Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Poisoned Pen Press: That Night in the Library by Eva Jurczyk

From My Shelf

Fun Summer Reading

As children and teens nationwide wind up the school year, they will leave with summer reading lists of "suggested" titles, possibly even a required number for completion by the time school resumes. But what about the books that give pure pleasure? Let's make sure they have some of those as well.

Flight 1-2-3 by Maria van Lieshout makes an ideal travel companion for families planning a trip by plane. High-contrast design elements serve as a legend that unlocks airport signs for luggage carts, elevators and the all-important rest rooms. Kids who like to get a bit more technical will welcome Jet Plane by David Macaulay.

For newly independent readers, the Critter Club series by Callie Barkley stars four friends who start an animal rescue in Amy and the Missing Puppy; their adventures continue in All About Ellie and Liz Learns a Lesson. Even 8- to 12-year-olds who don't refer to themselves as "readers" will madly turn the pages of The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen and its sequel, The Runaway King. Four orphans, conscripted by a nefarious member of the royal court, "audition" for a chance to pose as a young prince presumed to have been killed by pirates. In Nobody's Secret, author Michaela MacColl imagines poet Emily Dickinson as a teenage detective solving a murder, and Doll Bones by Holly Black, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler, describes a role-playing game gone awry, with plenty of suspense and gothic overtones.

Gorgeous by Paul Rudnick (reviewed below) may well find its way into a few adult beach bags, too. Fans of Kristin Cashore's Graceling books will discover heroines just as smart and skillful in Robin LaFevers's novels, Grave Mercy and Dark Triumph. And teens searching for a gripping dystopia, in which an alien presence attempts to hijack the earth, will not be able to put down The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

The Writer's Life

William Dietrich: Bringing History to Life

photo: Susan Doupe

William Dietrich is the author of 17 books, both fiction and nonfiction, including the Ethan Gage series. His latest is The Barbed Crown (Harper, $26.99), sixth in the series, set when Napoleon Bonaparte was crowned emperor of France. Gage, his wife, his son and fellow spy/aristocrat Catherine Marceau end up in France to overthrow Napoleon's plans. Gage, an American, ends up working for both the British and the French. The Barbed Crown, like the previous Gage novels, is an adventure that thrills while remaining accurate in historical detail.

What are the challenges in writing a historical novel like the ones in the Ethan Gage series?

Well, I assume my readers probably don't have a lot of knowledge of the period and so I've got to keep them informed as to what was going on in the world at that time. At the same time, I'm trying to keep them interested. I do a lot of research on oddball details, and I try to make the era come alive. It's a very colorful period. That's why I like to set books there, in terms of a lot of political upheaval. The uniforms were gorgeous, the dresses were gorgeous, the ships were gorgeous... and so, for a novice, it's a fun place to be. That's one challenge.

Another challenge is trying to bring a contemporary eye to the story. Ethan Gage is an American hero back in 1804, but at the same time, he's looking at the world in service of the reader. So he's got a little bit of an irreverent take on things. And it's really my attempt to explain both the similarities between the two time periods as well as the differences.

How do you research these books?

I start with general histories of the period and do kind of a timeline. You know, what was going on in such and such a year, because the series is chronological; the next book starts roughly where the last one left off. I try to find something interesting going on in that year where I can put Ethan, and so I've moved him around on the map quite a bit. And then I start reading biographies of some of the real-life people involved, looking for people who are interesting: Are there things I can quote, are there things I can take from their life? I look for memoirs of a period, different accounts of people who lived then who wrote about what was going on. I travel to the places I'm talking about.

For The Barbed Crown, for example, we spent some time in Paris going to some of the sites that were described in the novel. I went over to England and went to the Nelson ship Victory, which is still in Portsmouth Harbor, to get a feel for a warship of that time. And then I try to pull all those details together. I remember at the shipyard, I went to the restroom and over the urinal was a poster explaining what the seamen used for toilet paper--I was determined somehow to fit that into the book in one place or another.

What about the Napoleonic era inspires you?

The evolution of that is kind of interesting. I had enjoyed other series set in that period, like those of Bernard Cornwell or Patrick O'Brien or Forester with the Hornblower series. And so my idea was to have an American hero; the initial idea was that he was going to interact with the British side, because that's usually what I had been reading in these books, but that wasn't working. And I decided then to switch him over to the French side, and I had always been fascinated with Napoleon's invasion of Egypt (which is the subject of the first book in the series, Napoleon's Pyramids). I thought that would be an interesting backdrop. And it was the same time coincidentally that we were getting involved in the second war in Iraq. So I found it timely as well, because there were a lot of parallels between what the French experienced and what we did. Once I got into the era, I got more and more interested in it; then the characters seemed successful, people were willing to read another book about them. And so the thing has grown since then.

I had intended to write a stand-alone novel, but now my ambition is a little bit greater. I'm trying to tell these good, entertaining adventure stories but I'm trying to slowly create a portrait of the entire world at that time. So Ethan has been in Europe a lot, but he's also been in North America, he's been in the Caribbean. In future books, maybe we can send him some other places as well and create this broad overview of what life was like then.

I see it as the time the modern world was invented. Napoleon was the one who really broke the mold of hereditary monarchy and started us on the path to present-day leadership. Our modern economic system, our industrial system, our military system--all of those things were kind of started in this period and so it's interesting to go back and see those beginnings and learn more about our own era.

What role did the Barbed Crown play in the crowning of Napoleon in real life?

What's factual is that Napoleon crowned himself when he named himself emperor. That story itself is interesting, because of course the French revolution had overthrown the monarchy, and it was a radical revolution, every bit as radical as the Russian Revolution. And then the people reacted against that and so this military dictator came along, Bonaparte, and they were ready for stability. The irony, then, was the revolution had produced a whole new emperor and royal family.

But then the mystery in history has been, "Why did Napoleon go through the bother of inviting the pope to Paris to attend the crowning?" The conventional way was that the pope would put the crown on his head but, at the last minute, Bonaparte decided to do it himself. Napoleon never really left an account of that himself, so it allows the novel a little bit of room for invention.

So in researching the book, I ran across the fact that there is a crown of thrones that's kept at Notre Dame that by legend was the original crown of thorns that the Romans put on Jesus's head. This thing actually exists, and it's still brought out once a month and displayed, and I thought, "Well, how fun to somehow pull that crown into my story." And as you know, it plays a key role in this coronation incident, but putting the two crowns together was solely my invention. But I have a lot of fun in suggesting that it could have happened this way. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Norwegian by Night

by Derek Miller

Complex, layered and utterly original, debut novelist Derek B. Miller's Norwegian by Night is one of the most surprising and unusual novels to emerge in recent years. While there are always exceptions, a certain homogeneity has overtaken suspense novels of late, especially those set in Scandinavia. The landscape, both internal and external, is oppressive, dark, and relentlessly unforgiving. The protagonists of these novels tend to be predictable as well; brooding, troubled types on a mission who seek to reconcile their pasts while solving crimes. While Norwegian by Night has a great deal of tension and suspense, it cannot easily be classified as a thriller. And while it offers a unique insight into the country and character of Norway, it is of a very different type than such Norwegian writers as Karin Fossum or Jo Nesbø. Moreover, Sheldon Horowitz, as unusual  a character to ever carry a novel, bears no resemblance to the kind of hero we've come to expect. It is to Miller's great credit that he has managed to retain all the elements of a first-rate Scandinavian thriller while turning the genre--and our expectations of it--on its ear.

The plot is deceptively simple. Octogenarian Sheldon Horowitz, a recently widowed watchmaker and Korean War veteran from New York City, has moved to Oslo with his granddaughter, Rhea, and her new husband, Lars. It's a tenuous situation--Sheldon feels out of place both as an American and as a Jew in Norway, where the Jewish population tops out at about 1,000 in a country of roughly five million people. Sheldon's son, Saul, was killed in Vietnam before Rhea's birth and her indifferent mother left the baby with Sheldon and his wife to raise. Sheldon blames himself for Saul's death (a complicated subplot that is revealed in careful increments through the novel) but he finds hope in the prospect of a new generation; Rhea is pregnant. For her part, Rhea worries that her grandfather may be suffering from dementia and when she miscarries at the beginning of the novel, she fears the news will send him over the edge. At this point, the novel takes one of the many left turns that keep the reader engaged and guessing. While Rhea and Lars are out, Sheldon witnesses the brutal murder of his upstairs immigrant neighbor, a Balkan woman whose six-year-old son hides from the attacker. Haunted by war and loss and increasingly merging fantasy and memory with reality, Sheldon decides the safest thing to do is to go on the run with the boy, who speaks no English and remains mute for the entire novel. Given Sheldon's age and dubious mental state, it seems unlikely that this odd pair will get very far, but Sheldon is sharper than his granddaughter (and, indeed, the reader) thinks. Despite being penniless, not knowing the language or geography of Norway, and unable to communicate with his new charge in anything but gestures, Sheldon manages to elude his family, the police, and the killer in short order.

Once Sheldon escapes, the novel splits into four points of view that crisscross each other throughout the novel, ultimately converging in a small summer farmhouse in the countryside. The first is that of Rhea and Lars, whose new but respectful and loving marriage Miller describes with wonderful economy and subtlety. Through Rhea we also learn more about Sheldon's past, the softer side that he is unable to reveal, and the depth of his devotion to his granddaughter. Then there is Chief Inspector Sigrid Ødegård, the steely, dry-witted but highly intuitive detective in charge of the murder case, who, along with her equally dry partner Petter, offers a native's insight into Norway. Sigrid quickly figures out that the crime is connected to an Albanian war criminal, Enver, whose rape of the dead woman during the war in the Balkans produced the child whom Sheldon is hiding. Enver, chilling, single-minded, and almost casually evil, is the third point of view in the novel. Through him, Miller offers readers a window into the ability of war to warp, twist, and destroy morality. Finally, there is Sheldon himself--irascible, melancholy and possessed of a razor-sharp ironic wit--whose desire to right the wrongs of his past, both real and imagined, drives him and the boy on their increasingly dangerous journey.

Merging themes, viewpoints, and even genres in one compact novel, Norwegian by Night could easily have been twice as long without risking reader fatigue. Yet part of the deep satisfaction of this affecting book is Miller's ability to carefully build his scenes and dialogue with multiple layers of meaning. The story is moving yet never sentimental, intricate yet effortless. Miller takes readers down many paths, commenting thoughtfully on war, family, country, identity and the personal as political, yet never loses the tension or propulsion of his story. Thought-provoking, evocative, and wry in the best way, Norwegian by Night is a remarkable novel. --Debra Ginsberg, author

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, hardcover, 9780547934877

Derek B. Miller: Stranger in a Strange Land

Photo: Camilla Waszink

Derek B. Miller is the director of the Policy Lab and is a senior fellow with the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research. Born and raised in Boston, he has lived abroad for more than 15 years, in Norway, Switzerland, Britain, Israel and Hungary. He now lives in Oslo with his wife and two children. Miller's debut novel, Norwegian by Night, has just been released by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Sheldon Horowitz is one of the most unusual and intriguing characters to emerge in fiction for a long time. Where did the inspiration for Sheldon come from, and how did he develop for you?

Sheldon was a minor character in an unpublished manuscript and was someone I knew would need to be explored and understood much more later. But the inspiration for Sheldon came much earlier and from several places. I was extremely close with my maternal grandfather--Lester Shapiro--who did not have a life like Sheldon's, nor did he have Sheldon's "rich inner life," but his love for me was boundless, and that intimacy informed the love between Sheldon and his own son, Saul. 

I chose the old-fashioned and very Jewish name "Sheldon Horowitz" because I wanted a name that suggested a very specific sort of character that we think we know in American life. And then I wanted to undermine that assumed knowledge by demonstrating a world of emotion and experience and ideas that were real for real-life people like Sheldon and yet we have largely taken for granted or cloaked in a sort of decent mystery.

I was inspired to use the name Horowitz specifically because the writer James Salter was born James Horowitz, and also fought in Korea--though he was a pilot, not a sniper like Sheldon. I was reading Salter at the time to become a better writer. I would not draw any parallels between Sheldon and Mr. Salter, and I did not take Mr. Salter as any kind of model or character study for Sheldon, but I liked the notion of the private man being separate from the public assumption. These small sparks of inspiration do not always have deep origins. One shouldn't read too much into them.

The matter of "name changing", meanwhile, was quite common in that generation. Lester was called "Sonny" by everyone he knew when he was a teenager. And I chose Sheldon's youthful nom de guerre, "Donny," in direct homage to that. In fact, my grandmother knew Lester as Sonny until they were engaged, only to learn they would henceforth be Lester and Esther Shapiro. 

There are no fewer than four wars discussed in this novel, and you've done an impressive job of showing readers both the horrible universals of these wars and their unique particulars. What aspect of war would you most like readers to know about or take away from this novel?

To understand any war, one has to engage in a very careful assessment of what is general about it, and what is highly particular about it, and it is that essential tension and consideration that I think is most important for readers to know and insist upon in others. 

On the surface, war seems, and indeed is, the same. To say "war is hell" is to accurately describe it universally--that is, across social systems and through time.

But each is also a particular hell that requires not only a general understanding, but a highly situated, nuanced and refined understanding of the actors, relations among actors, history, means of combat, terrain and everything that a novelist would have to communicate to a reader to let that person enter into a specific world, and not a generalized one.

This is also what we need to know as citizens of a democracy, not only as readers, and we need to insist that our governmental and military institutions have the needed policy tools and instruments--not merely equipment--to achieve this understanding and strategically design plans of action to accommodate it. You might think they do. They don't. And this is essential if we want to prevent conflict, manage it or, if necessary, win it. 

I would also add that we need this understanding in order to recover from war. In my story, I don't only talk about four wars, but about how men (and it was all men in this case) coped with or recovered from their return. Saul went back to war. Sheldon went to Europe with a camera. The different Balkan characters each had distinct--not homogenized--relationships to Norway and its peaceful nature. 

Today, I'm deeply troubled by how American soldiers are returning with so little support from combat, and how poor our systems are for receiving them. The "suicide hotlines"--while necessary--are insufficient. Reintegration of our ex-combatants should begin before they are deployed. And this is something I know a fair amount about because I work on the design of post-conflict reintegration programs with the United Nations in my day job at the Policy Lab, in close collaboration with my colleague Lisa Rudnick at the UN Institute for Disarmament Research. In fiction and nonfiction, these topics are often on my mind.

Dislocation is an important theme in the novel; so many of the characters are "strangers in a strange land." Can you explain how this theme developed for you?

I've been a foreigner for a long time. I was studying at Georgetown for my Masters degree in national security studies in 1996, and I was lucky enough to be picked as one of three students from my program to complete the degree at St. Catherine's College at Oxford. For one reason or another I never managed to get back to the U.S. after living in the U.K. So I've been living in Europe--in the U.K., Hungary, Switzerland and Norway--for a good 17 years. Well, mostly good, anyway.

I married Camilla, a Norwegian woman, and now have two kids, Julian and Clara. So clearly, negotiating the familiar and the foreign will now be a permanent feature of my life.

As a writer, too--of fiction or nonfiction--it is essential to know what's "strange" about something to know what's worth describing or communicating about it. If you don't have a sense of this, the writing can be banal or flat. Where it gets particularly interesting is in the challenge of communicating this--though the art and craft of storytelling--to a specific audience so that it can be understood and appreciated in people's own frame of reference. 

There is a difference between saying something is strange inherently, and saying it is strange to you. The first feels like it makes more intuitive sense because we naturally consider ourselves "normal." But I think the reality is that "strangeness" is a function of a disjuncture between a set of premises about the world and something new in it that doesn't quite fit. The writer needs to bring that dynamic into being in a way that is dramatically satisfying, not analytically heavy (like I'm doing now...).

By extension, the Jewish experience--that of a people permanently adrift--features prominently in this novel. Did you built the novel around this theme or did it develop later in the story?

The Jewish experience is certainly a prominent theme, but I'd say my novel is actually about how anchored and at home Jews are in America. For a Jewish American like Sheldon, being Jewish in Europe is to be adrift. If that wasn't the case, his feelings about Norway wouldn't make any sense. After all, there would be no comparison to make, and hence no tension to reconcile or explore.

The anchor of the novel is Sheldon, and the central tension is--for me--his effort to come to terms with the death of his son, for which he feels responsible, precisely because his love for America sent Saul to war. And his love for America is based on a very particular reading of the contrasting Jewish experience in America and Europe. When Sheldon explains that his country "armed him, and deployed him against his enemy" rather than betrayed him, he is not speaking to a jingoistic or triumphant Americanism (which has rung a shrill note for over a decade in the U.S., and I am notably not endorsing). Instead, we are listening to the voice of someone who has a home, and--using Melville's imagery--would shoot his own heart from his chest to defend it. And that passionate love comes precisely from knowing that we--as Jewish Americans--are not adrift. We are at home.

Once Sheldon came into view as a generational character--the Greatest Generation and all that--the pieces all fell into place. In many ways, this book was my way of saying good-bye to my grandfathers, Lester Shapiro and Paul Miller. So I'd say it was built right in from the start.

At its darkest moments, Norwegian by Night maintains its ironic sense of humor. Can you explain the role of humor in the story?

The Greeks separated comedy from tragedy. The Jews didn't, and for the most part I think we still don't. Much of our comedy (at the risk of over-reaching here) comes from reflecting on our tragedies, which necessitates an intimate dialogue. If you separate comedy from tragedy they don't need to talk to one another so much, and so this form of comedy would be lost or at least unavailable. 

When it comes to educating myself, I read much more Greek material than Jewish (I know virtually nothing about Yiddish writers, for example, but I regularly go back to the Greek writers), and yet I tend to lean, both intellectually and emotionally, towards the Jewish approach to seeing things. I think humanity is at its most absurd in its darkest moments, and the capacity to see it as absurd--rather than more real--is our great hope in keeping our humanity. This is why Kurt Vonnegut, for example, was a great writer, not merely a clever one.

Sheldon holds this sense of absurdity very close to him, and--while committing to his actions with sincerity, and without irony--he can still glance back on himself and the scene he is in to find its humor. To mock the circumstance; to challenge the greater powers; to call God to task--that's comedy, but it is also the height of our intellectual and moral powers. 

It was Milan Kundera's The Art of the Novel--and especially his reflections on Cervantes and Don Quixote--that freed me from the error of thinking that the comedic novel is not serious. Popular culture thinks comedy is "light." But it isn't. I think it is as serious as the human heart, because you need one to laugh. --Debra Ginsberg, author

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

Famous Books Quietly Censored; Ballets Based on Books

Some "Famous books you didn't know were censored" were found by Flavorwire.


Moving day reads. Sloane Crosley, author of How Did You Get This Number, chose "three Books to keep out of the boxes" for NPR, focusing on "titles that straddle the line between nostalgia and a fresh start."


Reading for the barre exam: "10 classic books that have somehow been turned into ballets" were highlighted by Flavorwire.


There is no cause for alarm... at this time. Doesn't hurt to be prepared, though. The Bookshop Blog suggested "22 pandemic books to read before the H7N9 virus kills us all."


Buzzfeed found "12 things famous authors absolutely hated," including Cats, Coca-Cola and Tom Cruise.


Fusillo "isn't your ordinary wall shelf. In fact, it's more than just a shelf, it's a coatrack, a bike rack, and bookends, too," Design Milk reported.

Book Review


The House at Belle Fontaine

by Lily Tuck

The men in Lily Tuck's new collection of stories, The House at Belle Fontaine, don't come off well. They drink too much, sleep with younger women, ignore their children and abuse their domestic help--but, mercifully for their wives, they also often die young.

The women in these stories, on the other hand, are largely self-aware, adventurous and stoic. They don't dwell on their own disappointing behavior or impulses, but, like the university student seduced and impregnated by her Greek professor in "Sure and Gentle Words," they take some pride in themselves "not merely as a wife and mother... but as someone with a past, someone who had had an adventure."

Tuck's fiction, including the 2004 National Book Award winner The News from Paraguay, is filled with strong worldly women who travel or live wherever they want--whether their men join them or not. Her work is elegantly concise, capturing intimacies and emotions with just a few words of description and telling dialogue.

In the same way that unsatisfactory sex and marriage dominate the stories of The House at Belle Fontaine, random fatal disease and accident destabilize the characters' relationships. The stories take place across the globe, but their settings don't change Tuck's focus on the vicissitudes of relationships between men and women--and in this she is a master. If her women usually come out on top, perhaps it's because they have figured it out better than men. As she notes in the story "Lucky," concerning one character and her former art teacher and ex-husband, "She had surprised herself and learned a lot from Alec. If only, she thinks, she had not married him." --Bruce Jacobs, founding partner, Watermark Books & Cafe, Wichita, Kan.

Discover: Lily Tuck's new story collection continues her wise exploration of romantic relationships where the women are usually far stronger than the men.

Atlantic Monthly Press, $23, hardcover, 9780802120168

Elizabeth the First Wife

by Lian Dolan

Imagine falling madly in love with an aspiring actor in college, marrying him and, then, just before he achieves mega-stardom, he divorces you. You're left heartbroken, broke and forced to watch him become ridiculously wealthy and famous. This is the premise of Lian Dolan's second novel, Elizabeth the First Wife, but what begins as a rather bleak set of circumstances becomes a joyous and delightful tale of a woman scorned reclaiming her mojo.

It hasn't been easy for the jilted Elizabeth Lancaster since the Brad Pitt-esque FX Fahey did her wrong. She's found solace in underachieving--teaching Shakespeare at a community college and wearing sensible shoes--but this is unacceptable to her overachieving family, and they make much ado about nothing as they try to snap her out of her funk. Poor Elizabeth; she just wants to be left alone to grow tomatoes in the dirt and moon over her lost love.

When FX suddenly reappears in Elizabeth's life desperately needing her help, Liz suddenly holds all the cards. This sets into motion a series of events that makes for a delicious journey of self-discovery that will leave you shaking your head happily at what fools these mortals can be. And the rub? The novel is interspersed with snippets of Shakespearean dialogue (and how they'd work as come-on lines) along with modern assessments of timeless characters. Perhaps it's the likable and resilient Elizabeth, but Dolan's invigorating take on this material proves once again that the Bard never goes out of style. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: Shakespeare as you've never seen him before, inspiring one woman's path to love, satisfaction and happiness.

Prospect Park Books, $15.95, paperback, 9781938849053

Mystery & Thriller

Dead Lions

by Mick Herron

Dead Lions is a sequel to Mick Herron's Slow Horses. When Britain's MI5 intelligence service agents grow old and less effective, the "slow horses" depart Regents' House for Slough House, where they're given uninspiring paperwork to do with antiquated equipment. They're not supposed to catch anyone; they're "supposed to get bored and go join a security firm."

When agent Dickie Bow is found dead on a bus (without a ticket) outside Oxford, Slough House's boss, the irascible and rotund Jackson Lamb, is convinced it's murder. He travels to Reading to examine the bus Bow was riding on; wedged in the seat crack, he finds Bow's cell phone. It has a one-word message on it, never sent: "cicadas."

Lamb is of the opinion that a spy from the past, Alexander Popov, is somehow involved in Bow's death--although it's also possible Popov never existed, an imaginary agent created by MI5. River Cartwright, another character from Slow Horses, returns to provide some excellent detective work. Meanwhile, two other Slough House agents are assigned to escort a wealthy Russian oil magnate, Arkady Pashkin, during his visit to London.

Things get complicated as Herron's tale unfolds and the threat of bombs going off in London becomes a distinct possibility. If you like your suspense novels told with a smart dash of wit and sarcasm, filled with lots of twists and turns, Herron's your man. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A sharply written, elaborately plotted tale of MI5 espionage conducted by the force's second stringers.

Soho, $25.95, hardcover, 9781616952259

Biography & Memoir

The Cooked Seed: A Memoir

by Anchee Min

From the labor camps of Mao's China to the streets of Chicago and California, Anchee Min's The Cooked Seed offers readers a rare, honest account of being a poor, non-English-speaking immigrant in the U.S. Constantly fearing deportation, Min worked five jobs to pay for her schooling, rent and food. She learned English by watching Sesame Street and reading Gone with the Wind, lived in run-down storage spaces and cold apartments for the cheap rent and suffered a rape in silence, all the while struggling to grasp the American dream and the longed-for green card. She "envied the [American] homeless," she writes; "they spoke English and had the right to work." Min lived with a man for years, forced him to marry her and eventually gave birth to a daughter, the one person who finally helped her connect to her new country.

Min's story is one of overwhelming personal strength amidst extreme adversity as well as self-induced deprivations and numbing self-doubt. Graphic, lyric and candid prose illuminates her struggles as she battles exhaustion and racism as a landlord of dilapidated apartment buildings in bad neighborhoods. However, love, both parental and spousal, recognition as an acclaimed author (Red Azalea) and the simple knowledge that she could make her own decisions, in her own house, eventually bring fulfillment and satisfaction. Her vivid, behind-the-scenes descriptions of Communist China and her life in the U.S. as a foreigner offer a gripping story of persistence and determination. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Anchee Min reflects on her transformation from a Communist labor camp worker in China to a lauded author in the U.S.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781596916982

The Ghost Horse: A True Story of Love, Death and Redemption

by Joe Layden

In The Ghost Horse, Joe Layden (The Last Great Fight) has crafted an inspiring, and true, love story infused with fate and coincidence, second chances and hope.

Tim Snyder was a gruff, nomadic horseman who fled hardscrabble beginnings to train "cheap horses." While working in a second-tier horse barn in upstate New York, a runaway colt in his care knocked over his quiet, unassuming co-worker, Lisa Calley, with whom he became instantly smitten--and vice versa. Lisa, 10 years younger than Tim, had already survived a broken marriage, cancer and a traumatic brain injury from a previous horse-riding incident. Their shared passion for horses united them as they built a married life together; her emotional sensitivity ultimately softened his unsentimental rough edges.

When Lisa's cancer returned, she promised Tim, "I'll see you again. I'm coming back as a horse." Her death left a gaping hole in her husband until, years later, he scraped together enough money to purchase a filly whose winning pedigree was offset by a blind left eye and congenital abnormalities in her left foot and shoulders. No one but Tim believed she would make it to the starting gate. But "Lisa's Booby Trap," as Tim named her, took the racing world by storm, and their bond helped Tim rebound from grief and loneliness. He came to believe the filly's personality reflected the sweet, resilient disposition of his late wife.

Layden has teamed up previously with a variety of superstars, from Kobe Bryant of the NBA to heavy metal's Dave Mustaine, as a co-author. In The Ghost Horse, Layden's writing shines on its own--insight and compassion weaving the narrative threads of this dual love story. --Kathleen Gerard, blogger at Reading Between the Lines

Discover: A sensitively told true story about how a couple's love for horses united them beyond death.

St. Martin's Press, $24.99, hardcover, 9780312643324


The Riddle of the Labyrinth: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code

by Margalit Fox

In 1900, archeologist Arthur Evans uncovered a cache of clay tablets in an unknown script on Crete. For 50 years, scholars across the world struggled to decipher that script--Linear B--without knowing what language it encoded. In 1952, an amateur named Michael Ventris solved the puzzle with what is often presented as a single stroke of inspiration. Margalit Fox's The Riddle of the Labyrinth adds a new layer to this story.

Ventris's inspiration, it turns out, was based on the work of another, largely forgotten, scholar--classicist Alice Kober. Working alone in her Brooklyn, N.Y., home, Kober created a new methodology for decoding the unknown script without the benefit of a bilingual text or a computer. She also identified the keys that allowed Ventris to make his imaginative leap.

Fox (Talking Hands) divides her story into three parts, focusing on the charismatic digger Evans, the methodical detective Kober and the brilliant architect Ventris in turn. She handles the mix of biography, archeology, cryptology and linguistics with a sure touch. Technical discussions of how to decipher an unknown script written in an unknown language are as engaging as the lives of her protagonists.

In a satisfying conclusion, The Riddle of the Labyrinth ends where it begins, with the tablets themselves and what we have learned from them. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins

Discover: The unsung hero of a real-life quest to decipher a 3,000-year-old puzzle.

Ecco, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062228833

Current Events & Issues

Price of Justice: A True Story of Greed and Corruption

by Laurence Leamer

Laurence Leamer's The Price of Justice offers convincing evidence that readers don't have to turn to the fiction of John Grisham for an engrossing story about a legal battle between the forces of light and darkness. It's a fast-moving, intelligent account of the fierce struggle against a rapacious coal magnate, waged over the course of more than a decade in courtrooms from Boone County, W.Va., to the Supreme Court of the United States.

The heroes of Leamer's book are David Fawcett III and Bruce Stanley, close friends and litigators at two elite Pittsburgh, Pa., firms. In 1998, they agreed to represent Hugh Caperton, the owner of the bankrupt Harman Mining Company, against the coal giant Massey Energy. They alleged that the decision of Massey CEO Don Blankenship to breach a contract with Harman was intended solely to destroy the much smaller company, break its union and seize its coal reserves. While the $50-million verdict the lawyers eventually secured was on appeal to the West Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals, Blankenship contributed $3 million toward the election of a friendly justice. After Blankenship got the result he wanted, the case eventually went to the Supreme Court, where former U.S. Solicitor General Ted Olson argued for a new judicial conflict of interest standard.

Leamer effectively navigates the byzantine course of the original Harman litigation and other cases spawned as a result of Fawcett and Stanley's work. He's able to breathe life into arid legal arguments about contract law and economic damages. In 1971, Leamer spent several months working in a mine, and his book is enriched by an empathy for the struggles and pride of the coal mining life. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: Laurence Leamer (The Kennedy Women; Sons of Camelot) follows an epic civil litigation from West Virginia's coal country to the Supreme Court.

Times Books, $30, hardcover, 9780805094718


Untangling the Mind: Why We Behave the Way We Do

by David Theodore George

After frequently hearing patients wonder, "Why do I behave this way?" throughout his 30-year psychiatric practice, D. Theodore George applied his background in internal medicine, psychiatry and neuroscience to finding an answer. Untangling the Mind begins with his investigation into how emotion is produced in the brain, revealing the link between emotion and survival, as well as the difference between a legitimate emotion and a pathological one.

George's research leads to the PAG (periaqueductal grey) neurological model, which he describes as a panel of on-off buttons in the brain that generate behaviors to handle survival situations based on a specific stimulus (anger = fight, for example, while depression = shutdown). The brain possesses neurological switches that can be flipped at the right--or wrong--time. Individuals often lose control over these switches.

George's use of diagrams and neurological terms (the survival-driven amygdala and rational cortex are key players) are accessible and easily understood, and his case studies illuminate how genetics, environment, upbringing and biology contribute to how an individual reacts to certain situations. Although the focus of Untangling the Mind is on the neurological reasons for why people behave as they do, George concludes by affirming the personal responsibility we all have for our actions--especially once armed with neurological knowledge. He believes that treatment is possible in most cases and provides helpful direction in how to get the right type of help. --Kristen Galles, blogger at Book Club Classics

Discover: A new model for understanding the origins of emotions helps determine whether they--and the behaviors they prompt--are appropriate.

HarperOne, $25.99, hardcover, 9780062127761

Reference & Writing

How to Read Literature

by Terry Eagleton

Terry Eagleton wrote the book on literary theory--Literary Theory: An Introduction--along with more than 40 other volumes about postmodernism, politics, ideology and religion. But don't be intimidated by How to Read Literature. This is no snoozy graduate school textbook. It's an accessible, thoughtful good read for those interested in the nuts and bolts of literature. It's an interesting peek behind the curtain of storytelling to reveal not only how it works, but why it works.

Focusing on various aspects of literature, including tone, plot and character, Eagleton reads deeply, providing commentary on a wide swath of literature we have come to know, love and sometimes revere--and now, through his insights, can know better. Take Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. "As [Marlow] moves upriver into the centre of Africa he is also journeying deeper inside himself," Eagleton writes. "At the same time... he is traveling into the primeval past." Thus, he explains, "the narrative moves forward and backward at the same time."

Eagleton looks at Shakespeare and J.K. Rowling, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, Evelyn Waugh and Samuel Beckett. As he picks apart the classics he delves into what makes literature good or bad and provides readers with the tools to analyze and interpret texts on their own. After reading How to Read Literature you'll be able to read any author--from Jack Kerouac to Judith Krantz--with a clearer understanding and a keener eye. --Jonathan Shipley, freelance writer

Discover: A renowned scholar who wrote the book on literary theory offers an accessible guide to applying it to our own reading.

Yale University Press, $26, hardcover, 9780300190960

Performing Arts

Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted: And All the Brilliant Minds Who Made the Mary Tyler Moore Show a Classic

by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

Jennifer Keishin Armstrong follows her tribute to The Mickey Mouse Club (Why? Because We Still Like You) with Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, a superb, highly entertaining history of one of television's most beloved sitcoms--the best show of all time, according to Entertainment Weekly.

In early 1970, Treva Silverman, along with producers and writers James L. Brooks and Allan Burns, began work on a show about a young, divorced woman who moves to Minneapolis to look for a job. They felt, Armstrong writes, that it was time for television "to push culture forward instead of holding it back." (Still, realizing that audiences weren't ready for a divorced leading lady, they eventually made it that Mary Richards was separated from her boyfriend.)

Meanwhile, Mary Tyler Moore's career after The Dick Van Dyke Show was in a "perilous" slump. MTM Enterprises, the production company she co-owned with her husband Grant Tinker, got behind the show, but early rehearsals fell flat. Test audiences had a problem with one of Mary's friends, Phyllis (played by Cloris Leachman), but after the writers eased up on her sardonic personality and gave her a daughter, everything fell into place.

CBS, which had previously been lukewarm, now committed fully to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, scheduling it for Saturday nights at 9:30 p.m. The rest--29 Emmys over seven seasons, including three consecutive awards for best comedy series--is television history. --Tom Lavoie, former publisher

Discover: A terrific pop culture history--well-written, lovingly researched and chock full of great stories from the Mary Tyler Moore Show set.

Simon & Schuster, $26, hardcover, 9781451659207

Children's & Young Adult


by Paul Rudnick

Paul Rudnick (I Shudder) makes a smashing YA debut with this novel about what truly makes someone beautiful, the doors that beauty opens and the responsibility that comes with opportunity.

On Becky Randle's 18th birthday, her 400-pound mother dies. Before Becky left the house that morning, her mother told her, "Something is going to happen to you, and it's going to be magical." That magical something is a phone number for Tom Kelly, a world-famous designer. He offers Becky $1,000 and a plane ticket to New York, and she leaves behind her trailer park in East Trawley, Mo. Becky learns that Tom Kelly plucked her mother out of a crowd of schoolgirls when she was 16 and built her into an icon of fashion and beauty. He makes Becky a promise: if she'll wear three dresses he'll design for her, he will transform her into "the most beautiful woman who has ever lived." Partly to discover this secret past of her mother's, and partly to see if Tom can do as he promises, Becky agrees.

Rudnick delivers a timely novel that will draw in teens with its razor-sharp one-liners and observations about our culture of instantaneous social commentary, and keep them planted in these pages until they find out whether Becky will be brainwashed by fame and fortune or remain the girl from the Show-Me State. She grapples with the central dilemma of becoming an adult: as much as it seems like someone else is in charge, ultimately, you determine your own destiny. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: A funny and perceptive novel about remaining true to yourself even as others try to tell you who you are.

Scholastic, $18.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 14-up, 9780545464260


by Lauren Miller

Debut author Lauren Miller combines science fiction with destiny in Parallel.

Abby Barnes has her future all planned out. College? Check. Degree in journalism? Check. What she didn't plan for, however, is an earthquake that shakes not only the ground she's standing on, but also the world she's living in. Torn from the reality she thought she knew, Abby wakes up in several different moments of a life she doesn't quite know. She's forced not only to act like she's been there all along, but also to give up the life she had before. With the help of her best friend Caitlin, Abby begins to understand that there has been a cosmic collision of parallel universes, and she is somehow stuck in the middle.

Miller's clipped, detail-filled writing style captivates readers from page one. Combining both science and a contemporary story, the author draws readers into solving the mystery of parallel universes while also rooting for Abby to figure out how to live the life she desires. In the end, everything clicks together, leaving no questions or cliffhangers. An excellent debut. --Shanyn Day, blogger at Chick Loves Lit

Discover: A girl caught between parallel universes who tries to find the life she's supposed to be living.

Harper Teen, $17.99, hardcover, 432p., ages 12-up, 9780062199775


Author Buzz

The Rom-Commers

by Katherine Center

Dear Reader,

Famous screenwriter Charlie Yates wrote a romantic comedy screenplay--and it’s terrible. Aspiring writer Emma Wheeler just got hired to fix it. But Charlie doesn't want anyone rewriting his work--least of all a "failed nobody," and Emma can't support a guy who doesn't even like rom-coms, adding another bad one to the pantheon. So what choice does Emma have but to stand up for herself, and rom-coms, and love in general--and, in the process, to show her nemesis-slash-writing-hero exactly how to fall stupidly, crazily, perfectly in love?

Email with the subject line "The Rom-Commers sweepstakes" for a chance to win one of five copies.

Katherine Center

Buy now and support your local indie bookstore>

AuthorBuzz: St. Martin's Press: The Rom-Commers by Katherine Center

St. Martin's Press

Pub Date: 
June 11, 2024


List Price: 
$29.00 Hardcover

Blue Moon
(A Smoke and Mirrors Novella)

by Skye Warren

Dear Reader,

When I started writing Ringmaster Emerson Durand in the Smoke and Mirrors series, I knew he would get his own story. Insouciant. Charming. And he's actually the villain of that book. So can he be redeemed? It's the question I'm always working to answer in my books.

If he's going to deserve his own happily ever after, it's going to be a journey. A scorching hot journey!

That's what BLUE MOON illuminates. A dangerous ringmaster claims his rebellious acrobat for a sensual show you cannot miss.

Skye Warren

Available on Kobo

AuthorBuzz: 1001 Dark Nights Press: Blue Moon (A Smoke and Mirrors Novella) by Skye Warren

1001 Dark Nights Press

Pub Date: 
March 12, 2024


List Price: 
$2.99 e-book

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