Shelf Awareness for Readers for Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Holiday House: Middle School Bites by Steven Banks, illustrated by Mark Fearing; Pixel+ink: The Curious League of Detectives and Thieves by Tom Phillips

From My Shelf

Stephanie Plum at 'Twenty'

Photo: Roland Scarpa

We recently chatted with Janet Evanovich, whose latest Stephanie Plum caper, Takedown Twenty (Bantam, $28), has all her the familiar elements: Morelli and Ranger, family entanglements needing a Venn diagram to describe, and bingo. But a giraffe named Kevin? How does she come up with such wacky ways to keep her 20-book series fresh? Evanovich said she has no idea where it comes from: "Sometimes it's downright scary to think what must be rattling around in my head."

Stephanie Plum is a bounty hunter with two hot guys and a crazy family. What is it about her that resonates with people? Evanovich considers Plum an average person "with an odd job and relationship issues. Mostly, I think her appeal is that she's not perfect, but she's a good person who rallies to the cause, gets through the day, pays her own way, and tries to do the right thing. I think the world is starved for positive entertainment that produces happy, hopeful feelings, so I try to be the author who makes people smile."

Evanovich's own family plays an integral role in her publishing empire (more than 45 books in print and more than 75 million books sold worldwide). Is it as zany as the Plums? What is Thanksgiving like at the Evanovich household?

"I'm related to Grandma Mazur! Thanksgiving this year will be at my house. Or as we're calling it... Chanugiving, since my son-in-law is Jewish and Thanksgiving falls on Chanukah. So we'll have turkey and brisket, and the menorah will have a place of honor beside my grandmother's glass turkey-shaped cranberry sauce dish. There will be 11 of us at the table plus Gus the cat, Ollie my rescued cross-eyed dog, and Bonnie the rescued three-legged dog. There will be lots of drinking, and it wouldn't surprise me if someone accidentally knocks the menorah over and sets the tablecloth on fire."

Sounds right on the mark. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Scholastic Inc.: Slappy, Beware! (Goosebumps Special Edition) by R.L. Stine

The Writer's Life

Retha Powers: Quotations Familiar and Unfamiliar

Retha Powers is editor of the erotica anthology Black Silk and co-editor, with Kathy Kiernan, of This Is My Best: Great Writers Share Their Favorite Work. Powers's journalism and essays have appeared in Essence, Ms., the New York Times Magazine and Glamour. A publishing professional for more than 20 years, she is currently assistant director of the Publishing Certificate Program at City College of New York. Powers is the editor of the just-published Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations: 5,000 Years of Literature, Lyrics, Poems, Passages, Phrases, and Proverbs from Voices Around the World (Little, Brown, $40), at 720 pages a massive addition to the reference world and an equally massive contribution to our societal and political world.

What were the challenges of compiling the first Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations? "5,000 years" sounds daunting!

The first challenge was that I started with 19th- and 20th-century speakers and worked my way out from there, rather than taking a more linear approach from ancient times to the present. Even today, speakers such as Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida B. Wells-Barnett and Mary McLeod Bethune are representative of a significant period of recorded black thought, and a harbinger of emerging black literature. But how did they arrive there? I sought to answer this by looking at their influences and predecessors, and in turn who they influenced and resonate with. I also wanted to introduce readers to folks who may be less-well known in popular history but who said things that were significant for the time, words that continue to be relevant in historical context or that are echoed by contemporary speakers.

Another challenge was discovering strong quotations--quotes with zing and weight--from a number of people known more for their personalities and positions than what they actually said. I recognized that readers would be looking for these speakers, but I was challenged to find original and significant words.

For other speakers, the quotations were more obvious: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character," but with Martin Luther King, Jr., for example, in order to represent the full scope of his thinking and wide-ranging influence, I needed to source his lesser-known quotations as well.

How did you decide what to include and what to omit? Did you feel constrained by the word "familiar?"

As I write in my introduction, building Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations was an act of "reaching back and reaching forward." My intention was to create a book that reflects diversity of black thought and experiences and, like its predecessor, represents a range of enduring quotations that are timeless or emblematic of the times. In the 16th century, King Afonso wrote of the Atlantic slave trade, "We cannot reckon how great the damage is.... They grab them and cause them to be sold; and so great, Sir, is their corruption and licentiousness that our country is being utterly depopulated." This quote can only begin to foreshadow how the slave trade would change world history. For black people enslaved in Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas, the focus became freedom and escape from the institution of slavery. But that's not the entire story. In trying to represent the fullest scope of the black experience across history, I also include musings on the nature of being human, e.g., "Zounds! If alive--what ails you?" (Ignatius Sancho), along with ones on freedom, love, self-definition and identity, and of course poetry and humor. Finally, I wanted the scope to be as international as possible.

What is the role of music and lyrics in the book?

I am by no means the first person to observe that black music has had tremendous impact on world culture. This is true both today as well as historically, looking at the ways that enslaved people used music to mediate, hide information, protest, cope and celebrate. A great deal of the wisdom and witticisms of black folks can be found in spirituals, the blues, jazz, r&b and hip hop. These lyrics have always referred back and forth, whether it's the person who sang "And before I'd be a slave, I'll be buried in my grave,/ And go home to my Lord and be free," or Marvin Gaye asking "What's Going On?" ("Mother, Mother, there's too many of you crying/ Brother, brother, brother, there's far too many of you dying.") The influence of music is found in the echo of the blues written in the poetry of Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes. Music and lyrics didn't simply provide a soundtrack, but a sounding board and source for dialogue and language.

Why did you include quotations that use the "N-word"?

As Farai Chideya says, ""N****r" is the all-American trump card, the nuclear bomb of racial epithets." In Their Eyes were Watching God, Nanny laments to Janie "De n****r woman is de mule uh de world so fur as Ah can see. Ah been prayin' fuh it tuh be different wid you." In an essay, Ralph Ellison wrote that it was one of the first slurs European immigrants "learned when they got off the boat" and that "it made them feel instantly American." Some think that the way to eliminate this power is to stop using the word altogether, and others believe we should embrace it and/or redefine it in order to defuse it. It is a complicated question, and while both approaches are flawed, the discussion is ongoing so the references in BFBQ accumulated.

Why Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations now?

This year alone marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, and the second term of the first black president of the United States. These are some of the more dramatic touchstones in the United States alone that make it clear that Bartlett's Familiar Black Quotations embodies a sweeping history. But quotations are not limited to the past; while they can function as time capsules, more often quotations offer timeless words of inspiration that span far beyond the here and now. --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers

Someone Else's Love Story

by Joshilyn Jackson

Since her debut novel, gods in Alabama, Joshilyn Jackson (A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty) has made a name for herself with a signature blend of offbeat humor, family-driven plots, strong heroines, and a soupçon of Southern grace. In her newest novel, Jackson is in top form with a quirky but deeply felt fusion of two storylines that explore the ways our lives are shaped by different types of love.

Twenty-one-year-old Shandi Pierce always thought "Love stories started with a kiss or a meet-cute, not with someone getting shot in a gas station minimart." When she and her adorable, brilliant three-year-old son, Natty, are caught in a convenience store robbery and saved by a man she swears is the spitting image of "the great god Thor," Shandi quickly changes her tune. A firm believer in miracles, Shandi is convinced she and the "Norse godling" have crossed paths because they are destined to be together. Just like that, Shandi is in love.

However, while William Ashe may look like Thor, he's all too human. Although he's a magnificent physical specimen and a brilliant geneticist, William also has qualities associated with the high-functioning end of the autism spectrum, such as trouble relating to emotional matters and a strong tendency to frame the world in logic and numbers. Currently, he's trying to cope with the loss of his wife and two-year-old daughter in an auto accident, a crisis that would faze even the most emotionally aware of people. William sees the robbery as an opportunity to seize his "destiny, this shorthand word that means nothing beyond the strength of his own will." Where Shandi sees the hand of fate, William sees the chance to escape his pain.

Once outside the microcosm of the robbery, Shandi and William each slowly realize they must come to grips with their personal demons. For Shandi, that means admitting to herself that although she cannot remember Natty's conception, it wasn't an immaculate miracle as she's convinced herself to believe, but rape. If she wants to own her past, Shandi knows she has to find out the truth behind Natty's paternity, and William's skills as a geneticist are just what the doctor ordered. At the same time, she's navigating her new feelings for William and living alone for the first time, having just moved into her own condo after getting tired of living with her well-meaning but social life–destroying mother.

After failing at suicide by robber, William finds himself once again grappling with grief for his wife, Bridget, the love of his life since high school. In carefully parceled flashbacks, Jackson slowly reveals their halting but passionate love story, its forward momentum helped along by their sassy mutual friend Paula but constantly impeded by Bridget's deep and sustaining Catholic faith colliding with William's equally strong conviction that God doesn't exist. That they eventually overcome their differences is made almost painfully bittersweet by the reader's foreknowledge of where their love story will eventually lead William and by the futility of Shandi's feelings for him. How can she hope to measure up to the epic love story William already lived?

Shandi and William make perfect foils for each other, her naïveté and openness a candy-colored contrast to his gray cynicism. Where he is a solid wall of logic and analytics--"In families, he realized, children are added to, not superseded.... Wives are structured differently"--she is a straightforward bolt of action: "He was sad and tragic, and helping a girl like me hunt justice might be exactly what he needed." However, the narrative is much larger than just William and Shandi. Jackson looks at a variety of relationships: parents and children, lifelong friendships, budding love, relationships that failed, relationships in flux. The robbery in the convenience store causes Shandi and Natty to forge a bond with William, but that bond threatens Shandi's closeness with her best friend Walcott, who was literally and figuratively shut out of the experience. Shandi's concept of romantic love is hindered not only by the rape she's refused to let herself admit happened, but also by the failure of her parents' marriage and their subsequent unhappiness. The shape of their past molds her difficulty risking her heart in a relationship.

Despite some of the heavier thematic elements, in Jackson's world, second chances and true love tend to prevail, and her offbeat sense of humor can find the lighter side of any situation, whether it's a confrontation with a snooty stepmother or moving away from home for the first time. Readers who prefer the fluffier side of chick lit will find plenty of laughs to satisfy their tastes here, and readers with a predilection for thought-provoking substance will likewise leave the story with a feeling of satisfaction. With a standout voice and a talent for creating fresh, vibrant characters, Jackson continues to be a powerhouse of bold, heartwarming, book club–worthy fare. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Morrow, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062105653

Sourcebooks Fire: Monsters Born and Made by Tanvi Berwah

Joshilyn Jackson: Her Cast of Characters

photo: E.V. Jackson

Joshilyn (pronounced Jocelyn) Jackson lives in Decatur, Ga., and is the author of six novels. Her books have been translated into a dozen languages, won the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance's novel of the year, twice been a #1 Book Sense Pick, twice won Georgia Author of the Year, and twice been shortlisted for the Townsend prize. She recently took time out of her morning to talk with us about love, creativity, and Someone Else's Love Story (Morrow). Visit her website here.

How did Someone Else's Love Story come together?

I'd been wanting to write about William for about 10 years, but he is so sad! I don't tend to write slow-paced, elegiac, mopey kinds of books. I like there to be some kissin' and some shootin'. I started writing this book about Shandi, and I realized I was writing about the themes I wanted to use with William. When I thought about Shandi and William together, it's like he's this gray rock and she's this little hammer. I thought she could smash him open and he'd be all diamonds up in there.

I thought, "Well, they need to be together," and that's destiny. It had to be fate, it had to be this wildly random thing. I wanted to write a book about miracles, where all these huge, overblown fake miracles happen, and then quietly there would be a real miracle that you might not even notice happening but that is absolutely the working of God in the world.

What attracted you to the topic of autism and Asperger's?

Before I wrote gods in Alabama, I wrote a novel called Forty Dead Horses--isn't that a marketable title? Don't you wanna read that right now?--and it was about a character with Asperger's. I had a horse then, and the barn where my horse lived hosted a therapeutic riding program. As someone who was writing about it years ago, it's kind of irritating to me that it's become trendy now, but as a person who has relatives on the spectrum, I love it.

I feel it's important for William to have a love story, because people with Asperger's have a hard time reading social cues, but the truth is, they're very successful people in our world, especially in technology. They're marrying and having more kids and becoming more and more successful, so evolution tells us we're going to see more and more of this.

This is a conventionally sweet love story told from an unconventional starting point.

William's story begins a year after he loses everything. I'm starting another novel right now and the narrator is Paula, William's best friend, in a place where she's happy with everything. I wasn't as interested in beginning with a William that had everything. William is a character who is very comfortable living in the now. He's a very present person. I'm not. I live in the future and the past. My life is a maelstrom of worry and regret, which is ridiculous. I'm like, I need to go to yoga class more often! William doesn't worry much and he doesn't reflect. He learns, decides, moves forward. You can't begin with him in a place where the main concern would be worry about losing something or regret for past actions. It has to be from a place where the forward motion is itself the tension, which is, "I have found myself in a situation that will allow me with no repercussions to walk into my own death," and that is where the story had to begin, with a person who is walking into their own death in a willful, chosen way and stumbles into a whole new beautiful life. That's the story I wanted to tell.

In Someone Else's Love Story, we meet two male/female best friend pairs. Do you think men and women can be just friends, or do you subscribe to the When Harry Met Sally school of thought?

I am a person who met a guy that I never would have dated because he was super nice to me, and he became my best friend. We were best friends for seven years, at which point it suddenly occurred to me that I was desperately in love with him, and I married him and had a whole bunch of his babies, and he's still my favorite.

I think there has to be something that removes sex from a male/female friendship. William and Paula have had sex, and Shandi and Walcott have had sex, so my way of moving sex out of the way was to go ahead and let them have had it--"We did that. That box has been checked."

The robbery scene is so tense and scary. How did you develop it?

I just wrote it [laughs]. The way I write action scenes is, I block out the scene and I play the scene myself as each character. What makes an action scene work is being able to see it, smell it. If I can't picture it, I'll get my friends or my children and set up the scene and move through it physically. You have to be able to see it for it to be effective. I think my theater background really helps me write action scenes, because when I write an action scene, it is correct. I know that nobody ever pauses and goes, "Wait, how did he get over there?"

What's your creative process like?

It's stupid. My creative process is really stupid. It's exhausting, and if I could do it any other way, I would. Usually I think about the character, and I never write anything down, I never take notes. If it's important, they'll come back, and I'll begin to realize that they belong with other ones and they'll start to form a cast, and an individual cast will get really loud. The longest I've ever thought about a character before writing was 19 years, and the shortest I've ever thought about a character before writing was five years. Each book has characters in it that are brand new, but there are also characters in there that I've been wanting to write about. So, the book I'm thinking about now, I may die before I get to write it down, but I have characters I've been thinking about for a long time, and it's their turn right now.

Tell us more about your next project.

I've never really written a sequel, although gods in Alabama and Saints are linked books, but when I was writing Someone Else's Love Story, I was thinking it was a trilogy. I don't know that I'll get to write them all. I know I'm writing the Paula book. I may be done then. I may get everything I need to say said, but I feel like this might be a trilogy that's moving toward one thing. I'm very interested in the last book, which would be about the custody battle for Natty with Paula as the lawyer. All of that is set up in Someone Else's Love Story, but I knew I wouldn't have time to tell that story yet. Plus, this is William's book. --Jaclyn Fulwood

Shelf vetted, publisher supported.

Book Candy

Forgotten Classics; Sequels by Different Authors

"The classics are classics for a reason, and while some novels hold timeless appeal, others have faded into obscurity," Flavorwire noted in showcasing "10 great books contemporary culture has forgotten."


Mental Floss found "10 book sequels not written by the original authors."


"It's 2017, and Harry Potter is just another dad on Instagram," so Buzzfeed imagined what might happen "if everyone's favorite wizard had Instagram."


Prime literary real estate. Enjoy a sumptuous peek at Sotheby's International Realty listings with libraries.

Houzz waved "bye-bye, boring bookcase" with some "inventive ways to store your reads."

Blackstone Publishing: Valley of Shadows by Rudy Ruiz

Book Review


A Long Way from Verona

by Jane Gardam

Jessica Vye, a 12-year-old girl living in Yorkshire during World War Two, introduces herself on the first page of Jane Gardam's A Long Way from Verona by saying: "I ought to tell you from the beginning that I am not quite normal, having had a violent experience at the age of nine." That "experience" consisted of being told by a particularly revered author that she is a born writer, setting the stage for her future accomplishments. Jessica is doomed to be a truth-teller, no matter the cost. She is not well loved by her teachers, and even her friends despair of her, but she soldiers on, seeing matters clearly and saying so.

Issues of class arise when Jessica is invited to a "Children's House Party" at the rectory of a wealthy clergyman. The other guests are typical apple-cheeked, well-fed, pink and pompous English children who find Jessica, the daughter of a curate of very slender means, "gharsely." But the son of the household, an avowed Communist at 15, invites Jessica to visit an industrial town with him to see how bad things are. (She doesn't find it half bad, given her own circumstances.) By story's end, Jessica has learned how to be happy in the pursuit of one's art and is more clear-eyed and determined than ever. --Valerie Ryan, Cannon Beach Book Company, Ore.

Discover: An early novel from Jane Gardam (Old Filth), originally meant for children but enjoyed by adults for its wit, satire and spot-on take on adolescence.

Europa, $16, paperback, 9781609451417

Camcat Books: Fool Her Once by Joanna Elm

The Vintage Teacup Club

by Vanessa Greene

When Jenny, a young bride planning her wedding on a budget, finds a beautiful vintage tea set at a car boot sale in Sussex, it's love at first sight. But two other women--Maggie, a florist and event planner, and Alison, a working mother running a small business out of her home--have also spotted it. Vanessa Greene's debut novel, The Vintage Teacup Club, takes its title from the women's agreement to share the set, creating a bond that changes all their lives.

As Jenny's wedding date draws near, she receives an unexpected message from the mother who abandoned her many years ago. Maggie's event business and flower shop are thriving, but the sudden reappearance of her charming ex-husband--right as she's planning the event of her career--throws her off balance. And while Alison adores her husband and two teenage daughters, she's feeling the strain of keeping her family afloat financially while he looks for work.

Greene weaves a heartwarming tale, alternating the three women's stories. An encounter with the tea set's original owners lends historical texture, while the characters' personal and financial struggles are convincing. Sweet and charming, The Vintage Teacup Club is best enjoyed with--what else?--freshly brewed tea sipped from a delicate (preferably antique) cup. --Katie Noah Gibson, blogger at Cakes, Tea and Dreams

Discover: A heartwarming story of three women who agree to share a vintage tea set and end up sharing their lives.

Berkley, $15, paperback, 9780425265581

Charlesbridge Publishing: Forever Cousins by Laurel Goodluck, illustrated by Jonathan Nelson


Don't Want to Miss a Thing

by Jill Mansell

As Jill Mansell meanders through a small British town in Don't Want to Miss a Thing, she kicks things off with one of her main characters angrily heaving a large, smelly fish (recently given to her by an ex-beau) over her garden fence.

That would be Molly, a cartoonist and smart girl who has been very unlucky in love. She leads a collection of eclectic folks who all live together in the little village of Briarwood that, however quaint, boasts plenty of action. There's café owner Frankie, who seems to have the perfect marriage--except for the whole trust part. And Lois, a racy barmaid who's so oozing with sexuality it might surprise you how rarely she gets a man in her bed. The reclusive Hope has waited years for her lost love to return, while rakish playboy Dexter is the newest arrival to the party. He roars through town with a shiny yellow Porsche and a newly inherited infant, adding a dash of the unexpected to the mix.

Mansell (Take a Chance on Me) is one of the masters of fun, upbeat fiction with twists of romance. She is working her craft for the umpteenth time here, yet the novel still feels fresh--and even if you suspect where she may be leading you in this charming tale, it's still a pleasant stroll to an ultimately satisfying conclusion. --Natalie Papailiou, author of blog MILF: Mother I'd Like to Friend

Discover: The latest read from a British master of light fiction offers enough winsome characters to fill a village--including a new arrival.

Sourcebooks Landmark, $14, paperback, 9781402283932

W. W. Norton & Company: Natural History: Stories by Andrea Barrett

Food & Wine

L.A. Son: My Life, My City, My Food

by Roy Choi, Natasha Phan, Tien Nguyen

Roy Choi, the man who launched the food truck frenzy in Los Angeles, has penned a brash, bold and exciting new memoir that transcends his self-made legend to expose the city's culinary marvels. L.A. Son is the story of countless immigrant families, from a first-generation son in a family living a hardscrabble life as they work to realize the American dream. Choi, though, was born with sohn-maash, a culinary magic touch honed by his exposure to the ethnic flavors and textures of Los Angeles's giant melting pot.

A latchkey kid in a Korean household ruled by excesses of booze and dysfunction, Choi learned the art of the hustle early, soaking in the disparate cultures of rich and poor as his parents struggled to hawk their wares first as jewelry middlemen, then as restaurateurs, in downtown Los Angeles and Orange County. His lust for food was as big as his appetite for vice--gambling and drinking occupied equal space as his ascendancy up the corporate ladder in the financial world, his first real job post-college. While Choi's parents pulled him back from the brink each time, ultimately the Culinary Institute of America in New York saved him by giving "a restless kid from L.A. who had morphed into a thug who had become a chef who had cooked his way up a ladder, only to fall into the arms of the streets" a second chance. --Nancy Powell, freelance writer and technical consultant

Discover: Roy Choi's brash, bold and exciting new memoir recounts his rise to culinary fame and the ethnic food influences that drove him forward.

Anthony Bourdain/Ecco, $29.99, hardcover, 9780062202635

Blair: A Girlhood: Letter to My Transgender Daughter by Carolyn Hays

Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie: Midwestern Writers on Food

by Peggy Wolff, editor

Nostalgia, regional pride, taste buds imprinted in childhood: for whatever reason, Midwesterners have a passion for their victuals. From the my-corn-is-sweeter-than-your corn boast to reverent musings on family Thanksgivings, the 30 essays (with recipes) by writers from the heartland in Fried Walleye and Cherry Pie will spark memories among readers across the country.

Peggy Wolff's selections serve as a geography primer. What's "in season" determines the menu, including "fair food" in the summer. When the crops and livestock are on display, the deep fried treats (often on a stick) are abundant. Twinkies, in all their melted gooey-ness, star in John Markus's "Thrill Food," while for Lorna Landvik, the Minnesota State Fair offers 12 days of "fair perfume, the smell of food, heady with top notes of grease and spun sugar." For Indianapolis native Melanie Benjamin, the roar of Indy 500 engines and the consumption of traditional summer foods, including apple butter and fried biscuits, are intertwined.

Pie--cherry, rhubarb, lemon meringue--figures prominently in the collection, from Wisconsin sour cherry land to the Missouri Ozarks, but Sue Hubbell's pie quest led her to Oklahoma, where she was advised, "You're in cobbler country now, Ma'am."

Some of the authors feel a spiritual relationship with food: Robert Olmstead is "transcended" by Cincinnati five-way chili; Jacqueline Mitchard is sure there is "Corn in Heaven," and Jon Yates claims he found "pork tenderloin nirvana" along the Indiana/Illinois/Iowa corridor. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A nostalgic trip through Middle America in 30 essays celebrating the region's traditional foods--recipes included.

University of Nebraska Press, $19.95, paperback, 9780803236455

Biography & Memoir

The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood

by Roger Rosenblatt

In The Boy Detective, Roger Rosenblatt transforms a winter night's walk through the streets of New York City into a wide-ranging excursion into the territory of memory that invites comparison with Alfred Kazin's A Walker in the City. Following the tragedy-inspired memoirs Making Toast and Kayak Morning, this book allows Rosenblatt to showcase his capacious intellect and gift for wry humor.

Rosenblatt's childhood in an eight-room apartment just off Manhattan's Gramercy Park provides the rich lode of inspiration for the sometimes loosely connected musings that compose the book. In the 1940s and '50s, he embarked on "boyhood detecting prowls," fancying himself a junior Sherlock Holmes (with a dash of Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe and other literary detectives thrown in for good measure) as he tailed innocent citizens through his neighborhood. Repeatedly identifying an affinity between detective work and writing, Rosenblatt makes an intriguing case for a shared sympathy that links the professions: "Both see people for what they are," he writes, "judging privately, yet leaving cosmic judgment to others--perhaps the deepest sort of sympathy there is."

Ranging across decades of New York history, Rosenblatt is a knowledgeable and generous tour guide, pointing out the Gramercy Park connections of Herman Melville, Edith Wharton and Humphrey Bogart (and E.B. White's Stuart Little), as well as the nearby site of the original Madison Square Garden.

Memoir, urban travelogue or summing up of a career grounded in the written word, Roger Rosenblatt's The Boy Detective is an elegant and wise journey through an incomparable city and a meaning-filled life. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: A walking tour of Roger Rosenblatt's childhood neighborhood inspires a rich collection of personal reflections--and an intriguing argument for linking the work of detectives and writers.

Ecco, $19.99, hardcover, 9780062241337

Starting at Zero: His Own Story

by Jimi Hendrix

Starting at Zero is the story of Jimi Hendrix in the legendary rock guitarist's own words. Compiled from interviews and the lyrical content of his songs by filmmaker Peter Neal, it offers a perspective on Hendrix rarely seen in books about superstars, an intimate portrait that reveals much more about his inner motivations than any historical biography.

Hendrix speaks of his life with a quiet grace that seems at odds with his noisy stage persona, beginning with his childhood in Seattle and his early love of poetry "mostly about flowers and nature and people wearing robes."

He took his band, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, to London in the mid-1960s, paying dues and earning a reputation for brilliant improvisation and musical talent. He also began to resent the fans who wanted him to do the same thing every night, smash his guitar over and over, play the same hits.

Soon, however, he becomes exhausted from touring, his words creating increasingly bizarre imagery, his songs turning trippy and vague. The last four years of his life are turbulent and confusing, as Hendrix retreats further into his music, his own solitude and--though never directly mentioned--drugs.

Starting at Zero is a beautiful tribute, all the more compelling for its lack of biographical or historical context. There are just the words of Jimi Hendrix, a brilliant and tragic guitarist with the soul of a poet. --Rob LeFebvre, freelance writer and editor

Discover: A surprisingly candid, refreshing self-portrait of an oft-misunderstood superstar of rock and roll.

Bloomsbury, $26, hardcover, 9781620403310


The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism

by Doris Kearns Goodwin

Doris Kearns Goodwin's The Bully Pulpit is about one of our most famous presidents--Theodore Roosevelt--and one of our least well-known--William Howard Taft--and their roles in a challenging and changing time in American history. Goodwin (Team of Rivals) focuses on the intense friendship between Roosevelt and his successor, which lasted until 1912, when they became bitter foes, both vying for the Republican presidential nomination. When Taft prevailed, Roosevelt chose to continue the fight as a third-party candidate, splitting the vote so that Democratic candidate Woodrow Wilson won the election.

Goodwin also traces the origins, growth and development of America's muckraking press and the dawn of the Progressive Era. At McClure's, one of the greatest magazine staffs in journalism's history--including Ida Tarbell, Ray Stannard Baker, Lincoln Steffens and William Allen White--wrote powerful exposés that paved the way for Roosevelt to stare down monopolies, robber barons and corrupt politicians. When Taft began diluting many of the reforms Roosevelt put in place, the reform-minded press was there to cover it all.

Deep and scholarly, with rich background and a plethora of historical minutiae, The Bully Pulpit is not a breezy read. Yet, as she has done so brilliantly in previous books, Goodwin makes the political machinations of American history interesting by focusing on the humanity of the larger-than-life figures at the heart of the story. --Jonathan Shipley, freelance writer

Discover: Steven Spielberg, who created Lincoln from Goodwin's Team of Rivals, has secured the film rights for this story of TR, Taft and the muckrakers.

Simon & Schuster, $40, hardcover, 9781416547860

Essays & Criticism

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage

by Ann Patchett

As you're reading Ann Patchett's nonfiction collection, This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, don't be surprised if you have the sensation that instead of consuming words on a page, you're listening to your wisest, most humane friend.

As she reveals in "Nonfiction, an Introduction," Patchett "got her start in women's magazines," relying on her day job to pay the bills while she worked on her first novel. For that reason, she says, the 23 pieces in this collection are "full of example and advice." Those qualities are best revealed in "The Getaway Car," originally published as an exclusive for Byliner. Patchett's account of her fiction writing apprenticeship contains enough sound counsel in 40 pages to replace a good-sized shelf of instruction manuals. In the title essay, written as an audio piece for Audible, Patchett relates what she's learned about why marriages fail and succeed, contrasting her brief and disastrous first marriage with her current one--which came about after an unusual 11-year courtship.

Many readers of Shelf Awareness have warm feelings toward Patchett for her role in establishing the Nashville independent bookstore Parnassus Books in 2011. In "The Bookstore Strikes Back," she admits she's "dizzied by the blitheness that stood in place of any sort of business sense," but in the store's relatively brief life it's been a spectacular success, landing her on the front page of the New York Times and causing her to "inadvertently become the spokesperson for independent bookstores."

The Ann Patchett revealed in these pages feels deeply, remembers meticulously and moves gracefully through the journey that is life. We all can be thankful she's invited us along for the ride. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: This collection of Ann Patchett's nonfiction showcases her talent for keen observation and graceful prose.

Harper, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062236678

A Little History of Literature

by John Sutherland

John Sutherland (Lives of the Novelists) tackles an impressively broad subject in A Little History of Literature. Beginning with Homer and The Epic of Gilgamesh, Chaucer and Shakespeare, he hopes to instruct his reader in literature--what it is, where it's been and where it might be headed.

Sutherland takes us from a childhood of "reading... under the blanket, with a torch, after lights out," and the genesis of children's literature, through the modern developments that brought us Fifty Shades of Grey and genre divisions. Even as he recounts the historical details behind Beowulf or the birth of the King James Bible, he skips forward to reference current trends, markets and buying habits, relating them to centuries-old forces. Major works from many centuries are joined by digressions into the history of printing, of copyright and of books themselves.

Sutherland presupposes a certain background among his readers: "much of what many of us know about science comes from reading science fiction," for example, or his description of "many" or "most" children growing up reading at home. He also focuses, with few exceptions, on Western literature, although he does make a conscious effort to call attention to the role of women writers within that tradition. These issues aside, this slim book makes for a necessarily cursory review of literature's greats--and the loving treatment by an expert, presented in easily understood terms, will please both novices and established readers looking to dip back into well-loved works. --Julia Jenkins, librarian and blogger at pagesofjulia

Discover: An easily grasped primer on our finest wordsmiths, from Homer through the Bröntes, Proust and Kafka.

Yale University Press, $25, hardcover, 9780300186857

Children's & Young Adult

Nick and Tesla's High-Voltage Danger Lab

by Steve Hockensmith, Bob Pflugfelder, illus. by Scott Garrett

Nick and Tesla Holt, 11-year-old twins, star in a middle-grade novel sure to appeal to mystery and adventure fans, as well as to budding scientists who enjoy devising experiments such as erupting volcanoes.

Steve Hockensmith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) sets this madcap mystery in San Francisco's Half Moon Bay, where the twins are staying for the summer with their uncle (either a genius or a madman, they're not sure at first). Their discoveries and adventures in a new town drive this fun- and scientific fact–filled novel as they invent contraptions that help them escape from tight spots--and just as often draw them into difficult dilemmas. "Science Bob" Pflugfelder, an elementary schoolteacher and TV personality, provides instructions (and humorous asides) for replicating the clever devices made by the twins, so readers may join in the excitement. The twins make a bottle rocket and launcher to entertain themselves, and set it off in a vacant lot. But the twins break Science Bob's first rule ("Never stand over an unlaunched rocket"), so when the rocket flies, it takes Tesla's pendant with it. It lands behind the fence surrounding the "old Landrigan place," guarded by Rottweilers and a pair of suspicious "construction" guys, and Nick spies a girl in an upstairs window.

How Nick and Tesla search for the pendant and the identity of the mysterious girl makes for a suspenseful adventure. The brief, liberally illustrated chapters, combined with five experiments make this an involving experience for a diverse audience of readers and experimenters. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: Eleven-year-old twins lead readers on an adventure to solve a mystery and concoct high-octane experiments in the process.

Quirk Books, $12.95, hardcover, 240p., ages 9-12, 9781594746482

Island of Fire: The Unwanteds, Book Three

by Lisa McMann

Island of Fire, the third book in Lisa McMann’s planned series of seven, ignites even more challenges in her characters' war against imagination.

Fourteen-year-old Unwanted Alex Stowe and the rest of Artimé are reeling from the loss of Mr. Today, the mage who was killed at the hands of Alex’s twin brother, Aaron, in Island of Silence. Weeks have passed and Alex, as Artimé’s new leader, feels helpless, unable to provide food or protection--unless he can solve the cryptic spell left behind by Mr. Today. Meanwhile, in the antagonistic land of Quill, Aaron Stowe rises back to power and declares himself High Priest. While Aaron’s role isn’t quite as prominent in this installment, he still proves once again to be a complex and entertaining villain when he appears on the page. McMann alternates among many characters, including Unwanteds Lani and Samheed, who became voiceless hostages on the "strangely quite island" of the previous book.

After the magic-lite start, the author ramps up the fantasy with new spells, ships that steer themselves, and the volcanic Pirate Island to dazzle readers. Slight romance arises, but the real emotion of the novel comes through in Alex’s frustrations and drive to do right by the Artiméans. McMann continues to raise the stakes in this series without losing any steam. --Adam Silvera, reviewer and children’s bookseller

Discover: The gripping third installment in the Unwanteds series, in which the world of Artimé has lost its magic.

Aladdin, S&S, $16.99, hardcover, 464p., ages 8-12, 9781442458451


Author Buzz

Taking the Leap: A River Rain Novel

by Kristen Ashley

Dear Reader,

River Rain is back!

Sweeping from the mountains of Arizona, to parties in New York City, the next in the River Rain series, Taking the Leap brings on one of my favorite tropes. A bashful woman who's willing to take what she can get and a good man lying to himself about his future, that future being with her. Can Alex and Rix see the possibility and take the leap? I hope you dive in and see!

Kristen Ashley

Available on Kobo

Blue Box Press

Pub Date: 
February 15, 2022


List Price: 
$5.99 e-book

Valley of Shadows

by Rudy Ruiz

Dear Reader,

My new book Valley of Shadows is here! Be transported to a distant time and a remote place where the immortal forces of good and evil dance amidst the shadows of magic and mountains. A visionary neo-Western blend of magical realism, mystery, and horror, Valley of Shadows sheds light on the dark past of injustice, isolation, and suffering along the US-Mexico border.

Win 1 of 5 copies by writing to me at!

Rudy Ruiz

Buy from your local indie bookstore>


Pub Date: 
September 20, 


List Price: 
$27.99 Hardcover

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