blogger behind the Big Mama.

Tyndale House, $14.99, paperback, 9781414371719

Essays & Criticism

What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved

by John Mullan

Fans of Jane Austen know her as a keen observer of social mores; between every knowing glance, every turn in the ballroom, every ironic phrase and heroic action was a woman in firm control of her craft. John Mullan, a specialist in 18th-century English literature (How Novels Work), tackles the intricacies of the Austen novel, revealing the subtle, yet complex, influences of culture and society on her fiction while shedding appreciative light on the continuing relevance of her pioneering literary style three centuries after her death.

Mullan's compendium covers 20 topics, examining Austen's characters by their age, styles of address, physical descriptions, speech, the games they play and so on. He even addresses the media portrayals of Austen characters, noting the flaws in screen adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and Emma. Austen was famous for her ability to filter plots through the consciousness of her characters; the literary device she perfected--free indirect style--brings insight into human nature and a person's interior life that sets her apart from her contemporaries.

"Accuracy is her genius," writes Mullan. "Noticing minutiae will lead you to a wonderful connectedness of her novels, where a small detail of wording or motivation in one place will flare with the recollection of something that went much earlier." Indeed, What Matters in Jane Austen? is one collection that Austenites will unabashedly appreciate. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: A literary critic for the Guardian brings fresh new and insights into the literary details and truths found within Jane Austen's fiction.

Bloomsbury, $30, hardcover, 9781620400418

Children's & Young Adult

Out of the Easy

by Ruta Sepetys

Ruta Sepetys's (Between Shades of Gray) second novel takes readers deep inside the underbelly of New Orleans on the eve of 1950.

"My mother's a prostitute," Jo Morraine's narrative begins. Willie Woodley is the madam who runs the establishment where Jo's mother goes to work. There's far more to Willie than first meets the eye. A savvy businesswoman who's tough on the outside but who sees Jo's potential, Willie becomes a vehicle for Sepetys to point out the limits set on women in the late 1940s and early 1950s, especially in the South. As Jo watches Willie navigate the system--legal, financial and otherwise--she picks up some skills of her own.

A few other adults watch out for Jo, including a bestselling novelist with a bookstore, and Willie's kind-hearted driver, Cokie. They balance out a mother with no street smarts and no redeeming qualities. Jo's mother gets mixed up with the mob and draws Jo into it, just as the teen's life is looking up. As Cokie tells Jo, "Call this place 'The Big Easy' shoot, ain't nothin' easy about it." Sepetys slowly builds a mounting tension between the life Jo was born into, and a chance to create a better life for herself and leave her past behind.

This suspenseful novel, framed by a murder mystery, more fully explores the question of who Jo Morraine will become, and proves Sepetys's extraordinary versatility as a storyteller. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A murder mystery set in seedy 1950s New Orleans where an intelligent, ambitious teen tries to make a better life for herself.

Philomel/Penguin, $17.99, hardcover, 352p., ages 14-up, 9780399256929

Unravel Me

by Tahereh Mafi

It's time for war in the edge-of-your seat sequel to Tahereh Mafi's dystopian Shatter Me. Juliette, who was confined to isolation in Shatter Me because of her lethal touch, has resisted becoming the villain's weapon. She later escaped with Adam, the boy she loves who's mysteriously immune to her power, and settled in Omega Point with other rebels like her.

Unravel Me opens two weeks after Juliette's arrival at Omega Point, and she's struggling to become the warrior needed to fight off the Reestablishment's soldiers. The psychokinetic leader of Omega Point, Castle, forces Juliette into more training while putting Adam through testing to uncover what makes him immune to Juliette. Warner, the beautiful and sadistic son of the Reestablishment's leader, has been seen hunting for Omega Point's hidden location and for the girl with the lethal touch who got away; his obsession is compelling, and further explored in the e-novella Destroy Me.

Mafi creates characters that readers feel invested in, as they evolve and regress in the face of imminent war. There's a strain on Adam and Juliette's relationship when they learn they'll be at their strongest if they separate. Mafi rigs her love triangle with Warner, a soldier with an unfortunate cause, who gains readers' sympathies even as they remain wary of his ruthlessness. The lyricism of the first book carries over in this installment, while Mafi pumps up the urgency in this war that waits for no one. --Adam Silvera, former bookseller and Paper Lantern Lit intern

Discover: A teenage girl with lethal superpowers making impossible choices to soften the war's blow.

HarperCollins, $17.99, hardcover, 480p., ages 14-up, 9780062085535


by Cory Doctorow

It's a year and a half since the nightmarish events of Doctorow's thriller Little Brother, and Marcus Yallow and his girlfriend, Ange, are enjoying some down time at the Burning Man Festival (where Marcus has a very funny encounter with real-life Internet heroes John Perry Barlow, John Gilmore, Mitch Kapor and... Wil Wheaton). But then a meeting with his nemesis/ally, Masha, draws Marcus back into the hacktivist scene.

Masha gives Marcus a thumbdrive filled with evidence of corporate and government wrongdoing, and asks him to release it, Wikileaks-style, if she goes missing. But, unable to afford college, Marcus has landed a dream job as tech guru for a crusading political candidate, and doing so could cost his employer the election. Back in San Francisco, Marcus is being tailed by the same officials who kidnapped, interrogated and tortured him in the earlier novel--only now they're working for a private corporation, and even more dangerous. As Marcus rallies his friends, both virtual and IRL, to help, Doctorow ratchets up the suspense, telling another frightening tale of technology and homeland security gone out of control--while discoursing on how to keep what you do on the Internet private and how to make the perfect cup of coffee.

Marcus may remind readers of Aaron Swartz; in fact, the late Internet activist wrote an afterword to Homeland. While it isn't necessary to have read Little Brother to enjoy Homeland, together these novels will inspire teens to question how they use technology--and how it uses them. --Robin Lenz, managing editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Doctorow's suspenseful follow-up to Little Brother, which will inspire teens to question how they use technology--and how it uses them.

Tor, $17.99, hardcover, 400p., ages 13-up, 9780765333698

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