Shelf Awareness for Readers for Friday, January 10, 2014


From My Shelf

Grove Press: Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs

Aladdin: The Misadventures of Max Crumbly #3: Masters of Mischief by Rachel Ren Russell

A Look Back at the Holiday Season

It's been heartening to read about indie bookstores having such a great holiday sales season, and interesting to see which books have done particularly well.

We asked Joe Foster at Above the Treeline for some analytical help in rounding up titles that sold in high numbers from October through December 2013. Hard Luck, number 8 in Jeff Kinney's astoundingly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, topped the charts, followed by Malcolm Gladwell's David and Goliath and Donna Tartt's long-awaited novel The Goldfinch.

One of the most notable bestsellers was The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee, Jr.--not only is it, in the words of our reviewer, "The definitive biography of a complicated, controversial and often elusive baseball legend," but it wasn't published until December 3; its sales soared in a very short time. Another latecomer with hefty sales was Amy Tan's epic novel about a courtesan in early 20th century Shanghai, The Valley of Amazement, published in November.

Several backlist YA books made the top 50 list, with the Hunger Games series going strong, along with The Book Thief by Markus Zusak--a movie tie-in (but read the book)--and two John Green titles: his debut novel, Looking for Alaska, and The Fault in Our Stars. Our reviewer said this story of a trio of teens diagnosed with cancer who fill their lives with love and laughter is his best book to date. Another excellent "older" book is Laura Hillenbrand's magnificent Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Bosh--a semi-graphic memoir (or perhaps a memoir heavily illustrated) is subtitled Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, including stories about dogs, insights into depression, and wackiness; it's a particular favorite of the Shelf staff. As are so many others, like The Boys in the Boat. We could go on and on.... --Marilyn Dahl, editor, Shelf Awareness for Readers


Kokila: Patron Saints of Nothing by Randy Ribay

Book Candy

Books on Fear and the Creative Process; Dystopian Fiction

Noting that Christoph Niemann said "creativity is like chasing chickens," Brain Pickings suggested "5 timeless books of insight on fear and the creative process."

---

Noting that the genre "has enjoyed a renaissance," Flavorwire highlighted "15 works of dystopian fiction everyone should read."

---

Prone to the writer's life: The Huffington Post highlighted "7 famous authors who wrote lying down."

---

Buzzfeed found "21 cats who are secretly excellent readers."

---

"Which science fiction classic is best read before the age of 18?" io9 asked.

---

Seaching for the "most convincing popular music combos on screen and in print," the Observer featured the "10 best fictional musicians--in pictures."


International Thriller Writers: G.P. Putnam's Sons: Neon Prey (Prey Novel #29) by John Sandford


The Writer's Life

Anjan Sundaram: Bearing Witness

photo: Antonio Gamito

Anjan Sundaram is an award-winning journalist who reported from Central Africa for the New York Times, the Associated Press and Foreign Policy. After graduating with a Master's in mathematics from Yale, Sundaram turned down several job offers to work as a stringer for the Associated Press. His nonfiction debut, Stringer: A Reporter's Journey in the Congo (Doubleday, $25.95), offers a visceral and poignant account of his apprenticeship as a writer immersed in the violent conflicts of Congo.

You left a promising mathematics career as a Yale graduate and a lucrative job offer to become a stringer with the Associated Press. Can you explain your thoughts and feelings at the time? Did your family and loved ones think you had gone crazy?

I had been for some time living in the mathematical worlds I studied. It was magical. But both mathematics and finance seemed too abstract. I think neither would have satisfied this lust I felt at the time to experience the world in its fullness and rawness. I had heard that the war in Congo had left millions dead, but that only a couple of journalists were there to cover the country, which is half the size of Western Europe. The advice from my family and loved ones was often that I was needlessly endangering my life or wasting my time, that I could be doing more productive things. But I felt a desire to see the powerful events occurring in Congo, to somehow touch them and allow myself to be touched by them. It was a complement to my mathematical life at the time, which was largely intellectual, even imaginary.

Was there something in your background that made you feel equipped to succeed as a reporter?

I had nothing more than a desire to see the world and write about it. My training in abstract algebra had taught me about building logically consistent systems--and some of that translates to storytelling. But talents take you only so far. More important was my determination to become a reporter--my sense that this was my vocation. Then there was really no turning back from it. I had to try everything to learn.

How did you end up in Congo as your first assignment?

I went to Congo on my own initiative. I applied for a visa and bought a one-way ticket. I had no job or connection to the place, no family or history there. I wanted to cover its war. I had read stories about famines, massacres, great loss, and I felt these stories merited a more sustained treatment than I found in newspapers. I also came upon an interview with the great Polish reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski in which he lamented the lack of witnesses to the great African events of his time, which he described as history in the making. And, finally, while I was paying my final bill at Yale, the cashier happened to be African. I asked where she was from and she said Zaire. She could not believe I wanted go to Congo after such an expensive education--she felt I was throwing so much away. But in the end she relented and had me stay with her in-laws. It is thanks to that family, despite various troubles that ensued, that I was able to remain in Congo and report on the country.

You ended up staying with a Congolese family instead of at a motel or some other living arrangement. Do you think this affected your reportage and your understanding of the people there?

It's easier to judge people when you sit outside society--whether in another country or in the same city in a motel. Staying with a Congolese family made me a part of the fabric of that house, of that street and of society. I lived their experience as much as I could. They ate once a day, so I did the same. We suffered power and water cuts together. If there was a coup or a battle and the roads were blocked, we would be equally affected. None of us would be able to escape. I observed at a minute level the family's daily struggles: in procuring food and medicine for their children, in paying the rent, in finding some measure of dignity. It certainly put my work in context, and in the end much of Stringer was not about the stories I covered or who I interviewed, but about the realities of Congolese life I learnt from living with that family.

Your trip upriver seemed to be a real turning point in your reporting. Was that your perception at the time?

That trip was a product of the spirit with which I had gone out to Congo: I had gone out looking for a story, trusting my instinct and my ability to find something, and once in Congo I again set out upriver, seeking a mine hidden in the jungle that belonged to an Indian businessman. That particular journey was a turning point because it was the first instance in which my spirit to seek came good. I was able to find a story that no one else had reported. I was, for the first time, not merely reporting news that had happened--like deaths in a plane crash--but that I had found. This is a more natural way of reporting for me and, ultimately, it tells you more about the country, because what you find becomes part of your own story and the instinct that got you to that point would naturally propel you further.

Are there travel writers or reporters you would consider as influences?

As I mentioned, Kapuscinski was an influence--both in his method of working, using the wire reporting job to get himself to interesting places and events, as well as in his way of perceiving the world. He had a way of making delimited events and experiences resonate in larger ways. V.S. Naipaul was also an influence--for the incisiveness of his observation and the precision of his writing. And Bruce Chatwin, for the fullness with which he engaged the world and his beautiful spirit.

Was the level of violence, lack of infrastructure and ecological rape you encountered in the Congo ever more than you could bear?

The intensity of my experiences--and my desire to try to go to the root of them--meant that I had to build something of a shell around myself while in Congo. I sought to bear witness, and this was not always pleasant. Only when I left the country did the full weight of my experience hit home; I needed somehow to process it. This emotion, this sense of the intensity of what I had experienced, gave me the initial impetus to begin to want to write Stringer.

War journalists like Sebastian Junger and Chris Hedges have spoken of the addictive rush they get in dangerous environments. Can you relate?

I don't feel it as an addictive rush. Each time I go to these places I have to force myself; it is not something that comes naturally to me. I don't feel at home in dangerous environments. Often I wish I had not come. But there is something that drives me to visit dangerous places--mostly, a feeling that no one else is there, that what people are living through and experiencing is going unrecorded, and may be forgotten. I think it is unbelievably important and powerful simply to bear witness.

You kept reporting after many others had fled Kinshasa. What was your motivation for staying?

I had a sense that something might happen after the elections, that the loser at the polls would not take it easily. I suppose I had a truer intuition because I was one of the few journalists--stringers--who lived and worked in the country, whereas most of the others were correspondents who had flown in for a few days to report on the vote. Congo was my home at that point. It would have been difficult for me to leave. I might have asked myself why I had come in the first place. --Donald Powell, freelance writer


Apply to be a Member of Abrams Dinner Party Today!


Book Review

Fiction

All Russians Love Birch Trees

by Olga Grjasnowa, trans. by Eva Bacon


For many American readers, Olga Grjasnowa's All Russians Love Birch Trees, an award-winning German novel about displaced people, will be a disorienting experience. Its narrator is a young woman named Masha, studying to be an interpreter for the United Nations. She is a Russian Jew, raised in Germany after ethnic conflict forced her parents to flee Azerbaijan; she speaks Russian, French, English, German, Arabic, Turkish and Azeri, with varying degrees of fluency. She and her Lebanese Arab boyfriend belong to a lost generation, constantly struggling to reconcile their linguistic, national, ethnic and religious identities.

Early in the novel, a sudden, tragic event sets Masha adrift. She floats between Germany and Israel, occasionally falling in with a new friend or an old lover. Eva Bacon's translation is clean and lucid--a quiet, understated first-person narration that belies the depths of Masha's pain and confusion.

Grjasnowa makes a conscious effort to guide the reader through a forest of tensions, from loaded terms like "postmigrant" to the difference between the way a third-grade teacher treats a newly arrived French student versus a German-speaker of Russian descent. Although it's impossible give the reader an instinctive understanding of Masha's struggles, Grjasnowa elegantly balances explanations and demonstrations so that Masha's world comes to feel almost familiar. All Russians Love Birch Trees is part of a new global literature that sees foreignness as a condition of familiarity, that understands alienation as a way of life. --Emma Page, bookseller at Wellesley Books

Discover: A deceptively simple novel from a young German author about loss, displacement and translation.

Other Press, $15.95, paperback, 9781590515846

G.P. Putnam's Sons Books for Young Readers: The Grief Keeper by Alexandra Villasante


The Wind Is Not a River

by Brian Payton


Not many people know about the World War II battle fought on U.S. soil, but Brian Payton draws upon that story in the novel The Wind Is Not a River.

Canadian freelance journalist John Easley is haunted by the death of his brother in Europe and determined to reveal the truth about the war. He sets out to report on the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, which the War Department denies has occurred. Leaving his wife, Helen, in Seattle, John joins a bombing crew headed to the Alaskan Territory. The plane is shot down, and though he and a young airman named Karl survive, they know they will be presumed dead.

Hiding in a cave on the island of Attu, John and Karl endure cold, wet, starvation and mental anguish, but elude the Japanese. Their camaraderie sustains them, but eventually John is alone. Meanwhile, Helen, overcoming her quiet nature, has earned a part in a USO troupe bound for Alaska, where her grit and wiles take her close to John, though their reunion will be further delayed.

While servicepeople take center stage in most "war novels," as civilians John and Helen Easley exhibit the same heroism and loyalty as their military peers. The story of the innocent Aleutian Island natives caught in the crossfire is another prism through which The Wind Is Not a River reminds readers of the tragedies of war. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A World War II novel about the little-known Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands, a journalist stranded behind enemy lines and the wife who goes to heroic efforts to find him.

Ecco, $26.99, hardcover, 9780062279972

The Scent of Pine

by Lara Vapnyar


Although she's been writing in English only since 2002, just eight years after emigrating from Russia, Lara Vapnyar is already a prolific author, with two story collections (There Are Jews in My House and Broccoli and Other Tales of Food) and a novel (Memoirs of a Muse). The Scent of Pine, her second novel, is a brief, intense story of sexual awakening, linking the memory of an eventful summer at a Russian summer camp to a contemporary affair.

Lena, an adjunct professor of film at a community college, and Ben, who teaches the history of the graphic novel at Rutgers, meet at an academic conference in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Lena, a Russian immigrant and mother to two young boys, is disappointed in her marriage to a mathematician husband, while Ben, who's divorced, is in a relationship destined to end soon. Their mutual disillusionment leads to an affair.

On their way to Ben's cabin in the Maine woods, and continuing through the weekend the two lovers spend there, Lena spins out her story of the summer 20 years earlier, in the era of perestroika, she spent as a counselor at a children's camp run by the Soviet Ministry of Defense. Between the first stirrings of her sexuality, focused on the soldiers who serve at the camp, and the leadership's determination to tamp down their young charges' urges, the air is thick with sexual tension.

Vapnyar doesn't strive for any grand statement in The Scent of Pine. Instead, the story offers a small slice of life that depends for its appeal on her sharp observational eye and the precision of her characterization, the same talents she's displayed in her previous work. --Harvey Freedenberg, attorney and freelance reviewer

Discover: In Lara Vapnyar's brief yet intense second novel, two lovers exchange their stories over the course of a long weekend.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781476712628

Bingo's Run

by James Levine


Bingo is a 15-year-old orphan whose small stature often leads to him being mistaken for a child of 10. He is also the best drug-runner in the slums of Kibera in Nairobi--at least until he witnesses something he was never meant to see and finds himself under the "protection" of the drug gangs for whom he used to work.

Narrating Bingo's Run in Bingo's own voice, James Levine (The Blue Notebook) captures the innocence and confusion of this cunning, distrustful young man, forced to grow up before his time and without benefit of a family to guide him. Little more than a child, he has seen his grandparents burned to death, his mother murdered, his friends raped and his every possession stolen. It is this horrific background, though, that gives insight into the inequalities of Nairobi and Bingo's forced acceptance of them, from the bribery and corruption that steep every institution to the clash of cultures as American and European tourists descend upon Kibera.

All of this, reflecting Levine's own time in Nairobi, is fascinating in its own right, but even more interesting than the portrait of the place is the portrait of the young boy found hidden among all the chaos--seeking, like so many other children, to be loved. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: James Levine (The Blue Notebook) turns to the story of a young boy struggling to find his way through the chaotic, dangerous world of Nairobi.

Spiegel & Grau, $24, hardcover, 9781400068838

The Last Train to Paris

by Michele Zackheim


In Michele Zackheim's The Last Train to Paris, an 87-year-old woman tending her garden in upstate New York decides to go through her notes from the 1930s, when she was a foreign correspondent in Europe.

R.B. Manon (Rosie to her friends) writes a column for the New York Courier until she gets a chance to cover the fear and insanity gripping Paris and Berlin. Rosie is the only woman in the Paris newsroom, and though she was raised by a mother who was determined to deny her half-Jewish heritage, that heritage leaves her vulnerable. Her situation is further complicated by her mother's unexpected arrival and by her discovery of the secrets of her lover, a Jewish engraver controlled by the Nazis. Based on a true-life abduction in 1937, the action centers on Rosie's glamorous, cousin Stella, a Jewish actress who disappears in Paris after dating a handsome German who speaks perfect English.

The Last Train to Paris is a densely populated short novel with dozens of colorful characters crowded into its pages--a vicious managing editor, an alcoholic, suicidal fellow reporter, an exiled Chinese poet, a distressed elderly aunt, a black American saxophonist and even the famous French author Colette.

As it progresses, the novel becomes more and more the story of a mother and daughter given a last chance to connect. In the confusion as the last train for Paris pulls out of Berlin, Rosie will be forced to choose between her mother and her lover. Zackheim's honest and melancholy story about the brutal psychological and physical toll of war leaves a lingering sense of regret and loss. --Nick DiMartino, Nick's Picks, University Book Store, Seattle, Wash.

Discover: An elderly woman's recollection of life as a half-Jewish news correspondent in Paris and Berlin at the start of the Second World War.

Europa Editions, $16, paperback, 9781609451790

Mystery & Thriller

The Harlot's Tale

by Sam Thomas


In The Harlot's Tale, Sam Thomas returns to 1645 York, England, and the courageous investigations of midwife Bridget Hodgson, introduced in 2013's The Midwife's Tale. With the help of her obstreperous maid, Martha, Lady Hodgson is busy delivering babies--while trying to please the increasingly strict Puritan city government--until her brother-in-law, a York alderman, asks her to look at the body of a woman brutally murdered along with her lover.

Lady Hodgson and Martha discover that the woman had been horribly mutilated; in her hand, they find a slip of paper with a Bible verse referring to whores. They're shocked to realize that the killer seems to be twisting scripture to suit his needs--and they're even more appalled when the bodies begin piling up.

The murders inflame tensions in the city, as Puritan preachers begin speaking of the deaths as God's judgment on the city for its sinful ways. Most of the city leaders are dismissive of the deaths of mere prostitutes, but Lady Hodgson (with the help of Martha and her nephew Will) is determined to find the killer and bring him to justice.

The Harlot's Tale brings the squalid living conditions of 17th-century York to life. The descriptions of the town's primitive medical care and its narrow-minded people are equally appalling. Readers will keep guessing about the mystery until the end as Lady Hodgson, Will and Martha frantically try to find the truth. And the shocking denouement will make the anticipation for the next midwife mystery even greater. --Jessica Howard, blogger at Quirky Bookworm

Discover: Sam Thomas extends his historical mystery series starring a determined midwife in 17th-century England with this excellent second novel.

Minotaur Books, $24.99, hardcover, 9781250010780

Biography & Memoir

My Age of Anxiety

by Scott Stossel


"Anxiety and its associated disorders represent the most common form of officially classified mental illness in the United States today," says Atlantic editor Scott Stossel. But what, exactly, is anxiety disorder? In My Age of Anxiety, Stossel delves into the history of the disease, from the first references to anxiousness and nerves to the current state of anxiety disorders and the pharmaceutical world that has sprung up around them.

Because psychology is an ever-evolving field of study with hotly contested schools of thought, Stossel faces controversial issues: Is anxiety genetic or caused by upbringing? Should we medicate the condition, or is talk therapy a surer route to a stable life? In each instance, Stossel draws heavily on his own experience with anxiety--and with his own psychiatric teams--to offer his opinion, but never dismisses any other school of thought, giving readers enough details to form their own opinions about anxiety and its causes, treatments and cures.

Peppered with stories from Stossel's personal battle with anxiety, as well as those of his family members, My Age of Anxiety is one part memoir and one part medical history. The two narratives combine almost seamlessly to present a fascinating glimpse into the generalized and acute anxiety disorders that seem to plague our modern world. --Kerry McHugh, blogger at Entomology of a Bookworm

Discover: Memoir and medical history combine in Stossel's exploration of anxiety disorders in contemporary culture.

Knopf, $27.95, hardcover, 9780307269874

Unremarried Widow

by Artis Henderson


By the middle of Unremarried Widow, the wish is fervent: please let this be a novel; please let Artis Henderson's husband return from Iraq unharmed. But we know that is not her story.

Eager to be self-sufficient, Artis earned a business degree and was working in Florida when she met Miles, an army pilot from Texas. Her candid sharing of their romance, her decision to live on base as an army wife and their wedding before his deployment to Iraq reveals her frustration with military custom, but above all the depth of their love; the security she'd always sought, she found in Miles. A heartbreaking sidebar to their wedding story: a photo snapped that day was the one she sent to accompany his obituary. They had been married four months.

Miles died in an Apache helicopter crash, leaving Artis, in military parlance, a URW--unremarried widow. The army wives she'd never felt close to were now her support, along with a grief group and a military tragedy assistance program. Although she shared the tragic bond of early widowhood with her mother, she resisted turning to her, but slowly came to recognize the strength and patience her mother offered.

Spanning six years, the memoir includes Artis's eventual move into a successful writing career, but the image that lingers is of the war widow, the sorrow she so eloquently and generously expresses, and the realization that the war that claimed Miles continues. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, bookseller, Book Passage, San Francisco

Discover: A forthright memoir by the widow of an army pilot killed in Iraq expresses the pain of the families left behind.

Simon & Schuster, $25, hardcover, 9781451649284

Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music

by Angelique Kidjo, Rachel Wenrick


From birth, Angélique Kidjo was surrounded by her mother's theater troupe of dancers and singers. She fell in love with the songs and learned many by heart. When the little girl playing the part of a princess fell ill, her mother threw Kidjo out onto the stage to perform and, as she writes, "I was six years old and I've not stopped singing since."

Spirit Rising brings to life the woman behind the music that has captured audiences around the world. From Benin, West Africa, to Paris and the United States, Kidjo always had one goal in mind: to do what she wanted to do with her life--sing--for "when you feel the music, you forget your worries and discover truths about yourself." Rich in details about life as a black woman trying to make it as a singer, Kidjo's memoir pays homage to the many musicians she's performed and recorded with, as well as two important role models, Miriam Makeba and Aretha Franklin, who inspired her to write and perform her own songs based on her African roots.

Interspersed with color photographs and reflections on the evolution of her albums and live concert hall performances, Spirit Rising delights readers with details of Kidjo's family life. For any reader who has enjoyed  her music, this exciting and inspirational memoir is a perfect complement. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: Angélique Kidjo's powerful memoir is a perfect match for her music.

Harper Design, $27.99, hardcover, 9780062071798

Science

Our Mathematical Universe: My Quest for the Ultimate Nature of Reality

by Max Tegmark


The quest to understand the mysterious universe likely began as soon as there was intelligent life on earth. In Our Mathematical Universe, MIT physics professor Max Tegmark delves into a mind-enriching cornucopia of past scientific discoveries and present theories concerning our state of existence--including the possibilities of multiple universes or multiverses. Through careful analysis of current research and some semi-mind-boggling leaps of understanding, Tegmark uses physics, astronomy and mathematics to show readers the complexity of the universe we see around us, while speculating about the ones we still can't see due to time and distance.

From the Big Bang to the more controversial "Inflation" theory, Tegmark explains in abundant detail how our part of the universe evolved to what we know today. Readers will take away a fair understanding of dark matter and dark energy, then proceed from the cosmic to the microscopic into the world of up quarks and down quarks, pions, kaons, tauons and W-bosons and Z-bosons, the building blocks of protons, electrons and neutrons. Quantum physics and quantum mechanics, "the illusion of randomness" and the deceptive qualities of time all play into Tegmark's theory that mathematics is at the root of our physical reality.

Although non-scientific readers may have trouble understanding some theories, the prose is generally accessible throughout and Tegmark's enthusiasm for the subject will keep readers intrigued, spurring them to reconsider the meaning and purpose of the heavens all around us. --Lee E. Cart, freelance writer and book reviewer

Discover: A fascinating explanation of how our universe evolved and where it stands in the grand scheme of things.

Knopf, $30, hardcover, 9780307599803

Children's & Young Adult

The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean: telt by hisself

by David Almond


Like many of David Almond's novels (Skellig; Clay; Kit's Wilderness; Heaven Eyes), his latest dark masterpiece transcends the everyday world to exist in a mystical landscape all its own.

Narrator Billy Dean lives in a time of never-ending war. He's the secret love child of a priest and a hairdresser, and he's been locked away all his life, left to ponder "the mistry of the stars & the beests & the mistry of the syz of things & the mistry of what had been dun to Billy Dean." When his father stops visiting, Billy finally emerges into the bombed-out remains of the town of Blinkbonny. He is introduced to the butcher, Mr. McCaufrey, and he meets the elderly Mrs. Malone. Because he "slitherd owt into the world on the day of doom," Billy is used as a medium by Mrs. Malone, to contact the spirits of the dead. She suspects he has "the graytest [of] gifts" and, indeed, before long, Billy begins to heal the sick.

The author repeatedly shows Billy's life to be a tug of war between matters of the flesh and matters of the soul, between the human and the divine. Crowds of people seek miracles from Billy, and two men appear who begin acting as his disciples. But someone has "a nife in his hand." The author challenges his readers with phonetic spellings, which, along with a deft use of magical realism, build a world that--like so many that Almond creates--is both darker and more wondrous than our own. --Lynn Becker, host of Book Talk, the monthly online discussion of children's books for the Society of Children's Book Writers & Illustrators

Discover: Young Billy Dean, the secret son of a priest and a hairdresser, is the "Aynjel Childe" in a post-apocalyptic world.

Candlewick, $17.99, hardcover, 272p., ages 14-up, 9780763663094

Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Everything

by Maira Kalman


As she did with her magnificent Looking at Lincoln, Maira Kalman here creates a singular biography of our third president through portraits, artifacts and salient quotes from the wordsmith himself.

This is as much a tribute to Monticello as it is to its architect. "The house was a museum of his mind," she writes, panning a room with maps, a human bust and an array of mounted antlers. Jefferson's bed divides his chambers into "two rooms"--one with his reading desk, the other with boots at the ready for jumping into and going outside. Kalman then segues outdoors, where a garden awaits, and includes Jefferson's favorite vegetable: peas. (An elegant inset lists a half-dozen pea varieties.) But the author-artist does not paint a saint. She includes not only the accomplishments of this "monumental man" but also his "monumental flaws." A reproduction of a page from Jefferson's farm book lists his slaves ("Our hearts are broken," Kalman writes), and she adds, "It is strongly believed that after his wife died, Jefferson had children with the beautiful Sally Heming."

Grown-up fans of Kalman's blog And the Pursuit of Happiness for the New York Times (later published as a book) will recognize a few favorite pictures: the wonderful pink chair piled with reading material accompanying the quote "I cannot live without books"; a portrait of Benjamin Franklin; and Washington's teeth, among them. The author-artist's electric colors and personal asides make this an intimate biography sure to pull in young readers and inspire them to further study. --Jennifer M. Brown, children's editor, Shelf Awareness

Discover: An intimate picture-book biography of our third president, from the author-artist of Looking at Lincoln.

Nancy Paulsen/Penguin, $17.99, hardcover, 40p., ages 7-up, 9780399240409

Independent Study: The Testing: Book 2

by Joelle Charbonneau


Joelle Charbonneau melds coming-of-age themes with the suspense of a detective story in this second installment of a planned trilogy, with an intellectual narrative more complex than most dystopian literature.

Malencia "Cia" Vale continues her quest for knowledge, and her life in the dystopian United Commonwealth, a future U.S. that is rebuilding after worldwide political and environmental upheaval. Now a student at Tosu City University in the capital, Cia can't remember the trauma and betrayals that befell her in the previous novel because her memories were erased. But an innate distrust of university officials keeps her cautious. "While my classmates are concerned about the test affecting the years ahead," she thinks, "I worry I will not survive the day." An aptitude test sets Cia on a course of study in government, earmarking her for leadership, despite her strong interest in mechanical engineering. But why groom her for leadership and then set her up for failure, by scheduling her for nine courses when everyone else has five? Cia confronts both physical and emotional challenges with a brilliant analytical mind. In her flashes of memory, she is haunted by the feeling that to fail is to die.

Charbonneau's skillful use of Cia's measured and calculating internal dialogue to maintain nail-biting tension is a literary step above the action and gore that propel other series. Fans will be waiting impatiently for the conclusion of Cia's journey later this year. --Jessica Bushore, former public librarian and freelance writer

Discover: Cia meets the powers behind The Testing and confronts her role in the battles fought and those to come.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $17.99, hardcover, 320p., ages 12-up, 9780547959207


Neon Prey

by John Sandford
ISBN: 9780525536581
G.P. Putnam's Sons
April 23, 2019


an exclusive interview with bestselling author John Sandford   
 

"Cannibalism" has always been—and for some, will always be—associated with Hannibal Lecter, and so many authors tend to steer clear from this type of villain. You didn’t. How did this particular "bad guy" come to you, and what were some of the ways you wanted to make sure he was different from Thomas Harris’s Hannibal?

“I was thinking about Hannibal, of course. He’s the guy you’ve got to think about when you start talking cannibalism. I’d never had a cannibal as a villain, and villains are, of course, the key to thriller novels. Thinking about Hannibal, though, I decided to go in an entirely different direction. Hannibal was flatly nuts: he ate people because he liked to eat people and would eat a human in preference to, say, a nice 16-ounce Kansas City beefsteak. Not so, with my guy. He ate parts of people because he was a serious barbecue cook—see the recipe on Page 1—and he happened to have that kind of meat on hand. In other words, you could say that he was simply practical, rather than out-and-out drooling crazy. Of course, he was that, too, but that wasn’t what drove his cannibalism.”

Read the rest of the interview here.

 

ALSO FEATURED ON THE the big THRILL…

SWANN’S DOWN by CHARLES SALZBERG: In his latest novel, celebrated crime novelist, journalist, and fiction-writing instructor Charles Salzberg has skillfully woven the pressing reality of psychic chicanery into an intriguing web of subtly nuanced mystery, amid questions of moral compunction. Find out more here.

NORCO ’80: THE TRUE STORY OF THE MOST SPECTACULAR BANK ROBBERY IN AMERICAN HISTORY by PETER HOULAHAN: Part action thriller and part courtroom drama, NORCO ’80 is a culmination of Houlahan’s extensive research not only into the facts of the crime and its subsequent trial, but also the bigger story—the very human side of this tragic event. Read more at The Big Thrill.

SEVEN WAYS TO GET RID OF HARRY by JEN CONLEY: Jen Conley brings readers fresh thrills with a young adult twist in her latest tale, a story she hopes will show readers that a bad situation won’t last forever—you can always outsmart it, or at the very least, survive it. Find out more here.

THE BIG KAHUNA by JANET AND PETER EVANOVICH: Janey Evanovich’s son, Peter, shares a starring role with his mom as the new co-author in the popular Fox and O’Hara adventure novels, taking the characters—and the overall series vibe—in a fresh direction that is making waves. Visit The Big Thrill for more.

MURDER, SHE WROTE: MURDER IN RED by JESSICA FLETCHER AND JON LAND: In the latest entry in this USA Today bestselling series, Jessica loses a loved one to unnatural causes and sets her sights on the mysterious local hospital before more people wind up dead on arrival… Read more here.

Powered by: Xtenit